THE DEVIL WEARS FLANNEL

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Chapter 1

by Marian Exall
(2074 words)

Lauren emerged onto the clear-cut at the top of the hill, and braked to a stop. She stood astride her bike and took in the view of the town, the Sound and the islands defined against the pearl grey of a June evening sky. This had been her ritual since she started mountain biking in her teens a decade before: taking a moment to celebrate the sweat before beginning her descent through the forest. The vista evoked mixed emotions. She loved this place, but what was she still doing here? Four years out of college, living at home with her mom, two part-time jobs, no health insurance, and a mountain of student debt.

She heard other bikers whooping through the trees behind her, and remounted. She’d be wiped out if she lingered on the single-track trail for long. Twenty minutes later she was securing the bike on the Toyota’s rack when she received a text from her friend Hazel.

C U at Prospero’s at 9?

Lauren checked the time: 8 p.m. She could get home, shower and be at the brewpub, one of half-dozen watering holes that had opened recently, in an hour. But she hesitated. The endorphin rush from the ride downhill through the trees had dissipated, and a wash of self-pity swamped her. She was an a.m. barista at a drive-through espresso hut, and a p.m. server at a seafood restaurant where the clientele thought a five dollar bill slid under a saucer was a generous tip. She had no money, no boyfriend, and, on her one free evening a week, she hung out with the same kids she went to high school with. If she didn’t break out of here soon, she was going to kill someone, maybe herself. She heaved a sigh, and tapped out a response.

1 beer. Early shift in am.

Lauren and Hazel had been friends since first grade. Hazel had taken a different route after high school. While Lauren headed to U Dub, Hazel stuck around to take an associate degree at the community college, secured an entry-level clerical position with the City, and worked her way up to communications director for the Parks and Recreation Department. The pay wasn’t great, but she got to do fun things like the P.R. for the races and other events Parks and Rec put on over the summer. And she had benefits.

Lauren threw her helmet into the back seat, glugged down the remaining water in her bottle, and headed for home.

***

Leaning into the magnifying mirror, Lauren’s mother, Anne Riley applied a subtle brownish-pink eyeshadow, a hint of blush and her new matte “Redwood” lipstick. She stepped back to examine the total effect in the larger mirror over the sink. Indigo jeans, skinny but not too skinny, a white shirt tucked in—she’d add a tailored tweed jacket on the way out the door, still “Junuary” in the Pacific Northwest after all. Not bad for forty-eight, she thought. Running three times a week paid dividends. Now, what about shoes? Heels would give the whole outfit a sophisticated kick, but might be too sexy for an after-hours client meeting. Sneakers? The client owned a climbing gym, was probably a fitness freak, but sneakers seemed too sporty. She settled for a pair of black suede flats: business casual, comfortably professional.

Anne penned a quick note for Lauren: Lasagne in the frig, I’ve fed Tinkerbell, Love you, Mom. She cast an affectionate glance at the Lab mix (“mix with a small pony?” friends asked) sprawled across the dog bed in the kitchen. Tinkerbell, now mostly deaf and quite overweight, had been acquired from the Humane Society eleven years earlier in the wake of the divorce. Nominally, Tinkerbell was Lauren’s pet, a companion to soothe the emptiness after her father’s departure, but inevitably Anne ended up taking care of the mutt, especially after Lauren departed for college. Those were hard times, with real estate in deep depression and foreclosures a daily occurrence. Anne’s commissions had dwindled to nothing and she had been lucky to hold on to her own place, a two-bedroom Craftsman cottage near the University. Her ex-husband had never been reliable about child support, and the payments dried up completely when he disappeared to Alaska during Lauren’s senior year at City High.

“Don’t worry, Mom, I’ll get a part-time job here and go to the Community College with Hazel,” Lauren had offered.

“Absolutely not! It’s fantastic that you got a place at U Dub; you can’t turn it down. It will all be worth it when you graduate and land a good job.”

But four years later when Lauren graduated, there were no “good” jobs. She stuck it out in Seattle for a couple of years, waitressing, house-sitting and dog-walking, while accepting unpaid internships in her field (graphic design) just to get a foot in the door. Finally, she bowed to inescapable fate, and came home to Mom.

Although she understood her daughter’s frustration, Anne liked having Lauren around. When their erratic schedules permitted, they enjoyed going to a movie together, or just sharing a bottle of wine and binge-watching Netflix. Luckily the housing market was booming again, and Anne was able to hand off her aging Toyota to Lauren when she replaced it with the Subaru Outback of her dreams. She had several listings at the moment, and the meeting tonight with a wealthy newcomer to town was promising.

Tinkerbell farted in his sleep as Anne pulled the door closed behind her.

***

Pierce McIntosh watched the three climbers on the Big Wall. Just kids, really, but they seemed competent, weren’t goofing off, and Cameron, his newly-hired manager, was close by on the floor. Pierce turned from the railing overlooking the gym, and surveyed the coffee bar. Unoccupied tables had been cleared and wiped, chairs tucked in neatly. Good.

He felt confident about the long-term prospects for the climbing gym. This town was full of outdoor enthusiasts, and climbers had to have somewhere to practice their skills when lack of time or bad weather kept them away from the mountains. He felt less confident about his own future here. He was a big city boy: Chicago, then San Diego, and most recently Seattle. Two-year stints, living in high-rise apartments, restaurant meals delivered, and the companionship of divorcées who demanded nothing but a well-dressed escort to charity events. He’d started out in consulting, lucrative gigs that morphed into investment opportunities, start-ups mostly. He’d cut a few corners in his time—had to, to get ahead. When his latest venture went public, he was left with a pocketful of cash and nothing on the horizon. He began to feel an itch to do something different. He refused to call it the urge to settle down—he was not the settling down type—but he wanted more hands-on involvement, more commitment than just writing a big check. An acquaintance mentioned the gym idea and offered to match a capital investment from Pierce. On impulse, Pierce suggested he manage the business as well as fund it.

So here he was, three days into the “soft” opening, waiting to meet with a real estate agent to discuss purchasing a home, and still unsure whether he belonged in this little burg with its stunning scenery and flannel-clad citizens.

A tall attractive woman with shoulder-length grey hair entered the café. She looked at him enquiringly, then approached, extending her hand.

“Pierce McIntosh? Hi, I’m Anne Riley with Bayside Realty. How are things going?”

***

Hazel was at the bar buying her second pint when Lauren arrived at Prospero’s.

“Jeez! Mid-week and students on vacation, and this place is still packed,” Lauren observed, shouting to make herself heard.

“Make that two,” Hazel yelled at the barman as he delivered her IPA. “Look, James and Connor are over there. They’re talking about getting a team together for the Traverse. Interested?”

“Might be, as long as I can have one of the biking legs.”

They forced their way through the crowd, holding their beers aloft for safety, and joined the young men. Halfway through her pint, Lauren felt her phone vibrate with an incoming call. She pulled it out, knowing the bar was too noisy to allow her to answer: “Unknown Caller” and an area code she didn’t recognize.

“Oh, well. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message.” She returned to the task of sorting out which of their friends would take on which stage in the Labor Day multi-sport relay race.

Fifteen minutes later, in the relative quiet of the restroom, she remembered the interruption and saw that, yes, the caller had indeed left a voicemail.

“Lauren, honey, it’s your dad. Look, I, er, I know it’s been a long time since I was in touch. I’m so sorry . . . but something’s happened, I really need to talk to you. Can you be at the Ferry Terminal tomorrow at noon? No, don’t call back on this number. Just . . . just try and be there. Please?”

Lauren slumped against the restroom wall in shock. Damn right it had been a long time! Her father had turned up unexpectedly at her graduation in Seattle, hugged her, handed her a bunch of roses, and left again. Since then, nothing. She had long ago given up the adoration she had once felt for him. He had walked out on them when she was in her sophomore year of high school, going through all that teenage angst. She’d missed him terribly at first. Every varsity soccer game, she’d steal glances over at the bleachers, hoping he’d appear, burning with resentment when he didn’t. A few phone calls, full of excuses, but they petered out to nothing by the time she left for college. She didn’t even think about him anymore. And now he needed to talk to her!

She stumbled out of the restroom, shaking with anger. She didn’t want to explain the situation to her friends. Instead, she headed towards to door. Halfway there she stopped short, amazed to see her mother sitting at a window table with a good-looking middle-aged man. She altered direction towards them, wanting to tell Anne about the message, but quickly changed her mind. Her mother was meeting with a client. It would embarrass everyone if Lauren broke into their conversation with a furious rant about her absentee father. She’d wait until Anne got home.

***

Against his expectations, Pierce had enjoyed the evening with Anne Riley. In his previous experience, female real estate agents were bleached and Botoxed witches with dollar signs flashing in their eyes. Anne was different. Easy to talk to, funny and open, she had not pushed him to define the type of housing he was looking for, the price range or neighborhood, but had spoken generally about the town she loved. She seemed interested in his past career and his recent step into gym management.

At 9:30—closing time for the gym—she suggested they continue their conversation at one of the local brewpubs. He rapidly went through the closing checklist with Cameron and followed her out to the street. Now, an hour later, he had walked her back to her car which was parked around the corner from the gym, and then headed to his BMW 320i in one of the designated staff parking places adjacent to the building.

A glow coming from inside the gym beyond the darkened café attracted his attention.

Goddamn it! Cameron’s left the lights on! After I went through everything with him too. Pierce fumbled for his keys as he approached the door. There was no need for a key; the door swung back at his touch. He’s gone! Fired! Pierce groaned at the thought of advertising the position again, going through resumes, interviewing candidates . . . Perhaps management wasn’t his thing after all.

Pierce entered the café and strode across to the stairs down to the gym. The lighting controls were in a small office off the corridor that led to the restrooms, but before he reached it, he noticed a dark heap lying at the foot of the Big Wall at the other end of the space. He realized he was looking at a man’s body sprawled face-down.

Fuck! Someone had entered the unsecured building, attempted a climb and fallen. By the time Pierce reached the body, he had reassessed. A falling climber would land on his back. Anyway, the thick pads Cameron had spread at the base of the wall were still in place. A fall even from the top would not be fatal. Perhaps the guy just fainted. Pierce rolled him over and felt for a pulse. The skin on the throat felt cool and clammy. He leaned his cheek over the man’s mouth searching for a whisper of breath. Nothing. Pierce crouched back on his haunches and surveyed the body: no blood, no wounds, contusions or oddly-angled limbs, but more importantly, no rise and fall of the chest. The man was dead.

Pierce took a deep breath, trying to order his thoughts. He should call the police. He had his phone in his hand before he had another idea. Even if the guy had died of natural causes, that could take a while for the police to ascertain, and they would probably close the gym in the meantime. A closure during opening week would be a disaster. And the publicity. It might attract some gawkers, but the serious climbers Pierce hoped to enroll as regulars wouldn’t like it. His new venture might not make it out of the starting blocks.

He tapped the phone on his other palm while he scanned the corpse. Worn jeans, not too clean; scuffed boots, like the steel-toed safety shoes construction workers wore; faded sweatshirt with some burger restaurant logo that Pierce didn’t recognize. The man had a shadow of grey stubble on his chin, his head was shaved close, and his skin was lined and ruddy. A man who worked outside, about fifty years old, Pierce thought, maybe homeless. He rolled the body over again to explore the pants pockets for a wallet or phone. Except for a twenty dollar bill and two ones, the pockets were empty: no I.D.

This man had no connection to him, other than the random location of his death. Pierce stood up, decision made. He walked over to the fire door tucked in behind a bulge at the bottom of the climbing wall. He opened it cautiously and peered out into the alley at the back of the building. Darkness had fallen, but there was enough ambient light from the street lighting on the cross-streets to show that the alley was deserted. A lump of concrete lay conveniently nearby. A scattering of cigarette butts indicated its prior employment as an illicit door-stop. He wedged the fire door open, then went back into the gym, grabbed the body under the armpits and dragged it out into the alley. A dumpster stood twenty feet away. Pausing to make sure he was still unobserved, Pierce hauled his burden over and arranged it in a sitting position in the angle between the dumpster and the wall. After determining that there were no tell-tale scuff marks signaling his path, he returned to the gym, removed the concrete block, and re-entered, letting the fire door close quietly behind him.

He experienced a sudden surge of panic: was this the stupidest thing he’d ever done? He’d taken risks before to further his business interests, but nothing like this. What if he’d been caught on CCTV? He hadn’t looked for cameras, and it seemed unlikely there would be any. But his fingerprints and DNA were all over the corpse.  Would an autopsy include gathering such data if the man died from natural causes? He didn’t think his prints or DNA were on file. But still.

He couldn’t move the body back into the building now; that would just compound the problem. He breathed deeply, pushing down his fear, then walked over to turn off the lights. He locked up carefully, and headed for his car.

First thing tomorrow, he’d fire that idiot Cameron.

 

Chapter 2

by Jes Stone
(1233 words)

Lauren spun around and headed back across the pub the way she’d come. She hoped her mother hadn’t seen her but she didn’t have to worry.  Her mother’s clear—from the belly—laughter let Lauren know Anne was enjoying her time with the handsome man seated across the table from her. Yep, Lauren thought, waiting until she and her mother were both home, and quiet, to discuss the voicemail from her father was the best way to handle things.  And, since she couldn’t leave the pub without walking right past her mother’s table, she decided to rejoin her friends and have another beer. The morning shift would be a bear but right now she needed liquid courage. She didn’t have enough cash to buy another pint but she knew one of her buddies would pitch in – maybe Connor – she’d helped him fix a flat tire on his bike a few days earlier.  Yes, Connor would spot her a beer.

The house band, The Rain Bow Hamsters, had opened their set with a rock and roll version of Bye-Bye Miss American Pie and the drinkers at Prospero’s sang along, swayed in time to the music, and waved arms (and beers) above their heads. But Lauren didn’t join in, or really even hear the tune. Her brow furrowed and she bit her lower lip as she plowed through the happy crowd on her way back to Hazel and the others. She kept running her father’s message over in her head. It didn’t make any sense. Why now?  And what was so secret that he couldn’t just say it?  Meeting him at noon would mean she’d have to punch out of work early and lose an hour’s pay.  Didn’t the man ever think of her needs? And, how would she even recognize him – it had been years – and, and…

Wham!  Lauren rammed into a wall of hard body. She jumped back just in time to avoid the cascade of beer that splashed down the front of a black leather motorcycle jacket.

“Whoa there, Little Lady!  Slow down.”

Lauren watched beer dribble past a long silver zipper and drip onto a line of leather fringe. She looked up.

“Oh my God,” she stammered, “I’m so sorry. I wasn’t paying attention.”

“No, worries, darlin. This old jacket has seen a lot worse than a little fancy Washington beer.”  He smiled wide as he flicked liquid from his jacket with his free hand. In his other hand he held a pint mug, with only a sip of beer sloshing in the bottom.

Lauren searched his face.  Smile seemed genuine, hint of a suntan, and even in the dim light of the pub, she noted the greenest eyes she’d ever seen.  She estimated his age at around thirty even though his sun streaked blond hair that flopped over his forehead gave him a sleepy little boy look.  Unable to help herself, she smiled back.

“Seriously,” he said, “no worries.  But I will need another drink.  And, since you made me spill this one, the least thing you can do is join me.  Come on, let’s go get us a couple more of these micro-whatevers and how bout you tell me what had you movin so fast?”

He turned toward the bar.  Lauren guessed him to be at least 6’4” and given his height, he easily parted the crowd which now bopped to Sugar Magnolia, an old Grateful Dead tune.  Well, why not, she thought.  One beer and by then mom will be outta here – me too.

She didn’t quite know how he managed it but within minutes they were seated at a table far enough away from the band to be able to hear each other.  Two pints of the night’s featured IBA (Red, Red, Wheelbarrow Blond), sat sweating in front of them. While he paid the server Lauren took the opportunity to get a good look. He wore jeans, scuffed black cowboy boots, and a black turtleneck sweater under the beer splattered leather jacket. A heavy silver chain hooked on his belt linked to a leather wallet stuffed with bills, and what looked to Lauren like a bunch of three by five cards covered with scribbles.  When he reached up to hand the server a twenty, his jacket sleeve slipped back and revealed a single tattoo – blue script with the words, Emily Dickenson. With that tan, low drawl, and lack of flannel, Lauren surmised he hadn’t been in Bellingham very long. She couldn’t decide if he was more biker, more cowboy, or more retro-poet, but she did know one thing for sure – this man could be summed up in two words;  bad boy.

***

Tinkerbell groaned with pleasure as his human mommy rubbed his ears.  Anne had been in such a great mood when she arrived home after her evening with her new client that she’d let the old dog climb up onto the sofa.  Balancing a glass of merlot on the armrest, she kicked off her flats and curled her feet under Tink’s warm belly.  She sighed.  Yes, a good meeting all the way around.

After introductions and some standard real estate based conversation at the client’s gym, they’d moved to a more relaxed environment where they’d shared stories and laughed together.  This client, Anne thought, this Pierce McIntosh, was worth an extra effort.  Educated, confident, wealthy, and extremely handsome.  Anne giggled softly as she took a sip of wine. Pierce – what a name.  Of course he’d be good-looking. She wondered… Such a long time had passed since she’d spent quality time with a man.  Every interaction with men since her husband had bailed, had been related to real estate, or banking (associated with real estate), or buying her car (a real estate agent appropriate vehicle).  She’d told herself that she’d had enough pain and stress with her ex to wipe out any thoughts of ever getting into another relationship with a man.  Her work, and her friendship with her daughter were enough. And the dog, Tinkerbell was also part of her little world.  He’d been a source of real comfort during the rough single-mom years.  She looked down at the lump beside her. As if reading her thoughts, and wanting to participate, Tink let out a small, but significant bowzer breezer.

“Oh gross,” Anne fanned the air and pushed the old dog to the floor where he flopped down and promptly fell asleep. Anne grinned.  Their little family; Lauren, the dog and her, had been enough for a long time.  Was there even a reason to consider maybe someone new?  She thought about Pierce and his laugh. She thought about the way he carried himself, confident and self-assured but no hint of self-importance or grandiose.  She liked the way he was willing to move to a new area, start a new business, and stay hands-on in the running of that business.  Anne took another sip of wine, lowered her feet to the dog’s warm haunches. She leaned back against the sofa cushions and sighed.  She decided, right then, that as risky as relationships can be, Pierce McIntosh was definitely worth an extra effort.

***

Across town, in the alley behind the Big Wall climbing gym, rigor mortis took over and caused a leg to straighten.  This frightened a small grey rat who’d stopped by to check out the still, very still, flannel-clad human.

 

Chapter 3

by Frances Howard-Snyder
(1750 words)

When eight-year-old Rachel Jones reached the top of the wall for the first time, her arms ached but her heart was full.  Down below Mom was waving happily and saying, “Please be careful coming down.” Mom would take her to Mallards to celebrate. They would walk through the back alleys and examine the bird graffiti. Rachel liked the flamingo the best; her mother preferred the owl. Mom had named her after a lady on TV that she insisted on watching every night. The lady was pretty and was probably very good at rock climbing and canoeing and stuff, but she talked for a very long time and was mighty pleased with herself (as Rachel’s grandmother would say) and her unfunny jokes. “You’re too young to understand. You’ll be proud to be named after her when you older,” her mother said when Rachel complained and tried to change the channel.

They left the gym, taking a shortcut through the alley towards the Ice-cream shop.

“What’s that?” Rachel asked.

Her mother turned to look. A man – a kinda old man – was sitting against a wall beside the dumpster. He didn’t look right.  “Just a homeless person, honey.”

“He looks like he’s sick. Can we help him?”

“No, sweetie. He probably just had too much to drink. He’ll be all right. There are shelters and food banks around town he can go to.”

“Let me see. Maybe I can leave him some of my allowance to get a checkup.”

Rachel ran over, ignoring her mother’s protests. ”Mister. Mister. Are you all right?”

She reached out and touched his boot and shook it gently. No reaction. His eyes were open. Rachel had seen something about that one time when she snuck downstairs to watch TV late at night. “He’s dead, Mom,” she shrieked, pulling back.

Her mother was beside her, arm around her, pushing Rachel’s face against her own chest to hide her view. “We’d better go back into the gym.”

Inside, her mother asked the gym manager if he could allow Rachel to lie down somewhere. “I have to make a phone call. Or perhaps you could make the call. We found a dead body in the alley. I wonder if you could call the police for me. I really need to take care of the little one.”

The manager said something, and then Rachel’s mom put her hand gently on Rachel’s shoulder and led her out the front door. They would go the long way around to the ice-cream shop. Rachel wasn’t sure she still had an appetite… but she knew her mother was trying to be kind.

***

 “Dead body found in an alley. No sign of foul play. Probably something completely routine,” the desk sergeant said. Detective Sergeant Vera Steele considered the matter. Maybe she should send her sergeant, Ryan Miller. The 25-year-old, who cycled everywhere, ate tofu, got high on pot rather than alcohol, and refused to use paper cups, was a little naïve,  but he could handle routine cases. But she, oddly, had nothing better to do this afternoon and it was a pleasant day for a walk. So, she decided to stroll over to the scene.

Vera was 37. Tall, broad-shouldered, solid, short-haired, not good-looking–her mirror informed her. This message was confirmed by the people she met who found her easy to ignore. This invisibility bothered Vera less now than it used to. When witnesses and suspects forgot that she was present, they tended to let down their guard. It contributed to her success in solving cases, as did her slightly off-center brain. The diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome at 21 had been distressing, but as she learned more about the condition, and allowed it to frame her self-image, she was glad. It enabled her to focus, to see matters from a different angle. And then the DSM-5 decided that Asperger’s was not a thing, and she was left uncategorized again. Except as slightly different, a bit of an oddball. Somehow she’d managed to stop caring.   What mattered was doing her job. If someone else got the credit, so be it. She cared about solving puzzles, putting the right people behind bars, getting justice for the victims, particularly marginalized victims. That sounded a little pretentious, she knew, and pretentiousness was to be avoided like the plague, in her opinion, but it was the truth and truth trumped plague-avoidance every time.

Vera and Ryan entered the gym and immediately glanced up at the high climbing wall.

“Cool!” Ryan murmured. He would enjoy the challenge of defying gravity.  Vera would undoubtedly fall and break a bone if she tried. People like Ryan enjoyed courting danger in artificial contexts. But real life contained enough dangers, in Vera’s opinion. So, she made a point of steering clear of artificial ones.

She was more interested in Pierce McIntosh the man who’d called in the dead body.

She watched as he approached them, letting Ryan make the introductions. McIntosh was lean, muscled, tall, good-looking, probably 45, expensively dressed in subtle black and grey.  She noted how his gaze passed over her in a fraction of a second, just long enough to register that she was neither a man nor an attractive woman, and then focused on Ryan. “Can I help you, sir?”

Ryan explained who they were and asked when McIntosh had found the body.

“Well, actually, I wasn’t the one who found it. One of my clients did. She was with her young daughter, and the kid – understandably – found the experience upsetting. So, she asked me to communicate with you.”

“What is this woman’s name and number?” Vera said.

“I’m pretty sure she’d prefer not to be involved,” McIntosh said brusquely, imagining no doubt that his managerial tone would settle the matter.

Why had he even mentioned the woman if he’d wanted to shield her from involvement? He could have simply said he had found the body himself. “Undoubtedly, but we still need her name.” One of the things Vera liked about her job was those moments when men tried to refuse to do as she asked, and she was able to use the full power of her office – the gun in her holster, the handcuffs tucked under her jacket at the back, the authority of a station and cell – to ensure that they complied.

McIntosh looked a little miffed at being contradicted but went to find the name on a credit card receipt. Depending on what they found in the alley, they may well not call the woman and bother her and her child, but Vera didn’t feel the need to soothe McIntosh’s conscience with this information.

“Show us the body, please,” Ryan said…

McIntosh pointed to the back door. “Well, I haven’t seen it myself. But I believe it’s out there.”

This was peculiar. Was he so squeamish he couldn’t bear to show them? Or was he hiding something? Or had she simply taken a dislike to the man because of his annoying alpha male qualities? Vera knew she needed to watch that tendency. She needed to see clearly.   “Lead the way,” she told him.

McIntosh led them into the back alley, decorated with jagged green and yellow graffiti that smelled of urine and stale pot. A man – about 50, dressed in scruffy jeans, boots and two layers of shirts was sitting against a wall beside a dumpster, obviously dead.

Ryan walked over and touched the body. Vera nodded to McIntosh, who returned to his business.

“Gloves, Ryan!”

“Oh right. Really, ma-am? It looks like a fairly standard case. This guy died of an overdose or exposure or something… not really our business. We just call up the van and get him out of here.”

Vera walked over and pulled on a pair of gloves, then touched the man’s neck, opened his mouth and peered inside, examined the labels on his shirt and sweatshirt, lifted his shirts and gazed at his belly with its sad grey fuzz, checked his pockets. Who are you, mister? she wondered… just someone society casts aside, someone whose death we can dismiss as unimportant. If he’d been wearing an Armani suit, there would be no question. Of course, they would do an autopsy, even if there was no reason to believe the death hadn’t been a heart attack during a shortcut.

She cleared her mind of theory and allowed it to absorb the details: the temperature of the wind, the scar on the abdomen, the small “L” tattooed on the right pec, the yellow marks on the toes of the boots, the firmness of the arm muscles, the healthy color of the skin, the well-cared-for teeth. “Call the medical examiner. Order an autopsy.”

“Really?”

“Really. And get fingerprints from McIntosh and from the woman who found him.”

Ryan rolled his eyes. He was certain that she was wasting the department’s money, she knew. There was a good chance he was right. They waited for the medical team.

“I noticed a coffee shop inside the gym. Would you like a latte?” Ryan asked.

Vera cocked her head at him. Yes, caffeine would perk her up and boiling water would warm her. “Yes. I would. That’s very thoughtful. Double shot. Three sugars.”

Ryan returned with the coffees in ceramic mugs and the information that had McIntosh had been surprised and even a little irritated that an autopsy had been ordered. “Do you think he’s a suspect?” he asked.

“Everyone’s suspect,” she said. “But no, I estimate that the likelihood of foul play is probably around 32% in this case. It’s more likely that you’re right that this poor fellow had some sort of stroke or heart attack and sat down to get his breath and then just gave up the ghost.”

“Then why…?”

“Because 32% is enough. If it had been 29% I wouldn’t have called it in.”

He narrowed his eyes at her, not sure if she was pulling his leg. She wasn’t entirely sure either. The percentages were fabricated, of course, but she did believe that the likelihood of foul play was lower than the likelihood of natural causes, but still high enough not to ignore. “See those yellow marks on the boots,” she said, pointing. And see that puddle of yellow paint over there. I’d be surprised if they didn’t match. And I’m not figuring this guy for a ballerina.”

“He was dragged?” Ryan asked.

Vera nodded. The fellow might make a detective after all.

Chapter 4

by Victoria Doerper
(1735 words)

Pierce’s phone chirped. Still anxiety-stricken as a result of his police encounter, he jumped at the sound like a cricket touching down on a blistering skillet. The phone chirped again. Could he ignore it? No, might be the damned police calling with more questions. Why the hell were they going to do an autopsy? What else would they test for? DNA? God help him, he usually had good instincts, but last night after his little flirtation with Ms. Real Estate, he seemed to have lost his grip. The last thing he needed was for the police to think he was avoiding them. He managed to answer the phone on the third ring.

“Hello, Big Wall Gym. McIntosh here,” he said in the most calm and professional voice he could muster.

“This is James McLeod. Cameron Douglas please,” said a deep male voice.

“Cameron hasn’t come in yet today. This is Pierce McIntosh. Can I help you with something?”

“Well, I’d rather talk to Cameron. We were supposed to meet at Prospero’s last night to talk about his idea for the gym’s Grand Opening. But he never turned up. Anyway, I wanted to see if he had time today to get together for a late lunch. After that, my week’s pretty booked.”

“I expect to see him here some time soon.” So I can fire his sorry ass, Pierce whispered under his breath.

“What’s that? I couldn’t quite hear you.”

“Oh, sorry. I said that in his absence maybe I can help you. I’m the owner. What about the Grand Opening?” Pierce put on his I’m-the-guy-in-control-here attitude.

“Cameron asked me to help,” James continued. “He wanted a few of us from our club to do a demonstration climb for the Grand Opening.”

“What’s your club?” Pierce imagined some group of ultra-obsessed climbers displaying their prowess and arrogance on his climbing wall. A free practice session for them, but not likely to attract new prospects to the gym.

“We’re Climbers in Kilts,” James said.

“You’re what?? Climbers who kill?” Pierce held the phone at arm’s length, stared at it as though it were an alien being. What was happening? A dead body and, now, a club with climbers who kill?

“No. No!” James’s voice carried forcefully through Pierce’s glowing-at-arms-length phone. “Climbers. In. Kilts. We wear kilts. We climb.”

“You’re kidding,” Pierce blurted.

“Sounds odd, I know. But there’s not a piece of clothing more comfortable for a man than a kilt. Doesn’t bind. Moves with you. Gives complete range of motion. Great ventilation. Gives easy access to pockets for chalk and all the other odds and ends we carry with us on a climb. We’re not the only guys who climb in kilts, you know.”

“You’re kidding,” Pierce repeated, apparently struck temporarily stupid by this unfamiliar concept.

“Maybe I should call back when Cameron’s scheduled to come in?” asked James.

“No, no,” Pierce pulled himself together. Who knew when Cameron would make an appearance? But, for now, why not follow this idea? At least it was a change from thinking about the police.

“James, please fill me in. Cameron and I haven’t had a chance to discuss his plans for publicity. What’s the idea?”

“Well, last weekend up at Baker when Cameron was spotting for one our club members, he said he had a brainstorm. Said he thought our climbers could draw a crowd to the gym. Buff guys wearing kilts and muscling up a wall. I know it sounds a little sexist, but he thought the whole kilt climber thing could tap into the Outlander craze.”

“What’s Outlander?” Pierce’s knowledge of popular TV was as non-existent as his knowledge of, well, climbing.

This guy must be living under a rock, James thought, but continued. “You know, Outlander, the TV series? About Scotland and the highlanders who lived there more than a hundred years ago. Rugged mountains, brave clansmen, tartan kilts, bagpipes. Earworm music by that guy McCreary. My girlfriend drives me nuts sometimes with her constant humming of that Skye Boat theme song.”

Pierce took a deep breath. OK, this was a little weird, but maybe not a bad publicity idea. Maybe Cameron would turn out to be salvageable after all.

“James, thank you. I’m intrigued. I think this could be worth pursuing. Cameron should be in a little later today. He’ll give you a call to schedule some time for all of us to talk about details. We still have about six weeks before the Grand Opening.”

“Sounds good,” said James, “I hope Cameron turns up soon. It’s not like the guy to just drop out of sight.”

***

Cameron Douglas awoke with a start, opened his pale blue eyes. Saw darkness. What the hell? He tried to brush away the flop of red hair hanging in his face. Realized that his wrists were lashed together with something. Struggled to free them. Couldn’t. Where was he? A droning, whining sound, like an engine idling. He took a deep breath to steady himself. What had happened? The last thing he remembered was being at the Big Wall gym. His boss, fussy and distrustful, quickly showing him the checklist for closing up, in a hurry to leave with the attractive real estate woman. What next? He remembered thinking it had been a pretty good day for a “soft opening.” He would have liked to do one trip up the big wall himself before leaving, but he knew the boss wanted him to close up on the dot and, besides, he had to get to a meeting. He remembered taking his boss’s checklist with him as he went through the process item by item: clean up the coffee bar and ready all appliances for the next day, check. Lock the alley door, check. Make sure the restrooms are empty, check. Shut down the office computer, check. Make sure all the lights are turned off, check. And finally, lock the outside door and set the security system. He remembered backing out the door with his key and remote in his hand, ready to lock up and arm the system. Then what? Nothing. That’s where memory ended and darkness began. Like this darkness in wherever the hell he was now.

Cameron was a climber. He loved the challenge of scaling a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, felt his spirit lift as he roped up, chalked up, and took that first look up, searching out possible routes. He’d been thrilled when Pierce offered him the job of managing Big Wall. His mind churned, spinning with ideas to make this place a premier destination for all sorts: climbers in search of a practice wall, kids who wanted to experience climbing for the first time, and for attracting a broad clientele of people who’d never considered that climbing might just fill that little pocket of yearning they had to prove themselves to themselves. The desire to transcend the every day routine. Cameron looked forward to the Grand Opening. The soft opening had brought a light but steady flow of parents, teenagers, rock climbers. Even a few biker guys checking out the place. Some of his climbing buddies stopped by and high fived their support. Maybe Cameron had finally found a job that was the right fit.

But maybe not. He was just a guy who loved climbing. And now he was just a guy who somehow managed to be….what….kidnapped? Why? He tried once more to struggle out of whatever bound his wrists together. He yelled for awhile. Felt a wave of exhaustion wash over him. Lapsed into a fitful sleep.

***

A city raccoon, aka “trash panda,” aka highly-adapted-wildlife-city-dweller, strolled down the back alley searching for tidbits. Rocky the raccoon loved his routine. The dumpster behind the Big Wall Gym usually bulged with the leavings of the Pink Pearl Chinese Restaurant next door. Chicken feet. Ripe potstickers. Bits of meat. Peanuts sometimes. The usually rain-pooled potholes in the alley made perfect raccoon fingerbowls. Rocky pawed through the leftovers, ate a few for appetizers, then proceeded down the alley. He had a craving for some of those truffle fries sometimes dropped here by diners walking to their cars from the food truck down the street. No fries, but he spotted a half-eaten burger and gobbled that up. Mmmmm. Now he’d check the sidewalk. Rounding the corner, he floated along like a shadow against the base of rough brick buildings. Stopped short, spooked. The air smelled like threat. Something wasn’t right. Motionless, he watched as a man backed out of a door, holding something in his hand. Then three other men rushing toward him. A scuffle. Rocky could hold his own with raccoon alpha males, but not with human alphas. He spun around to retreat. Humans coming from the other direction. He looked up, assessed the wall. He’d done this once before. Rocky scrambled for a paw-hold, then began climbing, splayed himself out like flattened roadkill to get as much contact with the wall as he could. He inched steadily and surely up, up. Finally crested the top of the building that housed the Big Wall Gym and the Pink Pearl. Up here all was quiet, the air fresh and clean and good. He looked down. A man being shoved into a truck. Reminded Rocky of the time he’d been caught by the animal control guy. Then the truck drove off.

Rocky sat quietly, contemplating his lot. To be a raccoon was to be yelled at, chased with brooms, set upon by dogs, locked up in barred trucks. To be a raccoon was to be in constant peril of starvation, tribal tussles, displaced homelands. But tonight, Rocky the raccoon was well-fed and safe. Safe enough to contemplate the darkening sky, the cloud cover breaking apart to admit a glimpse of moon and stars. The world may swallow up men coming out of downtown buildings just as easily as it swallows up the habitat of raccoons. Rocky peered down to the sidewalk below. Something shiny, like a sparkly snake. Well, he wasn’t going after that little treasure just now. No, just now he’d sit right here under the light of the kind moon in his solitary cocoon of raccoon harmony. Sometimes the world did give you a break. Who knew what would happen tomorrow, but tonight was his. He sniffed the fresh star-dusted air, sighed, and curled up to take a little nap.

 

Chapter 5

by Laura Rink
(1667 words)

Lauren hit the snooze on her alarm clock for another ten minutes of denial, even though she needed to be at work in an hour—6:30 to 12:30 at the espresso hut, then a four-hour break when she’d have to decide whether to run errands, get in a quick bike ride, or collapse back into bed before her 4:30 to 10:30 shift waitressing in one of the restaurants that ringed the marina.

Wait! Lauren pushed off her flannel sheet and fleece blanket, and sat up. The phone call from her father—she needed to leave work early to meet him at the ferry terminal at noon. The phone call she didn’t get a chance to discuss with her mother because one beer with cowboy-biker-poet Jonathan had turned into two, and when she’d returned home, her mother’s bedroom door had no light shining underneath, just the jagged tones of Tinkerbell’s snoring clearly heard in the hallway. Lauren didn’t even get a chance to mention the call to Hazel because they were arguing instead.

Hazel not only took a different route with her education and career, like actually having one, but also with her taste in men: outdoorsy or nerdy or athletic but always nice guys. The high school valedictorian, the college soccer player, and now James, outdoorsy and athletic and a bit of a nerd with his Outlander/kilt obsession. Lauren, on the other hand, despite her hating to fulfill Hazel’s predictions that not having a father around during her high school years made her seek out male attention, any male attention, usually the wrong kind of male, was in fact attracted to men who didn’t exactly, or not at all, fit the definition of a gentleman.

Last night Lauren had been halfway through her second beer with green-eyed Jonathan, when Hazel’s hand had clamped down on Lauren’s shoulder. “There you are. I thought you’d ditched us.” Lauren made the introductions and Hazel’s stony “Hey,” made her opinion of Jonathan as clear as a filtered IPA. “Come on, it’s late. I’ll walk you to your car.” When Jonathan offered to escort “the Little Lady” after she finished her beer, Hazel gagged, only sort of disguising her gagging as a cough. James and Connor joined Hazel to hover over Lauren. She wasn’t sure if she was grateful to have such friends or annoyed that they were breaking up an enjoyable encounter.

“It’s almost eleven,” said James.

“You have a curfew?” Jonathan laughed.

Exhaustion washed over Lauren—she’d been up since 5:30, worked a long shift at the espresso hut, and then had taken advantage of the late setting sun for a strenuous evening bike ride. “No, but I do have to get up for work in about six hours. Thanks for the beers.” She could have just walked away but she wanted something more from him. She held out her hand and he firmly wrapped his around it, gave her a tight squeeze, and something else. The warmth of skin on skin contact made her keep her hand in his until Hazel pulled on her arm.

“See ya ‘round.” Jonathan’s words were swallowed by the Rain Bow Hamster’s enthusiastic rendition of Prince’s Purple Rain as Hazel dragged her out of the pub. Lauren slipped the piece of paper Jonathan had given her into her fleece vest pocket.

“What the hell, Hazel?” Lauren fumed as they walked down the street.

“Hey, she did you a favor,” Connor spoke first. “That guy was . . . was . . .”

“No good,” James said.

Lauren bit her lower lip. She didn’t trust either guys’ opinion: Connor had had a crush on her since they were on the same Ski to Sea team two years ago, and James always agreed with Hazel. “No good to sit and have a beer with?” Lauren felt some need to defend herself. “He was an interesting guy who bought me a beer. End of story.” Connor peeled off to cross the street to his sporty VW Jetta and James waited by his practical Nissan Pathfinder, while the women walked around the corner to Lauren’s car.

After a moment of silence, Hazel spoke, “End of story, my ass. You didn’t give him your phone number, did you?”

Lauren’s hand went to her vest pocket. “No, I did not. But this is a bit much, Hazel. I’m not that sixteen-year-old high school girl with daddy abandonment issues anymore.” She wasn’t, right? She rolled back shoulders. “This guy, he was just an interesting interlude, okay?”

Hazel nodded, and raised her hand, two fingers pointing from her eyes to Lauren’s.

* * *

While Lauren replayed last night in her mind, she’d showered and dressed. Her anxiety about seeing her father, about why he needed to see her, made the image of cowboy-biker-poet Jonathan recede. As a teenager, she had always dreamed about getting on the ferry and visiting him in Alaska. Seeing the Northern Lights. Hiking in Denali National Park. A brief encounter with a grizzly bear. He kept promising, every summer for a few years, but he always had some excuse—he was between jobs, between living situations, never providing any details.

She looked out the window at the overcast skies and pulled a soft flannel shirt over her t-shirt and jeans, added a fleece vest, slipped her wool sock clad feet into a pair of Keen sandals and strode down the hall, hoping not to wake Tinkerbell who would lunge at the bedroom door demanding an early morning walk.

* * *

Lauren drove along the bay toward the ferry terminal, glimpses of dark blue water dotted with white caps flickering by between the trees. The dark outline of the closest island. She turned down the hill, past the corner where Our House Bookstore used to be, before a freak furnace explosion burnt it down, to the utter shock and disbelief of the tight-knit, book-loving community. A few former employees had finally secured financing and the store was being rebuilt.

Past the bus station, the train station, Lauren turned into the ferry terminal parking lot. Lauren and her mother usually came here in December, to view the entries in the gingerbread house contest and shop at the holiday faire. Inside the place was full of locals and tourists. Friday was a busy day at the terminal—the ferry left at six for its weekly trek north.

“Look at all the flannel shirts,” a woman’s voice drifted past Lauren. “Have we time traveled back to the 70s?” another woman chimed in. Amid their laughter, Lauren glanced around—there were a lot of people, presumably locals, wearing flannel shirts—a homeless woman leaning on the wall by the bathrooms, a musician with a scruffy goatee carrying a guitar case, a young teacher shepherding preschoolers on a field trip. Living here her whole life, she hardly noticed the prevalence of flannel.

Lauren continued past the Made in Washington gift shop, smelled the falafel and fried cauliflower coming from the tiny café, and stopped by the tables gathered before the windows looking out at the ferry. Again her father had come up short on details: where was she supposed to meet him? Inside—upstairs or down? Outside on the walkway that ran around two sides of the terminal? What if she didn’t recognize him? Worse, what if he didn’t recognize her?

* * *

Anne arrived at her office around noon. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings she ran before work, and this morning she had also shown a young couple three houses in an up and coming neighborhood in walking distance to downtown. The booming house prices put only the most dire fixer-uppers in this couple’s reach. The house they wanted to make an offer on was a 1916 three-bedroom that unbelievably still had the outdated and dangerous knob and tube electric system. Fortunately, the young couple had the energy and the skills—she was an electrician and he was a carpenter—to invest sweat equity. Anne cautioned them that no company would insure the house until the electric system was updated, and any financing would be contingent on the work being done immediately.

As she prepared the offer, her mind kept swerving to her meeting last night with Pierce. She wanted to do some research into homes for him today, call him this afternoon with some information, and perhaps spend the weekend showing him around the various neighborhoods to gauge his interest. The low maintenance of a condo might appeal to him but then she felt he was the kind of man to value the privacy of a single-family home, and had the money to provide for its maintenance, at least from her first impression. She’d had poser clients before, looky-loos who wanted private tours of the high-end homes along the bay. But not Pierce, she had a certain feeling about him, professionally and personally.

As far as location, there were the pros and cons of a sound or bay view which could also be close to the railroad tracks. Anne had sold a house on the edge of the cliff with a sweeping view of the islands to a woman who had insisted she loved the sound of trains but a week after closing, she showed up in Anne’s office almost delirious from lack of sleep.

The cell phone on Anne’s desk vibrated. She glanced away from the computer and saw ICE Daughter on the screen. Lauren. Often she answered the phone by saying “Hi, ICE daughter,” which Lauren hated. Since the flip-phone era, Anne had listed Lauren under ICE—In Case of Emergency. Now that Anne had an iPhone, Lauren kept imploring her to put the emergency information into the medical ID section of the iPhone health app. Information anyone could access in an emergency without having to enter a passcode. But Anne couldn’t see the value in the time spent figuring out something new. Leave well enough alone, she often said.

Anne picked up the phone and slid her finger over the screen to accept the call.

Chapter 6

by Megan Claire Bradshaw
(1654 words)

Lauren did another slow scan of the parking lot. No dad – no real surprise, but still. She reached into her handbag feeling around for her phone. Before she thumbed the screen on to check for the time, she made a bargain with herself – If it’s more than a quarter after – I’ll go home. 12:14 flashed to 12:15 the second after she opened her eyes and she took it as a sign. I’ll wait five more minutes, but then I’m out of here. Her inability to make a decision and stick with it had plagued Lauren for years now, and along with most of her other bad habits, she blamed it on her father, or lack of a father as she certainly was now. She felt the heat of aggravation and anxiety rise up the back of her neck and found a bench to station herself on while she removed her fleece vest and took in some air. The thing was, she missed him, or at least she thought she did. Something inside of her woke up when she listened to that voicemail at Prospero’s last night, though the excitement in her quelled when she really took in his voice. He sounded scared.

Reaching for her phone again, 12:17 – he’s not coming; Lauren remembered she still hadn’t told her mom about the voicemail. She hesitated to call her now knowing her mother wasn’t capable of saying what Lauren wanted to hear. She didn’t want an I told you so or any other platitude from a woman who had long since given up her father. The more she sat and thought about it the hotter her cheeks flushed and the closer the tears came. Just as she tapped the call button next to her mother’s name she heard her own name spoken from behind with a bit of a low drawl.

Lauren?” She wheeled around and had to crane her neck up to meet the dazzling green eyes of the speaker. Just as she heard her mother answer on the other line, Lauren hit the end call button. She’d have to tell Anne about this later.

Jonathan?”  She stood up to face him. He was wearing the same bad boy uniform he had on the night before, and she wondered if he’d been out all night. His dry but not chapped lips curved up to one side gave no real indication, as his smile was just as lazy as it had been the night before. “Uh,” she chuckled nervously, “hey.” What was he doing here?

“Fancy this.” He ran his massive ruddy hand across his mouth and then around to the back of his neck, “You going somewhere?” He raised one eyebrow and Lauren had to suppress a deep sigh of undeserved affection. What was it about this guy that made her want to swoon? She could hear Hazel now, you don’t know what you want Lauren! If you don’t stop looking for trouble you’re going to find it! What does she know anyway?

“Yeah, I mean, no.” He caught her eyes with his and she felt a chill up her spine. She shook her head, “I mean, no. No, I’m not going anywhere, I’m just…” Not wanting to get into the details she finished, “What about you?”

Jonathan looked bemused and glanced over his shoulder to the left, “I was supposed to be meeting someone here but,” and to the right, “I guess they didn’t show.”

“Weird. Me too.” Lauren stared into Jonathan’s prematurely lined face and lost herself for a moment too long before dropping her gaze, “Well, I got to get going. I’ve got work and I promised I’d call my mom before, so …”

“Let me walk you to your car.” As they crossed the parking lot to Lauren’s aging Toyota she kept her eyes turned down, noticing the loose stitching on his jeans, the bulging wallet in his pocket and his silver wallet chain speckled with tiny bits of yellow.

“What are those?” She pointed to his pocket, “On the index cards there?”

Jonathan patted his wallet and said, “Just some thoughts, I guess.”

“What do you mean, thoughts? Like, poems?” She had been too embarrassed to ask him about the Emily Dickenson tattoo she had caught a glimpse of last night, but she had it in her head that this guy was some sort of James Dean/Dylan Thomas hybrid, at least she hoped.

He smiled, outright this time, and tossed his head back a little when he replied, “Yeah, you caught me. I mean – some are quotes I like, but mostly just thoughts – or poems or whatever.”

“I’d like to see that.” She hadn’t meant to say it out loud and she was surprised when he retrieved his wallet and held it out to her like a magician with a deck of cards.

“Pick one.” He offered, she hesitated, “Go on little lady, I know you want to.” Lauren covered a little snort of a laugh with her hand and then reached for one of the index cards. She tugged at one from somewhere in the middle, unfolded it and read out loud:

The true man wants two things: Danger and play. For that reason, he wants woman, as the most dangerous plaything.” She swallowed hard and flipped the card over, “Friedrich Nietzsche” She allowed herself to look up at Jonathan when she heard him laugh heartily.

“I swear I didn’t plant that one there,” He reached for the card and shuffled it back into his wallet, “Is this you?” He said indicating the Toyota.

“Well, yes.” Dizzy with imagining herself as Jonathan’s plaything, Lauren hadn’t realized they had reached her car, “I wouldn’t really say it’s me, but it is my car. So,” She let out a sigh that was embarrassingly close to a moan, “I guess I’ll see you around?”

“I look forward to that.” He gave her a wink and with two quick pats on the hood, he was gone. Lauren slid into the drivers seat, I’ve been hoodwinked, she thought with a grimace at her own corny joke. Her absentee father couldn’t have been further from her mind.

***

Daniel Riley slid between two vehicles in the parking lot of the Ferry Terminal, one a proper truck, Chevy K1500 – 1998 by his measure that some four wheeling enthusiast had installed a lift kit in – raising its already massive body an extra three feet off the ground, the other was a 2001 Infinity I30, known to him for having ample trunk space and a good deal of torque, the perfect get-away car if what you were getting away with needed ample trunk space. He had learned a lot about cars and their readiness to flee in his brief stint at an impound lot up in Kenai, Alaska, where he’d been dodging responsibility over the last few years. He really had loved that job, with an amiable boss and extra long lunch breaks usually spent at Kodiak Burgers, a small chain restaurant across the street from the lot. The jingle still haunted him each night as he’d try in vain for sleep; When life in Alaska’s got you pickled – When you’re down to your very last nickel – Don’t lose your fervor, come to Kodiak Burger! Where our bear of a burger’s served up quick-le! Daniel shook his head trying to lose the song that kept him rattled and sleepless for days and realized he couldn’t remember the last time he ate. He had planned on buying his daughter lunch at the terminal to soften the blow of really bad news, though he wasn’t sure what kind of cushion the falafel sandwiches they were serving up at the food truck would make. His mouth was watering just the same and his stomach was growling but he pushed the thought of food out of his mind when he saw a familiar and foreboding 6’4” frame – the very man he was there to warn Lauren against.

Jonathan Van Roy, the bad boy of Kenai. He couldn’t believe his luck. Twenty minutes late! Twenty minutes late for a date with his daughter that had been years in the making. He hadn’t blamed her when he showed up and she was gone but he looked around just the same. It had been so long, too long, and a girl changes so much in that time. Lauren would be a woman now and he thought he might not recognize her if she stood right in front of him. He was kicking himself. But then – What the fuck? What is Jonathan Van Roy doing here? He’d been running from that damn kid and his biker buds all over Alaska and now he’s here and – Lauren! – Daniel stuffed a fist in his mouth just in time to stifle the shout. He watched in agony as the broad leather-clad back shifted slightly to reveal his grown daughter. What is she doing with him? What the hell is going on? Oh god, I’m too late! Daniel collapsed against the Chevy with a thud and slid to the ground. In the sufficient space between the ground and the lifted truck, he was able to see his daughter clearly for the first time in years. She was built a lot like her mom, lucky, he thought, but she moved through space more like him, unlucky for her. He was frozen to the spot. Daniel didn’t dare let Jonathan see him, not with what went down last week in Kenai, so he lay there on the ground helpless, like road kill and watched as his baby girl slid into the safety of her mom’s old Toyota and drove away. Sadness and joy passed over him and quickly dissolved into fear as a sharp glint of green pierced straight through his own weary eyes and lit a fire under his ass. Run.

Chapter 7

No author for this day.

Chapter 8

By Linda Lambert
(1710 words)

After dinner, tucked away in her cabin on Chuckanut Drive––the single story, one bedroom getaway that no one knew about––Detective Steele bent over the 2000-piece puzzle of American’s Ten Most Wanted, a gallery of grim countenanced villains. Just before Old House Books was transmogrified into charcoal, she found America’s Ten Most Wanted puzzle (copyright 1990, black and white) on a 75%-off sale table in the crime section.

She liked seeing the faces of puzzle people in fifty complicated shades of grade and enjoyed the challenge of maneuvering sly, sinister, half-closed eyes up close to slanty brows, assigning a soulless stare above slumped shoulders, and urging a continuous circle of SOS-pad hair into an un-angelic halo around a face.

Vera had a knack for geometry, an ease with angles and subtle curves that others missed. Puzzles relaxed her, provided distance from the relentless analytics of detective work, and sometimes, in sideways sparks of prompts from her subconscious, assisted in the solution of crimes. Faces were etched in memory; names not so much.

Knowing that her imperfections were Asperger-related, she compensated. Every day. She read facial expressions, forced herself to make eye contact with others, and moderated her own emotions. The process was exhausting, but she wanted to be successful in her work and maximize the expensive treatments her father paid for. Chelation Therapy, removing heavy metals from the body, did no good. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment dried out her nose, but Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Neurofeedback worked. They were the tickets to her own career success. Furthermore, she was confident of her intelligence, so confident that her Last Will and Testament (and of course, she had one, as a person who dealt daily with death) called for an analysis and autopsy of her brain and a comparison with her IQ score: 140. Asperger sufferers, she believed, would benefit from research on her brain.

Autopsy, Oh my God, I haven’t heard from Dr. Virchow. Asperger-ish clumsiness overcame surprise and claimed the stability of the card table. Oh, shit. Well, the puzzle’s barely begun. I’ve reconstituted worse ones than this.

“Virchow,” she shouted into the phone, “What’s up with the corpse?” Nobody called Virchow by his first name, Augustine—too girlish-sounding. His compact muscular bulk was anything but feminine, and the remains of his German accent had just the right percentage of husky sexiness. Even when he was discussing the state of cadavers.

“I established the time of death at the scene—9:35 p.m. yesterday––but I just got the body,” he said. “You’ve taught Ryan well. He wouldn’t let me call the van for transport to the morgue until you’d confirmed the corpse’s identity late today. How’d you find out about the deceased?”

“I had a crazy hunch. He looked like someone who’d buy a sweatshirt at Good Will or wear somebody’s castoff, but I stared at the logo and detected the faint outlines of the word “Kodiak” and detected a tiny print shop logo on the collar that said “Kenai.” A quick internet search revealed Kodiak Burgers in Kenai, and, bingo! I called them up. Used my best basso profundo and sent them a blurry photo of his face, but didn’t say that he was dead.”

“The manager, who identified herself as Angie, said, ‘Oh, that’s Gregor, Gregor Keissar. He works around here half the year, fills in potholes, shovels snow, fixes things, kind of an all-around maintenance person. He’s okay with a little bad weather, but can’t stand the dark winters. Usually drops down to the forty-eight where he’s got some friends.  Gregor’s a nice guy. Is something wrong?’

‘Maybe. Does Gregor have any family in Kenai?’

‘I don’t know. I don’t think he’s married. Never seen him with anybody except his biker buddies. And them, only occasionally. He’s pretty quiet. Call me back if you need to.’

‘Thanks for your cooperation, Angie.’

“Anyway, Virchow,” Vera continued, “the information Angie gave me and his unusual name was enough to track down birth and passport info. He crossed the Canadian-U.S. border six days ago. Pretty soon, I hope we’ll know if it’s a homicide, accident, suicide, or natural causes.”

“I’m staying late to work on him now.” He paused. Should I ask her again?

 “Want to come watch?” he said. She felt his smile through the phone.

She’d confided to him her interest in forensic pathology, that she wanted to pursue more training after her Administration of Justice degree, but her father had said, “The education’s too expensive. Besides, it’s not right for a woman.” Her mother agreed. And that was that.

So instead, Vera sailed through the Police Academy, became a beat cop, and worked her way up to her latest promotion: Detective Sergeant.

Virchow found her odd, interestingly odd. She was taller than he by a good two inches, but what difference would two inches make if you’re horizontal?

***

Virchow, garbed in scrubs, extracted the slabbed body from its rectangular cubicle, shifted it onto a gurney, and wheeled his load into the exam room. Gregor’s body was a chilly 39 degrees––the throat no longer cool and clammy––his skin was plain old cold, rubbery to the touch.

Vera watched through the observation window as the pathologist, as required, turned on a recording device to document his findings in real time. Then he gloved up, strapped on a mask, and selected a shiny, sterilized tool.

After medical school at the University of Wurzburg, a three-year residency in forensic pathology at the University of Washington, and board certification, he was well qualified. He’d been sought after. He chose the lush livability of a medium-sized city in the Fourth Corner of Washington State over a prestigious professorship at SUNY and several hospital offers.

Vera watched the sweep of his eyes and hands over the body as he sought out any abnormality or traumas.  She saw him carve a Y-shaped incision, extending from each of Gregor’s armpits to the bottom of the sternum, followed by a straight slice to the lower abdomen just above the genital area. She observed him as he methodically removed each organ. Next came the brain, its size and shape and health evaluated before he freed it from its attachments. The spinal cord followed.

Intensity accompanied his scrutiny of vascular structures, arteries, lymphatics, fibrous tissue and nerves. He took cultures and extracted specimens for chemical analysis. Then, with the care (but not the flair of) a fashion designer, he returned all organs to the body and sewed up the incisions.

He’s restored the body so that it hardly looks invaded, and I don’t see any blood, Vera thought. She loved the artistry of it and wondered if all examiners, past and present, proceeded with similar reverence and respect. Had Leonardo accomplished his thirty dissections in this manner? Had Michelangelo? How had ancient pathologists accomplished their anatomical explorations without fine scalpels, antiseptic exam rooms, and electron microscopes to view the seen as well as the unseen?

Virchow exited the exam room, shed his scrubs and walked Vera to her car, letting his hand linger on her shoulder as he opened her car door. Vera imagined his hands on other parts of her…and then obliterated her fantasy. How could she get past the sight of those hands investigating the raw, decaying innards of diseased persons?

***

At the cabin, Vera finished the take-out she’d picked up at Hizzoner’s, returned to her puzzle for thirty minutes, then pushed the power button on her MacBook Air. Time for her nightly stop at the FBI’s web page because…what if one of those perps entered her close-to-the-border town? She was alert to that possibility. The Chief who hired her in 2004 told her a story with three messages: 1) Violent crime can happen here; 2) Everyone is a suspect; and 3) Be a scrupulous observer, like the witness in the story.

“For a short time around 2001,” he began, “the John Mohammed-Malvo sniper team landed in Bellingham, living in homeless shelters and with friends.  Mohammed taught his sidekick how to shoot, using tree stumps for target practice before moving on to real life. The FBI’s case was helped by a witness who (capital P, capital A) Paid Attention.” He yanked out a transcript of the witness’s account.

One night, I was over at a friend’s.  America’s Most Wanted was on in the background. I saw a face I recognized. ‘Turn up the audio!’ I said ‘ That’s John Muhammed! I had no idea he was “wanted.”’ I called the FBI tip line right then and they came to Branson’s Steel where I work and interviewed me. Muhammed always wore Levis and a black sweatshirt with a Jansport logo and carried a yellow Jansport backpack. He told me he was buying inch and a quarter aluminum for his son who had an audio sound project at the University of Washington. He was always friendly, tipped me $2 to $5 every time, even told me that he had three kids and was having trouble with his wife. One day he came in with the silencer he had made, wrapped in a black cloth. He said, “This doesn’t work. Can you make me one?” ‘Sure, we can,” I said, but it’s illegal, so no.” He smiled and left. I didn’t think of him again until I saw him on TV.”—Signed and sworn, Jonny Marks.

Vera went back to the FBI’s most wanted page. Unlike the puzzle, the website was modernized unconscionably, featuring headshots in color. Why? she wondered. These new bad boys––Brown, Patel, Fisher, Von Roy, Castilo, Mederos, Stephanson, Quintaro, Said, Flores––did not deserve Technicolor in their pictures or their lives. Still, she vowed to remember their faces, just in case. Murderers, rapists, child molesters, fugitives, terrorists and kidnappers did not belong in her town. She was going to make sure that…

Her phone flashed Virchow’s number.

“Vera! I have a theory. We won’t know for sure until the lab work’s done tomorrow. That scar you noticed on his abdomen? There was a small puncture beneath it. I think potassium chloride was injected and stopped his heart.”

And, by the way, the “sad grey fuzz” you noticed on his belly? It was just flannel from his shirt.”

 

Chapter 9

by Lish Jamtaas
(1122 words)

Everything was still as dark as the inside of midnight when Cameron came to again. Already knowing his hands were bound, he didn’t bother to struggle. Besides, the skin on his wrists felt swollen and raw from his last bout of frustration, and his throat hurt from yelling. He was hot, hungry and thirsty, and smelled pretty bad. Sometime in the night, he’d soiled himself. One of the effects of drinking a lot of water between climbs up the rock wall. How much time had passed since he made his last climb – against company rules, but who was there to see him – and closed the gym for the second time? Or tried to close. Going back to test himself against the wall had been a bad idea. He knew it then and really knew it now.

Who were those guys that grabbed me? Had there been a raccoon? Cameron shook his head, causing the flop of red hair to fall further into his eyes. Didn’t matter. It was too dark to see anyway. Nothing to be done about any of that, he thought. Think. Just stay awake and use your senses. Try to figure out where you are.

Hearing was his strongest asset. His mother used to say he could hear through walls. But with his head resting on the floor, he couldn’t hear anything but blood rushing through his veins. After struggling to a seated position, Cameron scooted across a floor that felt as if tiny grains of sand were scattered over the surface. At last, his feet clanged against something solid. Slowly he tilted his head until his right ear rested against solid metal. The coolness felt good on his skin. With great effort, he calmed himself, took in a deep breath – the air smelled of coal and diesel and salt air – and held it. Nothing. He pressed his ear closer. There. The droning whining sound again. A boat engine? Maybe.

Think! Cameron made a list of his discoveries. Metal wall. Diesel. Coal. Briny air. Grit.

Nothing.

Think! Another sound. The long, low echo of a train whistle.

“Bingo! I’m down by the bay!” he shouted before catching himself. The words tore at his already irritated throat. Someone’s stashed me inside one of the abandoned train cars!

For a brief moment, Cameron was so proud of himself, he could have spit. Then reality set in. “Who cares?” he said more softly. “No one knows I’m here except those jerks who kidnapped me.”

His mind whirred. Pierce would fire him for sure. First, for not showing up for work. Not his fault but…  Second, for going back to climb after running through his checklist of duties and closing up. Pierce was bound to find out he’d gone against company rules and let himself back in. Stupid. Third, he couldn’t remember if he’d relocked the door when he returned. Anyone could have come through the alley door while his eyes on the wall and his attention fixed on the climb. Damn! I deserve to be fired.

***

Hazel loved it when James McLeod wore his black and yellow tartan. When he added a six-button waistcoat, white shirt with French cuffs, a sporran, and black brogues, there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for him, except the one thing he’d been asking for over an hour.

“Come on, sweetie,” he droned for the umpteenth time, “climbing is good for you. It helps with balance and strength. Plus,” he slapped her butt, “it tones your muscles.”

“What’s wrong with my muscles?”

“Nothing as far as I can tell.”

“All right, all right.” Hazel laughed. “Just let me change my clothes.”

Many deep sighs and an hour later, the couple was walking hand-in-hand down the alley behind the Big Wall Gym. James wasn’t sure why it always took Hazel so long to change her clothes. Truth be told she generally looked pretty much the same before and after. Black sweatpants, black shirt, black tennies. Lucky for him, she looked exceptional in black.

Fog, which had crept off the bay while Hazel put on her exercise gear, was distorting outlines of the red brick buildings, blurring signs and adding uncomfortable moisture to the air. While his companion babbled about hair products and shoes, James thought of all the moves he needed to practice since Pierce had agreed to let him participate in the gym’s grand opening. Last night’s dinner meeting had been Pierce’s idea, the idea of whiskey shots belonged to James. A little brain-fuzz always helped a man make the right decision. Plus the Climbers in Kilts would do the entire performance for free. What could go wrong with that?

All thoughts of climbing shot right out of his mind when Hazel let out a scream so loud, James thought he might have just lost his hearing. “What is it?”

Hazel pointed down the alley where a raccoon was strolling past the Pink Pearl.

“Sweetie!” James used everything within his power to keep from rolling his eyes. “That’s a raccoon – not doing any harm.”

What James didn’t know was that Hazel had been attacked by a raccoon when she was fifteen. Finding itself trapped in her parent’s laundry room, the creature had thrown itself at Hazel when she came to do her wash. Before her father arrived to shoot the animal, Hazel had severe scratches across her cheeks. The only reason she had no visible scars was that her mother knew the best plastic surgeon in town. The emotional scars ran deep and even a year of therapy had done nothing to erase them.

“Kill it!” Hazel screamed.

As if sensing danger, the raccoon began to waddle faster. If only James could explain he had no way of killing anything, especially a raccoon twice the size of a bread box. Still, because Hazel appeared to be so frightened, he ran after the animal, waving his arms, kilt flying around his legs. The creature picked up the pace, as did James. Hazel continued screaming, and by the sound of it, was now jumping up and down, tennies slapping the asphalt.

The raccoon turned, reared up on its hind legs and hissed.

“Whoa! You win!” James threw up his hands just as he noticed something shiny in one of the animal’s paws. Instinctively, and perhaps stupidly, he lunged. The creature dropped his treasure and bolted up the wall of the Pink Pearl. For a brief second, James was completely impressed with his climbing ability. Then, coming back to reality, he picked up the dropped object.

“What is it?”

James jumped, he hadn’t heard Hazel come up behind him. “A cell phone.” He tested the power button, the phone sprang to life. “I’ll be damned. It’s Cameron’s.”

Chapter 10

by Dick Little
(1,765 words)

Pierce McIntosh slunk even lower in the chair where he’d been told to sit. Any lower and he’d disappear under the shabby table and out of view of the no-nonsense female police detective across from him. Detective Sergeant Vera Steele certainly lived up to her name. Solid biceps bulged out of her crisp khaki uniform sleeves. Her unsmiling face did most of her job for her.

Behind Vera, her boss, Lieutenant Murphy or Murray or something, thin and grim, leaned against the door he’d locked to the airless room where the three of them had spent over an hour. Detective Steele had consented to a second officer’s presence only in the interest of by-the-book police work. It was impossible for Pierce to decide which one was the Good Cop. So far, neither.

Vera said, “Let’s go over it again, Mr. McIntosh.”

What’s to go over, Pierce thought. They’d covered his life history, his parents’ life histories, how many pets he’d owned, who was his favorite U.S. president, did he have any known allergies? Did he like broccoli? Squash? Maybe his favorite high school teacher was next.

“But first,” Detective Steele asked, “I bet you don’t watch a lot of TV, Mr. McIntosh?”

“Oh Jesus, Vera! Stop playing games with him,” growled the grumpy guy by the door, toothpick in his mouth moving from side to side. “Get on with it. Book the guy and let’s go get lunch.” This definitely was the Bad Cop, Pierce decided. He tried to stop his hands from shaking and put them in the pouch of his Chicago Cubs sweatshirt. The room was stifling. He wished he hadn’t worn his flannel undershorts, simple cotton instead.

“Not so much,” he croaked. “Why?”

“Let’s watch some,” said Vera. She punched a remote, and the screen mounted on the wall at the end of the tiny room lit up. “Look familiar?” she asked.

Pierce nearly passed out. There he was, in living color, fuzzy but clearly him, hauling the dead body out the fire door of the gym and into the alley. Of course, he’d had a closed-circuit TV system installed! Of course, it operated twenty-four-seven. Nothing like finding a dead body in your place of business to make one a bit forgetful. Nothing like destroying your business when it’s barely taken off, by spending life in a penitentiary. Great business plan. Why in hell had he lied and said the woman and her little girl had found the body. The next morning!

“Honest to God!” he screamed. “I found the guy, I told you. He was already dead. I was stupid. Stupid doesn’t equal guilty!”

“Well, we’re going to do you a favor, Mr. McIntosh.” With that, Detective Steele pushed a couple other buttons on the remote, and there again was the room with the climbing wall. Pierce stopped breathing as he watched the alley door open and two dark figures haul in a body and dump it at the foot of the climbing wall. It looked like a third guy, tall and wearing a scruffy leather jacket, was holding the door outside to the alley open, but only his arm showed and a glint off his belt or something.

Pierce glanced at his Fit-Bit; his pulse had hit 150.

“So, who were those three guys, Pierce?”

“I have no idea, Detective.” Mentally, Pierce ran down the list of who’d have a key other than Cameron: Fire Department inspectors; the company that installed the system, Embers-R’nt-Us; actually any one of his brand new employees who could have snatched a key and had duplicate made.

Detective Sergeant Steele flipped through her notes.

Pierce risked a question: “Do you two have any ideas about who they might be?”

“Actually no, but maybe you know a Gregor Keissar.”

“No ma’am. Never heard of him.”

“You been to Alaska?”

“Nope. Why?”

“He was found dead in your gym. Just thought I’d ask. Does Kenai ring a bell?”

Pierce was confused. What did a dead guy’s keen eyesight have to do with anything? He asked her.

“You really aren’t from around here, are you?” Good Cop Vera actually managed a smile. Word play was, well, right there in her diagnosis.

“So, two guys lug the body into your gym. Then you lug it back out. Remember the movie Weekend at Bernie’s? Oh never mind.”

She got up to leave. The Bad Cop made a grand show of unlocking the door and, with a sweeping motion, indicated Pierce could leave. No one had broached the unanswered question: Why would a murderer deposit a body in a climbing gym and not just leave it in the alley?

***

Lauren had had her share of boyfriends. Chastely, it must be said these days, living as she did with her mother and of course a watchful Tinkerbell.

But back in the day, there was Dave, her first love, drummer for her favorite grunge band, The Flannel Jammies, who played at a hangout down on Holly Street. She’d sit in front and stare at Dave, her unrequited (unnoticed would be a better word) love, his Beatle-black hair swaying back and forth across his brow, his eyes heavenward, his wordless mouth miming whatever random beat was cavorting across his brain.

Random, because it happened that Dave the drummer couldn’t keep time any better than an oyster can count. Not so good for the guy setting the beat. No prob, apparently. His bandmates, lead guitar and bass, didn’t seem to mind—or perhaps notice—lost as they were in whatever passed as “music” in the Seventies, their genre of choice.

To the extent it was a romance, it ended for Dave, at least, the night The Jammies struggled through a rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody that was so terrible—all six-plus minutes of it; thankfully Freddie M was already dead—the manager told them to stop and threw them out. Pulled the plug, as it were. Lauren never saw Dave again and cried for days.

But then there was Randolph, her computer geek whose notes she cribbed in the coding class she took in college. Randolph (never, God forefend, Randy) had an early-balding head and short hair to boot, both of which would have screamed “Marine,” were it not for the geek-o-meter trappings: vinyl pocket protector, plaid short-sleeve flannel shirt buttoned to the neck, and long, pale fingers relentlessly tapping out ones and zeros on his state-of-the-art MacPro.

Lauren loved his precision, and the grades she got as a result—and my oh my, those long, talented, tender digits. She loved scooting up next to his chair in their cubicle, smelling the licorice lozenges he loved, and hoping that her breath against his neck might dislodge him from Words With Friends.

The fantasy ended one morning after she had a dream where Randolph the perfectionist and Dave the wayward drummer got in a fight … over her. Randolph finally screamed some geekish obscenity and clobbered Dave over the head with a metronome belonging to the music department. A “coda,” it was called, she knew from somewhere.

But now there was this guy Jonathan Van Roy—all hard body, 6’4”, tanned and green-eyed, cowboy/biker/poet of him. Now this was different. Not so much “wallet chain/Emily Dickinson” different, but flushed face, endorphin charging, “plaything” different.

Hazel didn’t like him; neither did her other friends. Proof enough he was special, right? She hadn’t even told her mom; avoided her, in fact. The “little lady” bit bothered her some, but hey, nobody’s perfect. Plus a bulging wallet and flash cards of poems … This guy was a delicious, walking contradiction in terms.

And even Fortune had smiled. There he’d been at the ferry terminal. And her dad hadn’t showed up and interfered. Just the sort of star-crossed coincidence dreams are made of. Well, that was only coincidence, wasn’t it? The ferry from Alaska and Jonathan also waiting for a passenger who didn’t show on the very same boat.

By the time Lauren hit Prospero’s after her waitressing stint the next night, the buzz had gotten around town. A dead body at the new Big Wall gym! Poor Pierce McIntosh, the owner and her mom’s new client, hauled in for questioning. No one had seen Cameron Douglas for a couple days; and Hazel’s wall-climbin’ boyfriend James McLeod (he of the well-ventilated, crowd-pleasing climbing gear) had tried several phone calls all of which had gone to voicemail.

Even the dead guy’s name had slipped out between the loose lips of a wide-eyed rookie whose fascination with intrigue trumped his confidentiality oath. Gregor. Russian-sounding something.

“Oh my gosh,” mumbled Lauren as she sipped her microbrew, holding the mug with both hands. She prayed that Jonathan wouldn’t show up. The magic of the instant infatuation was wearing off, scales slowly dropping from her lust-infused eyes. He hadn’t called, for one thing. So, she’d begun to put a couple of Land of the Midnight Sun pieces together: Dad coming on the ferry from Alaska with suddenly bad news, a dead man from Kenai (it was rumored) where her dad lived, and pretty boy Jonathan Whatever his real name was, waiting for the same ferry. The more she thought about it, “Van Roy” sounded like a cigar brand. Lauren shivered. “Easy come, easy go,” she decided. Hazel patted her hand.

If she’d known the facts—why her dad wanted so desperately to see her, to warn her, and the rest of the truth—she’d have called the police.

***

Rocky the Renaissance Raccoon leaned back against the ventilation pipe on the roof of The Pink Pearl restaurant and opened his grimy but well-pawed copy of a Shakespeare play. Lately, he couldn’t stop watching the comedy of errors (to steal a phrase) down in the human world. It was rich. An insistent bell had been ringing in his scavenging head that he could no longer ignore. It was too familiar.

“Van Roy,” he scoffed. “Try Caliban. And who’d even name a brew pub ‘Prospero’s’?”

He scratched behind his ear. “Plus all those Highlanders. Oops, wrong play. But if the Alaska ferry had been shipwrecked in a storm? Game, set, match!”

He munched on a day-old pot sticker and started to read. Then he stopped. “I’m only guessing, but if Miranda’s … er … Lauren’s dad doesn’t turn out to be this Van Roy’s brother, I’ll eat my haggis.” He gagged. Some things even a raccoon won’t eat.

He went on, “We are, after all, such stuff as dreams are made of.”

Chapter 11

by Jennifer Wilke
(1,824 words)

Speak of the devil.

Jonathan Van Roy hurried down Holly Street, under the apparent impression that dressing in black leather and skirting the sidewalk halo under each street light concealed his presence from passersby on this moonless, cloudy night.

From the roof of The Pink Pearl, Rocky the Raccoon had detection skills few humans fully appreciated, starting with an IQ of 140, though this was a unique quality to himself and not generally true of all raccoons. His second skill designed for sleuthing out prey was his binocular and in-depth night vision all raccoons shared, due to the evolutionary development of the tapetum lucidum membrane in their eyes.

Rocky licked the last juice from the scavenged pot sticker off his furry toes, put aside what dreams are made of, and scurried down the building’s drainpipe. From the shadows, he had no trouble following Van Roy whatever his name really was, wherever he was headed, as long as there weren’t any foxes or cougars when they got there. Even super-powered raccoons have a few natural enemies.

***

Prospero’s was crazier and noisier than usual tonight. Everybody was getting drunk, talking about the dead man from Kenai, with each new speculation over who killed him having its enthusiastic proponents and detractors. The chaos was making this murder something people were joking about, which didn’t seem right to Lauren, just because no one knew the man. Somebody somewhere had loved him once. Nobody deserves to get murdered.

Lauren picked up her microbrew and motioned for Hazel to follow her to a table in a corner so they might be able to hear each other and have a real conversation. Lauren needed to tell Hazel about the drama of her dad’s voice mail, then the trauma of his being missing in action again. She wanted to confess to Hazel that despite her initial excitement about the poet/biker/bad boy Jonathan, some doubts were seeping in about him, about herself, about her choice in men, about her whole life. Lauren needed to cry on Hazel’s shoulder, and then borrow some of Hazel’s strength and put herself back together.

Hazel nodded in agreement that they move and followed Lauren to the corner. They were sitting down as James appeared and brought over his own chair to join them, uninvited. He waved to the barmaid to order them another round. Hazel gave Lauren a sheepish shrug, leaning closer to give James a welcoming kiss. Lauren wasn’t about to hurt his feelings by asking him to leave, either. Her conversation with Hazel would have to wait. It was time Lauren went home.

“Good night, all.” She drank what remained in her mug.

“Stay,” James objected. “Another brew’s coming.”

“What’s mine is yours,” Lauren said as she used her empty mug to anchor cash for her microbrew and two more dollar bills; in her rule book, any waitress is duty-bound to leave a tip for any other waitress, and Lauren tried to tip as close to 25% as she could manage, although her math skills and her budget both made this challenging. She knew that good tips make all the difference on the days when your feet hurt or your head aches or there’s no one to tell your troubles to.

Blowing a farewell kiss over James’s head to Hazel, Lauren wedged her way through the crowd and pushed out the front door into the night. Suddenly, she was by herself on the dark street, only a few couples here and there, arm in arm. Walking away from the tavern, the noise and laughter faded. She heard a police siren somewhere far away. Walking alone, letting the stress of the day begin to leave her bones, she felt melancholy, as though she’d lost something. Regretted something.

Damn it! How could she let a recording of his voice, his absence, sink her again? She started to run down the street, as if she could leave the girl behind, the one he never loved, catch up to the woman she needed to be without him, the woman who needed nothing from him ever again, whose heart didn’t sink without warning. Crying and gasping for air, she ran toward home, where she would be safe again.

She had to tell her mother. Anne was the only one who could possibly understand. Only her mother would recognize the old, old anger in Lauren’s tears, be able to comfort her old, old pain, the wound that never really healed. Fathers are supposed to love their daughters. All of Lauren’s friends had fathers who loved their daughters. Being unlovable made Lauren act like it didn’t matter, like she didn’t care anyway. She had her mother and pets and girlfriends. But she’d spent her life apologizing too much, worrying too much about why she wasn’t good enough, much too easily brought to her knees by the simplest failure or discouragement. Damn him!

His phone message out of the blue last night made her whole body go numb in surprise, then she flushed with anger. She let herself feel the hope against hope, that this time he would apologize sincerely, ask her forgiveness, tell her he really did love her and always had. Her anger seared her again, that she’d let herself give in to hope when nothing had changed, and all he had to give her was more indifference and more cruel disappointment. Get out of my life forever! Leave me alone! she wanted to scream. See if I care!

She raced up the front porch and through the door. “Mom? I’m home.” She draped her coat on the hallway chair. Tinkerbell bounded down the hall to greet her, always one of the best things about coming home. Lauren crouched down to scratch behind his ears. His soft, warm tongue licked her cheek and part of her ear.

“We’re in here,” Anne called from the dining room.

We? Lauren wanted her mom to herself, to be able to tell her the truth. She made herself walk to the entrance of the dining room, and smile. “Never underestimate the importance of being polite,” Anne always told her when she’d been a surly teenager. Lauren could still be surly, but she had learned also be polite.

“Hello,” Lauren said. Her mom and the handsome man from Prospero’s were sitting at the dining room table, several burning candles casting a warm and private atmosphere in the usually formal room. Their wine glasses were nearly empty, as was the wine bottle.

“I’m so glad you’re home, dear.” Anne came to embrace her. “I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages. Lauren, you haven’t met Pierce McIntosh.”

Pierce stood up and seemed to almost bow a little. “Pierce, this is my daughter Lauren.”

“Hello,” Lauren said again, recognizing her mother’s sparkle in the company of a younger, handsome man to invite home to drink wine. The candles were a special touch.

“I’m very pleased to meet you, Lauren,” Pierce said.

“Pierce is new in town, so we’re talking houses,” her mom explained. “He’s opening the climbing gym.”

“You found the body,” Lauren blurted.

Pierce put his hands up like he was surrendering, trying to make a joke of it all, like a man under interrogation. “I didn’t kill him, though. I didn’t even know him.”

Lauren smiled as best she could. This was getting very awkward. “I’m sorry, don’t let me interrupt you. I’m pretty tired, so I’ll just go up to my room.”

“Of course, dear.” Anne was letting Lauren know that she wanted to be alone with this new man who might or might not be a murderer, and might or might not buy a house from her.

Lauren was on the stairs when the doorbell rang. She opened the door to discover a uniformed policeman on the porch, a young man about her age who looked familiar.

“May I help you?” she asked.

He took off his hat and held it under his arm. “I’m Sergeant Ryan Miller.” He stepped forward to show her his ID card. “We have some information for you, Lauren Riley, and a few questions.”

His manner was friendly and he looked almost familiar, but she couldn’t place him. “Do I know you, Sergeant?”

Sergeant Miller smiled and nodded. “Mountain High School. I was a year behind you. I’m Peggy Miller’s younger brother.”

“Peggy’s little brother?” Lauren remembered envying Peggy Miller’s long, thick braids, and how she always complained about her bratty little brother. “And now you’re a police sergeant.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m just learning the ropes. In fact, this is my first solo. The Detective Sergeant is a little under the weather.”

“What information do you have for Lauren?” Mama lion Anne joined Lauren at the door. Lauren didn’t see Pierce anywhere. Had he left already?

Sergeant Miller handed Lauren a small piece of paper that had been folded quite a few times. She opened it and read her cell phone number. When she looked up, he was dialing his own cell phone. Lauren’s cell phone rang, from inside her purse on the hall chair.

“Confirmed,” the Sergeant said as he wrote in a small notebook. “Lauren Riley’s cell phone number is confirmed as written.” To Lauren, he said, “We found that note in this man’s pocket.” He brought a photograph up on his phone, and turned it for Lauren to see. “Can you identify him?”

Lauren saw the photograph and had trouble breathing, as if a dense fog had enveloped her, had enveloped everything. She didn’t trust herself to speak.

“Who is it?” Anne reached to turn the phone so she could see its screen. “Oh, my God! Oh, baby.” She moaned as she put her arm around Lauren.

“Can you identify him?” the Sergeant repeated.

“Daniel Willingsby Riley the Third.” Anne sounded defeated.

“He’s my dad,” Lauren confirmed. Her knees almost gave out as she reached for her phone again and dialed up her dad’s voicemail message. She turned up the volume, and held it out for all to hear.

‘Lauren, honey, it’s your dad. Look, I, er, I know it’s been a long time since I was in touch. I’m so sorry . . . but something’s happened, I really need to talk to you. Can you be at the Ferry Terminal tomorrow at noon? No, don’t call back on this number. Just . . . just try and be there. Please?’

“I’m very sorry,” Sergeant Miller said, “but I’ll need your phone as evidence.”

Lauren handed it to him without objection. “What happened?” She was almost whispering. She already knew. She felt too hollow to hope, too weakened to weep anymore.

“I’m very sorry to inform you,” Sergeant Miller told the two women, “he was found deceased this afternoon in the city harbor. The cause of death has not yet been determined, but foul play is suspected. I’ll have to ask each of you where you were between noon and five this afternoon. Just routine.”

Chapter 12

by Susan Chase-Foster
(1740 Words)

Just routine, just routine, just routine slammed into Lauren’s mind like thousand thrushes crashing into glass. At that moment, her brain fog lifted and her breath returned. She reached for Sergeant Miller’s phone. He moved back.

“What are you doing?”

“Let me see that photo again, Ryan.”

“Are you…are you sure you want to do that, Lauren? You’ve already…”

“Let her see it, Ryan,” Anne whispered, tightening her arm around her daughter. Maybe looking again was part of the grieving process, the first stage, denial, that Lauren had to go through, although Anne had zipped right into acceptance, maybe even relief. Danny being found dead was anything but surprising, given his countless issues. Strange that it happened here, though, in the harbor. Why not in Alaska?

Sergeant Miller relocated the photo and set his phone into Lauren’s shaking hand. She studied the image, taken from the chest up, for some time while Anne looked away. It was definitely her father, Daniel Riley, in the same blue and grey plaid flannel shirt Lauren remembered seeing him in at her graduation from U-dub. There was his faded Seattle Mariners baseball cap, his longish grey hair poking out of the sides, and the same full beard that clearly hadn’t seen a trim in years. His skin was a mixture of ruddy and tan, as if he’d spent much of his time in the midnight sun, maybe out on a fishing boat or hunting for moose. And there were his hazel eyes staring out as if seeing nothing, expressionless as the day he’d left Lauren and her mom, forever. Open.

“Mom, his eyes are open!” she shouted, waving her father’s photo in Anne’s startled face. “When was this picture taken, Ryan?”

Sergeant Miller stood frozen. He took a deep breath, removed his phone from Lauren’s hand, and looked for a nanosecond at the photo before shoving the phone into his pant pocket. “I… I sent it to me from your father’s phone after retrieving it from, you know, the scene. It was the most presentable photo I could find to use for family identification, all things considered. I mean, he was actually found floating in harbor water, and I thought this would be a more sensitive and efficient approach than asking you to come down to the coroner’s lab.”

“Sensitive? Efficient? Well, guess what, Ryan, it isn’t!”

***

Rocky, or Rockwell as he preferred to call himself, stealth-darted behind JVR through ribbons of shadow. He vaulted in and out of back alley garbage cans for on-the-go nibbles, yet still managed to keep track of the very-likely-villainous Van Roy, who seemed to be working his way toward the harbor. But, after consuming a doggie box of leftover chicken enchiladas from Jalapeños parking lot, which had apparently fallen off the roof of an exiting car, he nearly lost the towering man in the process.

It was time to recommit to the task of tailing. After a few cleansing breaths, during which he gazed at the nub of his handsome black nose and listened to the iambic pentametric beat of his heart, Rockwell began to spin like a furry dreidel. He hissed to himself, to the cosmos and anybody who happened to be passing by, which was nobody: “I, Rockwell Raccoon, Bayside Bandit Bard, Raconteur of Rhythms, and Prestigious Poet Extraordinaire …do solemnly…solemnly…”

It was then that Rockwell, in masked, furred, finely tailed glory walked on his hind legs, held his front paws up for oratorical flair, and noticed for the first time that he did not have opposable thumbs on either of his two “hands.” Overcome with grief, he gasped, grasped (loosely speaking) a fallen maple leaf from the sidewalk, held it to his heart and began to compose the first stanza of what would eventually become “Sonnet 155.”

Shall I compare these two to human hands?

Both are more clumsy and indelicate.

At thieving they excel from taco stands

And Pink Pearl rice they deftly titillate.

Exhausted from having finished that luscious bit, Rockwell slipped under a nearby rosebush and, forgetting about JVR, fell into a deep literary sleep.

***

Angie said goodnight to her last customers of the evening, two Budweisered-out members, both wearing Kenai Krakhead Motorcycle Club colors and black leather jackets. She locked the front door behind them, flipped the open sign to close, turned off the outside lights and poured herself a three finger shot of Jack Daniels from the bottle she kept under the counter. Her cook and two waitresses had already cleaned-up their areas and readied the kitchen for the next day. Angie shooed them out the back door and locked it. All that was left was to set the alarm and grab her bottle of booze. Her Harley Sportster 883 SuperLow, always packed, fueled and ready to roll in case she needed to get the hell out of Dodge, was parked right out front. Luckily, it wasn’t winter yet as riding in the snow was a bitch.

About then, the phone rang. It was Jon. Dammit, hadn’t she told her son a thousand times never to call Kodiak Burger directly in case the phone was tapped. No exceptions. How hard was it to remember that her name was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list? Shit, she’d emailed Jon the link and told him to check it regularly, if not daily, on his cell, but no, he kept calling the restaurant.

“Van Roy, dude! See it there, V_A_N_ R_O_Y, with Angela spelled out before it and my twenty-year-old mug shot right above. Can’t you read, boy?”

Angie had asked him the same question over and over, but unlike his brothers, Jon couldn’t seem to remember. Maybe it was the alcohol, the drugs, or the toxic effect of gasoline fumes from his bike. Her first husband had hit Jon in the head few times over the years, before he was locked for life into Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward. Maybe Jon was damaged goods.

Oh, well, she’d finish her Jackie D, hang her blond wig next to the red one in the closet, shake out her own steel gray curls, ride home, and call Jon back on her private cell.

Angie turned off all the interior lights and climbed on one of the barstools to take in the night through the front window. It was still light enough to see water and mountains outside, but at least there were a few hours of night now. The aurora might even be visible. That could happen if she stopped drinking after this one and stayed awake until 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. She’d done it before, but it was not likely now that Gregor’s body had been found and she was technically in mourning. After all, he’d been her lover for a while after Danny, a gentleman, if any guy around here could be called one, and a regular church goer, though there was a rumor that Gregor had formerly worked in intelligence at the federal level. Hard to imagine with that easy-going personality.

But she had to face it. Somebody, maybe even Joel and Jeremy, her two younger boys, had taken him out. Maybe Jon. Or all three. Her sons were raised to be defensive, but were sometimes a little too aggressive in protecting their sixty-five-year-old mama’s true identity. Restaurant manager/owner, lifelong rude-mouthed biker woman and female president/road captain of a mostly male outlaw motorcycle gang. That was who she’d been for twenty years. Before that, she didn’t want to talk about.

Could Gregor have read FBI files and made the connection that Angie was hiding out under a false identity? Had others, like Danny who worked a few months across the road at the impound lot and spent most of winter in the Lower Forty-eight also become suspicious? Daniel Riley had asked her repeatedly what her last name was and she refused to answer. Maybe over time he put two and two together. And what about that muscular miracle of a guy, what was his friggin’ name? Cameron. He’d spent the summer mountain climbing along the peninsula, working as a back-up server for her, smoking a little dope and asking a lot of questions. Nah, it was all in her head.

Angie refilled her shot glass, took a big gulp, then broke her own rule and returned Jon’s call on the restaurant’s phone.

***

Dehydrated and hungry, Cameron was growing weaker in his boxcar confinement. He mostly slept, but when he was conscious, he chewed on whatever was binding his wrists, which tasted and felt like one of those hide or gut straps he’d seen the summer he’d climbed on the Kenai Peninsula. They were strong, dang strong straps, so locals, especially indigenous folks, used them for binding bundles and stringing nearly everything, wood, salmon, sled dogs to their houses. Some used the straps for decorations and closings on clothing, and in art. Gradually, the strap began to fray and stretch. After a few more sleeps and chews, Cameron pulled one swollen hand free, and then the other.

Now, unbound, he had to find a way to escape the boxcar fast. His kidnappers had not yet returned, as far as he knew, but when they did who knew what might happen? With effort, Cameron found the metal wall of the boxcar, and pulled himself up. He couldn’t see anything, but worked his way around the car until he located what felt like a sliding door. It didn’t seem to have a lock on it, at least he couldn’t feel one, but it did feel strangely loose, so he began to jiggle and pull, making scratchy, clanging metal-on-metal noises that he hoped someone might here. And when he did this, he could see a bit of light around the edges of the door, not daylight, but more like a street lamp or the lights of a car driving by. He tried yanking and shoving again. It was no use. He was too week to move the door open, or perhaps it was locked from the outside. Broken hearted, Cameron slipped down onto the floor, leaned against the door, and began to cry, or more accurately, howl.

“I’m gonna die here!” he screamed. I’m actually going to die in a boxcar on the bay!”

And after a while he heard a familiar voice calling from somewhere close by. “Cameron! Hey, Cameron! Is that you in there?”

Chapter 13

by Judy Shantz
(1,946 words)

What in heaven’s name had happened to him? What was he doing here in this outdoorsy little Neverland by the bay? Why had he even started this business? Why was it so important for some murdering thugs to dump a body inside his gym? Why? Why?

Truly – why HAD he started this business? Because some guy he used to know when he was doing a marketing campaign for an aerospace firm in San Diego had just happened to drop by his office in Seattle one day last year. Just happened to be in town. Just happened to have business in the same building. Good god – just happens to sound pretty far-fetched right now!

What did he really know about Sam Barings, anyway? Even in San Diego, they didn’t travel in the same circles. Then out of the blue, Sam has an option on a neat downtown building in a burg that Pierce had scarcely heard of. But he bit. Took the bait and now, here he was, totally out of his element. Should he try calling Sam about the murder or just let him see it on KOMO?

He’d had an interesting dinner with James the night before. He’d told him straight up that he didn’t much like the kilt idea. He pictured parents shielding their children’s eyes or outraged city fathers (or, more likely, mothers) shutting him down. But James had told him a lot about the resurgence of kilts – about guys on construction crews raving about their utility and freedom of movement.

“Okay, okay,” Pierce held up both hands in mock surrender. “Let me see what they look like.”

An hour later, James was back with six friends – all wearing their climbing kilts. Pierce’s first reaction was to avert his eyes, as though he had just mistakenly stumbled into the girls’ locker room. Incredible! They were all different fabrics and colors, mostly muted, black or army green. One guy was in desert camo. At least that kilt would blend right into the color of the climbing wall and all but disappear. But what about the guy with the dreadlocks and a kilt in bright yellow plaid – Braveheart redux. “Plaid?” gasped Pierce.

“Tartan,” James quietly corrected. “Mine is the McLeod Dress. And Cameron wears one too. His clan tartan. It was his grandma’s idea. She is the keeper of all things Scot in his family. She even went over to Jo-Ann’s and found the fabric for us. It’s perfect for climbing.”

In spite of Pierce’s misgivings, they did seem like decent guys. They asked Pierce lots of questions about his vision for the Grand Opening and made a few suggestions.

“Okay?” asked James. “You guys on board with a few of these restrictions? No tighty-whities. No bare buns. No lewd panties. It will be all black for the family jewels. Got it?”

“Aye, black bloomers all around then, lads,” said Camo Kilt in his best Monty Python.

Braveheart started a mock sword fight with thin air at the back of the room and even Pierce chuckled.

“You know,” said James, “I’ll bet you anything there’s a McIntosh tartan, Pierce. We could get one made up for you for the Grand Opening.”

“You wouldn’t catch me dead in one of those girly things,” grumbled Pierce. He pictured himself dead, face down at the bottom of the climbing wall – wearing a SKIRT! Not gonna happen!

***

Angie dialed Jon’s number and he picked up in seconds. “Where in the hell are you, Jon, and why are you calling me at the restaurant?”

“Down in the lower 48, Mama. Playing mind games with the Hamsters.” She could practically hear him grinning.

“Couldn’t you have waited and called me at home?”

“Actually, no, Mama. I’m in need of a very quick, no-questions-asked, favor. Right now.”

“I’m your mother. I’ll ask all the questions I want. What’s the favor?”

“I need you to go get my bike and move it.”

“Where the hell is it?”

“Out at the fish camp on the Kenai River. I hid it there.”

“What fish camp? There’s about a million fish camps on the Kenai.”

“Oh, Ma – you know the one. Old man Flores’ place. Where Danny used to camp out when he was living with Rosalia.”

Yeh, she knew the place. “That’s half way to Sterling, Jon. Maybe I could do it in the morning.”

There was silence for a minute. Then what – menace? “I need this done now, Ma. In the dark. My bike cannot be associated with that place. Got it?”

“You idiot. This is summer. This is Alaska. There is no dark,” she was yelling now. “And I can’t ride that damn hog of yours. It’s way too big!”

“Don’t exaggerate, Mama. There’s a couple of hours of dark. Take the Ford and the trailer. Just get it out of there.”

“Maybe I could call Danny to help.”

“Don’t. Call. Danny. Got it? Take a flashlight. It’s about a quarter of a mile inside the gate, on the right. Covered with a blue tarp and some brush. Pretty easy to find. Haul it down towards Homer. I’ll send the GPS coordinates to your cell phone.”

The call ended and Angie couldn’t get him to answer again.

Jonathan stepped back out of the shadows, nearly tripping over the sleeping fuzzball that was the satiated raccoon, and headed towards Prospero’s. Maybe Lauren would be there. Too bad about that girl. He kind of liked her. Oh well, in the meantime, he might as well enjoy her company.

No sign of Lauren so he found a spot at the very end of the bar. “Micro-whatever” he said to Ariel, the pretty bartender.

Jonathan sipped his brew and pulled out his stack of poem cards, leafing through them and looking for something more prosaic for this occasion. Robert W Service would fit …

“…The Arctic trails have their secret tales that would make your blood run cold. Yes, they would,” Jonathan smiled. “Yes, they would indeed.”

***

Most of Pierce McIntosh’s sins were of the omission kind. He seldom actually lied but he frequently withheld the truth. Not quite above-board, as his straight-arrow father used to say. He could feign innocence with the best of them. But this was different. It was one thing to can some poor third-tier bookkeeper for lack of due diligence and then tell the auditors that he had resolved the problem. But he couldn’t fake this. He was definitely in over his head.

Pierce had been pondering the good and bad of staying in this town. On the plus side, an attractive, middle-aged woman was trying to seduce him. On the plus, plus side, she also had a very attractive twenty-something daughter. Nice! Maybe a twofer. Pierce performed a little mental slap. On the downside – way, way down – he had just been hauled in and questioned for murder.

Maybe it was time to actually man up. Just stop the bullshit – the steely gaze and the alpha bluster that served him so well in the business world. Deep down he knew that Detective Steele could out-man and out-bluster him any day.

He pulled on his jacket and headed downtown. This wouldn’t be easy. Everything about that woman was oblique – from the way she talked, the way she looked at you, even the way she moved. But she had one of those steel-trap minds and Pierce liked that. He respected that. He would remind her about the yellow paint on the shoes and the puddle by the door. He would tell her that they weren’t there when he hauled the body out. She could check the video. He had made sure that he had left no marks at all.

***

Angie was raging angry and raging drunk by the time she got on the highway with the ancient F-150 and the trailer. She hadn’t been to this fish camp since old Tiburcio Flores used to come down every June when the reds were running, bringing all his friends with him. His boys were long gone to petty crime but his daughter, Rosalia, used to help him out, keeping the smoker stoked and wrapping and labeling bundles of fish to throw into the huge chest freezer. But Tibu was practically crippled with arthritis now and stayed over in Seward all year. Dan Riley had checked on the camp for him the last few years and done some maintenance. Rumor had it that he and Rosalia were shacked up there part of the time. Well, more power to him.

Angie got the gate open and pulled the truck well off the highway. She opened the glove box, took another shot of courage and grabbed the flashlight.

The driveway was overgrown and so was the huge mound of debris that turned out to be Jon’s bike. She staggered on down to the cabin, looking for gloves and clippers to help her dig it out. There was nothing under the porch except old coolers and nets. Inside the cabin, she found a light switch, not expecting anything when she flipped the switch. But a bare ceiling bulb flicked on, revealing a room almost completely bare except for the chest freezer. Little piles of pink insulation were scattered across the floor. Mice.

A clipboard hanging on a nail held a long list of names, and catches and dates – with instructions to help yourself to your own fish and cross your name off the list. Only a few had done so. Weird. Who wouldn’t want to claim their catch? Angie lifted the big lid and held it up while she shone her flashlight over the packages, all neatly labeled. Maybe she could take a couple. Salmon would be a nice change from her daily burger. She braced the lid with her head and rummaged around looking for some small ones.

Angela Quintaro, Motorcycle Mama, was a tough woman by anybody’s standards. She could cuss and drink and threaten with the roughest of them. But not tough enough for this. The lid slammed down on her hand, cracking her knuckles before she wrenched it free. She sank to her knees, her back arching and stomach contracting – crawling away, gasping, while a half bottle of Jack Daniels insisted on returning and co-mingling with the pink insulation and mouse droppings. She knew what she had seen. It was Tibu’s oldest boy – in pieces.

She was still choking and crying when she got the truck turned onto the highway. She left the gate unlatched and cranked the old Ford up through the gears. She reached for the bottle in the glove compartment and took a swig. In the mirror she caught the lights – the flashing red lights – approaching fast. She doubled down on the accelerator.

***

Rocky Raccoon still wanted his sparkly snake and decided to return to the alley to look for it. It didn’t take long – it was tucked just under the dumpster where it had fallen or been kicked. In the human world, it was a chain of small and medium-sized carabiners with two brass keys on the end. To Rocky, it was a shiny snake, with two yellow eyes. “Mine,” he said, as he reached for it.

Crow had other ideas as he swooped down for the shiny object. They did their usual standoff dance, with Crow cackling and Rocky hissing.

Down the alley oozed a shape-shifting shadow, moving along the wall, almost unseen.

“Oops, people trouble” – cawed crow. “Grab my hat and I’m outta here.” He rose almost straight up into the air, landing on the ledge above.

Rocky envied him that.

The shadow hand with the opposable thumb picked up the snake.

Chapter 14

by Elaine Elkins
(1953 words)

Vera Steele turned off Chuckanut Drive onto Yacht Club Road, and then eased her Jeep into the driveway of her shabby cabin. The irony of her low-bagger secret hide-away being on a street whose name denoted outward opulence was not lost on her. The tiny, dark, wood-hewn cottage, set back among the tall cedars, was hard to spot even if one was looking. At a glance, it could easily be mistaken for a disused outbuilding on the property of one the stately homes nearby. It was practically invisible, like a murder weapon hiding in plain sight.

Though it was situated only minutes from downtown Bellingham, Vera felt that it was as safe a place to disappear to as any remote locale. Anyone who knew about this place was long-dead, including her father who had gifted it to her before he died ten years ago. After her mother had committed suicide when she was three, her father, Armando Steele, had immigrated with Vera to the United States, leaving behind the pity and the blame that came with his wife’s unfortunate demise and his daughter’s obvious mental abnormalities. They had rented the cottage until her father had been given the opportunity to buy it at auction for well under its value, due to its dilapidated condition and the owners desire to liquidate their assets. Armando didn’t ask why. He knew better than to look a gift-horse in the mouth. The pair lived there, unnoticed by the affluent residents of Yacht Club Road, until Vera entered school. They kept to themselves, and so did their neighbors. That was the beauty of this place, thought Vera as she cut the headlights and coasted into her parking spot at the right side of the small house.

Once inside, Vera switched on the light and set her grocery bag on the kitchen counter. The air inside the room was stuffy and smelled of dust. Vera reached between the curtains and threw open the kitchen window. If a little light spilled out in that brief moment, Vera wasn’t concerned. The back of the house faced the woods. Who was going to notice her? Maybe a deer or a raccoon or some other dumb animal. Nothing to worry about. The thick window coverings on the front windows concealed her private activities inside, which tonight would involve eating a sumptuous Haggen roasted chicken. More delicious though, would be her ritual of pouring over the numerous cadaver photographs she had compiled over her years on the force. Since making Detective Sergeant, this task had become easier. And with a built-in excuse.

Vera got down to business, mechanically dissecting her chicken with her hands while imagining the process of carving the bodies of the dead fellows in her notebook. If someone were to catch her in this act, she would likely not even notice them entering her space. This was the downfall of her abnormal ability to hyper-focus. On the flip-side, her alibi was that the thorough examination of past cases helped her to solve current ones. And this would be true, albeit odd. She flipped to the section entitled, “Drowning Victims,” and began scanning the post-mortem mugshots. This disproportionately large section was a sad reality of life and death in a town surrounded by water, Vera thought.

“If dead men could talk,” Vera whispered to herself, listening with her eyes to what these photos wanted to tell her. Once the autopsy report was finalized and the cause of death determined, Vera would add Daniel Riley’s photo to her book. But for now, she would search the faces of the similarly-fated for clues. What could Sam Reynolds’ pale blue, gaped-mouth expression be trying to say? What are the dark staring eyes of Charles Turnbow communicating?

“Talk to me boys,” Vera said out loud. “How did you wind up in the water? Who put you there?”

Could these two clumsy fishermen be connected in some way, as Vera felt that the two most recent cases to come across her desk to be? From what she knew so far, Daniel and Gregor had plenty in common: both men in their middle years; both from Alaska; both rather scruffy in appearance; both with pasts that seemed to have caught up with them. Coincidence? Not likely.

Vera nudged her mind back into focus. Twice already she had caught her thoughts drifting to her interlude with Virchow following the autopsy of Daniel Riley. As he finished his last stitch, she had placed her hand on his and gave him a practiced look conveying her desire. To an outside observer, his expression would have been undetectable. But Vera saw the slight upturn in the position of his lips. She had seen the tiny movement of his left eyebrow indicating his acknowledgment and acceptance of her wordless invitation.

“Focus, Vera!” She had told herself now, knowing temptation would win anyway.

They had exited the hospital separately, even using different doors. They had taken different routes to their destination and parked far from one another. As per usual, Virchow procured the key under an alias. Vera let twenty minutes pass before she joined him in their rented room on Samish Way, changing into sweatpants and a hoodie pulled over her head in the meantime. Virchow was already in the cold bath water when she came into the darkened space. She undressed and got under the covers.

“That’s enough for now, Vera,” she said with little conviction as she forced her eyes to shift between Sam and Charles, pleading with them to divulge their secrets.

Just then something caught her eye. The hair. These two dead fishermen had the same buzz-cut sides with longer hair on top. Could have been a fashion coincidence, or a signature style of the Lummi mariners, but to Vera, it was a sign. Though she hadn’t paid much attention to the varying coifs of Daniel and Gregor, she seemed to recall that those two sported a similar look as the pictured duo in front of her: shaved up past the ears, but long on top.

“Not much of a clue, Vera,” she stated blandly to herself. “But,” she continued more confidently, “smaller details have solved cases in the past. Maybe our northern transplants have more in common than we think.”

***

Exhaustion seeped into Sarah Soloman’s bones as she turned out her daughter’s light and shuffled down the hall to the kitchen. This was a day she would never want to repeat and would like to soon forget. Hot tears streamed down her cheeks as she submerged her hands into the sink’s tepid soapy water. Absently, she rubbed the bristles of her paintbrush against her right palm trying to effectively, yet carefully, loosen the oil-based paint from the brush while her thoughts and emotions ran circles around her mind. What had she subjected Rachel to? Would her sweet, innocent child ever recover from the trauma of finding a dead man in an alley? How would she feel about law enforcement after being “questioned” like a common criminal? If only she had not decided to exit the gym via the alleyway. If only she had put the interest of her daughter above her own desire to be recognized as an artist, even if by an eight-year-old who would love her anyway.

But Sarah had not been thinking clearly that night. Buzzed on booze and adrenaline, Sarah had offered to take Rachel to the new climbing wall as a reward for patiently enduring her mother’s long, manic stint painting her “Piece de Resistance,” the piece that would give her a new name and identity, hopefully replacing the one she fled the cold to find. More than any of that though, Sarah had created her rendition of the Tlingit Raven who Stole the Sun as a gift for Rachel. The native form-line art depicting the brazen black bird holding the sun in his beak, with its simplistic yet bold detail, was something Sarah marveled at and respected. The story of the outsmarted trickster was still one of Rachel’s favorite traditional tales. When they moved, they had left many of their possession and memories behind them. The mural would be enduring proof that some of the things they loved would be theirs forever, wherever they went.

The plan would go as follows: Sarah would check Rachel in and get her set up with her climbing lesson, then she would duck out the front door, grab the last tub of paint from the car, head to the alley to add the finishing touches on the sun, and be back before Rachel attempted her solo ascent. That was not exactly what happened.

When Sarah stepped out of the door of the gym into the warm summer night, she had a sudden urge for a drink. Walking toward the car with determination, she thought she had overcome the temptation. But the neon sign from Structures Brewery across the street set its hook and lured her in.

“Just one beer,” she had told herself. Two in the time of one would be her rationale as she paid up and hurried to complete the task at hand.

In the alley, Sarah quickly ascertained that the dumpster would be the only plausible option for gaining the height she needed to reach her unfinished art. With effort, she scaled the massive metal box, only managing to spill a small amount of her paint in the process.

If only it had played out the way Sarah had envisioned.

***

James leashed his oversized Bernedoodle, Helix, and said his goodbyes to his friends. “Party Pooper” they called after him as he waved congenially, leaving them there on the darkening patio of Gruff Brewing Company.

Stepping into the alley, James breathed in the sweet, hop-scented air, feeling slightly buzzed and truly happy. His thoughts meandered as he ambled along at a steady pace, trying to get through the darkest part of the trail between Bellingham and Fairhaven before utter blackness set in. His meeting with Pierce had gone well enough, but he could tell that the gym’s owner was not fully convinced that buff dudes climbing in kilts would draw an appropriate crowd to his all-important event. Where the hell was Cameron? He was supposed to be the point-man for all of this. He had better turn up soon if he knows what’s good for him.

It was fully dark by the time James and Helix stepped off the Taylor Street dock and turned south onto South State Street. As they approached the gravel trail that led to downtown Fairhaven, James veered right and skirted around the metal gate that blocked the way down to the southside’s industrial zone. Ignoring the private property sign, he let Helix off the leash and followed him down the rutted cement road. At the bottom of the hill, a single halogen light protruding from a graffiti-strewn building cast eerie shadows on the boats and nets and bait boxes strewn on either side of the road. It looked like an abandoned fishing village after a tsunami. James was beginning to question his judgment about venturing into this no-man’s land when Helix caught the scent of something and took off around the far end of the run-down building.

He caught up with his dog as he approached an old shipping container nestled in among giant cable spools, wrecked lawn furniture, and an ancient Honey Bucket placed against the shrubby hillside at the far side of the yard.

“What is it boy?” James whispered to Helix, who was sniffing at the container’s bolted door.

Just then James heard a familiar voice coming from inside the container!

“Cameron?” James stammered. “Cameron, is that you in there?”

CHAPTER 15

Due to Chapter 15s nonconformity to the rules of the RWB NaNoWriMo Round Robin novel, it has been removed from the narrative.

CHAPTER 16

by Laura French
(1195 words)

Cameron paused for another moment, just to make sure he heard correctly.

“Cameron?”  he heard again. It was coming from the other side of the container.

If his ears were not deceiving him, it was James; his kilt wearing, climbing buddy. Never had he been so excited to hear his buddy’s voice.

“Yeah, yeah! I’m in here!” he yelled, as loud as he could and proceeded banging on the shipping container, just in case.

On the other side, James was staring at the container bewildered. How on God’s green earth did his friend end up in a shipping container? More importantly, how on earth was he going to get him out?

“Hang on, dude. We’re going to get you out of here,” James yelled, hoping he sounded more convincing that he seemed.

Should be easy, right? Lift up the bar and get him out, James thought. He took a look around before stepping closer. He suddenly realized that Cameron couldn’t end up in the shipping container by himself. Seeing no one in sight, he lifted up the bar that shut the doors. With a loud groan, from both himself and the bar, he managed to free it. Helix gave a small whine of victory as James pulled open the doors.

Cameron immediately rushed out and gave his buddy a big bear hug.

“I am so glad to see you.”

James stared at him for a moment. “Why are you in the shipping container?”

“Like I planned this!” Cameron said aghast. “I closed up at the gym and the next thing I can remember is waking up here. Now can we get out of here before they come back?”

James nodded as the two of them starting high tailing it out there. On their way, James remembered the cell phone he had swiped from the trash panda behind the gym. Cameron looked at him surprised.

“Right place, right time,” James responded.

Admittedly, he was concerned for his friend. What had Cameron done to get shoved in a container and left for dead or questioning? But just as he was going to ask, Helix let out his defender bark. James and Cameron looked back only to see two big burly guys lumbering their way. It took both guys no longer than a second to take off running toward James’ apartment in Fairhaven.  Helix was close at their heels.

Helix himself knew something was odd. He liked to think of himself of the Defender of the Weak. He could take those guys coming towards his owner and his friend. In fact, maybe he could stand in between them and give James and Cameron more time.

So he did. Stopping in his lumbering tracks he watched as the big burly men were still coming and coming fast.

James looked back at Helix and told him to come. Helix shook his head in an ear tossing way and growled toward the other men. James stopped, calling to his dog. But Helix turned back to growl at James, hoping he’d get the hint to keep running. Any kind of super animal knows that sacrifices must be made and this was his.

James and Cameron looked back at Helix, unsure but kept running.

“What is your dog doing?” Cameron said, breathing heavy as they ran but thankful they were both climbers, in decent shape despite his lack of food and water.

James gave Cameron a smile.

“Defending? He’ll catch up,” James told him as they continued to run.

***

The next day, still in shock, Lauren stood pacing in her room in between shifts at her jobs. Her dad gone. What if she had waited just a few more minutes at the ferry terminal? Would he had been killed? Who would want to kill her dad? Who was her dad?

Her mind was trying to process a thousand and two thoughts and finding nowhere to escape. She had texted Hazel and told her what had happened. She hadn’t gotten a response which wasn’t too out of the ordinary. She was probably with James, doing whatever couples do, the things that Lauren didn’t do because her mother.

Her mother had left hours ago but Lauren just couldn’t. Not yet.

Finally, the pacing was getting old. She grabbed her stuff and headed out the door. With a sudden spark of inspiration, though she never took her father for a social media guy, she decided to search on some sites to see what she could find. Lo and behold, of all the sites she found her father’s profile on none other than the dating site, Christian Mingle; the last place she’d ever think of looking.

“Danny Riley, looking for a spirited person to do life with,” it read with a picture that she had been shown by the police officer.

Lauren read over the profile a few times in disbelief. His profile claimed he didn’t do drugs, loved to hunt, fish, and read books by the fire. The real kicker was he wanted to have a family and settle down.

You had a family, damn it, she thought.

What poor naïve woman had he seduced with this unrealistic profile? But if he had a Christian Mingle, still odd and weird, could he have another profile?

She kept digging until she found what she needed. “It’s complicated” with a woman named Angie.

Way to go, Dad, she thought. Seems about right. How about making it complicated with all of us.

But she didn’t dwell and starting researching more and more, rabbit trails, as the social media things tend to do. But how far down the rabbit hole would this lead?

***

Anne decided to go into the office early that morning. Her ex-husband gone, dead, found in the harbor.  What would happen to her daughter? She could envision years of adult therapy for her.

Going to the drawer of her desk, she pulled out the last letter she had received from Alaska. Daniel had written her once what he got up there. He had ditched out and not told her where she was going.

“Dearest Anne, I’m so sorry to suddenly leave you and Lauren. I thought I was ready for fatherhood but I don’t think I can stay. I promise I’ll call once I find a place to settle down. Perhaps you and Lauren can join me.”

And with that, he had signed off and not been in contact until Lauren’s university graduation.

But it was the second note she was really fishing for. A woman named Angie, inquiring about real estate. Apparently, she claimed to know Daniel. From everything the letter said, she didn’t know that Lauren existed and currently didn’t know Anne was the ex-wife that he had escaped to Alaska to get away from.

But at the time, she had been intrigued by this woman and had done her research. Perhaps she had something to do with her ex-husband’s death. She picked up the phone and dialed the police station.

***

And with that the trash panda wandered around in stealth mode, creeping around the climbing gym. Looking for food, looking for prints, and let’s be real, looking for forkin’ killer.

 

CHAPTER 17

by Greg Macdonald
(681 words)

Vera sat in the darkness, lights out, listening to music on the radio. Mozart’s Piano Concerto Number 21, Daniel Barenboim playing the piano and conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. The lush tonalities of the orchestra’s string sections and the gentle lilt of Mozart’s melodies were a relief, a distraction from the conundrums of her job and her career. But the concerto ended, as all things do, and a man’s voice filled the room.

And now, we pause for a message from our sponsors.

Support for KUOW comes from TIAA Cref, offering wealth management services to those who find themselves looking for experienced advisors providing financial advice. The turbulence of today’s economy can best be addressed by the financial experts at TIAA Cref.

And from James, Andrews, and Smith, a law firm of criminal defense attorneys committed to defending clients in cases of criminal and felony charges. James, Miller and Smith. Representing clients in challenging cases for over twenty years.

And from Red Wheelbarrow Writers, an affiliation of writers dedicated to promoting the creativity of local authors. Red Wheelbarrow Writers announces their anthology So Much Depends Upon, available at fine bookstores everywhere. Red Wheelbarrow Writers, proud sponsors of KUOW.

Vera stabbed at the radio with her right index finger, silencing the noise and venting her frustration.

KUOW, supported by wealth management companies? Oh yeah, rich dudes. I work hard for my money, and the only thing those guys have to worry about it how to preserve their millions. And KUOW, supported by criminal defense attorneys? Sure thing, the guys who charge tens of thousands of dollars to keep criminals out of jail. And KUOW, supported by

Red Wheelbarrow Writers? And their book, So Much Depends Upon? Huh. I wonder how they came up with that one?

Outside, Vera heard the shish of cars driving through the nighttime rain along Yacht Club Road as they passed by her modest Chuckanut cabin. Light from the headlights of the passing vehicles moved across the ceiling of her living room, from the wall over by the black iron stove to the couch where she sat. She pulled a sip of her new favorite wine and rolled the flavors across her palate. Tisdale Cabernet, $4.99 a bottle. Perfect.

So much depends upon, she thought. So much depends upon this corpse, this guy I’ve identified as Gregor Keissor from Kenai Alaska, found dead in an alley behind a climbing gym.

Vera recalled her conversations with Doctor Virchow following the autopsy. No broken bones, no apparent injuries. But it seems the man had been poisoned with an injection of potassium chloride. She switched on a lamp and returned to her jigsaw puzzle game, the 2,000-piece puzzle of photos of people on the FBI’s Ten Most-Wanted list. Puzzles, yeah, maybe the answer is in the puzzles.

But maybe the real puzzle is a woman named Vera Steele. She pulled another sip of the Cabernet. Maybe I’m my own puzzle, she thought. I’m Vera Steele, Detective Sergeant, highly experienced, highly trained. Why do I always have to prove everything? Not just to men, but to myself? When will I take ownership of my past, accept the present, and believe in my future?

Okay, she thought, focus, let’s sum things up. What about the yellow paint on the shoes of the dead man, and the puddle of yellow paint by the back door of the gym? And what about the surveillance video of the unidentified men in black leather jackets carrying the body into the gym, and why did Pierce McIntosh drag the body out of the gym? And why did Pierce, owner of the gym, try to lie to us?

Oh, and now her young Sergeant Ryan Miller and his team had found a dead man named Daniel Riley floating in the harbor. Could she make use of her puzzle game and check the FBI files for images? Clues? There was so much she didn’t know. But the mystery of a dead body in a back alley behind a climbing gym had corrupted not only her imagination, it had challenged her identity.

 

CHAPTER 18

by Kate Miller
(1956 words)

The grand opening of The Big Wall was only a few days off and James wanted his group of Kilted climbers to get cracking and practice, no matter how many dead men showed up in Bellingham, “the city of not so subdued anymore” excitement. Now that Cameron had been found, fed, cleaned up and put to bed on the inflatable mattress kept in his closet, James sat at his small desk facing the bay, through which he could still glimpse a tiny slit of blue water between two new waterfront condo buildings. Opening his laptop, James emailed the rest of the boys:

“How about we meet at Big Wall this afternoon, say around 4pm, put in a few hours of practice, then go for a beer at Prospero’s? Who is up for it? I unlocked Cameron from his latest Houdini experiment and we’re ready to roll. Later, James.”

***

Angie woke up with the most vicious headache she could remember. She was still fully dressed including her favorite black bar boots with the small golden chains, sprawled on the cot in the front room of her now friggin’ cold cabin. At first, she couldn’t remember what she had been up to last night, besides a lot of her trusty Jack Daniels, but as she stumbled into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, glimpses of body parts that were not moose, salmon, or grouse flashed through her mind. She slammed the fridge door and slumped back onto the single rickety kitchen chair.

She remembered now that a cop pulled her over last night as well, but luckily it was old Bob Fisher, and everyone in Kenai knew he drank like a fish. “Hey Angie,” Fisher said, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost, and better nights I must say. Get on home now and sleep it off or I will have to take you in, which I sure as hell don’t want to do on account of my shift being almost over and I need a drink.”

Sure, Angie thought, rubbing her sore head, she had a “criminal” past, running with the wrong crowd, drugs and guns and bombs, but she had never killed anyone, not intentionally at least, and most certainly never cut anyone up. She was the getaway car driver, the rabble-rousing distraction down the street, the unnoticed go-between in numerous illegal transfers, but never the knife-wielder, the shooter, the poisoner. And it was all for the cause, or so she thought, even radical left-wing idealists needed a budget and banks like Wells Fargo held a lot of bucks for the bang. Nobody knew Angie, that’s for sure, not even her many lovers, not even her sons. Underneath her tough mama motorcycle exterior was a frightened girl hiding in her bedroom closet from the nightmare she always knew would come.

Of course, who she was didn’t really matter anymore, just the legacy of what she had been a part of, a major bank robbery gone wrong and two cops dead, even if she was not one of the ones who pulled the trigger. Being in the top ten meant a big finders fee of 100,000 dollars, an appealing amount of cash for Gregor or Danny or Cameron or any of the lovely boys she kept warm within the last few years. Hell, even her sons, bad boys they were, might be tempted by that kind of money. Green is thicker than red, money more than blood. Although her boys had always been protective of their old mum, they were as omnivorous and opportunistic as any wily trash panda. She should know given the extreme lengths she had gone through to secure the dumpster behind the bar from raccoon and bear raids. Jon had seemed off lately, she wondered if his gambling addiction had gotten out of hand again. But no, they loved her, her boys did, she was sure of that. They wouldn’t turn her in for a lump of cash, would they?

Hangover ruminations get you nowhere, old girl, Angie thought to herself. She stood up, swaying just a bit, trudged into the bathroom to wash up and change clothes before heading back to the pub for the lunch crowd. Coffee, she needed coffee. As she left the cabin, she grabbed an old grey knit cap off the hook by the door, pulling it down tight over her grey mass of curls. Today is a red wig day for sure, Angie sighed as she climbed into the old truck. To top it all off, she had forgotten all about Jon’s hog, who knew what that was all about.

***

Afterward, Augustine Virchow lay silently next to Vera. She was touched that he let her call him that, but to be honest, last names seemed a bit inappropriate for this setting. Vera stretched out her long legs and turned toward him. He sat up, pulling the blanket with him. “I’m sorry, thinking about work. Not appropriate.”

“No, I understand,” Vera spoke gently, “I am always thinking of work as well. Tell me.”

“Well, there’s something about these two corpses that I haven’t told anyone yet, waiting to tell you first I guess, since this is your case. But this happened first,” he said sheepishly, waving his arm around the room. “Those two dead men both had tattoos, and unusual ones as well. I wouldn’t have taken either of them for the literary type, but they each had a tattoo of a famous female poet on their inner left thigh. Gregor’s was Anna Akhmatova and Daniel’s was Christina Rossetti. Very odd, don’t you think?”

Vera lay still, thinking about the similarities, same haircut, same type of unusual tattoos. Both having been last seen in a small town in Alaska. What else might tie them together?

***

By three-forty-five all six kilt-clad boys had arrived, plus one. He looked a bit rough around the edges and unshaven, as well as kind of large for an agile climber, but he was properly kilt-clad like the rest.

“Oh hi, Joel,” Cameron said, then turning to James. “This is Joel, a friend from Kenai that has been coming to climb here the last few days and he’s really good! He has also been climbing in a kilt, just an old utility kilt, but I said I could lend him one of mine. I told him you might at least let him practice with us, like an understudy. What do you think, James?”

James looked the new man over as he stretched out a hand to shake. “I’m Joel,” the man said. “It’s ok if you don’t want to let me in, but there aren’t many kilt climbers to hang within Kenai, you can guess. I met Cameron there last summer and we climbed together a bit.” Joel tossed his head, reddish-blond hair flopping over his brow.

“Well, you can practice with us today and see how well you do. If we are short a man for the Grand Opening maybe you can step in if you do well today,” said James. “Let’s go for it, boys.” He headed for the bench to put on the rest of his climbing gear: harness, chalk bags, carabiners, rope and climbing shoes. A few minutes later the first three climbers were partway up the wall, hands and feet cautiously but gracefully reaching for each hand and foothold.

James set his Bluetooth to sync with the gym’s music system. Sounds of bagpipes filled the room. He positioned himself below the first set of climbers, moving up the wall confidently. He was right below the new climber, Joel, looking up he could see the man’s muscular thighs moving steadily up the wall. Wait, what the hell, he could see words on Joel’s inner left thigh. It was a bit hard to read and climb at the same time, and his target text kept moving as Joel ascended higher. Hadn’t Hazel told him that Lauren told her bad boy Jon had a tattooed name on his wrist, Emily Dickenson in fact. A bit odd for a biker. But this tattoo was in a much more private location. James stared upwards, reaching for his next handhold as he tried to read Joel’s thigh. It looked like, in bold black ink, in the middle of a rose, wait, yes it most certainly was….

“Jane Austin” James let out an anguished squeal in a voice much higher than his normal tenor, as Joel’s foot came down hard on his right hand. He yanked his hand out from under Joel’s foot with such force that he lost his footing altogether and fell backward toward the floor, catching sight of Joel’s face looking down at him. Afterward, James was sure he recalled a small satisfied smirk on Joel’s face right before his body slammed surprisingly hard onto the waiting mat, cushioned but still damn hard.

Vera, standing inconspicuously now in the back of the gym, had caught it all. She had decided to go to the gym to question Cameron about his apparent kidnapping, but by the time she arrived, the boys were already on the wall. She might as well watch for a while, they looked like they knew what they were up to and weren’t hard on the eyes either. From her spot leaning against the alley door, she saw James staring up Joel’s kilt with undue interest. Vera knew he was dating Hazel, so it wasn’t Joel’s family jewels that had his attention. She caught Joel looking down at James, saw him deliberately aim his foot for James’s hand, heard James shout “Jane Austin”, a decidedly odd curse word for a flattened hand, and seen the look on Joel’s face when James began his short fall.

All the boys came down off the wall and crowded around their fearless, feckless leader. All that is except Joel, who slipped unseeing past Vera and out into the alley. And of course, Vera was right on his heels.

***

Lauren’s cell phone buzzed, she’d silenced it the night before and forgot to turn up the volume this morning, but it was still on vibrate. Well I’ll be, she thought, it’s bad boy Jon himself. Lauren hadn’t been hopeful Jon would call but entered his name and number into her contacts anyway. Never give up hope, they say. “Well hi there, little lady,” Jon’s vice practically purred through the phone. “Want to have some late lunch with me at Prospero’s? View my latest poetic musings on my index cards or maybe share some Emily Dickenson?”

Lauren did, and she didn’t, she hemmed and hawed, but it was her one day off, her search engine rabbit hole research hadn’t turned up anything new, so she said yes. She would be over in twenty minutes, looking forward to the next famous quote or poem.

***

Meanwhile, old Rocky raccoon rested on top of the dumpster after his mid-afternoon snack of Pork Fried Rice, mmmmmm. He eyed the half-opened door across from the dumpster, chewing anxiously on his front paws which were mysteriously stained a bright sun-like yellow, suspiciously like the puddle at the foot of the dumpster, which he had thought was dry. Strange droning sounds emanated from the gym, vibrating through his whole little furry body. He felt an inexplicable desire to dance and started to do a jig on the lovely resonant dumpster lid when a young man in a kilt exited the gym rather swiftly, followed closely by a tall woman in a uniform. The door slammed shut behind them, cutting the music off abruptly. Rocky sat back down and resumed cleaning yellow paint off his feet. Humans, he sighed, What Ever!

 

CHAPTER 19

by Sky Hedman
(1895 words)

Tinkerbell was snoring in the front hall after her long run with Anne. Anne was off showing the Pierce guy an “amazing” house on Lummi Island with views and wood stove circulating water heat. Lauren had the day to herself. She was running a little late, despite her breezy agreement to meet Jon in 20 minutes. Late lunch might turn into early dinner. Everything she tried on to wear seemed wrong. She finally settled with her pink low cut t-shirt, the one with sparkles across the front, her best black Capri tights, and a silver and pink scarf around her neck. She borrowed her mother’s black suede flats.

The neighborhood was peaceful and the air felt warm as Lauren stepped out of her front door and headed down the walk. The sun was still high overhead. Lauren kicked a rolled up newspaper lying on the front sidewalk with irritation. Her old-fashioned mother insisted on getting news the slow way, despite Lauren’s attempt to change this outdated habit.

“It’s all online,” Lauren had pointed out (again) to her mother just yesterday, pulling up the Bellingham Herald’s front page on her cell phone and sliding it across the kitchen table for her mother to see.

“That’s too small. Besides, I like seeing the whole page at once,” Anne had said, and Lauren gave an exasperated sigh.

“Plus we have all these newspapers to recycle,” Lauren said, thinking of her job toting the heavy newspaper bin out to the curb, often in the rain and wind.

Anne had refused to budge, so with irritation, Lauren now leaned over to pick up the heavy Sunday edition, filled mostly with ads that they dumped directly into recycling. “How can this paper stay in business?” she thought, ready to toss it up by the door.

An image on the front page caught her up short. Her father’s face was looking at her. Quickly pulling off the rubber band, she smoothed out the page and scanned the headline:

Former Bellingham Man
Found Dead in Bay

The body of a man found dead Friday afternoon near the Bellingham Shipping Terminal has been identified as Daniel Willingsby Riley of Kenai, Alaska, according to a press release from the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office. The cause of death is under investigation. Foul play is suspected. Riley was a resident of Bellingham from 1995 until 2007. He was married to Anne Riley and had one daughter, Lauren Riley. Both are current Bellingham residents.

“Shit,” Lauren said, while sadness, anger and embarrassment surged in her body. “Why did they have to print my name?” she thought. She looked again at that photo, the same one that the detective had flashed in her face yesterday morning. It didn’t look as good as the one she had seen in her Dad’s online dating profile. “I wonder if Hazel has seen this. Damn, everybody’s gonna know that my father was a friggin’ mountain man.” Lauren turned slowly and walked back up the sidewalk to her front door. She mechanically fumbled for her keys and then let herself back in. Tinkerbell woke up and thumped her tail on the wood floor.

Somehow seeing his picture and reading the article in the paper made the news more real. Her years of hoping were over. The fantasies that she had held onto, that he would show up rich and handsome, or even handsome, or even show up, were demolished. She studied the photo again. She could see her face in his, the color of his eyes, the extra long nose, but also the low-key gaze, like he knew he wasn’t a winner, and it still hurt him. Tinkerbell padded over to her side. Lauren dropped the newspaper on the kitchen table, sat down in the chair, put her arms around the dog, buried her head in his fur and cried.

***

Vera didn’t have a long walk. It was easy to keep track of a red-headed man in a black kilt. Joel turned right at the end of the alley where it came out on the busy one way street. Vera hung back a few moments to assess the scene. The wind playfully blew up the front pleats of Joel’s kilt, revealing his pale white thighs as he briskly jaywalked in the middle of the block, hardly paying any attention to oncoming cars. He strode toward a nondescript car that was parked in a two-hour spot. Joel searched his messenger bag and opened the driver’s door with a key.

Not having time to pull out her cell phone camera, Vera began committing the details of the car to memory: Honda Civic, four-door, oxidized silver, dent in rear fender, probably a 2005-2006. Joel threw himself into the driver’s seat and slammed the door. She tried to see the license plate. He jerked the car forward out of the parking spot and looked over his shoulder at the oncoming traffic. Vera stepped back into the shadow to avoid his gaze. He pulled so quickly into the traffic that she could only see the license plate briefly—it was yellow with blue numbers, an Alaskan plate, EXA…she couldn’t catch the last three numbers, but luck was on her side. The traffic light on the corner turned red, and he stopped before turning right on State St. She got it: EXA617.

As he drove away, she plugged the license plate into the database on her phone, one of the great improvements that technology has to offer in police work. The answer appeared more quickly than she could absorb it. The car was registered to Daniel Willingsby Riley, of Kenai, Alaska. Click!

***

Jonathan was getting ready to leave the RV when the door opened and Joel came in.

“Hey man, wassup?” Jon asked his younger brother.

Joel brushed off Jon’s greeting and silently flopped down on the smelly faded floral couch, probably the original upholstery from 25 years ago when the RV was new. Pushing aside his sleeping bag, he leaned the back of his head against the dirty window. Cars whizzed by the RV, parked in an eight-hour spot on the edge of downtown near the Shipping Terminal. His view across the street was filled with the extended white wall of a huge warehouse. When he looked back at his brother, Jon was picking up his keys and his sunglasses, getting ready to leave.

“How long before we can blow this shithole town?” Joel asked. “I’m tired of all the fun and games.”

Jon stood still and took in his younger brother. Joel had never taken to the chaotic life their family lived—changing scenes, changing schools, not going to school, their father in prison, their mother changing boyfriends every year and changing wigs every day. Jon had made it through a couple of years of college, enough to take some English literature classes and read some poetry. It sure paid off with the ladies, he thought to himself. When Joel dropped out of high school, he went outdoors, spending his time fishing and climbing and hunting. If it were up to Joel, they would head off-grid, build a little cabin in southeast Alaska, and hunt and fish year round.

If Jon hadn’t gotten tangled up in this mess with Gregor, that dream could have come true.

Gregor had hung around Angie long enough, like maybe too long in Jon’s opinion. He wasn’t the worst of Angie’s picks for a bed warmer, so Jon let it lay. Jon was protective of his mother, to the extent she would let him be, but in the end, Angie called her own shots.

Jon didn’t think Gregor knew about his mother being on the FBI 10 Most Wanted list until a couple of days before Gregor disappeared. Gregor was in the den watching TV when Joel was having an argument with his mother in the kitchen. Jon was drinking a cup of coffee, trying to tune it out.

“Andy’s got a friend who is selling 2003 Harley 1200 Sportster,” Joel started out.

“Mmmm,” Angie replied. She was reading a paperback.

“It’s a 100th Anniversary Edition.”

“Good for him,” Angie said.

“Me and Joey are going up to Soldotna to look at it. It’s a really good deal.”

Angie turned a page. “Nothing wrong with your motor scooter.”

“It’s a 55 cc, Ma. It’s a toy.”

“Gets you where you are going.”

“This rig’s got power. It’s a 1200 cc engine.”

“How do you expect to pay for it?”

“It’s only $6500. I told him you would front me the money until I can pay you back,” Joel said.

It must have been a bad day for Angie, or the wrong time of day, or the wrong lifetime for her 28-year-old son to ask for money for a jacked up hog. “Don’t you think you need to find a job if you want a motorcycle?” Angie had said through gritted teeth, glancing up from her book

”What am I supposed to do? I’m not wasting my life wiping tables and begging for tips from tourists.”

“I don’t see that you have much choice.”

“Only thing worth doing around here is burglarizing vacation homes and shipping the goods south…that’s what Joey is doing.”

“Don’t you talk about your brother like he is a criminal! At least he’s working!”

Joel shouted back “Why not? At least he’s not on the 10 Most—“ Joel never saw Jon’s tackle coming.

***

Jon was curious when he saw Gregor searching online real estate ads the next morning. Gregor was real private when he was on his laptop, so Jon didn’t ask. Gregor hadn’t worked for years, as far as Jon knew. Gregor had a knack for finding a woman to mooch off of, sometimes through church, so Jon thought maybe Gregor was searching for a new victim. He sure didn’t have the money to buy a house.

Jon was actually glad when Gregor unexpectedly disappeared a few weeks ago, in the middle of May. Didn’t show up at Kodiak Burger for dinner one Monday evening, didn’t call Angie to explain, and didn’t come home that night. Jon was the one who noticed that one of Angie’s old backpacks was missing, and then Angie realized that his clothes were gone from her bedroom. No one had seen him around town. His car was gone. Angie took it well. Hell, the end of a romance was hardly a crisis considering what kind of a life she had led. Plus she always had a new customer warming up on the sidelines.

A stranger showed up at Kodiak Burger about a week later. He was wearing all new clothes: new Carhartt jacket, new jeans, new ball cap with no insignia, Danner’s Crater Rim boots, expensive looking boots that looked like they’ve never been worn before. Nothing wrong with new clothes, but nobody around there wore them. Nothing wrong with new boots, but you need at least some good hunting stories to go with them. The clean-cut guy seemed kind of chatty. He took out his cell phone and was taking pictures like crazy, all the while raving about the place like it was the best restaurant he ever had eaten at, and what was the name of that good looking red-haired waitress?

CHAPTER 20

by Linda Morrow
(1821 words)

James’s hand rested on a pillow and throbbed under the ice pack one of his climbing buddies had gotten for him. Damn, he thought. He was pretty sure that getting stomped on by the foot of the big guy – what was his name? Joe, John, Jason? Something starting with a J. – wasn’t an accident. And that tattoo? What the fuck was that all about. Sure there was something a little off perhaps about guys climbing in kilts, but jeeze.

If it turned out that he had broken bones in his hand, his kilt climbing days would be on hold for a while, that’s for sure. James looked out the window of the climbing office at the Big Wall where the rest of the kilters were continuing their practice. His eyes searched for the big jerk, but he was nowhere to be seen. Hmmm. Then he realized another member of the group was missing too. Cameron. Come to think of it, he hadn’t seen Cameron after he’d fallen either, had he? Nope. Cameron definitely had not been among the circle of faces peering down at him. Hadn’t been among the guys who pulled him to his feet, brought him into the office, got a pillow, got ice. WTF?

James reached down into his gym bag for his phone. He’d call Cameron and find out where he’d gone. Give him a piece of his mind. Some friend. He punched Cameron’s call button and sat back to wait for it to begin ringing. WHAT? The ringing was coming from his bag. What was Cameron’s phone doing in there? Then he remembered. Cameron had left the phone at his apartment in Fairhaven after they’d escaped the two thugs chasing them. James had thrown it into his gym bag intending to give it back to his friend at the gym.

James reached for Cameron’s phone and held it in his hand. Just who was his so-called friend anyway? He seemed a bit different after coming back from Alaska. What had he done up there? James stared at Cameron’s phone. What secrets might it hold?

***

Car’s owner identified, Vera headed back toward the gym to get her car, her head spinning. Puzzle pieces few around in her head, she could almost see them beginning to come together. As soon as she got back to the headquarters she’d start tracking the Honda Civic. Given that it was registered in Alaska, most likely it had either arrived on the ferry, or had come through one of the nearby border crossings. There’d be a record of it somewhere.

As she pulled into the lot, Vera noticed a woman exiting through the main door. She looked familiar. Oh yes, it was Anne Riley, Danny’s ex. What was she doing here on a Sunday? And what was she, Vera, supposed to say to her? Interacting with a victim’s relatives was the part of her job she most despised. So awkward. Maybe she could duck in the back way.

“Inspector? Inspector? Can you wait up. I’d like to talk with you,” cried Anne.

Shit, no such luck. Vera squared her broad shoulders and waited as Anne approached her. “Mrs. Riley,” she said. “Sorry for your loss.”

Anne nodded briefly, before replying. “Oh yes. Well, we weren’t close you know. Danny took off a long time ago. Left me a note saying he ‘wasn’t ready for fatherhood.’”

Vera stood there. What was she supposed to say to that?

Anne continued. “Actually it was while reading that note last night that I came upon another one I received a while ago. From someone who knew Danny and wrote to me inquiring about real estate. I wondered if there might be a connection and decided to call the station.”

Vera nodded, but Ms. Riley chattered on.

“Then I realized I was going to go right past the station on my way to show a client a house on Lummi Island.” Christ, why couldn’t she just get to the point. Her shrill voice was giving Vera a migraine. “And so I decided to drop it off instead.”

Anne began searching in her purse as she continued talking. “I just spoke with that nice young Sargent, Ryan Miller. But he didn’t seem interested in what I had to show him.”

Anne extracted a white envelope and held it up. Vera noticed the stamped return address: Kodiak Burger. Her heart began pounding, but she kept her face neutral. “Oh, I’m sorry Mrs. Riley. Sargent Miller is still learning the ropes. But yes, I believe I would be interested in seeing the contents of the note. Why don’t you come inside with me?” Internally Vera was steaming. Christ Ryan. How stupid can you be?

***

Lauren’s sobs began to subside. Besides Tinkerbell’s fur stunk and a few stray hairs had found their way into her nose. She sneezed, several times. Tinkerbelle moved away. Lauren swiped at her nose with her arm as her red-rimmed eyes landed on the headlines again.

“Foul play is suspected,” she read again. Foul play? Foul play? Funny how when Ryan had questioned her and her mom he’d never really followed up on the message her father had left for her, the one she’d played for him on her cell phone. CELL PHONE!! Lauren’s head jerked up. Cell Phone?? Hadn’t Ryan said he’d gotten that photo of her father off Danny’s cell phone? But how was that possible? The body had been floating in the bay’s salt water for a while according to the story in the paper. How could the phone still have been working?

Then a second thought raced through her and her entire body shivered with the enormity of what she’s just realized. That piece of folded paper Ryan had shown her. The one he’d claimed to have also found on the body. The one with her cell number on it. That paper hand been folded, yes – but it was fully intact. Shouldn’t have the water reduced it to pulp? Much like the way notes she often forgot in her pants pockets looked after they’d gone through the wash? There was no way in hell that note could have spent many hours in water and come out looking like that.

Lauren reached for her phone. She pushed the call button for her Mom.

“Mommy?” she cried when Anne answered. “Mommy, where are you? I just thought of something. It’s about Daddy. I need to talk with you.”

***

Sunday morning, Sarah peaked into Rachel’s room only to see her darling daughter still fast asleep. Poor kid, the trauma of finding the body must have exhausted her.

“Coffee, I need coffee,” she said to herself. Money was tight, but the Raven painting was done, and she wanted to see it in daylight. She’d treat herself to a latte at Starbucks. Plus, the two beers had left her head pounding. How had she dropped off the wagon so easily? Again?
After all it was her drinking that had gotten her in so much trouble in Alaska. Even helping package up the salmon at Flores Fish camp hadn’t been enough to keep paying the rent at their small cabin nearby. And so once again she and taken Rachel and split, before Old Man Flores or his oldest son came around demanding what she owed them. They’d made it to this nice town Cameron had told her about. She’d met a bunch of starving artists – just like her. For the first time she felt like she had a community. Sarah left Rachel a brief note and headed out the door and around the corner to Starbucks.

Order in her hand Sarah made her way to an empty table and picked up the front section of the Sunday paper someone had left behind. She took a sip of her steaming drink and looked down at the front section. “Oh my God,” she said noticing the photo on the front page. “That’s Danny!”
“Know him?” asked the grizzled guy sprawled in the easy chair nearby. “Too bad about what happened.”

***

Angie knew she was taking a chance heading out for coffee without one of her wigs. But you could say she was “wigged out” by what she’d seen in the freezer at the fish camp. She needed the jolt of caffeine. Badly. Besides she’d been living up here for years now, without detection, since the Wells Fargo robbery gone bad.

She pulled her truck into a space in front of Kodiak Koffee. Inside, the two flannel-clad, tattooed baristas were busily making brews. Angie ordered her double shot and headed across the worn wooden floor to the counter along the back wall where she’d be less conspicuous. She didn’t come here often. Hanging on the walls were some native style paintings featuring ravens.

Angie glanced at the artist’s statement – someone named Sarah Solomon. Harrumph! Shitty imitation of real native art. But no one she knew. She avoided one of the red vinyl covered stools with so much duct tape holding the material together you could scarcely see the original material and picked another in better repair.

Angie raised her steaming mug to her chapped lips and took a sip. Ah… Damn, that tasted good! With her back to the Kodiak Koffee’s picture window, she didn’t notice when the black SUV pulled up next to her truck and parked. She didn’t notice the trailer it was towing with Jon’s hog strapped down atop it. And she didn’t notice the guy who stepped out, walked inside and headed in her direction. She didn’t notice him at all until she heard him speak, right by her right shoulder.

“Angela Quintaro?”

The words stabbed her heart. Her fists curled and she turned around on her stool.

***

Sergeant Miller held the phone to his ear. “Yes Sir, It’s Ryan here.”

After seeing the note Ms. Riley had shown him he knew he needed to get rid of her and call Mr. Barings right away. Sam Barings had contacted him and offered him cash to keep an eye on Pierce Mcintosh. Initially, he’d accepted Mr. Barings’ statement that he’d helped Mcintosh finance his purchase of the gym and just wanted to protect his investment. And there wasn’t really anything wrong with taking Barings up on his offer, right? Sergeant’s pay wasn’t enough to stop him from going to the food bank once a week to supplement his groceries. So embarrassing.

But ever since the body had been found sitting against the dumpster, things with Mr. Baring had escalated. In fact, Baring terrified him. But he was in too deep now.

Ryan looked out the window and saw Lauren’s mother talking with Detective Steele. “Oh shit!” squeaked Ryan. “Mr. B-b-barings,” he stammered.” I’ve gotta get outta here. Fast. Steele just showed up. I’ll call back as soon as I can.” And with that Ryan Miller fled out the back door of Police Headquarters.

CHAPTER 21

by Vanessa Blackburn
(2137 words)

Lauren couldn’t think. She was exhausted, emotionally and otherwise. She had completely blown off her meeting with Jon, but truth be told, she wasn’t sure she wanted to see him anyway. Her phone call with her mother didn’t help at all either. As she lay on her bed staring at the ceiling, she recalled the frustrating conversation.

“Hello? Honey, what’s wrong? Are you ok?”

“Did you see the story in the Herald? It’s about dad. You and me are named in it.”

“Shit,” her mother swore under her breath. “That’s not going to be good for business.”

Lauren could hear waves in the background, and the wind was blowing loudly against the phone. Wasn’t she showing that Pierce guy a house? “Where are you?”

“Oh, I’m at the beach with Pierce….” A garbled sound came through as it sounded like her mother’s hand covered the phone so she could say something on the other end. As the sound cleared up, her mother’s laugh tinkled through playfully. “Oh, what a day!” But then her tone changed as if remembering why her daughter had called. “Well, that’s just terrible about your dad. Are you ok?”

“Yes. Fine. Nevermind. I’m calling because I thought of something. You know how Ryan said he got the phone and that piece of paper off Dad, but he was in the water?” She tried not to think too much about it as a vision of her father’s face, pale and covered in seagrass as she imagined it in her mind, flashed before her eyes. She rushed past it. “How could his phone have survived that? How could the paper?”

Anne made a sound that Lauren had absolutely hated when she was younger, this distinctly Anne-sounding, impatient, frustrated sound that she would always make whenever Lauren brought home something interesting from the forest or had some idea of something fun to do. A sound that always meant Lauren was about to be put off.

“I don’t know, honey. Maybe they found his jacket on the shore or something? Who knows? I doubt they were lying to us. Ryan wouldn’t lie to us about that, would he? No, he seems like a good kid.”

“Mom, how do you explain it then?” It was another sound that Lauren loathed — the sound of her own voice when she was whining and trying to talk her mother into seeing reason. She took a deep, shaky breath. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Lauren, you need to get some rest. Maybe take a nap or go hang out with your friends. Anyway, I have to go. I’ll see you later, sweetheart. And try not to worry.”

Her mom hung up without even saying goodbye. What was it about older people and how they treated younger people like they were morons? Or maybe that was a special talent reserved for mothers. She threw the phone on her bed and flopped down face first, groaning into her pillow. Maybe her mother was right. Maybe she should go see her friends. She had gotten all dressed up to go see Jonathan, after all — but after this, she just felt that seeing some guy was shallow and stupid. What was she going to do with a biker boyfriend anyway? Cowboy-biker-poet Jonathan, who happened to be at the ferry terminal instead of her dad….

She tossed and turned. She got up and got some food. She stared at the dog and then let him out when his farts got so bad that she could not stand another moment, then went back to bed and tossed and turned some more. Finally, she couldn’t stand it for a second longer. She got up, changed into her biking clothes, grabbed her bike, and headed towards the bay.

It was now approaching evening, and the sky was turning to her favorite time of day, when the trees looked like black cutouts against the yellowing sky. As her legs and lungs began pumping, her mind began to clear. This was always where she thought the best, on her bike with her muscles burning. The image of her dad — this time not an imagined, gruesome one of his death but the same one that kept coming up over and over again, on Ryan’s phone, in social media, in the paper — was etched into her mind. In both the profile on the dating site and the photo in the Herald, it was cropped just to see his face. But the photo Ryan had was taken further back and had more surroundings in it. Where was it taken? When? She had so little of her father left, and she wanted as much as she could get.

Ryan had her father’s phone, didn’t he? Didn’t she deserve to have it? And he owed her some answers, dammit. Screw the fact that he’s a police officer — she’s known him since he was a kid. Kinda. They were sort of friends.

She slammed on her brakes, her bike skidding to a stop on the gravel trail. She had traveled down towards the water, taking the trail near Boulevard Park, and hardly anyone was walking or riding. She took out her phone and scrolled through her contacts. Ah, here she is. Peggy Miller. She pressed the call button.

“Lauren? Hey girl, how are you? I haven’t seen you in–”

“Hi Peggy, sorry to bug you out of the blue, but I’m trying to get a hold of your brother. Could you send me Ryan’s address? I need to — send him something. I’m — sending out invitations. To a thing. Anyway, what’s his address?” She covered her face with her hand. She was phenomenally bad at this, but whatever.

“Uh, ok,” Peggy sounded amused. “Sure, do you want me to text it to you?”

“That’d be great. Thanks and I promise to catch up soon.”

“Ok, you’d better, Ms. Mysterious.”

As soon as they hang up, Lauren chewed on her fingernails, her leg bouncing on the peddle. Come on, come on. About 30 seconds later, an address popped up on her phone. The Lettered Streets. Perfect.

She pounded the pedals, her legs like pistons as she powered through downtown, through the alleys, past the murals and the climbing gym that Pierce owned, and to the address on B Street. She threw her bike down in the front yard and bounded up the steps, banging on the front door. After a few seconds the porch light came on and the door cracked open.

Ryan’s blue eye peeked through the crack, and when he saw her, his brows drew together with concern. He unlocked the door chain and opened the door wider.

“Lauren? What are you doing at my house?”

“How did that phone work if it had been in the water? And that piece of paper with my phone number, it should have been a soggy mess. And I want my dad’s phone. I’m his next of kin and I should have it.”

Ryan held up his hands in defense and then looked behind him, as if worried about someone inside hearing him.

“Hold on, just –” he took a step out onto the porch and closed the door behind him. It was only then that Lauren realized he was only dressed in a t-shirt, boxer shorts and socks. It was past dinner time. She didn’t really care.

“Look, you can’t have your dad’s phone. It’s in the evidence room at the police station. And as to why the phone was dry….” He looked like he really didn’t want to tell Lauren whatever it was he was hiding.

“What? I want to know.” Lauren said, folding her arms over her chest. “I deserve to know what happened.”

“I really shouldn’t tell you anything, Lauren. It’s an open murder investigation, and — it wasn’t pretty.”

Lauren’s eyes began to blur and she angrily wiped her face. What did she care about his stupid police protocol?

“You need to tell me,” her voice caught at the end, and the tears spilled over in earnest. She hated crying in front of this person who she hardly knew, but she was at the end of her last frayed nerve. Her father was murdered, his picture on the front page of the paper. What did they all expect from her?

Ryan had that look that young men often had at a woman crying, like he was trying to get out of there as quickly as possible. But he looked up and down the street and then opened his door, standing to the side.

“Come in. It’s cold out here. I’ll make some tea or something.”

Lauren nodded and stepped inside, standing next to the door as he closed it. He handed her a box of tissues and then went into the tiny kitchen to the right. The living room was about the size of her bedroom, small and cramped, with an old beat-up couch and a huge TV with several game consoles. She heard Ryan in the kitchen putting something in the microwave as she sat down on the couch. She was exhausted. Still.

How did this all happen? It seemed so sudden. But deep inside she knew something bad was going to come to her father. He never could get it together, and it seemed like it only got worse as he got older.

Ryan handed her a hot mug of tea and sat down next to her. “I’m sorry I can’t tell you more.”

She breathed in the steam and took a sip of her tea. Chamomile. “Am I a suspect?” she said as she held the mug in her hands, warming the chill out of them.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said and swallowed, looking at his hands.

“Well, can you at least send me that photo that you have of him? I don’t have much of him, and…” She didn’t want to admit how much she wanted every little scrap she could get.

He sighed and nodded, pulling his leather jacket off the arm of the couch and reaching for the phone in his pocket.

“Hey dude, who’s here?” came a male voice from upstairs. A big guy with tattoos on his arms and short, military cut hair bounced down the stairs.

“Uh, no one,” Ryan said and then looked at the man with irritation. “Give us a little space, Jorge, ok?”

The man looked at Lauren appreciatively and quirked a smile. “Ok, don’t get your panties in a bunch,” he said and then winked at Lauren and returned upstairs.

“Sorry about that,” Ryan said as he started scrolling through his phone. “That’s my roommate. He’s harmless.”

When he opened up the photos, Lauren saw over his shoulder that there were more than just the one he had shown her. She set down her tea and grabbed his phone out of his hand before he could object, double tapping one of the photos with her thumb.

It was her dad on the same day the other photo was taken, but it was from further away. He was standing in front of some sort of restaurant, the words “Kodiak Burger” in blue letters on the window, and it had water behind it and a line of big motorcycles out front. He was wearing that same flannel shirt and Mariner’s cap, but he was talking to the person behind the camera, his face partially obscured by his waving hand. Lauren swiped through the next several photos until she came to the last: A selfie with her father and a woman Lauren had never seen before. The woman had bright red hair, and she was laughing like she was embarrassed and didn’t want her picture taken.

“Do you know who that is?” Ryan asked quietly. Lauren realized suddenly how close he was sitting to her, his face right over her shoulder.

“No. But I found something online that he was dating someone named Angie.”

Ryan looked at her carefully as if he was trying to remember something.

“Your mom called the station today. She said she got a call from someone named Angie who was asking about real estate and knew your dad… And now that I think about it, I think my boss talked to someone named Angie who knew Gregor Keissar, the guy that showed up dead in the alley.”

It was out of his mouth before he seemed to know what he was saying, and he sat back against the back of the couch and shook his head. “That’s sensitive information. I shouldn’t have told you that.”

Lauren fixed him with a hard look. Now they were getting somewhere.

“Seems like an unlikely coincidence to me, doesn’t it?” Lauren said, and then held up his phone with the photo still lighting up the surface. “Maybe we should go talk to your boss.”

CHAPTER 22

by Cami Ostman
(1983 words)

Ryan was reluctant to go into the office with Lauren, given his conflict of interest. He felt avoidant toward his job and stretched thin. Mr. Barrings, now pressuring Ryan to try and keep the debacle of the dead body from impacting his investment (as if Ryan had any influence over the media coverage), was practically stalking him. Ryan was getting phone calls five, six times a day.

“What’s happening with this case, Miller? Tell me Pierce is keeping the bad press to a minimum.”
For all Ryan could tell, Mr. Pierce was genuinely trying to get settled and make a go of his life. He was just an idiot who didn’t know enough to leave a dead body where he found it. Ryan had told Barrings as much.

Most of all, Ryan didn’t want Vera Steele to find out he was moonlighting as a quasi PI. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t against the rules, but it was frowned upon for rookies still learning the ropes and could certainly influence her willingness to support his upward movement. But now, with Lauren sitting at his kitchen table fretting over the death of her father and his boyfriend (a.k.a. “roommate”) Jorge upstairs feeling proud of him for his budding career in law enforcement, Ryan did some quick soul searching. Who did he want to be at the end of the day?

“Okay,” he said. He would tell Barrings he couldn’t help him anymore and would focus on solving this crime. If he needed to make an extra buck, he’d pull beer a few nights a week at one of the 30 breweries in this town.

“Okay, then,” Lauren said. She pulled her hair out of its band and swept it back to re-secure it for her bike helmet. “I’ll meet you there. Should take me fifteen minutes to get there.”

“See you then.”

Not thirty minutes later, Detective Steele glowered at the two young people in the conference room at the downtown station. She demanded they sit and when Ryan suggested they get Lauren a cup of coffee, she sighed, resigning to good manners she didn’t have the patience for. All she cared about was solving this damn crime.

Finally, caffeine provided, rookie and victim’s daughter seated, Vera approached the whiteboard at the front of the room and started drawing out the puzzle. The victims, the connections between them, the facts as she knew them.

“Lauren, I’m going to include you in this conversation, which I probably ought not to do. Keep yourself quiet about what we talk about in here. Understand?”

Lauren nodded.

“So here’s what we know. Two men are dead. One of them is your father. You said you have something to tell me. What is it?”

“The woman in one of the pictures on my dad’s phone. Her name is Angie. You talked to an Angie about this case.”

Vera glared at Ryan Miller. “Yes. Who told you that, I wonder?”

Ryan avoided her gaze.

“Alright. Well since you already know I talked to her, tell me what you know about Angie Van Roy?”

Lauren’s face turned white. Vera observed that she looked clammy and worried she might faint.

The detective motioned for Miller to get up and get Lauren some water.

“What is it Ms. Riley?”

“What did you say her last name was?”

“Ah shit,” now Vera had to eat crow. “I assumed your friend the sergeant had already told you. But now that it’s out there, why does the last name make you look like you just heard a terminal diagnosis?” Vera wasn’t even sure that Van Roy was the woman’s legal last name, just that it was the only one they could pin to her. They’d found the name “Angie” in Danny’s phone and had called her. They’d called every name in his contacts, a total of about ten. Everyone had checked out as having an alibi for the timeline during which the man had been killed. Except one. Rosalia. She was either out of the country or she had something to hide and was freezing them out.

Lauren tried to recover herself. She blinked a few times and took a sip of her water. “Oh, well. Um… I just met a guy a few nights ago.”

“Congratulations,” Vera said wryly, but she waited. A long silence followed while Lauren seemed to be puzzling over something. “Ms. Riley, you meeting a guy is not exactly my in my zone of genius, but if there is something about this fellow that seems germane to my interests here, perhaps you could share it out loud.”

“Yeah,” Lauren shook her head as if to clear it. “His last name is Van Roy.”

Vera’s features lit up. Soft brown eyes glimmered. “Really, now.” And then something occurred to her. “He doesn’t happen to have a tattoo naming a female poet on his inner left thigh does he?”

Lauren blushed. “We didn’t get that far. But he does have Emily Dickenson tattooed on his arm. Does that help?”

“Maybe,” the detective said.

Then Lauren got another sudden bout of pallor. She pushed her coffee aside and put both her hands on the table. “But do you know who does have a tattoo on his inner thigh?”

Both Miller and Steele turned to her and shouted at once, “Who?

“Cameron Douglas.”

A beat of silence before, “And just how do you know that, Ms. Miller?” Vera’s heart was beating quickly now.

“Yeah, how?” Ryan echoed.

“Just a bad day for both of us some time ago. It’s not what you think. He was just home from Alaska and I was in a funk wondering what to do with my life. We found ourselves at Whatcom Falls park at the big rock cliff, ready to jump into the deep pool below.”

“You’re not supposed to do that,” Ryan said.

The detective glared at him. “Go on, Lauren.”

“We both stripped down to our underwear. And there it was: Adrienne Rich. On his inner left thigh.”

“‘Because I could not stop for death/he kindly stopped for me…’”

***

Jeremy came through the side door of the RV and made a move to open the blinds. “My god, do you ever stop reciting Dickinson?” he said to Jon. “It’s as dark in here as Virginia Woolf’s sad heart.”

The shabby place smelled of fast food and kombucha. Jeremy hated his brothers’ taste in food, but without a blender, they wouldn’t be having any green smoothies here, though they were smack in Birkenstock-and-grow-your-vegetables-in-your-own-backyard country.

“Joey, are you kidding? You want everyone who drives by to see us all in here conniving?” Jon growled

“Dude, can you stop calling me that?” Joey was a childhood nickname. Joel hadn’t been able to pronounce JEREMY, and had landed on Joey when they were toddlers. This had proven confusing to teachers who had them both back to back years at school. “Joey” would have been a more suitable nickname for Joel.

“Sorry. I always forget.”

“So where is Joel?” Jeremy asked. “We don’t have much time before things start closing in. We have to put the final wheels in motion here ASAP.”

“He’s in the bathroom. Reading.”

“Probably poetry porn.”

Jon laughed. “Mmm hm. Mary Oliver. But he’ll never admit it. He keeps it under his mattress so no one will find out.”

Just then Joel came into the room. “I heard you guys making fun of me. People have different tastes, you know.”

“Mama would be ashamed of you,” Jeremy said.

“Mama is a bitch who holds little children down and has tattoos needled into their flesh. I’d rather be conscious for my own circumcision—if I could just be allowed to choose my own poetry. Instead, I was forced to have Jane Austin branded on my inner thigh.”

“I don’t disagree with you,” Jon said. I’m pro-choice.”

Jeremy cringed. This discussion between Jon and Joel would go nowhere, as it always did. The branding on the inner thigh thing hadn’t started until Jon was thirteen. He had flatly refused to lend a thigh to Angie’s new fetish and had offered only an arm to the cause. And he’d thrown a fit when she wanted to have Sylvia Plath emblazoned there. He would agree to no one but Emily Dickenson.

“Okay everyone, we have work to do, let’s all have a seat and talk through our next move.” Jeremy was naturally the most anxious to get the job done. He had a girlfriend waiting back home, a girl who’d graduated from college and who was working as a school nurse. A girl who did NOT have an inner-thigh tattoo. She didn’t even wear flannel. Jeremy sat down on the sofa. “Two down and one to go. What’s the plan?”

Joel nodded, “Cameron.”

“Where did you put him this time Jeremy?”

Jeremy sneered at his brothers. “Same place you put Rosalia, boys.”

In unison: “The freezer?” Jeremy could see on his brother’s faces that neither of them thought he had the gumption to cut someone to pieces and put him in the freezer. They were right. He didn’t have Maya Angelou on his left thigh for nothing. He was soft-hearted, as far as that applied to the Van Roy boys.

“No, in a garage.”

You would have thought his brothers had just been stung by hornets at the same time. They both jumped up. “A garage? That’s not secure? What the hell were you thinking?” They both stood over him shouting.

Jeremy held up his arms. “Calm down. Shut up, please!” He put his hands over his ears now and his brothers calmed themselves and sat down. Clearly still agitated. When everyone was breathing again, Jeremy stood and walked two steps toward the RVs kitchen. He leaned against the sink.

“What’s the goal with this one, guys? It’s not just to dispose of someone who knows Mama’s identity, right?”

“True,” Jon said.

“This one is to give Mama herself a message. She needs to be more careful.”

Joel nodded. “And Cameron knows the most.”

“And so first we need him to be scared. Really scared. Then we need him to turn Mama in, before we finish our work.” Jeremy was pacing now.

Jon added, “And then we have to move fast. Go get her, relocate, and start fresh.” Now he looked at his youngest brother. “Except you, Jeremy. You go home to your girl and point the cops in our direction. We’ll be long gone, so don’t worry. You’ll be free to sing, ‘And still I rise!’”

Jeremy nodded, feeling gratitude. He didn’t want this life, but he’d do what needed to be done for his mother.

“But Jer, a garage? Where?”

“Don’t worry my brothers. I’ll tell you where he is, but you have to guess.”

They groaned. This was an old game they used to play as children. Instead of twenty questions one of them would recite an Emily Dickinson stanza and the others would guess what he was thinking of.

“Okay, lay it on us,” Jon said.

“Here goes: ‘I dwell in Possibility – /A fairer House than Prose – /More numerous of Windows – /Superior – for Doors –‘“

There was a moment of silence as Jeremy’s brothers considered his clue. And then Jon said, “Of course!”

“Brilliant.” Joel was nodding.

“No one will find him there.”

***

Vera sprang to action. She grabbed her cell phone and dialed the BPD. “Has a guy named Cameron Douglas been reported missing?” He hadn’t.

Lauren and Ryan looked at each other, both with questions in their eyes.

“My dears, both your dad,” she pointed at Lauren, “and the first victim had a few things in common. First, they both wore flannel. Second, they were both from Alaska. And third, they both had tattoos on their left inner thighs. We have a serial killer on our hands and I think we know who the next victim is.

CHAPTER 23

by Robert Duke
(1298 words)

 

FLANNEL SWEATSHIRTS LINK IN TWO FATALITIES
Robert Duke
FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

The bodies of two men from Kenai, Alaska, have been discovered under suspicious circumstances in Bellingham within the past three days, leading Bellingham Police Lieutenant Mowry to comment, “It’s a crime wave for Bellingham, something we’ve not experienced since 2007.”

Mowry went on to cite statistics of police incidents through November 23, 2018: Of 18 categories of incidents, there had been one felony assault (that was this month) and three crimes against persons, of which the latest was in October 2018. Another anomaly, Mowry pointed out, was that most incidents occur annually between January and May, and the fewest incidents occur in November and December. “Two deaths within three days in November was extraordinary,” Mowry said. (See police.cob.org/pircrimestatistics/CallsForm.aspx)

In Monday’s Herald we reported the death of Daniel Willingsby Riley III, 54, formerly of Bellingham, whose body was recovered from Bellingham Bay. Lieutenant Mowry stated the cause of Riley’s death has not been determined, but that it appears suspicious and may be related to the recent death of Gregor Keissar, found in an alley in the Whatcom Falls area, but went unreported pending notification of next of kin and an autopsy ordered by Detective Sergeant Vera Steele.

Steele a veteran detective has been assigned to both cases because of the possible link. Steele said she could not comment on the manner of death of either victim, but noted the obvious similarities, both men in their mid-50s, both were living in Kenai, both arrived in Bellingham at approximately the same time, and both were deceased with 48 to 72 hours of each other. Steele emphasized that the key between the two victims was both were wearing a flannel shirt with identical logos of a Kenai business, strongly hinting the victims had something more in common.

As reported previously, Riley’s wife and adult daughter, Anne and Lauren Riley, respectively, reside in Bellingham. Anne Riley reported her husband Daniel Riley left the family in 2007. Daughter Lauren said she’d received a telephone call from her father on Friday that he wanted to see her and was arriving on the Alaska ferry, and asking her to meet him at the terminal. Lauren said she waited at the terminal for him, but he never appeared. “The last time I saw dad was at my college graduation two years ago,” she said, adding that the phone call was the only contact in the intervening two years.

Anne and Lauren Riley were notified of Daniel Riley’s death by Bellingham Police Sargent Ryan Miller who was able to download a photo of the victim from the victim’s cell phone, and both mother and daughter were able to confirm his identity.

The body of the other victim, Gregor Keissar, was discovered by Bellingham residents Sarah Soloman and daughter Rachel Jones upon exiting the Big Wall Gym owned by Pierce McIntosh, lately from Seattle and previously San Diego, California. McIntosh reported the body for Soloman so she could attend to her frightened daughter who had approached the dead man offering him help.

McIntosh, 55, was temporarily under suspicion when it was revealed that he had moved the body into the alley from his gym fearing bad publicity that would ruin his business’ grand opening planned for the following week. Subsequent review of surveillance TV, which revealed McIntosh’s act, created a sensation at police headquarters when subsequent footage showed two unidentified men moving Keissar’s body into the gym. McIntosh has been absolved of any involvement in Keissar’s death, but is pending investigation for tampering with a crime scene and obstructing a police investigation. Police confirmed that McIntosh has no previous criminal record, but are awaiting an FBI report.

The investigation is continuing in the direction of the two deaths being connected in some way, but further evidence is essential to solving the crimes.

In a look into the background of Whatcom County crimes we found the following:
Whatcom County Medical Examiner’s Office Death Investigations for 2017 reported jurisdiction in 136 death investigations that involved forensic autopsies and toxicology examinations. “No previous deaths resembled the current two under investigation,” said Medical Examiner Dr. A. Virchow. Further, in 2017 there were only six homicides: two blunt force trauma, one stabbing, one handgun to neck and two sharp force trauma to neck. Two victims were female and four of the homicides involved illegal drugs.

There is but one cold case in Whatcom County, that of Bryan Marriott, an unsolved homicide case nearly a decade old, for which Bellingham’s Police Department has taken the unusual step offering a $5,000 reward leading to conviction. The case has also been referred to Washington Most Wanted for which there is an online video by Fox 13 News at cob.org.

As reported in the original Bellingham Herald 2010 Obituary:
“Bryan L. Marriott died Friday night November 20th of a fatal gunshot wound. He was born in Newport Beach, CA, on September 3, 1966. Bryan has lived in Bellingham since May of 1996, working both as a painter and a fisherman.”

***

BELOVED HARBOR SCAVENGER REPORTED TRAFFIC VICTIM
Robert Duke
FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Around the Town News learned of unusual wildlife activity in the Whatcom Falls area this past Saturday, November 25, which resulted in several Service Calls to 911.

Most calls were from area restaurants and businesses regarding the street traffic death of a raccoon, apparently well known in the area for his unusual behavior and feats of climbing buildings. In fact, one police spokesperson said a couple of callers identified the animal by name: Rocky Racoon.

Bellingham Police referred the service call to Animal Control to remove the remains from the street. On arriving at the scene, Animal Control officer, Javier Cortez, said he found the dead raccoon curled up against the curb as though asleep, it was undamaged, said Cortez, explaining, “It had probably been dealt a glancing blow from a car and death was caused by shock trauma.”

As he prepared his equipment and vehicle to receive the raccoon’s remains, Cortez said he became aware of many other raccoons watching his activities. The more closely he looked the more partially hidden raccoons he discovered, an unusual event for daylight hours of what are presumed to be solitary animals. Looking west, Cortez said, he saw two raccoons peering at him atop the Parbarry buildings. When he approached the dead raccoon with a shovel he thought he heard a chittering sound from all around and saw nearby raccoons rise on their hind legs for a better look at the proceedings. When he returned to the curb to see if further cleanup was required, he glanced once more at the surrounding shrubbery and realized all the raccoons had disappeared.

Judging from information obtained from Study.com, Rocky Racoon must have been part of an unusually large social group:

A group of raccoons is formally known as a ‘gaze,’ or a ‘nursery.’ However, since these terms are not commonly known, most sources will just use ‘group,’ ‘family,’ or a related term. Raccoons tend to have somewhat complex social dynamics. Although many people assume that raccoons are solitary, they actually tend to live in large, informal social groups. Males will often form groups with each other, while mother raccoons will become more solitary to protect their kits from male raccoons who might pose a threat.

Rocky Racoon was a Beatles hit in 1968 and has been covered by other performers since including Richie Haven, 1987; Phish, 2002; and Peter Mayer, 2009. As a result, “Rocky” has become the common default name for the males of the species.

For more information about raccoons and other northwest fauna, check with the Bellingham Library, search online, or read “Living With Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest” by Russell Link.

 

Please see the FB page for The Devil Wears Flannel for additional notes on the collective novel.

CHAPTER 24

by Seán Dwyer
(2551 words)

Javier Cortez looked at the raccoon that lay on the sidewalk near Prospero’s. He was sure now that it was the iconic Rocky, because some wit had given him a collar and a tag a couple of years ago. That Herald reporter, Duke, must have had his police scanner on, because he had beat Cortez to the scene interview him about the raccoon. At first, Cortez had thought, Slow news day, Duke? FFS. But this was Rocky. Knocked down by a car? This was the Bellingham version of when Stephen King got run over by a van.

But what was he to do? Cortez figured he could offer to throw a mini-funeral for Rocky. He knew many of the people who loved this little acrobat, and his funeral at the Bham Pet Sematary would have a bigger draw than certain humans he could name. And, unlike the animals in the Pet Sematary in Maine, this was one raccoon who would not be returning to life as a zombie.
Cortez laid his spade on the sidewalk and prepared to scoot Rocky onto the blade. He stooped, then stood when a familiar voice called to him.

“Hey, Javy, Dub Tee Eff?”

It was Weedy, a local derelict whose dog had to be given his rabies vaccine annually on the sly because Weedy was an Anti-Vaxxer. Thin as a weed, and as full of it as anyone Javy knew, Weedy strolled up as quickly as his condition would allow.

“That’s Rocky, yeah? I can’t tell ’em apart.”

“It is. Or was.” Javy gazed in mournful distress at the cooling ’coon.

“Well, can I kick him?”

“What? Why would you want to kick a trash panda when he’s down?”

“Bugger snatched an edible right out of my hand. Put his grimy little paw in my face and pried it out of my fingers. Prolly ten dollars’ worth of primo brownie.”

Something clicked in Javy’s mind. “He ate your edible?”

Weedy wrinkled his red, runny nose and ran his fingers through his stiff blond hair.

“Hel-loo! That’s what I just said. Now, can I kick him? The little thief.”

Javy rubbed his face with his gloved hands. “No, Weedy. Just be on your way.”

“You should let me kick him.”

“That’s desecration of a corpse, Weedy,” Javy replied. Was it? Who cared? “Off you go.”
Weedy was used to being moved along, so off he went. When he turned the corner, Javy knelt beside Rocky.

“You owe me one, buddy. Your whole fan club owes me one.”

Javy cupped his right hand around Rocky’s whiskered snout, opened the raccoon’s mouth, and blew into it. At the same time, he used his left hand to massage the furry chest firmly with rhythmic compressions. He checked his watch.

Ten minutes. I’ll give him ten minutes, he told himself. But he needed just two. The raccoon jerked, his eyes popped open, and Javy would swear the little bugger smiled at him. Rocky squirmed under his grip, but Javy shushed him.

“Hang on there, Rocky, I have a present for you.” He stretched to reach into his bag and pulled out a rabies vaccine. A minute later, the local icon was good for a year, at least; he wouldn’t die like Poe. And Duke had run off to file his exclusive a couple of minutes too soon. But Rocky’s buddies had stuck around, and they stood in silent homage to their risen hero.

* * *

“That was one heck of a trip,” Rockwell Raccoon muttered to himself as he scurried away from the Animal Control Monster. “ACM,” Rocky called him. Rocky had been netted, sprayed, even kicked by previous ACMs. This one was kinder, and he had never actually bothered Rocky, other than to laugh at him, which was so not cool. And now the guy had been staring into his face and stuck him with a needle.

Rocky wondered what the ACM had stuck in him, because he was toasted. Hungry as all get-out, almost too sleepy to forage, but dying to eat. If he had that phone he’d scavenged, as well as opposable thumbs, he would call Domino’s and snag an everything, extra anchovies. He’d gotten hold of one of those when some stoners fell asleep at Maritime Heritage Park with their pie half-eaten.

The weird thing about his dream was that there he was, eating that piece of bread, and then he couldn’t breathe, and then he was walking down a path of white light, headed toward his parents and his aunts, uncles, cousins, and his 200 siblings who had died. They were calling to him, their tiny paws extended, and then they all looked around and started waving to him to go back. “It’s not your time,” they started saying. So he went back, sorry he didn’t get to chat awhile with them. And then the ACM was staring him down.

Despite the cornucopia of delights scattered in the alleys, Rocky had a destination in mind. He was headed to Prosecco’s for some Prospero, or was he headed to Prospero’s for some Prosecco? He giggled at his own confusion. No matter. Whatever the sign said, he knew he could get some good victuals there, as well as something to slake his thirst and tickle his nose. He waddled toward the brewpub, singing alternately “I Am Alive Again” by Chicago, “Truckin’” by the Grateful Dead, and “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”

* * *

He didn’t look like a cop. He didn’t stink like a Fed. Who was this guy?

Angie searched the face of this man who knew her name, trying to decide if he was a former lover, wondering if she should kill him, or if he would beat her to it. She didn’t see the telltale bulges that would indicate a firearm, but that meant nothing. Regardless, he was muscular, not particularly old, and he had the drop on her. She needed to play it cool.

“Angie Van Roy. You got the first half right.”

His half-grin revealed impeccable teeth. “My apologies. I have rarely been so happy to be wrong, because Angela Quintaro is in a whole heap of trouble right now. If you have any idea where I could find her, you could help me help her. I imagine there aren’t very many Angelas in this town, so you must know each other. Probably have each other on speed dial.”

Angie bit her lower lip. She aimed her green eyes directly at his brown eyes, willing him to be enthralled by their allure. She ran her right hand through her gray curls.

“I think I know the woman you’re talking about. If it’s the one I’m thinking of, I can’t imagine her getting into trouble. What has she done?”

He looked away, his eyes amused, and Angie knew he wasn’t buying her story. But until he gave in, she was going to maintain her façade.

“I’m not concerned with what this Angela Quintaro may or may not have done. Mind if I take a seat?”

Angie gestured to the red-vinyl stool covered in duct tape. The man straddled it and leaned in. He was 4 inches taller than she was. She realized suddenly who he was. She had taken to calling him Carhartt Man because of his jacket. Now, attired in a flat-black suit that Angie knew had set him back more than 500 bucks, probably Armenia or something, he simply had not registered on her radar.

“There’s a lot going on down in Washington that concerns this Angela Quintaro. Her sons are getting a little bit frisky, kidnapping people, maybe killing a few, and I hear tell they’re about ready to turn this poor woman in to the FBI.” He leaned back, measuring her reaction. She refused to give him anything he could read.

“That poor woman. But I can’t imagine that a woman’s own children would turn on her, especially if she had done something worthy of getting the attention of the FBI. I think you’re bluffing to get me to rat out a woman I may or may not know.”

“Look behind you. Then you’ll know if I’m bluffing or not.”

Angie nearly fell for it. She started to turn, then she snapped her head back to face him. His hands still rested on his thighs. He hadn’t drawn a weapon. He laughed quietly.

“Let me help you out here,” he said. He stood and moved three stools away from her, then sat again. “Now, take a gander out the window.”

She turned, and her heart leapt when she saw Jonathan’s hog. Strapped to a trailer, as if it were headed for the slaughterhouse. Her mind raced as she sought to understand his motives in coming to her. She spun back toward him on the stool.

“I seen that bike around town now and then. That yours?”

“Come now, Angela. Do I look like a biker to you? I don’t have any tattoos, not even any artsy-fartsy poet names. But there’s a lot of boys where I just flew in from who do. And they’re planning to sell their mama down the river because the reward is easier pickings than the two-bit jobs they’ve been doing for that woman. Don’t you want to help a fellow Angela avoid such treachery?”

Angie squeezed her eyes shut and rubbed the bridge of her nose.

“Who are you?”

“My birth certificate says my name is Sam Barings. I use that name for official business. I, unlike some people I know, don’t have to depend on an alias. But I do have a nickname for myself.”

Angie counted to ten, then asked, “Are you going to make me guess your nickname?”

“I hear tell that’s a game the Van Roys play a lot, that guessing game, so why don’t you give it a shot? Here’s your hint. I bought myself a gym in Bellingham to get a foothold and an excuse to be in town. But I really have my sights set on the land that belongs to a cozy little brewpub called Prospero’s. You have a literary mind; what’s my nickname?”

“My guess is you call yourself Antonio.”

“Well done. Now, my question is, do you know Angela Quintaro?”

“What’s in it for me if I lead you to her?” She wasn’t going to give this creep anything easily.

He shook his head in amazement, feigned or not. “Really? With the time you’re wasting on your stall tactics, you could be figuring out how to shut down your hamburger joint and hightail it into Canada.”

“Aw, hell. Fine, Antonio. What is going on with my sons?”

Barings rubbed his hands together and shifted on the stool. Then he stood and resumed his seat directly in front of her.

“You know people are dead, right? Gregor and Danny, maybe Cameron.”

Her jaw went slack, and tears stung her eyes despite her attempts to control her emotions.

“Dead? Both of them?”

“Don’t you subscribe to the Bellingham Herald? Those boys are front-page news. Biggest murder spree since 2007. Daniel Riley took a powder about that time, didn’t he? Hmm. But this time, he’s on the receiving end of the killings, if he even had anything to do with what went on eleven years ago.”

Angie stared at her hands, rough, red, veiny hands with age spots that kitchen work could not erase. Danny and Gregor. The boys had told her about Gregor, and now she understood why Jonathan had told her not to call Danny. It did seem mighty suspicious that her own son would not fill her in about Danny’s death. Maybe this Sam Antonio Barings was playing it straighter with her than her own flesh and blood.

“How did you come across Jon’s bike? Did you follow me when I went after it last night?”

“Angela, are you trying to mess with me again, or are you truly naïve? Your eldest son, the great hope of your family, uses a phone that is so easily intercepted it might as well have been given to him by Russians. It wasn’t really smart of you to take a call from him at your burger joint, but it wouldn’t matter to the FBI. He is spewing unsecured messages right and left.”

Angie looked back at the Harley and understood how Barings had known where to look for it.

“You got me. You say you’re going to help me. How?”

* * *

Rocky now understood the difference between Prospero and Prosecco, and he made quick work of sliding through a sewer grate and climbing up into the storage area at the brewpub. There was a lot of glamour involved in being second-story man, but it never hurt to maintain one’s skills as a spelunker.

Rocky knew what he would find at the end of his tunnel. A garage door, its windows papered over, and a smooth cement floor mostly covered with kegs that bore the stenciled letters “SB Ale.” Rocky didn’t have much of a taste for beer, being more of a jasmine tea man himself, because what beer paired well with pork fried rice or pot stickers?

But this repurposed garage was where the Prospero’s people warehoused their enormous bags of kettle corn, a snack item they could have made themselves but chose to buy in bulk from Costco. Rocky saluted their time-saving decision, as he would not have found unpopped popcorn nearly as palatable as the sweet stuff.

He squeezed out of the drain somewhat less nimbly than he had just a few months before, and he paused to wonder if it was a good idea to be eating this stuff so regularly. Maybe tomorrow he would decide to stick to some of the lower-calorie dishes at the Pink Pearl, but for now, he was here, and he was really hungry.

He sniffed the air. He smelled human sweat. Someone had been here recently who needed to find a puddle to wash in. That description could apply to nearly the entire staff, so it wasn’t likely that someone lay in wait for him. At least he hoped not, because he had seen enough of the ACM and his mind-bending injections today. He was about to turn to the closest bag of popcorn when he heard a rustling in the corner.

And then Rocky heard a voice. It sounded almost like a bullfrog, with the low, creaky throb used as a mating call or to mark territory, as if frogs actually had territories. But then, the croaking became more distinct, and Rocky realized it was a human voice. He listened carefully.

“Is that you, James?” The speaker didn’t sound particularly articulate, but Rocky knew the voice well. When he was hanging out by the dumpster at the gym, he had heard the voice when three men came and dragged the speaker away. A day later, the speaker had been back at the gym, but he disappeared again.

Rocky did not understand why a human would choose to hide in this storage area when it was so easy for them to go through the front door and drink beer. But this human seemed to have a whole string of peccadilloes. Weird or not, he had called out. Rocky decided to investigate and see if this guy needed help.

CHAPTER 25

by Jordan Campbell
(2582 words)

Anne Riley considered herself a private person. She wasn’t one for airing her laundry, dirty or otherwise in public, and there it was on the front page of her beloved Bellingham Herald. I’m cancelling the paper tomorrow. No one reads the newspaper these days anyway. Hadn’t Lauren had just informed her of this little nugget of knowledge that very morning. Maybe this will blow over like every other November storm. A bit of blustery weather, a few inches of rain falling like mist for a few days and then sunshine and clear skies ahead. Daniel would have called that wishful thinking, the kind of glass half full idealism that he’d come to appreciate in the woman he married.

Much of the article was a matter of record of course, the marriage to Daniel and the subsequent divorce in absentia. Lauren’s identity and background could be had for a few beers with the right bunch of youngsters or a quick glance at Facebook, Instagram, or Whatsapp. But as always the devil’s in the details and in this instance the devil wore flannel. Correction the Devils plural wore Flannel. But just how had the reporter gotten the details? From the police scanner of course, loose lipped police officers ran the department. That Ryan kid had given out details of both crime scenes like Halloween candy to herself and her daughter. Sgt Ryan she corrected herself.

She wasn’t looking forward to talking with that steely eyed Detective either. “Mrs. Riley or Anne.  Can I call you Anne?” she had said, “Please call me Vera. Now I just have a few details to wrap up and then I’d like to chat with you about this letter. How is tomorrow morning for you? Busy?” Her tone so placating and false Anne had wanted to decline the offer.

Now she’d have to answer the obvious questions. When was the last time you saw your husband, sorry ex husband? Have you been in contact with him in the recent past? Do you know why he returned to Bellingham? What did he do in the Kenai?  You only provided the first page, what else was in this letter you provided to the police? The only question Anne wanted answers to was, “How much does your daughter know?”

The only way to answer that particular question was to rip off the band-aid and see what festered underneath.  Picking up her cell, Anne sent a short text to her daughter. “Can you meet me at home for dinner tonight?”  Lauren would read a text, even one from her mother. After a few minutes, Anne realized that there would be no response just the blinking light that indicated that someone was looking and maybe typing a reply. The blinking stopped. No reply came. Typical millennial non-speak for message received not terribly interested in talking right now.

“Ok, that’s done,” she said aloud to no one. Tinkerbell felt more than heard her mum’s distress and sat quietly by her master waiting for the deluge that tended to come when they were alone. “Oh Tink, where do I start? What do I tell Lauren? Do I just spill everything? What if she hates me? What if she turns me in to the authorities? We were doing so well, the real estate markets been on a 10-year boom cycle and the commissions have been rolling in like summer hay season. I’ve got a nice tidy bank account and even a Roth IRA for later when the market tanks. I did everything right. Well, almost everything. Marrying that good for nothing Daniel was a bit of a disaster, although not the first muckup of my life or the biggest. I left all that behind me when I moved to Washington. I thought the past would stay buried like the icebound fiords of her childhood and yet here we are again.”

Tinkerbell felt that grumble in her tummy that either signaled hunger or flatulence. Any Lab pup could tell you that they were always hungry, but a good dog would go to the door in case of the latter concern. Tink muttered a gotta go growl and butt cheek shuffled to the back door crop dusting the path behind her despite a super human effort to prevent the leak. Opening the door at this point was fruitless but necessary. Anne reached for the doorknob exposing her left wrist and a small inked monogram DFPS in floral script turned into view on the underside nearest her palm. Tinkerbell maintained her crop dusting maneuver around the rose bushes, through the dying herb garden, and around the perimeter of the privacy fence for good measure. One couldn’t be too careful as the trash pandas were always scouting her yard for new territory.

As a child Lauren had asked about the tattoo tracing the letters with her tiny fingers. “What’s it mean, mommy? What is DFPS?” Anne had made up funny phrases like “duck feet patter softly” or she’d sing the alphabet song getting the letters in the wrong order “DFPS lmno pee.” Lauren would giggle when she sang “pee” and do that little dance that children do when they have to go potty.

When Lauren was older Anne had explained that the tattoo letters stood in place of “deceased feudal philosophers say….” Then she would look at her child expecting an answer on par with old Confucius jokes like Man who stand on head- crack up. Eventually, she told her daughter the truth, more a half truth really, “It’s a reminder from my mom to write my own history, to be the strong independent woman she raised me to be.” The actual words were never far from her mind. Her mother had quoted from her favorite poetess, ‘a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams.’ She followed up this statement with her own sage advice. “You are a free bird. You are free to make your own choices. Don’t let any man put you in a cage and for god’s sake don’t clip your own wings.”

The tattoo had been her mother’s idea. DFPS, Dead Feminist Poets Society she’d explained when Anne complained. “There will be no barbaric yawp from my girl,” her mother had said after viewing that frustrating film starring Robin Williams. The boys hadn’t been so lucky. Anne had been 18 years old and raised in a household full of boys, books of poetry, and a mother with prematurely graying hair. Her childhood was a mystery and a conundrum wrapped in words so beautiful they clearly belonged in another story, definitely not her own.

Choices. That was the crisis of the moment. In a world populated with grayscale images where one can’t distinguish between white hats and black how could she begin to explain why Daniel had to die? She understood that much. She’d understood when Gregor’s body had been found that Daniel would surface again in her life.

***

Sarah Solomon had bigger fish to fry, or filet.

It had been like a dream at first. Go to Alaska the brochures had said. Live wild. See the wild frontier. Go kayaking with whales and fish for salmon under the midnight sun. Climb mountains and watch glaciers calve into the sea while seal pups frolic in the icy surf. The promotional photos of grizzly bears catching spawning red salmon from rushing rivers and videos of wolf packs and herds of caribou migrating across the frozen tundra made Alaska look like the last wild place on earth. Kenai peninsula with its population of 58 thousand souls was Alaska in microcosm. Kenai was a sportsman’s paradise for those who had money to burn.

The plan had been simple. Take the ferry from Skagway back to Juneau, from Juneau travel along the main line route to Whittier. Combined travel time would be 39 hours over the course of 2.5 days. Even without a car or cabin, the price of the ferry was expensive. Their tickets allowed for one adult, one child, and one tent, locker rental for the duration and free hot water for coffee or hot chocolate in the café on the second level. She’d learned from other backpackers to gorilla tape the corners of her tent to the foredeck. When the wind got too brisk or the nights too cold there were white plastic lounge chairs under the heat lamps near the bathrooms. The chairs got snapped up quickly as the more experienced travelers rolled their sleeping pads out marking the chair as occupied for the duration of the voyage. Lockers and showers were stationed on the first deck and the movie theatre with the reclining chairs was on the third deck. Sarah felt the entire trip was one long trip up or down multiple flights of stairs with brief periods of rest or entertainment in between.

Rachel loved the ferry. What an adventure! Free movies all day and that first day there were whales. The captain had announced a pod of humpbacks on the port side.  From their tent, the port side was on the right which was really the left if you faced the front of the boat. Why didn’t they just say they look to the left? She didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Rachel saw a pointy black finny looking thing and a puff of water shoot up into the air like the water cannon at Wild Waves. She figured the fuss was all about the story and not so much the actual event. She’d seen whales. Check off that box on her bucket list.

“Hey mom! What’s a bucket list?” She thought she understood but wanted to make sure as the other kids didn’t seem to know about bucket anything. Sarah replied, “It’s a list of all the things you want to do in your lifetime but haven’t done yet. Mostly old people make them for the things they missed or wished they’d had time to do earlier. Aren’t you a little young for a bucket list? How do you even know what you want to do with your life?”

Moms could be so stupid sometimes. Rachel was the perfect age for a bucket list. Rachel rolled her eyes instead of saying anything unpleasant that would get her a time out. She knew what she wanted and a time out wasn’t in her bucket.

“I want to be creative. I want to make art, to make something beautiful like a painting or a song or a poem. That’s my bucket list,” Sarah had said.

Once back on dry land they could hitchhike to Kenai, and they would start their new life in paradise. If that didn’t work out, see plan B. Sarah would work at the fish camp for a few months make a pile of money and move on to greener pastures in the lower 48.

For the locals the summer season spelled work. Work from sun up to sun down, leaving happy tourists in your wake. If the tourists were Canadian she left the heads and tails on the fish removing the entrails and flash freezing the carcass in plastic bags for transport through Customs. If the tourist were American and flying home on a domestic flight she had to filet and portion the fish into packages appropriate for meal planning. The fish were individually bagged, tagged and stored in freezers and released to their respective owners as needed. Six days a week, 10-12 hours a day slice, dice, gut, and stuff fish into baggies for men who expected her to smile prettily and wish them a happy day, life, whatever. It was exhausting and messy.

Despite the long hours, Sarah had made time for her art. Late at night after Rachel went to bed, Sarah would have a few hours to paint. Inspired by the local indigenous artists whose work spoke of nature as a force not a resource, her canvases came alive. She loved the richness of the colors, the reds, blues and greens that represented the life of sky, sea and forest.

The local restaurant, ok burger joint even had some of her stuff up on the wall for sale. She’d sold a few paintings too. Guess the tourists thought Solomon was an indigenous name. The waitress just glared at her when she dropped off new pieces. What’s her beef? Whatever. Money’s money. How many more do you need?

During work hours Sarah had only Rosalia, the owner’s daughter to talk with. Rosalia was a local, and she was either related, distantly or otherwise, to every other soul on the Kenai. Like Sarah, Rosalia found dating opportunities scarce and the prospects poor. As Rosalia put it “the odds are good, but the goods are odd.”

Rosalia’s oldest brother Miguel was particularly odd, and persistent.

“No thank you,” Sarah said so frequently that she began using the phrase as her meditation mantra. “No thank you. Not today. No. I’m so busy with the tourists right now. Perhaps another time? I’m sorry. I have to pick up my daughter. No, I don’t have time right now. Sorry.” She wasn’t sorry or too busy. Sarah knew what she was — a woman trained by society to be nice. Nice women deflect. Nice women are pillars of the community. Nice women have well-behaved children and live honest lives. Nice women don’t mess about with backwoods fish camp owners sons. Sarah was sick to death of being nice.

So when Rosalia asked, “Have you seen Miguel?” without thinking she fell right into line with “No. Sorry I’ve been so busy,” while holding up the latest fish eyed beast waiting for her attention and a night in the freezer. She didn’t notice the additional plastic wrapped bags until the last flight of the night had departed for the mainland with connecting flights to the lower 48.

Every night she and Rosalia counted the catch and compared it to the log matching the names and tag numbers to the bags. Under the days catch there were several large bags that had no tags. Those had to be some big salmon, the biggest she’d bagged had been nearly 60 lbs and five feet in length but that was weeks ago.

“Did you filet these bags?” Sarah said.

“That’s not salmon. That’s white meat. Elk or Caribou maybe.” Rosalia replied.

“Oh god, that’s a human head. I’m not here. We didn’t see anything. Rosalia let’s go. Now.”

Using her cell phone Sarah took pictures of the fish logs, paying particular attention to those named who had not yet picked up their catch. One of these guys could be the killer. Careful not to touch the bags, she took a few snaps of the contents of the freezer too for good measure. Better safe than sorry.

“Honey, what would you say to us starting a new adventure?” Sarah announced at dinner that evening.

Rachel knew the unspoken code. “What happened mom?”

“Nothing. It’s getting colder and soon the snow will come and the tourists will all go home. Then I’ll have to look for a new job,” Sarah said having prepared a litany of excuses and pleadings for her case.

“But,” Rachel began and surrendered before she started. “No, that’s fine. When do we leave?”

“Tomorrow morning. Pack your things.”

In the last 3 months, Sarah had found a new job, an apartment and Rachel had started 3rd grade. Life was back to normal here in the city of subdued excitement.

CHAPTER 26

by Krisi Lyn Reddy
(3191 words)

“It was not death, for I stood up.” Emily Dickinson

 

Rosalia stood in the dark basement apartment she called home, her hands shaking as she gripped them tightly in front of her body. What had she just seen? Who had she just seen? The sight of a human skull remained in her mind no matter how hard she tried to blink the image away. A shiver ran up her spine. What if whoever could do that was after her? Anyone could have been watching as she and Sarah checked the freezer at the end of their shift, been lurking in the shadows as she rushed to her car without so much as a goodbye to Sarah, both knowing it was the last they would see of each other.

Rosalia had grown to love Sarah and her daughter, feeling like they were family. Something she longed for, especially during the long cold winter months on the Peninsula. Summer wasn’t too bad, what with hikers and fisherman coming to Soldotna and Homer for the Salmon runs on the Kenai River. Many brought their wives and children as fishing on the Kenai was successful no matter your skill. A smile played on the corner of her mouth for just a moment as flashes of utter joy swept across her mind. Fish after fish being reeled in by man, woman, and child alike. The children often getting the biggest fish much to their daddy’s dismay. Sarah had brought Rachel out to fish with Rosalia several times. Just the girls. A tear threatened to spill over her lashes, sadness welling up inside her belly.

Smoothing her shirt with her hands to keep them busy, Rosalia glanced around the room. Not much to pack, her place was simple, lacking the personal touch typically found in a ‘home’. Move after move, over most of her life, too many memories left behind created heart-ache, the kind that could not be healed even over time. The old adage, Time heals all wounds, struck a nerve with Rosalia. It just wasn’t true. Some wounds would never heal, and time only allowed them to fester deeper still. Lie after lie, spoken, lived out, causing the pain of the original wound to bury deeper until it coursed through her veins, a constant reminder of who she truly was.

Her only hope was that her wound, the wounds of those she had gotten involved with, had not transferred to Sarah and Rachel. Rosalia would do anything to be certain they went unharmed by all the others had done. She wished she could help them, keep them safe. The best thing would be to stay far away from them. If the authorities came after her, and they would, Rosalia did not want there to be any chance of Sarah being linked to the deaths. As much as her heart broke, thinking she would never hold Rachel again, she knew it was best for all if she went away. Even better if she could lead anyone searching for answers away from where Sarah and Rachel would go.

***

Lauren sat looking at the text her mom had sent to her. Will I come meet her for dinner? She contemplated a snide reply, ‘Will your boy-toy be joining us?’. Her mother always had time for dinner or coffee when it was convenient for her, when it fit her busy realtor schedule, or when she didn’t have a guy on the line and was lonely. But when Lauren needed to talk, a shoulder to lean on, like now, when her father had been found dead, could her mother be bothered with a simple phone chat? No, she was at the beach. Now she wanted Lauren to come to dinner. Everything within her wanted to cry out, NO!, but she knew she had to go. This time not for her mother’s sake but for her own. The only way to get to the bottom of what had happened to her father, who he really was, was to get her mother to talk.

Lauren typed out a reply after deleting her desired response.

“Sure mom. See you at 7. I’ll bring the wine.”

Anne’s phone chirped a new text message coming in. Satisfaction calmed her racing heart. Lauren would come to dinner. Good. Now to figure out what to tell her. How much did she really need to know? She had been frantically thinking of ways to make it all go away, to keep the truth hidden. With two dead bodies and connections coming out of the woodworks that would potentially implicate her, at least link her attachment to Daniel, she couldn’t help but worry that Lauren just might be in danger herself. If anything happened to her baby, she would just die.

Oh, why was this happening now? Just when she was getting close to this handsome and successful guy too. Pierce was a delight. Nice to look at, easy to listen too, and financially stable on top of that. The fact that he owned a rock-climbing business certainly showed when her hand smoothed his shirt, brushing away the sand that clung to the soft cotton. Rock hard abs warm from the sun beating down on them had sent a tingling sensation through Anne’s body. Just as she leaned in certain Pierce was going to kiss her, her cell phone rang. Never one to let her phone go to voicemail for fear it was the next million-dollar listing, she had answered while her gaze had remained on his soft lips in front of her. Instead of a million-dollar listing, it had been a royal pain in the ass, Detective Sergeant Steele wanting to set up a time for her to be interviewed. Nothing to worry about, just a few questions. Yeah, right. The beach date called to an abrupt end, Anne told Pierce she had to go check out a new listing ASAP before another realtor swooped it up. Thankfully he understood and said they could pick up where they left off as soon as her schedule allowed.

Anne peered inside the nearly empty fridge finding nothing more than bad take-out and a few beyond-their-shelf-life vegetables not even worthy of a catch-all stew. She would have to run to the store in order to cook something suitable for her and Lauren to eat. Unsure her stomach would hold much down considering the weight of the topic up for discussion, she decided lemon caper chicken, light on the sauce, with whipped mashed potatoes and simple green beans would be best. Anne grabbed her Prada handbag, keys and dashed out to the market.

***

Rosalia, passport in hand, along with a duffel bag with the few items she felt worth taking, took one last glance at the place she called home before sliding into the back of the car she had ordered to get her to the airport. Her flight wasn’t scheduled until later that night, it was the earliest one available on short notice. Alaska Flight 106 direct, non-stop to Mexico City boarded at 9:00 PM. She would fly overnight and arrive in the early hours of the morning. With plenty of time on her hands, she had decided to fly out of Anchorage, a 3-hour car ride away. The ride would give her time to think and formulate the rest of her plan.

She had left a note in her home right on the kitchen counter, first place someone would look. And a message on the voicemail at Kodiak Burgers for Angie. At least that’s what the message sounded like, but really it was for the police or anyone who might come looking for Sarah and Rachel

“Hi, um Ang, it’s Rosalia. I, uh, know I’m not supposed to be calling you here, but, well I had to. I needed to say good-bye. I tried your cell but you didn’t answer. I wanted to be sure you got this message, direct from me and well, not from anyone else. I’m, I’m sorry for anything that I screwed up, or did, or whatever. I didn’t mean to harm anyone, I just wanted you, um, your boys, everyone to… Um you know, be okay. I’m going, well you know where I’m going. I probably shouldn’t go there, but it’s all I have left. Thank you for being there for me, you know, how you have been. Having my back and all. I’m sorry. I never meant for any of this to happen. I won’t call again. That’s all. Bye.”

Before she could give in an choose the button to erase her message, she hit the ‘end call’ button on her phone. There, it was done. Anyone with any sense at all would know where she, Rosalia, would go, that she really shouldn’t go if she didn’t want to be found. Hopefully, the Detective from the lower 48 would get her drift and steer the search for her, leaving Angie, the boys and most importantly Sarah and Rachel out of this mess.

The car ride from Kenai to Anchorage was peaceful. Having lived in many different places across the US and Mexico, Rosalia had seen varied landscapes growing up. Nothing compared to the majestic mountain ranges, bodies of water, and wildlife one found in the great state of Alaska. Winters were hard, no doubt, but the glaciers that remained year after year, lasting through the warm seasons, to the delight of cruise ships, tourists, and even the locals, were unparalleled anywhere else. Well, maybe Antarctica, but Rosalia hadn’t been there, not yet anyway. The sky remained bright as they approached the airport terminal, summer evenings had a difficult time coming to a close before midnight in Alaska, but her body knew this day had a been a long one already. Maybe sleep would come to her on the flight.

Rosalia made it through security with one more swipe of her fake ID and passport. She realized this very well may be the last time she used it. A glance at her watch let her know she had just enough time to grab a paperback for the plane in case sleep evaded her, a coffee and a sandwich. The long flight likely served a meal, but she wasn’t taking chances that it would be even remotely edible.

Tomorrow morning would be a new day, a new chapter in her life, a new beginning in a different country. God willing, the last time she would flee ever again.

***

Lauren decided to let Detective Sergeant Steele and Ryan know that she was having dinner with her mother. As much as she hated the thought that her mother had anything to do with all that was going on, she had to be realistic. Anne had shown no remorse, not an ounce of sadness when Lauren’s father had been found dead. Had Lauren not asked, she doubted her mother would have even spoken of it. Then when she did try to ask her mom about him, she had all but told her to let it go already. Anne had been more intrigued by her new real estate client, aka conquest, then about who had killed her ex-husband and why. Lauren did not understand how even her mother could be that cold-hearted. It was that thought which led to her wondering what her mother truly knew about Daniel. And did she know anything about the other man, Gregor, who had also been found dead?

“Police precinct, how may I direct your call?”

“Oh hi, um May I speak with Detective Sergeant Vera Steele please?”

“May I tell her who is calling?”

“Yes, this is Lauren Riley”

“I’ll see if Sergeant Steele is at her desk, what is the nature of your call?”

“Well, um, I have some information that may help the case she is currently working on.”

“Okay, please hold Ms. Riley.”

The hold Muzak crackled through the phone speaker. Why did people still use Muzak? In this day and age, one would think they would update the hold system. There was a double beep as her call was patched through.

“Sergeant Steele speaking.”

“Hi Vera, it’s me, Lauren.”

“Oh. Hi Lauren, what can I do for you today?”

“Well, I am hoping maybe I can do something for you. You see, my mom texted me today, rather out of the blue.”

“Oh, yeah, what did the message say?”

“She asked me to meet her at home for dinner tonight.”

“Okay, is that something out of the ordinary, you going home to have dinner with your mom?”

“No, not exactly. We eat dinner together a lot, or she leaves me leftovers in the fridge. But this is different. I tried to talk to her on the phone about my dad the other day. I had all these questions and she just brushed me off. She told me I sounded tired and I should go take a nap.”

“Go on.” Sergeant Steele waited to hear more.

“The whole time she was talking to me I could tell she was more interested in who she was with than the questions I was asking. She was at the beach with Pierce and they were, giggling and carrying on. Then it was like she caught herself and realized I was on the line and that she should really act concerned about me dad.”

“I see. So, you think she knows something about Daniel’s murder?”

“As much as I hate to say it, yes, I do. Oh my, am I a terrible daughter? My father is murdered and here I am turning my mom into the police for suspicion!”

“Hold on, you are not a terrible daughter and you’re not turning her in. You are doing the right thing and letting me know of a concern. One that most likely will turn out to be nothing, but is the right thing to do. Okay?”

“Okay.” Lauren let out a huge sigh as her body relaxed.

“Here’s what I need you to do. I need to know what your mom has to say. Would you be comfortable asking if Ryan and I can join you for dinner? Otherwise, I think I’d like you to wear a wire.”

“A wire? Are you serious? You really think it’s that serious?” Lauren’s palms began to sweat.

“I don’t know, but what I do know is we need to get to the bottom of this and time is running out. We need whatever information, whatever may lead to finding the killers and stop this from happening to another person. Who knows your mom may just have the information we need. Are you willing to help us find out what’s going on?”

Lauren took a deep breath and let it seep out through her lips before responding. Her thoughts all over the map, visions of her dad being found dead, the photo Ryan had shown her, and the ones she had seen on his phone flashing through her mind.

“Yes, yes I am willing to help any way I can. I think it’s best if I wear the wire. Should I come to the station now? I can be there in 15 minutes.”

“I’ll call Ryan and get the wire ready. We’ll run you through how it works. Listen Lauren, you’re doing the right thing. Thank you.”

“I know. I’ll see you soon.”

Lauren grabbed her keys and coat as she dashed out the door. She hopped into her Jetta and headed to the police station. Maybe this would be the night, all these years she had wondered about her father, wondered who Daniel was and why he had gone away, stayed away. Maybe now she would know.

***

Rosalia boarded the plane, placed her carry-on bag in the overhead compartment and slipped into the window seat, row 22 seat F. She fastened her seatbelt and flipped open the paperback book she planned to read. The plane sat idling on the runway long enough for the air to turn off overhead. Passengers began whispering wondering what was taking so long. Rosalia looked out the window of the plane to see if maybe the weather had taken a turn causing a delay. The exterior door, which had been closed and sealed by the stewardess, opened and two armed officers stepped onto the plane as an announcement was made.

“Excuse passengers, my apologies for the delay, this is your flight Captain speaking, your flight will take off momentarily. Thank you for your patience. Would passenger Rosalia Flores, please stand up.” The silence was cut only by the shifting of passengers in their seats as they turned left and right straining to get a view of who the officers wanted.

“Rosalia Flores, would you please stand up if you are on board,” the stewardess repeated one more time.

Rosalie shifted in her seat and looked at the gentleman sitting next to her.

“Excuse me, I need to stand up.”

The man’s eyes grew wide. He shoved his coat to the floor and waited as the woman in seat D moved into the aisle first.

“Are you Rosalia Flores?” the officer questioned.

“No, no, I’m not. I’m moving so she can get out of her seat. Please, wait.” Her voice nearing hysterics, the woman in seat D stumbled and nearly fell into another passenger’s lap. The man sitting next to Rosalia helped the woman gain her composure and they both stepped back, clearing the way for Rosalia.

Rosalia stepped into the aisle.

“Rosalia Flores, please place your hands in the air where we can see them. Stay where you are. Don’t move.” The first officer began walking down the aisle towards her as Rosalia raised both hands high above her head, palms facing forward in surrender.

***

Rocky Raccoon watched as the VW Jetta pulled up to the station. No longer hungry for food, there was only one thing he wanted now. The truth. And he had a feeling Lauren was about to bring the truth to light, at any and all costs.

Rocky wasn’t the only one watching as Lauren walked up the steps of the City Precinct. Jonathan Van Roy slunk down in his seat as best he could, large frame and all. He watched as she took each step, every part of him wanting to go after her, to stop her. What was she doing? This couldn’t possibly be good. He didn’t want her involved, didn’t want her to get hurt. If she went to the cops, getting hurt might be the least of her worries.

Something shiny caught Rocky’s eye. He turned left just in time to see a flash of light reflecting off the car window. As quick as it came it was gone. Rocky sat there watching Jonathan. “One wrong move buddy and I’m all over you. Get out of that car, I dare ya! I’ve had a hankerin’ for some flesh in my teeth. Just try me,” Rocky snarled, baring all of his sharp teeth.

CHAPTER 27

by Matt Morgan
(1693 words)

Lauren hated walking through the police station. How many times had she been here to take care of a parking ticket, seek a restraining order against a poorly chosen boyfriend, or pay fines for her Minor in Possession indiscretions? Times enough that the building sent her careening toward PTSD. At least she was on the right side of the equation this time.

Vera was waiting for her at the desk, along with Ryan. Ryan’s left eyelid was twitching, and he kept running his tongue over his upper lip. He was not trying to be seductive; she knew better. He was scared to death. Lauren thought it might behoove her to cast a little doubt his way during her chat with Vera.

The detectives ushered Lauren to Vera’s office. Before she settled into her seat, a mug of coffee appeared before her. Kind officers in the past had shared their precious coffee with her to sober her up and get her to stop crying the three times she had been busted for MIP. This coffee smelled and tasted far better than what she remembered.

“You folks have upgraded your coffee since I was a kid.”

“Don’t kid yourself, Lauren,” Vera said. “I bring my own. I buy pounds of beans at the Black Drop. I can’t even imagine where the Department scavenges for coffee.”

Lauren decided to tank up on the good stuff before going home for dinner. The coffee burned going down, but she drank it as quickly as possible so she could get another mugful. Ryan obliged her with a refill.

Vera sat back and folded her arms. “You must have some serious information on your mother if you are coming to us.” She gazed at Lauren in a motherly way, but Lauren knew Vera was ready to pounce on whatever opportunities Lauren offered her.

Lauren maintained eye contact over the brim of her mug. Was she making a mistake? Was she going to set her mom up to be harassed by these cops when all she knew was that her mom was acting strange?

“I hope I’m not misleading you. All I have are suspicions about my mom’s behavior. She could be simply distracted by this handsome guy who wants to buy a house. I don’t think I’m offended by her lack of concern for my dad. I’m not looking for revenge. After all, he dumped both of us. I don’t think it’s even her lack of concern for me. She just isn’t being herself. In a situation like this, that gives me a lot to think about.”

“What exactly are you thinking, Lauren?” Ryan asked. He leaned on the desk with both elbows. His eyelid twitched faster.

He’s involved in this mess, she thought. How do I get at him?

“This Pierce guy. He has a silent partner. Except he’s not very silent of late. I see him wandering around town. I saw that gym being set up from the day they started painting. Mom has taught me to keep an eye on real estate downtown. So I saw this Pierce guy in there working, painting the place himself, supervising the building of the climbing wall, putting the equipment together all by himself. And suddenly the guy who fronted him the money shows up to keep an eye on things? I don’t think so. The guy showed up the same time my dad did, essentially.”

Ryan squeezed his interlaced fingers together so tightly that they turned completely white. He wouldn’t be much of a poker player. She decided to push the button on this silent partner.

“Yeah, this Sam guy, where did he come from? Did he tell Pierce to cozy up to my mom? Does he know something about the Alaska connection? If he didn’t come from Alaska, what made him decide that this time, and this place, were exactly when he needed to invest in Bellingham? It’s all too fishy. I think someone local is involved as his eyes and ears.”

Bingo! Ryan was taking a nervous pull on his coffee when she made her accusation, and he began to choke. His violent coughing caused him to slosh coffee into his lap. He screamed, grabbed his crotch with his left hand, and set his mug down so hard that most of the remaining coffee erupted onto the desk. Vera lunged for the files scattered on her desk.

“Lauren,” Vera said calmly, “could you give me a minute with Ryan, please?”

Lauren proffered her most obviously gloating grin and glided from the office. Two seconds later, she heard Vera ask what sounded like a question from the intonation, but she couldn’t make out the words. The third time Vera asked the question, though, anyone in the hall could have heard it:

“Ryan, if you don’t come clean with me, I swear I will at the very least bust you to cleaning vomit out of squad cars. If you are doing something illegal here, the only way I will defend you when you plead is if you are straight with me. Right. Now.”

Lauren looked around. There was no one in the hall. It had been a wise move to wait until the evening shift to come here. She pressed her ear against the door so she could hear Ryan’s reply.

“I’ve been moonlighting. Sam Barings hired me to snoop around the gym a bit. He wanted to make sure his investment was a good one. That’s not illegal.”

“No, it’s just as stupid a decision as I should have expected you. But if you know anything about what your precious client is doing in this town, you know you will be considered an accessory before or after the fact if this guy turns out to be rotten.”

Ryan mumbled something Lauren could not hear.

“I didn’t hear you, Ryan.”

“I said I’m sorry, ma’am. When the guy showed up in town, I got nervous. I’ve been watching to see if he is going to do anything illegal. I would report that to you instantly.”

“Why don’t you call him and have him come down here. I’m sure he has interesting things to say to me.”

Ryan didn’t speak for a minute. Lauren could imagine that both of his eyelids were twitching now.

“Well, I don’t know where he is. He may have gone back to Seattle.”

“Now that the two guys he wanted dead are taken care of?”

Lauren heard furious typing on a laptop. She backed away from the door in case Ryan was going to come out for a cold compress.

“That didn’t take long,” Vera said loudly enough for Lauren to hear. “Your client is in Alaska. Exactly where the rest of these goons came from. Call Lauren in, Ryan, and go away.”

***

From the moment that Ryan exited Vera’s office, tears rolling down his cheeks, to the moment Vera excused her and Lauren left the station, Lauren felt her spirits lift more and more. She planted enough seeds of doubt to ensure that Vera would contact her mom, and she made absolutely sure that Vera knew just how complicit Jonathan Van Roy was likely to be in her father’s death. This might be the sweetest revenge she had ever experienced.

She walked down the concrete steps of the police station, fishing in her purse for her keys. She raised her gaze enough to make sure she wouldn’t trip, and at the curb she saw black jeans and boots. A man’s legs, feet spread in a shooter’s stance. Lauren looked up and saw Jonathan’s hands wrapped around a pistol. She winced, pulled her shoulders in to make a smaller target, and then she felt a massive thud in her chest, followed by a sharp crack! as the force carried her to the ground. She heard heavy boots thud across the street and the squeal of tires as Jonathan drove off.

She was having trouble breathing. And yet, her heart was racing. Doors opened behind her, and numerous footsteps ran toward her. A siren wailed. Five faces leaned over her, forming a canopy. She wondered how badly she was hurt, how much she was bleeding. She reached with her right hand and, fearing the worst, brought it down on her chest.

She expected to feel a warm, sticky liquid. What she felt instead was a thick coat of fur.

“Javy, can you remove the raccoon from Lauren’s chest, so we can see if she’s injured?” That was Vera talking. A young man crouched and lifted the heavy mammal off her torso, and suddenly she could breathe again. The young man laid the raccoon on his back a couple of feet from her.

“I– I think I’m fine,” Lauren said, her voice shaky. “I thought for sure Jonathan got me.” She pointed at the raccoon. “He jumped on me and knocked me down.”

“He’s a hero,” someone said. “I think he’s going to get a posthumous medal.”

“Not so fast,” the young man said. “His dog tag is dented. He’s not bleeding. I think the bullet ricocheted off the tag. He might be knocked silly, but he’s breathing, and his heartbeat is strong and normal.”

Lauren sat up and scooted over to the raccoon. The others followed her and circled around the fallen mammal the way they had gathered around her. The young man, who was wearing an Animal Control uniform, massaged the raccoon’s cheeks and said, “Wake up for me, Rocky.” After a few seconds, the raccoon blinked, stretched, and rolled onto his paws. He climbed onto the shoulder of the young man.

Lauren had never seen Rocky up close before. To think that he had been willing to take a bullet for a complete stranger boggled her mind. She wanted to take him home, give him his own bedroom, and feed him his fill of fish every day. Then she laughed at herself. There was no way mom would let her have a raccoon in the house.

But the more she thought about it, she wondered if she might not have the house all to herself pretty soon.

CHAPTER 28

by Pat Gibbons
(1442 words)

Jonathan Van Roy ran from his car, parked in the underground lot at the Bellwether Hotel, to the RV that was now settled on the shoulder of Roeder Avenue. Running in his boots was not good for his feet, and several decades of smoking various types of leaves had him gasping for air by the time he reached the door and anonymity.

He slammed the door behind him, and Jeremy jumped to his feet and pulled out a Glock.

“Whoa, whoa,” Jonathan exclaimed, his palms held out towards Jeremy in a defensive posture. “It’s just me. I was in a hurry to get in here.”

Jeremy holstered the automatic. “You forgot the knock. That could get you killed.”

“I had to get off the street. I know, the knock was my idea, and you two hated it. But when the cops come busting in here, you’ll be glad I thought of an early-warning system.”

“You’re going to be another Stonewall Jackson if you don’t watch out. Why the big hurry? Was someone chasing you?”

Jonathan sat heavily on a kitchen chair and leaned forward, hands on his knees, to catch his breath.

“No one’s after me yet, but they could be soon. I shot the girl.” He looked up in time to see Jeremy’s sharp glance. “What’s wrong with you?”

“You mean the girl you wanted to— ”

Jonathan cut him off. “Let’s not talk about that. She knew too much. She was going to figure out a whole lot more. She might’ve wound up knowing as much as Gregor did.”

Jeremy pulled out his Glock again and caressed it. “It seems to me you weren’t really planning to kill the girl.”

“The hell you say! I shot her right there on the steps of the police department. She went down, and I took off. If you think I didn’t go there to kill her, put down that gun come over here and say it to my face.”

Jeremy rolled his eyes. He knew it pissed Jonathan off when he did that, and he was hoping his stupid older brother would come at him. Jeremy was about done with this inept, pale reflection of their mother.

“I don’t have to go there, Jonathan. I was listening to the scanner. Cop comes on, says an unknown assailant shot a raccoon. And he didn’t even kill the raccoon. The bullet hit an ID tag and bounced off him.” Jeremy hoped his jeering tone would get under Jonathan’s skin. All he wanted was an excuse.

Jonathan’s face turned purple. “You lie! I hit the girl.”

“Not according to that Robert Duke fellow,” Jeremy hissed through clenched teeth. “Have a look at this.” He opened Facebook on his phone and went to a page named “Whatcom Weird News.”

Jeremy cleared his throat. “Gunman shoots raccoon in an attempt on the life of a Bellingham woman. Details coming soon.”

Jonathan’s jaw dropped. “That makes no sense. I aimed at the girl. I plugged her. She went down. I didn’t even see a raccoon. I think I need to find that Robert Duke and take him out for lying.” He stood and headed toward the door.

Jeremy stood as well. “Hang on there, Jon.” Jonathan paused, his hand on the doorknob. “If you came here to hide, you don’t need to be leaving so the cops can find us. The plan is to get Mom down here and out of sight. If you mess that up, I assure you… you will be sorry.”

He lifted his Glock and aimed it at Jonathan’s forehead.

***

Rocky had never had it so good. His shoulder was a little bit sore, so he limped when he walked, but he had been injured before, like the time he fell from a fire escape ladder and landed on his butt after a 10-foot fall. Even worse was the amused chatter from the other raccoons when he hit the ground. He did not enjoy being embarrassed.

Here he was, lying in a dog bed at the home of the Animal Control officer, being fed sardines by the woman whose life he had saved. She had provided him with what he preferred to call a finger bowl, which was really a dog’s water dish made of blue plastic. They had a rhythm down: she peeled a sardine filet from the rectangular can, held it out to him, he grabbed the dangling delectable with both paws, gave it a quick dunk in the water, and downed it in one gulp.

He was on sardine number ten, and the woman was showing no sign of stopping. He could learn to like this. But really, he had bigger fish to fry. Food was beautiful, but there were people out on the streets of Bellingham who were killing relatively innocent people. Raccoons didn’t do things like that. He could understand if the people were hungry and they killed other people for food. But these people were killing, dropping the bodies in the water, and leaving them there. Insanity.

It was Rocky’s job to see beyond these human foibles, past the weak intellects that were letting these murderers wander around town with impunity, and bring them to justice. Having thought through his goals, Rocky knew that he would have to renounce his cushy lifestyle at least until the interlopers from Alaska were in custody.

But how could he get these two kind humans to understand that he had to go, and that he did not want to seem ungrateful for their generosity. As much as he hated to do it, he started down the path to freedom by turning away from a beautiful sardine filet that dangled before his face. The woman would leave soon, and Rocky would run out the door between her legs.

***

Rosalia sat in a dingy Customs interrogation room, a quarter-mile at most from the jet that would have taken her to Guadalajara. She had absolutely no idea how the officials figured out who she was and where she was. Her fake passport said that her name was Ana Robles, which was her grandmother’s first name combined with the word for Oaks, two of which towered over the town where Rosalia had spent her childhood.

A man in a black suit, probably FBI, strode through the door and sat across the table from her. If he really was FBI, she thought, she might never see daylight again. All she wanted to do was get away from whoever had killed her brother, as well as Dan and Gregor. Something really messed-up was going on in this town, and she had no idea what it was.

“I’m sorry we had to pull you off the plane, Rosalia,” the man said. “But I figured out that Angie knew you were headed to Mexico. It wouldn’t be a good thing for you to get down there and find out that Angie was not someone you should have trusted.”

“Are you saying that Angie would rat me out? I can’t believe that. She has been like a mother to me.”

“Based on what we know about your mother, I would have to agree that Angie has acted the same way as your mother. But neither one of them has done right by you.”

Rosalia glared at the agent. “You’re lucky I don’t have something to cut you with for dissing my mom.”

“Hang on there, Tiger. I’m here to offer you something better than a fake passport. Either we are stupid, or you’re pretty much innocent in this situation. I’d like to assume it’s the latter. So we would like to put you in a safe house so you can testify about the little you know when the time comes. What do you say to that?”

Rosalia leaned her chair back on two legs. When she had done that at home, her mom had pushed on her shoulder and sent her crashing to the floor, where Rosalia cracked her head and spouted an impressive puddle of blood. Maybe this guy was right about her mother.

“Will it be cold where I’m going? Siberia?”

The man laughed. “Not Siberia, and not Guantánamo, either. Really, we want to keep you safe so you can tell your story when we need you to. You don’t have much time to decide. I can get you on another flight to Mexico, but when you get off in Guadalajara, I can pretty much assure you that someone will follow you for a few blocks and then blow your brains out.”

Rosalia didn’t like that image very much. “Let’s do it,” she said.

CHAPTER 29

by Kate French
(2341 words)

Cameron was convinced he would die here in the dark garage, but not of starvation. The popcorn was quite tasty and came in seven different flavors. His FitBit had run out of juice and his phone was in James’ sports bag, so he had no idea what time it was when he heard scrabbling against the door.

“Hey! Someone there? Let me out!”

No response. More scrabbling. Warily, Cameron squeezed behind the door to give himself a chance to run if the persons unknown had evil intent. More scrabbling, at the keyhole this time. The door swung open. Dazzled by the sudden brightness, Cameron didn’t spot the small furry creature dashing into the garage at knee level. First making sure no one was waiting outside to jump him, Cameron ran towards the light.

***

The “safe house” turned out to be a bland modern apartment in Anchorage. The FBI agents fed Rosalia a burger and fries (much tastier than Kenai Burger, she thought) and a chocolate milkshake. The food calmed her down and she was ready to talk.

One of the agents slapped a thick manila folder onto the table, but he didn’t open it. The other agent busied himself with the recording equipment, then took out a notebook and pen and leaned back.

“Tell us about Miguel.” The agent with the file was taking the lead.

“Miguel? He’s my older brother. Not a nice guy. Even when we were kids he was always getting into trouble. He starts fights, hits on other men’s women, that kind of thing.” She wasn’t going to tell him about Miguel hitting on Sarah, and what happened after. She was going to wait and see what they knew first.

“So how did he end up chopped into pieces at the bottom of the freezer at your dad’s fishing camp?”

Rosalia tried a disinterested shrug. After a pause, the agent drew out three photographs and spread them on the table in front of her: the Van Roy boys, Jonathan, Jeremy, and her beloved Joel. She couldn’t resist reaching a finger to touch his face. She and Joel had plans; they were going to break away from his toxic family and make a life together. Then he’d disappeared.

“You know them?”

She nodded.

“They come out to the fishing camp?”

“Sometimes.”

“On the night Miguel was killed?”

Rosalia’s eyes widened in shock. The Van Roys had killed him? Not her Joel! He couldn’t be involved.

The agent continued. “We got a tip from a ‘concerned citizen’ that we should take a look at Jonathan Van Roy’s motorcycle. We found bloody fingerprints. Jonathan’s prints; Miguel’s blood.”

So that’s why the boys left town, she thought. The agent was pulling more photos out of the file.

“What about these guys?”

“Yeah, I seen ’em around. That’s Gregor—I don’t know his last name— and that’s Danny Riley.” Don’t say too much, she warned herself.

“This Danny, he’s a good friend?” The emphasis on the “good” was suggestive.

She shrugged again.

“Well, he spent time out at the fishing camp with you, didn’t he?”

“Look, Danny’s a nice guy, but . . . I’m involved with someone else.”

“This guy?” Another photo: Cameron Douglas! The man who helped get Sarah and her daughter to a safe place after Miguel assaulted her.

“No! Cameron’s just a climber who spent some time up here last summer. He lives in Washington, I think.” Thank God, the agent didn’t go back and ask who she was involved with.

He was fishing around in his file again. How many photos did he have in there?

“Who’s this?”

Safe ground. Everyone knew Angie.

“That’s Angie Van Roy, the boys’ mother. She owns a burger joint in Kenai City.”

“How long has she lived there?”

“God, she’s been there forever. I’m 22, and I remember going there for fries when I was just a little girl.”

“So you don’t know about her past?”

“What, you mean that old rumor? Fake news! Angie likes to drink and when she’s liquored up she tells stories about being a bank robber back in the day. Everyone’s heard the stories; no one believes them.” Rosalia laughed.

“Well, maybe you should have believed them. There’s a $100,000 reward offered for her capture. She’s been on the FBI’s Most Wanted list for decades.”

Rosalia’s mouth fell open but no words emerged. The silence stretched out until the first agent poked a finger at the pictures of Gregor and Danny.

“We think these men did believe the story and the Van Roys killed them both because of it. Gregor and Danny separately went down to Washington, maybe to turn Angie in and claim the reward, maybe to try and find the haul from that last bank robbery. The money was never found. It’s in Bellingham somewhere. The Van Roys followed them down there.” He pointed to the picture of Cameron. “This lad’s missing; we think he might be their third victim—sorry, fourth victim. I was forgetting about Miguel.”

Now the agent who had been taking notes leaned forward and spoke for the first time.

“Rosalia, if you know anything, anything at all, now’s the time to speak up.”

“But I don’t! I really don’t! If I did, don’t you think I would have stepped up to claim the reward?”

***

Angie descended the steps from the aircraft awkwardly, handcuffed to a federal marshal. At the bottom, she stopped to look around. Where was the shack where you picked up your bags? The double-wide that served as a gate area? Bellingham “International” Airport used to be a joke; it had really grown up while she was away.

The marshal marched her over to a gate in the fence and handed her over to a baby-faced cop in a BPD uniform. His new-looking badge introduced him as “Officer R. Miller,” and he did not look happy to be doing chauffeur duty.

On the ride into town, Angie noticed other changes. The Lettered Streets used to be where the druggies hung out. Now it was all gentrified, with manicured front yards and tricycles on the paths. She paused again after Officer Miller unlocked the door and helped her out of the vehicle at the Police Department, a modern building that looked more suitable for a firm of up-market architects than a police precinct.

“What’s that smell?” she asked.

“What smell?”

Exactly! Where was that sulfurous choking pulp mill stink that hung over Bellingham like a foul blanket? Now, there was just fresh, ocean-washed air.

Miller caught on. “Oh, Georgia Pacific closed fifteen years ago.”

“But what do people do? Where are the jobs?”

Miller looked baffled for a moment.

“Brewpubs, bicycle stores, restaurants, anything to do with tourism, I guess. And the university and the hospital, of course.”

“Tourism? Don’t make me laugh! In Bellingham?”

But Ryan had had enough chit-chat. He escorted her through the building to a clean but sparse interview room where a large plain woman was already waiting for her.

“You can take the cuffs off now, Ryan. Ms. Van Roy’s not going to try to escape.”

No, she wasn’t. In a way, it had been a relief when Sam Barings told her he’d turned her in for the reward. She’d been waiting for her arrest for more than twenty years, almost daring law enforcement to find her, amazed that her freedom had lasted so long. Freedom hadn’t been that great anyway. Watching her sons grow up, grow apart from her and each other, and turn to crime. All her youthful feminism, the tattoos she hoped would be a lifelong message, ignored, despised, at best a kitschy gang tag for a band of Harley riders.

“I’m Detective Sergeant Vera Steele. So here’s the deal, Angie. You plead to six bank robberies between 1991 and 1994, and you tell us where the Wells Fargo robbery money is hidden, and we won’t charge you as an accessory to three murders, two kidnappings, one attempted murder, and,” —Vera paused, she hadn’t run this one by the County Prosecutor yet— “one count of animal cruelty.”

Angie liked this woman: she went straight to the point, no posturing. Jeez, the boys had been busy down here! She did some mental calculations.

“I doubt you could bring those old cases to trial after all this time anyway. And my sons are grown-ups; I don’t have any control over them or what they do.”

“Come on, Angie. Their only motive in killing Gregor and Danny and kidnapping Cameron was to protect you! A jury’s going to find it very easy to believe you ordered them to do it.”

“Hmm. Would I have to serve some time?”

“Probably. How much depends on how forthcoming you are about those robberies, especially the last one, Wells Fargo Bank, June 23, 1994. Let’s start with you telling me all about that one.”

“Don’t I need a lawyer?”

“ ‘Need,’ Angie? I don’t think so, but, sure, if you want one . . . ”

“Nah! I trust you!” Angie laughed. “How about a cup of coffee, though? Maybe some Jack Daniels in it?”

While Angie downed a heavily-laced coffee—Vera’s special stash, not the Department mud— she explained the Wells Fargo Bank heist. How she waited outside on Magnolia with her youngest, Jeremy, in his stroller, looking sweet and innocent, while Van Roy went inside, pulled on his mask and waved his gun. It was GP payroll day, so they expected a big haul. Van Roy ran out, dumped the money into the big shopping bag she held ready, and then they went their separate ways. She, pushing Jeremy, ducked into an alley, and stashed the dough in a hiding place she’d scoped out, then walked casually out the other end of the alley, a young mother on a stroll, doing some shopping.

Van Roy was not so lucky. Two blocks over, he ran into three police cars racing to the scene. There was a shootout, and two cops died. Van Roy had been on Death Row ever since. When she heard the gunfire, Angie dashed home, packed the little boys into the pickup, and headed for the border.

“In those days, you could cross with a smile and a driver’s license. I headed north and didn’t stop until I reached Kenai.”

“And the money? It’s still hidden?” asked Vera.

“I expect so. I didn’t even tell Van Roy where I was going to hide it. I know when I drink I can get kinda chatty about my colorful past, but I never told anyone that detail.”

Vera stood up. “OK. Let’s go find the money.”

“Can I see my boys first?” Angie anticipated it would be a while before she got a chance to talk to them again, and felt she should offer some motherly advice about keeping their damn mouths shut.

“I don’t think that would be wise, Angie. We have them in separate holding cells right now for their own protection. They’re pretty mad at each other.” Vera could have added, “and at you,” but she refrained.

***

“Wow! Wouldja look at that!” The alley had been transformed. Every inch of wall space had been covered in exotic animals and birds, Native American symbols, mountain landscapes. You couldn’t call it graffiti; it was too beautiful. It was art.

Vera snapped her fingers to get Angie’s attention. “So, can you still find the place?”

“Sure.” Angie walked forward about twenty yards and pointed to a grating at ground level. It was about eighteen inches wide and covered in painted vine tendrils.

Vera noted they were standing outside the back wall of the climbing gym.

“Ryan, go get Mr. McIntosh out here. We might need his permission to do some structural work.”

Pierce appeared very willing to cooperate with the police, once he understood he was not going to be arrested for obstruction, at least not on that day. Ryan got down on his knees, and, using the tools they had brought, got to work loosening the mortar around the grating.

“What’s behind this, Mr. McIntosh?” Vera asked, as she watched the newly-demoted Ryan at his labors.

“There’s a gap between the outside wall and the climbing wall inside. It’s about five feet wide at the bottom and tapers up to about three feet at the top.”

“And what’s in that gap?”

Pierce narrowed his eyes, recalling the construction phase. “Mmm. Some structural supports for the climbing wall obviously, and then along the floor at the back just some duct work. It wasn’t connected to anything—we installed a whole new heating and AC system. We were worried about releasing asbestos and stuff, so we just left the old stuff there.”

Ryan had removed the grating, and now it was Vera’s turn to crouch down. She attached a long flexible wand to her smartphone and inserted it into the opening.

“What’s that?” asked Pierce.

“An endoscopy camera,” Vera replied. Pierce who had suffered his first ever colonoscopy a month before, felt his buttocks clench.

“Aha. Ryan, grabber tool, please.”

Ryan, like a well-trained surgical nurse, slapped the tool into Vera’s outreached hand. Within a minute, she was pulling out heavy plastic-wrapped cubes, about six inches by six inches.

“How much do you think is there?” Pierce’s voice was husky with awe. Vera looked up at Angie for an answer.

“We reckoned a quarter million in hundred-dollar bills.” She sighed and raised her cuffed hands to wipe away a tear. Was she crying for all the lost opportunities the money might have offered? For her boys facing jail probably for the rest of their lives? Or for Van Roy, the only man she’d ever loved? She didn’t know. But she was glad she’d got to see this alley with its splendid murals. She gazed around and up. Look, she thought, they’ve even incorporated some 3-D figures on the top of the wall: a little black and white furry guy. A skunk, maybe, or a raccoon.

CHAPTER 30

by Marian Exall
(2442 words)

As Lauren powered up the last slope, she could feel the urn bouncing around in her backpack. God, I hope the top stays on; it’ll be hell getting the ash out of the seams. She reached the crest, and pulled her bike off the trail at her favorite spot overlooking the town, the Sound and the islands. She retrieved the urn—still intact—and only then gave way to the grief she had pushed down for days. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she hiccupped her way through a final farewell.

“Good dog, Tinkerbell; you were the best friend I ever had.”

The end had come fast, or perhaps she and her mother had been too preoccupied with all the recent drama in their lives to notice the dog’s decline. One morning, he had been unable to stand up from his bed which was soaked in pee. He’d never done that before. They called the Vet Who Makes House Calls, and after a thorough examination, her face told them the prognosis better than her words.

“Kidney failure definitely, possibly a result of something else, like cancer. I could do X-rays, blood tests, give you a clearer idea. He’s a twelve-year-old dog, a good age for a big guy like Tinkerbell…”

Lauren shook out the last of the ashes and watched as the breeze swirled them into a cloud. Soon, when the police released the body, she would perform the same duty for her father. With that thought, a new wave of misery swept over her. If only she had waited longer at the ferry terminal; if only he had left a call back number, or explained more in that voicemail message, perhaps she could have saved him, changed his fate. All she was left with were unanswered questions: why did he leave and why he did he come back? Why did he have to die?

She swiped the tears from her cheeks and checked the time. She’d promised to meet her mother for Happy Hour at Aslan. Anne wanted to introduce her to someone. Her mom never tired of trying to fix Lauren up with some “nice young man.” They never panned out, but she’d go along with it just once more. She had no time to go home to shower and change, so whoever this prospect was, he’d have to accept her with a blotchy face, and dressed in sweaty spandex and tank top. The thought gave her some satisfaction.

She replaced the empty urn in her backpack, remounted and pushed off, this time without the rush of endorphins that usually accompanied the downhill ride.

***

She bent to kiss Anne’s cheek, and was pleased to feel her recoil slightly at the sweaty touch.

“Lauren, I’d like you to meet—”

“Oh, hi, Cameron. How was the Grand Opening? Yeah, Mom, I know Cameron. He’s a friend of James and Hazel. He’s one of the Climbers in Kilts.”

“Oh.” Anne looked crestfallen.

“It went great! The kilts brought in a big crowd of onlookers. We had a live bagpiper. There should be photos in the Herald tomorrow.”

Conversation paused as the waitress came by for their drink orders.

“Oh, nothing for me,” Anne said. “I have to rush off. I’m showing a condo on State Street at six.”

“To Pierce McIntosh?” Lauren interjected.

“No. Why would you think that? As a matter of fact, Mr. McIntosh has decided not to invest in Bellingham real estate at this time.” Anne’s tone was stiff and distant. Lauren couldn’t tell whether her mother was heartbroken over the end of a love affair, or peeved at losing a commission. Poor Mom! Always a battle between the competent businesswoman she had schooled herself to be, and the incurable romantic she was by nature. In spite of her feminist upbringing, witnessed by the tattoo on her inner arm, Anne still searched for the man who would complete her.

“Here,” Anne was thrusting a credit card at her daughter. “Pay with this.”

“Absolutely not!” said Cameron. “This is my treat. I asked for the meeting.”

This time, Anne’s hug was warm, and Lauren held on for an extra moment. “Love you, Mom.”

“So, Cameron, what’s this all about?” Lauren now regretted not going home to shower and change. Cameron had switched his kilt for skinny jeans and a pale pink dress shirt, looking very metro-sexual—for Bellingham at least.

“Well, Pierce has asked me to take over as manager at the gym. He’s taking a back seat until all his legal troubles are worked out. The police still haven’t said whether they’re going to charge him with anything.”

“Congratulations, but what has this to do with me?” Lauren didn’t know Cameron that well. Why had he invited her to celebrate his promotion?

“I want to offer you a job, assistant gym manager.” He rushed on. “You’d run the café and the gear shop. Of course, you’d hire additional help. It’s a full-time gig, but the hours are flexible. What I really need help on is branding, you know, advertising logos, internet campaigns, that kind of thing. Your mom said you had a degree in graphic design, so . . .” He paused for breath. “What do you think?”

“Does the job include benefits?”

“Not to start with.” Cameron hesitated. “This is confidential, so don’t go telling anyone, but Pierce wants out. He’s decided small-town life’s not for him. He’s negotiating with the City Parks and Rec to take over the gym. It was Hazel’s idea actually. If it works out, we’d be City employees, with health insurance, paid vacation and sick pay, even a 401k plan.”

“Sweet!” And sweet to be working alongside Cameron too: his dark red hair, brown eyes, lean but muscled body. Good legs too; she’d seen him in a kilt. Yum, friends with benefits! “Yes, I’m definitely interested.”

“Good. There’s something else.”

Uh-oh, Cameron looked worried. What was coming?

“When I was in Kenai last year, I met your dad.” Lauren went cold. She’d been searching for answers but did she really want them? Vera Steele seemed to think her father had returned to Bellingham to collect some money, not to reconnect with his daughter. That hurt. She didn’t want more hurt.

“Both coming from the Ham and all, we got talking about people we knew—about you, actually.” Cameron reached across the table to hold her hand. “He missed you. He told me how guilty he felt about leaving you—”

“Then why did he?” Lauren burst out.

“Because he was ill. Leukemia. He knew the medical costs would ruin the family, and he didn’t want you to give up everything, including college, to just watch him die. He thought the best thing for everyone was to get out of your lives.”

“But he didn’t die.”

“No, he got treatment in Alaska, and the cancer went into remission. But he just couldn’t imagine that you and Anne would ever forgive him for leaving. He was paralyzed with guilt.” Cameron was still holding her hand.

“He told you all this?”

“Yes. And there’s more. He emailed me a couple of months ago to tell me the cancer had come back. He wanted to put things right before, you know . . . That’s why he came back, not for the money.”

They sat in silence, Lauren’s thoughts churning. She had been angry at her father for so long, it was difficult to let her rage go.

“Why did Jon Van Roy kill him then, if he wasn’t a threat? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Van Roy’s paranoid. He thinks everyone’s out to get the money, including me. He might have been right about Gregor though. Your dad knew the Van Roy brothers were bad news, and when he saw them on the ferry, his first thought was to warn you.”

Lauren took a deep breath. “Thank you, Cameron. I feel like I lost my dad all over again, but this time I can let myself love him.”

***

Vera Steele sat frowning at her glass of root beer. She avoided these after-hours “drinks with the boys” at Boundary Bay like the plague, but somehow Lieutenant Mowry had out-maneuvered her for once, and so she was forced to watch the macho rituals of back-slapping mutual congratulation, as cops who hadn’t even a peripheral connection to the case celebrated the capture of the Van Roy crime family. With each beer consumed, the noise level grew.

Mowry slumped down beside Vera and imprudently slung an arm around her shoulders. Feeling her stiffen, he withdrew the offending limb.

“Well, Vera, the press’re gonna love us for this! FBI most wanted, multiple murders and kidnappings, and the recovery of the haul from a cold-case bank robbery! It doesn’t get any better than this! I could retire right now a happy man!”

Vera moved six inches away from him on the banquette before turning to stare at his red and sweaty face.

“Are you retiring?”

“Nah, nah, jus’ a figure of speech, Vera. Don’t take everything so seriously.”

“Oh.” Vera turned back to the tap room. Was that Augustine Virchow? What was he doing here? And who was he talking to, that older man with wild white hair and beard, dressed in a baggy tweed jacket? Mowry was still going on about something but Vera had tuned him out. She stood up and pushed past him, leaving her untouched root beer on the table.

“Hello, Vera. Glad you came over. I want to introduce you to Dr. Harold Galloway. He’s the forensic pathologist from the Regional Crime Lab in Kenai who brought the DNA samples down here. Harold, this is Detective Sargent Vera Steele who cracked the case. Great police work.” Vera knew that social rules required her to modestly disclaim the credit, but she had cracked the case and it was great police work, so she just nodded and stuck out her hand.

“Why did you come all the way from Alaska to deliver samples when you could have Fed Ex-ed them, or at most sent them with a beat cop?”

Dr. Galloway’s mouth dropped open in surprise. Virchow, accustomed to Vera’s directness, just smiled. Galloway stuttered a response.

“Um, well, to be honest, bringing the samples was an excuse to get a last expenses-paid trip down to the lower 48. I’m retiring at the end of the month, and there’s a conference I wanted to go to in Seattle.” Regaining his equilibrium, he gave a chuckle. “Is this how you interrogate suspects? I can see why you get such good results. Actually, there’s another reason: I wanted a chance to talk to Augie face to face and persuade him to apply for my job.”

Vera stared at Virchow. ‘Augie,’ seriously? And was Virchow actually considering moving to Alaska? Why hadn’t he told her? Virchow gave an embarrassed laugh. Galloway continued, oblivious to his companion’s unease.

“No, you really ought to apply. Complete freedom, lots of variety, you get your own float plane. Great fishing. And best of all, no police chief breathing down your neck for autopsy results; that job’s been vacant for months. No one’s applied.”

“Why not?” asked Vera.

“There’s a huge area to cover with not much support, and it gets lonely up there in the winter. Takes a special kind of person to make a go of it in Alaska: strong, self-reliant, take-no-shit kind of person.”

Virchow’s grin got wider. “Sounds like the perfect job for you, Vera.”

Virchow as regional pathologist and her as police chief. Hmm. That could work.

“Are you going to apply for the pathologist job?” she asked Virchow.

“I will if you will,” he said.

She experienced an unfamiliar sensation in her chest and unusual warmth spreading up her neck to her face, forcing the corners of her mouth upwards. Was it . . . happiness?

***

Rocky Raccoon took a circuitous route back to the alley, stopping to snack on foregone fries and purloined pizza at some of his favorite haunts. He thought he’d give Jalapeno’s a miss for a while until his stomach settled down. A cat had nine lives; he might be pushing the raccoon limit at three. He took the climb to the top of the gym slowly, feeling for familiar paw- and toe-holds in the gathering dusk, and always respecting the artwork—that yellow paint was the devil to get off his claws.

At the top, he surveyed the alley below, taking in the pink flamingoes forever flying into an orange sunset, the zebra caught mid-gallop across the savannah, and gorillas in the mist of an equatorial jungle. His thoughts wandered from the flora and fauna pictured on the brickwork, to the human denizens of his town.

If only he could have shared his insights and wisdom with the bungling boobies below, the criminal mess would have been cleared up much faster. But humans saw him as a flea-ridden, rabies-carrying scavenger. By and large, humans were idiots. Except perhaps that dumpy detective with the steady gaze. He might have been able to communicate with her, given the opportunity. In the end, she’d worked it out for herself, but not before a lot of heartburn.

Acid reflux: the curse of the species. Rocky leaned back, crossing his paws over his stomach until the spasm passed. He gazed up at the evening star, Venus, an unblinking point of light against the velvet sky, and his mood turned melancholy. A tear trickled down his snout. “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”

Enough of that. No, he would not succumb to self-pity. He got up, gave himself a shake and shuffled over to the corner where he had hidden his tattered copy of the Complete Works, picked up from the last Library Book Sale. He thumbed through it, except of course, without thumbs, the exercise was clumsy. Ah, this looked appropriate: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Laboriously, he turned to the passage he wanted.

The last light faded over the bay. More stars appeared as the sky darkened to indigo. Rocky cleared his throat, and in his best Ian McKellan accent, he addressed the night.

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here,
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding than a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend.
So, good night unto you all,
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Rocky shall restore amends.

83 Responses to “THE DEVIL WEARS FLANNEL”

  1. Susan Chase-Foster

    Marian, a triumph of tying the remaining loose end into a brilliant, wheelbarrow red bow!

    Reply
  2. Kate Miller

    But how will Rocky get to Alaska? Wonderful ending, Marian, I loved Laura back on the ridge above Bellingham, full circle!

    Reply
  3. Victoria Doerper

    Brilliant concluding chapter, Marian! So many mended and redeemed, bad guys apprehended, glimmers of hope for the future, and a raccoon soliloquy. Brava!

    Reply
  4. Linda Q Lambert

    Marian! A brilliant, funny, moving conclusion! Virchow and Vera in Alaska—I think we’ve got the platform for next year’s book.

    Reply
  5. Judy Shantz

    This was laugh-out-loud funny….the victim being felled by a raccoon to the chest!
    Well done, Mr. Morgan.

    Reply
  6. Bob Duke

    I’m pleased to see Rocky Raccoon’s possible demise was premature. It provoked the sort of creative response that I thought it might. Sean to the rescue. Although collaring and tagging a raccoon probably requires more than magic, it seems love-of-character conquers all. Now that all of the raccoon fanciers have outed themselves, I hope Rocky has a role in the solution to this evocative story, which has tellingly documented that flannel leaves a grey lint coating on hairy male torsos.

    I continue to be amazed as I witness this process. I’m so glad I chose to participate. Thank you all.

    Reply
    • Sean Dwyer

      This is pretty great, isn’t it, Bob? I always wondered how Stephen King and Peter Straub could co-author a book, and here we are, 25 or so authors ,putting together a fairly coherent story.

      Reply
  7. Victoria Doerper

    Brilliant save, Sean! Rocky and I both thank you. And what a hilarious turn of events, skillfully written with wonderful weaving of plot threads and deepening of character. Bravo!

    Reply
  8. Jennifer Wilke

    Cami connects the dots re the tattoos! Love Bob’s switch up and creative reporting, even if you did kill Rocky. Then Sean saved him–my hero!! Excellent worl ny all, much fun and darkening corners.

    Reply
  9. Marian

    I return to the US to find that Rocky is dead!!??!!?? NOT! Oh, Sean, mouth to mouth with a raccoon—you’d have to be an animal lover. Thanks for some back story on Barings and poising Angie to return to the lower 48. Is Cameron a goodie or a baddie? I can’t decide ….

    Reply
  10. Victoria Doerper

    Just catching up on our chapters. Sky, way to move the plot along. Linda, ahhh, the twists and turns of the investigation and the investigator. Cami, love the backstory on Angie and her boys, the tattoos, yikes! Bob, I don’t know if I can forgive you if Rocky is not resurrected. Well done, all!

    Reply
  11. Kate Miller

    Great work, Linda, now we are really rolling! Poor Angie!

    Reply
  12. Kate Miller

    Way to go, Sky, I like what you’ve added about our Alaska lads, and Joel in Daniel’s car. And I love Tinkerbell. Very nice work.

    Reply
  13. Priscilla Sharrow

    Kudos to all you awesome writers. Such talent exhibited in each chapter. Thanks!

    Reply
  14. Judy Shantz

    What a great job you’ve done Kate! Pulling in so many clues from previous chapters and starting to make them mesh.

    Reply
  15. Jennifer Wilke

    Kate, I love the tattoos! Can’t wait to see who connects those dots for us!!

    Reply
    • Jean Waight

      I’m right with you, Jennifer. Do the tats mean there are a lot of bad guys? And what about the yellow paint?

      Reply
  16. Victoria Doerper

    Kate, kudos! I was laughing all the way through the kilt-climbing scene. And the tattoos…misspellings quite hilarious with repetition. And Rocky’s bagpipe dance. Well, and the other ways this chapter moves the plot forward. Well done!

    Reply
  17. Sky Hedman

    Great job, Kate. I wondered what would be revealed when the kilt climbers attacked the wall. Good background on Angie, hmmm, haven’t I heard about a back robbery like that before? All good.

    Reply
  18. Marian Exall

    Thank you, Elaine! Half way through the month, and we needed those connections made and clues discovered. This is me, chapter 30, and about to leave the country for 10 days, obsessing about arc. Happy Thanksgiving, writers! Keep this tale rolling—it’s great!

    Reply
  19. Jean Waight

    This story is going great! Nice cliffhangers and cohesion.
    My hat is off to Victoria for Emma Thompason-like wit (yeah, I know she’s an actor not a writer, but you get the idea). A trash panda with a point of view! Everyone is paying attention and playing with that element. I must say, you all know your mystery/who-dunnit tropes that I can only recognize but not produce. Lish, Jennifer, the trade-marked Susan effect, and Judy–your chapter was aLOT of storytelling–creative and engrossing.

    Reply
  20. Victoria Doerper

    Judy, well done. More backstory on Pierce, on the utility-kilt phenomenon, the rules for the Big Wall kilt-clad-climbers. Funny. And more on Jonathan and Angie and the Alaska characters. And another body! Oh dear. Pulling the Shakespeare thread through the chapter. Thanks for following up on the sparkly snake. Funny interaction between Crow and Rocky. And what in the heck will happen next?

    Reply
  21. Victoria Doerper

    Oh joy, Susan! An exuberant, though chastened, poetic raccoon. The mystery deepens, and Alaska in all its rough and ready character delivers a few rough and ready novel characters. A chapter as delectable as a raccoon rapture over chicken enchiladas from a doggie box in the Jalapeno’s parking lot.

    Reply
  22. Marian

    Reading several chapters at once, I’m in awe. It’s like watching Chinese acrobats keep ten plates spinning at once. Thanks, Lish, for remembering Cameron (I was worried about him), and Dick for the priceless police interview. Jennifer, daddy’s dead? Or is he? Susan: lovely shift of scene to Kenai and biker mama. I knew you’d sneak an aurora borealis in there. Well done, everyone!

    Reply
  23. Dick Little

    Jennifer, Another dead body! Oh goodie. And a-bobbin’ in da bay. Nice job, my friend. Who’ll be next?

    Reply
    • Jennifer Wilke

      Dick Little, loved your Shakesperean ending! Kept me awake awhile trying to figure out what the heck to do with it, so going with the flow seemed the best tribute. Thanks, Victoria Doerper, for introducing us all to Rocky! Great gang of characters and enjoying everybody’s choices and talents on display.

      Reply
      • Victoria Doerper

        Yay Jennifer! So glad to have you writing on the RWB NaNo novel again. I’ve missed your voice, but you’ve brought it beautifully in this chapter. Thanks!

        Reply
  24. Bob Duke

    Impressively well written by all. I was in doubt that the method of creating the novel could work so well, but despite the method so many obviously talented contributors deserve credit for making it work. What a wonderful way to get to know my fellow Wheelbarrowers, by each demonstrating his or her talent and creativity. Kudos to all. You do yourselves proud.

    Reply
  25. Cami Ostman

    Catching up on my reading. Great job so far. Climbers in kilts–ick, but intriguing. Megan, great chapter. Can’t wait to read the rest!!

    Reply
  26. Diane

    Dick Little! This is so cleverly wonderful, except the part where you stole my idea of the two Alaskans being brothers. And Lauren falling for the bad brother. Now what to do with them, eh? Cheers!

    Reply
  27. Victoria Doerper

    You have done wonderful things with this chapter, Dick. Hilarious, witty, and literary deftly woven together. The band The Flannel Jammies! The interrogation. New information. The Renaissance Raccoon. Shakespeare. Oh my! Bravo.

    Reply
  28. Linda Lambert

    Oh, my, Dick Little, it’s been a long time since something made me laugh out loud. I’d go back and tell you where, but I’m reading this on my phone. That should convey what a digital page turner this is. Also, I’m suplosed to be watching my 3 year old grandaughter who probably wonders why I’m chuckling and not playing with her. “The Devil” needed this levity. —Signed, Linda, laughing in Tacoma

    Reply
  29. Victoria Doerper

    Well done, LIsh. I was wondering where Cameron was. And the back alley encounter between James, Hazel, and the raccoon. Glad everyone got out safely. And another clue. Enjoyable chapter that moves things along. Glad you’re participating again in this year’s Nano!

    Reply
    • Alicia L Jamtaas

      Thanks for a kind comment, Victoria. I was a bit pressed for time because “surprise” weekend company was arriving about 2 p.m. yesterday. In the middle of last night, so many ideas/hints/clues popped into my mind! Plus editing was a second-cost-option. I’m glad my submission helped move things along.

      Reply
  30. Victoria Doerper

    Way to go, Linda! Love the deepening of Vera’s character, the puzzle and her thought process. And now we know the identity of the corpse, time of death. The autopsy and a possible love interest. Wow! Well done.

    Reply
  31. Marian Exall

    Linda, if ever I’m autopsied, I want you steering the scalpel. A superbly researched, lushly detailed chapter that hints at connections and develops character. Brava!

    Reply
    • Dick

      Linda, Ever think of becoming a reference librarian? Amazing chapter! Beautifully written … and so full of stuff. I keep rereading it.

      Reply
  32. Jennifer Wilke

    To Francis in ch4, my kudos for creating our Vera in the footsteps of Ann Cleeves’ character Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope in six novels, personified by Brenda Blethyn in the TV series. Our Vera seems equally observant but with more social skills and patience! To Laura in ch5, your description of Lauren’s drive to the ferry terminal for the mystery meeting with her dad Daniel was so real to me I felt homesick for Bellingham Bay again! Nice detail of place. To Megan in ch6, love the twist of Jonathan replacing Dad, escalating from bad boy to dangerous. Great new locale too, since I’ve heard anything is possible in Kenai!

    Reply
  33. Victoria Doerper

    Megan, yes! Chapter 6 answers questions and opens up so many possibilities. Daniel and Jonathan have a history! Daniel isn’t the corpse! Lauren’s infatuation grows. And the mysterious notecards. Way to go.

    Reply
    • Laura Rink

      Megan, wonderful chapter. Love how you bring Daniel into the story.

      Reply
      • Megan Claire Bradshaw

        Thank you Laura! And thank you for the set up. I wanted to follow Anne at first but Lauren was out there looking for something and I wanted to give her a surprise!

        Reply
    • Megan Claire Bradshaw

      I had so much fun with this! I remembered the unidentified burger logo on the sweatshirt of the dead man and couldn’t let a jingle opportunity pass me by!

      Reply
      • Marian Exall

        It IS fun, isn’t it? Thank you for a brilliant chapter, making connections and opening up plotlines.

        Reply
  34. Alicia L Jamtaas

    Wow! This is coming together nicely. Since I missed a few NaNoWriMo’s I didn’t know about the burning of the bookstore. Thanks, Victoria for pointing that out. And thanks, Laura, for bringing Hazel back! So well done.

    Reply
  35. Victoria Doerper

    Laura, just read Chapter 5 again and noticed the bookstore! So good: “where Our House Bookstore used to be, before a freak furnace explosion burnt it down, to the utter shock and disbelief of the tight-knit, book-loving community.” Hurray! Rising from the ashes of a prior RWB NaNo novel. Continuity and rebuilding. Well done!

    Reply
  36. Dick Little

    Victoria, “great ventilation” ! LMAO. Rocky the Climbing Wall Raccoon. “…cocoon of raccoon harmony” — ever the poet.

    Reply
    • Linda Lambert

      Dick, Following Victoria’s “ventilation” insertion, maybe you should integrate your hilarious prostate piece into some aspect of flannel.

      Reply
      • Dick

        Linda, I’m always looking for ways in inject more testosterone into our NaNoWriMo’s. Thanks for the idea. We shall see.

        Reply
  37. nancy

    Laura, Thanks for getting back to Lauren. I feel like she is the protagonist, and I don’t want to lose track of her.
    Victoria, loved the men in kilts. Good addition. Unfortunately, I kept picturing myself at the bottom of the climbing wall, looking up. I will stop there. TMI.

    Reply
  38. Victoria Doerper

    Love this! Witty and descriptive detail, moving the plot along. James and Hazel! Jonathon of the green eyes…wonder what will happen between him and Lauren? And what about her father, to say nothing of Mom’s attraction to Pierce…Well done, Laura!

    Reply
  39. Marian Exall

    Laura, thanks for fleshing out Lauren, the fatherless Millennial, and getting us to noon the next day. I’m worried about Cameron . . .

    Reply
  40. Alicia L Jamtaas

    Oh! Cameron has surfaced! Goody. And men in kilts. What a hoot ~ but plausible, right? And The Outlander and a raccoon! You really jazzed this up, Victoria.

    Reply
  41. Judy Shantz

    Chuckle! Chuckle! Victoria, you have found your new genre – Fiction! What clever twists you have taken. This is brilliantly funny 🙂

    Reply
    • Victoria Doerper

      I did have fun with these ideas. Glad to write about a philosophical raccoon. Looking forward to reading your chapter when the time comes and really enjoying everyone’s work.

      Reply
  42. Jennifer Wilke

    Marian, nice possibilities abound. Jes, my favorite new phrase: “bowzer breezer!” Francis, love your new characters and Aspergers detective! Victoria’s raccoon POV and McCreary plug! Two technical questions: Marian, one reference says Dad left when Lauren was a senior, the second one is sophomore? Her age would seem to have a major effect on her emotional maturity then, etc. And for Francis, a “detective inspector” sounds Canadian/Britishy, I think America just has title of Detective, right? Is it okay to ask these details? Love the pace and how story’s developing!

    Reply
    • Marian Exall

      Dad left the home when Lauren was a sophomore in High school, but still in contact until he moved to Alaska when she was a senior in high school. The only contact until the phone message in the pub was him turning up at her college graduation.

      Reply
  43. Janet Oakley
  44. Pam

    Victoria! Masterful. You know a lot about climbing. And the climbers in kilts is a stroke of genius. Bravo.

    Reply
    • Victoria Doerper

      Thanks, but I don’t know a lot about climbing, just a lot about googling:)

      Reply
  45. Vanessa Blackburn

    Bear McCreary did it — he’s the murderer! In a back alley using a music score! 😉 I like how recognizably Bellingham this is. I can’t wait to see what happens!

    Reply
  46. Marian Exall

    Victoria, love the raccoon POV. And Cameron’s kidnapped! Men in kilts! Love it.

    Reply
    • Victoria Doerper

      Thanks Marian. Had to have an animal POV! And the new Outlander season started yesterday, so how could I not think about kilts? Fits with your character McIntosh too. Scots all around.

      Reply
  47. Laura Rink

    Great chapters so far, Marian, Jes, and Frances. Seems to me there is one body – chapter three states two shirts, which could be the sweatshirt mentioned in ch. 1 and the flannel shirt mentioned in ch. 2. I’m ch. 5—can’t wait to see what Victoria does with ch. 4. So fun!

    Reply
    • Frances Howard-Snyder

      I figured that the different shirts were an error — so I tried to reconcile them — he was wearing two shirts… but maybe there are two victims. Who knows.

      Reply
      • Pam

        Nicely done, Frances! Loved the way you reconciled the shirts. Hope it worked for Linda 🙂

        And the detectives are quite reminscint of last year’s duo. Nice touch!

        Reply
  48. Alicia L Jamtaas

    Ah, the plot thickens. I like Vera partnered with Ryan. They play off one another very well.

    Reply
  49. Victoria Doerper

    Great work, Frances. Little Rachel and her Mom find the body (I’m sure the adult Rachel would have approved of the compassion). Then Vera and Ryan to the crime scene (fond memories of Viola and Wilbur). And who knows what sort of person Pierce really is? Looking forward to upcoming revelations…

    Reply
    • Pam

      Also, I love she was named after Rachel Maddow. Brilliant touch.

      Reply
    • megan claire bradshaw

      By the way Victiria – Climbers in Kilts and Cameron’s brain storm had me holding my belly laughing! By far my favorite addition!

      Reply
  50. Nancy Adair

    I was hoping you all would go the mystery route. The characters and plot are great so far. The mystery bad boy, the mystery father phone call, the risky business start-up, the not-to-be-ignored detective, a cast of characters—all with needs. Can’t wait to see what happens.

    Reply
  51. Linda Lambert

    Hi Priscilla, Great to have you among the NaNoWriMo writers. Thanks for doing a chapter and for coming to Happy Hour today. I’ll look forward to your chapter.

    Reply
  52. Vanessa Blackburn

    Running into a wall of hard body… yep, my first thought was the same as hers. Here comes the bad boy! Fun start to the story, y’all. Good characters to play with!

    Reply
  53. LINDA

    Oh wow, now we have a flannel-clad body. Is it the same body with the faded sweatshirt, worn jeans, steel-toed shoes? What’s the rat going to do? What’s going to happen Frances…

    Reply
  54. Victoria Doerper

    An excellent second chapter, moving the story forward with new characters. And Red, Red Wheelbarrow Blond beer…that should be a thing!

    Reply
  55. Alicia L Jamtaas

    Well done! Off on a mystery for sure.

    Reply
  56. Marian Exall

    Oh, Yessss! Another interesting man on the scene, another dog fart, and we’re on our way! Love it, Jes!

    Reply
    • Nancy Adair

      Marian, beautifully executed opening chapter. Loved everything about it.

      Reply

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