TREADING THE BEAST OF WATER

Named in the memory of a man he’d never known, Oscar had no clear-cut hours. Shift work. Mostly nights, sometimes day. Always partnered with Trask. The two worked side-by-side, never a question between them. Trask kept a worried face. It was his nature. So much so, in fact, that it gave colleagues cause to smirk and crinkle behind his back. Oscar didn’t see it that way. He could read his partner better than those fools and for that matter even better than the man himself.

Yes, Trask was always worried. Perhaps wound too tight. Perhaps. Perhaps he was just focused. Even when he told Oscar that the day was done and done well, it clearly wasn’t. Such was the stressful nature of their business, as though theirs was the job of affixing duct tape to a leaking dam. That’s how the two of them carried their work home. They kept it with them always. There were never enough hours of sleep or drink or supposedly mind-numbing hours of idleness that could wash away the stress of what had been or what might come. Oddly enough, it was the latter, the prospect of tomorrow’s challenge, that kept them both going. Bigger cracks. Less tape. Diminishing time. The always growing beast of water. The trusting village below.

Oscar was Trask’s pride. Like a son. Even as a rookie, the new boy shined and took to every assignment with a gusto and perfection that made it look all too easy. He never questioned the tutelage Trask handed down.

Oscar was Belgian. At least by birth. He had left his homeland when he was young. Weeks young, in fact. Taken from his mother, his land and that language all before he’d ever a chance to form a memory of them. His name, if he’d had one in that place, was lost as well. His new name, Oscar, was given to him by Trask, his partner. It was bestowed on him in honor of another man; a brother-in-arms who had fallen before.

Together, Trask and Oscar patrolled the streets, treading the dark waters, searching for cracks in the dam. Oscar was a K-9.

Trask preferred the night-shift. Night was water. A cloak of comfort for creatures that abhorred the light. Secure in their element, they would slip from the crevices below, unfurl themselves and rise from the deep to prey upon the unwitting.

It was neither Trask nor Oscar’s fault when the dam gave. Blood, not water. The village wasn’t flooded but the lake of Trask ran dry.

Empty late hours. The squeal of tires and gun shots went ignored. An old man at his window—a man who normally looked for any excuse to call in his complaints—he waved the disturbance off. ‘Punk kids with their fire crackers. Nothing more.’

Trask—officer down—lay splayed in the middle of an avenue that now seemed wider than he’d ever recalled. It grew wider still as each breath narrowed. He couldn’t feel it, thank God, but his left leg was so mangled and contorted that the heel kissed his shoulder blade. Oscar, his partner and best friend, was down as well, broken beside him.

Trask moved on. Whimpering, Oscar lifted an ear.

They were found, some eighteen long minutes later, seven minutes after four on the morning of what had been an unusually cool August night.

The book is opened, the pages are turned. Three months and six days later, the newest two-legged, fresh-faced members to join the K-9 division were introduced to their new partners, two bright-eyed Belgian Malinois Shepherd boys eager to get to work, ready to tread the beast of water. They were officers Trask and Oscar.

THE VISITORS

Of late, she preferred Wednesdays more than any other day. Like most people, the week’s end was, as her husband liked to say, ‘Our sweet treat.  Sat and Sundae,’ the dessert concluding another work week consumed. But now, widowed and in the quiet and still pace of life, she found Wednesdays to be the time she looked forward to the most. It was because that was the day when he came calling.

Her name was Edith, although most of her life those who knew and loved her called her Edie. She didn’t know his name. She called him Mister. He didn’t mind and readily answered to the moniker. He was a cat, after all.

Why Mister came and went only on Wednesdays was a mystery. But that mystique only made the tawny little orange tabby all the more appealing. If it was a Wednesday morning—any time after ten-ish—he could be counted on to be lounging in the dapple of the potted ficus and immature banana trees of Edith’s back patio. She would greet him with her coffee and his white china saucer of tuna. It didn’t concern Edith one iota that it might be the free meal that induced her only companion to come around.

We’ve all motives. Some are at least honest and laid plain.’

Most visits lasted an hour or two. She read the paper and the flitting birds were scrutinized. The news of the day was all too often a source of irritation while those feathered friends were the colorful and pleasant distraction.

In time, after Mister became her regular Wednesday morning caller, Edith had the foresight to relocate her two bird feeders to the farthest corners of her backyard.

Lest the temptation to lunch on more than tuna proves too much for that feline appetite.’

He noticed.

“Now then, Mister,” she reprimanded, “put away your hungry gaze. You’ll have your fish.”

He did, and all went well as time wormed on its way. And then….

The first Wednesday that Mister failed to make an appearance gave Edith pause. Still, she kept her routine. Coffee and the daily paper. The pair of nesting blue jays who had become her newest regulars almost managed to keep her concerns for Mister’s whereabouts at bay. Edith steeled herself.  ‘Nothing to write home.’ Hollow assurance. Shortly after three in the afternoon she carried the untouched saucer of tuna back inside. She told herself the lie that she wasn’t the least bit put off.

Later that evening, fussing as she postponed going to bed, Edie rebuked the nagging voice in her head. ‘Oh, enough already. He’s a cat; that’s what they do.’ The do in this case being the fact that felines—much like her late husband—all too often did as they pleased, and just as often did so with little to no concern for others.

The week-long wait for the next Wednesday proved a loneliness. By the end of Mister’s consecutive failed appearance, neither the blue jay love birds’ flirtatious cavorting nor the scandals to be found in the daily paper could keep Edith’s mind from anything other than her worry.

That night the doorbell rang.

She was in her kitchen, staring out the window while drying off a china saucer that had long been in no need of a towel. The doorbell chime was so unexpected, and Edith so lost in thought, that she nearly let the saucer slip. She came to the door dish towel still in hand. She turned the lock and opened the door without a moment’s consideration through the peep hole; an act that was nothing like her. She realized as much too late and after the fact just as the deed was done.

Her name was Justine and despite the many attempts by friends and family to call her by something other, she answered to only Justine. She was eleven years old and would have nothing to do with ‘cutie’ nicknames.

Justine was accompanied by her father, a man who could be passed on any street or in any room without notice. He stood beside his daughter and was comfortable letting his little girl take the lead.

“Hello. My name is Justine. This is my cat,” the girl said, presenting a sheet from her stack of flyers. There was no mistaking the photo of Mister. “His name is Harold and he’s missing and so we’re canvassing the neighborhood to find him. Search and rescue. This is my dad.”

“Hi, we’re sorry to bother you,” the man added. “We’re just a few houses down. One fifty-three…the green house,” he said with a nod towards the end of the street. “I’m Mitch Abernathy and this is—”

“Justine,” Edith said to finish the introduction. “My name is Edie and, well, I have to say, it feels as though we’re family.” Edith’s gaze went just past them. “Oh, and who is this? Hello, Mister.” She couldn’t hide the relief in her voice.

The cat had sauntered up and was sprawled now just behind them as though reclining pool-side. He considered the porch light with a squint of disdain and gave a small turn of his neck when Justine discovered him with a squeal of jubilation.

Cat firmly in Justine’s lap, the four were soon sitting in Edith’s living room where she explained the shared connection alluded to on the doorstep.

“Harold? I call him Mister. He always comes on Wednesdays. Or, that is to say, usually. Cats.”

“Wednesdays?” Justine looked to her father. “That’s when you work from home.”

The Abernathys stayed for longer than Mitch would have preferred but not nearly as long as Justine or Edith would have liked. Following that night’s long visit, Justine and Mister Harold—as they called their elusive friend now—were Edie’s regular visitors on Saturdays…and quite often on Sunday as well. Mister Harold kept to his Wednesday visits.

The blue jays’ chicks hatched a few weeks later in the waning days of May.

SONGS to WHISTLE WHILE CLEANING UP BLOOD

Released! Set free! It’s been loosed upon the unsuspecting public!

Blood Songs

Cryptids and creeps. Deranged charlatans. Troubled souls seeking redemption or revenge. Strange things and weak, piddling people.  Stories thick with lies. These are weird tales indeed, caught up someplace between myth and fact, without existing in either or maybe, once upon a time and place, true in both….

 

THE NIGHT WATCH

thenightwatch-front master cover

 

Murder, sex, magic, and ancient Rome.

A serial killer preys upon those who are truly the most dangerous game…the gladiators. As the killer collects macabre trophies, it falls to the Prefect of the Night Watch to end the madness.

But this is Rome, where blood spills like wine, and dreams…they are all too often nightmares.

THE CROOKED MAN’S MILE

When he was just six years old, Conner Connley killed a man—or so his father told him. His mother, suddenly and mysteriously absent, could offer no help as young Conner tried desperately to make sense of the confusing accusation.

Abandoned alone with a war-blinded father, and tortured by the heartbreak of his mother’s inexplicable departure, the boy is soon compelled to flee his home in exchange for a runaway’s lifetime of aimless drifting and hardship.

As the ribbons of roads, rails, and decades weave together a seemingly endless stream of odd and fateful events, fashioned and populated by an equally remarkable number of friends, benefactors, and ne’er-do-wells—from the simple but fatherly Roger to the murderous Ringworm—eventually the tides of fate conspire and pull Conner home once more to ultimately discover how so much had gone so wrong, so long ago.

At turns heartbreaking and humorous, bleak and then blooming with love and hope, this is one man’s epic journey to learn the truth behind the tragedy that defined his youth and set in motion the course of his life, greatly determining the incredible man he was to become.