Thursday, March 29, 2018

#034: AUGUST 21, 1863




I OPENED MY EYES and found myself in Hell.

The world roared around me in a demonic orchestra of heat and flame, smoke and ash, and the inhuman screams of the dying. The sound hammered at me, beat me down. The heat blistered my skin and burned my lungs. The smoke stung my eyes and choked me, stealing my breath.

I lay sprawled on a dirt floor, but beyond that, could make nothing more out of my surroundings. Only black smoke and orange flame. Nothing about this place stirred any memories. I didn’t know where I was or how I got there. These two points however, seemed insignificant alongside my desire to escape. But how? All I could see was fire. What would the world look like beyond the flames?

The heat continued to pummel at me like a million tiny fists. I tried to rise but couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe, there was nothing but smoke in my lungs.

That was how I died.

All that was, had ceased to be. All that had been, was nothingness.

Nothing but blackness.

Void.

I floated in the Black, the Void, and found comfort in it, a familiarity that bespoke of eternity. It was as if the Black and I were old friends. But something tugged at me, an instinct that told me that I shouldn’t stay. The Black was a rest stop, nothing more. To remain would mean an end to who I was.

An end to who I am.

Who I am.

Who am I?

I could recall nothing before the Black. Nothing but... fire?

Hell.

Yes, I had been in Hell. Now I was dead.

But before Hell?

Nothing.

It was as if my memories were just gone.

But that couldn’t be right.

Surely I could recall my name. I reached for it, but it was like grabbing at smoke.

Why couldn’t I find my name? Everyone has a name? Did I have a name? Who am I? Without a name, did that mean I didn’t exist? Panic took hold of my heart.

I swam on, searching, desperate to find a memory, any memory to grab hold of. I found only emptiness.

Then, suddenly before me was a vast mirror. I gazed into its shimmering surface and found nothing but a blurred mist in the shape of a man that stared back at me. I screamed as the real world crashed over me in a cacophony of sounds and chaos.

I opened my eyes and I was back in Hell.

Yet, I wasn’t.

I was on my back in the dirt. The flames, the heat, the smoke, all were there, just not as intense. As my surroundings grew clearer I could hear now that the screams were those of dying horses. All around me, among the dirt, lay patches of hay.

This was not Hell.

The knowledge brought me a renewed hope and I was on my feet in an instant. I was in a horse barn, though beyond that, I was uncertain. The horses, those that were not already dead or dying, bucked and screamed in their stalls, kicking at the doors that held them in as the flames engulfed the structure around them.

I spun in a circle, looking for a way out, a break in the wall of fire, but I found nothing. I was trapped.

The smoke surrounded me, obscuring my vision. I doubled over, coughing. I was going to pass out again, leave this world once more for the Black. But then the front half of the barn collapsed before me, leaving a smoldering mound of wood with a bright hole beyond that lead to the open air.

I ran to the stalls and gave the horses their freedom. I followed, emerging into sunlight and chaos.

Most of the surrounding buildings were on fire.

Gunshots and screams were everywhere. The street teamed with men on horseback, soldiers in gray uniforms. Among them were their victims. Women, children, the elderly, the soldiers seemed not to care. They shot with callous indiscrimination, and the people fell all around.

I looked to the dead in the street and my anger rose. I went for my guns, finding them gone.

Guns?

It had an act of pure instinct to go for them, and for a moment I could see myself wearing a pair of revolvers, low on each hip. But then the memory was gone, like mist on a hot day.

I struggled for more, to know more about myself. My past, my name. But I found more of the nothingness that was my memory. It was as if I had just sprung into the world from nothing.

Two of the soldiers must have noticed me standing there, alone in the street. They broke off from the main unit. Like the others, they wore the uniforms of the Confederacy.

How did I know that? How is it that I recognize the uniforms, but I can’t recall my own name?

“Look at what we have here, Bill,” one of the soldiers said. He was fat. Too fat to be on horseback. And his head was nothing but hair. “A Yankee boy.”

Yankee? I looked down at myself for the first time and saw that I was wearing Union blue. A memory slammed into my head and I nearly fell over.

A war? The war between the states. I was a soldier for the North. Why could I recall that memory, but nothing more specific?

“Shoot him, Dan,” the other said. This one was tall and lanky with a meticulously trimmed beard and mustache. “Shoot him, or I will.”

“What’s your name, boy?” the fat one said.

I didn’t answer. I couldn’t even if I’d wanted to.

“Look at his arm, Bill,” the fat one, Dan, said.

I couldn’t help but follow their eyes to my right bicep. Tied to it was a broad strip of dark green fabric.

“The Captain’s gonna want to see this one,” Bill said.

Dan pointed his rile at me and once more I was filled with an unbridled rage.

“Let’s go, Mister,” Dan said.

“Where?” I said, speaking for the first time. Even my voice was unfamiliar.

“The Captain is gonna want to ask you a few questions,” Dan said.

“Captain?” I asked.

“Quantrill,” Dan said, jerking his rifle quickly to the right, motioning for me to move.

Quantrill. Now that was a name I knew. I looked once more at the green arm band, running my hand over it. The band meant something. I could feel that it was important. But trying to get hold of the memory was like trying to catch water with a net.

“We ain’t asking you twice, Yankee,” Bill said, leaning out over his horse and spitting.

Just then a woman stumbled out of a building to our left. She jerked with surprise and fear at seeing the soldiers and took off running down the street. Her dress was in tatters and her skin was covered in ash and burns. Bill pulled a pistol and shot her down. The two shared a smile.

“These Jayhawkers die quick, wouldn’t you say, Dan?”

The two soldiers laughed.

And like that, I was on them.

One moment I was looking at the body of the woman, the next I casually stepped up to the fat man’s horse where a Navy Colt sat in a saddle holster.

“What do you—” Dan said.

I pulled the pistol from Dan’s saddle and in one smooth motion, thumbed back the hammer and fired.

The fat man fell from his horse and moved no more.

“Dan!” Bill said, taking aim.

But he too fell beneath my stolen gun.

A bugle sounded from behind and I spun. A Confederate soldier on horseback behind me blew a few quick notes on a dented bugle.

“A Yankee!” the bugler shouted. “A Green Arm!”

Until the bugle had sounded, I’d nearly forgotten that I wasn’t alone with the two dead soldiers. All around me other soldiers had turned to see what the commotion was about. But before any of them could so much as raise a gun, I ran.

I felt no shame in it. Somewhere deep down I knew that I was no coward. I knew when to fight and when to flee. And when faced with over a hundred men on horseback, flight was the sensible option.

I ducked into a building with a sign that hailed it as the Eldridge. There were more soldiers inside. They were all seated around a table, eating a lavishly presented meal with their hands like pigs in a fancy restaurant.

One of them looked up as I entered. The rest continued to indulge themselves, reaping the spoils of war. The one soldier, however, he rose with such speed that a hunk of roast beef remained, still clutched between his teeth, the juices dripping into his unkempt beard.

“Green Arm!” the soldier yelled, the beef falling from his mouth and onto his plate.

I couldn’t go back, not with what waited for me out on the street. Instead I made for the door on the other side of the room. I didn’t make it. The door banged open and more soldiers poured in. I turned to go back, it was my only option. But the soldiers at the table were up and they blocked my escape. I was trapped once again.

“Search him,” a man said, stepping into the room from behind the soldiers at the door. I recognized him. It was Captain Quantrill himself. “And find Faraday.”

Two soldiers held me tight as a third searched through my pockets.

“What’s your name, Green Arm?” Captain Quantrill said.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Quantrill just smiled.

The soldier searching me pulled a piece of paper from my breast pocket and handed it to Quantrill. The Captain unfolded the paper and smiled as he read it.

“Faraday will be most pleased to see you,” Quantrill said.

“Why?” I asked. “Who’s Faraday? What’s the paper say?”

I didn’t have to wait long for either answer. A man entered the room. Instead of a uniform he wore a black suit and tie. He was no soldier, yet he carried with him the weight of rank. Every man in the room snapped to attention, even Quantrill.

“Mr. Faraday,” Captain Quantrill said. “Thank you for coming so quickly.”

“What do we have here, Captain?” Faraday said. His voice had a slight German accent.

“A Green Arm, sir. He shot two of the men,” Quantrill said.

“Then kill him, Captain,” Faraday said in a dismissive, matter of fact tone. “Why bother me with such trivialities.”

“He had this on him,” Quantrill said, handing over the piece of paper.

I could do nothing but watch as Faraday read what was on the paper, and like Quantrill, Faraday smiled. The only difference was that when Faraday showed his teeth, I could see that the man’s upper incisors ended in sharp, needle-like points. Something stirred within me and I felt a sudden urge to leap upon the man and throttle him. I fought it down.

“Very good,” Faraday said, clutching at the paper. “Yes, Captain. You did the right thing by alerting me at once.”

“He claims to not know his name,” Quantrill said.

“Does he?” Faraday smiled.

Faraday turned from Quantrill and stepped to me.

“We’ve been looking for you for quite some time, you know,” Faraday said.

“Why?” I said. “Who am I?”

“You do not know?” Faraday said.

“No,” I said.

“I have to say I find this most displeasing,” Faraday said. “But I do admit that this act you’re doing, it makes me skeptical.”

“Act?” I said. “What act? Do I know you?” I struggled against the two soldiers who held me.

“You say you do not know who you are?” Faraday said.

“Yes,” I said.

“Do you know where you are or how you got here?”

“No.”

“I don’t know what has happened to you, my old friend, but I believe you,” Faraday said, then nodded to the soldiers. “Let him go.”

The two soldiers let go of my arms and Faraday held out the paper to me.

“Perhaps this will help you to remember,” Faraday said.

I took the paper and read the words that had been written there with a steady hand.

Your name is Norman Oklahoma, the paper said.

“Well?” Faraday said. “What is your name?”

“My name,” I said, and then swallowed. “My name is Norman Oklahoma.”

“Good,” Faraday smiled again. “Now that we have that out of the way,” he turned to Quantrill. “Kill him.”






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Monday, March 26, 2018

#033: GOBLIN RIOT




I DREW BOTH PISTOLS and opened fire, dropping the first goblin before it could exit the portal of orange light. But more goblins spilled out behind it. More than I could handle alone.

Diana stepped up beside me, her own pistol in hand. She took aim and fired, finding her targets before squeezing the trigger.

But still, they just kept coming. For every one that fell, two more were right behind.

Oz took up a position to the other side of me and pointed his staff at the oncoming bloat of goblins.

“Lightning!” He commanded.

Blue white forks of electricity shot from his staff, frying four goblins at a time.

And yet, the river of goblins continued to flow.

The curtain of smoke opened wider, allowing the little green bastards to leap out six at a time. And it continued to widen. Soon the curtain would be completely open and the portal within would stretch along the back wall. If the goblin
horde was as endless as it appeared to be, we’d be overwhelmed in a matter of minutes.

“Oz,” I shouted over the sounds of gunfire, crackling electricity, and hissing goblins. “We’re gonna need some kinda magic nuke or something here. What’s the plan?”

“I, uh,” Oz said, looking more than a little flustered.

“Oz!” I yelled.

“I need time to think,” he said.

“Okay, we need to get out of this room,” I said. “If we can get through the door at the top of the stairs then we can bottleneck them, only one or two can get through at a time. We can pick them off, give Oz some time to work his stuff.”

There were now almost twenty goblins in the lab with us, and half that sprawled unmoving on the floor. A dark red cloud blew out from the oncoming horde and flew at us like the spray from twenty fire extinguishers.

“Out!” I shouted. “Now!”

“Wind!” Oz commanded and a great blowing gust roared from the staff, pushing most of the cloud back.

“I can’t see!” Diana called out. “I’m blind.”

She must have gotten a dose of the red mist. God love her though, she wasn’t panicking. She was shouting, sure, but that was only to get her voice above all the clamor.

“Oz!” I yelled. “Get her out of here.”

Oz took her by the arm and led her from the room. I was right behind, reloading as I backed away.

Then a goblin was on me, leaping into the air and sinking its sharp teeth into the flesh of my shoulder. It bit through the coat and shirt to get to me. I could feel the blood gushing almost immediately.

I screamed and tore it off of me, taking some of my shoulder with it.

As I crossed the threshold into the room with the giant television, which was still showing the Bob Ross program, I could see that there were no more goblins spilling from the portal. But there were still plenty that had come through and
were still alive and kicking. Two dozen at least.

The bodies of those that had fallen had formed a small barrier between us and them. It slowed them down a little as they climbed over their slain comrades. It allowed me the time needed to finish loading both Peacemakers. I slid the last
cartridge into place and then let loose once again as I backed up the stairs.

Twelve shots and seven steps later and I stood empty at the top of the stairs, the goblin horde almost on top of me. I began the reload process again, knowing that I wouldn’t finish in time, knowing that I’d have to face the creatures
with fist and foot.

Goblins, as I told Diana earlier, have no beef with humans. Under normal circumstances, they leave us alone. But they are vicious and highly dangerous creatures, as they were proving today. One alone is fairly deadly. I had near a dozen
that were close enough to tear out my throat.

Then Grace was there beside me, pulling me off of the stairs and into the living room behind her. She held a glowing crystal the size of a grapefruit in her open palm. She still wore her flour covered apron and the look on her face was
enough to lock my bowels up for the next two weeks.

Grace held the crystal out before her, and the goblins, seeing it there in her hand, stopped their ascent and shied away.

“Shine,” she said in a calm, soft voice.

The glow from the crystal grew in intensity.

“Shine,” she said again.

A light shot from the crystal and enveloped the goblins on the stairs. They squealed and screamed as their skin blackened and cracked under the harsh light.

Grace didn’t move. She stood before the burning goblins like an angry statue.

“Shine!” she called out in a loud, clear voice.

The light grew so bright that the goblins disappeared under its intensity.

That’s when Grace began to waver. She swayed and looked as if she might pass out. But Oz was suddenly behind her.

“Hang in there, Hon,” he said, holding her up. “It’s almost over. You’re doing great.”

The light was so intense that it began to hum and for a moment I feared that it would come back on us. But then, in the blink of an eye, the light was out. The crystal was nothing more than ash in her palm.

Grace crumpled, but Oz caught her in his arms and dropped with her, cushioning her fall and laying her gently on the floor.

“Did it work?” She asked, her voice weak and unsure.

“You got ‘em,” Oz said, shining a proud smile.

I went over to the stairs and found eleven small piles of ash on the steps, and the floor in front of them. That was all that was left of the goblins. Nothing more than ash.

“Dang, Grace,” I said with respect. “You whooped their butts.”

“What happened?” Diana asked. She was sitting on a couch to the right.

I went to her and sat down.

“We won,” I said.

“I can’t see anything,” she said. Still no panic, she was just stating a fact.

“Yeah,” I said. “The goblin mist can have that effect of folks. Don’t worry. It ain’t permanent. You’ll have your sight back by tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” she asked. Now some panic managed to creep its way in. But not for her. “They are going to kill Maggie tonight. I have to be able to see.”

“Don’t you worry about that,” I said. “I’ll get her out in time.”

“How?” she said. “We don’t know where she is. The wizard’s spell failed.”

“There’s another way,” Oz said. He still kneeled on the floor next to Grace.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“We still have her hair,” Oz said. “I can use it to make a tracking potion. It will take longer, it has to brew for a few hours, but once you take it you should be able to find her anywhere.”

“A few hours?” I looked at the clock on the wall. “Maggie may not have that long.”

“It’s the best we got.”

“And what about Grace?” I asked. “Is she gonna be okay?”

“That was a powerful magical object she used. It took a lot out of her, but it’s nothing that a little rest won’t cure,” Oz said.

“Stop talking about me like I’m not here,” Grace said. Her voice was still weak, but it sure was feisty.

“See?” Oz smiled.

I stood and paced for a moment, thinking.

“Okay,” I said. “You get started on that potion. In the meantime, I’ll take Diana back to the station and then see if I can’t kick over a couple of rocks and try to find out where the Brotherhood has set up shop. See if I can’t get the
chance to get at them a little earlier than a few hours from now.”

“Grace,” I said, kneeling down to her. “You are a true warrior. You really saved our bacon today. I don’t know how to thank you.”

“Are you kidding,” she said. “What was I supposed to do, let a couple dozen goblins tramp all over my clean house?”

We laughed and I leaned down and kissed her on the cheek.

“You are a treasure, Grace. A real treasure,” I said.

She only smiled and said: “You want to take some cookies with you when you go?”

I declined.

Ten minutes later Diana and I were back in her squad car, but this time I was driving.

“You mind if we stop for something to drink?” She asked. Her eyes were open, but they weren’t focused on anything.

“I ain’t much of a drinker,” I said. “And besides, blind or not, you’re still on duty.”

“I wasn’t talking about alcohol, you jerk,” she said with a smile. “I could really go for a soda right now. A fountain drink.”

I took us to the Kwik Stop. They had a self-service soda fountain inside. I could have gone to the Happy Hamburger, but it didn’t feel right. Not while Maggie was still missing.

“So, you do this sort of thing all the time?” Diana asked once I’d returned with her soda.

“Well, yeah,” I said. “I mean, I get soda a lot, but I’ve never brought a blind Police Officer along in her own squad car.”

She laughed.

“No, I mean this magic stuff,” she said. “Ogres, and goblins, and wizards.”

“Oh my,” I said.

“Funny.” She didn’t laugh that time.

“Yeah,” I said. “I do this sort of thing all the time. Not every day, thank God, but there are times when the work is steady.”

“I had no idea all this was going on around us,” she said. “It’s like a whole other world.”

“It can certainly feel like that,” I said. “But you’ve just had another layer pulled back.”

“And so this is what you do?” She said. “You help people. You literally protect people from monsters.”

“I try.”

“How long have you been fighting monsters?” She asked. “How does one get started in the monster fighting business?”

“That’s a pretty long story,” I said. “I mean, to be honest, the short version is that I don’t rightly know.”

“Now that just sounds stupid,” she said. “How can you not know?”

“Well, one day I just kinda woke up. I had no idea who I was, how I got there, where I came from, nothing.”

“You’re kidding me,” she said.

“Nope.”

“When was this?”

“You wouldn’t believe me.”

She turned and pointed her sightless eyes in my direction.

“Norman,” she said. “In less than twenty-four hours I have fought ogres, met a good wizard, met a dark wizard, and was blinded by a pack of blood-thirsty goblins. I don’t know that there is anything you can tell me right now that I won’t believe.”

“You’ve got a good point there,” I said. “Okay. Well, does August the Twenty-first, 1863 mean anything to you?”

“No,” she said. “Should it?”

“It’s the day that Quantrill’s Raiders attacked Lawrence, Kansas and burned most of the town to the ground.”

“Okay,” she said. “I’ve heard about that. I mean, I went to high school. But what does that have to do with you.”

“That’s the day I woke up.”






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Thursday, March 22, 2018

#032: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL FRANK




THE MORNING SUN BEAT down on the two of us as we approached the two-story ranch on the fourteen hundred block of Fir Street. We made quite the pair. Diana in her uniform, and me in my hat and coat.

The house looked new, but that was only due to the special attention its owners gave it. A new coat of paint went up each spring, the lawn was green and well fed, the windows cleaned daily, and the concrete drive was always free of oil stains. Not an easy task for your average homeowners, but then, the occupants of this home were anything but average.

“How’s this guy going to help us find Maggie?” Diana asked as we climbed the steps to the front porch.

“He has his ways,” I said. “Trust me.”

I knocked on the red front door and after a moment a woman in a blue, flour-caked apron answered. Her hair was gray and all done up in a bun. Though it too had flour on it as well as more than a few dozen fly away hairs. She was short, just shy under five feet, but looked about as frail as a steam engine. She scowled when she saw me.

“Norman Oklahoma,” she said. “You still kicking dirt? I thought for sure some troll or something would have snuffed out your candle years ago.”

“Now, Grace,” I said, one of my swoon inducing smiles on my face. “You know that trolls are among some of the friendliest creatures around.”

“Well, that’s as maybe,” she said. “Wishful thinking, I suppose.” Then she smiled broad and wide. “You going to just stand out there all day drawing flies, or are you going to give an old lady a hug?”

That was an invitation I was not about to pass up. Grace’s hugs could cure most any ailment.

“Come in, come in,” Grace said, breaking the hug and my heart at the same time.

“I have some cookies baking, but a batch just came out of the oven. I know how you like those chocolate chips, Norman.”

We followed her into the kitchen, Diana giving me a confused look. I only shrugged in return.

“How about a glass of milk?” She asked, handing me a plate of cookies.

“Grace,” I said. “That would be delightful.”

“And your friend?” She said. “This lovely young lady you have yet to introduce me to?”

“Yes, forgive my manners,” I said. “Grace, this here is Officer Diana King, newly hired constable of the Eudora Police Department. We’re working a case together.”

“Diana,” I continued. “This is Grace Oswald, baking genius, gorgeous homemaker, and all around wonderful person.”

“You know,” Grace said to Diana. “I don’t know who he thinks he’s fooling with all that so called charm of his, but he’s yet to get far with me using it.”

“I have his number, don’t you worry,” Diana said, smiling.

I ignored them and ate a cookie.

“You have a lovely home here, Ms. Oswald,” Diana, said.

“It’s Mrs., but you call me Grace.”

“Grace,” Diana said.

I had two more cookies and downed the glass of milk.

“Grace, is Oz around?” I asked. I wiped the milk from my upper lip with a sleeve.

“He’s down in the basement just where you’d expect him to be.”

“I’m afraid that our visit wasn’t just for you delectable cookies,” I said.

“I didn’t think so,” she said, smiling. “Go on down, he knows you’re here.”

“Thanks, Grace,” I said. Then, before leaving her, I planted a kiss on her forehead.

The basement, like the rest of the house, was warm and inviting. As we descended the stairs I could make out a giant wide screen television that took up most of the back wall. It was currently playing one of those Bob Ross painting shows from the 70’s.

Standing before the screen with his own easel and paints, and painting along with old Bob, was a skinny man with long white hair pulled back into a pony tail. He wore knee length cargo shorts, a very loud Hawaiian shirt, and sandals, complete with white socks.

“Norman,” the man said without turning around. “How’s my painting compare to Bob’s?”

“Well, gee, Oz. I believe yours might be a bit better.”

“You’re such a liar,” he said. Then, after finishing up one of those happy little clouds he said, “You need some help on a case?”

“I do, Oz. I won’t ask how you knew that.”

“Always best not to question the ways of magic.” Then he put his paints and bushes down and turned. His eyed widened when they caught Diana.

“Well, well, well,” he said. “Who is this rare beauty you have brought into my house, Norman. I’m a married man, you know.”

I introduced Diana before saying, “Diana, this is the great and powerful Frank Oswald, Wizard of the First Circle.”

“Retired wizard,” Oz said. Then he took Diana’s hand and kissed it. “A pleasure to meet you, my dear.”

“Okay, grandpa,” I said. “You said it yourself, you’re a married man.”

“Grandpa?” Oz said. “You’re older than me.”

That brought a questioning look from Diana.

“I’ll explain later,” I told her.

“Okay,” Oz said. “So what can an old man do for someone as young and spry as you?”

“I’m catching the sarcasm,” I said.

“I sure hope so; I’m throwing it pretty hard.”

“Can you fellas stop with the back and forth already,” Diana said. “It’s anything but cute and we’re running out of time.”

“Yes, of course,” I said. “You’re right. Oz, we need you to locate someone.” I pulled a small plastic bag from my coat pocket. In the bag was the lock of hair. “Her name is Maggie Keaton.”

“And why are we trying to find Maggie Keaton?” He took the bag from me, holding it up to the light to inspect the hair. “She steal something?”

“She was abducted last night,” Diana said. “Norman thinks she was taken by a group called the Brotherhood of Minos.”

“The Brotherhood of Minos? Sounds familiar, but can’t quite place it,” Oz said. “Anyway, follow me. I can help.”

He approached a door in the wall to the right of the television. The door had no knob or handle.

A tall staff of polished black wood leaned against the wall next to the door. Oz took up the staff and pointed it at the door.

“Open,” he said in a commanding voice, and the door swung inward.

The room beyond could only be described as a wizard’s laboratory, and if you’ve seen one wizard’s laboratory, then you’ve seen them all. Myself, I’ve seen just the one. This one, actually.

The laboratory was immense, like the size of a basketball court. It extended beyond the outer walls of the house itself. The wall to the left of the door was lined by shelves that held books, test tubes, beakers, jars full of various substances, and more books. On the wall opposite of the door there was a fire place so large you could stand in it without bumping your head. Hanging in the fire place was a massive black cauldron, so big that it could hold enough stew to feed an army.

In the middle of the room sat a wide table made of stone.

Oz leaned his staff against the table and then took the lock of hair, placing it in the center of the table. He then placed five white candles in a circle around the hair, lighting each with a plain, green, plastic disposable lighter he’d retrieved from a pocket in his shorts.

Oz stood over the lock of hair and closed his eyes, placing his hands, palms down, over the glowing candles.

We waited.

Two minutes later and nothing happened. Oz hadn’t moved.

“How long should this take?” Diana whispered to me.

“Wait for it,” I replied.

Four more minutes ticked by before the candle flames went out. It was as if five hands had reached out and snuffed each of the small flames at the same time. Oz’s eyes popped open, a look of surprise on his face. The smoke curled up from the wicks like ethereal snakes seeking sanctuary in the ceiling.

“What happened?” Diana said, her voice soft and low.

“Wait,” Oz said.

He studied the undulating lines of smoke. They bent and twisted, reaching out to touch each other, growing until the five trails of smoke became one solid column.

“There is something seriously wrong here,” Oz said, taking up his staff.

“What is it?” I drew a pistol.

“Oh, put that thing away,” Oz said, scowling. “This isn’t the sort of thing you can shoot.”

I didn’t like the sort of thing I couldn’t shoot. They made me uneasy. But I holstered the pistol.

The column bent so that it flowed down toward the ground. There it glided across the floor away from us and climbed the back wall.

“There is something else in this room with us,” Oz said, stepping forward. “A presence.”

The smoke continued to climb the back wall. Soon it covered the entire back of the room from floor to ceiling like a thick gray curtain. The wall of smoke thickened and expanded outward.

“I know you are there,” Oz called out. “You have entered my sanctum unbidden. Name yourself lest I banish thee.”

“Thee?” I said.

“Shut up,” Oz replied with an embarrassed smile. “There are formalities to observe.”

The wall of smoke shifted and a face formed in the middle, six feet tall. It was the face of a bald man with sunken eyes. Beyond that it was hard to tell who the man was behind the face.

The smoke eyes took in each one of us in turn. When they settled on me, the face smiled.

“Norman Oklahoma,” the face said. “Aren’t you persistent. I would have thought that my ogres would have scared you off of this foolish quest.”

“Where’s Maggie?” I shouted, knowing that it was useless.

“You will never find the girl, gunslinger,” the face in the smoke said. “She is with the Brotherhood now. Her blood will be sacrificed to the Bull God in good time. Nothing can stop that.”

“I’m not gonna let that happen,” I said.

“I find your confidence amusing,” the face said.

“Name thyself, villain!” Oz commanded.

“I am all that you once were, old man,” the face said. “Do not attempt to cross magic with me. You will find that nothing but regret lies down that path.”

“I am old,” Oz said. “That is true. But to dismiss my power based on age is foolish on your part.”

“Okay, let’s all stop flexing our muscles,” Diana said, stepping forward, gun raised. “I am an officer with the Eudora Police Department. If you have knowledge regarding the current whereabouts of Maggie Keaton, it is your responsibility to share it. To do otherwise would be considered obstruction, which could lead to your arrest.”

The smoke face starred at her for a moment before it burst out laughing.

“Oh my,” the face said. “You are just simply adorable.”

“Where’s the girl, Smokey,” I said. “If I have to come looking for her then I’m gonna be mighty cross with you.”

“You won’t come looking for her,” the face said. “You will die here in this sad little basement. I will see to that myself.”

The face distorted, flattened, morphing back into the wall of smoke. The wall parted down the middle like a set of curtains and an orange light glowed from within. The orange light increased and a small green figure stepped out of it.

The creature stood about three feet tall and had long pointed ears that stuck out over its hairless head. It smiled to show razor sharp teeth.

It was a goblin, and I could see more behind it.






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Monday, March 19, 2018

#031: SOMETIMES SHE CRIES




MAGGIE KEATON HAD NEVER considered herself to me much of a crier. The way she figured it, her dad had cried enough for the both of them following her mother’s death.

Maggie had been just seven when her mom had died. It had been a car accident. Drunk driver going the wrong way down a one way street, in the dead of night, with their lights off. Both her mother and the drunk had died on impact.

Maggie had cried four times over the death of her mom. Once when her dad had given her the news. Once again that night in bed when she’d realized that her mom would never tuck her in again. She’d cried at the funeral, and she’d cried three days later when she’d walked in on her dad weeping in the living room, a framed picture of her mom clutched to his chest.

Her dad had cried a lot those following days. Right up to the day he took his own life, two months after Maggie had lost her mom.

Maggie had been prepared to give over to her grief at that point. Seven years old and both parents gone. But then she’d thought about her dad, about where his grief had gotten him, and the tears just wouldn’t come.

She’d gone to live with her grandparents after that. They’d found it odd when she didn’t cry at her dad’s funeral. In fact, it had troubled them that they’d not seen her cry once during her first few months with them.

“You have to grieve,” they had told her.

They had even sent her to a therapist. But she didn’t cry. Not once.

Her father had grieved, he’d given over to despair, then he’d ended his life with a rope and a noose.

She’d decided that day, at seven years of age, that she would never cry again.

Then she’d been abducted by strange, green creatures. Taken from the lot of the Happy Hamburger, right in front of her fiancé, Anthony

She had been terrified near to tears, but she did not cry.

The creatures had taken her from the lot and carried her into a tunnel that had been dug into the earth. She had been a long time in the tunnel, the darkness. How long, she didn’t know. It had felt like an eternity down in the black. The darkness had been so complete that she had been able to see nothing but her own helplessness.

She’d screamed, she’d struggled and fought. But she did not cry.

The tunnel had eventually opened up to the night sky. A field, and one she had not recognized. A van had been waiting in the field. A van and six men in dark, hooded robes, belted at the waist. She’d been given over to the men. Men who did not speak. They had bound her wrists and ankles with zip ties and lifting her, had placed her gently inside the back of the van. They had thrown a hood, a dark bag made of cloth, over her head so that once again, she could not see.

Still, she did not cry.

They’d kept her hood on as they drove. She could hear the sound of the tires change from the grass of the field, to asphalt, and then gravel. The trip hadn’t lasted long. Soon after hitting the gravel, they had stopped. She had been taken from the van and the zip tie around her ankles had been cut away so that she could walk.

She remembers hearing the buzz and chirp of insects all around as well as cars passing nearby, their tires sounding distinct on the paved road in the distance. But the sounds had melted away as they had taken her inside some sort of building.

She’d tried to memorize the path, the number of turns, but there had been too many to keep straight.

Eventually they had stopped and her hood had been removed. She’d found herself in a small, windowless room. It looked very much like an empty office or small conference room with its prefab crème-colored walls, tiled ceiling and gray carpet. But the office did not contain a desk, chairs, or even a table. Instead, sitting in the center of the floor was a cage. Like the kind in which you’d keep a large dog.

It was at that point that they had cut her wrists free and gestured to the cage. She had crawled in. The cage was about four by four feet. She could not stand. She could only sit. The men had then locked the cage with a large padlock and left her alone.

The men in the robes had not spoken once the entire time she had been with them.

And yet still, she did not cry.

Thankfully the men had left the light on for her. But the constant hum of the fluorescents began to pull at the frayed edges of her nerves.

A man had come in at one point to bring her food. Bread, cheese, and water. He, like the others, did not speak. He had only left the plate on the floor by the cage and then left.

She couldn’t be sure how long she’d been kept in the cage. She could guess. The same man had brought her food three times since they’d locked her up. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner maybe?

They had also come in twice to take her to use the restroom. Two men in the same robes, as silent as the others, had arrived and unlocked her cage. Then they stood aside until she understood she was to come out. They’d even waited patiently as she’d stretched, her legs cramped and stiff from too much sitting in her confined space, before escorting her to the restroom. They had waited outside the closed stall as she had done her business. And as with the others, they had not spoken a word.

Through it all, she had not cried.

And then he arrived. He was the only one of the men to wear a hood. The other men had all been bald, shaved clean. But this man, all she could see of his face from the shadow of the hood was his nose to his chin, and on his chin sat a small patch of red hair.

The other aspect of the man that made him stand out over the others was the fact that this man spoke.

He walked into the room and sat on the floor before her cage, she was already thinking of it as her cage.

He regarded her silently for a time, his eyes hidden beneath the hood.

“Where is Anthony?” She asked, breaking the silence.

She’d asked them all the same question. None, of course, had answered. Anthony had been there with her in the end, he’d come for her, come to the Happy Hamburger. But he had not been in the tunnel with her.

Had he escaped?

Had they taken him someplace else?

No one was talking.

Until...

“Anthony?” The man asked. Then, smiling, “Ah yes, your fiancé. He is dead.”

He had said it in such a matter of fact way that Maggie thought for a moment that she’d heard him wrong.

“He’s what?” She said, her voice sounding shaky in her ears.

“Anthony,” the man said. “Your fiancé is dead. He died there in the restaurant parking lot because he was foolish. He had tried to stop you from being taken. He learned too late that what the Brotherhood wants, the Brotherhood gets.”

“Dead?” She couldn’t quite believe it.

“I’d like to tell you that he died bravely, and I suppose that in a way he did. He was fighting for you, after all. But he didn’t die quickly, I can tell you that.”

“I don’t understand.” Nothing made sense.

“What is not to understand? He is dead. Face up to it. You have a big night ahead of you. Rejoice, girl. For it is from you that the world will know peace. Your sacrifice will be just the start, but it will give to us, the Brotherhood, the power necessary to free the world from the bonds of corruption.”

She tried to follow along, but all she could think of was Anthony.

“You should be thanking us,” he said. “Not thinking about the dead.”

He waited. Maybe he really expected her to thank him. She had no words.

He looked as if he wanted to say more, but instead cocked his head, as if listening for something she couldn’t hear. He frowned.

“There is more that I would tell you, to prepare you for tonight, but I must go. Someone is looking for you and I’m afraid I’m not quite ready yet for you to be found.”

He smiled at her and then left, turning the light off behind him before closing the door and leaving her alone in the dark.

Maggie thought of Anthony. How they had met in New York City. How they had fallen in love. She thought about how much he disliked living in a small town, yet came to Eudora just to be with her.

She played his proposal in her mind. He’d not been foolish enough to plan out some ridiculously complicated event. He knew her too well for all that. Instead, as the two sipped coffee together in the Coffee Bean, he’d simply pulled the ring from a pocket, dropped to one knee, and proposed.

She, of course, had said yes.

It was at that point, immediately following the proposal, that she’d begun to plan out their future in her head. She’d finish school, then law school, then pass the bar and open up shop here in town. He’d get that used book start started; Anthony loved books, especially old books. They’d buy a house out south of town, have two kids—a boy and girl—maybe even a dog. It was going to be great.

No, not great.

I was going to be perfect.

But now he was dead. The future she’d been imagining in her head for all this time crumbled like a sand castle at high tide. With just a few words this man had taken Anthony away from her and destroyed her future.

It was then that Maggie Keaton cried.






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Thursday, March 15, 2018

#030: THE BROTHERHOOD OF MINOS




I ENTERED THE PUB to the sound of rock music playing louder than necessary from speakers that hung in each corner of the room. I stood in the doorway and gave the room a quick scan, finding Abner Lemonzeo just where I thought he’d be, in the back booth.

He sat, just like yesterday, with two men in suits. The same two men.

Vampires.

Have I mentioned how much I hate vampires

Abner looked up as I approached, his face going from surprise, to fear, to annoyance.

“Norman Oklahoma,” he said. “Tell me we aren’t going to have a repeat performance of your gun slinging skills.”

“That’s all gonna depend on your two friends here, Abner.”

There was something off about the scene I’d walked in on. I don’t know what the three had been talking about, but for a moment there I could have sworn that the two biters had looked more than a little shaken. It hadn’t lasted long. My presence seemed to shake the two out of their funk and they glared up at me with faces like thunderstorms. The both rose. The blond was sitting the closest; he was the stone face that had stepped up to me yesterday.

I cleared leather on both guns before they could make it to their feet.

“Back off, fellas,” I said. “I’d hate to ruin another pair of suits. They look expensive.”

“Sit down, gentlemen,” Abner said.

The two biters, ignoring us both, stepped out from the booth, towering over me.

“Trust me, boys,” I said, pointing the guns at them, one on each. “My bullets will cost way less than them fancy duds. Why don’t you make yourselves scarce while I talk to Abner here.”

Abner sighed. “Please excuse us, gentlemen. I’ll talk with our brash friend and then we’ll resume our business.”

Stone Face stepped up to me and I placed the barrel of one gun under his chin. I thumbed back the hammer.

“You feeling froggy, son?” I asked.

“This is not over,” the biter said between clenched teeth.

“You get that line from a comic book?” I said. “You best vanish, son. My trigger finger gets mighty itchy when I’m around your kind.”

The biter didn’t move.

“I feel it’s my responsibility to inform the both of you that after yesterday I made sure I wasn’t gonna get caught with my pants down this time.”

“Meaning?” asked the one with the black hair. He stepped in closer.

I pointed the second pistol in the black haired biter’s face and thumbed back the hammer.

“Meaning,” I said. “I’m packing silver today, boys.”

Concern flashed across their faces so quickly that I almost missed it. It made me smile.

“Now,” I continued. “There’s nothing more I’d like right now then to kill the both of you dead here on this barroom floor. But I need information from your partner here, and as a courtesy to him, I’m not going to leave a couple of stinking biter corpses behind. But,” I pressed the barrel of the gun deeper into Stone Face’s chin. “It’s all up to you two boys. What do you want to do?”

“I suppose we can give the two humans a moment,” Black Hair said. “What do you say, Thomas?”

Thomas, the bleach-blond, stone faced vampire, continued to stare me in the eyes. His look, if anything, became harder and for a moment I thought he was going to come at me. Instead, he backed away and the two left out of the front door.

Still, I didn’t put my guns away and sit down until I was sure they were gone.

“What’s this about?” Abner asked as I slid into the booth.

“A woman was taken last night,” I said. “From behind the Happy Hamburger.”

“And?” Abner said, looking disinterested.

“And,” I said. “It was goblins that took her.”

“Goblins?” Abner said, sitting back. “That’s interesting.”

“And ogres,” I said. “I tussled with a couple just a few hours ago.”

“Goblins and ogres?” Abner tried to look surprised, but didn’t quite pull it off. “Now that’s a trick.”

“I have to ask, Abner,” I said. “You involved in this somehow?”

This time his surprise looked genuine.

“No, Norman. I am not involved. I may spend a small amount of my time on activities that some might consider to be outside of the law, but I do draw the line at kidnapping.”

“Scruples, Abner?” I said. “I had no idea.”

“We all have our lines, Norman.”

“Any idea who might be able to pull something like this together?”

Abner sat there in silence for a moment. He had something he wanted to tell me, I could see it in his eyes. He was just trying to decide if he should tell me, and I’ve learned that the best way to get someone to talk was to just sit and stare at them. If they have something they want to say, they’ll say it. People love to talk.

“Okay, look,” he said after almost twenty seconds. “I can’t tell you for sure who may have taken this woman.”

“Maggie Keaton,” I said.

“Okay,” Abner said. “Maggie Keaton. Anyway, as I was saying, I don’t know who took her. Not for certain. But it’s no secret between the two of us that there’s not a lot that goes on around here that I don’t know about, right?”

“Sure,” I said, frowning.

“Well, there’s a cult that’s started up in the area.”

“A cult?”

“Yeah, the Brotherhood of Minos. Bunch of guys in robes who worship some sort of Bull God. One of their guys came to see me in prison last year. Wanted to buy some land from me, but couldn’t meet the asking price. Said if I sold to them they would ensure my place in paradise when the Bull God smites mankind for their sins or some such nonsense.”

“They sound delightful,” I said.

“They are small, pitiful, and desperate. Otherwise I’d have had someone on the inside by now,” Abner said.

“Desperate can often equal dangerous,” I said.

“That’s as maybe,” Abner replied. “But, as I said, I have no in with the group, therefore I have no idea what they might be up to.”

“The Brotherhood of Minos.” I said.

“Yes. Are we done here?”

“I suppose we are,” I said.

I couldn’t quite hide my disappointment as I rose from the booth. Abner had given me squat. Sure, this cult could be behind her abduction, and I knew a certain comic shop owner that might know more about them, but until I knew where they were, it was an empty lead. Just more smoke to chase.

Then I thought of Oz. I almost cursed. I was just talking about Oz yesterday. A plan took shape in my mind.

I met Diana on the sidewalk. She had just arrived.

“Get anything on who took Maggie?” She asked.

“Not really,” I said. “But I have an idea. Let’s get back to the station.”

We were there in a matter of minutes. Once inside I went straight to Pat’s office, Diana close behind.

“Our guy talking yet?” I asked as I entered and found Pat behind her desk.

“Sure,” Pat said. “That’s all he’s been doing for the last three hours. He’s just not making any sense.”

“How about his fist?” I asked. “He open it yet?”

“No, Norman,” Pat said. “Nothing has changed since you left. What’s going on? What’s got you all in a lather?”

“Where is he?” I asked.

“I had him moved to one of the cells,” Pat said.

“I need to see him,” I got up and left the office.

“Norman,” Pat said, following me out, Diana close behind. “What the Hell is going on?”

“I have a plan,” I said over my shoulder. “A way we can find Maggie.”

“Okay,” Pat said. “You in a sharing mood or are you going to continue with this whole mystery thing?”

“Come on, Pat,” I said. “Everyone needs a little mystery in their life.”

I could feel her eyes boring into my back like tiny rays of pure scorn but I ignored the feeling as we entered the cell block.

“This have anything to do with your meeting with Lemonzeo?” Pat asked. “What did he tell you?”

“Okay,” I said as we stopped at Anthony’s cell. He was sitting on his bunk, staring at the ground, not making a peep. His fist still clenched around something. “Abner claimed that he had no idea who took Maggie.”

“Maggie!” Anthony stood up. “Maggie! They came from the earth and took her! Little green men! Red mist! They took her down with them!”

“Well that got him going,” I said.

Anthony looked at each one of us in turn, his eyes begging for help. When he found none, he returned to his bunk and silence.

“You believe him?” Diana asked.

“Yeah, I believe little green men took her down with them,” I said. “What have we been doing all this time?”

“No, do you believe Lemonzeo?” Diana said.

“I do,” I said. “I can usually tell when Abner’s lying. Anyway, he did tell me about cult that’s made its way to town.”

“The Brotherhood of Minos,” Pat said. Then seeing my expression of shock, continued. “They’re harmless. They stand around outside school functions and pass out pamphlets. Most people around here ignore them.”

“Dang, Patsy,” I said. “They could be the ones that took Maggie—”

“Maggie!” Anthony shot up once again. “They came from the earth and took her! Little green men! Red mist! They took her down with them!”

“Give it a rest, Anthony,” I said. Then I turned back to Pat. “You know where they hold up?”

“No,” she said. “They aren’t in town anyways. And there’s no new churches popping up outside of town. Just figured they commuted in from Kansas City.”

“Why Kansas City?” Diana asked.

Pat shrugged. “Big city. Lotsa crazy.”

“They came from the earth and took her,” Anthony said. His voice almost pleading. “Little green men. Red mist. They took her down with them.”

“Come here, Anthony,” I said.

Like I told Pat and Diana, I had a plan. Like most of my plans it probably wasn’t the best. I’m sure a wiser man could have come up with something better, but we work with what we have. I just prayed that it paid off; otherwise I’d be spending another night in jail.

Anthony didn’t move.

“Come here, Anthony,” I said again.

“What are you doing, Norman?” Pat asked.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “It’s an old investigative trick. Anthony, come over here to me.”

Anthony still didn’t move, but he did look up and meet my gaze. That was something.

“Anthony,” I said. “I need you to come over to me here at the bars please,” I said.

Then Anthony, in a jerky, stumbling manner, stepped up to the bars of the cell. I made a fist and punched him square in the jaw.

“What the Hell!?” Pat shouted as Diana grabbed me by the wrist, pulled my arm around my back, tugged said arm up so high that it threatened to slip out of its socket, and then slammed me forward into the bars.

“You have the right to remain silent,” Diana began.

I wasn’t paying much attention to her. I was focused instead on Anthony and his right hand. He stumbled about a bit.

“Explain yourself, Norman,” Pat said.

But before I could even try, Anthony’s eyes rolled up into the back of his head and he dropped to the floor like a wet bag of sand. Once unconsciousness took him, Anthony’s left hand opened up and that which he had been holding onto so tight sat revealed on his palm.

“You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you,” Diana continued.

“Look,” I said as she pressed me into the bars. “Look at his hand.”

Then, as the two looked and could finally see what Anthony had been holding on to, the pressure against me relaxed.

There in Anthony’s open hand was a lock of what I presumed to be Maggie Keaton’s hair.

“I know how to find Maggie,” I said. “But I’m going to need a little help.”






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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

#029: GRANDMA PAT




“RAST UTH DE RONDA.”

It was the dream again. This time I had been tied to an ancient set of rust-coated box springs. They had been stood up on their short end and propped back against a graffiti-covered wall. I was in a wide room with high ceilings, like an abandoned ballroom in a forgotten hotel.

The air was damp and water trickled from the ceiling. The two blood-splattered doctors in gas masks from my previous dreams stood over me. They each clutched a gleaming scalpel.

“Alto con vite ban stiltomen,” one was saying in a language I’d only heard before in another dream.

“Kalt,” said the other. “Bar salto con falegrutten.”

I woke before they could start cutting, which happens once in a while.

I was back in the same jail cell, alone again on the cell block. But I wasn’t being held, not this time. This time I was here of my own free will.

After loading the three ogre corpses into the back of the patrol car — no easy feat for just two people, and one with broken ribs — we were, frankly, at a loss of what to do next.

The tunnel idea had been a total bust and it was, to be honest, my only real lead. Knowing, however, that the psychotropic spray that Maggie’s fiancé had been soaked in would wear off by this afternoon, I figured our best bet was to go back to the station and wait.

Besides, I still had three or four broken ribs to mend, and I heal faster when I’m still and calm. So, while Diana went off to do some paperwork and figure out what to do with the ogre corpses, I came down to the cell block for a bit of a rest.

I yawned and sat up. That’s when I discovered that I was not, in fact, alone in the cell block.

A little girl of about nine or ten stood on the other side of the bars looking in at me.

“Are you a criminal?” she asked.

“I am not,” I said.

“Good,” she replied. “Because your door is open. If you were a criminal you could get out.”

“Well, I’m not a criminal.” I yawned again. “What time is it?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Before school but after breakfast.”

I wasn’t sure what to say to that, so I chose to say nothing, hoping that the girl would get bored and move on. But after a moment or two I realized that she wasn’t going anywhere.

So I stood and then groaned a bit as I stretched. No pain. My ribs appeared to be fully healed.

My gun belt, coat, and hat sat atop one another on the cot on the other side of the cell. I began to put them on.

“Your clothes are all dirty,” the girl said.

I ignored her and belted on my guns. I was still covered in mud from earlier, though it had all, by now, dried.

“Why are they so dirty?”

I continued to ignore her, pulling on my coat and placing my hat on my head.

“I would change my clothes if I were that dirty,” she said. “Or take a bath or something.”

“Look,” I said. “Who are you?”

“What are you doing down here?” said a voice from the door at the front of the cell block. It was Pat.

“What did I tell you about wandering off?” Pat said.

“You said to stay close and to not go wandering off,” the girl said.

“And this is close?” Pat said, walking into the room.

“No,” the girl said, her lower lip sticking out in a pout.

“Okay then. So what do you have to say to me?” Pat said, walking up to the girl and looking down at her.

The girl, her eyes glued to the floor, mumbled something unintelligible.

Pat reached down and placed a gentle hand under the girl’s chin, lifting it so that the girl was looking up at Pat.

“What was that?” Pat said.

“I’m sorry, Grandma,” the girl said.

“Grandma!?” I said.

“That’s right, Norman. I’d like you to meet my granddaughter, Susie.”

My surprise left me momentarily speechless.

“Susie,” Pat turned to the girl. “This is Norman Oklahoma; he’s an old friend of mine.”

The girl giggled. “That’s a funny sounding name,” she said. “Oklahoma is a state. We learned that from our geography book.”

“That’s all you have to say to Mr. Oklahoma?” Pat said. “That his name sounds funny?”

The girl looked up at me, another giggle hiding behind her eyes.

“Hello, Mr. Oklahoma,” she said. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”

I tipped my hat and said simply, “Ma’am.”

Susie giggled again.

“Okay, why don’t you go get your bag and wait for me in my office. I’ll be up in a bit to take you to school.”

“Okay, Grandma,” Susie said. “Goodbye, Mr. Oklahoma.”

Again, I tipped my hat and said, “Ma’am.”

Susie giggled as she ran up the stairs.

“A grandmother, Pat?” I said. “Since when?”

“Oh, about nine years now, Norman,” she said. “You know, for a detective you sure don’t pay a lot of attention to things.”

“Well,” I felt shame creep into my face. “I’ve been busy. Has Maggie’s fiancé said anything useful yet?”

“His name is Anthony, and he’s originally from New York City. Beyond that it’s been much of the same.”

“Has he opened his hand yet?”

“Nope. If he’s holding on to something, he’s keeping it clutched tight.”

“Well, there ain’t much I can do from here,” I said. “Maybe I’ll go to the office, have a shower, then stop over at the Pub.”

“It’s a little early for a drink.”

“Is it?” I said. “What time is it?”

She consulted her watch. “Almost eight.”

“Regardless, whoever or whatever took Maggie has both goblins and ogres working for them, or it... That’s going to get annoying.”

“It is,” Pat agreed.

“Anyway, that’s not an easy thing to make happen. Now, I ain’t saying that Abner’s involved, but if anyone in this town is gonna know anything it’s gonna be him.”

Pat sighed. “Just be careful, Norman. Keep your head clear. It was only yesterday that you shot up the place.”

“My life is rather exiting, ain’t it.” I smiled.

My ride was still at the office, left there yesterday when the Walrus stuffed me in the trunk of his car so that he could kill me in the privacy of my own home. From there I went straight to jail in the back of a patrol car.

This only meant that I was forced to walk.

Luckily it was only three blocks from the Police Station to my office. And to tell the truth, I needed the air.

I passed by the Pub on the way. It’s located just down the street and across from my office. Though it was early, I could hear rock music coming from the building, so I knew that Abner would be there. But first, a shower and a change of clothes.

I arrived to find a woman sitting in a utility truck at the curb on the Seventh Street side.

“You Norman Oklahoma?” She said through the open truck window as I approached the building.

“Who’s asking?”

“Jacqueline Murphy,” she said. “Murphy’s Glass.” She got out of the truck. “You can call me Jack.”

Jack Murphy was a big woman. And I mean like akin to a giant. She wasn’t overweight or one of them thick-headed body building types. She was just, well, she was big. She had at least eighteen inches on me. And she was wide too, like a linebacker in full pads. Standing before her I understood how those barbarian raiders must have felt when they encountered the Great Wall of China for the first time.

“What can I do for you, Jacqueline Murphy, Murphy’s Glass?” I said as the big woman approached. I had to fight the urge not to open my coat and put a hand on one of my revolvers.

“I’m here to fix your window,” she said. “And call me Jack.”

Yesterday I was thrown out of my office window by a walrus.

We talked about that already.

It was a mutant walrus-man, created in a lab by a group of scientists for pure whimsy, was sent to kill me.

He didn’t.

“Yes, it’s true that I got a busted window up there,” I said, pointing up to my office. “But I don’t recall calling anyone about it.”

“Well, I got a call,” she said and then starting fishing around in a pocket of her coveralls. She pulled free a sheet of paper and studied it for a moment. “I got the work order right here. Says to bill Pat McCrea.”

Once I thought about it I did recall Pat saying last night that she’d called someone about the window.

“I suppose if Patsy’s paying then I’ll show you the way.”

Jacqueline “Jack” Murphy grabbed a tool box from her truck and I led her into the building and up the steps.

“You one of those impersonators?” she asked as we reached top of the steps and the door to my office on the second floor.

I turned to her. “What?”

“The way you dress,” she said. “You look like Elliot Ness or something. I thought maybe you were one of those celebrity impersonators.”

“Is there a lot of call for an Elliot Ness impersonator?”

“I don’t think so,” she said.

“I’m a private investigator,” I said and pointed at the door. Painted on the glass of the door where the words:



NORMAN OKLAHOMA
PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR
“Oh, I see,” was her only reply.

We stood that way for a moment in the stairwell before I realized that she wasn’t going to say anymore, so I let the two of us into the office.

Bob wasn’t at the reception desk. Instead there was a note on the door to my office. It read:


NORMAN,

FINISHED MY BOOK AND NOW I’M BORED. I’VE GONE TO THE LIBRARY.
I MAY BE BACK TODAY. I MAY NOT.
DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH.

BOB



That was just like Bob. If I was actually paying the man I’d be upset. But, since I wasn’t, I had no room to judge.

I pocketed the note and let Jack into my office.

“It’s a bit sparse,” Jack said, filling the room.

“I like sparse,” I said.

“I’ll assume the window I’m here to fix is the one with the blue plastic tarp taped over it?”

“That’d be the one.”

She moved to the window and began peeling back the plastic.

“The frame is intact, so that’s good,” she said.

“Is it?”

“Sure is. Means we just need to put in some new glass and not a whole new window.”

“When can that happen?”

“Today, most likely,” she said.

“Really?”

“Yeah, I just need to take some measurements and we’ll get you all hooked up.”

I hung my coat on the coat tree just inside and door.

“If you don’t mind, I’ll just step out and freshen up a bit,” I said. “You just do what you need to do.”

I had my own private bathroom with a small shower attached to the office. I also had a spare suit in my bottom desk drawer. It would be wrinkled, but better wrinkled then covered in mud.

After the shower I dressed in the bathroom and found Jack still in the office. She had removed the blue plastic from the window and was standing and looking out onto the street when I entered.

“So, what exactly happened to the window?” She asked.

I sat at the desk and pulled on my shoes.

“Oh, well,” I said. “I was thrown through it … by a walrus.”

“Ah,” she said. “Okay. I suppose that’s the sort of thing you run into a lot in your line of work?”

“Surprisingly, yes,” I said.

“Well, this all seems fairly standard. I have most of what I need here to get started. I should have it all completed by this evening.”

“Do I need to be here?” I asked as I tied my shoes.

“Not unless you want to be.”

“Okay, good. I have a man to see about a goblin.”

“That some sort of euphemism?” She asked, still looking out the window.

“Surprisingly,” I said. “No.”

And with that, I left.






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Thursday, March 8, 2018

#028: JENNER TAKES THE CAKE




ABNER LEMONZEO BEGAN HIS day with a hundred push-ups and a hundred sit-ups. It was a habit he’d gotten into while incarcerated. Actually, it was the one good thing he’d taken from the whole experience. Thanks to prison he was in the best shape of his life.

Following the exercises he hit the shower, and remained there until the water went cold. The freedom of being alone in the shower was something he’d never take for granted again. Not anymore. Back in prison a shower was something you did quickly. You got in and you got out. You also had to focus more on who was around you then getting clean. It was a nerve wracking affair.

Once well and fully soaked, Lemonzeo would, weather permitting, air dry on the veranda. Living out in the country as he did, he didn’t need to worry about neighbors being offended by the lack of clothing.

As he sat and let the air do its thing, he sipped on hot coffee and smoked a thin cigar. Normally, under such circumstances, Lemonzeo would be feeling good. Pretty darn great, to tell the truth. But not this morning. This morning Lemonzeo was more than a little anxious.

He had made what he thought was a necessary, yet risky decision yesterday morning. He’d agreed to help to kill Norman Oklahoma for a group of vampires in return for a substantial cash donation toward his various enterprises. Which, he could admit to himself, were not all completely legal. He’d figured it was easy enough promise. After all, he’d already sent a man to kill Oklahoma.

Not a man, exactly.

So he made the deal, thinking that Oklahoma was already dead. He’d have made it anyway; the deal was going to help him get back on top. To get back all that he’d lost when he’d been locked away.

And really, it had all seemed so simple. Kill Norman Oklahoma. One man. What could be so hard about that?

But then something had gone wrong. Norman Oklahoma had survived. Lemonzeo had hired one of the best, the Walrus, yet Oklahoma lived. Not only that, he had come to visit with Lemonzeo and got into it with the very vampires Lemonzeo had gotten into bed with.

The two vampires, Thomas and Alexander, were anything but happy when they’d left the Pub yesterday morning. Not that he blamed them, but in reality, it wasn’t his fault. He’d bought the best. But the best, it turned out, hadn’t been good enough.

Thankfully Thomas and Alexander didn’t make the decisions. They had a boss just like anyone else.

Bertram Brone.

That’s who worried Lemonzeo.

Would Brone continue to fund him after this? The purpose behind killing Oklahoma had been to keep him from discovering that vampires had taken root into Eudora. And now, well, that cat had been pulled from the bag kicking and screaming. He had another meeting with Thomas and Alexander later this morning to discuss, he supposed, that very thing.

Sufficiently dry he adjourned to the bedroom to dress—shorts, t-shirt, no shoes. Soon he was in the kitchen scrambling eggs. A little salt, pepper, a few pats of butter. The key was to whisk it all with the eggs until they were blended smooth. Lemonzeo had always felt that his scrambled eggs were the best around.

As he was plating the eggs and toasting the bread, his assistant, Jenner, entered the kitchen. Jenner carried with him one of those electronic tablets that Lemonzeo could never figure out the use of. What was wrong with a little black book and a pencil?

“Good morning, sir,” Jenner said, swiping and tapping at the screen.

“Have a seat, Jenner and I’ll plate you up some eggs.”

“Thank you, sir,” Jenner said. “I would be happy to share your table with you, but I’m afraid I’ve already eaten.”

“Well then,” Lemonzeo said, sitting with his own plate. “That just means more for me.”

It had been the same every morning since Lemonzeo had been released from prison.

“Tell me what’s going on in the world, Jenner,” he said as the two men sat together at his kitchen table.

“The Brotherhood of Minos is still poking around,” Jenner said.

“Still? Talk about your inflated sense of self. What are they doing?”

“Looking for converts, I believe. More men to join their cow cult or whatever it is they worship.”

“The Bull God,” Lemonzeo said.

“Of course,” Jenner said, swiping at the screen of his tablet.

“The Walrus has been taken to a facility in Denver,” Jenner said, reading from the tablet.

“I regret using him,” Lemonzeo said. “But his references were impeccable.”

“I have to admit that I continue to find this Norman Oklahoma quite curious,” Jenner said. “The Walrus is a formidable opponent. For Mr. Oklahoma to have walked away unscathed, and twice no less… Curious.”

“The man does have an annoying habit of surviving,” Lemonzeo said. “What else do you have for me?”

“Well,” Jenner swiped at the screen a few times. “Speaking of Norman Oklahoma. A girl, Maggie Keaton, was abducted last night. The Police, along with Mr. Oklahoma, are looking into it.”

“Another girl taken?”

“Yes,” Jenner said. “But this doesn’t seem to be connected to the other abductions. They were all children. Maggie Keaton is a grown woman.”

“Do we know who took her?” Lemonzeo said. “I don’t like kidnappings. I especially don’t like them happening in my town without my knowledge.”

“I’ll continue to make inquiries,” Jenner swiped the screen again. “Your meeting with the vampires is in an hour.”

“Yes, yes,” Lemonzeo said. “Not a meeting I am looking forward to. They didn’t leave happy yesterday.”

“After the way Mr. Oklahoma treated the two, I don’t blame them.”

Lemonzeo smiled. “He sure took them down a peg or two, didn’t he?” Then he laughed.

“He did at that,” Jenner said. Not smiling. The man never seemed to smile.

“You’ll be there again, yes?” Lemonzeo asked. “At the Pub, during the meeting?”

“As always, sir.”

Lemonzeo didn’t like it when Jenner called him ‘sir’. He’d been trying to correct it for some time now, preferring that the man call him Lemonzeo, or even Bud. But nothing had changed, and he’d given up trying.

“Okay then,” Lemonzeo said. “I’ll get dressed.”

Thirty minutes later Lemonzeo and Jenner entered the Pub from the rear entrance.

Lemonzeo took his normal seat at the back booth while Jenner went behind the bar to make a pot of coffee.

Soon the coffee was made and Lemonzeo sat sipping at a hot mug as Jenner retired to the back room. Unlike yesterday morning, rock music played loudly from the Pubs sound system.

Lemonzeo loved rock music. Bands with flash. The bright colors, the screeching guitars. Bands with ripped up jeans, leather, spandex, and wild times.

Hair bands. That’s what they were called nowadays. Back then, when they were top of the charts, they were just called heavy metal. Sure, maybe glam metal. But hair bands? He found the term offensive.

He’d kept the music off yesterday out of respect. It was the first meeting with the vampires. He didn’t know what music they liked.

Now… well, what did he care now? They were either going to kill him or they weren’t.

If they were, he might as well have some of his favorite songs bouncing through his head when he went.

The Pub had two obvious cameras mounted in the ceiling. One to catch people as they came in and out of the front door, and the other to capture those sitting at the bar. The other eight cameras were so cleverly blended in with the decor that they were nearly invisible. Much more so for the four that were pointing at that back booth.

The back booth was also wired for sound. Whenever Lemonzeo held a meeting in that booth, Jenner could sit in the back room and watch and listen. Regardless of how loud the music from the stereo was, Jenner was able to hear every word spoken in that one booth.

Of course, Jenner didn’t actually record anything, only a fool would do so, but he’d watch, listen, and wait. He was there to provide advice, maybe step in if things got too hot. Lemonzeo hoped that wouldn’t be necessary. Jenner had shown in prison that he could handle himself. In fact, after some of what he’d borne witness to, Lemonzeo knew no more dangerous a man. But then, they weren’t dealing with men today.

Lemonzeo had worked through half of his coffee when the vampires walked in. Alexander and Thomas. The twins. That was good. Had Brone sent anyone else, or come himself, Lemonzeo would be worried. He hoped that by sending the twins again, Brone was showing that he wanted their relationship to continue.

That or he wanted to give the two vampires the opportunity to kill him themselves. Lemonzeo tried to relax. Like the old commercial used to say, never let them see you sweat.

“Does the music need to be so loud?” Alexander said as the two sat. Thomas didn’t speak. He only scowled.

“Yes,” Lemonzeo said. “Yes it does. Think of it this way. If anyone comes in, they won’t be able to hear our conversation. Besides, I like it.”

“Do not play us for fools, Lemonzeo,” Alexander said. “We know your man Jenner is listening to our conversation in the other room.”

“Hey,” Lemonzeo said, spreading his hands and shrugging his shoulders. “A guy has to protect himself. Surely you understand that.”

“We do,” Alexander said. “Which is the only reason we allow you to do so.”

“How generous of you,” Lemonzeo said, failing to mask the sarcasm.

“You will walk softly around us, Lemonzeo,” Alexander said. “Now turn the music off.”

Lemonzeo frowned. Still, he produced a small remote from his pocket, clicked a button, and silenced the music.

“You failed to kill Norman Oklahoma,” Alexander said. “Brone is displeased.”

“Oh, come on,” Lemonzeo said, leaning back, his arms spread out on the back of the booth. “How was I supposed to know that the Walrus wasn’t up to the task? He’s the real deal, even you admitted to that.”

The two vampires looked at each other, then back to Lemonzeo.

“Yes,” Alexander said. “It is true that we were taken aback by the creature’s failure. But no matter, Brone has decided to leave Oklahoma alive for now.”

“What?” Lemonzeo leaned forward. “Alive? But—”

“Oklahoma is now aware that vampires dwell in his town,” Alexander cut him off. “If more attempts are made on the human’s life, and he survives, he will look into the matter, and the last thing we want is him snooping around.”

“So our partnership is dissolved then?” Lemonzeo asked.

“Not at all, Mr. Lemonzeo. You are still of use to us.”

“So you’re still going to back me,” Lemonzeo leaned back again. “Help me get my stuff back?”

“Of course. As we said yesterday, helping you helps us.”

“Good,” Lemonzeo said. “I’ve already started making plans.”

“Tell us about them.”

Lemonzeo told the two vampires about the bookie in Desoto, the gambling den.

“You do not disappoint,” Alexander said. “That is a good plan. A good first strike. You hurt Klein and make more money. We approve.”

“Peachy,” said Lemonzeo.

“More than that,” said Alexander. “We can also offer you assistance.”

“Assistance? How?”

“My brother will accompany you on this endeavor,” said Alexander.

A look of surprise flashed across his brother’s face which then dissolved into an even deeper scowl than the one he’d been previously projecting.

Lemonzeo tried not to smile.

“I don’t think your brother likes that idea,” Lemonzeo said.

“Do not think to speak for me, human,” Thomas said.

“Thomas will accompany you, though he will take no part in the actual job. Not unless he needs to.”

“So he’ll be there just to make sure I do what I’m told?” Lemonzeo said.

“Yes.”

“Well,” said Lemonzeo. “I can appreciate the honesty, truly I do. But I am a man of my word. Without your word, you got nothing.”

The vampires just stared at him.

“I’ve given you my word,” Lemonzeo continued. “I’ve taken your deal, I don’t need a babysitter. No offense,” he said, looking at Thomas.

“My brother goes,” Alexander said.

“No,” Lemonzeo said, tired of being pushed around. “He’s not wanted.”

Before Lemonzeo could say any more, the table that had been between himself and the two vampires was suddenly missing. It was sailing off to the left, and then Thomas was there in the space that the table had occupied just moments before. Thomas growled and opened his mouth to reveal a set of needle-sharp fangs. He took Lemonzeo by the lapels and pulled him close.

But Thomas hadn’t been able to move Lemonzeo more than an inch or two before Jenner was there behind him. Jenner took Thomas’s shoulder in one hand and tugged as if he was simply opening a door.

Thomas flew backwards, landing hard on a table in the middle of the room.

Alexander was up like a shot, but one look from Jenner gave him pause.

“You,” Alexander said with a rasp. “You’re a—”

“You will return the table back to where it was,” Jenner said, cutting him off. He spoke softly, as if he was bored.

Thomas rose, his face like storm clouds. Yet, he retrieved the table, lifting it in one hand, and placed it gently back between the two booth benches.

“Now,” Jenner said. “Sit.”

The two vampires sat. Jenner, however, remained standing.

“We will honor our side of the deal,” Jenner said. “And we will do it alone. As has already been said, Mr. Lemonzeo is a man of his word. Your Mr. Brone would be displeased by your disrespect. Were he to learn of what you tried to do here today—”

“No,” Lemonzeo said. “It’s okay.”

After what he’d just witnessed, seeing the vampires put in their place, gave Lemonzeo an idea.

“I’m beginning to think that maybe we should take Thomas along with us. I mean, having a vampire in my back pocket might just come in handy.”

Lemonzeo smiled and took the small remote from his pocket and, with just a couple of clicks, returned the music to its former volume. The two brothers could only frown.






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Enjoying The Adventures of Norman Oklahoma?

How about the entire first volume, all 48 parts, on eBook? Would you like that?

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JUST CLICK HERE or click the cover below.