Prologue and Chapter One of the World's First Blogospheric Mystery Novel...
Chapter Three and Four...
The end of Chapter One and Chapter Two follows...
Sharon felt an ache in her bones, and wearily brushed the red hair from her face. It needed another trim if she could find the time next week. The three kids were behind her, rummaging around in the house for something to do, or she heard the refrigerator door open, food to eat. She shook her head, Sam, sweet Sam, ate more than both her husband and Sharon combined. And it was not that he was fat, but just a very active nine-year old who drove his teachers to requests for sedative medicines which Sharon denied quite firmly. The family doctor, Dora Roberts, had explained that he was not hyperactive, just very energetic. About to reach for the door of her husband’s sanctum, and the selfsame little redhead streaked down the hall, sandwich flopping in his left hand, and ducked under her arm, and kept sprinting to the stairs and up to his room.
She shook her head slowly. If only she had that level of energy. Sometimes, it was all she could do to walk across the room after another day of dealing with a client who kept hinting that he wanted her to cheat on his tax returns. Of course, he would blame it on her if he got caught; she knew well the little weaselly type.
Opening her husband’s sanctum worried her a bit, but she did not smell pot roast so dinner was not being cooked, and looking in she saw he was goofing on his bog, or bleg or something. Feeling hard put on, she gave him the fish eye, much moderated over the years, but despite her displeasure, still seeing him made her smile a bit, and she crossed the room to wrap her arms around his shoulders, and bury his face between her breasts.
He nibbled a bit, and slapped her lightly on her bottom, after which she gladly sank down on his lap, and kissed him lightly.
“Dinner is no doubt already cooked, and stored in the fridge, and that’s why I don’t smell it, right?” She looked reprovingly into his eyes with her green ones, and he blushed just a shade.
“Oops?” She replied raising one elegant eyebrow. She knew they were ‘elegant’, as her husband had told her they were many times.
“No, no, ah no oops, of course, you’re right. Everything is taken care of. Candlelit dinner is on the verandah, the wine is chilling, and the butler is waiting, and your mother flew in to take care of the kids tonight.” He spun the agreeable fantasy, as she sagged in his arms.
He reached behind her to finish posting, and to call up Ebay®.
“Just have to check a few last things. Why don’t you go skim Ebay for a while?”
She got up, and they traded seats, and he fled to go heat up dinner while she happily lounged in his sanctum, wondered if it could use some new decorations, guiltily studied the easily over a hundred yards of fabric she had bought and never used in the multiple chests of drawers, and enjoyed what she expected would be her sole forty minutes of peace in the day as she shopped for Christmas, and for Jenna’s birthday.
Fifty minutes later, her husband, somewhat apologetic looking, but with a faint smile too, came to the door, and escorted her out back to their tiny deck overlooking a mix of crabgrass, fescue, and dandelions, and two trees, one berry, and one hickory with the hickory one supporting a nailed up basketball goal.
The slightly rusted white metal table atop the deck had been covered by a green tablecloth from their wedding, and she told him that the checked cloth would have looked better, but then seeing the hurt look on his face softened it by pointing out that the whole thing looked “quite nice“. Males required tender handling.
Usually they did not eat on the deck, but darling Charles had done his best to make the fantasy he described come true, as a way of making up to her his missing getting dinner on time.
He even had Sam with a washcloth on one arm, holding a bottle of Seven-up to pour for her. And the table was just set for two.
“But what of the children?”
“They’ve already eaten.” Charles replied.
“How?” How had he gotten them to eat so quickly, she wondered. Getting Veronica and Jenna to eat was … trying.
“Bribery, Mom. And he begged.” Sam said from her left side as he held the waiting two-liter.
Her eyes grew a bit wet as she looked at her romantic, even if in a clumsy way, husband. He tried so hard. And then Sam spilled some Seven-up in her lap, and that ended the moment, but still she treasured it in her heart.
As they ate the pot roast, Charles had Sam unveil another surprise. While the night grew dim, the girls came out from the side of the house, where they had been giggling, and showed her their latest cartwheels, and somersaults. This was followed by a hacky-sack demo from Sam, who almost had the hacky-sack landing atop the Jell-O, but Charles snagged it with a quick reaching grab. Then it was Veronica and Jenna singing with Veronica embarrassed, and Jenna belting out “Peggy Sue” for all her little heart was worth.
Sharon identified a bit with Veronica especially when she heard a neighbor’s window open for a bit as the next-door Dauby’s investigated, but she did not, and would not have shown this for the world.
Finally, Sam began to do a series of sprints with Charles holding a stopwatch at which he peered in the dimness. Every time, Sam came back wanting to know if he had beat his fastest time, until finally he did, and then the three children were given permission to raid the good ice cream, and add all sorts of stuff to it from the cabinet over the good dishes. Sam assured her that he did not need help as he could easily climb on top of the dishwasher to get there; which revealed the minor mystery of how the walnut level had been dropping steadily the last two weeks in its crystal jar. The little boy winced, too late realizing he had given the secret away, and Sharon let him off for the moment figuring to solve the problem later.
After they left, Sharon gave her husband a mildly reproving look to which he replied.
“Your mother is a very wise woman. ‘Its not bribery, if it is to do something they should be doing anyways. Then it’s a reward.’”
“You didn’t think she was so wise when she visited last spring.”
“That’s because she wasn’t. I was right, and you know it.”
“Hmmph.” Sharon said to this blatant display of male egoism.
She tossed him the paper bag delivered, and left carelessly on the table, which she had stored beside her chair.
“Its for you. Open it.”
He shrugged, and acquiesced, getting out his keys, and then using a steak knife to rip the resistant package open. Sharon covered her mouth to hide the giggle at the faces he made while the children came back with the beginnings of their supplies and gathered around watching him struggle with the package.
Out came a black t-shirt with a green and yellow beastie imprinted with a rubberish substance on the front. Across it a circle and a diagonal line turned the ‘T’s’ message into “No strange beasties allowed.”
Baffled, Charles looked around for anyone’s input, and searched inside the ripped container for any accompanying letter, but nothing was there. After some speculation, Sharon offered to toss it in the washer with a clothes load, and then he could wear it to “one of your less respectable, more teenage type clients“.
He nodded. His current job, well, they had frowned when he showed up without a properly knotted tie.
In the next hour, he tended owies, put on a bandage, watched a few minutes of television, loaded the dishwasher, and chased the two girls to bed with promises of a story later. Passing through the kitchen, he ruffled his son’s hair, who if he was not mistaken was on his second bowl of expensive ice cream, which he had not gotten permission for, and was watching the kitchen television, set to Headline News.
Sam pointed out that there had been another attack on American soldiers overseas, and mentioned his teacher’s comment that it looked never-ending. Charles made a mental note to talk to the teacher since he knew for a fact that at least three of her students were the children of overseas soldiers, and nine-year olds did not need to hear that daddy or mommy was going to be locked into an interminable war.
Especially when it was not true.
“Look, son, everyone has their own viewpoint, but the news is, well, they are more interested in worrying you, than in informing you, than in giving you correct information. You understand?”
He hoped the boy did; it was hard to tell when he was being too abstract. With his job being so abstract, it made it easy to forget how to talk to kids. How to connect with them challenged him daily.
“Sure, its like when Kenny got a rash, and Rowena told everyone it was smallpox, and we were all going to die. Rowena just likes to get everyone all hyper. And then it turned out to be poison ivy, and not even that bad.”
“Right.” Charles paused as he made another mental note to talk to the teacher about young Miss Rowena who had the makings of a troll in her. Although it did sound like his son had his head screwed on straight.
“You enjoy that second bowl of ice cream, but no thirds, you hear me, young man?” He called over his shoulder as he walked away, and into the hallway. The expected slightly guilty agreeing sound followed him, and he grinned to himself. It helped to convince your kids that you were psychic.
Then passing the sanctum, he darted in, for he felt he needed another dose of quiet time. A quick boot-up while he noted with interest that Sharon had bought on Ebay, a Wagner® reciprocating saw. Christmas gift for me, he silently chortled. Maybe, she will give it to me early, if I lay out the right hints?
He saw considerable activity had occurred in the last two hours. A dozen new posts in the comments section which he skimmed on the use of criminals in politics, and another five comments (which unfortunately looked like degenerating into a flame war between partisans) on his post about the use of hate in the place of a message by candidates. Both sides were blaming the other side for doing it. Charles urged calm on both sides, but came down strongly for one side. It was not that both parties did not practice hate on occasion, but only one had broken Godwin’s Law with regularity by terming its opponents Nazis.
Charles knew better. Neither side was such a creature, but try telling the partisans of the Left that the Right probably dislikes Nazis more than they do, or the Right that supporting a raise in the minimum wage was not equivalent to the Communist infiltrations of the 1950’s, and these words of gentle reason would likely fall on hard and unforgiving ground.
But he tried to sprinkle a little clarity and civility into the debate anyways.
And then a note Off Topic, or OT, caught his eye.
Hope you got the No Trolls T? I’m passing through the area tomorrow. Can we meet at Wilson Park? Say noon, and we’ll do lunch. Have a soda. I’m buying. Wear the T, so I’ll recognize you.
Yellow Hornet, who had been one of his regulars, signed it. They had sparred a bit, and the fellow definitely had a sting in the form of biting wit, and an unusual perspective that had made Charles rethink his positions more than a few times. But then the guy had mostly stopped posting, no reason given. He could have been offended, or the trolls (considering the t-shirt) might have gotten to him, or he might have just gotten a newer and more demanding job and not had the free time anymore. Charles tried to remind himself whenever a regular disappeared that it was probably nothing personal, but sometimes it was hard, like being rejected for a date.
Sure, and thanks. The T-shirt looks great.
That stretched the truth just a bit.
His wife popped in with a knowing look on her face, and Charles suspected that it was not only parents who practiced making their kids think they were psychic, but wives too, husbands as well.
“Found out about the t-shirt.” He said quickly, and she went ‘oh’, and came over, and stared non-comprehendingly at the screen while he displayed something to her.
And then an acceptance from Yellow Hornet came up.
“Cool. I have a lunch date, manana, mia mama.”
And then she added a bit.
“These Internet names. Like everyone is a superhero with a secret identity.”
“Hey, wife of mine, I go by my own name. Besides, where did you come up with that from? I bet you’ve been reading the kids’ comic books again.” He stepped closer, and threatened to tickle her with outstretched and wiggling fingers. She looked about to crack up laughing.
“Best reason to have kids is you can play with their toys.”
“Right.” He started to lean in for a bit of enjoyable tussling. And then her face stilled.
“Man or woman?”
“Uh, y’know, I don’t even know.”
Sharon just looked at him with a shaking head.
“I believe you, and that’s the weird thing. And I think I could mostly trust you with another woman, if only because you couldn’t lie worth a tiny bit if you did something stupid.”
Charles reached out, and took her into his arms.
“I would never do something stupid with another woman, not when I have all the woman I need right here…”
A shouting and screaming match erupted upstairs between the girls and Sam, and carried very clearly down to them.
“Not when I have you here to do something stupid with already.” He finished.
“For that smart aleck remark about your beloved children you can go separate the wild savages.” Sharon said disentangling herself, and then giving him a swat on the bottom as he left the room to go stop the fight.
End of Chapter One.
Chapter Two: Lunch With a Pen Pal
Charles slipped free of the temperamental receptionist who “just could not get anything done without her PC.” and the gentle snoop of a fellow who kept popping in every five minutes to stare at what Charles was doing as he crawled in and out under the raised flooring of the chilled to computer comfort main server room (which made sweaters mandatory for the staff).
Something had been evading him all morning, a bug that kept the system stuck half-on, and half-off. Plus, he was pretty sure the receptionist’s problem came from her habit of downloading anything she felt like from the Web, and not bothering to scan it first for viruses. But she was the type of person, he had been quietly informed, that you could not say such things to her, or else she would go ballistic, threaten to quit, allege harassment, and in general stink up the place at high volume. Charles would have fired her long ago, but it wasn’t his business to run so he kept his mouth shut.
Still, they had not wanted to let him leave for lunch, even though both were obviously on lunch already for some time. They seemed to feel he should keep on working through the lunch hour, and if needed until midnight.
“I’ll be back by 1:15.”
“1:15!” She said, half-rising in offense from her chair behind the desk dotted with food and Styrofoam boxes.
“As stipulated in my contract. I get an hour for lunch, and fifteen minutes for breaks, and I have not, as you both well know, taken a break all morning. So, relax, we’ll get it fixed.” He tried for a charming, collegial smile when he really wanted to snarl. Hoping that including them in the “we” would appease them, even though they both sat at the front desk, nose deep in their feedbags, and had contributed nothing but headaches, turned out to be fruitless.
The receptionist looked ill-used, and no doubt his ears would be burning before he left the parking lot, but as he walked out of the double glass doors, and left Cubicle Land behind to feel sun and wind on his face, he felt pain and weariness drop away from him, and he could not muster the energy to care.
He sped across the parking lot to his parked car in the early spring weather, and leapt in, trying to shave seconds off, like Samuel would with enthusiasm. And so he got to the park where he was to meet Yellow Hornet in plenty of time, nearly fifteen minutes early. Which is how his life seemed to go. Either he was five minutes late, or fifteen minutes early.
Pausing for a quick stop in the Wong Garden, a pleasant Chinese restaurant of recent vintage that he had tried a few times, he looked out the front plate glass window at hilly Wilson Park. A minute to make a reservation, and two more to change his shirt to the t-shirt in the restroom, and he was dressed for the occasion. He made a face at himself in the mirror. It was not a horrible shirt, but it definitely fell in the “Christmas gift from someone who did not know you well” class. And it was scratchy, especially on his left shoulder. Cheaply made, he thought.
Sweating a bit, and with a mild headache coming on, Charles hiked across the street, and up a gentle hill into Wilson Park to the restored, pioneer-era bridge over Troubled Waters Creek. He laughed every time he read the name in the paper; the American pioneers who had first settled here had a definite wry sense of humor.
Standing on the small bridge, which if legend was correct, had seen two suicides, a number of trysts at midnight, a marriage, and a small skirmish with British Redcoats, and at least one murder with an attending ghost, he shook his head at the weirdness of life. This little fifteen foot long, two feet wide wooden bridge had seen more history than much more prominent structures.
Feeling a bit ill, probably from the sun, he told himself, Charles leaned over on the railing, and shielded his eyes. He wished Yellow Hornet would get here soon, so they could sit down, and get some food in them. Blood sugar must be low, Charles reasoned.
His mouth and nose itched, and probably in response his saliva glands were working overtime.
Looking down, a bit dreamily, with the water receding into the distance before his eyes, and then surging back into close-up, Charles wondered if he could see the local ghost in the water’s reflection. For a moment he did, and startled he jerked his head away. Regretfully, he bent down to catch the reflection again. He had never been that experienced with preternatural weirdness, and he felt certain he could not recapture the moment.
But the face of a man, pale, white-faced, filled with terror was still in the water. He seemed to be occasionally looking over his shoulder, and then turning back and shouting something. Charles leaned over to try to get a better view, his pain, weariness, and light sensitivity utterly forgotten.
A runner thudded past him on the bridge, and in the distance he heard the crack of a bat as a softball game continued. But his arms rattled in uncontrollable convulsions on the railing of the bridge.
Leaning further over, he finally deciphered the phrase the ghost was shouting.
“Murder hunts you! Flee!” And he distantly realized that it was his own subconscious that was shouting at him from his own reflection.
And then he over-balanced in the wake of a whole-body convulsion, and soared into a perfect half flip. Charlie fell over and off the railing, and landed on his back in the shallow, but cold creek. The current took him down the water a bit, and bumped his head on a rock, and the pain went far away, and his thoughts grew unclear, vague, and short even as his mis-firing muscles occasionally shook his bones like a baby‘s rattle.
Shouts of fear and command were heard, and known by the tones, but not the meaning. They took him out of the water even as he muzzily remembered you were not supposed to move an accident victim. It seemed quite amusing to him to see his carriers make such an elementary mistake. He tried to share the joke, but found his lips would not move. It did not bother him much, and so he turned to talk to the only Person he could talk to.
God. He prayed, and in so doing became aware that he was in some trouble, but he could not see just what to do about it. So he left the matter with Him, and tried to consider the incident and dissect what had happened rationally and coolly, but that was too hard, and he passed unconscious.
End of Chapter Two.