Chapter 2 In the Wrong Place at the Right Time

After a shoot-out, the air carries with it a lingering tension; gun smoke, broken glass, and the smell of iron, a great big hole where a plate-glass window used to be. Heat and sweat and wax figures take-in the aftermath, trying to calculate the chaos. It is real and unreal; slow and fast; order and disorder.

“What happened here?” The commissioner asked.

Sally stood there with her white-blonde hair, pink apron, and fiftyish face. “Gregson,” she said.

“I might’ve known. Does chaos follow you around like a stalker or do you court it?”

“Maybe I’m just in the wrong place at the right time,” Gregson said.

“The medics will save these boys. Thank God you’re not associated with the police force anymore. They’re all wounded and know who you are, which means you have to lay low for a while before the trial. I’ll need to take your gun—retirement present, wasn’t it?

“That’s right.”

“Gregson, when are you going to retire? I’ve been following your exploits for a year and since then, disaster shadows you like a clingy woman.”

“She has a sense of humor, I guess. My memoirs still have to get done, so perhaps, crime comes to me like inspiration.”

“Take a break from violence and write them, please.”

“Okay, commissioner. You’re right. A vacation has been calling to me for some time.”

“Just be sure it’s a vacation.”

Gregson smiled. He found himself on a medium-sized sail boat in a harbor that looked more like a graveyard for long-forgotten retirement dreams.  “I guess the rich folks who own these boats plan to sail, but never do,” he said. He unwrapped his typewriter and threaded a crisp blank page into the machine. A gust blew sea-spray onto the page. The sun was tricky and magical, shining with blinding light as the clouds flew by. He poured a glass of champagne and toasted his retirement. Gregson lit his cigar with a match and breathed in and breathed out. He started to type and lost track of time. Then he noticed he was being watched. Across the way, the only other harbor inhabitant was eyeing him.

Chapter 1 Coffee with Too Much Sugar

Gregson usually took his coffee black with a doughnut; that way he could indulge two desires at the same time. He walked to Sally’s Diner, across a busy metropolitan street. Downtown Chess-field was full of tourists enjoying 10 o’clock blue skies where the clouds were free to move any way they wished. He walked to the take-out window where a nervous teenager poured his coffee.

“Black with no sugar and a bear claw, if you got it,” Gregson said.

“Yes sir.”

“You must be new.”

“It’s my first day.”

“Well… it’s nice to meet you. My name’s Gregson.”

“Mine’s Alex.”

Gregson smiled and Alex tried to, but something was wrong. Gregson took his doughnut and coffee and walked around the corner. He sat on a park bench and took a drink. It was sugar water.

“What the…? That kid needs some serious direction. Even teenagers can’t screw up a cup of coffee these days. Something isn’t right here.” Gregson pulled his six-shooter from his pocket and loaded the bullets. He walked to the diner with a scowl on his face. Closed signs were hanging in the windows, so he walked through the back door. Three guys with Afros were emptying the cash register.

“I’ve gotten my coffee here for four years and it’s never been sweet,” Gregson said.

They pointed their guns at his head. He stared them down through his peep-sight. “Now, you can drop your guns and turn yourself in before anybody gets hurt or the janitor will have to squeegee your blood off the floor.”

Gregson saw the action in their eyes before they pulled their triggers. He ducked behind the counter and the plates behind him exploded into a million pieces. He rolled onto the floor and shot one of them in the leg.

The other pulled a scattergun and filled the counter full of lead. “Get that sucker!”

Gregson let the air out of his lungs like a pressure cooker.

BANG. BANG. BANG.

All three were on the ground. “Sally, I need to borrow your telephone to make a call.”

“Right away, Gregson.”

He dialed. “Yes, police? There’s been a robbery…”

Chapter 7 The Woman with Many Faces

Inverted buildings shook the change out of Gregson’s pockets. The ground looked different upside down; it was certain death. His fortune was hanging from a thread and Gregson regretted his days of over-eating, putting tension on the wire.

“Gregson, hang on!” Murphy yelled.

A cable dropped next to him and his friend descended. “Close call.”

“You have no idea. And now I have a fear of heights.”

“That’s something we can work on, but first, let’s get down from here. Can you identify the woman?”

“She was beautiful, that’s all.”

Murphy clipped him in and they repelled to the street. Gregson got rid of his lunch on the sidewalk. “I just need to sleep,” he said.

“How do you feel?” Murphy asked.

“I feel like the woman won.”

“That happens, sometimes.”

“What did she steal?”

“The Heart of Sumatra.”

“Is he one of the special forces guys?”

“No, it’s an uncut gem worth 30 million.”

Gregson and Murphy walked down the street together. They hit the climbing gym and Gregson worked the vertigo out of his system. It was like bleeding fear from a demon.

Epilogue

“You know what, Murphy. I still have to conclude my business with the wife who hired me for the stakeout on Summer Street.”

“I thought your mark stole your pictures?”

“She did, but this camera isn’t so old. It has negatives.”

“Really…? Well, finish up your business and let’s play golf.”

“You’re on.”

Gregson went back to his office and scheduled the appointment. “I need a secretary. All great PIs have secretaries,” he mumbled. A few hours later, the woman showed up.

“You said, you have negatives?”

“Something like that,” Gregson offered. The middle-aged wife had body. Gregson studied crime, but he preferred to study the female form and there was something about her that didn’t add up. He reached for his silver six-shooter under the table.

“Not so fast, old man.” The woman pointed a .38 at his chest and ripped her face off. It was Jessica.

“Boys with their toys,” she laughed and grabbed the camera.

When she left, it was oddly peaceful. It was like a whirlwind entered and exited.

“Okay, pick her up,” Gregson said over his radio. He knew the nature of a cunning psychopath. She wanted to play games with the greatest to pull off the greatest crime. Gregson looked at the tracer on his computer screen that was lodged in his camera. A red dot was surrounded by blue dots.

“Captain Styles to Gregson. Gregson come back.”

“This is Gregson.”

“We have her and the Heart of Sumatra. Case solved. The queen will be very happy; you may even get knighted.”

“Really?” Gregson asked. “Sir Gregson of Chess-field. I like the sound of that.”

THE END

Kindness Harvest

Vacant Orbs

just a prisoner

in this body of flesh

hearing the comings and goings

of others

busy tidying…

having had enough.

Now,

just sitting

staring

into nothing

A desert of empathy

not a cloud of kindness.

My last recollections

of humanity

evaporate

until

bleached bones

make people remember…

a kind word

lets it rain

a thoughtful action

grows a harvest.

Cyclone Swans

Cyclone Swans

fly through the crumbling canyon

like F-16s

Honking, to the weary traveler

beneath them

He looks up

at the wrong moment

SPLAT

and the stink is subtle

Cultures consider it good luck

and the traveler prays for it

on his weary walk

invisible years

stretch before him

and now he knows his nature

if he writes more

he can have a better life.

Quiet Moments

before the day begins

I don’t belong here

in this modernness

I know what to do

to get ahead

but I don’t want to leave

this small room

It smells like sanded wood and wisdom

and the world smells like sewers and cotton candy

I’ll be waiting here

as long as I can

just waiting…

Chapter 6 Tightrope Teaser

Even with the sun rising, Gregson played the piano like music could bridge the gap between his creative imagination and the albatross around his neck. It was from the Coleridge poem. A great burden and a curse. Days past like this. Gregson locked himself inside, letting his beard grow. All pizza delivery carriers knew him by name. To burn off the brain fog, Gregson juiced himself with stake out coffee. It made the mind desperate; desperate to solve crime. And then the phone rang.

“Yeah, this is Gregson.”

“Gregson, it’s Murphy. What have you been up to the last couple of weeks?”

“Bothered by a bird; it’s a burden.”

“You got to let go of that and join me at the museum this evening.”

“Oh really? Those special forces guys know what they’re doing. There’s no reason that you need me.”

“That’s not true, Gregson. You see things differently. Just humor me for one night. The Jewels are going back to the Tower of London this evening.”

“Okay, but I need coffee and doughnuts and I want the one with the raspberry filling.”

“Way ahead of you partner; they’re in the car.

Gregson felt sinful, eating a glazed doughnut with sticky fingers inside the leather Porsche interior, but sugar was one of the few things that could hijack his brain.

“Is it really necessary to drive so fast,” Gregson asked.

“More often than you’d think,” Murphy said. “We’re nearly there.” They tore around city corners in downtown Chess-field like they were a one-man car chase and parked in the loading dock of the museum.

The building was old, but a masterpiece of modern security. Gregson felt like he couldn’t take a leak without being violated by a security camera.

“So, what’s the plan?” Gregson asked.

“We got a stake out going on the third floor. That’s where the jewels are. To be honest, the guys are a bit too relaxed. Most of them shouldn’t be allowed inside a museum; they’re better off playing in the sandbox or bleeding somebody quiet-like at midnight.”

“Gotcha,” Gregson said. “We just keep our eyes open.”

The patrons were milling about. It was getting close to closing time. Then Gregson noticed something peculiar. An old woman was walking like a young woman.

“Pick up that fraud,” Gregson said into his radio. Two special forces guys moved in and grabbed her.

“Take your meat hooks off me!” She screamed.

“She must be wearing a wig and makeup,” Gregson shouted.

“Nope, she’s the real deal!”

“Why do you walk funny?” Gregson asked.

“I just had both knees replaced.”

“Oh, I’m getting too old for this job.”

“This is ageism, and I’m going to sue you boys.”

Then the security alarms went off. “To the roof!”

Gregson charged up the last flight of stairs and pulled his silver revolver from his pocket. There was the woman. She was halfway across the cable that held the lights up for closing night. “Catch me if you can, old dog.” She scampered across. Gregson pointed his gun, but he couldn’t shoot. He paused for a moment, held his breath, and then walked into thin air. He might’ve made it.

SNAP.

The cable broke and Gregson held on, like an overweight Tarzan, swinging into the opposite building.

“Help!”

Chapter 5 Gregson, King of Crime

Gregson drove home, smiling.

When a criminal tells you, they are going to commit the crime of the century, one only needs to wait. It’s just like the hoodlums who wear baggy pants and try to run for it. Ease, Gregson thought. The night was big and dark. Only the headlights from his T-bird cut his solitude; insects attacked him from all directions, splattering like a Pollock painting on his windshield. Gregson turned up his radio and let the narrator indulge his imagination. Most cannot solve crime because their lives are run by schedules and busyness. People aren’t taken in by what they don’t understand. And Gregson continued listening to the conspiracy theorist talk about aliens.

He felt like an alien wherever he went, but there were some exceptions, and these were the places he loved to go. It was the golf course on a sunny day. It was the chess tournament in Chess-field Park where the old men drank vodka and laughed at the children after they said “checkmate.” Or there was the pizzeria Gregson frequented; the woman behind the counter insisted he meet each one of her babies. She had eight now and there were eight fathers paying child support. What a world, Gregson thought. He didn’t fit in, and yet, he could look at it differently because he didn’t fit, and maybe that’s why he solved crime so well.

Gregson drove into Chess-field, and got several texts on his prepaid phone.

“This is Murphy. You free late this evening?” It was sent two hours ago.

Gregson replied, “What’s on your mind?”

“I’ve got a bottle of wine and some business to discuss.”

“Come over to my new place and we’ll talk.”

Friends of the same feather are difficult to find and Gregson looked forward to their conversation. He pulled up to his driveway and spotted the Porsche 911 parked at the curb. Murphy got out. “How the hell are you, Gregson?”

“Retirement has never been better. I’ve been trying to write my memoirs, and since then, the most interesting cases have popped up. Let me get my mail; it’s been awhile.” Gregson picked up a long stick from his front lawn.

“What’s that for?” Murphy asked.

“I’ve got lots of enemies,” Gregson said. He dropped the lid of his mailbox with his pole and nothing happened.

“You got the wine?”

“Yes; it’s a Merlot?”

“Did you come into some money, or something?” Gregson asked.

“Let’s just say it’s a bribe from my employer.”

The inside of the rambler looked like hobos had been living there. “As you can see, I haven’t hired a maid yet,” Gregson said. “Now what do you want to talk about?” He was half-distracted by his mail while he listened to Murphy. It was the usual bills, until he came across a letter. It smelled like a woman.

“It’s a security job. The crown jewels of England are being put on display at Chess-field and I thought you might like to accompany our team with transport. It’ll be two weeks of standing around, but the pay is incredible.”

“Security jobs are worse than watching the grass grow,” Gregson said. He smelled the letter. “Now this is something that merits my attention.” Gregson slipped on his plastic gloves and began analyzing the picture-cypher. It was a fat man with a bird slung around his neck. “An albatross, if I’m not mistaken.”

“So, you don’t want the job?” Murphy asked.

“I’ll think about it. Yes; I’ll think about it.” Gregson was totally absorbed. “How about pouring some of that wine.”

Murphy knew better than to disturb him. Gregson got up from the table and started to play jazz. He played chords like they were creative synapses, firing inside his brain.

“I’ll just leave you to it, then,” Murphy said. “Call me in the morning, if you change your mind.” A crescendo responded to the warm, empty night.

I confess…

I confess

that there are many moments

I should enjoy

but mostly

I just want to get back to myself

Like when my girlfriend sent me a text message asking…

“Why haven’t you invited me over? It’s been such a long time.”

She left me this voicemail that was full of anger and disappointment

like I was supposed to read her mind

I even invited her for a run

two days before

but she didn’t want to go and said…

“I guess you don’t want to do anything but run.”

“Oh no, that’s not true. You can come over.”

I was locked in

locked in to play the ‘good guy’

I don’t know if I’ve examined my feelings

thoroughly

when it comes to relationships

but they never add up

there is no point in trying

All I know is

when the days are beautiful

I don’t want a woman to come over to my dim apartment

with the sink clogged full of rotting Chinese food

I want to walk under blue skies, budding trees, air so fresh and warm, it feels like I can swim in it

So, I had 60 minutes to clean

and the place was pristine when she knocked

She just stood there

glowing

and I said

“Come on in.”

It was her reconnaissance mission

She wanted to see if I was still worth dating

“I’ve got some steak and asparagus I can cook,” I said.

“Alright.” Her innocent, cherubic face was looking at my library

“You have a lot of old books. Some of them are unusual.”

I knew she was trying to see into my personality

“A Desire to Kill: The Unabomber?” She asked.

It was beautiful outside and I was cooking two steaks, hoping the fire alarms wouldn’t go off.

“These stories are filthy,” she said.

“Oh, that’s Bukowski. A total genius. Wisdom comes from the strangest places.”

“You shouldn’t be reading this stuff,” she said.

I boiled the asparagus. It was getting limp, dissolving, and breaking apart.

Whenever I cook for myself, my food turns out. Maybe it’s because I don’t care.

She kept looking at me with new eyes. She was seeing me differently, already. I was one of those guys she thought she knew and now she was trying to figure me out, again.

“Can I use your restroom?” She asked.

“Sure,” I said.

She walked inside and I could hear her milling about. I had to get some groceries from my car. When I came back in, she looked tense. “You don’t have a hand towel in your bathroom.”

“Oh, I just use this one.” I tossed it to her and her opinion of me sank, again.

“Do you want to watch the movie now?” She asked. It was the Scarlet Pimpernel. Not a bad choice, but the hero acted like a woman to fool his pursuers. It was good for ten minutes and then I got bored.

I touched her leg and her eyes got really big. I was going to kiss her and I did. It tasted sweet and then it was over. We finished the movie.

“Well… that’s the end of that,” I said. “Time for you to go home.”

“Already?” She asked.

“Oh yes, I have lots of work to do,” I lied.

She gave me a bear hug and left. And I felt the most wonderful relief. Freedom. I walked outside, under the leaves and bathed in the sun. I got on my bicycle and rode East, into the cold wilderness of my own reality.

She asked me out on a few dates after that, but in time she dropped me like a rock, and I fell to the bottom of the river with all the other rocks, right where I belong. The sound is different down here. Peaceful. Murky. And a place nobody visits. Sometimes the fish swim by and I stay still, very still, listening to the symphony of sounds, and feeling the shifting sands of time.

Chapter 4 Feline Versus Canine

Gregson looked at the woman. A feline is a different type of criminal, especially when she’s not reacting to anything.

“Let me freshen up,” she said.

Gregson felt like a high school sophomore, sitting on the edge of her bed, but then she entered the room again, in professional clothes.

“You men all want the same thing,” she said.

“Peace and Solitude?” Gregson asked.

“No, the other thing. And you think you’re smarter than me.”

“Whatever gave you that idea?”

“It’s how you carry yourself. I don’t know if it’s superiority, but it’s something in the same family. It’s your attitude.”

“Well… what are you going to do about it?” Gregson asked.

“Nothing can be done. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you can beat him at his own game.”

“What?” Gregson asked.

“You’re a detective, right?”

“Technically, I’m a PI.”

“What’s the difference?”

“I work for myself and I answer to nobody.”

“Whatever you say.” Jessica drank her scotch in two seconds. Then she gave Gregson a look of haughty defiance. “I’m going to pull off the crime of the century right under your nose, and you will be helpless to stop me.”

Gregson smiled. He didn’t know if he enjoyed being with women or playing their games.

“Now, get out!” Jessica said.