Please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com for information on guest blogs and interviews. Please join us between Thanksgiving and New Year's when our authors present original holiday short stories. We hope they will add to the season's festivities! 11/28 Annette Dashofy, 12/3 E. B. Davis, 12/8 KM Rockwood, 12/13 Korina Moss, 12/18 Tammy Euliano, 12/23 Warren Bull, 12/28 Paula Gail Benson Have a wonderful holiday! -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Friday, December 3, 2021

 

On Angel’s Wings 

by E. B. Davis

 


The people who retire to Hatteras Island keep to themselves. There’s church, community events, and charitable organizations where everyone pulls together for disaster relief after hurricanes. But like most folks, I keep to myself unless compelled or volunteered, which happens occasionally when I’m not alert. So, when I saw a dog running wild in the street in front of my house, as a dog mom, I felt compelled to get him off the road. I called the dog to me and friendly as could be, he ran to me.

 

According to his tag, his name was Jingle, a scruffy looking terrier of some sort. From the address listed on his collar, he belonged to the new Coast Guard family down the street. My dog Rocky, a congenial gentleman, decided Jingle was a fine playmate. Jingle followed as we walked him back to his house. I rapped on the door. A late twenty-something woman with frizzy, brown hair opened the door.

 

 “Has he been bothering you?”

 

No smile, welcome, or introduction offered, I said, “No. But I was concerned that he was running wild. What if a tourist ran him over?”

 

“Jingle knows not to go into the street. He likes to meet my girls when the school bus drops them off.”

 

Since Jingle had been in the road in front of my house, I guessed he didn’t know quite as much as his mom thought he did. Should I contradict her? “Oh, well, then no problem.” Not my best response, but I wasn’t sure what that would be. “I’m Emily Johnson. I live down the street and have noticed your precious girls. If you ever need a babysitter, let me know.” Well, hush my mouth. Compulsion is a terrible thing.

 

The woman’s shoulders dropped. “That’s so nice. I’m Jennifer. My husband, Dan, was just deployed and won’t be home for six months. There are times when I could use a babysitter.” She invited me in. As she led me to the kitchen, I smelled a strong odor. Perhaps she had just finished doing her nails because the odor reminded me of nail polish remover, not a wonderful smell, but it seemed strong, and mixed with ammonia. I thought she’d offer me a chair at the kitchen table, but she offered neither to sit and chat or to bring me a cup of coffee.

 

“Let me get your phone number.” Standing, she transcribed my number on a piece of paper on the kitchen counter as I told her, wrote her number at the bottom, ripped her number off, and handed it to me. “I’m having a party on Saturday night. Could you keep the girls overnight? I’ll come over and get them the next day. I know which house you live in. I’ve seen you walking your dog.”

 

I was taken aback. She didn’t know me, and yet she trusted me with her children for an extended time. If my unproductive kids ever had children, I know they would do everything they could short of DNA profiling to check out anyone they’d leave their kids with. I did, back in the day. Perhaps I looked trustworthy. Perhaps because I brought her dog back I’d proven myself. But then, between the two of us, I was the only one who really knew I was trustworthy. Generation X’ers! Maybe we were on the Z’ers now. Zero brains more than likely. I took a deep breath to allow my better nature to exert itself. After all, perhaps she’d scouted babysitters and asked neighbors about me. At least, I hoped so. “Of course, what time should I pick the girls up for their overnight?”

 

That had been three months ago. She hadn’t picked up her daughters until four pm and looked hungover. The girls, Hannah, age eight, and Becky, age six, were delightful. While my opinion of the girls rose, my opinion of the mother didn’t get much better. I kept thinking that if the girls were a product of their environment, including their mother, she couldn’t be all that bad. But I’d heard rumors around the neighborhood about her parties.

 

Hannah and Becky had helped me decorate my Christmas tree. I’d explained to them how hard it was to find unbroken angelwing shells. I collected mine over the years on the Hatteras beach a block away, glued them together in twos to form both wings, and strung them with gold ribbon. I told them how they symbolized the angels who visited the shepherds bringing the good news of Jesus’s birth. When I brought out the sand dollars I’d also found on the beach and threaded with gold ribbon, I also explained about the doves inside symbolizing the spread of goodwill and peace. I had a little dish filled with the doves I’d found inside broken sand dollars. The girls handled them gently, awed. We made Christmas cookies. I packed a tin for them to take home.

 

Now, two days before Christmas, I stepped back to admire the contrast of the white sun-bleached shells against the green branches and wondered about the replication of the heavenly images in nature. How had that happened and why? Was it a heavenly reminder?

 

 

When the phone rang, Rocky woke up with a start. My cell phone identified Judy, a neighbor, calling.

 

“That woman is trouble, Emily. Those girls are in danger.”

 

“Who are you talking about?”

 

“Jennifer, Hannah and Becky’s mother. Hank Jensen thinks she’s cooking meth over there along with Sandra, their immediate neighbor.”

 

“Why would he think that?”

 

“He’s seen chemical drums and a lot of prescription boxes—allergy medications have that stuff that’s a component of meth—pseudo-something or other. I don’t understand it all, but that’s what he thinks.”

 

“I hope he’s not right. Has he reported it to the police?” I thought about the acetone and ammonia odors that I smelled the one and only time I’d been invited inside.

 

“Hank? Of course, not. Hank doesn’t like the police. Besides, he isn’t one-hundred percent sure.”

 

What to say to Judy? No one wants to point an accusing finger at anyone. The girls seemed fine. Cleanly clothed, freshly bathed and ready for school each day, they also weren’t starving. No, Jennifer would never be a June Cleaver, but being a Stepford mother wasn’t required. On the spot, I changed the subject. “Are you going to the Christmas Eve service tomorrow night?”

 

“Wouldn’t miss it.”

 

“Great, Judy. I’ll see you there.”

 

When I finished talking, Rocky jumped down from the sofa and ran to the front window. I walked over to see what had alerted him. A woman stood by the road staring at my house. She reminded me of a young Olivia Hussey when she played the role of Juliet. Her dark hair was tied back low, contrasting to the whiteness of her face. She looked serene, and yet her study of my house seemed intense.

 

I opened the door to ask her a question about my house like, did a bird do something untoward on my siding? But when I looked at the spot where she had stood not seconds before, no one was there. How had that happened? I looked at Rocky. “You saw her, too. I know you did. Don’t deny it.” Of course, he didn’t answer, but he also didn’t look perturbed either. It was beyond me how she had moved so quickly. Maybe she was renting a house with her extended family for the holidays. Renting large houses to accommodate growing families was a new trend in Hatteras. There were very few months of the year anymore when we didn’t have visitors on the island.

 

A little while later, I heard scratching at my door. I knew who was there, opened the door, and let in Jingle, who had taken to staying with Rocky and me during the weekdays. I was unsure why he wouldn’t stay with Jennifer, and it bothered me that he didn’t seem to enjoy her company. At three-thirty, he stood by the front door asking to be let out. I watched him, making sure he didn’t get out on the road. He met the school bus that discharged his girls. His loyalty and protectiveness touched me.

 

I thought about Judy’s phone call. Until there was hard evidence, I wouldn’t believe the rumors about Jennifer.

***

 


After dinner, Rocky and I took a walk for his bedtime constitutional. At this time of year, a walk around the neighborhood was a treat, seeing the lights on neighbors’ houses and lit trees within. Detouring from our usual route, we walked past Jingle and the girls’ house. Unlike the other houses, I didn’t see lights or decorations. Houses with kids normally were the most decorated. It was a shame for the girls, but then, perhaps if their father was home the situation would be different. What mother had the time to do it all?

 

By the side of their house, I saw movement. The serene woman I now thought of as “Olivia” beckoned me with her arm to follow her. She looked back and put her index finger over her lips, signaling me to keep quiet. Like most houses on Hatteras Island, the house was elevated on posts. A large shed the size of a single-car garage had been built at ground level under the house. Unlike a garage, the door opened to the back of the property between houses. I followed Olivia along the side from the front. When I got to the end, Olivia motioned me to stay where I was. The door to the shed opened around the corner from where I stood. The strong stench of acetone cooking almost brought me to my knees. I heard voices emerge.

 

“Whoowie, it feels good out here.” I recognized Jennifer’s voice.

 

“Yeah, as much as I love the stuff, cooking it isn’t great.” Whose voice was that? Olivia’s? I didn’t know the sound of her voice, but it seemed like both voices had come from inside the shed when the door opened. I was too afraid of getting caught snooping to look around the corner. “Better than spending money to buy it.”

 

“I’m scared the stuff might explode. You hear about it happening. Sandra, my children are upstairs.” Sandra! The woman from the house right next door. Her property line was only a few feet away from the shed door. It was no wonder they were in it together. Jennifer couldn’t have hidden it from them if she’d tried. Sandra’s husband had to know, too. Low round objects were lined up between the houses. My heart sunk and my stomach clinched as I realized they were propane tanks. There were five of them. Dear Lord!

 

“Nah, that’s only when there isn’t proper ventilation. On Hatteras, the one thing we’ve got is wind ventilation. Until Dan gets back, this is a great money maker and party central.”

 

They laughed. I was too petrified to move. The door slammed shut. Their voices were muffled now coming from inside. I peeked around the corner. Of course, Olivia had disappeared again. How had she walked around the corner and vanished just as Jennifer and Sandra were opening the door?

 

I ducked back into place and walked to the front of the house where I rejoined Rocky. Rocky? My heavens. How strange? Rocky stayed quietly where I’d left him. I don’t think that had ever happened before. Usually, he’s my shadow. We walked silently back to my house. I was freaked out. Jennifer and Sandra. Propane tanks. Olivia. Rocky. The girls!

 

***

 

 

I wrestled with myself most of the night. At what point do you get involved? I had no evidence. I had overheard their conversation. To the cops, that would be the hearsay of a batty old lady who imagines the worst of everyone. Little did they know how many allowances and excuses I’d given the mother. Outside of the shed, only the propane tanks were visible. Common household items at the beach. Even if they believed me, the police wouldn’t have enough to establish probable cause to get a search warrant, if my mystery reading served me correctly. On a small island where everyone knew everyone else, pointing fingers without proof would backfire on me big time. But I had to do something. I didn’t sleep most of the night, praying for guidance.

 

Christmas Eve morning found me groggy. I had only one idea. After letting Rocky outside for his relief, I downed a cup of coffee and ate a Gingerbread Man, biting his head off with a vengeance. I was sick with worry, frustrated by my inability to help, and so angry with Jennifer my civility was in short supply. Which is why I was demanding when she called for more babysitting. On Christmas Eve! But it worked in my favor so I didn’t show my disgust.

 Jennifer didn’t even say hello. “I like to make a lot of the Christmas presents I give. This year, with Dan gone, I’ve run out of time. Would you take the girls tonight?” Yes, I knew what she and Sandra were making for their “friends.” Homemade gifts, my butt.

 

“What a coincidence?” She probably didn’t expect sarcasm from a little old lady. “I was just going to call you. There’s a children’s play at church tonight that I thought the girls would love to watch.”

 

“That’s would be awesome,” she gushed.

 

I cut her emotional display short. She must have felt guilty about dumping her kids on me at the last minute on Christmas Eve. But I don’t suffer fools gladly. “Please have them dressed for church and ready by four pm. I have a special dinner planned before church. Put their pajamas and clothing for tomorrow along with their nighty-night blankets and stuffed animals in their backpacks. I’ll need their brushes, combs and toothbrushes, too. Oh, and Jingle’s bed and bowls, too. Rocky will love to have his friend over while we’re at church. And you know, Jennifer, since Santa is supposed to come tonight, could I tell the girls he knew they would be here? Could I put their gifts under my tree for them?”

 

There was silence. “Umm, well…”

 

“Last time they were here for an overnight, you didn’t get them until four in the afternoon. Santa will be quite overdue by then.”

 

“I hid their gifts in my car trunk.”

 

“That makes it easy, then. After I get the girls to bed tonight, I’ll call you. You drive them over, okay?”

 

“I’ll be busy. They can get them later.”

 

“I will call you. You will drive them over—” I stopped myself before I threatened her with telling my friend Deputy Sue about the acetone smell wafting from under her house. I took a breath. “I don’t have grandchildren. It would be such a pleasure to watch the girls open their gifts. To see their smiles and joy when they wake up and find gifts under the tree.” I sniffled a bit.

“Sure,” she growled. “Call me.” And then, she hung up. Such a delightful neighbor. I had bought a few gifts for them, too, but I wasn’t going to tell Jennifer.

 

At four, Jennifer’s eyes never met mine when I picked up the girls, Jingle, and their overnight stuff. She practically shooed them out the door. She threw me the keys to her car so I could get Becky’s car seat out. If I hadn’t helped a friend of mine put her grandchildren’s car seats in her car, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Does everyone need engineering degrees nowadays? I left her keys on the front door stoop.


After a chili and cornbread supper, we went to the church service, leaving the dogs to a post-dinner snooze. The girls loved the play, especially the role of the donkeys, and we drove home the long way to see the Christmas lights decorating the houses. At home, the girls bounced with excitement.

“Miz Emily, will Santa know we’re staying with you?” Becky asked.

 

“Yes, he most certainly does,” I replied. Even if I had to drive over to that den of iniquity and transfer the girls’ gifts from her trunk to mine, Santa would come.

 

“Will Daddy call tomorrow?” Hannah asked.

 

“I would think so, honey, but I don’t know for sure. If he can, he will.” Their questions finally petered out as I read them a Christmas story and turned out the light. Jingle laid down between the twin beds in my guest room to stay with his girls. I wanted to wait a while to make sure the girls were sound asleep before I called Jennifer.

 

When I returned to the family room, Rocky walked over to the front door, sat down, and stared at the door. “What’s up, Pup?” He looked at me as if I were stupid. “Okay, already.” I opened the door. By the road, Olivia frantically put her hand to her ear, as if on the phone. Then, she put both hands in front of her wildly gesturing to me. “Call now?” I asked. She pumped her head up and down. “Okay, whatever you say.” I found my phone on the coffee table and hit in Jennifer’s number. When I walked back to the front door, of course Olivia had vanished again.

 

I decided to sit outside on the front porch in the balmy ocean breeze away from the girls hearing. When Jennifer picked up, I told her now was the best time to drive over, that I’d be waiting outside for her. With a groan, she agreed. I was surprised not only at how little time it took her to come, but also with the speed of a NASCAR driver.

 

“For heaven’s sake Jennifer, it isn’t that urgent.”

 

“Yes, it is.” I must have looked like a quizzical cat. “Just help me get the gifts out. We’ll get them on the porch. You can take them in the house.”

 

I had just agreed with a disgusted “Okay,” when Rocky let out a huge howl, neck stretched toward heaven. As a Corgi/Beagle, his Beagle self often dominated. I was about to shush him when the ground reverberated around our feet. Flames shot into the darkness of the light. An explosion ripped through the silent neighborhood. Debris rained down. The noise was unholy, and the explosions kept coming. I soon realized there was no danger to my house. But Jennifer and Sandra’s houses were engulfed in a conflagration.

 


Jennifer watched in horror. Her eyes were wide in the darkness reflecting flashes from the fire. “Oh my God, Sandra!” She ran toward the two houses on fire.

 

I watched for only a second before I realized the children were probably scared. As I opened the door, I heard sirens coming into the neighborhood. Thankfully, I didn’t have that chore as well. But the children were on the floor of the bedroom clutching to Jingle so scared they hadn’t uttered a word. They looked at me with dropped jaws. “There’s been an accident,” I said, “But your mother is fine.” I sat down on the bed. “Your house isn’t so fine, but everything will be all right. Not to worry. Let’s make some cocoa and put on a Christmas movie. Your choice.”

 

“Mommy’s okay?” Hannah asked.

 

“Just fine, honey. She went to check on your neighbors, but she’ll be back in a few minutes, I’m sure.” Which turned out to be a lie, but I didn’t know it at the time.

 

Eventually, I got the girls back to sleep. Jingle stayed with his girls while Rocky and I took a short walk to find out what was happening at the fire where I finally found Jennifer. She was answering questions fired at her by the police. I interrupted explaining that I was caring for Jennifer’s children, pointing to my house. She gave me her mother’s phone number and asked me to call her to come get the girls. Tears ran down her face when she told me Sandra and her husband did not survive the blast. The police said they’d stop by to get a statement from me in the morning.

 

A few hours later at four in the morning, I had quite a chat with Jennifer’s mother, who wasn’t as shocked as I would have been. Only figures, I guess. Rather than bring in the gifts, we packed her car with all the presents and possessions. At the last moment, we gathered up the sleeping girls and put them in her car. Jingle hopped in the backseat between the girls. Their grandmother drove off into the night with a heavy heart, knowing her daughter was in jail.

 

I knew I couldn’t get to sleep. After I drank some coffee and ate some jam thumbprints, Rocky and I walked by the two rubbish heaps that had been houses. But I couldn’t stomach the sight nor the stench. We walked to the beach to watch the sun come up over the Cape, breathing in the fresh salt air blown in on the waves.

 

Sandbars, or shoals, are plentiful and treacherous around Cape Hatteras. They are responsible for the multitude of shipwrecks that have occurred over the years, earning these waters the moniker “The Graveyard of the Atlantic.” As destructive as they are, they also reflect light that many artists value when they paint beach scenes. To this day, I blame it on the shoals or maybe the light, but that Christmas morning, I saw light reflecting on the gossamer wings of an angel, one I called Oliva. I couldn’t believe my eyes and held my breath. She fluttered her wings. She didn’t speak, but in my head, I heard a soft voice say, “Good work, earth angel.” I let out my breath. Tears formed in my eyes. And then of course, she disappeared. I turned to Rocky. “Don’t deny it. I know you saw her, too!” Rocky grinned.

 

 

The End

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Secret Santa by Annette Dashofy

Every square inch of Golden Oaks Assisted Living was decorated with fake pine garlands, fake poinsettias, colorful bulbs, bows, Santas, and reindeer. In the front room, a group of high school carolers entertained residents in wheelchairs and on walkers. Attired in his civvies, Police Chief Pete Adams passed a brightly decorated Christmas tree. The last time he’d been here, paper angels with handwritten requests for socks, blankets, and toiletries had hung from the branches. Now, the angels graced gift-wrapped boxes under the tree. 

Pete made his way through the crowd to the receptionist’s desk. The petite dark-haired woman was all but hidden by a stunning wood-carved Nativity scene. 

She stood and gave him a professional smile. “Hello, Mr. Adams. I believe he’s in his room.” 

Pete thanked her. She reclaimed her seat, promptly disappearing behind the manger. “You need to find a better place to display that,” he told her. 

“Don’t I know it,” she said with a sigh. 

Strains of “We Three Kings” grew faint as he climbed the stairs and headed down the second-floor hallway. He found his father seated in one of the public gathering areas near his room looking dour despite the presence of Barbara, his neighbor and object of his affections. 

“Hey, Pop.” Pete took the chair across from the older Adams. “Barbara. You look lovely as always.” 

A flush of pink colored her wrinkled cheeks. “Thank you, kind sir.” She patted Pete’s father’s hand. “Harry, look. It’s your son.” 

Harry pulled his hand away. “I know who he is.” 

She met Pete’s gaze and shrugged. “It’s not a good day.” 

“You got that right.” Harry made a fist and thumped the table once. “There’s a thief in this place. Took my favorite pocket watch.” He looked at Pete. “The one that once belonged to President Dwight Eisenhower.” 

Pete knew the watch well. He’d been with his pop the day he bought it at a flea market. The seller swore by the Eisenhower story although even as a kid, Pete had his doubts. Harry had overpaid for the piece. Especially since it never kept the right time. Years later, it quit altogether. “I’m sure you just misplaced it.” 

“I did no such thing.” Harry’s sour expression grew darker. “You people all think I’ve lost my marbles. Well, I’m here to tell you, that watch has been stolen. And it’s not the only thing to go missing around here.” 

Barbara appeared equally downtrodden. “I’m afraid he’s right about that.” 

Harry’s Alzheimer’s often clouded his perception, but his lady friend was sharper than most. If she was agreeing with him, there must be something to the allegation. “What else is missing?” Pete asked her. 

“Little things mostly. Evelyn Downey claims she can’t find the broach her late husband gave her. But she could’ve simply lost it. The clasp hasn’t worked well for years. The last time she wore it to dinner, it fell in her lap. If I hadn’t pointed it out, she’d have dropped it on the floor when she stood up.” 

Pete relaxed. Barbara was probably right. “I’ll check with management and see if anyone has turned it in.” 

“She already did.” Barbara rested her hands on the tabletop. “No one has. If someone found it, they must think finders keepers.” 

Harry looked at her. “That old fart with one leg had his bank robbed.” 

Pete scowled. “What?” 

Barbara shook her head. “His name is Mike.” 

“He’s an old fart.” 

She gave Pete an apologetic smile. “It’s true, he isn’t very pleasant.” 

“What about a bank?” Pete asked. 

“Not a real bank.” She held her hands apart to show the size. “It was an antique mechanical thing. Cast iron, I think. A little man with a rifle supposedly shot a penny into a slot in a tree or something.” 

“William Tell,” Harry corrected her. 

Barbara lowered her hands to her lap. “I only saw it once and not close up. Mike was trying to show it off to a bunch of us but couldn’t get it to work. Still, he was quite proud of it.” 

“Old fart,” Harry muttered. 

Misplacing a cast-iron mechanical bank would be harder than losing a broach or a pocket watch. 

“And then there’s my music box.” 

Pete brought his focus back to Barbara. “The one you keep on your dresser?” He remembered chatting with her in her room once and seeing the dainty gold box, its lid open to reveal intricate inner workings and an ethereal dancer painted inside. 

“Yes. I overwound it years ago and must have broken the spring. But it was so pretty. And it was a gift from my mother, so I couldn’t throw it away.” 

A missing pocket watch, Pete could write off, especially considering it was his father who misplaced it. A lost broach with a faulty clasp? He could accept that as well. But add the mechanical bank and the music box? Harry might be right about a thief roaming the halls of Golden Oaks. 

But Harry’s eyes had glazed over, that all-too-familiar lost look he wore more and more frequently. Pete reached across the table to place a hand on Barbara’s. “I’ll talk to management. See if anyone else has been complaining to them about lost items.” 

“That would be lovely.” She gave him a wry smile. “They don’t pay much attention when we report such things. They just think we’re old, you know?” 

Pete grinned. “I’ll be sure and set them straight.” 

Harry blinked. “Pete? When did you get here?” 

“Just now, Pop.” 

He banged his fist on the table. “Someone stole my Eisenhower pocket watch.” 

*** 

Downstairs, the carolers had concluded their concert and were headed toward the doors. The residents were wheeling and walkering their way to the elevators creating a slow-moving traffic jam. Pete located Connie Smith standing outside her office, chatting with a woman he assumed was a family member. He waited until they finished their conversation and the woman strode away before approaching Connie. 

“Chief Adams.” The case manager smiled brightly. “It’s good to see you.” Her smile faded when she noticed his stern expression. “Is everything okay with Harry?” 

Pete glanced around at a group of residents chatting loudly a few feet away. “Perhaps we should discuss this in private.” 

She ushered him into her office and closed the door. “Please. Sit.” Once they were both settled, she picked up a stray pen and asked. “What seems to be the problem?” 

He told her what he’d learned. Her expression transformed from tolerant when he mentioned the lost pocket watch and broach to concerned when he mentioned the bank and music box. 

“Oh, my. That does seem like a lot to simply dismiss.” Connie fingered her hair. “Especially considering what I just heard. The daughter of one of our residents asked me to keep an eye out for her mother’s book. It’s a first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird.” 

“That has to be worth a pretty penny.” 

Connie shrugged. “Probably not as much as you’d think. She really loves that book and has literally read it to pieces. The spine is broken, and the pages are loose. At first, I thought she probably carried it with her and left it somewhere around the facility. But her daughter insists her mother never took the book out of her room because it is so fragile. Once I thought about it, I realized she was right. The only time I’ve ever seen it was on her bedside table.” 

“If someone took it, they had to have entered her room.” 

“So it would seem.” Connie absentmindedly drummed the pen on the table. “Apparently, we have a thief.” 

“Several of the items are too large to hide easily. You shouldn’t have too much of a problem locating them.” 

Connie blinked. “You’re assuming the culprit is one of our residents?” 

Pete had to admit, he had been. “If a visitor had taken the cast iron bank, I’d think someone would’ve noticed.” 

“Not necessarily.” Connie set the pen down. “Family and friends are in and out of here all the time. Especially this time of year, they bring gifts and carry tote bags. We don’t search them for contraband.” 

“How about your security cameras?” 

“I don’t have the staff to go back over all the footage.” She fixed him with a hopeful gaze. “But I’d be happy to let you take a look if you like. As you know, there aren’t any cameras in the rooms, but you might see something suspicious in the hallways.” 

Sitting in front of a monitor, searching security footage for a burglar, wasn’t how Pete had anticipated spending Christmas Eve. But he thought of his pop and Barbara and the other Golden Oaks residents losing treasured possessions and knew there was no other place he should be. 

*** 

Harry and Barbara had eagerly accepted Pete’s invitation to look through the videos. They’d had a taste of sleuthing once before when Zoe had enlisted their help to find a killer. This was safer—but duller—by comparison. 

Pete set them both in chairs in the security office and faced his father. “Do you know when your watch went missing?” 

Harry didn’t answer, and his eyes had that blank look again. 

Pete turned to Barbara. “What about your music box?” 

She brought a wrinkled but elegant finger thoughtfully to her chin. “I know it was there on Sunday. I had company. Some ladies from my old church stopped by and were admiring it. I didn’t notice it was missing though until Tuesday.” 

“Good.” Pete tapped the keyboard, pulling up the footage from the camera in the hallway near both Barbara’s and Harry’s rooms and set it to replay Sunday afternoon’s recording. “I’m going to put this on fast forward, so we aren’t here until New Year’s. If you spot anyone coming or going who shouldn’t be, call out and I’ll freeze it.” He shifted his attention to his father. “Got it?” 

“Yeah, yeah.” Harry flipped a hand impatiently. “Roll it.” 

The image played across the screen, showing Barbara’s church ladies scurrying out, which brought a chuckle from her. “Those gals have never moved that fast.” 

“Just let me know if anyone else shows up.” 

Leaving them to watch one monitor, Pete pulled up footage from another camera in the hallway near the resident who’d lost his cast iron bank. 

After twenty minutes, Harry grew impatient. “What are we looking for?” he asked. 

Pete clicked pause on his own video and turned toward them. “Someone coming out of your room or Barbara’s. Someone you didn’t invite or maybe carrying something that doesn’t belong to them.” 

“Some no-good thief stole my Eisenhower pocket watch.” 

“I know, Pop. That’s why we’re doing this.” 

Another twenty minutes passed with an assortment of people zipping down the hallways. The only ones who entered the room Pete watched were nurses, aides, and one of the cleaning crew. His eyes were starting to fog when someone else veered into the room. Pete hit pause, rewind, and play at normal speed. When the visitor exited, he faced the camera, and Pete froze the image. 

“Pop. Barbara. Do you know who this is?” 

Both turned toward him. Barbara adjusted her glasses. “That’s Daryl.” She looked at Harry. “Right?” 

“I don’t remember his name, but we play cards.” 

“And bingo.” Barbara looked at Pete. “Yes. It’s Daryl, but I don’t know his last name.” She pointed at the screen she and Harry had been watching. “He dropped by to visit both of us too. I think he stops in at everyone’s room at least once a week. He’s what you’d call a social butterfly.” 

“You say he visited both of you?” Pete tipped his head toward the video still running on their monitor. “Recently?” 

“Oh, yes. But only when we’re there.” Barbara frowned. “At least I think so.” 

Pete studied the still image on the screen. Daryl was using a cane and his other hand was clearly visible in the frame. If he’d taken anything as large as a cast-iron bank from the room, it wasn’t during this particular visit. Pete looked at Barbara. “Have you seen anything else suspicious?” 

“No.” She gave a disappointed sigh. “The only people in and out of our rooms are those who are supposed to be there. Sorry.” 

“No need to apologize.” She’d given him a solid lead. A social butterfly, if not the thief, might very well know who was. “Do you know which room is Daryl’s?” 

# 

Pete lucked out and found Daryl at home rather than flitting about on his visitation rounds. Pete introduced himself as Harry’s son. 

Daryl smiled broadly. “The police chief.” 

So much for being inconspicuous. “Yes, sir, that’s right. Mind if I come in?” 

Daryl shuffled to one side and waved with his free hand. “Please. I enjoy company.” 

Pete tried to not be too obvious as he scanned the room. Daryl had an extensive collection of wood carvings decorating every available surface. Wildlife, birds, and one extremely realistic-looking turtle drew Pete’s interest. “These are incredible.” 

Daryl beamed. “Thank you.” 

You did these?” 

He held out his hand which trembled like a dry leaf in a stiff wind. “Back before my son got afraid I’d cut off something vital.” Daryl thumped his cane which was also masterfully embellished. 

“Nice work. I do a little carving myself. Gunstocks mostly. But nothing as intricate as these.” 

“Ha. You should see the stuff I’ve given away. These are my rejects.” 

“I noticed a wooden Nativity scene on the front desk when I came in. More of your handiwork?” 

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it? But no, I can’t claim that one.” 

Pete forced his attention from the carvings to subtly scan the rest of the room. None of the missing items appeared in plain view. Coming back to the wooden menagerie, he asked, “None of your work has turned up missing recently, has it?” 

Daryl scowled in puzzlement. “No. Why?” 

Pete kept his expression relaxed. “Some of your neighbors have reported personal items as lost.” He watched Daryl and added, “Or stolen.” 

The old man’s face went blank. “That’s horrible.” 

Pete’s internal BS detector started screaming. Still, nothing about Daryl suggested criminal intent. Perhaps Pete had been in law enforcement too long. He saw lies everywhere. “Tell me something, Daryl. Do you play poker?” 

“Used to.” He grinned. “Around here though, the only card games are bridge or pinochle.” 

Pete took another survey of the room and nodded. “You should talk to my pop. I’m sure he’d be happy to scare up a poker game if there’s enough interest.” Pete patted the old woodcarver on the shoulder and let himself out. 

# 

The light dusting of snow on Christmas morning was just enough to add to the holiday atmosphere without endangering anyone on the roads, freeing Pete from his policing duties for a few hours. Since Zoe also had some rare downtime, he brought her with him to Golden Oaks. 

Aides attired in elf hats and ears were gathered around the angel tree, collecting and sorting the gifts. Zoe rushed over to them. “Wait.” She placed two more packages under the tree. 

One of the young women smiled and thanked her. “We had quite a bit of participation this year. Look at all these presents.” 

“That’s wonderful.” Zoe smiled back at her and rejoined Pete. “I’m glad to see all these gifts. It seems like a lot more than last year.” 

He shifted his father’s package to his other arm. “See? You didn’t need to worry.” He knew if she had her way, she’d buy something for every resident in the facility. She’d already delivered cookies to the staff on a previous visit. 

They climbed the stairs and headed down the hallway to Harry’s room where they found him seated in his favorite chair, arms folded and a glum look on his face. 

Zoe crossed to him and pressed a kiss to his cheek. “Merry Christmas, Harry.” 

As always, her presence brought a sparkle to his eyes. “Hello, Sunshine. Is it Christmas?” 

“It sure is.” Pete held out the brightly wrapped box to him. “Santa left this for you at our house.”Harry snorted but accepted the package and gave it a quick shake. “It doesn’t rattle. And it’s light. You got me a box of air.” 

Zoe took a seat on the edge of his bed. “Open it.” 

He ripped into the gift wrap and deposited it on the floor. Pete helped him open the box and watched his eyes grow wide as he pulled out a black and gold Pittsburgh Steelers lap quilt. 

Harry tossed the box on top of the discarded wrapping paper and laid the quilt across his knees. “Maybe they’ll win the Superbowl this year.” But his grin quickly faded. 

“What’s wrong, Pop?” 

“There’s a thief around here. Someone stole my Eisenhower pocket watch. You remember it, don’t you, son?” 

Pete glanced at Zoe who’d taught him to go along with Harry’s repeated tales rather than remind him they’d already covered this ground. “I remember, Pop.” Pete had asked Connie to keep an eye on Daryl regarding the missing items but hadn’t heard back. Considering the holiday, he didn’t expect to for a few days. 

One of the elfin aides appeared in the doorway with a stack of boxes—two larger and one small one. “Ho ho ho.” She entered the room and held out the gifts to Harry. “You must’ve been very good this year.” 

He accepted them with a snort. “You don’t know me very well.” 

The aide winked at Pete and left. 

Zoe rose from the bed and leaned over to examine the tags. “What do we have here?” 

Harry shook the small box. Nothing rattled but he scowled. “This one is heavier than it looks.” 

Zoe met Pete’s gaze. “The big ones have the angel tree tags on them. This little one only has Harry’s name on it. Nothing saying who it’s from.” 

“Open it, Pop.” 

Harry ripped into the colorful paper revealing a generic white box with tape keeping the lid closed. He refused Zoe’s offer of help and picked at the tape until he managed to peel it off. He lifted the lid, removed some crumpled tissue paper, and choked a laugh. “It’s my Eisenhower watch.” He studied it closer. “And it’s running.” He pressed it to his ear and then held it out to Pete. “Listen.” 

Pete could hear the soft tick, tick, tick from where he stood. Before he had a chance to give the suddenly reappeared and resurrected timepiece a closer look, an exuberant cry from across the hall drew his attention. A moment later, Barbara appeared in the doorway on her walker. 

“Come see what I got,” she said, tears glistening. 

Harry set his gifts on the floor as Pete handed him his cane. All three of them crossed to Barbara’s room where gift wrap was folded neatly on her dresser, next to her music box which was playing a soft melody Pete had never heard before. 

Barbara stood over it, a hand pressed to her cheek. “It works. It’s been broken for years, but now it works.” 

Zoe picked up the gift wrap and looked at the tag. “Doesn’t say who it’s from, but the handwriting matches Harry’s.” 

Pete met her gaze and wondered if she was thinking the same thing. 

A smile spread across her beautiful face. “Who had the bank and the broach? And the book?” 

He gestured to her. “Come on. Let’s go see if they received mystery gifts too.” 

# 

It didn’t take long to discover that the secret Santa had struck elsewhere as well. The William Tell bank was back in one-legged Mike’s room and was firing pennies into the slot for the first time in more than a decade. Evelyn Downey was happily wearing her broach which now had a new clasp keeping it secure. And one ecstatic reader was showing off her newly rebound copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.

According to reports shared throughout Golden Oaks, several other residents had received personal items they’d thought were long gone and which were now as good as new. 

The elves were as clueless about the source of the “gifts” as the residents were. Pete, however, had his suspicions. He took Zoe’s hand and drew her down the hall. 

“Where are we going?” 

“Following a hunch,” he told her. 

He found Daryl standing in his open doorway, chatting with a young man Pete had seen around the place, usually pushing a cart loaded with a trash can and cleaning supplies. This time, Pete noticed a strong resemblance between the two, as if the janitor was a much younger version of the woodcarver. When they spotted Pete and Zoe’s approach, the janitor started to walk away. 

The final puzzle piece fell in place. Pete called out to him. “Hold up a minute. I want to talk to both of you.” 

The janitor’s eyes took on that deer-in-headlights look common in guilty parties. Daryl, on the other hand, only looked smug. 

“What’s going on?” Zoe whispered. 

“Just wait,” Pete whispered back. He pointed from Daryl to the janitor. “Let me guess. Grandfather and grandson?” 

They exchanged glances. 

The younger man swallowed hard. “Yes, sir.” 

“AKA Santa and Santa’s helper.” Pete didn’t need to pose it as a question. He knew. 

Fifteen minutes later, Pete, Zoe, Daryl, and his grandson, whose name was Levon, gathered around the woodcarving collection after sharing their story. Daryl had come up with the idea after learning about all the broken treasures his neighbors possessed. Levon had the opportunity to sneak those items out of the rooms while cleaning, hiding the harder to conceal pieces in the trash can. 

“Levon has helped me in my workshop since he was a wee tyke.” Daryl’s pride was evident in his smile as he spoke. “He got to be better than me. That Nativity scene you asked about. That’s his handiwork. And he’s not just skilled at carving but at fixing stuff too. I don’t think there’s anything he can’t make work again.” Daryl patted his grandson’s shoulder. “Kid’s got…how do you young folks say it? Crazy skills.” 

Levon lowered his head but not before Pete spotted the crimson flush of embarrassment in his cheeks. 

“Let me get this straight.” Pete looked at Daryl. “You located the broken personal items.” Pete shifted his focus to Levon. “You stole and repaired them.” 

“And wrapped and put them under the tree,” Daryl added. “‘Stole’ is such a harsh word.” 

Levon lifted his gaze to Pete’s. “Are you gonna arrest me?” 

At his side, Pete heard Zoe choke back a laugh. “I don’t know,” he said. “Did you keep any of the loot for yourself?” 

Levon’s eyes widened. “No, sir.” 

“Did you sell any of it for profit?” 

“No, sir. Not for profit or for nothing. I only fixed the stuff and gave it all back. Honest.” 

Pete couldn’t maintain his stern cop face any longer and smiled. “Well, then, I don’t see any reason to arrest you.” 

Levon exhaled so hard, Pete feared the kid’s knees might buckle. 

Daryl raised a finger. “Can I ask one favor?” 

Pete nodded. 

“Could we keep this just among us? We might be playing Santa, but I’d like to keep it a secret Santa if you don’t mind.” 

“No problem.” Pete shook hands with both men. 

As Pete and Zoe walked hand-in-hand back to Harry’s room, it seemed every other conversation they overheard revolved around the joy of having a beloved memento back and like new. Daryl and Levon had been busier than Pete had realized. 

“I think all the comforters and socks and robes from under the angel tree are being ignored because of the cool toys.” Zoe made air quotes around her last two words.

“Maybe, but I doubt any of the angel tree gifters will mind.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “Right?” 

She snuggled closer against him. “Right. After all, people like Daryl and Levon? They’re real angels on earth.” 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Whose Words Are They? by Kait Carson


This is November. To most folks, that means Thanksgiving and the start of a hectic holiday season that doesn’t wind down until January. To writers it means NaNoWriMo. The National Novel Writing Month. Writers who participate challenge themselves to write fifty thousand words. They may not be good words, that’s not the point. The point is to get it on paper because you can’t edit a blank page. There is much to say for this philosophy. It’s successful, and many novels have been conceived in November.

 

In 2009 I took part in Nano, as it’s affectionally known, and I completed the word challenge. Diving Diva wasn’t the first book I’d written, but it was the first one I thought might be good enough to publish. Four years later, after extensive revision and a change of title to Death by Blue Water, Henery Press picked up the book, and I spent the next few days doing a happy dance. Thank you, Nano!

 

My Henery contract provided that all rights would revert to me after five years. The rights to Death by Blue Water reverted in 2019. Those to Death by Sunken Treasure contractually came home to mama two years later. Perfect timing. The pandemic that cost me my day job in July of 2020 opened the possibility of pursuing writing as a full-time job. How lucky was I to begin a full-time indie author career with two books “in the can.” By the time I finished setting Blue Water up for publication, I’d have the rights back to Sunken Treasure. Easy peasy.

 

I set my feet on the well-worn path of reviewing the books, omitting references to the traditional publisher and making necessary edits. The only major change was new covers for each book. I did not own the rights to the original artwork. Those rights stayed with the artist and/or publisher. Besides, I intended to continue the series. A new look helps create a new brand. Unfortunately, my artistic talent is limited to stick figures and turkeys drawn by tracing my own hand. I thank my lucky stars for Polly Iyer and her amazing talent. She prepared two outstanding covers for the existing books and a third for the now-in-edits Death Dive that -capture the atmosphere of the series.

 

Amazon provides basic formatting for e and paper books, but I wanted something a step above, and the opportunity to easily publish on platforms other than Amazon. A program named Vellum is and has been the gold standard, but it operates only on Apple products. I am a PC user. Fate intervened and last month Atticus was released. Atticus is the PC user’s answer to Vellum. Whew, saved by innovation! I have to master the program, but early indications are that it’s non-techy friendly. I typically know just enough about my software to be dangerous to myself. The support team has been great.

 

Do you sense a dark cloud looming on the horizon? I belong to the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime and receive their self-publishing forum emails. One of my fellow Guppies had recently submitted her book for publication to Amazon--a previously published book to which she had received a rights reversion. Amazon questioned the author’s right to publish the work and publication day was delayed while the author proved her ownership. A wrinkle I hadn’t anticipated. After all, no matter the publisher, traditional or self, the author holds the copyright to the words. The problem arises at the production end. Amazon cannot afford to be seen as a pirate platform. That’s both understandable, laudable, and something that I must resolve before I decide on a publication date.

 

Whose words are they? They are mine. Forged in NaNoWriMo and buffed to a high sheen through revisions and editing. Amazon does not question that. What may be in question is whether having written the words gives me the right of re-publication. Amazon’s response to my query email glossed over the question of the return of rights. It focused on the suggestion that I publish using KDP and offered information on the mechanics of self-publishing. I wrote again to confirm that Amazon understands my question is not one of mechanics but rights. An unexpected wrinkle in an otherwise smooth process.

 

Pray that you live in interesting times. The life of a writer is always exciting!


Friday, November 26, 2021

The Legend of Korra by Bryan Konietzo and Michael Dante Di Mortino: A Review by Warren Bull

 

The Legend of Korra by Bryan Konietzo and Michael Dante Di Mortino: A Review by Warren Bull

 

This Nickelodeon cartoon series is a follow up to The Last Airbender by the same authors as well as Aaron Ehasz

 

 

17-year-old Korra is the reincarnation of the Avatar, Aang, who died seventy years earlier. She is the only person who has the capacity to control all the four elements — earth, wind, fire and water.  Her role in the world is to keep things “in balance.” She has mastered “bending” of earth, fire, and water. However, she is frustrated in her efforts to learn the most difficult,  air bending. Rebellious and brave she runs away from home to study with Aang’s son, Tenzin in Republic City, but finds the city threatened by physical and spiritual evil forces.

 

Apparently, the authors expect watchers to know the entire saga of the last Avatar because they offer little explanation of the current situation and the relationships between the characters.

 

Adolescent humor crops up constantly. Adults are well-meaning dolts who have some redeeming qualities, but they lack the insight of children. Okay, I have no trouble with that. Farting is assumed to be hilarious.

 

I was struck by the authors’ concept of “harmony” in the work. There are two classes of people. Some are benders who have the power to control not only the four elements but also lightning, metal and blood. There is a dangerous rebellion brewing among ordinary people who are exploited by benders and sometimes killed by them. Many benders are criminals who extort their victims. Other benders are police officials who imprison people on whims, destroy others’ property, and show no concern for those who lack the power of bending. They city is governed by a council of five who, apparently ,decide every question. Nobody reviews what the council  decides.

 

The rebels call themselves “Equalists.” They endorse what is described as the radical, dangerous idea that all people should be treated as equals. Although Korra recognizes the abuse going on and has some sympathy for the common people she works to defeat the rebels and to return to “peace and harmony” by supporting the absolute tyranny of the ruling benders.

 

Still, for a cartoon, there was an unusual depth in terms of exploring family relationships. The artwork was truly exceptional. It held my interest.  The series won numerous animation awards. I believe people who do not ordinarily watch animation would find the first season of interest.  By the way actress Eva Marie Saint voiced one of the characters.

 


 This Nickelodeon cartoon series is a follow up to The Last Airbender by the same authors as well as Aaron Ehasz

 

Season Two: Spirits

 

While I enjoyed season one, I found the second season more engrossing. The art work, a definite strength in the first season, was even more impressive in the follow up. The back story did a great deal to clarify the history of bending. It explored balance, i.e., the conflict between light and darkness (yin and yang) with a surprising level of sophistication.

 

There was more obvious ethical ambiguity. The characters were age appropriate with boyfriend/girlfriend ups and downs. The idea of personal development applied to the adult characters as well as the adolescents.

 

The governance was less well defined, which made it appear less dictatorial. Keeping the audience and the type of humor in mind, I can still easily recommend watching this season.




Thursday, November 25, 2021

Thanksgiving Memories, or How Not To Make Turkey Soup by Connie Berry

 




Every Thanksgiving I remember the deadly turkey soup fiasco.

 

The year my boys were two and five, I decided to follow my mother’s example and use the turkey carcass to make soup. What a great idea, right? I simmered the carcass for hours in a huge stainless pot. By then it was pretty late, and since I was too exhausted to do anything more, I put the pot in the extra refrigerator in the basement. And forgot about it.

 

Weeks later, realizing the "soup" was now aswirl with deadly organisms, I transferred the pot to the cold garage. And forgot about it again. Until the spring thaw.

 

Having no clue how to dispose of the lethal brew without slaughtering innocent animals—or people (could water treatment really neutralize what were probably deadly undiscovered toxins?)—I carried the pot outside and stuck it under a tree at the back of our property until I could figure out how to safely make it go away. Out of sight, out of mind.

 

Come summer, the pot with its murderous contents was still there. My husband got rid of it, expensive pot and all. I never asked how.

 

Holidays bring back memories—the ones we’d rather forget, the ones that make us laugh, and the ones that touch our hearts.

 

What are your favorite Thanksgiving memories—the good, the bad, or the ugly? 

 

     On behalf of all the 

     Writers Who Kill, 

     we wish you a very

     HAPPY 

     THANKSGIVING!