The Chronicles of Dr. Orek Nebelwerfer – Parts 2 & 3

by Michael Morgan

© 2018 All Rights Reserved

This is a continuation of The Chronicles of Dr. Orek Nebelwerfer previously posted on this blog. Please let me know what you think.

— 2 —

            “Come in,” Roger turned as the door swung open. “What did you learn?”

Gordon’s carpetbag landed on the bed with a sad note of protest from the springs, “Not much. Nobody’s heard of the Doc or his elixir. You check the telegraph office?”

“Yup,” Roger nodded as he fussed with the knot holding his soogan closed. “No messages. I told ‘em we’d be here and offered the usual fifty-dollar reward.” The knot came free and the soogan was unrolled across the bed.

“Where do you think he went?” Gordon dropped his hat on the writing desk, and lowered himself into the straight-backed chair.

Roger shook his head, “Quien sabe? If he left ol’ Thurston Howell’s Traveling Wonders, he could be anywhere.”

“If he’s running, he can’t be mixin’ any more of his elixir.” Gordon scratched under his chin. “Means he has to find a place to lay low long enough to cook up a new batch.”

“Borrow your brush?” At Gordon’s nod, Roger opened the carpetbag and fished around coming up with a stiff clothes brush which he applied to the indigo suit the soogan had surrendered. “That place will have to be big enough for him to get supplies. “

“True enough,” the chair protested as Gordon leaned sideways reaching toward the windowsill and the skinny brown bottle supporting a mummified flower. He lifted the bottle by the neck and turned it. The sun bleached paper label protested the disturbance by falling away.

Roger looked up as Gordon searched beneath the desk, “Find somethin’ ?”

Gordon straightened and held up the brittle paper, “We need to go talk to the deskman.”

 

— 3 —

 

“No sir, I ain’t never seen a bottle like that,” the desk clerk studied the label on the counter.

“Anything strange happen to anyone in that room?” Roger started to flip a page in the guest register.

The clerk closed the register, “IF you please sir.” The book vanished beneath the counter. “Yes, one gentleman who stayed in that room got drunk, and had to be arrested.”

“How long ago was that?” Gordon picked up the label.

“A good solid month or so,” the clerk stared at the ceiling. “He was a mean drunk. Started hollerin’ in the middle of the night. Woke the whole house. I went to his room, and heard him smashing the furniture, so I run for the town Marshal.”

“How did the Marshal deal with him?” Gordon slipped the label into his vest pocket.

“It was quite a row,” the clerk’s hands twitched with the memory. “The Marshal, me, and another fella stayin’ at the hotel had to pile on top of him long enough for my Missus to put the handcuffs on ‘im. He like to whipped all of us.”

Roger glanced at Gordon, “You sure he was only drunk?”

“Who knows?” the clerk raised exasperated hands. “He stank of whiskey to high Heaven, but I never knowed a drunk to fight the way this one did. He waved a dismissive hand, “I’ve had a few wild ones put a bullet or two through a window, and one knocked over a kerosene lamp and like to burned the place down, but this one was like some kind of lunatic. Bitin’ and clawin’ and screamin’ the way he did.”

“Sounds horrible,” Gordon nodded sympathetically.

The clerk leaned on the counter, “And the strangest thing was he didn’t have a stitch of clothing on.” At Gordon’s raised eyebrow, the clerk raised his right hand, “I swear that man was naked as the day he was born when the three of us drug him down to the jail. And him carryin’ on the whole way down Main Street. Lucky it was the middle o’ the night, or what a show we’d a made!”

“What brand did he drink?”

Gordon’s question interrupted the clerk’s glee at having a new audience for his heroics. “Brand?”

“Of whiskey.”

“Oh, I don’t recall,” the clerk pinched his chin in puzzlement.

Roger picked up the question, “You didn’t find a whiskey bottle in the room?”

“The Deputy Marshal came and collected that fella’s goods the next day. If there was a bottle, he might have took it.”

Gordon stepped back in, “Who cleans the rooms?”

The clerk knew the answer to that one, “That would be Gabby, Er, Gabriella. She’s been workin’ for us since her husband died.”

“How long is that?” Roger leaned an elbow on the counter.

“Oh, call it five years or so.”

“Is she around?” Roger straightened.

“You gents seem to be asking a lot of questions,” the clerk’s eyes narrowed. “You some kind of law?”

“Ex-law, you might say,” Gordon’s face was grim. “I was Sheriff of a little town in Bandera County a year ago. One day a medicine show pulls in. Next day half the town is dead and most of the rest were too badly injured to make it. The show pulled out during the night, and I was too busy trying to save the town to give chase.” Gordon eyes went far away, “Once we got the fires out and the dead buried, I started trying to pick up the trail. The one thing every dead person had in common was a little brown bottle wearing the label we just showed you.”

The clerk looked from one man to the other, “What happened to those folks? Was it poison?”

Gordon’s eyes sharpened, “It was like what happened upstairs.”

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The Chronicles of Dr. Orek Nebelwerfer

by Michael Morgan © 2018 All Rights Reserved

This is the first chapter of a Cattlepunk/Steampunk story I have been playing with. Hopefully, I can flesh this out into a series, and maybe a book. Quien sabe?

— 1 —

 

A screech-lurch and the tempo of the iron wheels clacking over rail joints changed. Roger shifted position in the angle of bench seat and wall as the sway of the second-class passenger car lulled him back to sleep beneath the heavy felt hat being crushed out of shape against the window.

“Clarksville next!” called the conductor as the door at the end of the car slammed open. “All out for Clarksville!” Another screech-lurch shook the car as the conductor stopped next to Roger’s seat. “Hey mister. Clarksville next.” At Roger’s feeble wave, the conductor shrugged and yanked open the door spilling the sulfurous reek of sooty coal smoke through the car.

The slamming door brought Roger fully awake. Pinching the crown of his hat, he straightened in the seat before settling the hat back on his head. The scrubby second growth trees crowded the window threatening to overrun and take back the land cleared by the Texas & Pacific through Fannin County, Texas.

Cleared fields broke out on either side of the car leaving the no obstacle to the westering sun as the tempo of the wheels slowed again and the engine’s wailing cry signaled arrival. A quick glance confirmed his soogan and the fringed rifle scabbard sporting Comanche beadwork still lay in the overhead rack.

The town rolled slowly past the filthy windows. People going about their normal business was no comfort. Roger’s toe gently tapped the sole of the boot worn by the man sleeping on the facing seat, “Up you get Gordon. We’re in Clarksville.”

“Yeah, I heard the man.” A gloved thumb pushed back the brim of the tan felt hat exposing an exceptional walrus moustache that had once been a luxuriant black before the silver took over, and friendly green eyes looking out past the crow’s feet in their corners. Gordon fished in his pocket and thumbed open the cover on his watch, “Damn. Stopped again.” He held it up to his hear and shook it gently before taking the finger of a glove in his teeth and tugging his hand free before winding the stem and returning the watch to his pocket.

Roger swayed on his feet as the train lurched to a stop along the station platform. He threw the bulky soogan over one shoulder, and held the cased Winchester at the balance. “I’ll circle and come in from the west. Meet you at the hotel.” At Gordon’s nod, he joined the other passengers headed for the front door of the car.

That kid is always in a rush, Gordon levered himself off the bench, and grasped the handle of the ratty carpetbag that had been lying on the seat like an old hound napping. Gordon tipped his hat to a passing woman and stepped in behind the last of the departing passengers headed for the rear exit. Just hope the folks hereabout are none too lively.

Roger turned right as he stepped onto the platform and began hurrying through the crowd ignoring the occasional complaint as he glanced rapidly left and right. Coming to the end of the platform, he took the wooden steps two at a time and stretched to jump the foul puddle at the bottom.

“Hey Mister!” The caller suddenly blocking Gordon’s path was a skinny younger fellow wearing a miserable excuse for a moustache and a dark green suit with brown velvet lapels. Weak-seeming gray eyes looked into Gordon’s, “May I have your name sir? For the Clarksville Times. That’s the paper I work for…” The man’s voice stumbled to a stop at Gordon’s noncommittal gaze. “Uh, We like to report on important folks coming into town…”

“Orek Nebelwerfer,” Gordon spoke the name slowly. “He come through town?”

“I-I don’t rightly know, sir.” The reporter glanced at the rapidly thinning crowd of passengers from the train, “If you’ll excuse me!”

Gordon watched the reporter hurry up to his next victim before turning left and heading for the stair at the end of the platform. Everybody in a hurry these days.

Roger turned between two buildings and found himself on what looked like the main street through town. The boardwalk along the shop fronts thumped a brisk rhythm of passersby.  Nodding to a matronly woman who shot a glance in his direction, Roger stepped up on the walk and proceeded to take in the town with a purposeful stride. Everyone he passed looked to be going about the business of the day in an unhurried pace. Any sound of raised voices was easily explained as necessary to the task at hand. When the commercial buildings faded into houses, he crossed the street and headed back.

Gordon reached the edge of town and stood quietly looking at the east Texas pines jutting above horizon on the far side of the cleared acreage. A few wagons and mounted riders were visible, but not the wagon they sought. “You lost mister?” The boy looked to be seven or eight. Sun-bleached hair, nut-brown skin, and dirty bare feet looked up at Gordon.

“No sir, I’m not lost,” Gordon’s smile spread his moustache like eagle wings. “Just wonderin’ if a friend of mine had come through town. You hear tell of a revival or medicine show comin’ through recently?”

“Naw. Nothin’ like that,” the boy pinched his chin in the manner of an old man thinking. “If there was a Revival Meetin’ around, Ma would have made me wash and put on my Sundays.”

“Thank ye kindly,” Gordon turned and started back into town.

“If I see ‘em should I tell ‘em you’re looking fer ‘em?”

Gordon looked back over his shoulder, “No need. Just stay away from those medicine shows. What they sell is poison.” He left the boy standing in the road as his attention turned back to the town.

 

A Chance to Succeed

“I want to, but…” is a recurring theme I hear from people I talk to. The “what” of their stated desire is irrelevant to their more important message that says, “I’m afraid to fail.” I hear this same theme expressed by the amazon that lives at my house regarding her schoolwork, and it vexes me regardless of who the speaker is.

To combat these expressions of negative thinking, I have stopped using the phrase “Take a chance”, replacing it with “Give yourself the opportunity to succeed.”

To my mind, this is a far more useful and affirmative way of looking at the things we might like to try.

If you “Give yourself an opportunity”, you are granting yourself permission to attempt to do something new that might be uncomfortable at first. More importantly, you are removing the negative connotations of failure if things do not work out. After all, you had permission.

By focusing on the positive outcome of successfully accomplishing an objective, the fear of failure whether self-condemnation or even public embarrassment is removed.

When I started writing, I had several choices. I could keep a private journal, make my work public online, and hope someone noticed, or I could give myself the opportunity to succeed by taking the big step of trying to make money from my work. I held my breath and began approaching publishers. Eventually, I made friends with fellow author Eric Bradley who writes awesome collector’s guides to a wide range of amazing things. He was kind enough to offer some advice that helped me connect with a publisher, and The Handbook of Modern Percussion Revolvers was published.

Has my book been a huge success and financial windfall?

  • The book sold out the original printing.
  • It is still available as an e-book on Amazon.com and other places.
  • Readers in several countries have given the book good reviews.

 

Since I still get up and drive to work every day, I cannot say the financial rewards have been great, but this little success has encouraged me to continue writing. As announced in previous posts, I have won several awards in regional writing contests, and I have completed my latest novel Ladies, Fish, & Gentlemen.  Every little success build my confident to take the next step. Now I just have to find an agent.

 

When feeling uncertain, try giving yourself the opportunity to succeed. You might surprise you.

Betrayal of Trust

Many young people solve the problem of affordable housing with roommates, but this did not work out well for Harvard graduate Leyla Pirnie who is now facing eviction from her apartment because of her legally owned firearms.

“The Washington Free Beacon reports that Pirnie’s roommates allegedly rummaged through her belongings while she was away from the apartment, discovered her guns, and emailed the landlord to complain. One of the roommates told the landlord: “We discussed with Leyla that all of us are uncomfortable with having firearms in the house, and that their presence causes anxiety and deprives us of the quiet enjoyment of the premise to which we are entitled.”

This situation hits my hot buttons on several levels.

(I know this happened in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, but my training is in Texas Law, so I will refer to the Texas Penal Code for definitions.)

Texas Penal Code section 1.07 (39) Possession means actual care, custody, control, or management.

Ms. Pirnie failed to maintain control of her firearm(s). If the roomies were able to locate the guns by searching her room, those weapons were not correctly secured. Before the hate mail starts to flow, I am not taking about mandatory storage standards as defined by law. I am talking about the responsibility every gun owner has to insure his firearms cannot be accessed by children, criminals (especially criminals), and the terminally stupid like Ms. Pirnie’s roommates.

In my home, all firearms are stored in a safe with the sole exception being the handgun that is always either on my person, or within immediate arms reach. Had Ms. Pirnie followed the simple practice of securing her firearms in a safe, there would have been nothing for her roommates to find, and this would have been a non-event.

Texas Penal Code section 6.03 (c) “Reckless” A person acts recklessly, or is reckless, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur.  The risk must be of such a nature and degree that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.

Texas Penal Code section 6.03 (d) “Negligence” A person acts with criminal negligence, or is criminally negligent, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur.  The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.

I’m on the fence about whether Ms. Pirnie’s situation falls into the “Reckless” or “Negligent” category.

Q: Was it reasonable for her to believe that her room was safe and that her privacy would be respected by her roommates?

A: Maybe. But even if the roommates were top notch people who would never step into another person’s room to borrow something, what about their guests and significant others?

Personally, I would leave my door locked at all times. Plenty of theft occurs by house guests. A lot of it is prescription medications, but cash, or an unsecured handgun, would be equally vulnerable. Sexual assaults are most commonly perpetrated by persons known to the victim. You can never be sure a roomie’s boyfriend might not drop by unexpectedly to do more than say hello. If you have roommates, KEEP YOUR DOOR LOCKED. Just sayin’.

Some folks are going to chastise me for blaming the victim, but I am not doing that. I merely hold this up as an example of simple things that could have  been done to protect oneself from the terminally stupid among us. These steps would also reduce the number of accidents involving children and the number of firearms stolen every year, and thse would be good things.

Ms. Pirnie had every reasonable expectation that her room and her possessions were to be respected. In a reasonable world, they would have been, and this would not be news.

But we no longer live in a “reasonable” world do we?

The roommates were the bad actors in this case. They broke a critical trust, and created a bad situation that injured an innocent person just because they drank the kool-aid and checked their brains at the college door.  (On the way in.)

I have to wonder: What were they planning to tell Ms. Pirnie if they had found nothing but a MAGA hat?

I hope Ms. Pirnie learns from this situation, and finds some more like-minded roomies in the future. (I suggest putting up an ad at the local gun ranges that offer Ladies’ Night.)

 

Ladies, Fish, & Gentlemen 11/21/2018

I”m feeling a bit odd today.

I just put the last period on the last line of my manuscript for my novel Ladies, Fish, & Gentlemen.

Sixteen year old Ana Carina Lezama de Urinza steps ashore in what will become South Carolina with her older brother Pedro who has come to claim his patrimony after the death of their father Don Pablo Lezama.

The novel is set in an alternative history where many things and events will be familiar, and yet many are not. The port where the siblings land is located where Charleston would be today. Instead of the confluence of mighty rivers as we know them, an ancient city constructed by unknown architects sits atop a high bluff above the harbor.

Ana’s Journal November 16th 1560

Sighted the “Lighthouse” at Los Cristobal just before dawn today. Pedro came and woke me from a dead sleep. The volcano was beautiful and terrifying as it threw a fountain of sparks and steam into the sky. Capitan Gutierrez told me that the rising tide fills holes in the island and the steam cloud is caused by the seawater meeting the lava in the caldera. Ships used the fountain at night or the plume during the day to find the harbor.

Many people from the Old World have made their home in this city on the hill. As two teenagers prepare themselves for life in the New World, old loyalties are not easily forgotten, and the city is rife with Renaissance intrigue.

“Great literature is not written, it is rewritten”

I don’t know who said it (wrote it?), but it is the great truth in this craft. Now that the draft novel has been written, it is time for the age-old process of editing, rewriting, and preparing the manuscript for presentation to prospective literary agents.

(If anyone knows an agent…hint, hint)

Fortunately, I have a group of enthusiastic Beta Readers to help me get this book into shape. These brave souls have been amazing and I can never thank them enough.

I have to get this done because the sequel is already gnawing at me.

 

 

Last Words*

3rd Place Winner -Creative Non-Fiction division of the North Texas Business Council for the Arts On My Own Time Literary Contest

by Michael Morgan

The magazines were there. They always had been. No reason to think Old Fart had thrown them out.

Maybe he noticed they’d been moved? No, I was always careful to get them right back in the same order, and in exactly the same position. Any thirteen year old could manage that. He has a new hiding place.

My determination was piqued. He’s lazy, so they’ll be close to the bed. Maybe under the mattress?

            Hands sliding between the mattress and box spring expecting paper and finding…metal?

The small pistol slid into view as I pulled my hand out from beneath the mattress. I had been looking for porn, and found something else. I was thirteen, but I had seen enough TV to know what came next.

Button behind the trigger guard, and the magazine slipped free. Six cartridges visible through the holes in the side of the slim metal box. Pulling back the slide ejects number seven onto the bedspread. A quick look in the chamber to be sure, and a quick backward tug releases the catch and allows the slide to close. “.25 ACP” stamped in the slide. Small, but not too heavy. Balances nicely in the hand.

Uh-oh! Garage door opening! Loose cartridge back in the magazine. Magazine back in the gun. Rack the slide, and CAREFULLY lower the hammer. Back under the mattress and bedspread nicely smoothed.

“Hi Dad,” as the old fart comes in the back door. Same old crappy conversation. “How was school? Where’s your mother? Blah, blah, blah.”

            Even though I called him “Dad”, he wasn’t my real Dad. He’d adopted me after he married my Mom. I guess he should never have told me that because it just made things worse.

For some reason having your real parent beat the Hell out of you must not feel as bad as having a fake parent kick your ass and tell you he did it because he loves you. At least the beatings and derision hurt a lot worse after I found out he was not my real father. Before, I knew I could lie to myself that whatever he was angry about really was my fault. Something I had done wrong. Punishment I deserved.

Now I knew it was him. Right, wrong, or indifferent, no matter what my sister or me did, if he did not like it, violence and pain would follow.

Today they made the big announcement. Dad was “moving out for a while. Just until things settle down.”

Now he is packing, and he calls me into the bedroom to get him something from the nightstand on his side of the bed. As I am collecting his things, he starts talking. Telling me how proud he is of me. How much he’ll miss us all. How he hopes things can work out and we’ll all be together again. He tells me he loves me.

Standing there with his bric-a brac in my hands I learn how fast the human mind can work.

Drop this junk.

            Grab the pistol from under the mattress.

            Rack the slide to be sure one is in the chamber.

            He only has three choices. Talk fast. Come at me. Run.

            I’ll be pulling the trigger as soon as the sights line up. Fast talk is out.

            There’s a king-size bed between us. Go over or go around. He’s too fat to do either before the slide locks back on the last shot.

            Running takes him down a twenty-five foot hallway. He’s a big man moving in a straight line. No way to miss.

            A twenty-five probably won’t kill him, but it will sure make an impression.

            I’ll be arrested. Probably charged. But kids my age with no priors walk away all of the time. Besides, I’m abused and lashing out at my abuser. My sister will back me up just by telling the truth.

            I can do this, and he can’t do anything to stop me…

“I love you too Dad,” as I walk around the bed to hand him his stuff. Then I walk away.

In that moment where his life was in my hand, I realized that I loved myself more than I hated him. He simply was not worth killing, even to get revenge for the years of pain he had inflicted.

He died a few years ago of colon cancer. My sister had kept in touch because he was her real father. She said he wanted to see me. To apologize for… everything.

I could have gone. A final gift to my tormentor. A last grovel of supplication from “his” son answering his abuser’s summons. I could have raged at him, or maybe forgiven him. It did not matter which. Either would have been a mercy because it was the attention he wanted not absolution. I would not dignify his last words. He wasn’t worth it.

Logical Question

by Michael Morgan

 

An applicant stood before the long curved table sweating and slightly out of breath. The physical fitness part of the application process had just wrapped up. One by one, the applicants now faced the Review Board. A seven-member panel of senior Police Officers whose job was to pepper each applicant with questions intended to learn how the applicant behaved under pressure and to judge their ability to apply the law.

“You seem pretty calm under the circumstances,” the first Sergeant began.

The applicant shrugged, “I’m normally fairly easy going.”

“What would get you really upset? I mean to the point of losing control.” the sergeant leaned back in his chair.

The applicant thought for a moment, “Probably my partner getting hurt more than anything else.”

A different Officer perked up, “Ok. Let’s say you and your partner are on patrol in a residential neighborhood. You stop a 1985 Nissan hatchback for running a stop sign. You and your partner get out of your car and approach the suspect vehicle. When your partner reaches the driver’s side door, you hear a shot and you see your partner fall down. The Nissan’s driver stomps the accelerator and the car takes off. What do you do?”

“A question, if I may?” the applicant asks. At the Officer’s nod, “This department issues 9mm pistols with hollow-point ammunition. Is that correct?”

The Officer looks confused, “Yes, that’s correct.”

“In that case, I would put out a call with the suspect vehicle’s description to get more police involved, and go see if my partner needs an ambulance. Based on my partner’s condition, I call for medical or we get back into the chase.” The applicant relaxed confident in his answer.

“So you wouldn’t shoot at the suspect vehicle?” the sergeant joins the fray.

“No I would not,” the applicant replied.

The Officer came right back, “You just told us that having a partner get hurt would potentially make you lose control. Care to explain why you wouldn’t shoot at the car?”

“My department issued weapon and ammunition are not adequate,” the applicant responded. “At the Academy we studied the topic in some detail. The vehicle you described has a lot of sharply angled glass and metal surfaces. According to the lessons, the probability of a bullet penetrating into the vehicle is much lower than the potential for the bullet to ricochet off the car body.” The applicant paused for breath, “You said this was going down in a residential neighborhood. If my bullets bounce off the car then they are flying into the neighborhood, and I’m more of a danger to the public than the bad guys in the car. Therefore I would not shoot. With a different weapon, my decision may be different.”

The sergeant leaned forward with a sad fatherly expression, “Son, don’t you think a car with bullet holes would be a lot easier to find?”

2018 On My Own Time Literary Winner Book Online

The book of winners in the 2018 North Texas Business Council for the Arts “On My Own Time” Literary contest is now available online.

Please take a moment to enjoy the works presented.

What is this all about?

“On My Own Time (OMOT), a trademarked program organized and produced by Business Council for the Arts, is a regional art competition that showcases the talent and creativity of North Texas business professionals. Since the program’s inception in 1993, OMOT has promoted the work of thousands of creative employees from companies across North Texas.

Through OMOT companies publicly recognize and encourage the creativity of their employees while engaging staff across departments and through hierarchies. By sparking conversation and engaging their workforce in a shared collaboration, participating companies express their values in a tangible way.

OMOT includes two components, one for visual artists and another for writers.

Each year, area businesses submit literary works created outside of working hours by their employees. Expert jurors from the literary community select the winning pieces in the following categories: Corporate Collaboration, 10-Word Story, Fictional Shorty Story, Creative Non-Fiction, and Open Verse Poetry. Winning entries are published within the BCA program, and those authors are invited to read their works aloud at Literary Night.

This year Business Council for the Arts received a record number of literary entries. Outstanding congratulations is due to all of the winners. Recognition and thanks is also owed to each ambassador for his or her dedication to organizing and managing their OMOT program internally within their company. Lastly, we offer deep gratitude to our jurors, Michael Clay, James Dolan, Sanderia Faye, Blake Kimzey, Amy Schaffner, and David Eric Tomlinson, who without their volunteered time the program would not be possible.”

Tropical Paradox

by Michael Morgan

Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved

 

“Lester called in sick again?” Bobby swiveled his chair to look at the room. “He’s never sick.”

“Just hope he keeps it to himself,” Abbey said over the rim of her coffee cup. “I don’t need my kids down with anything.”

“Did Amber say anything about him?” Bobby asked.

Abbey’s cup returned to its coaster, “Nah. They’re estranged and fighting over the kids. She wouldn’t be bothered to give a damn if he died.”

“Except for the money,” Sam added. “If the kids aren’t in the will, she’ll be fit to be tied.”

“Last I heard that was how she got him interested in the first place,” chortled Bobby.

“Jeez, Bobby!” Abbey was smiling. “Talk about a straight path to HR!”

Bobby grinned back, “Read it on the socials, so it must be true!”

 

“Excuse me nurse…”

Margie held up her index finger as she finished reading the chart in front of her. She looked up at the boyish face of the man standing next to the nurse’ station, “How can I help you?”

The white smile against the dark mahogany skin made her smile in return. “Is this the place where you have the paramedics from this morning’s hazmat incident?”

“You are…?” Margie asked.

A slim manicured hand pulled back the suit coat exposing a deep muscular chest beneath the starched shirt, and a gold shield clipped to the man’s belt, “Detective Jeremiah Pitts.”

Margie smiled and put her left hand in her pocket unsure why she felt a compelling urge to flirt, “Rooms one sixty-three and five.”

 

“Some kind of poison,” Demarcus read from the Medical Examiner’s report. “So far this shi…” Demarcus caught Jeremiah’s look and stopped himself. “STUFF is unidentified.” Demarcus closed the folder, “What’d you learn at the hospital?”

 

“Not much,” Jeremiah sighed. “Six uniforms, two paramedics, and four fire, all down within hours of leaving the scene. Hazmat turned up nothing useful, but the lab reports are not back yet.”

“What about our victim, Lester Ambrose?” Demarcus dropped the file on the desk.

“On life support pending notification of kin,” Jeremiah picked up his phone. “I sent a squad to pick up his estranged wife an hour ago. She was not answering her phone.”

 

“My soon-to-be ex-husband is dead. So what?” Amber leaned back in the chair and glared at Jeremiah. “I’m supposed to care after he kicked me and his kids out with nothing but the clothes on our backs?”

“I thought you might be a bit concerned, yes.” Jeremiah.

“You could have just sent me a text instead of having a police car pull up in front of my workplace and giving me a perp walk out in front of everybody.” Amber picked up her purse and started fishing.

“No smoking in the building,” Jeremiah opened the folder. “I needed to ask you some question in person.”

“I know.” Amber dropped the purse to the floor. “I watch Dateline for Christ’s sake.” She picked up the bag again. “The spouse done it. Or the Ex. Or the secret lover. Old news!” She pulled out a green wrapper, “Is gum OK?”

“Perfectly,” Jeremiah never looked up from the file.

“I mean, we work together. We had a drunken one-nighter after an office party, except it had an unanticipated complication. We tried to make it work. For three years, we put on the happy couple face in public, and fought the rest of the time.”

Jeremiah looked at her, “Did your fights ever get physical?”

“Only if you count the make-ups afterward,” Amber chewed gum with her mouth open.

“That would explain three kids together,” Jeremiah made some notes.

“No. The oldest was from my first marriage,” Amber looked around the room. “This gum is stale.”

Jeremiah reached into the corner and passed over the trashcan, “So where have you been for the past three days?”

 

Demarcus stepped between the strands of yellow tape crisscrossing the front door, “J! Hey J! Where you hidin’?”

“Back here in the office,” came the muffled reply. “Put a mask on before you come back!”

Demarcus found him standing in the middle of the home office wearing a complicated breathing mask. Just standing, and looking at the massive aquarium that took up and entire wall of the room. “Should I get you a fishing pole?”

Jeremiah glanced at his friend, “D, go outside and look in the trunk of my car and get the extra respirator. That little paper mask is garbage.”

“What are you worried about?” Demarcus backed out of the room. “Hazmat’s been all over this place, and found nothing.”

Jeremiah turned to look at Demarcus, “When I went through the Academy, half of the class were firefighters going for Fire Marshall. One of them told me that the best way to knew if you need a Hazmat suit is if a cop is standing in the road directing traffic. Ever heard of a Blue Canary? That’s us bro’.”

“I’ll be right back,” Demarcus hurried out.

 

“Zen-ee-ya ee-lon…” Jeremiah hesitated.

“Elongata,” Amber finished for him.

Jeremiah looked up from his notes, “You know what that is?”

“Sure. It’s a purple colored soft coral,” Amber leaned on the table. The scoop neck of her angora sweater proving the garment was not worn for warmth. “The common name is Blooming Xenia.”

“How do you know about it?” Jeremiah enjoyed the annoyed look on Amber’s face when he looked her steadily in the eyes.

Amber sat back, “Noobs get the saltwater kick, and usually kill off most of their fish and corals right away. Xenias are hard to kill, so a lot of people start off with them.”

Jeremiah looked back down at the file, “Is it common for the shops that sell them to warn the customers they are dangerous?”

“I dunno. I never bought one,” Amber crossed her arms, and looked bored. “Why the sudden interest?”

Jeremiah lifted a colored brochure with tropical fish, and a register receipt from the file.