Chapter 4 Murder Again

“Did you say murders? As in, plural?” Murphy asked.

“Yes; but I’m the one asking the questions here,” McMasterson said. He raised his shotgun at Murphy again.

“Sir, remember? I’m the police?”

“Oh, that’s right. I probably shouldn’t point a gun at you. So, you were wondering about the other murder?”

“Yes.”

“Young man, terribly tragic, looked like he was on his way home from a wedding when the beast got ‘im.”

“That must be Kate’s brother,” Gregson said.

“Oh, you know him?” McMasterson asked.

“Yes; the victim is who I’m supposed to find.

“You found ‘im. Now, why don’t you leave me in peace.”

“But sir, the fog hasn’t lifted.”

“I don’t care! If you’re a real man of the law, you won’t let a little fog bother you. Here, I’ll draw you a map where I found the body. Just be sure not to eat your lunch before you see it. The corpse has been horribly mutilated.”

McMasterson sketched with the confidence of Michelangelo, but a kindergartener could have done a better drawing.

“It’s on the southern end of the swamp. A curious place to go for a walk if you ask me. There isn’t much there but a bar and 13 head of cattle.”

“You’ve been most helpful,” Murphy said.

“Always glad to help the police; you guys need as much as you can get. Gregson, it’s been a real pleasure.” McMasterson shook his hand. “Now I need to get back to my library. If you boys need anything, call first; otherwise, you might get a bullet in your head.”

Gregson and Murphy walked out the mansion door into the semi haze.

“He was a charming fellow,” Gregson said.

“Yeah; maybe if a snake gets charmed, it rubs off.” Murphy looked back through the window. McMasterson was in the downward dog position next to his attractive assistant. Murphy tried to shake the image out of his mind.

“These directions say it’ll take 20 minutes to get to the bar. What do you think about the fog?”

“Let’s risk it,” Murphy said.

They got into the black Porsche and turned on the fog lights.

Sailor’s Warning

Peter checked his heading. He was a ship’s captain; someone who mattered on the sea, but was a nobody on the land. It is the way things ought to be. When we don’t belong, it means we belong somewhere else. A boat means so much more to a man than something that floats. It drops anchor when it wants to; then rest is found between the waves. Peter’s ship had a galley, a library, sleeping quarters, crow’s nest, wheel house, and a deck. Like most worthwhile things, it was imperfect. The paint was chipped, the engine needed repairs, and the windows were cracked, but Peter saw its potential in the same way a woman sees the potential in a house.

It was hurricane season and there wasn’t a boat in sight; sailors value their ships and their lives. Many read about adventure and say they want it, but if they have to risk what they love, they’ll find something else to do.

“What’s our heading?” I asked.

“There’s a ship pinned against the reef about three miles out. Do you scuba?”

“Yeah, I scuba.”

“How come you live in that stinkin van?”

“It’s a part of me; I don’t feel at peace anywhere else.”

“Same here. I still have to name this beauty.”

“You haven’t named her? A ship without a name is bad luck.”

“Bad luck is better than no luck at all. It means the universe can’t ignore you.”

I didn’t agree, but it didn’t matter as long as I made it back alive.

“Have you swum with sharks before?” Peter asked.

“No. And I don’t want to.”

“Well, you probably won’t have much choice on this trip. White tips are harmless enough, but you have to watch out for tiger sharks. They’ll go after anything they can’t figure out and scuba divers make their list of edible eats.”

The prospect of getting turned into shark shit did not appeal. This trip was quickly losing its pleasure, but any man who thinks they can control a trip is delusional. A trip has a mind of its own and each unplanned change causes a ripple that can roar into a raging tsunami.

“We’re halfway there,” Peter said. “How are you with a harpoon?”

“I’ve killed my dinner with one.”

“Good. You’ll need it. Mostly to ward off anything that gets in our way.”

The red sky lit up the morning clouds like they were on fire. How does that saying go again; about sailor’s delight?”

“‘Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning; Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.’ But don’t believe in that silly superstition, we’ll be fine.”

“I’m not so sure it is a superstition,” I said. There were dark clouds forming on the horizon.

Chapter 3 Mr. McMasterson’s Attractive Assistant

Murphy celebrated his victory by buying Gregson lunch. They ate their hamburgers and walked to Murphy’s black Porsche.

“Is this company issue?” Gregson asked.

“If it was, the force wouldn’t need to recruit young blood.”

Gregson noticed his friend wince in pain when he got in.

“I was chasing a suspect a few days ago and caught my leg on a wooden fence,” Murphy said. He turned the ignition and before Gregson knew it, they were cruising down rolling hills diving into deep valleys. 

“We’re almost to the mansion grounds where the killing happened,” Murphy said. The air was getting think with fog. They drove in silence for a few minutes, trying to stay on the road when out of nowhere an enormous hound ran in front of them. Murphy slammed his breaks. “That’s my suspect!” He shouted. Murphy got out and ran after the dog.

“I lost him; looked like a land gator! Wait a second, where am I? Gregson?”

“I’m here; follow my voice.”

“Anyone could get lost in this fog. Gregson?”

“I’m here.”

“Gregson? Oh, I found you.”

“Let’s find the mansion before this fog makes us invisible. I could go for some rum and modern comfort right about now,” Gregson said.

They drove slowly down the road, looking for a graveled driveway.

“That looks promising,” Gregson said. And Murphy turned down the lane. It ended in front of a dark mansion. “This must be it?”

“I hope so, but I don’t recognize anything. I’ll ring the doorbell; the owner is a bit eccentric.”

RING…RING…RING

FOOTSTEPS…The door opened.

Standing in front of them was a blonde girl in her early 20s wearing a white spandex outfit. “I was just doing my butt exercises. Do you have an appointment? I’m Mr. McMasterson’s assistant.”

“I bet you are,” Gregson said. “We don’t have an appointment and we were hoping to look around the grounds before the fog rolled in, but now we just need a place to stay.”

“Mr. McMasterson’s last assistant was murdered in the mist by a hound from hell. I’m Darla.” She shook their hands. Now I need to get back to my body. Darla went into the downward dog position.

“I can’t believe I’m a bachelor,” Gregson mumbled.

There was a CLICK behind them. “Strangers… I don’t know what to do with you. McMasterson pointed a double-barrel shotgun at them. “I’ll mount you on my wall unless you talk!”

“Sir, don’t you remember me?” Murphy asked.

“No, and I would remember someone like you. You have an annoying quality. I can’t put my finger on what it is.”

“We spoke last week…about the murder…”

“Oh, yes. Now I remember. Police, right? Still haven’t caught the killer? Well, that’s not surprising. What do you want to know?”

“I brought Gregson along. He has talent.”

“Gregson…where do I know that name. Oh, you’re the fellow who solved the Chessfield Park Murders. Glad to meet you.” McMasterson lowered his gun and shook Gregson’s hand. Murphy held his out, but McMasterson ignored it. “What do you want to know?”

“For starters, is there anything strange that’s been happening? Anything out of the ordinary?”

“The howling is different. Can’t get any sleep. But Darla takes care of me. She dances on the weekends and studies for her nursing exams. Knows a great deal about anatomy.”

Murphy and Gregson exchanged looks.

“Sir, about the murder?”

“Oh, yes; but don’t you mean, murders?”

Beach Dweller-Treasure Seeker

The beach is where people go to get away from the world. They lounge in the sand, their whale bodies, white, and wrinkly. And concession sellers walk by offering overpriced drinks. My van is parked 50 feet away. It’s my life; and periodically my family visits.

“What are you doing here? A vacation is one thing, but you’re wasting your time.”

“The waves are having an effect on me; they’ll bring me something good.”

“Have you lost your mind?”

“Probably.”

“Cousin Katie got married.”

“Is that so.”

“Yes. They’re quite happy together.”

“Uh, hu.”

“What are you doing with your life? You need to find someone.”

“I’ve found someone. I found myself.” I popped the cap off an ice-cold beer and started drinking.

There was pleasure all around me, but just lying there was pleasure enough. I felt at home with the street performers, beach hustlers, and trinket sellers. It was a desperate economy for people who didn’t belong.

If a man spent enough time in one place, could he figure it out? Or was it always changing and he changed with it?

It’s true; I felt lazier, but I also felt freer. Everything there was scattered and moved by water. Eternity crashed into the endless shore and I needed to be part of it. I looked at the distant horizon where everything disappeared.

Peter was piloting his fishing trawler through the sparkling Atlantic. He told me he would get his boat floating last week and now he had. I sat up from the hot sand and walked past the volleyball girls; I needed to get to the end of the peninsula to talk to my friend. He waved at me and I dove into the deep Atlantic. He threw a rope ladder in my direction and I climbed on board.

“Would you like a beer?” He asked.

“Sure,” I said. “You goin fishin?”

“In a manner of speaking. The storm shifted a lot of sand around the reef last week and uncovered a ship; I’m lookin for treasure.”

Invisible Family

Sometimes we leave our family

hanging on the walls

and we don’t look at them

until it’s too late

We take them down

brush off the dust

and wonder at who they were

They were just forgotten

absent from our minds

we barely talked to them

and when we did

we didn’t say anything

It was like they didn’t want to hear

or we didn’t want to say

what mattered

Strangers point them out

with more interest

than you or I

They’re still hanging there

covered in dust

invisible

we forgot

they were there.

Cactus Coffee from Cuba

“You took the shells out of that shotgun in the corner, didn’t you?” A nurse asked.

“Of course, I did,” Mari said. “He keeps eyeing it like it’s his only way out, but not even that will save him.”

Samson looked out the morning window, reaching for one more chance, one more dance, one more shot before the sun went down.

And there was a ring at the door. “A package arrived for you; it’s from Cuba; would you like me to open it?” Mari asked.

Samson nodded and she opened the box full of the blackest coffee she’d ever seen. There was a lime-green note submerged in the grounds.

Cactus Coffee from Cuba.

“Somebody likes you,” Mari said and she brewed the drink. The sweet smell and taste made Samson feel wild again. With the shotgun leaning against the wall, he punched those keys like his life depended on them. He hadn’t published in 7 years, but writing was not about publishing, it was about speaking uncontainable truth, and he was the judge of that and nobody else.

He grew stronger with each expressed word until he said, “I’m checking out.” And he pulled a shotgun shell from his left pocket while Mari ran for the gun, but Samson placed death on the counter and walked out the door to his life.

Chapter 2 Murphy’s Law

When Kate left, Gregson relaxed. He always felt on edge with a woman around. Maybe it was because he couldn’t figure them out. Gregson relied on his intuition the way most seasoned investigators do, and right now, he sensed that he should give Murphy a call. He dialed using his old rotary phone and waited for the detective to pick up.

“This is Murphy.”

“It’s Gregson; you referred a woman to me.”

“Oh yeah, Gregson. I haven’t talked to you in a while. How’ve you been?

“Just waiting for something to happen; and yourself?”

“It’s a grind; crime is so commonplace these days, although the case I sent you is different.”

“I sensed that. Would you care to play 9 holes on the city’s time and talk about it?”

“You read my mind. I’ll meet you at Chessfield Golf Course in one hour.”

“Deal,” Gregson said. He hung up. Murphy was competitive and Gregson wanted to beat him. His golf clubs had cobwebs between them, but he brushed them off anyway, ready to do battle. Gregson did his best thinking on the golf course because the game had purity; it was a way to measure if he still had it. He walked onto the putting green. His regular putter was just like a belly putter. Gregson had to lose weight. He choked up and plopped his ball in the hole.

“Bet you can’t do that on the golf course,” Murphy said.

“How much you wanna bet?” Gregson asked.

“Shall we play for 10 dollars a hole?”

“You’re on!”

Murphy teed it up. He took a practice swing.

“Come on, this isn’t the PGA!” Gregson said.

Murphy drove his ball 300 yards.

“God, do you sleep with that thing?”

“If it gave me pleasure, I would!” Murphy laughed.

Gregson teed it up and swung. His ball went 150 yards.

“Kinda weak.”

“You drive for show and putt for dough,” Gregson said. “Now what do you know about this woman you sent me?”

“I didn’t want to alarm her, but there have been several grisly murders in the area.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, a ghoulish affair. We think an animal is doing it; probably a canine.”

“Would you be able to show me one of the crime scenes?” Gregson asked.

“Yeah, I’ll take you there after the game.

Gregson lined up his putt on the last hole.

“That’s a 13-footer,” Murphy said.

Gregson took aim and fired. It lipped the cup.

“This is for 10 dollars,” Murphy said. He knocked his ball into Gregson’s and it went in.

“Why is it that you can’t just win; you have to bring chaos into the game?” Gregson asked.

“I call it Murphy’s Law. If something goes wrong, it all goes wrong.”

Chapter 1 The Art of Waiting for Things to Happen

Gregson sat on his red seat cushions, soaking his feet in a bubble bath. He had learned how to relax a long time ago when most men forgot about their health or neglected it on the force. Comfort gave him an edge. He was reading the meditations of Marcus Aurelius. The stoic philosophers intentionally went out of their way to make themselves uncomfortable so they would be ready when life got hard. Gregson had a different attitude; it wasn’t hedonistic, but he knew how to enjoy himself. Life was hard enough. There was nothing in the world that interested him at the present moment and he wasn’t going to go looking for it. It would find him; it always did. On cue, there was knocking at his apartment door.

“Just a moment,” Gregson said. He pocketed his revolver in his pink bath robe and stepped into his rabbit slippers. He shuffled across his oriental rug and opened the door.

It was a woman in distress. It always was.

“Come in,” Gregson said. “Before you say anything, I just want to let you know that you are being recorded.”

“That’s fine; I’ve come to talk to you about my brother. I need a private investigator and I heard you are the best.”

“Who told you that?” Gregson asked.

“A Detective Murphy at the police station.”

“Oh yes, Murphy. Not a bad man; surprised he still has a job; likes to shoot first and ask questions later; a police officer of the old school. Now how can I help you? You said you were worried about your brother?”

The woman was beautiful; she wore a pink bridesmaid’s dress. “My name’s Kate and my brother was supposed to be married today, but he didn’t show up at the altar.”

“Is he a drinking man?” Gregson asked.

“No, he never touches alcohol.”

“Maybe he made an exception before the wedding; I can tell you, that would cause me to take a few drinks.”

“His friends said he had a bachelor party two nights ago, but he didn’t drink a drop. He left the party and nobody has seen him since.”

“Okay, I’ll look into it,” Gregson said. “Do you have your brother’s address and a key to his residence?”

“It’s right here,” Kate offered.

“Give me a few days and I’ll find your brother.”

“Okay, thank you mister.”

“Call me Gregson.”

On Writing

The biggest breakthrough I had with writing was realizing that it was not about mechanics, or English teachers, or getting it just right or getting it to be a certain length, but it had to do with having something to say, something to express, and being able to say it well, to put it down, was everything.

There are things in this life that will save you. They are not always easy to hold onto. They cannot be commanded; they must be coaxed. A man must make his own way and make his own world. 

When he spends more time with the things that set him free, he becomes free. The world falls away, the pointless conversations, the ego games. I’ve heard people discuss who was more spiritual. They argued about ideas. If we consider our consciousness as the true frontier for freedom, we realize that knowledge is meant for us.

If you were totally alone and you had to relate to yourself and only yourself for the rest of your life, what kind of conversations would you have? What kind of things would you do? Who would you be? People are waiting to meet you; show them; don’t hide from others; take what you are and say it with power. If you can do that, you can love writing; you can love yourself.

Chapter 7 To Kill a President

Carl left Books and Blooms and entered the hustle of New York City. He didn’t have any leads; so, how was he going to find the book with no name? He glanced at the digital billboard above the street. It was the presidential race and Carl didn’t think much of voting. Based on his conversations with the guys, the fate of the nation rested with people who told off-color jokes and compared their bicep muscles. He was about to hail a cab when he saw the homeless man on the screen. The arsonist was a final candidate and kept referencing a black book next to his debate notes.

Carl was shocked, but then he thought about the nature of the book. It would help anyone become the most powerful person in the world.

“Hey Cabbie, what’s the fastest way to get to the District of Columbia?”

It was the final presidential debate and Carl was wrestling with his motivations. Why should he have the power and not the man running for president? Obviously, the book was dangerous. Savior scenarios kept running through his mind, like he was the one to assassinate the most dangerous man in the world, but his rational mind kept telling him “No!” He was also under the book’s influence and it needed to be destroyed, but fire wouldn’t burn it.

Once the arsonist became president, it would be impossible to steal the book. Carl went to a pawn shop and bought a Saturday Special; it was the same .22 caliber used in the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. Sometimes Carl’s plans made sense and at other times he thought he was losing his mind.

He stood in the debate crowd, watching the man who would become President. Someone had to stop him. He fingered the trigger in his pocket. If the would-be president died, the book would be discarded. It was now or never. Carl rushed the podium and six shots rang out.

BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG…

There were six red dots painted on the would-be president. Certain sure, he was dead.

And Carl was tackled by an angry mob. Everything went black.

Epilogue

Carl woke in a prison cell and his mind was rapidly becoming his own. There was a corner TV in the hallway and the news was on. “President Elect Larry Sanders survived an incredible assassination attempt by a New York City Fire Fighter. The boys in the fire house said Carl had been acting strangely and was doing too much reading.”

Carl was in disbelief; he was not in his right mind. He had been temporarily insane from reading the wrong book. Now he would rot in prison for the rest of his life. How had the candidate survived? He hit him six times at short range. Carl rested on his cot. He didn’t have anything else to do for the next 50 years. He almost fell asleep when he heard footsteps in the hallway. It was the President of the United States.

“Son, I know you regret what you did. It’s nothing personal.”

“I know you; you stole my book. How did you survive six shots to the chest?”

Larry Sanders smiled at Carl. “I’m the Devil and I left you a present. Inmates get a Bible, but I decided to leave you something better. I’ll see you on the outside.” And with that, President Sanders walked away.

Carl look at his bedside. There was the black book. He opened it and read the note inside.

For my would-be assassin. LS.

And Carl realized what LS stood for. Lucifer Satan. He kept reading and suddenly he had an escape plan.

“Guard!”

THE END