The Tarot Card Mystery part Seven


For those of you who have not followed this series, here are links to the first six episodes: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, and Part Six. Part Seven is the last episode.

Once again, the old red ship in the harbor was as black as night inside. Using his flashlight for just a moment to get his bearings, Sam started off down the corridor. He passed an open hallway to his right but dared not try the flashlight again. Just as he passed it Sam heard a flurry of movement behind him. He crouched and turned in a defensive move just in time to feel the weight of a man drop on him. A heavy man. The air was forced out of his lungs. Gasping and reaching for his pistol Sam felt a fist connect with the side of his head. It was a glancing blow which still hurt, but didn’t put him down. As Sam grabbed his pistol he pulled out the flashlight with his other hand. While the light momentarily blinded his attacker, Sam lashed out with his foot, striking the man in the gut. The attacker dropped to all fours. Sam used his pistol to smash the man in the back of the head, dropping him all the way to the floor. Not getting a good look at his pursuers the first time he was on the ship, Sam wasn’t sure who this was. Monty or Jerry was his guess. Suddenly hearing footsteps approaching, Sam lifted his gun and squeezed off a shot toward where his new assailant had appeared from around the corner.

“The next one goes right through your forehead pal,” Sam said. Shining the flashlight in his direction revealed the new guy to be Michael, Madame DuPree’s right hand man. “Nice to see you again, Michael,” Sam said, sarcastically. Michael stood without speaking. “Chatty as ever, I see,” Sam quipped. Behind the man, Sam could see light spilling from the same room he had rescued Christi from. “Alright Michael, this is how it’s going to go down. You’re going to grab your friend off the floor here,” Sam said, motioning to the first assailant. “You drag him into this room and then we”re all going to have a friendly little talk. Unless you’d rather not. Then I’ll just kill you. Either way works fine for me.” Michael, with just a moments hesitation, walked to the prone man on the floor, scooped him up under his arms and dragged him around the corner and into the lighted room. Sam followed. Inside the room Sam found a surprise waiting for him.

“Oh Sam mon! I’m so glad you are here. You’re saving me again!” Christi cried. Christi was once again tied to a chair. Beside her, also tied up was Madame DuPree. Behind the two women was another man. Probably Monty or Jerry, whichever one wasn’t being dragged in by Michael. The man began to raise the 45 in his hand, but Sam stopped him.

“You’ll die for trying buddy,” Sam said, holding his 44 at the heart level of the man. “Lay the gun on the floor and kick it my direction. It ain’t worth it pal, just do it.” The man looked at Michael and then back at Sam. He did as Sam told him. Picking the pistol off the floor Sam kept one on Michael and the other on Monty/Jerry. Suddenly Monty/Jerry lunged. Sam brought both pistols to bear on him but before he could get a shot off, Michael was on him. Michael’s arms wrapped tightly around Sam’s, keeping him from shooting behind him. Sam twisted in Michael’s grip just enough to bring his pistol up and squeezing off two quick shots, landed both bullets in Monty/Jerry’s abdomen. The man screamed and dropped to the floor. Michael reached out and grabbed the gun in Sam’s hand. Twisting it backward, Sam let go with a yell of pain. Michael’s grip had loosened on Sam however, and he twisted out of his arms. Backing up several steps, Sam pointed Monty/Jerry’s gun at Michael. Michael lunged at Sam.

Sam started shooting. Just as he did, several policemen came barging through the door. Behind them was Captain Amos. Everything came to a halt. Several guns came to bear on Michael even though Sam had shot him twice. The big man hadn’t even flinched when Sam’s bullets hit him. But with as many police as there was, his choice was either quit or get killed. He stood quiet as he was being handcuffed.

“You alright, Sam?” The Captain asked. “Good idea for you to wear that wire,” said Amos. “I think if we search this boat, we’ll find what these goons were up to.”

Everyone, except Sam was handcuffed and taken down town. Christi begged and pleaded with Sam and the police to set her free. Sam told her they needed to get everything sorted out and if she didn’t do anything wrong, she would eventually be let out. She was not happy. She screeched and cried all the way out of the ship.

A few days later, Sam sat at his desk. As the workman finished his new glass window he tried to recall how many of them he’d had replaced. “You know,” the man said to Sam. “You’re putting my kids through college with these window replacements. Not that I mind, but maybe you ought to think about a solid door.” Sam wrote him a check and sent him on his way. Just as he was thinking about Christi and hoping she would make out okay, the phone rang. It was Captain Amos.

“Yeah, Sam,” he began, “Looks like your girlfriend’s story checks out. We’re letting her go. She’ll need to stick around awhile to testify but for now, she’s free. Pretty much looks like what you told us. The old lady was selling drugs and the big guy was working for her and selling drugs in direct competition with her. They’re all going to plead not guilty of course so it looks like it could be a lengthy trial. Oh, and your girlfriend wants you to come pick her up. Now.”

“She’s not my girl….” Sam started to say, but Captain Amos had already hung up the phone. Sam was reluctant to pick her up. She was a material witness to the crimes and so was Sam. They were both heavily involved and any contact between them could be problematic. But the Chief sort of okayed Sam picking her up, so… Sam grabbed his coat and started to head for the door when something fell out of his pocket. He stared at the object on the floor. It was a Tarot card. The back was facing up and it had the same design as the deck Madame DuPree had used. Sam sighed heavily, bent down and picked it up. How the heck did that get in my coat, he thought. Turning the card over proved to be a bad idea. It was “The Lovers.”

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Angels And Demons

video-game-controller

“Alright kids,” their grandfather said. “Gather ‘round. Time for a bedtime story.” The children came running and plopped themselves down at the old man’s feet. Grandpa’s stories were the best.

“Not too long now,” their mom said. “It’s getting late.”

“Aww mom,” the kids cried. Grandpa smiled at them and winked. They all smiled back.

“This is a story about a boy named Bobby,” Grandpa began. “Bobby liked video games. Probably you kids like them too. So listen carefully to what happened to him.” And then Grandpa told the tale…

Bobby’s character was killed again. “Darn it,” he exclaimed, tossing the controller onto the bed beside him. “I just can’t get past this demon.” He had been trying all evening to evade or kill the demon in the game, but to no avail. The White Sword, his best weapon was just not powerful enough. The demon beat him every time.

From down the hall Bobby’s mom called, “Bobby, time for bed.”

“Alright mom,” he called back. After shutting off the game machine Bobby dressed for bed. He went to the bathroom to brush his teeth and then went out to the living room to find his mom.

“Did you remember to study for the test at school tomorrow?” she asked.

“Um, yeah, sure did,” Booby replied.

“Um hmm,” his mom said, watching his face. “I just bet you did.”

“Aww c’mon mom, I’ll be fine.” Bobby leaned over to kiss his mom’s cheek.

“Get some sleep, kiddo. Maybe you can study before school.”

“Alright mom, g’night.”

“Goodnight, Bobby,” his mom said.

Bobby went to bed. Pulling up his covers he reached over and shut off the lamp. Light from the street light streamed into his room, making stark black and white shadows on the wall. Bobby closed his eyes and imagined fighting the demon. Flashing the White Sword this way and that, he imagined what it would be like to finally kill the thing. He’d gain lots of power, he thought. And maybe more weapons. How cool would that be? Slowly, Bobby drifted off to sleep.

Bobby woke sometime in the night. He woke up because he heard his chair scrapping across the floor. He opened his eyes and there, standing with its hand on the back of the chair was the demon from his game! Bobby had kicked off his covers in his sleep. Quickly grabbing them he pulled them up around his chin. The demon sat down. A low growling sound came from its throat and Bobby could see reddish fire coursing through the veins that stood out on its arms. It had long curved horns coming out of its forehead and teeth, pointed and probably razor sharp gleamed in the street light from the window. Bobby started to shake.

Suddenly a glow began to form in the air at the foot of his bed and continued to brighten. As the glow got brighter yet, it took the shape of a man. Bobby could see wings, long and feathery, on the man’s back. It was an angel! The angel moved around to the opposite side of the bed from the demon and sat down, even though there wasn’t a chair there. “You’re Late!” said the demon.

“Yes well,” the angel replied casually, “Lot’s to do you know. Lot’s to do.” he looked at Bobby and smiled. Bobby looked back with wide eyes, not knowing what to think. He pinched himself. It is said that you can tell if you’re dreaming by pinching yourself. If you don’t feel it, it’s a dream. Bobby felt it.

“Well let’s get on with this. You’re not the only one with things to do,” the demon said, crossly.

“I know what you’re going to say,” the angel began, but was interrupted by the demon.

“He’s mine. You heard him, he lied to his mother. Didn’t even say he was sorry.”

“Well you’re right of course. He did lie. But Bobby’s a good boy. He didn’t argue with his mom about going to bed. He brushed his teeth, gave his mom a kiss and all but promised to study for his test in the morning”

“All but,” the demon replied. “And this isn’t the first time he’s lied. You know that.”

At this point Bobby got up a little courage. He said, “What are you guys doing in my room? What is….?”

The demon’s hand came up quickly and he pointed a smoking finger in Bobby’s face. “Stay out of this boy,” he snarled. “This is between me and him.” Bobby sunk back under the covers. The demon began to stand up. “So that’s it then,” he said to the angel. “I’ll be taking him.”

“Not so fast,” said the angel. The demon growled loudly and sat back down. “Remember back in, oh what was it now, 1738 I think. The boy who chopped down his father’s cherry tree? You said you had to have him for that and I said no because he told the truth. We made a bargain, remember?”

“Yeah I remember,” snarled the demon. “Let him live, you said. We’ll see how he does, maybe you can have him yet. Well it didn’t work out so well for me, did it? Became president he did. I don’t like your bargains.” The demon crossed his arms and sat back in the chair.

“Ww, what’s going on?” Bobby stammered. The demon was about to yell at him again when the angel interrupted.

“You died in your sleep, Bobby,” the angel said. “Too much video game playing. Affected your brain.” He shrugged. “These things happen.” He reached out and patted Bobby’s knee. “It’ll work out, don’t you worry.”

“Like hell it will!” the demon bellowed, standing up suddenly. “He’s mine and I’ll have him! Just look at his desire to kill me every time he plays that stupid game!” he yelled, pointing at Bobby. “That should tell you all you need to know!”

“Here’s what I propose. A rematch. It didn’t work out for you with the Washington kid so now you’ll have a chance to win. We let him live, see how he turns out. You’ll probably win this time.”

The demon started pacing on the floor. “Why do I let you talk me into these things,” he grumbled. “Alright fine,” he said suddenly. Turning to Bobby he said, “You better make this work for me kid. I need to keep up my quotas and you would make a fine addition to the family.” Turning to the angel he said, “And you! No more bargains from you! I better win this one or there’ll be hell to pay!” In a flash of smoke and flame, he was gone. Bobby shuddered.

The angel softly chuckled to himself. “Never changes,” he said. “Never changes. Well that’s it Bobby. You get a reprieve.” The angel looked gravely at him. “Don’t make me regret it,” he said. “Now sleep.” Bobby slept.

Bobby’s mom poked her head into his room. “Time to get up dear, school.”

Bobby got up slowly. He rubbed his eyes and then got dressed. Grabbing his game controller he reached for the game machine, and stopped. Standing with his finger poised over the on button Bobby blinked a couple of times and then took back his hand. Laying the controller down, he reached for his school book. “That’s right,” he said. “I’ve got a test today.” And he opened the book.

The grandkids sat with their mouths gaping open. “Now let that be a lesson to you,” grandpa said. “Time for bed!”

The Case Of The Missing Pipe part Five

Okay folks, this is the last episode of “The Case Of The Missing Pipe.” This was first published last year on the “Pipesmagazine” website. Enjoy!
private detective

The Case Of The Missing Pipe Part Five

“Hey Cap’n, we got a live one here!”

Police captain James Richards had responded to a ‘shots fired’ call at the Gialone estate around midnight. Since Sylvester Gialone’s death the estate had been quiet. It seemed Mary, his widow, had just wanted to live a life out of the spotlight. So when the call came in, it peaked his interest. He stepped over one of the two dead bodies they had found and approached his Sargent, who was kneeling over a third. “Well, look who it is,” he said. “Sam Barton. I wonder what got him mixed up in this business?”

“Took a shot to the chest, Cap’n. Won’t be good,” said the Sargent as he pulled open the buttons on Sam’s shirt. “Well looky there! He’s wearin’ a vest.” When Sam had changed his clothes before coming to the estate with Mary, he put on his Kevlar vest, beliving he may need it. He wasn’t completely anti-technology. “Only reason he’s still breathin’.”

“Alright Sarg, let’s get him over to General, let the Doc’s look him over. And post a guard on his door. Nobody in or out. Maybe he’ll have some answers for us.”

Two weeks later, suffering from the pain of two broken ribs, Sam sat at the counter of his favorite tobacconist sipping his pipe. Slowly rolling smoke around his mouth, he blew it out through his nose. Savoring the after taste, he said to Smitty, who was waiting anxiously, “Well Smitty, you’ve done it again. This is a great English. Can you wrap up two ounces of this for me?” A giant smile worked it’s way across Smitty’s homely face. He liked nothing better than a satisfied customer.

As Smitty went to get the tobacco, Sam thought about the fiasco with Mary Gialone. The microfilm that Sam found in Sylvester’s pipe contained a list of all the mob families names he had been involved with and the crimes they committed over the last several years. When he had felt up to it, Sam gave his statement to the cops and Vincent Brugglio and all his cronies had been rounded up and charged with multiple crimes. He told them about Mary and all that had happened since she first came to his office. It didn’t take the police long to start making arrests and the papers were full of headlines making Sam out to be the hero for bringing down the mob. One little problem that still needed to be solved was that Mary had not been found. Somehow she had slipped away and the police were still looking for her. Which meant to Sam, that he, was still involved.

Sam had a feeling that Mary would try to contact him again, and he was seldom wrong about his feelings. Without any mob friends left or the ability to go home, Sam figured she had few options. The police had raided the building the thugs had taken he and Mary to and many others. However, Mary was still out there so someone was helping her.

Back at his office later that night with a new frosted glass window pane in the door, Sam loaded up his pipe with the new English tobacco. Smitty was a hell of a blender and seemed to always know just what Sam would like. Switching on the radio to his favorite Jazz station he sipped a 20 year old Jameson and sat back and lit up. The smoke rolled around his head as his friend Scarlet’s voice came over the air waves. “As many of my listeners know, I have a good friend whose name is Sam. This next group is one of his favorites. So while you listen to this, ‘Take Five’ and think about all that’s happened Sam ’cause, it ain’t over yet.” And with that, the Dave Brubeck Quartet came on with ‘Take Five’, his favorite tune. Sam always had an appreciation for the disjointed feel of the 5/4 time signature of the song. Puffing slowly on his Billiard, he thought about what Scarlet said. Her words reinforced his feeling that Mary would turn up somehow. After his smoke he laid down on his cot and enjoyed a dreamless sleep.

The next morning after he was dressed and had the coffee on, the telephone rang. “Sam Barton here,” he said into the receiver.

“Sam, it’s Mary.”

“I wondered when you’d call,” Sam said. “You know the cops are looking for you.”

“I know Sam. We’ve got to talk. Can I come to your office?”

“Kind of risky, don’t you think? What makes you think I won’t turn you in?”

“Sam, you’ve got to understand, I was forced to do what I did. They threatened to kill me. I, I’m sorry Sam. I didn’t mean for all this to happen to you,” Mary sobbed into the phone. “Please Sam, I’m so scared. I’m in the alley behind your office. I don’t have anyone I can trust Sam, please?”

“Sure Mary,” Sam said. “C’mon up.”

Sam smelled the cigarette smoke as soon as Mary started up the stairs. God he hated cigarettes. She opened the door to his office without knocking and closed it again quickly. Stubbing out her smoke in the ash tray, she paced as she talked. “Sam it was all an act. I had to do it. They needed the information that my husband kept on all of them and they used me to get it. You must understand.” Coming around to where Sam was seated she lifted herself up, and sat on the desk. Crossing her legs caused her skirt to shift slightly. Reaching out she took Sam’s hand, and rested it on her leg as she toyed with his fingers. She didn’t notice the newly installed camera in a darkened corner of the office.

“We could run away Sam. My husband had off shore bank accounts. There’s millions, Sam. With your help we could have access to them. We could go live on the beach, just you and me. I felt something between us Sam, I did. Didn’t you feel it? We could…..” At that moment Captain Richards and his Sargent came through the door, Mary turned on Sam. “You called the cops?!” Mary took a swing at Sam as he backed up his chair.

“No Mary, I didn’t call them. They’re in the next office with a bug on my phone and they’ve been watching you on that camera ever since you came in,” he said pointing at the corner.

“You bastard! I trusted you!”Mary screamed.

“Yeah, well I trusted you too. Seems we were both wrong.”

Mary lunged off the desk at the Sargent who was approaching her. Pushing her shoulder into his chest she grabbed his gun from his holster as he fell backward and started pulling the trigger. Bullets were flying everywhere. Sam came out of his chair and grabbed her with both arms in a bear hug, swung her around and slammed her into the wall. As Sam grabbed the gun in her hand she squeezed off one more shot. The bullet went right through his new frosted glass window. Pulling the gun from her hand as glass rained to the floor, Sam pushed her against the wall and held her there. The Sargent and Captain Richards handcuffed her.

“We could have it all Sam! There’s millions!”

“Yeah well, not anymore honey,” said the Sarg. “You’re goin’ to jail.”

“Shut up you dim witted freak! Sam please. Tell them! It was all an act! I was forced into it. Sam!!”

“Get her out of here Sarg. And keep a hold of your gun.” Captain Richards said, handing it back to him.

“Let go of me, dammit! Sam you bastard! I’ll get you for this. You can’t do this to me. Sam!!!

As the Sargent pulled her from the office, Sam sat back in his chair. His ribs hurt from the exertion of wrestling with Mary. The Captain looked around at the bullet holes and broken glass. “Sorry about your office Sam. I guess I need to have a talk with my Sargent. What did she mean by, ‘there’s millions?’ I didn’t hear that on camera.

“She asked me to help her get access to her husbands off shore bank accounts. Said we could run away. Guess that’s what I get messing around with a dame.”

“Geez Sam, who calls a women a ‘Dame’ anymore?”

“I don’t know Captain. Who says ‘Geez’ anymore?”

The Captain laughed as he left. “I’ll be in touch, Sam.”

Sam reached for his pipe. Filling the bowl he lit it up and puffed clouds of smoke into the air. As he smoked the phone rang. Picking it up he said, “Sam Barton here.”

“Mr Barton, you’re a private investigator right?” said a female voice. “My name is Andrea Smith, Mr Barton and I’m in trouble. I think I need….” Sam hung up the phone.

The Case Of The Missing Pipe part Four

private detective

Here is part four of my continuing story, The Case Of The Missing Pipe. First published on pipesmagazine.com

Once inside the house, Sam told Mary not to turn on the lights. He produced a flashlight from inside his coat. Along with this he carried his revolver in the shoulder holster and his 45 in a pocket. He was taking as few chances as possible. With just the small light source he could tell that the house was filled with expensive items. Statuary and paintings in the halls and plush furniture in the various rooms. Mary led them straight to Sylvester’s study. She said she had looked for the pipe when she found it missing, but they were going to look again.

Sam started with the desk drawers. Finding all the usual things one might find in a desk, paperwork and some files, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. One drawer had some tools like a screwdriver and pliers, a small piece of plumbing pipe and some wire. Mary searched the shelves. Pulling out books to look behind them, she found nothing. A couple of cabinets in the room also revealed nothing. “Is there a safe?” Sam asked.

“There is, but I don’t have a key.” Mary walked to a large painting of a landscape on the wall and pulled on one side. The painting swung out to reveal a safe about two feet square. It had the usual lever style handle and a key hole. “I never saw him open it.” Sam noticed that there were scratches around the key hole. Sam started thinking. “Your husband said the pipe was the key. The key to everything. A pipe isn’t big enough to hold a key and yet he said the pipe was the key.” Turning this over in his mind, he suddenly had a thought. Turning to the desk he opened the drawer with the tools. Inside was a four inch piece of plumbing drain pipe about an inch and a half in diameter. Pulling it out revealed that both ends were capped. He shook it. It didn’t make any noise and trying to unscrew the caps he found they wouldn’t budge. Using the pliers and grasping the pipe firmly, one of the caps started to move. Finally getting it off he found paper stuffed inside. Pulling it out and unfolding it, he found a shiny silver key. “Well, the pipe is the key after all,” he said. “Just not the pipe we were looking for.”

The key slid neatly into the safe lock. Turning it to the right and pulling down on the handle, Sam opened the safe. There on the shelf of the otherwise empty safe sat a beautifully carved Meerschaum pipe on a black onyx pipe stand. He looked at it for a moment before reaching in and taking it out. Mary stood beside him marveling. “That’s it,” she whispered. “That’s the pipe he had.”

As Mary held the flashlight, Sam sat in the desk chair and looked it over. The bowl was black inside, like it had some kind of coating. The carving was of trees and little houses resembling a country scene. There was no writing on it, nothing to identify it in any way. Nothing in the bowl. The stem had been pushed in slightly crooked. “He said it was the key to everything, but it was locked. That’s what he said. It was locked. I don’t know what he meant.” Sam thought about this. How could it be locked? Grasping the stem, he turned it back and forth to pull it out. It wouldn’t budge. So that’s how it’s locked, he thought. He couldn’t understand how the stem could turn around easy enough but wouldn’t pull out. It’s locked, he thought again. But how? “I suppose you could break it,” said Mary. Sam looked at her for a moment. “Well, it’s just a thought.”

“Were not breaking it.” Sam said. “It’s locked, just like he said. I just don’t understand how. Maybe it’s…. maybe it’s like a lock.” The pipe had a longer than usual shank and Sam suddenly envisioned a system of slots inside. Grasping the stem firmly, he pulled on it while turning it slowly around. Thinking it might be like a combination lock, he turned to the right. Three fourths of the way around it suddenly popped out an eighth of an inch. Mary watched intently. Continuing to pull on the stem he turned it the other way. Three fourths of the way back, it pulled out another eighth of an inch. Turning once more to the right, this time only half way around the stem came free. Mary let out a squeal. Sam peered down into the pipe shank and said, “How the hell did this thing get carved like that?”

“Oh who cares?” Mary exclaimed. “Is there anything in there?” Sam looked at her again. She’s practically salivating, he thought. He looked in the air hole of the stem and found that there was something in it.

“You have a tweezers?”

“I’ll get one!” Mary ran out of the room, leaving Sam in the dark. She seemed to be pretty excited about finding clues to this mystery. Sam wasn’t sure what to think. Quickly tapping the stem on the desk and feeling with his finger Sam pulled something out of the stem airhole. In his fingers in the dark, it felt like a flimsy piece of plastic, like film. Sam slipped this into an inside pocket just before the flashlight beam came bobbing back in the room followed by Mary. She handed him a tweezers. Poking around in the stem and shank, Sam found nothing.

“Well Mary, there doesn’t seem to be anything here. You seemed pretty excited to locate this pipe. What were you thinking we would find?” Sam twisted the stem back into the shank.

“I…uh…well I don’t know. It just seemed like these clues were adding up to something. These guys, these thugs are after this pipe. It seems like there must be something this thing would lead us too. Now this looks like a dead end.”

“You never told me what they were after, Mary. How do you know they’re after this pipe?”

Suddenly the room was bathed in light. Sam’s eyes smarted and he closed them quickly. Blinking them open he found himself looking into the barrels of three pistols. The bad guys again, and he hadn’t heard them coming. How do they do that, he wondered? The thug nearest him stepped aside as another man walked into the room. This guy wasn’t wearing a mask like the other three. He was handsome, with salt and pepper hair. Wearing a tailored black three piece suit he walked into the room with ease.

“Well done, Mary.” he said. He put his arm around her shoulder, leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. “You should have went into acting. You were very good.” Salt and Pepper leaned forward and took the pipe from Sam’s hands.

“Sam looked in the pipe, Vince. he didn’t find anything.”

“Don’t worry Mary. This pipe holds more secrets than you know.”

“Someone mind telling me what’s going on here?” Sam asked.

“Well Mr. Barton, it seems you’ve been taken for a ride. I suppose I could tell you since you won’t live long enough for it to do you any good. You see, Sylvester Gialone was my business partner. It seems he grew a conscience over the years and decided to turn states evidence in return for immunity from the cops. Mary and I had been having an affair for some time and when she let me know this, we got rid of him. Unfortunately, he left some evidence behind. Mary let us know about the pipe, and we’ve been looking for it for quite awhile.” Waving his hand toward the safe, he said, “This safe is super reinforced steel. Since we couldn’t get into it we decided to enlist some outside help. You were it. A man of your talents would surely find a way into it. And you did. But I’m afraid that’s all we need from you, Mr Barton.”

The man turned and walked toward the door with Mary. She looked back at Sam over her shoulder and smiled. The man said, “Boys, you know what to do.”

A moment later Sam heard them shutting the front door. As quick as he could he reached out and deftly snatched the gun from the hand of the closest thug. Sticking it right into the guy’s ribs, he pulled the trigger. The sound was deafening in the small office. The man let out a yell and fell to the floor. As he was falling, Sam pulled out his revolver and started blasting at the other two who were taking cover behind the desk. Sam slid down to the floor and shot under the desk, hitting another one in the leg. Screaming, the man rolled away. The third guy shot a couple more times at Sam, bullets hitting books behind the desk. As Sam waited, the thug with the leg wound peeked around the desk. Sam shot him, hitting him in the neck. Blood spilled and the man went quiet.

Sam edged over to the first guy he shot and caught site of the man’s shoes. Felt soles, he thought. So that’s how they did it. The last guy was on the other side of the desk. Time to make his play. Sam stood and rushed the guy, but he was waiting for him. The man held his pistol in both hands and pulled the trigger. The bullet hit Sam square in the chest, lifting him right off his feet. His body slammed against the book shelf on the wall. Books flew everywhere as Sam’s body collapsed to the floor. The bad guy got up and gave Sam a couple kicks in the leg. He heard sirens in the distance. This guy’s dead, he thought, and ran for the door.

To be continued….

The Case Of The Missing Pipe part Three

private detective

Parts One and Two are available in earlier posts. If you haven’t read this yet, check them out!

The Case Of The Missing Pipe, part Three

“My husband knew he was going to die,” recalled Mary Gialone. “He knew.”

Mary and Sam Barton were sitting in Sam’s friend Scarlet’s living room. For reasons as varied as the clients Sam worked for, he sometimes needed a place to stay. Scarlet had given him a key. “He called me to his study one night, it was only two or three nights before he died. He was sitting at his desk and he had this pipe in his hands. It was very ornately carved and made out of some white material.”

“Probably Meerschaum,” Sam interrupted.

“Meerschaum, yes that’s it. A very beautiful pipe. He was looking at it very intently when I came into the room. I asked him what he wanted, but he didn’t say anything. He just kept turning the pipe in his hands, staring at it. I asked him what was wrong. He looked up at me then, like he just realized I was there. He said, ‘Dear, this pipe is the key. The key to everything.’ I asked him what he was talking about but instead of answering me, he stood up and walked back to the display case where he kept the pipe. Putting it away, he said again, ‘The pipe is the key. But it’s locked.’ That’s all he said.”

“I didn’t think much about it until sometime after he died. I was so distraught with grief that it wasn’t until about a month ago that I remembered that strange night. And I wondered if this pipe could have anything to do with his death. So I went to his study to look at it and, well, it was gone.”

“Someone stole it?” Sam asked.

“It didn’t appear so. The break in happened about a week later. The pipe was just missing from its case. The case sat on a shelf behind my husband’s desk. When I saw that it was missing, I didn’t think much more about it. Then about a week later someone broke in and stole all my husband’s smoking pipes. I decided then that I needed help. Now I’m sure that pipe has something to do with my husband’s death. I don’t know what, but something.”

“Did you search for the Meerschaum pipe? Was anything else missing?

“I did. I looked through the desk and cabinets of the office but found nothing. And nothing else was missing. Why would someone steal only his pipes? There’s alot of questions here that need answers.”

“I’d like to get a look in there,” Sam said. Just then he heard a noise from the kitchen. Moving his hand nearer his revolver, he waited. Scarlet peered around the corner.

“Well Sam’s here,” she said, in her low, sultry voice. “And you brought a date. How nice.” Scarlet was a radio announcer for an all night jazz station in the city and a good friend of Sams.

“Hello Scarlet,” Sam said. “I hope you don’t mind we’re here. We needed a place to stay that no one knows about. This is Mary, by the way. She’s a client.”

Scarlet gave him a concerned look. “Are you in trouble again?” she asked.

“Nothing I can’t handle, and I promise, there’ll be no trouble for you.” She glared. “I know, I’ve said that before. But I mean it. Really. Scarlet? Stop looking at me like that. I mean it. You’ll be fine. Promise.”

“Okay, Sam. I’m going to bed. Nice to meet you Mary.”

“And you,” Mary said. “Thank you for letting us stay. I’m afraid this is all my fault.”

“No Mary, it’s not. It’s Sam’s fault. It always is. Night.”

“Hey!” Sam called after her as she disappeared down the hall. “That’s not fair.”

“Life never is, Sam.” She called back.

Sam sat for a moment, thinking. “What happened after they took me away?” Sam asked.

“That’s what’s strange about this. Nothing happened. I must have sat there for a couple of hours. I had no idea that you would come back for me. Finally one of the guys with a mask on came to the room. He walked toward me and I stood up fast. I guess he wasn’t expecting it. And then I kicked him in the, well, in the groin. He let out a yell and doubled over. That’s when I ran. I ran down the hall to the door. I didn’t know if it was locked, I didn’t know where it went…” Mary began to tear up. “I, I just knew I had to get out of there. I was so scared. I knew if they caught me then, I’d, I, I knew something bad would happen.” Sam handed Mary a tissue from the box on the coffee table. “And that’s when I ran into you,” she said.

Sam was getting a feeling. He knew something wasn’t right but it just wasn’t coming to him. “Are you telling me everything Mary? Don’t get me wrong but I’ve got a good sense about these things. When these thugs showed up at my office and knocked me out, I remember one of them saying something to you about being told not to say anything. Seems to me you had contact with them before you came to see me. Now, I’m not sure what’s going on here but I get the feeling you’re not telling me everything. And since I’m reluctantly up to my neck in this I think it’s time for you to level with me. If I think you’re using me for something, I’ll turn you back over to them myself.”

Mary started to cry. Putting her hands to her face, she sobbed into them. “I can’t.” she said. “I just can’t do this. I can’t lie. I, I just wasn’t raised like that.” Taking more tissue, she wiped her eyes and blew her nose. After composing herself for a moment she said, “I have been lying to you. They wanted me to get you to find the pipe, to use you to find it for them. Just as my husband said it was the key to, to something, they believe the pipe somehow holds some information they want. I don’t know what it is. They wouldn’t tell me.” Mary sniffed and wiped her eyes again. After the break in, they came to my house. They wanted the pipe. They threatened me, tried to scare me but I told them I didn’t know what happened to it. I was told not to talk. Not to go to anyone for help. But I was scared, and that’s why I came to you. I thought you could help me. I’m sorry.”

“After they took us from your office and then let you go, they threatened me again. They said I had to get you to help me. Make it real, they said. Make him believe it. They had people watching the street and saw you come back. They told me to run out the door like I escaped. I guess they chased us to scare you. I’m so sorry.”

Sam sat back on the sofa. It had been a long night and he was tired. Rubbing his face with his hands, he looked at Mary. Was she telling him the truth now? He couldn’t be sure. Could he walk away without them coming after him? He wasn’t sure of that either.

“Alright Mary. I’ll play along.” He stood up. “We’ll get some sleep here today and tonight we’ll go to your house and look for the pipe. I assume that a woman in your position has access to money and your going to need it. I charge by the hour.” She looked up at him. “I’m not happy about any of this. I should take you back to them and let them do what they want. Except I probably wouldn’t get out alive myself. I’ve lost my interest in helping you so let me make this clear. I’ll help you to the point where I can get out of this alive and then you’re on your own.” Gesturing toward the sofa Sam said, “You can sleep there. I’ll take the chair.”

As Sam settled into the recliner he went over everything in his mind. Things were still not adding up but he didn’t have enough information to put it all together. His last thought before drifting off was that he would find that pipe and put an end to this. And then Mary would be out of his life for good.

The blond was good looking alright. And she smelled even better. The closer she came to him the more aroused Sam got. Sliding her hands around his waist she pulled him close. Her face snuggled in and she kissed him on his ear. He snuggled back. And then she kicked him. And kicked him again. Sam opened his eyes to find Mary tapping his knee with her hand. “It’s late afternoon, Sam. Better wake up” Sam sat up in the chair. Rubbing his face he thought, why are my dreams always better than my life?

After leaving a note for Scarlet they went to Sam’s office and freshend up in the bathroom there. Sam changed clothes and told Mary what he had planned. “If these guys think you’re lying to get me to help you, they shouldn’t bother us if we go to your house. I’m going to find that pipe and put an end to this.” Sam loaded up his own pipe and struck a match. Puffing deeply, he enjoyed the Latakia taste filling his mouth. He didn’t ask Mary if she wanted to join him in a smoke. They drove to Mary’s house at dusk. Her husband had been a gangster who amased quite a forture in ill gotten money and the house showed it. A large iron gate and fence protected the property. As they drove up the winding driveway lined with exotic trees and shrubs, the house came in to view. A gothic style mansion with large windows and several round peaks presented a formidable fascade.

Sam wasn’t sure what to expect and was careful to be aware of his surroundings. At this time of day there were too many shadows for his liking. Shutting off the car and stepping out, he looked up at the house. It was big enough to get lost in. He had always wondered at the extravigence of the rich, why they thought they needed such oppulance. Mary looked nervous. “Everything alright?” Sam asked. She looked at him and nodded. Stepping up to the front door, Mary used her key. As she stepped inside, Sam took one last look around the yard and followed her through the door. Many times in his career he wondered if he was doing the right thing. Wondered if his next move would be his last. This, was one of those times.

To be continued….

The Old Man

old man in wheelchair
The old man sat in his wheelchair in front of the big window, watching the clouds gather, turning darker. A young aide nearby said, “Well Mr. Arneson, it looks like it’s going to rain.”

“Arne” Arneson was known as the grumpiest guy in the nursing home. He turned his head painfully toward the young man and quipped, “Aw, what do you know?”

The young man replied, “I’m in college. I’m going to be a meteorologist.”

“A meteor what?” Arne asked.

“A meteorologist. It’s a fancy name for a weatherman.”

“Huh,” Arne grumbled. “In my day, we didn’t need no fancy meteorologist to tell us the weather. We knew by the signs. Nature, boy. Tells you all you need to know.”

“My father was a farmer,” the young man said. “He taught me all about the signs of nature. How to tell when the weather was changing, how to know when to plant, when to harvest. It’s what got me interested in meteorology. He died last year. I really miss him and the time we had together.”

“Yeah well I miss smoking my pipe. Don’t let you have no pipe in here. Sir Walter Raleigh. Best smoke ever.”

The next day the young aide found Arne in the Great Room in front of the window. The day was bright and clear after yesterday’s rain. He asked if Arne would like to go outside. Arne only grunted. The young man steered the wheelchair down a hallway and they went out through a side door. Parking the chair in the shade, the young man sat on a bench next to Arne. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a corn cob pipe, and a pouch of Sir Walter Raleigh pipe tobacco. “I thought you might like a smoke,” he said. Arne stared at the young man as he placed the pipe and tobacco in Arne’s hands. Arne fumbled with the pouch and the aide held out his hand. “Mind if I do it,” he asked.

The young man took the pouch and pipe back. “The man at the tobacco store showed me how to pack it.” He opened the pouch, packed the pipe with tobacco and handed it back to Arne. Arne gripped the pipe between his teeth while the young man produced a match and lit it.

Arne puffed up a cloud of smoke and took the pipe from his mouth. Putting it back he puffed some more. As they watched the fluffy clouds float by the young man told Arne all the scientific names for the various cloud types. After awhile, Arne said, “You know, you just might make a good meteorologist.”

The young man turned his head toward Arne and asked, “Aw, what do you know?” And they laughed.

The Case Of The Missing Pipe Part Two

For anyone who likes old detective stories or the old radio programs, here’s a story in that vein.
private detective

The case of The Missing Pipe, part Two

Street lights illuminated the wet pavement, empty sidewalks and dark windows. At this late hour only the rare car disturbed the quiet. In a few more hours the city would again come to life, but for now it was like a different world. In this world, Sam Barton fit in perfectly. He understood this world. It was like black and white. There was good and there was bad. There was right and there was wrong. Sam’s world did not include things like computers and cell phones. Facebook and texting were like foreign words. Reality TV shows were the dumbest things he could think of. He watched one once. About ten minutes in he almost blasted the TV with his .45. Sam didn’t fit in the modern world. He always felt out of place. Except late at night. Sometimes he walked the streets, smoking his pipe alone. He felt comfortable there. There, he knew what to do and how to do it. It was his world.

As he sat at his desk, absentmindedly running a pipe cleaner through his Grandfathers old billiard, the sultry voice of Scarlet Lee came through the old tube radio in Sam’s office. “And for all you night owls out there, here’s a great old Jazz piece for you. I’m dedicating this one to my old friend, Sam. I know you’re listening, so I’ll just say this. Don’t let her down Sam. Just don’t let her down.” Scarlet had the uncanny ability to know what Sam was thinking and usually gave good advice. They had tried dating when they first met about three years before but it hadn’t worked out. They remained friends however, and saw each other from time to time. What with the hours they kept though, more often than not, they met on the radio. Scarlet talking and Sam listening. He could listen to that voice all night. But he knew he had other things to do. Scarlet was right, he couldn’t let the lady down. Silently chastising himself for getting involved in the first place, he went to the large map of the city on his office wall. Finding the block where the mysterious thugs had left him, he back tracked the route they had taken by remembering the sounds he had heard as well as the turns they made and the time it took. He figured the building had to be near a train station, close to a street that was busy late at night.

While filling his pipe and lighting it he followed the streets with his finger. After a couple dead ends he finally found what he was looking for. Down the stairs and into his car, he raced across town. He hadn’t taken the time to do anything about the broken window in his office door, but that would have to wait. Hopefully no one would come around. As business hadn’t been that great lately, he wasn’t overly concerned. Slowing down as he approached the area he found on the map, he found himself on Dale Avenue. A collection of late night bars and 24 hour pawn shops about three blocks from a train station. They had made two turns to the left when they pulled away from the building and then a quick right and sped up. That must have been the on ramp to the freeway as they had gone quite fast. Driving under the freeway bridge with the on ramp on his left he took the next right. One block down he took another right and pulled over to the curb across the street from an old warehouse. This had to be it. Reaching under his coat he pulled out his Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum. Popping open the cylinder reveled six fresh rounds. He loved his .45 but this baby felt better in his hand and would put a nice size hole through any thug he came across. Besides, his .45 was fully loaded in his coat pocket. Grabbing some extra rounds for the .357 he slipped out of the car and walked across the street. A door on the street side was probably the one they came out of. Time to find out for sure.

As he placed his hand on the knob it turned in his hand and the door burst open. Mary Gialone flew right into his arms. “Run!” she screamed. Grabbing each others hands they turned and ran toward Sam’s car. Through the door behind them came the thugs. Three of them with masks and guns. Sam palmed his .357 and turned. Blam, Blam, Blam! He shot three times, hitting two of them and the third bullet ricocheted off the sidewalk. As Mary swung around the back side of the car Sam dropped to one knee, aimed well and shouted, “Stop right there, or you’ll get the same.” The thug stopped. With his buddies writhing on the ground in pain he threw up his hands. “Gun on the ground buddy, slowly,” Sam said. The man bent and placed his gun on the street. Sam stood and backed to his car. Reaching behind him he felt for the door handle while not taking his eye or the revolver off his target.

“You’re making a big mistake,” the man said. “We let you go. You were out of it. You shoulda stayed out of it.”

“Yeah, well I’ve made mistakes before,” Sam said, as he slipped into the driver seat. With Mary already in the car he started the engine and squealed tires all the way down the block. Taking a right and then a left he swerved over to the on ramp and flew onto the freeway. Before long he spotted a car in the mirror coming up behind, pretty fast. “Well that didn’t take long,” he said.

“What?” Mary asked.

“Better put your seat belt on. We’re being chased.”

Mary turned around to look as Sam accelerated, changed lanes and swerved in front of a car in the next lane. Mary pulled her seat belt around her, clicking it into place. “What about yours?” she said.

“No time now,” Sam said. He swerved again to put another car between them and the chasers. “We’re never going to lose them on the freeway. Got to find a place to get off.”

Up ahead there was an interchange with another freeway. Sam took the off ramp and slowed down. As soon as he entered traffic he swung the car onto a street off the freeway. Nearly going up on two wheels the tires screamed in protest. The chaser car was right behind them. Up ahead Sam could see stop lights that had turned red. Waiting for the light was a tractor trailer rig. Sam headed straight for it as he stomped on the gas. “What are you doing?” Mary yelled. Sam said nothing as he continued straight at the trailer. Right before they would hit Sam pulled left on the wheel to swerve around the trailer. With the chaser car right behind them, the bad guys didn’t have enough time to react. As Sam and Mary sped past the trailer, running the red light, the chaser car clipped the trailer’s back end. Sparks and metal flying, the car spun around and hit another car in the next lane. Flipping upside down, the car rolled and screeched through the intersection on it’s roof. Sam saw flames in his rear view mirror as they drove away.

A half an hour later, the two of them sat in a booth at an all night diner drinking coffee. The sun was just coming up. “What’ll we do?” Mary asked. “We can’t go back to your place or mine. They’ll find us.”

Sam pulled out his pipe and then noticed the ‘No Smoking’ sign behind the counter. Reluctantly putting it back in his pocket he said, “I’ve got a friend or two we can see about a place to stay. Once we’re safe, you’re going to tell me what I’ve risked my life for.”

With a sly smile, Mary said, “Isn’t risking your life for me good enough?”

Without any smile at all on his face, Sam threw some money on the table for the bill. Standing up and turning toward Mary he said, “No. No it’s not.”

To be continued…

The Case Of The Missing Pipe part One

Last year I wrote a monthly article for an on line pipe smokers magazine called appropriately, Pipes Magazine.com. The articles I wrote were about pipes, tobacco and smoking. Then I pitched an idea for a series about a pipe smoking private eye. He would be an old fashioned detective in the modern world. They liked it and it turned into a five part story. I had fun with this, and I hope you will as well.

The Case Of The Missing Pipe, part One

Sam Barton was disgusted. Sitting at the desk in his small rented office on the second floor of a run down two story building in the ‘not so nice’ part of downtown, he could smell cigarette smoke wafting up the hallway. He hated cigarettes. Using his custom pipe tool, he stirred the Latakia tobacco in his pipe, repacked it and lit it with a stick match. The wonderful aroma filled the room, effectively killing the cigarette smell. The smoker was a woman. He could tell by her foot steps. Light but with purpose, she probably wore high heel pumps. The kind that make a women’s calves look good. Her steps were far enough apart to indicate someone tall. Another plus. As she approached, he made up his mind that whatever she wanted, he would turn her down. He couldn’t stand cigarettes.

Sam knew she was coming to see him because his was the only occupied office on the second floor. He reached out and switched off the desk lamp, the only light in the room. She stopped in front of his door, her shadow casting against the frosted glass window from the light in the hall. She dropped her cigarette on the floor and Sam watched through the space under the door as she stepped on it, grinding it out with her shoe. Classy, he thought, with a note of sarcasm. With three quick knocks on the door, she waited. Sam watched her shadow. She looked at her watch, looked behind her, down at her shoes and back at her watch. Nervous, he thought. Maybe in a hurry. Standing as quietly as he could, he slipped into his overcoat, put on his hat and opened the door, making to leave.

“Oh!” she said, surprised. “Someone is here.” She was tall and slim, dark haired. Wearing a dark coat to protect against the rain, which never seemed to stop in this city, he could tell little else about her. “I, um, I’m looking for Sam Barton.”

Tipping his hat Sam said, “Sorry ma’am, I’m closed for the night. If you come back tomorrow, during business hours, we could speak then.”

“Forgive me,” she said quietly. “I wasn’t able to get here any sooner.” Looking up at him with doe eyes she continued. “But I really need to speak with you. It’s a matter of some importance.”

Feeling a headache coming on he pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m sure it is ma’am but as I said, I’m closed. Maybe tomorrow.” Closing his office door he tried to move around her but she stepped up close to him. Reaching out with her hand she pretended to straighten his lapel.

Leaving her hand resting on his chest she said, “Please. I don’t often beg, but this is very important to me.”

Sam’s imagination got the best of him with the begging comment, and he turned to unlock the door. “Alright,” he said. “I guess I can spare a few minutes.” And just to make sure she didn’t think she was getting the upper hand on him he pointed to the cigarette butt on the floor and said, “Would you mind picking that up please.”

Back at his desk, the woman sat in a chair in front of it. She delicately dropped the cigarette butt into Sam’s ashtray. Picking up the ashtray, Sam emptied it in the trash. She smiled at that and asked, “Do you mind if I smoke?”

“As a matter of fact, I do.”

“But I can smell pipe tobacco. You must smoke a pipe,” she said, all her nervousness gone now.

“I do,” said Sam. “But I have a strong dislike of cigarettes. Sorry,” he said, without conveying the sentiment.

“I see,” she said. “Well, if you have a spare pipe, I’ll smoke with you.” The barest of smiles crossed Sam’s lips as he reached into his desk and took out a cheap pipe he had never smoked. Filling it with his Latakia blend and filling his own as well he handed her the spare and lit them both up. They smoked in silence for a few moments. She was a pretty woman, with the look of a 1930’s starlet. And she knew how to smoke a pipe. “I understand how precious your time must be, so I won’t keep you,”. I’ve had a break in at my house. Some things that are very important to me are missing and I’d like you to investigate.”

“Why not just call the police,” Sam asked.

“Well, I uh, I’d like this to stay out of the papers. You see my late husband was known to have some dealings that were not always, how should I say this? Not always on the up and up. Now that he’s gone and I’m on my own, I’d like to live a quiet life. The less media attention the better. My husband was Sylvester Gialone.” She held out her hand and said, “My name is Mary, by the way. Mary Gialone.” Sam new the name well enough. Sylvester Gialone was a gangster of the highest order. Very well connected in all the top crime families. He had been killed execution style about a year ago. Sam shook her hand and then drew on his pipe as he considered the situation. His first impulse at seeing her outside his door was to brush her off. He should have stuck with that plan. Messing around with crime families was not a good idea and he decided to tell her that and rush her out of his office.

Drawing on his his pipe again he said, “Look ma’am, I really can’t see…” As he said this, the door of his office burst open, shattering the window. Mary screamed and ducked the flying glass as Sam reached for his forty five in his shoulder holster. Three large men who Sam didn’t even hear coming down the hallway came through the door. They wore masks. One grabbed Mary by the arms and pulled her into a corner of the office as the other two went for Sam. One grabbed Sam’s pistol and bending it backward, pulled it cleanly out of his hand. The other punched Sam so hard in the forehead that he saw stars. Just before he passed out he heard one of them say, “You were told not to go to anyone!”

The first thing Sam noticed when he came around was that Mary was still with him. They were in a room with blank walls and nothing but a sofa, for furniture. “Something you forgot to mention?” he said, as he rubbed his head. The pain was intense and he began to think about his line of work. He wondered how many more hits to the head he could take.

“Uh, yes, well I’m sorry about this. I didn’t intend for anyone to get hurt.” Mary’s eyes were cast to the floor, and she wiped them with a tissue from her pocket. Sam had noticed the camera in the corner of the room and decided to make sure that whoever was watching knew that he wasn’t involved with this woman.

“Look ma’am, I don’t know what this is all about, but I don’t want any part of it. You didn’t tell me anything and I don’t want to know. I’d like to make it to tomorrow, if it’s all the same to you.”

“You’re right Mister Barton,” Mary sniffed. “You’re not involved, and I’ll do my best to make sure they know that.”

Resisting the urge to ask who ‘they’ were, Sam waited to see what would happen next. He didn’t have to wait long. Without any noise of someone approaching, the door opened and two of the large gentlemen from earlier, stepped inside. They were still wearing masks. Quickly moving toward Sam on the couch, they grabbed his arms, lifted him up and stuffed a black sack over his head. “Look guys,” Sam said. “I think you’ve got the wrong guy. I don’t know anything about whatever this is.” Neither of the big men said a word as they pulled him from the room. They walked on either side of him for a short distance and stopped momentarily to open a door. The door led to the outside. Sam smelled rain, and car exhaust. He heard a train whistle and the sounds of train wheels on tracks going very slowly. Traffic on a street not far away was fairly busy for late in the evening. The cars he heard were going faster than normal city traffic.

A car suddenly came close and stopped. A door opened and Sam was escorted into the seat. Doors slammed and the car began to move. Two turns to the left and then a quick one to the right and the car picked up speed. They were on the interstate. They drove for about ten minutes without anyone speaking when Sam felt the car move to the right and slow down. They came to a stop, turned right and drove for about two minutes. The car slowed again and came to a stop. The door opened and Sam was moved out to the sidewalk. The two men walked maybe fifty feet with him and then both of them gave him a hard shove forward. Tripping over something on the ground he fell to his knees and toppled over on his right side. The two men ran back to the car. Doors slammed and the car took off with squealing tires.

Sam lay for a minute without moving. He heard normal city noises like a car horn and a dog barking. Sitting up he pulled the bag from his head. He was in an alley, as he suspected. The rain had stopped but the pavement was still wet and water was seeping through his pants. Getting up Sam brushed himself off the best he could and ventured up the alley to the street. Not recognizing where he was, he walked few more blocks until he arrived at University Boulevard. Hailing a cab, he rode back to his office. After sweeping up the broken window glass, Sam sat back and lit his pipe. Puffing up some good clouds of smoke, he wondered just what the hell happened. He knew he should just forget about it. That idea could help him live a little longer. But could he do that? Could he forget what happened and move on. That was a good question.

To be continued…
private detective

Brave

A few weeks ago my oldest granddaughter Brenna, suggested that I write a story involving her and her sister and brothers. I thought it was a good idea and I’ve tried to weave their personalities into the story. Here go’s……

173
Kelsey had a surprise for the kids and asked them to play outside for awhile. As they were going out the back door she said, “Keep a close eye on Colton, okay?”

Brenna replied, “We will,” and out the door they went. In the back yard the kids played tag. Running around, trying to hide behind anything they could, they laughed and had a good time trying not to get tagged.

Later, Alaina said, “Let’s play Hide and Go Seek.”

“That sounds like fun,” Brenna said, “Adrian, You’re it!”

Adrian dropped to the ground and pouted. “Awww,” he said. “I don’t wanna be it!”

Brenna ran up to him and said, “C’mon Bee,” (which is his nickname) “You’re the best at it.”

“Yeah!” Adrian said, jumping up, “I’m the best!”

“We’ll all cover our eyes and you run and hide. I’ll count to fifty and then we’ll try to find you. C’mon Colton, cover your eyes.”

Colton, who was just one year old said,”Eyes.”

The kids covered their eyes and Adrian ran around looking for a place to hide. He couldn’t find anywhere so he stood in the middle of the back yard and covered his eyes and shouted, “Come find me!”

Looking to see where he was, Alaina walked up to him, put her hands on her hips, tilted her head to one side and said, “Adrian, you can’t hide like that.”

“Yes I can! Come find me,” he said, still covering his eyes.

Alaina took two steps to him, put her hands on his shoulders and said, “I found you.”

“Awww,” Adrian complained. “You found me right away.” He dropped to the ground and pouted.

Picking up Colton and coming over to sit by Adrian, Brenna told him, “That’s alright Bee, we’ll think of something else to play.”

Colton said, “Pay.”

While they were all sitting on the lawn wondering what to do next, Brenna noticed movement in the neighbors window. She watched for a moment and saw the movement again. “Didn’t mom say the neighbors went on vacation?” Brenna asked.

“Yes,” Alaina replied. “They went to Alaska.”

“Aka,” said Colton.

“You guys wait here,” Brenna said. “I’ll be right back.” Brenna ran quickly down the hill and leaned her back against the neighbor’s house. She turned and looked in the window. Inside she saw two people, a man and a woman. They were dressed in dark clothes and the man was putting a handful of jewelry into a bag. Oh my gosh, she thought. Those people are robbing the neighbors. Running back up the hill to the kids, she dropped to the ground. “Someone’s robbing the neighbor’s house,” she panted. “We’ve got to do something about this. Adrian, run in the house and tell mom to call the cops. Tell her someone is robbing the neighbor’s house.”

“Awww, why do I have to go?” Adrian pouted.

“Because you’re the fastest, Bee. You can do it better than anyone.”

“Yeah, I’m the fastest!” he said, jumping up and running for the house.

Inside, Kelsey was just taking the first pan of her surprise out of the oven. Chocolate Chip Cookies. She put them on the table to cool. Adrian came bursting through the door. “What are you doing in here?” Kelsey asked.

“Um…I…ah…Oh! Brenna said, call the cops.”

“What?” Kelsey asked. “What game are you guys playing?”

“Uh…she said somebody’s robbing the neighbor’s house. Can I have a cookie?”

Kelsey, wondering what was going on, walked to the window. Brenna, seeing her mom at the window, started motioning toward the neighbor’s house and put her hand to her ear, pantomiming making a phone call. Kelsey wasn’t sure what was happening but trusted her daughter’s instincts and picked up the phone. Adrian ran back out the door with a warm cookie before she could stop him.

Alaina said, “Hey, I want one of those,” seeing Adrian’s cookie.

“Not now,” Brenna said. “We have to do something to help. The cops may be too late.”

“Maybe we can scare them out of the house.”

“That’s a good idea Alaina,” Brenna said. “But how?”

“Let’s run around the house and make a bunch of noise. They’ll get scared and run away.”

Brenna, looking at the neighbor’s house, noticed a rope tied to an eye bolt near the back door. It was about eight inches off the ground. They used the rope to tie out their dog when they were home. “I have an idea. Alaina, you and Adrian run to the neighbor’s front door. Start banging on the door and shouting. Make lots of noise. We’ll see if we can scare them out the back door.”

“Well that was my idea,” Alaina said.

“I know, and it was a good one. Let’s try it.”

As Adrian stuffed the last of his cookie in his mouth, Alaina asked Brenna, “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to try to trip them up with the dog’s rope when they come out the back door.” Picking Colton up and putting him in his backyard swing so he would be safe, Brenna said, “Okay, let’s do it.”

Adrian and Alaina ran for the front of the neighbor’s house. Brenna ran for the back. She grabbed the rope and pulling it across the doorway, wrapped it a couple of times around the base of a heavy table on the patio and then held on tight while hiding under the table. Alaina and Adrian started pounding on the front door. Alaina shouted, “Hey you robbers! The cops are coming! The cops are coming!” As soon as they started their noisemaking, Brenna could hear running feet in the house. They were coming toward her.

Out of the back door the robbers ran. The first one was the man. Catching his feet on the rope, he fell forward, sprawling on the patio. The woman, right behind him also tripped and fell on top of him. The man had hit his head hard on the patio and knocked himself out. The woman jumped up and ran towards the kid’s house. Jon had just come home from work and was getting out of his car. The woman robber was running right towards him. Alaina gave a shout. “Daddy, watch out!” Jon ducked out of the way just in time and sticking out his foot, he tripped the robber. She fell and hit the driveway.

Meanwhile, the police had arrived and as the woman robber was getting up a police man stopped her. Brenna showed the other policeman where the other robber was at the back of the house. He was just waking up. The two robbers were arrested and put in the back of the police car. The policemen had lots of questions and they and Kelsey and Jon were amazed at what the kids had done. The kids were told that they should have went in the house and let the police do the job, but Jon and Kelsey were very proud of what they accomplished.

Two weeks later, the police called to say that the robbers had confessed to a string of robberies in the neighborhood and the whole family was invited to come to the police station for an award ceremony.
When they arrived at the police station they found that the city council, the chief of police and the mayor were there. The room was full news reporters with cameras. The chief of police gave each of them a medal for bravery. Even little Colton got an award. The chief said, “You kids were amazing that day. While others might have run away, you kids did everything you could to stop a bad thing from happening. You should all be very proud of yourselves because you were very brave.”

Little Colton said, “Bave!” And everyone had a real good laugh.

Life After Death Episode 5

window with rain
Sean walked out to the woods behind the house to get Quinn for supper. His boy had a fort in the trees that he played in some times. He usually just called for him, but this time he wanted to be out there. Knocking on the door, Sean called out, “Quinn, it’s time for supper, buddy.” There was no answer, so he opened the door. Quinn was sitting inside with his back to Sean. “Hey Eskimo,” Sean said, using his pet name from the Manfred Mann song, “Whatcha doin’?” Quinn turned around. His face was white. Reaching out to his dad he said, “Am I dead, dad? Why am I dead, dad? Sean watched in horror as Quinn’s face seemed to melt away leaving only a skull. His reaching hands became skeleton hands. “Why did you let me die, dad? WHY DID YOU LET ME DIE!!!

Sean woke with a yell and sat up quickly on the couch. As tears streamed down his face he put his feet on the floor. With his head in his hands, he cried. “Quinn. Oh buddy,” he sobbed. “I’m so sorry. Clair, Alex. Oh, my beautiful girls. I…I’m so sorry. Grace, oh Grace. Why? Why me? Why was I left behind?” Angus trotted up to him and he threw his arms around her neck, burying his face in her fur. She licked at him and whimpered. “You miss them too, don’t you, you big softy?” Scratching behind her ears he said, “Yeah, ya do.” Sitting back and wiping his eyes on his sleeves, he looked out the window. It was wet with rain. He and Grace loved living in the country. The window revealed their large front yard and the lake. They had always marveled at the changing seasons, watching it all together. He felt so alone. It was an empty, heavy feeling like a ton of bricks on his chest, making it hard to breathe. Angus jumped up on the couch and encouraged him to pet her more. He wasn’t quite alone after all. He had Angus. At that moment, he really felt very thankful for that.

Scratching Angus behind the ears, he shook off the remnants of the dream. Seeing Quinn’s face like that, so vivid and real really scared him. Getting up from the couch, he went to the fridge and downed about half of the water jug. Looking at the bottle reminded him that he was drinking rain water, which definitely had a different taste than his well water. And that reminded him that he would have to do something about the power issue. He was in a dire situation and had no intention of living like a cave man. He wanted electricity and the comforts he was used to, like a shower. Lifting his right arm he smelled his tee shirt. Pretty ripe, he thought. Shaking his head and arms, he cleared his mind. Some kind of solar power would be the best option, but how was he going to make that happen? Then he remembered that a friend had told him about a solar power company in the Minneapolis area. What had he said about it? The company sold solar power systems for home owners. This sounded good, but how was he going to find the place? Without his beloved Google search engine it would be like the proverbial, needle in a haystack thing.

The rain storm subsided and he and Angus went outside. Once again, the rain barrel was full so he dipped out a pail full of water for boiling later. Then he filled the gas tank on the generator and busied himself with other tasks like checking the new garden plants he had put in cold frames. They were looking good. The sun came out and warmed the air. Taking a break, he lit a cigar and sat enjoying the warmth as Angus romped around the yard. Suddenly it came to him. Blaine! His friend said the solar company was in Blaine. He was very happy that that memory had surfaced. It would make it a lot easier to find the company and hopefully figure out how to set up a solar power system. If this place sold power systems for home owners, they should have some kind of instructions on how things hooked up. Unless they did the set up for you and you just enjoyed the power. He was going to have to go to the library and see what information he could find. Going into town and entering buildings was a risky thing to do. Especially the library with all the shelves and places that could conceal a person. He was going to have to go armed. He didn’t like it, but he was going to have to do it.

Life After Death Episode 4

tire iron
Just before he reached the turnoff, Sean saw a man standing in the middle of the highway. The guy was waving his arms over his head, obviously hoping the truck would stop. He slowed down and just gaped at the guy. After not seeing a real live human being for a couple weeks it took him by surprise. He stopped the truck and saw that the man was yelling about something before he got the window rolled down. As he lowered the window the man said, “Aw man, it’s so good to see somebody, man. I ain’t seen nobody in a long time. You got any food man? I’m so hungry man, and thirsty. You got any water?” It didn’t look like the guy had any weapons on him and Sean had a couple of cereal bars in his pocket so he set the brake and stepped out and down.

As his feet touched the ground the guy jumped him. With a screaming groan the guy grabbed him around the throat and started to squeeze. Banging Sean’s head against the open door, the guy screamed “You’re not real! You’re not real!” Sean reached both hands up between the crazy guy’s arms and went for his eyes, a trick he’d learned from a friend. Shoving his right thumb into the guy’s left eye, the man screamed in pain and let go. With his hands over his face the guy screamed and thrashed around and just as Sean went to climb back in the truck the guy grabbed him and dragged him back down. As he was falling back, Sean grabbed for a tire iron that was laying on the floor next to the drivers seat. As his feet hit the ground he jabbed backward with the iron, connecting with the guys stomach. Crazy man let out an “oof” as air escaped his lungs. As the guy wound up to to punch him, Sean ducked under his arm and swung the tire iron as he spun around, cracking into his shoulder. Letting out a wail of pain, Crazy man charged. Without thinking about it, Sean swung the iron like a baseball bat. Crazy man’s skull gave a sickening crunch as the iron took him right above his ear. Like the popping of a balloon, his body simply collapsed to the ground.

Dropping the tire iron, Sean stood with his hands on his knees, catching his breath and watching Crazy man. After a moment, He nudged the guy with his foot. No movement. Reaching down and holding the guy’s wrist, he could feel no pulse. Moving to his neck and not feeling a pulse there either, Sean turned away from the dead guy and threw up in the middle of the road. Staggering back to the truck, he rinsed out his mouth several times with his water bottle, trying rinse away more than the bad taste. He had never harmed another person in his life and now he’d killed a man. Even though he was saving his own life, it still felt bad. Really bad. Sean sat in the truck for several minutes, not trusting his legs to hold him up. When the man died he had fallen under the truck and would have to be moved for Sean to pull out. Dragging 200 pounds of dead guy was no easy feat, but he managed to get him to the edge and with his foot, Sean rolled him down the embankment. Taking in gulps of air, he almost threw up again. He needed a smoke. And a drink. A smoke and a drink, he thought. Maybe two drinks. Or beer. Yeah, he thought, lots of beer.

Sean reached into the cooler for another beer but it was empty. He looked down to see four bottles on the ground near his feet. No wonder his head was swimming. He hardly ever drank, but considering the day he’d had, four beers didn’t seem like enough. What had happened helped him to realize something he should of thought of before. In a very short time, his world had changed completely. Not only had he lost his family, and for all he knew, everyone he had ever known, but everything else was gone as well. No health care, no police, no society. If he got hurt, there would be no doctor to go to. No police protection against bad guys. As far as he could tell, he was completely on his own. He would have to be very careful about the things he did. Even riding a motorcycle or driving a car would be a dangerous thing to do. Not like it wasn’t before, but he could die of infection from a simple cut if he wasn’t very careful. So four beers was probably enough.

After parking the tanker along side the driveway he had dragged a lawn chair and the beer up the hill to sit by the graves of his family. Angus joined him there and he had smoked and drank for a couple hours. Dark clouds began to move in and the first sprinkles of rain started to fall. Heading back to the house, the wind picked up and the first real Spring storm started in earnest. Thunder rolled across the country side and flashes of lightening appeared in the clouds. Safe in the house he laid on the couch and listened to the rain. He always liked rainy days and storms and never really knew why. He fell asleep to the rhythm of the rain on the window.

Life After Death Episode 3

huskie

He slept late the next morning. Angus nudged his hand, which was hanging over the edge of the bed. Opening one eye he looked at her. “What do you want?” he asked. She gave a small woof and looked toward the bedroom door. He got up slowly and walked through the house. It stunk like an ashtray. Now he knew why he shouldn’t smoke in there. As he walked past the bathroom, he saw his face in the mirror. Staring for a moment he said aloud, “Sean.” He didn’t look the same, hadn’t shaved or bothered with his hair. “I’m Sean.” he said to his reflection, reminding himself of his name. He stared a little longer and then letting Angus out the door, he looked at the list of things he needed to do. There was a lot of work ahead. He actually felt a little better. Having something to concentrate on was going to help. Cold water from the fridge and leftover chicken for breakfast got him motivated. The first thing he would do was to get out an old hand pump he had and fit it with a long hose. No electricity was going to make it hard to get gas for the vehicles. If he had a long enough hose he could hand pump it from the underground tanks at gas stations. He had never harmed another person in his life but felt like he might have to protect himself if he ran into others. So he strapped on his 22 pistol and loaded the 12 gauge for the ride into town.

In the truck, Angus rode on the passenger side with her head out the window. They drove slowly, checking out the county side and houses for signs of life. He tried to prepare himself for seeing dead bodies but then realized that most people who died probably did so in their houses. The virus was so awful that you couldn’t stand up or move much for the last week. Arriving in town he drove to the nearest hardware store. Pulling right up to the front doors he stepped out and looked around. Nothing. Not a sound except for birds chirping. A large window in the front of the store had been broken out and he stepped through it into the darkness inside. He left Angus in the truck because of the broken glass. Grabbing a shopping cart Sean filled it with flashlights, batteries, plastic hose, and a large side cutter to snap locks and all the plastic gas cans in the store. The store had a gun section so after busting open a cabinet he grabbed 12 gauge shells and 22 long rifle bullets. On the way out he swept up the entire display of disposable lighters.

Driving to the gas station he fixed the hose with clamps to the hand pump he had brought, snapped the lock off the underground tank cap and lowered the hose into the gasoline. Standing on the pump legs he began to pump. The pump was built like a bicycle pedal set up. You grabbed each handle and turned the crank like peddling your bike with your hands. The gas came right up the hose and poured on the ground. Putting the other end in the gas tank of the truck, he filled it up. After filling up all the gas cans he pulled up the hose and packed everything back into the truck. From there they drove to the local truck stop out on the interstate, and checked out the tanker trucks. He found a diesel tanker and climbed up the ladder in the middle of the tank to opened the hatch. He watched the sun reflect off a full tank of diesel fuel. Nice. Climbing down, he found a small motorcycle and loaded it into the back of his truck and headed for home. Doing everything yourself takes a lot of planning ahead.

After putting all the supplies in the house he chained Angus up to keep her from running after him and rode the motorcycle back to town. This time he only carried the 22 on his belt and a back pack filled with a water bottle and heavy rubber bungee cords he’d had in the garage. Riding up to the diesel tanker he shut the bike down and set it on the kickstand. Pulling open the driver side door to look for the keys he stepped up and the smell of death hit him square in the face. Stepping backward, his foot hit open air and he fell to the pavement, landing on his butt. The driver had died slumped over in the passenger seat of the truck. Walking into the station, he took several deep breaths of air through his nose to clear away the smell and focus his mind. He had never had to deal with death like this before. Funerals were one thing. This was completely different. Inside he found foam earplugs, rubber gloves and four cans of spray air freshener. Back at the truck he shoved the earplugs into his nose, put on the gloves and opened the door. Climbing up he grabbed the driver by the arm and pulled him out to the ground.

Even with the plugs in his nose, the smell was awful. He searched the pockets in the drivers clothes but couldn’t find keys. Standing up and glancing into the truck he saw them on the floor. He went around and opened the drivers door again and used the air freshener to hose out the cab. After letting it air out a few minutes he used more air freshener and did it all over again. Then he lifted up the motorcycle and strapped the front wheel to the grill bars on the front of the truck. Lifting it up by the back wheel he strapped that to the bars and shutting the passenger door, he climbed into the cab. The 22 pistol chafed his leg when he sat down so he laid it on the seat beside him. Keeping the plugs in his nose he started the truck. Years ago he went on a cross country trip with a friend of his, the two of them switching off driving his buddy’s semi. It was the one and only time he ever drove a big rig. This one was an older model with a manual clutch which was lucky. The smell was still bad but tolerable as he pulled out of the truck stop. Killing the rig a couple of times until he got used to shifting and clutching he headed down the road toward home.

Life After Death Episode 2

grave with stones

He spent a long time that day, sitting by the graves. He just didn’t know what else to do. Angus, who was a female Husky, stayed with him. He had always liked the name Angus, and when they got her as a puppy, his wife thought a girl’s name would be better, but he had won her over. The dog wouldn’t care, he said. She would answer to what ever they called her, so Angus it was. She was a good, loyal dog who had loved them all and protected the kids. The kids. My kids, he thought, and cried again. Some time later, it started to rain. A light sprinkle, the kind his wife had loved so much. They stayed for a little while longer and then slowly walked down to the house. Just as they went in, the electricity went out. He went to the basement to check the breaker box and found that nothing was wrong. Upstairs, he looked out the window at the house across the county road. The people there always left their porch light on. Now it was off. Well that’s it he thought. The electric is gone. He and his wife grew a pretty good size garden and liked to can fruit and vegetables so their pantry was pretty well stocked. It was almost April which meant that the garden would need to be started up soon. They always planned ahead and had all the seed ready for planting. Cold frames had already been started and now it would mean more than ever. It would mean he might not starve.

Later in the evening when lights from the lake houses should have been on, it was pitch black. His house was about a thousand feet away from the nearest house on the lake and he could always see them down the road. But there were no lights anywhere. None across the lake either. It proved he was right. The coal plant where their electricity came from must have shut down. Nobody left to run it he supposed. He had a small generator and a couple cans of gas so running a cord into the house gave he and Angus a lamp, and a hot plate they used to make candles with afforded him a hot supper. Angus had dog food. He would have to come up with something better than this or times would get tough. Their water pump in the basement was wired right into the breaker box so he had no running water. They had a rain barrel though so boiling a potful on the hot plate gave them something to drink. He also had plugged the refrigerator into the generator so for the time being they had that. With the deaths of his family so fresh, it was hard to think of much else. But he knew he’d have to get busy figuring out how the hell he was going to live in a world without people pretty soon.

After he ate he did something he had never done before. He lit up a cigar in the house. He liked to smoke them but never in the house, subjecting his wife and kids to second hand smoke. No one around now to tell him any different. Doing something normal like having a smoke, cleared his head. so he stayed up late making plans. Unless he was going to live like a cave man he would need a permanent source of power. Solar power seemed like the way to go but he knew nothing about it or how it worked. A visit to the library was in order. There were a lot of things he was going to have to learn and learn in a hurry. He had Spring, Summer and Autumn ahead of him but the time would go by quickly and Winter would kill him if he wasn’t prepared. He thought he could pick up and move South where he wouldn’t have to worry about cold but that got him thinking about other people. There must be others who survived this thing like he did. Where were they? What would they be doing?

He thought about movies he had seen and books about end times like Stephen King’s, “The Stand.” He wondered what others might do. There could be people who would take charge and become dictator types. There could be religious nuts. There could be people who went crazy from grief and would kill anyone they found. Others might have the same idea of moving South and he decided the best option would be to stay right where he was and prepare for what was to come. so he got out a pen and paper, lit another cigar and went to work.

Life After Death Episode 1

I didn’t like the way I was writing this story so I am rewriting it from a third person perspective. Here is Episode 1 in the rewritten form. Hope you like it.

empty streets

As he placed the last stone, he knelt in the grass and thought about all that had happened. When their youngest daughter first got sick, he and Grace took her to the doctor like any parents would. They arrived to find many parents with children that had the same symptoms; green mucus and a rasping, rattling, painful cough. They had seen the news reports of people coming down with these symptoms starting in Texas and moving North. He remembered now that there had been a South wind for several days after hearing the initial reports.

They had been told at the doctor’s office that it was a virus and modern medicine couldn’t do much for viruses. Take her home, keep her warm and fed, they were told. They had tried essential oils, which seemed to help at first, but she just kept getting worse. Then, their next oldest came down with it. The youngest died two days later. When they called 911 to report the death they were informed that hundreds were now dying and nothing could really be done. “It’s illegal,” the police captain, who they had been transferred to had said, “But you might as well bury your child at home. At least she’ll get buried.” When their second child died, their oldest, a boy, ran off for the woods. He had a fort out there where he liked to play. When his father went to find him the boy said he didn’t want to come home. He didn’t want the virus too. And then he coughed. And coughed again. A week later he was dead as well, but Sean had to bury him by himself because Grace was too sick to help.

He had held her close as she took her last breath, crying tears that rarely came to him. And now his tears wet the field stones that he had placed on her grave. Stones that she had collected from her grandparents corn field to line her flower beds in the front yard. She would have liked this, he thought. The four graves were placed on top of the hill overlooking their property. A nice view of the surrounding countryside and the lake. An eagle flew overhead, her favorite bird. A loon called from the lake. A mournful tune she had often tried to imitate.

They had watched the television news together when a report finally came about a fire and brimstone fundamentalist preacher in Texas taking credit for the virus. A member of his church worked for a military lab in Dallas and had smuggled out the virus in sealed tubes. The whole congregation had stood on a hill top and while singing praises to their God, released the virus to the winds. The T.V. showed him screaming into a microphone about how God had commanded him to bring about the end of times. God’s judgement would soon cover the earth but the true believers, meaning his congregation, would be spared and would see God in heaven. And just as he was reaching his crescendo he coughed. And coughed again, this time so hard that mucus flew into the hand he had covered his mouth with. Green mucus. He stared hard at his hand. The T.V. camera catching it all. He looked into the camera, dropped the microphone and left the stage, the crowd suddenly in an uproar. A member of the preacher’s congregation picked up the mic and said the preacher needed a break for a minute but would be back. The camera panned the audience. Fearful, questioning looks everywhere. Yeah, he’d be back alright.

A month later the entire structure of society had broken down. People everywhere were getting sick. Stores closed, T.V. and radio stations started dropping off the air. Still, reports were coming in on the ones that were left saying that the entire world was infected. Cameras showed empty streets because in the last week of the illness people were so sick, they couldn’t get off their beds. But homes were filled with bodies, the reporter said. And then she coughed. And coughed again. On the last radio station he could pick up the announcer said he was all alone. And finally, he started coughing on the air and soon he was gone. The shortwave radio Sean had, picked up Deutche Welle in Germany. The same story there. Everyone was dying. That radio went dead two days later.

And now, here he was, beside his family’s graves feeling healthy but grieving. Why wasn’t he sick? Why wasn’t he dead? His dog, Angus, lay beside him with her head between her paws. “What the hell, Angus?” he said. “What the hell just happened?”