When it’s family

T…H…E… B…R…O…K…E…N… spelled out on the large marquee, one letter at a time, in red neon letters. It flashed three times at the end, then held still. Under that appeared T…H…E… B…E…A…T…E…N… spelled out in neon blue letters, echoing the same pattern. In yellow, this time alighting one word at a time, AND… THE… Damned…. the final word in fancy cursive script, echoing the flash pattern of the first two. Besides the three lines of words in red neon flashed a smiling devil with a hand tilting left, then right, and back again. The frame of incandescent bulbs chased each other around and around until the final word was lit. Then the whole marquee flashed slowly on and off five times before starting the cycle again.

The fantastically bright sign was a jarring sight on a street known for its faded hand painted signboards hanging over long-shuttered business with boarded-up or shattered storefront windows. Except for the patrons of the BB and D, as the locals referred to the all-night club, nobody had reason to be in this part of town.

Jane McCarron sat in her truck across street watching the entrance of the club. Deputized by the Sheriff some forty years before, Jane was the closest thing Blightsburg County had to an official investigator. She had worked as the Sheriff’s Office Clerk since high school and probably knew more about policing than all the young deputies that cycled in and out of the department over the years.

Jane had sat more than her fair share of stakeouts at the BB and D, as well as the other watering holes in the county. The sight of her truck would make regulars laugh, kidding each other that, this time, it was one of their missus’ with suspicions. Jane didn’t care if she was spotted, especially if it kept a wayward husband or boyfriend in check. Truth was, she rarely was called out to catch a cheating partner in the act. The reason was always more nefarious.

The target of her stakeout this night was a woman Jane had known years before as Tina Montgomery. Their families had been neighbors, and while Jane and Tina played together with other neighborhood children, they were never friendly. In high school, Tina was in the Glee Club, played flute in the marching band and graduated with honors. Jane got in trouble more than a few times hanging out with the boiler room crowd at school, eventually dropping out. While Jane stayed in the area working for the Sheriff (the result of a program to get kids like Jane back in school and on a straight and narrow), Tina left to attend state university and then went on to New York City and a brilliant career as a CFO of a national chain of retail stores. That was then. Now, the Sheriff’s office was given solid information by the FBI that Tina planned to meet a leader of a drug cartel at the BB and D.

A couple of days before, Sheriff Becker called Jane into his office. He had his laptop open, facing out toward the door. An online meeting was on the screen. Jane didn’t recognize the faces, except one, but she couldn’t place who it was.

“Everyone,” Sheriff Becker began, “this is Jane.” The faces on the screen waved a polite greeting. “Jane, take a seat. I’m going to flip the computer back so… actually… Jane, bring your chair next to mine so they can see us both.”

“While you two get situated, I’ll get started,” one of the faces said. “Like I said, we need your help. The club is a little too obvious, but maybe Tina’s thinking the locals won’t think anything of her showing up in her hometown.”

Jane realized who belonged to the face she recognized. Tommy Montgomery. The eldest of the four Montgomery kids. The others were Shannon, Erik and Tina, the youngest. Tommy dropped out of high school to work the canaries in Alaska, at a time when that sort of work, if you could survive it, paid really well. He would come back to town in the spring, flash his money around bar hopping up and down the coast highway every night, usually in the company of a bike gang, and then break some young girl’s heart when he returned to Alaska in the fall. Blightsburg County was dotted with his DNA. Last Jane heard of Tommy, he moved to Maine to run his own lobster boat. He looked old and very weathered, but handsome as ever.

“Well, Jane’s great. The best,” Sheriff Becker said. “Jane, these folks here from the FBI, and I bet you recognize Tom.”

Jane nodded. “Hey Tommy. Long time.”

Tommy nodded and smiled. “Hey kiddo. Time’s been good to you, looks like.”

“Turns out Tom has information that his sister Tina might be running a racket of some sort. You remember Tina as well, I assume.”

“Yeah,” Jane said with a slight shake of her head. Tina Montgomery’s running something that’s got the Feds attention? Tommy saw her disbelief.

“Right?” Tommy said, “Hard to believe. Teeny-Tiny Baby Tina, a fuckin’ crook.”

“Shut it, Montgomery,” cautioned one of the Feds on the screen. “Jane, Tom’s assisting us with apprehending his sister.”

As the Fed outlined their investigation, Jane picked up a file in front of the Sheriff and began scanning the contents. Tina’s current married name was Evanston. Two grown sons by her first marriage to a Blake Kolenski, and a daughter with second husband Daniel Evanston. Her second husband, much older, was a criminal attorney, now retired. They live in upstate New York. Tina has been under investigation for racketeering for the past 10 years.

“What’s Tommy got involved with it?” Jane asked, interrupting the discussion.

“Made myself a deal with the Feds,” Tommy said.

“Mr. Montgomery, let us do the talking,” a Fed said. Tommy lifted his hands in resignation.

“Tommy’s made a deal for information,” Sheriff Becker explained.

Jane scoffed. “Suppose you got yourself mixed up with whatever Tina’s got going?”

Tommy gestured across his mouth with a zipped-closed motion.

“Well, thanks for bringing this sort of shit home, Tommy.” Jane tossed the file back on the desk. “Folks around here are born with one foot in the grave to begin with. They don’t need shit like this to make things worse.”

“Why do you think I’m in on the deal in the first place?” Tommy replied, annoyed. One of the Feds started to admonish Tommy, but Tommy cut him off. “No, I’m talking here! I know these people like family.”

Tommy continued, “Jane, Mike, I’m tellin’ ya, I’m doing this for the right reasons. Yeah, I did some stuff with Tina, when I moved back east. Needed to get things going out here and, her being a big-time CFO, ‘course I’m gonna reach out. She’s my kid sister! But…” Tommy trailed off in thought before he began again. “It’s bad. She’s bad. She’s changed. Our folks pretend not to notice, but they’ve been brought down pretty damn far by all of this.

“All I’m gonna say is I will do whatever these fellas need to make her stop. Even if it means her getting locked up. I know you haven’t thought much of me over the years, but, you help these guys out? I’ll keep you in Main lobster the rest of your life. And, maybe my folks can go to their graves knowing the right thing was done.”


https://aooga.wordpress.com/2021/12/12/olwg-238-the-influence-of-football-on-junkyard-theology/ prompts are:

  1. a place of bones
  2. the broken, the beaten, and the damned
  3. stronger than gratitude

Mack and Officer Dink

worms eyeview photography of coconut trees

Mack woke to the sound of waves gently rolling onto the beach. The sand was cool and damp, and the air was still. The morning’s sunlight penetrated his eyelids, but he was not ready to open them. Sunburned and hungover, he had no desire to leave his darkened cave of sleep to face whatever carried over from the antics of the night before.

“Hello sir. Time to get up. C’mon.”

The voice startled him, and he sat up. He had to shade his eyes from the sun that was now high in the sky. The person who spoke was uniformed police. Mack looked around, surprised to be on a beach he did not recognize.

“Are you Mack Steadman?” the officer asked. Mack nodded.

“C’mon. Get up.”

“Am I…” Mack gagged on his dry mouth and coughed. The officer handed him a bottle of water. Mack nodded his thanks and gulped down the entire thing.

“OK, I’m taking you to the station. We’ll have your wife come get you there,” the officer held up his phone. “Smile!”

“Rather you didn’t do that,” Mack said.

The officer smiled. “I’m sure you don’t. I have to send it to your wife so she can confirm it’s you, though from the picture she gave us, I’m not sure she’s going to recognize you.”

Mack dropped his head in humiliation. The sudden change in posture threw off his balance and he stumbled.

“Whoa, there, big guy.” The officer reached out to keep Mack from falling down.

 “How’d you find me, anyway? I don’t even know where I am.”

“Oh, I’ve been with this precinct for many years. When we get a call from a frantic wife, girlfriend or parent, all we have to do is look at the incidents and complaints filed the night before, check in with the beat cops along the boardwalk and follow the trail from there.”

The officer’s phone beeped. “OK, your wife confirmed its you. Let’s go. You got shoes?”

Mack looked down at his bare feet. “I, uh, did…”

“Nevermind. I keep flip-flops in the trunk. Don’t suppose you got your I.D. on you.”

Mack patted himself down and shook his head.

“Well, not surprising. We’ll take care of reporting your wallet stolen when we get there.”

The two men walked off the beach to the promenade. Mack was aware of the dirty looks he was getting from the people they passed.

“Probably should get you cleaned up. Beach shower is just over there,” the officer pointed to a drab cinder block structure a few feet away. “Don’t want to have to clean all that sand out of my cab. Make you a little more presentable for the wife.”

“Officer, it won’t make a difference, but I certainly appreciate you being a good guy about all this. A fair dinkum cop is not something I deserve.”

The officer let out a laugh. “That’s not what people typically say to me when I tell ‘em I have to bring ‘em in.”

“Hey, um, mind if I ask if there were any other, what’d you call them, frantic phone calls, yesterday, about anyone else?”

“No. Why?”

“I’m wondering where my friends got to.”

“Oh, I’m guessing they managed to make it back to their hotels, Mr. Steadman.”


Prompts from UnOLWG this week are: Sunburned and hungover; fair dinkum; smiling cameras.

Always comes up with stuff I have to look up! Thanks for intro to “fair dinkum”.

There’s Got to Be a Morning After

Toby woke, per usual, sometime after 5AM. He swung his legs out of bed but sat a moment before rising. He didn’t need to look to the other side. It was empty. He glanced back anyway. It was not how he pictured this morning would begin. He took another moment to gather his thoughts before deciding to just get on with it by starting the day as he starts every day, with a trip to the bathroom, putting on his robe and slippers, and then to the kitchen for coffee.

As he passed the open guestroom door, he couldn’t help but glance in there as well. The bed was still made. She didn’t stay the night there, either. But he knew that.

As the coffee brewed, he watched the carafe fill to the point he knew was enough to fill a cup, which he did. He replaced the carafe to let the brewing finish, added his teaspoon of sugar and a bit of milk to his mug, and took the first sip of the morning. There is something calming but uplifting about the first drink of morning coffee. If his day did not begin with this small ritual, nothing would be right from there on out.

Depending on the day, Toby would either sit in his chair in the living room and watch the morning news, or shower, shave, and dress. This being a Sunday, he typically watched the news first. But this morning, he walked through the living room, past his chair and TV to the window, and drew back the drapes.

Ellen’s VW camper was still in the driveway.

Toby froze, staring intently at the vehicle while his mind raced. He now realized he never heard her VW’s engine start up last night. He assumed Elen left, headed back to Colorado, putting the whole thing behind her, and leaving Toby to his miserable self. Their evening ended so awkwardly; so awfully, Toby winced at the recollection.

But, now, what to do? Do I go out there, he wondered, cup of coffee in hand with a, Good morning, did you sleep well? He looked at the clock: 5:54AM. He might wake her from a deep sleep. More awkwardness. He should just wait.

A small bit of hope renewed, he thought she would certainly come to the house to at least say goodbye, giving both of them the chance to at least end things cordially. Then again, she might just go, without a word. There he’d be, hearing her drive away. The thought brought him down again. But, then again, why else would she stay?

Just in case, Toby decided to unlock the door. Better yet, leave it open. Let her know he was awake and….yeah. That’s the plan. He would sit in the living room and watch the news, as he does every weekend morning, but with the door ajar, and wait. He put down his coffee and made his way to the door, a little too quickly, he noted. No need to run, he admonished himself.

As he reached for the deadbolt, he had another thought: Robe and slippers were, perhaps, too casual, probably bordering on the too familiar, especially given last night. Shower, shave and dress first. Better plan.

Toby headed for his bathroom. He quickly stripped, turned on the water and stepped in the shower. Just as he finished lathering up, another thought flashed by that he couldn’t hear a knock at the door or doorbell ringing while he was in the shower. Fuck! He quickly rinsed, shut off the shower, and yanked his towel off the rack with such force, it nearly pulled off of the wall. He frantically debated his next steps. Jesus! Do I dress now, or go open the door and then dress?

The unmistakable sound of a VW engine turning over reverberated through the house.

No longer concerned about being too eager, Toby hurriedly wrapped the towel around his waist and ran down the hall. As he fumbled with the front door’s deadbolt and the handle, he heard Ellen’s camper drop into gear

“Stop! Ellen?!” he shouted as he flung open the door, way too urgently and definitely too loudly. “Ellen!? Hey! Wait!”

He could tell from the look on her face that the sight of him in his driveway clutching the now fallen bath towel—which he hoped to goddamned hell at least covered all the essentials in front—was not what she expected to see. As he stood there, feeling every bit the idiot, and hoping he hadn’t also attracted the attention of his neighbors, Toby began to chuckle. How else could the morning after such a terrible night play out?

Ellen’s expression change to a soft, bemused smile. She cut the engine, and as she stepped out of the van, Toby wrestled his towel back around his waist as discreetly as he could manage.

“Can I…” he ventured, with an apologetic shrug, “…offer you a cup of coffee? Before you go?”

Ellen shyly approached him; her smile still spread across her face.  “Yes. I’d like that. Very much.”

Toby gestured her to take the lead. As she walked past him, she said, “Sorry, but I remember you said you are an early riser, so I thought, hey, by 6 o’clock, Toby’d be up, and it would be OK if I, knocked, or whatever.”

Ellen wandered into the middle of the living room and turned around. She gave him a big shrug with her arms held up. “Standing there, I … I thought, maybe, I don’t know, that, whatever, maybe, it was all too much and you were blowing me off, or too pissed off about last …”

Toby stopped her with a dismissive wave. “I was the shower.”

“I can see that. Now, of course. Totally didn’t even occur to me.”

The silence that followed was surprisingly reassuring to them both. The sting of the previous night began to fade.

“God, I feel so stupid!”, Ellen blurted. “Just … I’m so sorry! I mean, thinking I should just take off. I’m so…”

“No, please!” Toby interrupted. “The thing is, I assumed you had already taken off. So, anyway, then I saw you didn’t, and I thought, Christ man, be a gentleman and get dressed! An then, after I got in the shower, I thought, oh, shit! What if she knocks, or rings the bell? I won’t hear it, and just as I got out, I heard your van…”

They both laughed.

“So,” Toby continued, “I’m going to just…” he gestured down the hall to his bedroom, “but, please,” Toby gestured again, this time toward the kitchen, “help yourself to coffee. There’s milk in the fridge and sugar’s there on the counter. I’m going to just get dressed…”

As Toby started to go, Ellen called after him. “Toby? I’m so sorry. Seriously, I…”

“Ellen, it’s OK. Really. I’m glad I caught you! Just, hold that thought a moment. I’ll be right back.”

“Of course. Take your time!”

As Toby reached his bedroom he called out, “Ellen, I say we call a ‘mulligan’.”

Ellen smiled. “Yes! Agreed. Let’s.”

C U Then

Chris Morriston sat in his car, head in his hands. A gentle knock on the passenger side window jerked him back into the present.

“Just checking…” the older man standing outside his car began, with a wave. Chris quickly looked him over and decided to turn the ignition to roll down the window.

“…you OK, there?”

Chris nodded. “Sorry. Just…rough day.”

“OK, well, s’long as you’re OK. I’m just coming in to work. Got the night shift at check-in,” the man pointed to his name badge, “Roger. So, if you need anything, dial zero, OK? What room you in?”

Chris understood the man was just helping his employer out by making sure Chris was not some guy using the parking lot to sleep it off, or whatever was best done somewhere other than hotel property.

“Yeah, thanks, um…My name’s Chris. Christopher. Morriston. I’m in 408.”

Roger the clerk gave him a thumbs up and walked away.

**********]

As Chris slid the keycard into the reader for Room 408, he gave the door a gentle knock. “Hello?” he called out. The lights were on, but the room was quiet. Chris’s pulse shot up with the sudden hope that maybe she had split while he was sitting in his car, trying to sort things out. He walked in, slowly, and called out again.

Mandy was face down in the first bed. The lower half of her body was uncovered, exposing lacy purple underwear that rode up one cheek. Chris stared, longer than he should; out of surprise, or the terror of sudden attraction, he could not tell which. He grabbed the edge of the blanket and yanked it over her legs, not caring if it woke her. She did not budge. His pulse raced again. He checked for signs of breathing. A muffled, gentle snore emanated from the corner of her open mouth. Relieved, Chris sighed. Death would have been one complication too many.

He walked over to her bag and opened the top, looking for anything that might further explain things. He was not worried about a weapon. She would have used it from the first if she had something on her. He lifted out a wallet and looked through it. Three dollars, four credit cards, a gym, grocery, and Starbucks card, a few coins, a receipt for LED bulbs and plumbing pipe from an ACE Hardware, and her license: Amanda Anne Andersen from Bend, Oregon. At least that checked out.

He looked at the ACE receipt again. Dated two years prior. He unfolded it and discovered his office phone number and his name scrolled on the back. He flipped it over again. Apple Valley. California? Minnesota? No phone, just a web address. There were at least a couple Apple Valleys in the country. The receipt might not have been hers. Whomever gave her his contact info might be the original owner.

Chris put all the contents of the wallet back and peered one last time into the purse before returning the wallet. Another pair of underwear, plain white cotton, and a pill bottle poking out of the fold of the bag’s lining: Ambien. She must have planned on at least one overnight somewhere, Chris thought. No wonder she was sleeping like the dead. Curious she wasn’t concerned about staying somewhat alert, he mused. He wondered at the difference between the underwear she was wearing and the plain cotton pair. Did she think a seduction might be necessary? If so, why? That didn’t make sense. Maybe not his seduction, but someone else?

Chris glanced at the hotel room door and then looked back at Mandy. He could just leave. Not that that would solve anything.  She’d just come looking for him again. No, he’d just have to see the damn thing through, though to what end, he was not at all sure. It was all too much, and too out of sync.

He walked to the far side of the other bed and sat, his back turned to the room. He stared out the window for what must have been the better part of a couple of hours, trying to grab hold of his thoughts as they flashed through his continued fits of anxiety. He had little to go on, and, at the moment, no way to check out any of it. Situations like these, you make a choice with only a hope in hell it’s not the wrong one.

His cell phone’s screen turned on every 20 or so minutes. He did not need to see who was trying to reach him. Only his wife Bella would be calling. Obviously, his text of several hours before did not do the trick.

He thought about Roger the night clerk and decided to head down to the lobby.

*************]

Roger the night clerk waved when he saw Chris. “Everything better now, sir?”

Chris shrugged. “ ‘bout the same, I guess.”

Roger bobbed his head in an understanding nod. “The restaurant’s open 24/7. Late night menu until six, then breakfast. The bar’s closed, of course, but you can still get a beer. They keep the Olympics’ channel on all night. You can catch up with whatever you missed so far.”

“Olympics?” Chris asked with a raised brow. “They got a channel?”

“Yup. Go figure. A channel for everything, these days, I suppose. That opening ceremony was something, huh? Oh, and, today’s paper’ll be here in about an hour.”

Roger the night clerk genuinely belonged in the hospitality industry, Chris thought with an inward smile. “Thanks. I’ll head in.”

He took a seat in a booth around the corner with his back to the entrance. That way, if Mandy did come looking for him, he had the advantage of seeing her first and ducking for cover. Since the thought that she might have taken off popped in his brain, he could not stop wishing she would. Maybe if he stayed away, she might freak out when she woke, give up in a panic, and just get gone.

A young waiter brought a single sheet menu. Chris quickly perused the late-night offerings and ordered barbeque pork sliders, whatever was on tap, and a shot.

“I am so sorry, sir,” the young man said in a curious lilt that made Chris wonder what sort of affectation the young man was trying to emulate, “but the bar is closed. No spirits after one A.M. So, just the brew OK?”

Chris nodded, handing back the menu. As the young man walked away, Chris found himself watching him go. Force of habit, he tried consoling himself, but truth was, since Mandy showed up, he had been on high alert; “show mode”, as he called it. Everyone was a potential threat or suspect, even the unassuming types, like friendly Roger the night clerk and the young waiter.

His phone lit up again. This time a hard-edged angst knotted his gut. He had never given Bella any reason to fear for his safety, nor question him when he said he would be away for a while but could not discuss why. While the job may put him at some risk from time to time, it was not as though he was actually an operative. That stuff was a young, single man’s game, and the older he got, the less interested he was in taking those sorts of gigs, anyway. These days, he was what they call in the movies, for lack of a more accurate title, an analyst.

He desperately wanted to answer Bella’s call, reassure her he was safe and that all would be OK. She knew well enough not to press for details, but his unannounced disappearance would be the red flag she always feared. He knew Bella would have long since contacted his boss. Fortunately, all Chris was required to say when he abruptly left the office earlier that day was that he had to see to a situation and that he’d report back in a few days. Bella knowing his boss knew Chris was away could go some distance with her, but, not answering any of her calls was counteracting that fail-safe. And, Chris knew absolutely nothing he could say in this moment would reassure her.

Nevertheless, he waited for the call to end before sending her another text: I’m ok but can’t talk. I’m safe. Shit went down today. Will have to see this thru 1st before calling. Promise to call as soon as it’s ok. I.LOVE.YOU. Hang tight sweets. Breathe. Home in a few.

Seconds later a text came in. Thinking it was Bella’s reply, Chris was surprised to see a coded message from his boss: Just fyi all set for Fri. C U then

“Ah, shit,” Chris muttered.