Monday, June 30, 2014

A Silent Tide (report)

If I do something unusually stupid today, say, something that gets me in trouble with the law, I'm suing Bill Johnson. 
Bill Johnson, in a novel written under the improbable pseudonym William E. Johnson, kept me up waay past my usual bedtime last night unable to stop reading A Silent Tide until I'd reached The End. This rarely happens to me, and I read a lot of novels. I'd say A Silent Tide is “a page turner” were I inclined to use clichés and, more objectively, had I read an actual book. I'm not, and I didn't. I read Johnson's crime thriller on my laptop, having downloaded the Kindle version from for a measly three bucks. Thus, in the interest of literal accuracy, I shall say that for me A Silent Tide was a page scroller.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

First Shot (13)

Blow was enjoying a good...was relaxing on the throne when he felt the vibration an instant before the relentless deep-tropics boogie of Miles Davis's Pharoah's Dance percolated up from the clothing around his ankles. Good, he thought, a text message. It can wait.
When he was ready, he flipped up the cellphone lid to find four cryptic characters that sent an electric thrill from brain to heart. The thrill had a name. Joanie.
The characters—TP12--were a code his Secret Service agent sister used to identify the disposable cellphone he was to call her on. He found it in her bedside table drawer in the room upstairs that remained hers in the house their father, and she and Blow in turn, and had grown up in. Taped to the back was the number he should call to reach the disposable phone she'd be using.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

First Shot (12)

Andrew Salzwedel's call interrupted Blow as he studied the video Mary Lloyd had sent him in an email link.
“It wasn't us.” The history teacher's effort to conceal his excitement wasn't working. Despite the measured pace, Blow heard rapid breathing and a higher pitch than before.
“We didn't do it, whatever happened to Gunther. Our aim was too high.”
“Uh huh. I take it you've seen the video.”
“The one on YouTube, yeah. Clear as day. The ballistics weren't right. None of us could have killed him, either intentionally or by accident. You seen it yet?”
“Watching it right now--”

Friday, June 27, 2014

First Shot (11)

The international media maelstrom that sprang up around Leicester High School Principal Newt Gunther's grotesque demise took on a heightened fury for several arguable reasons. First, it was three days after the fact, requiring the main body of media forces to fight through the professional embarrassment of having been scooped by the local weekly.
Even the nearest daily and its TV partner had been caught flat-footed. They'd blown off the reenactment itself because as an annual event it had become the kind of familiar “non-story” shrinking news staffs everywhere were wont to pass up in favor of a quick hit “hard news” event that was unusual, such as disgruntled fast-food laborers picketing their employer's grease pit in a bid for pay that would ease the misery of their poverty, or something with violence and the promise of blood.
After the pride issue came the desperation of an industry rocked on its heels by a generally struggling economy and, in particular, by impotent efforts to lure back its staple of sustenance, the fickle, almighty ad dollar. News prospectors worldwide, starved for the gold of job security in a “fucking goddam real story” frantically programmed their atlases and GPS doohickeys and plotted the fastest course to Leicester County, Virginia, U.S.A.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

First Shot (10)

The face of the woman who opened the door to him might have been pretty were it not for its zombie cast. Forlorn, sickly pallor. And her hair. Hair always spoke to Blow, but hers,  neglected graying blond, only muttered. No help appeared on down with the frayed, faded pink T-shirt over dejected shoulders and listless breasts, the baggy sweat pants and the flipflops.
“Come in,” she said in a half whisper that started as a sigh of relief after Blow introduced himself. She tried a smile then, which worked a miracle, of scale, but dropped away too quickly when she turned and led him into what looked to be ordinarily a comfortable living room. Now it reflected the uncertainty of an injured, distracted family, as unfocused and tentative as the individuals who lived there. The only sense of normalcy Blow noticed was the lingering smokey tang of breakfast bacon and the more recent, inviting aromas of fresh coffee and something stewing, perhaps in a crockpot. The widow motioned him to a sofa, where files and manila envelopes sat before it on a coffee table. He accepted her invitation of coffee, and she went out and returned with a tray holding a carafe, cups, cream and sweetener, and set them on the table.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

First Shot (9)

Were Blow inclined to blame someone or something other than himself for his trouble getting to sleep that night he might easily have laid it on the fabled “power of the press”. As it was, he went no further than to recognize Mary Lloyd's update Monday afternoon in the Leicester Messenger's online edition as the spur that kicked into higher gear his involvement as an attorney in the reenactment shooting consequences.
He was glad to see in a quick scan of Mary's story that neither his nor his client's name appeared. But with Himmler as the focus, with his injection of the murder idea into consideration, Blow knew it would take the Daily Herald's Mel Watterman no more than a day to get a list of the reenactors. And once Watterman's story hit the wires the media frenzy would begin. He immediately called Salzwedel.
“Any other reporters contact you, Andy?”

Monday, June 23, 2014

First Shot (8)

Mary Lloyd's red Honda was parked in front of Good Fortune when he arrived. She had gotten them a booth and seemed absorbed in something there. She was staring at her notepad on the table, a ballpoint pen in her hand poised above it. Tendrils of steam rose from a fragile-looking cup next to the pad, and a matching china teapot sat nearby. She looked up as Blow approached the booth.
“You're late.”
“You must be a speed demon.”
She smiled. “Nah, just quick. I can get around big old slow pickups in my little Honda.”
“Sorry. Just about out of gas. I stopped at the Little Sue,” he said, sliding into the booth across from her. “You putting something up today?”

Sunday, June 22, 2014

First Shot (7)

Seconds after Frederick Himmler stepped through the doorway the room was his. Ordinarily that role would have fallen to Lt. Carl Callahan, chief investigator for Sheriff Oglethorpe, as it did now when Callahan entered the office of the high school's acting principal.
An imposing man in his own right, an impression struck at first by the starched white shirt with gold bars on the collar wings, the brown uniform trousers with wide black stripe down the seams of each leg, the rugged, fit build and strongly confident face, Callahan's entrance commanded everyone's immediate attention.
The man wearing a tan windbreaker, who entered slightly behind him, was nearly invisible until Callahan stepped to one side and introduced him. Frederick Himmler, he said, was an insurance adjuster assisting the Sheriff's Office in its investigation of the reenactment shooting and “anything that might be related to it, such as this break-in.”

Saturday, June 21, 2014

First Shot (6)

Blow remembered the peach pie soon as he got to his Ranger pickup after meeting with Lt. Callahan. Rather, he remembered he'd forgotten to bring the piece he promised Mary Lloyd the night before. She called him while he sat in his truck trying to decide whether to go back home and get the pie or head down to the newspaper office, apologize and offer to buy her lunch instead.
Where's my pie?”
At home. I forgot it.”
Where are you?”
In my truck. Just got done talking with Callahan. He called me first thing this morning. Interrupted my schedule.”
He tell you about the break-in? At the high school?”
He did not. When'd it happen?”
Sometime yesterday. Assistant principal discovered it this morning. School's canceled today.”
You there?”
Nope. Just found out about it. Getting ready to head out, though. I was gonna invite you to come along, but you forgot my pie.”

Friday, June 20, 2014

First Shot (5)

Lt. Carl Callahan hijacked Blow's breakfast routine with the text message Blow found on his cellphone after his morning shower. The message instructed him to call Callahan ASAP. Blow did.
C'mon down. Got something for you.”
I haven't had breakfast yet. How about you meet me at Marie's?”
Not private enough. All those booths do is create the illusion of privacy. C'mon. We can eat jail food. Comes from the hospital kitchen. Pretty good, actually.”
And it was. Scrambled eggs, bacon, grits and buttered toast. Callahan cleared a place for Blow's styrofoam box on the desk, next to Fu Manchu, his cowardly Siamese fighting fish.
Ogie's secretary made the coffee. Almost as good as Marie's.” Blow took a sip, nodded his head. “Not bad.”
You're probly wondering why I called this meeting,” said the cop as he reached for a piece of bacon. He bit off a piece and chewed, his ice-gray eyes fixed steadily on Blow, the hawk-nosed narrow face and shaved pate contributing to a predatory air Blow knew would be unsettling across a steel table in an interrogation room.
Blow nodded. “It crossed my mind. Then I realized you, too, have heard I'm representing Andrew Salzwedel, who thinks he's the number one suspect in your investigation.”
That's partially true.”

Thursday, June 19, 2014

First Shot (4)

The Stones and Lila were beginning dessert—a peach pie Lila had made from scratch--when Mary Lloyd called.
“This a bad time?”
“Not at all, Mary. We just finished dinner. What's up?”
“You're still eating. Chewing something. I'll call later.”
“No, really. It's dessert. Lila made a peach pie. You wanna come over? I'll save you a piece.”
“Thanks, Blow, but Belinda and Charles are visiting, with the kids. Grandchildren trump pie, I'm afraid. Bring me a piece by the office tomorrow?”
Blow laughed softly. “I'll bring two pieces, but you'll hafta supply the ice cream.”
“Hmmmmm...well, OK. Guess what I heard today?”
“That I'm representing one of the reenactors.”
“Andrew Salzwedel. How did you know?”

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

First Shot (3)

Blow's anticipation only half-prepared him for the impression Andrew Salzwedel would make when he stopped by Blow's home office early afternoon. He'd learned the history teacher was one of the most popular people at the high school, with students and teachers and even parents.
“He'd make a darned good principal but he says he'd rather teach.” This from a client with one kid who'd had Salzwedel and another currently in one of his classes. The client called worried about the implications of rumored bad blood between Newt Gunther and Salzwedel, “both being out there playing soldier and all.”
Blow had talked further with Homer Price after breakfast, in the parking lot out of likely eavesdropping range. Salzwedel had been a basketball star at the University of Maryland, and as such, “don't take no shit off none of those punks running around that school.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

First Shot (2)

Next morning when he bought a Daily Herald from the box near the entrance to Marie's Restaurant, Blow already knew the identity of the reenactor who'd gotten his head blown off. An attorney, he was called at home that night by a man worried he might be blamed. He wanted Blow to represent him should this occur.
Blow, his father and Lila went straight home shortly after witnessing the grisly death. Home was what folks is Leicester County called The Stone House. Blow's grandfather, Samuel Stone, had built it after returning from WWI, settling in Leicester, marrying, and learning the carpentry trade. Meanwhile he studied law with a local attorney, eventually hanging his own shingle and becoming a respected magistrate.
Samuel and Maureen named their only child Felix Joseph, taking names from each of their families, and Blow in turn inherited the same names. Neither father nor son ever used Felix, but confusion between them was avoided when Blow's father became a judge, hence he was called Judge while his son became for many just Joe. Most folks in Blow's generation called him by the nickname he acquired in a childhood prank blowing the paper wrappers from drinking straws so their moistened ends stuck to the ceiling above his favorite booth at the local Walgreen drugstore. Despite its ambiguity he much preferred this moniker over the dreaded Junior. And explaining it to new acquaintances actually proved an effective ice breaker on occasion.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

First Shot (1)

“Perfect day for a war.”

It was the kind of droll remark people who knew Leicester County's retired Hippy Judge were accustomed to hearing from him, but he wasn't necessarily among friends at the moment. His son, Blow, hadn't recognized any of the other spectators within earshot. He glanced quickly to either side of the Judge and Lila, but none of the others seemed to have noticed. His father looked toward him and Blow saw the familiar grin that might have been a sneer were it not for the display of upper teeth and the merry laugh lines around the older man's blue eyes.

“Were such a thing conceivable, morally, that is,” the Judge added, his voice more confiding, smile still teasing.

“Well it's only a reenactment,” said Lila Moreau, the Judge's friend.

“That is true in a sense, my dear, but it's really not even that. You see, the actual battle was fought across the river around Yorktown. And these folks, well, although they might well look the part with their muskets and their colorful martial costumes, aren't even trying to replicate the tactics used in the battle back then. If they weren't shooting blanks at each other they'd really be no different than a bunch of marching bands rehearsing for a Super Bowl halftime spectacle.”

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Tree voices

It was known locally as The Hanging Tree. No history to corroborate the name, that Sutton knew of, but he allowed there was enough circumstantial evidence. At least one if not others of its massive reach of sturdy horizontal branches might well have held a rope or more back in the day. And it was old enough. Sutton knew that. At least two centuries under its ragged bark. And huge. Hips big as an Asian elephant's. In fact, damned thing looked like the child of a wild night 'tween a mastodon and a giant squid. Frozen, though, were that the case, save for the trillions of leaflets waving like royal fingers in a parade.
The circumstantial evidence was good enough for the history buffs to picket the tree with scolding signs. The age of the tree was enough to bring out the huggers, who climbed into its multitude of crotches and vowed to stay put come hell or chainsaw horror. The poets enlisted choir members to lend timbre to their march singing new words to the Joni Mitchell chestnut about not knowing what you got 'til it's gone, with the new chorus being, "You rape paradise to put up a business school."
Sutton knew any one of these groups was capable of carrying its protest into lethal territory. And if not the groups themselves then some lone assassin. And assassin was most assuredly the right word because anyone who drove ten-penny nails into a tree that was marked to be taken down was virtually guaranteeing the poor bastard with the chainsaw would get enough of himself sliced apart or off when a nail bounced the snarling teeth back in a finale the local media could only euphemize for their family audiences. Which is why Sutton was up there now with a magnet and a claw hammer as a nasty-looking storm rumbled in from the west.
He didn't especially like the risk of climbing around in a tree with a storm approaching, but it seemed the only opportunity to do so without protesters interfering.
So he was alone, straddling one of the limbs and scanning an area he'd marked for cutting, when the discussion started. At first he thought it was just more of the distant thunder. The voice was low and resonant, Paul Robeson leading into Old Man River. He looked around carefully. Saw no one. As it turned out there was only the one voice, but it spoke a multitude of viewpoints. As if each speaker went to the same microphone which electronically converted all of the voices into Robeson's. It was a gentle discussion, an enlightened one, one without any apparent stake beyond a collective concern for an uncertain future.
Soon locked in the spell of unseen eavesdropping, Sutton slid down to the nearest crotch and leaned his back against the rough old trunk, and listened.
"Kinda small potatoes. No passion."
"We've tried passion. Too dangerous. Inevitably led to religions."
"True, but without the risk what does it matter if a bunch of introverted stoics believe? Organized action is still our best bet."
"Pure love is all that matters. It's all we have. This guy wants to believe but he needs rational assurance. Blind Faith is a band.”
"But the danger. We prove to him, we prove to a million like him that we exist and can and will interfere, can they handle it? Can we be certain none of them will go messianic on us, again?"
"Now wait a minute. The messianics have done good by us. We wouldn't be here without them. It's the ones who take advantage of them, twist their messages. The metaphysical predators."
"There will ever be mortals who can't wait. It's in their genes. Even when our chosen ones sacrifice their bodies, their lives to demonstrate the power of their love, there will always be seculars who subvert the example, the opportunists."
So you're saying no more beacons?”
We've given them enough beacons. It's time to go subtle. Time to work with the meek. Prove our existence to them in an intimate way, that we recognize them with love, let them know their calling and their commitment to it are vital.
"Yes. And they recruit by example, their devotion to vocation, the quiet confidence and strength we give them."
"By example alone? No proselytizing?"
Will that enough?”
It has to be.”
"But we're nearly out of time. They're destroying the planet. We can't afford to lose the species. What can ten, a million, nay, ten million devoutly loving introverts inherit when all is risked by the others for comfort and pride?"
"The truly devoted can survive."
"They must.”
If they don't?”
Have we faith enough to last without the love of mortals feeding us? Have we enough love to face the unknown, the eternal cosmos? Have we? Sing it, children--"
"Shhhhhhh. I should like to think we do, but it's a risk I'm not wanting to take."
"Nor I.”
Nor I.”
Nor I.”
Nor I."
[This rumbles awhile.]
"The nays have it. Well then, as our sole effect is on attitude, we'd best get cracking."
The ringing in Sutton's ears resembled the whine of jet turbines too near, and he choked on the ozone. He saw by the steam rising from the fresh gash in the bark of the neighboring cedar this is where the lightning had struck. Raindrops pelting his head and neck had restored his consciousness. It was just starting, what promised to be a deluge.
"Hoo boy, best to get down now." He clambered out of the crotch and dropped to the ground. He patted the trunk that had provided his backrest. "Later, old girl." He jogged to his truck.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


I've seen her three times now. The first was at the doctor's office. We are waiting in a sort of haphazard line at the window where you arrange for referrals or your next appointment. She is ahead of me, and this is annoying.
A lot of things annoy me at the doctor's office. It's my age, I suppose. It's assumed we get grouchier as we watch our youth fade and find it harder to deny the alternative's approach. I am, anyway. I'm living up, or down more accurately, to the standard assumption. It's worse at the doctor's office because of all the reminders. The stink of latent dread is everywhere, the more noticeable the older you are.