Prologue and Chapter One of the World's First Blogospheric Mystery Novel...
Previously in the Close of Chapter One, and the Whole of Chapter Two...
Next read Chapters Five and Six by tabbing the link at "next".
...being Chapters Three and Four commencing....
Chapter Three: Doom’s Calling
Sharon had gone to work, as usual, before the kids got out of bed. She found, unlike her usually slug-a-bed husband that she did her best work early in the morning before there were others around to bother her with incessant and interrupting questions. Not an expert, she told herself, but evidently to the under-qualified many her employer hired, she was the Tax Goddess. All you had to do was pray to her, and your problems would go away.
So when young George Kenneth strode, and stumbled to a stop in her office in front of her inadequate single metal and foam chair with the large packet of papers and brown folders looking tiny and out of place in his giant hands, she buried her head in her hands, and ran her fingers through her slightly dimming fields of strawberry.
“What is it this time, George, forget to carry the one, again?” George winced, which she could tell because he moved his feet, and the thud of foot to thin carpet could be heard outside the office, let alone across the desk.
“Well, I don’t know…I have these two pieces of paper, and I can’t rectify the numbers. One claims he paid this number, and the other this number…in truth, I’m worried my client ran some sort of scam, perhaps underreported what he paid to cut down on the taxes.”
Sharon looked up, and up to near the ceiling where George’s face was frowning in concentration, and felt a slight surge of interest in the problem, and a motherly urge to pat the poor boy on the shoulder, if she could reach that high, and offer him a cookie. But since he was officially a man, he probably would not appreciate the thought, she decided.
This reminded her of the problems with her kids, currently chief among them Jenna’s unrequited love of felines whose dander sent her to the emergency room. But no one in the office had a clue how to solve it, and certainly George did not look to be a hidden font of wisdom. So she passed on that worry for the moment.
She wearily motioned for the file, even as Mr. Weaselly Type walked around the cubicles that stood between her and the tiny bit of sunshine she might receive through the front doors in her “centrally located office”. He would be after her again to get her to “adjust” his papers, and almost as bad, he might even offer to take her to lunch again. She was running out of excuses. But the prospect of having to be socially polite to someone who was obviously a villain, but did not have the courage to just be one, but was always seeking someone else to be a potential fall guy, or in her case fall woman, well that prospect sent a spike of pain through her head.
She winced, and George asked her what the problem was.
“My client is here.” She said thoughtlessly as she started in on George’s problem. Weasel then came in and started to insist on her time, but at the edge of her concentration she heard George politely suggest he have a seat, or get a cup of coffee, it would only be a minute. And then George, thankfully Weasel, and the Office were gone, and she was on a field of numbers, and text strings of laws that floated about her, and a relationship began to seem obvious. And then it snapped into focus.
For Sharon did not think like most people when confronted with a problem. She could, if it was helpful, but mostly she saw a problem as a visual three-dimensional creation, which allowed all sorts of unexpected relationships to be teased out of it. It made explanations of how she did, what she did, very hard, and sound downright mystical. It was nothing of the kind, except for human consciousness, which was at the base of it, and she thought that might well be mystical.
What she did was an order of magnitude beyond pie charts, and solely in the province of her mind without hours of computer programming. She had once told her husband that his job was to make it so everyone, those without her peculiar imagination, could do what she did. And that if not for the likes of him, the likes of her would no doubt be great and mighty instead of obscure tax professionals. He had thought for a second, and then pointed out that more likely she would be someone like the inventor who had four-fifths of a brilliant idea, and could not finish it. Considering her pile of half-made dresses, vests, cloaks, belts, and shoes, in the corner of the laundry room at home he had a good point.
“Your client is correct, George. He probably forgot why, but the town he bought the boat in has a special tax. The IRS does not deduct for that tax, but the state income tax people do, I believe its because their director is a boating fanatic.”
George looked suitably enlightened, and Weasel clapped his hands sharply together hurting Sharon’s ears.
“Now that is what I am talking about. That’s the Sharon magic I’ve been hearing about. Now lets see if with these new files you had me up to midnight digging up out of my attic, we can find a way to cheat those Washington scum out of my money.” Weasel looked happy, and aggressive, and started to spread papers down on her desk while she remembered that it had been him who had been the one to insist on the “new files”. She had wanted to close the case yesterday.
She had little sympathy for Washington or the state capitals being intimately familiar with their deception, waste, and abusiveness, but the man owed a debt, a considerable one, but not to one of his means, and he wanted to dodge it. Even as a typical citizen mistrustful of Washington, she acknowledged there came a point when it really was a civic duty.
“Cheat, sir?” George asked with a quelling manner.
Weasel turned aside, a short man already, and not even half George’s size, and he looked up.
“Merely a figure of speech, young man. Of course, I would not want to do anything dishonest.”
“Of course not.” Sharon smoothed in, hating herself for the patent lie, but the boss would not be happy if a customer came to him with a complaint, no matter the reason. And Weasel was just the type to do that. And then try to turn the “insult” into a dinner, and free accounting services.
She examined the papers, and saw that George was helping her. At first, she wanted to tell him to go on, but then she thought that perhaps he felt like he was repaying her for her help. If so, that was certainly an attitude she wanted to encourage. If only more of her “congregation” felt like they owed the Tax Goddess more than a tossed off thank-you! Besides, with him looming in front of her desk, Weasel had to stand off in the corner off the room instead of his usual position leaning across the desk, and looking at the back of her neck, since she kept her medium length hair pinned up at work. And not surprisingly, it felt a lot different to have George there standing over her, than Weasel.
So she smiled to herself with her face down, and started to try to examine the structure she had constructed mentally for this case before, but George interrupted.
“I’m sorry, sir, but this deduction is not allowed for this case. At least I don’t think so.”
Sharon thought for a second as Weasel angrily stepped up to the mountain who blandly looked down on him. No, George was right. This really was a simple case; there was no need to get out her mental model, and try just one more time to make the laws read the opposite of what they meant.
“What do you mean?” Weasel yelled.
George cleared his throat. It sounded quite impressive.
“Well, unless you used this fishing boat, a fifteen footer, exclusively for business, you cannot take a hundred percent deductible on its expenses, and even if you did, you cannot write it off under the current tax law. This is a red flag. Any auditor worth his salt is going to want to talk to you about this. It’s not at all like this other case.”
Usually the word “audit” had a magic ability to calm the more extreme clients. Few indeed were the souls brave enough to risk a trip into the torture chambers of the Internal Revenue Service where you were guilty until proven innocent. But some clients still kept on, like Weasel, for she had used the magic yesterday to no avail. She felt vaguely sorry for George, but could not summon the strength to stop the car wreck in progress.
I’m not usually so listless, even with such a jerk, she noted vaguely, and scratched her throat. She reached for a glass of water to clear her mouth of the too frequent saliva. Actually, she’d been having problems all morning, but she just felt like she could not handle the stress right now.
“That is why I hired you, you are supposed to make that go away.” Weasel said pulling out his trump card of the ‘customer is always right’ even when he is insane and vanity-struck.
“Ah, did we make some representation to you that we guaranteed proof against an audit?” George asked mildly.
“Well, ah, yes…”
“Who precisely said this, and what were their exact words?” George asked intently leaning his great bulk forward.
“Why? I mean, what’s the big deal?” Weasel looked a bit flustered.
“Because they are going to be packing their desk in less than an hour. This firm promises no such thing. They are going to be fired. So who exactly told you this?”
“Ah, well maybe not those exact words, but the general intent…”
“What were the words?” Sharon was surprised to feel herself light of heart, and to find George’s sentiment in her mouth.
“Well, you…” Weasel turned to her in attack.
“No, sir, what I said was that if you followed my advice, then there was a very good chance you would not be audited. That’s what I tell all my clients.” Sharon found herself standing even as her arms twitched. So she put them behind her, and clasped them together.
“Well, look, I don’t mean to offend you. Perhaps I misunderstood, but isn’t there a way that we can solve this problem? I mean they are crooks in Washington. Why should I have to pay?”
George opened his mouth, and just as obviously the first thing in his head popped out.
“Because it’s the law.”
Sharon wanted to shake her head at his simplicity, but then wondered to herself for George still had not wrecked the car like she had foreseen.
“My colleague is quite correct.” She said, covering him.
“But isn’t there some way, you could, you know…” Weasel looked at her insinuatingly, and at the same time she felt some sexual interest in his gaze, and not for the first time she wondered if on some level, he saw the federal government as a woman to be preyed upon.
Weary beyond words, she sank to her chair, suddenly sick at heart, and the former lassitude came back with full force. This was the point, Weasel kept coming back to, sidling up to, hinting at, and she did not know what to say to make it any clearer to him.
“You can leave now.” George said.
“Whaaat?” Weasel asked surprised for he had almost forgotten George was there in his ‘seduction’ attempt.
“The door is that way, go now, unless you’d like me to escort you out.” The words were polite, but the flat menace, and the obvious gleam of enjoyment in George’s eyes gave the truth out.
“And do not come back. We will not be doing business with you.”
Weasel looked at her in mute appeal, as she looked up at George in bewilderment and dawning wonder. Why didn’t I do that? she thought.
Weasel, stomped, as best as he could, out, and the glass doors refused to cooperate with him slamming them. But he did catch the boss with a spiteful glance.
And so the boss came over to her office, but first she thanked George, and laughed at how easily rid of her personal nightmare she was.
“You know, Sharon, I’ve been seeing how hard you work.” George said, and suddenly Sharon had another thought of how this might have come about. George was big, a bit awkward, young, and while she was significantly his elder there was little doubt she retained most of her beauty. He was watching me, she groaned inside. Certain incidents over the last months with George unusually helpful popped up in her memory. Now the problem was to let the fellow down easy. Perhaps her husband could come by for a couple days, and share lunch with her. That often chased admirers away.
“Yeah, when Kim, my girlfriend at the time, and now my fiancé, came to last years’ Christmas party, she noticed how everyone was always having you solve their problems. She said it was like her mother who solved things, and people got lazy around her. But Kim told me to try to help you, if I could. You needed it, and besides, she said it was smart. People like you are obviously going places, and if I was to ah, apprentice myself, why I might come along for the ride.”
Sharon held her face still while she reassembled her thoughts, and bit back a laugh at the notion of her being some sort of rising star.
“Why, ah, thank you.” She said, and saw by his face that he knew her remark was terribly banal. “Welcome to your apprenticeship, then George.” She said, even though she had not thought out the consequences of such a decision. His face brightened like a sunburst, and he nodded deferentially from his great height.
And the boss walked in.
“What is going on? Why is a prize client going out the door?”
George looked at her, and Sharon found it hard to speak.
“He’s no prize, boss.”
“Hunh?” The boss turned sideways to survey one of his junior employers.
“Saw the whole thing. He tried to get Sharon here, and I guess me, to join him in criminal conspiracy to defraud the government, and well, I’d also say Sharon has a pretty good case, if she wants one for sexual harassment.”
The boss paused, looked long at George again, and at his apparently dumb looking countenance which he had reverted too, and reconciled that with the definite words, and turned back to Sharon. She paused, blew out her breath, and nodded even as her stomach rumbled in disquietude. Good grief, she couldn’t be having a diarrhea attack, that was all she needed, right now.
The boss bent his head down, and rubbed his face with his right hand.
“I’m sorry, Sharon, he got referred by a friend of a friend. If I’d known he was treating you that way, I’d have booted the jerk myself.”
Sharon looked up into the sincere blue eyes of her boss, and to her surprise was forced to reevaluate his nature. She had thought him the utmost skinflint who would ask her to submit to any indignity to get a buck, but instead she had found at his core, a gentleman. Not sure what to say because to apologize for her evil thoughts of him would be to inform him of them, she merely nodded her head up and down, suddenly unable to trust her voice. He bit his lip, and patted her awkwardly on the shoulder.
“Illegitimi non carborundum, my father always told me.” He said huskily.
“Um, excuse me.” Kate the Secretary said from the doorway.
“What?” Her boss snapped, not happy with the interruption.
“Sorry, boss, but its important. Sharon, your husband, he’s been taken to the emergency room, they say he’s doing okay, but…” There were more words, but the weight of emotion, and the drain of strength, and she could not bear more; instead with a strange weakness in her legs, she slid out of her chair, and onto the floor behind the desk. There she passed unconscious for a short time.
End of Chapter Three.
Chapter Four: Ambulatory
Sharon woke in the ambulance, as they took her to the hospital on Wade Lane, Hiller Memorial. Trying to ask for her husband’s state of health with her throat dry from the oxygen in her facemask, and quite irritated, to boot did not work. If only, he was okay, then it would be fine. She did not think she could make it without his quiet presence, and his quirkiness, and his startling insights that once or twice a month rearranged her mental universe.
If she had not met him, her mind would have fallen into dullard ways, and not even known what she was missing. Needing to know, she tried to reach up to remove the face mask, but her arms were strapped on both sides of the stretcher for safety as the ambulance wound through downtown’s right and left ninety degree turns with stomach-churning enthusiasm.
She began to work up saliva with ease, and got enough in a few seconds to rasp out a question. The dark brown eyes, concerned and alert, of an emergency medical technician were leaned over, and focused in on her eyes.
“Ma’am? You collapsed at your office. Your vital signs are strong, and everything is going to be okay. Its just a precaution.”
Wanting to rage at the gentle male voice that came clearly through the susurrus of mechanical sounds, but too tired, and too touched by the consideration of those eyes which was all that showed past a cap and a face mask, she shook her head, and tried again.
“We will let him know…”
“No, “ Another voice interrupted, female. A switch was thrown. “George, check with the hospital on the patient’s husband.”
“Right away.” Crackled back over the intercom. A moment passed, and the other lady with a dark mahogany hand, reached up and patted Sharon’s shoulder, and then rearranged a heart monitor on her chest.
“Don’t worry, honey, we’ll sort it all out.”
“I-I don’t think you’re allowed to call me ‘honey’, not political…”
“Darling,” The male laughed, “We leave politics outside of this wagon. All we care about is making you feel better, and get better. OK?”
She nodded her head, wanting to cry, and feeling ashamed of herself for the weakness to tear up at some kind words by a couple of strangers. The intercom static came back, and the driver who had conferred with the hospital spoke.
“Sharon, Sharon,” The driver deliberately repeated the name to ensure that his passenger who was not in the best of condition, at the moment, was paying attention. “ I want you to know your husband is in stable condition. He’s in ICU right now with his own nurse close by to observe. Doctor Romley is your husband’s admitting physician, and I know him. Doctor Romley is a very smart man. He is getting the best possible care.”
After reassuring the others that she had heard and understood the message, they encouraged her to put her mind at ease.
About twenty minutes later, she was being examined by a female physician who pronounced her obviously overstressed, and in need of getting some sleep, but probably okay. Although they would prefer to keep her the night, just in case. Her vitals were a bit depressed, especially her heart rate was a bit slow, but still, just barely within the range of normality.
Sharon felt relieved, and rationalized that it must be a fainting spell.
Just like in the Victorian romances, I hide so Charlie won’t tease me about them. Some modern-day supermom I turned out to be. She griped at herself, as she levered her unaccustomedly awkward body out of bed. A nurse stood by to catch her if she fell, with the understanding that if she did, then she was definitely staying the night.
Since both of the sets of grandparents lived in other cities, the closest four hours drive away, and her regular sitter had gone away to college a couple months previous, Sharon did not fall, because then who would take care of her children?
The checked marble tiles under her feet were slick, and she wondered what genius had designed them, as she padded unsteadily over to her clothing. There, clinging to the large, functional metal chair with its rock-solid arm, she changed into her jeans and wine-colored terry cloth shirt, and flats, crimson slip-ons.
Now dressed, she nodded to the gravely watchful nurse who helped her into a wheelchair, because of insurance purposes, got her discharge papers, and wheeled her over to the ICU where Charles lay.
He looked horrible and terrifying. A large white bandage atop his skull, bruise marks under his eyes, pale, so pale in appearance that her hands moved of their own accord to see if he was a ghost. But as she reached out to touch him; Dr. Romley stepped in.
Ignoring him, she studied her husband’s bruised hands, as if he had fought someone fiercely, but mostly struck them as a karetka might with the sides of his hands rather than his knuckles. Whatever, her husband was, he was not a violent man. Only imminent harm to himself or another would have driven him to hit someone.
The doctor cleared his throat, drawing her attention.
“The bruising is characteristic of convulsions, ma’am. Those who pulled him out of the creek said he was flailing about, but I don’t think he felt anything by that time. Really.”
She could tell the doctor had not wanted to tell her this, and when he aggrievedly muttered something to a nurse standing by that “this man needs bandaging, ASAP.” She turned to him with a sorrowful smile.
“Its okay, doctor. I understand that abrasions are not as important as other injuries to fix. Of course, I expect them to get taken care of as soon as it can be.” She added the last bit to let the hospital know she would be watching them. It never hurt to add a little accountability to a situation. Especially when it was her beloved at risk.
“Your husband suffered some sort of an attack. We’re not certain of the cause, although we are already doing some tests. He fell in Troubled Waters Creek over the railing on the small bridge, near the northern side of the park, you know which one, I’m talking about?”
Sharon nodded in understanding even as she felt the ground start to give way beneath her. Reaching out a hand to her husband’s bed, she saw the doctor eye her with concern. She waved him on after gathering strength.
“Right. Well, according to witnesses, he was trembling, and then he tipped over, and hit his head on a rock in the river somehow, either when he entered or later, we’re again, not sure. We think later as its not that deep of an injury. The MRI reveals a hairline fracture which we will need to keep an eye on, especially as he is suffering some vasodilation, low blood pressure, for reasons unknown at this present time. Then more convulsions as about a half-dozen people pulled him clear, and laid him on the bank, and then he passed unconscious after vomiting.
The police have checked, and while he made reservations at Wong Gardens, he had nothing to eat there, so it does not seem to be a case of food poisoning. Anyways, one of his rescuers used her cell phone, and got an ambulance there quickly. Which was good as he needed oxygen for a while. Now he doesn’t need it, which is a positive sign.”
Sharon nodded, trying to absorb the information, while inside, her mind kept screaming that it was not true. How could it be true? Charlie was fine, he had to be okay. She had sent him out this morning with not a problem, except for dealing with a company that defined gracelessness.
A necessary but dreadful, and yet insulting or hilarious depending on how one took it, interrogation began. Did her husband use downers, amphetamines perhaps to help stay awake, Prozac® which had been implicated in causing more suicides as it reduced all emotions including the natural ones of self-preservation so that macabre curiosities began to dominate the soul, and any other drug? She laughed, a bit harshly, and denied it. The doctor’s attempt at an eagle-eyed look got her furious, and she clenched her fists. It was beyond ridiculous.
But in the confined space of the B-Room ICU there was no room to pace, to work off energy, and so she bottled it up. White sheets hung from wire guides themselves hung from wires to the ceilings isolating beds in this short columnar room across a short stretch of hall from the glass box and cheerful multiple purple tones of the wavy pressboard of the nurses’ station.
It all looked beautifully designed and spacious, and terrifically expensive, and she guessed that a good chunk of her bill was being paid to architects. But they had good insurance, and a rainy day fund that might get tapped out, but unlike many, they had one. She had seen too many people, in her job as an accountant, who for lack of saving fifty dollars a month ended up at fifty-five in a one bedroom apartment with a bankruptcy to their name, and then in bitterness added divorce to their silliness.
Breathing out, she returned to the questions. Charles was not a teetotaler, but he had a beer at a party perhaps once a month, or to celebrate the completion of a major job. And that was it. Okay, they kept a few jars of wine in the cabinet, not even needing a holder they had so few, for either their rare adult parties, or for the ceremonial toast to the birthday of a spouse, or their anniversary.
She teared up remembering that Charles was not like other husbands who forgot anniversaries. It had been years before he confessed that he wrote a computer program in Basic on his desktop to remind him the day before and the day of. Dr. Romley, middling tall, dark-skinned with a golden tone, and black haired paused, and nodded at a nurse who proffered some Kleenex®.
“I don’t mean to offend, Sharon, may I call you Sharon?” She waved him on, while bothering her nose, and he nodded, continued. “We have good hope in this case, and an excellent hospital support staff. Its that we simply must ask these questions, and unfortunately, the closest are sometimes the last to know.”
She nodded, and then spent the next ten minutes describing Charlie. His neatness, his responsibility in large matters, and his occasional irresponsibility in small matters, and his reliance on his unfettered wits to do his job, and his love for his world. At the end, the doctor was convinced, and wrote down a note suggesting that minimal drug tests were needed. And thus a great problem started out of a great truth. Although, it might not have mattered anyways as the Troll had been quite clever in his choice of poisons.
The interrogation continued, and again they asked if Charlie had suicidal tendencies, and although she said no, she wondered for perhaps they had been right. She sometimes found herself utterly surprised at what the man in her life would do in some new situation. Other times, she could go to the store where she had left him, choose an aisle from the front of the store, and walk up it to meet him just knowing he would be there. But, but, she resolved to look through his things. See if, as they suggested, had he any new reading material. And check with the family doctor, Dr. Lewis, if he had any health conditions he had hid from her. Not that he would do that she was sure, and then she wondered.
Charlie might hide for a week or two that he had cancer, and he had seen a cousin die of it, rather unpleasantly too. He might have chosen the bridge over two years of pain. But if he did, there would be a note. An explanation. That was Charlie. It would not blame anyone, and it would be elliptical enough that only she could understand it, to avoid the insurance problems, but he would explain..
Sharon nodded, to the doctor, and to herself. It was time to fetch the kids home from school, and tell them the horrible news. After that, she would put them to bed early, and look through Charlie’s things.
End of Chapter Four.