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by Marian Exall
The wake rolled out behind the ferry in creamy curls, gulls screaming above. Jane Potts stood at the rail of the rear deck, gazing towards the receding line of the coast, and then up to Mount Baker, floating like a silver ghost against the crystal blue of the sky. She felt self-conscious, out of her element amongst the Patagonia-clad families crowding the deck around her.
“Here you go, Janie.” Thank God. Her friend Nicola Katz approached holding two paper cups. “Seattle’s Best Coffee. No, really, that’s what it’s called. Oh, hi!” With a smile, Nicola met the gaze of a healthy-looking senior in cycling gear. Jane had been studiously avoiding eye contact with the man who so clearly wanted to engage. Since her divorce she was uncomfortable talking to men. No, that wasn’t true. She had always been uncomfortable talking to men. It was just that for those three years she had hardly needed to speak at all: Sean had done the talking for her. Her role was to listen while the golden boy spun his fantasies of stardom. Then he landed a part in a cable television drama series, dropped “aspiring” from his job description, and moved on to a wider audience. She was left with a mid-level administrative job with the Los Angeles School District, the apartment in Glendale, and an aching void stretching into the future.
Given how different they were, it was amazing that Jane and Nickie remained friends. Nickie was gregarious, a risk taker; Jane a cautious introvert. They even contrasted physically: Jane was tall, thin and fair — “ethereal,” Sean called her once — while Nickie had curly dark hair and big breasts that she frequently complained about, all the while flaunting them in tight or low-cut tops. They had not been particularly close in high school, and had lost touch when Nickie went east for college, but when Sean nagged Jane for any connections she had in “the Biz,” Nickie had cheerfully agreed to meet them for lunch. Sean soon realized that Nickie’s job scouting story ideas for a TV production company was not an “open, sesame” to acting jobs, but the women had continued to meet up regularly for dinner or a movie anyway. Nickie’s bouncy optimism had pulled Jane through some bad times since Sean’s departure.
“Hey, aren’t you glad you came? This is so-oo great! An all-expense-paid trip to a luxury retreat on a private island. I can’t believe you wanted to stay in L.A., especially when it’s about to burst into flames from the heat!”
“Well, we’re supposed to schedule our time off in advance. I didn’t want to let them down at the office—”
“Shit, Jane! You haven’t taken a vacation in forever! You must have months of paid time owing.”
Jane shrugged. Whatever her misgivings, she was here now, Nickie’s accomplice on an under-cover scouting trip to an expensive cooking school that might or might not be the subject of next season’s hottest reality show, or the basis for a drama series about the Northwest’s new rich, or, for that matter, a documentary on climate change. According to Nickie, ninety per cent of the ideas she pitched never made it past her boss.
“Our best kept secret.”
Jane started, throwing a deer-in-the-headlights glance at the speaker, the biker at her other side. He turned back to the view, making an expansive gesture.
“The Pacific Northwest summer. People think it rains all the time, and we let ’em. Keeps the Californians out!” He emitted a short bark of laughter, challenging her to respond. She considered telling him she was from California, arrived this morning from LAX, but decided to keep silent, folding her lips into a tight smile she hoped would dissuade him from further conversation.
The greybeard tried again, this time leaning forward to include Nicola on Jane’s other side.
“So where’re you gals headed?”
Uh-oh. Jane smirked inwardly as she waited for Nickie’s explosion. She had seen her cut down more impressive males than this for daring to address women in their thirties as “gals.” But the beauty of the day must have softened Nickie’s rampant feminism.
“We’re going to Santos Island, the Terra Verde Retreat Center, for a culinary boot camp. . . .” Nickie trailed off, as she saw the man’s face close up, bushy eyebrows lowered, chin raised. “Do you know the place?”
“That sonofabitch!” The man burst out. “Santos used to be pristine, a paradise. We’d go camping there, all seasons. Then along comes Leon Patch with his dirty millions and his frigging helicopter! That glass and steel monstrosity of a house! And the so-called retreat center!” He spat the words out like snake venom but Nickie was drinking it up, her hands fumbling in her purse to record all this on her phone.
“Who’s Patch?” Nickie asked, faux-innocent.
“Just some billionaire who thinks he can buy up whatever he wants. Invitation only now. He has armed guards with dogs to stop people landing.”
“Where’d he get his money?”
“Good question! There are rumors, but, hey, you probably know all about it, being his invited guests!” With a sneer, he moved off to the portside rail. The women exchanged a wide-eyed look. Just then the PA system crackled into life.
“Those passengers disembarking at Santos Island should assemble on Deck C, starboard side. Have your Terra Verde Retreat Center confirmation out and available to show the representative on the dock. You will not be allowed to land without it.”
Jane shuddered. “That sounds a bit . . . hostile.”
Nickie had already taken a couple of steps towards the companionway to the lower deck. She turned with a grin.
“Hey, relax! It’s going to be fun. Just keep away from the dogs!”
When Leon Patch assigned Dorothy Stewart to Santos Island as his on-site estate manager, she was thrilled. Two years working in the hothouse of the Patch corporate office in Seattle had exhausted her. A competent accountant, she struggled to understand the constant changes of financial direction. Wharton MBAs twenty years her junior seemed to have no difficulty finding creative ways to wriggle through tax loopholes, and make assets and liabilities jump from one side of the balance sheet to the other. Dorothy was old school, with old school virtues like loyalty and discretion. She felt certain her cushy new job meant that Mr. Patch recognized those virtues, and wanted to reward them. After all, he trusted her to look after everything since he spent hardly any time at his residence on the island. The retreat center operated only between May and September, for three-day intensive sessions every couple of weeks. The sole year-round staff besides herself was the security “team”: a silent giant with an open-carry permit called Terence, and his dog, a mean-tempered German Shepherd who answered only to Terence’s whistle.
Dorothy loved her new office, six hundred square feet occupying a corner of the center’s second floor, the ground floor housing the demonstration kitchen, storerooms and a large reception area. Her view through one of the floor-to-ceiling windows took in the islands of the Georgia Strait, layered against each other into the northwest distance. Immediately below, a five-acre meadow stretched down to the dock where the ferry made its specially-scheduled stops to land registered guests. From the adjacent window-wall, she could survey the cluster of cabins that housed those guests. At a glance, the cabins looked like randomly scattered shipping containers, galvanized metal with odd-shaped portholes, each sited on its concrete rectangle, but the whole development had garnered a prestigious architectural prize for, in the judges’ opinion, “defying the conventions of the Northwest vernacular with its exaggerated reverence for nature, juxtaposing twenty-first century materials against a backdrop of old-growth forest.” Leon Patch’s own residence, built in the same iconoclastic style, was hidden from view on the other side of the island. It had its own dock sized to accommodate his yacht, and a helicopter landing pad.
In contradiction to accepted market wisdom, Leon Patch thrived on uncertainty. He operated his business like a shell game. Rumored to be buying gold, he plunged into tech stocks. Announcing that New York real estate was overpriced, he quietly acquired a Midtown tower. His origins were equally uncertain. He arrived on the scene, a fully-fledged billionaire, as Lehman Brothers went belly-up in 2008. A story circulated that he was the genius who saw the subprime mortgage fiasco coming and sold soon-to-be worthless derivative stocks short: the notorious “Big Short.” But no one would confirm the tale, least of all Patch himself. He answered to no shareholders, and had no business partners. Where he came from, where he got his initial capital, was unknown; the only certainty was that he had not been born with the name Patch. Leon Patch did not exist in any record older than ten years.
After the first two Culinary Bootcamps, Dorothy realized her new position was not the boondoggle she imagined, in spite of the luxurious office and long stretches of downtime. The celebrity chefs invited to lead the sessions were prima donnas of the first order. They had lengthy lists of specific requirements, not just for supplies and equipment but for their personal comfort too. The students, each having paid a significant sum for the privilege of three days’ culinary abuse, were often as demanding. Were it not for her seasonal assistant, Rémi Bertrand, a good-looking French-Canadian lad who knew his way around a commercial kitchen as well as being a computer whiz, she might have requested a transfer back to the mainland prior to this, her third weekend of haute cuisine chaos.
At two p.m. she dispatched Rémi in the minivan to meet the seven incoming guests at the dock and show them their accommodations, and settled down to review the questionnaires they had completed as part of their registration, before the welcome session at four. It was a point of pride to greet each guest by name with an enquiry that recognized their particular interest in taking the course. However, just as she started to read, Vaughan McKendrick, the current celebrity chef, summoned her to the demonstration kitchen with some trivial complaint that morphed into the saga of his rise from dishwasher to chef at the Michelin-starred Restaurant Gavroche in London’s West End.
“Mr. Patch was so blown away by the meal that he hired me on the spot as his personal chef!”
Dorothy had heard the story more than once since McKendrick’s arrival on the island. He seemed to think his relationship with the boss gave him special rights to monopolize her time, sending her on errands that could more efficiently be handled by Rémi. She eventually extracted herself and hurried back to her office.
She had finished the first of the questionnaires (“Robert Harriman, retired real estate attorney from Greenwich, Connecticut,” whose culinary interest was “chocolate”) when her cell phone buzzed. McKendrick again. She was tempted to ignore the call, but this close to kick-off, her conscience would not allow it. What if it were a true emergency?
“Dorothy, I’m just calling to make sure you have six bottles of the Moët Impérial Brut on ice for the opening reception.”
Dorothy took a deep breath and responded in as even a tone as she could muster. “The program calls for iced tea and almond cookies for the welcome gathering. Remember, it’s immediately followed by your knife skills class. We wouldn’t want a guest losing a digit because they over-indulged.” She gave a forced chuckle, then added with what she hoped was a tone of finality, “Let’s save the champagne for the final dinner, shall we?”
“No, we have to serve the Moët. We’ve got to recognize the man that makes this all possible! Celebrate his arrival!”
“What on earth are you talking about, Vaughan?”
“He’s coming! Leon Patch is joining the Bootcamp! Oh, it’s going to be perfect—”
McKendrick burbled on but Dorothy heard nothing except the beat of helicopter rotors in the distance. She dropped the phone on the desk, and sprang to her feet. The rhythmic roar passed overhead, as she rushed out of the room. There was much to do and little time to do it.
“More champagne?” Rémi would have liked to stay chatting to the attractive dark-haired woman in the revealing sundress, but he knew his duty. He circulated around the large, sparsely furnished reception area with a bottle of Moët in hand. Dorothy, looking a little flushed, had invited the guests to sit, but they remained standing, eyeing the angular steel and black leather benches with deserved suspicion.
Francesca Harriman put her palm over the top of her glass, indicating she’d had enough. Ignoring his wife’s reproving glance, Robert thrust his glass toward Rémi. Like many long-married couples they looked alike: slim, silver-haired, patrician, with matching tans, Ralph Lauren outfits, and expensive Swiss watches. The diamond studs in her earlobes and strappy sandals on her feet set Francesca apart from her husband, as well as her sobriety.
She spoke quietly to him in tightly controlled tones, excluding Rémi, who quickly moved on to another couple.
“Hi, I’m Rémi. I hope you’re settled into your cabin. Everything satisfactory?”
“Um, yes, I think so.” The man looked inquiringly at the rather plain woman standing next to him, ignoring the implicit invitation to name himself in response to Rémi’s inquiry. The woman stared off into the distance. Rémi worried that he had interrupted another marital spat. Dredging through his memory of the registrations he had logged weeks ago, he hazarded a guess.
“It’s Sandy and Mike, right?” They looked startled, but both nodded. Not quarreling, then; just socially awkward. “Where did you fly in from?”
Oh yes, Rémi remembered. Mike was the software engineer who sold his company to Apple for an obscene amount of money before he was forty. It didn’t appear that money brought them happiness: they looked uncomfortable, clutching their champagne flutes as if they were lifelines. Although younger than the other couple, Mike and Sandy also opted for an identical look: black t-shirts and blue jeans. You’d think with all that money they’d spend more on clothes, Rémi thought until he remembered that this was the required Steve Jobs/Silicon Valley uniform. He searched for another conversation opener but came up empty. “We-ell, I hope you enjoy your stay with us.”
With a slight bow, he turned to scan the room for Nicola, the dark-eyed sexpot. Merde! That East Indian Meghnad Gupta was bending over her cleavage, pretending to listen attentively.
Recently relocated from Mumbai to Vancouver, and prevented from working by a non-compete agreement with the new owners of his shipping business, Mr. Gupta now had the leisure to pursue his interest in, amongst other things, gourmet cooking. He suddenly reared back with a shout of laughter. Nicola’s pale friend – Mary? Susan? Jane? – looked shocked, but Nicola merely smiled and batted her eyelashes. Rémi was on his way over to find out what the joke was about, when Dorothy rapped a fork against her glass. This was Rémi’s signal to slide away to the demonstration kitchen to make sure everything was correctly set up.
“Welcome, everyone! I am so glad you’re all here. I can promise you an intense experience and some exquisite food that you will prepare!” Dorothy’s voice bounced off the polished concrete floor, sounding unnaturally loud and a little hysterical. She coughed and started again in a softer tone. “Very shortly, we will start our program with Chef Vaughan McKendrick’s knife skills class, an essential prerequisite to a successful Culinary Bootcamp.” As Rémi made his way to the door, Dorothy was explaining that they were waiting for one more guest. “A very special guest, without whom Terra Verde would not exist. A guest, but also your host, Leon Patch!” A smattering of gasps and applause followed this announcement, which faded to a hush as the assembly gazed around in expectation that the great man was about to make his appearance.
“Chef McKendrick,” Rémi called out softly as he entered the dimly-lit kitchen. Only the faint grumble of the giant refrigerator answered him. He skirted the island with its range of gas burners, and scanned the expanse of stainless steel countertops, empty now except for a neat row of paring knives. He stood still for a moment, relishing the calm before the storm. Soon enough the room would resound with the rat-tat-tat of blade on board as seven students used the knives with varying degrees of expertise to chop onions while Chef harangued them. He’d expected Chef to be pacing nervously, like a performer before his big entrance, especially now that his employer was to be in the audience, but he was not there.
Rémi called out again and walked towards the cold room where they kept most of the supplies that didn’t have to be fully refrigerated. Chef must be in there sorting the vegetables shortly to be decimated. Cooled to 55 degrees, it had a thick steel door.
Rémi made his way past racks of gleaming pans, reminding himself of tomorrow’s agenda: soups and stews. Not the best idea on a hot day, but Chef had been insistent: his daube d’Avignon was world-famous. He pulled open the door to the cold room. “Anyone there?”
Boxes and bins had fallen off the shelves. Root vegetables and grains littered the floor. A ten-pound bag of flour had burst, dusting the debris in white. For a split second, he thought an earthquake might have brought it all down. But how could an earthquake be confined to one room? Then, at the further end of the alley between the shelves, he saw a pale hand protruding from under a sack of potatoes. He stumbled forward. Stretched out, the head obscured by wreckage, was a male torso, the black handle of a paring knife protruding from a splotch of crimson on the white shirtfront. He recognized the knife as one of the set of eight he had carefully honed to razor sharpness a day ago, one of the set now laid out on the counter ready for class.
by Pamela Helberg
Rémi had watched enough detective shows on television so knew better than to disturb the crime scene, but he desperately wanted to know whose body lay sprawled out before him. He stood frozen at the walk-in door. If he ventured any further, his shoe prints would end up in the layer of flour dusting the floor. If he didn’t go any further there was no way he could know whose ribcage harbored the knife.
“Chef McKendrick?” he called softly at first. “Chef McK? Is that you? Can you hear me?” Rémi stood on tiptoes and tried to see if the body, the torso anyway, since that’s all he could see, responded at all. “Chef!” Rémi called more loudly and still there was no response.
“Merde, merde, merde,” Rémi muttered. Whenever he got stressed, Rémi reverted to his father’s swear words. The advantages to growing up French Canadian escaped most Americans, but having two languages meant he could curse indiscriminately and sound sophisticated at the same time.
Rémi put one foot into the walk-in and then changed his mind and pulled it back. He danced a little hokey pokey as he decided to go in and then changed his mind yet again and pulled back. “Mon dieu.” Rémi wrung his hands.
“Call Dorothy,” he told himself. “She’ll know what to do.” Rémi patted his back pocket for his phone but found nothing but a handful of empty fabric. “Putain!” He remembered leaving his phone plugged in on his desk since it was nearly dead after his morning run. He didn’t usually take so many pictures on his morning forays, but this dawn had blossomed particularly beautifully and Rémi was on a mission to boost his Instagram followers. He had taken his time to focus on waves and gulls and trees and sea shells and boats. He had at least a dozen super extra, super artistic shots of boats tied up in the tiny harbor: lines, knots, engines, masts, sails, all posted to his account with hashtag sailorboi (#sailorboi). Last time he’d checked his stats, just a few short minutes ago, he had garnered over 50 likes though his battery was at only five percent. He had left it to charge.
Reluctantly, Rémi backed away from the cold room door and looked frantically about the kitchen for a phone. He heard the sucking sound of the heavy door sealing itself shut. Rémi’s heart began racing. He needed a phone stat as the kitchen would soon be filling with newbie chefs eager to test their knife use skills.
“Merde, putain, merde, putain,” he cursed as he scurried around the stainless-steel tables. Why hadn’t Leon put more phones in? Leon had had the entire compound wired for an extensive computer network as well as VoIP, but he had never gotten around to installing the actual hardware, the phones themselves. Everyone had cellphones. The need did not seem to be pressing.
But now, now Rémi was frantic as the new arrivals began streaming into the kitchen, Dorothy behind them in full-on border collie mode, herding the group, practically nipping at their heels. She knew Chef McK liked to start on time and everyone knew better than to anger the chef.
“Ok, everyone,” Dorothy clapped to quiet the chatter. “Please arrange yourselves around the table, space yourselves evenly, leave plenty of elbow room. No one wants to get sliced and diced.” She chuckled at her little joke and looked toward Rémi for approval. Then she saw the panic in Rémi’s eyes and immediately shifted gears into what the rest of the staff called her Emergency Management Mode, or Dot’s EMM for short.
“People, people,” Dorothy said, fluttering her hands around in the air near her head. “Let’s everyone grab a chopping board and a knife. You—“ she pointed at Nicola, “You please make sure everyone gets one of each. No grabbing, no pushing. These are very sharp knives. We want everyone to end the day with as many digits as they arrived with.” She turned her attention to Rémi who practically levitated with anxiety.
“What?” she whispered. “Where’s McK?” Her eyes darted around the chrome filled room. Pots hung from the ceiling, tables gleamed in the fluorescent light, the brick red floor shone, freshly waxed and bright. “Where are the vegetables? We need vegetables for knife skills. Why haven’t you laid out the vegetables.” Dorothy started to lose her EMM cool, just a bit.
Rémi jerked his head in the general direction of the cold room and opened his eyes wide, trying to convey the seriousness of the situation without raising alarm. He took Dorothy by the elbow and steered her away from the chopping table and toward the walk-in. “Let’s go see what we have in here. Guests, please remain at your chopping stations.”
“Oh my!” Dorothy inhaled sharply as she took in the chaos, the flour, the tumbled bins of vegetables, and, finally, the pale hand and torso. “Oh my.” She leaned forward. Rémi pulled her back.
“No, we can’t go in. We can’t disturb the scene.”
“But what if he needs help?” Dorothy cried. “Is it Chef?”
“Shhh,” Rémi admonished. “I’m pretty sure he’s beyond help.”
“We need to at least check,” Dorothy wrenched away from Rémi’s grasp and hurried toward the body. “Chef? Chef? Is that you?” She slipped and nearly fell in her rush, the flour slippery as oil on the polished floors.
Dorothy kicked her way through scattered red potatoes, celery, bunches of carrots, and shining purple onions before kneeling near the knifed torso. She grasped the pale hand, recoiling at the chill in the flaccid flesh. The violent flinch knocked her backward, and she landed in a warm, thick, sticky pool of blood.
She opened her mouth to scream, but Rémi had been following close behind and clamped his hand over the gaping maw before any sounds could escape. “No!” He whispered fiercely. “No. Nod that you understand and I will let you go.”
Dorothy nodded and when Rémi removed his hand, she licked her lips and thrust her bloody hands toward him. “Help me up,” she commanded.
Rémi hesitated, taking a step backward before reconsidering when he saw the rage that flashed across Dorothy’s face. “Pull me up you little French fucker,” she hissed. “Now.”
Once she was back on her feet, Dorothy gave up any pretense of trying to preserve the crime scene. She kicked the debris that covered the body. Potatoes, cans of spices, bags of lemons and limes clattered across the tiles as she made space around the body. “Chef?” she whispered loudly. “Chef? Is that you?”
Suddenly there was a banging on the walk-in door.
“Hey! I need a knife!” One of the male guests, neither Dorothy nor Rémi could tell who, shouted. “I have a cutting board, but there aren’t enough knives!”
“Just gathering up the veggies,” Dorothy chirped, “be right there, sir. Give us a few minutes.”
Rémi wheeled quickly around toward back to the heavy steel door. “Mon Dieu!” he shriek-whispered. “The guests! I forgot about the guests. Should I send them all out to look for clams on the beach while we figure out what to do next?” Rémi’s voice rose an octave.
“Everything ok in there?” a female voice asked. “Need help?”
“Stand back, away from the door!”Rémi shouted toward the guests outside the cold room. “I’m coming out.” He pushed the door open just wide enough to squeeze through and pushed it closed tightly behind him. “Change of plans,” he clapped his hands.
Alone now in the cold room and getting no response from the body, Dorothy fished her phone out of her suit jacket pocket. There was one $1000 suit that wouldn’t be coming back from the dry cleaner, she thought as she wiped her bloody hand on the jacket lining, the only place she didn’t seem to have massive amounts of blood. She used just the tip of one finger to make a call and hoped to hell she could get a signal in the cold room.
“’sup?” Terence growled into Dorothy’s ear.
“Terence!” She shout-whispered. “Come to the kitchen, ASAP. There’s blood and a body and a fucking mess in here.”
Terence grunted and ended the call. He put his fingers to his mouth and whistled, piercing and loud, twice in quick succession. A black German Shepard materialized by his side on the dock where Terrence had been comparing the official list of visiting vessels to the actual vessels moored in the bay and at the dock.
“Truck,” Terence grunted.
The dog bolted for the top of the ramp and stopped in front of a row of golf carts. She sat facing her owner and cocked her head as a troupe of guests, clam shovels slung over their shoulders, buckets in hand, slouched by as if they were off to a clam dig at the beach. The dog whined and looked at her master who could only shrug.
“Truck,” Terence repeated gruffly with a hint of exasperation. The dog turned around and jumped into the passenger seat of a golf cart version of a black Humvee.
Terence used the toe of his boot, wedged it under the body’s rib cage and eased the body over onto its back. Dorothy couldn’t suppress the sharp bark of laughter that escaped from somewhere deep inside her.
Once the corpse rolled onto its back, the white and blood-stained shirt fell open, neatly sliced down the front, revealing the source of the bloody pool beneath his body. The knife protruded from his ribs, clearly stuck there by whomever had carved
into his pale and hairy chest.
About time, Dorothy thought. About damn time.
by Linda Q. Lambert
“C’mon everybody. There’s no fun like foraging for your own dinner. Slicing and dicing a geoduck for sashimi is THE BEST and a great way to learn knife skills. “Besides,” Remi said, “they are more delicieux when fraiche.” He didn’t tell the group that geoducks lived a couple feet down in the sand and that it would take twenty dirty minutes to dig for each clam.
Every second I can keep them away from the resort, he thought, will give Dorothy and Terrence time to tidy up the kitchen and figure out what to do.
Nickie’s clam shovel drooped in her hand. She turned to Jane.
“I hate geoducks,” she said. “They look like misshapen, turd-brown dildos. Gross. I can’t stand to eat them.”
Two years earlier, videographers at Fish D’Lish Film, Seattle’s premiere producer of cooking shows, proposed a series featuring a chef who dug for his own geoducks. They employed Nickie to compile background for a pitch. Geoducks had captured some ink and community interest when edgy Evergreen College had chosen the geoduck as its mascot, along with a Latin motto, Omnia Extares, “Let it all hang out.” Years later, Anthony Bourdain amped up interest by sampling the clams, sautéed in white wine, on a Shelton beach and Geoducks became chic way beyond the Northwest.
To pitch the Fish D’Lish project, Nickie needed background. She watched “The Geoduck, the Bad and the Ugly,” read Whistlepunks & Geoducks: Oral Histories from the Northwest, and extracted descriptions and stats from the fish and game departments in California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. She discovered that geoducks were the king of clams, weighing up to ten pounds. Their elastic necks (called a “siphon” because geoducks used their cylindrical appendage for sucking in planktons) could be three feet long. They lived forever––sometimes more than 140 years.
She found a few restaurants in California with geoducks on the menu. After much sampling, she admitted that the oversized clams had a certain slippery goodness of taste, but she couldn’t get past their physical appearance, even if their raw innards were slathered with organic fennel, blood orange, and Lambda, the world’s most expensive Ultra Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
In the end, she claimed her expenses, wrote a report, and declined the final contract. She could not, would not choke down any more servings of ugly raw fish or well-cooked information. The one take-away that she retained from her research was the coastal First Nation’s original name: Gweduc, meaning “Dig Deep.”
Nickie moved closer to Jane as they ambled toward the beach.
“Listen,” she said in subdued tones, “I’m wondering if something’s up back at the resort. I heard weird noises. When I asked if everything was okay, if anyone needed help, the only response was ‘Stand back!’ Why would Remi say that in a voice all panicky? It’s probably nothing, but I’m curious. Besides, I don’t feel like mucking around in the Sound for some creature to eviscerate into disgusting slice and diced particles that I won’t eat.”
Jane frowned. “But you don’t know what you’re getting into, and besides it’s not my favorite thing to be with people I hardly know.”
“You’ll be fine, I’ll be fine. I have protection, remember? If Remi discovers that I’m missing, tell him I had to run to the bathroom.”
* * *
All of Nickie Katz’s friends were aware that she was a feminist; they were not aware that she was a feminist who carried a gun. No one knew that her uber-voluptuousness was in part due to the Midnight Romance Corset Holder from the Lace Collection of a well-known designer. The designer, a former marine, was as well-heeled as he was well-armed because of his early awareness of the Guns for Girls movement. Women looking for a push-up-bra-corset-holster combo for their trendy guns needed to look no further.
Nickie’s current gun was an SCCY with a barrel length of 3.1 inches and the manageable light weight of 15 ounces. The SCCY came in some crazy colors: orange, pink, purple, blue, as well as Sniper Gray, white and something called FDE, Flat Dark Earth. She didn’t expect to draw the gun except during her bi-monthly target practices. She couldn’t stomach a weapon with the descriptor Sniper in it and FDE gave her the creeps, so she went for purple, matching it to the corset color, the décor of her bedroom, and the strip of color in her hair.
The first gun she bought was on the serviceable side and just right for a beginner. Its purchase occurred because of an Incident.
StreetSmart Communications, a start-up ad agency proud of its blend of bright newcomers and seasoned pros, hired Nickie right out of college to assist with the redesign of the company website. Anxious to make her mark, she “clocked out” most nights after dark, happy that trendy 90s companies did not really have time clocks.
One Tuesday evening, as she took the elevated walkway to the parking lot elevator, she noticed someone quickening his pace. A short, middle-aged man, maybe 5’ 5”, wearing Wrangler jeans, a hoodie. “Oh, just someone in a hurry,” she thought. Life had treated her well; she had no reason to be suspicious. He stepped into the elevator, positioning himself in the opposite corner. “What floor do you want?” she asked. She saw him staring at the button she had pushed, and then at her. “Three,” he said in a low, non-descript voice. Nickie felt a penetrating chill and maneuvered close to the elevator door.
She exited at the third floor and was relieved to see him walk in the opposite direction. As she placed her key in the driver-side door, he came out of nowhere, body-slammed her against the car, grabbed her handbag, and bolted.
Too unnerved to get out of her car and call the police from the first floor pay phone, Nickie drove to her apartment, double bolted the door, and provided a detective with her few details. Next time, I’ll pay better attention. Then she said to herself, there would be no next time.
On Tuesday, she went to Skip’s Gunslingers West, the only merchant reachable within her 60-minute lunch hour. She had never pulled the trigger on a weapon, not even her brother’s Daisy BB gun. She expected a gun shop to be small, slightly seedy, and in the wrong part of town. Instead, Skip’s Gunslingers West was brightly lit and in the main part of town. Racks and display cases with an astonishing array of guns, revolvers, semi-automatic pistols, rifles, and shotguns. For a moment, she was unable to move. What if her attacker had had a gun?
“Hi, I’m Skip. What can I help you with?”
“I want a gun I can always carry and hide.”
“Okay, it’s easy to get a Concealed Carry permit. I have the papers you can fill out and send. Where do you want to carry the gun?”
“I don’t know about these things,” she said, thinking of the old Annie Oakley movies her mother used to watch. “A holster at my hip or strapped to my leg?”
“A woman with sizable breasts like yours is nicely equipped for concealed carry in a bra. After you choose your gun––and I have many I’d be pleased to show you––I have some you can try on here. You don’t want to buy women’s gun apparel on-line.”
“Yes, I do,” she said, and walked out without purchasing anything from Hi-I’m-Skip. When Nicki recounted the story, she emphasized his use of the word “equipped” and the fact that he continued to stare at the twin subjects of his assessments.
The next day, she bought a Glock 19 and a bellyband holster from Fran’s Firearms, a brand new, mostly unknown shop, ten miles from town. Fran’s became a favorite for members of the Well-Armed Woman chapters and the Girls for Guns movement.
After her purchase, Nickie traveled through her life with new confidence, a confidence she wanted her close friend Jane to have.
“Jane,” she said, “You live in Glendale. In one year, there were 38 rapes, 84 robberies, 104 assaults and lots of car and property theft. Don’t you think you should protect yourself?”
“I don’t think that’s accurate,” she said, surveying Nickie’s print-out, “but if it is, that report also says that Glendale is “very livable” and that crime is 40% less than the rest of California.” She would not be persuaded, but she was glad that Nickie carried, especially in uncertain times.
* * *
The trail through the old-growth forest was well manicured, befitting the grounds of an award-winning architectural development. Striding faster than usual, Nickie felt the gun bumping up against the Girls, as she approached the resort. She headed to the kitchen. The door was locked. Now what should she do? The house was silent. Her curiosity intensified. What was going on?
Dorothy’s words from the orientation came to mind. “If you need anything, my office is on the second floor. I’m usually there, but don’t hesitate to look for me.”
Even as Nickie wondered if it would be wise to walk up the curved staircase slowly and silently, she began to sprint.
In an uncommon disregard for her own privacy, Dorothy had left the door ajar. Nickie could hear her talking. “Sheriff, please get to Santos fast. There’s been a murder. The crime scene is locked down.” She paused.
“No, use Leon’s dock. He won’t be using his dock or his boat anymore. Thanks, and please hurry.”
Nickie flung open the door. “Leon Patch is dead!?”
“Yes,” snapped Dorothy, in her best EMM mode. “The sheriff will be here in minutes. There’s going to be some deep digging, and it won’t be for clams.”
by Frances Howard-Snyder
Police Captain Viola Stone leaped from the motorboat and waited while her new sergeant gingerly followed. They were greeted by a surly fellow in black fatigues with a large dog.
“Hi there, darling!” she murmured to the dog. German Shepherds, or, as she called them, Alsatians, were her favorites. The dog licked her fingers.
“She’s working,” the man said roughly and yanked the leash.
Stone sized him up. Five inches taller and fifty pounds heavier than her, with a revolver in his boot holster and a knife in his sleeve, he looked as if he spent four hours a day in the weight room. She could take him if need be, but she might lose an eye.
“Captain Stone,” she said, flashing a badge. “Ms. Stewart said it was urgent.”
He nodded, then turned on his heel, and headed up the hill.
She took in the dock and the coastline, wondering whether an intruder could have arrived unnoticed. Could a kayak survive the rough waters? An experienced kayaker could manage certainly.
“So, do we know who’s been murdered?” Sergeant Jones (or young Wilbur, as she thought of him) asked. He had a big jaw and curly hair. She hadn’t quite figured him out yet.
“Hush!” she murmured, gesturing with her chin towards the group of rich clam-diggers on the beach, one of whom was very likely the perpetrator. “His name is Leon Patch.” She was about to repeat the description Ms. Stewart had given her, but Wilbur whistled, obviously familiar with the name.
“No wonder they sent you, Ma’am. With such a high-profile victim.”
Stone gave him a long, skeptical look. Was he sucking up to her or was he genuinely awed by her reputation: woman who had solved twelve of London’s most heinous murder cases in her first year on the job. On loan from Scotland Yard for the year to train recruits, and given the honorary title of “captain” for this assignment.
“The press will be all over this case, as will our bosses. We must proceed with the utmost care. No blunders, no loose lips, no screw-ups. Got that, Sergeant?”
His eyes went wide with responsibility. “Yes, Ma’am. I mean No, Ma’am.” He blushed hard, but he’d understood her and would make only half as many mistakes as he would have made otherwise.
After 90 seconds of introductions, she asked Dorothy Stewart and Remi Bertrand to tell her everything they knew about the case. Then she instructed them to lock the doors to the kitchen and reception area. The clumsy footprints in the flour – initially so promising – grated on her consciousness like nails on a blackboard when she knew that they belonged to Stewart and Bertrand and the thug with the beautiful dog. But she didn’t scold them; she needed their collaboration. She called her station on the mainland and asked for a pathologist and a crime-scene team to head over on the double. They could take the employees’ prints and DNA to eliminate them from the evidence. Of course, she couldn’t be sure that none of them was the murderer. She’d had a case where the murderer returned to the crime scene, pretending to be a shocked witness, to contaminate the scene. But she’d been too clever for him, as she would be with this bastard.
She walked across the floury floor. “Did anyone move the body?” she asked.
“Uh, yes. Terence flipped him over…” Stewart said.
Stone rubbed her forehead as she bit down on the impulse to slap the foolish bodyguard. Surely a man with his training would have known better? Again, she set aside this impulse as unhelpful and allowed her mind to clear as she contemplated the scene.
“What does that mean? Metoo?” Wilbur pronounced it as one word.
She glanced at him. How could he not know? “#Metoo,” she said, “is a movement on social media in which women mostly, and a handful of men, have come forward to talk about their experiences of being sexually harassed. This has been happening over the last month or so, but it was started ten years ago by an African American woman, Tarana Burke.”
“Wow!” Wilbur said. “I’d be too embarrassed.”
She scrutinized him. Part of her wanted to say: well, that makes you part of the problem then, doesn’t it? But part of her agreed. She certainly hadn’t posted her own #Metoo story, even though, by anyone’s standards, she had a right to.
“Shh!” she said again, and contemplated the body, taking in the Dormeuil suit, the heavy silk shirt, the handsome face, probably as expensively handcrafted as the suit and boots, the hair that looked perfect even when in disarray. Who are you? she wondered. She’d have to overcome her irritation with his type if she wanted the body to tell her its secrets. “And who did you enrage this much?”
Murder victims were sometimes just unfortunate innocents who stumbled into the path of a vicious killer. But more often, they’d done something to provoke their deaths. Obviously never enough to justify the killing, but enough to be a partial cause of it. She thought of Edward Kemper’s mother, whose verbal abuse had so embittered her son that he’d cut out her vocal chords and put them down the garbage disposal. This was a textbook case, but she had seen murder victims who’d beaten their wives or elderly neighbors. The letters carved into this fellow’s chest would be an important factor in the investigation, or perhaps they would turn out to be a red herring, something the killer added to distract attention from his or her true identity. Don’t jump to any conclusions, Viola, she reminded herself. Don’t head down any rabbit holes too quickly. Consider absolutely all possibilities.
“Should we be taking notes?” Young Wilbur asked.
“Go ahead,” she told him. Taking notes was not necessary for someone with a photographic memory like her, but it was a good habit for a novice to get into. She snapped a few shots on her phone. The professionals would take better pictures – but having a quick visual reference in the short run might be helpful.
Ms. Stewart informed her that the crime team had arrived.
She would need to clear out of their way for twenty minutes or so. “Gather all the guests and the employees in some large room and inform them that I will need to speak with them together and individually. And make sure that they understand that no one is to leave the island until they are released.” Ms. Stewart looked slightly daunted by these instructions. “Make it clear that these are instructions of the police officer in charge, and that anyone attempting to leave the island will be arrested on suspicion of murder.”
“Murder?” Stewart swallowed. “So, I can tell them?”
“Yes. That will make them pay attention. And take their cell phones – again on my strict orders. I want to delay the press’s getting wind of this as long as possible.”
“Would you like me to go with her?” Wilbur asked.
“No, let them stew in the knowledge of the murder for a few minutes. You and I can talk. Tell me your first impressions.” Her first priority was to find the killer. Her second priority was to train up skilled officers.
“Well, that word – or words – on his chest – is a huge clue. It’s got to be someone he harassed in the past. And I guess that most likely means a woman.”
“Why? If men are too embarrassed to talk about it, they might act on it instead.”
“But then it would eventually all come out in a trial.”
“Murderers never think they’ll get caught.”
He reached for a canape and eyed the champagne, but then thought better of it. Stone could use a cracker or two, but had trained herself never to eat food offered by suspects. The Reciprocity Rule was very powerful. If you accept something from someone, you end up feeling you owe them. The Hare Krishnas relied on this mechanism to great effect, earning large donations as payment for their somewhat unwelcome tired daisies.
“Can you explain this Metoo business in more detail?” he said.
“Well, as I said, it’s an old idea that’s been given new life recently. Actress Milano recently suggested that anyone who’d been sexually harassed should post #Metoo so that the world could see the extent of the problem, and, of course, millions of people jumped on the bandwagon.”
He must have detected the hint of skepticism in her voice. Good detective work.
“Well, on the one hand, there’s massive social pressure for as many people as possible to add their voices – so that it looks like a huge problem. So, each woman (and some men) are raking their memories for something that would count. Meanwhile we are getting lists of things that men shouldn’t do so as to avoid being part of the problem. These lists include: no catcalls, no unwanted sexual advances, no asking for sex a second time after you’ve been turned down once, no touching a person unless she has explicitly said yes, no unsavory jokes in the office, etc. Hell, someone even posted suggesting that the guy in “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is guilty of harassment. So, a woman thinks – well, a guy catcalled me when I was twenty, or that creepy Johnny asked me out twice after I said I wasn’t interested. And Bruce made that disgusting joke about gynecologists at the office party. So, yes. I qualify. #Metoo.”
Wilbur’s eyes went wide. She could imagine him as some lovesick high school student asking more than once. Truth be told, she herself had asked more than once – when she was very young and in love and had less self-respect and self-discipline than she had at 49. “Right, and then everyone hits the crying emoji and calls her a victim – or a survivor – and the guy a predator.”
“Wow!” he said, looking a little green around the gills.
“Don’t get me wrong,” she said, “I take sexual assault seriously. I’ve seen some savage cases in my time on the force in London, and I’ve seen the pernicious effects of misogyny and sexual predation in police stations and other work environments. I just feel that there are social pressures causing us to overestimate the ubiquity of the problem. A lot of what gets called sexual harassment these days is just humans being human.”
He looked puzzled. She sighed. She was complicated, with an eclectic mix of political opinions – disgusted by the right, impatient with the left, constantly pissing off doctrinaire members of both sides. He’d probably resolve her complexity as either confirming his right-wing views or report her for political incorrectness.
She pushed her hand through her short, walnut hair. “I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff, Wilbur,” she said in a softer tone. “Lots of vicious predators and brutalized victims. I don’t like to see those terms so diluted that they lose their meaning.”
Wilbur stuffed another canape in his mouth and talked around it. “I don’t think this was one of the trivial cases. You saw how deep those cuts were. You saw the blood.”
Stone nodded. He was right.
Stewart put her head around the door. “The guests and the employees are all assembled in the fireside room, Inspector. And they’re not happy about having to stay on the island and having to give up their phones. These are pretty entitled people.”
Stone nodded again. “Then let’s keep them waiting a little longer.”
by Susan Chase-Foster
Rosario Vargas, more than admiring her dye-enhanced black curls, red-lipsticked lips and gaudy-green-shadowed eyes in the mirror, loved looking through Señor Patch’s binoculars. Finally, on her fiftieth birthday Patch gave them to her as a present. Delighted, she began wearing them on a leather strap around her neck, even while working, and prided herself on missing nada, niente, nunca. That afternoon, as Rosario spied on the activities below, she thought about how the morning had been possibly the craziest of her life. She hadn’t even finished her coffee before being told she had five minutes to pack her things and climb into Señor Patch’s helicopter. They were flying Santos Island, a name that seemed funny considering the proliferation of “snakes” and complete absence of saints on the island.
Normally, Rosario would have been given at least a week’s notice before sailing over from the mainland. During that time she could tie up loose ends and pack everything needed for their stay. Once there, she would have another week, along with Leti, the maid, and Nacho, the gardener–both members of Rosario’s famous Sunday aguardiente drinking club–who always accompanied her and helped to get the house and grounds in perfect shape before the Señor’s arrival. But Leti and Nacho had been left behind this morning. How was Rosario going to handle all the responsibilities alone? Every room had to be aired out, vacuumed or swept, and dusted. The bathrooms needed to be scrubbed, sheets changed, windows washed, liquor cabinet filled and refrigerator fully loaded with caribou steaks and salmon roe flown in fresh from Alaska. And that was just inside the house. Who would tend to the mowing and the garden? It wasn’t Sunday yet, but Rosario filled a measuring cup of Aguardiente Cristal to ease her load. She took a few sips, and then gulped down half of the cup. If Señor Patch returned, she would pretend to be fertilizing the one cactus she hadn’t killed in the house, a saguaro taller than Rosario that clearly thrived on aguardiente.
Then, there was another strange thing. In the eight years since Rosario had met Señor Patch while she was cleaning his Bogotá hotel suite and agreed to become his full time housekeeper, she had never once been flown anywhere by helicopter. Rosario felt nervous and more than a little afraid, sitting behind Señor Patch and Thor, his feo pilot with a devil tattooed across his forehead, in that noisy, vibrating aircraft trying to understand what they were whispering about. Was there some kind of emergency Señor Patch needed to take care of on the island? Was he in some kind of trouble? Was she safe? Well, at least Vaughan, the volatile chef who preferred the love of men over women would be in the house to do the cooking, although she hadn’t seen him yet and it was almost sunset. Maybe he was still working with the cooking school students on their meal. But where was Señor Patch? He hadn’t returned since the ferry arrived, when he set off down the hill to greet guests at the welcoming session.
Rosario took a big gulp of aguardiente and then another. What the heck, she thought, and finished it off. She watched a motorboat with “POLICE” painted across the bow pull up to the ferry dock. Two men wearing orange vests and shoulder holsters with large guns over their uniforms scurried up the trail to the retreat center. They were followed by a woman, and further back a man, each dragging a large gray plastic tub along the ground.
But, wait. What was going on at the edge of the towering forest that fringed the beach? Something or someone tiptoed between the cedar trees, then stopped, then darted, then stopped, then darted again, peeking out from behind their cover each time they stopped. Rosario refocused her binoculars and gasped. She set them down, rubbed her eyes and looked one more time. It couldn’t be, but it was Señor Patch’s gray bearded brother, Otto, in the same biker’s outfit he wore that day several years ago when Señor Patch kicked him off the island. But this time Otto carried a large bow and a leather bag filled with arrows on his back, and he was heading toward the retreat center.
Rosario knew she needed to warn Señora Stewart before it was too late. She grabbed her cell phone from her uniform pocket and tried to dial the number of the retreat center, but she couldn’t quite remember. One of the digits seemed to be missing. No worries. She would look in her Contacts. That made her laugh. Contacts. Like lenses, she giggled, and decided she’d better take a little siesta. Later, she would walk down to the retreat center before getting back to work.
* * *
Vaughan McKendrick sneezed himself awake with a flour sack over his head and a headache that felt like he’d been hit by a meteorite. He was lying on his back upon what seemed like damp moss with a few rocks tucked in, though he couldn’t tell for sure because his hands were tied together in front, and so, apparently were his feet. His mouth tasted like vomit and he was wet, really wet, between his legs. Holy shit, he realized, I pissed myself! “What happened to me?” he asked aloud of no one in particular, and waited for an answer until it appeared in his head like a bad Skype connection. A cold room … bags of carrots, potatoes, onions … flour … a noise behind … flip-flops? … a big bang of stars … blackness.
“Oh, my God. My knife skills class! I hate being late!”
Vaughan sneezed again. And again. And again. There was something powdery in his eyes and up his nose. Something itchy. Not cocaine. He knew the difference. He needed to dig or blow the stuff out, but to do that required pulling off whatever was covering his head. Vaughn tried to use his hands to push himself into a sitting position before his head burst into a boiling geyser of pain. But he was too weak. He tried to roll his body side to side, to jerk it back and forth, but even those moves didn’t do the trick. Until his next sneeze, a sneeze of such cosmic force it caused a cedar branch to fall to the ground and the crow perched on it to scream. A sneeze powerful enough to propel Vaughan so far forward that he ended up in a standing position leaning against the sticky sap of an ancient cedar. “Sorry about that, Crow,” he said softly.
From his improved position, Vaughan was able to raise his arms enough to probe with his highly efficient knife grasping fingers around the flour sack. Ah, he discovered, this feels like a flour sack duct taped around my neck, with a bit of ruffle on the open end fluttering below. At first, Vaughan foolishly yanked the base of the ruffle thinking he would just rip the sack right off. But, just as knives are the tools that divide the universe into tiny pieces, the culinary one anyhow, duct tape is the adhesive that binds it together, and so Vaughan was forced to try another strategy. After serious searching, he found the elusive end of the duct tape and pulled like his life depended on it. Which it probably did. And after a few minutes of wrenching, tugging and yanking, the tape frayed, frazzled and gave up the battle.
Lifting off the flour sack, Vaughan rewarded himself with ten of the deepest breaths he could take through his mouth because his nose was still corked with flour. It was good to be alive, but he still had work to do. Using the sack as a handkerchief, or a kitchen towel or napkin, both more commonly used by chefs, he blew the flour out of his nose, scraped and swabbed it out of his eyes. With his teeth, he untied the rope from around his hands, and with his hands he tackled the rope around his feet. Like a zombie, or possibly as one, because by now he felt deathly tired, Vaughan shuffled his way forward out of what he had finally realized was the old growth forest bursting like a cluster of steaming asparagus directly in front of the retreat center, and inched himself toward the locked steel door.
* * *
The Fireside Room, also known as the “Side Dish,” was located just off of the main reception area and was surprisingly cozy. Though small, the room offered an abundance of earthy tones, evergreen ambiance, and celebrated the subdued moods of the Pacific Northwest. The seven guests and three remaining staff, waited for Captain Stone from Scotland Yard, and her sidekick, Sergeant Jones, not on stiff metal and black leather benches, but in cedar bark brown over-stuffed chairs, each with a matching ottoman, set in a circle on a room-sized vintage green Moroccan carpet that smelled of minty tea and the pungent-salty scent of camel sweat. They’d been waiting for over an hour and some people were beyond cranky.
Though it was summer and relatively warm, to relax guests and take their mind off the pervasive concerto of growling stomachs, expressions of dissatisfaction and fear, Dorothy had Rémi light a fire in the never before used fireplace while she passed out port like it was tap water. Since the crime scene team had sealed off the kitchen, booze was the only option other than raiding the refrigerator and pantry at Leon’s house, which she was now trying to arrange. Dorothy dialed Rosario’s cell phone repeatedly, leaving a message each time, but for some reason Rosario was not picking up. Should she risk having Rémi arrested and tossed in jail by insisting he run up the hill to the other side of the island? If she gave him the master key she was carrying now on a lanyard around her neck, he could open Leon’s door, grab whatever was in the refrigerator and pantry, check on Rosario and be back to the Side Dish in half an hour. Maybe even before the Captain and Sergeant returned.
But it was too late. Exactly at that moment the door to the room opened. Police Captain Viola Stone strutted into the Side Dish like she owned the place with Sergeant Wilbur Jones scurrying right behind her.
by Dick Little
“Hey, Snatch,” the email began. “I know how you hate that name – so à propos – but you did choose it. Oh wait, it’s Patch, isn’t it? LOL.”
Robert Harriman (Esquire, if you please) stopped typing and took another swallow of his Glenfiddich single malt. “Smooooth,” he declared between gasps for breath before refilling the glass. He set his glass back on the desk next to his laptop, not before checking out the striking photo of his wife Francesca lounging by the pool some summers before in Cabo. In a candy-striped bikini that might as well have been non-existent, for all the good it did covering her nice chest, she looked fine. And refined, despite the pose. Of a certain age now, to be sure, but toned, the product of their healthy athletic club membership along with an expensive Hollywood augmentation.
Hell, he could afford it. Hadn’t he played the market like Wayne Gretzky racing up the ice between defenders? (Or was it Ivan Lendl? No wait, he played tennis. Maybe he should cut back on the booze.) One mega real estate deal after another, as the market crashed everywhere else. Making obscene amounts of money. Like Leon Patch, his old buddy from The London School before, well … before. They were more acquaintances than friends, gravitating to each other because they were both a bit older than the norm; but they were not close in the band of brothers sense. Robt. Harriman, Jr., blue-blood, Northeastern stock was entitled; his great grand uncle founded a railroad, his son a governor of New York. Leon Patch, whatever his real name, was scrappy, pull-yourself-up by the bootstraps, etc. No hidden pedigree anyone knew of.
Fingers shakily returning to the keyboard, he went on. “If you want to check out my wife’s knockers, go for it. I paid enough for ‘em. But leave that famous Magic Wand of yours in your pants. I won her fair and square.”
Robert pushed back his chair. He picked up the Seattle Times Business section for the third or fourth time and sneered at the photo.
An hour or so before starting the email referred to, his wife still hadn’t gotten home. It was almost eleven. Second time that week. A meeting, she’d said. Which group was it this time? “Guns and Girls” probably, that nutball outfit. How about “Honeys with Hardware”? Or “Pistol-Packin’ ____’s”? Nope, bad word these days, he groused.
Rather than wait up and lamely pace the floor, Robert had decided to snoop. In a marriage of any significant duration (endurance?) even plausible excuses can sound suspicious. These days, suspicions born of nuanced glances, barely perceptible but odd pauses in conversations, or sudden mood swings chased each other around in his head like subliminal vapors.
He went into Francesca’s office, pulled back the Louis Quinze chair, and sat at Francesca’s Louis Quinze writing table. The room literally smelled of money. His. Two dark olive green overstuffed chairs, one with a matching ottoman, faced an obligatory gilt mirror set above a glistening mahogany armoire. In a modest corner suite with sitting area, a bolster of burgundy satin lay across a small sofa, adorned with a cluster of throw pillows. Patterned lace curtains over Roman shades were tastefully drawn and matching shades sat atop a pair of look-alike floor lamps.
All of this was lost on Robert, except the price tag. He fumbled around for the switch and turned on the computer. If he heard the telltale click of a key in the front door lock, he’d say he was just looking for their address book. Not sure even what he was looking for, Robert tapped in his wife’s ridiculously obvious password – ironically, their wedding anniversary – and clicked on Photos.
He scrolled through, but nothing caught his eye. Until he stopped and went back. What the what, it was him! An older, but unmistakable Leon Patch of their old grad school days. Where the hell did that come from? His brain now fully alert, Robert went to Documents Search and entered the name. In a Word file, up popped the beginning of a note, thanking “Dearest L” for his “valuable” time at GAG (how appropriate), “let’s talk again soon,” but there it ended. But why had she added a winking emoji? Okay, Guns and Girls was Francesca’s charity du jour, and she was on the board. But what the hell did that have to do with Leon Patch? Then he made the connection. To clinch it, Robert tapped the link to Properties for the photo. It showed the date of the document to have been a few weeks earlier. He could nail down the date. It was when he’d been in Pebble Beach playing golf.
Robert turned off the computer and went back to his own quarters – separate, like their bedrooms these days. Spacious as a small third-world country, his room was decorated, if that’s the word, with the detritus of a successful career and bad taste: a scarred brown leather sofa he’d insisted on from his old office, an array of photos along one wall (heroes of his business life, none recognizable except to him) plus a wood-mounted Good Citizen Award from a Chamber of Commerce somewhere, two lived-in easy chairs that actually matched tastefully next to an oval coffee table, blond wood (!) from IKEA.
He walked to the plate-glass window that overlooked downtown Seattle. Late as it was, there was still a trace of the midsummer sunset in the west. He gripped his favorite highball glass, the one with Semper Fi in fading gold letters, and tried to calm down. (Robert Harriman had never been closer to the Marine Corps or the military, period, than the recruiting office on the ground floor of his former office. He had bone spurs, though not bad enough to affect his game.) It was a gorgeous view from thirty-five stories up. The two-floor condo had cost the world, but it was the price he’d paid to compensate for Francesca’s wish (a) to stay in Greenwich instead of moving (bridge club, tennis, hop and a skip to NYC) and (b) to buy an actual house in an exclusive Seattle neighborhood, say, Mercer Island, a place she’d read about. Gated, ideally.
Returning to his decidedly not Looie Anything, reworked U.S. Government desk he’d found at an Army-Navy Surplus store, he sat down. He’d had a guy polish the piece to a high shine, and it sat unencumbered by anything resembling work. Just a pristine blotter on which sat his desktop computer and an ever-present drink coaster. He stirred the contents of a drawer – plastic pens, an old cell phone, a gilt-edged letter opener, a “Lying Hillary” lapel pin, and a jumble of golf balls – till he found the Xanax and swallowed two. He reached down and pulled the Times out of the recycle box. There was Patch, alright, champagne bottle in hand, pretty young woman on his arm. “Philanthropist Makes Large Donation to Guns and Girls,” blazoned above the photo. And there, standing close behind him and barely noticeable except to Robert, was none other than Mrs. Harriman, Francesca, his wife.
“I bet I know all about his ‘large donation,'” Robert grimaced. Even though a bit long in the tooth, Patch looked his usual elegant, and very rich, self. Of course. And Francesca had kept a photo.
Two and two definitely do add up to four billion, Robert thought, as he rummaged again in the cardboard box of discarded paper and came up with the current month’s issue of Bon Appetit. He opened it to a page Francesca had dog-eared, an advertisement for an exclusive, cooking skills get-away on one of the islands in the nearby sun-drenched archipelago. A culinary boot camp on Santos Island, the Terra Verde Retreat Center – owned by None Other Than. Like pins in a combination lock, facts tumbled into alignment. Well guess what, Robert thought, I have the tools for a slicing and dicing event. We should definitely go. A nicey-nicey trip to the islands. But first, another Scotch, then a short email to the address he’d found on Francesca’s machine.
He didn’t wait for the medication to kick in. His fingers scrambled across the keyboard. After the first couple of sentences, he continued, “Being fellow Wunderkinds at LSE has stood us both well. You more so, of course, because I didn’t stoop to thievery. All those poor – and I mean poor – whack jobs you shorted on your way out the door to the Caymans with their dough. They say dentists and ballplayers are stupid, and you found out just how.
“But I’m writing you this little note for a very different reason. I’m not fooled by your oh so generous interest in that feel-good gun outfit. My missus is all about that stuff as you apparently now know. And it’s come to my attention, never mind how, that she might be feeling good all about you, Asshole!!!”
His hands were shaking like a nervous teenager pinning on a corsage. “Asshole” started out “Addrjolr,” which Spell-check hadn’t a clue about. He corrected it, but not: “Renenber that bet? The old chicken game with the knives? Remebber who cut who?”
Then, for a moment he caught himself. Wait, where had all this vitriol come from? He was a guy who painstakingly used a paper cup and a playing card to escort a yellow jacket outside rather than kill it, try not to step on a parade of ants on the sidewalk. Maybe these days with more than enough money to do anything he desired, there was nothing that excited him any longer – not a lot of friends, no hobbies unless you count golf, which in his case was more of a blood sport for money. He thought he’d conquered the temper rages for good. Counter-productive in the world of high-stakes negotiating. Years of practiced self-control. He hadn’t used the word “knockers,” he’d bet, since high school.
But of course. There was Francesca, his wife, and that was the nub of it. These days Robert felt as if he were her cigarettes – always there, always providing what she needed or wanted. Repeatedly, to stay on an even keel. This anger was tribal, mano a mano. No matter the arid landscape that their marriage had become, a male rival dredged up a reservoir of testosterone he no longer thought existed. This was caveman stuff. Another guy, poaching, and smack in his face. And how typically despicable of Patch to trade on the latest flurry of disgusting sexual harassment reports, #MeToo and all that, feigning legitimate concern for women’s safety. Robert knew all to well what Leon Patch was “concerned” about.
Worse, his exquisite wife was tired of him. What else had been going on while he sat groggily watching Boston Legal reruns?
His email rant ended suddenly. He heard the front door shut and the key turn in the lock. Without thinking, he hit Delete and the document vanished into the ether. Or maybe, in his affected state, he hit Send. Out to the living room he went to greet his wife. She avoided the full-mouth kiss he attempted, holding her breath against the fog of alcohol. She threw her purse onto a easy chair and walked quickly to the bathroom.
Two weeks later, Robert and Francesca Harriman walked off the ferry at Santos Island, presented their confirmations, and climbed into Rémi Bertrand’s van.
by Nancy Adair
“Well isn’t she a piece of work!” Nickie said, her view drawn to the newest participant in their retreat.
A confident, amazon-tall woman glided into the Dish, deliberately, her chin held runway-high as if she balanced a stack of books on her head. She approached mid-life with Madonna-strength resistance. Her blond hair, parted in the middle, revealed the most tasteful hint of urban roots and swept back into a large bun fixed at the nape of her neck. One might think Leon Patch had invited a model to assist the chef in a most elegant way.
But her outfit belied that supposition. From the chin down, she was all business. Her white buttoned shirt was perfectly starched and ironed, her navy-blue pants professionally creased.
She paused just inside the door, her brown eyes scanning guests lounging in a circle of overstuffed chairs. Her straight-lipped expression was accusatory, as if they were naughty children disrupting story time. She surveyed the staff sitting on the hearth. Everyone was about to hear a story, all right, and become prime suspects in a tale of blood and revenge.
Those guests who did not see the amazon enter continued to chat while the new arrival stood with her legs apart and her arms akimbo.
“Who do you think that is?” Jane asked. “Not the guest chef we’re waiting for?”
“Right now, she seems to think she is Wonder Woman. I think she’s,” Nickie lowers her voice, “a cop.”
“Watch the way she moves. She’s packing heat.” Nickie examined her more closely, wondering if she knew the secret of the corset holster. But, no, probably not. When she walked back to the door to talk to her shrimpy side-kick, Nickie could see that she wasn’t well-enough endowed to pull it off.
“How can you tell she has a gun?” Jane asked. “I don’t see one.”
“It’s in her walk. Girls and guns, they have a way about them. So much confidence. You could have that, too, Jane, if you took my advice and armed yourself.”
Nickie leaned closer to Jane to whisper that this was indeed a good time to be armed, that they might be in danger. Before she could speak, she felt a presence lurking behind her back.
“Why do you think she has a gun?” Gupta asked, leaning as far toward Nickie as he could. “I don’t like guns.”
Nickie popped upright, reacting too fast. She raised her arm to reveal her bare bicep. “I’ll show you some guns if you don’t back off. This is a private conversation. I’m feeling claustrophobic here.” She glared as if she were on to him. His face went sad, and he backed away.
She turned toward Jane, but before she could speak, her peripheral vision caught movement near the door.
The amazon and her sidekick approached the chairs. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she said in an authoritative British accent, “I am Police Captain Viola Stone, on loan from Scotland Yard to the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Department. This is Sergeant Wilbur Jones. Could you please form your chairs into a semi-circle so we can talk.”
Nickie and Jane stayed put while everyone else aligned their chairs. She wants to see our faces, Nickie thought. Look for tells. Nickie wanted the same thing.
Rather than research a celebrity cooking show, her thoughts went darker. A Murder-on-the-Orient-Express concept where viewers decide who is guilty or innocent. Like in Survivor, those voted off the island could stay in the mansion up the hill until their episode airs. Patch won’t complain.
Nickie had visited a Survivor set, filmed on an island in the South China Sea. The contestants voted off were confined for weeks in a two-star hotel with no TV or Wi-Fi or decent air-conditioning. They were so miserable and cranky, they did nothing but plan escapes. On Santos, however, the losers would stay happy in Patch’s luxury accommodations with their own chef.
After leaving Dorothy’s office, Nickie had meandered up the hill to the mansion. It looked incredible. Modern steel and tinted glass. Though oriented toward the west, away from the retreat center, it offered a 360 panorama of the San Juan Islands and, out the rear windows, a perfect view of snowcapped Mt. Baker.
Nickie glanced sideways at Gupta to make sure he wasn’t nosing in. He was preoccupied helping Francesca move her chair. Gee, wonder why, Nickie thought, looking at Francesca’s recently unbuttoned Polo shirt. Who’d she do that for? Gupta?
Nickie whispered to Jane. “Did anyone ask for me while I was snooping around?”
“Remi did. I told him you were in the restroom. That you can’t hold your champagne. But that you were lucid enough to find the beach.”
“Beach. Ew. Geoducks. Don’t remind me.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Captain Stone began, “may I have your attention please.” When Gupta kept talking, she cleared her throat. “I regret to inform you that there has been a death at this beautiful retreat center. I am afraid your host, Leon Patch, has died.”
“Oh nooo,” Francesca Harriman moaned. Tears streamed down her face. When Gupta trotted over to the credenza for a tissue box, she buttoned her Polo shirt. Then she boo-hooed into a tissue while the murmur of questions filled the room.
Note to self, Nickie thought. Get Francesca a contract for the pilot episode. Drama sells.
“What happened?” Robert Harriman asked.
“I’m afraid someone stabbed Mr. Patch with a knife from the knife skills class.”
Nickie scanned the room for people’s reactions. Robert seemed satisfied with Stone’s answer, like justice had been served.
“That was my knife!” Mike shouted leaning forward. “When I arrived at my station for the class, my knife was already missing.” He leaned back. “Kind of cool, actually, when you think about it. Mike’s knife.” No one laughed. “Mike’s knife, Patch’s l—”
Sandy sent a sharp elbow to his chest. “Shut up! You wanna be the prime suspect? Don’t draw attention.”
Nickie wished she could run to her room for a notebook. This was great material. And the characters! For a millionaire, that Microsoft Mike sure was a geek. She wanted to keep a running chart on everyone, see how they crack under pressure.
She looked at Jane, stunned to silence. “Now don’t you wish you had a gun?”
“No. But I’m sticking with you.”
“People! People!” Wilbur clapped his hands. “Please allow the Captain to continue.”
“We need to take a statement from each of you. The two uniformed police officers who accompanied us will remain in this room while Sergeant Jones and I talk to each of you individually. Everyone stays here. The kitchen and your personal rooms are part of a crime scene. CSI is on the way.”
Mike raised his hand with his index finger pointing to the ceiling.
“Yes,” said Captain Stone.
He circled his index finger around in the air.
“Speak, Mr. uh—”
“Mike. Just call me Mike. Do you know what this means?” He shook his pointer finger back and forth.
“I’m afraid not,” Stone said.
“It means what about the bathroom? Do you know how much champagne and sherry we’ve consumed?”
“You may use the loo one at a time. With a police officer.”
Captain Stone nodded toward the fireplace, signaling Terrence as the first interviewee. The hulk in black fatigues and his look-alike dog, Truck, lumbered out of the room with the Captain and the Sergeant. Everyone else stayed put. Nickie took mental notes.
Complaints filled the air. “We’re at a foody retreat and there’s nothing to eat?” someone yelled out.
“Monsieur, désolé.” Remi apologized and explained again that the kitchen was off-limits. Dorothy put her hand on Remi’s shoulder and promised to seek permission for him to go up to the house. She told the group that she keeps calling Patch’s housekeeper to bring food down, but she doesn’t answer.
Robert wants to go home, saying this retreat was a stupid idea from the beginning. Sandy, Mike’s wife, said she would go with him if he could find a boat. “Even a canoe,” she said. “I don’t care.”
For now, it was every person for himself. But Nickie knew from watching Survivor and The Amazing Race that desperate people form alliances. And she needed one, too. She made Jane promise that she would not tell the Captain that she sneaked out of the beach party.
Nickie hoped that Dorothy would assume she returned to the beach after their conversation in Dorothy’s office.
What she really did was sneak up to the house and try to enter. It was locked. On the top floor through the smoky glass windows, she saw a woman with binoculars looking at a boat speeding to the Island. Then her binoculars pointed down at the forest. Someone was there. Nickie thought it was Terrence at first, but there was no dog. Who would be lurking about in the old-growth forest?
Gupta sat down on Jane’s Ottoman. “You are looking frightened,” he said. “Don’t be.”
“How can I not be? The officers act like one of us is the killer. But the killer could still be out there. I want to go back to Glendale, where it’s safe.”
“Oh, patience, my dear. I am wishing you good karma.”
Nickie overheard this and raised her eyebrows.
“Do you like Indian food?” Gupta asked Jane. “When we get off this island, I will take you to dinner in Vancouver. My very good friend, Vij, has the best restaurant in the city. We will be terribly hungry after all this. Will we not?”
Jane sat, dumb.
“That’s very kind, Mr. Gupta,” Nickie said. “We’ll have to get back to you. Off you go.”
When Gupta wandered away, Jane stood up and turned toward the window. She looked drained, exhausted, her skin more pale than usual.
“Nickie! Nickie! What’s that?”
Nickie jumped out of her chair and peered through the window. With the sun fading behind the hill, twilight came sooner than it should. In her shadowy view, Nickie saw a bent form dragging itself past the window. Was it a spotted deer, a warthog, a human? It suddenly turned and threw its body with a slap and a bang against the window. The glass shook.
Its hands were raised as if in surrender. Its face smashed against the window pane. Its skin and hair were caked in white powder and sweat, like an Aborigine in a ritual. And just when it couldn’t get any more horrifying, blood dripped from its nose.
by Laura Rink
The small foyer off the fireside room contained two wood benches filled with decorative pillows with sayings like Bon Appetit and Haute Cuisine and Salut! Nobody sat. Sergeant Jones watched Captain Stone handle the preliminaries with Terence: the whereabouts, to the best of his knowledge, of everyone between two and four-thirty, between the arrival of the ferry and the discovery of Leon Patch’s dead body in the cold room. Then access points on the island. Terence, and his dog, seemed to know every landmark, rock and cove. The dog’s ears perked up when Terence’s deep voice mentioned Sandstone Point. Jones congratulated himself for noticing that. But what did it mean? He knew nothing about dogs.
The captain finished with requesting a list of all buildings, out buildings, and registered vessels to help with any search they might conduct, and then said, “Sergeant.” She indicated Terence with a flick of her hand. Jones knew that meant it was his turn to interrogate, his turn to impress the Captain. He stepped toward Terence who stood not at ease but at the ready, elbows slightly bent, hands at his sides. The man was muscle-bound. Who had time to work out that much? Jones could never take him one on one—using a gun would be his only chance and he prayed to the law enforcement gods that Terence was innocent.
At the same time, he assumed Terence was ignorant. Deepening his own voice, Jones began with, “Do you know what the #MeToo means?”
The captain’s face was unreadable. Jones couldn’t tell if she approved of his question or not.
Terence took a step forward. “I had a sister.” The anger in his voice was apparent, tinged with sadness perhaps but what Jones mostly heard was disdain for the question, disdain for himself.
Jones sidestepped toward the Captain.
“Will you elaborate?” she asked.
Into the silence, Jones said, “Will you explain—”
“I know what elaborate means.” Terence stepped back, into his ready position. “No, I will not elaborate. It isn’t relevant.”
Jones could feel the Captain’s eyes on him. He stepped away from her but not toward Terence. I’m the cop, he told himself. I’m the good guy. I’m in charge. I’m the man. His eyes slid to the Captain. I’m the cop. He’d used some version of this mantra to get through the police academy, and now used it every day on the job.
“What was…” Jones second-guessed himself. “How long have you known Leon Patch? When did he hire you?”
“I don’t. He didn’t.”
In his head, Jones played back his questions with Terence’s answers. The Captain shifted her weight from one foot to another. What did that mean? Jones didn’t know.
“Who did hire you?” Jones emphasized the “did.”
Jones kept himself from blurting out “the Marvel Superhero?” Actually, a god, in mythology and in the Marvel Universe. Stop geeking out, he reprimanded himself. Stay in charge.
“And Thor is…”
“Mr. Patch’s pilot. Head of security.”
“I thought you were head of security.”
“On this island. Thor is head of security for all Mr. Patch’s residences and places of business.”
The Captain interrupted him. “Where is Thor now?”
Jane sat in the overstuffed brown chair watching the sky, previously crystal blue, darkening into a matte navy blue. Cedar trees stood in silhouette, sheltering and stern at the same time. Jane sniffled—allergies? Too much fresh air? She tried to block out the murmurs of the other guests; she needed to be alone in her room. Or better yet, back in Glendale.
Her first response when Nickie had asked her on this trip had been correct: Absolutely not. Her discomfort on the ferry, the biker who went from friendly to fierce, the strained welcome reception, the unexpected field trip for geoducks—all of that was reason enough to have stayed home but murder? On an isolated island? This may be Nickie’s idea of fun but not hers.
Jane longed to be home, in her familiar environment, though the apartment, these last six months, had been different without Sean. Without the felt sense of his bulk moving through the apartment, the vibrations of his incessant talking, his fantasies filling the spaces between them until there was nothing tethering them together.
Okay, maybe it was good to get out of that apartment. But to leave her work in a bind? Her department was struggling with how to implement the new federal and state testing guidelines district-wide. She had always believed that educating children was important, but lately her job felt like so much busy work with little direct positive impact on the students.
Okay, maybe it was good to get away from work. But she was missing her weekend Muay Thai class. The self-defense aspects of the practice hadn’t give her mental or emotional confidence but those moves resided in her body, the habitual muscle movements, one triggering another, and then another until she had completed a whole sequence with no conscious thought.
Nickie didn’t like the direct contact martial arts defense required and preferred to be behind a gun, but Jane thought Muay Thai would have been of more use when that man body slammed Nickie in the parking garage. Reflexive body moves could have repelled him and retained her purse. So far, Jane had only used her moves on classmates and her teacher. But then she hadn’t had these skills ten years ago when she needed them.
Okay, she was at this retreat. Try to use the mindfulness techniques she’d learned in Muay Thai to ground herself in this present moment. There’d been a murder. She was petrified. Who and where was the murderer? She didn’t want to die but wasn’t sure what she was living for. Fuck mindfulness!
Jane looked around at the others. Francesca was quietly weeping, her body angled away from her husband who sipped port continuously, though in a much more relaxed manner than at the welcome reception. Had his wife dragged him to this cooking retreat? Was she distressed at the loss of it, he relieved?
The couple in jeans, Mike and Sandy whose last name she had been unable to catch, sat forward on their chairs, elbows on their knees, heads close together. She seemed dejected and he seemed to be trying to cheer her up.
She didn’t know these people. Everyone had kept to themselves at the reception and on the beach, except for Mr. Gupta who talked fast and laughed often, even when Jane saw nothing to laugh about. Introverts counted on other people to approach them, even though such approaches might not be welcomed, it was the only chance to make a new acquaintance. If Sean hadn’t pressured her, Jane would have never reached out to renew her friendship, such as it was, with Nickie. And then she wouldn’t be here! Damn that Sean. But now Nickie was her only ally. Nickie who didn’t much care for keeping her head down, who preferred to be in the thick of whatever was going on.
Jane’s eyes felt scratchy. She blinked and blinked but no improvement. Why was it so dry in here?
Throughout her reverie, Jane had managed to acknowledge Nickie and Mr. Gupta’s attentions. Nickie needed to lay off her gun propaganda. Having a gun would just make Jane anxious. When Nickie snapped at Mr. Gupta, Jane couldn’t help but think what if Nickie had reacted with her gun, instead of her words. Though a part of her was glad Nickie had a gun, she was also glad the responsibility of gun ownership wasn’t hers.
And glad that Nickie had no qualms about shooing Mr. Gupta away, again and again. Jane had no more energy for strangers. She stood up and turned toward the window, in this moment wishing she was outside among the cedars instead of inside this increasingly stifling room. Did the windows open? Something, or someone lurched into view on the other side of the window.
“Nickie! Nickie! What’s that?”
Nickie pushed past her and peered through the window. A body slammed against the glass. Jane screamed, hating her hair-trigger startle reflex. Mr. Gupta rushed forward, clapping his hands. “Chef! It is Chef!” In all the hubbub, no one had thought to ask about the chef’s whereabouts. In fact, considering the victim had been found in the cold room in the kitchen, the chef’s disappearance made him a prime suspect. But now, he looked like a victim himself.
Before Jane could wonder anymore, someone yelled, “Fire!”
Jane turned her head away from the white and bloody apparition. Smoke rolled out and up from the fireplace, a trickle turning into a river of smoke. People were coughing. Seeing became difficult.
Dorothy shouted, “Remi! Remi, did you open the flue?”
One of the officers opened the door to the foyer and started ushering the guests out. Mr. Gupta pulled Nickie toward the door but she twisted away. “Janie! Come on.”
Jane watched the chef slide down the window, one hand weakly pounding on the glass. Her nose and eyes were streaming. This could be it. She could die, not by a murderer’s hand, but by smoke inhalation. She opened her mouth and breathed deep, and a coughing spasm overtook her and her vision dimmed. She could hear Nickie calling her name even as her voice grew dim.
Amid the coughing and the voices calling, there was a squeal and a clang of metal.
Jane swayed on her feet. A large hand gently grasped her upper arm. “Miss, you need to get out of here.” The police officer pulled her away from the window and led her toward the foyer. Nickie’s voice was in her ear, “I got you, Janie.” She felt herself lowered onto a wood bench. Unable to stay upright, she slouched into Nickie’s soft bosom until her shoulder slid into something rock hard. “Damn,” she muttered, “do you have something in your bra or are you just happy to see me?” She giggled, and then passed out.
by Jordan Campbell
Smoke and guests billowed from the empty room like a conclave of witches and wizards late for a Voldemort convocation. Guests scattered about the lawn anxiously looking at each other. Each potential suspect evaluated their neighbor trying to determine who the killer might be and when that person might strike next. After all, a killing this vicious might demand an encore or a smokescreen less obvious than the one oozing from the crime scene.
Viola’s first thoughts were split between the security of the crime scene and welfare of the guests. Her second concern was to figure out what the hell had happened to the Chef. Checking her watch, a hand me down from her father and grossly too large for her wrist, she guessed the time at 9 pm. The converted pocket watch hadn’t run accurately probably ever, but it was beautiful in its simplicity. Handcrafted by William Alexander and given to her grandfather at his birth in 1906. She knew that if she was careful the brass clockworks within could be exposed and an adjustment lever might be shifted towards the engraved bronze letters “too slow” or “too fast.” She desperately wanted to slow down this series of events. There were clues here if only she could preserve them until the Medical examiner and forensic team could arrive.
Clearing her throat of residual smoke caused the guests to turn in her direction. “Please, everyone. Can I have your attention? Please go to your cabins. It’s been a long day and I’m sure you want to get settled in. Either I or Sergeant Jones will be by tonight to check on you and ask some questions,” Viola said. Addressing Dorothy, she continued, “Ms. Stewart, if you would be so kind as to take the Chef to your office and attend to his wounds. Jones & I will secure this section of the building.”
Upon arrival she and Wilbur had been given the welcome package provided to every person landing on the island, within she found menus for the upcoming week, a detailed wet bar inventory, and a full color map of the grounds. Closest to the ferry landing was the convention center and facility for the cooking classes, the main residence at some remove from the commercial complex, and a grouping of six cabins spaced at regular intervals of 50 to 75 yards along a gravel path crawling up a slight hill to the west of the main building.
Each cabin reminiscent of their modern yet oddly nautical architectural design and motif had been individually named by the owner. Some were obviously named for scandals or fraudulent failed business models. Perhaps the nomenclature was Mr. Patch’s idea of a little joke, or occasionally the source of the wealth that enabled the construction of this particular folly. Watergate, Bobbitt, Enron, Lewinsky, Black Tuesday, and at the end of the lane, the Fountainhead. This last a nod to architecture or the message of un-moderated selfishness within the literature she couldn’t be sure which.
Enron, the largest and closest and therefore the most desirable cabin was occupied by the Harrimans.
“Wilbur, you take this first one. I’ll talk to the ladies in the next cabin after I get the Chef sorted.” Viola said.
“Yes, ma’am. Do I ask them for a statement?” Wilbur said.
“No. Approach this as a meet and greet. Maybe ask them what they remember of earlier in the day, the ferry ride and their arrival on the island. Ask them about the time between 2 and 4 specifically. ”
“I understand Inspector, or is it Captain?” He quickly followed up his question with, “Got it- Nice and friendly.”
“Enron is a ten minute walk in that direction. Afterwards speak with the other couple, Sandy & Mike.” Viola refers to the handwritten note cards retrieved from Ms. Stewart upon arrival. She scans the cards until she finds Sandy & Mike Anderson from San Jose. The card listed their likes, dislikes and preferences related to cooking and cuisine. The cards read like a foodie’s online dating application.
“I’ll meet you back at the conference center in two-three hours?”
“Make them comfortable, make them want to stay out the weekend, and make it three hours, Wilbur.”
Francesca Harriman was a farmer, or maybe a politician. She might have been a uniquely gifted cultural horticulturist but more likely she was aspiring to be a typical garden variety city councilwoman. She considered it her job to sprinkle lies like seeds in the steaming shit of daily life. She never knew exactly which lies would take root so she kept detailed records of what fabrication was told and to whom. Grooming and fertilizing the lies with little supportive half truths as she went on with the business of the day. Tagged and sown in crooked lines some of the more audacious lies died quickly. Some of the fertilized lies grew enormous and flowered to seed the soil. Little lies were everywhere- The breeding little bastards. Over time the hybridized lies intermingled with the daily shit to become compost. Some honest truths took root in the lies and never knew that their source nutrients were not what they seemed.
Some lies even thought they were truths. They looked like truths. Everyone thought they were truths. Therefore they must be truths. That’s the logic American society favors these days, a simple logic that passes the plausibility test whose premises are never tested. It’s faulty logic of course but only if one pauses long enough to check their sources.
DNA on the other hand, well DNA never lies-although one could make the case that we simply don’t know what lies do when spliced with a little of this and that coupled with some other foreign body. We are uncertain just what future ramifications might be accomplished once we’ve fracked the rabbit hole of alternate truths to find that Alice is now the American president holding a tip jar while the white rabbit is building a pornography emporium showcasing slowly gyrating turtles who are positive that they are winning the race and expressing their individual freedoms while dancing naked for money. But explanations of the inner workings and evolution of botany, as well as biology, just further support the supposition soup du jour, the question of the day – fact or fiction, nature versus nurture. So which is it? Isn’t that what we all want to know?
“Robert,” Francesca said in that tone that grated his nerves while demanding an immediate response. “Robert, are you listening to me?”
He sat on the toilet with the door open pants around his ankles. Audible but discreet noises of relief emanated from the small chamber.
“Yes. Of course I’m listening to you. What else could I possibly be doing?”
His wife preferred that he leave the door ajar in case she wanted to speak with him. He hated the lack of privacy.
“Robert, what are we going to do?”
“Do about what?”
Francesca opened the small but well-stocked room fridge and cracked a 5cl bottle of chilled Finlaggan Scotch, “Well, the weekend is wrecked. Let’s demand a refund and go home.”
“We can’t leave until the ferry returns on Sunday afternoon. Protocol demands that the authorities interview potential suspects at the scene, but they can’t hold us for any length of time without our permission. That’s how it is with suspicious death inquiries.”
“Who cares about their little investigation? And what do you know of ‘protocol’?” She granted this last word a ridiculous pantomime of air quotes which he didn’t see.
“Frannie, there’s a man dead in his own kitchen.”
“Are you sure?”
“There’s a body covered in flour in the store room. So yes I’m sure.”
“Have you seen the corpse? How do we know it’s a man?”
“For god’s sake, Fran, there is a paring knife in his chest.”
“Yes, and some macabre meme. #Metoo, should have used #covfefe instead. I bet the corpse that is Mr. Leon Patch is properly pissed at the wreck someone’s made of his chest. Those nipples cost a small fortune.”
“Nipples? Fortune? Good lord, woman, what are you talking about now?”
“He had his nipples done. Reconstructive surgery after the breast tissue removal procedure. It was a long time ago, around the time he dropped the A from his name. I thought everybody knew about Leon’s little man boob problem.”
My wife had a way with the truth that would make a Cirque du Soleil contortionist turn bright green, and the balloon animal man begging to take notes. He’d say, “I could follow you right up to the point where the truth doubled back on itself, then that twist to the right and right again, then to the left, then it somehow tucked under and twisted back again. But what I really want to know is how did you turn that jackass of a husband into a potted plant?”
She had once been human to me. Once a very long time ago she had had a name other than Mrs. Francesca Harriman. Of course there were warning signs, red flags and outright turn back or die flashing lights which were all ignored in turn. We met while I was attending law school at the University of Florida. She was taking classes while cruising for a suitable man.
She had a pet rabbit named Flopsy, or maybe it was Keychain. It was a cute white fluffy critter. She fed it beer in its water bottle because she liked to watch it stumble and jump sideways when it got drunk. She would call in people from other rooms and point while giggling as the animal hopped and stumbled first right then left. I should have seen the rabbit incident as a flaw in her character, but when you’re a 22-year-old frat boy a drunken bunny is just plain funny. I should have recognized her antics as asocial behavior immediately.
Of course, once, a very long time ago, he had had a backbone and a mind of his own.
“We will just tell them the truth. We had nothing to do with this mess. That’s all we need to do,” she said.
He zipped and joined his wife in the adjacent room, “The truth? So what is the truth so that I know when I’ve got my story straight?” He reached to take the single shot bottle of scotch from his wife’s hand downing the dregs with a single swallow.
“The truth is the truth. We had nothing to do with Leon’s tragic demise. We arrived together on the ferry anticipating a lovely weekend. You never left my side. I never left yours. It’s that simple.”
Meanwhile, in The Fountainhead cabin.
Lying on my back, staring at the white ceiling, feeling stupid and overwhelmed, I am oddly comforted by lukewarm tears pooling in my ears. My body is electric. Body parts hum and vibrate tight and expectant. A predictable tsunami of impulses rage along well traveled conduits. An arcing explosion originates somewhere behind my navel and surges in waves to my fingertips and toes. In my mind I trace the path of destruction from source to destination, periodically lost in the emotion of the moment. As usual I cannot freely delineate the surface of my skin from my surroundings. I do not know with any degree of certainty where I end. Of its own accord my back arches ever so slightly, adding another rhythm to the one laid down by my heart. This new staccato staggers and sputters in fits and starts, firing at will or not at all for indeterminate periods. Periods that linger like minutes but in actuality are seconds and fractions thereof. In the moment I am full of craving need and rushing ecstasy, riding waves of endorphins that envelope me, embrace me and threaten to take me out to sea. Discovering within myself a surfing masochist who rides the cutting edge between pleasure and pain, I am thankful of a few minutes alone while Jane soaks in the Jacuzzi tub. I free float briefly in that idyllic harbor until sleep takes me or reality crashes and dumps the wreckage that is me on the shore of responsibility and daily life.
Reality is not to be trifled with. And here I am being responsible and waiting.
A rustling outside on the path approaches the cabin door.
“Well?” Nickie barks in the general direction of the door. “Listen, I know you’re there. I’m not sure who you are or what you want, but I’m not ignorant of your presence. Stalker, peeping Tom, officer. You can name yourself. I’m not all that interested. Just be quiet, as that seems to be what you’re best at.”
Coffee. Cream and sugar. That’s the ticket, she thought.
“Oh. I get it. You’re not there lurking around outside my cabin, not standing there trying to anticipate what I’ll do or think next.”
Good luck, buddy! Most days I’m not clairvoyant of the last 20 minutes and this is my gig.
“Fine, have it your way, but I’ve had tits since I was 12 and I know when I’m being watched. A tingle in the primitive stumpy part of the brain stem says something’s stinky in Mudville. Fucking pay attention! That tingle is you.”
I usually don’t let on that I’ve noticed, probably because acknowledging it encourages men and confuses women. And frankly men shouldn’t be encouraged, and women are too damn confused already so why add to the pandemonium.
Reaching for her holster, “So knock already!”
Location: A field not so very far away.
In life, there are few indisputable facts. For instance, on the day in question, July 21st, 2017, the sun would set in ten minutes, more specifically according to weather.com at 9:04 PM. What Thor could not reconcile was the image in his binoculars of a man wildly gesticulating and standing naked in the old growth on the side of the island.
Ever the professional, Thor could not resist the temptation to investigate despite a pressing need to leave this place behind.
From all appearances, the man was Mr. Patch’s brother, Otto. The poor fool was orchestrating an erratically arranged sonata while impersonating Bob Ross and creating on his bloody t-shirt a plein air masterpiece that resembled a Rorschach butterfly. Thor wondered, was it the blood that drew him?
“Otto, what in hell’s name are you doing out here?” Thor called, despite being close enough to the unsuspecting man to talk at a normal volume.
“Nothing. Practicing forest bathing, you know, Shinrin-yoku. I probably pronounced that wrong. Oh, and hunting.” He nods upward toward the nearest tree. “I got a buck with my bow.”
Otto looked down at his chest, “I’m waiting till he bleeds out to dress him. I got a little messy, and it’s so beautiful here when the sun sets I thought I’d ‘capture the moment.’”
“Bow season doesn’t start for white-tailed deer for another 6 weeks, Otto.”
Gathering a little more blood onto his fingertips like an ad hoc brush, “It’s my brother’s island. Fuck regulations. And fuck him too, the grand king on the hill.”
“You killed a doe, Otto.”
“So what?” Otto retrieved his wet pants, pulling them with difficulty. “I’ll head out once I can get this deer loaded in my boat.”
Options ran in Thor’s head like children after an ice-cream truck. Jesus, what do I do with this stupid son of a bitch?
by Drue Robinson
Following the directive of Scotland Yard, Dorothy struggled under Chef McKendrick’s weight as she helped guide his bloody, flour-encrusted body up the curved staircase to her office. He resembled a half-baked mincemeat pie.
Once inside, with the door securely shut, she sloughed him off her back onto the floor — a tired farmhand dropping a sack of potatoes. What she wouldn’t give to be living that simple life right now, responsible only for gathering eggs, milking goats, and slopping a hog or two! It was a vision she’d let fade long ago, trading in the dream of rising with the sun to work the soil in an organic garden and communing with a host of animals rescued from corporate farms for … well, for this. She, herself, had somehow become corporatized, a mere pawn in the Big Boys’ World. Sometimes it was hard to get up in the morning. Dorothy knew she had sacred feminine power deep inside, but summoning it into action when the rules of the games were always changing and the influences of the world were so often derived from a male perspective — all of it had made her weary. More than anything, she wanted to make a difference. Dorothy Stewart wanted to be the change she wished to see in the world! After all, if her sister could frolic in the playground of Capitalistic consumer greed, amassing a fortune through the matching of pastel paint chips with the fabric of fluffy throw pillows, why couldn’t she take a stab at some…thing that might have a ripple effect on society’s ills?! She presented herself as old school, but at her core, Dorothy was as woke as Roxane Gay and Ariel Levy.
Because she had been taught that it was in her nature to clean up messes, Dorothy hurried over to the sink of her quaint little personalized coffee bar in the corner by her office’s eastern-facing windows, flipped on the espresso machine, turned the tap to hot, and reached for a towel. She looked back over her shoulder at Mck, who was just beginning to regain his bearings.
“What I want to know,” McK said with a voice full of flour, “is why you had to actually hit me, Dot?” He sat up, rubbing the back of his head. A sizeable lump was rising at the base of his skull.
Dorothy handed him the warm wet towel. “Well, uh, darling, don’t you see? We have to leave breadcrumbs in many directions, otherwise the witch will be fast onto us.” Dorothy had a habit of using folkloric and archetypal metaphors whenever she was nervous. “Would you like a double or a triple?” She returned to the coffee bar and broke out the necessary accouterments for concocting the drug of choice amongst PNW’ers.
“I suppose a dose of caffeine would diffuse this ache,” McK mumbled. “My usual, if you please.” He struggled to stand, and then gave up. Instead, he crawled over to the couch and leaned his head back against the intentionally distressed leather seat cushions. Everything was going according to plan. Well, kind of. He hadn’t planned on the headache!
Vaughan truly had been a dishwasher. And it was also true that he’d risen through the hellish ranks it takes to become one of the most notorious chefs of London’s famous Gavroche. That he’d aroused Leon Patch’s palate with one simple quiche du jour on a jour that all Vaughan’s stars had seemingly been destined to align was, well, it was Fate if you asked Vaughan. He’d known he’d wanted to possess the power inherent to culinary mastery that grand day when, at the age of seven, his grandmother had taken him to see the musical Oliver at the Palladium in Westminster. He’d left the theatre singing, “Food! Glorious food!” at the top of his bright little lungs and, soon after, he’d applied for his first kitchen job: washing dishes.
“Here,” Dorothy handed him a double ristretto in a sweet little yellow ceramic tasse on which was written: Anything Is Possible. He bent his head to take in the aromatic balm, and noticed how perfectly the crema pressed out evenly toward the rim. Vaughan smiled. One thing was certain: Dorothy knew how to pull a fine shot. She sat down next to him on the floor and helped him pick the flour and dried blood capsules off his face. “My god, you’re a veritable mess!”
She hadn’t liked Vaughan at first. To this day, Dorothy took issue with his prima donna ways and extravagant demands — but she’d never been a celebrity, and so couldn’t honestly imagine the pressure he was under to always perform top of his game. Once you reach a certain culinary status the world either becomes your oyster, or you suck geoduck. Nevertheless, in spite of his particularities, as his pursuit of her had intensified, Dorothy (“Dot” as he liked to affectionately call her) warmed to the chef who had locked eyes with her that day she’d accompanied Patch on his trip to London, and she began to see how together she and Vaughan might truly team up to cut through cultural “norms” and offer the world a unique recipe of liberty and justice for all. She had been used by men her whole life. She figured it was time to turn the tables.
For his part, Vaughan was going to climb the ladder to the top rung, and he needed every rung to be sturdy. Thus, he had wooed Dot. He’d seen how Patch treated her that day at Gavroche: resting his entitled billionaire’s hand on her frail and shaking thigh beneath the table as he slurped his lobster bisque; interrupting her when she attempted to offer a valuable opinion about the incongruity of his schedule; calling her “my little Doe Doe” when introducing her. Vaughan remembered how Dorothy’s lip had trembled when he, personally, came tableside to present before her a perfectly caramelized crème brulee, cracking the crust with delicacy all the while noting her discomfort, her caged-bird aura, her vulnerability. She was the last rung. She was his ticket to privatization, haute couture; he would specialize in specialization, and Dot would help him. It was she who had, in addition to the quiche, secured his future with Leon Patch.
When the helicopter had landed early on Thursday, and Vaughan stepped out onto Santos soil as this weekend’s “celebrity chef,” only a secret wink was exchanged between them. In the presence of Thor and Terrence, Remi and the guests, everything had to appear copacetic — even between them!
“Kiss me.” Now, their worlds were forever changed.
Vaughan, still encrusted with flour and sticky red stage blood, leaned forward to embrace his courageous little Dot. “And again,” she said looking into his deep brown eyes. She brushed the caked flour from his bushy British brows. They melted together slowly like truffle butter gliding into the sweet crevices of a freshly split baguette; Vaughan’s cold hands soon warmed beneath Dot’s blouse, fingering her ripe nipples with the dexterity of a master pâtissier readying two tantalizing fruits for a sugar glaze; she, in turn, sprinkled kisses across his chest like powdered sugar gently falling to rest on a vanilla crepe; these were no ordinary lovers. Soon, Chef’s checkered trousers were in a heap behind the austere leather couch, and Dorothy’s formals were much less formal than ever before. If an office couch could talk.
“I’m starving!” Dorothy exclaimed after too many breathless moments and much kneading of soft dough. She wasn’t used to sex without an honest and deep sense of attachment, but she was also learning that manipulation could, at times, have unique benefits. “And the guests! My god, can you believe we’ve only offered them champagne!” A slight giggle erupted suddenly from Dorothy, “Oh my god, would you listen to that? ‘Let them eat cake!’ That’s so unprofessional of me.” She giggled again, and slipped on her blouse.
Chef reached behind the couch for his trousers and pulled from one pocket a wad of cellophane in which was wrapped the finest Camembert. “I managed to procure this when the hubbub was at its height. It’s a bit squashed as it’s been in my pocket, but I think it should suffice.”
“Oh la la. Delicious, mon cher. I’ll get us a knife,” Dot slid off the couch and returned to the coffee bar.
“I’ve got one,” Vaughan’s voice deepened. “I always carry a knife, you know that.”
Dorothy felt chills run the length of her spine. She was becoming more and more in touch with her intuition, listening to her internal organs when something seemed odd, or out of place. She somehow knew it would come to this, so, taking a deep breath, Dorothy turned around to slowly and seemingly sensually sidle back to her celebrity chef still sprawled naked on her leather couch, and was now holding stinky cheese in his right hand. One of his signature razor sharp knives he held in his left.
“Babe,” she said, stepping one foot at a time onto the couch cushions and lowering herself down onto his lap. She reached for the Camembert. “You know,” she smiled, “I have a little secret I wish to tell you.”
“Hmm?” said Chef Vaughan, raising an eyebrow. “Do tell.”
Dorothy studied his face like an accountant studies a spreadsheet. “It wasn’t me who conked you upside the head.” She held out her other hand for the knife.
Vaughan didn’t relinquish. “Really?” he smiled.
“Well, you know,” he said, gently using the tip of his knife blade to brush away the strands of hair from Dot’s sea green eyes, “I have a little secret I wish to tell you, as well.”
“Do tell,” she said, still studying his expression.
“The man who lies stabbed to death in the cold room …”
“Yes?” Dot was intently observing the contraction and expansion of Vaughan’s pupils.
“… is not Leon Patch.”
Suddenly, there was a loud knock on Dorothy’s office door.
by Cami Ostman
After checking on each guest in their respective cabins, Viola Stone made her way back to the main building. She stood now in the hallway outside of Terrence’s office. This was the obvious place from which to conduct interviews since all of the surveillance equipment for the island was located in an adjacent room, little more than a closet, that was accessed from inside, according to what Terrence had told her before the smoking fireplace episode downstairs. She could be available to her team, who would be arriving momentarily by boat, as they reviewed tapes and collected evidence, while interviewing all of these persons of possible interest.
The closed flue in the fireside room had truly put a monkey wrench in their investigation, complicating things by dispersing everyone to their respective cabins or offices while she found another place to set up shop.
Stone pulled out her iPad and made a few extra notes before stepping into the security office. She noted that:
Sandy and Mike were in their cabin.
The Harrimans, Jane and Nicola, and Mr. Gupta, likewise were in their own rooms. An officer stood watch over the row of cabins to make sure no one house-hopped. Her plan was to have Jones connect with each of them to bring them one by one to her for interviews.
The Chef and Dorothy were in Dorothy’s large office.
Remi was not accounted for.
Thor the pilot and general head of security was also not accounted for at the moment. And this disturbed her. A great deal.
She assumed Terrence and his beautiful dog were behind the door she stood in front of.
She needed everyone under one watchful gaze instead of spread out far and wide. And she had a thought about how to accomplish this while also hopefully preventing the guests from getting restless.
She knocked gently on the door. No one answered. She knocked again before reaching for the knob. Viola Stone assumed that if Terrence and Truck were not inside, the door to the office of the armed security guard on site would always be locked, but it was not. Stupid man. What kind of security was this?
Placing her hand on her weapon at her hip, she opened the door slowly. There were too many people in too many places, and she didn’t like not having eyes on all of them. She was edgy.
She swung the door open. No one was inside. Good lord, so there were three people whose whereabouts were not clear. What a cock-up.
The room was bright. Right next to Dorothy’s corner office Terrence’s office also took in a sweeping view of the Straight and the cabins, though it did not have the additional benefit of a view of the owner’s house. Strange that he had been given a more limited view than the manager. Perhaps the security cameras where well enough placed that Terrence didn’t need a view of everything with his naked eye. She hoped this was the case. It would be an easy crime to solve if the perpetrator didn’t know he, or she, was being watched.
There was nothing interesting about this office except for the dog paraphernalia scattered about the floor—dog bowls, a leash, a giant Kong chewy toy that bore the marks of very massive teeth indeed. A large sturdy desk with a chair (ergonomically befitting a tall man of Terrence’s stature) behind it was stationed in the left-hand corner of the room, presumably so that Terrence could have a view out the window while keeping one eye on the doorway into the office itself. Against the opposite wall a console table, waist high, hosted the most beautiful Italian DeLonghi coffee maker she’d ever seen. Thank God, she thought. This is going to be a long night. Though tea was her birthright, she had a love of Italian coffee.
She waltzed in and took a seat behind the desk, settled her iPad and a portable Bluetooth keyboard on the flat surface and pulled her cell phone out of her pocket to dial Sergeant Jones’ number. He picked up immediately.
“Alright Jones here we go. One by one we are getting these people interviewed before the night is over if we have to stay up until daybreak to do it. The ferry doesn’t come again until Sunday, but most of these culinary students are not without their own means to drum up some way of getting transport off this island if they want it. I’d like to get through the process before our attorney, pissed to the gills right now, sobers up and remembers he has rights. I’ll start by speaking with the Chef. He’s next door with Ms. Stewart, so I’ll fetch him myself. Then one by one I’ll have you escort the others in to speak with me.”
“Yes ma’am.” She could hear disappointment in his voice that he was to be the operations manager on the ground instead of taking part in the investigative interviews, but this situation needed to be brought into hand. She hoped he was competent enough to keep an eye on everyone. “Anything else?” he asked.
“Yes. One important thing. Everyone is starving. We don’t want anyone in the main kitchen since it’s the primary crime scene. Bring all of these wannabe chefs into the ancillary kitchen up here on the second floor—the one that serves the live-in staff. See if they can pull something together from the personal stash of Ms. Stewart and the security man. Maybe have them drag their geoducks up here to boil or fry or whatever is done to geoducks. But there are rules, Mr. Jones. I don’t want them talking to one another anymore. The last thing we need is everyone comparing notes after their interviews. And if we haven’t already muddied the waters by letting some of them most probably bathe and change clothes, I’d like for them NOT to wash their bodies—including their hands. Find some rubber gloves. If there is something under the fingernails besides geoduck and sand, I don’t want it washed away or deposited on the food. Am I understood?”
“Yes ma’am,” Jones repeated.
Sergeant Jones hung up the phone and let his shoulders slope with disappointment. He was going to be babysitting. Unclipping the radio microphone at this shoulder, he pressed the speak button and said, “Officers, knock on the cabin doors and escort the guests to top of the drive to meet me.”
The guests, to a person, excited to be told they would soon be eating were, however, clearly annoyed when instructed to drag buckets of their afternoon procurement up to the second floor of the educational building. And some were downright angry when they were given to understand that there would be no speaking allowed.
“How in the hell are we supposed to prepare a meal without talking to one another?” Robert Harrimen shouted.
“Yes indeed. Honestly, it’s too much to ask,” Mr. Gupta agreed.
“Well, if you want to eat, this is how it will be,” Jones said. “That’s it. You’ll use what you can find in the staff kitchen, and you’ll have to do it without talking. Or washing your hands. We’ll dig up some rubber gloves. Detective Stone has given strict instructions that this investigation has to be reigned in.”
A collective grumble ran through the group.
In the second-floor kitchen, much smaller than the teaching kitchen but still large enough for everyone to fit comfortably, Sargeant Jones watched as they all spread out to silently rummage through cupboards, drawers, and the ice box. Gupta found the shelf next to the refrigerator with all of the staples: flour, sugar, corn starch. He clapped his hands loudly, startling the others. When they turned to look at him, he pointed exuberantly at the shelf and flashed thumbs up.”
One by one the guests joined in a ridiculous game of charades.
Nicky snapped her fingers as she dug through the freezer and shook her head woefully. Nothing there to write home about.
Francesca opened the cupboards under the island at the center of the room and made what had to be a passive aggressive show of tossing mixing bowls and pots and pans noisily onto the counter behind her.
Within ten minutes, the island in the center of the room held several items: tomatoes, three kinds of oil, a large bag of mushrooms (still covered with dirt and presumably rummaged from the grounds nearby), garlic, eggs, cucumbers, feta cheese, spinach, fish sauce, fettuccini noodles, butter, cashew nuts, chicken noodle soup in cans, some kind of dried green herb, and, of course, the geoduck.
At last seven would-be chefs, Sargeant Jones, and one uniformed officer stood around the island and looked at the ingredients before gazing at one another around the circle and collectively wondering how they would put together what was before them without being able to speak.
“Well, think of it like a game,” Jones said.
His eyes settled on Nicky, the buxom beauty from TV land. She and her friend had locked gazes. He tried to decide what was passing between them. A communication about what to do with the feta cheese? A telepathic recipe. No, he knew that look. They were flirting across the table with each other.
Mike and Sandy stood dumbly next to one another, both staring at the pile of ingredients, clearly puzzling, as if the food on the table were an equation. What would “X” be if A, B, and C were combined?
Mr. Gupta stood in the corner, hands on hips, a wide smile on his face as if to him this was his chance to really shine. He was obviously a man with more optimism than was good for anyone.
And Francesca and Robert glared at one another. Jones watched as Francesca’s face went red. She was angry about something. Given there was no talking allowed by any of the guests, it would be impossible to know if her grievance was new or as old as the marriage. Suddenly, to everyone’s surprise, Francesca lifted a gloved hand and flipped her husband the bird.
Robert’s response? He reached onto the island surface, grabbed a handful of the unwashed mushrooms and shoved them into his mouth.
Moments later, he groaned, slumped slowly to the floor. And stopped breathing.
“Robert!!!!!” Francesca screamed.
And the silence was broken.
Detective Stone pounded sturdily on Dorothy’s door. She heard rustling inside and muffled voices. Chef McKendrick opened the door. He was a sight. Blood on his head and neck, a solid bruise emerging on his forehead. His naked torso was covered with bits of flour and soil.
“Mr. McKendrick,” she started, looking passed him to the house manager who now seemed to have blood on her own face and neck. She perceived at once there had been a tryst happening while the rest of the house was in a hubbub of trauma and disturbance. She suddenly decided to ditch the empathetic preamble she’d prepared to invite him to interview with her in spite of his wounds and obvious upset. “I’d like to speak with you about the events of the evening,” she said simply. “And you,” she said, addressing Dorothy Stewart, “please stay in here and speak to no one.”
Mckendirck followed Stone into the next room.
by Lula Flann
Sargeant Jones ran his hands through his close-cropped auburn curls. The boss was gone and his coterie of entitled insufferables threatened to break ranks. Hunger nipped at the heels of their early-evening hang-overs and one of his charges had now dramatically dropped to the brick floor that accented the haute-chic industrial kitchen.
“So 2016,” Francesca thought as she stepped back from her husband’s fallen body and glanced at the oversized sub-zero Wolf freezer drawers and Hammacher juicer. “I’m sure Leon would have been changing that soon.”
Francesca momentarily wished she hadn’t stopped her reefer habit 20 years ago. She could use a hit of Acapulco Gold right about now. Conscious of her skin, she’d cut down on sucking up. If she didn’t count her entire marriage. Still, every woman knows it’s imperative to catch those wrinkles while still in your 30s. After that, there is not enough money to altogether undo the damage of sun, smoke and a smoldering heart.
“Collect yourself, he’s just allergic to mushrooms. I always pack his medication as he can’t be counted on to take care of himself. This isn’t the first time he’s shown that he’ll do anything to be the center of attention. If one of your men will take me back to my cabin, I have EpiPens in the toiletry kit.” She strode to the door and turned back to the sargeant as the police officer blocking her way refused to move.
“Quit standing there with your jaws open. I know he looks like he’s dead, but he’s a tough old dinosaur who is bound to still be breathing. If you administer the shot within ten minutes or so, chances are good he’ll come around. Now. Do you want me to get the pen?”
The sargeant lifted his eyes from Harriman’s face and motioned to the officer filling the doorway. “He is still breathing. Take her down to her cabin now, and get her back here as soon as possible.”
Francesca crossed her arms and planted her feet. “Oh, no. One of your boys will have to bring it back up here. He brought this on himself. He’s lucky I told you what was happening.”
The sargeant shook his head and wondered where Stone was. She’d sort these people out in a trice. He waved his arms at Grippon, the young chap at the door. “Escort all these people back to their cabins and set the watch again. Fetch that EpiPen up here, double quick.”
Jones’ face matched the hue of his hair as he set about elevating Harriman’s head and watched the disgruntled guests being frog-marched back to their posh cells.
Mike and Sandy entered their cabin and the Nest brought up the lights as the officer firmly closed the door behind them.
“Good God. How much longer before we get a message back to headquarters? Our job here is done. We came to off Leon, and someone took care of that for us.”
“Calm down, Sandy. You’re just hangry.”
“Quiet, you. I’m tired of men telling me to calm down.”
“Pretend I’m still your sister then, telling you to calm down.”
“You do hold less sway with me, now that you have hair growing out of your nose and smell like a boy.”
“I feel you. But at least I’m happier. Loads happier.”
Sandy swung open the Meneghini refrigerator. She pulled out a large brown bottle and cracked open the ’22’ of Cedar Dust.
“Nothing in this damn behemoth refrigerator but IPAs, Perrier Jouet and square ice cubes. We’ve been through this all before. I accept who you are and your choice. I respect that you’re going to do your bit to dismantle the patriarchy from the inside. But we can’t sit around here forever just because we’ve got this hedge-fund billionaire off our list. We’ve still got the entire global oligarchy to chisel away at.”
“You sound less and less like a software stooge all the time.” Mike poured himself a glass of beer.
“This undercover is killing me. People act like we’re invisible.”
“That’s the beauty of the plan. No one suspects a software geek of anything remotely subversive.”
“I hope RM’s looking at my white paper.”
“You really sent that in?”
“I sure did. Right before we boarded the ferry. There’s a direct correlation between the perpetrators of #MeToo crimes and the names in the Paradise Papers.”
“Sandy, you’re being ridiculous. The power of #MeToo is how many of the female population have been affected by abuse at every level of society. It’s not just the 1% who are assholes.”
“I’m tired of men telling me I’m ridiculous. I’m pretty sure I graduated with a higher GPA and a juicier internship than you. Off-shore finance is my area of expertise.”
“And social science is mine. I’m a believer in the evils inherent in Ultra-High-Net-Worth-Individuals, or I wouldn’t have taken this assignment. Global plutocrats do see their tribe as other UHNWIs. When you have more money than God, why care about God? The eight richest in the world are in it to make sure they all maintain membership in the club. The UHNWI club is their religion. They have to go. One down. But your #MeToo theory just muddies the waters. You’re going to be pegged as a rabid feminist.”
Sandy pulled on her beer. “I’ve been called worse things.”
A brisk rap at the patio door prompted them both reach to the small of their backs, a pair of DeSantis holsters ready to give up the siblings’ familial weapons of choice.
“Monsieur et Madame Anderson? Rémi here. I come bearing food at last!”
Sandy nodded to Mike as he flattened himself against the wall and she edged to the French doors, turning the knob and pushing them open with her black matte boot.
Rémi, resplendent in his white coat, backed into the door, wheeling a large wicker hamper behind him. Behind the hamper glided a woman with silver-streaked hair and a somber air. She threw open the hamper and pulled a white table cloth from the top of the basket, spread it dramatically over the carrera table and smoothed the wrinkles. Rémi pulled a large clip board from the side pocket of the basket and looked expectantly at Mike. Mike resumed his former posture as bland man from the Bay and carried an expression of studied boredom.
“Again, I’m so very sorry you’ve had to wait for your supper. You understand the delay, I’m sure. We came the back way because it is a little shorter than going by the front door, so you see – we did the best we could! Rosario jumped in to help. But if poor Monsieur Patch were still with us,” (here, Rosario crossed herself) the last thing he would want is for his guests to suffer. I took the golf cart up to his part of the compound to see if there might have been any food, and I … found Rosario. She’d ordered specialty foods for a surprise outing planned for later this weekend. Mr. Patch was going to take you all out on the “All Clear.” His yacht, you know. Just in from the Benetti shipyards.
Here Rémi paused and had the grace to blush. He’d SnapChatted a couple dozen rather indiscrete #sailorboi pix aboard Patch’s yacht just that morning. The summer air out on the San Juans was always so – invigorating.
“Yes, sorry! Mr. Patch planned to have the fresh items for the sailing trip brought over on the morning you would have sailed, of course, but he had made sure that Rosario had all the harder-to-find items securely on board.
Now, I matched your interest sheets with what was ordered for you, and we’ve been able to bring that down. I’m afraid we can’t stay long, as we must take care of the other guests as well.”
While Rémi nattered on, Rosario lit candles and set out the crystal, lined up the silver implements around the exquisite china and set a dozen small bowls with petite cards in front of each at the center of the table. She closed up the hamper and stood waiting by the table, her hand to her forehead and her toe tapping sharply.
“Again, so sorry for the delay! I’m sure all will be well by tomorrow morning. Adieu, Madame. Au revoir, Monsieur!”
Rémi closed the door behind them and helped Rosario load the hamper back into golf cart. He slid into the passenger seat as Rosario pushed the button on the electric cart. The machine glided almost soundlessly up the hill toward the Fountainhead.
“Ah, Rosario, all it takes is for the right sort of person to take notice of you! When I first saw that body in the cooler and considered that Chef might be gone, I realized my chance had come! Perhaps one of these guests will remember us when they recall how wonderful it was to have their appetites sated by their favorite delicacies!”
Back in The Bobbitt, brother and sister looked at each other over beeswax tapers.
“Seriously, Mike? I let you fill out our preference forms and you put down that our greatest culinary interest was foie gras? What the hell were you thinking?”
“I was thinking that the truth wouldn’t do. A hunk of Manchego and a bottle of Montepulciano from TJs would not get us the invitations we needed.”
The siblings pulled their hand-caned chairs closer to the table and lifted the delicate, hand-penned place cards closer to the flickering light.
“Whole lobe of duck foie gras, Hudson Valley.”
“Fresh good foie gras from Gascony.”
“Pate de Campagne with black pepper.”
“Whole foie gras in aspic with armagnac.”
“I hate you.”
“And just when you were on the verge of going completely vegetarian.”
Sandy punched him smartly in the bicep. She slathered a duck rillette onto a crusty circle of bread, topped it with two cornichons and looked thoughtful.
“The #MeToo. You know it’s not about sex, right?”
Mike speared a cornichon from her plate and bit it in half. “You can’t have them all. Of course it’s not about sex. It’s about violence, manifested in the guise of sex.”
“I love you. Even if you smell like a boy.”
“Me too. #MeToo.”
by Diana Dodds
The heavy dew had collected on the ceiling of the cave, and was drip, drip, dripping down on the stone floor. The interior of the grotto was glowing with the light coming from a bank of computers. The mainframe was well protected from the humidity, and a man crouched over the keyboard as his fingers fairly flew. The people on the other side of the forest were totally unaware of the peril they and their wealth were in at this moment. Otto, or “Auto,” as he preferred to be called, had managed to fool Terence. Terence had seen Auto come and go from this island over the years and had come to see him as a buffoon, which was exactly the idea.
Auto had watched Terence put his pup, Truck, through his paces. He saw the hand signals that were used to get Truck to sit, stay, attack, and apprehend. Late at night, when Terence finally unburdened himself of all his various weapons which he had scattered throughout his person, Auto would sneak up and give Truck treats. He always used the signals in every interaction so that Truck came to see Auto as an extension of Terence. This had gone on for months and years.
Terence was very methodical in his job. He had a set pattern in the way he investigated the island and Auto was very familiar with it, so that he could be out in the open doing some crazy jig and get his usual dismissal for shooting a doe, and receive his expected chastisement. All of these events were part of the plan. Auto was about decreasing his placement on the list of risk factors that Terence had to keep to prevent his boss, Leon, from harm. Now, with a body showing up in the main building kitchen, Auto had to keep his presence very low key.
Speaking of keys, Auto’s eyes were glimmering with reflected light from his work station. He had dreamed of this day since he was a little boy. All those years of Leon getting the pat on the back from their dad, while at the same time being dismissive of Auto. Leon was always right at his father’s elbow as they looked over architectural drawings of buildings and laughed about the ways they were able to keep certain undesirable people out of those same buildings.
Auto preferred to be down in the garage with the chauffeurs, and mechanics. It wasn’t what was on the four wheels that mattered, but what was under the hood. He thought his father’s Rolls Royce was terribly dull. Who cared about golden handles and upholstery. He preferred a 440-cubic inch engine with a 4-barrel carburetor with a scoop on the hood. He would have smoked that stuffy Rolls.
Auto had come to appreciate the helicopter also, and had befriended Thor mainly because of the fierce tattoo of the devil on his forehead. Hiring Thor was one of the very few times that Leon actually had listened to him. Leon hired Thor to oversee security for him whenever he left his New York Penthouse. Auto listened to Thor. This was a kind of respect that he was rarely given, so when Auto came up with a plan to lift both of them up to the level they longed to attain, Thor listened intently.
Auto had made friends of every station and level of society. He preferred down-to-earth people, and that is how he met Sydney or “Sid” as he preferred to be called. Sid had caught Auto’s eye at a car show, and so closely resembled his brother that Auto’s jaw had nearly hit the floor. Leon come to a car show? No, it couldn’t be. Sure enough, it was his new best friend, Sid, instead. He had dressed Sid up in his brother’s clothes and taught him all his brother’s mannerisms. The two of them had used this ruse many times to get spending money for the cars that they had both desired.
Now, the plan of plans was in play. Thor had brought Leon to Santos Island, but he never made the trip up to the Terra Verde retreat center. He was whisked away from the heliport under the influence of chloroform. Now, he sat on the cave floor with dripping dew falling on his head. Auto had dreamed of a situation like this, where he could stage some form of torture for Leon, and what was better than water torture. Leon wiggled and made muffled sounds, but Thor had him bound so well, that his efforts weren’t going to make any difference.
This scheme was hatched when Sid had come to Auto to inform him that he could no longer keep up the charade of being Leon to buy a car here and there and fund the huge garage to keep them in. Sid had been diagnosed with ALS. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” which was an inherited disease and was fatal. Sid had seen his grandfather die of this disease and had no intention of going as a helpless invalid. This would be a horrible end to such a great friend. Auto could hardly bear the thought. It was then that Sid offered to do something for his friend that would leave Auto with a huge fortune in vehicles. Sid told Auto that he was planning to ease his way out of this world, and he made Auto promise to use his body to complete the biggest con either one of them had ever pulled.
The two of them sat in their garage and spun a dream of all the automobiles they could buy. There was the elegant 1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Lungo Spider by Touring for a mere 19,800,000 dollars. It was the most expensive pre-WW2 car made. In 1957, there had been a car made by Ferrari the 250 Testa Rossa, also call the red head for the bright red rocker covers on the engine. This car dominated sports car racing for almost half a decade and there were only 34 ever built. That car was a measly 16,390,000 dollars. Then there was the 1974 Lamborghini Countach LP400. This had a 12 valve mid chassis engine and was built with exacting standards in Sant’Agata Bolognese, Italy. The smell of the leather alone was worth the price. Their mouths watered and their eyes glistened as they spoke of their dreams to drive these cars into the sunset together. Sid treated him more like a brother than Leon ever had.
Thor was well aware of Leon’s misogynistic ways. Putting the #ME TOO on Sid’s chest would be a red herring. Auto was quite aware of Dorothy’s strong and deep hate for Leon’s behavior, and knew she would be more than thrilled to have him dead. She wouldn’t look at that body too closely. Meanwhile, Thor had convinced Rosario to play along and to provide the information sheets on the people who had come for their culinary boot camp. It takes such a small amount of information in the right hands to open checking and credit card accounts, especially since Equifax. Auto dipped into all of the accounts of all the very wealthy clients including Jane’s ex-husband, Sean.
Suddenly, there was a scraping sound at the cave entrance. Auto hit the mute button on the computer and he cocked his hand up at the wrist giving Truck the signal to halt. Thor placed his knife over Leon’s throat, while they held their breath.
By Debbie Brosten
Sargent Wilbur Jones watched Robert Harriman’s body as he lay on the floor waiting for the relief the EpiPens would bring. Robert’s pulse was erratic and his breathing labored. Jones glanced at his watch as he wondered what was taking Griffon so long to return. Seven minutes had already passed since Robert ate the mushrooms and fell to the polished concrete floor. And why did Robert’s wife, Francesca, refuse to retrieve the pen herself? Her scream seemed genuine enough when he first fainted. But then as if another person inhabited the elegant body of Francesca, she refused assistance, claiming her husband was just looking for attention. Was he? Or did he truly want to end his own life? Could he be the one who had plunged the knife in Patch’s torso? He certainly had motive. Robert had recently discovered that Francesca and Leon were a bit chummier than he liked. But still would jealousy alone have provoked him? There must be more to the story, something dating back to their London School days. Could Robert have felt trapped? Rather than risking arrest and trial, he figured it was easier to end it all in one quick move? After all, he was beginning to be bored with life. Or was Francesca right and he was just looking for attention? Hurry up Griffon.
These people were such a mystery to him. Sargent Jones was glad that the lovely and extremely competent Viola Stone was at the helm and not he. There were too many questions, too many coincidences. Or rather too many unanswered questions. When he was young growing up in the small town of Ferndale, Wilbur loved solving puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles, crosswords, word searches, Rubik cubes. As a matter of fact, if he was honest, he would admit it was his expertise with the game Clue that led him to become a detective. “Professor Peabody did it in the Parlor with the candlestick,” he would proudly, and loudly proclaim. Wilbur was also an avid reader. He devoured the old Hardy Boy mysteries his parents kept from their childhoods and quickly moved up the chain to the likes of Agatha Christie, Harlan Coben, Elmore Leonard, and Michael Connelly. Picking up the clues, piecing them together soothed him. To this day, he could be found solving a Sudoko on his phone during down time.
Wilbur surveyed the food accumulated on the counter. He besieged the onions and noodles the Feta and fish sauce, the cashews and even the geoducks to divulge their secrets, but they of course sat motionless, keeping any information to themselves. If indeed they had any.
“Where the hell was Grif?” He muttered as he watched the minute hand on the old clock above the sink continuously march forward, impervious to Robert’s shallow breath.
“It’s about time,” he said as the kitchen door swung open.
Back in Fountainhead, Jane picked up a pair of binoculars lying on the edge of the tub. This really was the height of luxury. A large picture window with a commanding view of the pristine waters of the Straight or Bay or whatever it was called up here, accessed from the warmth of the bath. It may not exactly be the Pacific she was used down in California, but the sun was glinting off the water as she eyed an explosion of ocean spray in the distance. She thought it strange to have binoculars in the bathroom, but as long as she was on the viewing end, and no one had her in their sights, she might as well enjoy it. Bringing the binoculars to her eyes Jane was rewarded with a view of a small pod (at least she thinks that’s what they are called) of Orcas. They had spotted some on the ferry over. Her moody cycle-clad fellow passenger had pointed them out. Of course, he had also launched into a lengthy discourse on their life styles and the very real ways that climate change was threatening their existence. While Jane hadn’t listened all that closely she was certain that she now was watching Orcas leap and frolic in the calm Northwest waters. The view through the binoculars made it seem as if she could reach out and touch them.
“Nickie! Come quick, you have to see this. Orcas are popping out of the water like popcorn out of a pot. Nickie! Where are you? What are you doing? You really don’t want to miss this.”
Getting no response, Jane clambered from her now cooled bubble bath to track Nickie down. After wrapping herself in an oversized exquisitely soft bath sheet, she popped her head in both the bedroom and the sitting room. Nickie was not there. Now where had she gotten to? Jane wondered as she wrapped her arms tightly around her towel clad body. Despite the sunlight streaming into the room, she was shivering.
“He’ll be there.”
Meghnad Gupta’s dark lips greeted his bushy mustache when he heard the news. “Ah, perfect, make my reservation for the Terra Verde Retreat Center on Santos Island please.”
As he hung up the phone it was all he could do not to rub his palms together in glee. After all these years, he would finally get to meet face to face with that scoundrel Leon Patch. While Mr. Gupta believed wholeheartedly in Karma, he never saw anything wrong with helping it along when he had the chance. Ten years ago, while Leon was on a business trip in Mumbai, he met Meghnad and his family at summer party. Leon was quite taken with the Gupta’s lovely daughter, Riya. Riya’s long, silky black hair hung over her face when she bent down, but it did nothing to detract from her dazzling brown eyes or smooth mocha skin. Her perfectly rouged lips and cheeks added to her beauty. Riya noticed her father stiffen as they were introduced. Every time Leon stared at Riya, which was often, her father stood taller, rolling his shoulders back, broadening his chest at the impertinence of the man before them. Secretly Riya enjoyed watching the cat and mouse game the men were engaged in, at least until her mother called her away.
Whatever it was that Patch was shipping back to the States at the time, he used Gupta Worldwide Shipping, hoping for the chance to interact with the lovely Riya again. While Gupta made sure that never happened, he also understood business was business and Leon Patch was prepared to pay an enormous sum to ship his new belongings. Neither Gupta nor his employees pressed Leon for details. After all their discretion was covered by the fee. As often happens in business, those who need to be enticed to see no problems were well taken care and in the end everyone was happy. Or they would have been if Leon Patch had honored the deal. If he had paid the agreed upon fee for services rendered instead of accusing Gupta of losing part of the shipment. Seems as though Leon had taken a page from the current American President’s playbook when it came to defrauding the little guy. Despite the fact that the crates were tracked to their owners, despite the fact that Gupta Worldwide Shipping was not a little guy, Meghnad Gupta got screwed on that deal.
Once McKendrick and Inspector Stone left her office, Dorothy moistened a towel at her small sink and wiped the dry crust of who knows what off her face. She straightened her clothes the best she could and resented her inability to go to her room to shower and put on a fresh outfit. Although her already jumpy nerves didn’t need any more caffeine, she needed to be doing something on auto-pilot. The routine of making a cup of espresso, the reassuring sound of the whoosh of the machine were balm to the infernal loop running through her head.
Leon wasn’t dead? Where the hell was he? Where did they find the body double and most importantly who were THEY? What game was Vaughan playing? Shit, her mother was right. Trust nobody.
Dorothy sat at her computer determined to figure out what was going on. She brought up her file on Leon and scanned through pages of documents, attachments. She felt like a failed Australian Shepard, corralling a herd of cats. Nothing made sense. Disarray reigned. Maybe if she did more research on each of the guests, she would find a clue. Working blind, it suddenly occurred to her that although she had collected phones from all the guests, she had forgotten about Apple watches and iPads and computers. So much for keeping the media away she thought as she became aware of the increased air traffic overhead.
THIS NOVEL IS BEING TEMPORARILY INTERRUPTED FOR ANOTHER LOOK AT THE RULES:
Here is the process…
We’ll be using typical “improvisational theater” rules for this project. The most important guideline for improvisation is to accept offers, to say yes to what other authors contribute. For example, if the main character is given a mother in chapter three, the author of chapter four must accept that mother as a character now and give her space in the book. How much space author #4 gives mom is up to him, but he can’t say, “So the next day mom died and we get back to the story from chapter 2.”
Astute readers/authors of later chapters can pick up threads from and move action along from earlier chapters but must not negate what earlier authors have set in motion. There can be no, “I woke up and it was all a dream.” Accept and work with what earlier players have given you–like in a game of Scrabble. Also like a game of Scrabble, if you see that the story has backed up into a corner, seek to open up the “board” by creating possibilities for those who come after you. Okey dokey?
Don’t kill off the protagonist or a major character necessary to the moving forward of the plot
Don’t destroy the setting
Let’s try to create an ARC. The first third of the writers can focus on building the mystery, setting the stage for the problem. The second third can ramp up the tension and bring us to a point where we HAVE to know what will happen or who did it or why things are the way they are. The last third of the authors can focus on the denouement.
You’ll get an email the day before you are to write your chapter
Read the chapters that come before your assigned chapter here: http://www.redwheelbarrowwriters.com/eat-slay-love/
On the day you’ve agreed to write, write! Write 1,667 words.
Send your chapter to Diane no later than 9pm on YOUR day. She will make sure it’s posted. Send it in an attached word document to this email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Communicate with your fellow authors in this Facebook group (ask to join if you aren’t already in the group): https://www.facebook.com/groups/RWBNANONOVEL2017EatSlayLove/
WE NOW RESUME OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED NOVEL, THANK YOU
By Jennifer Wilke
Sequestered in the retreat’s second floor security office, Captain Stone began her interrogation of Vaughan McKendrick. She gave the celebrity chef her full attention, choosing to be confident that her subordinates Sergeant Jones and Officer Grippon would follow her commands, assuring that the crime scene was preserved and the guests were sequestered in their own rooms and not contaminating evidence until the forensics team could arrive and complete its work. Her job now was to gather as much direct and intuitive evidence as she could from each prospective suspect. In her long experience in law enforcement in London and more recently in America, she kept evermost in mind that no one was above suspicion, especially those who appeared most innocent.
In her interrogation of the chef, she needed to learn the depth of his association with the billionaire, his island retreat and its elite cooking courses, as well as his own actions immediately prior to the discovery of the dead body in the kitchen’s cold room. Perhaps McKendrick had a hidden grievance that had grown to murderous intent.
“When did you arrive on Santos Island, Mr. McKendrick?”
She was used to witnesses attempting to deflect her important questions with charming smiles. She did not smile back, holding her gaze steady. “When did you arrive on the island, Mr. McKendrick?”
His affable smile faded and he gave her the answer.
“Tell me what happened then.” Listening, she observed how many times he hesitated before finding his way to a complete sentence. He might have been trying to conceal the duration of his sexual relationship with Dorothy but Captain Stone’s gut told her he had something more important to conceal from her.
She had appropriated the retreat’s empty security office—where was the security man Terrence in the midst of this security disaster at the retreat center?—because she immediately recognized the advantage she could make of it in her individual interrogations of all staff and guests, which she was determined to complete before dawn and any visitation from mainland authorities.
Terence’s office was filled with a disturbing display of the security officer’s devotion to Truck, his German shepherd, which the captain ignored. She lowered the blinds on each wide window, shutting out the sunset panorama without any qualms. A closed, windowless room was a decided advantage in convincing people to tell her the truth. She took Terence’s desk chair for herself, giving her a straighter posture and higher sightline to look down on witnesses seated in a lower chair across the desk from her—one of whom would prove to be the murderer, she reminded herself. Terence’s cheap desk lamp was another advantage; its flexible base neck and cone-shaped metal shade allowed her to point its light away from herself, and toward the interrogatee. She’d been fascinated since the age of ten by good cop tactics in the film noir classic movies from the 1940’s. “Spill the beans, Frankie. The fix is up.” She liked being the one dame in the room. She jotted notes as he answered her questions, but did her best to watch him carefully. She retained her impression that he was not an entirely innocent man.
In the nearby 2nd floor kitchen, Sergeant Jones stood beside the unconscious body of Robert Harriman, trying not to panic that Grippon had less than two minutes to arrive with the EpiPen. In the depths of anaphylactic shock, Harriman’s skin was visibly mottled, his face swelling and reddening, his eyes remaining closed and his breathing shallow. But he was still breathing. Mrs. Harriman sat on the floor beside her husband, stroking his face in a surprisingly tender gesture. She hardly seemed a purposeful poisoner, especially from mushrooms newly gathered and available to anyone in the center. The sergeant crossed the kitchen and opened the door, shouting into the hallway.
“Officer Grippon! Where are you?!”
“Coming, sergeant!” The hapless officer sounded not too far away in the retreat center.
“Run!” the sergeant commanded. “As fast as you can!”
Panting, the officer burst into the kitchen, holding out Harriman’s EpiPen. Sergeant Jones, trained in emergency medicine, efficiently jabbed Mr. Harriman’s arm with the life-saving antidote. Harriman’s pale coloring quickly became rosy as he gulped deep breaths of air. His eyes flickered, then opened.
“Stop it, Robert,” Mrs. Harriman said, as if scolding a five-year-old. Cradling his face in her lap, she stroked his hair. “Stop scaring me.”
Sergeant Jones used his forefinger and a thumb to encircle Robert’s wrist and check his pulse. Satisfied that the man’s heartbeat was steady, he ignored the endearments exchanged between the reviving husband and his mercurial wife. On his orders, officer Grippon brought over a wheeled cart from the rear of the kitchen, and helped the sergeant lift Robert Harriman onto it.
“We’ll take you back to your cottage,” the sergeant informed husband and wife, and began rolling the cart out of the kitchen.
There were hours of daylight left before the sun would set brilliantly tonight, by which time Captain Stone would expect all the interrogations to be complete. The trail to the Harriman’s cabin was on uneven ground and shaded under the canopy of first-growth pines, but the sergeant hurried them along. When they arrived, the two officers deposited Mr. Harriman on the gold-embossed coverlet of the ultra-King-sized bed in the suite. The recovering man turned away from them and went back to sleep. Mrs. Harriman pulled the coverlet over her slumbering husband, then caught up to Sergeant Jones before he reached the door.
“Sergeant,” she said quietly, touching his sleeve.
“Yes, ma’am?” He expected to have to reassure her that her husband was all right and disaster had been averted. Mr. Harriman was snoring now. The sergeant wondered if there were any reason the wife might not have wanted her husband to survive the episode.
“Sergeant, I have a small favor to ask.”
Sergeant Jones motion for Grippon to return to the kitchen with the trolley, and gave his polite attention to Mrs. Harriman, as he had been trained to do with overwrought or volatile civilians. Few people think rationally in an emotional or physical crisis, so it was his job as an unbiased officer of the law to think clearly for them.
She put her manicured hand on his arm and leaned closer, letting her right breast brush his chest as her lips came closer. He felt her breath on his ear.
“I beg you sergeant,” she whispered, “let me say goodbye to him.”
He glanced at her husband, loudly asleep on the bed. “He’s fine now, isn’t he?”
She moaned, as a woman in the throes of passion might sound, or so the sergeant imagined. “Not my husband,” she pleaded. “Leon. Please let me see him one last time to say goodbye.”
“Ma’am—“He took a step away from her, not wanting to be rude, trying to ignore her seductions, and her infidelity.
She gripped his arm, sending an unbidden wave of desire through him in spite of his professional resolve. Then she laid her head on his shoulder and sighed. “He was the love of my life,” she confessed breathlessly. “I beg you.”
He was overwhelmed by his own yearning that someday a woman might love him that way, and concealed his confusion by hurrying her back to the retreat center to grant her wish. Assured that no one else was in the 2nd floor hallway, he motioned her to follow him into the kitchen. Violating all the precepts and vows he had taken to become a trusted member of law enforcement in the state of Washington, he opened the door of the cold room, lifted the yellow crime tape, and allowed a weeping Mrs. Harriman to enter to see the corpse of her lost love.
“Watch your step.” He led her through the chaotic vegetables and flour all over the floor. She held his hand tightly. He used his flashlight to guide them into the depths of the windowless cooler, toward where he had seen the body. The sweeping arc of his flashlight revealed many footprints in the flour—but no body. The corpse Captain Jones had sternly instructed him to guard through the night in the place where they’d first discovered it—had vanished.
“He’s—He’s gone,” the sergeant blurted. “The body’s gone.”
Mrs. Harriman fainted in his arms.
Jane retreated away from the huge windows and into the bedroom where she changed in the shadows into comfortable long pants, a blouse, and sensible shoes. Presentable again, she began her search in earnest, with the binoculars around her neck, as she left the cabin and called into the shadows in the woods.
“Nickie! Where are you?” She was rounding the corner of the cabin when someone grabbed and pulled her against the wall. “What are you do–?” A hand covered her mouth. “Help!” she cried out.
“Hush, girl!” Nickie hissed. “Be quiet!”
Jane stopped struggling, mystified by the ambush. “Stay quiet,” Nickie whispered. “Look!”
Nickie pointed to the beach below, down a winding and rocky path. “The Orcas, I know,” Jane said. Leave it to Nickie to make everything a drama.
“No, the dark part of the cliff. There’s four men down there. Not us.”
Jane raised the binoculars to her eyes and adjusted them. “They’re moving something.”
“Boxes. Trunks. There’s some kind of room down there.”
“Or a cave? Who are they?”
A helicopter swooped over the hill they stood on, then plunged low, hovering and throwing up rocks and sand as it landed on the beach. Two more men jumped out and helped the others load the boxes into the chopper.
“Take a picture,” Jane told Nickie, while she kept watching through the binoculars.
“She took our cell phones,” Nickie moaned.
Jane saw two men holding a third man between them who fought their assistance. “The man in the middle doesn’t want to go,” she told Nickie. “They’ve got him in a straightjacket. Like they wear in a loony bin with his arms wrapped around himself.”
“You can’t say loony bin anymore, it’s a ‘long-term mental health care facility.’”
“For people who are Loony Tunes.”
“What is he shouting?” Nickie asked.
Jane couldn’t understand the shouts either. The men threw the straightjacketed man into the helicopter. When all the men were aboard, the helicopter flew straight up, then raced away along the shoreline. As it rounded the cliff and disappeared, the sound disappeared too, absorbed into the vast wilderness surrounding them.
“Come on!” Nickie started down the steep path toward the beach.
“No, wait!” Jane stood her ground, unwilling to investigate what they’d seen.
“Admit you’re curious,” Nickie said, turning on the trail to confront Jane. “There isn’t anything else to do. You can’t let me go all by myself.” Nickie pulled her Glock 19 out of its holder and turned to lead the way.
“Damnit!” Jane said, following. “Please don’t shoot anything.”
By Judy Shantz
Francesca Harriman was a real ‘piece of work’ and she absolutely reveled in it. Over the years she had managed to get that hapless husband of hers to pay for every bit of it – the spas, the dermabrasions, the tummy tuck and, ultimately, her trip to a soft-spoken man who was known in Hollywood circles as the Michelangelo of Boobs. Yes, hers were magnificent now and she used them to full effect. If 50 were indeed the new 30, she would be in top form for many years to come.
From the beginning, Robert was only a tool, a means to an end. But she had found him rather sweet at first, in a rumpled, frat boy kind of way. His generally Spartan bad taste belied his patrician roots but he did possess a sharp legal mind and used it to his (and Francesca’s) best advantage. Real estate parcels flipped, complainants were counter-sued, money poured in and Francesca personally picked his beautiful suits and shirts.
Still, she was sometimes surprised at how easy it was to play Robert: not like a fine musical instrument but, perhaps, like a poor, proud fish on a hook, sinking the barb ever deeper. She planted the seeds of doubt all over their condo and he dutifully found them and reacted. Over time he became more and more obsessed, sure of her infidelities but unable to prove them. Instead, he drank, he raged and he blundered. The hook was set.
It had all been so easy. She came home late. He reeked of whiskey. But in the morning he presented her with a ‘surprise’ trip – a lovely weekend in the San Juan Islands at a fancy cooking retreat. It was difficult to keep the Cheshire grin off her face!
The night before they left, and after Robert was well asleep, Francesca opened her small wall safe and took out a tiny suede bag with a silk drawstring. In it was the tiny figure of a woman, fairly crudely carved from volcanic rock and polished through the millennia by reverent fingers gliding over its surfaces, praying for children or crops or rain. It was barely an inch and a half high and had huge exaggerated buttocks and giant breasts. A tiny fertility goddess – an Astarte.
Francesca grinned at the memory of Leon presenting it to her, saying the little figure reminded him of her. She might have slapped him for insinuating that her hips were that large. But the tits were a good match and she knew an opportunity when she saw one. So she cooed her appreciation as she accepted the gift and the little love note that came with it. What a fool men were – even very clever, rich men. Did he think she didn’t guess its value? Did he think she didn’t realize that owning it was likely a serious crime?
Now she used her glasses cleaner and a soft cloth to clean any residue or prints from the figurine and tucked it back into its suede bag. With a little bit of luck and all her skills, Leon Patch would be quite dead in a couple of days and the police would find this little talisman in his pocket. She smiled at the thought of what might come: the voluble protests from antiquities organizations around the middle-east; perhaps even high level government officials descending on Washington. She doubted if the current resident on Pennsylvania Avenue would have so much as a clue what it was all about, let alone how to handle it.
It would be such fun to watch it all unfold.
The upside of all the pandemonium was that Jane realized she probably wasn’t going to have to convince anyone that she had taken a ‘cooking vacation’ at a farm villa in Tuscany or that she had learned to make gnocchi or that she had developed a passion for truffles and truffle oil while she was there. That had been Nickie’s idea for a cover story in order to get an invitation. Like everything else to do with this adventure, Jane had protested vehemently at first.
“I don’t even know what gnocchi is!”
“Are! They’re like tiny little potato dumplings. Look up a recipe on-line and figure it out.”
“But I’ve never been to Tuscany. I don’t even know what it’s like.”
“Sheesh! Don’t you have any imagination? It’s like Napa. Only in Italian.”
As always, Jane capitulated. She dutifully Googled everything she could think of associated with this retreat. She learned that the islands had been named for the date they were discovered by a Spanish captain. Islas de Todos Santos, All Saints’ Day, 1791, though only this one little bump of an island still made any claim to the original name. She browsed cooking sites and for a brief moment she considered experimenting with making gnocchi. They looked so lovely in the picture, little potato puffs floating in a lemony wine sauce.
Then a small wave of guilt washed over her. A man was dead and she was glad of the commotion it had caused because it would keep her from having to continue with this charade. Shame on her. She tried to concentrate on watching the Orcas again but the bath had grown cool and she just wanted to go home. Where the hell was Nickie anyway?
This wasn’t quite how Francesca had planned it – still it wasn’t all bad. She thought that a little flirtation with Leon, plus the usual amount of alcohol, would finally send Robert into such a jealous rage that he would murder Leon. Pretty straight forward. Robert would go to prison and Francesca would be free. And very, very rich. But someone else had murdered Leon. Robert was off the hook. However, half a success was better than none.
Then, for a fleeting moment, and such a sweet moment it was, she had thought Robert had committed suicide and solved that problem very tidily. But no – too many of their friends knew about Robert’s allergy to mushrooms and a couple of pharmacists knew that she often picked up his EpiPens. She would have to save him this time. Still, there was the talisman. She wanted to complete that part of the plan, but to do so she would need an accomplice to get into the crime scene and it would probably have to be a cop.
She thought about the prospects. They were all aloof and uncommunicative – except for that sweet boy with the auburn curls who always blushed when he spoke to her. Yes, she could probably pull this off.
But the disappearance of Leon’s body threw Francesca a bit off balance. She hadn’t come prepared for that kind of failure. Fortunately, she was always equipped with her two fall-back plans: either crying or fainting. You could do a lot of quick thinking if you were sobbing or unconscious. She chose fainting, right into the arms of the panicked young policeman. She wanted to get him more deeply implicated so he wouldn’t go running to his boss. He tried fanning her face and calling her name. She remained resolutely comatose.
If you grew up in southern California, you knew perfectly well that the sun went straight down into the Pacific Ocean and, boom, it was night. It also happened at a reasonable hour, even in summer.
But in these islands, the outline of the hills and saddles of each succeeding land mass sent long shadows across the beaches and forests long before the sun had dipped below the horizon. Already the huge creosoted pilings that held up the ferry dock were indistinguishable from the dark water around them and the lower forest showed no trace of the lush greens of a few moments before. Even so, Nickie and Jane had to crouch low in the bright sun remaining in the high meadow, as they ran for cover in the trees.
Against all common sense, her better judgement, and everything she had learned in kindergarten, Jane found herself following her friend, slipping on the loose dirt and gravel that was the single deer track leading downhill, just at the edge of the trees. Jane had fallen twice and was about to protest again when Nickie grabbed her arm and dragged her a few feet deeper into the trees.
“Look. There. Just at the edge of the retreat center.”
Jane looked just in time to see the sun glinting off the far northwest corner of the building and then winking out. The back side, the near side, was in full shadow now. But she could still make out what at first looked to be a furtive, lumbering Sasquatch.
“Who, or what, is that, Nickie?”
“I’m not sure, but I think it’s the nice cop. The young guy.”
“Oh my gawd – he’s carrying a body!”
They watched as Wilbur slid along the back of the building and carefully looked out over the darkening meadow. In a moment he made a run for the Enron cabin and disappeared inside. Nickie and Jane waited and watched. Nickie trained the binoculars on the door but could not see anything. The cop, as far as she could tell, didn’t come out. They looked back up the deer track the way they had come and the whole hillside was now in shadow. This was nuts! Neither of them had a flashlight and the light was almost gone.
Nickie and Jane kept close together now as they inched their way down the path which left the trees and skirted the near end of the retreat center. Slowly their eyes got used to the gloom and they finally found their way down to the beach, a hundred yards from where they had seen the helicopter come down. Suddenly, Nickie turned around and started scrambling back up the bank.
“Where are you going?” Jane hissed.
“Shhh. If we go along the grass up there, we can enter the forest just about where we saw those men moving the boxes.”
“Nickie, don’t go. Once you’re in the forest you won’t be able to see a thing. Why not just let the police handle it?”
No sound or any reply from her friend.
Jane started down the pebbled beach following in the same general direction Nickie had gone. The pebbles made a little crunching sound under her shoes which worried her. She stopped for a second to take the shoes off and then she heard it, the snuffling sound of the German Shepherd, nosing along the water line behind her. The animal terrified her. She couldn’t imagine an escape. Could a dog follow scent in water? She had no idea. She knew nothing about dogs.
“Breathe, Janie. Breathe. Think.” Trying to master a calm she couldn’t imagine feeling, she carefully side-stepped into the chilly water. Then another step. Cold but not very deep. She pushed forward towards the sandstone rocks below the forest. “Nickie, Nickie,” she called in a stage-whisper but her voice disappeared into the night air. There was no sound from her friend, only the lapping of the tiny waves and the ever-closer snuffling of the dog.
Jane reached the rock and worked to get into deeper water, as far from the dog as possible. There were huge madrona branches, twisting and dipping down from the top of the sandstone outcrop towards the water. Jane worked her way carefully in behind them. She could see Terence coming down the beach now, softly whistling to the dog and slowly sweeping the beach with his flashlight.
She forced herself to imagine the lovely, reflexive Muay Thai moves she could use to take out that muscle-bound man. Who was she kidding? She’d be playing Fay Wray to his King Kong in half a second. “Breathe, Janie, Breathe”. She stepped sideways along the rock very slowly – up to her thighs now. She was very cold. “Breathe!”
Then she noticed that Terence had stopped. She had heard something and, apparently, so had he. Voices. Talking softly and furtively. A little nervous laugh. Then anger. A couple of men and at least one woman. They were in the forest above the beach. The woman Janie had heard was definitely Nickie.
by Kate Miller
Back in the Bobbitt, Sandy and Mike had finished their repast of a multitude of foie gras and sat back to contemplate their next move. “Time to attempt to call home, E.T.”, Mike said, wiping the last smudge of pate from his newly sprouted beard. “The work of W.W.T.C.H must continue.”
Sandy in particular was proud of the organization’s name, a revival of W.I.T.C.H., a radical feminist offshoot from Second Wave feminism, originally “Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell”, transformed for today’s world into “Women (and people of all genders, members of this organization spanned the gender spectrum” Will not be Trumped by Capitalist Hedonism”. Terrorism had new meanings in today’s world but the 1% were just as dangerous as ever. It was true that Mike had made enough money to raise himself and his sisters and their cohort above the 99% but money spent for the good of all had to make a difference, didn’t it? Changing the world one elimination at a time.
Headquarters was located in a Greenwich Village high-end Condo, a stone’s throw from the national monument for Gay Rights in Christopher Park. Time zones presented a slight problem as it was well past midnight in NYC. Mike and Sandy’s third sibling, Trish, was a true night owl and would surely be awake, awaiting their routine check-in.
Sandy pulled off her shoes, lifted the false orthotic out of the right Doc Martin and lifted out her back-up iPhone. “You know, Mike, it’s true that Patch is off our hit-list, but because we never even got close to him, we failed to retrieve the talisman, the precious goddess figurine that Patch was supposed to always have somewhere on his body. The “Sister”hood will not be happy about this.”
“Not much we can do about that now, Sandy,” Mike sighed. “We need to get off the island and re-group. Let’s get Trish to send a helicopter and get down to the beach before sunrise, sister mine.” He grabbed his camouflage coat, pack, and infrared flashlight and headed out the cabin door.
Wow, thought Sandy, Mike had really beefed up since he started on “T” and his voce had dropped quite a bit. She snatched up her own stuff and hurried out the door and down the hill after her brother.
Dorothy leaned back from her computer screen, stretched up her arms and yawned. So much had happened since the morning and now all seemed hopeless. She had so many unanswered questions. Who was the stabbed man if not Patch and how had she managed to miss identifying the imposter? How had Leon managed to escape certain death and where was he now? Who hit Vaughn over the head and dragged him into the forest, hooded in a flour sack? More importantly, how had Vaughn known that the body wasn’t Patch? Was Vaughn lying to her?
Had he even found out about W.W.T.C.H and the “Sister”hood. She was also pretty sure no one would have guessed that she knew Sandy and Mike, even though she hadn’t known that Mike transitioned since she had seen him last. Of course, no one would ever suspect that a man as stoic and built as Terence would belong to W.W.T.C.H! Now that she thought about it, Vaughn had seemed off somehow, almost cagey, even with the duck-egg sized bump to the back of his head and, presumably, his travails in the woods. Dorothy stood and peeked out the door of her office. The door to the security office was shut, she could hear the Viola Stone’s voice clearly and possibly the Indian man, what was his name? Could she sneak out and find the others? Sandstone Point, the circle of Madrone trees above the beach, was their agreed upon meeting place should something go awry.
Terence stood silently on the beach below Sandstone Point, head cocked like a well-trained bird dog. Truck had been snuffling along the tideline but stopped now as well, glancing back over his shoulder at his owner. Terrence thought he heard sloshing offshore, but now he was sure he heard voices up on the point as well. Which way to go! He tilted his head this way and that, scratching his greying crewcut with one hand, listening acutely.
He knew people thought of him as stupid, just muscle and brawn, they saw his sheer size and, coupled with his occupation, thought they knew him, an uneducated knucklehead without feelings or aspirations. No one on the island would have guessed that his passion was baking fantastical (and delicious) French pastries in his spare time. His sister had known, she had actually taught him how to cook his first flaky buttery crème-filled delicacy.
He had a sister once, an older adored sister, years ago when he was still a cadet in the military boarding school his father had sent him to after his mother had died. Carole was his confidant, his protector against his father’s rages, his role model, his friend when the other kids teased him because he had one blue eye and one almost brown.
Carole married while he was still in high school and Terrence did not get to see much of her after that. Her husband Roy kept her close to home, and by the time he enlisted in the Navy, Carole had three boys under ten. Terrence and Carole texted all the time. He sensed that there were things she was not telling him, and that she was depressed. He was surprised then when Roy allowed Carole to invite him over for Thanksgiving when he was on leave.
The boys had been a bit wary of him, never having met him. Just kids, they were impressed by his uniform though and ended up having a ball with their uncle. Roy was cordial but standoffish and Carole seemed subdued. She had some nasty looking bruises on her upper arm that she brushed off, saying she had a tussle with the kitchen door the other night.
A month later Carole was dead, drowned herself in the tub the coroner said. Roy moved the boys to Ohio to be closer to his parents and that was that. Terrence knew in his heart Carole would never do that, leave her kids, hell, and leave him too. He was no dummy, he saw his fellow officers put down female officers and recruits, the way they talked about them, so disrespectful. Yet, he was still young then and had to be gruff, put on his meticulously created tough veneer.
Jane pushed herself a bit farther offshore though she could feel the tide tugging at her, pulling her away from the beach. The damn dog was persistent! She kept nosing after her, making sinister snuffling noises through his very large snout. Then the dog raised her head and looked right at her. Wagging her tail in big circles, Truck entered the waves and swam straight toward Jane, letting out quite undignified yips of excitement. Jane stepped away from the dog, losing her footing on seaweed slick rocks, falling all the way into the freezing Sound. The water was so frigid she could barely breathe but she fought herself back to the surface. When her head crested the waves, she took a deep breath and yelled “Help, help,” like some shipwrecked ninny from a Disney film. Which was more terrifying, the pull of the outgoing tide, the encroaching darkness, or the sounds of the hound paddling through the waves, Jane wondered. Hey, I never signed up for a vacation this perilous. Nevertheless, she thrashed and yelled like any fair maiden in distress and hoped for a better end than merely dog meat.
Truck loved the sea, she know how to swim and she was strong. She also knew what to do when people fell into the water. She swam steadily toward Jane, braving each cold slap of water and keeping her massive head high.
Terence heard Jane’s shouts and Truck’s barks from under the cliff and swung into action, tearing over the rough rocky shore in the direction of the commotion, the beam from his flashlight swinging left and right ahead of him. He reached the edge of the water just as Truck reached Jane. The dog crooked his right paw and arm over Jane’s left arm as her trashing had slowed considerably in the frigid waters of the Northwest. Truck turned back toward land, tugging the limp wet Jane as she swam.
Terence’s flashlight beam caught the dog and girl and he whistled to encourage her, “Good girl, Truck, keep coming now, what a good girl.” He waded into the water to meet them as Truck dragged Jane onto the shore. Jane was sputtering and inelegantly swearing, Truck dancing around him doing her best dog shake steps. Terrence reached down to pull Jane up but she pushed him away and got to her feet, shivering from head to toe. He took off his heavy wool Navy jacket, which Jane grudgingly accepted. “What the hell were you doing in the water?”
“I was trying to find Nickie” Jane stuttered through her chills, “We heard a helicopter taking off from the point. Next thing I knew Nickie went tearing off down the hill like her usual “bat out of hell” self before I could catch up. It looked like several men where loading stuff into the copter, they seemed to be dragging another person with them as well. I got down as far as the beach but your dog was coming after me so I went into the water to throw her off my scent. Then I thought I heard voices from on top of the cliff above me, one or maybe two deeper voices and at least two women. One of them sounded like Nickie. Then I slipped and you know the rest. How did you teach your dog to do water rescue anyway?”
“It’s a long story and I can tell it to you while you get dry clothes on and some hot chocolate into you, Jane, let’s go back to your cabin. I am sure Nickie is fine. You’re bound to catch pneumonia if you don’t dry off.” Terrence offered Jane his arm and this time she took it gratefully. “I heard voices up on the point, too, and I will come back and check it out after we get you dry, I can’t hear them anymore after all the racket we made!”
At the sound of splashing and barking and, finally, Jane yelling, the small group of people on the hill above moved between some rocks and lowered their voices. “That’s Truck barking, I think that Terrence must be down below with Jane,” Dorothy whispered. “She doesn’t know anything about what’s going on, does she, Nickie?”
“Not that I know,” Nickie said, “I’ve been really careful what I do tell her.”
“Well, what do we do now?” Sandy asked. “We were sure Leon Patch was history, a blow against global capitalism and patriarchy at the same time! Mike and I did not get down here in time to see whom or what those men were loading into the helicopter, as it was already too dark. We thought we could get off the island as well, but headquarters told us no, we weren’t finished here, that they had heard through a source that Patch was still alive, God knows how! At this point, I don’t even know who else is on the island. Harrimen is too old to be dragging stuff around and Mr. Gupta seems totally on his own.”
“Well, you are right about Patch, how someone found a body double is beyond me.” Dorothy leaned closer to Mike and Sandy. “And I’m not so sure Vaughn is such a good distraction at this point; he seems shifty to me, like something has changed. Instinct tells me not to trust him anymore but I don’t know how to through him off the track. Any ideas?”
As they talked, they moved further into the bushes. “Ooooch!” Mike yelped as he tripped over a log and disappeared down a short slope. “Hey, there’s an opening down here, looks like the entrance to a cave” he called from below.
by Seán Dwyer
Sometimes I just want to score a nuke and drop it on this island and stop the petty machinations that happen here, Otto thought. He could do it, too, with so many contacts in Belarus and Kazakhstan who knew that the former SSRs had kept back a warhead or two when they shipped the rest back to Russia in the mid-1990s.
But now he was glad he’d never asked Bekzat or Ivan to arrange delivery, because Leon was going to update his will in exchange for ten million dollars and yet another new identity, this time to be lived in Cabo, probably at Villa Miramar. Otto would choose his new name and receive his billions. Maybe he would rename him Sydney. Which of them deserved to live on, Leon or Sid?
Thor was flying the chopper to St. Joe’s helipad in Bellingham, and Leon would be admitted to the hospital as Sydney Bugerbut. Otto might let Leon change his last name, but he couldn’t help himself when he told dispatch who was in transport to the hospital. Attempted suicide, needed a guard, very wealthy and influential patient who would donate mucho bucks when his head cleared. Dollar signs always greased the skids, anywhere in the world.
If he weren’t going to enjoy his hard-earned billions, maybe Otto would have gotten his hacker friends to talk the leader of the American regime into pushing the button and sterilizing this whole God-forsaken planet. But here he was, permanently insulated from the lunacy of life in these United States. He could even get every speeding ticket he received fixed. Everyone had a price.
Land the chopper, get the will signed, and take off again with Leon’s precious antiquities. Rumor had it that Leon carried an Astarte with him to keep him ready to philander, but he wasn’t carrying it when Thor and Otto hauled him, chloroformed, to the cave. Did one Astarte matter, when Otto had all of Leon’s other ill-gotten artifacts from ancient cultures at his disposal? Otto’s eyes widened. Disposal? Maybe he should smash the items, one after another, while Leon lay gagged and jacketed in the chopper. But no. Otto’s one self-redeeming act would be to turn over his “inherited” museum pieces to the government.
Now, his priority was to keep everyone on Santos from figuring out where Leon was. Otto found himself in the unexpected role of being the only person on that island who didn’t want Leon dead. Harriman was jealous because Leon had nailed his wife. Francesca probably hated Leon for . . . being Leon. Otto wasn’t sure what that Nickie had on him, but he knew Jane wasn’t a threat. Sandy and the dude with the teenage voice? Maybe they were really cooking students. Mike wasn’t on the dark Web, so he may have retired for real after his years as a geek.
Gupta, now, Otto knew he had plenty of reasons to want Leon gone. Rip off a powerful shipper to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars? Leon could have sealed his fate right there.
Thor brought Otto back to the present when he began the descent toward St. Joe Hospital. Good old Thor, perhaps Otto’s second-best friend ever. Thor had lain in wait for the chef to do what Otto had paid him $100K to do, knife Sid and cut a #metoo into his torso to deflect blame. Thor then suffocated the greedy Scot in a flour sack. That maneuver closed the loop that ensured a peaceful death for Sid and, ironically, a cushy life for Leon.
As long as no one from Santos figured out where Leon was, that is.
When Vaughan escaped the clutches of the all-too-intelligent Captain Stone, he ran smack into his nermesis with benefits, Dot. He had tap-danced around the truth so energetically in Terence’s office that it would be a great relief to tell someone the truth.
“How did that go?” Dorothy asked in a whisper.
“Let’s get away from here before she snags you next.” He trotted down the steps, thumping loudly, and Dorothy tiptoed behind him. He nearly ran to Dorothy’s office, and she closed the door behind her. When she locked it, Vaughan put his arms on her shoulders. “I didn’t kill whoever was in the walk-in.”
“What?” She leaned against the wall, so she wouldn’t fall over. “You said the dead man wasn’t Leon. How would you know if you didn’t stab him?”
“Have you never looked closely at him? Once at Gavroche, he was underdressed in his gauche way, and I saw a big mole, a raisin like the one Aaron Neville has on his forehead, just under his collar bone. After . . . after he was dropped off, I opened his shirt so I could stab him, and the mole wasn’t there. I looked for a scar in case he’d had it removed, like Aaron Neville should, but nope. It wasn’t Leon’s body. So I hightailed it out of the walk-in and stepped outside to clear my head before class. And then someone coshed me. You say it wasn’t you.” His eyes narrowed as he tried to penetrate her mind with his gaze.
“I say I didn’t do it? Would I lie to you? I was waiting for you to come in and teach the 1% how not to chop off their fingers. If they ever had to cook instead of depending on their help, that is. Hell, we should have started with ‘Use of the Can Opener.’ I waited for you, and finally Rémi came and took me to the body.” They stared at each other. “Did that little French fucker do it?” Dorothy asked.
“Did he have time? I was gone. Unconscious by then, probably.”
Dorothy rubbed her face with both hands. “There was flour on the floor, no footprints. I didn’t see any flour on Rémi. I messed up the crime scene because I thought you had stabbed Leon. Ruined my first of two suits for the day. I mean, what the hell?”
“Leon can buy you new suits, since he’s not dead. I guess he’s not dead. Did any of my students sneak out of the room and cosh me? They could be part of a Leon-killing tag-team.”
“All I know is, I didn’t kill the faux Leon, and I didn’t cosh you.” She stepped up to him and ran her fingernails down his chest. “You believe me, right?”
“Does that matter right now?” He leaned forward and kissed her.
Officer Ortega, the pilot of the four-officer CSI boat, was getting tired of the prospect of sitting up all night with his three comrades in a cabin named Black Tuesday. Or was it Black Friday? He wasn’t sure he trusted Sergeant Jones to secure the scene, but none of them wanted to stand guard in his place.
It was already bad enough that they were going to get a good chewing-out in town. Everyone but Miss Scotland Yard, of course. Step into a walk-in cooler and see utter chaos: flour, blood, and veggies mixed like a stir-fry prep, the deceased tampered with, how could anyone expect them to make sense of that scene? And yet, everyone would, especially a goddam jury that did nothing but watch procedurals on network TV.
Jo-Ann Hanson, reading his mind, asked him, “Should we take turns giving Jonesy a break from guard duty?”
Redheads were all psychic, weren’t they? “Yeah, I think so. He has other things to do anyway, yeah?”
She wagged a finger at him. “Good point. He was here first with Captain Stone, and I suspect she would like to have him back for gofer duty.”
They left Ostman and Kalpakian to their heated Words with Friends game and stepped out of Black Tuesday. Ortega was glad to be on his feet again, leaving the sitting to others. Jo-Ann lit the way with her whack-a-mole flashlight. To kill time, he asked her his favorite question.
“Hey Jo, did you know Mike Nesmith wrote a song about you?”
She shone the flashlight in his eyes, making him stumble. “Are you going to keep that joke going until I kill you? You know the name is spelled differently on the song. J-O-A-N-N-E.”
Ortega covered his eyes with his hands and laughed. He was still laughing when they entered the kitchen and opened the cooler, the best place to keep the body until dawn. Then he stopped laughing, because they had a whole new crime scene to investigate.
“Where’s Patch?” Jo-Ann asked.
“I dunno, but I think Ostman and Kalpakian are ultimately to blame for this mess, don’t you?”
“Well, let’s see if we can pull all four of us out of this situation. What do you see?”
Ortega squatted before the door to the walk-in. The corpse had been dragged, rather than carried, through the flour-blood-broccoli mixture on the floor of the cooler. At his feet there was a small end moraine comprised of julienned carrots, bell peppers, and baby corn. He looked straight down and realized that he and Jo had walked through the new crime scene themselves. The dragged flour led away from the door in a pink trail. Off to one side or the other of the flour trail he could see pinkish pawprints. He pulled out his own light and aimed it at the prints.
“What’s this? Coon? Bear?”
Jo-Ann groaned. “I don’t think we have to get so esoteric. I think it’s a plain old dog. German shepherd is my guess, or as Captain Stone would say, Alsatian.”
“You gotta be kidding me. Terence’s dog? I thought he was smarter than that.”
“She. Truck is a bitch.”
“No kidding, But I meant Terence. How could he let his dog in here, especially if he knew she could open the walk-in door?”
“Wellll, maybe she had help.”
“I guess so. We need the Words with Friends gang. But I vote for radio silence so they don’t hear us back in the County.”
They did their best to avoid the mess on the floor, especially the pawprints. They both kept their lights on for the trip back to Black Tuesday. Jo-Ann swept the entire hillside with hers, and it paid off.
“There you go!” she exclaimed. “A shoe.” Ortega followed her beam and saw a man’s dress shoe on a trajectory that led to the forest. “Run ahead for O & K,” she said, and I’ll stay with the shoe. We can sweep the area.”
Ortega trotted toward the cabin, wondering if it was really a good idea to leave anyone, armed or not, alone on this island tonight.
by Barbara Clarke
Viola Stone, standing on the lawn and in need of fresh air, felt every inch her name. She had been played like a viola and wondered if she could be a little bit stoned. Declining Dorothy’s first tea offer, No. 1 Ladies’ Red Bush, she had settled on Thai High Mountain oolong. She wanted something good and strong to get her through the day and into the night. Now she wondered if maybe Dorothy had slipped a few drops of CBD into the heavily sweetened black brew she’d gulped down and proffered a grateful “yes” when Dorothy offered to replenish her cup.
This was no time to be muzzy. She couldn’t clear her head and hoped a minute or two outside would help. She took out her phone and called Sergeant Jones. Where the hell was the little twit? She needed some answers and quick since she was due to report her findings to her boss soon. But, after Chef McKendrick left she was less sure about anything and was beginning to question her own ability to tell fact from fiction.
Let’s review, she said to herself, heading toward the guest cabins while she waited impatiently for Jones to respond.
“Unfucking believable,” she said into the breeze that had picked up since the last time she’d been out of one bloody glass enclosure or another.
Standing at the Bobbitt cabin door, she could see that it hadn’t been completely closed and yielded to her firm knock. Stepping inside, she took a quick look around since she had a funny feeling about the brother/sister act from the get-go. She’d been on the special “trans team” last year and thought she heard similarities in Mike’s varying voice or would it have been Mikela? She hoped it wasn’t that name. Viola had named her cat Mikela. Before she named the stray kitten, she had checked on the Internet. Mikela popped up first in the Urban Dictionary and meant a “loveable kind-hearted person who is always finding something funny, usually found nibbling on junk food or drinking water.” That was her Mikela alright—she loved corn chips and preferred her drinks from the faucet in the bathroom.
After Dorothy showed her the guests’ request for food and she saw that Mike and Sandy had listed all things liver on their preferences, she wasn’t surprised to see the remains of their repast. God, it smelled terrible on her empty stomach. She didn’t have time to read through the papers that they’d left out, and so tucked them into her case and left.
The door of the Fountainhead, aka Nickie and Jane, was standing wide open. She couldn’t imagine that frightened little bird of a woman, Jane, would be up to anything except standing in the shadow of her busty pal Nickie. Now Nickie, she was a piece of work, and didn’t fool Viola for a minute with that bra of hers. Hell, she’d have opted for one herself when she was undercover except she wasn’t present when Mother Nature had dished out big boobs. But then, judging by the generous round, firm orbs Francesca had, Mother Nature didn’t always do the dispensing.
As for Nickie, she could imagine her shagging someone, maybe even trying to lure Mr. Gupta into a quick one if she were truly desperate or bored. The only things strewn about in the Fountainhead were wet towels and crumpled clothes, like teenagers at camp when mummy wasn’t there to pick up after them.
She’d check on Enron last since Jones had already clued her in on the mushroom escapade. Robert Harriman was everything she despised about men with way too much money and trophy wives. They were always making deals, skirting the law, hiding their wealth in Switzerland or on some island. She had jumped at the chance to visit the Pacific Northwest but now the only island she wanted to be on was her own—the Isle of Wight where she grew up. Not this fake fiefdom of fabulousity. Where the hell was Jones? After she checked on Gupta, a well-kept secret—her boss from the Yard—she’d see to Enron herself.
Before she could knock on Gupta’s cabin door, her fist in mid-air, he yanked the door open. “My god, Meghnad. What happened? Are you okay?”
* * *
Meanwhile, at St. Joe’s the ER team on duty met the helicopter, ducking under the whirring blades. Doctor William Carlos and Nurse Red Williams shared how they would never get used to the thought of being sliced and diced if they weren’t careful in the rush to unload a victim.
Doctor Bill, as he was known, glanced over at his favorite nurse Vanessa, who was nicknamed Red due to her wild cherry-colored hair, and wondered why she had to wear that pussy hat out on the pad. Admittedly, with the wind under the blades worthy of a small-craft warning, if you didn’t want hair blowing in your eyes, you needed something. It was a mild point of contention between them. Red knew that Doctor Bill’s wife and daughter had each knitted a hat for the march in Seattle. He had gone in solidarity but wore his Seahawks cap, which is what he was wearing now.
The motley crew on board the copter clearly didn’t know what the hell they were doing, practically pushing the guy into their arms, and made offloading the mental patient rougher than usual. One guy, whom Red thought must be the leader since he was well-dressed and didn’t look like the other thugs, tagged along just behind the gurney. He said his name was Otto and was grateful that they had been permitted to land.
“I’m not sure what happened,” he offered when the automatic doors closed behind them.
When they got the man into the ER bay and pulled the curtains, Red undid the ties and slowly released his arms. As she gently tugged the wrapper to release him, ready to duck if there was trouble, a small bronze figurine fell out of his clutched fist. She recognized it right away—Aspartame—the goddess of falsity and delusion. Her husband was a Greek scholar and taught at the university. He had little statues and pictures of gods and goddesses plastered all over his office and more in their home. It was perfect that this totem’s name would grace the ubiquitous little blue packages. How people could ignore the health warnings and sprinkle the toxic crystals into their food and drinks escaped her.
Red glanced up as Doc Bill entered the area and exchanged a wtf look with him. There was nothing quite real about the whole event including the lead thug, Thor, with a tattoo of the devil on his forehead. What, she thought, a Charlie Manson wannabe? Too late if that was his idol since Chaz was hopefully breathing his last somewhere in California, land of the giant high-class abusers of women.
Red couldn’t stop following the #Metoo saga that had shattered the national worship of all things Hollywood. She thought it might be much shorter, less mucking about on Twitter if a #Notme meme would get launched. She couldn’t remember a time in her life when she hadn’t been grabbed by some low-life dude and later by several esteemed doctors. She suspected that plenty of nurses in the break room at the hospital had a story to tell if they were brave enough to share it and could be guaranteed that it wouldn’t cost them their job.
“Hey, Red,” are you with me here? This guy needs our full attention. So much depends—”
“Yeah, yeah . . . on the first five minutes.” Red felt bad cutting him off and smiled. There was something fishy about the whole scenario that distracted her. Starting with the tiny goddess and getting a look at the gruesome-twosome who had offloaded this rumpled man into their competent hands. Was he really a nutcase or just so lost in the magic kingdom of drugs that he wasn’t tracking when she shined the light into his eyes? When she took his chart and saw his name, she felt a guffaw escape. God, if I were a man with a name like Bugerbut I’d have changed it asap. His adolescence must have been a living hell.
“So, talk to me Sidney,” Doctor Carlos said, bending over the patient who looked to be coming around. At least his eyes were tracking a little more than they were when they put him on the gurney.
“He doesn’t talk much,” Otto had been standing on the other side of the curtain and stepped into the area, pulling the curtain closed again. “He’s been like a brother to me. We were in the middle of signing the papers to settle the estate of my late father who treated him like a son when he flipped out. I think grief simply overtook him. What, Sidney?” Otto leaned in closer to hear the “new” Sidney whisper something. “You want to finish signing your part of the settlement. You see, Doc. He’s better now.”
“Well, Mr. . . . I didn’t catch your last name. If he was in bad enough shape to use our helipad, he needs to stay awhile so that we can observe him. We have vitals to check and maybe a few tests before we can we talk about springing Sidney here from our loving hands. It’s the law and a matter of hospital records. One thing I will say though, that’s some copter you’ve got. I haven’t seen one that fancy since I worked in L.A. When things settle down here, I’d love to go and have look inside.”
Otto manufactured one of his graciously fake smiles and stopped short of nodding his head yes. Over my dead body or maybe Leon’s will that be happening. He would feign the need for coffee and hurry out to let Thor know he needed to leave quickly and fly the copter to their spot at the private part of the local airport. He and Leon could come to the airport by taxi as soon as two things happened: Leon signed the papers and he was good-to-go. No sign, no go. Otto never left home without his Master Card and a Plan B.
by Victoria Doerper
Raven jerked awake. A bad dream. He’d settled down to roost in a tall ancient cedar that evening after the endlessly hovering sun had finally headed toward the horizon. The black shawl of cedar fronds in the roost usually calmed him. But he was still annoyed; no, he was still incensed by the memory of that flour-headed fistula of humanity, the one who had sneezed himself against a cedar trunk and knocked down Raven’s branch. That flailing dusty white fool then managed to turn his bland “sorry” into an insult by referring to Raven as “Crow”. Stupid human. But most humans had a hard time telling the difference between things that looked alike. The original people never made that mistake. They revered the First Raven. He was, after all, the Creator of the World. First Raven had brought humans into the world in the very beginning. He’d found the strange little beings cowering inside a giant clamshell on the beach. And though First Raven had just created his sparkling new world, he was already a little bored with it. Why not coax these creatures out of their shell? First Raven liked playing tricks, and these wobbly little humans might be great fun. So he alternately sweet-talked and threatened, and eventually the humans crawled out of the clamshell onto the sweet sandy shore.
That had been ages ago, according to the elders, who whispered stories that filled many a long night in the roost. They laughed at the joy early Ravens had found in divebombing the humans, stealing their salmon and geoduck, mimicking their voices, filching from their paltry little collections of shells and twigs and strands of cedar bark. But soon after the earliest days of creation, the fun had vanished. Even First Raven realized he should have snapped that original clamshell shut and buried it deep in the sand.
Raven of the modern world tried to take the human insults in stride, but things were getting worse and worse on his island. Sharp metal slabs stabbed walls into the earth, suspending killer panes of glass, and giant mechanical birds disgorged humans holding little explosive objects that could kill or break wings. Even the food caches were locked up tight. Raven was sick of the sight of humans. When he’d discovered one or two of them a few weeks ago in the cave near his favored pondering perch, he was angry. What were they doing in there? Wasn’t it enough to deface and destroy the earth above ground? One day he kept watch on the cave, and when the humans left, he strolled inside to take a look around. Boxes. Chairs. Soft mats on the floor. First he amused himself by leaving juicy droppings all over the mats. Later he started to play with the strange flat board sitting on a rock ledge. Hop, peck, pry, plop. Bits of shell-like fragments flew up, hit the damp ceiling, and ricocheted to the floor.
Raven visited the cave often. Sometimes he beaked up the bits he pried off the board and took them away. He dropped a few of them like mussels down onto the rocky shore. His mate complained of how uncomfortable their cushy nest had become with the shells he brought home. So he began to leave the shells on the cave floor, taking pleasure in hearing the humans yell when they returned to find their belongings disturbed again. The humans just didn’t seem to get the message. They kept bringing in new flat boards. But in the last few days, another human had come to the cave. That one never yelled. He lay in the corner and barely moved. Raven couldn’t figure it out. But now he didn’t care. It seemed that the humans had finally left the cave for good.
* * *
Dorothy, Sandy, and Nickie stared down into darkness.
“What!” shouted Sandy. “Mike, what did you say?”
“Mike, are you OK?”
“You’re scaring me! What’s happened? Are you hurt?” Sandy’s voice was increasing in volume and vehemence.
“Pipe down, Sandy,” cautioned Dorothy in her EMM voice, “or the whole island will hear you.”
“I wish Terence were here,” whispered Sandy.
Dorothy laid her hand on Sandy’s arm. “We don’t NEED another man right now,” she hissed, “we already HAVE a man complicating our lives. He’s down that slope somewhere.”
“How dare you,” Sandy whispered into Dorothy’s ear, “you know he’s just as committed to WWTCH as any woman.”
“Yes,” Dorothy breathed, “and I know “he” was once a “she”. Just look at what’s happened since that change. He’s less bright. More clumsy. More self-centered.”
“Shut up!” Sandy shouted.
Nickie strode between the two feuding females. “Look, ladies, I know you’re enjoying your little catfight here, but we’ve got to get moving. I’m going down the slope to find Mike.”
“We’ll all go,” Dorothy said firmly.
Carefully stepping at first, they ended up sliding their way down the slope.
“Hey,” whispered Nickie exuberantly, “I’m screeing!” She promptly lost her balance and landed on her backside.
All three of them arrived at the bottom of the slope on their bottoms.
“Damn, “said Dorothy, “now I’ve probably ruined another pair of pants.”
“Who cares about your damn pants. I need to find Mike.”
Sandy jumped when Mike’s voice came out of the darkness. “I’m right here,” he said, “and in the time you three spent dilly-dallying at the top of the slope, I’ve been exploring toward the back of this cave. There’s some really interesting stuff in here. Something strange has been going on. Let me show you.
“Hey, we can’t see a damn thing,” Sandy huffed, “you’re the one with the infrared flashlight. And you have my cell phone.”
“Cell phone? How’d you manage that?” asked Nickie.
“Pretty much the same way you managed to keep your gun on you. Concealed in a place no one would expect.”
Now it was Dorothy’s turn to focus on the job at hand.
“Mike, if you give us the cell phone we can turn on the flashlight and you can show us what you found.”
Mike lead the way into a far corner of the cave, past soft mats covered in bird poop and stray candy wrappers.
“Look at this,” Mike said, reaching down to the floor to pick up a small object that he held between his thumb and forefinger.
“It’s a “W,” said Dorothy.
“It’s an “M,” said Sandy.
“It’s from a computer keyboard,” said Nickie. “Why would a computer be in here?”
“Well, I’d bring a computer if I hid out in here,” Mike replied. “But I wouldn’t pry the keys off. There are more keys scattered around on the ground.”
“Hey,” said Nickie, “we should bag them up for evidence. Isn’t that what the cops do? Maybe they’ll help us figure out what happened to the still-living Leon. Anybody have a plastic bag?”
Dorothy reached in her pocket. “I always have a doggie doo-doo bag in case Terence misses one of his precious Truck’s little gifts. We can use that.”
Mike carefully picked up five keys that he found on the ground near the corner and placed them in the bag.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Mike said, “I found something else.” He reached in his pocket. “Take a look at this.”
Resting on Mike’s palm was a smooth little figurine.
“It looks some kind of phallic god,” said Sandy.
“It looks old,” said Nickie.
“Drop it in the doo-doo bag,” said Dorothy.
“Gawd,” said Nickie, “some weird shit has been going down in this cave.
* * *
Sergeant Jones’s face was red and his breathing ragged by the time he reached Enron and flopped Francesca down onto the king size bed. Geez, he said to himself, I thought I was in better shape than this. He sat down on the edge of the bed to catch his breath. Then he heard Robert retching in the bathroom. Sergeant Jones fought to contain the gag reflex that threatened to bring up what little contents were left in his own stomach.
“Wilbur, my hero,” cooed Francesca, rolling over toward Sergeant Jones, “thank you for coming to my rescue.” He blushed all the way to the roots of his auburn curls.
“All in the line of duty,” Sergeant Jones said shakily, knowing it wasn’t true.
“Well, more than that,” Francesca replied. She sat up with the sensuous grace of a cat, then slipped her arms around his chest. “You are a dear man to take pity on me.”
Sergeant Jones stiffened. This was not right. His mind and body wrestled with one another again, duty battling passion. This is not what an officer of the law does, he said to himself, and I am an officer of the law.
“Sweet Wilbur, please be a dear and check on Robert.”
Sergeant Jones inched over to the bathroom and rapped on the door. “Mr. Harriman, are you doing all right in there?”
“Go away,” Robert barked, “I’m fine. Just barfing up the toxic mushrooms that this despicable joint had laying around on a counter for unsuspecting guests.”
“Your wife is here. Let her know if you need anything.”
“Fat lot of good that will do,” Robert replied.
Sergeant Jones turned to Francesca. Duty had managed to pin passion to the ground. “Ma’am,” he said, “I hope you’re feeling better. We’ve got a missing body and a mystery to solve here, so I need to report in to my supervisor.”
“Oh Wilbur, don’t go.” Her voice was like velvet, but it might as well have been sandpaper to Sergeant Jones.
“Someone will check in on you both later,” he said as he walked to the door. “Make sure to stay in your cabin and you’ll be fine.”
Outside in the fresh air, Sergeant Jones took a deep breath. Now to face his supervisor. Just thinking about admitting what he had done made him deeply embarrassed. He looked down at his shoes, beseeching some advice from them. They gave no reply. But he spied a small bag on the ground next to the shoe cradling the littlest piggy of his right foot. Maybe this was a clue. He picked up the bag, soft suede with a silken tie. There was something rock-like inside. He would not look. That would be his penance. Maybe this bag held evidence that would shift the balance of his momentary disregard for duty. He dropped the bag in his jacket pocket and strode off to find Captain Stone.
by Frances Howard-Snyder II
Viola tapped her long fingers on Terence’s desk. This case was getting away from her. She hadn’t had a proper chance to interview any of the suspects properly yet. Where to start?
A soft knock interrupted her.
Terence Stump put his face around the door. “Excuse me, Captain Stone. I wondered if I could fetch a file from my cabinet?” His face showed no hint of resentment that he had to ask for permission.
She watched the way he moved, graceful for such a big man. “Why don’t you sit down for a brief interview, Mr. Stump. “
He sat straight-backed, legs apart, meeting her eye, not diminished in the least by the low chair.
She noticed his different colored eyes, that were appropriate somehow to his complexity. “Last time we were here together you mentioned a sister.”
He stiffened; his eyes narrowed.
She leaned forward across his desk. “I had a sister too.”
“Oh?” He cocked his head, opened his eyes wider, and swallowed. “What happened to her?”
“Nothing. She a patrician matron living in Haslemere in Surrey, living off her husband’s Harley Street salary, leading a group of Tory women, Theresa May wannabes. We meet once a year, at Christmas, and don’t have much to say to each other over the mince pies.”
Terence frowned. She’d caught his interest and then disappointed him.
“I also had a brother,” she added.
“What’s he? The junior member of parliament for Little Puddlington?”
“He was diagnosed with schizophrenia at seventeen, spent decades in and out of hospitals, and care homes, living rough a lot of the time.” She paused and sighed heavily, then stood and moved to the window. She pulled down one of the blinds. Not much to see. Over her shoulder, she said, “He was found dead of hypothermia in a squat in Oxford last year.”
“Schizophrenia’s a genetic disease,” he said tentatively, as if to say, sorry for your trouble, but why are you telling me this?
She turned back and returned to her chair. “Yes, but the onset of the disease is often triggered by trauma. I did some investigating after his death and found that his trauma happened in the fifth form at boarding school at St. Anselm’s.”
Terence’s brow creased. “What happened?”
She swallowed and put her hand over her face. “I can’t. Not yet.”
In the long silence that followed, Viola wondered why she had confided this much. He was the first person, the first non-essential person, with whom she had discussed this matter.
“My sister…” he started in a small voice. “Died too. Her death was ruled a suicide… but she wouldn’t do that, not to her boys, not to me. And she had bruises.”
He nodded. “One way or the other, yes.”
“You had it out with him?”
“He took off. I’ve no idea where. I’d like to find him but…”
Viola waited for him to continue. She felt for him. She shared his grief and guilt and impotence, and wanted to smooth away his pain. But she needed to keep her mind on her investigation. Every perfectly honed instinct in her body told her that this man was not the killer, but even perfectly honed instincts weren’t always perfectly accurate. “What do you know about Patch? Was he a womanizer? A sexual predator?”
Terence jerked himself away from his sad memories to his disgusted ones. “Of course. He came from a privileged background and every step up the ladder confirmed that sense of privilege. He was entitled to his wealth, he felt, since he’d earned it. And others owed him. And he was a man. I’ve seen a lot of men, rich and poor, with a sense that women owe them support and comfort and …” He pinked slightly, odd in such a tough fellow.
“So, he took what he believed he was entitled to? You’ve been with him a long time. You must have observed a lot of his … liaisons. I don’t suppose you could give me a list. Or do you perhaps know of connections between him and any of the guests?”
He nodded slowly. “He’s worked with Gupta before. I think perhaps there was some unpleasantness with Gupta’s daughter. And he knows Francesca and Robert. She’s a little old for it, but I can definitely see her as Patch’s type. And I suspect, from her barbed comments and his jealous glances, that they’re not an entirely happy couple.”
Stone’s mind was racing. Her head ached. She’d been awake for eighteen hours, hadn’t eaten in eight, and hadn’t had enough liquid. The pins holding her bun in place exacerbated the problem, pulling her hair, stabbing her skull. If she didn’t remove them, she was heading for a migraine. She tugged at them and her melted butter hair spilled out. She shook it off her face.
Terence gasped. Her hair had that effect on men. That’s why she mostly kept it tied back. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, his lips slightly parted, his pupils dilated. She knew that look, knew all of its potential costs and benefits. She also knew he wouldn’t try anything. Everything about him suggested discipline and respect. But the invitation was there. If they’d met in another time and place, she would have accepted. She wasn’t impervious to the charms of a hard jaw, flat abs and a chiseled chest– if they were accompanied by intelligence and kindness.
But in this time and place, she needed to keep her libido in check. Even a lingering gaze would be unprofessional. She snapped a few mental images (a photographic memory was good for something) to contemplate later. But her absolute priority at this moment was solving this case. If Terence let down his guard like a lovesick puppy and told her all his secrets and his master’s secrets, so much the better. “Any other guests have any association with Patch in the past?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know of any. But it doesn’t matter.”
“Why not? Why wouldn’t the victim’s past associations have a bearing on the crime?”
“They might well, but Patch is not the victim.”
How was this possible? Was he playing her? She’d seen photographs of Patch, and she’d seen the victim. They had been indistinguishable. “Why do you think this?”
“I overheard a couple of people talking about it.”
“And you believed them?” she asked incredulously.
He moved his shoulders side to side like a schoolboy in trouble. “Well… ordinarily I’d take the evidence of my senses over the random comments of a couple of strangers,” he said with a rueful laugh, “But this made sense of some things I’ve wondered about for a while.”
“Such as?” Stone stretched her long right leg to relieve the incipient cramp, and then stood and moved around Terence’s tiny office, noting the dog paraphernalia and the photos of Truck. Truck? Where the heck was Truck now?
“Well, Patch has occasionally appeared to be in two places at once. Nothing dramatic, nothing most people, even the press, would notice. But I’m paid to pay careful attention. Last October he was signing a contract in Manila at the same time I was watching him seduce a – barely legal – young woman on a yacht in the British Virgin Islands. Another time–”
“A body double?”
“So, he faked his own death? Is that what you’re thinking?”
“Possibly. Look. Don’t treat this second- or third-hand info as golden, but do investigate it. Do a DNA study on the body.”
“Does Patch have any close relatives whose DNA would be helpful.”
Terence scowled. “He has a brother, a lazy, good-for-nothing younger brother, Otto.”
“Good. I won’t be relying on his intellect or character, just a mouth swab. He’s probably good enough for that, yeah?”
They laughed together.
A sharp knock interrupted the moment. Wilbur put his head around the door. Viola looked at her watch. Where the Hell had he been? His auburn curls looked a little disarrayed. He surely hadn’t been engaged in a tryst of his own. She’d have to give him a severe warning about that. But then she noted him staring at her own hair and she recalled the tender glances that had passed between herself and Terence just minutes earlier, and she realized she wasn’t in much of a position to be casting stones. “Yes, Sergeant?” she said.
Wilbur glanced at Terence, who stood, bowed slightly, and excused himself. “I’ll be around. Here…” he scribbled a number on a scrap of paper. “You can reach me at this number if you need me.”
Need him? Why would she need him? What was he signaling to Sergeant Jones? But he was head of security on the island, familiar with every nook and cranny and all the employees. Of course, she could make use of his knowledge in the future. “Yes, thank you. You’ve been extremely helpful. I’d appreciate it if you could find Otto Patch and ask him to come in for an interview.”
He pushed past Jones almost without acknowledging him. Jones glanced after him, a little miffed and a little awed.
“You’ve been a while, Sergeant,” she said. “I hope your time was spent productively. What did you find out?”
“So many things, Captain.”
“Has the body been taken to the morgue yet? We’re going to need to do a careful DNA study to verify that it really is Patch.”
Wilbur shifted his weight from foot to foot. “Well, actually. I uh… The body has been moved but … not …”
Viola was exhausted. She’d like to get a couple of hours kip this night. She didn’t have time for pussyfooting. “Come on, Jones. Spit it out. What are you trying to say? I won’t bite.”
“The body appears to be missing, Ma’am.”
Good thing she’d promised not to bite. “God almighty! Are you fucking serious? I told you to post a guard over the body? How could this have happened?” She was the commanding officer. This royal cock-up was ultimately her responsibility. “We have to return to the scene immediately.” She retied her hair; no time to worry about headaches. “You were there? You saw the body missing?”
He gulped and nodded.
“You checked that the forensics team hadn’t removed it?”
They were outside now, striding through the cool dark.
“Did you see anything, anything at all, that might be give us a clue as to who took the body?”
“There were prints in the flour, Ma’am. I took a photo. See.”
She couldn’t really tell from the tiny screen.
“They looked like dog prints from a big dog, like that nasty bitch, Jeep, or whatever her name is.”
“Truck,” Viola murmured. No!
by Sky Hedman
Viola Stone felt that her recurring dream of order turning into chaos was being played out in real life. Just this morning (had it really only been nineteen hours ago?), she had awakened in a tangle of sheets, relieved that she was in her own bed and freed from this repetitive dream. Why did she keep dreaming of investigations that went awry, witnesses that disappeared and evidence that was lost?
It had been Viola’s choice to step back from her successful career as an international investigator, as well as the competitive, misogynistic climate of Scotland Yard. “That’s one climate that isn’t changing,” she thought. This backwoods assignment in the Northwest of the US seemed the perfect ticket to stepping away from all that stress. She had hoped she would be rewarded by an uptick in her mental health, some healing after her brother’s tragic end and what she had learned about his difficult life. Instead, she felt that the nightmare she had last night was nothing compared to the situation she faced on this never ending day.
A long walk would clear her head, she reminded herself. She would get clarity and a much needed focus by removing herself from the situation, and letting her thoughts wander.
“Wilbur, call headquarters and request a cadaver sniffing dog immediately,” she said. “When you’re finished, get yourself something to eat because we have a long night ahead of us.”
Wilbur looked relieved as he put his phone away. He had more to tell her, but the offer of a meal softened his focus on the missing body. He had seen some Cokes and a package of Nabs in the pantry. Who knows what else he could find to eat? A carton of ice cream would be just the thing. Wilbur hardly noticed when Viola reversed direction and headed once more towards the cabins.
Alone again, fresh air felt good. The sun had finally set and she experienced the remoteness of this island in the darkness that surrounded her. In the distance, she could see a security light at the visitor’s dock, and vaguely make out the wooden pier shifting in the current. A few of the cabins had lights on, although she noted that some of them did not. She checked her mental notes: Bobbitt was dark, meaning that Mike and Sandy were still not there. Fountainhead was also dark. Where were Jane and Nickie? Enron was lit up, so she assumed that Robert and Francesca were at home. She had been to see her boss in Watergate. She had left Meghnad resting, after realizing that his blood sugar was dangerously low. He had told her where to find some candy that he always carried, and he seemed to rally enough for her to leave him, with instructions to her staff to check on him in 20 minutes.
Through the windows of Black Tuesday she saw the flickering light of a TV. Were Ortega, Hanson, Ostman and Kalpakian, her security team, watching TV while she was trying to solve this murder? Was that really Saturday Night Live that she heard? Her headache intensified. She put her palm to her forehead and closed her eyes. This too shall pass, she reminded herself, a mantra that had helped her through many a dark moment.
Instinctively, her feet turned her away from the lights, towards the beach that lay below her in the direction of Patch’s house. She walked slowly, feeling for sand to keep her on the path. Reminding herself of the bad fall she had once taken trying to walk in the darkness, she pulled out the LED flashlight from her vest pocket, and flashed it on the path ahead. The gentle breeze and calm of the surroundings were a balm to her soul, drawing her into the darkness, away from the kaleidoscope of human activity that threatened to scramble her brain. She let down her hair. Closer now to the water, she came to a stop by a rock that was big enough to sit on, slanted on top but flat enough to be comfortable. Brushing off some sand, she sat down, relieved to find this perch. Was that a sea star? she asked herself. She aimed her flashlight at six purple legs which clung to the moist side of the rock. I need to stop and smell the roses more often, she told herself. She switched off the light, and let her eyes adjust to the darkness.
She had given orders for everyone to stay in their cabin. Where were the others? She ticked off the list: Dorothy, Vaughan, Remi, Grippon, Rosario, as well as the rest of the aspiring chefs. Mike, Sandy, Jane and Nickie? Who was this Otto, and what did he have to do with this case? Why were Truck’s footprints in the mess in the kitchen? Could Terence be trusted?
The moon was high above the water, lighting a zigzag of white that ended at the beach. The Pacific was new to her, having spent most of her life on both sides of the Atlantic. Here she was sheltered from the open ocean by the scattering of islands formed when the last glaciers receded. The moderate climate had appealed to her, thinking that perhaps people’s behavior would be similarly tamped down. “Subdued excitement…” Somewhere around here she had heard of a city with that motto. Maybe this was it. She was drawn to the moon’s designs on the water. It must be low tide, she thought, as she noticed the sand that stretched between the water’s lapping dance and the rocks. Driftwood adorned with seaweed stuck up from the sand, and someone had piled rocks on top of each other on the log to her left. A fruitless pastime, she thought. Who had that much free time, piling rocks that the next high tide would likely wash away, no matter how ancient and meaningful they appeared. How long before the high tide, she wondered.
She reached down and picked up a flat stone, tossing it with her strong arm out into the water, counting the skips. Three, she noted. I could do better. She reached in the darkness for another, searching around at her feet. Nothing round and flat. Just soft flesh. Soft, cold flesh. A hand.
* * *
Leon Patch wiggled his fingers and listened to the sounds around him. “Dr. Carlos, Dr. Carlos. Report to room 10,” he heard over a PA. There was beeping close by, and the sound of something inflating. He felt a squeeze on his bicep, increasing slowly. He wiggled his toes, relieved that they responded. With caution, he slowly opened his eyes. Everything was blurry, but he could tell that a white curtain hanging from the ceiling surrounded him. He tried to sit up, but the room around him began to swirl. He fell back into the bed, closing his eyes just as the nurse walked into the room.
“Mr. Buglebut…Mr. Buglebut, can you hear me?” He felt her hand on the palm of his hand. “Mr. Buglebut, if you can hear me, squeeze my finger.”
Leon lay still and tried to make sense of this moment. He was no longer in the cave. He had no memory of anything except…the roar of a helicopter. From his brief look, Leon surmised that Otto was not here, at least not at this moment. He made a decision. Leon opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling.
“Well, hello there, Mr. Buglebut,” he heard. A red haired woman with a stethoscope around her neck was bending over him. He felt her breasts press against his arm.
He blinked. The woman smiled at him, and waited.
“How are we doing?” she said.
Leon turned his head towards her.
“Mr. Buglebut, I’d like to ask you some questions. Squeeze my hand if you can hear me.”
Leon curled his fingers around her hand.
“Very good, Mr. Buglebut. You can let go now.” Leon wondered why she was calling him the nickname that he and Otto had given to their childhood pet beagle. He cautiously blinked again.
“Mr. Buglebut, you came into the hospital without your wallet. We will need your legal name and address, as well as your health insurance information. Now, am I correctly spelling your name?” she asked, and then proceeded to spell it out loud.
Leon shivered. He was cold. He was thirsty. He was mute.
The nurse looked at her watch. “Okaayyy. Perhaps we would do better in a few minutes. I’ll leave you here to wake up a little, and I’ll be back before the shift change.” She patted his shoulder and stood up.
“We’ll need your permission to draw some blood and perform some tests, Mr.B. I’ll give you a call button, and if you need anything before I come back, just push this button here,” she said, as she laid a beige contraption full of buttons on his chest.
He closed his eyes and listened as she left the room. His nostrils filled with the smell of disinfectant.
Under the thin white sheet, Leon felt his body. He was wearing nothing, although he could feel socks on his feet. Where was he? He listened, and heard snoring coming from beyond the white curtain. He willed himself to open his eyes again. The wall to his left was lined with glass fronted cabinets, stuffed with bandages and labeled bottles. A hospital, he realized. Where were his clothes? He closed his eyes while he sorted through this information. How thorough was their physical exam on him? Just then he heard the unctuous sound of an all too familiar voice out in the hallway.
“The helicopter? I’d be glad to show it to you, but…” It was Otto, all right, his kidnapper. Leon’s blood pressure surged. He looked around the room for a weapon. Where was Thor?
Leon couldn’t hear the rest of the sentence because of the announcement. “Dr. Carlos, 312, Dr. Carlos, 312.”
“Sounds like I’m needed.” The dismissive words came from a middle aged male. “Her contractions are still five minutes apart. Let’s have a look at the copter, then we can see about dispatching your friend here before the shift change.” The voices receded down the hall. “I wanted to fly helicopters but my father made me go to medical school…” was the last that Leon heard.
Leon’s head suddenly cleared. He tore off the Velcro on the blood pressure cuff and threw back the sheet, sending the call button device skidding across the floor. The machine at the head of his bed started beeping. As he sat up naked, he looked around for something to wear. On the bedside table lay a plastic bag that was cinched closed. The smell of a cave wafted out when he unloosed the bag. He pulled out the wrinkled, wet and dirty clothes: his green polo shirt, his black leather pants, and his crocodile moccasins. Still feeling light-headed, he dressed as quickly as he could manage, dropping the small moccasins to the floor, removing the yellow hospital socks with rubber skids on the bottom, and sliding his bare feet into his shoes. He shook the bag again, looking for one more thing. It was empty.
Leon stood up. He saw himself in the mirror over a sink in the room. His normally coiffed black hair was flat on one side and stood up in spikes on the other. He had three days growth of beard. When he took a few tentative steps, he realized how weak and hungry he was. Pulling back the white curtain, he hesitated in the wide doorway leading into a hallway. The EXIT sign pointed towards double doors.
It was an easy escape. Before Leon inched down the hall, the doors swung open into the waiting room, every chair filled with sick people. Leon almost fainted. He detested sick people, their coughs, their pajamas, their smells and their wheelchairs.
The sound of an idling diesel motor grew louder as the glass doors to the outside swung open. Three men in blue uniforms rolled a body on a stretcher into the lobby of the ER from the ambulance. Leon barely got out of their way as they rushed the stretcher down the hallway. Unnoticed, he walked out onto the sidewalk, momentarily stopping under the sign announcing “Emergency Room,” its red neon light reflecting on his pale skin. The parking lot was full of cars. Two young men were struggling up to the entrance supporting a slumped figure between them. He heard the sound of a helicopter gaining altitude over his head. His pockets were empty. He had no wallet, no ID, no cell phone, no Testosterone and no Astarte. Leon stepped into the shadows and contemplated his next move.
by Seán Dwyer
Everyone had been too preoccupied with missing people and corpses to check their weather apps. Under cover of the night, a massive wall of clouds swept in from the west, bringing gale-strength winds and warm but horizontal rain. Viola Stone called out for help with the body, but everyone who was outdoors had dashed for a cabin. No one would have dared approach the beach to carry up the human remains anyway.
* * *
Everyone sat and fidgeted for a couple of hours, except for Francesca, who tried to make the best of things and seduce Robert. He, however, was still miffed about her dalliance with Leon, and he turned his back on her and joined a Words with Friends game with a couple of cops he had just met. He planned to lose miserably so they would like him.
by Seán Dwyer
When the wind stopped pounding the western walls of the cabins on Santos, the cops ran from Black Tuesday to make up for lost time. Kalpakian, for one, had no idea if the body would still lie wherever it had lain before the storm struck. What if the still-fierce waves had washed the body into the water? The fish would suck out the eyeballs first. Leon would then need two patches, like the most badass dead pirate ever.
The rest of the crowd also emerged, and Kalpakian figured they were ravenous and would leave the cops alone for once. The Harrimans were still abed, and Kalpakian chuckled until Robert’s lousy Word with Friends response came through on the phone. Clearly, the Harrimans weren’t up to what Kalpakian suspected, unless Robert was a supreme multitasker.
by Laura Wiliams
Rosario was deep in the throes of empanada dough, contemplating her next move, when Remi came bursting back into the room. He had only left her alone for a few minutes while he went to pull the rest of the guests’ profiles, in hopes of keeping them all well fed. He had left Rosario to put on a pot of coffee but upon his return, the oven was on, the dough was made and she was feverishly working.
“Stress baking; mi mama taught me.”
“What could you possibly have to be stressed about?” he asked with a smile on his face. “Do any of the pretentious people in the cabins even like—-?”
He motioned at food with no understanding.
“Empanadas. It will soothe their souls, leave them in a food coma and we’ll find the killer.”
Doubtful, Remi thought, seeing as none of the guests with the exception of the Harrimans seemed to be in their cabins. But why any of them would leave unless they had something to do with the murder, was beyond him. Remi had long conditioned himself to think of the guests and the guests alone. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that none of them were trustworthy. He also realized maybe Dorothy wasn’t quite who she said she was either. He hadn’t been able to find her in hours. Was she still being interrogated or “playing” with the Chef?
Yet, never good at mystery games, he put those thoughts aside to help Rosario instead.
“When will they be ready? I can take them to the guests.”
“Twenty minutes. I made them with no mushrooms. Though it doesn’t sound like Francesca would mind another near fatal allergy attack for her husband.”
Remi glanced at her suspiciously. Sometimes the housekeeper seemed to know a few too many things for being simply the housekeeper, but he shrugged it off as she motioned for him to help scoop the beef into the already rolled out empanadas. Remi begrudgingly began to do as he was told.
Rosario, pretending to be deep into rolling out more empanadas, glanced down at her watch. She had seen Otto and Thor take off with Leon, Leon in a straightjacket, that is. Though there was no love lost between Rosario and the men, it still made her uncomfortable. The thing people did not seem to understand was that the housekeeper knew everything. She knew who was in the freezer, she knew who was sleeping with whom, who wasn’t who they said they were, and she knew Remi was oblivious, poor kid.
She continued to roll out her dough and watch as Remi haphazardly lobbed bits of beef onto the dough.
“Careful! Treat with care!” She scolded him.
Remi shot her a look but resentfully scooped slower.
Satisfied, she walked toward the window of the kitchen, pretending to take a stretch break. Instead, she nervously looked out onto the island and over the water. It was much too dark to see anything but she knew she should be able to see the lights from the helicopter when it returned. As soon as it did, she would alert the British police woman, and make the men tell everything. She didn’t care what kind of trouble it got her in. She knew who Leon and Otto were. Their rags-to-riches story was nothing short of a miracle, but a miracle they should have never been given.
“Done!” Remi said, breaking Rosario out of her thoughts.
She walked back over to the counter to show Remi the next step when her cell phone rang.
A number Rosario did not recognize.
Ordinarily the last thing she would do would answer a number she didn’t recognize but under the circumstances . . . “Hello?”
“Rosario, darling, I need you to send a helicopter for me. I will text you the number for the pilot. I am currently outside St. Joseph’s hospital in Bellingham. Do you understand?” A voice Rosario instantly knew as her sleazy employer.
She decided to play dumb.
“Who is this?”
“Who is this? Who do you think? Now just call the number and tell them where to get me.”
“I’m sorry, I cannot do that if I don’t know who this is.”
“It’s the man who signs your checks! Leon. I’m hanging up now and texting you the number.”
She could tell he wanted to click off. She had to keep him talking. She had to get to the police woman. Ignoring the confused look from Remi, she waved him to stay and began to walk out of the house and toward the guests’ facility.
“Señor Patch? This cannot be!”
“And why not?”
She had caught his attention.
“You are dead.”
“Clearly not, sweetheart. Now I’m hanging—“
Rosario interrupted him. He was getting too close to hanging up on her.
“Señor Patch, but everyone has seen you. You were found dead in the freezer this morning.”
“That is what everyone is saying.”
Rosario was getting closer. She began to break into a run. Not easy at her age, but she pushed herself. If she could just get close enough.
“Rosario, darling, you are much too gullible. I am alive and well and speaking with you now. Put Dorothy on the phone. She’ll do it.”
Rosario paused. She had no clue where Dorothy might be, and she told Señor Patch such. She could hear the frustration in his voice as she came closer and closer to the house. Unfortunately in the dusk, it took her time to adjust her eyes. She had taken a wrong turn and ended up by the water. In the faint dusky light, she could see an outline of someone else along the shore. Rosario began to pray that it was the Police Woman.
“But Señor Patch,” Rosario said, hoping to get the attention of the other person.
Luckily for Rosario, it worked. Leon continued to talk on the other end but the person who had been bending down at water’s edge, popped up and started to walk over towards her. For once in her life, Rosario felt like something was finally working in her favor. As Inspector Stone got closer, she nodded and handed the phone to the Inspector.
“Who is this?” Leon asked.
“I think the appropriate question, is who are you?”
“Put my housekeeper back on the line, right now!”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Patch. I’m afraid I cannot do that.” Inspector Stone said right before she heard a click and the line went dead.
Inspector Stone had forgotten about the housekeeper. The eyes and ears of the estate. She should have known. She was from the U.K., after all. She turned toward Rosario and confirmed her suspicions. The auspicious owner of the estate was indeed not stabbed in the chest with a knife. Knowing only raised more questions. She would need to get the Bellingham Police to find Leon, but in the meantime, she had the housekeeper right where she wanted her.
“Did you have anything to do with his escape?”
“No, Señora.” Rosario felt trapped. Did she tell the police woman all? Did she reveal what she knew of the men? “But Señora, I know their secrets. I know who they really are and what they are here for.”
Inspector Stone was intrigued. She would call Jones to come deal with the body in the water. Better not scare the housekeeper right away.
“Why don’t you come with me, Mrs. Vargas? I think it’s time we had a little chat.”
* * *
Stupid, stupid, woman! Leon thought as he shoved the phone back at the young teenager he had borrowed it from. The teen looked as if he hadn’t survived the five minutes the phone wasn’t in his hand. He let out a sigh of relief.
“Aren’t you going to say thank you? I let you use my phone.” the kid said.
Leon slowly turned toward him and said his thanks with a tight smile.
“Now get outta here!” Leon roared, perhaps a little too forcibly.
It did the trick and the kid took off at breakneck speed out of Leon’s sight.
No helicopter, stupid housekeeper, and that voice, he recognized that voice on the other line. He knew that voice. Leon let out a growl as if to shake the voice into existence. He needed to find the Astarte. He needed to get back on his island. He needed . . . he needed . . . he needed food.
He began to walk down the street, still in front of the hospital, trying to remember the layout of the town. It had been years since he actually set foot on these streets. Years since he had sought shelter here. Railroad Avenue? James Street? Those had to be close. Maybe he could con some young girl into paying for a meal. He could do that. A billionaire playboy doesn’t get there without some sort of flirtation ability. He should have conned the teen with the phone out of some cash when he had the chance.
The cars roared past him as he crossed the intersection, walking away from the hospital and onto the busier street. He looked down the road and recognized the Sunset area. He could see the cars coming on and off the freeway. James Street, he thought, that’s close. There had to be food places down the road. He could charm his way to a meal. With new resolution, he picked up his pace, beginning to come up with a plan.
Behind him, he heard the unwelcome sound of police sirens, but he continued. If everyone thought he was dead, there was no way they were coming for him.
A careful glance backwards proved him wrong.
He stopped in his tracks. He knew that voice. Anywhere, anytime. Viola Stone! Inspector of Scotland Yard. Of course! He let out a sigh of relief they had only spoken on the phone. But she wouldn’t have recognized him anyways. So changed since the last time they had crossed paths. Stupid housekeeper, he thought again as he took off into a run. He realized running was pointless, but as he dodged down a neighborhood street, he thought it might just give him a few more minutes to come up with a cover story.
by Eileen Byrne
Sergeant Jones knew he had screwed up. He was now in charge of babysitting the group that was left to gather after body #2 was discovered. It was a long night with the Pacific Northwest storm winds howling and scattering branches everywhere. He could observe from his spot from the corner window that much of any tracks left were now faded and only hinted at foot prints side by side. He watched the rest of his team taking photographs and taping off a large section of the beach.
In the main room where we had all gathered just 24 hours previously, the remaining “guests” and employees were not permitted to leave because a new crime scene was added to their nightmare island retreat. Each guest sitting with their own thoughts, agendas and suspicions acting out their role in an Agatha Christie meets Fantasy Island episode gone off the rails.
The only two that looked amused were Gupta and Francesca. Sergeant Jones could not figure these people out. He studied their faces for any traces of clues, but he seemed to be too distracted to focus. Robert was fuming and glaring at Francesca. Francesca was buffing her nails to a high sheen. Her nails almost sparkled as much as her huge diamond on her left hand. He had no idea about the sizes of diamonds but assumed it was way beyond his 2 months of salary. Dorothy actually had fallen asleep and was breathing loudly almost to the snoring point. Chef McK was defiant, sitting up straight with arms crossed. Left foot tapping. Remi and Rosario sat close behind Chef. Some wishing they had auditioned for Chopped instead of a job on the island.
Jane and Nikki still seemed an odd pair of friends, or perhaps they complemented each other the best. Jane had red, puffy eyes and was not talking. Nikki stared straight ahead, wide awake, and sat closer to Sandy than Jane. Sandy had tears streaming down her face. Mike was not present.
* * *
Otto was pacing the hallway that led right outside the waiting room to the ER. He could not sit still and kept playing this part of the plan in his mind over and over. He just needed Leon to be Sid and enjoy his new identity. Not that he and Leon really agreed to all the details but they both knew Leon Patch was a marked man. In exchange for “Sid” Leon was going to leave a sizable trust to Otto. Thor disliked pretty much everybody and kept watch in the helicopter. He felt the less he knew the less potential for trouble. Thor was not the famous character with the same name but much more a reasonable man.
Otto knew they would have to leave soon with a medical document about Sid Buglebut to help establish his identity. He also knew at some point a medical helicopter would arrive and need the pad they had landed on. Time was ticking by and pieces of the puzzle still needed to fall into place. Signatures were still required so Otto walked back to the room where “Sid” was left to ascertain his status.
The room was empty. The sheets were in disarray, so someone had been there. Where the hell did they move Leon….no, Sid. Otto needed to keep this straight. No missteps this late in the game.
“Nurse……Nurse……NURSE!” Otto was almost shouting. He had to take a breath to try and calm himself down. A nurse did pop her head in from around the corner.
“Are you ok, sir?”
“Well, no, I am looking for my friend, my brother ‘Sid.’ He was just put in this room. Where is the nurse with red hair?”
“I will let Vanessa know you are looking for her. Just have a seat, and she will be around in a few minutes.”
A few minutes? Otto kept pacing and looking around. His clothes were gone. Nothing was in here.
Vanessa stopped in the room and looked around, “HI there. We thought Mr. Buglebut was with you and checked himself out without signing any papers. Dr. Carlos needs to examine him, and we need a couple of tests done before we can discharge him. Can you please have your friend come back so we can do this right?”
Otto turned on his heel and ran towards the exit. Before doing so he grabbed a pair of car keys from a basket out of the employee’s lounge. He would make a plan with Thor then he would go in the parking lot for staff and click the lock button on the key until the matching car lit up for his use. By air, by land, by God they would find Leon and make sure he kept his end of the bargain. Only he knew the codes to sign off on that much money for the trust.
* * *
Captain Stone entered the room and once again took command with a sweeping of her hair and eyes. She made eye contact with each person before speaking.
“Well, ladies and gentlemen, here we go for round 2 of a body discovered. The first body is missing, might not be a murder after all, but this body most certainly is dead. Now all of you will be questioned separately, fingerprinted and DNA swabs taken. I am including each employee as well and anybody on this island during the last 48 hours. I want the missing men accounted for that left in the helicopter. In all my years and experience I have never had a body go missing and a murder happen on my watch. Nobody will leave this island until we all know the truth. We have obtained several clues, and we feel confident this will be solved and the perpetrators will be found. Yes plural. Some might be in more trouble than the others. That will be up to each of you. Now is the time to come forward in our private discussions. The more you help us, the more you help yourself.”
Viola wanted to split the tribes and create chaos between the guests. She also did not want them to know Leon was alive and well. When a person considers time behind bars, they somehow experience epiphanies and revelations. They will go after one another to save themselves. She was over the attitudes and medical emergencies each seemed to experience that were just distracting for her team. She knew a few of the parties had motive and tied in together.
“I will call each person one by one. You will first stand in front of Terrence, and his dog, Truck, will be allowed to get a good sniff of you. Terrence and Truck are crucial to this investigation. After the interview you will be detained in a separate room until another officer completes their collections.”
Everyone looked paler, and nobody was buffing their nails now. Even Gupta had managed to wipe that bizarre half-smile off his face.
“Sandy, you will be first.”
Sandy seemed glued to her chair. She very slowly got up and took a few steps towards Captain Stone. Without a word she pointed her towards Terrence and Truck. Sandy looked downright horrified now and did not move. Terrence called a command and Truck was in front of Sandy in 2 seconds and began sniffing her legs and shoes. Truck then
trotted off towards the taped off beach with Terrence and Officer Ortega. Sandy still had tears streaming down her face when she and Captain Stone walked into the “interrogation” room. Sandy saw a wet, empty dog poop bag on the desk, a man’s shoe and a handful of computer keys.
Captain Stone was in charge and ready.
* * *
Leon Patch was loving downtown Bellingham. The walk really wasn’t far at all, and he enjoyed the sights and recalling the parks and the view. This place had really grown up! He had forgotten the University’s influence on bars, restaurants and well-maintained parks. Well, most of them. He came across a giant rocket ship. It seemed to be the Rocket Donut ship. Very clever. He had never heard of them and did not care for donuts. He used to work in a bakery and hated the smell after a long shift. He chose to continue going into downtown and walked past Bayou, which seemed to be popular. He was hungry and thirsty. Time to pour on the charm.
Leon spied a young girl in her early twenties. “Hi there, young lady. I have been separated from my party and have no ID and no wallet. If you give me $20 I will get $100 back to you. You have my word.”
She didn’t even glance up from her phone. “Good one. Fuck off.”
Jesus, who were these people? Leon did look down at his attire and realized he might not seem as dapper as in his mind. He was still very hungry and even more thirsty. He then found a larger group of teens or young people sitting in an alley, passing around a pipe. He knew that smell. He sat down close to them. The sign above them was for a club called Wild Buffalo and, under that, “High Street.”
“Hey man, are you with the band?” one of the young men asked Leon.
“Uh, no, I am not but a fan. I used to roadie with Jerry Garcia.” Leon was adept at picking up on his surroundings and using people. With a name like “High Street” these had to be the second or third generation Dead Heads. Jerry died before these hippie wannabes were ever born.
“NO WAYYYYYYYYYY. JERRY? That is sick.”
Leon assumed that sick meant good. Maybe when that girl told him to fuck off it was actually a kind gesture.
“Oh, yeah. That was the life. Simple. Just a drink, street tacos and joint to share. We didn’t have all this fancy weed like you kids do today. We just called it pot.”
Now all the 3rd gen hippies had his attention. An elder in their midst who actually saw the real Jerry. They passed him a bottle of something, a box with left over pizza slices and their buddy pipe. Leon felt quite at home now. Someone even had a box of donut holes. Man, those were great! What had he been thinking all these years?
by Dawn Groves
Leon hugged himself as the evening wind blew cold off the bay. Banana belt my ass, he thought.
Smoking with the deadheads was interesting for about 30 minutes but the leftover pizza sat heavy in his gut and his mouth tasted sour from the pot. Being a street person was becoming uncomfortable. Good thing it was temporary.
He wandered southwest on Commercial, and just past the intersection he caught sight of an old business colleague, Harry March, walking into Café Akroteri.
“Harry!” he called. “Hey, Harry, wait up!”
Six feet tall with three successful businesses under his belt, Harry wasn’t used to being hailed by street people. Still, there was something familiar enough to make him pause.
Leon ran up to Harry and then stopped, hands on his knees, wheezing.
“Leon Patch, is that you?”
“In the flesh,” Leon coughed.
“Wow you’re the last person I’d expect to see here,” said Harry, “especially looking like you got thrown out of a car trunk.”
Leon caught his breath and stood up straight. “Yeah I know. Pretty crazy huh? Buy me dinner and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Harry pushed the restaurant door open, and the two men sat at the first table next to a window.
“Man, am I glad to see you,” said Leon. “I thought I was gonna die of starvation.” He opened the menu resting on the table. “I’ll have whatever’s most expensive.”
“Just like always,” said Harry. He signaled the waitress and she scribbled their orders, leaving them with hot coffee. “So, what’s the deal? Why are you walking around Bellingham dressed like a hobo?”
Leon took a deep breath. No way he’d be honest about his circumstances. He just had to keep Harry engaged long enough to get some food and a way back to the island.
“Long story short, I got plastered and my lovely date dropped me in front of the emergency room where, like any good drunk, I passed out. An orderly dragged me into an empty bed, threw my clothes in a bag, and once I sobered up, I got dressed and walked out.”
The waitress set a fat gyro in front of each of them.
“Didn’t you tell them who you were?” asked Harry.
“Yeah, right,” said Leon. He tore the wrapping from his sandwich and took a big bite. The cold tang of tzatziki with warm spiced lamb inside fresh pita made his eyes water.
“See, unbeknownst to me, sometime during the evening my wallet was lifted. I had no ID and no phone. They thought I was some reject from Value Village. The nurses let me use their land line to call Santos, but fucking Rosario didn’t answer.”
“Couldn’t you call Terrence or someone to fly over and get you?”
“I tried four numbers, but nobody picked up, and then they kicked me outta the hospital lobby. I swear heads are gonna roll when I get back.”
“So Harry, do you still have your water taxi business?”
“Yep. Summer’s my busiest time of year. I’m running six taxis now.”
“I don’t suppose you could give me a ride back to Santos tonight. I need to get home and kick ass. I’d pay you twice what you normally charge.”
Harry smiled. “Let me check the schedule and see who’s available.” He pulled out his Android and punched some keys, then studied the screen.
“You’re in luck, Leon. Sam’s just getting back from a shuttle to Orcas. I’ll call and let her know to stay put.”
“Music to my ears, Harry Boy,” said Leon, smiling.
The two men left the restaurant, and Harry drove them along the waterfront to Squalicum Harbor. He parked in front of the Yacht Club, hopped out, and walked around to open the passenger door for Leon.
“Your taxi awaits,” Harry said with a sweep of his arm.
Leon clambered out of the vehicle and made a vain effort to smooth the wrinkles in shirt. The night air felt damp, with a scent of salt and seaweed, as they walked toward the dock. It was the smell of home.
“Sam has plans later this eve,” said Harry. “We should hustle.”
They hurried down the main dock and stopped alongside a 32-foot aluminum boat named Holy F**k.
“Ahoy, Captain!” called Harry from the dock.
“You’re gonna owe me for this,” said a feminine voice from the wheelhouse. “I got a life!”
Harry jumped over the gunwale to the deck. “Don’t worry, Sam. He’s a good tipper.” At this, Leon fished into his pockets by reflex. Shit. No tips today. Rubbing his hands together, he did a double-take on the name of the boat painted on the bow.
While Harry loosened the rope holding the taxi in position, Leon carefully stepped over the watery gap between boat and dock. Once he felt secure on deck, he turned to Harry. “How do you pronounce the name of this boat?”
“Just like it sounds,” said Harry. “Never fails to draw attention. Good business.” Then he jumped back to the dock, smacked the bow a couple of times and called, “All set, Sam!”
“Holy Fuck, I owe you for this Harry,” said Leon.
“Damn straight. I’ll bill you,” said Harry. “Safe travels.”
Leon hugged himself in the night air.
“You might want to wait in the cabin. It’s warmer,” said a soft voice from behind him.
He turned around to see the boat pilot extending her hand. She was a diminutive 20-something Asian-American woman dressed in loose blue wool trousers, a long sleeve red Pendleton shirt and an orange down vest. Her black hair was tucked under a baseball cap.
“I’m Sam, your pilot.”
Leon returned the shake, noting her sturdy grip. “Are you sure you’re old enough to drive?”
Sam laughed. “No worries, Mr. Patch. Now let’s get you settled so we can shove off.”
Leon followed her into the cabin. The warm dry air was a welcome relief. Sam rummaged through the cupboards.
“I was closing up shop, so there’s no food,” she said, “but you can find cookies in the galley and there’s a coffee pot. We’ll be to Santos in an hour.”
Leon was the only passenger, so there was plenty of room to stretch out. He sat on a vinyl couch under the window and watched Sam climb up to the wheelhouse. Soon the engine rumbled to life and the boat glided between yachts and harbor seals into the open bay. Leon enjoyed the familiar bounce and slap of pushing through whitecaps, but exhaustion overtook him, and in a few minutes he was fast asleep.
“Hey Mr. Patch, we’re almost to Santos!”
Leon blinked and sat up. Confused, he checked his watch. Oh right, no watch. No wallet. Sam slid the Holy F**k alongside Santos dock, and Leon saw that Rosario was waiting for him in her big black wool coat.
Sam stood at the gunwale as Leon exited the taxi, holding his arm as he stepped off the boat on to the dock.
“Have a good evening Mr. Patch.” She smiled. Without a word, he strode down the dock toward the waiting black BMW. Sam rolled her eyes at Rosario and turned back to the cabin.
Rosario ran to catch up with Leon.
“Señor Patch, I’m so glad you’re okay. We all thought you were murdered in the freezer but then you disappeared – well — your body disappeared, and the police came, and the guests had no food and…”
“Shut up, girl,” he barked, sliding into the driver’s seat. Rosario let herself into the passenger side.
You look terrible, Señor,” she said. “Are you well? Your clothes. What happened to your clothes?”
“Jesus Christ, Rosario, I just want a Jim Beam on the rocks. Any other information is above your pay grade.”
Rosario recoiled and went silent. Like always. But her right hand was rummaging inside her coat.
“Fucking female,” he muttered.
He drove into his driveway and waited while the garage door opened. Then he rolled the Beemer onto the smooth painted concrete, stopped, and stepped out of the car.
“Jim Beam. Pronto!”
He hurried to the covered walkway that led to the main house. Rosario ran after him. “Señor, please! Un momento, por favor!”
He turned and glared at her. “What?!”
She walked up to him, reached inside her coat, pulled out her favorite carving knife, and before he could react, plunged it hard into his chest. The knife sank deep between his ribs and came out dripping.
“Whatthefuck!” he cried, grasping his chest.
“Cabrón!” she screamed, plunging it in again, the same spot his doppelgänger was stabbed. Backsplash spattered her face and neck. Each thrust was easier, like churning butter.
Leon sank down to the stone walkway, his eyes wide. When his head finally touched pavement, he stopped breathing.
Rosario kneeled down and tore open his shirt. Using the tip of her knife, she carved #METOO into the skin across his chest and then tossed the knife away.
Standing up, she dried her bloody hands against the fabric of her coat and then squatted back down next to his head and smiled. “Now you’re dead, the way you were supposed to be from the start,” she said. “Good boy.”
by Matt Morgan
Viola Stone, flashlight (torch, she said to herself) in hand, stood up abruptly. Kalpakian, Jones, and Ostman still huddled over the new corpse on the beach, but Stone had heard a thin wail from the direction of the house. Like a meerkat keeping watch, she swung her head right to left, hoping to pinpoint the source. Nothing. And when a person screams once with no follow-up, experience told her, there is likely to be another body. If so, they had at least a triple-murderer on their hands.
Wilbur Jones looked up at her, then turned back to the corpse. None of the others had heard the scream. Ever alert, these Yanks. She left them to their task. She needed to do a welfare check, but she didn’t need backup.
“I’m going to the house for a moment.” Three grunts. They probably thought she had to pee.
The kitchen was a mess. Just as in the retreat kitchen, flour covered the countertop. Here, though, there was none on the floor, and no animal tracks. No body, either. Upstairs, then. She stepped lightly on the oak boards, not touching the railing. She aimed her torch at the riser in front of her as she advanced, so the light would not be as obvious to anyone waiting upstairs, and to look for evidence. Floury paw prints, extruded brain matter, whatever.
Three steps from the top, she earned the reward for her meticulous search. A slender streak of a dark liquid crossed the grain of the wood. It could be concentrated wood stain, misapplied by a bumbling workman, but it could be blood. She reached into her pocket. No gloves. Now what? She decided she could come back to see the mark later.
Another step, and she heard a muffled sneeze. She nearly dropped her torch. Her heart lurched, and her temples throbbed. She tried to catch her breath without gasping or otherwise telegraphing her exact position. Finally calm two minutes later, she switched the torch to her right hand and unholstered her revolver with her left.
Another step. No more sounds, not even the regular breathing of an innocent, possibly incapacitated person. Whoever had sneezed was up to no good. She stepped onto the edge of the second floor. The board beneath her foot creaked. Nay, it squealed like a mouse. She shone her light to make sure she hadn’t stepped on a rodent.
Whoever had sneezed did not react to the squeak. Now chary of exposing herself to Mr. Sneeze, she nevertheless took another step and turned to the right, then to the left, as she did with traffic back home. The expansive hallway was empty. The house had already begun to assume the qualities of an abandoned, possibly haunted mansion.
Oh, for Jones as backup. She kicked herself mentally. She didn’t need Jones, Terence, Kalpakian, no one. She had often handled hard cases herself. She regained control of herself, feeling fortunate that her mental lapse had not brought with it an ambush.
There were two doors on the right, then a loo, and three doors on the left. She edged along the wall, facing out upon the hall, to the first door on the right, which was closed. She wouldn’t touch blood bare-handed, but she had to get this door open, so she stuck the torch in her back pocket, grasped the knob with her right thumb and middle finger, and turned it.
The door snicked open with a whisper of wood brushing carpeting, and she inched forward, torch blazing. The room was empty, but what seemed to be a walk-in closet took up a quarter of the room. She spied a box of tissues on a night stand, and she grabbed several, not for Mr. Sneeze, but for the preservation of evidence. She glanced back at the door to the room as she gripped the closet door, then she quickly turned and pulled on the knob. Nothing. Not even clothes. Who was this man, that he could afford empty closets?
Back to the hall. Off to the next room. Now that she had tissues, she had no inclination to be as cautious with her movements, as if touching the metal of the doorknob had been the true danger. But she entered this enormous room as silently as the first, alert to the deadly menace that still lurked somewhere on this floor.
The room was clear. She had three more to inspect, plus the loo. She might use it after all, though the trickle of liquid might tip off Mr. Sneeze. She walked several feet to the door of the loo, which stood open a few inches. She stepped in, closed the door to prevent a rear attack, and lifted her torch slowly.
A towel slammed down on her head, and heavy arms enveloped her. She thrashed, one elbow back, looking for a foot to crush with her heel, but whoever held her was able to stand back and simply bear-hug her. She tried to turn and spun to her left, with no resistance. She uncovered her face to look at her attacker, but all she saw was the door and a towel hook. She wheeled around again, growing more frantic. Her captor slid his arms off her back. A hooded bath robe fell to the floor.
Bloody idiot, she muttered. Giving herself the best eye-roll she had ever mustered, she flicked her light across the mosaic on the floor and raised it to tub-level.
And there was the victim she had sought. Two bodies, in fact. The killer was still nearby. The sneeze proved it. She turned the door lock and strode to the tub. In it lay the presumably faux Leon Patch, and on the floor lay Rosario, poor thing.
Stone touched “Leon” on the forehead and the arm. He was cool. She did the same to Rosario, who was still warm. Even if she had been the one who screamed, she hadn’t been killed at that moment. Rosario had lost her life while she, the amazing detective, was bumbling around the house. Rosario was probably trying to rescue her boss. Or maybe she was not yet dead?
Unable to comprehend her own lack of method, she checked for a pulse. Strong, even fast. She knelt beside Rosario and reached for her face just as Rosario sat bolt upright and screamed in her ear.
“¡Dios mío santo, . . . no lo puedo creer . . . el pobre señor Patch!” Rosario exclaimed between gasps. Stone understood her slow Spanish, thanks to her University requirement. Can’t believe it, poor guy.
“Rosario, what happened?”
Rosario fanned herself. “I come here to go pipí, and somebody bring, brought Señor Patch here to hide him. Or to scare me, I dunno. First they drag him from the cooler, then they put him here. I see him, and I faint.” She wiped tears from her face. “Is terrible!” she wailed.
Stone couldn’t stop herself from dabbing a tissue on Rosario’s sweaty forehead. She helped the woman to her feet, where she swayed for a moment before gaining her balance.
“We have to get you out of the house. Whoever put the body here is going to come after you.” Rosario gulped and nodded. “But there’s a bit of good news, Rosario,” she added. “This body is just someone who resembles your boss. As far as we can tell, Leon Patch was taken off the island by Otto. So that’s one good thing, eh?”
“Eh,” Rosario echoed, “I think you do not see the big mole like a brown slug on Señor Patch’s chest. The fake Leon has no slug, but this guy, he does. This is the real Señor!” She lifted her dress and wept into it, her shoulders shaking.
Stone looked more closely at the body in the tub. He indeed sported a large mole. Ostentatious, like everything else about him. Damn, that made what, three murders? Real Leon, missing fake Leon, and the body at the beach, who had probably been ID’d as Mike or Robert by now. She could ponder the body count later. First, she had to evacuate Rosario and try to secure this scene. Bloody hell, she might even lock all the doors and torch the house.
She pulled out her cell phone and called Jones. “I need one of you up here to guard a new crime scene. Meet me at the front door.” She didn’t wait for a reply. No one down there would question her.
* * *
The area around the body had given up its secrets: a boot print, a few trampled wildflowers, nothing useful. The deceased, his face lying in a muddy puddle, wore a sky-blue t-shirt that all of the guests had received but never used in the kitchen. The dark hair ruled out the chef, but Jones waited impatiently to see if it was Robert, Mike, or Rémi. He was pretty sure Otto had evacuated Leon, so it was neither he nor Thor. Terence was roaming the grounds with Tank, still looking for that infernal body that Tank, or her lupine cousins, had carried off.
And now, with as much drama as the gender reveal of a couple’s first child, Kalpakian and Ostman tugged on a shoulder and a hip. The body rolled toward them, but the face refused to budge at first, the neck nearly snapping before the head came free with a loud slurp. Jones leaned over to see who it was, but the face lay under a mud pack that would cost a fortune at a spa.
His phone rang. The CSI team looked up. It was Stone. She called for backup, he obeyed. He would find out later who this guy was, though it irritated him to miss out now.
* * *
“You got something, Truck?” Terence asked his best friend. She was whimpering, eager to run off the trail into the trees. Terence knew to let her lead, and he simply followed while she ran a few feet ahead, looked back to make sure he was with her, and sprang forward again. He loved to see her at work, her haunches tight as coiled springs, her eyes and ears ever alert.
Finally, she circled a hollow in a circle of trees, raised her head, and uttered a soft “Woo woo.”
“Good girl!” Terence pulled a treat from his pocket, then looked at the hollow where she sat. he saw flesh. And bones. While Tank sat panting and licking her chops, Terence pondered the remains. If the body the CSI team was working on was the fake Leon, who was this? And vice versa. It would make sense that someone dragged the fake Leon here and sort of half-ass buried him, but what about the other guy? Oh, man, his head hurt.
With CSI busy up the trail, he figured he should call Viola. He liked her better anyway.
* * *
Kalpakian worked on cleaning the face while Ostman searched the guy’s pockets for ID. Unlike the fat-cat living beings on this island from hell, this guy had empty pockets. Ostman hoped the face wasn’t hacked to pieces. If so, they might have to call in Francesca and Sandy to try to ID the body.
Ostman decided to pull up the corpse’s shirt as a last resort. The probable cause of death was a bullet to the heart, one that had penetrated the chest but not the shirt. Odd, that.
And there was a message carved into the belly:
by Wendy Gilson
When Jennifer Lopez was at the height of her popularity, popular enough to start a trend of first / last syllable nicknames, Leona Joyce proudly christened herself “LeeJo”. It was a sassy name, one her friends might have called her, if she’d had friends. The moniker made her sound young (not 48) and like she had a life (she didn’t).
She did, however, have a great view. Her downtown Seattle apartment was like Frasier’s, except, unlike his, her view of Seattle was panoramic, and real. Leona (LeeJo only to fellow gamers) also had money. Lots of it. It was a good thing too, since she’d never been able to hold down a job. The truth was her doctors didn’t think she should be living by herself. She swore to them she was taking her medication. And It was true. She did. Sometimes.
Leona hadn’t been able to hold down a marriage either, but it wasn’t her fault. Her husband, Donald Joyce, had been sexually abusive, a term he loathed (“How can I be sexually abusive? You’re my wife for Christ’s sake!”). After three years of being forced to endure his increasingly depraved and aggressive assaults, Leona was prepared to live the rest of her life alone. Men were dangerous primates. Especially those with money and power. Her husband and her brother had been two of a kind. No wonder they were such good buddies.
Hunched in front of her computer, Leona cracks open a cranberry-lime La Croix. She taps her fingertips absently on the keyboard, contemplating where to go next. She settles on one of her favorite joke sites. Leona finds comfort in jokes. She knows hundreds of them. Her latest favorites, for reasons she doesn’t bother to question, are Yo momma jokes. Yo momma so fat she was baptized at Sea World. Yo momma so dumb she tried to climb Mountain Dew…
Finished with her sparkling water, Leona easily crushes the can flat with her large hands (“catcher’s mitts”, was one of her brother’s many taunts). She tosses it on top of a stack of mail.
Leona hates being reminded of her ex-husband every time she sees her name in print. The electric bill taunts her with its Leona Joyce in the address window. “That’s not me” she reminds herself. “It’s not who I am.”
Reverting to a maiden name was an option for some, but not for her. Leona shared that last name with another sexual abuser, an incestuous one, her brother. Leona had never forgiven her parents for naming her the diminutive of her despised older sibling. Leon and Leona. Stupid. What would other siblings have been named? Leonette? Leonathan?
She would not be Leona Patch again. Her loathing for her brother was a sky-high wall of flames. She could end her husband’s advances by divorcing him. But when she was fourteen, she’d had no way to escape. With every remembrance, the flames shot higher until nowhere on earth was safe.
Leona turns back to her computer, fighting an impulse to throw her arms around it like a lover. Video games! That’s what she’ll do! She pulls up her current favorite, Mortal Kombat. For the next hour, virtual assassins avenge Leona from the hell she’s endured at the hands of men.
Temporarily sated, Leona becomes restless. “Log into your Twitter account” a voice tells her.
“Do it. Log in. What has Donald Tweeted since this morning?”
Donald was a compulsive user of the social media site. He mocked Leona’s #Metoo posts ruthlessly, smearing more salt into her open wounds by Tweeting under the hashtag “Methree”, an anti #Metoo movement. Her brother posted there too, using a fake name. She knew it was him from the retweets of each other’s posts, and self-righteous commendations between the two loathsome men whose friendship seemed to deepen over their gleeful abuse of her.
Her brother had even hired the housekeeper, Rosario, Donald and Leona had during their marriage. Leona and Rosario found protection in each other, spending many hours chatting over herbal tea. Now her friend was gone. Leon had offered Rosario a salary so generous it would pay her son’s medical bills and allow her to continue her education. Leona worried for her, but knew Rosario knew how to take care of herself.
Rosario and Leona emailed each other often. Leona could not bring herself to visit her brother’s private island. She couldn’t bear the thought of seeing him.
She could, however, handle seeing him dead.
When Rosario informed her that a body believed to be Leon’s had washed ashore, Leona chartered a private plane to the island. Not an hour and a half had passed since the phone call.
Walking toward the shore, there was a fury in her even more profound than when he’d been alive.
Yes, it was him. Had she looked closely she would have seen it was not.
She kicked the corpse, screaming wildly. Then a voice told her to take her pocket knife out of her purse.
Leona stood with her $3,000 Spearpoint pocket knife in hand, looking out to sea, bewildered. She vaguely remembered putting the achingly sharp instrument into her purse.
“Finish him off!” cried the voice. “Cut through him, slice him, taunt him!” Leona shivered. “He deserves it” finished the voice, quietly.
Leona paused for a moment, and then began to pull the knife’s tip through her assumed-brother’s belly.
#Metoo she carved.
And then, minutes later, the #Methree was completed.
by Marian Exall
Now dressed in a clean white uniform, her luxuriant dark hair drawn back in a severe bun, Rosario swiped the contents of Leon Patch’s safe into a black plastic trash bag. Mostly papers, but also several “priceless” artifacts looted from archeological sites in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. She noticed the Astarte, the thumb-sized sexual talisman that Mr. Patch often carried with him, was not among them. Never mind, there was enough here, and she knew exactly the black market websites where she could prospect for unscrupulous buyers.
She cinched the bag closed, and adopted a trudging gait, eyes downcast, as she left Patch’s study.
Just the housekeeper taking out the trash.
Wilbur Jones poked his head around the door of the security office Viola Stone had commandeered as her headquarters.
“The forensic results have come in—at least for the first corpse. We have an ID and a COD. Also, we found the weapon used on the real Leon Patch: it’s a knife from his own kitchen, not the Retreat Center’s. Thrown into the bushes next to the dock. The CSI team is lifting prints now.”
Viola sat with her back to the window. The rain and wind that swept through during the night had been replaced by brilliant morning sunshine. To Wilbur, the senior detective was just a dark outline with a halo of light around her head. Saint Viola, patron saint of sudden death.
“Well?” She indicated that he take the chair facing her across the desk.
“The deceased’s name is Sidney Greenstreet, a small-time car thief employed from time to time as a body double for Leon Patch.” Wilbur looked up from his notes, squinting into the glare. “But this is what’s interesting: the cause of death is a drug overdose—a pharmaceutical cocktail, mostly morphine, typically issued in assisted suicide cases, you know, under the Washington “death with dignity” law.” Viola didn’t know, the U.K. not having such a progressive measure in its statutes, but she nodded to encourage Jones to continue.
“Greenstreet was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. All the wounds inflicted on the body at various times during the night were post mortem. Because the body was schlepped around so much, rained on, rolled in the sand, etc. there’s no useful information to be gathered about who carved him up. It could have been anyone on the island.”
“Hmm. No murder, no case.” Viola flipped the manila folder in front of her closed, and stood up.
“Wait, what about the real Leon Patch? His murder? We have the weapon, a bunch of suspects—“
“Come and look at this.” Viola walked over to the side console and pointed to a screen connected to the security camera monitoring the dock. “Do you see what’s missing?”
Wilbur stared at the screen for several seconds.
“Oh, I get it! No yacht! The All Clear has cleared out. Does this thing record?”
“Yes. While you’ve been herding cats and tramping all over the crime scene, I’ve been reviewing video.” Viola kept her tone casual, but she watched Wilbur’s reaction intently. “About an hour ago, Rosario Vargas boarded the All Clear carrying a plastic garbage bag. She unties the mooring ropes, powers up, and heads out. North, into Canadian waters. Four hours earlier, at 3:15 a.m. a water taxi docks. It’s dark, so I can’t be sure but a man looking a lot like Leon Patch disembarks. The water taxi leaves, and another figure approaches the dock. Smaller, dark hair, dark coat, a woman, I think. There’s a brief exchange, then the man falls down and the woman drags him away.”
“Rosario? You mean Rosario killed Patch and now she’s escaping in the yacht? We’ve got to call the Coast Guard!”
Wilbur pulled out his phone, but Viola placed a cool hand on top of his.
“Wait. Sit down.”
Confused, Wilbur obeyed. This time, Viola remained standing, forcing Wilbur to look up into her icy blue eyes.
“She’s in Canadian waters; the Coast Guard has no jurisdiction.”
“The Mounties, then. We cooperate in cross-border investigations all the time. We have to be quick, She’s getting away!”
“No, Sergeant Jones, we’re not going to call anyone. Let me explain.” Viola hitched herself up to sit on the corner of the desk, her black pencil skirt riding up to reveal several inches of smooth tanned thigh. “Leon Patch was a sexual predator. Rosario was probably one of his victims, as were others present on the island, including that crazy woman who turned up in the middle of the night. I came across Patch many years ago when I was a rookie detective in Scotland Yard’s Flying Squad, the first and probably the only woman ever on that team. He was accused of raping a hotel maid, but the case was dropped—over my objections—when the Home Office intervened. Seems Leon had friends in high places. Who knows how many women he’s assaulted since then.”
Wilbur frowned, trying to assemble his thoughts. He hadn’t slept for 24 hours, and his brain felt foggy.
“But a man’s been killed. Don’t we have to do something?”
“Sergeant Jones—Wilbur—“ Viola leaned forward. “I’ve been asked to write an assessment of your performance before my assignment ends. I can describe how you failed to keep all the witnesses in their cabins as I instructed, and how you managed to lose a body you were supposed to be guarding, or I [50,000] can stress how cooperative you’ve been, your ability to see the big picture, your tact and sensitivity with victims …. You see where I’m going with this?”
Wilbur nodded miserably. It didn’t feel right, but all he wanted for the moment was to get off this fucking island and climb into bed.
“Good!” Viola hopped off the table and smoothed down her skirt. “So let’s let all these poor people go home. The ferry will be here shortly. I’ve ordered a medivac helicopter to remove the bodies. The CSI team should be finished by now. Tell them, no rush on the report. Oh, and can you arrange for a doctor to meet what’s-her-name, Leona something, when the ferry docks at Anacortes? She needs to get back on her meds pronto.”
Meghnad Gupta opened the wine and set it on a silver coaster on the carefully set table. He knew a lot about wine, having taken a sommelier course that spring at the French Laundry in Napa, but he didn’t care for it. He had a big bottle of Kingfisher beer waiting in the fridge. He considered lighting the candles but decided to wait until later. Although it was several weeks since the solstice and the tragic events of the Culinary Bootcamp, it was still light at eight o’clock.
He moved to the window to take in the view across English Bay to the outline of North Vancouver, where a few lights were already blinking into life. After a few moments he heard the purr of the private elevator as it mounted to his penthouse apartment. He turned to greet his guest.
“Dorothy! You look ravishing!”
They exchanged air kisses before he stood back to take in her transformation: hair freshly frosted, make-up immaculate, she wore a sky blue silk shirt over narrow white pants, strappy silver sandals on her tanned feet.
“Wine? It’s a Chateau Petrus, but if you’d prefer champagne, I have some chilling.”
“Petrus would be lovely.” She took her glass and went to the window to admire the view.
“So you must have been busy, cleaning up the mess after Patch’s death. Was there a will? Who gets all the money?” Meghnad took her elbow to guide her back to the sofa, then took a seat beside her.
“No will has been found, so the heirs are brother Otto and sister Leona, his only living relatives.” She turned guileless gray eyes to Gupta. “But there is no money.”
“No. Everything was mortgaged to the hilt. He didn’t even have clear title to Santos Island. The local tribe, the Lummi Nation, claims it through treaty rights, and as Patch never paid taxes, there’s a lien on it from the State of Washington. The tribe and the State have reached an agreement for the Lummi to manage it as a nature reserve. In a few years it will revert to wilderness.”
“But what about the Retreat Center and Patch’s mansion?”
“They’ll be torn down. They’re collapsing anyway. The whole island’s riddled with caves and tunnels. There are cracks through the foundations already.”
“The helicopter, the yacht, the corporate assets?”
“The helicopter’s leased, Rosario took the yacht, and I told you, he borrowed against everything else. He salted the proceeds away in offshore numbered accounts in the Seychelles, Switzerland, all those places that honor personal privacy over U.S. tax law.” Her gaze drifted to the view again. ”Apparently, they can’t find any record of the account numbers.”
“So what will happen to the staff?”
Dorothy smiled brightly.
“Oh, we’ll be fine! Rémi is opening a restaurant in South Lake Union. It’s bound to do well with all those Amazon folks. In fact, I’m putting up the financial backing. It will be nice to get a table for dinner without having to wait ninety minutes. You heard about Rosario, right? Turns out she isn’t Mexican like we all thought—those empanadas!—but Venezuelan, and Venezuela doesn’t extradite to the U.S. With the yacht and what she cleared out of the safe, she should be OK there. Terence is going to the Hague to work for Viola Stone, although I believe it will be more of a partnership than boss-employee relationship, if you get my drift.”
Meghnad nodded. When he’d heard that the International Court of Justice was setting up a global sexual abuse investigation unit in response to the #metoo movement, he had whispered Viola’s name in a few well-placed ears. When her Whatcom County assignment ended, she moved directly to the Netherlands without stopping at sexist Scotland Yard.
“But poor Truck! The European quarantine rules are really strict.”
“It’s not a problem for working dogs. Seems Truck is a trained therapy dog, and she’ll play a part in the unit’s work too. Some victims just feel more comfortable telling their stories to a dog than face to face with an investigator.”
“And Chef McKendrick? I thought you and he were … er …”
“No,” Dorothy said brusquely. “We had an arrangement, purely business, but it didn’t work out. He’s taken his old job back at a restaurant in London.”
“And my fellow Culinary Bootcamp students? Any news of them?”
“Nickie sold what I think they call a “treatment” to a Hollywood movie producer. They’re developing a script and doing preliminary casting.” She giggled. “I believe they’re talking to Cate Blanchett about playing me. Robert and Francesca Harrington are getting a divorce. Inevitable, I suppose, although it’s bound to be very expensive for him. Sandy and Mike will continue their undercover work for WWTCH exposing sexual predators amongst the 1%. You know that the U.S. doesn’t accept the jurisdiction of the International Court, so Viola’s investigative unit doesn’t operate here. Sandy and Mike can take up the slack”
“And that thin, pale girl? Mary … Susan …?”
“Jane. She’s taken a sabbatical from her job in L.A. and is currently studying at an ashram in Bali. I’m hoping she finds love there and never comes back.” Dorothy had a soft spot for Jane.
“Well, what about you, my dear? What are your plans now?”
Dorothy leaned forward and placed her hands over Gupta’s, treating him to a view of her cleavage.
“That’s where you come in. I can tell you’re bored stiff with just traveling the world and taking expensive food and wine classes. I know the non-compete agreement prevents you from going into the shipping business again, but what about working for a charity?” Dorothy’s face lit up with enthusiasm. “I want to be an agent for change—to empower women! Micro-lending! Just a few dollars to a village woman in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and—yes!—India, to buy a goat or chickens or a loom can transform her life, her family’s, the whole community’s! Your business acumen and contacts would be so helpful. Will you go in as a 50/50 partner with me?”
Meghnad smiled broadly.
“That’s a marvelous idea! But starting a bank, even a non-profit bank, is expensive. Would it be indiscreet of me to inquire how a simple bookkeeper might acquire the necessary funds?”
“I don’t know if it’s indiscreet to ask, but it certainly would be indiscreet of me to answer. Let’s just say that it helps to have a photographic memory for numbers!”
Then Dorothy laughed, such a rich, full-throated laugh that Meghnad was forced to join in. They sat on as dusk deepened, hands clasped together, plotting how they might do some good in the world.