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Story Idea

These are the first few paragraphs of the next Boogeyman story.  It’s just a rough stub, and I haven’t plotted out what’s going to happen in the rest of it, but I think it’s a good introduction.


 

My new client rose and shook my hand. He gripped the business card I’d given him in his other hand. For once, I was sending business Sid’s way.
 
“Thanks so much, Mister Shelby.”
 
“No worries, Mister Matthews. We’ll figure this out.”
 
He nodded, then moved toward the door. Just before his hand reached the knob, it turned and the door swung open.
 
There, framed in the doorway, stood a woman. Blonde curls flowed down to her shoulders, framing a face that could launch a thousand paternity suits. She wore a crimson silk dress that would have been appropriate in a board room or a bordello. Her red lips parted in an easy smile as Matthews ducked his head and walked past her. I could tell he was trying to look like he wasn’t examining every inch of her, but the woman didn’t pay him any mind.
 
She turned her gaze to me, fixing me with eyes the color of milky jade. Long eyelashes fluttered as she sized me up, then she took a step forward and closed the door behind her.
 
Immediately, the room filled with her scent. It was delicate, jasmine and cinnamon with something subtly sweet underneath that would drive a lesser man mad. Not being a lesser man, all it did was send a shiver up my spine. Well, maybe two shivers.
 
“Mister Shelby?” she purred, her voice low and sultry, with a soft drawl that made me hang on every word. “I’m Laura Fallworthy. I left you a voicemail the other day, but you didn’t answer me.”
 
I stared at her with my mouth half-open, then answered. “Sorry, but I’ve been on a case. No cell coverage out where I was.”
 
“Well, I need your help, and I was hoping that you’d make me a priority.” Without asking, she took a seat across the desk from me and crossed her muscular, tanned legs. She caught me looking and smiled knowingly.
 
“I’m sure I could make it worth your while.” Time seemed to slow as she talked. I could make out every movement, every wrinkle of her bright red lips. Her teeth were sharp and white, and I caught a glint of mirth in her eye as she took a deep breath, bringing both of her best features into sharp focus.
 
In my mind’s eye, I envisioned scenes, all with this woman at their center, that would have made the most jaded madam blush. For a long moment, there was nothing else in the world, only this ravishing beauty sitting in my creaky old office chair. Of course, I would do anything for her.
 
I raised my hand, trying to gesture as I stammered out a reply, and the setting sun shining through the window glinted off the gold band on my finger. Immediately, I felt the fog lift a little. Her scent became heavy and cloying in my nostrils, and I felt a pressure against my mind.
 
The shit? I thought. Somebody’s playing games.
 
I blinked slowly, and thought of the worst, most bloody memory I could dredge up. When my eyes opened, I fixed my gaze on the woman sitting opposite me while I replayed that day in my head.
 
“Jesus Christ!” she yelped, and I felt the push in my head let go. “What is wrong with you, mister?”
 
As if by magic, the hazy glow of sex around her collapsed. Her hair lost some of its luster, and her eyes no longer burned at me with desire. Her sultry tone was now brassy, and her soft drawl had become a harsh twang.
 
“Ugh, I mean, who thinks about things like that?”
 
I shook my head, feeling the last of the succubus’ magic let go of my mind.
 
“Lady, if you’re going to try to enchant me into taking your case, you’ll have to speak to my wife first.”
 
She shuddered again, then shrugged. “Can’t blame a girl for trying.”
 
“Maybe, but she will.”
 
Laura Fallworthy pouted, which probably would have been enticing a moment earlier, but now just made her look petulant. For a moment, I considered throwing her, and I don’t mean figuratively, out of my office. But curiosity got the better of me.
 
“Listen, just tell me what you need, and leave out the Helen of Troy routine, all right?”
 

Snippet

Here’s the opening passage to my contribution to Calexit.  Please let me know what you think.


 

“’Night, Joe,” Jennifer said as she passed her hand under the clinic’s reader to clock out. A faint beep and a flash of red light from the appliance let her know that it had recognized the chip in her right hand and that she was officially able to start her vacation.

“’Night, Jen,” Joe replied. “Gonna be another hot one tomorrow.”

“We’re heading to a bed and breakfast in Monterey for a few days,” Jen held the door open as she paused to talk with the man. “It’ll be cooler on the coast.”

She was tall, with long legs and well-muscled arms. Her hair, which one of her college boyfriends had once described as the color of honey in sunshine, ran down the back of her faded gray scrubs in a tight braid.

“At least you’ll be away from all this smoke.” Joe’s teeth stood out against his dark skin as he smiled at the nurse and stepped out to join her on the cement entranceway. “You want me to walk you to your car?”

The smell of wood burning struck Jen as soon as she stepped out of the clinic’s air-conditioned comfort. The news feeds had been bursting with reports of wildfires in the Sierras all week, but the government had assured everyone that no damage to homes or businesses was expected.

“Nah, that’s all right,” Jen said, smiling again. “It’s just over there.” She nodded at the small, beat-up compact she had parked on the far side of the parking lot. It was the only vehicle left in the lot, since Ramon, who had relieved her for the night shift, had been dropped off by his boyfriend. The harsh light of the LED bar that hung above the entrance reached just far enough out that she could see its dull gray outline against the trees.

“Well, I’ll be here if you need me.”

“Thanks.”

Jen gave the parking lot a good, long look before stepping away from the crumbling patio at the building’s entrance. Her car sat in the shadows of tall eucalyptus trees at the far end of the lot, their pungent scent competing with the smoke in the faint, hot breeze. Above it, the skeletons of floodlights, which she had never known to work in the two years she had worked at the clinic, looked down on the cracked asphalt like immense aluminum flowers. Seeing nothing, she fished her phone from her bag.

She tapped “Hi hon. lving work. C U in the AM. Miss U” onto the screen once she had unlocked it with her identity chip and the CalSec emblem had faded to allow her access to the network. She hit send just as she reached her vehicle. The car noticed her presence and unlocked the door for her. It cheerfully chirped at her and helpfully turned on its interior lights. Their dim illumination made her feel better as she looked over her shoulder to see if Joe was still standing at the door to the building. He saw her look and waved.

Jen raised her hand to wave as well, when she heard rushed footsteps coming across the pavement. She turned to see where the noise was coming from just as someone grabbed her from behind and threw her up against the side of her car.

Instinctively, Jennifer threw her elbow back just like her instructor at her “Strong Women of the Future” class had taught her. Pain lanced up her arm as she felt the corner of her elbow impact with something that crunched under its hard bone.

Pinche puta!” a voice squealed as Jen screamed for help. She tried to turn around to confront her attackers, but strong hands forced her head down. Blood bloomed from her forehead as it caught the hard edge of the door. Jen heard voices behind her, then felt hands tearing the thin fabric of her scrubs.

She screamed again, thrashing to get away. Her phone rattled to the pavement beside the car, along with her bag. Her struggles gained her enough freedom to stand upright once again, and she caught sight of the door to the clinic closing as Joe ducked back inside.

Then, someone grabbed her long braid and used it to drag her head back, then shoved her hard against the windshield. She felt the drawstring of her pants scrape along her hips and thighs as they were yanked down, then another blow to her head made the world fuzzy and dark. The last thing she heard before slipping into unconsciousness was the sound of laughter as someone cut the strap of her bra.

The War – Episode 33

September 22, 6:17 AM Central
Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

Jadah stood at the bus stop with her son, Marshall. She looked critically at how short the sleeves of his jacket were, and made a mental note to take him to buy a new one on payday. It was the first really chilly morning of fall, and she had pulled last year’s light jacket out of the closet so that he could have an outer layer over his ever-present sweatshirt.

The nine-year-old saw her looking and rolled his eyes.

“Mom,” he said plaintively, “I can do this. You can go home. Really.”

Jadah shook her head and replied, “Nope. You gotta be escorted by an adult until you’re ten.”

Marshall rolled his eyes again and went back to talking with his friends. Their mothers all smiled at Jadah and after a moment, they all laughed a bit.

“His birthday’s in December, right?” one asked.

“Yeah, and he can’t wait to get cut loose,” Jadah replied, looking up as Linda, one of Marshall’s classmates, and her mother, JoLynn, hurried up.

“Guess we’re not late after all,” JoLynn said, her breath coming out in puffs of vapor.

“You’ve got a couple of minutes,” one of the other mothers said, “Linda looks nice today!”

JoLynn looked over at her daughter, who was talking with Marshall and another boy, and smiled.

“She had me do her hair and help her pick out a skirt,” she said, “Guess she wanted to look special today.”

Jadah snorted. “For real? Wish I could get Marshall to do more than brush his teeth and pull on an old sweatshirt and jeans in the morning,” she said.

The women chatted for a few more minutes before they heard the bus snort its way around the corner at the end of the block. The children picked up their backpacks and formed a line in the grass along the curb, while their mothers stepped back to the sidewalk. As the bus pulled up and the doors opened, JoLynn stepped forward and reached out to her daughter.

“Stop!” the bus driver cried out as she reached for the button to close her doors. JoLynn looked up at her and smiled.

“Just fixing her hair!” she called as she tugged on her daughter’s dark curls and straightened the red bow at the top of her ponytail.

The bus driver opened her doors again and yelled out “Get back on the sidewalk! You know better!”

JoLynn looked up at her and smiled. “I know,” she said loudly, then released the switch she held in the sleeve of her jacket.

A flash of light and a cloud of smoke enveloped the line of children as her suicide belt activated. JoLynn screamed as the explosives burned instead of exploding. Her wool jacket charred and peeled back, exposing her torso to the open air and intensifying the flames.

The children, including her own daughter, scattered. Mothers grabbed children, sometimes their own, pulling them to the ground and shielding them with their bodies. After a few seconds, the sizzling and popping of the flames ceased as the last of the explosives burned off, and the quiet of the morning was only broken by the gunning of the bus’s engine as the driver floored the accelerator, as well as JoLynn’s screams as the pain from her burns surged through her body.

Jadah pulled herself up from the sidewalk and the child underneath her. Her knee throbbed where the concrete had torn into her pants and scraped her skin, but adrenaline dulled the pain to an afterthought. She turned toward the writhing figure on the ground.

“Bitch!” she roared as she started kicking and punching at the woman who had tried to murder her son. She was soon joined several of the other parents, who tore into the failed bomber with clawed hands and booted feet. JoLynn continued to scream for a few moments, but by the time the police arrived, her cries had stopped echoing from the buildings along the street.


 

Other episodes can be found here.  The rest of the story can be found in Escort Duty, available now at Amazon.

New BoogeyMan Stories!

Working Vacation“, the new BoogeyMan e-book, is live on Amazon.

Here’s the blurb:

Martin Shelby, called the BoogeyMan by friend and foe, returns in two new stories.

In “The Devil Drinks Sweet Tea”, a young Shelby thought his Grandpa was just being grouchy about having to help out with the gardening. That is, of course, until Grandma’s geraniums spontaneously burst into flames and the lilies started chanting in Latin.

In “Working Vacation”, the BoogeyMan just wants to relax on the beach with his wife, but his plans change when an old friend tracks him down to call in a debt. Shelby races against the clock to find a missing client before the full weight of the world falls in on his quiet vacation.

Thanks much to the beta readers for all their suggestions and corrections, and many thanks to Irish Woman, who has had to listen to me babble about this one for a few weeks.  These are a lot of fun, and I seem to have developed a habit of going over them out loud.

This is a quick snippet from the first story in the book, The Devil Drinks Sweet Tea.  Please enjoy Working Vacation, and if you have a moment, I’d really appreciate an honest review up on Amazon or Goodreads.


I was about halfway through weeding the tomatoes and considering whether the potato patch needed work when I heard Grandpa calling my name.  I dropped the hoe and trotted around the side of the house, but stopped when I saw Grandpa coming from the front yard.

He didn’t wait for me to speak before he pointed toward the flower beds. “Go take a sniff over there and tell me what you smell.”

“Grandpa, I know what your farts smell like.”

He made an exasperated sound and waved me toward the petunias.  “Not that.  At least, not this time.”  He took my arm and started walking back toward the flowers.  “I swear, I smell sulphur over here.”

“Grandpa, really.  Is this like the time you ate too much egg salad when we were driving back from Nashville?”

“Boy, just tell me what you smell,” he ordered impatiently.

We stopped a few feet from the goldfish pond.  I looked sidewise at my grandfather and took a quick sniff, then another.  He was right.  There was something funky in the air, like old gym locker mixed with bad eggs.

“Algae?” I suggested.  “Maybe we need to clean out the pond a bit?”

The pond was Grandma’s front yard pride and joy, even though she kept the best flower garden in the county.  It was about ten yards long, about two yards across at its widest, and anywhere from six inches to three feet deep.  She had dug it all by hand one spring when I was little, and had lovingly raised dime store goldfish in it until some of them were almost a foot long.  Molesting the fish or playing with the waterfall was a sure way to earn a swat on the butt, no matter your age.

“Nah, it’s not that.  Cleaned out the filter last weekend.”

I took a few steps away from the pond and sniffed again.  “It’s stronger over here.”

“I hope nothing’s died under your Grandma’s flowers.  She won’t be happy if we tear them up trying to find it.”

“Maybe it’s the mulch.  Where you’d get it?”

“Same place as always, Jones Supply over in Simpsonville.”

He looked about the flower garden, then shrugged again.

“Might as well get this done before it starts storming.”  The ancient freckles on Grandpa’s nose came together as he scrunched up his face and examined the sky. Dark clouds were piling in from the east, and the breeze had returned to rustle the tall oak’s leaves.  It wasn’t enough to shade us from the sun or dry out my sweat-soaked tee shirt, but it promised rain in our near future. “We’ll figure it out after church tomorrow.”

I was walking back to the vegetable garden when the first tremor struck.  It felt like a freight train was running underneath the grass, and sounded like it too.  Grandpa’s dog, an old mutt named George, started barking from the back yard, and I heard the tree above me groan as its limbs shifted in the strengthening wind.  Then I heard my grandfather shout again.

The ground was still shaking as I skidded to a halt next to Grandpa, who stood where I had left him.  Around us, the front yard was coming apart.  Gouts of rich, black earth were flying up from the center of the rose bushes, while Grandma’s geraniums were beginning to smoke.  The smell of sulphur was almost overpowering, and the wind was whipping the trees and bushes back and forth.

Just as the geraniums burst into pillars of blue flame too bright to look at for long, the lilies started chanting in Latin.  At least I thought it was them.  The voices, deep and just a little off-key, were coming from their little stone-bordered plot.

I looked up to Grandpa, and saw that his head was cocked to one side, as if he had seen a three-headed rooster run out of the old coop out back and was wondering what in tarnation was going on.  As the geysers of mulch and topsoil grew in height and girth, he turned to me.

“Marty, you seeing this too?”

 

Snippet

This is one of the bonus stories from “Coming Home.”  For those of you who purchased the three ebooks that made that book up, this is a partial thank you.  The rest of the bonus stories will come out over the next few months.  Remember, reviews are the second best way to say thank you to a writer, and they’re much appreciated.


Losing an Old Friend

The crisp air of a fall morning greeted Elsked as he slipped through the kitchen door and trotted across the courtyard to the garden gate. Most of the beds had been cleaned out weeks earlier and covered over in leaves from the giant maple which grew in the courtyard’s center, but the pumpkin patch had been left alone until after the autumn holidays. It was a perfect morning to hunt for the greatest pumpkin in the garden.

The Young Prince’s blue eyes twinkled as he spied a pumpkin nearly as wide as he was tall, and he made a mental note to bring his father to this one first. He and his sister Lytteren had a bet on who would find the largest gourd, and he intended to collect the archery lesson she had promised if he won.

Elsked slowly circled the pumpkin, then looked around to see if any larger examples were to be found. Shaking his head, he smiled conspiratorially as he tried to remember the levitation spell his mother had told him about earlier that week.

“Just have to secret you away for a while,” he said as he patted the pumpkin’s bumpy exterior, which was wet with cold dew from the night’s frost, “then sister can be surprised when I… find you.” The boy laughed at his plan and what he expected to see on Lytteren’s face when he and his father rolled the huge pumpkin out of the garden.

Just then, he spotted a bit of pale yellow in the pumpkin patch’s sea of green and orange. Forgetting the great pumpkin behind him, he approached the oddity cautiously, then laughed when he realized that it was Turf of Azure, his mother’s hound.

“Having a nap in the sunshine, old girl?” the Young Prince said. He reached down to scratch the ancient dog between her ears, then stopped when he saw that her eyes were wide and she was panting in distress. When she sensed his touch, a whine of pain erupted from her muzzle, and she tried in vain to get up.

Elsked cried out when he saw the dog’s condition, and he ran shouting to the house. Azure returned her head to the cold ground, and tried to catch her breath while she waited for him to return.

 

Lytteren knelt down next to the dog after following Elsked back to the garden. Tears streaked the boy’s face, and Lytteren felt her own eyes water when she saw how Turf of Azure suffered. Her stomach was distended, and one of her hind legs did not seem to respond when she tried to rise from the ground.

“Shhh, girl,” the young maid said soothingly. “Be still now. Mother and father will be here in a moment.” She had sent one of the kitchen boys running to fetch them when Elsked stormed into the house, stammering about the dog and begging her to come back to the garden with him.

While they waited, brother and sister tried to calm their pet, who cried out in pain every so often as they gently ran their hands over the golden fur on her head and neck. Moments later, Ruarin and DaddyBear, both still in their dressing gowns, hurried into the garden. The Lady of Eyre gasped when she saw how her dog suffered, and paid no mind to the damp earth as she knelt down next to Azure.

“It’s alright, girl, I’m here,” she whispered in a hoarse voice. She looked deeply into the dog’s eyes, then carefully ran her hand across her abdomen. A concerned frown crossed Ruarin’s normally serene face as she mentally ticked off what she was seeing.

“Something’s ruptured inside her,” she said, choking back tears. “How long has she been out here?”

“She was asleep in front of the oven when we came back from our patrol last night,” Lytteren told her. “That was an hour before dawn.”

“Then the cook probably let her out when she came in this morning,” DaddyBear said in a deep, gentle voice. He knew how much seeing their pet like this pained his wife and children.

“Can you help her, mother?” Elsked said. His eyes were wide with fright, and the icy pit in his stomach made him fear his mother’s reply.

Lytteren placed her hands over the dog’s body and closed her eyes. “Aegritudo,” she whispered, feeling power flow through her, but not hope.

The dog’s body glowed briefly in the morning sun, showing a slow heartbeat and a dull, pulsing light in her abdomen. The Lady of Eyre’s family looked at her for an answer, but she could only shake her head.

“It’s too late,” she said in a voice that was barely audible over the dog’s panting. Then, she took a deep breath and continued, “Anything I can do will only make her pain last longer.”

Her son wailed as if his heart had broken, bringing a baying from the house as Water of Fire and Bounder, their other two hounds, came running to see what was wrong with their young master. Upon seeing their matron prostrate upon the ground, the dogs nuzzled Azure and licked at her face, but she could only lift her head a hand’s breadth from the muddy ground before letting it fall back down.

“Children, say your goodbyes so that we may send her to her ancestors,” DaddyBear said, emotion choking his voice. His heart ached to see both the suffering of his hound and the anguish his family felt, but he kept a placid look on his face as Elsked and Lytteren gently touched their dog for the last time.

“I’m sorry, girl,” Lytteren said. Her voice quavered as she spoke.

“Good girl,” was all that Elsked could stammer. “Good girl.”

Then, DaddyBear and Ruarin put their hands on Turf of Azure’s side. DaddyBear’s hands shook as he whispered, “Goodbye, girl. Thank you.” Ruarin was surprised to see a tear running down into her husband’s beard.

“I love you, pup-pup,” Ruarin said quietly. “We shall meet again.” She nodded to her husband, who removed his hands from the dog, whose breath was shallow and ragged. She swivelled her ear at the sound of her mistress’ voice, and again tried to stand.

Ruarin closed her eyes and fought to control the sobs she could feel trying to bubble to the surface. After a moment, she whispered, “Grasta,” and felt her power once more slip between her fingers.

Turf of Azure took a long, deep breath, then shuddered as she let it out. Ruarin’s charm took away the hound’s pain, but the light behind her eyes soon faded as her spirit slipped from the world. A moment later, she walked into a place where the grass was tall, the sun was warm, and her brother, Walks in Shadow, waited to wrestle with her.

 

Ruarin shook with grief as her husband encircled her in his arms. Their children joined them, and the four of them clung to each other while Water of Fire and Bounder howled out their sorrow. Finally, DaddyBear broke the embrace and knelt down next to the dog’s body.

“Let’s take her to her resting place,” he said quietly. Ruarin nodded gravely, while Lytteren wrapped her arms around Elsked. The young boy still cried unashamed tears at the loss of a pet he had always known.

Carefully, the Minivandian lifted Turf of Azure and cradled her in his arms. He led his family out of the garden and into a grove of trees near the creek that ran behind their home. There, in a small clearing ringed by cornus trees, lay a large piece of dark granite. Its surface was flat and smooth from where an ancient glacier had plucked it from a mountain far to the north. At its center, time and water had worn a shallow bowl, which measured a few hands across and half a hand deep. A beam of morning sunshine stretched along its length, causing the surface to glitter as if it were frosted with diamonds. On the far side of the clearing, sitting in a spot where the sun always seemed to shine, sat a jet-black statue of a shaggy war dog. Inscribed on its base was “Walks in Shadow.”

The Minivandian lay Azure’s body upon the stone. He gently arranged her legs and smoothed her yellow fur until it appeared that she was merely asleep in the sunbeam. He gestured to the other hounds, who had followed them from the pumpkin patch. They lay down in the grass, their eyes moving from the still form on the stone to their family, then back again.

The Lady of Eyre stepped forward. Without ceremony, she lifted her hand and slowly waved it in the air above the dog’s body. Elsked gasped as Turf of Azure dissolved into a pile of cold ashes, then buried his face in his sister’s side. Lytteren stroked his hair in an attempt to soothe him, while her own tears dripped unheeded from the end of her nose.

Ruarin pulled a handful of long, yellow grass from the clearing’s floor, then used it to sweep the ashes into the well at the stone’s center. As she did this, DaddyBear could hear her hum a lullaby that he half-remembered his wife singing to a small, yellow puppy many years before.

When she had pushed all of the ashes into the hollow, Ruarin turned to her family. “Our loyal companion has passed from this world, and it is time for us to tell her story so that she will always be remembered,” she said solemnly. “I want each of you to think of your favorite memory of her, then tell it to us.”

“Mother,” Elsked stammered, “I can’t. It hurts to think of her.”

“It’s all right,” Lytteren said quietly. “We did this when Shadow died. It helps you feel better.” She released her brother and stepped forward to stand in front of the stone.

“I shall go first,” she said in a calm voice. She closed her eyes and thought for a moment before continuing, “It was a long time ago, when I was a very little girl…”

 

Lytteren shuffled her boot clad feet through the long pile of leaves running along the fence between the courtyard where she played and her mother’s garden. Her father had spent the morning raking and sweeping them up, and she had helped by picking up handfuls of them and sprinkling them about. The new puppy, whom her mother had called “Azure,” bounded along beside her. The afternoon sun blazed from her golden fur as she jumped into the pile. The little dog would explode from under the leaves, then disappear again when she landed in a deeper part of the pile.

The little girl wore the new clothes her mother had made for her to play in. The cloth was rough to the touch on the outside, but soft and warm beneath. Try as she might, Lytteren had not been able to wear through it or tear the fabric on the rocks and hard ground she played upon as she had adventures. Her brother was inside somewhere, so she had the yard, the pile of leaves, and the puppy to herself.

Where is that puppy? she thought as she looked around. Azure had yipped and barked as she jumped down into the pile, but Lytteren had neither seen nor heard her for several moments. Her ginger hair, braided carefully by the Minivandian himself, whipped back and forth as she looked for Azure. The girl waded into the pile until it was up to her middle, then called out again for her dog.

“Puppy!” she cried. “Puppy, where are you?” Her brow knotted when the little dog did not reply or come at her voice. “Puppy!”

Suddenly, a yellow ball of fur, damp leaves stuck to its side, burst from the pile. Lytteren screamed as she felt wet paws land on her chest, pushing her over into the leaves, then both of them were submerged in them. A cacophony of squeals, barks, and giggles filled the courtyard before she sat up with the chubby little puppy laying across her lap. The dog’s tail was wagging so hard that her hind end moved with it, and her pink tongue hung from her mouth as she panted.

“Azure!” Lytteren cried out, her voice full of joy and love. She grabbed the puppy on either side of her head and gave her a loud kiss on the snout, which Azure returned by stamping her wet, pink nose on the little girl’s forehead. Then, Lytteren heaved herself back into the leaves and rolled over so that the wrestling match with her puppy could continue. Azure obliged her little mistress, and the two of them cavorted in the leaves until they were spread across half the courtyard.

 

Lytteren’s tears ran down her cheeks, but they did not ruin her radiant smile. “Azure was my first pet,” she said, “and she taught me how to care for something more than I care for myself.”

Lytteren reached up and let several of her tears run onto her fingers. Carefully, she extended her arm so that her hand was above the pile of ashes, then let the drops fall onto them. She turned away from the table and let her father’s arms enfold her.

Once he had comforted his daughter, the Minivandian stepped forward.

“I shall go next,” he rumbled. “Azure was a loyal companion, and she accompanied me into the forest on many nights…”

 

DaddyBear the Minivandian walked quietly down a dark path shrouded by thin wisps of fog. Overhead, the cold light of a winter moon flashed every so often when it found a path between the bare branches of the thick forest canopy. In his hands, he carried Clyfrender, his ancient war-axe, and at his side walked Azure, the yellow hound who had become his constant companion while he patrolled his lands. The dog had her nose to the ground as she followed the trail some loathsome creature had left after raiding the smoke house the Minivandian kept behind his manor.

His wife was home with the children. His eldest son, Bjorn, had wanted to accompany the Northerner when he had announced at dinner that he would be hunting down the marauding creature that had stolen one of their hams, but a stern look from his wife had been enough to get him to disappoint the boy. Lytteren, five summers old and ready to take on the world, had sleepily fussed about being left behind as well, but she was fast asleep in her bed by the time DaddyBear and the dog had slipped through the garden gate and picked up the thief’s trail.

“Got it, girl?” DaddyBear asked quietly as the dog snuffled first this way, then the other at a fork in the path. He could see where something large had bent the dry branches of a brambleberry thicket aside, but the dog did not follow that scent. Instead, she turned away from the path altogether and led her master deeper into the dark woods. The Minivandian could not see any tracks or evidence that something had passed that way, but his hound’s snuffling nose kept them on their quarry’s trail.

His breath coming out in puffs of vapor in the cool, damp air, the Minivandian had to jog to keep up with the hound. Her golden fur, which had darkened and become thicker as she had grown from a puppy to a war hound, seemed to glow in the forest’s half light as she darted between trees and into a thick growth of bushes.

The Minivandian could hear her pawing at the ground and barking a few feet ahead of him when he stopped at the edge of the thicket. “Azure!” he ordered in a deep voice. “Out! Get back here!” The Northerner was worried that she would stir up some animal and get mauled before he could intervene, and an axe would not work well in the confines of the thorny bushes.

Suddenly, Azure squirted out of the thicket, with something dark and low-slung at her heels. The dog yipped as the creature swiped a wide paw at her hind quarters, then turned and leaped upon her foe. A loud growl, almost a roar, filled the woods as the animal tried to fend off the dog’s attack, then it squealed as her teeth clamped down on its back.

DaddyBear raised his axe high over his head, looking for a way to strike without hitting the dog. The creature growled again, and the Minivandian heard its jaws snap on empty air as it tried to lash out at Azure. Finally, it was able to swing its short neck around far enough to sink its fangs into the dog’s flank, eliciting a howl of pain from the hound. She leaped up, trying to get free, but the beast held on. It dug its claws into the frosted ground, struggling to pull the hound back into its underground den.

The Minivandian saw the animal’s wide back as a darker blotch of black in the shadows, but now that his hound was clear, he brought the axe down in a long, whistling arc. It thudded into the creature, cutting through its tough hide and breaking its grip on Azure. The creature growled once more and turned on the Minivandian. Its teeth gleamed in a snatch of moonlight before DaddyBear’s axe swung down again, splitting its skull.

Azure limped over and sniffed the creature, then turned to lick her master’s hand as he reached down to pick it up by its short tail. DaddyBear held it up in the moonlight, then cursed under his breath.

“A skittklo, girl!” he cried out in surprise. In the moonlight, he saw its razor sharp claws, which the squat little beast used to both dig tunnels and to tear apart its prey. A pair of white stripes ran through the coarse fur of its back, and its mouthful of teeth looked fearsome even in death.

“You’re lucky you got it out in the open, dog,” he said as he tossed the carcass back into the thicket. He reached down to pet the hound, then ran his hand over the wound that oozed blood on her side. “If it had dragged you into its tunnels, I’d be looking for a new dog.”

“Come,” he said, signalling Azure with his hand, “let’s get home. You’ve earned yourself a treat.”

Azure panted happily as she walked alongside her master toward the house.

 

DaddyBear felt a solitary tear, which felt hot on his cheek, fall into his beard. Carefully, he scooped it onto his finger, then let it fall into the ashes. He turned to Ruarin, who hugged him close.

“I know, darling one, I know,” she said soothingly.

Elsked swallowed hard, then stepped forward. “Mother, may I go next?” he said. “I think I know what I want to say.” Ruarin nodded and gave her youngest son a reassuring smile.

Elsked looked at the ground, then said, “This is from when I was little, but it’s what I see when I think of Azure…”

 

The little boy crawled along the hard stone floor of the kitchen. His mother and the cook were busy doing something at one of the counters that involved puffs of flour and the spicy smell of sweetbark, but he paid little attention to that. His goal lay on a rug in front of the oven. Azure had long ago passed the age where she could enjoy frolicking in the grass with the children. Instead, she was content to lay in warm places and accept the belly rubs and pats the household gave the elder hound as she enjoyed the autumn of her years.

Elsked had always been fascinated by the hounds, and giggled and laughed when his sister had brought one close enough to pet. The dogs had shown curiosity about him from time to time, but little hands are usually not gentle hands, and losing fistfuls of fur, even when done with love, was not something they enjoyed.

Now, though, the Young Prince could come to them.

Azure opened one green-gold eye as the child scuttled across the floor to her, but did not rise from her resting place. She lifted her head as the boy leaned against her, then let out a contented sigh as he dug his fingers into the loose skin around her neck and started to scratch.

The hound yawned wide as the young master snuggled his face into her fur, then pressed her cold nose against his cheek when he stuck his face close to hers. This elicited a squeal and a giggle from him, and he latched onto one of her velvet-smooth ears and scratched behind it like he had seen his sister do.

Azure stretched out all four paws in contentment, careful to not scratch the child as he moved down and patted her on her flank. Slowly, she rolled over on her back, exposing her belly for him to rub. He laughed as her hind leg began to shake in time to his scratches, then used his hold on her fur to pull himself up onto his feet.

Azure looked up at her young master for a moment, then stood up next to the child. Elsked wobbled on his feet as she did, but was able to grab two handfuls of fur to steady himself. The elder dog nuzzled him under his chin, and the little boy giggled as her whiskers tickled him.

The dog took a step away from the boy, but then Elsked took a step of his own. Azure took another step, which Elsked copied. Soon, the pair were making their way across the kitchen toward the counter where Ruarin and the cook labored. When they had reached the midway point, Ruarin noticed the movement and looked up in surprise to see her son taking steps alongside the hound.

The Lady of Eyre caught a cry of surprise before it could escape and startle her son, then watched as Elsked let go of Azure and took the remaining steps toward her on his own. He fell into her arms just as he reached her, then she swept the boy up and embraced him. He squealed in delight and gave her a gap-toothed smile, and she kissed his cheek.

“What a big boy!” she and the cook cried out together, then Ruarin looked down at her dog. “And what a good girl!”

Azure looked up at her mistress and the young master with her tail wagging slowly. Her face, now almost white with age, held a hint of a smile as she turned and slowly walked back to her place next to the oven.

 

Elsked’s face was wet with tears as he finished his story, as was Ruarin’s. She remembered watching her son take his first steps using the dog to aid his balance. The Lady of Eyre lifted her hand to take one of Elsked’s tears for him, but he wiped them with his own fingers and let them drip upon the ashes.

“It’s not much of a story,” he said in a hushed voice, “but it’s the best I have.”

Ruarin scooped him up and squeezed him against her breast. Together, they rocked back and forth for a moment before she put him back down and took a deep breath.

“And now,” she said in a quiet, sad voice, “it is my turn…”

 

Distant thunder rumbled in the night as the Lady of Eyre slept fitfully in the big bed she normally shared with her husband. A late season blizzard had swept down from the north, and its wind and snow rattled the house in its fury. A low bed of coals burned in the fireplace across the room, and the glow from its embers threw stark, uneven shadows against the walls and ceilings. Outside, the wind moaned through the trees, and pellets of ice rattled down onto the manor’s roof.

Ruarin mumbled in her sleep, the memory of some horror disturbing her dreams. The smell of the fire, which she normally found pleasant, reminded her of the smoke of a cottage burning and of creatures leaping out of the darkness to strike at her.

She cried out, lifting her arms and clawing at an unseen phantom, when the sound of something whining and scratching at the door filled the room. Ruarin paid it no heed until the whining had risen to a mournful howl that woke her and brought her up from her bed before she knew where she was.

The Lady of Eyre looked about her bedchamber in confusion for a moment, then her mind returned to the real world and she realized that it had all been a dream. All of it, it seems, except for the scratching of something at her chamber door.

Ruarin crossed the room and opened the door a crack. She peeked out into the hall to find Azure, the younger of their two dogs, sitting on the floor and looking up at her.

“Go lay down, girl,” Ruarin ordered. “‘’Twas only a dream.” The dog, who was normally obedient to her mistress’ commands, tilted her head to the side but did not budge.

“I’m fine,” the Lady of Eyre said, opening the door a bit wider so that she could step out into the hall. To her surprise, the dog jumped through the gap and rushed between her legs. Before she could spin around, Azure had leaped onto her bed and was sitting upon the coverlet.

“No,” Ruarin said sternly. “No dogs on the bed!” She emphatically pointed to the floor. Azure, for her part, merely cocked her head to the side again, as if she did not understand the words.

“Azure!” Ruarin barked. “Get down!” In response, the hound flopped herself down on the mattress, placing her head upon her folded paws. Her green eyes glowed in the light of the fireplace.

Ruarin’s mouth quirked in irritation. She was exhausted from three restless nights without DaddyBear to warm her bed, and the memories of the nightmare still vexed her.

“Stubborn hound,” she growled as she stalked over to the bed. “Fine, stay there, you brat. Just mind you stay on the master’s side!” Azure let out a contented sigh as she closed her eyes and rolled over onto her side.

Ruarin lay back down and let her eyes close. “Just need some sleep,” she muttered as she felt her body relax once again.

Soon, she slipped into the dream again. The roar of the fire filled her ears as she tried to find her way to the door. Above her, the thatched roof collapsed, sending burning timbers down to fall on either side of her. She tried to scream, but smoke seared her lungs, cutting the sound off. Suddenly, Ruarin felt a weight on her side, then something cold and wet was against the skin behind her ear, and she could feel something snuffling at her hair.

Ruarin’s eyes popped open, and she looked up at the ceiling of her bed chamber. Next to her, Azure nuzzled against her neck and poked at her cheek and ear with her nose. Ruarin took a deep, shuddering breath, and felt the fear and pain of the dream melt away as her hand found the hound’s ear and scratched at her fur.

“Oh, girl, it was just a dream,” the Lady of Eyre said once she felt her heart stop thudding in her chest. “Thank you for waking me.” Azure replied by rolling over to give her mistress somewhere new to scratch.

Ruarin sat up on one elbow and regarded the hound. Azure met her mistress’ gaze, then stretched out languidly and closed her eyes.

“Alright, you win,” the Lady of Eyre said as she lay back down. “You may stay until the master comes home, but don’t get comfortable.” The dog answered her with another contented sigh, followed by snores as she fell asleep.

“Brat,” Ruarin mumbled as she let herself drift off to dreamless rest.

 

Ruarin’s eyes brimmed with tears as she remembered Azure protecting her from the phantoms of her own memories, then she caught one and let it drip into the ashes. She took up a stick from the ground, and began stirring her family’s tears into the dust.

“Azure was a good dog,” she said, “and we ought to always remember her.”

Ruarin stretched out her other hand and whispered, “Meabruchan”. The ashes swirled around the stick, then flared in the sunlight. When Ruarin lowered her hand, a statue of a hound with golden fur and a mischievous smile on her face lay at the bottom of the hollow in the stone. Upon its base was carved “Turf of Azure.” Carefully, Ruarin lifted it up and walked over to the sun-drenched side of the clearing.

“Azure knows we miss her, and we will never forget about her,” she said softly as she set the figure down next to that of Shadow. “This will be here for as long as we keep her in our hearts.”

For a long moment, the Minivandian’s family stood in silence, watching as the morning sun shone on the memorials to their companions. Finally, DaddyBear let out his breath and motioned to Elsked and Lytteren.

“Come, children,” he said in a low, gentle voice, “let’s go back to the house. We need to feed the other dogs, and a bit of breakfast will do our spirits good.”

Together, their arms around each other, the family returned to their home. At the mention of breakfast, Bounder and Water of Fire had raced back toward the house, their yips and cries echoing from the manor’s stone walls.

Behind them, the statues warmed in the sunshine.

Snippet

Well, sort of.  This is more of a deleted scene from “Lost Children“.  I tried to fit it into the book, but it never seemed to want to lay down and roll over for me, so I left it out.  Maybe it’ll get re-used at some later date.  It hasn’t been polished at all, but I hope you like it.


Elissa slipped into the meeting hall. Kara, half asleep from Ruarin’s concoction, fussed at the ache in her gums, but soothing words from the older woman lulled her into quiet once more.

“And now, child, let us see where your life will lead you,” Elissa whispered as she stepped across the dark hall.  At a wave of her hand, several lamps next to the cauldron burst into life, bathing the swirling sand in golden light.

Elissa, still cradling the infant in her arms, reached into the cauldron and gently laid the baby down on her stomach.  She took up a pinch of the fine dust and sprinkled it over the child.  Continuing the sweep of her hand, she muttered a spell, causing the dust to stir anew.

“This is the ash of Hadash, with all of the memories of our people,” she said to Kara.  The little girl looked up at her, a line of drool running down from the corner of one mouth.  “With it, we shall see where your fate lies.”

The dust mounded up in three places, then began to coalesce into recognizable shapes.  The mounds formed into a sword, a hammer, and a gryphon.  The figures moved about the baby, then settled into a semi-circle in front of her.

“These are the symbols of our lives,” Elissa whispered.  “The sword is for a warrior, the hammer for a craftsman.  The gryphon, symbol of our family and of all of the Chanani, is for our leaders.”  She gently ran her hand over the soft curls of dark hair ringing the child’s head. “Choose, Kara, so that we may know what you will be.”

The baby looked about at the figures arrayed around her, her dark eyes fixing on each of them as her neck wobbled from holding up her head.  Elissa made a small gesture, and the figures began to parade in front of the child, each one pausing for a heartbeat in front of her before moving on.

The child watched the hammer pass without reaction.  As the sword passed, the child belched, causing its ash to scatter a bit.  A gentle smile crossed Elissa’s face at that.

Finally, the gryphon strutted to stand in front of her, and with a squeal, Kara reached for it.  At her touch, the dust fell apart, leaving behind only a puff to fall onto her hand as it passed through her chubby fingers.

Elissa picked the baby up and held her to her breast.  Carefully, she stood and turned back toward the door.

“Good, good,” she said to the baby.  Kara’s head slowly descended onto Elissa’s shoulder as she walked across the hall.  “I suspected you’d have power, but now we know.”

The matron waved her had back toward the cauldron, snuffing the lamps and plunging the room back into darkness. Kara, for her part, had fallen fast asleep before they reached the open door.

“You will have much to learn,” Elissa said as she pulled the door to the hall closed behind her, “but in time you will follow your mother’s path.”

The War – Episode 32

June 17, 6:00 PM Pacific
Los Angeles, California

 

The anchorman looked gravely at the camera in front of him, then began to read from the teleprompter.

“Good evening,” he recited, “and welcome to ‘Tonight with David Anderson’.”

He turned to the second camera and said, “Tonight, the country braces for the six-month anniversary of the Christmastime Attacks. People across the country are on high-alert for a repeat of December 19th.”

The monitor next to him showed images of police and soldiers manning roadblocks and patrolling the streets.

“Here in Los Angeles, a phoned-in threat to the light-rail system caused delays for thousands as commuters were searched before being allowed into stations,” he said as he turned back to the first camera.

“In Arizona, the governor announced plans for a memorial to the victims of 12/19. The monument, which is still in the design phase, will be erected on the grounds of the Cathedral of the Ascension in Tucson, where the attacks ended in a hail of gunfire,” Anderson said with a grim look on his face.

“Officials in Tucson have not confirmed that the attack on a man in a shopping center this week was related to terrorism, although sources say the man was part of the group of citizens who assisted law enforcement and the military on December 19. His family reports that he is in good spirits and is expected to make a full recovery. All of us here at News Station 13 wish him well,” he read from the teleprompter.

“Turning to politics, a tense moment in the halls of Congress today as the Joint Select Committee questioned the governor of Maryland about her use of ordinary citizens in the so-called ‘Home Guard’,” he said. The monitor changed to show an older woman, her steel gray hair curled above a set of intense, dark eyes, speaking into a microphone.

“Where was the federal government on December 19th?” she said, staring accusingly at the desks across from her, “They weren’t at Our Lady of Lourdes School, that’s for sure. We can’t wait, we won’t wait for the federal government to protect us, and we’re not going to take one thin dime from you for the Home Guard. Those men and women give their time to protect our communities, and we won’t let Washington screw that up.”

“Administration sources indicate a compromise may be in the works between the governors of border states and Washington,” Anderson said as the picture switched back to him, “The White House has offered to release the National Guard back to the governors if they pledge to not use them to enforce border security. Congressional leadership is scheduled to meet with the President in the next few days to discuss funding for additional border initiatives. The current impasse appears to revolve around a disagreement on funding for programs to enhance law enforcement relations with immigrant and minority populations.”

Anderson looked gravely at the cameras once the monitor returned to him.

“On this anniversary, we all want to mark the horrific events of six months ago. We’ll discuss the attacks and their impact on our nation in a special segment titled “December 19, Six Months On,” right after this,” he said, then paused to wait for the light above the camera to go out and the commercial to start playing on his monitor.

 


 

Other episodes can be found here.  The rest of the story can be found in Escort Duty, available now at Amazon.

The War – Episode 31

June 13, 7:07 PM
Tucson, Arizona

A blast of hot air hit Bob as the doors slid open in front of him and he pushed his cart out of the air-conditioned grocery store. The late evening sun was bright enough that he had to bring his hand up to shade his eyes so he could scan the parking lot for his truck. Rene saw him come out and honked twice to catch his attention.

Bob waved to her and started walking across the cracked parking lot. The polymer grip of his pistol, which he took pride in having lost enough weight to holster inside his waistband, bumped against the cart’s handle as he started off. His long shadow slipped across the asphalt as he went, and he watched for traffic as he crossed to the parking area.

Rene got out of the driver’s seat and walked to the back as he dropped the truck’s tailgate and started loading the groceries.

“Busy in there?” she asked as she picked up a box of cereal and placed it next to the cat litter in the truck’s bed.

“Not bad,” he said, “Had to wait for someone who could work the meat cutter to get that turkey you wanted for lunches. Most everyone in the deli was gone.”

She nodded, “I figured. But it’s what the kids’ll eat,” she replied.

Bob humphed a bit. “Still think we ought to just buy bologna. They’ll eat that when they get hungry enough,” he said with a small smile.

Rene rolled her eyes as she walked around and got back in the truck. Bob put the tailgate back up and took the cart to the corral in the next row over. He squinted again as he faced into the sunset and started back toward the truck.

Suddenly, a hand grabbed his shoulder and pushed him around. He felt something hit the back of his knee and his right leg folded underneath him.

“Allahu akhbar!” his attacker screamed as Bob felt a bolt of pain rip through his gut. The attacker, his face shaded by the sun behind him, pulled his knife from Bob’s torso and then struck again, driving it back into his belly.

Bob struggled to grab at his attacker, but only succeeded in pulling the thug down with him as he fell onto the asphalt. The man pulled the knife out once again, then raised it high for another stroke. Bob brought his arm up to block the blow, and screamed as the blade ripped down into his forearm.

The attacker grabbed Bob’s shirt and struggled to pull his knife back out. Bob lashed out as hard as he could, striking at the man’s chest and face. The man, now smeared with Bob’s blood, pulled the blade free and reared up on his knees to strike again.

Rene’s pistol roared and spat out a tongue of flame a foot long. The man’s back exploded outward with a burst of meat and blood as her bullet struck him in the chest and passed through to exit on the other side.  Time seemed to hang in the air for an eternity, then Rene fired again, this time hitting him at the base of his throat. The attacker fell back, his head hitting the asphalt with a sickening thud.

One of Bob’s hands went to the wounds in his belly, and he tried to reach for his pistol with the other. He felt Rene grab him, and heard her scream for someone to help. He reached up and touched her cheek with his free hand as he felt the world gray out around him.


 

Other episodes can be found here.  The rest of the story can be found in Escort Duty, available now at Amazon.

 

New Book

Lady of Eyre“, the last book in the current Minivandians story arc, went live on Amazon this morning.

Here’s the blurb:

From the young prince’s competition in the derby of wooden chargers to the tales of his family’s past come close calls, challenges, and triumph!

When the Lady of Eyre and Daddybear make it to her native land, all is not well. One lord is raiding and enslaving, and others are silenced by gold or lies. When he sets his eyes on Daddybear’s lady and her lands, though, he awakens the full cunning and fury of her barbarian!

Like I said, this completes the story of how the Minivandian and his lady make their way from the Northern Wastes to their own home.  Snippets can be found here, here, and here.

Thanks to everyone who helped out with the story and cover.  It definitely wouldn’t have been as much fun and the product wouldn’t have been quite as interesting without them.

Anyway, hope y’all enjoy.  Remember, reviews are always welcome!

The War – Episode 30

April 13, 7:03 PM Eastern
Louisville, Kentucky

The woman at the front of the hall wore a light blue jacket over a white button-down shirt and gray slacks. She stepped up to the podium and raised her hands to quell the noise from the group of twenty-five or thirty people sitting in front of her.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for coming out,” she said, her smooth voice showing a slight twang as she greeted her audience, “I’m Susan Graham from the Governor’s office, and I’m here to talk to y’all about the new Home Guard.”

“Before I begin, let me tell you a little about myself. I’m originally from Hopkinsville, and I retired as a deputy sheriff down there in Christian County a few months ago. If any of y’all were ever stationed at Fort Campbell and got into trouble in Hoptown, there’s a good chance we’ve already met.” Several of the men and women in the crowd returned her smile, and a few of them ruefully shook their heads over some youthful memory or other.

“I also retired from the National Guard as a first sergeant last fall, and I’ve been a few interesting and exciting places doing that. Any fellow Military Police out there?” One of the women in the back of the room raised her hand, and Graham nodded and smiled at her.

“I’ve been in the governor’s office as an advisor on veterans and law enforcement since he took office last December,” she said, stepping out from behind the podium, “You can imagine how fun that’s been.”

“The Governor asked me to come speak with y’all tonight about a new program. He just came back from a meeting in Arizona, and they’re standing up something they’re calling ‘The Home Guard,’ and he thinks it’s a good idea.”

“The Home Guard won’t be the National Guard. They won’t be given helmets and uniforms and sent off to war. They won’t be the State Police, either. Guardsmen won’t be making arrests and gathering evidence.”

“What they will be are eyes, ears, and hands in our neighborhoods, our schools, and our streets. When seconds count, they’ll be there in the crucial minutes it takes for first responders to arrive,” Graham said, stepping behind the podium again.

“We’re asking for good people to step up, get vetted, and volunteer their time in the Home Guard.”

She paused a moment to let that sink in. “Are there any questions?” she asked.

After a moment, a man in the front row raised his hand. Graham smiled again as she nodded to him and he stood up.

“I’m Jim Rucker. What exactly do you mean, “eyes, ears, and hands?” he asked, then sat down.

“When we put a Guardsman in a school or at a shopping center, they’ll watch for anyone who’s a danger to it. We’ll have radios and phones to report back anything suspicious. If, God forbid, someone tries anything like what happened in December, the Guardsman will be there to try to prevent it or to react immediately.”

“Prevent it?”

“The people who attacked our schools on December 19th aren’t going to be deterred by somebody in a blue jacket, and they’re not going to stop because you put your hand up. If you volunteer and something happens, you’ll be asked to do everything you can to stop it.”

“Will we be armed?” someone in the middle rows called out.

“The Governor doesn’t want to take on training someone and being responsible for their guns,” Graham said, looking across the room, “But if you’re got a concealed carry license, then nobody is going to say anything if you decide to carry a weapon to defend yourself and others.”

“No training?”

“We’ll provide first aid training and briefings on what you can and can’t do as a member of the Guard. You’ll go through a drug screening and background check, of course. The Attorney General is considering whether or not you’ll be deputized so that you’re covered by the State if there’s a problem.”

Jim raised his hand again, and stood when Graham acknowledged him. “So,” he said, “we’re going to be there to try to stop December 19th from happening again, and to help out when it does?”

“Yes. Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers did something similar during the World Wars. They guarded things like rail yards and factories. That stuff’s already covered, over-covered if you ask me. You’ll be providing the manpower to watch over the rest of the places someone might attack.”

“I’m not going to lie and say that there’s no risk, because being there when somebody tries to blow themselves up in a grocery store or shoot up a schoolyard is going to be dangerous. But our choice is to either do something like this, hire a whole bunch of new police, or just hope that December 19th was a lightning bolt that won’t strike twice.”

She paused again and looked out at the crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen, the Governor doesn’t have the cash to hire more police, and we’re not dumb enough to leave our children and families open to another attack,” she said in a firm voice, “We need your help.”

The men and women looked at each other, and a murmur went through the crowd. Several looked at their spouses and shook their heads. Jim pursed his lips and stared up at the picture of a racehorse on the wall for a moment, then stood up again.

“Ma’am,” he said, looking Graham in the eye, “Where do I sign?”


 

Other episodes can be found here.  The rest of the story can be found in Escort Duty, available now at Amazon.

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