NaNoWriMo ’08: what was written so far (what has been written so far)

In the most unapologetic of fashions, I decided to post what I wrote in the cumulative month of NaNoWriMo.

This is as rough as can be and has a slight bit tacked on at the end.  Just to tempt you all, one person HAS read the entire thing and wasn’t even related to me in a genetic sense; so that’s a minuscule victory in my book.

However long this stays up or the length of time this remains is so suspect even I have no clue.  But enough yabbering and such.  I suggest skipping around wherever you feel like it.  The beginning is pretty rough and uneventful.  But make your own decisions.

This may later be broken down into separate chapters later; especially when I have more chapters written.

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(I was able to get chapters to finally appear, and cleaned up most doubled-up words; though there is a possibly duplicate section which I didn’t find yet.  All comments, questions, and suggestions are more than welcome: meaning ALL feedback is great to have.)

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Eugene’s Genetics:

ONE

“Sorry.  That is probably the most exciting thing about me.”

The waif of a female stares back.  Her arms unfold to take another sip of coffee; revealing a nametag by the name of Coleen.  She pauses in an awkward moment before setting her dinge-shaded white mug.  “It’s a great attribute I think.  I mean…  most females are very possessive of their names.  The more someone stares at her, the more nervous she obviously gets.  A mousy girl dipped in ink is the best way to describe her demeanor – contrasted by her almost glowing face.  Her straight and almost completely limp hair frames her elongated and almost emotionless expression.  Her smaller than usual, perfectly circle glasses give her a quality which makes this plain of a Jane continue to stand out.

“I mean look at this stupid thing.”  She fiddles with her badge in a way to emphasize,   “I had to finally just spell my name phonetically since so many idiots kept mispronouncing it all through school.  Call-Lain.  It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it,” which she half-shakes to make her point.

“It never bothered me at all.  I have been a Janie, Jenny, Jean, Jerilyn, and…  Maybe I should have been a little bit more stringent in what people would say.  It seemed like every name with a J or a G ended up becoming one of my many aliases.”

Coleen fire back, “But it’s Gean…”

“Geenie.  Well, for now.”  She looks back across the darkened husk of an eatery the health department has been cringing to evaluate.  “I don’t know.  Maybe I need to just stick to something, but that has been my only interesting quirk.”  In the tone Geenie takes, it’s as if everything she says is at the cusp of a contradiction.  Not because of shyness or insecurity but more of an overall indecisiveness about her at this particular time.  Giving one marble but taking two back is the closest way to describe her demeanor.  These two women are hardly bookends.  They are just this side of two shuffled grab bags.  Geenie does not seem to be setting the world on fire with her wardrobe but it is of a different palette than Coleen’s seven shades of black.  Geenie wears one of those nondescript dresses that is enough to prove she is a female, but the odds are split if dirty tennis shoes are accenting it.  Coleen wears leggings with a work apron; just giving off enough of a skirt vibe to think she was trying to impress someone with an offbeat style.

In all reality, she just hates having to match clothes when she’s often barely scraping it to work on time.  Geenie has the kind of hair which looks like it was cut in various stages of the week.  Enough of a curl to throw everything out of whack, but not enough uniformity to pull off a particular look.  It’s one of those things which looks like a lion’s mane on skid row but once a celebrity wears it for a particular television role, it would suddenly become the in thing to do.  Maybe the only thing these two do have in common is their mutual disdain for fashion week in Paris.  These two are not run of the mill wives who spend all day trying to make the hours fly by enough to find a new topic to nag about.  They are working women.  Not career women mind you, but in this day and age just having something consistent to do for eight hours and be paid for can be considered a luxury.  They do not seem to particularly enjoy what they do or maybe not even their overall look if it was something to ponder – but it is easy to see they are at least comfortable in their own skin.  That is the sort of thing which is heralded (or envied) as being in the minority of.

“There was this one girl I knew in high school,” Coleen recalls.  There were two girls really.  Beth and Bethany.  Well Bethany was like one of those girls you imagine being born wearing one of those Oxford riding helmets.  Well she just had that look.  And if you ever accidentally called her Beth…  She did this thing.  She’d say ‘Bethany’ as if it was some secret password which would be the only way to unlock her ears so she’d listen to whatever you had to say.

I mean it wasn’t like- it wasn’t rude but you just…”  Which she interrupted herself to half yell to herself.

“Erggh!”  She let Geenie know until telling herself, “That’s it.  I need a smoke.”

Around the side of the halfway to dilapidation of a structure, the flickering of an ember can be seen.  The wind carries enough to let it be known Coleen is breaking down some sort of event.  Her tone is unique for the fact it doesn’t have as much inflection as the usual person; nor the downer type of quality most female voices have which drone about something.  It was more of a car in neutral: not moving forward nor reversing.  It was just an idling.  This didn’t seem to bother Geenie whatsoever.  They did not have that invisible tie old friends have for the fact they have not been all to friendly until a couple days ago.  They were cordial in the server and customer sense context.  These two women have probably shared hours of conversations through the years of visiting the same place since it was conveniently between work and home for Geenie.  Of all of the servers in this particular place, it was only Coleen who was a mainstay.  Believe it or not, this place which seems so out of date and this side of decrepit boasted the same name as a dozen places but this was the hub of training; if not actually the worst of a local franchise.  The original owners were of the “big fish in a little pond” mentality, which meant they were content with gaudy facades and annoying commercials over substance, but it wasn’t the commercials which brought them together but a Coleen’s running out of gas.

Geenie was able to give a lift when seeing her unmistakable frame in the night.

Coleen’s gratitude was even doubled due to the fact Geenie had one of those handy, plastic gas cans to use rather than the original plan of trying to fill up a sixty-four ounce beverage container.  Despite all of the environmentalist nitpicking if she did such a thing, the vapors might have even knocked out the small framed woman if she went it alone.

“It’s really…  Yeah I hate that perception everybody has,” Coleen prattles on and on about.  “People expect me to be super cultured or dating some beatnik French reject just because I wear black.  Really.”  Geenie scoffs in a sleepy voice.

“Sorry if I was boring you, Geenie.”

“It’s not.  If you didn’t notice, it is getting late.”

“Oop.  I’m sorry,” she said while tossing the last remaining light of her cigarette into a conveniently placed puddle of liquid.  “You were probably just hanging out here since you didn’t know what to do.  I’m sorry about all that,” as she yanks at her bag and belongings.

“Don’t worry about it,” Geenie counters.  I think it’s the air or something making me sleepy.  All of the white noise in the atmosphere or something.”  While looking back up, Geenie sees another cigarette in Coleen’s mouth.

“Oh my gosh, that is such a bad habit I guess,” as she tosses it back inter her purse with a guilty inflection punctuating her usually monotone cadence.  “Maybe I’m just a little nervous.  I really don’t do this sort of thing.

Socializing isn’t as much fun as sleeping when you have to constantly pull doubles due to these ignoramus waitresses in training.  You know?”

“This isn’t really my expertise either,” Geenie laughs back.  “You know those cheesy romance movies where they have to show the guy’s so old because he doesn’t know what it’s like to date?  I thought it was a complete cliché until the likes of us are congregating by the garbage can.”

Pulling her fingers through a straightaway of her raven hair, “Yeah.  What a couple of dweebs we are.  And I’m like a little bit younger, so we shouldn’t be in the same boat right?”

“At least a decade more here if you remember your college years.”

“Year,” Coleen emphasizes before, “Wow, I always thought you were like my age anyway.  I just have that kind of look where I’m supposed to be studying for midterms.  Or babysitting.  Heh.”

“Hey you know,” Coleen asked in an all but philosophical way.  “What’s your last name?”

“Swaboda.”

“Oh,” was all she let out; her train of thought stopped dead in its tracks.  “I was thinking maybe it would have been a better idea going by your last name.  You know kind of like jocks or those lame business movies.”

There wasn’t much to really bother Geenie at his point; socially awkward as they both wee  It was the thought which counted anyway.  One of these idioms one’s mother might have spouted of.  It a way they were both in the same boat; despite the visual differences.  They certainly didn’t shop at the same place indeed.

If you’re always having trouble putting these two women together, there wasn’t much more to say about the transpirings of Geenie and Coleen.  They didn’t even have that much to say between each other really.

Coleen seemed to have come from one of those backgrounds where family members or a relationship really didn’t look at what her opinion was.  More the latter if someone took a harder look; yet maybe her look and hair was indicative of an assumption.  Geenie didn’t mind listening at all however; which was fortunate or serendipitous enough.  It could have been a lecture on advanced physics and Geenie still would have been happy to be hearing the words since they were coming from Coleen.

It was one of those first steps towards acquaintances or even friendship.  Not that too much was being looked forward towards.

There was some talk in the past from Coleen abut boyfriends or whatever hook up scenarios she had – all between order taking, food serving, and beverage refills.  Geenie was more of a listening type that the reactionary sort.  She did not have a job or group of friends in which she was looked towards for advice or the such.  Geenie heard this and that and then made whatever polite responses – never asking for more clarification or even offered advice.  Geenie was not usually in any situations where she needed it as well so perhaps she lost touch with that act in society…   If it even existed in the first place.

Coleen relit her cigarette again since she did it – yet again – out of habit.  It was a compulsory thing to do rather than relaxing.  It was never something Geenie noticed before, so maybe she only did it while in an idling point of time.  Coleen never had that foul odor of stale smoke which often followed people as a cloud of shame from smoking.  She also never seemed to have a compulsion for smoking.  At least not as she did when thinking about that Bethany person she had disdain for.  Childhood trauma cna always be afforded the exception rather than the rule.  Of course.

The words were sparse for a minute more.  Coleen took her eyes off the cigarette a moment and looked up before glancing once again in Geenie’s direction.  The end of the cig was reflecting off her glasses; giving an illusion of it being much brighter than it really was in the area near the alley.  “Well I just kind of wondered.,” she said to Geenie.  It’s a nice name though.  What is Swaboda?”

“It’s German.  I guess.”

“You aren’t sure?”

“I’m pretty sure but not positive.  It’s what my family says.  I’m adopted anyway so whatever the name is, that doesn’t really make any difference.”

“Whoah really?”  Coleen asks as if she found out a close relative had an untreatable disease.

“Yeah…  Maybe that came of a little bit harsh.  I don’t have anything against my name or my family.  But whatever the name doesn’t really make that much of a difference for me.  I’m perfectly content.”

Coleen pushed her glasses ovåer in an attempt to gesticulate thinking.  “Well…”  She yanks on her uniformly long bangs and muses.  “Maybe that’s the problem with your name.  I mean you aren’t really supposed to have that name even.”

“Or it makes little difference to me, as it always did.”  Geenie doesn’t seem to mind the inquisition in the least bit.  Maybe it seems like the first in a long time someone has wondered about her.  “Maybe I don’t have one of those pope or Alexander the Great name issues.  I usually stay to myself obviously.”

“Yeah, obviously…” In Coleen’s own effacing way, “You and me too.  But I don’t want to sound out of line.  I always wished I was adopted when I was a kid.  My parents?  They were just fine really but I think they are just irritating people in general…not just in the mom and dad sense but even to a salesman.  They just grate.”  She doesn’t need any hesitation before drawing again on the cigarette.  “I do remember,” she exhales.  “I remember this girl in elementary school.  She was adopted and kind of thought that was cool.  But I was kind of a dweeb I guess since like…”  Her laughing interrupts a moment.  It was the same laugh a person uses before usually humiliating another by saying ‘you had to be there’ before delving deeper into a story nobody present has any interest hearing about.

“Well I had this thing for some reason where I had a fascinating maybe I could have been a spy- but spy parents really.  And they had to hide me somewhere?  So I had my boring annoying parents who pretended I was their real kid but then when I got old enough to spy or something they’d come back and tell me they had to keep me safe from their enemies from spying.”  Coleen pauses a moment to laugh again.

“Really?”  Geenie cracked a smile at the depth of detain Coleen could suddenly bust forth.

“Yeah I was totally a dork right?”  She uses her hands in a way to imaginatively steady herself before continuing.  “I would have a diary.  But one of those slam book things or whatever they call them.  Her voice moves faster, “It was like I would write all of this really bad stuff my parents were doing.  Or just stuff I thought they might have been keeping or lies I would catch them in.  Then I’d put it all…  All down in the book.  Because I had this stage I was maybe really a spy still, but my real parents out there knew I was one or it was in my blood so I was supposed to grow up all my life writing about these people since they were secretly my spy parents’ enemy and the only way they could topple some sort of evil plan.”

Geenie listens on happily but obviously has nowhere near the level of enthusiasm as Coleen.  This was her own little world but Geenie was happy to dust off that one window containing all the secrets.

“Did that ever happen to you?”

“My family?”  Geenie asked.

“No.  Well yeah but.”  Coleen almost chokes from forgetting to swallow.  “I mean did you wonder where you came from?  Or I don’t know.  Did your foster- or well your adopted parents I mean, if they told you stuff.  Your real mom and dad or whatever.”

“Yeah.  My parents.  Well adopted but it wasn’t like I called them my adopted.  It was just what it was.  Well my mom said it too.”

“Said what?”

“Oh.  She would say whoever you were with was your family.  And, well whoever was there were your friends.  Like your friends were even family if they hung around through good and the bad times.”

Coleen muses, “In that case neither of us must have any friends.”

“Yeah I know.”

“Who needs friends anyway, right?  Coleen goes on to say, “I mean most of mine burned me anyway – or just dumped me because I wasn’t in that whole ‘let’s gossip about our circle all the time’ thing.”

“I must have been too busy in school to meet all of those types.”

“They are all backstabbers.  You didn’t miss anything if you got lucky enough to avoid those catty bimbo- whatevers.”

Both laugh at the comment in their own ‘had to be there’ moment.  “So what did your mom say about all of that?”

“What?”

“Your parents.  I mean your real parents.”

“Oh.  Well mom and dad are my parents.  My birth parents…  I think that’s what adopted people call it.  Well, biological.  They…  My mom – parent mom.  She said something once in a long winded story.  But… really my mom would tell me nothing much about them.  More like how they gave me up since they didn’t deserve me anyway.  Or something like that.  She wasn’t trying to be mean or anything but…  I think she probably tried to keep me out of that ‘finding your roots’ sort of thing.”

Coleen seems to be hanging on every word Geenie chooses than rechooses about her past.  Upon the small break due to pondering, “Do you think they were bad or anything?”

“I think really…  I really don’t ponder any of this much.  But so answer your question, I think she was afraid to lose me.  I kind of lost my dad, which maybe I should have brought up.  I am kind of in between on that whole thing since I cared about him and everything.  But it was my mom and me and I just worried more about her than anything.  So I never really pressured her to find out anything.  Maybe I just have some gene in me that wants to shun all of society.”  Coleen keeps listening as Geenie elaborates, “I do care about my mom.  It’s a hit and miss thing.  We talk enough so I don’t miss her.  You know?”

“I wish,” Coleen laughs.  “Oh it’s not like that anymore.  But we’re close enough.  I did imagine my parents were my super spy real mom and dad’s sworn enemies so…  So I probably was supposed to go into counseling or something.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah,” Coleen echoes while fumbling in her purse.  “Do you mind again Geenie?”  Geenie looks up from a container she had been letting rest on the floor.  Probably a tall order of coffee or water she got her hands on before Coleen locked up the facade, stuffed conveniently into a travel mug.  Geenie’s eyes see Coleen, waning cigarette in mouth, delicately gliding another white stick out from the purse in the fashion of a magic trick.

“Go right ahead.  I never cared much whether people smoked or not.”

Coleen relights the fresh cig from the almost completely depleted one in her mouth.  “I’m sure that looks totally romantic, right?”

“I’m sure to a chain smoker.  Sure.”  Coleen flicks the butt into the same snippet of water and hears it make a faint hissing sound beneath the constant staccato sounds of the city; extinguished beside the previous one.

“Don’t they have those other cigarettes without all the additives and stuff.  They smell different but they are supposed to you know.”

“Oh cloves?  Those things?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe,” Geenie retracts.

“Stoners and weird emo girls love to smoke those things.  Well a lot of them.  I already wear enough black clothes, because it’s convenient and matches my stupid apron thingie which ends up making it look like a skort even when I’m wearing long pants.  But nevermind that…”.  She returns, “I can tell you something else about that adopted girl I knew in elementary school.”  Hesitating for a moment, “If you want.”

Gennie was mid sip when asked.  “Mm.  Tell me.”

“Ok, well that girl.  She was my friend and all and sometimes I would stay over there and we would pretend like we were sisters.  I kind of had this thing – well it was when I still had that whole adoption fantasy thing.  I used to think that like I was adopted which really did make my friend, Jules, that was here name…  Or what I called her.  We were kind of like sisters I think since I had this idea like all of the boys and girls who were adopted were really all actual brothers and sisters- like an adoption clan.  Or their last name was ‘adopted’ or something.  I know it’s not true of course and all of that but it’s one of those dumb little kid theories you have.  You know?  Logic just…  Little kid logic.”

“I know what you mean,” Geenie pauses.

“Really?”

“For me, it’s the only thing I can remember.  When I was really little…”  Geenie contemplates.  “I thought that if there was a mirror, if I thought hard then spun around I could see the back of my head.”  Coleen laughs and Geenie breaks a smile while adding, “I had those little criss-cross braids.  I don’t know the real name but they…”  She makes lopsided crosses in the air with her index finger to say, “Just swish swish.  Like that.”

“Well you were little,” Coleen comforts.  It wasn’t like until high school that I could officially rule that whole adoption thing out.  I let go of that whole adoption Ya Ya sister thing way way back but in science class it was in a chapter about your mom or your dad having the same blood type as you did.  So I found out and…” Taking another puff, “And it was A or something.  I think that was the boring blood type.”

“So A is the best personality type but the worst blood type?”

“Well I think so Geenie.  But it is not like I could remember anything from school.  Only those embarrassing things or whatever traumas made me still have a thing for adopted people.  It’s weird, right?”

“I don’t think I am an expert on what is weird or not.  Look at what our fun is.  Sitting by the intermittent stink of the dumpster.”

“Yeah I know, right?”  “But it’s more fun than I usually have.”

“Me too.”

“Thanks Ms. Swaboda.”

With a halfway to mockery tone, “And to you, Miss…  Coleen I guess.”

“Yeah.  It’s Gold.”

“Miss Coleen Gold.”

“Well it used to be…  Well it was always Gold.  But really we had it with a U.  But it was still Gold.  And you know I have that thing for pronouncing stuff so I just made it easier on my ears and everyone else.  It would be- it’s probably some huge sin to numerology or something but I don’t believe in that stuff.  Besides, I think my family changed a long time ago anyway.”

“Who changed it?  Your mom and dad?”

“It was a lot longer back.  You know like in all those mobster films or whatever.  Maybe Avalon.  It’s always the ‘old county’ wherever something was from.”

“Like everywhere in Europe has a old country like Main Street?”  They both laugh.

“Yeah, Old Country Lane off route six.”  The glow finally flickers out from the nub of a cigarette.  “I think it was Goulding.  With a U.  Then whenever my family or ancestors or whatever got here, whoever with the paperwork messed it up.  But I already know who my parents are so I’m not about to try to dig up someone who might be far worse.”

Geenie readies herself to a standing position as Coleen does the same.  “You’re over that adoption sister thing too right?”

“I am.  Even when I was a little kid I seemed to have enough sense not to try to let Jules know about that weird theory or anything.  But I can still be your coffee girl.”

“Or smoothie girl or juice girl?”

“How about free refill girl?”

“I would never argue with that.  When I first started going in I thought you would charge me refills because you thought I was a lousy tipper or some sort of crazy reason…”

TWO

The apex of night.  Slight creaks of building material but nothing else is begging for awareness.  And then it hits.

RING.

Geenie barely registers it but knows for sure something is there.  She stirs; knowing it isn’t a dream.  The seventies era telephone rings.  Push button, off which and more like a square or a brick than the newer slimmer rectangles with digital ringers.  This behemoth must be there for the reason it is loud and can take abuse – just as it is now.  Geenie grapples for the cord and yanks the entire thing onto her bed.

This must not be a normal ritual since much debris went cascading and scattered from her antic.  The phone stops ringing and Geenie fumbles for the receiver with her fingers while muttering, “Hello…  Hold on.  Hold on…”  Upending the handle looking receiver “Sorry I’m here.  Hello?  Mom!”

Geenie bolts to a sitting fashion and tries to wish away the worst.  “Mom.  What are you calling for, what’s wrong?”  It is the most animated and caring she has seemed in a long while.

“Gigi?  Are you ok?”

“Mom I’m fine.  You called me.  What’s wrong there?”

“I’m ok.  It’s not me, ok, Gigi?”  She spoke in a tired way which was more due to age than slumber issues.  A twinge of anxiety remains in her voice.

“Then what is it?”

“Oh.  It was Colin’s mother Gertrine.  We were speaking and…”

“Oh my gosh mom.  What’s wrong?”

“It was Colin.  Something happened to him.  He died.”

“Ma, that’s awful.  I can’t believe it.”

“I know, sweetie.  I thought you were still having feelings and I-”

“Mom it’s not like that but.  But it’s still horrible.”

“Well do you want to know what happened?”

“Sure mom.  Tell me.”

“Well it started out…  Gigi I am so sorry I should have called sooner I think.  Shouldn’t I have?”

“Ma don’t worry about it.  We’re on the phone.  We’re awake.  Just tell me anything you have to say.  You’re absolved, alright?”

“That’s so sweet of you, my little girl.”

“Yes.  So?”

“Oh.  Well Geenie…  You know how Colin’s mother and I got a long time back.  I mean we became friends and I wasn’t meddling.”

“It’s ok mom.  I know you and Gertrine were all pallsy pals when it was me and Colin.”

“We were doing these activities together at the senior center near me.  Not that I want to live there, but the activities are nice…”  Geenie listened away without contradicting or acknowledging each sentence.  Part of her mind was just freewheeling from the news her mother broke.  “Well we would just back and forth while planning the activities to go to or stay away from.  All or nothing.  And we both just usually use the machines since we hate to answer the phone being we’re both alone and all.  But…”

Geenie a series of images bounced through her head; not too much different than when watching an old carousel of slides from a vacation.  These images were much darker but didn’t have any of the dust or lint one usually expects from old slides though.  These denigrations were more of how blurry or fait the images were.  It was funny, but that was pretty much she viewed them.  They were not scenes in motion or exactly as they happened in her life.  These were still- as two-dimentional diorama version: flat.  She didn’t have many of them appear for a set length of time but a flood of each emotion hit all at one.  It was like a magazine article having the same twists and turns of emotion, but all compiled into on word; and that word projected all emotions at once straight into her heart.

Geenie could flip back to her mom long enough to know the conversation, then the images took her mind over again.

“…But this time was odd.  Because the light was flashing, and when I heard it, there was just a message to call back.  Usually she just had an answer like if she was going or not, or who’s car to take.  But this time it was to call her back.”

“And that’s when she told you mom?”  Geenie quietly asked.

Her mother had a downturn in her emotion also when agreeing, “Yes.  She did.  I was going to call you right away.  But I hesitated.  Sorry, dear.”

“It’s ok mom, really.”

“I kept on and on wondering, then I thought maybe I would tell you tomorrow or something.  But my conscience was just buzzing and buzzing, so I called.

“I’m glad you called though mom.  Please tell Gertrine some condolences from me please?”

“I will.  I was planning to send flowers.  You know, from the both of us.  But I can tell her before that.  I’m sure we’ll talk tomorrow.”

“Thanks mom.  But I can send something instead from us.”

“It’s ok, Gigi.  The florist and I know each other.  We have the same beauty operator.  She can get them to Gertrine within the day.”

“Sure thing mom.”

“Gigi?”  She asked with a strange pronunciation.

“What is it, ma?

“You know Colin.  It’s-  You were the one for him, you know?”

“Ma, I don’t want to get into that whole thing before.  We had this conversation.”

“I know we did.  But,” she sighed.  “However, he never went looking for anyone else.”

“Neither did I mom.  You can’t say I have been looking for anything lately.”

“Be that as it may.  Oh I don’t know, maybe I’m just being sentimental.  Gertrine just kept going on about it here and there after she told me the news.”

“You and I both know the way she saw things was obviously a great deal different than most folks.”

“I know, Gigi.  But if you speak with her, and if it comes up…  You know.”

“I know mom, but it’s sweet of you.”

“I really don’t know what she’s going to do without-”

“Ma,” Geenie butts in.  “She’s always had you.  And as truth goes, there was really nothing that much different if we were married or not.  We were both in her lives anyway.  It works out all the same you know?”

“I know.”

“Things are.  They’re just hard to explain.”

“Yes I know that much.  It’s a different time nowadays with complex things and relationships.”

“Ma.”

“I am sorry, I am I was…  Well I wasn’t trying to put you down but maybe there wasn’t so much to courting when I was young.  Or I just didn’t know.”

“I think you’re rambling because you’re tired.”

I might.  It could be.  I feel much better since we talked.”

The halfway grin from her mother could almost be felt through the phone due to its inflection.

“Am I just being silly?”

“No mom.  You’re…  You’re sentimental.  You always get like that when someone’s departed.  I hope you didn’t already hunt down that old scrapbook in the closest.”

Geenie hears a sad laugh come through the phone.  “You still know me, don’t you?  It would have-”

“You know what mom?”  Geenie successfully cuts her off.  “I think there is still some old pictures, or even an album.  I kept it there during that period of moving all around.  You know?”

“You still cared for each other didn’t you?”

“Yeah I guess so.  And we both cared about you two.  Important enough.  I guess if they aren’t there, then we know the real answer though, right ma?”

She laughs out, “I suppose so.”

“I’ll talk to Mrs. Rust tomorrow even to find out.”

“She will think that is so nice.”

“Just don’t tell Gertrine, ok?”

“Ok, I know.  Let it be a surprise, right?”

“Yeah.  I would hate for her to say something and then I’m holed up at work or something.”

“You’re going to work tomorrow?”

“Yes, mom.  I kind of have to.  But we’ll see when I can get out.  Maybe there’ll be enough time to see you too.”

“Don’t worry about me please, Gigi,” she says in a sincere tone.  “Just see her in her time of need.

She will tell it all again to me anyway, right?  Whatever you are up to and all of that.”

“It’s not all that much really ma.”

“It’s still very sweet of you, don’t you know it.”  She kept going on and on, but Geenie didn’t mind at all.  At this point it was almost a light solace; interrupting her thoughts.

THREE

It was a long and miserable night.  Restful was the furthest adjective to use.  Despite the long night on the phone, Geenie still had hours to contend with in between the possible ten minutes of sleep she had here and there – which counted more as missing time.  Her eyes would close and the clock somehow moved ever so slightly even though she felt in her head it was nothing more than a blink of her eyes.  The sounds outside her nearest window were merely the instrumental backing up the vocals of her thoughts.  Mostly disjointed questions about him.  About the two of them even- though she never had any doubts.  Somewhere she recalled a witty statement about ‘When in doubt, there is no doubt’.  None of it was comforting.  Geenie knew none of this was tangible and her inner voice told her it was nothing more than nonsense.  Whatever happened to him wasn’t her fault, nor would anything change from whatever thoughts or feelings she had.  In truth there was no literal feeling.  Only numbness.

One good thing, if a silver lining in the situation, her look and demeanor would cater to the mother.  Gertrine.  It was an odd thing in Geenie’s eyes but they were originally to meet at Colin’s house itself.  There wasn’t going to be a comfortable way to do that – not straight out at least.

Geenie suggested a buffer zone.  It was just a place nearby the house; Colin’s house that is.  Best to play things by ear and even see what her reaction would be.  Geenie was not the best for planning things.  More oft than not, amok was a part of her vocabulary when things fell to her in the way of devising a plan rallying the troops where she worked.  The great thing for Geenie was the fact so many knew this inability, she wasn’t asked to join or plan things.  It worked just fine due to the fact she hasn’t been an aficionado for things domestic.

The place she waited at was a little shop which was a bit better well kept but not much different from the eatery she was at the night before.  They both might be glorified bakeries, but maybe one had a few more real menu items than the other.  Geenie had a table near the great glass window and door to the place.  She had been sitting there as long as she possibly could.  In fact, Geenie was so restless she drove to the well before opening.  It wasn’t such an odd thing for making an early morning call to Colin’s mother.  She was the early to bed and so forth type of woman.  One would be hard pressed to wake up naturally earlier than her.  So that is what was done; Geenie called about daybreak.  Probably just a bit before.  As expected, Gertrine was ecstatic in her own way to meet up.  It has been overdue in the catching up department.  But Geenie decided to head out right away despite the fact it would take a while.  Maybe the view of the neighborhood would be a double edged sword, but no matter.  She was in the parking lot while everything was still dark.  She saw the lights come up and surrounding begin to perk.  When the sign turned around she was almost already through the entrance.

She sat and observed the outside while idle thought of Colin reverberated through her mind like a tuning fork.  Nothing distinct but a constant pitch.  She was close enough to read the menu backwards in the front window.  She thought about why she even chose this place.  Unlike almost everywhere else to be a choice, this was about the only one absent of any memories of togetherness; the same for Gertrine.  Geenie and Colin always talked about popping into it sometime but somehow the cards were never in their favor due to whatever variety of reasons when deciding a place to eat.

After what felt like a dozen glasses of water, Geenie finally braced herself.  A jet black matte New Yorker town car floated into a parking space and a woman got out.  She takes her time to make it to the front, with Geenie watching all the while.  She enters and immediately lights up at the vision of Geenie standing up.

“Gigi!”

“Hello Mrs. Rust,” as they hug.

“Please.  Please…  Such formalities,” as she looks around.  “Call me Gertrine.  I know you don’t like Gigi do you?”  She asks in a disjointed way.

“It’s fine-”

“I picked that up from speaking with your mother so often.  Lovely woman, you know?”  She takes off her perfectly round sunglasses and sits down.  “It’s so good to see you.  Especially now.  Colin, well you know he still thought so much about you.”

“I know.  We both cared about each other.  Thanks Gertrine.”

“It was the strangest thing.  You know?”  As she glances at Geenie’s water, “May I?”  It’s an approving nod.

“I was…”  She drinks out of the side of glass, leaving enough lipstick to prove she was thirsty.  “I wanted to speak with you really.  Colin’s things and the like.”

“I don’t mind at all.”

“I was going to ask your mother to ask you, well in case you were busy and didn’t want to seem impolite.  Thanks goodness you called and that way I could be direct.  Right?”

“It’s fine.  It really is.”

“And I don’t want to pry but…”  She leans in as if it was for the sake of national security.  “There were still some things I think still you left behind, or wanted him to keep safe.  Whatever the situation, I’m sure he kept it all safe and sound, and now is the what?  The time, right?”

“No time like today…  I guess.”

“Is it hard?”

“Yeah.  It really is,” she quietly says to the both of them.

“Look darling.  You’ll get your chance.  I still can’t believe it myself.  And-  I wanted you with me really.  Some clothes and a picture.  Maybe I’m his mother but you still-  You’re.  You were there.  For a lot of it.  And that always meant so much to me.  Right?”

“I don’t think about it that way-”

“I know you don’t.  And that’s what makes it what it is.  Well, something like that.”

It took a while to cut to the heart of the matter; so far as beyond niceties.

The ordering, the observing of the environment, questioning the validity of the service, and then something…  More.

“It’s very nice of you, Gigi.  I was having a tough enough time even thinking about going in there.  But with you there.  It would be more of a visit.  The atmosphere.”

Geenie isn’t sure which way to reply.  Sometimes being social is more like navigating a minefield.  In this case, nothing had to be said after all.

“I always thought it would have been nice.  The two of you.  I’m sure there was much more than what we could observe on the surface, but it’s between you two.  Right?”

“There isn’t…”  She hesitated.  “There was never any hatred.  Or whatever it is for most couples.  Things for us-  Things?  We wanted different things really.  We were always friends and sometimes I joked how maybe it would have worked out best for the both of us if we started out strangers.  I don’t know.”

“It’s true, it really is.  You two knew each other for.  Well, what?”

“Forever.  Well,” a downturn in her tone was suggestion enough to what she wanted to say.

“I know.  It’s ok, Gertrine.

The woman looks down at her plate.  “I don’t even know why I tried to eat something.”

“If you’re done I can get them to wrap it up.  Even if you don’t want it later, Gertrine.  It’s fine.”  Tacking on, “We can go.”

Geenie helps the woman into her driver seat and took up beside her on the passenger side.

The car flipped to a lurching bump and the vents and radio started to make noise.  “You know how it is.  I asked the mechanics to fix that but they don’t know what that is.  Not a clue.”  The vents whir a bit louder and the air within begin to cool.  The door to the front of the establishment opens up and the woman who waited on them brings a bag to the black car.

“It’s all wrapped up and should last a while,” she tells Geenie while handing it through the window.

“Well it looks like we’re off then…”  The car pulls out with the greatest of hesitation.

The ride to Colin’s place was filled with general talk about the area – mostly how much has changed and what building is now called something new.  Or what was even wiped from the face of the earth.  Geenie remembered much of it, but the path wasn’t what she was accustomed to when she lived in the neighborhood.  The roads came into focus; as well as her memory.  Streets, sounds, and houses pulled the old memories of her routine drives.  It was practically a lifetime ago, but for Colin’s mother it was probably as new as an open wound.

The car lurched another corner and Geenie grew a little more anxious.  She knew it was the street, almost by the feeling before.  When she was very young she always had a penchant for waking up at the very last turn towards the house.  Neither of them spoke.  Not until the car took a full stop from across the street.  They both turned to their right and looked at the small house through the passenger side window – such as viewing at a photograph since the car door made it seem like a frame.

“I’m sorry.  I just…” as the car cuts off.  “I don’t know how to put it.  I don’t suppose…”  Gertrine looked at Geenie with those sunglasses of hers – just enough light passed through to make out her eyes.  Your mother must not have told you what happened.  To Colin”

“No.  I didn’t know-”

“It’s ok,” she says to cut off Geenie.  “Colin…  Colin was killed.”

Geenie didn’t let her full scope of emotion take hold.  Part of it was from the fact she was already numb to the news from last night, and also for being afraid of what Colin’s mother would react if she had full-out grief displayed in front of her.  Instead, she shook her head slowly and listened on.

“It was some men.  They might just have been kids, from what the neighbors might have saw.  They broke into his home and went looking for valuables.  Somehow he woke up or something…”

Her mouth and posture was enough to know her feelings.

“You don’t have to go into it.”

“I know, sweetheart.  But I have to.  You know?”

They both silently nodded to each other.

“He woke up and- The police said he tried to fight them back but it wasn’t enough.  They said he was defending himself but they just didn’t stop.”

“I’m sorry Gertrine.  He meant a lot to me too.”

“And I can’t even bury him.  They said they have to examine an all of that.  All of those science terms.  I hope they catch whoever-  I can’t believe it.”

Gertrine wants to interject but feels helpless.

“Well…  It must be tough to explain but.  Well you have always been accepting.  We don’t practice like the Orthodox or so much but…”  Gertrine searches for the words, and gives up.  Don’t worry.  Ok, Gigi?  The police took everything they needed to investigate and all of that.  And neighbors, more mine than his but both, they were able to tidy whatever up so it should just look like it might usually.  Probably better, knowing Colin’s cleaning.”

They laugh at the nuggets of truth.

“So we’ll go in and what?  Take a look.  Get what I came for.  And if there was something you wanted or yours, please.  Anything.  Ok, Gigi?”

Geenie musters a half smile.

“Oh you hate to be called that don’t you?”

“I don’t.  It’s fine, Mrs. Rust.”

“Gertrine.”

“I know.  Just checking.”

Gertrine smiles with a, “Come on.  Up up.”  They exit the car and walk towards the house with a slight trepidation.

FOUR

Colin Rust’s house was a nondescript place in an older neighborhood.  The boxiness and tall look of it made it proudly standing despite what the looks of age might tell you.  Geenie and Gertrine opened the whining, low chain link gate and shut it behind them.  They made their way up the cement steps and got the door open without trying to peek inside through a window.  The front door barely made a sound; and neither did they.  Their steps inside made it feel as if they were sneaking up on someone.

Gertrine went towards the kitchen and refrigerator area but Geenie lingered in the foyer; her eyes looking around the room in a dashing way before slowing down her visual pacing.  Items known and unfamiliar mixed about the room as her brain picked out what items were from her memory and what must have existed once the two of them weren’t an item anymore.

“Gi?”

Geenie turned around to see an obstructed view of Gertrine.

“Was there something you were looking for?”

The images all faded back to the color of the paint on the walls.  “It might be in the back,” she tells herself.

“I’m going to excuse myself a moment,” Gertrine says in a euphemistic sense.  “Just holler if you need something.”

Geenie watches the woman head to the bathroom, and the metallic click of a locking door follows her.

Moving past the bathroom, Geenie works her way to the bedroom, and comes to a complete stop at the frame of its door.  She takes a mental step back and looks at the room – which was much the same as she left it; saved for the black and white set of sheets on the bed.  Looking in the direction of the bed made everything more real.  It was a vision of kinetic and static at the same moment.  The unmade bed’s frenetic look paired with the stillness of knowing Colin will never lay in that bed again; and neither shall Geenie.  She pulled herself from the moment and fumbled towards the closet.  The sliding door revealed a wooden floor inside – which happened to be the original.  The rest of the carpeting and such of the house was done by someone who owned the house before Colin made the purchase.  Geenie slides the closet closed with her inside and flips a switch.  Slowly, a white light flickers its white brightness with an odd hue.

“Blink, flicker, flicker, flicker on,” she says in her mind – knowing exactly how the light behaves before fully coming alive.  She pulls items aside from the floor and finds a knothole all but obscures by the wall.  She loops her pinkie finger inside and the wooden whoosh of a board sounds its lifting up.  It was a tiny segment, but Geenie opened up a space for her whole hand to fit in.  She yanks hard and causes a wider part of a floorboard to pop open.  She lifts it higher and scattering sounds are made for everything which previously rested on top of the board.  She pulls the items aside which landed in the space under the floorboard; revealing the items which were hidden.  The telltale signs of a cardboard shoebox resting on something else which reflected a golden tone.

Geenie first helps the box out – wrapped in the brownish paper tape used chiefly for parcels.  She makes more of an effort with the second item, taking time to shimmy it out of the narrow space, which turns out to be a puffy-looking album with a highly reflective pseudo gold leaf reading MEMORIES.  Her hand feels out the vacant space to make sure nothing else was there, and makes haste to replace the boards.  She must have done this more than once since she was rather deft at handling the boards.  With a tap tap and a sideways fist, everything was just about as before.

Geenie slinks herself back out of the closet and sets the recovered items on the bed at arm’s length.  She could hear the fan emanating from the hallway, knowing Gertrine was still inside the bathroom.  She slides the other side of the closet open and lets the natural night shine in.  For the first time she notices something wrong.  The entire closet was disheveled, and not from her.  Someone must have tried tossing it since it looked much different than the way Colin kept things.  She reaches to the right and then peers in that direction.  There are a series of little cubby holes on the right side of the closet.  They are most obviously for shoes or extra storage, but they are all vacant.  Her face gets a puzzled look and she crooks her neck.  The little white boxes extend higher than her eyeline.  She glances again to a certain spot and makes another face.  She takes her hand and places it on the top of the little shelves and counts to herself.

“One, two, three…  Four…”

She crooks her head and squints before using the palm of her hand to feel for something.  There used to be a photograph of her stuck up with some sort of adhesive, but nothing was there.

She angles further into the closet to let more light in, but it was the same result as before; less for some discoloration which could have been remnants of what she hoped was there.  She makes a face of anger for a moment and then grasps further into his closet.  One of the hangers inside was customized with numerous clips which held numerous dangling belts.  Geenie yanked hard and tore one of the belts free – snapping it right off the hanger and shattering the plastic clasp.  Her eyes flickered with a rage.  It could have been from feeling the heat of the moment or thinking about what happened to the man who she was once with.  She gripped the tail of the belt and wrapped it around and around and around her fist in a matter of second; buckle end out.  In one giant motion, she dropped her body and let her arm push full speed forward.  Clack!  The belt and her hand breeched the back of the cubby hole and spackle crackled while a burst of dust flew into the closet.  Geenie pulled her arm back and the remnants of the wall were covering the buckle of the belt.  With a flick, she rid her hand of the belt and pulled the crumbling pieces of the wall away.  She reached back even further into the wall and pulled out multiple items.  One by one the items landed on the bed.  A large manila envelope, A packet of a different size, and a cigar box wrapped in tape.  She pulls herself out of the closet not a moment too soon, as Gertrine swings the door open.

“Gigi!  What happened?”

Geenie shakes herself off before saying, “I was reaching for something in the closet and I fell down.”

“I couldn’t believe the racquet so I had to come rushing in.”  She tries to help Geenie to her feet and steadies her.

“Thanks,” Geenie tries to say in a breathless demeanor.

“Please be careful.  You know Colin never packed anything well.  Be lucky the whole closet didn’t come crashing down.”

“It’s ok…  Don’t worry.”  Geenie scoops up the items from inside the wall and presents them to Gertrine.

“These are probably some things for you to go through.  I remember Colin mentioning it a few times.  Anything in here he’d want you to have.”

The woman squeezes the compilation of packages and the paper of the envelopes crinkle.  “Now isn’t the time, but I will look at them when it is.”  She clutches the items without even paying much mind to the items Geenie left on the bed.

“Why don’t you take those to the car?”

“Gigi, I still need to pick out something-”

“How about I find some clothes and bag them up.  You can warm up the car and I’ll meet you.”

“It’s not necessary.  I don’t even know-”

“I insist, Gertrine.  Please.”

With a knowing look, the woman heeds to Geenie.

“If that is what you wish,” she says.  “Then please be quick with it is all I ask,” as her face softens up.  She turns and walks out of the bedroom.  Geenie cracks the closet a bit wider and tries to take it all in with one glance.  Then her hand reaches up to slide some hanging clothes to the side; the metal hangers scraping the metal pole the whole length.

FIVE

Geenie is back in her car, tooling around the streets in an aimless fashion  with her own car: contemplating in general and having no particular train of thought at the same time.  Some sort of a bandwidth between complete fuzz and a radio program with all of the creepy sounds in the background.  Her real radio station was classical at the moment, playing low and coming in remarkably clear.

As promised, Geenie gathered the items in an almost autonomous fashion.  Grabbing what looked best out of his closet.  It all went into a brown paper bag and got locked away in Gertrine’s trunk.  The woman admitted a loss of time and had to get back, which freed Geenie up for doing absolutely nothing.  She knew there wouldn’t be any peace in her mind from traveling around the old neighborhood she once lived in with Colin but she decided to do it anyway – ‘for old time’s sake’ as they say.  The car ambled aimlessly to idle the hours of a misspent day.  Then she veered away to finally head somewhere.  Many long miles away.

She finally headed into more recent of stomping grounds, and drove up towards the same establishment she usually frequents after work.  This time she parked well outside the parking lot due to what looked like an explosion of the traffic she usually sees.  She pulled to a nearby curb and decided the walk could help her push back some of her nagging thoughts.

Inside was rather noisy and just as bustling as the outside’s full lot indicated.  Service staff were navigating back and forth without paying notice to Geenie, which was all the same, since she decided to take her own walk through of the place.  In an unassuming nature, she moved past the tables; silently observing as an outsider.

Each table having their own little play of life (or boredom) as Geenie looked on, just as a person who pops in late during a play.  She made it to the back of the room and turned around to see all the tables in full view.  Out of the corner of her eye, a female caught her eye though.  She must have felt that instinctual pull of someone’s eye on her, and turned around to lock eye.

“Geenie,” she smiled and walked over while holding an empty tray.  It was Coleen.  She added, “I guess you might not have seen me at first huh?”  Before adding, “Nobody recognized me at first.”  She did seem to have an uncharacteristic smile on her face for reasons unknown.  “Did you see it?”  She wondered before turning around.  She turned around to show of her hair.  “It’s just like you were talking about…”  She used her pen to swoosh back and forth while explaining, “They’re criss cross braids.  See?”  With a step forward to look, Geenie laughed and agreed.  Her hair was braided in a sort of French twist and the hair on her left side was braided into the right direction; and the right side was similarly done to the left side.  Then end result was not just the braids but an “X” of hair made in the back of her hair due to the braids pulled in opposite directions.  “I was hoping you got to see it before it all started to get pulled out,” she said with her head tilted – then turned around to face Geenie again.

“It looks great on you.”

“Really?”  She asks while her glasses reflect off the overhead lights.  “It felt a little silly when I first did it.  And I thought I looked like that Indian girl from the Peter Pan cartoon but I just kept it to see what you’d say.”

“I like it.  Maybe it’s one of those occasional looks, you know?”

Coleen takes her first good look and Geenie, and remarks.  “What’s wrong?  Did something happen?”

“It’s ok.  You’re already having a good day.”

“Are you sure?”  Coleen furrows.  “Did you want to talk about something.”

“I only came here because.  I wanted to get something to eat.”  Before half smiling, “You know?”

“Are you sure?”

Geenie doesn’t say anything back.

“Come on.  We are supposed to be pals now, right?”

“Or something,” Geenie is embarrassed to remark.

“It’s busy but a couple of our trainees are supposed to be on the way anyway.  It’s covered.  Come on,” as she grabs Geenies’s the same way if a kid was lost from the way to the restroom.  “Just sit here, ok?”  She adds, “I’ll be back to clean the table but just wait here.”

Geenie didn’t feel the chance to agree or break free, but she did seem to like the attention.  The thought alone of Coleen straying from her normal life and having a new honorarium sort of hairdo was an interesting enough surprise of the day.  She watched as Coleen disappeared back amongst the crowd.  Geenie looked at the table which looked to be freshly exited by a group of people.  Ordinarily the thought alone of being at a table which is now a culinary version of a graveyard is enough to make a valley girl of the eighties say ‘Grody to the max’.  The last day or two have given Geenie a different effect; a more pensive one.

She counted the plates and tried to figure out who might have been at the table.  She asked herself and pondered on what was the gender of the four on the table.  Judging by the food at what was on the table.  Geenie wondered if any of them might have lost someone recently as well.  Maybe at least one of the have.  At the same rate, Geenie wondered how well either of them were able to cope with it, if at all.  Looking at the food also made her admit to herself she wasn’t hungry at all; so it probably really wasn’t the food which is why she decided to come inside in the first place.

She was staring and taking notice upon the refracting light of a discarded peppermint wrapper when it was snatched away.  Geenie looked up to see a male who practically looked like a kid.

“Hey,” is all he could muster.  Then, “Sorry,” in a tone which had no sympathy.  It was obvious he was in training since it was questionable if he could even be legal to smoke.  The light at the table wasn’t as bright from her vantage point, but she cared just enough to take notice of his hair.  It was another variation of what teens seem to overwhelmingly wear.  It was of the ‘skater’ style.  It looked uncut but puffed up.  It took her back to a time where Colin joked about him wishing he lived in the younger generation, “when bed head was a respectable hairstyle.”  Her mental twinge of a smile must have been enough to make the guy bussing the table a shade of self conscious.

“He smiled out an, “Excuse me,” as he reached in front of Geenie.  It revealed the fact he was wearing a variation of the traditional braces.  Just enough to be noticed at close range but not across, say a football field.  It made Geenie wonder why most people who wore braces made a strange smiling face when they spoke.

Maybe it was the most comfortable way to talk, or it was part of some pact or ‘braces accord’ made across high school campuses in secret in years of yore.  Having nothing better to do, she looked on and wondered how long it would take for him to feel uncomfortable again before finally asking, “How is it working here?”

“Oh,” he sputters.  “It’s ok.  I guess…”  He places more into the plastic trough before adding, “It’s kind of cool I guess.  But it’s pretty hard a lot.”  He punctuates by wiping his forehead unconsciously.  “And my boss is cool?  But, she makes me work a lot too.”  He gets the last of the meal and dishes off the table and begins wiping it off when Coleen pops up behind; which causes him to wipe in a more furious style.  “Come on,” she says towards Geenie with a lack of emotion.  Once upright, Coleen gives a slightly icy stare towards the worker.

“Don’t worry.  I just love doing that sometimes,” she grins to Geenie as they enter a break room not far from the kitchen.  “That guy’s a slacker anyway so it’s good to give him a little fear now and then.”

“Want a drink?”

Once sitting down, Geenie declines the offer.

“I knew it,” Coleen quietly gloats while pulling a plastic milk crate up beside the table.  “There’s nothing wrong with it.  You can come and talk to me whenever.  I mean, I have to talk to strangers all day long and all, so it would be better if it’s someone who likes me.  Though I do get paid to do that but I prefer the sentiment behind it.”

“Please.”

“It’s ok.  What’s wrong, Geenie?”

“Well…  I don’t know how to say it but…  My boyfriend died.”

“That is so terrible.  I’m so sorry, Geenie.”

Before she can realize it, Coleen Reaches over and hugs Geenie; which quickly turns into acceptance.  Geenie hugs back but pulls back a little quicker than what might be expected.

“I didn’t even know you had a boyfriend.”

“I’m sorry.  I don’t but…  We dated but stopped.  That kind of things,” which Geenie tries to explain deeper by flipping her hands.  “We broke up but it was just by getting away from each other.  I guess the good side to divorce is it’s a way to prove you aren’t married anymore.  A breakup is just.  Relationships are complicated.”

Coleen listens politely to the odd train of thought.

“I probably sound crazy.”

“It’s alright.  Is there going to be a funeral?”

“There is but… There’s some investigation going on since-”

She can’t help it, but Coleen breaks in.  “Oh my gosh.  Was..  Was he the guy across town where the guys broke into his house?”

“How did you know about that?”

“Sorry, but I caught it on that really early news show.  I’m usually up really early or really late, so I just watch the news.  They did a report on it, but they never got back to it since there ended up being some big wreck before rush hour.”  She erases some of her words with, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be telling you all of that.”

“I didn’t even know anything except what I said.  When I found out I didn’t feel like asking anyone.

Much less, I didn’t even think to.  Maybe only afterwards.”

“Well…  I hate to say this, but I only remembered it since some stuff about the story seemed really odd.”

“Really?”

“I mean…  I don’t wear a trenchcoat and go solve crimes at night.  But usually when you hear the news stuff all kind of sounds the same like what happens.”

The door to the room opens and a thin girl in her twenties tries to get into the room.  Before any success, Coleen cuts her off verbally.

“Are you supposed to be in here?”

“I was just…”  The blonde with the tight pulled back ponytail decides it’s best to listen rather than speak.

“This is my first, and probably only, break today.  Everyone else had a break, so all of you are supposed to be working until the rush slows off.”  Looking up over her glasses to ask, “Ok?”

“Yeah.  That’s cool…  I guess.”  She slinks out and leaves the two alone.

“You know what,” Coleen tells Geenie.  “Since I said that, I better smoke something now.”

The distinct sound of metal on flint battles against the wind while Coleen tries to get more than just a spark outside.  “C’mmere a sec,” she gestures over towards Geenie.  Drawing her in, they make a little windbreak between the blowing strands of flyaway hair.  “Much better,” she congratulates to her cigarette while fostering a healthy glow at the end.

“His mom’s going to…  Well I guess they’ve been doing something over there.  I forget what she called it.”

“A wake?”

“No, I kind of remember what those are.  I mean I know what those are but I think they’re after a funeral.  A visit before then a wake after I think.”

“Was it a shiva?”

“Yeah.  That’s the name.  I always get it confused with another word for whatever reason.”

“Whoah.”

“What’s that?”

“You were with her mom today you said?”

“Yeah?”  She wonders.

“That’s pretty big.  Obviously she’s not Orthodox but most times the family stays home for the week.  I’m guessing she must feel very highly about you to act like that.”

“We have always been close despite anything and she’s friends with my mom.”

“I’m guessing you’re going tonight then?”

“Well I was going to, at first, ask if I should.  But as soon as you said that, I figured I really should.”

“I’m glad you decided to.  Were you just nervous about it, or…”

Geena shrugs but admits, “I guess more of…  I didn’t want to do the wrong thing or mess up.”

“Yeah.  I get what you mean.  But honestly, it’s always better to attend and do something wrong accidentally than not show up all.”

“Are you saying that to make me feel less worried, or do you just know a lot?”

“Well I kind of had to.  I’m Jewish and my parents always drilled all of that incidental protocol and etiquette into me.”

“Really,” Geenie lets out with a sigh of relief.

“Ta da,” Coleen jokes back.  She twitters her head for a moment to make her braids flail with playful emphasis.  Why don’t I cut out of here without working to the bitter end, then we can meet up and attend together?”

“Do you think it will be ok?  Or…  You don’t have to take all your time off just to come along I mean-”

“It will be fine.  Really.  And a shiva was originally supposed to be for the whole community.  It’s not like a wedding with a guest list.”

A door opens from out back and another girl joins in.  She must be another trainee by the youthful looks, but she contrasts with the blonde earlier.  The female is more on the plump side and doesn’t seem to be the type to back down so soon either.  Her makeup was rather obvious and she wore shorts which made the apron around her seem like nothing was under the apron.  Her face was maybe what people called cherubic; though round or even fat could have been more accurate descriptions.  Her hair seemed rather short and was a glossy black.  It was actually a series of haphazard waves which jutted out all around.  Dealing with her on a daily basis would give one the impression she usually has to remove her tiara before coming to work.  Each time she tries to speak, she draws in a breath; and fully exhales instead of punctuation.  If she was still in elementary school still, her classmates could describe her speaking as a tattletale voice.

“Are you still out here?”

Coleen takes the nub of a cigarette out of her mouth and tosses it aside casually.

“Not for much longer.”

With eyes darting between Geenie and Coleen, “We have all been working really hard in there.”

“I’ll be back in to finish my shift.”

The server in training wags her little black rectangle which looks like what many high end restaurants hide their bills inside.  And tries to search for her next words.  Upon taking another breath, Coleen breaks in.

“Let me see your pen.”

She hands it over.

“Do you have a card in there?”

The trainee opens the black item which is actually to help the servers stay organized.  She pull out a tell tale sized business card and hands it to Coleen, who tries adding something to the back of the card by cupping her hand to cradle the card.

“Why not hand me your book a moment since you’re there,” Coleen asks in a droning monotone.

The trainee hands the black item and inhales deeply through her nose; grinding an axe for no particular reason than some of the usual cattyness between some females.  Coleen jots something down and hands everything back to the plump girl with wiry hair,  who also happens to remain unmoving.

“I’ll follow you back in,” Coleen lets the female know.  The rumored former teen princess quietly gallumps back inside in retreat.  Coleen puts her attention back towards Geenie and hands her the card.

“I have my cell phone on here.  You can give me a call in a little bit and leave an address.”

Geenie takes it into her pocket and thanks Coleen.

“Just think about wearing something between casual and church.  Nothing really fancy but also not funeral clothes you see in a movie.”  She adds, “Ok?”  With an odd smile on her face.  Maybe it was trying to comfort Geenie, or it was only odd since it was a break from her norm.

SIX

Geenie pulled up in front of the home of Gertrine Rust.  She was a little early but wanted to make sure she made it before Coleen.  It was nice enough for her to make the effort to come, so Geenie didn’t want to botch it from being late, or worse, making Coleen feel out of place.  Geenie already spoke ahead to Coleen so now all she had to do was wait.  She resisted anything typically associated with grief and threw together something between a Christmas and Easter service if someone was to wear their ‘Sunday best’ as it were.  It felt odd, but Coleen assured her.  Maybe the real out of sorts feeling was just having to dress nice and above what she usually had on.  Or these shoes on her feet didn’t fit like she last remembered they had.  It wasn’t long before a pair of headlights crooked around the street and passes slowly by Geenie.  There was plenty of light still, but maybe it was another way to show it was Coleen.  Neither of them have the friends or social thing down again, so maybe at this point it still felt as a secret club for them.

The reflections off glasses were enough of a sign it was Coleen, but she made a little gesture with her fingers, just above the bottom of her window, to prove it for Geenie.

They met on the curb and Coleen was carrying an object which she dismissed as no biggie since she knew there was a Kosher bakery in the area.  She looked much different from her usual workplace environment.  She shed her black clothes and wore something dressed down but fashionable, down to a strappy shoe with enough of a heel to bump her height a slight bit.  She wore a silvery necklace which shimmered a Hebrew symbol of some sort, but Geenie remembered seeing it before from either houses she traveled to with Colin or even in Gertrine’s home a time or two.  What topped off Coleen however was her hair.  The braids were shed, and the memory of them stayed ingrained amongst her hair; creating flourishes of waves and body.

“Are you ok?”

“Yeah,” Geenie breathed out.  I’m good.”

“Just walk right it, ok?  And make sure to greet his mom as soon as you get the chance, since in shiva the mourners have to be acknowledged first.  All right?”

Geenie nodded yes and Coleen’s face had a satisfactory look on it.

They entered without abandon and Geenie slowly moved her eyes about; panning across the room.  Coleen found the path to the kitchen and walked it hastily.  Geenie observed a group amongst Mrs. Rust who all sat in a line on small stools.  Geenie stayed just out of sight since they were already speaking with someone.

Geenie was thinking about the conversation with Coleen on her cell phone; it was basically a rapid fire (to her mind) lesson on what to do or expect.  Geenie didn’t even remember much of it until she actually observed the surroundings.  Coleen said just Geenie being there would be enough so anything else which might otherwise look as a faux pax would be ignored.  Geenie remembered something about the low chairs or floor and it being symbolic of a recognition of being below God or humbled.  She also remembered Coleen’s words on a greeting – she didn’t have to offer what most usually say at a funeral or “even play the II don’t know’ card with a gesture.”

Geenie was enough in earshot to hear – or piece together – Coleen speaking with someone in the kitchen taking whatever it was she brought.  “My name is Coleen, and I brought this pareve because of your loss of Colin.  It is marked from Geenie Swaboda, who is my friend.”

The people who were near the group and Gertrine were leaving just as Coleen made it back to Geenie.

“Don’t be nervous.  Come on,” she said while giving a slight hip check; which nobody else could notice.  They made their way forward and Geenie quickened her step as soon as she met with Gertrine’s sad eyes.

“Hello, Gertrine…”  Geenie gave the greeting literally with outstretched arms.  The hug from Geenie hid the inward sigh she took to help hold some of her emotion back.  “I am so sorry about Colin.  I just don’t know what to say.”

“Thank you very much, Gigi.”  They release from the embrace as she adds, “It was very nice of you to pay your respects to respects to Colin this way.”

Coleen steps forward to make her presence known.  She takes Gertrine’s right hand with both hands carefully and speaks.

“I am very sorry to hear about the loss of Colin.  This must be very difficult for you.”

“Thank you, yes”  Gertrine tries to hold both women in her line of sight while Geenie remains silent.

“My name is Coleen Gold and I am friends with Geenie.  She has spoken about Colin to me and I wanted to be here in your time.”

“That is so sweet of the both of you, for bringing your friend to see me Gigi.”

“May we?”  Coleen asks while gesturing to the ground.

“Please, please…” answers Gertrine.

Coleen helps Geenie sit then kneels herself.

“I should have introduced myself properly.  I am Gertrine.  Colin’s mother of course.”

“Thank you.  The pleasure is mine,” says Coleen.  “Did you recite Kaddish?”

“The minyan was here earlier, thanks.  I am sorry you couldn’t have joined us.”

“I apologize for making Geenie late, but I wanted to pay respects to Colin.”

Geenie nods along, remembering from Colin part of the custom is to repeat the name of the person for the exercise of not forgetting the dead.  It was also proper to keep steering the conversation back to the deceased.  “Mrs. Rust.  I loved Colin and remember so many good times we had here in your home.  We would laugh a lot of the time we spent here even when we were kids.”

“You were always Colin’s favorite playmate here,” she recalls in fondness.  “It might have been just because it was you, but you were the only one to mind your manners while here.  The other boys?  They would get Colin into some mighty what?  Trouble,” She laughed with somberness.

“Geenie never told me how long she was friends with Colin.”

“Oh…” she remarks to Coleen.  “I would joke to Colin they were friends longer than they weren’t.  It took a long time before they saw more then friendship I think, however.  Gigi?”

Geenie laughs to herself and agrees.  “Probably when Colin was heading to college was when we thought of it.”  She shifts gears to announce, “You were always a family to me already so I never considered it.”

“You to me as well, Gigi.”  Gertrine made a silly scrunched up face to tease how strong her feelings were.  “You and your mother, both.  A darling woman.  Colin always raved about her.”

“Yeah…  My mom said a lot of nice things about him too.  She will miss him a lot, just as me.”

Coleen fidgets with her back and asks, “Can you help me a moment?”

Geenie unknowingly stands up and reaches out to Coleen’s hands, bringing her back to your feet.

“It was very nice to have us into your home, Gertrine.  But it’s going to be too late for us.”

“Oh I understand completely.  You are a very nice girl, Coleen.  I am sorry this is the way Colin got us to meet.”

“I know…  But I am happy to be here and hear more about Colin.

Geenie probably tell her stories about him as well as you.”

“Please.  She is just too what?  Polite of young lady.  Isn’t that right, Geenie?”

“I…”  Her sheepish smile of slight embarrassment is enough of an answer.

“There is something from Geenie in the kitchen, by the way.  I hope it was something you and Colin enjoy.”

“Oh?  Gigi…”

“Maybe if you let her, Geenie can come by earlier tomorrow.  Then I won’t keep her help up.”

“I really would love that, Gertrine.”

“Sure, sure.  Anytime you are welcome.  You and your mother, sweetie.”

“Thank you again for having us in your home to honor Colin,” Coleen add with a slight dip in her knee to unconsciously give the slightest curtsey.  She touches the side of Gertrine’s arm and recites, “Ha-makom yenakhem Tzion v’Y’rushalayim.”

“Why aren’t you sweet,” Gertrine says with emotion.

“Thank you again, Gertrine,” Geenie says; hugging and adding, “I’m sorry about Colin and miss him so much.”

As if the magic words were said, Gertrine releases her embrace and Geenie silently walks away with Coleen.  It was customary not to spend very long with the family, and Geenie didn’t wish to prolong the moment any longer by lingering in the house.  The memories, like walls, were closing in on her.

SEVEN

A day later and Geenie was getting ready early; in anticipation of making another shiva call to Gertrine Rust.

The hours felt long but seemed to fold over itself or merely melt away.  She was still teetering on when, or even if, to appear.  The road of Colin and Geenie was overall a great one, but there was still a lot never spoken of.  They seemed to have a dare between the two of them and families not to speak of some of the catalyst, or subsequent issues, which lead to their separations.  The meetings of the families seemed to dismiss it all as ‘they just weren’t ready’ and thus, neither made an obvious attempt to rekindle nor to overtly date anyone else.  It’s obvious Geenie didn’t pay much mind to what others thought of her, or even if she had others to think about her.  She had a path she chose and nobody has ever flagged it as a right or wrong choice throughout any twists of her life.  Her mother is more accepting as most, and knows her ‘Gigi’ was never in any particular harm or road of ill will.  They spoke enough and covered enough topics in order to be fine with one another.  Anything which could have been looked at as taboo or a topic of contention was kept off the table.

There was a quiet sort of independence about Geenie.  She wasn’t an assertive woman, nor a submissive one.  She didn’t really peruse friendships but she didn’t shirk away from them either.  She might have felt a little uncomfortable having someone care about her well being besides her mother, but Geenie decided to accept the graciousness of Coleen.  Anyone could think it was a bit odd to have this ’48 hour friend’ which is the easiest way to explain it.  Maybe they both had a similar mental background so they immediately had that kindred spark between them.  They seemed to already be on an even sort of keel.  Coleen and Geenie have already kept a rather even score if one was to keep score.

They each had a moment of action to ‘be there’ physically, and they also listened to an equal amount of tales or outpourings from the other.  Most people can look back at friendships and see a mixed bag – the score being remarkably lopsided.  Most friends wouldn’t even know why they have the friends they do, more or less why they have them in the first place.

There was a point where Geenie wanted to say more to Coleen.  She wanted to explain some of what went on with Colin.  What some of the reasons might have been.  Maybe why she hasn’t even thought about friends.  Some of her friends from the past, to counter some of the friends Coleen admitted to or her strange childhood theories.  Geenie wanted to say more, but she had a brain with a very small impulse unit.  That was how she viewed it.  She would censor herself down to nothing without ever thinking twice.  She wouldn’t even regret not saying this or that – not usually.  She often accepted now for now and wouldn’t deviate from that philosophy.  Most of all, Geenie didn’t want Coleen to think religion was a factor or reason between Colin and herself.  Frankly, this was the most of their religion she had ever seen.

Before she truly realized it, she was back at the home of Gertrine Rust.  She was inside and time passed.  There was an evening prayer which she relied on the others to follow along in.  Strangely enough, there was a man which kept catching her attention.  He seemed out of place and not with any particular person.  At the same rate, all the same could be said for Geenie.  Maybe they each recognized it.

Geenie tried to keep an overall low profile, the best she could.

Those who knew Colin growing up or were close to Gertrine obviously knew about Geenie.  The whole ‘high school sweetheart’ moniker wasn’t a foreign thing to be heard about her.  Thankfully most of the people she spoke with didn’t wish to break from decorum.  Many people seemed to be out of towners who were regaling those in attendance with tales of Colin which were sometimes humorous, but most often something which they made into a prolific time in Colin Rust’s life which eyes just happened to witness.  Most of the things were variations Geenie heard on other occasions, or the ‘true’ version of events as Colin had told her while they were having aimless conversations into the wee hours of the morning.

Once the rabbi declared the service was at an end, the room was getting to be more and more a little much for Geenie; or just one of those quick ‘fresh air’ moments to catch a second wind.  Geenie looked towards the front and thought she saw something illuminating from outside.  She went to the front window, and peered enough to see the interior of a car.  A shadow of a figure inside turned its head and the light cut out – whether coincidence was up for speculation.  Needless to say, Geenie didn’t feel like finding out.  Instead, she went out back and sat on the aged redwood bench which belonged to a picnic table.

Geenie watched from the outside as the women in the kitchen worked; pitching in as a part of the community to help Gertrine through these recent events.  Geenie wondered if they felt fulfilled working in the kitchen or if it was another way to help time pass quicker.  Before more mind was paid to the window, a man joined her outside.

“May I?”  He asked.  It was the same person she noticed out of place earlier.  She didn’t wish to respond to him but didn’t feel she had a choice.

“Hello.”

“Water?”  He asked – offering a bottle, outstretched to her.

Geenie begrudgingly takes it, remembering something Coleen said the day before at accepting any food or drink offered during a shiva.  There was an almost perfect chance this ldn’t have mattered in the sake of this man, but Geenie felt to keep the spirit up.

“Am I interrupting?”

“Go ahead,” she says while gesturing outwards.  The man found a plastic patio chair and swung it around.  Geenie twists the cap of the bottle of water and hears it crack open while the man sits down.  “Did you know Colin?”  She asks.

“Not specifically,” he answered.  His voice indicated those weren’t really the words he meant to string out as a reply.

“Are you here with anyone?”

“No…  But it didn’t seem to be you were either, so it seemed.”

Wrong answer.  Geenie takes a sip of the drink and ices up.

“I’m…” He slowly stammers.  I came to learn a little bit more about Colin actually.”

“Are you police or something?”

“Not ex-actly,” he trails.  “I was trying to do a little investigating though.”

Geenie looks back towards the way of the kitchen.  She feels an air of distrust.

“Maybe I shouldn’t be here, I know.  And I didn’t want to disturb anyone.  You were…”  He thinks again before he speaks.  “Since you didn’t seem to be with anyone, or connected so, so I thought maybe you were kind of a friend on the outside.”

“I guess you could say that,” Geenie lets out.  “But because of it, I don’t think I can help.”  Her eyes break contact with him before saying, “What exactly are you investigating?  I thought he just died.”

“It might be…  a little bit more than that…” acting to search for a name.  Geenie doesn’t take the bait.

“I’m not sure if I understand, I’m sorry.”

“Forgive me.  Maybe I was mistaken.”  He stands up and slowly moves the chair back to its original position.  He takes another look at her as a last ditch attempt for whatever his agenda was.

“Was there something you think I should know?”  She asks him with less an inquisitive inflection.

He scratches behind an ear.  “I didn’t know if that was supposed to be an introduction.”

She raises her hand up to give a lackadaisical ‘hi sign’ and admits, “I’m Jennifer.”

“Ah,” he exclaims quietly.  I’m Jack.  Jack Robinson if you want the details.”

“Thanks,” she says when he takes her hand.  Geenie gives her wrist limpness and lets gravity pull her hand from his embrace.

“Did you want to be alone?”  He asked wish seriousness.

“All of this has been a little much.”  She twists her pinkie towards the house to indicate the proceedings inside.

“Yeah.  I’ve felt a little bit out of my element also.  Maybe you noticed,” he nervously exaggerates.  “All the same I suppose I’ll let you be.  Unless you wanted an escort outside.”

“I’ll…  I’m fine here,” she says while repositioning herself on the bench.

He offers up a small farewell before heading back into the house.  She watches him disappear amongst the others before standing herself.  She takes another small sip of water and shakes the bottle towards the yard; cascading it with streams of water.  Step by step she moves, bottle in hand, walking across the lawn.

She moves towards the side of the house and sees the gate she recognized from childhood.  It was all wood and stained red.  Planks jutted out, forming the shape of a Z.  Geenie remembered times she and Colin would get in trouble for standing on the makeshift bottom ledge and going for rides.  She slipped the toe of her pump onto the ledge and slowly brought her eyes up past the gate.

The streetlights weren’t very bright in any particular area, but gave off enough light to see across the street.  This Rust residence was the brightest on the block at the moment, but Geenie could make out flickers from other people in their kitchens, or watching television just outside their wide window.  Looking back to the opposite side of the street, Geenie moved her eyes from car to car within her line of sight.  One just to the right seemed to be the car she saw with the dome light on earlier.  It was obstructed from where she was; only the front tire was as far as she could see while straining.  Geenie looked behind her as looking for anyone nearby, or scouring to remember physics.

She clenched the top of the gate and pulled herself up, with great struggle to see more.  She could see the front of the windshield, but light was reflecting off it.  She leaned and could hear the metal on the clasp silently click and clack.  She took another breath and pulled with her arms and shoulders.  Her head and chest were now over the gate and she could feel the top of the wooden slats pressing into her dress.  She didn’t want to let herself slide back.  Instead, she tried to shimmy over.  Crooking her head further out, she stopped breathing and shimmied some of her body further to the side.  As soon as she thought she saw someone inside the car, she realized she forgot to breathe.

Geenie took a huge gulp of air and immediately lost her balance.  She felt the momentum pulling back and she didn’t know how to repel it.  She fell smack on her back, and heard the reverberating sound of the gate slapping and groaning in a state of collateral damage.  Geenie might have been paranoid, but she thought she heard the sound of feet across the street.  Geenie pulled herself back to her feet and heard the sound of the grass reacting.  She immediately headed back towards the kitchen.

Once Geenie got back inside, she didn’t feel the need to stay any longer.  She tried not to draw attention, but wound herself a path around the wall of the front room; avoiding any literal circles of conversation.  She grabbed the front door and all but spun around it to exit.

Her eyes darted right – the direction of the alleged car.  She slipped herself behind a nearby hedge, and collapsed on the ground.  An arm gripped her and yanked.  The resulting momentum pulled her around to the sound of the house.

“Jennifer, it’s me,” the voice said hurriedly.  She looked towards the man slightly dazed while he stands back up.  “I have a feeling that guy might be looking for you?”  The person from the back porch queries.  He takes his hand and grabs onto hers.  “Sorry,” he slips out while yanking her arms; automatically bringing her to her feet.  “Trust me and follow me…”  He grabs her arm and starts walking fast.  Geenie has no emotion and continues to move her feet at an similar pace as his.  The man’s gait increases, and she tries to match it.  Geenie makes the mistake of looking over her shoulder – and sees whatever had her bothered earlier.  A man was bolting out of his car with eyes locked into Geenie’s.

“Here we go.” The man exclaims and he starts to gallop.  He tears at Geenie’s hand and her arm feels the jolt.

“Come on stay with me now,” he pants and they both work towards a full gallop.  The man was further back but it wasn’t to be for long.  Despite a cumbersome outfit, he was making quick progress.

“Keep looking ahead, come on!”  Jack encouraged Geenie.  “Keep it up.”

Jack felt his hand slipping and grabbed onto her dress; holding the left side near Geenie’s hip.  “We’re going to swing left TOGETHER, ok Jennifer?”  He could hear a breath which he interpreted as agreement.  Jack saw the sidewalk forming a corner up ahead and glanced back towards whoever was in pursuit.

“Gun!”  He exclaimed.

The man’s arm was inside a coat and sure enough, the gleam echoed off a chrome pistol.

Jack yanks hard on Geenie’s dress and flicks his wrist; sending her spinning around the corner and ahead of Jack.  The sound of a firework goes off behind them.  Blat!  A sound of broken glass slices the air a moment afterwards.

“Gun!”  Jack exclaims again.  This time his voice was directed towards anyone else who might be in earshot up ahead.

Geenie keeps running faster as Jack Robinson catches up.  He tells her, “Get ready to make a right turn, ok?”  She doesn’t answer but he knows she must have heard him.  The man is still on their tail be has his gun clenched backwards in his hand – seeming to be using a more aerodynamic approach to catch them.

Jack slaps her back with his fingertips and wheezes, “Now.”  They scurry to the other side of the street and then skid left, following the gutter of the street.  The man behind them does the same thing, albeit a few lengths behind.

“So you must be Gennevive I take it,” he half laughs and looks towards her.  Her face squints for a milisecond but the barrels faster down the street.  Blat!  Thuune.  Another shot goes off and catches the metal of a side door.  Jack looks up and sees a house with the garage door open – facing them just across the next road.  Classic rock music can be heard blaring at a minimum.  It’s the stuff Colin like to jest as ‘car fixing music’ when he heard it driving down the street.

“Help!”  Yells Jack.  He can see the shadow of a man sitting in front of the garage.  “Someome shot me!”  He blares out.  Jack pushes on Geenie’s back before waving his hands over his head.  The man caught the sight of all of them clopping his direction, and jumped backwards, spilling out of his aluminum lawn chair.

Getting closer made out the brightness of the garage; prominently backdropped on the far wall with a giant flag of Canada.  The man inside was tall and gangly with a dark mustache following all the way down his chin.  All he seemed to be wearing were shoes and a pair of short cutoffs; enough to see glints of the bottom of his pockets.  “Keep going,” Jack gushed: both of them looking near their breaking points.  They were crossing the street and heading straight towards the man’s house.  The moustached man was yanking on a low drawer of his gleaming red standing toolchest.  “Right right right,” Jack rattled off, and bumped towards Geenie’s chest.  She took heed and they both veered almost synchronous.

The man yanked on the toolchest’s drawer and the metallic sounds of wrenches and sockets danced on the floor around him as he reached dead center.  It was a nine millimeter handgun with a mirrored finish: splayed with a custom etched design around the side, in script, which read L A  C A Ñ A D A.  The man pivoted to the left – gliding with the slickness of his sneaker soles – and fired off two rounds at the first moving object he saw.  Pop pop!  The bullets ended up in the perusing man’s chest; with his own gun outstretched with a finger on the trigger.  He didn’t stop running though his mind seemed paralyzed.  He collapsed, still running, and tumbled end over end- causing him to get another shot off.  It was unmistakably heard, but there was no accounting for where the bullet landed.  The man in the cutoffs rattled off a repeated “Omigosh oh my gosh gosh gosh,” and hurried into the house to scramble for the nearest phone.

Just outside his peripheral vision, Jack could see the unknown assailant crumble to the asphalt.

“You can do it, come on,” he rattles off to Geenie.  “My vehicle’s on the other side of this alley.”  Their feet scramble inside and slow down, making a slogging and whooshing sound as they trample though the liberally graveled alleyway.  “Are you ok?”  He asks.  For the first time since she stepped outside, Geenie finally speaks…

“My name is NOT Gennevive.”

EIGHT

A modern looking silver range rover twists around the corner where police are descending on man still laying in the street.  One of the police officers argues with the man behind the driver’s seat; stating the road is blocked off and he’ll have to find a different route to get home.  The vehicle makes a slow turn and a light can be seen trailing the rear of the vehicle – unbeknownst to any of the police on the scene.  It was a tiny LED style light casting a bluish beam onto the ground, brushing right across the dead man.  A screen inside flashes multiple times.  A hand grabs a nearby hand held screen.  The images pop up in succession; strobing through while the vehicle pulled away.  Another screen in the center was broadcasting a black and white video image – used most often to induce safety when backing up.  Reflecting off the plastic screen is Geenie’s face.

“Ok…  That is about long enough for the both of us,” Jack said while swinging back into the alley they ran through earlier.  The range rover slows down and pulls between a circular dumpster and a telephone pole.

“Leave it running,” he instructs; then hops out of the vehicle.

He walks to the back of the car and reaches under the bumper.  Jack pries the light source from underneath the bumper, and flips it off once removing wads of dark electrical tape.  He plays with it a moment, then tosses the tape into the dumpster; it doesn’t pay to be a litterbug.  He stands behind the vehicle and flicks the light back on again – making sure nothing is lurking outside the alley.  He walks to the front of the range rover, which has its lights off, and he focuses the light towards the other opening of the alley.  Seems clear also.  He clicks the door of the range rover back open and hurls himself inside with a single move.

“These things are pretty handy,” he says as he twists the circular light in his hand.  He reaches over, and slides it into his keychain where it docks in place.  “If you get a flashlight, always go with that bluish color.  Somehow it detracts sniper fire.  They can’t see it so well through scopes.”  Jack looks back to a silent Geenie.  All of his attempts to break the ice haven’t seemed to have been going over so well.  “You ok there?”

She stares straight ahead; dazed.  “Hopefully that’s the end of that.”  Her face is borderline comatose and her lips don’t seem to want to even try forming a word.

He leans over and says, “Let’s see what we have…”  Jack edges across her and tugs her seatbelt’s shoulder strap.  It’s all but cutting off her circulation.  He leans against her and pops the latch on the belt, and yanks a healthy amount of slack before gently letting it slide back.  “Hopefully that helps a bit.”  He didn’t expect a response this time.  His hand goes to the device which captured the earlier images and grips it.  He glances over to her and tugs on a wire.

“See this?”  I rigged it myself.  Little camera mounted just like that LED light.”  “This thing,” he taps on the black and white screen.  “These are good at seeing if anyone is tailing you.  Plus…”  He pops a button, and the center mounted screen flashes brightly for a moment.  “Night vision.  See?  Nobody there.”  Sure enough, what can be seen behind them is all clear.

Jack goes back to the handheld device and punches some buttons.  “This.”  He explains, “I set it up with some software.  Variable frame.  It catches the images however often I want.”  Geenie doesn’t appear to be watching, but Jack keeps speaking to her as a very calming ‘Q’ who might be advising a double agent of Her Majesty’s Secret Service; sans accent.  “Click, click, click,” he says when hitting one of the buttons.  The light from the device glows onto his face; stuttering for each time a button is pressed.  He seems to be moving back quite a distance while he cycles through; filling the gaps with more words.  “Most people always rely on a flash, but there’s no reliable way to control them.  Plus a flash is much more noticeable than a constant light source…”  He stops and presses another button repeatedly.  The image is the man who was perusing them minutes earlier.  With each press of the button, Jack was manipulating the image.  Zoom zoom, zoom, right, right, right, right, up, up, up, up, down.  He was probably altering it enough since it seemed to him Geenie was traumatized enough already tonight.

“Do you think you recognize him?”  Jack asks while slowly moving the device towards Geenie.  She finally shows a sign of life, and turns her head ever so slightly to look at the image.

She half squints at it, but can’t bear to see it more than a few seconds.

“No.  I have no idea who that is.”

“Oh,” he said before flipping it off.  He grapples at the device again.

“Do you know who it is?”

“No.  I don’t,” he says while swapping some objects in and out of the device.

“Do you think he was after me?”

“I really couldn’t tell you.”  Jack pops an attachment onto the device and remarks, “For all I know, he could have been after me.”

Geenie turns her head away from Jack.

“Excuse me,” he says, and leans over a moment.

“Are you after me?”  She couldn’t help but ask.

Jack flips his device on again and it glows blue.

“I can’t exactly say I am.” Looking back at her, “Could you,” he asks gently while handing her the device.  She takes it into her hands and Jack pulls on something underneath the dashboard.  A plastic cracking sound comes out.  “Just on the… yeah,” he says as she shines the scene towards some wires.

Jack clips something in and slaps the piece of plastic with his fist, creating another loud noise.

“Very good then.”  Adding, “Would you like to get out of here?”

“Yes… Very.  Much.”  Geenie speaks with an obvious disconnect.

“Do you want to go back for your car?”

She doesn’t answer; pensive again.

“Here.  Take mine.”

She looks him in the eye.

“Do you think you’re ok to drive?”

“I’m fine,” she tells herself.

“Come around here.  Take my car.”

Geenie hesitates again.

“It’s fine, Jennifer.  Hop out and I’ll show you.”

Feeling without a choice, she opens the door and steps out; the crunching of items in the alley below her feet.  Jack steps out of the range rover and presses some buttons on the center screen.  Each press produces a ‘bloop’ or ‘bleeng’ sound.

“This….” he says while pressing items on the touch sensitive screen.  “It will get you from here…”  Hitting two more buttons, “…To…  The closest twenty four hour cafe from the motel I am staying at.”  He quickly adds, “Nothing like that.  Just a rendezvous point.”  Tacking on, “Hop in.”

He drops out of the car and extends his hand to Geenie out of chivalry.  She bypasses it and gets herself into the driver’s seat.

“Where are your keys?”

“What?”  Geenie asks.

“I’ll get your car.  I meet you.  That’s the point of a rendezvous.”  Noticing she isn’t budging, he clarifies for her in a calm tone.  “If it was you they were looking for and not me, then it’s your car they’ll be looking for.  If I was out to get you I doubt I’d give you my car.  Besides, this one is much safer I assume.  It’s brand new.  Luxury package even, as they say.”

Geenie reaches into her pocket and fishes around; refusing to take her seatbelt off.

“Is there anything about it I should be worried about?”  Questioning, “Registration?  Tags?  Weapon inside?”

“Nothing,” she says when handing the keys to him.

“Mine has a pistol.  Box under the seat, unlocks with the driver’s key.”

Jack reaches up and across Geenie once more – touching his finger to the center screen once more.  A ‘ba-ba-bling’ rings out, and a map pops up to display the vehicle’s location.

“Worse for worse…” Jack cautions.  “You feel something hinkey or whatever matter…”  He tips the driver sun visor down.  “Under here is a switch,” which revels itself as this side of home made.  “Flick it on, and push that little asterisk star thingie and you can call in emergency services for whatever reason.  Don’t panic too much if someone else is following you.  That device is already recording whatever the rear camera sees.  If you have to leave the car please take it with you, even if you rip out the wires.  You can trash the whole car anyway; it’s a rental and I got the dollar a day insurance.”  The comment actually forced a smile out of Geenie.

He shuts the door on Geenie and tells her, “Lights on, window up, and start driving forward.  It will tell you what to do.  Drive carefully and God speed, Jennifer.”

She does as told, and the range rover pulls away; with the color of the paint already making it difficult to be seen once further down the alley.  The vehicle signals, then turns out of sight.

Jack puts his hands in his pockets and casually walks the same direction: making sure to take the casual route in case any other gun wielding strangers might be in the neighborhood.

NINE

“I know.  It really was the closest place open twenty four hours, but I know females usually aren’t into a place like this,”  Jack sits down in front of Geenie upon admitting that fact.  She sips very slowly on a beverage in a non descript styrofoam container, via straw.

“You ok,” he makes sure to ask her.

She nods in a wilten fashion; her bangs doing most of the work.

“Did you order any food?”

“Mmm-mn,” she said in a negative way.

“Jelados?”  He asked her, meaning if it was one of the varieties of alleged fresh fruit drinks.

Her head goes limp again.

“Horchata?”

“Yeah,” she confirms.

“Good.  The rice might, uh, help.”  He pauses a moment and asks, “Did you have any trouble making it here?”

“It was fine,” before she tagged on a “Thanks.”

“No troubles, no worries.”  Stammering quickly, “Did you, uh, happen to bring my little screen thing inside?”

In a worn voice, “No, I’m sorry.  Was I supposed to?”

He waves it off and asks for the keys.

“Oh my gosh, I-”

Jack puts the pieces together and steps fast towards the exit.

“Sorry,” she signed…  But he was already out the door,  She felt guilt but for a moment she also wondered if she should have asked for her keys back first.

A minute later a chirp chirp sound locks the doors, and Jack comes back inside; item in tow.  He looks around to gauge the surroundings, and finds a table a few away from Geenie to sit down at.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…” he heard wisp from her.  He motions towards her, and she sits across from him.

“This is probably a much better seat for you.” He lets her know.  “Nobody can see you from there.  And…”  As he crooks his head, “…I can see anyone who comes in.  Much better, right?”  He says in a half serious tone.  She sort of ignores it politely.

“I know this probably isn’t your type of place, but why don’t I get you something.”

“You don’t have to.  I’m fine,” she reminds him.

“I feel like I should.  It’s not like you had much to eat tonight.”

“You aren’t supposed to eat a meal at a shiva,” she tells him – remembering Coleen’s words.  “Nevermind.”

“Wait here.”  Jack gets up and spends a few minutes at the ordering counter.  Geenie stays put, remembering she still didn’t ask for her keys back.

More time passes, and Jack Robinson finally makes it back to the table…  Only to see Geenie playing with the device.

He doesn’t pay any worry to it, but coming around the corned seemed to startle Geenie a slight bit.

“It’s fine.  You won’t break anything,” he reassures her.  She puts it down anyway.  “Taco salad?”  He asks her as he sets it in front of her.  “The safest thing might be the salad.  So I made the taco optional.”  He sets some translucent cups down which contained shredded taco meat.  “Your call,” he dictates.

“BEYn tee CEEN Coooww” the exaggerated voice calls out.

“Sorry.  That’s me.  Excuse me once more?”

He walks away, and Geenie looks at the food in front of her.  Within a taco shell fashioned as a bowl is lettuce, cheese, tomato wedges, and crispily baked tortilla shreds which have been died in red and green colors: twisted in a way to resemble confetti or something else supposedly festive.  Of all the things Geenie thought she’d see today, let alone eat…

“Sorry again,” Jack let out before dropping a load of napkins between the two of them.  “I don’t know about you, but I feel much less self conscious if I have a smathering of napkins in front of me.  “Also…”  He sets a full tray off to the side of the enlarged table.  “I don’t know if you like any of that stuff or not, but, now you can stare at it whether you like it or not.

Geenie raises her eyebrows in a conflicted way.  Part of her wanted to smile but the other part of her worried that might only encourage him.  She looked at everything in the cups, and Jack started narrating all of it.  “Both salsas; green is for flavor, red is for heat.  Pickled carrots, jalepeños, picked onions – I think.  Diced white onion, red onion, and…”  He picks up the cup to clarify the description.

These are sliced jalepeños, and the full ones are just pepper hot peppers I guess.”

She nods in a tight lipped posture to acknowledge him.

“I got two of these but you don’t have to drink it,” he tells her up front while handing over the thinner of two of the polystyrene drink containers.  “It’s sort of a thing I made up myself.  It’s kind of like a signature drink.

Geenie takes another sip of her orchata to play it safe.

“Kind of like the Arnold Palmer.  Do you know what an Arnold Palmer is?”

“Nah,” she casually answers.

“It’s a drink named after a golfer.  It’s half lemonade and the other iced tea.  He used to order it all the time.”

Jack dashes his eyes towards her face and continues.  “I’m not even a fan of golf but I liked the story.  This is part lemonade, a little.  Then I add a good amount of lemon lime soda and then I put cut lemon and limes for it.  More limes than lemon.”  Tagging on, “Like I said, you don’t have to try it.  It’s just there.”

She keeps looking at her food for no particular reason.

“Maybe if you like it, I’ll call it a Jennifer?”

She looks him straight in the eyes.  “My name isn’t Jennifer.”

“Oh?  Oh.”

“Does that change anything?”

“I don’t know…”  He stops before saying, “I wasn’t looking for a Jennifer actually.”

“Who were you looking for?”

Playing along slightly, “What’s your name then?”  He reaches over and grabs his black device, and hits some buttons.  Jack looks over it, and pushes a plastic fork closer to her.

“If you don’t like it, I can get something else for you.”  He watches a grainy black and white video.  It appears to be the trip Geenie took back – which he plays in hyper speed forward.  Every time a car seemed to linger in view a good amount of time, he rolled the footage back, then hit a button before speeding through it again.

“My name is Geenie,” she says once eating a bite of her taco salad.

“Thanks.  It’s nice to meet you,” he says over the top of the viewscreen.  “I’ll tell you what though.  My name’s not Jack Robinson.

“Your car registration says Jack on it,” she reveals.

“Ah,” he laughs.  “So you poked in the glove compartment?”

“Not a lot.  When I first got here I didn’t have anything to do.  So I read your rental form.  And then, well that was it.  There wasn’t anything else interesting in there.”

“I told you it was a rental.  I think some Triple A brochures and a generic map is all the rest.  And some gas station shades.”  He looks back at her and said, “If you took them, you can keep them,” in a mocking tone.

Geenie half laughs.  The ice may have been officially broken.  She takes another bite of the meal.

“Are you eating the, those things?”  He asks while making little imaginary squiggles in the air.

“Try one.  If you want.”  She uses her fork to flip one over to his tray.

Jack cautiously picks it up and eats it.  The crunch is audible.  “I think it’s what a piñata’s supposed to taste like.”

She shakes her head.

“You’re smart not to try it.  The shell is probably ok, maybe, but not those stale tildé things.”

Geenie sees him gesture in the general direction while he finishes eating another one of the colored strips.  I mean a place called Tacos Y ‘Ladas.  I think it’s supposed to be some sort of pun or play on words.  But my Spanish isn’t too fantastic.”

“You have food too,” Geenie doesn’t hesitate to point out.  Either she wants him to keep quiet or taking her picked off mystery garnish in unnerving.

Jack takes a bite out of the corner of his carne asada burrito; bursting with whatever he possibly decided to add to it.  Finished swallowing, he tries to squeeze a joke out.  “It’s better for me to just order a burrito.  Since all of those photos of that stuff makes me not too hungry anymore.”

“Did you used to work at the State Fair or something?  Like at one of those Ronco demonstration booths.”

“Hm?”  He asks with a face indicating he was caught off guard.

“It’s a nice way to ask if you ever stop talking,” she says with a small bit of food in her mouth.

“Yeah…”  He pauses and takes some of the sauce off his tray – drabbling a small bit inside his burrito before taking another bite.  After swallowing, “It’s…”  His tone drops.  Whenever I’ve been in an…  An ‘almost dying’ situation.

Usually talking about anything mellows me out, or helps calm down the people I’ve been with.  Narrating about a bunch of mundane things helps dull all that adrenaline and rawness.”

“Is that another invention of yours, or is that true?”

“Yeah it’s supposed to be true,” he answers before eating another bite.  “Well, repetition is supposed to be a calming mechanism for the brain.  That’s why Buddhists chant or crowds repeat phrases.  But I guess just saying anything is more my twist on it.  Like a bedtime story.”  “Do you feel sleepy?”  He jokingly asks.

“I don’t know what to think.  I still don’t even know what I’m doing with you still.”

“Honestly, I feel like you didn’t have a choice up until now.  Back there must have been something…  Something pretty dire for you, right?  But there’s no reason we can’t just finish our meal here.  Talk.  What have you.  What are your feelings about this, Geenie?”

“I can do that,” she says in a hushed tone.  “But I still don’t even know anything about you.”

“Well I guess neither of us knows too much about each other.”

Geenie doesn’t look amused with the quip.

“Be that as it may…  Feel free to ask me anything.  I won’t ask you any questions until you feel comfortable enough.”  He watches her have another bite before asking, “Is that deal enough for you?”

“Sure.  Fair enough,” Geenie agrees.

“Take your time,” Jack adds while eating more.

Geenie eyes him silently; as if something about his face or posture would reveal exactly the question to be asked.  She finally verbally takes aim.

“Are you a police officer?”

“No.”

“Have you ever been a police officer?”

“Never have, never will.  And not now either, of course”

“You didn’t seem to look like one.  I’m not a good guesser or anything.  But it’s the feeling.  You know?”

“Yes I suppose so,” Jack agrees.  “You were correct either way.”

“Thanks,” she says while going back to her food; picking for inspiration.

“Have you been shot at before?”

“I have in fact.  Honestly, at least once.  Before today that is of course.”

“It’s interesting you aren’t sure how many times that has happened.  I know how many times I have.  Never before.  I have NEVER been in trouble.”

“I wasn’t sure if that was a question, or else I would be asking it right now.  No disrespect,” he lets her know.

“Why don’t you know how many times you have been shot at?”

“Instead of going into specifics, can I give a general example?”

Geenie looks up at him.

Jack recants, “I forgot no questions, on my end.  So…  I can give you an example rather than multiple details if you allow.”

Her eyebrows raise.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” he says with a finger pointed upward.  Once I was with a group of troops in the middle east.  I hate the term, but they are most often referred to as ’embedded journalists’ as it were.  Anyway, I didn’t have the qualms of most, so I went out on some of the scroungier of sorties.  And at various stages…  Various forms of weaponry were fired at me through the duration.”

“You’re a journalist or reporter then?”

“Yes and…  Not always.”

“Explain?”  Geenie phrases towards him.

“It’s complicated really…  Really I suppose I only make it complicated; for the most part.”

“I can certainly see that,” she daggers in without humor.

“Well, I can try if you’d like.”

“Think I have a little time.” Geenie reminds him.

“That is a rather large taco salad if I can say.  Sure.”

Jack’s eyes flitter up and to then fro.  It seems he is mentally preparing or organizing himself.  “Before I start,” he warns, “I must say this.  I might have to ask a question or to you?  Not a keeping score kind of thing but…  Let’s say whether you need to know more or not.”

“Just because you answer something, doesn’t mean I want to be quizzed or questioned.  I don’t want this to be some sort of II did so you too’ sort of thing’ if you understand.”

“Yeah ye yeah,” he stammered out.  “That is what I meant actually.  I am not trying to keep score.”

“I never really…  I guess to say I haven’t ever laid it all in front of me,” Jack admits.  “You know what I am getting at?”

“I suppose so,” she said – knowing she never had much of a moment to objectively look at her life or career; whatever there truly was of it.

“Thanks,” he said with sincerity.  Well I guess at some point I was all of I.  I had some…  Fortunate circumstances.  Able to do a lot of what I really wanted to but…  That put a hamper on my ambition for a certain duration of my life.”

“Something like a trust fund kid?”  She quizzed?

“Yeah.  Basically.  It’s more complicated…  Well, maybe it isn’t however.  Just trying to think in  a chronological way I suppose.

“Yeah.  Well you don’t have to try to go into all of it if you don’t want to.  In fact it may not be so fair to you either.  Since I don’t feel I could do the same.”

Geenie wondered if being a captive audience with him has softened her up in the way a religious cult might, or she was thinking a lot of the real him.  She could just be seeing something which isn’t there – or her sleep , a lack of it rather, has turned into her feeling more susceptible to outside influence.  All could be easy answers but she realized Jack still hasn’t said anything to answer her earlier question.

“You don’t have to go into it.”

Jack takes another bite of the burrito – maybe near halfway; contemplating about unknown things – at least more than what Geenie had already thought he was thinking.

She was beginning to worry some of his thinking and word placement are beginning to rub off on her.

Geenie wasn’t a type to think about what has been or was to be.  Usually she kept her mind on the here and now, which seemed to have kept her quite happy for most of her life.  She can’t say if it had been since she left Colin or whenever that sort of mind set started to click in.  As said, it was not something she paid attention to.

She watched Jack eating out of her peripheral vision; wondering what he truly was about.  If he was a pick up artist, obviously there were women much easer to attract and conquer.  In fact Geenie felt she wasn’t unobtainable, or a ‘challenge’ as it might be referred as.  In fact Geenie wasn’t even sure what the point would have been.  These last twenty four hours, as events have unfolded, weren’t exactly bringing any clarity to her life.

Between Colin and the numbness that brought out all of the happiness – dare she say – to have someone like Coleen who really wanted a friendship but just as her hasn’t ad anything close to it for whatever reason it might be.  Geenie kept wondering about Jack.  Jack Robinson.  Was it his name?  Was he just toying with her?  Geenie couldn’t be certain.  Really, she didn’t even care.  Well, she did care – but also didn’t all at once.

In a way, it would have been easier to have no knowledge of these last few days.  She might have sacrificed what is, and might be to come, with Coleen…  But on the other hand she wouldn’t have to face any pain.  Or the uncertainty which mortality of others can bring about to one’s self realization.  Everything seems to change.  Not always forever – though it feels like it.

Life slowly and slowly returns to normal until…  Until one day a person goes an entire day without a thought of the said departed one.  That can sometimes be the scariest thing of all: also realizing the same will one day be done by others – to you – when you are not here anymore.

Geenie wanted to know about Jack a slight bit, but also didn’t want to care.  These times have turned her into even more of a walking contradiction than she already had been.  Before she would often try taking back or lessening what she had to say but now it is even the fabric of herself.  Doubt.  A powerful thing; matched only by stress or anxiety.  Jack looked like he could have watched too many videogames or movies.  The idea of being a single person of importance.  It was an odd thing.  Maybe in a way Jack has been conquering the way she, Genie, had felt abut herself.  He could be trying to make his mark.  Or maybe he is truly just some annoying person who got lucky here and there.  A person to talk a big game, or just imagined unknown things in life are ‘out to get us’ – but at this point he got lucky.  It is a far stretch really.  It is more likely Geenie wasn’t the target.  Jack certainly seems to have been planed for something going south.  He was indeed prepared.  Geenie still had a bit of feeling of wanting to know.  She wanted to know if what happened to Colin was random.  Or was there maybe something more?  Owing money?  What could have made things turn out in such a sour way.  Someone she still thought was one of the most genuine and kind men she ever know – whether romantically or just in.

Jack seemed to be…  Interesting at the least for Geenie.  He had one of those undescript type of looks.

Maybe it was true he reported to some capacity.  He had a face which wasn’t easy to remember.  He was on the thinner or ‘average’ side of things.  He wasn’t tall but also couldn’t be called short.  He was, in fact, a rather average looking guy.  The one true distinguishable feature was some of the light stubble he kept around.  He may be a person who decided to only shave every two or three days.  He might – hopefully – not be doing it for that vogue five o’clock shadow sort of way.  More the indication there was something he just happened to have forgotten to do.  He could also have been doing it as his only way to stand out from the crowd; at least in a physical sense.  Where Geenie worked people stood out but what they talked about: at least she could tell they were trying.  Usually there would be many jockeying for alpha class as far as knowing the most about sports, or predicting what games would be the most defining.  Geenie, nor Colin, ever seemed to be affected by those things.  He was a casual sports fan and when he watched a game it was an opportunity for Geenie to do something on her own time – which seemed to be a favorite type of thing for her.

“So,” she decided to finally ask.

“Ok, ok.  I am sorry.  Yes, I can try to carve out a little bit of the story.  However…”

Geenie wasn’t sure if he was trying to pause for effect or because he truly felt cornered.

“I’m tired, nevermind.”

“No no, sorry…”  She changes hr mind with, “I’m not sorry.  I shouldn’t be.  I am doing who knows what who knows where, and with whoever knows you are – because of whatever anyone knows.

And if, if some of it happened to-”  Geenie trails off without caring about an excuse or reason.

“Part of me…” Jack thinks over.  “All I really know is how I am now.  Maybe there really was a story behind me.  Not why I am here or anything so prophetic; but my character or why I am my way.”  His voice drops down, “I have been a writer, a journalist.  A failed novelist and playwright.  Failed both of them rather.  And I have…”

His eyes go into the air, then look back at Geenie.  “I suppose I am a philanthropist in a roundabout way.  I try to bring awareness or bring issues to light.  A lot of the times I might make connections which aren’t there…”  He grabs at a nearby fresh napkin and tries to wipe something off his face; something in which he is the only one to see.  “Aw hell,” he says while tossing the balled up napkin onto the table.  “I never really laid it out in front of myself though so maybe it overlaps or makes no sense at all…  And now I’m probably repeating myself.”

“So?”  She lightly encourages him.

“Ok, ok.  I am sorry.  Yes, I can try to carve out a little bit of the story.  However…”

Geenie wasn’t sure if he was trying to pause for effect or because he truly felt cornered  “I’m tired.  Nevermind,” she makes it known.”

“No no, sorry…”  Jack says back.  They pause a moment; making a gambit for mental catch up.  Perhaps the adrenaline rush from events earlier is coming down for the two of them – or it could also be from the food.  She did sprinkle the taco meat into the said salad so they might be both fighting whatever effects.

Geenie pulls back and changes her mind with, “I’m not sorry.  I shouldn’t be.  I am doing who knows what who knows where, and with whoever knows you are – because of whatever anyone knows.  And if, if some of it happened to-”  Geenie trails off without caring about an excuse or reason.

“Part of me…” Jack thinks over.  “All I really know is how I am now.  Maybe there really was a story behind me.  Not why I am here or anything so prophetic; but my character or why I am my way.”  His voice drops down, “I have been a writer, a journalist.  A failed novelist and playwright.  Failed both of them rather.  And I have…”

His eyes go into the air, then look back at Geenie.  “I suppose I am a philanthropist in a roundabout way.  I try to bring awareness or bring issues to light.  A lot of the times I might make connections which aren’t there.  “Look,” he pauses to tell her.  “I’m…  I always get really strange or down on myself whenever I have some…  Any sort of scrape I feel lucky to walk away from.  Let me be real with you.  I was scared back there.  Really scared.  Thankfully I have some part of my brain that’s heavy on the survival instinct.  Fight or flight, or whatever catchy phrase people use.  I was scared back there.  Just as scared as you.”

Neither of them have more to say.  Each of them might be waiting for the air to clear.  For the moment, they go back to their food.

Geenie looks back up.  “I don’t know what to say.  I don’t know what you want.  I’m sick of games and I’m this close to not caring anymore.  Get it?”

“I don’t blame you,” Jack answers.  “Not a damn bit.”  He shakes his head.  “I…  I was clabbering on and said sometimes I see things or connect things which aren’t there?  I guess that is why I was in the same place as you.  Maybe it was you who was the reason I was hear.  I heard something about the case  Very suspect but hey.  I heard something about-  And you were there.  And then guns.  Maybe I am crazy or…”  He looks at Geenie’s face.  “Granted, I’m crazy.  I wouldn’t have been shot at so many times, right?”

Geenie dismisses his comment with a faint smile.  “You were much more interesting and informative when there were bullets.”

Jack coughs a slight laugh.  “I did like you, Geenie.  I was trying to do some investigation with what happened to…”

“Colin,” Geenie rudely reminds Jack.

“Yes, Colin.”  Asking, “Did you know anything besides, well…  The obvious detail?”

“I…  I don’t know.  Someone I know said she heard something on the news and it seemed out of the ordinary or, no reason why.  I don’t think I can help.”

“Part of me doesn’t know if I should tell you a little bit- Like a little bit of everything.  Or if I should tell you A LOT instead of the little which might just be a – sorry – little too much.  Or…  I can just tell you something sort of dumb or funny but true nevertheless.”

She doesn’t feel angry at this moment but her head is obviously swimming.  “Ah, I…”

“Take your time,” he jokes.

“Let’s start with the stupid.  Or whatever you said the last one was.”

“Sure thing.  Well…”  He takes a quarter second.  “I run this blog.  Do you, do you read them?”

“I don’t know.  What are they?”

“It’s sort of an online site which people use.  Sometimes for a theme or reporting purpose, but often in a journal sort of way.”

“A diary?”

“Yeah…  Of sorts.  Or some use it as their own version of reporting.  Music reviews, sharing files.  Photography.  Even broadcasting links to other websites.”

“Does yours have a theme?”

“Yes,” he says while nodding his head.

“What is it about?”

“Killer robots.”

She accidentally lets go of her plastic fork, and it falls into what’s left of the taco salad.  She has no other recourse than to laugh.

“Thank you, thank you…” he said hushed and going along with the flow.

“I-” Geenie can’t look him in the eye.

“That’s the point actually.  Sort of.”  He leans back to ask, “Would you like to hear more?”

Geenie hides here mouth with a napkin.  “Sure…”

“Well then.”  He starts into a part explaining and part sales pitch to defend himself.  “It’s called, the page: Countdown Robot Apocalypse.

The page well,”  He wraps his index fingers around long ways to spell out, “So the letters make out C, R, A, p.  Well yeah.”

Her head shakes slightly in an ‘oh brother’ type of way as he says more.

“It’s juvenile, I know, but that’s part of the point.  The undercurrent is truth but in an exaggerated sense.  It points out possibilities, shows where it can lead to, so on and forth.  It’s not my bread and butter mind you.  But it’s something I like.”

“Are you proud of it?”  She asks.

“I am,” he says with a slight air of triumph.

“Give me an example then?”

“Sure…” he says.  “Are you familiar with a lot of movies or..?”

“Not ‘guy movies’ if that’s what your pointed question was.”

“Ok.  Well the Terminator movies, or mythos.  That would be a guy movie.”

“I know some of it.  I’m not a huge fan or anything though.”

“That’s fine.  Well that, in a sort of retroactive way, was my inspiration.  The story is robots outsmarting or out thinking humans; and war ensues.”

“What about it?”  She asks.

“I’m glad you asked,” he said with his face lighting up.  He even dropped the burrito again and was wiping his hands as if he was about to perform surgery.

“Part of the funny if not Shakespearean thing of it all is…  The movie in a roundabout way was a warning that maybe one day this can happen.  Other people seem to think they want to see if it can happen.

So these things are done in the image- well, you get the idea.  It’s like all the drug dealers or rappers having an homage to Scarface, the Paccino movie, even though he ends up failing in an epic fashion; death.  Not a good vision for an empire.”

“It’s ok.  I’m curious.  What is an example though?”

“Here is the one I was getting at.  There are two companies built in the image of the Terminator movies.  Two I can think of at the moment who are flagrant.  One is called Cyberdine.  It’s a Japanese company I think, and they these mecha- they are like these robot suits.  Strength suits so you can be as is physically but lift 300 pounds – or whatever that is in kilos.  They are being developed for hospitals and care centers so the country’s women, who are of diminutive stature, can safely lift patients or help them in danger.  It’s a pretty noble thing, but Cyberdine was tied into the company who made all those bad thinking terminator ‘bots.”

“It’s interesting.  I’ll hand it to you.”  Geenie actually does seem to be interested in his words.  Not truly captivated, but it’s a start.

“Here’s what’s interesting.  There is a satellite however.  It’s being used by the British military.  It is a communication system for soldiers to speak with commanders.  It can also communicate with flying drones and other things.  These drones can also communicate with each other and each other orders without the commander or soldier’s ok.  So they are basically robots controlling other robots with no outside influence.”

“Really?”

“Really really.  It’s true.  Now the kicker…  The satellite I mentioned isn’t even owned by the British military or government.  They are renting it from someone else – something like just five percent.  And the name of it is Skynet, which was – well, the same name as in Terminator lore.”

“That is…”  Geenie searches for the words.  “It really does give you something to think about, yeah.”

“Not everything is dark and dreary on it but, I mean I try to subconsciously educate.”  Saying a bit more upbeat, “If I can stave off a robot apocolypse in my lifetime, well I suppose I can think the blog made a small impact.”

“Are those your qualifications of being a professional journalist?”

“Not at all,” Jack says with a more assured face.  “I won’t say I was a great reporter, or journalist, but people seemed to like what I did.  It just got frustrating.  So I decided to work on my little robot blog thing and.  It’s cheaper than collecting stamps or fine autos.  It’s free really.  The time is the only investment.  But it can be sort of, like a bounty in the end.  With the ‘R A’ blog.”

“Bountiful in spirit?  Or…  Where?”

“Oh.  I see your line of thought.  Well not a huge amount of self fulfillment- really, if there is a near future robot apocalypse it would surely prove the point of the theme of the blog, but I’ll feel hopeless or it was all an exercise in futility so…  Yeah, bad thing.”  “However,” he squeezes in, “When I post something in there, I have a comment section so I can get a lot of feedback.  Almost instantly in some cases.

That helps me have the feeling of continuing that place.  The point rings true; despite the naughty acronym.”

“Wouldn’t you get feedback or anything from the people who read your other articles?  In your reporter world?”

“Now see, that is the whole case in point.  It’s a point I have always tried to make.”  Jack breaks the conversation off a moment to ask, “You like movies?”

“Sometimes but not always,” Geenie answers to Jack’s liking.

“You probably don’t like movies, but you probably like films, right?”

“I don’t know.  There’s a difference?”

“For the sake of this analogy, I think there is.  I call it the ‘rectangle complex’ as a catchy little title.  Where a square can be a rectangle but a rectangle can’t be a square.”

“I learned that since I took geometry, like most people.”

“I’m glad, since it all relates.  Movies are movies.  Like Terminator, which you aren’t really into.  A film is a movie which can elevate the art, or has a clear message.  It can alter your emotions or even outlook of life.  Movies can’t do that though.  Only films.”

“That relates to reporting?”

“It does in fact.  To me at least.  I feel reporters are, dare I say, like movies.  Reporters report and…  Well I feel many reporters are those who bring a bad name for journalism bit by bit.  Most have an agenda – due to their boss.  Whoever the company is and who else is an owner or partner in said news organization.  I hate the buzz word of ‘spin’ but often those types have a particular demographic they are playing towards.

Especially like, say, twenty four our cable news channels.”

Geenie nods along with a face of interest.

“Journalists, in my point of view again, are an elevated- but dying breed.  A journalist works hard to present both sides freely.  And much like a FILM maker, they peruse their career to enlighten and improve humanity.  A journalist presents a story rather than pushes it.  They may not say ‘so and such is bad’ but they might ask ‘what is so and so up to’ and then present hard, objective facts and make an active effort to get a defense from said target to explain what these exhibits of evidence might really be.”

“You consider yourself a journalist then?”

“I did,” he confides to Geenie.

“A former life as they say?”

“Yes you COULD say that.”

“I could say it and I already did.”

Jack makes a goofy curtsey with his eyebrows which Geenie responds to.

She follows up with, “Where exactly did you work in your journalistic years?”

“It’s best to just tell you what I think counts.  Right?”

“So then?”

“Well…  The reason I couldn’t get the same feedback as I can now…  I actually worked for ‘The Wire’ as many of the people like to say.  There’s a bunch when you really use a magnifying glass but- I mean the point is, they are the Coke and Pepsi.  The most well known of the batch.”  He wipes his eyes by habit, or due to sleep deprivation.

“The great thing about it is the fact someone can be a true journalist more or less.  But the by line, the written by thing.  That’s the down side.  Since it’s most always credited to the company and not the individual.  That’s why people know the Reuters or the Associated Press rather than individual names.”

“Is that why,” she yawns accidentally.  “Oh, excuse me.”

Another napkin in hand and Jack answers, “Don’t worry about it.”  He sideways yawns back into his napkin while listening to Geenie.

“Is the ‘written by’ part the reason you stopped being a journalist, or why you left your wire service boss, uh- company?”

“Nah.  I kind of loved it actually.  Traveling around the world…  Modest expense counts.  Lack of compromising my integrity…  I really loved it.  I just-”  He rubs above his ear.  “I just got busted by them.  So…  Tweet,” making a thumbing gesture.  “I was out.”

“You were…  Making up stories?”

“NO.  Never.  It was much worse.”  With a pause, “I ended up working for the competition.”

“Which one?”

“Both of them in fact,” he admits.  Looking up to see a puzzling face on here.  “I won’t go into the fine details…”  he warns.  “But the two I mentioned?  Associated Press and Reuters.  I was working for both of them.  At the same time.  I wasn’t dishonest per ‘say’.  I wrote two articles.  Unique articles.  Not boilerplate or just adjectives, but some elements switched or points swapped.  The big thing, in their eyes, were me drawing two paycheck versus one story; no matter how I defended myself.”

“Isn’t that a little dishonest?”

“I don’t know, is it?  I still had morals for what I did.  A code.  I didn’t submit the same expense account.  I might have drawn a bit more per diem – daily spending money.  But that was kind of automatic for a bit foreign story.  Sort of like a waitress making tips to pad the awful hourly wage granted by a restaurant.  Per diems are for you to do whatever with.  I didn’t charge twice for one plane trip or anything like that.  It was pretty above the board.  I think it was more ‘spilt milk’ than anything; so double fired.  Bim bam.”

“How did they finally catch you?”  Her eyes were closing but she really wanted to know.

“Well, I’d prefer to save it for another day.”

“Is that a cheap ploy to see me again?”

“It’s more of a fact of how long we’ve been here.  Look at your salad.  The poor thing has melted.”

Geenie looks down and laughs.  He was practically right.  All of her nonchalant picking at it reveals she stabbed the bottom out of it; along with whatever collected juices were in there from tomatoes and whatever else was hiding inside.  Thank goodness she had it on a tray or there would have been a much larger mess on her hands.

“What do you suggest?”  Assuming he would bid her adieu and swap information for a possible date or a real interview if he was still reporting, or ‘investigating’ as he said.

“Can I speak objectively?”

“What is that supposed to mean,” she honestly pondered.

“I want to give an actual answer…  But I want to say it with you knowing I really mean it.”

“Is this..?”  She searches for the words.  “Would you say this is your journalistic opinion rather than reporting an answer?”

“Clever.  That is a good way of putting it.”

“Tell me.  I am getting tired a bit anyway,” Geenie actually admits.

“You said it yourself.  Where I’m staying is not even a block away from here.  Drive wise.  Why not follow me back?  Or if you can’t drive you can ride with me.”

“I can still drive,” she says obstinately.  “In fact, may I have my keys now?”

“I’m sorry, yes.”  He finds the keys in his pocket and hem into her awaiting hand while saying, “Please note I made sure to keep hold of your keys and also took the effort to make sure your car was locked securely.”

“Oh funny, ha ha.”  Geenie was playful in her statement but had to pull her hand back to take hold of her keys.

“I’m kind of tired but I am not a motel kind of girl, if you get my meaning.”

“Really I didn’t mean it that way.”

“What way was it then?”  She had to ask.

“I don’t want to dredge it up but I’m sure you still remember not too much earlier this evening.  I really didn’t take it so lightly.”

“Me neither.  Still-”

“It’s the only reason.  But I’ll go as far as to say this.  I really wanted to ask you some things still.

It was my only goal.  And though…  I might still be more of a reporter now but I still strive to have journalistic integrity.  I may have duped an article but I never consorted; if you get my meaning that is.”

“I get it.  But what if you ask me everything once we are there?  All journalism bets are off, right?”

“Not so.  It’s- I know I’m tired.  I would prefer to be ‘at a certain’ level when conversing about things.  It’s only fair; to you and for me.  Nothing until tomorrow.”

“Oh?”  She says while looking up.

“I’ll go even this far.  My promise.  You won’t even have to sleep in my room.”

“A separate room?”

“Yes,” he concurs.

“Do you have an expense account for this?”

“No.  But I’ll manage somehow,” he promises while cracking a smirk.  “Same as the meal.  My pocket.”  Laughing, “The Horchata?  That can be your dime.”

“Very funny.”

“Is that a problem?”

“No…” she says to herself in an upturned voice.  “It’s fine.”

Jack stands up.  “Well then?”

TEN

Whether or not it was against her better judgment, Geenie still had to side with reason; even if it usually isn’t something usually implemented in her rationale.

At any rate, Geenie’s vehicle found its way to the parking lot of a place called the Found Dutchman Motel / Lodge.  Perhaps the Dutchman’s namesake comes from the Gideons Bible which is stocked without fail.

The structure was maybe impressive in its time; or as now; seen as an oddity overall.  It had one look from the street but a different layout with another point of view.  Street side it seemed to be a corner setup: two buildings melting in the center to create a ‘V’ shape; which formed the inside perimeter to the faded lines which comprised the dull grey parking lot.  The three rooms tall building seemed to be trimmed in a thin ‘French Quarters’ style railing.  It was black and thin; with twists in it.  It didn’t have all of the flourishes or ornateness of usual French ironwork, but it seemed to deviate to what most hotels have: best explained as a reformatted versions of a pool fence.  Room Twenty Eight was the place where Geenie was to find herself.  She was on the second floor, at the landing, waiting for Jack to catch up.  He decided to park his vehicle in a space further away ‘just in case’ so both vehicles could be spotted.  Besides, he didn’t care if it was street side since it was a rental after all.

Before they left the parking lot, he told Geenie to remove all possible identifying information from the vehicle: items like a possible parking ID tag, insurance papers, registration, and a whole grocery list of other things Jack warned her about.  Without any contradiction, Geenie went with the plan.  She had a leftover beach bag or some sort of tote.  Calling it an opportunity to organize, she scooped all the contents out of her center console area.

She also dumped the contents from her glove compartment into the same bag; made of a canvas like material.  Jack finally met her on the second floor and was carrying a bag of his own.  Much more well prepared of course, he had something between a duffel bag or a satchel.  It was made of something which looked like leather but seemed far more durable due to aged look of it.  Maybe it was actually the real deal.  For a slight moment, it seemed to be an important question in Geenie’s mind.

“Ready?”  He asked her while making sure he had the key.

“Might as well,” is what she told herself within his earshot.

Jack scrunched past her on the narrow walkway and made it to the room.  As he tried to be quiet while playing with the lock, Geenie wondered why most all motel doors seemed to sound the same whether being unlocked, opened, or even closed for that matter.  He pointed his hand towards the back of the room.  “Have at it,” the man indicated for the bathroom.  “I doubt the last location could describe its facilities as adequate.”

Geenie was still apprehensive, but figured the aim of Jack might actually be true since he seemed to have a demeanor filled more with decorum; rather than odd humor or rambling.  It could also be merely that point where a need of sleep shuts down all but the most basic brain functions.  Geenie called it being in ‘zombie mode’ when surviving college years.  Despite having nothing more than the clothes on her back and a bag made of tired material holding miscellaneous items, Geenie took that bag into the bathroom with her: freshening up for sleep so it seemed.

When she finally walked out and into the room again, she saw Jack crouched beside the bed.

There was another door she didn’t see earlier which connected this room with another.  This door was opened up all the way.

“What are you doing,” Geenie had to burden herself to ask.

Jack was on one knee with one hand on the doorknob, or small handle rather, to the next room.  His other hand was gripping what looked to be a folding penknife in a classically dulled red hue.

“Just a sec,” he said while his wrist slowly moved.  Clack.  He stands back up and carefully pushes the second door open, which gapes the expose the adjoining room.  “Your room…” he sighs as a sleepy butler.  With his hand extended on the handle still, Geenie followed it into the next room with her bag.

While Jack went back to room twenty eight, Geenie walked straight into the bed; not realizing her shoes were still on until she landed onto the mattress, back first.  She stared from her bed and saw what little light there was turn off, and the rustle of a bed sheet.  Her eyes closed barely a second and when she opened them again, it was Jack; his silhouette from the night crossing the threshold of Geenie’s room.

“What do you think you are doing?”  She said in a quiet yet harsh way.  She could see his bag in one hand and a sheet in the other, with a pillow balancing of the bag.

“It’s probably not a good idea to stay in there.  If someone tries to come looking, it’s best to stay in here to throw things off.  Nobody will be checking in anyway.  It’s after hours.”  Jack seemed to have a way to lower his voice just as a volume knob.  It retained the same inflections and timber, yet not so loud.

Maybe it was another skill to attribute to a journalism background.

“You gave your word…” Geenie lectures.  Meanwhile Jack has dropped his bag on the ground and let the pillow plop on top.

“I did give my word,” he says while tossing the sheet into the air and helping it gently float to the floor of the room.  “And I did keep it.”

“No…  You-” she cuts herself off when she losses sight of the man she quickly became cross with.  She leans to her right and peers over to see Jack already on the floor.  His eyes follow up and meet hers; knowing she has a thought to finish.

“You,” repositioning.  “You said we wouldn’t be sleeping in the same room.  You promised it to me.”

“Did eye?”  He sleepily asks.

“Don’t start acting like an ass.”

“Actually…” he draws out.  I promised you wouldn’t be sleeping in my room.  I don’t really think I said where I’d thought I’d be sleeping though.  But I really was doing it for your safety.”

Geenie makes a foolish sigh to herself.

“I really would feel awful if I got you into all of that trouble.  I already feel terrible about everything already.  You have been very nice to meet, but I’m sorry for all the circumstance.”

Her eyes glaze over a bit while he speaks.  She would never admit it but she was at the stage of being too tired to put up a genuine fuss.

“I’m on the floor.  I’m not even within a literal arm’s length,” which he proves correct by outstretching his left hand towards her.  I’m also tired and I still want to ask some things later.  I wouldn’t want to jeopardize it for anything.”

Jack keeps is sight in her direction in a search for validation.  Geenie props her right hand under her ear, slumber party style, and looks Jack straight into his eyes the best she can.  Her mouth creeps open again.

“Are you married?”

“No.”

“Divorced?”

“No.”

“Separated…?”

“No.”

“Kids?”

“None.  I like them, but not yet.”

Geenie rolls onto her back and exhales in a half defeated manner.  Taking it as a sign of acceptance, Jack tugs one side of the sheet across, and covers himself with it in a cocoon type of way.  When his eyes close, he feels Geenie’s shoes drop; square on his forehead.  He opens his mouth and eyes to see her face hovering above him.

“That was a warning.”

ELEVEN

“I don’t know if I can apologize on my behalf for such a thing…  But I accept it however.”  Jack rubs he face and feels a hot spot on it.

It’s a feeling there bust be a big and red spot somewhere from the way it throbs, yet when looking at a mirror, nothing seems to have ever happened.  Jack didn’t like the fact Geenie tossed her shoes onto his head in an act of defiance, but it still made him laugh a little bit on the inside.  He was just thankful she wasn’t using any true force to prove her point.  He took the shoes and carefully slip them underneath the bed.  When he looked back up, another surprise drops on his face.  She dropped her sock on him; which splayed across his scalp line.  Jack peels it off as a banana peel and silently holds it up above his head.  Due to the silence, Geenie looks over.

“What was that supposed to mean?”  Jack had to know.

“I don’t know…”  She defended herself with, “It’s your fault…  Now I can’t sleep.”

“If you’re trying to make yourself come off as less attractive, don’t bother.  I’m staying down here.”  Turning slightly to mutter, “And even if I did, you’d…”  Geenie could hear just enough.

“I’d what?”  She asked him.

“Nevermind.  It’s late.”  Then again with a dropped voice, “Besides, I’m in mixed company.  So there.”

“Mixed?  There’s two of us.  Are you trying to keep me awake?”

Jack feels a bit like a parent who gives up and lets the children misbehave since discipline can be draining.  “You, me?  Boy.  Girl.  Mixed.”

“That’s lame.  You don’t want to say something rude?”

“Perhaps,” he lazily fires back.  “You’re the one seeming to keep up the slumber party atmosphere in here.”

“I see how it is, I think.  When boys have a slumber party they tend to get rude or something?”

“No.”  Then considering, “Nah.  Yeah, I guess.  Not that I usually have that on my mind.”  After letting a moment pass, “Girls are more diversified I suppose?  Ponies, boys, and make overs?”

Geenie stays quiet a moment before using an ‘aw shucks’ tone.  “I suppose, I suppose.  Some sort of variation but those are covered points of interest.”

“So now you have boys on the mind because of the situation?”  His eyes are half closed but he still raises his eyebrows upon asking.

“No…  Because of the situation, do you now have RUDE on the mind?”  She chides him.

“I can’t say yes.  But the common sense part of my brain is fizzling out.  I’d rather keep it to myself, which I can’t seem to remember anymore.”

“That’s a cop out.  I’m sure you remember, Jack.”

“No.  I don’t.  Night.”

She laughs a slight bit to herself.  “Was it…”  After thinking, “Was it boy girl naughty?  Or… Boy slumber party naughty.”

“I believe I used the word rude.  Or rather just impolite.”

“Boy girl impolite?”

“No.”  He fidgets on the floor.  “Boy night slumber party rude.”

“I see…” she navigates.  “You do remember.”

“Weren’t you the one who needed the cajoling to be in the same room as me?

Speaking freely, I didn’t think you would want this night to linger any longer than it already has.”

Geenie doesn’t take the time to let his words process into her mind.  Maybe a reason she didn’t particularly enjoy having friends was the fact it would nag her later if they were being sincere or being polite only until her back was turned.  Something from long ago must have given her that subliminal anxiety.  Or it was merely genetic.

“It was something you said aimed at me.  Shouldn’t I have the privilege to know?”

“Will you go to sleep if I tell you?”  He tries to negotiate.

“I can’t promise anything.”

“Hm.”

“At least I don’t have the need to twist words around.”

“Hm,” he repeats while looking over his shoulder at Geenie.

“But if I’m tired I’ll sleep.  Or I’ll try to relax at least.”

“Oh all right.  If you won’t let up,” he says while turning onto his back.  Shifting the bag lets Jack look more towards her.

“I said…”

“Yes?”

“I…  Said…  Was going to say.  Even if did crawl up there with you; once I was up there you’d probably Dutch Oven me.”

“I what?”  Geenie asked with a strange voice and scrunched up face.

“Is that some sort of boy slumber party code?”

“No.”

“Well?”

No reaction from Jack.

“Is it some sort of army or military tactic?”  She asks; scouring for the truth.  “Operation: Dutch Oven or something like that?”

Jack Robinson scoffs before laughing into his pillow.

“What’s such a big deal?”  She asks with a slight edge.  Perhaps the self consciousness is surfacing once more.

“You asked.  I told you.”  Smiling, “Please.  Night.”

“Don’t you want to explain it to me?”

“I agreed to tell you what I was thinking.  Not draw you a map.”  He can’t help but chuckle again.

“What’s the secret meaning?”

“I’m not going to tell you.”  Echoing once again, “It’s not…”  Giggling, “Not appropriate for a proper lady.”

“I’m not feeling the need to sleep anytime soon.”

Jack tries to have his eyes closed but is still making a goofy face while Geenie looks on at him.

“I’m glad I was never a boy.”

“So am I.” he answers in a nonsensical way.

Things were reaching a final straw.  She turned onto her back and stared straight up at the ceiling; which seemed in her mind to go from darkness and an even paint job to a series of squiggles she could distinctly pick out.  Geenie had that feeling – which has been many years in the past.  A hotness about her face: a mix of anger and embarrassment.

“Please…” she quietly said.  “Would it help if I told you something personal about myself?”

Sensing something in her voice, Jack came to an immediate stop.  The silence in the room was broken from an odd breath.

“I…”  “I don’t even want to be telling you this,” she makes it obvious to Jack.

“You really don’t have to-”

“I already started.  It’s no use now.  And I never cared to be a secretive type of girl.  But…”  She hesitates.  Switching gears, “And I was never a big fan of slumber parties or class birthday things.  I was that girl who faded into the background, or I’ll get into the ass end of the spotlight.”

“Is that-?”  Jack tries to ask, but Geenie won’t let him.

“I hate being the ‘laugh at’ kind of girl.  Maybe it’s why I’m not good at keeping company or friendships.”

“That wasn’t what I was setting out for,” Jack defends.  “I am sorry though.  That’s a real apology.  No ‘twisted words’ as I think you put it.  Obviously there’s nobody else here so the only person I could be trying to impress is you,” he mentions while glancing up at her.  Geenie tries to stay angry but literally shakes it off subtly.

“I honestly thought it was rude.  Impolite, uncouth.  Take your pick of a word.”

“Barbaric?”

“No, not that.  I hate that word really.”

“You hate it because it describes boys’ slumber parties?”

“It’s- No, not that, but.  It’s just one of those words in today’s vernacular which means something completely different.”

“Are you going off topic?”

“Not exactly.  Would you like to know though?”

“Yes, if you promise…  You know,” she needles him.

“I’m tired so I won’t go into it all.  But the basic derivative.  A barbarian was merely one who didn’t speak the such and such language.  I won’t waste you time, so there you have it.”

“That’s it?”  She says with slight disappointment.

“Yep.  Anyone who hadn’t spoken a particular language.  Those who spoke that language referred to the others as barbarians.”  He asides, “Now if only you had the same bored expression with the other one-”

“Which you promised to tell me,” Geenie adds.

“Yeah.”  Saying through an opened mouth and almost closed teeth, “So how can I explain it…?”

Geenie asks with equal parts mock flirtation and hesitation, “Is this something you now want to crawl up with me and demonstrate?”

Jack tries containing his laughter replying, “Oh no.  You will kill me if I tried that gambit.”

“Good,” she says with affirmation.  “I still have a rogue sock for my protection, Buster.”

“Yeah.  I’m being altruistic, trust me.  Hold you thoughts until the end of the explanation.”  Jack sits up and tries to gesture with his hands; though his pantomimes correlate with nothing.

“So…”  Speaking to himself, “Just like an adhesive bandage: all at once.”

“I’m waiting,” Geenie complains.

“For its namesake let’s just call this a ‘recipe’ for all intensive purposes.

This is supposed to serve two in the best, er, circumstance.  Man and a woman.  Man beside, sheets pulled up, and usually tucked around.  Sort of like yours, a little bit.”

“What is this?  A pie?”

“No but…  The ‘filling’ is,” he giggles.  “Basically he rips a rat.”

“A what?”

“He…  He breaks wind, ok?”

Geenie has a fast look of mock horror on her face.

“That is; GROSS.”

Jack can’t help but to quietly let out some of his laughter.

“But that’s not even what it is.”

“What?”  She makes another face.  “There’s more?”

“Well I didn’t get to it yet.  You cut me off,” he smiles around the room to avert her eyes.

“Fine.”  She waits another beat before adding, “Yes?”

“He…”  Jack tries to compose himself but knows he can’t draw the sentence out.

“And,”  Speaking faster with matching gestures, “He lifts it up so it all…  Comes – up – and – out,” He hurries out of his mouth before almost convulsing from laughter, “You are-” Geenie tries to say, but she sees him on the floor dying from a mixture of hilarity and sleep deprivation.  Scientists refer to this as punch drunk or ‘punchy’ for short.  Instead, Geenie throws a pillow at Jack’s face before verbally condemning him.

“You-” he laughs again.  “You – are – the – one – who – wanted – to – know,” he laughs out.

“Don’t blame me.”  Laughing a, “Plea – hee – hee – heezee”

She can’t help it; the moment is slightly contagious.  Her mouth and teeth open up with a smile but she tries not to let it happen.  Compromising; she grabs for a pillow to cover her expression.

“I’m sorry Geenie…  I’m not laughing at you.”  Wheezing out, “Really…”  Jack looks up and sees her obstructed face.  “Look at you.  You like it too, ya little scalawag.”

“No.  It-  It’s your fault.  You started it,” she deflects while trying to keep a straight face.

Stretching out on the floor, “Well, Geenie…  Now you know one of the secrets of the men inner sanctum.”

“Great,” she says with lack of enthusiasm.  “Plus now I’ll never get to sleep.”

“I’m sure you can.  Just relax.  Think of whatever conversations they had at your sleep over parties you attended.  Like…  The Magic Glitter Ponies or whatever you girls called it.”

“That’s sexist to think about all females playing with the same toys.  That would be like me saying all boys play with those little metal die cast cars where the doors opened and so forth.”

“I played with a lot of them.  Most Hot Wheels didn’t have opening doors as I recall, they were more like sports cars.  Maybe some of the classy Matchbox cars were the ones with opening doors.  Corgi?  I forget.”

“Are you trying to make a point?”

Jack answers, “Yes.  Most all boys play with little racing cars.”

“Is that a fact?”

“I believe so,” he says with confidence.

“This is because you believe all girls played with these ‘Glitter Ponies’ as you put it?”

“Do you think I owned them just because I was a girl?”

“I do,” he plainly answers.

“Then you are wrong…” she tries to gloat.  Silence in the room.

“Is that a fact?”  He prods.

All she emits is, “Hmph.”

“Oh,” Jack thinks out loud; with a voice upturned in confidence.  “Did you PLAY with the Glitter ponies as a kid?”

Silence again.

“Let’s have it.”

“Are you trying to make fun of me?”

“I’m not, Geenie.  I meant it to be a declarative sentence.  We were only comparing childhoods, or rationalizing gender structures of youth.”

“You lost me on that one.”

“Ponies and farts,” he utters with guilt.

“Yeah.”  She couldn’t help but snicker.  “That.”

She looks back over to Jack and admits, “I’ll answer, but no ridicule, ok?”

“Promise.  Count me on it.”

“I accept that.  And your answer is: no.”

The room is silent a few moments, but Geenie speaks once more.

“It was the Rainbow Pony Club.”

“That wha-?  You lied.”

“No, I did not,” she rebuts with a finger mocking him.  “I never owned any of them.”  Admitting, “My mom was too cheap.”

“Oh.  I see,” he says with half a smile.  “The Rainbow Pony Club, huh?”

“I won’t go into it anymore.  I don’t want you ridiculing me.”

“Nah.  I won’t, no.  I was always curious about the whole female culture.  Well, not always.  Just at a point when I started taking some courses on anthropology and sociology stuff.  But I couldn’t really start asking little girls in toy stores about pony products or Princess Thumbilina accessories.  It would be creepy, even if it was in the name of science.”

“Yeah.  I bet.”

“You don’t believe me?  Do you.”

“I guess so…  I don’t know why I shouldn’t.  Unless it’s another trick statement.”

“It’s not.  Pure of sarcasm.”  Looking back up in her direction, “I do know a little bit about it though.  Just one thing.”

“Really?  You do?”  She wonders strangely.

“When you put it that way, I’m not sure really.  Maybe I can tell the one thing to you and you can judge if I’m correct.”

“Fair enough.  That is,”  She speculates, “If I even remember any of it still.”

“Well here goes.” He fakes a deep breath as if he is answering a million dollar question.  “There were the ponies of course…  But there was one girl also.  A human girl, not a pony.  Right?”

She slightly moves her head as if looking for that particular piece of information in her head.  “Correct.”

“And…” he interrupts.  “Her name was Melanie.”

“It was, you’re right,” Geenie congratulates him.  “Now how did you know that?”

“All honesty; when I was in school, young.  A lot of girls would pretend they were Rainbow Ponies.  And this one boy would always say he wanted to be Melanie.”

She chuckles.

“I still won’t reveal the name to this day, for his own protection.  He’s probably rich as a fashion designer or something so who am I kidding.  Heh.”

“It sounds like he was a smart boy,” Geenie notes.  “He was hanging around all the girls while you were only watching.”

“Maybe I was perfectly content with the view.”

“Please,” she mutters.

“I must say…  You seem to remember much more than you lead on to.”

“Not really.  Maybe you saying it just brought a lot of it back.”

“Maybe you want to talk more about it?  Or do Rainbow Ponies tell no tales?”

“If I tell you, you’re going to have to tell me another boy story.  Something equal.”

“I thought you said you didn’t like those kinds of stories,” he tries to remind her.

“There’s a difference.  It’s not my fault boys are the snakes and snails type.

But something from childhood it still a story nonetheless.”

“Even if it’s uncivilized or a ‘gross out’ moment?”  He asked.

“Regardless.  I feel like I revealed much more.  This is more than I really ever told anyone.  I’m close with my mother and I still never brought up the Rainbow Pony Club since that first time I asked for one.

“I’ll try to think of something.  Right now I don’t have anything resting on the top of my head.”

“Maybe I can make it more tempting for you.  If it’s a good story.”

“Say what you want, but I’m staying on the floor.”

“That isn’t what I meant.”

“What did you mean?”

“I’m not saying,” she speaks with a snobby twist.  “You wanted pony stories I thought.”

“Yes I certainly do.  Please do tell.”

“Fine…”  She speaks with a little glint in her voice; the fondness of the toy line not losing any of its childhood luster.

“I remember it was usually just one girl the most when I played with them.  Most of the other kids had one or two, or these sort of generic packs where you could get like four or five of them but they didn’t look as nice as the individual ones.  Anyway, this other girl in out class.  Her name was Sabrina.  She had a last name I don’t remember but…  I know the boys in the class would tease her about it and call her ‘La Crouton’ whenever there was a chance not to be caught.  And I thought she was RICH.  Sabrina had at least a dozen of them, but to me it always seemed like she had every single one of the Rainbow Ponies.

Oh, and she also had Melanie of course.  None of the girls really ever played with her but she was such a big deal.”

Geenie notices she has been in her own faraway land, and looks directly at Jack.  “Am I talking too much?”

He looks up; revealing his eyes were open the entire time.  “Please keep going.  I’m still listening.”

She takes him for his word and goes back into her mind.

“So…  Melanie was always the hyped up figure to get, but it was mostly about the television show that came on to make her a big deal.  Once that was on…  Then everyone had to buy her figure since she became all powerful or whatever because of what happened in the tv show.”

“Really?  What happened,” he asked with a heightened interest.

“Oh…”  Trailing off, “I really doubt you want to hear all of this.”

“You got me interested.  I hate, a slight bit, to say it…  But it’s true.”

“Why?  Seriously.”

“It seems something you had a passion for,” he lets her know.  “Besides.  I am still trying to formulate a story myself- but I’m listening.  Mo making funsies.”

“Is that a fact?”  She smiles.

“Yes.  Of course.”  He flips his index towards her though while saying, “Just you don’t make fun of me either.  Or call me a gross guy.”

“I promise,” she says with her hand up in an oath taking fashion.  “Where was I now?”

“It was….” Jack reminds.  “The Rainbow Pony Club, the cartoon television show, and Melanie’s role.”

“Oh yeah well, when you’re a kid you think all these character or plot idea were all part of the original pony plan I guess.  When you get older though, you understand what merchandising tie ins are.”

“And ancillary items,” he interjects.

“What is that,” she asks.

“It’s things like lunch boxes, coloring books, and mugs.  Stuff like that for all intensive purposes; in this situation.  But please go on.”

Without missing a beat, “This is an example about all of the thrill about Melanie..  Nobody cared about her so much since she wasn’t a pony.  She had a brush though, but most of the ponies had some sort of a tiny comb or something also which looked a lot nice.”  Pausing to ask, “Too much detail?

“Not at all.  Detail away,” he encourages Gennie.

“Once the cartoon was on tv, it had this whole mystique and origin story.  So she just wasn’t the girl with the boring brush.  But it was like…  She was accidentally their guardians for some reason because she found an old brush somewhere in the woods.  There was a stable nearby or a barn and she lived out in the countryside.  And when she went into the stable and brushed one of the horses, there was this diamond or sun stone that a shaft of light; that fell through the roof of the stable barn thing; and the light beam hit this diamond thing, and then it turned the regular ponies into Rainbow Ponies.

I guess in the cartoon it was like the transforming robots did or something, where they were originally hiding out as regular Earth ponies but the brush was lost.  So then she was the only one who could unlock the secrets.  Then whenever she left, or didn’t brush them a while, the Rainbow Ponies would fade into the dull and regular ponies they originally were.  At least unenchanted ones.  After that show, everyone had to have a Melanie doll too, even if you never played with her, because she had the magic brush.”

She pauses a moment to take a breath.  She was getting ahead of herself.  Jack takes the opportunity to add into this story.

“Did she ever ride the ponies?”

“That part of the legend was never covered in the cartoon as far as I can remember.  Either they never had an explanation of it or maybe I missed that episode.” Joking, “Actually, I probably saw them all.  I’d say I’m certain of it.  There were a lot of  playground speculations come to think of it now.”

“Now it’s time for ME to say ‘huh’ – so explain?”

“A lot of the girls at school.  At lunch or recess there were lots of conspiracy theories of stuff.  Another of them was about if Melanie rode any of the horses.  Really they were a whole weird scale.  If they were really ponies, the doll of Melanie would have been a giant in reality.  I think her feet even touched the ground if she was ever able to ride the horse since she was taller than the ponies as it was if you go by the toy scale.  Honestly, you’d pop her leg out of its socket if you were forcing her to ride the horse since her legs could never really get all the way around the horse.”

“Did you attempt to make Melanie ride one of the horses?”

“I didn’t exactly learn from experience.  One of the boys stole them out from our little play group and tried to put Melanie on the horse.  It’s funny now but all the girls were shrieking and yelling how he was committing acts of pony cruelty.  Sure enough, the leg popped right out and made a funny hollow sound.  Like a cartoon effect for a bubble popping.  The little girl who owned Melanie was crying about it.”

Jack giggled a bit at the story with a, “he he hee hee he heee.”

Geenie gives a stern look and Jack finally notices.

“What did you expect?”  He make a face and reminds, “Didn’t we already establish boys were rude?”

“Anyway…” she says to get back on track.  “We had to flag down the duty aid, well the adults policing the yard, and she tried to come to the rescue and help us out.  The worst part about all of it was the fact it later became somewhat of a scandal or a school legend.”

“For breaking a doll?”

“Not really.  The duty aid fixed her but ended up taking all of the doll’s clothes off to wedge the leg back in.  All these kids in a circle to watch, and it made the girl that owned the toy cry even more because all the boys were shouting about seeing Melanie’s chi chis.”

Both of them break into laughter.

“I’m afraid of going to jail for asking, but what age exactly was Melanie?”

“Please,” mutters Geenie with a smile on her face.  “They were nonexistent chi chis but for the boys in the schoolyard it might as well have been Dolly Parton.  For weeks none of the girls would even bring a Melanie doll to school due to the whole horrifying situation.  It nearly broke the whole club up.”

“What club?”  Asked Jack.  “I thought it was a tv show.”

“The brand was the Rainbow Pony Club but that was our genius little kid mentality.  They all tried to make it so each girl bought or had a different type of pony from the toy series so that way the club would sort of have every pony known to mankind.”

“A kiddie pyramid scheme?”

“I guess it was something like that.  It was a nice thing for us because we could all say we had all the ponies, so the club thought like they were the coolest girls there ever were because they had this genius plan.”

“Wait a minute,” Jack say.  He asks in a calculated voice, “I thought you said you never owned any of the Rainbow Ponies.”

“I didn’t,” she answers proudly.

“But you were in the club.”

“I was.”

“Then…  How…?  Pray tell.”

“Certainly,” she says with an evil grin.  “One of my classmates, Linsey; she had ponies though.”

“Oh did she now?”  He asks while noticing Geenie’s smug face.  “A best friend?”

“No.  She wasn’t, but I would play at her house after school a lot.  Her mom was kind of crazy I guess so that’s why she never invited her best friend over.”

“But she invited you?”

“Yup,” she nods.

“Didn’t that give you a complex or something while growing up?”

“Nope.” She takes on a youthful voice to announce, “Because I had ponies to play with…”

“Was that as brilliant of a scheme as the indoctrination of the actual elementary school pony club?”

“Not quite.  Well now that you think of it, maybe just a little.  She would give me a pony to keep in my desk.  It was the same pony every time, but anyway, I would bring it to the club until Friday where I gave it back to her after school.  Then she took the pony back home for the weekend; and Monday morning it started all back.”

“So you couldn’t just keep the pony in your desk over the weekend?”

“Correct.  She had a crazy mom, but I thought I told you that already.”

“The crazy mom who let you play at the house while you traded self worth for toy time?”  He asks.

“This wasn’t just a couple of toys This was THE Rainbow Pony Club Collection.  It was about the only type of toy she had, but she had it all.”

“It must have been impressive I take it.”

“She didn’t just have the toys but also the big thing.  Linsey had the Pretty Pony Palace.”

“The P P P?”  Jack countered.

“It was this whole big playset – slash – carrying case thing and that thing was huge and expensive.

It was like a hundred bucks.”  Catching him up to speed by adding, “Later on in the cartoon series I guess they had to sell new and more expensive products.  So they made the barn thing a whole lot fancier and even though the place looked nothing like the playset thing you bought, it was still the big must have status symbol.”

“Didn’t all of her other friends want to come over since she was the kid with the pony house?”

“Nobody knew.  It was like this whole secret just we had.”  Adding to the earlier story, “The only sort of same thing from the cartoon and the Pretty Pony Palace though?  The whole thing was somehow Melanie had this key they never explained how she got it, but it was the only way to see the Rainbow ponies or something like that.”

“So in the cartoon, Melanie got tired of brushing the ponies and just had a key transform them all instead?”

“Yeah I know.  It doesn’t make any sense but kids didn’t think about stuff like continuity or plot changes when watching cartoons.  I remember in the show the key was like one of those old keys you see which were all gold and had that big loop for the part where you hold it?  And it had this heart shaped ruby wedged into that open circle part.  And then the part where the teeth were of the key?  If you turned to see the front like where you inserted it into a lock, it had a diamond or bluish sun stone thing on the end there just like the thing Melanie had on her brush in the original cartoon shows.  But for the Pretty Pony Palace it had a key like the tv show which you needed to unlock the playset and open it up to get at the ponies.

And just like the cartoon, you could actually peer into the keyhole as if you were spying on the ponies to see what they were doing.”

“So….” Jack quandaries.  “Part of this cartoon was about peeping in on the horse?”

“You know how I told you stuff doesn’t have to always make sense in shows when you’re a little kid?”

“I do,” he answers Geenie.

“When they revamped that show later on, in the cartoon they added this guy.  Originally when Melanie brushed the horses and they got magical, she was taking care of them for this sick elderly farmer.  That’s why she was in there all the time.”

“Because of child labor.”

“Yeah I suppose.” She agrees with Jack.  “Like I said, little kids – no sense – don’t care.  But later when they had that nicer place to live for no reason-”

“That didn’t resemble the toy,” he reminds himself.

“Yes, well there would be this guy who would pop in from time to time wanting the Rainbow Ponies for some reason.  I would always be scared or crying thinking he was finally going to learn the secret.  Then when he peeked in the keyhole, they would just be the boring regular horses once again.”

“You would really cry?”

“Of course I would,” she said with a puppy dog voice.  “I loved the ponies.”

“How did he know about the Rainbow Pony Club?”

“They never really explained it.  Maybe it was just supposed to be a legend like the fountain of youth, so he never knew if they were real or not.  Come to think of it, I don’t think there was even an explanation about why he wanted them.”

“Maybe he wanted to turn them into the Glittery Glue.”

“Aww!”  She says with an almost wounded voice.  “That is MEAN…  Boys are rotten.”

“I thought that was already the slumber party hypothesis on boys.”

“Now I’m certain of it.”  Geenie tries to look towards Jack but the position is too uncomfortable.  “Wasn’t there some sort of cool toy a friend of yours or a neighborhood boy had?”

“Yeah.  I remember this one kid.  He had this toy that was an aircraft carrier.”

Silence.  Then Geenie asks, “That’s it?  That’s the whole story?”

“I don’t know.  I guess…”  Remembering, “It was big though.  The thing was like six feet long or something and wide.  He kind of had this really small room so we’d have to leave his door open and then he’d have to yell at anyone coming down the hall so they wouldn’t step on it.”

Asking after a moment of hesitation, “That’s it?”

“I don’t know.  Does it count as my boy story?”

“You should know that story doesn’t qualify.  It was a war toy with very little detail or effort put in.  You should be ashamed as a journalist.”

“I am a worn out journalist after a long day.  It’s the best I could do.”

“Besides…” Geenie notes.  “You said it was a rude story or some sort of warning along those lines.”

“A rude story you weren’t supposed to mock me for as I take it,” Jack points out.

“I won’t.  I remember.”

“You still have that follow up story if I do a good job I hope.  That pony one better not have been it.”

“Oh, believe me.  It wasn’t.”

“Just checking.”

“Don’t stretch it out.  I’m listening.”

“Ok.  Then good…”

Jack Robinson sprawls back for a moment and then eyes towards the next room.

“Now Geenie.  You see that door separating these two rooms?”

“I do,” she says when crooking her neck.  “Do you see something?”  She whispers back to him.

“Not at all, there’s nothing.  But do you want to know what it reminds me of?”

“What is that?”

“It reminds me of a time back when I was in my days of youth.  I was either twelve or ten but that doesn’t make so much of the difference except for the fact it’s supposed to be a slumber party type of story.  It was a family outing.  Well a family vacation to the Grand Canyon.  When an outing for pizza was memorable enough for a kid, he decided we had to see one of the seven wonders of the world.  I could tell you all about how we got there in the first place, but that wasn’t where the story lies.  Rather, it was what happened the night before heading to the Grand Canyon.”

Geenie had edged herself on the bed enough to see Jack comfortably but he had her just out of his sight.

He kept speaking in the patter of a philosopher or wise sage.

“It was myself, of course.  Mother, father, and brother.  As well as our grandparents; on my mother’s side.  Even though dear old dad was a cheapskate, as I might have said, he still found enough coin to purchase two rooms.  Probably since every husband prefers to have a bit of breathing room from the in-laws.  Well, we had a surprise when we got to our room.  Inside this motel room of ours was; another door.  My brother and I wanted to know what was behind it, and while we were being ignored we found out.  It opened to…  Another door.  We got yelled at, and we were told not to open it, but we did anyway as soon as we saw the first signs of being ignored.  The door was locked, and suddenly my parents could hear us from the noise of the door.  Grandma and Grandpa must not have had up to par hearing, since they didn’t seem to have stirred from the noise of said inside door.  So my father called us bozos, or whatever a parent called their child who wasn’t listening.  And then we were told to knock it off and settled down.”

Jack glances towards Geenie and notices her in a relaxed state.  He decides to continue.

“The television was on and our parents were fast asleep from the traveling or putting up with the sibling and me.  Whatever was on the tv was rather boring indeed, but we couldn’t get out of the bed to change the channel.  The remote control was near mom and dad; and it was one of those motel televisions where you couldn’t change the channel any other way.  Besides: if we got caught out of bed by either parent, our dad would beat the asses of both of us without letting us utter a single word of defense.

The grandparents had poor hearing, so our screaming in pain wouldn’t have given us any justice if caught.  We didn’t want to sleep – so we had to find something else to do.  What we decided on might have been called a ‘gentlemen’s agreemet’ – however, we both knew this wager was downright juvenile at best.”

Jack takes a pause of procrastination.

“What was it?”

“Are you sure you want to know?”  He delays.

“You’re too far into the story, so you certainly can’t stop now,” Geenie says; absorbed in the story.  “I like the way you are telling it.”

“Ok,” he whispers before getting back into character.  He takes the voice back on of a wise and old sage.

“I challenged him to a hundred farts.”

“WHAT?”  She whispers with an over inflected voice.  Jack tries to ignore her voice of mock abhorrent tone.

“My brother had the unwavering ability to draw air in.  And well, fart.  I never had such a talent as his.  Not a minutia of that particular skill; but I told him I’d try real hard.  Sure I said I thought I had one, or two – in order to keep the spirit of his dedication alive.  Bragging rights is all we had on the table, but he was dedicated to taking them.  Fair and square.  It had to have been two hours, but he was victorious in this endeavor.  We lost count a few times, so there were lots more extra as a precaution.  Those bragging rights were well deserved, indeed.”

Geenie couldn’t help but react to these words.

“I – am.  Wha-?  Uhmph.  Boys are,” she stops herself while shaking her head, with a mouth partially agape.”

“Did you want me to stop the story?”  Jack asks in a casual tone.

“Please do go on,” Geenie insists; with her hand extended as if to serve Jack a platter of air.

“So there we were.  The motel room, swimming with the cheeses cut by my brother.  Some fresh, some not.  We celebrated in quiet victory so as to avoid waking up our parents and having out asses beaten profusely.  Frankly, I don’t think his hind quarters could have taken any further abuse.”

Jack takes a breath.  All is quiet.

“We fell fast asleep and the next day arose.  There was a crack of dawn wake up call from the desk since we ‘had to get an early start’ as dad put it.  It was probably something which also stemmed from the skinflint mantra of his.  My brother and I woke up because our parents woke up.  Namely an exclamation from my father.

Whether it was a standard conjecture or blasphemy was up for debate, but I quickly roused from my sleep since I suddenly knew why he said it.  There wasn’t a smell when we entered the motel room, nor when we went to sleep.  However something must have, lingered, if you will.  It seemed I was to suddenly realize the only ventilation in the motel room was from my brother the night before.  My parents sprang to their feet while dear old father was speaking in tongues to nobody in particular.  Admonishes, clamber, and clamor joined whatever else it was in the air.  Meanwhile my brother and I were still pretending to still be in slumberland while laughing into our pillows.

Apparently as kids we felt there was an unspoken rule; preventing children from being beaten in their sleep.  Suddenly we stopped laughing to ourselves and bolted upright from something we heard.  It was the sound of the motel’s inside door.  Every child knows the sound of an unlocking door.  It has the Pavlovian effect to cause kids to stop whatever it is they’re doing; due to the reason their antics at the moment were a spanking in the making.  I looked towards the inside door, and noticed light coming from the other side.  The grandparents were early risers, as most senior citizens usually are, and they must have seen the light spilling in from our side as well.  I was told to shut our room’s inside door but I didn’t: it was wide open.  Ordinarily I would have been chastised for such a thing, but there wasn’t any time.  Their dead bolt unhitched, and the door turned.  Neither of my parents said a word – and for once my brother and I were able to see them with that caught in the act look we usually use on them.  Without any recourse, grandpa and grandma entered the room.  They couldn’t hear too great, and they wore thick prescription lenses – but their other senses seemed to have been just as hard working, if not more so.”

Jack takes a quick pause and smiles.  “The look on their face?  I never saw another expression on them like that ever since.  I really had the belief my mother thought they were going to drop from the smell.  My parents on the other hand looked about to die of embarrassment.”

Geenie laughs so hard it can’t be ignored any longer.  Jack smiles and laughs along with her, and their eyes meet again.

“Was that the end of the story?”  She giggles.

“Pretty much.  And that’s what those motel inside doors always remind me of.  Well, sometimes.”

“That was certainly an… Enlightening story.”

“Much thanks I hope.”

“What happened though?”

“Happened to what?”  He questions.

“After they walked in.  Or that day after.”

Jack stretches while he answers, “Oh.  Well, the sheer mortification of my parents were maybe the worst of the consequences.  It’s not like my brother and I were going to give up state’s evidence of what happened, but somehow all the blame happened upon me.”

“Did you get into trouble?”

“No, but-  That day all they let me eat were salads and vegetables, while I had to watch as my brother feasted on hamburgers.  Maybe that was punishment enough.”

Geenie covers a yawn with the back of her hand.

“Come on.  Let’s get some sleep.”

“Wait…” she insists.  “Didn’t you want to hear my story still?”

“I wasn’t sure if I earned it, in honesty.”

Geenie explains, “Actually, I was going on an actual story rather than judging on the actual content of the story itself.”

“Yes I see now.  I wasn’t trying to hold you to it though.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.  I just…  I didn’t want you feeling on the spot.  You’re a nice girl, so I’ll leave it up to you.”

“Really?”

“Really,” he echoes to Geenie.

She moves around a bit in the bed.  “Are you afraid of it being another pony story or something?”

“Possibly,” he says to himself.  “I don’t know really, but that isn’t the point.”

“The point isn’t ponies?”

“Not since junior high I hope.  But my point was I thought you were tired from these rude stories.”

“Am I?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well-” she says while her eyes dance around.  “Girls can be rude too.”

“Can they?”

“Sure they can.  Not all of them, but some can.”

“Do you have your own childhood ‘hundred fart dare’ story to tell?”

“This isn’t a tale about myself.  I was present, but it wasn’t me.”

“Is this a slumber party story?”

“Yes.  It is, in fact.”

“It was a shared experience but not your experience?”

“Correct.”  She smiles and asks, “Now would you like to hear it?”

“Certainly.  I was always interested, but I felt maybe I was pressuring you.”

“Ready?”

Jack nods and waits.

“Like I said, it was at a slumber party.  I’m not going into any grades or ages, but one of the best things about that time was I wasn’t made a target or anything.  I was still one of the girls who blended into the background on that night so it was a terrific party.  This girl didn’t really have the best parties, but her parents let her have a lot of girls over for them so it would feel like a class.  They would clear out the master bedroom basically by sliding the bed over, they’d move the cat box into their closet, and taking any nightstands or chairs out of there.  Then we would all cram into the master bedroom to go to sleep.  Anyway.  One night everyone was asleep or so it seemed.  But then all of a sudden, one of the girls screamed.  ‘Kitty…!’  – I mean,” She stops from a smile.  “This girl shrieked it.”

“What was it all about?”

“Oh, well…  We would usually keep the closest open – it was one of those ones with the door on the track.  And we’d keep the light on in there since it was like a night light we’d say, but we thought we’d all stay awake longer with it instead of the pitch black darkness.  So we all woke up and went to the closet…  and…  the litter box was used.”

“From the cat.”

“No!  I mean, one of the GIRLS used it.  It was-  Well, it was, human that!”

“Ha ha haa,” Jack laughed.  Really?

She nods with her lips pressed tight before going into detail.  I mean it was…  There.  And whoever did it even tried to cover it up with kitty litter.”  Her shoulders move as she laughs a series of breaths.  “You couldn’t hide it.  I mean it was-”

“Who was it then?”

“That’s the thing,” Geenie explains.  Nobody knew,  The one who saw it totally freaked out.  The mom came into the room and it was a huge hullabaloo.”

“A wha-?”

“Just,” she struggles to say it from the humor.  All the girls were awake and freaking out.  Then the mother of the girl having the party tried to…  Well she tried to just scoop it out of the litter box, but it broke the little plastic shovel thing.”  Geenie’s face goes red from the laughter.

“Now isn’t that just precious?”

“It sure was.  But nobody ever ‘fessed up to the incident.  I remember the girl holding the party wanted to keep everyone there to see which one was last to use the bathroom, but her mom had to privately point out the faulty logistics of such a trial.”

“I have to hand it to you.  Certainly quite the ‘boy’ story if you will.  But I did kind of hope you said you were the culprit; gaining revenge for a past time gone wrong.”

“There is not a chance for that.  As poorly as I might have been treated by any of those girls, never could I have overcome that much shyness to do such a thing.  Especially since I would have been mortified if I was caught.”

“You at least did, in fact, prove to me some girls can be just as rude as some little boys.  Congratulations.”

“Thank you.”

“Hopefully you won’t toss your other sock on me.”

“It wasn’t a sock,” she chastized Jack.  “It was a stocking sock.  So I could wear those shoes without nylons.”

“Hopefully you are finally ready to get some rest.”

“I am, you’re right.”

Jack struggles to his side and wraps the sheet back around him on the floor.  Geenie turns the other direction and finally closes her eyes.  Deep down somewhere she knew she didn’t want to alone with her thoughts again late at night.  Her mind went to Colin; feeling stupid and guilty about any fun she had earlier talking with Jack Robinson.  Her mind also raced a complete other direction, which was fear.  It was not for being in the same room as a stranger at night or a large possibility she could have been shot or killed with a bullet earlier.  This fear was wondering to herself if she was already starting to forget about Colin Rust.  Geenie’s eyes were closed; brain winding down, but thoughts were still screaming in her head.

TWELVE

Thud.  An unknown sound in the middle of the night is unsettling to say the least.  When you aren’t in your surroundings, the feeling multiplies exponentially.  Jack Robinson’s eyes shot open but he stayed completely motionless.  What was that sound?  Step; step; step.  It seemed out of the norm.  Usually when a person walks, especially to a motel room, there is a certain pacing.  The sound of the footsteps he heard were slower; such as a person waiting.  Clop, pling, pling…  The steps faded into the distance as feet descended stairs.  Staying ever so quiet, Jack sprung to his feet.  He looked quickly towards Geenie and could tell she was an a motionless slumber.  He stoops to one knee and slowly touches the edge of the drapes.  Nothing to see.  Jack didn’t feel comfortable, so he rose again.

Taking a few steps to his original room shows he was still wearing his shoes.  He swipes the room key off the dresser and turns back towards the room Geenie is sleeping in.  Jack slowly pushes the ‘inside door’ almost shut on his side, and slips out of his motel room.

He stayed close to the wall, and eyed through the slats of the twisted metal of the railing.  Still seeing nothing, he hugs the wall with a shoulder while he walks past his room and opens a door leading to another set of stairs.  The room reverberated slightly while Jack walked down these steps, but the sound seemed to stay walled in.  It sounded much different from the concrete steps outside.  He stepped out but still used caution.  Suddenly he heard an electronic sound chirp through the air.  It was the unmistakable bleep of a police radio.  Jack leaped a step from the sound but he couldn’t see its source.  One of the post must be obstructing the view.  He quickly musses with his shirt and hair before stepping towards the parking lot with hands in his pockets.

A dozen steps from his car and he hears the squelch of another police radio.  He turns towards the nearest vehicle and looks at its window – tugging at his hair.  Blinking his eyes, he uses the window as a mirror.  He can see at lease two police cars in the parking lot and three men in uniforms scattered about.  One of them seemed to be walking the far side of his range rover.  Without abandon, Jack pivots on one heel and turns towards his car – walking a straight path.

“Excuse me,” he says in a general direction with his hand in an upward motion like hailing a cab.

He keeps walking and exclaims, “Was there another mix up with my car service?”

A police officer comes around from the vehicle and comes face to face with Jack, exclaiming “Sir?”

“What’s happening out here, did someone try to steal my car?”  Jack asks with rapid fire words.

“Is this your vehicle?”  He asks.

“Yes but I think I still have a few more days on the agreement,” he tells the police officer.  “Is that what this is about?”

“Excuse me?”  The cop asks to extract more information.

“I was having trouble with my rental agency and I was pulled over once already from a report this car I was driving was stolen.  They told me all of the paperwork was taken care of, but it looks as if they lied to me again.”

“Sir let’s start all over,” the policeman says.  “And you are?”

“Sorry sorry, I didn’t mean to jump the gun.  My name is Jack Massey.  And this is the car I thought I was renting.”

“Do you have any identification on you, sir?”

“I do in the car, if you’d let me fetch it.”

The officer unsnaps his holster.

“It is the center console.  Two seconds,” he nervously explains.

“The policeman nods upwards and says, “Quickly.”

Jack unlocks the car and swings its door all the way open.  “One hand, terrible sorry for all this,” he reminds the policeman.  He flips the top of the center console open and reaches in.

Just a couple moment pass and he announces, “I got it.”  He slides his hand all the way out and holds it up to reveal a plastic looking card clenched between two of his fingers.  Jack slowly backs out of the car and nudges the door closed with his leg; just to be safe.  He grips the edge and covers something with his thumb as he displays it to the cop.  The officer lifts his flashlight and shines it across the laminated surface of the card.  Sure enough: the name reads Jack Massey.

“You’re a reporter?”  He asks.

“Yes.  I am.”

“Why didn’t you mention that piece of information when we first started talking?”

“Actually, I’ve been under the impression the police have a habit of hating reporters.”

“Is that something you have heard?”

“Sometimes.  Once when I was first starting out, a policeman or supervisor talked to me rather sternly because I introduced myself as a member of the press.  I’m always open to suggestion though,” Jack offers while pocketing his press card.

“Are you working on a story out here?”

“Yes.  I am.  Something I thought was already in the news out here.”

“Really.” The cop states while turning his flashlight off and crossing his arms.

“A gentleman who was killed a couple days ago.  Home invasion.”

“Doesn’t seem like much of a story.  Sounds a little too commonplace if you want my opinion.”

“I-  Well, I would tell you more but I wouldn’t want to give off the wrong impression.”

“What sort of impression would that be?”

“You know I’m a reporter and of course your in law enforcement.  I wouldn’t want you to think I’m trying to interview you for information.”

“Pump me for the goods, huh.” He says with a slight laugh.

“There is only some vagueness to the story, but it didn’t sound like you knew anything about it.”

“You never know,” the cop points out.  “I do hear a lot of things come across my radio.  And I have a few police friends so you never know.  Right?”

“Very true.  I wasn’t trying to hide any information.”

Jack takes one step closer, and the police officer doesn’t budge.  “From what I was told, it was a possible hate crime.”

“Really.”

“There wasn’t much of an investigation on my part so far.  It was mostly hearsay so far.”

“Tell me what you heard and maybe I’ll have something to say,” the officer tells Jack.

“I don’t want to toss it around but there were talks it could have been a hate crime.”

“What could have given you that impression.” He says indifferently.

“I heard it wasn’t just a smash and grab, shoot ’em up type of a crime.  And some additional things were taken.”

“If it was a robbery then of course things would be taken.”

“The place was ransacked and the like, I assume.  But this was a Jewish man.  Some items tied to his religion were taken so it was supposed to have been taken into consideration when processing the crime.”

“Are you with the ACLU or doing legwork for an attorney in the area?”

“Neither.  It’s basically a story which might have held some interest.”

“To you.”

“I haven’t been too impressed with it really.  It seemed interesting there isn’t much of the story being covered in the papers or news though.  I wasn’t sure if it was because of his faith-”

“Murder is an equal opportunity employer.  The news, or press, might not be though.  Sometimes stories are even embellished.  It still seems a far cry from a hate crime.  People will take anything that seems to hold any value.”

“How many crimes do you see where they steal bibles or crosses?”

“That is a point, but the perps might just not have known.  Not everyone has gone to Hebrew school.”

“Have you?”  Jack wonders.

“I had a couple Jewish friends when growing up, but I don’t know a lot about it.  How about you?”

“I am not Jewish, but I have a few good friends who are.  Some practicing, some not.  A few even in their homeland.”

“Really?”

“Yes.  From a story I covered.  It’s hard to stay in touch though.”

“Because of nine eleven?”

“No, more the fact internet reception is poor at best.”

The cop laughs nervously a moment before getting back to business.  “So, are you sure you haven’t been investigating yet?”

“Nothing more than checking the paper and news channels really.”

“Really?  There’s a, uh.  A fellow officer might say otherwise across town.”

“I was out earlier in the evening, yes.”

“Wasn’t there a memorial out there today?”

“I attended shiva, yes.  But I was only there as an observer.  I don’t think anyone even knew I was a press member.”

“Being a reporter I thought you might ask how I knew these things.”

“No.  I was curious of course, but I didn’t want to overstep any bounds.”

“That’s very admirable.  Why don’t you take a gander at it instead.”

“Certainly.  If I may.”

“It’s all yours.  Detective,” he says with a sarcastic laugh.

“I do remember SEEING a police officer.  I was trying to find a street and.  There seemed to be a crime scene instead.

“Weren’t you curious?”

“Somewhat.  But I was more concerned to find a bathroom at the time.”

“You were on the way to the shiva?”

“Sorry actually.  I was leaving from.”  Scratching his nose, “From it.”

“That doesn’t seem to make any sense to me.”

“I have- it isn’t a medical thing or physiological as obsessive compulsive.  But aren’t there some little ‘rules’ you have in life?”

“You lost me.  I’ll answer no.”

“It’s just certain little laws I somehow feel to govern myself by.”

“What if you break one of these said rules?”

“I don’t suffer or punish myself.  But I only prefer not to break them as often as possible.”

“One of these quirky rules is dealing with bathrooms in Jewish funerals?”

“Not at all.  I don’t have anything very precise.  But I have a thing for not using the facilities at a gathering if I can help it.  I worry I might-”

“Excuse me?”

“Let’s say we never always know what’s going to happen.  Shall we.”

The police officer gestures with his face.  “Sure.  Maybe I can understand.  I might not agree, but to each their own.”

“Thank you.  I didn’t know why I drew attention since there were more than a few cars stuck doing the same detour as I.”

“Anything is possible, right?  There’s a saying when you’ve got nothin’ you have to look at everything.”

“Yes, of course.  Some of that wise sage advice which contradicts itself.”

“It’s catchy.  Makes you think.”  The officer’s eyes go to the car and then back to Jack.  A rookie said he saw something and your plate was memorized.  For whatever reason, I was rolling by and-  They have a reporter instinct, right?”

“Of course.  It’s more intuition.  I thought the police force calls it ‘going with your gut’ or something like that.”

“Yeah.” He looks again at the license plate and shines his flashlight before remarking, “So.  What’s this.”

Jack sees the light reflecting off a black wire near the license plate and dipping down below the bumper.  “Oh I think it’s from one of the car’s gadgets.  It has one of those parallel parking cameras and…  Well when I was driving I think I bottomed out on a possible shortcut.  Yanked that whole thing down.  I was going to try to hide that wire before I returned the car though since no damage seemed to be done.”

“Fancy little car you got there.”

“I wish it was mine.  Frankly, I was thinking of picking one up.  At least you can see I would take it off road more than most.”

“Yeah.  Testing the bells and whistles.”

“Are you a fancier of cars?”

“Not since jeeps stopped being jeeps.  I’m not into the whole jellybean craze of these days?”

“Of which?”  Jack asks while furrowing a brow.

“Just another one of those saying.  Cars are like jellybeans – they’re all the same except for the color.”

“Yeah, he laughs at the cop.”  Jack glances off and asks, “Might I ask something?”

“You might ask.  But I can’t promise an answer.”

“Of course.  And I am just asking as a curious human being.”  He hold his hands up and splays his fingers.  “No little notebook and pencil, not as a journalist.  What was the incident that I had to turn around for?”

“It might be in the papers tomorrow morning.  I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.  I thought you had a good look yourself as a curious motorist.”

“There wasn’t anything to see from what I tried.  I maybe shouldn’t tell you this, but I have a driving condition.  It’s an optical thing really.  You know those strobe lights on the police cars now?  When they flash it impairs me in a way.  I’m rambling on, sorry.”

“Please.  Indulge me,” the police officer says again in his monotone.

“Well I was covering a story.  It was in Afghanistan.  Back when it was the only game in down, you know?”  Jack sees the cop nod in silent agreement.  “So some of the troops and all that kept warning me to have protective gear, and I already had the whole rigmarole of wills, insurance, the whole thing.  I felt it wasn’t right to be covered and protected while they were all exposed.  Anyway, there was a warehouse and I was push to the back – letting them do their job.  It was more like a gutted house.  Anyway, one of the soldiers thought he saw a combatant.  He grabbed for his weapon with both hands, out of instinct, and forgot he was already holding one of those flash bang grenades.  Pow.”

“Took one to the face, huh?”  The policeman asked with a slight chuckle in his voice.  It was hard to tell if it was from sympathy or glee.

“Sure did.  No shrapnel or the like.  But the light put me out of commission.  In sick bay they said all sort of other stuff I was lucky of.  But when I see something really bright or like a strobe, I get this big dark spot in my eye.  I can’t see detail but I can still drive safely.”

“Like this?”  The police officer asks.  He flipped the flashlight up and toggled it quickly between each of Jack’s eyes.

“A bit,” Jack tries to say good naturedly while using his forearm to block his eyes.

The policeman clicks the light off and tries to quip, “At least that wasn’t an LED.  Just a normal bulbed Mag-Lite.”

“There’s a difference?”  He asks the officer.  “I didn’t know much about the LED except I thought those were like seventies or eighties handheld games like that blinking red light football one.”

“Let’s just say it isn’t the kind of bulb you want shining in your eye with a condition like that.”

Jack laughs a little nervously and glances around.  “What exactly was that incident across town?”

“Some sort of alleged assault.”

He raises both eyebrows at the officer.  “Was that all?”

“Why not.  What did you see?”

“All I did see were a lot of police cars,” he says while flipping his palm in a gesture.  “Was it an assault?  Domestic situation?”

“Could be either.  Does it make a difference?”

Jack scratches under his chin and half holds it.  “It might, really.”

The police officer slides his giant metal flashlight onto his belt before placing his hands on his hips.

“It sounds like maybe you know something.  Is that supposed to be reporter instinct?”

“No.  But I could make a general inference.”

“That’s fancy for a guess, right?”

“Yeah,” he says in a slightly defeated way.

“I’m listening.”

“Well?”  Jack starts out.  “If it was some sort of a domestic dispute, then it wouldn’t be such a big deal.  Pity, but goes with the job I’m sure you say.  Now if it was NOT domestic?  I might have to ask a secondary question about it.”

The police officer rubs the edge of his thumbnail against the beginning of some stubble; which makes an easily audible sound.  “Let’s suppose between the two of us, as person to person, it isn’t a domestic or family squabble – which it still could very well have been.”

Jack’s eyes momentarily widen as if to say he hadn’t thought of a reply.  “Saying if we don’t know if it was either, but it may not have been an incident between family?  The question would have to be if what happened tonight has anything at all to do with whatever it is I’m supposed to be out here investigating.”

“That’s a bit broad of a speculation.  Two crimes can occur on two separate nights and one has nothing remotely to do with the other.  Crime is crime.  There isn’t a pattern to what happens where.”

Jack agrees with the officer while looking towards the ground of the worn out parking lot.

“That’s true.”  He locks eyes with the cop a brief moment and then says, “The saying you related to me however was something to do with looking at everything when there’s nothing.  Wasn’t it?”

The policeman cocks his head to the side.  “Yeah I did say that.  That’s applied knowledge, right?  Taking something learned and using it somewhere.”

“Indeed that is a form of applied knowledge.  Obviously I liked it.  If there was some merit between both of the incidents, I might want your calling card if you wouldn’t mind.  Then I could attribute the quote to you.”

“Well sure…”  The police officer says with a crooked smile while reaching into his front shirt pocket.  “Here you are.”

“Thanks,” Jack says cordially while taking the card with one hand and flicking it with the index finger of the other before placing it into his pocket.  “I do appreciate it since not all of your brethren are as forthright to me.”

“Maybe it’s because not all reporters or news journalists are as forthright either.  Once bitten, you know?”

“Indeed…  More ways than one.”

“You know,” he thinks out loud to Jack.  “There is probably a question I would have too.  It could even be something related to what we were talking about.”

“I’m pretty sure I said how I still don’t know too much about this whole assignment.  But I’ll be glad to try anyway.”

“Would you?”  The cop grins.  “I forget what people call it when you put a question out there to see what the answer might be.”

“Spitballing?  Blue skying it?”

“Yeah, either of those.  So as the story goes…  Let’s say there was a crime.  It might have been an assault, could have been a home invasion, could even have been a B and E on top of that.  Homeowner defends his property; injures the perp.”

“Sure.  Ok,” Jack responds.

“Couple of our boys find the vehicle of alleged injured perp.  Door open, everything legal.  Guys toss the car, find some papers inside.  What would you say if this person was registered in this same motel as you’re staying in now?”

“Oh?”  He answers to the police officer.

“Your name is Jack.  Right?”

“It is.”

“So what would you say – Jack.” The cop interrogates with the face of a man who just won a substantial poker hand.

“I wouldn’t know what to say.”

With a tilt of his head, “Now we are both looking at everything since nothing is there.  What do ya say.”

“You want an answer.  I can give ‘an’ answer.  It might not be ‘the’ answer, but nonetheless.  Speculative, mind you.  If he was staying here, it’s a good chance he is out of town.  I’ll say it’s a he because the gender has been undetermined, so it’s only proper English.  I purchased my motel room online.  It was one of those pages you go to where you give a city location and how much or little you wish to spend on the trip.  I wasn’t familiar with the metropolitan area, but I did have a budget.  This place came up under certain search parameters.  It was also, in fact, running a special.  I jumped on it.  My plane tickets and accommodations were both online purchases.

Obviously these purchases were on short notice.  Most crimes, I assume, aren’t planned a long time in advance – hence being most criminals are stupid and crime, as a whole, doesn’t pay.  It’s still only a guess, mind you.”

“That is one helluva guess.  Don’t you think?”

“Yes.  True.  Every word on my end is truth’s word.  All the rest is speculative.”

“Reporter gut?”

Jack laughs.  “No, but I’ll do you one better.”

“How’s that.”

“Since I might find something of merit when I look around regarding my investigation, then I might have a few questions.  Despite that, I am more than glad to share any new information with law enforcement.  I have no agenda, so why would I withhold anything.  Also; I might want to interview an esteemed man of blue such as you or anyone in a crime scene report – whatever.  Certainly, I do not want to be on the bad side of the thin blue line.”

“That sounds very lovey dovey of you, but how does that make things easier for me.”

“Very true.  Here is what I meant to say.  Inside the office is the night clerk.  All of my credit card information is with the front desk.  Take the number, run it, what have you.  Also, consult the rental car agency.  Inside this vehicle is one of those roadside emergency service devices.  The push the button and talk to an operator thing.  There is a GPS tracking device in that vehicle so the roadside service people know exactly where you are at all times.

Easiest surveillance you can ever do for a person of interest.”

“If were are still just talking in that general hypothetic way,” the police officer says while making an gesture of his fingers breaking free of a fist.  “What’s to say you slip out somehow.  It’s convenient we aren’t here speaking on normal business hours you could say.”

“I’m not planning on making any moves until I get a proper rest.  Checkout is ten thirty or eleven I think here, so I expect to make the most of it.  Boot the car, make me park in front of the front office, have a couple people hang out in front of my door overnight – whatever have you.  But I’d prefer to sleep the sooner the better.”

“Hey – who says I’m keeping you here,” he says while holding his hands in the air as an II give up’ fashion.  “I don’t see any handcuffs, no Miranda, not telling you to watch your head getting into my backseat.  You are a free man, hey.”

“Thank you.  I was only worried it would be inappropriate to walk away from a member of the police.  I like to have decorum.”

“No need for the manners or fancy talk.  Walk away.  No harm – no foul.”

“I appreciate it,” Jack says before turning to leave.

“If we’re keeping our cards on the table…”

Jack stops and looks back with his head twisted around while his feet stay pointed forward.  The two of them wait in silence until the cop considers it as an acknowledgment.

“He might just be relaxing up there now; in the middle of pulling a double shift.  But at least one or two are in that room right now.  We’ll be taking it apart for any information.

If anything in there comes up with your name?  Expect Avon at your door paying a courtesy call.”

He makes a puzzled face to himself before telling the policeman, “Thank you.”

“And if you feel like taking a joyride for a midnight snack.  Well I wouldn’t recommend it.”

“I’ll be advised,” Jack answers – this time walking fully away.  He lets his eyes focus on the windows of the other cars in the motel’s parking lot; knowing the cop is still keeping watch.  When the police officer finally seems to be in the distance, Jack makes a sharp turn and heads for a stroll around the Found Dutchman Motel.  His feet take him towards the whirring and rattling of machines and compressor units.  The nearest light on this ground floor comes from an open door; and draws him in.  Jack finds himself inside one of the well lit laundry rooms.  Restless, he looks around.  He walks up to a giant vending machine with a glass front, and stares at everything inside.  Instead of the snacks usually inside, which the machine seemed to resemble, it was full of laundry related products and toiletries inside.  Perhaps this is the adult equivalent of being a kid in a candy store.  The predominance of the products are vibrantly packaged with day glow colors and striking fonts; peppered liberally with interjections.  Soap, detergent, mouthwash?  Oh joy!

Jack steps away from reading the products inside and looks towards the machines in the laundry room.  At this hour, one of the appliances is actually operating at this hour.  Jack hops up onto the washing machine in use and lets his feet dangle over the side.

Maybe he felt like hearing the water slosh around, or he wanted to have the ‘magic fingers’ experience to get into a more relaxing state.  On top of an adjacent washer was one of the very boxes of detergent which was inside.  He reaches over and snatches the small sized box off the top of the washing machine.  With the dull feel of the cardboard box in his hands, he studies the front of its brightly colored box; which seemed do be a knock off of a popular brand which he couldn’t quite remember at the moment.  SHINE!: so states the name of the brand; twisting in the shape of a rainbow.  The sunlight reminiscent orb in the background exploding with a cascade of shafts of light.  It’s about enough for a neon sign to declare an eyesore.  Underneath are what’s knows as glittering generalities in the advertising world.  Bold statements which more oft than not make claims which cannot be scientifically sustained.  Three were on this box: ‘out lasts’; ‘out brights’; ‘out shines’.  Jack looks up from the box and can still see the image of it burned into his retinas a few moments while he stares out the open door of the laundry room.  He shakes the box gently and hears remnants of the product.  Looking inside the box of detergent reveals a white powder with scant amounts of blue, shimmering crystals.  Perhaps those minority granules are what truly backs up the outrageous claims on the package.  Approximately a quarter of a wash is all which remain inside.  Jack reaches in with his left hand and makes a half pinch and scoop action with his fingers.  He takes some of the detergent out and cups it with both hands before bringing it to his face; such as a brewmeister might do in order to check the freshness of a batch of hops.

After his odorous examination, he rubs both hands briskly together; trying to absorb as much as possible into his hands.  He smells both hands, less passionately this time, and rubs any remaining particles from his palms onto the sides of his shirt.

Jack takes a ponderous breath and looks at his surroundings.  He reaches into one of his pockets and pulls out the calling card from the police officer who Jack spoke with not so long ago.  Without a sound, Jack stares at the card while holding it with both hands.

THIRTEEN

Blue.  Times of the day can often be associated with a particular color for most people.  Of course people might not pay any overt attention to it, but their mind is subliminally aware of such a thing.  Colors from light sources actually have temperatures.  Not the hot or cold type of degrees but a measuring unit known as a Kelvin.  The average person probably wouldn’t associate a temperature such as a Kelvin, but people can designate a color to be bright or dark.  Daytime is often white or neutral; getting more towards yellow late in the day.  Orange or amber at dusk, and maybe even brown before nightfall – of course night would be black.  So where does ‘blue’ fall in the color spectrum of a sundial?  Blue is the unknown color which binds the circle of night and day.  Twelve o’clock midnight may well be the point of origin for another square on the calendar, yet blue is the hashmark in nature.

Blue was the color Jack Robinson saw when his eyes first lifted; starting to awaken inside of the motel room.

For him, it was a feeling of his eyes opening before his brain said it was authorized to do so; which is another reason he sprung awake so quickly.  It was the phenomena known as waking up in a strange place.

He stared straight up and could see the light on his right side spilling out from underneath the windowsill.  Peering up, like a boy at the bottom of the monkey bars.  Jack could see the bluish light beneath the material of the window’s curtain.  He couldn’t be certain if it was an actual day yet or just a glimpse of dawn.  Most important of all, he wasn’t even sure if Geenie was awake – or even in the room still.  In a creeping sort of way, Jack makes his way to a sitting position.

He elevates himself past the horizon of the mattress and sees Geenie facing away; huddled up in all of the blankets.  Jack slumps back down, and the sounds of his head hitting the pillow echo from his leather bag underneath; forcing the air out of it and cause the tiny metallic zippers to clink.  He decides to make the most of his time and reaches under the pillow and towards the bag.  Zip, zip is heard as he fumbles around before coming up victorious; pulling out his handheld black device.  He stares at its casing and rubs his thumb around the device, trying to remove any smudges or invisible things from it which maybe only he can see.  He flips it on and it shines a bright blue while starting up.  Jack immediately flips it around and hides the brightness in his shirt.  Flipping it back around a moment later, he hits a button which brings up a display: BATTERY 32%.  He presses a few more buttons with his thumb and brings up a window with oodles of organized text.

It looks like a primitive message board due to the sequential indentations, as well as the various forms of punctuation as makeshift bullet points and denoting what has been marked read; new; replied; or forwarded.  He swings his device to the left; reflecting the glow of the screen ont the far wall.  He shakes it slightly, making a whitish, fuzzy square dance on the wall.  It was either out of boredom or to check how heavy Geenie was sleeping.  Jack moves his attention back onto the device and pushes more buttons.  One of the pictures from last night pops onto the screen.  Making the most of the silence, Jack spends more time on the images than the scant seconds in the car previously.  Each button press makes a slight click, as he tries to find anything which looks like it could be helpful or shed any light on a very unknown question.  One image finally made him stop and stare much longer.  It was the man who was laying on the ground – the assumption was dead.  This picture was sharp enough to make actual details out on his countenance.  He pressed something and a menu came up on the scene.  Jack selected to mail the photo.  The subject heading was nothing more than a question mark.  Jack cleared everything else off his screen, and hit another button before turning the rectangular screen onto its side.  It appeared to be a book which Jack already seemed to be into the thick of things with.  He loosened his neck, made some posture adjustments; and read.

After a decent amount of time, some stirring finally came from the bed.  A breath and audible sound, then all of the covers getting tossed right off the bed.  She says something to herself but is barely above a mutter.

“Geenie.  Are you ok?”

“Hm?”  In a slight stupor.

Trying to put her at ease, he speaks from the floor beside the bed.  “Geenie, I’m Jack.  Jack Robinson.  We’re still in the Found Dutchman Motel.  Are you alright?”

She crawls on all fours to the side of the bed and looks down; her hair splayed every direction possible.  She sees Jack laying down and pauses.  He puts one hand up and wiggles the hi sign.

“Huh,” is all she says to herself.

“I figured I’d try to stay quiet.  I wasn’t sure if you were a morning person.”

“Um.  I don’t know.”  Geenie puts her palm on her forehead in contemplation.  Jack sits up and puts his little technological toy away.

“How was your sleep?”  He asks casually.

“It was ok I guess.  Or maybe not.”

“You forgot?”

“Yeah I-  Not really.”  She seems to be trying to recall.  “I think I did, but just not all of it.  Does that make sense?”  She asks with an obvious inflection to prove she’s not quite awake yet.

“Bad dream?”  Jack wonders.

“For most of it I was just out.  Wow I was tired.  I think I remember one thing, but I’m not sure if it’s a whole dream or if maybe I had just one thing come into my head.”

“What do you remember?”

“Only…” she thinks back.  It was dark.  Maybe it was night.  I was running I think.

And I was-”  She processes it while speaking with disbelief.  “…Being chased by some sort of bat thing or a flying zombie.”  Geenie shakes her head while announcing, “I don’t want to try to figure out if there was anything else.”

“Dreams are just.  They’re like that leftover casserole in the back of your mind.  Recycled thought processes.  I never thought dreams really had any meeting.”

“You don’t?”

“The only saying I have about them are dreams are always logical while you’re dreaming, but never make sense when you wake up.”

Jack stands up and adds, “I had a dream once.  I got kicked out of where I was staying.  Then I found a beach chair and one of those umbrellas like on the patios of taco joints.  One of those metal sombrero umbrellas?  And then I just sat there in the yard.”

Geenie looks up and smiles.  “That doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“Yeah, I know.  That’s the point.”  He stretches one of his arms while the other grabs his leather bag.

“Come on.  I know what will make you feel better,” he says while crossing the entry into the other motel room.  Geenie slowly slides her way off the bed and follows.

“Why did you make me get out of bed and come in here?”

Jack lets his voice carry from the back near the bathroom.  “Some places have a coffee pot but this in not one of them.”

“It’s ok,” she tells Jack.  “I don’t really drink coffee.”

“That’s fine,” he says while walking back towards Geenie; holding two of the plastic complimentary drinking cups; each wrapped in a translucent baggie.  “I figured we can wake up – motel style,” while freeing the clear cups from their wrapper.  He walks to the dresser in the front, and sets the cups down; which land with a clack.  He takes the nearby ice bucket off the dresser and fills both glasses.

“You got ice this morning?”

“I got ice last night actually,” he says while picking up one of the cups.  “It’s one of those odd things I like to do I suppose.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s there I guess.  I mean you don’t see homes furnished with one of those enormous ice machine things.  And besides, when you pull that thing down to get ice it’s like winning in Vegas I guess.”

She glares at the cup on the dresser.

“Just grab it.  You’ll wake up.  Plus most times you have a headache or pressure, that’s just from being dehydrated.

Geenie picks it up to humor him.

“I waited for you, see?  Now both at once, the whole thing.  Ready?”

“Waters up,” she says in a sleepy and slightly sarcastic way.  They drink their beverage and eye each other through the clearness of the water and container.  After the rush, they each slam their cup back down – pretty much a dead heat.

“Isn’t that a lot better now?”

“Not bad.  I do feel a little more woken up now.”

“The motel way.”

“If you say so.”

“Well if you did like that…  Maybe sometime you’ll have to try my motel wake up the Irish way.”

“What is that supposed to be?”

“Ok – first…” he speaks as if giving out a secret family cookie recipe.  “I get the bucket.  Fill it all the way up to the top.”

“And then what?”

“Pour in a bottle of travel size Scope.”

Geenie laughs.  “That does NOT work.”

“It does.  All except once.”

“Why what happened?”

“Confused it with Lectric Shave.”

She laughs again while trying to say, “That didn’t happen.”

“It did.  Tasted more like moonshine though.”

Letting her guard down only slightly; or maybe it was still attributed to her drowsiness; Geenie gave a smile to Jack.

“Why don’t you go out back.  There’s a terrace sort of thing you can step out on.  It’s fairly relaxing actually.”

Geenie pours herself another tall portion of the ice water.  “Thanks,” she tells Jack.  She walks slowly to the back.  He darts into the bathroom for a moment and runs the water; trying to help his hair stay down.  It seems to be a bit more curly looking in the morning.  The light shows his hair varies from a darker to light brown gradient which might even come across as black in dimmer rooms.

His hair has a natural slight curl to it; not the kinky or spiral type, but enough to give off that impossible to corral aspect.  Giving up perfection, he exits the bathroom and heads to the room they spent the night before.  He quickly tosses the sheets in an even sort of fashion onto the bed.  He takes the top comforter and holds tight to one side and twisting harshly with his wrists; making an audible cracking sound which could be reminiscent of a rawhide whip.  The sheet consumes air like a sail, and starts gently falling towards the mattress.  It was almost the same way bed sheets float in fabric softener commercials.  All four sides symmetrically cover the bed; more or less.  Jack springs into action and smashes any lumps down in the bed.  Finally, he caps it off by smoothing the comforter with his hand.  Not exactly a bed to boast hospital corners, but a perfect crime nonetheless.

He scours the room quickly and recovers Geenie’s shoes as well as her aforementioned slipper stocking, which he tucks into one of the shoes loosely.  He hurries to the other room and sets them haphazardly on the bed before returning to where he just made the bed.  Jack next finds Geenie’s tote bag which she emptied much of her car’s contents into.  He sets it on his improperly made bed.  He opens the handles and peers inside; seeing a cacophony of lose papers, wrappers, pamphelets, and personal affects.  Jack opens the bag wider but only touches with his eyes.  Without much staring, he closes the bag and slips its handles onto his arm.  He grabs the ‘inside door’ of the motel room they slept in, and flicked the flimsy knob to lock it.  He pulled the door slowly but firmly until the latch echoed closure.  Jack takes the inside door of his room into his hand.

Geenie stares off from the balcony area and lets her hand rest on her cup which holds on the edge.  She looked out on what seemed to be something of a secret view.  From the street only a mix of concrete and metal can be seen; the structure with a parking lot wedged beside it.  But from this rear view…  It was a whole different story for Geenie.  There seemed to be four buildings in total – all uniform in style to seamlessly blend from one to the other.  They formed a square in the center; which was where she was staring now.  Lush grass, a sprawling pool – screaming in azure – formed in an unnatural shape; hot tub off the side, and even a scaled down tennis court.  Aged as it was on the outside, the grounds are immaculate – more a utopian park than a bullet point on a tourist’s brochure.  Gazing upon it almost made her forget exactly where she was.

“Wonder if you might need these?”  Jack says from the sliding glass window.  Geenie breaks her affair off with the scenery, and turns towards the voice.  Looking behind herself, she sees Jack holding her shoes with one hand and lightly waving her small nylon stocking with the other.

“Oh,” she sheepishly says.  She looks down to notice she is half barefoot.  “Give me that,” she insists while snatching the items from both his hands.

“It’s pretty amazing, right?”

Geenie bends in a chair to slide her stocking foot back on.  She looks back up at Jack; who is finishing his thought aloud.

“Pretty remarkable for me.  Honestly, just walking around down there would be worth having paid for an extra day – or having the time.”

“You’re leaving today?”

“Actually I don’t know what I’m doing.  It all depends on if I find a story or not.”

“Oh yeah,” Geenie says.  Being around Jack this long, she actually forgot who he seemed to be.  Not a friend or an acquaintance she recently reconnected to.  In fact, Jack Robinson is a man who she met not even a night before.  A man she spent the night with after only knowing him from said night before.  And like most other men; this was a man who was only after one thing.  Maybe not the ‘one thing’ most men as a whole are after, but one thing nonetheless; in this case it just happens to be information.

“You think you might be about ready to blow this pop stand?”  Jack asks in a not so serious tone.

“Well,”

“Another last look at the view.  Right?”

“Yeah that.  Of course,” she says while standing and scrunching he foot into the last cranny of her shoe.

She crosses her arms on the balcony and tilts forward a slight bit.  A few people move about the paths which wound through the greens.  Jack leans in a similar fashion; leaning next to Geenie, though keeping a respectable distance.  His eyes are apparently in a different direction.

“Looks like there’s space at the pool.”

“Yeah right.  I don’t think I packed for that,” she jokes.

“Would you have?  I mean, are you the pool type?”

“Maybe.  These aren’t really things I think about or classify myself one way or the other as.”

“Don’t worry,” he sidesteps.  “I wasn’t packed for the pool either.”

“Still-”  She stops her thought before deciding there’s no harm to continue it.  “Lounging by the pool always seems to be a nice thought.  All day long.”

“You prefer the pool or reading beside it?”

“I read,” she answers.  “I like swimming or even relaxing in the pool but maybe there is more time spent reading in a chair.  I don’t like those folding or lounge style things.  Somehow I have trouble reading on my back.”

“For me, it’s the pool.  Or if it’s the beach, it’s the ocean.  I can’t read.”

“I thought you would like reading, even out there.  You’re a journalist.”

“No, I love to read.  Physically it’s tough for me to read in an environment like that.  The sun.”

“Too much sunshine?”

“It’s when I have a book; reflecting off the pages.  The words will sort of burn into my eyes.  You know that inky color?  It’s like a purplish shiny color if you break open a ball point pen?  That is the color the words turn.  I don’t know.”

“I don’t think it will help either of us if lounging around all day pool side.  Even talking about it.”

“You have work to get to?”

“No, I actually…  I wasn’t sure how I’d be today when I planned to visit with Colin’s mom last night.  I-”

“Say no more,” Jack cuts off in a gesture of empathy.  I completely understand.

Geenie nods to herself and looks towards the sky a moment to reset her mind.  “Besides,” she reminds Jack.  I thought you still wanted to ask me some questions.”

“Yes,” he says while gently slapping the balcony.  That I do.  There is that, but we don’t have to do it here.”

“Why not?

“Maybe breakfast would be a good thing.”

“I don’t know about that,” she wonders.

“Why not?  Afraid you’ll be confused as a victim of the walk of shame?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Then we can drop it,” he says with an almost impish smile.

“Come on.”

“I think it’s more an east coast or New York thing.  When the women are out all night, the doorman knows once he sees her the next morning.  Follow me on that?”

“That’s-”

“It’s rude?”  Jack guesses?

“At the very least it’s impolite.”

Changing the topic, “Let’s have breakfast.  No Mexican, I promise.”

She gives out another small laugh.

“I can follow your car.  You choose.  Ready, Geenie?”

FOURTEEN

Jack finds himself inside The Eatery; a cozy but run down diner type place where the menu boasts ‘Steak and Eggs served ALL DAY’.  The menus look as if printed on grocery sacks for that matter.

It was chosen by Geenie, as promised, who jumped at the first place on the way back towards her house which served normal seeming food.  This book was judged by its cover, but it didn’t seem to be such a horrible decision.  The atmosphere was enough to seem active but also ensured privacy to have a conversation without eavesdropping from others being too close or in earshot.

“I’m sure this had to be much easier,” Jack brings up.  They seem to have already been eating and maybe the start of a breather.  He takes out a notepad which is twice as long as the usual spiral topped ones found in a store’s school supply aisle.  He notices her eyeing it.

“Don’t worry about it, Geenie.  It’s nothing to be intimidated about.”

“This is still something I’m not used to.  It’s out of the ordinary.  Really I am not the type of person to be the center of attention.”

“I remember.  The blend in girl at slumber parties.”

“Do you think any of this will help with Colin?  I mean, is this somehow tied to a police investigation?”

“If there is anything I find out from what you tell me: anything to shed light on it, I will get it into the hands of the authorities.  From what I already know about you, you’re a great gal and I feel awful for everything that happened to you.  Colin and you know.  I am not trying to get one side or another.  Could you maybe think of it as a story?  It’s not a job interview.  It’s not an interrogation.  It’s just us, ok?”

Geenie folds her hands on the table quickly and agrees with her head.

“Did Colin live in a bad neighborhood?”

“No.  It was on an upturn in the market even.

“Have you lived with him?  Or stayed over a lot?”

She bows her head slightly as blind sided from the question.

“You weren’t separated, married?  Anything like those.”

Quickly she answers, “No.  We weren’t at all.”

He slides to another question.  “Has anyone ever attempted to break in that residence before?”

“No, never.”

“What about while a previous owner lived there?”

“I don’t think, but I don’t know.”

“Fair enough.  Did he have any new friends?  Or I maybe should have asked how much contact you two had after not dating.”

“Oh Gee…  We were friends, friendly.  Our mothers had been friends a really long time and I guess we stayed in contact in that gossipy sort of way.  I told my mom to say hi to his mother Gertrine, or to Colin.”

“Could he have come into money?”

“Nothing than usual.  He had the same job since we stopped seeing each other.  Same for me more or less also.  No new or outside friends I knew of.  He had some correspondence but they were people he grew up with or college times.”

“How much do you know about it all?  I mean did you watch a news story or hear anything?”

“My mom told me about it.  It was a little sweet for the fact she tried to cover it up like it was-  Maybe not sweet, wrong choice of word.  She always tried to tell me what not to worry about I guess you can say.  It isn’t I always listen to her.

But she mentioned she just heard of it from his mom.  And she didn’t tell me anything about it.”

“Could there have been anything else you heard?  Even a detail that seems trivial.”

“Really the most detailed thing is only the fact someone told me they saw it on the news.”

“Did he or she tell you anything that was information.  Don’t worry about getting it perfect.”

“I guess this is weird…” Geenie starts.  “But she told me not anything of what the report was on tv.  The story was strange for some reason she said but she couldn’t remember or know why.  It seemed different or something I thought she said.  Then she said the story wasn’t even on later like you know when they come back to it a few minutes later even just to say nothing is happening.”

“It wouldn’t make sense if they just dropped the story.  The news is really just reporters, at least mostly the local level.  They always work an angle as innocent, or any kind of twist on the story.  Especially-”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’m sorry, Geenie.”

“Is this something you know about Colin?”

“Really-”

“Jack!”

“Ok okay,” he says to hush Geenie.  “I have almost nothing.  The news report your friend saw might be more informative than what I know.  I wouldn’t want to later be untrue, or stir you up if-”

“This is all a real new thing for me but I have this feeling.  I can’t even talk now.  I mean the words aren’t coming out right.”  She grabs for a small glass of orange juice and drinks the last of it slowly; consisting of mostly melted ice.  “Whatever you say about Colin I’m just going to have to handle.  I don’t care if it’s bad or even if it’s a rumor but I really want to help with something and I just can’t.  If I can do something for solving this or helping his family I…”

“One of the reasons I had to see what this was all about.  This thing might have been a hate crime.”

“Why would anyone have that in their head?  I mean yeah he was Jewish but it wasn’t something obvious or whatever.  A hate crime is being attacked coming from a temple or burning a church down.  Or if they spray painted his house.  I don’t know.”

“Did Colin have some things on the wall, maybe a Torah, or even books that were in Hebrew – not that they had to be about any specific subject.”

“He had a few things, but nothing really ornate.  I know for sure he had a couple newspapers or a book, but those were like mementos and I think they were in a bottom of a bookcase.  Some things on the walls.”

“As I came to heard it, many things along those lines were taken out of the house.  Not the usual things people steal for money.  They were supposed to be religious items.  I don’t know all the rest.  But most of the electronics or other pawn shop type items weren’t touched.”

“You’re right I think,” Geenie informs him.

“Did someone tell you about his house?”

“Jack, I was there.  Most of his things were there.  I don’t know how many new things were there since I moved out but it looked pretty much the same.”

“How long- I mean it was after obvi-”

“I went with his mom.  And I remember she couldn’t get his body released.  It was really tearing her up.”

“Wait though.  You can get us inside his place?”

“Yeah I guess I can.  It was his mom who let me in before but I still have a key for it in my apartment.”

“Would you mind?”  Jack asks with sincerity.  “Maybe-”

“I don’t care.  Anything that might get more information about that happened to Colin or to help out his family.”

“Great,” he answered with enthusiasm as he stands up and reaches into his pocket.

“Shouldn’t we stay here and you can finish asking me whatever else.  I didn’t seem to mind it so much after we started.”

He tosses a couple twenty dollar bills onto the table in plain sight of a manager.  Jack tells her, “We don’t have to stop.  Let’s just double up and chat on the way there.”

FIFTEEN

Geenie agreed with Jack, and they traveled through the streets towards her apartment.  They parked her car in an underground public lot which was agreed to be the safest thing.  The only twist was Geenie being behind the wheel of the silvery grey range rover.  It was simply logic, since Geenie could easily know the way back home.  Plus Jack must have had some things on his mind, since he was randomly jotting notes into the same pad he used earlier.

The other perk was Geenie being in control of the radio, which neither seemed to mind.

The way back to the apartment was casual; no need to be in a hurry.  Traffic was surprisingly light, and the chit chat was mostly uneventful.  Jack was more of in a quiet world than moving his mouth with more questions it was rather obvious she wasn’t sure the answers to.  The only point of contention was where to park when they reached her building.

The place where Geenie lived was in a part of downtown which was deemed part of a revitalization project.  Old and almost condemned structures were converted from old factories or commercial type buildings into completely overhauled and renovated residential housing.  Much of these were subsidized by a variety of cross ventures and incentive programs.  The result was a high living look but with an introductory price.  It’s real estate and rental property but to take advantage of such low prices, these folks had to get in on the ground floor.  The edifice was almost magnificent to see when the vehicle rolled upon it.  It was a very red bricked building which reached up at least three stories int the air.  Looking much closer, it seems much of these were actually original bricks with a worn look to go back into the twenties as an easy guess.  Jack suggested it would be best just to park at a meter which was no more than a half of block away though Geenie wanted to use the parking which she already paid for.  It was a short talk, and they mutually decided it would be nice to get a little fresh air anyway.

They went around the brightened ruddy apartment building; looking for a back entrance which was marked by the skeleton of an awning which needed a replacement piece of material for the covering.

“Maybe you could take a walk of shame with digs like this,” he humored the both of them.  And then answered himself, “I guess not since this place doesn’t seem swanky enough for doormen.”

The inside was made to reflect the look of something in the depression era; including the building materials.  The first word to come to mind when stepping inside, besides the historical vibe, is echo.  Each step or breath rattled around the walls and raised like hot air towards the rafter.  They worked their way across the hardwood floor towards the nearest staircase.  All of the layout looked much like New York apartments in movies.  Uniform doors spaced apart; only the numbers different.  Finally after roaming the second floor, Geenie showed Jack to her door.

Once they entered, random rugs helped dull the sound of the floors.  Jack tried to peer around, as a precaution, but didn’t wish to be perceived as nosey.

“Did you want to change?”

“What” Geenie asked in an ambushed way.

“You’re finally back with your own things and you were out all night.  That’s all.”

“Oh…  Oh!”  She responds.  “I’m so sorry, oh yeah.”  She hurries off for a moment and her raised voice tries to reach Jack while she scurries about the room and sounds of items shuffle around.  “I know we just ate but…  If you want a drink or whatever, there might be something in the refrigerator.”

“It’s ok, I’m fine.” Jack says back.

“What?”  She shouts “I’m fine..!  Thanks!”

He looks around while finding a chair which lets his eyes get a decent look of her place.  It was a little bit sparse but comfortable.  A few pictures but nothing overdone.  The environment looked a little dated, but that was probably more related to the building’s original decorating team.  On the bright side, the decor didn’t have the look of a project attempt from a magazine or television idea.

“Just give me a few more.  I don’t need a lot of time to get ready.  It’s not like I’m the type to spend forever or…”

“Take your time.  Don’t worry about it.”

“I don’t like making people wait on me I mean.  It makes me, I just have a thing about that kind of-  Pressure.”

“We’re not in a rush.  Relax.  You’re ok, Geenie.”

She finally hurries something together then runs into the bathroom and runs water.  Jack keeps himself occupied enough looking at everything around.  The place is very tidy.  Neatness is indeed part of the routine, but it doesn’t seem to have been taken into excess.  It seems to him Geenie is very comfortable in her life and routine.

“Ok I’m done, sorry”  The words amplify from being inside the bathroom.  She comes back out in a hurried walk wearing a more relaxed look than her usual casual dresses or skirt and top combo for work.  Instead it’s a shirt blouse type top and pants.  “Do you mind if I take care of some quick stuff?”

“I am on your time.  There is nowhere particular I need to be.”  Jack looks at home enough while he says it; letting one side slump completely off the armrest.

Out of habit, she goes in the kitchen area an opens the frige.  “Sure you don’t want a drink?”

“If it’s all the same – thank you, no.  Again”

“Suit yourself,” Geenie says quietly to herself as she grabs a small bottle of water and twists off its plastic cap.  The refrigerator thuds closed and she looks through some papers next to small table which seems to be doubling as a desk instead.  She doesn’t seem to find what she was looking for so dashes to a bedroom then back.

“Lose something?”  Jack asks.

“Got it,” she says while pushing something into her pocket.

“Was that the house key?”  He asks.

“Shoot.”  She grabs at the air which makes a fist.  “That’s the whole reason we came back here in the first case, and why I didn’t take my car back.”

“Better now than later, right?”

“This whole month I-  Maybe I’m just starting to lose it.”

“We all hit a slump.”

“That’s a sports thing?”  She assumes while drinking from her water.

Jack nods.

“I didn’t do sport.  Neither of us were.”

Trying to cheer her up, “Good times bad times, know I’ve had my share?”

“That’s from a song I think.”

“It is.  But it’s true.  Don’t let the bastards grind you down, ok Geenie?”

She shakes it off and goes towards a back room.

“That was a song too,” Jack says just loud enough for himself to hear.

Stopping at a tall but thin cabinet pressed flush against the far corner of the room, Geenie swings one of its glass doors out and reaches behind some items on a high shelf.  Sliding her hand for a second produces a metallic sound against the wood of the shelf.  She slides it forward and grips the item in her fingertips; which proves to be the key to Colin’s place.

“Got it,” she proudly says while coming back down the hall towards Jack.  Holding it out while saying, “The only place I usually forget to dust.”  She blows on the key and particles flee the key; igniting in nearby light and causing a glow.

“Great,” he says as she pockets the keys.

She goes towards a counter dividing the kitchen and living room areas and looks at her answering machine.  She pushes a button and hears it beep once.  A red number illuminates, which happens to be a zero.  She grabs her portable phone and presses a button rapidly while she looks at a display on it.  Then her face loses expression.

“Did you use my phone?”

“Why?”  Jack asks while standing up.

“I don’t mind if you did.”

“There wasn’t anything I touched.  Was there a number you didn’t recognize or something?”

“No…” she says while pressing a button again.  I did get a call, but my little light wasn’t on.”

“Oh?”

“I have a blinking little red light if anyone calls me, on my caller ID I mean.  My mom tried calling last, so maybe I really am starting to go batty-”

Jack finishes the sentence Geenie froze.  “Maybe someone was in your house while you were out last evening.”

“Oh my word, Jack.  I mean…”

“Don’t even think about it.  Even if it was true, you’re ok.  Remember that.”  He veers slightly from her line of thought, “Why don’t you take a quick look around to see if anything’s out of place.?  Can you do that?”

“Yeah sure,” she says while wandering around with wider eyes.

He heads towards the door and swings it open.  Jack takes a hand to the door and feels the unfinished side of it.  He grabs the side of the doorframe and uses his palm to feel around it as well.  His hand stops and Jack kneels down.  His fingers push back and forth along a certain spot on the frame where the lock inserts itself.  He looks close and sees the polished brass finish has a slightly diagonal line which was carved in, looking a dull grey or silver.  Still kneeling, Jack pulls the door more towards a close and runs his fingers in an area on the door itself.  He squints near the door and his finger seems to feel something very light.  His eyes and hand move between the two.  Near the standard doorknob’s locking mechanism, he sees a much smaller scrape – but it appears to be at the same degree.

Hearing Geenie’s feet causing noise from the wooden floor, Jack quickly jumps to he feet and touches the door; swinging it lightly back and forth.

“What are you doing?”

Jack flips the dead bolt and watches it slide in and out from the door.  The sound keeps making its click and clack sound with each twist.  “This doesn’t feel loose or anything.  I don’t know.”

“I don’t see anything out of place.  What do you think that means.”

“How do you feel.”

Geenie grabs one hand with the other.  “Nervous?”

“Why don’t you grab a bag and put a few things in it.”

“What are you thinking?”  She asks with diminishing confidence.

“If something was taken, maybe you’ll notice it by doing an action which might seem a little routine or familiar.  Interacting with your closet or wardrobe.”

“Or?”

“Or…  Maybe I just like to plan for every situation or contingency.”

“That is something I have certainly noticed about you.”  She hurries off and tries to do as he requested.  He can already hear the noises of her packing as soon as she disappeared into her bedroom.

“Do you have a computer?”  He tries to ask from the front of her place.

“I’m trying to hurry as fast as I can.  I’m sorry…”

“No, Geenie…  Do you have a computer!”  He shouts as inquisitively as possible.

“No…!  I have a little laptop but not a big PC computer setup.”

“Ok!  Where is it!”

“It should be…  Hold on!”

She comes out from her room lugging a faded bag which could be classified between a duffel bag and soft luggage.  It was boxy and seemed to be sporting some sort of faded logo; perhaps as a promotional item.

“I’ll get it.”

“Here,” Jack says with his arms outstretched.  Geenie slings the back into his hands.  “Bring it along, ok?

Geenie heads straight to the laptop.

“Do you have a bag for it?”

“Yes.  I do.”

“Cables, whatever.  Bag it up and we’ll bring it along.”

She goes for an outlet and begins unplugging the cord.

Thirty minutes or so later, they’re back on the road.  Just as before, Geenie is steering the range rover.  She drives safely but it’s not as leisurely as before.  Part of her mind could be on Colin, and part of it could be on a possible break in regarding her own place.  Perhaps both.

“We’re getting close,” she says in a subdued tone.

“Is it a corner house or how far from a corner?”

“Maybe about the middle.”

“When we’re at the corner…  Turn and we’ll park behind the first car.  Opposite side of the street.”

“Ok…” she says as she turns the last corner; doing just as Jack explained to her.  “Do you think this is a little overkill?”

He looks back at her and says two mere words: “Do you?”

Geenie stayed behind and off to the side though the both of them went to the house.  Jack still remembered the house number from the drive over.  He also remembered Geenie saying she didn’t feel comfortable with a gun, so it remained under the driver’s seat and locked safely away.  As unlikely as is could be, Jack wanted her to feel safer due to the more likely possibility her home really was violated.  Geenie didn’t unlatch the dead bolt to get inside and the scraping was probably done with a metallic wedge or blade.  The door could have been opened without any immediately noticeable damage by anyone with intermediate skill, and the possible culprit had all night to do so.  There wasn’t any visible security system inside of the apartment building either; proving it obviously wasn’t New York.  Jack only hoped Geenie remember the number he told her.  If anything was to happen to him, she was supposed to get as far away as possible once she either drove away or at least got her hands on Jacks little hand held technological devise.  There would be a way for her to find a program and she was supposed to enter a code, which was forty-five.  Everything after Geenie did so was supposed to make some sort of sense once done, but she obviously couldn’t understand why.  They came upon the shortened gate which looked made of a half chain link fence, and Jack touched Geenie’s arm.  Somehow she seemed to understand to wait and follow Jack’s lead just by the tap.  Jack held the fence and rotated the latch without much of a sound at all.

He pulled the gate open almost as silently and left it parted somewhat after the two of them entered.  Pausing a moment, he touched Geenie’s arm and held onto it a moment; causing her to stop.  He smelled the air.  It was a strange smoky scent.  It almost smelled like a house fire more than a barbecue did.  More an ashen than food aroma.

Jack curled his fingers in a summoning gesture, but moved away from the area of the front porch.  Instead, he walked down the breezeway.  They moved to a wooden side gate made with full boards which poked up at the top.  Jack sniffed again – and Geenie noticed it as well this time.  It seemed to be slightly stronger.  Jack placed his hand on the top of the side gate and felt a slight momentum.  It was unlatched.  He pulls it open with no sound and steps through; Geenie a few more steps back than she was earlier.

Walking slowly towards the backyard, Jack smelled it more pungent this time.  Looking toward the side he saw a white sort of smoke coming from the area of the house.  He took another step and followed the smoke’s trail; then seeing wispy strands of a grayish and whitish hue coming from a barbecue grill on the patio.  He moves towards it and tugs on the wooden handle – bringing the lid up.  Smoke whooshed out in one billowing plume while flames jumped up as if to chase away the cloud.  The grill was packed with numerous books and items which metal chunks could be seen: fire detouring around these items.  The most prominent item was a very think book with a leather cover; blackening any real identifying marks.  He flipped the dials to off and left the lid fully open.  Geenie turned her attention to the items but Jack knew he had to go inside.

He walked fast to the back of the house, and saw a sliding glass door.  Without thinking, he grabbed the handle and tugged the door open.  There was a minimum of sound from the track scraping, but he heard angry music playing inside; a tinny sound which must be coming from a portable ratio rather than any self respecting stereo system.

The music coming out was loud and awful to the average person’s ears.

Amidst the blaring and sloppy partial rock, half punk style was a man’s voice – loosely called a vocalist – who was yelling; out of tune and synch to the music even, in fact.  Jack could make out only a few lines of the song; with lyrics which were possibly created by throwing darts at index cards.

Chia clomping down the street / Romper stompers on his feet / Chia, Chia… pet / hail Chia… pet / Heil!

Jack took another step inside and saw a light coming from the kitchen area.  A voice was shouting over the poorly recorded song.

“Hey!!  This time you bet-”

Stepping from around the corner was a hoodlum in his early twenties.  Scrawny with a shaved head; wearing a faded out almost transparent white sleeveless undershirt; black tight fitting jeans, faded out to an unnaturally light hue; black high laced boots with metallic black eyelets, mostly concealed under the pant legs; topped off with a bright orange shirt tucked into the back of his pants; and a diamond shaped silver belt buckle with the letter ‘S’ shaped as a bolt of lightning.

He takes just step to end up face to face with Jack: both of this mystery occupant’s hands are full.  In the left is a cheap domestic can of beer, but the right holds a shiny black shotgun which looks almost as lethal from five feet back as seeing it pointed at oneself from inches away.

In a blink, both of Jack’s hands came up.  With palms out and fingers from both hands pointed at each other, Jack gives a hard and brisk shove.  Both palms hit the young man in the sternum area and knock him slightly off balance.

Geenie turns around suddenly, and from outside sees another person in the room with Jack.

Without thinking, the shaved man pulls the trigger while trying not to drop his beer.  The barrel of the gun was aimed far left and up from Jack, and blinds the room with light for a fraction of a second – sending tiny shards and powder into the upper corner of the room.  The poor grip on the weapon caused the shotgun to fly backwards; hitting the man right in the forehead with his own weapon.

The force of the weapon’s discharge sent the mystery occupant backwards with high speed; colliding backwards into a wall.  His head snapped back and made a loud sound against the plaster, also making a cracking sound from the stressed building materials.  The impact on his head caused the shaved young man to become stunned.  In a mechanical sort of way, he drops to the floor without a flinch.

Jack pulls hard on the stock of the weapon and gets the man’s finger off the trigger with a fast yank.  He rallies from a dazed state and tries to grab at the shotgun.

Forgetting his left hand was still full, he causes foam and alcohol to fling around while wedging his right hand and beer can around the barrel of the gun.  They struggle, and the young man’s turns red while holding his teeth clenched.  He throws the beer, splattering it all across Jack’s clothes; not that it seems to have made any difference besides the wetness and smell.  The shaven headed man tries to make another grab with his left hand, but Jack already got his finger on the trigger despite the shove from that young man’s left hand.  The shotgun goes off, and blasts a path through and around the shaved guy’s right arm; spraying parts of his chest and the wall behind him.  The heat of the barrel burned his left hand as if touching the blazing hot oven’s glass window, and his face took a burning from the powder which clouded the room.  He reacted just as any other individual in the same situation: screaming.  His voice cried out as loud as possible in one long and sustained tone.

“Hey..!!”  Reverberated from inside the house.  A toilet flushes and Jack pulls himself away from the young man and steadies himself on his feet.  A man flings himself out of the bathroom.  He is in his mid twenties and has a blonde almost crewcut.  He wears dark blue jeans, sandy brown cowboy boots and a long sleeved blue checkered buttoned up shirt.  Of course, it wouldn’t be an ensemble without an ornate belt buckle.  Jack takes a step away from the room’s entryway and grips onto the gun.  The blonde man runs towards the room and turns around to try to run towards the backyard; brandishing a revolver.  Wham!  Blam!

While holding tightly to the stock of the gun, Jack swings full out towards the man – colliding the still warm steel of the shotgun’s barrel against the front temple of the blonde man – causing him to fire the pistol.  The bullet hits the sliding glass door and jagged pieces are strewn everywhere.  Fully blind sided, the blonde headed man grabs his face quickly; dropping the weapon.  Taking a step back into the kitchen, he loses balance and stumbles towards the ground.  While falling, he grabs outwards at the nearest thing he can, and grips onto the power cord of the portable music player which was still blaring the awful sounds.

Gravity working against him, the plugs pulls out of the wall and the man brings the device crashing to the floor with a loud plastic clack – once ricocheting off him first.  The pseudo cowboy grabs the portable music player, and flings it towards Jack.  Holding the shotgun with two hands, as a melee weapon rather than the boom stick it was originally intended, Jack uses the side of his newly acquired shotgun to deflect the electronic device off to the side and onto the ground, which buys the other guy an extra moment of time.

The man, now fleeing Jack, crawls frantically through the kitchen before jumping to his feet – grabbing onto a shotgun of his own which was laying across the range’s stove top.  Jack rushes through the kitchen, in pursuit, while holding the weapon of his own; still long ways.  The blonde man raises his firearm, but Jack reacts quicker than the man can pump the shotgun.  Still holding the shotgun at each end as a staff, Jack brings his weapon in an underhand motion – causing the two guns to clash with each other.  The blonde’s shotgun flips upwards; causing his to finger to let go of the grip on the trigger.

He tries to grab onto his shotgun with two hands just as Jack in order to fight off the attack.  With both hands seizing his weapon, the blonde man pushes towards Jack – who takes a sudden step back to mess up the blonde’s center of gravity.  Jack quickly swings his weapon sideways and throws his entire body weight towards the blonde man – the shotgun now a battering ram.  The butt of the stock slamming itself smack into the man’s head; even catching a bit of his nose.  The man in the half hick garb yells out from the blinding pain and uses his adrenaline to pump the shotgun with just one hand.  Jack keeps up his melee bludgeoning and hits the blonde guy again with the side of the stock.

He holds and shoots the weapon in a swift motion; with the weapon pointed upwards.  A blast tears open the ceiling of Colin’s former kitchen and debris cascades down.  The blonde falls to the ground from the pain of everything and Jack kicks him in the trigger wielding hand.  The blonde man gets a glazed look in his eyes and suddenly stops thinking.

“Geenie!”

Just outside all of the action was Geenie – thankfully unharmed; though rather shaken from all of the activity inside.  With pieces of glass in her hair, she starts to make her way inside slowly.

Yanking hard, Jack gets the shotgun out of the blonde guy’s hands.

“Are you out there Geenie?”

“Yes..” she says just loud enough to be heard.

“You ok?”

“I am…  Are you?”

“Yeah.  Good enough.”

He tosses both shotguns, one by one, into the hallway; business ends pointed away of course.

“Are they-  I mean did you kill them?”

“They’re both alive I think.  Fight’s out of them.  Me too almost,” he lets her know while eyeing from over his shoulder back to the kitchen.  “Get in that far corner by the door.”

She looks towards the Cajun style corner and walks slowly in its direction.

He finds the pistol across the kitchen floor; almost on the far side of the area.  Jack picks it up and walks close to Geenie.

“See this?”  He says while pulling back on the hammer of the gun.  It looked like the type of weapon a ‘wannabe’ cowboy would try sporting.

“I don’t- Jack I-”

“I know, Geenie.  Get on the ground.”

She doesn’t quite understand but she knows the firearm is not pointed in her direction.  Doing as told, she sits down in the corner.

“You don’t like guns, I know.  But here…”  He sets the weapon on the ground with the pistol’s barrel aimed towards the young man with the shaved head.  He speaks in a low but calming way.  “You don’t have to hold it, Geenie.  BUT…  If he moves, grab that gun.  If he keeps moving, pull that trigger.  Aim for the head – you probably won’t hit it anyway.  Just pull, ok?”

She nods her head in a quickened way.

“You’re fine Geenie.  We’re both ok.  Just wait here.”  He doesn’t exactly get an answer from her.

“Geenie?”  She looks at him when he repeats, “Okay?”

This time she mutters, “Yes.”  Her voice has a twang of shock.

Jack walks back towards the kitchen and sees the possible wishful cowboy still slumped on the ground in a half sitting but sprawled position.  He is obviously still down for the count.  Crouching down for a moment, Jack studies the unconscious guy in the blue checked shirt – at arm’s length of course.  Getting back to his feet, Jack groaned slightly to himself.  “Just takes it easy Buc,” he lets off in a partially condescending tone.  Jack pats the man on the shoulder while saying so.  He touches the folded collar of the man’s shirt, and twists it into his fingers.  Jack makes a slow pirouette with his arm, and the man pivots around on his posterior.  Getting his back towards the entry of the kitchen, Jack starts to tug on the man to tug him backwards.  Just a couple seconds into these movements, the man’s eyes suddenly open and he lets out a primal scream: almost as if his brain has just been in a pause mode up until this point.  He swings his head and neck violently; trying to use the momentum to knock Jack down – but it didn’t work.  He yanks himself around in an attempt to get revenge.  Jack pushes hard and knocks the man into the bottom cupboards.  The blonde man, face caked in blood, full out flails.  He tries to perform a backwards head butt on Jack but misses by inches.  As Jack looks around the room, he wraps an arm around the blonde guy and performs a type of headlock which starts to cut air off.

The man struggles and swings wildly, landing a few backwards sloppy punches randomly on Jack.  He strains his body and the man reach backwards to clamp his hands and fingernails firmly on Jack.

Struggling to use his free left hand, Jack barely gets his fingers on a latch; flipping it.  The blonde man spins around amidst Jack’s movements and spins his neck around – causing himself to sacrifice comfort, yet getting face to face once more.  The man grabs out with his arms but Jack gets just out of grasp once more; yanking on something.  The man stops grappling and tries to throw a hard punch, which was somehow anticipated.  Jack pulls down the door of the dishwasher and yanks hard right when the blonde was in mid swing.  Using rudimentary physics, the man was heaved again by Jack and landed onto the dishwasher’s open door.  He tries to get himself back up but it’s too late.  Jack pulls with both hands on the door of the dishwasher; which catches the man hard on his chest and shoulder.  Jack forced harder to keep trying to close the door – trapping the man inside.  His arms still tried to swing and grasp wildly for Jack, who was almost in a laying position from all the force exerted.  Swinging out with his left leg, Jack delivers powerful blows to the man: landing in the stomach, arm, and leg area.  The man in the blue checked shirt utters a guttural sound which danced around from inside the dishwasher, then goes limp all over again; the pain causing him to acquiesce.  Jack stands up and lets go of the door.  The man thumps against it; conscious but not moving.  Only some low groans emit from this man now.  Worked over but alive.  Jack pulls on the man’s leg, and he plops from the dishwasher back onto the floor.

Using just the legs, Jack drags this blonde man, battered and bloodied, into the same room as his shaved friend.

Pulling his body all the way around and back on the floor beside the young man in the worn out undershirt before letting go of the leg; which falls harshly with a visual thud.  He goes back into the kitchen and sees a portable phone on the counter which he caught out of the corner of his eye earlier.  Taking the receiver off its cradle, Jack makes his way back towards the corner.  He crosses past Geenie and sits down to her left.  He takes the gun and moves it towards his left side, making sure it’s out of her line of sight.  He sits down next to her and puts an arm around her back.  She tilts her head and leans into Jack; pressing closer.

SIXTEEN

Jack Robinson made a call shortly after the silence from sitting at Geenie’s side  He gave out a bare minimum of information.  Intruders shot, address, police and paramedics.  Succinct enough.  Jack didn’t feel like filling the time with having to make monkey chat with the emergency operator.  He was able to convince Geenie enough to go outside and wait for the paramedics.  Once she finally left, Jack dialed up another number.  It was the man on the calling card.  The cop who actually goes by the name of Jason Hatton.

The medics arrived as soon as the police.  Jack made sure to already have the pistol uncocked and emptied before the boys in blue descended upon the former residence of Colin.  They made Jack assume the criminal position as they cleared the house and recovered all of the known weaponry inside.  Once all three firearms were in the hands of the authorities, the first responders were finally able to move in.

It wasn’t tough for the crew of the ambulance to see who the ones were in need; each newcomer flinching the slightest bit when first encountering the home invaders.

Trying to stay out of the way of the emergency technicians, Jack backs out of the room through the blown out sliding door.  He doesn’t bother to open the sliding glass door.  Such an act would merely be superfluous by his book.  Jack takes a few steps: crunch, crunch, crack.

“Excuse me.  That’s part of the crime scene.”  It was the same pair of officers who entered earlier and took the guns away.

“I know,” Jack answers.  “I helped make it.”  He shakes the glass off his shoe before adding, “Is Jason here, or a supervisor or something?”

These two men are either in a haze from the sight of the two men Jack fended off earlier or are merely rookies who somehow got teamed up.  No matter who speaks, the each sound one in the same.  “You can talk to us.  We still need to take your report down.”

“Your version of the events,” the other one tacks on.

“I know.  We’ve got some time I’m sure.”  Jack silently shakes his head to himself.

“Sir, there is no need for hostility.  We-”

“I am not hostile,” Jack tries to make the record show.  “Maybe, when taking all of this into consideration, I now feel the slightest bit on edge.”

“Was that you who did that in there?”

“If I was,” he answers…  “I might still have enough energy left for one of you.”  Jack smiles to himself and quickly changes the subject before getting slapped with a pair of those shiny bracelets.  “Geenie – that woman who flagged you guys down.  Where is she?”

“I…”  Neither of them had a clue.

“Looks like I need to find her.”  Thankfully, sensory overload has clearly kicked in.  Otherwise, Jack would be another statistic in police brutality.  It’s strange what adrenaline can do to a man.  Jack works his way past the side gate and looks at the circus which has come to town: squad cars, fire truck, ambulance.  Maybe even a big top somewhere in the back.  He sees Geenie sitting off from the porch; head in hands.

“Rough day, huh?”

She looks up at Jack.  Part of her wants to feign a smile, but the past twenty-four hours have been way too traumatic.

“This is…  It’s like out of a movie or something.”  Her voice is weak.

“If this was a movie, you’d have one of those ugly army blankets around you.  And a hot cup of cocoa you’d be gripping with both hands even though the heat coming off of it would make the mug seem scalding hot.”

She emits a breath for a quarter of a second.  Possibly it constituted a laugh.  Jack decides to treat it as such.

“Yeah, huh?  What would happen next then.  After that.”

“If this was a movie?”

“Yes.  If this was a movie,” she reiterates.

“Hoo boy.”  He pretends to ponder to himself.  “If this was a movie…  You and I would get up, right now.  And then we would walk a straight path out of here.

Then some dated song would play, and all the words would pop up on the screen so everyone else would know it’s time to go home.”

“Yeah,” she says to herself.  “That sounds about right.”  She waits a moment before asking, “What if we did that right now?  Just to see.”

“If we were to try that…  We’d probably both get shot in the back.  It’s bad enough I was a little bit of a snip to a couple of them in back.”  Jack turns to make sure he has eye contact with her.  Geenie, this isn’t a movie.  You and I?  This was very real.  We’re going to probably be asked a few things then taken downtown as they say.  Each of us give full statements, separately, and hopefully get out before morning.  And hopefully before the twelve o’clock midnight kind of morning.”

“Jack…  I don’t want to be here.  I don’t know what’s happening.”  Her eyes reflect with welling emotion.  So far, she has done a good job holding it back.

“It’s going to be fine.  If you don’t know an answer, just let it go.  Say you don’t know it.  You’re only guilty of…  Of nothing, right?”

“But what-  What if all of this is my fault?  I don’t know why or what’s happening.  But maybe I dragged you into this.”

“Don’t play the blame game.  Whatever happened to those borderline yokels in there wasn’t your fault.  Heck, it wasn’t even mine.  If they went to a museum to get a little cultured, none of us would be here right now.”

Geenie can’t help but to laugh a brief moment.  Her eyes dancing a bit with the water ever so slightly present.  She takes a big sniff to keep her feelings at bay.  “Jack, you are a hero.”

“No I’m not.”

“You are.  You fought those guys.  BOTH of them.  You rescued me.”

“Honestly, I wasn’t even thinking.  But I’m there; since I’ve got you covered.  Besides…  You know who the real hero was?”

She doesn’t have the energy to guess.  Part of her thinks Jack only asked to set up a joke.  “Who?”

“Yesterday.  THAT guy was a hero.  What was he wearing, a Speedo?”

Geenie couldn’t help but laugh at the left field remarks.  All of that almost felt like ancient history to her.  Even the vibe she felt from Jack was something which couldn’t be explained.  She hasn’t even known him for the duration of a day, yet he already seemed as a friend Geenie has held onto for years – and Geenie is the first to admit she is no good with friendships.

“Jack?!”

He stands up to see who called out his name.

A man holds his hand up to grab attention; while the other tries to keep his shirt tucked in.  It seems to be the policeman from the parking lot last night at the Found Dutchman Motel.

“Jason.” He adds to infer they had a past.  The man is less than amused with Jack.

“Twice in two days.  Or should I make that three.”

“I told you if I had any new information I’d contact you.”

“Just because we chewed the fat and I didn’t put you into the back of my car doesn’t make us some sort of sudden war buddies.  There are some very serious cases which are still opened.

Taking this into consideration, you might be on the short list of anything which was connected to this.”

“You didn’t have to come down here.”

“I don’t think I had much choice.  You weren’t very wordy on the phone.”

“You still didn’t have to come.”

Both stand there a moment.

“What was this you called up about you had to show me in the first place?”

“It’s in the back.  Follow me.”

The two of them passed through the gate and Jack leads on towards the barbecue grill.

“I haven’t had the chance to watch the news or read a copy of the paper yet…”

“It seems because you’ve been a busy boy maybe, Jack”

“Was there anything you saw about the incident last night anywhere is the press?”

“No.  Can’t say that I saw it yet.  Sometimes news takes a day or two in order to get out.  Right, Jack?”

He doesn’t flinch at any of the cop’s remarks.  “I thought I told you there was a rumor floating about of a hate time.”

“That’s why you called me over here?  You could have saved both of us a lot of time.”

“You’re a supervisor, right?”

“What are you trying to get at.”

“It’s something I thought I noticed.  You aren’t just some beat cop in a roller.  I know you have to exercise some sort of authority around here.  Or is my hunch off?”

Jason doesn’t reply to the question.  “I don’t dance.  I hate games.  I am not keen of reporters, journalists, photographers, and any of those other types.  Hopefully your skin is thick or I would advise you take up another line of work.”

“I don’t give two shakes either way what you feel about me personally.  I want to find out what the motivation is behind these crimes – even if they’re not connected.  I told you there was a feeling this might have been a hate crime.”

“Yeah.  You did say that.”  He pushes the point with, “Lay it on me then.”

Jack puts his hand on the grill and lifts its lid.  Taking a closer look, all the items stuffed in were Jewish in nature.  Newspapers, decorations, and even jewelry packed in.  The thick old book was in fact a Hebrew Tanakh.  Seems those brotherhood bozos were doing something suspiciously ‘hateful’ one might say.”

“That is certainly…  How did you find that?”

“It’s why I came here.  I smelled something, and that was what I found mid cook.”

“It still doesn’t explain why you were here.”

“I came along with his, with Colin’s longtime girlfriend.  Geenie.  If I hadn’t come along with her out here, there’d be a whole different case the investigators would be tearing apart.  And that story definitely would have been on the news.”

“Drop your righteous little crusade right there.  Just because something isn’t in the papers doesn’t make it any more or less important of a case.  A red ball’s still a red ball.”  He looks Jack squarely into the eye.  “I don’t know what your trip is.

If you’re some unlicensed P.I. type who wants to hang out with the big guys who make a difference, you are sorely mistaken.  You’ll be buried.”

The policeman tries to walk past in a macho strut.  With just enough adrenaline pumping through him still, Jack Grabs hard onto the cops arm.  Either holding a pressure point or sheerly from being startled, the police officer stands still and doesn’t utter a word.  Jack gets right into the cop’s ear and speaks calmly.

“Listen, Hatton.  Forget me, forget whatever I am about.  I don’t even care if you make me a memory as soon as I let go.  How about we go right by the facts.  This house, a few nights or so ago, man dead.  Funeral, area near the victim’s mother’s house, man dead.  This house, lady friend of original victim, two hoodlums in a state I don’t care about.  On top of that…  This same woman had someone in her house last night.  Feel like we start sizing things up?”  Jack lets go of the cop, who swings his arms and backs away by two steps.

“Fine.  What the hell do you want then?”

“First, you and I have no reason to worry her any further.  Anything we say is wiped clean and any idea is yours.  You a man of action around here?”

“Why don’t you stop trying to act like some puffed shirt and just get out with it, Jack.”

“Geenie has a mother who likes here.  Colin, the departed, has a mother as well as I’ve made well aware.  If I had my druthers, I’d have some men guarding both their places and Geenie’s apartment.

That could in fact be all that needs to be done for one night to put all this to an end.  A shelter for the three women I mentioned would obviously be a prudent step as far as I am cancered.”

“You want me to make you a sandwich too while I’m up.”

“Now that you mention it…  I suggest you get a hold of a gang task force member or run them through the system twice.  I find it highly doubtful the weapons can be tracked back to anyone in particular, but every little bit helps.  What I do feel is at least one of these slackjaws who were in here is affiliated to some group or so called organization.  For all I know, it could be possibly be the same little club behind whatever happened to that man last night.”

“I’ll see what I can do.  No promises.”

“Remember; I took this to you.  You had that look as if you could actually do something rather than one of those run of the mill grunts.  I’d only ask you don’t scare Geenie any more than she already is.  Anything I said about it – she doesn’t need to know about any of that.  As for other things…  Whatever moves you make, those are yours.  They were never my idea.  Even if I found the guy, you take the credit.  Know what that means?”

“No.  Enlighten me.”

“If these things are connected…  You can take the book rights.”  Jack gives off a mischievous smile which seems to back up his statement as truth.

“Aren’t you the writer around here?”

“Have at it – all yours.  Don’t even need to mention my name.  Besides; I am not a novel writer.  Articles are my thing.”

Geenie still sits on the side of the porch; head in her arms.  She hears a voice clearing itself, and looks up.  Above her is Jack with his police acquaintance.

“This is…” Jack starts to say.

“Jason Hatton.  Nice to meet you,” he says with a hand extended towards her.

She takes it gently and shakes while saying, “Geenie Swaboda.  Thanks.”

“Are you doing alright.”

She thinks a moment before answering.  “Yes.  I think so.”

“It would probably be best if you and Jack still came with us to take a report, answer some things.  Maybe you would feel more comfortable there.

“Right now I don’t think I would feel comfortable anywhere, thank you.”

“It’s what I feel is best.  To make some arrangements.  More police there and less gawkers.”

“What’s going to happen to his things?  There are some personal possessions in the back.”

“I am aware of it.  It seems they attempted to set some items on fire, but much of it looks salvageable.  Either the materials were all packed in too densely or you guys got here immediately after.  The Jewish Bible in there looks to have taken very little damage outside of some soot or scorching.  Very lucky.  Or a miracle, right?”

“All of those things need to get to his mother.  Please.”

“At the moment, all of the articles must be carefully collected and be taken into evidence.

Once we sort things out, I’ll make sure to get anything I can properly returned.  Either directly to his mother or to you depending situations and protocol.  Due to circumstances of this incident, we have reason to believe this could have been a hate crime.  If you two would like to come with me, you won’t be considered in custody or suspects, and I’ll take you to the station.

“My car is here.  Can we follow behind you?”  Jack asks.  He sees the look on Hatton.  “Or just me.”

“Jack.  I would feel more comfortable if you were with me.”

“I’m not in your possession.  Right?”

“It’s just a precaution.  What if I have one of these guys follow behind.  That would solve everything I hope.”

He looks around; thinking.  Jack sees something in Geenie’s face.  It silently tells him something.  Or it could be some sort of wavelength.  At any rate, he let’s go of his fabricated hang up.

“You’d rather I go along?”  He asks with his eyes still on Geenie.

“Maybe I’m going crazy, Jack but…  I would feel a lot better if you come with me.”

“And so it is agreed,” he says before breaking into another joke.  “You and I have spent enough time for one day in the front seat, right?”

“Oh Jack, don’t be rude.”  He face isn’t smiling.

He looks at the officer and extends his hands.  “Last chance.”

“Listen to the lady, Jack.  I’ve already been tempted enough as it is.”

The sense of defiance starts to fade from Jack finally; being washed over by the heat of embarrassment.  That same way a schoolboy loses the wind from his sails when the principal catches him red handed.  “My apology.  It looks like we’re ready.  Who do I give the keys to?”

SEVENTEEN

Jack sits alone.  He is in an almost unidentifiable room.  A wooden table in need of repair.  Wooden chairs which not only are uncomfortable and make sounds with almost every movement, but also don’t match to the table by any stretch of the imagination.  Floors which might have been threadbare when they were first laid down.  Acoustical tiles as they are called; white squares with strange dotted patterns which look they could be holding in asbestos like a sponge; not only cover the ceiling, but extend halfway to the floor.  A wooden looking strip traveling though all four side of the room as the divider between wall and tile.  Due to the lack of style, one might notice it must be a conference room in a police station – which also makes itself handy as an interrogation room as well.

The awful fluorescent overhead lights can be harsh on the eyes as well as the mind.  Fatigue can often set in from people under such lights for an extended period of time.  Whether all of this is intentional or not, Jack Robinson is becoming worn down.  Time under fluorescent lights…  It’s tough to keep track of the minutes or hours.  The hollow door has a pressed wood finish on it but no window.  He can still hear some sounds from outside at erratic intervals; usually just someone walking by.

He tries to use his ears to stave off boredom since not much seems to help at this moment.  The conversation or words which pass by in true Doppler style; prohibiting him from hearing more than a fleeting word or few.  Nothing to give him any of the answers on his mind right now.

On the bright side, all this time has given Jack a lot to think about.  Not the punishment ‘think about what you’ve done’ sense, but the ‘piecing together the puzzle’ type of way.  Connecting the dots.  It’s not a secret Jack thinks each crime was one of the same; all small transmission which all fall together in order to form a single frequency.  But of course he would think so.  Jack was self admittedly the type of person to make connections which were never supposed to exist.  He might also be the best to find an actual and intended connection as well.  He laid out enough to the police.  Jason Hatton already heard some of the ligaments; binding together separate components.  Jack also seemed to think about who all of this was leading back to.

People love to tie everything to something else – which is the whole foundation for analogies.  The human mind feels it much easier to be educated by one thing by comparing to something already in the memory banks.  Somehow most intellectual theories or obstacles are likened to chess.  This was not exactly a game or activity Jack had much love for, but he understood much of the mechanics and theories of the game.  Most of it in which the human element is not factored in.  Despite what many scholarly types consider the game of chess to be – strategy; skill; nobility; primeval; grit; combat – none of these things were elements Jack considered chess to be.

In fact, he would go as far as to say chess wasn’t even about the game itself.  Not the board, nor even the pieces.  Chess, to him, was a game of individuality and clairvoyance.  A game where one person basically thought differently than the other.  In that aspect, the better opponent had to go beyond that.  The winner either knows what the other person is thinking and then makes sure not to have the same thoughts: or the winner merely sees what nobody else has.  People who dedicate their free time to study the game would say it’s preposterous, but at the same time, it seems safe to say Jack is not thinking the way any of them do.  In life, these building blocks are also a cornerstone in victory: either see what no one else is able to, or don’t do what you know someone else is already thinking.

Funny as it seems, Jack actually has a reputation for being a terrible chess player.  On the reverse side of the coin, very few people are able to apply chess principle or theories to life.  Why would Jack sitting in an empty room have anything remotely to do with chess?  Somehow chess is applied to the events – which still have not been actually officially proven; but instinct is instinct.

The board is the city, county, and even state.  The pieces are the criminal spread about.  Jack is the king of one side, but the opposing kind has still yet to have revealed himself.  People could suggest this indeed was the correct analogy; the game of chess.  But Jack didn’t think the same way as most.

First off Jack would never feel egotistical enough to think of himself as a king, and he wasn’t pious enough to be a bishop, so that wouldn’t do at all.

He had seemed to be sticking his neck out, or merely just walking into, trouble where Geenie was connected.  That could actually mean, in a more literal interpretation, Geenie could have been the king.  If so, Jack would in fact be the queen.  Aside from protecting the king, the queen is often referred to as the most important piece on the board.  Indeed, Jack could be considered the most important piece.  He does in fact seem to know more things about this particular ‘big picture’ of events.  Jack might still have more of a hypothesis at this point than true fact or concrete evidence.  But if his theory does turn into truth, it is painfully obvious Jack might well indeed have the most information.  This is information other will want to take; despite any following consequence – without a single iota of value for human life.  The thought wouldn’t even cross the opposition’s mind to smite Jack – which has already become more than evident.  The opposing side might not yet know the possible gravitas of Jack.  They might be rolling the dice as well.  On one hand, he might be on a similar quest as this opponent is.  The item is not yet claimed, so both sides are still seeking out the same item, or items.  On the other hand, what if one side was seeking what another side already had?  Jack could very well be in possession of something the others want.  If something really was in his hand, the sought object could very well in fact dissipate or disappear altogether if fatality found Jack.  In this case, the opposing side was either taking a serious gamble, or worse; they may have been so blinded by victory that these people might prefer to make all others lose even if it meant never winning.

Jack still knows one thing which he hopes never needs to be realized.  If he was to fail or meet demise, someone will be there to replace Jack; either viewed as a successor, or possibly only a person who was present at an opportune time.  This person would pick the gauntlet off the ground which had slipped by some sort of failure on Jack’s part.  This person would be working on the same side of course; and hold a similar belief system as Jack as well.  But it would go on.  If the opposition was in fact a true enemy, Jack only hopes his death could be something to cause a lull or drop of the guard of said enemy; whoever it was – giving Jack’s philosophical next of kin enough opportunity to do whatever it was Jack Robinson couldn’t succeed at.  Then again, what if these things were nothing more than coincidence?  Geenie and Jack just happened upon all of this.  Random acts intersecting for no mathematical reason.

The theoretic game of chess still boils down to a minimum of ingredients; just as a compound can be disassembled down to the very elements of matter which it is comprised of.  Two kings of warring factions, the ‘land’ which is the board, and the movements to bring one to the other.  These are the only things which can keep the momentum or notion of the game going.  If there is a king missing, that constitutes and end.  There is no such thing as holding a king hostage in the game of chess.  The king has to make a move once the other pieces have been captured.  Some could argue the game can still exist without a board; but there would be no way to dictate the moves.  Most wars in history are based on land, not people; despite what historians may conjecture.  A war person to person is not a war; it is called a duel.

There isn’t a board for this game of chess; speaking in the sense of the analogy still.  There is no land involved.  The house of Colin Rust was certainly a two time event, but criminals do often return to the scene of a crime.  Most of this hubbub stemmed more from a thought or unsupported theory than any tangible evidence.  That was why Jack was involved at this juncture.  He was a journalist trying to weed through an abstract ideal and to deliver the truth; whether right or wrong.  The board very well by the idea of something of which both sides want to be the first to figuratively hold.

The locations; Colin’s house, the Rust mother’s residence, Geenie’s apartment, any other places – even the police station; all can be looked at as squares on this chessboard of an idea.  The traditional sense of the game is to play your army to capture all opposing units in order to conquer and occupy the land; whether it be by true victory or a surrender.  The men Jack has encountered so far did not seem to be units to capture by any stretch.  These people are more a representation of a verb than the nouns they are.  All they are known to possibly be are representations of the movements themselves.  In this situation, any physical items or evidence are the units to capture.  And when all of the possible items are taken into control – such as all pertinent ones at least – then the knowledge is assembled and the idea can truly be seized just as the representative land by the chessboard itself.

From the reactionary nature Jack and Geenie seem to be taking up to this point, they seem to be playing defensively – whether they want to or not.  This is all more symbolism than any true game.  Jack would never put lives in danger for sport.

To the best of his abilities and capacities, he does not believe in collateral damage as well.

All of this random and incessant thought brought Jack back to thinking about Geenie.  He looked up at one of the florescent bulbs which has decided to falter intermittently; once again it was operating at a bare minimum.  Staring at the tube, he could watch the dim hues travel back and forth like particles or even organisms rather than the gas which was housed inside.  The white circular tube was an electric ant farm of sorts; buzzing too and fro at an alarming speed.  At least more in his eyes.  But staring at the faded fluorescent tube; in some sort of trance his mind went back to thoughts of Geenie.

He cared more about her than himself by now.  This is probably due to the fact in his career he had purposely put himself in possible or imminent danger in order to get a story or the true sense of a situation from an inside looking out view.  Geenie, contrasty, was about the opposite side of the spectrum entirely.  She has asked for none of this, and it has possibly literally even crossed her front door unwarranted.

The was the same as a small outlying village which is caught in the crossfire of a country’s politics or coup.  None of them wanted to be there.  It was an unfortunate position.  Geenie is nice; also seemingly intelligent and fairly interesting, but she is a self contained person as well.  She has seemed pleasant because she was content with the way things were for her before these drastic times.  Sure, she might have wanted some things to have gone a bit differently in parts, but she was content overall; which was more than most people could honestly say.

She wasn’t lonely without friends.  She was happy having her own time.  Geenie was still social in her own way.  She held a job and stayed in contact with people like her mom, Colin, and his mother as well.  Jack hoped whatever was happening to him wasn’t being applied to Geenie also.  It would be far beyond necessary if that was the case.  Whatever beef Jason Hatton could have possibly had with Jack…  That was to stay between Jack and Jason – nobody else.  In a way he felt that would be the cop’s only recourse or solace: stick Jack in a room which was videotaping or under surveillance and see what he does.  Of course that would be a very harsh and rudimentary thing to do, but it was one of the only reasons Jack could think why he was still sitting in this bore of a room other than to punish him for nothing or just try to make him feel like a criminal.  He hoped on the outside Hatton was too busy or absentminded; being a man of action and forgetting about Jack.  Maybe he was taking a little extra time to keep Geenie at ease.  Maybe the cops had nothing better to than sit and watch Jack stew.  There might even be bets on it – an office pool to see how long until he tries to open the door to the room, or maybe even just to stand up in general.  Jack smiled to himself while musing of that particular thought.  If they were waiting for him to stand up, then they shall be sorely disappointed.

Admiring the situation he imagined, Jack hunkered down in his chair and looked upwards again.  The light was still dim, and the gas shaped as physical particles were still running amok.  He kept staring and decided to think just a little bit less.  Slowly he felt like the light was getting a bit brighter.  He thought he had his eyes open still.

Flick, flick.  Jack saw the lights go out and back on.  He felt like he had to open his eyes, but they were already open.  He looked over to see Jason standing with his hand on the on the light’s switch.

“You ok there, princess?”

“Sure am.  Is this the secret kingdom?”  He asks tiredly.

“Hardy har,” he emits towards Jack in a most unfunny way.  “What is your deal anyway.”

“Excuse me?”

“You don’t add up.  Pardon the tired old expression, but I don’t know what your deal really is here.”

“It’s basically the same as it was when we met yesterday.  I think it was a yesterday.”  He gestures over to as the cop, “Would you like to have a seat?”

“What’s wrong?  Am I too imposing?”

“My neck is beginning to freeze like this, Jason.  Please?”

The police officer makes a face.  He isn’t amused in the slightest.  When he begins to reply, Jack cuts him off.

“Really.  I know it was my own doing, but I was sitting here looking up.”

“You know…”  the cop walks towards the door.

“That’s not necessary,” he lets the officer know.  “Maybe I’ve been cooped up.  Maybe I’ve been cranky since I haven’t had enough rest.  There is still something I have wanted to know.”

Jason cocks his head.  “Really.  What’s that.”

Looking over at him, Jack makes a notion to come closer.  The officer tries to shake it off with a head gesture.

Jack lowers his face and looks up; pulling his eyebrows up in true Belushi style.  The policeman shrugs off his standoffish ways, trying not to show any interest.  He leans closer in order to indulge for once.

“Who’s still in?”  Asks Jack quietly.

“What?”

“Who around here is still in the pool for how long I can wait before getting up and walking out of here?”

Hatton lets a laugh out which he quickly covers.

“Don’t get any wise idea,” he says sternly.  His eyes don’t mean it.

“Maybe you and I have some of the same issues.  Have you ever thought of that?”

“You think.” He asks almost uninterested.

“Yeah.  I do.  If you’ll relax I’ll even tell you.”  Jack points out the empty wooden chair.  “It’s legitimate.  Try to trust me.”

The police officer takes the chair slowly and sits down exaggeratedly to show what an effort it is.  “So?”

“We got off on the wrong hoof I think.”  He looks back at the cop and wonders, “Can I tell a quick story?”

“Why.”

“It sort of has a point.  It illustrates my assumption.”

“Frankly, I am not in much of a story mood.”

“So in high school math,” Jack starts regardless.  “The teacher.  Not much to say about him but he irked me for various reasons.  Anyway…”  He tries to pick the pace up the best he can.  “In his classroom it was a lot of typical mathematics stuff.

Most of it beyond my caring.  But on one of the walls was a saying which I don’t particularly take into my credo.  It said ‘Practice is permanent: not perfect’.  I still hate thinking about it to this day.  Even uttering it.  I hope it’s not one of your basic philosophies.”

“I thought you said there was a point.  You know, if I leave you in here again.  I might feel sympathy for you being stuck in here with yourself.”

“I knew what I was getting into trying to illustrate this.  But here’s the real point.  First impressions are overrated.  I tend to forget that from time to time.  Often really.  Maybe I have come off to you the way I have since…  I’ve had run ins as you might say.  All just occupational things.  But almost always police give off that guilty vibe.  It makes me a little defensive and…  I don’t know, maybe esteem or ego kicks in so I have to jab back; which is purely metaphorical, mind you.  You maybe had the same.  Maybe something happened which wasn’t your fault.  But the press, or some lousy reporter kept poking and making up details which weren’t there.  I don’t know.  I have something edging this side of disdain for most reporters.”

“Okay, enough.  Please shut up now will ya.”  The police officer holds his hands out to help put some mental distance between them.

“I do get a little nervous, yeah.  Ask Geenie and she’ll tell you.”  He suddenly has a realization has to ask, “How is Geenie though.  Is she ok?”

“Why don’t you tell me what it is about you here.  The sooner you can answer that, maybe we can deal with her.

What do you think.”

“I gave my report.  Really, I don’t any more now than when I got in the car with you.”

“This isn’t some on assignment thing.  You and I both know I was going to look.  You lost your accreditation, Mister Massey.”

“I’m still credible despite.  I have been doing my best to help out and share what I know.  And I don’t make nearly the pay, yes I still have a job.  I am a bona fide enough journalist.”

“Who?”

“What, as in what paper?”

“Yeah.  Is this some online web newspaper or something?  That’s not legit in my opinion.  A newspaper needs real paper in my book.”

“I could see your point.  But no.  It’s small but authentic newspaper.”

“Which newspaper do you work for now?”

“Kosher Times.”

The policeman offers a small guffaw; not expecting the answer he got from Jack.  “Really?”

“Well…  Really it’s ‘These Kosher Times’ but that preceding adjective is written tiny in script.  Little word play.”

“Are you Jewish?”

“No.  I’m not.”

“What are you?”

“Does it make a difference?”

“This isn’t a job interview and I am not racially profiling.  It’s a pertinent question I think.  Due to your employer.”

“Oh?”

“Are you religious?”

“Well?  I have…  I’ve accepted there is a higher power than myself, yes.  And I’m rather sure I prayed to him at some point today whether I knew it or not”

“Does this higher power have any name I would know?”

“Yes.  He certainly does.  I am in the Christian side of religions.”

“What church do you go to?”

“I don’t particularly go every Sunday.  I have been to many churches, but I’m not a member of any particular one.  How about you?”

“Me?  Catholic.  I don’t go and I guess I’m middle of the road as far as if I am ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in my opinion.  If you need to know more, you might have to ask my priest.”

“A couple of churchies like us?  We should be able to trust each other in that case.”

“Yeah,” he says to the room.  “You’d think that.”  Looking over to Jack again, “You uh, what denomination do you go by?”

“I don’t.  I am free of denomination.  Wide open I guess.”

“Yeah pretty wide so it seems,” he laughs.  “Especially you bosses.  They don’t mind you…  As the commercial says, you don’t ‘answer to a higher authority’ if you know what I mean.”

“If anything, the rabbis and Jewish community enjoy the fact of me on their staff even more.  I am driven by truth rather than convictions.”  He coughs a moment.  “Plus I believe in religion is truth.  In all religions.  It’s a matter of digging deep, risking what you hold to be your faith, and seeing what happens what that leap is made.

Besides, our religion is half theirs anyway if you catch my drift.”

“All of this theology is warming my icy heart but I still have some things I can’t figure out.”

“Is this regarding the case?  I really was wishing we could get back to it.”

“Yeah I bet you do.”

“Have you consulted a gang expert of those two?”

“Yes I have as a matter of fact.”

“Did it kick back anything?”

“Maybe it did.  And maybe it hasn’t, Jack.  These people might be linked to other ongoing investigations.  I can’t sit here and yak it up on them until we do our own police work.”

“You’re still in the pool.  Aren’t you, Jason?”

He smiles since he’s still wondering if he’s being pulled off topic for a particular reason.  “Maybe you could say that.”

Now Jack exchanges the grin.  “Why don’t you just let me know?  I’ll play ball for you in that case.”

“I’m still an investigator first.  This is a police station in case you weren’t aware.”

“I am all too familiar by this point.  Thanks for the heads up though.”

“Any time,” he says in a joking way.  Have you ever been one of us?”

“What.  Police you mean?”

Hatton nods.

“Never.  Not even deputized.  Not yet as far as I know.  Was it because I seem thorough?”

“No.  Not really.  I thought maybe you had a bad police experience.  Coming through the academy or maybe even on a beat.  But maybe you saw things you didn’t like, or unjust.  A whistle was blown, soon afterwards you write a story.  Bing.  Then you are where you are.”

“Was that something you saw while looking me up?”

“Humor me.”

“It’s a great story, but alas.  That was not my tale.  I always seemed to have an authority issue.  You know?  Better to be someone to try to make the authorities or wrongdoers uncomfortable I say.”

The policeman gives a look to stare Jack down.  The face is one of those ‘jig is up’ expressions which a cop most likely uses either when he has a person dead to rights, or when he’s trying to trick the other side into thinking he has that game ending piece of evidence.

“I get it.  I’m not worried.”

“Not worried about what, Jack?”

“How about we both stand up and go see Geenie together right now?”  Jack grabs at his seat and stoops over; planting his feet on the ground.

“Wait wai wai wa wait.”

Letting go of his chair, Jack sits back up and laughs to himself.  Hatton can’t hear it but sees it.

“So…  Hm?  How about that?”  The cop doesn’t say anything.  “You little cheese eater.  You are still on the ticker.  Ain’t you?”

The police officer says something barely audible.

“That’s fine.  Just fine.  How much longer?”

Jason makes a funny gesture.

“Wha?”

The cop makes a slight number with his hand.  It looked like a two or three.

“Minutes?”

He shakes his hand twice for Jack.  Somehow they knew how to communicate with the other.

“I don’t know why you still have me here,” Jack says in a grandiose way.

“Why don’t you just simmer down.  Huh?”

“How about I ask you something this time.  It is vague enough to not impede with your case I might feel confidant enough saying.”

“Would you?”

“If you can try to answer it?  Then sure.”

“No promises.  Roll the dice, Jackie boy?”

“If those are my options, then I might as well.” He complies.  “Ready?”

“Are you?”

“Of course.  First…  At least one of them kicked back to be a gang affiliation.  Correct?”

“Not too bad.  But amateur of course.  You might have known that from the broadest guess.”

“Would you like me to take a more detailed guess?”

“Floor is yours.”

“Just one of them was found in the database.”

“That was easy.  You-”

“Hold on,” Jack interrupts.  “I was just being for certain.  Here is the question.  Of course it wasn’t the one missing a cowboy hat who kicked back.  Correct?”

The cop makes a small gesture using both hands.  “Correct.  So?”

“The wife beater kid with the buzzcut.  He’s a Sixer? ”

“What are you talking about.”

“He was a member of the Skull and Sixbones.  Right?”

Jason makes a perplexed face.  Jack takes it as guessing correctly.

“I’ll take that as a yes then?”

“How?”

“I paid attention basically.  And they have come up a couple times before.  They aren’t just in your state if you read.”

“Yes.  I am certainly aware now,” the cop says while leaning back carefully in his chair.  “But uh, how would you know that?  Even our gang task force liaison had to do a little homework.”

“You know my employer.  Part of their duty has been to identify possible local threats.  One of the other states is where Kosher Times prints.  I saw the belt buckle and I think it was enough.  Neither of them had any pride tats as far as I was able to see, so I went off the belt.  That lightning shaft ‘S’ is one of the main staple images.  Usually it’s the doubled up ‘S’ design – that know take off on the SS thing – but maybe it was too dark for me to make it out.  I did also have a shotgun pointed at me so, yeah I was a little distracted with that too.”

“Well it’s nice to see it didn’t put a damper of your day, mister cool action hero guy.”

“I think I-”

“Here is the biggest question on my mind.  Ready this time, Jack?”

“I guess so.”

“Where did you get your license to kill, cowboy.”

“This time I really do have to ask you to clarify.”

“When I rolled up on your car.  Originally.  I was supervising the people who were tossing the room of a certain gun wielding thug.  I read the plate off to confirm the police message earlier.  Get a call back.  Can’t touch you.  Suddenly your vehicle gets yanked – do not proceed.”

“Really what’s this about?”  He asks.  He looks right at the unflinching cop.

“You’re a foreign dignitary suddenly?”

“No.  There must be some confusion.”

“There isn’t, Jack.  Somehow you have diplomatic immunity.”

Jack laughs hard and smiles.  It’s not clear if his smile was meant for himself or the officer.  “There must have been a mistake.”

“Not that I could see.  I could dig longer but I hoped you would be able to shed light on all this.”

“I have not the foggiest.  That doesn’t mean I am a spy or double agent or whatever.  I’m an American.  That is not a ‘license to kill’ as you put it so eloquently.”

“It’s probably best I don’t give you all these details.  Maybe it was a switched digit.  But as far as I can see, you can drop almost any one of us and we can’t keep you here.  Bless America, right?”

“If what you’re saying is true,” Jack tries to illustrate.  “Wouldn’t I have cared a little bit less about keeping them both alive?  That probably would have been a whole lot easier – especially since I’m more than sure my actions were justified.”

“You could have wanted to keep them alive just so you could extract whatever last bit of what they knew.”

“As in help cooperate with the police and try to solve a murder?”

“Maybe you could have.  You keep saying you would share what you have.  Breaking this thing or making a newspaper article seems to be the thing you care most about.”

“I am not trying to play any games.  And where is Geenie?  I’m going to see her.”  And with that, Jack finally gets up.  He walks towards the door and turns the knob.  Locked.  Jack stands and watches the cop reluctantly get up.  He pretends almost to ignore Jack and gets to the hollow and rather chinsey door; slowly unlatching it and almost painfully watches Jack exit.  For a moment the cop actually seemed to smile at Jack but first made sure not to be seen.  If this was true, it was probably only from winning the pool for guessing when Jack would finally stand up.

“Geenie?  Geenie!”  Jack called out of concern before making his way towards an area of desks.  “Geenie?”

“Over here,” one of the men in uniform says.  “She’s still here, nothing to worry about.  Come on,” he says while leading Jack towards wherever.  “So you were that guy, huh?”

“I wha?”

“Takedown on those Aryan bastards.  I didn’t see it but I bet it sure was sweet.”

“You’ll have to let me get back to you on that one.  My brain hasn’t really processed how I feel about it.  It’s not like I was trying.”

“Weren’t trying?  I thought you were from C.R.A.S.H. or whatever.  Gang division and all that.”

“Nope I’m just a journalist.”

“Just a-?”  The cop looks around as if more were in the conversation.  “Ain’t no ‘just’ about it.  You are a bad dude.  Heck, partner up with me!.  Take some Polaroids and you can skip the academy.”  He stops a moment and makes a gesture which touches Jack gently past his chest.  “You ever trained?”

“Police academy?  No.”

“The service.  Or a little dojo action?”  He asks with one of his hands in the all too familiar karate positioning.

“None of that.  A little bit of informal.  Well, actually I took one lesson.  It depends how you look at it.  I don’t want to be lying to a man in the blue you know.”

The guy laughs heartily as if a great punch line was delivered.  “Yeah right.  Well that must have been a hack of ‘one lesson’ I bet.  What was it?”

Slightly embarrassed he stammers, “Eh, it was Craw Magraw.”

The man reacts by making a face usually reserved for on of Hal Roach’s Rascals.  “Wh-what?  Hey that stuff is the stuff.  I saw it on the History Channel before.  How in the heck did YOU get a lesson?”  Tagging on, “Really.”

“It’s embarrassing a bit.  Not the smartest time of my life.”

“Hey hey.  You put it out there.”

“No.  I think in fact you put it out there.”

“Yeah I think I did put it out there,” he cleverly laughs.  “But now it’s out.  Come on.”

“I was stupid enough to cover this story.”  Jack’s pacing is much different telling this story.  Rushed a little and trying to plow through rather than make it interesting with any true inflections to hammer the point home.  So I was in Israel.  I would saw they were in conflict at the time, but of course they usually are.  So I was doing a piece.  You know, our guys helping theirs, what each side learned from the other, peace, politics, sports.  Sort of a usual sequence of events type of story.”

“So then they gave you a lesson?  Right.”

“Yes.  It was strictly nailed down though.  Elevated threats and all told, so I participated in a rather basic class.  It was about the same as your self defense course here I imagine.  Little more violent overall though.”

“Much more aggressive?  Right.”

“More lethal really.  You may learn a disarm but most of the things I saw tacked on a kill move instead of merely subduing.  They may have just done that to project that image since I was a journalist mind you.”

“That’s still an honor I think.  Really.  Nothing to get hung about.”

“I got myself into a bad situation is all I meant.  It was great to participate in the actual class.  Piece of the way of life.”

“What happened then?”

“I’d rather get to Geenie.”

“She is fine.  Trust me on that.  But you can tell me.  I’m there.  What happened?”

“I’m not getting into details.  But when I was there, an attack happened nearby.  This was supposed to be a secret area away from their main deal – secrets and all.  Well I was accused of being a spy for the other side and American still siding with their enemy.  That sort of stuff so I got stuck in some do or die mission.  Gun in hand, marched me ahead.  I was the decoy duck if you know what I mean.”

“What did you do?”  He asked Jack.  This time his face read all business.  More interest and less personality.

“Did what I had to.  Men behind me with their semi and full automatics.  Men in front of me with who knows what.  Only one choice was a gamble.  I mean the other was a sure thing to a grave, you know?”

“You can’t leave me hanging.  Not now.  What.  Did you do.”

It was an AK-47 they gave me.  I didn’t even know for sure but I looked it up after.  This one had this stock thing that unfolded from the back.  Like a rifle stock thing but hollow aluminum or what have you.  It was a house type of structure but maybe more a warehouse with a few rooms.  I kicked the door, thing just shattered, and I started spraying.”

“What!”

“Yeah.  I aimed just straight ahead but my foot and balance and all.  Right on my ass.  I know I got a good amount of rounds off.  And they didn’t hesitate firing right back at me.  I tried to keep shooting but the weapon jammed up.  Something horrible.  So I tried to hit the ground flat.”

“You’re alive So what happened?”

“I didn’t even remember it happening but one of the Israeli police or a soldier – I still don’t know – he grabbed me by the back and swung me.  One fluid motion.  Gave me a bum’s rush right out to the side and the others all stormed in.”

“So they let you go because you fought with them as brothers.  You proved your loyalty.” He says with a voice of dignity.

“No.  They hadn’t.”

“What?”

Jack finally cracked a slight grin.  “It wasn’t at all the reason.  They said later through a translator I couldn’t have been since nobody sending out a spy would be stupid enough to put them with the Israelis without ever firing a gun.”

The man laughs out loud.  “Man that was.  That must have been some article.”

“I never put any of that into my report.  I was ashamed of being so stupid to put myself in that position.  Even if that story got some acclaim, it would be needless; only highlighting what a damn fool I was.  Unprepared, headstrong, overambitious.  I didn’t deserve an award for being an ass.  But I learned through it.”

“What did you learn?  Not to try to get a second lesson of Craw Macgraw?”

“Two main things.”  He extends his hand to count them off with his fingers.  “One?  Be wary when others aren’t quick to take an assignment.  Two.  Always be aware of your balance at all times.  Especially in a grapple or some bar room rumble.  And discharging a firearm.”

“Yeah.  Yeah, I get it.”

“Balance before aim.  I always tell myself that.”

“Word from the wise.  I got that.”

“It was more a word from the foolish.  But we can all learn.”  He stops and makes sure to keep on track.  “Geenie.  I need to find her.”

“Just chill out.  She’s still probably busy anyway.”  It seems it’s the first time this man in the uniform had stopped moving.  “Oh yeah.  Come on, commie kicker.  I’ll take you to her.”

They twisted down another hallway or two and found another sequence of desks.  Geenie was messing around on a computer while others watch.  She was talking to them in a demonstrative way while playing with keys and the mouse.

“Geenie.”

“Jack…!”  She gets up to hug him.  “Is everything ok?”

“Don’t worry.  I’m fine.  What about you.”

“Well I was just helping out I guess you can say.  Just showing some computer tricks and stuff for paperwork.”

“No nothing about it.”  Says one of the people checking out the impromptu skill show.  She is a domestic goddess for computers and software.  You better keep her around.”

He smiles back and replies, “I’ll try to keep that in mind.  Maybe you better ask her about all that.”

Another person stands up to leave.  “I need to get back to work but I already took some notes.”

Breaking up parties seems to be Jack’s strong suit lately.  “Sorry.  You can take a little while longer and finish up whatever.

I don’t know what’s up with that Hatton guy still.”

“It’s ok, Jack.  It was really weird to be the center of attention.  You really should have know that by now.”

“Yes.  I do.  You didn’t seem to mind until I busted up your little party.  I was worried about what was going on with you stuck here.”

“Don’t be so silly.  I’m in a police station.  It’s one of the more safe places so it feels.”

He makes a face, then eventually decides to nod at her in agreement.  “I just felt like you wanted to get out of here.”

“What took-”

A man gets up and comes towards them.  He looks more like a clerk or assessor than a man on the beat.  “Hi, I’m Doug.  This is my desk actually that Geenie has been helping out with.  You see, there were some app issues I had and-  Well we all heard about you and…”  He grabs Jack’s hand and shakes it while saying, “Just hope you can keep up the good work.”

“Yes.  I’ll try my best.  Thanks.”

Geenie gives a funny look to Jack; uncomfortable a bit more.

“The two of us need to find a couple people still before we can leave.  Thanks though.”

“Anytime.  It’s a pleasure and an honor.  Thanks to both of you.”

They politely step away and find a nearby corner just far away from the others to talk.

“I was worried, Jack.  They weren’t telling me anything about you.  What happened?”

“Don’t worry about it.  Some sort of a mix up happened on my statement I think.  I’m still trying to make sure it’s squared away.  What about you?  I didn’t know if you were as bored as I was.”

“Not too much.  It was really weird for that police report.  I really didn’t see very much since I was outside.  But they just kept asking me.  I thought you said something about me that I was supposed to know about.”

“Those are just police things.  Now you know why people hate stopping their cars for cops.  Always guilty.”  He stops himself and switches gears.  “Have you, uh.  Has there been any updates?”

“No.  That’s the only reason why I was starting to get worried.  I didn’t know if something happened and they arrested you.  I thought they wouldn’t tell me so I had to wait around for I don’t know how long.  I haven’t even seen that guy you know.”

“You haven’t?”

“No.  It didn’t look like it was him.  Was I supposed to see him?”

“Really now I don’t even know.  Hopefully he’s still here.”  Jack looks around again and eye’s Doug back at work on the computer.  “So what was that presentation all about?”

“Oh…  It’s silly, you don’t want to know.”  She smiles as if she was caught doing something but had no good reason.

“From the look on your face it seems there’s something interesting.  Come on.  Let’s have it out.”

“He was just having some memory issues and document problems.  So I showed some different software and shortcuts.  It’s not anything too amazing.

It’s just from doing the same things all the time maybe.”

“For them it seemed very amazing.  You might have saved the day by making them more productive, right?  That could be an extra bad guy a day.  Or more.”

“Knock it off.  You are just trying to be silly now.”

“Sorry, sorry.  I think it’s great really.  You never said you were so good with computers.”

“I’m not.  Only word processor things.  Or spreadsheets, slides.  That stuff is it.  I can’t do that much.  Most of that stuff I showed all of them was just from a different software program that crashes less often.”

“Very nice.  But on that note, let’s see if we can get out of here.”

“I feel the exact same way.”

They start walking around the building and turn a corner into Jason Hatton.

“Funny walking into you two.  Just who I was looking for.”

“Officer,” Geenie exclaims.  “Sorry for forgetting your name.  But, was there any news or updates on the men?”

“Please,” he narrates without a particular emotion.  “Why don’t we find somewhere more quiet.”

“I think one your guys has still got my keys.  Or someone around here.  Can we do something about that first?”

“It’s already being done.  Shall we?”

They head to a cold looking room.  It looked almost like a waiting room in a urgent care facility.  Those buildings which are pretending to be hospitals by the dreary look and tile everywhere but somehow just don’t truly measure up to the job.

Jack and Geenie take seats on one side of a table.  It looks more like the type of place you take a family to speak softly and break bad news.  It is by no stretch of the imagination the same feeling as a room to interrogate suspects.

“Please.  What’s going on,” she almost implores the policeman.  “We’ve been here a long time after a long day.  At least what happened to those two men.”

“I’ve been trying to get the latest.  They are both really bad.  And one of them may not make it.  I won’t lie about it to either of you.  I’m sure the both of them know they are very lucky to be where they are right now.  Obviously it’s not something I’m supposed to divulge until a full investigation wraps up but.  As far as we see right now it was a sign of self defense with justifiable force.  Things could change so this is not a promise or an endorsement.”

“Do you have both of our reports too now?”

“Yes.  I do have each of your statements.”

“Jack said-”

“I said after you found my statement I thought it was agreed we could leave.  Or do you have more news for us first.”

Hatton picks up on the inflection.  His eyes turn to Geenie.  “Ms Swaboda.  I am deeply sorry for all of these circumstances.  Due to these events, I want to insist you take my offer up on a temporary arrangement.”

“What is this?  I don’t understand what that means.”

“I have taken the liberty to contact your mother and well as Colin’s.  The both of them are fine, not to worry, but we will like to have some security for them.  Also for Colin’s house.

These would all be by volunteer but we’d like to end this thing sooner rather than later.”

“Has there been anything else done for helping with-  Anything for Colin I mean.”

“I was just about to get to that.  No exact leads or breakthroughs have been made as far as Colin’s case is concerned.  We are going to test everything we have as of today against that case.  There is an obvious chance, but all of us here want to make you our main concern.  Will you accept this offer?”

“This is all too much I think.  Don’t you, Jack?”  She turns towards Jack and sees his face; full of solemnity.  “What?”  She asks herself and him.

“With all that happened, I want what’s best.  I will be with you, but I think you need to think about your family.  Both of them are your mother so to speak.  Family in two ways.  At this point, if you have five relatives in the city I’d have them all crowded with guards for a night or two.”

“Those had to be the guys.  There’s just no-”

“It’s always better to be safe.  Trust me,” Jack tries pointing out.  “You seem to have made an impression so why not let them do what is volunteered.”  He turns towards the officer.  “It’s all volunteer, right?”

“Absolutely,” Jason says in Geenie’s direction.

“See?  They must be pretty darn thankful for whatever you taught them about spreadsheets.”  Jack makes another accidental smile and Geenie softens up just another tad.

“This is all…  Well it’s embarrassing, to be truthful about all this  I hate attention, sir.”

“Nonsense.  It’s just looking out for friends.”  Gesturing during almost every part of the phrases, “This guy here I’m not sure about, but for you?  Think nothing of it, Ms Swaboda.”

“I have never been very good at making friends.  Or keeping them, or wanting them even maybe.  I-  Thanks.  I’ll accept.”

“Well good!”  It’s one of the few times Jason Hatton has expressed any motivation or emotion to either of them.  “Now we have all of that taken care of…”  He reaches into his front pocket, “Looks like we have everything squared away.”  Out come the keys; held in the air.  Jack grins a bit and takes them.”

“I sure in hades hope we are done here, Jason.  Really.”

“Free to go.  I would appreciate it if you tried to stick around for at least a few more days though, Jack.  Just in case.  You know?”

“I do understand what you mean.  Thanks,” he answers Hatton.

“Ask for the east exit if you can’t find it.”  Your vehicle is in the visitor’s lot.”

Jack and Geenie stand up and look more than ready to leave.

“You know,” Jack draws out.  “We had to leave Geenie’s car in a public garage.  I don’t even know if it’s open.  Is there any way you could follow us along?”

“I don’t know how much longer-”

“Come on…” he embellishes in his voice.  “It’s dark out there, mister policeman.”

“Shift’s almost done and I-”

The move.  Out of nowhere, Jack dims his eyes down; seemingly to talk with them.  The police officer turns his head ever so slightly.

“Come on,” Jack says to Geenie.  He opens the door for her, and she steps far ahead.

“What is this?”  He almost whispers to Jack.  “I’m not in the mood for games.”

“This isn’t a game.” He softly says to Hatton.  “Maybe you’re gut’s partially right about me.  If I can really trust you, I might really need you for Geenie’s sake.”  And with that, Jack steps out of the room as well.

The officer grabs the door and lets himself out of the room.  Seeing both of the others far ahead, he hollers over the hum of the building.  “I’ll show you the way to the East side.”  Follow me.”

EIGHTEEN

Much driving time and cajoling later, the bottom level of the parking garage was breeched.  It was all thanks to the officer Jason Hatton of course.  Nobody else could have gotten some numbers, roused some managers, and gotten the place to open back up.  It wasn’t a very happy person, but there was some sort of excuse made which ended up being believable.  From the words jack caught while pretending not to be paying attention, it seemed the police officer was supposed to be checking on someone who had their car broken into.

“Why don’t you check your things out.  Make sure whatever is intact,” Jack says before they open the doors.  “I have something quick to go over with our little police friend.  And thanking him of course.”

She nods, feeling a need for sleep.  This time Jack did all of the driving, but it was only because Geenie turned it down.

She felt tired such as now and worried about being behind the wheel; as well as not being too certain on how to make it to the structure the best way at night.  This is past her usual routine time wise and she is more prone to being turned around in her car driving at night.  At any rate, whether she knew it or not, she did nod off here and there along the way.  Her fatigue was at a state where even her brain didn’t know it.  Getting up out of the range rover was enough to help her circulatory system get back up to a functioning way again.  While Geenie makes a prolonged grab for her items, Jack takes the time to step behind his vehicle.  With a slight gesture with his face, it was enough to get Jason more curious.  He walked along and stood with his back to the car as well.

“Is that wired for sound?”

“Inside of the car.  That’s it.”

“Good.  Of course I’ll take your word for it.” He says in a slightly chipper way; sarcasm free.  “Maybe I’d like it much better if you can feel it in your heart to trust me.”

The cop takes a deep breath.  “I don’t know what it is you are into, but I would like to trust you.  Right now, it’s like I don’t know what side you’re on.”

“Funny, I could say the same.  But the people I work with aren’t very trusting.  Not easily.”

“So this is why you brought me here and made sure I’m not wearing a wire as all the detective shows put it.”

“If I wasn’t doing my best to work for a noble cause, I would be on the other side of the coin like these sudden things that keep popping up.”

“If you know a connection then you better start coming clean.  Look, I won’t take you back to the little room but I just want to close this thing.”

“You and me both.  Maybe we are the same.  What I can say isn’t much and I don’t truly feel comfortable telling you.  Stories might be great only with conflict and drama, but I like to stay in truth.”  Jack lets his voice drop.  “What I know is there might be some item.  That’s what this is about.”

“Like a painting or some stupid chachki?”

“That’s the very real possibility.  I’m out here for a wild goose chase which I can’t be certain if it does or doesn’t exist.”

“Her boyfriend had it you think?”

“It’s really hard to tell.”

“There were some jewelry and items inside of that grill.  It was all really dense in there.  If this is so valuable why would whoever involved want to destroy something like that.  I know I’m going from a movie theater view on this, but wouldn’t you fence an item like that?  Make a profit rather than some something in a barbecue.”

“These people aren’t thieves, they are elitist thugs who work for others who deal in chicanery.  It’s about the same as a cult.  If those guys really were tied to the Sixbones.  Those people don’t mess around.  Armed and highly dangerous kind of stuff.”

“I still don’t get it.  I never heard about anything like that.  I always knew there were Aryans and their little clubhouses and stuff but nothing was ever organized.  It was more infighting and junior high behavior when I had an encounter.”

“There is a good chance all of those guys were just low level thugs.  Just like a hired goon insulated from another.”

“This time I really don’t follow you.  You’re not making any sense, Jack.”

“This is a very close example, but you and I are close enough in age to relate.”

“Do your best.”

“You remember gangster rap any all of that evolution.  Think of it like that.  A record label forms which is supposed to be legit – despite whatever the ‘true stories from the street’ might be in songs themselves.  They may still have that gang which is far from legit, and they are still by all means connected and tied together, yet for some strange reason the lines are able to stay parallel but appear to never intersect.”

“That is definitely not the cleanest analogy, but I see things from your side some.  These guys are basically high up as some sort of cartel?”

“Really, these guys barely pop their head up.  The deep end of the scale would suggest they turned into something post Germany.  You know, after the big one?”

“You don’t believe that do you?”

“I would say it’s not entirely feasible.  But these guys are definitely underground.”

“And that makes your side the good guys then?”

“Black and white aren’t terms I like to think in.  We believe wrongs in history should be righted.  Preserving memories and returning spoils from the spoiled.”

“Truth, justice, and the American way?”

“Not America.  The world.  Philanthropically fighting to keep the memory of the fallen; not forgetting.”

“Laying it on a little bit thick don’t you think?”

“Of course.  But it’s not much different than what you do.  Though I don’t arrest anyone, however I do cross the international dateline.”

“All of this is the cause of the Kosher Times newspaper?

“Not quite.  My employer, or employer’s employer even, is sort of a version of the Shoah Foundation I guess you could say.”

“Those are the people who put together the holocaust museum in Washington DC, right?”

“Yeah.  And many other things, but you can read all about that in their newsletter or a mission statement.”  Jack coughs a little bit from the dryness in the air; giving both of them a moment to reflect.

“Are you supposed to be the hired goon for them speaking for all intensive purposes then, Clark Kent?”

“Not quite.”  Jack clears his voice to buy himself an extra moment to think.  “This isn’t particularly truthful as far as accuracy goes but my employer would make the Shoah Foundation out to look like the hired goons.”

Jack crosses his arms and tries to speak directly to Hatton.  “Are you still idealistic?  I’m sure you must be what you are to serve a higher purpose.”

“Nah…” Jason says in a mocking tone.  “They were passing out superhero capes outside of the Hall of Justice, and ran out right before I got there.”  They both smile.

“You should know in your job there’s a lot of bureaucracy.  Shades of grey and red tape.”

“That’s nothing new.  Of course.  It’s a way of life.”

“Not for me.”  Jack eyes Hatton again while flashing a grin.  “Like I said, I really need someone I can trust right now.  Pretty much most of what I told you was really putting myself out there.  I’m really worried though.  If something happens to me, I’ll need Geenie to get something to you.”

“What does she have to do with all of it.”

“Coincidence really.  You are the only person I’ve said any of this to.  Things might be getting big.”

“You’re really worried about all this, aren’t you?”  Jason is starting to sense the sincerity in Jack.”

“Please.  If I can trust you, then I can give you this.”  Reaching into a pocket, Jack takes out the business card from Hatton when they first met each other.  “This is….” he says while trying to write legibly.  “On the bottom is my answering service.  You can say anything you want in there and I get it as fast as humanly possible.  I reply every time.  But on the top here,” he says while still scribbling.  “Don’t let anyone see it.  This is a number you can call.  If you really want to know more.  Or if something happens like I don’t make it and Geenie comes to you.  Anytime you are prompted for authorization or a code, make sure to remember forty-five.”

Jack offers it out with his fingers keeps a tight grip.  Tighter than the policeman can muster when first trying to take it from the hand.  “Nobody.  Got it?”  He relaxes his fingers and the cop reads the card.

“Duly noted.”

“I need another copy of your card by the way.  Especially one with a number I can reach you at any second.

Hatton digs into his shirt pocket and sighs deep.  “This is a personal card.  Special circumstances.”

“Thanks,” Jack says while he pockets it from the man.  “Really, it means a lot.  I hope you can understand how important this is.”

“I’ll try.  Just don’t try to say anything about the fate of the world resting on my shoulders.”

“No – but I suggest your let your men know it may not be just petty hoodlums who might be tiptoeing onto any of the properties.”

“Where exactly is Geenie now?”  The cop asks while craning his neck around.

“That is a very good question,” Jack replies with a worried look.  He runs around to the side of his car and sees nothing in the windows.  He hurries over to the car and feels relief.  She is leaned to the side; asleep in her backseat.  Nothing seems to have made it out of her vehicle.

“Hey hey,” he gently says when touching her shoulder.  Geenie’s arm moves around, almost as searching for the snooze button on an imaginary alarm clock.  Her eyes slowly flutter open and she squints.

“What happened…”

“Your backseat happened it looks like.  You fell asleep.”

“Where am I?”

“You were sleeping in your car.  You think you can get it out of here?”

“I don’t know, Jack.  I’m tired…”  She hasn’t seemed to have woken up at all.

“It’s ok.  Try to stay awake.”

“Don’t worry.  I will,” she says in her still groggy state.

He goes around and gets the nearest door open to the backseat of the range rover.  He looks towards Geenie’s car and in the backseat again – where she is once again fast asleep.

“Hey Geenie?”  He whispers; making less of an effort than last time.  He talks low again but speaking to her.  “Please forgive me for this one…”  With great care, he slides her part way from the car before lifting her into his arms.  She starts to stir, but Jack only moves slower from it.

“Hmm.” She says with her eyes closed.  “Jack, don’t go to sleep.”

“I won’t, I’m awake.”  He scoots her into the back of his vehicle.

“My stuff.  I need to get my stuff.”  Her voice is too lackadaisical to be convincing.

“I’m getting all of it for you.”

“If you don’t get my things I can’t drive.”

Jack already began ignoring her.  He popped the automatic hatch in the back of the range rover and put most everything not nailed down inside of Geenie’s car.  Jack finished by grabbing a small pillow and blanket he found hiding in her trunk.  He locked her car up and closed the back hatch gently on his vehicle.

He handed the pillow and blanket to a sprawled out Geenie – as much as one can in the backseat.  They set off for a little drive to a destination even Jack isn’t entirely sure of yet.

NINETEEN

“Wha!”

Geenie wakes up with a loud sound.  Jack turns to her – still in the backseat with pillow and blanket.

“Hello there,” he calmly says.  “How are you feeling?”

“What’s going on?”  She is certainly awake but lost her bearings.

“Well, you’re in the my car.  With me obviously.”

“Where are we?”

“It’s uh-  The only place I knew that you did.”

She sits up in the seat, and looks out the window.  It’s where they fist met.

“You took me to Gertrine Rust’s house?”

“Us, and yeah.  There’s a good reason though.”

“I’m not awake enough to figure it out.”

“This is the only place I actually knew where it was.  If I’m not the one driving, I can’t know where a place is.  I have to be driving.  One of those quirks.”

“Whatever.  What happened?”

“Couldn’t wake you up, so I just packed everything in, you included, and went driving.”

“Ok.  I guess.  How did you know I had a blanket?  And a pillow.”

“In your car.  Most females stow them away somewhere in their car.

I spend a lot of time in vehicles but I still don’t own a blanket.  Or a pillow.”

“Is everything ok at her house?”

“So far as I can tell.  One I can see but the other I don’t.  Might be a person inside even.”

“Knowing her, they’re having milk and crullers.”

“How do you feel back there?”

“Sore.”

“It was the only thing I could think of.  We could go somewhere else.  Or knock on her front door?”

“Please no.  She’s a darling woman but I don’t want to face her after all of this and now people having to watch her.  It’s so embarrassing.”

“You’re going to have to get over that little issue, but I agree – no knocking on her door.  We have other options anyway.  Grab a drink at a gas station to wake up more, eat something somewhere we can sit down at, or even get another place to crash tonight.”

“Is it just ok if we drive around or something.  I don’t know what I want to do.”

“We can do that too.  Did you want to drive?”

“I’m too tired for that.  Let me come up there.”

“Sure just-”  Geenie tosses her blanket up front and it unravels; like a tail coming out, it hits Jack in the face.  “Don’t try to climb over.  Go around.”

She gets out of the car and walks to the passenger side.  One of the cops sent out as guards looks her way.  Geenie worries about it and puts her hand in the air, then waves.

Motion on the other end looks like the police waved back once making her figure out.  Jack starts the car up and the car rolls off to wander somewhere else.

“How awake do you think you are?”

“Not much.  Why?  What about you?”

“I’m good another hour or two easily.  I got to doze off a few while you were still asleep.  I didn’t know if you wanted to talk or just try to relax a little longer.”

“I don’t know…  I don’t know anything now.”

“Come on,” he says while putting his vehicle into motion.

TWENTY

It doesn’t take longer than twenty minute of trolling the streets to realize the tanks is getting low.  Jack pulls into the brightest lit gas station, for safety reasons of course, but it does incidentally cause Geenie to stir again.

She looked up from beneath her blanket and looked outside the nearest window.  Jack was gassing up the range rover.  His eyes were already on her, and he made a smile and gave her the hi sign.  Scrunching her eyes from the overhead lighting, she tries to wave back.  Shimmying across the seat, she opened the door furthest away and walked around towards him.

“I didn’t mean to wake you up but the tank started getting into the red zone.”

She looks at him without reply.  He brain is still trying to get back into gear.

“Do you want to go inside and get a drink?  Juice?  There’s nothing like a gas station cappuccino.”  His voice lifted slightly towards the end.

“I don’t like coffee very much.”

“Yeah, I know.  Just teasing you.”

“I feel bad.”

Fending off a yawn, “Why?  What’s wrong?”

“You need to sleep.  So far just I have.”

“Ever slept as an all night service station?”

“Come on, don’t try to act funny about it.”

“Sorry.  I wasn’t trying to tease you.  I’ll sleep anywhere you want though.  You already said no more motels.”

“Yes, I remember.  But now I am tired, I don’t know.”

“We can always go back to your apartment.”  Covering his tracks, “I can sleep on the couch or even in the car.”

“That’s not a good idea.  I don’t think I would feel very safe being there.  I know they may not have even been there but…  I don’t know what to do.”

Jack finishes gassing up the vehicle and puts the nozzle back in its rightful position; giving Geenie the silence she might need to think things through.  She speaks back up once he twists the cap back onto the gas tank; starting her sentence over the plastic clicks fastening a tight fit.

“I thought about my mom’s place.  But-”

“Then let’s do it.”

“Jack-”

“You can sleep the whole way.  I had a feeling we should go there anyway, but I don’t know the address.”

“Here…” Jack says.  He grabs some coins from inside the vehicle and takes Geenie’s hand; plopping the change into her palm; which makes the metallic sound of pirate’s booty.

“Give her a call.  Pay phone’s over there.”

“It’s late.”

“Come on.  No excuses.  It’s not as late as you think.  Tell her you want to stay the night, and she’ll be thrilled.  Jason has people watching that place too.  She would love you there.  Who cares about the extra attention.”

“You’re right, but I am still really tired.  I don’t want to drive.”

“Problem solved.  This vehicle has a nav system.  I’ll punch it in.  Turn by turn directions.  Are you out of excuses yet?”

“Thanks.  It’s a good idea.”

“I know we aren’t old school chums or whatever but I like you Geenie.  And I do care, despite what looks like all the trouble I seemed to have got yourself into.”

“You just wanted me for a story I thought.”

“Maybe.  But I can wait.”

Geenie zones out a little and her mind travels as sleepiness can cause.  “Why do you keep following me around?  Why don’t we just meet up tomorrow…”

“Go call your mom.  I won’t follow you around, but I’ll park by the phones and get a coffee to make sure at least one of us stays awake.”

“Thank you, Jack…”  She turns to walk away; her eyes barely open.  He sees her take a step, and lunges at her.  Jack grabs the back of her firmly and yanks – sending her into him with a squealing interjection.  While both are falling back, a car with no headlights races past; using the property for a drunken shortcut.  It tries to break, but turns a corner instead.

Tires sequel as it zooms back into traffic.

“Please try to be careful,” he sighs with relief.

“Jack?”  She asks while they both stand back up.

“What.”

“I think I’m awake now,” she says with a dry sounding voice.  Sheepishly, she hands her blanket to Jack.  “I think I’ll call my mother now.”

TWENTY-ONE

Bedtime, at last.  After identifying themselves to the off duty cops outside and exchanging pleasantries with ‘mother Swaboda’ as Jack Robinson addressed her, Geenie was able to hear how worried sick her mom really was and the distress of what was happening.  Coming to the rescue again, Jack took a proverbial bullet by taking the heat instead; and helped convince the mom her daughter really needed some sleep.  They had some tea, sleep formulated of course, and Jack was delegated to the couch.  Which once again became the floor once Geenie’s mother went back to bed.

Slumber wasn’t a friend of his tonight; nor did he want it to be.  There hasn’t been much time to plan the next move and Jack was edging closer upon his cutoff time to check in.  There were consequences when one doesn’t check in timely: or rather, a protocol.  If he doesn’t make an attempt, his employers will take it as a sign of things gone wrong – not a second guess against things going for the worst.  A part of Jack kept nagging away; the self conscious part of the brain waking him up every twenty minutes or so.  He knew it was against protocol to tell as much as he even spoke to Jason Hatton.  More necessary than not, but rules are rules.

Somewhere from inside, Jack had a feeling he wasn’t going to make it out of this assignment.  He has been wrong before, and ignored that little voice in his head many times also, but this was beyond most assignments.  Some tactician somewhere must has said ‘Risking your ass on a theory is an exercise in foolishness’.  True or not, he would never speak such a quotation openly, or claim it as his own – since so many have already thought of him as a fool already.  Failure wasn’t a voice Jack listened to.  He wasn’t a stranger to trouble or danger, but he preferred to avoid it whenever possible.  Part of his credo was anything bad coming upon himself was a mistake and his own fault.  It’s one of the things which distanced him from most so called reporters.

Jack worked hard to keep himself out of dire circumstances.  Most others who brandished a press card in their life would be more akin to adrenaline seekers and junkies for fame.  These people lived for the day they can become a part of the story; making poor choices to do so and even endangering others.  Journalism and martyring never seemed to mix very well, but these people felt a divine protection just because they held a microphone or pen to paper.  There might be two patron saints appropriated to television, but none for reporters…  Or for film makers as Jack once observed.  He never wrote himself in any story of his career.  It is doubtful he would have even wrote a memoir of his life, since much like Geenie, he wasn’t one to seek attention.  ‘The story should always be about the story, not the person writing it’.  He also mentioned to many a difference of taking credit.

Jack only wanted his name to one day be known if it was his story which brought about something great, rather than for a well written article.  It was probably another of the reasons he decided to work for a major news agency which valued its own banner rather than the people doing the heavy lifting; Jack, however, liked it that way.  He even had to agree under protest to have by lines for whatever he wrote for These Kosher Times.

The voice in Jack’s head this particular time waking up wasn’t failure or morality, or even second guessing – it was that feeling something just isn’t right.  He slowly got up and crept towards the window in the front room.  Two men were outside; the same ones as Jack saw before.  The off duty cops protecting the home.  They were on different ends of the house pacing and rubbing their hands together from a late night wind.  Taking a cue from them, he puts of the jacket he wore earlier; sort of a blazer style to not look entirely too dressed up but it works great to stay a little warmer.

He went into the kitchen; fully dressed.  Either he hates being caught off guard or really has some sort of sleeping issues.  He walks around in the partial light coming into the room.  He was about to open the refrigerator but paused.  Instead, Jack studied some of the items on the door.  Little sayings, a postcard, and random magnets.  He also hesitated from waking anyone else up in the house.  There was no telling how loud of sound the refrigerator would make; especially if an object broke on the floor.  He walked around very quietly instead and found the pot of tea still on the counter beside the sink.

Jack carefully lifted the lid and noticed there was still enough for at least another cup.  It wasn’t heated like earlier, but it would make do.  He slid the top back onto the pot which made a ceramic, muted clink sound.  Jack lifted his cup out of the sink slowly and made a minimum of kitchen noise.  Even pouring was something he did with the utmost care.  With all the doom in the air lately, it would be nice knowing Geenie and her mom got a full night of uninterrupted rest.

The tea had a much richer flavor due to the prolonged soaking time of the bags which were still inside.  Jack had half of the mug almost finished with the first sip.  As a precaution, he tried to peek out a window over the sink, but he couldn’t see anything beyond a few shadows in the backyard.  Out of habit, he checked the room.  One door to leading to the backyard, the entryway to the great room from the kitchen and another door leading to the carport.  Maybe he really was starting to get overly paranoid after all.  He drank the last bit of tea when he thought he heard something.  The noise was between a pop and a clap.  His eyes darted away from the mug, and he wondered if he heard a human sound.

Jack set his cup on the counter and sped back to the room he was sleeping in earlier.  He ducked and went to the window.  Both plain clothed policemen were on the ground – looking to be due to head wounds.  He heard a sound and tried to move back towards the kitchen once more.

With a smash, the kitchen’s door cracks open from one solid kick from a steel toed shoe.  The door opens inward and slams against a wall as two people push their way into the house.

Both are dressed in various hues of black and wear ski masks with their faces cut out.  The only difference between appearance are the shirts and body types.  The hefty one has a long sleeved shirt and gloves.  The scrawnier one wore a black muscle shirt instead, which showed off a very distinct tattoo on his forearm.  It was almost as long as his arm and was in the shape of a human bone.  At the end of it was a bright red swastika outlined in black on his elbow: which made the art resemble a very garish exclamation point.

Rather than traditional weaponry, they were both carrying what seemed to be water pistols.  The portly man had a giant tank on his back which wend from a house to a nozzle type device he held.  The thinner of the two held one which much more like a gun in design; strapped across him with a large, bulbous water reservoir built into the end of the barrel – and a paper product wrapped around a heavy cloth, which is on fire.  The thin guy pulls the trigger and a stream of fire erupts across the drapes and wall.  The fat one sprays with his nozzle next – which appears to be gasoline each of them is using.  When the liquid sprays onto the kitchen drapes, more fire leaps from the tops.

With their attention on the drapes, Jack springs back into action.  He snatches a bronze looking gelatin mold off a wall near him and rushes the men in similar outfits.  Running full force, they don’t see Jack Robinson until it’s too late.  Jack plows into the tubby one and one into the other, slamming them both sideways.  He tries to smack the larger of the two in the head with the mold but it’s not heavy enough to do as much damage.

Jack tries to back away fast but doesn’t have enough luck knocking them both off balance at once.  Staying in their corner, they react.  The thin one swings his weapon around and a fireball erupts – heading straight for Jack.  He holds up the mold, which surprisingly takes the brunt of the short bust of flames due to the depth inside the mold.  Only upon holding it up did Jack see the actual shape: a giant full bodied rooster which he was holding by the foot.  The bigger one sprays his nozzle which Jack shielded from the best he could with the copper colored gelatin mold as well as the sleeve from the other hand.  The converted water gun blows another fire stream – this time setting the mold aflame as well as making contact with Jack.  He throws the mold at the men while scurrying.  The side of his Jacket begins to also catches on fire from the sleeve, and creeps up further while Jack scrambles backwards from the two and ducks behind the sink; the breakfast bar blocking the men’s line of site if only just a moment.  He pulls a cabinet open and the sounds of glassware and pots echo through the house.  The plump man sprays his nozzle on the ceiling near Jack and the sleeveless cohort ignites the stream – instantly adding orange stalagmites of flame to the room.

Jacket filling with fires, Jack yanks it off and hurtles it in the direction of the two who move back to their corners.  The big guy reaches behind him and has a rigged type of bandoleer running across his back.  He snatches a can of WD-40 which was attached by velcro and has a large firework adhered to it with some sort of jelly type of material.

“Jack!  Are you there!”

“Stay back, Geenie.  Get out of the house!”

Her mom comes bursting into the room with no idea how severe the situation is.  Shrieking towards everyone in the room, “What is GOING ON in here!”  Almost in a state of shock due to her unflinching reaction to the kitchen.

The big guy uses the other person’s flame to light the firework.  Watching it spark up the fuse, he lobs it in the air towards the woman.

“Mom!”  Geenie sees the can for a split second before it combusts in the air; erupting into a ball of Hell with a loud bang.  The fire scorches Geenie’s mother and touches off a small patch of her housecoat.

Geenie screams with tears in her eyes and tugs hard on her mother while Jack snatches the teapot and whips it hard at the two men.  They flinch and the big guy takes it to the head.

“Get her out of here Geenie!  Pull her outside and slap the flames out!!”  Jack shouts while tossing something into the sink.  He spins a glass tray out of his hand, and it twirls like a flying disk – shattering against a well by the men and making the man with no sleeves duck to the ground.  Jack springs back up and spins the faucet on in the sink, then throws the two mugs at the men.  They cover their heads while each smashes above their head.  Jack slaps a wooden block with various knives and crouches back down.  The collection hits the linoleum, and Jack throws them randomly, one by one, while yanking things out of the cabinet under the sink.  Bottles fly out between his random knife’s wild throw.  From the ground, the man with the backpack tank pumps his nozzle and adds more fuel to the already burning ceiling.

The duo spray across and try to catch the pressed wood on fire which are near Jack’s position.

The man in the muscle shirt bellows out orders like some teenager shouting out while his friend plays a videogame.  The bigger one doing what he can to follow the intermidant orders while the hide back in the corner and try to set the breakfast bar and counter on fire.  “Keep on torching it!”  “Gas and flame.”  “Hit it!”  “Smoke him out!”

Something in the compressed wood makes it too dense, or the two are two far away while trying to play the offensive.  At any rate, they have no luck in igniting the overhead cabinets or breakfast bar, but spectacular dragon tails continued to leap forth; causing the room to glow in all the hues of the sun.

While the feeble attempts to spread the fire are made and parts of the ceiling blacken from the flambé action, Jack has a crock pot on the ground nearby, gleaned some household items of interest from beneath the sink, then turns from the cupboard and grabs the last knife and the block it’s inside.  He pops up again, only to duck a burst of fire from the sleeveless man’s converted toy.  He sidearms the knife block, and hits the gun and the man’s hand at the same time.  Jack flicks his wrist with the knife in hand and luck came into play; stabbing the tubby one in his arm.  He growls loudly as if a drunkard was kicked in the stomach.  Trying to spend his time wisely, Jack pries the cap off a corroded bottle of bleach and sets it off to the side.  Grabbing a colander with one hand, his other reaches for a yellow plastic square container.

He flips the integrated round latch up and squirts the colander quickly with a fast dash of lighter fluid over the medium sized slow cooker pot he found.  While the sound of the kitchen faucet still hissing out water continually in the sink, fire still burns and drips from the ceiling – clinging to pieces of paint and plaster.  Jack lets a flaming nuggets drop into the porous round piece of metal and it starts to light up the reflective aluminum.

He pops back up, yet again, and twirls the colander at the both of them; flames rolling and dancing from the trajectory.  The man in the long sleeve shirt is able to bat the flaming colander away with his hand, but it catches his accelerant soaked right glove on fire.  The portly one uses the rush of adrenaline to his advantage, and reaches back for another can with another type of tiny dynamite glued to it.  Using his flaming fist to touch off the firecracker, he takes no time to let it properly catch.  He immediately throws it as hard as he can towards the wall nearest to Jack – who is tossing something into the his ceramic pot.  Tubbo shouts an unintelligible expletive as the popper fall off the can, and bounces to the ground where it explodes with a reverberating crack; causing a tiny sound wave.  The can bounces off the wall and lands right at the knees of Jack.  Meanwhile, the man pulls his longsleeve shirt sleeve over his flaming glove with his teeth to squelch out the flames; being it was probably the only thing without a speck of gasoline on it.

“Come on come on.  Get up!”  The leader says with a bravado which sounds more like he is trying to impress an auditorium full of people rather than encourage his sidekick to finish the job.

Jack used that quick moment to wrap a roll of paper towels around the can and pile more lighter fluid on it.  He touches off the soaked and wrapped can and tosses it underhand across the kitchen floor’s linoleum.  The thugs watch the hoops of fire lapping the can as it nears them.  Fearing for their lives, the two bolt for the opposite corner, which is not only on fire from the drapes, but the wallpaper has been catching in spots.  Both cower in the corner in their own version of ‘duck and cover’ which some scholars also call ‘kiss your ass goodbye’ affectionately.  The can meets critical mass and combusts upwards, lighting up the corner the two diminutive positioned thugs once were.

The long and short sleeved goons get back to their feet but had their backs to Jack all the while; giving him enough time to cook.  He emptied the remaining contents of a bottle of isopropyl alcohol, canister of bleach, and box of dishwasher detergent into the round ceramic pot and tossed the yellow bottle of lighter fluid in for good measure.  By the time either of the thugs got themselves turned around, they see Jack holding a pot of his ‘Robinson’s Brew’ and running at them like a wide receiver holding his football.  Jack stops short and flings the insides of a slow cooker while keeping a firm grip of the container by holding the crock pot by both molded ceramic handles.

The concoction thoroughly coats both men and flings splotches and strands upwards onto the wall and drapes; which give the surrounding flames a free taste.  Hungry for more, portions of the fire ate away quickly, and immediately engulfed all of the substance; eating it most voraciously across both assailants as they screamed.

The fat man spins around and tries to get his shirt off, but his size and the backpack of gasoline makes it especially difficult.  Following suit, the man with the Nazi explanation point tattoo unstraps his burning weapon and flesh; tossing his fire toy away as he still burns.

Back at the still flowing sink, Jack grabs the much larger pot which has been overflowing with water.  He picks it up and looks upwards; evenly emptying the fluid onto him.  The water pours across his face, chest and pants and bounces off to partially cover his hands.  Jack pushes both his sleeves up quickly and runs to the back door, screaming out as he pulls it open..  “Get a hose!  Kitchen kitchen!”  He flies across the room; fists first; taking his aggressions out on the twosome as burning skin smothered his nostrils.  Jack swings and lands each time, but neither of them can object to their own existing pain.  Face, head, chest, as his fists and shoe landed square and true until both gave up and stayed on the floor.  Grabbing the leading half by the ankles, Jack pulled hard and the short sleeved man is carried from the room to the empty breezeway.  Jack coughs up something black and his voice hoarsely says “Oi yey,” before running back in.  The drapes are burnt to a crisp and much of the kitchen seems to be contained to the room.  In the back of his mind, Jack wondered if there’s a possibility surviving the fire means a later death by asbestos.  He doesn’t listen to his inner voice and grabs firmly onto the big guy’s legs – which prove hard to grip from his approaching rotund size.  Jack takes the man’s pant cuffs into his fists and heaves while running forward, as if a horse struggling to pull a sled.

The man gets into the breeze way just as his order giving pal, but almost loses his pants in the process.  “Hose ’em down – hurry!”  Jack exclaims while water was already flowing and Geenie was soaking down the thinner man.

Jack runs back inside and digs under the sink once more and pulls out two extinguishers he saw earlier.  One a traditional red and the other a white cylindrical piece of plastic.  He literally pockets the smaller one and takes the red one into both hands.  He moves into the larger room he was sleeping in earlier; starting to keep the flames from traveling into any other room.  With short puffs, With much of the ceiling on fire now, Jack starts working down some of the flames in a bit by bit way.  Between coughs and hacks, the extinguisher poof poof poofs – splattering the ceiling with foam and white smoke; blending the darkness of the fire into more manageable greys.  He looks on the device and sees the meter pointing towards the red on the charge indicator.  Without retreat, Jack moves faster through the kitchen; casting his plumes in the heaviest of areas where the fire billows.  The whispering and whooshing of the red extinguisher begins to stutter and the chemicals wheeze the last bit out of the instrument.  Jack flees backwards and tosses the spent extinguisher into the other room.  He pulls the white can from his back pocket and tears at the safety latches.  Hurrying back to the kitchen, he tries to aim and shoot the smaller kitchen extinguisher with mixed efforts.  A foaming substance sprays out in a wide span; causing it to hit and miss the flames.  Despite the best efforts, it winds it’s foaming action down to nothing.

“Geenie!”

The back door is almost closed again and Jack doesn’t bother to waste any more time calling for help.  He wouldn’t want anyone else inside the house anyway; due to the extreme risks Geenie and her mother were already exposed to inside this home.

“Hose down the roof from the front yard!”

Jack speeds down the hallway; opening and closing all the rooms in the house – in search of another extinguish her.  The fire is closer to smoldering from the human eye, but Jack is thorough; despite the amount of soot and whatever other chemicals he has already been choking on.

Bedroom, room, room, linen cabinet.  All opened then shut.  Switching gears a moment, Jack grabs blankets and sheets in both arms and throws them under the cracks under the door of each room; to help stave off temptation in case the fire spreads beyond where he left it.  The last knob he checked was a bulk storage area with no space beneath its narrow door.  Dry goods and paper towels flooded the room.  He pawed through quickly to look for another fire extinguisher was inside, but he couldn’t seem to find a spare.  He did pull aside a tall stack of computer paper and saw a three pack of computer duster.  Jack popped the plastic with his teeth and shoved all the cans into his pockets; but not before pulling a cotton handkerchief from one of his many pant pockets.

Jack rushed back into the kitchen and saw more visible flames speckled throughout the area.  He shook up the pressurized can out of bad habit and wrapped the handkerchief around part of his hand.  Next he flipped the can upside down and fingered the trigger of its gun like spray mechanism.

Ordinarily canned duster is used to blow out sensitive electronics and connectors, as well as numerous other uses.  The aerosol type chemical is benign in most cases but the propellant has a much different effect when the can is held upside down.  The same chemical has a liquid nitrogen type of effect in this way; freezing and even burning things with the coldness produced.

Spot by spot, Jack squeezed the trigger with the can of computer duster in its improper way: freezing out the smaller areas of fire which were still fragmented across the kitchen.  Can after can, Jack sprayed away and froze away potions of the blaze as if by some sort of alchemy.  Even though his fingers were numbing through the buffer of his square white cloth hankey, he kept going until everything was all but drained from the spray paint sized canisters.  He looked up at the ash strewn ceiling and saw the efforts.

Sirens faintly breeched the atmosphere, and Jack knew it was time to delegate this scene to the proper authorities.  He opened up the door which lead to the backyard and then ran to the front door while calling out.  “Geenie!  Hurry inside through the front!”  He looked towards the kitchen area once more and saw something above.  A glow from the vent; or at least what he thought.  He hopped up to see faint smoke creeping from the vent.  He dragged the couch towards the entrance and leapt onto the back of it – prying open the vent as if it was nothing; spewing plaster and debris into the great room.  He pop popped wish the can of air he pulled from his back pocket again, and plunged his hand into the vent.  Surprisingly, his hand felt something.  He grabbed in a wide clawing motion and yanked his hand free.

Geenie popped into the room and yelled out – not seeing Jack at first.  “Run straight through the kitchen and out the back!”  He orders her.  “It’s open.”  Not batting an eye, Geenie did as told.  With the sirens drawing much closer, he hops off the couch and pushes it away from the kitchen’s entrance – for the sake of the firemen en route.  He takes a quick look, but stuffs everything into his shirt.  The mystery vent item appears to be papers of some sort which must have started catching fire from confection: the heat of the ceiling fire touching off the paper which began to incinerate even though it never touched actual flame.

With a whisking motion, Jack tucks in his shirt – running out to the backyard just as the glow of emergency vehicles flickered and flashed through the front window.  Running straight through, Jack weaved through the kitchen and into the backyard where Geenie was waiting in the middle.

“Are you ok?”  He coughs and whines.

“Yes but what were you thinking in there?”

“I wasn’t.  Come on we have to get out of here,” he says while moving to a back gate and unlatching it.

“We have to stay here.  There’s-”

He interrupts, “They’ll find us if we wait around.”

“But-”

“Come on,” he says while taking Geenie by the hand.  They run into the alley and head down a very dim path.”

“Where are we going?”  She asks against his hacking lungs and labored breathing as the are barely above a jogging pace.”

“To the car…”  Coughing, “After my-”  He holds that thought and moving; instead, trying to conjure a piece of his lung from deep within.  “But after we make it to the vehicle,” he pants.  “I don’t know yet.”

TWENTY-TWO

The two successfully fled the home and worked back around the block to the range rover, which was parked away from mother Swaboda’s property.  Through the noise and confusion of everything, not a person noticed the vehicle start up and slink away: though keeping the lights off helped aid in the ruse.  Despite the clean getaway, Jack and Geenie are walking alongside a busy street.  Believe it or not, the vehicle ran out of gas.

While they walked towards the nearest neon and fluorescent filling station, the epiphany was made as to exactly how such a thing was able to happen.  Apparently the two creeps who broke into the residence must have used the gas tank of the range rover to fill up their squirt gun doom bringers.  This would also explain the ineffectiveness of their literal firepower; despite how much terror the imagery alone was able to incite.  The pure unleaded gasoline mixture looked impressive, but the flames were largely ineffective do to the fuel burning up so quickly; especially since their tactics seemed to be to conserve the tin man’s reservoir to sustain as long as possible.  The additional plying of gas from the larger one’s tank did help in patches, but didn’t do as much damage as they each probably assumed; a gross amount of underestimation.  Besides, they must not have calculated in the defensive antics of one Jack Robinson.  The other looming possibility could also have been the distinct possibility asbestos somehow prevented the entire house from being consumed in flames, but as a whole the flamethrowers kiddie converts were far from functional in the realm of a completed objective.

Neither seemed to be in a talking mood at this stage.  Fatigue was obviously a key factor.  Jack held a small and red plastic gas container while Geenie kept her hands crossed in an effort to combat some of the night wind from cutting through her.  Both were obviously playing different parts of the event in their mind; though Geenie was more drained of emotion and Jack had depleted all adrenaline reserves inside him.  Rather than try to smooth anything over, Jack decided to keep his mouth still.  No words would help either of them for the moment, and any further phrases might have upset her rather than provide any comfort.  At this point of time, what to say in general was unknown.  For the time being, he decided to wait to use a single word until he was spoken to.

Jack holds onto Geenie’s hand as the intersection between them and the gas station is the only thing in the way.  The red light started blinking red for pedestrians, but the two of them stepped up the pace and jotted in the crosswalk to safely land on the other side.  Once finally across, Jack drops to his knees from a sudden fit of coughing.  He lets go of Geenie and grabs his chest while trying to fight to unblock his airway.  Not knowing what to do, Geenie rubs Jack across his shoulder blades with silently trying to calm him.  He waves her off slowly and gets back to his feet.

“Are you sure you’re ok?  You don’t look good, Jack.”

“Come on,” he quietly says while hearing himself breathe.  “It’s just the smoke.  I’ll be fine.”

They get inside and a man at the counter it talking on his cell phone to what seems to be a female he’s trying to keep his mind on.  Jack points to the plastic container and unrolls a twenty dollar bill which gets slapped on the counter.  The man, listening on the phone, holds up a fist with three fingers which Jack understands as the pump number.  Geenie tries to follow behind at first but gets verbally stopped.  “Just wait in here.  It’s safer, and I need to get the change.  Look around and I’ll buy anything that jumps out at you.”  He leaves and Geenie watches him head towards the pump before slowly browsing some of the items inside.

Jack doesn’t take long to fill up; returning to the sales counter with a container brimming with eighty-seven octane.

Geenie greets him with a plastic bottle of some sort of tea.  “Is this alright?”

“Right now?  Anything for you,” he says while flashing a tired smile while taking the drink away from her.  Setting the gas ‘can’ down, he hands the beverage to the cashier; still on the phone.  “Can I use that to make a call?”  He hands the bottle backwards to Geenie and watches the man ring up without making eye contact.  “Excuse me, sir.”

He opens the cash drawer and puts the phone to his chest to obscure the words inside the gas station.  “There’s a payphone on the side.  I can make some quarters.”

“It’s just one call.  Please.”

“I already gave you an answer,” he says while counting out some coins from the drawer.

“You can keep the rest if you let me make one call.”

The man behind the register stops and slaps the cash drawer shut; while he clicks his phone, beeping off the phone call.  “One,” he sternly says as he hands it over.

“It’s all I need,” he says while taking the phone in one hand and pulling officer Jason Hatton’s calling card from a pocket with the other.

“Stay right there,” the man says when Jack tried taking a step back.

While dialing he stops moving and replies, “Sure thing.”

The phone rings and the cop picks up – which also keeps the interest of Geenie piqued.  She tries to listen in, but most of the conversation can only be what Jack says.  A few words still pick up.  Hatton answers and reacts as soon as Jack starts speaking.

“It’s me again.  Don’t worry though, we’re both doing fine despite.”

He stands with a firm face and takes any words Jason the cop tries to assault him with through the phone.

“Someone at a gas station.”  Speaking louder to nail home, “I can’t do that, Jason.”  Then pausing before asking, “Do you have an update from anyone in the house?”  More verbiage before answering back, “I’ll let her know.”

Some sort of uninteresting diatribe comes from Jason.  Like a stand up guy might, Jack listens to it all as if taking everything said into consideration.

“Just you and me.  You know what I already told you.”  He cups a hand to his free ear and tilts his head down.  “No I haven’t.

She will.”  He listens again and then announces, “Let me write this down first.  Hold on…”  Jack takes a step closer towards the counter and flips one finger in a beckoning motion.

“You can’t be serious,” the cashier says with a disgruntled face.

“I’m trying.  Hold on,”  Jack says while forcing a glare towards the man behind the register.  The man begrudgingly hands over a tiny pencil and a scrap of receipt.  “Yeah finally.  I’m ready.”  Jack scribbles quick and grunts a few more answers into the phone before hanging up.  Handing it back to the man by saying, “Thanks for coming through for me.  It means a lot.”  Adding, “Seeyanara” while grabbing his gas container and exiting.

They make a bit of haste; Geenie following after and taking another sip of her drink while they wait at the intersection once more.  Once they clear the stoplight, she steps up her pacing and gets alongside Jack – who now seems to have less breathing irritation as he picks up the stride.

“What did he say?”  She had to ask.

“Safe to say the man wasn’t thrilled.”  He switches hands for carrying the gas container.  “Everyone’s fine, especially your mom.”

“Are you sure?  We should have stayed back or you should have let me stay with her.”

“It’s not in the cards.  Whoever’s out there, they’re after us.  Not your mother, not anyone else.”

“Who are they after then.  Me or you?”

“Right now I think it’s safe enough to say both of us.”

“Come on.”

“Jason wants us to meet him somewhere.  Somewhere we can all talk some things over.”

“Does he know who’s doing this?”

“No.  Not yet.”

“What about you?  Do you know?”

“Not particularly.  But I’ve got a better idea going for me.”

“That’s not very encouraging.”

“These people aren’t to be messed with, that’s for sure,” he says while the vehicle begins to come into view; its silvery grey color catching glints of light from the passing traffic.

“Why do you have to be so vague.  Just because I don’t work for a newspaper or I’m not a cop.”

Jack’s face becomes hot then cold rapidly.  His emotions stay hidden inside but the feeling is the same as being called on the carpet and knowing you did wrong.  The feeling of sweat and embarrassment.  The stress of not knowing what to say, but also feeling ashamed for hurting a friend or family member.  The remorse converts to a chill and an almost literal cold sweat.  “I’m sorry, Geenie.  I never meant to patronize you or leave you out of the dark.  I still don’t know a hundred percent of what’s happening either.”

“It’s still more than me.  Right?  It’s more than anyone else around here.”

“Well, I try not to think too much about myself.  Maybe it’s one of my little about me.  Isn’t that the same for you a little bit?”

“Yes I guess so, but that doesn’t have anything to do with what I asked.”

“It does.  This might be a flaw of mine, or a profession personal take, but I won’t make excuses.  There’s this thing I have where I don’t like to say anything unless I’m totally certain about it.  Hopefully you can understand what I mean and that it isn’t for secrecy or any of that, but just the way I am.”

They come upon the car and Jack beeps it unlocked.

“Maybe it’s time to try to change that.”

Jack heads to the tank and untwists the cap.  Geenie lets him linger a moment as she gets into the passenger seat.  She tries to roll her window down on the passenger side but the vehicle doesn’t have any power to allow it.  She opens her door and swing sideways to talk to Jack.

“You probably already know this about me but…  I’m shy.  I always have been.  Shy little girl, and here you have it.  Trust has always been an issue.  Call me crazy, but something about you Jack…  I must see something in you since I can trust you already.”  Her eyes dart away.  “I meant I had no choice at first.  But so far you haven’t let me down.  Yet.  Part of me feels like you can tell me anything and I’ll just accept it may be just a guess or whatever from you – as long as you make that clear.  But the hard part is understanding why all this has happened.”

The plastic nozzle flaps wildly snide the gas tank as Jack tries to shake out every last bit.  “Thanks for your honesty.  I know that had to be really tough of you to say but it helped me immensely.”  He seals the cap and closes the flap to the gas tank.

Opening the vehicle’s back, he forces the red plastic gas container inside.

“I have always been…  Nevermind, Jack.”

He gets back inside and the doors lock.  “What’s that,” he says while turning the engine over with a bit of effort.  In the span of her silence, he works to get the vehicle idling properly.

“Where are we supposed to be meeting him?”  She watches him punch the center screen to locate something.

“Don’t freak out about it – he told me the same, so it’s not me saying that for the sake of protecting you.”

“Where is it?”

While he punches it into the navigation system, “A burn center your mom was admitted to.”

“What!?”  As she promptly forgot there wasn’t anything to feel concern for.

“He told me he took initiative to make sure everything was the best for her.  Maybe he’s a straight arrow after all.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?

“It means…”  He runs the engine and pulls into traffic – concerned about burning off too much gas and having to lug the red jug all over again.  “He must believe me.  Anyone else probably would have had half a mind to cuff me and stuff me after I was spotted in that first shenanigan alone.”

“That wasn’t your fault, Jack.  How could we have known?”

“You’re right…”  He pulls up to a light and punches the system a few more times.  Upon the last keystroke, a bling sound acknowledged Jack’s address.

“Destination received,”  the synthesized female voice tell the occupants of the range rover.

“Sorry, Geenie.  I meant a lot of cops don’t give any leeway.  They play it safe.  Might have kept me the legally authorized twenty-four hours then cut me loose.  Meanwhile you would have been at the station and gotten the ol’ Irish toss.  Stuck to fend for yourself.”

Her face shows growing concern from Jack’s scenario.  “If the police really did that…  I might not even be breathing right now.  My mom and me both.  Or-”

“Second guessing isn’t a time machine.  Things sort of worked out.  We’re alive bad talking.  You know?  And mother Swaboda is being treated in the best possible way.  Since now we know that copper Jason Hatton pulled through for us somehow.”

Jack steers the vehicle through the woman’s voice saying to turn here or there – as Geenie politely pauses for it.  His mind seems able to easily tackle multiple tasks so he speaks without hesitation; though listening intently to every word Geenie speaks.  He seems to owe her at least that much after all.

“He’s your friend so of course he came through.  That’s what I thought they’re supposed to do at least.  I am new to all of that, right?”

“Are you?”

“Pretty much.  I don’t make friends easily.  Or maybe I just don’t go out of my way for it.  I told you for the most part I’ve always been happy how things have seemed to be in my life.”

“Who has your last friend been in that case?  For argument’s sake.”

“Really?”

“Is it really that hard to remember?  No disrespect intended.”

“Well…”  She smiles somewhat noticeably.

“Yes?”

“Oh maybe we have to decide if that means like since today, yesterday, a week.”

He smiles back.  “Yeah?”  With a mockingly flirtatious voice.  Playing on the up beat as some musicians might say.

“This is silly really.  I mean…”

“Are you trying to decide if you want to count me into your friend tally?”

“I don’t know-” with a voice straight out of junior high.

“Well…”  He makes a fast turn based on the navigator’s vocal instruction.  “You already know I think a lot.  Or overthink things, right?”

“I guess so.  Like your robot homepage and all that?”

“Sort of, yeah.  Well I have a lot of time to myself.  And I guess you can call it philosophy for one.  Just some of my ideas and all of that.”

“Such as keeping track of friends?  Or what’s your point.”

“Somehow I have a trait for making friends easily.  Or acquaintances as that.  It sounds kind of ego heavy maybe from myself saying this.  I take a lot of things personal or as an interest.  If I do a story on a struggling family, I check up on them or try to get them the help they need before the story is published even.”

“Doesn’t that make it a better story?”

“Not at all.  That’s the part I never write about.  I don’t want to get all churchy on you but to you read the bible?

“I-”

“It’s fine whichever way you answer it.  But there was always a part that caught me.  It was talking about charity or something and basically says to not even let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.”

“I thought you were going to read off a passage.”

“Nah – I thought maybe you’d know it if you heard me say it.  He laughs and she does also.

“Are you trying to avoid the question?”

“Sorry.  Sorry, Geenie.  I remember at least two questions still up in the air.  Didn’t mean to deflect,” as the car rolls up to another red light.  “Is there any drink left?”

She reaches to the cup holder and observes the contents by swishing the bottle in a circular motion by the cap.  “Yeah.  Maybe a sip?”

“May I?”

Geenie hands it over, “I was done with it anyway.”

The light turns and Jack keeps his hands on the wheel.  “Mind opening it?  I thought the light would be longer.”

The plastic threads rattle as she gets the top off.  “Need me to wipe off the cooties too?”

“Not at all,” he laughs while taking it from her.  “I think I’ve been fairly cootie resistant.  Due to all this undue excitement, I’m sure any Geenie antibodies have already been working up in my system.”

Grinning in a silly way, it’s obvious she’s not offended with his joke.  Jack takes a look at the bottle.  High Tea.  Natural energy and vitamins.  High-biscus.  Glancing again at her, Jack moves his eyes to the bottle – staring at the opening.  He finishes the liquid with just once gulp.  “Even if you did have cooties, which I would be fairly certain to say you don’t…  “I’d still chance it anyway,” he smiles.  The vehicle makes another sound.  A beep beep bong buzz sort of sound; almost like one alert was clashing with the other.

“What’s that?”

“Aw, cripes.  Well not a biggie,” he says while looking ahead.”

“Jack?”

“Really.  I was going to tell you.  Just trying to second guess the traffic here.  Well, the car was just telling me we’re almost out of gas.  Frankly, it’s shocking we made it this far.  But it’s night driving so we were able to stretch our fuel out a little longer.”

They cruise into a seedier looking station, but it was open.

“See?  We made it – nothing to hide.”

Geenie smiles again.

“However, I suggest you stay in here.  I won’t call this a good neighborhood.”  Before hopping out, “Need another drink?”

“Thanks I’m fine though.  Try to hurry up.”

“I don’t want to stick around any longer than you,” he says while exiting.  “I’ll still try.”  He shuts the door and locks it with his key fob; as all the locks go cliack and the yellow lights blink once.

The next thing Geenie remembers is a hand on her – causing her to jolt awake.

“Oops,” is all Jack says once her eyes come open.  She tries to sigh away the skipped beat of her heart while seeing his right arm slung across her body and chest.  “Some joker almost sideswiped me.  Sorry.”  Jack moves his arm away, and puts his hands back at ten and two.  The vehicle pulls out of the gutter and gets back into the flow of traffic.  “Wide awake, huh?  Didn’t mean to startle you like that.

“Did you put gas in the car?”

“I did.  Buckle up please?”

She looks down and notices a lack of a seatbelt.

“Whenever you did it, I couldn’t get it back on you.  I didn’t want to disturb you either though.  Obviously.”

Geenie clicks the safety belt back into place.  “I always have it on.”

“Me too – but you probably didn’t realize you did it if you forgot nodding off there also.  It’s ok though,” he says while pushing a button on the device.

“Audio enabled,” the female computer voice says again.

“My EMT friend would freak if I was in a collision with someone unbuckled.  But that’s my fault.  I thought you were looking very…  You looked very relaxed so I just left it.”

“Thanks I guess,” she says while rubbing her forehead.  “My mom likes doing that human seatbelt thing too.”  Her smile fades while wondering what happened to her since Jack and she fled the house.  “Are you sure she’s going to be fine?”

“That’s what Jason the cop told me.”  Making a lane change, “You were the last to see her.  She wasn’t burned or anything was she?”

“I might of worried more about drowning her.  Or catching cold.  I drenched her.  I know she always had this whole natural fiber thing, and cotton’s the good stuff right?”

“Against sleep clothes and an open flame?  I would say that and a tight weave are the best thing going, yes.  Synthetics and poly whatevers aren’t such a safe bet.”

“This isn’t a trick, right?”

“To my best knowledge?  No, she’s just there as a precaution I assume.  She’s a little older and all, after all.”

“No, Jack.  I meant for you.  I thought you were saying he’s not a friend.”

“Oh!  Oh, he’s pretty reliable I guess.  He probably could have figured out where I was and gotten us arrested.  So that’s going for us.  But I doubt at this stage.  Even so, I’ll figure something out.”

“So you are worried?”

“I’m not, Geenie.  Only worried about your mom, since she is your mother after all.  I’m pretty worried about apologizing to her about her kitchen getting turned into cinders.  For the record, I don’t think it spread.”  Then more to himself, “She needs to get her extinguishers recharged more frequently, or have more.”

“What’s going to happen to us?”

“Jason will…  I’ll see if I can get him a lead while I’m there.”

“What is it?”

“I’m not entirely sure yet.  But anything he knows you’ll know.”

“But he’s not a friend?”

The car makes another turn.  “To his credit, he is one of the nicest of the force I’ve encountered in my professional life.  I know I said I wasn’t trying to change the topic back there.  This little chat reminded me again.  I just met him the other night at that Found Dutchman place.”

“When?”

“Basically when I was making my little walk for ice.  I went to check on my car and he was there.  Guess it was kind of coincidence.”

“Was he one of the police at the place by Colin’s shiva?”

“No…  But I guess they called the car in because a rookie was taking down all the plates that went by.  That kind of means they had no clue about him.”

“Do you usually get into this much trouble?”

“Accidentally?  Not a chance.  I’m glad I don’t live here though.  This place is like a whole metropolitan minefield.”

“I never had this kind of trouble.  And now all this.”

“Not that I doubt you, but we’re getting close.  I’ll try to tell you my other friendship thing.  Maybe I’m a sucker but I’ll be glad to be your friend.  Even if this was your everyday life.  Maybe.”

She laughs.  “My other friend if I count you, I only knew her like a week that way.  She was just someone that worked where I always seemed to eat at.  And then, friends I guess.”

“In the same way were ‘and then’ were friends?”

“Hardly.  This is like…  I don’t know.  Weird.”

“I tried to say…”  The machine navigation system made another sound, and he reacts appropriately.  “There are two types out there really.  Friends and acquaintances.  Only a friend is the one you’ll take a bullet for.”

“So that has to make me a friend then?”  She asks in a gleeful way.

“For the most part.”  He takes a turn into a parking lot.”

“You have now arrived at your destination.”  And with another bong, the screen flips away from the map view into a default black.

“I trust you Geenie.  Maybe you still have your doubts about me, but it’s fine.”

She tried to counter his words but he talks over her.

“Can you get in the back and find your laptop?”

“Yes, I guess so.  What do you need it for?”

“Playing that slight chance for information.  If I can come up with something, then there’s nothing to worry about.”  He unhinges the back of the range rover, and its hatch ascends upwards.  “Do you need a hand?”

“No…  I’ll be fine.  Thanks, Jack.”

He takes his eyes from her in the rear view of the mirror and takes his keys out of the ignition.  Reaching his hand down, Jack unlocks the drawer under his seat.  On top are the stacks of papers he rescued from burning up inside the vent.  Many of them are in envelopes.  He takes one and looks, then another quickly.  At best, he only gets to partially glance upon four or five of what might be a dozen.  Geenie slams the rear hatch and Jack slips everything back into the drawer.

Geenie waits outside the window when Jack opens his door.  “Sure you’re fine?”

“I was just thinking, but I remember my little unit was in the back seat.  Would you mind getting it for me?”  He sees the look on her face, anxiety due to her mom being right inside.  “Why don’t you check the front?  I mean I’ll meet you back.

“Thanks.  Seeya, Jack.”  Geenie walks briskly towards the front entrance while he opens up his bag.  Once finding his handy dandy device, he hops into the back seat a moment and fires it up.

TWENTY-THREE

The burn center was actually an urgent care center – such as what one sees in an office complex, or a mini mall.  There was a critical room for burn victims or materials to care for it, but it wasn’t a place for severe cases as Geenie had feared.  It also seemed to have been open under a special circumstance since no late night hours are posted on its entrance.  Geenie rushed through the room long before; promising Jack was behind her.  When Jack did in fact make it, Jason Hatton was already standing in the entrance.

“Have a little car trouble from the lot to the building?”

“Sorry,” he answers between other profuse apologies.  “I couldn’t find this…”  He hold up one hand to show a power cord.

“Geenie says I was supposed to have her computer.  Is this supposed to be some sort of evidence?”

“Actually I am not sure yet.  But I wanted to prove I’m of my word.  I told you Geenie’s place was broken into.  There might be something in there to help you.”

“Honestly I don’t know the first thing about computers and any of that.”

“I was going to try to sift though it, if in fact anything was on here.  Hasn’t been much of a chance yet, as you and I both understand.  Right?”

Looking back to the cop, his mind goes right back to Geenie.  “How’s the mom?”

“Could have been a lot worse.  Fast thinking is probably the only thing to save her.  That girl of yours is a hero.”

“Yeah?  That’s good to hear.”

“Poor kid.  It wouldn’t surprise me at all if you’re the one who keeps putting her in these positions.”

“Jason.  I’d never-”

Interrupting with, “It just a little much.  Almost a little too much for a coincidence if you ask me.

“Coincky-dink nothing.  Not to whip it out here, but she might not be alive if I didn’t bump into her in the first place.  Yeah I’m trying to still figure out things from why I was here in the first place.  But now I have to have significant evidence to not only prove who is behind this and get Geenie into the clear, but also enough to have myself exonerated now.  No rest for the wicked as well as its prey.”

“Do you know what happened?  I still have to worry if someone was on the inside and also justify my actions.  The guard duty of course was volunteer but now I have two triple nines on my hands.  You didn’t know anything about that?”

“I heard one shot.  No gunfight.  If I hadn’t have been up trying to get a glass of juice, I may not be having any conversations right now.”

“Well I need to hear something to piece this together.  That or an address of wherever you’re sleeping tonight.”

“If you want my guess…  It was between two and four people.  I say four due to coordination.  They fools I went head to head with lacked the same precision let’s say.”

“How did they know you were there?”

“Well, were there any other reports from the other positions?”

“No.  But I pulled them after the officer down call went out.”

“My assumption was a tap.  If you can get someone to sweep their external line maybe you can find something.  I had Geenie call her mom to expect us.  Honestly, at the time it seemed like the best place to be.”

“I’ll say now that you’ll have to do the whole formality again tomorrow but there seriously needs to be a report.”

“Tell them for now maybe…  I don’t know, say we thought we saw some guys in black and chased them down but ran out of gas.”

“Come on.  Who do you think you’re trying to fool.”

“Not trying to for you, Jason.  I’m guessing they’ll be processing the crime scene for another day with cops involved this time-”

“And you coming up roses once again I’ll add.”

“Rosy or easy nothing.  That’s for certain.  I heard something from the kitchen.  It was one sound – like, well a weapon sound.  I guess a silencer but I can’t identify it.  I looked at the front window, and your guys were both on the ground.  It had to have come from roof tops across the street.

What I can be positive of was the fact it was just one shot.  That was coordination.  Something those other checkleheads didn’t seem to; despite what a great plan they thought they formulated.”

“I’ll make a call when I report back in.  I kind of know the person who runs this place.  I seriously doubt anyone would be able to trace, uh-”

“Swaboda?”

“Yeah.  Miss or Ms Swaboda.”

“She’s a Ms last I heard.”

“Thanks.  But the owner – a doctor.  Her and one nurse.  That’s all who are here and know whereabouts.”

“Ambulance driver, or whoever got her here.”

“Those people were all legit, but the transfer records weren’t.  She won’t be here too long if the reports are what they hinted to me.”

“You don’t know?”

“No, I’m not family.  Can’t.  Don’t you know about all of that HIPA legalese.

“Despite what you think, I do my best to avoid med centers.”

“It’s suing talk.  Hospital information privacy act.  They can’t give anything along the lines of a progress report to anyone except for Geenie so it goes.”

“I see.  Nice.”  Switching topics, “Did you call that number yet?”

“I-”

Geenie comes down the hallway and thanks Hatton with a hug.

“Thank you for taking care of my mother.  I’m really sorry but I’m grateful for everyone here.”

“That’s fine, Geenie.  You’re welcome.  It was just a favor I had in my back pocket.  The lady who runs this whole outfit is first class.”

“Well a neighbor said they called nine one one, but I couldn’t stay.  I mean-”

“Nobody’s in trouble.  But Jack says he has some information to glean from your computer.”

“What is it?”

“Alleged information,” Jack corrects for Geenie.  “You seemed to know some computing tips and tricks so maybe we can dredge something up.”

“There isn’t anything on there, Jack.  I mean-”

“Never know.  If they did poke in your apartment then they might have left a little digital evidence around.”

“If you’re right Jack, I mean…  Let’s try but I might have to move or something if they were really on my computer.”

“Is there a place to plug this in,” he wonders to Hatton.

The police officer takes the hint by answering, “Let me see if there’s a room with a little privacy.”

He disappears a moment; leaving Geenie alone with Jack.

“So, how is she looking?”

“I was really worrying the worst.  She looks a lot better than what I thought.”

“Is she burned?”

“A little bit that I can see.  Nothing severe.  This place was started up because the owner’s daughter-”

“Hey,” Hatton whispers across the open area.  “There’s an office we can use.

The duo migrates towards Jason Hatton and goes into an examination room.

“It’s kind of an office.  Has outlets.”

Jack plugs his little device into the wall first.

“What’s that?”

“Mine,” Jack answers.  I haven’t charged it for a while so now’s a chance.  He swings Geenie’s notebook computer around and plugs it in also.  “You don’t mind I hope.”

“I’m not really in the mood to play with anything.  Go right ahead.”

Grabbing a high chair, Jack moves it around to the counter to help make himself comfortable.  “Feel free to lay back if you think you won’t go to sleep.”

“Jack…  Nevermind,” she says while she sits back up and looks in the direction of the laptop as Jack boots it up.  Jason returns to the room with a chair all his own.  “This is speculative but it’s better than nothing right now.”  The desktop finally appears.

“Anything is better than nothing right now,” Hatton says in a slightly encouraging way.

“Don’t I know it.”  He pushes a button and the most recent applications come up on a menu.  “Your browser is usually Evil Explorer?”

She lets part of a grin escape.  “Only when I really have to.”  He hits an icon.  “Otherwise it’s usually Opera.  Don’t ask how I got hooked into using it.”

“Duly noted,” Jack acknowledges.  He brings up the internet browser but a page comes up saying it can’t be accessed.

“They aren’t probably going to give you their connection,” the policeman blandly points out.

“It’s fine.  I wasn’t looking for it.”  He hits the history and sees dates pop up.  Each of these folders he opens leads to nothing: empty, every one he tries.  “Looks like it’s been wiped…  Unless you are so militant, Geenie.”

“I clear it out every so often but not for a while.”

“So now we have nothing?”

“Nothing isn’t the right word yet,” Jack says while going inside the preferences area.  He clicks something and looks at all of the cookies which are still rolling around inside the internet application.  Scrolling down looks tedious as hundreds of them seem embedded.

“Is that anything,” the cop wonders.

“Yes, it could be…  But there’s way too many I care to chase down right this moment.”  Then he tuns to ask Geenie, “You have a security app installed on here?  Virus stuff or any scanner software?”

“Yes.  It’s just a freeware one though.”

“That’s fine.  How high is it set?”

“It might still be up all the way still.”

“Perfect.  What’s it called?”

“Something like ‘Alas!  Aware’ I think.”

“Thanks,” Jack responds.  He opens a few folders and finds it; The word ‘Alas!’  Under an icon of a creepy crawly type bug with a circle slash design around it; just as many of the ‘no smoking’ pictographs prevalent in downtown areas.  He fires up the program and waits for it to load in numerous definitions.

“Do you think it will help?”  She asks.

“We’ll find out in a minute.  Otherwise I’m stuck spending half a day sorting through SSL certificate and cookie signatures.

“If it comes down to that, I’ll let you simply call it a day for your little plan.  Sounds too much to ask for a guy.”

“Let’s just put this before that – for now.”  He looks at the screen’s options.  “And this might get incredibly boring.  I don’t know this program so just keep it quiet in the peanut gallery if you don’t mind…”

The police officer makes a gesture with his hand while staying silent, and Geenie mimics ‘the locking one’s face with a key’ pantomime.  The message is obviously heard clearly.

“Let’s see…”  He clicks around the screen quietly; checking everything under the menus.  Jack finally sees something entitled web options; which he selects.  Hitting another couple options, he gets to a screen showing what looks to be a generic looking pirate chest with a big and gold lock with three ‘W’s stacked on it – as in a clever homage for the ‘world wide web’ acronym.  ‘Unlock the web chest’ was written beneath.  Jack clicks it and the sound of a lock clicking and hinges opening bring up another screen.  It’s a long list of numerous web pages with dates and color codes beside them.  He scrolls down a bit and sees the enormous amount.  Jack clicks a sorting section, flipping the date to most recent on top.  “This might be…  It’s what you might be looking for, Jason.  Find me a CD or something I can copy this onto for you.”

“I…  Sure, sure thing.  Just explain what I’m supposed to be doing when I return.”

“I’m not going anywhere.  Take all the time you need.”

Hatton exits the room, and Jack grabs his personal device.

“What are you doing, Jack?”

“Making my own copy as well.  Please don’t tell Jason though, will you.”  He flips a plastic flap up and a USB connection is peeking out.  Jack pulls, and it extends out a couple feet before stopping on its own.  He plugs the device into Geenie’s computer and collapses the program’s screen.  On the desktop is a 3-D looking grey and black looking rectangle.  Underneath it reads Secret About Box.  Jack opens the security program up again and then resizes the window so the icon can be easily seen, then highlights a section of files before dragging them onto the mysterious box icon – commencing with a low powered bloop sound.  Jack right clicks the box and causes it to disappear, then disconnects and powers off his strange device.

“Are you sure that you’re ok, Jack?”

“It never hurts to back something important up.”  He plays with some slider options with the web chest window and eventually sees Jason Hatton walking back in; a piece of plastic between two fingers.

“Will this work?”

“Probably,” Jack says while holding his hand out for the tiny flash drive.

“It was in one of the drawers.  The owner said to erase anything on it.”

“Sure thing,” Jack says while making a new folder on the desktop.  He sees an icon pop up from the drive and immediately drags it to the newly created folder.

He quickly highlights the drive afterwards and selects a menu item.  The screen pops up asking for confirmation to erase the entire drive.  “Erase it, right?”

“Fire away,” Jason says in a lazy voice.

Clicking; the drive flickers a greenish light while a window comes up.

“You have a little while obviously,” Jack mentions to the room.”

“Hopefully enough to tell me what your little scheme is,” the police officer says.

“Sure.  It won’t sound very complicated when I’m done explaining, hopefully.  But this program Geenie has is basically a scanner to keep out any attacks or ad ware on her little notebook computer here.  Anything moving in or out should, in theory, be touched by the computer.  Even web activity.”

“Will that help?”  Feeling the stares of the others, “I check sports scores on my computer and filing work.  I’m not a person who keeps a website diary or any of that stuff.  Sometimes music but that’s it.

“Granted,” Jack says.  This is not a perfected use for this software but let’s make it work how we want it to.”

“Whatever you say.  Seriously.”

“It also seems to have a decent caching system for sites visited.”  Then saying to Geenie, “I guess you did have the settings pumped to maximum.”

“Thanks?”  She answers.

“Basically we can see what was already seen on this computer…”

“You can’t use the network to access the internet,” Jason tries to warn or even threaten.

“I’m not.  It’s all inside the computer…”  He clicks one of the files in the list of sites and a page pops up… mostly text with most images not loaded – also a script appears as a coffee cup rather than an actual applet.  “See?  It’s basically a quick and dirty look.”  He closes the page before anyone sees what the actual page is Geenie surfed to in the past.

“Will that really help any part of these cases?”

“Hopefully.  See these?”  Jack clicks random links towards the top; causing them to highlight and deselect.

“Those are web pages also?”

“They are…” he answers to the cop.  “Not only that, but the dates correlate.  The kicker is…”  He scrolls to a spot and stops.  “Up to here are, for all intensive purposes, times Geenie wasn’t in her house.”

“So there had to be someone inside her house at the time.”

“You are correct – at least, according to this.”

“That still doesn’t give us the person or any true proof to prosecute.  Whatever you’re saying could maybe be used as additional evidence, but we’re still stuck in the mud, Jack.”

“That might be true,” he admits to Hatton.  “But the boys in the lab can probably glean whatever they can in there and possibly prove any criminal intention.  If whoever might have been inside her place went to a ‘gang related’ sight or any mention of a criminal activity – that should make you the champ coming up spades.”

“That is…”  Turning to the female siting up on the examination table, “You are brilliant if this is what he’s saying.  You might have single handedly cracked something in this whole series of events.”

With an ‘aw shucks’ look, “Thanks.  Or at least thanks to my little underpowered computer here.”

A woman knocks on the door, and cracks it open.  She keeps the door only part of the way open; clad in business casual attire.  Geenie gives her a slight wave with a smile, prompting Jack to assume it must be the woman who runs this facility.

“Excuse me a moment.” The policeman says to the others.  He slips out of the room and closes the door behind himself.

Once again, Jack hurries to ready his little device – plugging it into Geenie’s computer again.

“Do you really think there’s something big in there?”

Speaking in a mutter which Geenie can still hear clearly, “There is certainly something in here, I’m sorry that these fools got into your apartment though.”  Clicking something on her computer, “I’ve been broken into before.  You have my sympathies.”  The little rectangular box icon pops back up.  Jack click quickly in areas of Geenie’s Alas program.  “Nice,” he says to himself.  “Slightly turning again to her, “Is there anything really important on here?”

As she watches him keep clicking, “Not especially.  I keep it backed up about once a month, but I don’t want to have to replace it.”

“I’m not going to hurt it.”  He opens another part of the program with an icon of a glowing green box with computerized looking ones and zeros cascading in yellow and black faded hues.  Underneath it is the word Logger.  “Hold on a sec, Geenie…” he speaks in his same low voice she understands.  He opens the Logger portion and selects a date – dragging it to the ‘Secret About Box’ icon; letting it copy the file.  He does the same to the folder he created on the desktop; copying it to the three dimensional icon, then opening the icon itself.  The window actually appears to spin when opening up.  Jack finds an icon inside with the name Incinerator: with an icon of a trash can set afire such as many hobos gather around in movies.  When dropping the untitled folder onto the flaming can icon, another window opens up, and the can is flickering an animated fire with two progress bars underneath.  One is filling up with blue while the bar above it has diagonal stripes which animate.  At the end, a sounds comes out which sounds like cellophane being crinkled – then the window closes.

Geenie watches while Jack unhooks his device from her laptop once again.  Her fatigue prevents her from carefully observing anything the man has been doing with her computer.  Obviously she isn’t as familiar to all nighters such as Jack Robinson seems accustomed to.  “What are you doing?”  she repeats yet again – her mind too weary to say anything snappier.

“Another back up file.  Can’t be too careful, to the second power.”

He plays with another window and messes around with the program originally open yet again; reading through more of the preference window of the program.  Both await Jason, who finally returns to the room.

“Jig’s up.  We got to get rambling along, ramblers.”

“What’s wrong,” Jack asks.

“People are going to start coming so we need to be going.  Employees sometimes arrive a little extra early some days.”

“You have a computer forensics department, Jason?

“We have a few tech guys for that sort of thing.  Damaged files, computers.  Cell phones.”

“Maybe you’d prefer to just have the whole laptop to check and return.  I can write down where they can start searching.”

“Sure.  Maybe that will be for the best in the long run.”

“You aren’t going to pull my computer apart are you?”

“As the best word I can, they should keep everything as is.  Let’s say no more than one day.  Don’t hold it to me one hundred percent, but it will be a natural push or rush regarding all these circumstances.”

“Can you power it down and unplug the laptop?”  He asks towards Jason – but meant for anyone within earshot.

“Don’t worry, Jack.  I can do it.”  To which Geenie smiles halfway to punctuate her reply.

“Thanks.  I’ll be right back.”  Jack exits the room and looks down a hallway.  He walks towards the rooms; basically the place which seems the most well lit.  Since most of the lights in the place are still off as not to arouse suspicion, it’s not such a big guess.

“May I help you,” the woman says to Jack.  It seemed she almost seemed to sneak right up behind him.

“Yes.  I was looking for you actually.  This is your place right?”

“Yes, you could say that,” she says in a professional but kind manner.

“I’m Jack.  I wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done for us.”

“It’s very nice to meet you too…”  She extends her hand and Jack shakes it gently as if he was greeting a foreign dignitary’s wife.  “You are the kitchen hero, right?”

This side of blushing, “If that’s supposed to be a god thing, then I’ll cop to it.  Thanks.”

“We can keep Geenie’s mother here but I need all of you to leave.  So far it sounds what’s best for the sake of anonymity.”

“Don’t worry.  I thank you for it.”  Then making a gesture behind himself, “Is there a way I can see her quickly.  It would make me feel a lot better.”

“I really wouldn’t advise it…”   Explaining, “I did give her a sedative since at first I wasn’t sure how bad she was.  You may not get any response.”

“Two minutes.”

“Let’s see what I can do.”  Gently ordering him, “Follow me.”

They walk to a room and she cracks the door open.  “Are you awake, Miss Swaboda?”

A voice comes from the room.

“I have a visitor for you.  Do you mind?”  She turns to Jack and explains.  No more than a few minutes.  Out of respect, I’ll let you have a little privacy, but I’ll be outside the door timing you.”  Her all business face proves she is serious and holds a possible wavering of distrust.

“Thank you.  This does mean a lot.”  Jacks slips inside the room and the light dims from the closing door.  “Mother Swaboda, do you remember me?”

“Jack?  Jack…”  He voice is light and obviously feels the affect from the painkillers she was administered earlier.

“It’s me.  Geenie and I are fine.”

“Yes.  Jack, I talked to Geenie.  You two are a cute couple,” her lack of inhibitions obvious.

Reacting from slight embarrassment, “Thank you.”

“Nonsense.  I always wanted her to settle down.  Times are different but how long can she be a bachelorette.”

“Mother Swaboda.  I have to tell you something important.”

“Is it my kitchen?”

“Yes.  Actually it is.”

“Oh?”

“Have you-  Before the fire department got there I found something on fire.  It was in the kitchen vent.”

“Oh…”  He face turned serious.

“Is there-”

“Jack…  Did you let Geenie read those papers?”

“I haven’t.  I was-”

“Good.”  The woman seems to ignore anything when her mind is made up – or her loopy from whatever drugs she had.  “Those are not for her.  Not for while I am here at least.”

“Something in those letters are important, mother Swaboda?”

“I am her mother.  What is on any form is just that.  Phooey.”

“Is there something you have been keeping a secret from her?  It’s important.”

“There are so many girls who grow up and leave the true mother behind.  Biology is nothing.  Only family.”

“I promise not to show Geenie the papers.  They are burnt, but mostly intact.”

“A whole envelope of them…”

“The envelope burned up but I think I have most of the letters.  But can you listen to me?”

“What is it, Jack?”

“It’s about the men who came after Geenie.”

“You got them, Jack.  You’re Geenie’s hero now.”

“These men might have been after her because of the woman who gave birth to Geenie.  I have to find her.”

“I don’t want to lose my girl to that woman.  You may see her.  Nobody.  Read them.  Papers aren’t, don’t tell my girl.  Her address was Eugege-”

Light from the outside partially floods the room as the woman enters.  “Is something wrong, Miss Swaboda?”

“Jack is a good boy.  Keep away from him.  He is for my Geenie.”

“Well, I don’t know what to say.”  Jack smiles from a slight embarrassment.

The woman reassuringly answers.  “I’m a married mom.  Jack is too much excitement for me I’m afraid.”

“Good,” the woman answers.  “Remember that.”

“Let me check on you a moment.  Get your vitals,” the woman says while crowding past Geenie’s mom.  The facilitator turns her head towards Jack and makes a ‘skedaddle’ gesture – which he quickly complies with.

Heading back the direction he came, Jack ran into the officer and Geenie.  “Sorry.  Bathroom.”

“Here,” Geenie says while holing up his device.  “Don’t forget your little black box.”

“What is that thing?”

“A little device I keep along for checking my mail and reading books on.  But I thought we were in a hurry.”

“Exit, side way.  Come on,” Hatton said in a rushed voice.

TWENTY-FOUR

In the range rover, Jack writes something on a tiny note pad while Jason Hatton waits between the open door.  Finishing up by saying, “This would be the best place to start looking on that computer of hers.  Proagram and all, and these are the dates.  Anything before that might have been Geenie, ok?”

“I’ll do my best,” Jason says while taking the jotted notes.”

“Tell them I’m not trying to tell them how to do their jobs.  That might help it go a lot faster is all.”

“Can do, can do.”  Hatton extends his hand, which Jack eagerly shakes while twisting around.”

“Give them heck, Hatton.”

“Jason,” Geenie seems to say in a more alert way.  “What happened to the other men?  You know.”

“Those last two you guys tangled with?  They are in the really really burn unit.  It’s a toss up with both of them how they’ll fare.  But they should thank you too I suppose, Geenie.  Reports said you were the one to come to their aid.”

“Anything else was self defense I might add,” Jack makes sure to have such facts known.

That was fire and fuel on little old me.”

“Somehow you have a knack of coming out ahead though.  Remind me not to bet against you, Jack.  Right?”

Jack reaches for the door and Jason moves out of the way – allowing the driver side to close his door.

“Where are you going to be staying now?”  The police officer tries to know.

“Not sure.  My navigation system is supposed to find motels.  Maybe I’ll sleep the day off.”  Peering towards Geenie on the passenger side, “The both of us I take it.”

Geenie looks back and sighs slightly.  She is still unsure of what she might want to do.  The need for sleep approaches her faster now.

Officer Jason Hatton reminds Jack, “You better be somewhere I can get a hold of you.  There is still a pretty tootin’ investigation coming up.  One or both of you might still have to come to my aid.  Testify, whatever.”

“Don’t forget, Jason.  The answering service is a call away anytime.  I’m checking it constantly.  And get someone to check those lines.  Dollars to dingos there’s some crude outside tap.  I’d say Geenie’s place and Colin’s also.  Cover your bases and cover your tail at the same time.  Am I right?”

“Yeah,” Hatton the cop says while tapping the folded piece of paper on the door of the vehicle – where the window’s glass is rolled down.

Jack presses on the gas, revving the engine in a fast burst.  It causes Jason to take a step back.  “Stay in touch?”

The police officer says, “Stop causing us to meet like this!” – one hand cupped around his mouth.  Chasing haste, the range rover pulls out and scurries away.  Jason Hatton looks down at Geenie’s laptop and shakes his head while walking away; most likely towards wherever his vehicle is parked.  It’s still dark but that strange hue of blue is starting to creep into the sky.  The color that ceases a night.

Keeping a steady and slow pace, Jack does a little cruising in the vehicle.  For the moment he wonders if it’s too much or not enough melatonin which causes someone to need more sleep.  Jack might thrive and strive from stress and adversity, but Geenie isn’t used to any of this.  Once again she is dosing as they move.  There is a place Jack finds which he punched in with the navigation system to guide him along.  The parking lot was very empty; save for a few cars.  The place was named The Medium Baudied Internet Café.  It was in the vicinity.  Jack wasn’t known for choosing a place merely based on a name the owner thought was clever or cute.

He gently touches Geenie, who gives her best effort but seems very sleepy in her mutter.  “I need to go in here, Geenie.  I need to use their computer to look something up.  Do you want to stay here or go inside?”

She made a groaning sound.  “Leave me alove.  I’m sleepy.”

“Alove?”  He asked.

“No Jack.  Night.”

“I’m going inside.  If you wake up, walk in there.  Night night, Geenie.”  He opens up the back and takes the blanket and pillow out, then leans back in the front seat to gently put it around her.

She takes the blanket into her hand and Jack scoots back out of the vehicle.  Before he leaves, he opens the storage drawer under the driver’s seat.  He takes all of the papers out from the area and puts them into a part of the carrying case he usually keeps his device in.  He locks the drawer again and closes the door to the range rover gently – barely making a sound when it seals closed.

The Medium Baudied Internet Café wasn’t much to desire for inside.  It had decent computers, but the rest of the place seemed to be in disrepair.  Jack takes his wallet out and flips through.

A man at the counter greeted Jack with just an expression at first.  It was a neutral look.  He seemed a tad bit shorter than Jack.  Maybe even a decent guy in another situation but his posture seemed to prove he was dealing with garbage from patrons all night – and perhaps even longer.  He wore greyish black cargo pants and a baseball cap backwards; somewhat covering the long black hair he held in a ponytail.  The round and dark sunglasses in the already dark place made it especially difficult to decipher this person’s attitude beyond his somewhat good posture.  The most noticible part of his outfit was his black shirt: sporting a yellow colored rounded traffic sign; such as depicting a school in session.  This one has a black outline of a comic type shape in a hat which reads ‘Wii Break For Mario’ – split between the top and bottom.

“Hello,” Jack tried to sound out in the most neutral of ways.

“Hey.  What can I do for you today.”

“How are you?”

“I am fantastic today.  What can I get you?”

“Can I just use a computer near the front?”

“Sorry.  Doesn’t work that way.  Customers have to buy something to use a terminal.”

“How about I settle up with something before I leave?”  Jack ends the sentence by setting a hundred dollar bill on the counter.”

“Nice.  That works, buddy.  Sit wherever you want.”

“Thanks.  I’ll take the front,” Jack says while the guys tugs on the currency with both hands.

“Sure thing, pal.”

Jack sits as close as he can to the front window by the entrance – which keeps him in plain view of the range rover.  The tint and night are dark enough to keep anyone casually passing by from seeing Geenie inside.  Jack plugs his device into the computer and starts things up.  He plugs through a list of pages and clicks them open.  The low wattage atmosphere causes Jack to yawn, and he ends up closing a few of the pages as soon as he opens them; almost uninterested.  He turns to his bag and opens it up again.  The aroma of charred papers still give off a powerful aroma.

His mood kicks back in a moment, and he quickly comes to life with his hands in motion.  He grabs his rectangular device and rapidly pushes keys; bringing up the message board area he accessed from the motel room almost a day earlier.  One of the posts says with large bold faced letters WHERE ARE YOU???

Jack hits some buttons and starts typing something by tapping onto a portion of the device with a pen he pulled from a pocket.  The words more or less explained he was dealing with some unwanted attention but he is fine now – and apologies for taking so long to respond.

He goes on to explain he has a batch of information he’ll be more than happy to send to be processed momentarily – the ‘ss’ being some of the shorthand to what he has been dealing with.  More to follow with an attached file in the very near future.  The closing of it deals with a possible departure to a state he will name when he gets there and a passenger will be accompanying him still.  All being safe but no positive identifications yet.  Signs point to yes of course, however nothing firmly established.  Finally asking if any more proof has been secured to validate any of the claims besides a good guess.  The phrase ‘hen’s tooth’ becoming a strange sort of code for an item.

Most of what Jack Robinson plopped down in that communiqué was disjointed and more than a bit secretive.  All of the shorthand and weird fragments of sentences looked nothing of what his usual speech or train of thought seems to have ever been.  Perhaps it was to cover any tracks, or maybe his employers really were the type that didn’t want to have anyone know anything by anyone else.  It obviously wasn’t anything military due to no real jargon to pinpoint the other end.  All of the secrecy would seem to go against whatever favor Jack may have already gained along the way.  Hopefully he is noble in his actions, since a casual observer might see it as shifty at best.

Jack moved from the computer, and opened up his case once more.  He also removed his tiny note pad and a pen to go along with it.  Using his personal device as a plastic hunk of a paperweight, Jack put all of the papers underneath.  One by one he looked them over in a casual way – only reading something twice which seemed to jump out to his mind.

He took note of a few addresses; copying them into his top spiraled note pad.  Looking at dates he would enumerate, and also renumber, each of the addresses he had.  Jack also took down some names and other things which might prove to be of future interest.  Upon each of the papers, notes, or letters read; he would place them in a section of his bag carefully.  In some areas he picked off the crispy edges or charcoaled margins near the ends of the sheets.  A little pile of blackness here and there stacked up.  It seemed to be more of a nervous habit than anything – one of those dawdling gestures rather than anything foreseeable to preserve these writings.

Once each and every paper was back in the case Jack lugged around, he turned his attention back to the computer terminal his machine was plugged into.  The icon from his device was on its desktop, just as when he did it with Geenie’s laptop: the shaded in rectangular icon with ‘Secret About Box’ text underneath.  He opened the box icon and created a new folder which he used ‘web captures’ to title it with.  He gathered the files which were on Geenie’s laptop ‘Alas’ program and tossed them into the new folder before right clicking and selecting compress information.

Jack had to continually rub his eyes due to the boredom and sleep deprivation kicking in, but kept plugging along anyway.  He went back to his hand held machine and went into the boards area once again.  With more button pushing, he got the file sent to whoever was supposed to receive the information – a promise kept on Jack’s part.  He saw another message which he chose to glance over.  With an unimpressed face, he closes it once again, and fiddled with another series of keys on his device.

After rubbing his forehead profusely, Jack checks some information the web page of the computer terminal.  It seems to be all airports in the state.  He finds a blank page in his note book and writes down names and phone numbers.

Before ending his internet session, he makes sure to cover his tracks as best he can in his almost sleeping state.  He erases all cookies and cache in the web browser then opens his ‘Box’ icon once more.  Scrolling down, he finds an icon of a black office type analog clock with an orange radiation symbol inside its face.  Underneath is the name Time Reg.  He opens the device and options similar to setting an alarm clock pop on the screen inside a window.  Jack sets it for one hour, and a light ticking sound goes off – between four to eight of them.  A new window opens in black, and a series of green text – bold and regular font – bombard this new window.  The only actual words on the screen were a ‘scanning’ and ‘found’ for various sectors.  Once done, a new window appeared, which Jack chose to make sleep.  Fans roar louder within the box of the computer terminal and clicks sound off to show the computer to be in sleep mode.  Jack unhooks his device and walks away from the terminal station.

Heading back to the front counter, the person still manning the place eventually turns back around and sees Jack from the other sound of the counter.

“Hey bud.  Did you decide what you want yet?”

“Sure.  You are good at making some recommendations I hope.”

“I can sure try.  What were you thinking about?”

“For myself…  can you try to make something potent and hot or warm if possible.”

“Like staying awake caffeine potent?”

“That would be great, yeah.”

“Sure.  Is that it?”

“Also.  Maybe you can try making up something females usually like to order here.”

“Hold on a second…”  The person in charge goes towards a whole group of machines and turns something on.  Steam billow and he presses another button which makes the sound of coffee beans grinding.

“What was the other thing you wanted?”  The person’s voice is louder but not shouting.

“I can wait, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure,” he says before turning back to the machines.  He mixes some things together and the bean grinding has halted.  “I’ll let that perk up a little bit.  So what else?”

“I-  Come to think of it, I think she hates coffee.  Do you have some other things?”

“Sure.  We’ve got like…  Boba teas and some other normal tea stuff.  And-”

“What are those,” Jack has to ask.

Obviously the mix master picks up on the question.  “Oh it’s like jelly tea.  There’s tapioca balls or gelatin things.  Like a halo halo if you ever tasted something like that.”

“I’m the risk taker.  So how about something more benign.”

“Well?  How about just a shake.”

“Ice cream?”

“Yeah.  Vanilla and maybe I still have some strawberry stuff I can mix in.  Really light.  Simple.”

“Sounds fantastic to me,” Jack tries to say to the person moving back and forth from another room.

“Just give me a few.  She will totally be into it, trust me.”

“Sure.  Take your time I guess.”

“Do you have somewhere to be right now?”  He asks over the machinery from the back.

“Not especially.”

“Good then.”  As he mixes up more, “Oh yeah, what size man.”

“As big as you want I guess.”

“Are you sure?  It can be really big.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

“You can afford it right.”  He makes a partial laugh.

“Certainly.”

“Look, I’m going to make this and she’ll love it.  A lot of people are really elitist around here and in other places.  But I am here to make whatever people want.  It’s the biggest challenge, you know?”

“Thank you.  I’m sure she’ll love it as long as there isn’t any coffee or mocha or whatever other bean flavors you have.”

“Dude, vanilla bean.  But not coffee.  I have your back.”

The man behind the counter gets back to work and furiously works in silence to complete what feels like his greatest invention.  Jack basks in the silence and checks out the room and various ingredients while waiting most patiently for his beverages.

“Check it out…  They are both done at almost exactly the same time.”  Adding, “I think you’ll both be pleased.  Just let the second one settle a bit.”

“Sure.  I appreciate it much, really.”  Jack seems amused with it all.  What he thought would be routine seemed to put him in a much better mood – seeing an individual passionate about a craft and not letting ego muscle in on talent and dedication.  “Is this place yours?”

“No.  Just a worker who enjoys the hours.  I get more creative at night, you know?”

“Night owl?”

“Nope,” he says while still mussing with one of the machines.  “People are just bigger idiots during the day.  Am I right.”

“Lately I haven’t noticed a difference.”

“Well I have.  At least here.  It’s nice to make up things and all, but there is less appreciation during the day time I guess.  Maybe it’s just tougher to make people happy during the day.”

“It’s all around when you run into a pain in the ass.”

“Yeah,” he scoffs.  Running back around, “Since you are being so cool, can you wait a little bit longer?  I just thought of something.”

“Take all the time you want,” Jack says while trying to look out the front window.  “Looks like everything is very quiet out there anyway.”

“Your car?  This place is pretty safe.  Nobody breaks into cars or anything.  I wouldn’t be working in a place like this if it wasn’t a little bit safe.  I mean, look at it.  A lot of electronics all around, and gamer stuff in the back area.”  He comes back around and lifts up something by the register on the counter, “Tip jar.”  Setting the small thing down and explaining, “I don’t really care about any of this stuff much.  But I care about myself, and coming home to my girlfriend.  I wouldn’t work in a place not safe.”

“It’s nice to see people such as yourself with such sense.”

“Why is that?  You know a lot of people without enough sense to care about theirself?”

“I do actually.  A few.  Including myself in a way.”

“Dude, there is a lot of crazy stuff going around.  You have to be careful out there, bud.”  Literally letting off some steam from one of the appliances in the background.  “Unless that’s some sort of line of work you meant.”

“Well, it is right now in fact.”

“Oh really?  What kind of work.”

“For now you could say…  More along the lines of guarding.”

“Like a bodyguard?”

“Yep.  That’s the situation.”

“Oh,” he says while nodding to himself.  “I get it.  Is this supposed to be for her?”

“That certainly is.”

“Yeah.  I get that.  Very cool.  Has it been dangerous?”

“No need to lie.  Actually it has been.  Pretty life threatening stuff.”

“But you knew that going into the job, right.”

“Yes and no.  Sometimes people are just paranoid.  But of course some have reason to be, am I right?”

“Sure,” he says while rushing to the machine and finishing up his concoctions.  “Just a sec and you can try yours out.  The other one is still chilling a little, alright.”

“Fine.  Splendid.”

“Heh, thanks.”  He looks back over his shoulder a bit.  “See?  Like I said, it’s better at night.  At least that’s what I think.  Maybe it’s not the same for you.”

“Half and half,” Jack says while following the man in the Mario shirt back to the counter.

“I won’t tell you everything that’s in this thing.  If I did then you might not come back here and try to make it yourself.”  He sets it down while telling the tale of the beverage.  “I figured you wouldn’t have wanted both of these anyway.  And since you didn’t know what you wanted the other one to be, it must be since you don’t seem to be into sweet stuff.  So this is kind of an espresso mocha thing.  I made sure to crush the beans extra fine and I even ran it through a percolation twice.  Gave me the extra power.  And there’s a mocha but also some of a macciada thing in it, but it’s really light.  And some other stuff.”

“Thanks.  I really appreciate the extra effort.”

“Not a problem for you.  Just be careful in case it’s too hot.”

“I’ll try.”  Jack takes a gingerly taste by slowly tipping the huge container; clad in its corrugated cardboard life jacket.  “That’s fantastic.  Setting it back down, “It’s been a long night and that will certainly be a pick me up.”

“Just wait.”  The brewmeister hurries to the back and retrieves the second concoction.  “Pretty awesome, huh?”  He sets it down and actually does impress Jack.  Its sports three distinct layers of beverage.  “That’s vanilla, and the French vanilla with that more yellowish color.  And on top is whipped cream I blended with fresh strawberry.  That’s why it has that pinkish kind of tint to it,” which he swishes his finger in the area of to highlight the area.  “And on top I added just a little bit of cocoa shaved and a little bit of cinnamon.”  He tops it with a rounded plastic bubble style lid while gloating, “I know you can’t top that.  So I told you all of it.  Some of the machines back there let you create pure art if you ask me.  I couldn’t afford technology like that on my own.”  Handing him a straw, “It’s all yours.”

“Mind if I settle up with my change?”

“Oh.”  Going towards the register, he cracks half a smile from his normally deadpan face.  “I almost forgot about that actually.”  Slightly laughing out a, “Sorry.” – More from nervousness than anything devious.  “How about…  Ten bucks.  Before tax.”

“Sounds more than fair to me.”  Jack didn’t seem to mind a bit.

“Sure thing.  Here is your receipt and change.”  He waits then carefully puts it into Jack’s open hand.

“Do you have a card or anything?”

“You mean like a card for here?  Sure…”  He moves around in the cash register’s drawer.  “There you go,” as he slides it into the hand with the money in it.

“Never know when you need an ally.  Right?”

“Yeah,” he laughs.  “Sure.”

Jack pockets the business card first.  “Here you are by the way,” giving a twenty dollar bill to the man.  “Hope that expresses my gratitude.”

“Nice.  It sure does, thanks.”

“Oh – almost forgot.”  Jack drops his coins from the change into the plastic tip jar.  “Thanks again.  See you around.”

“Wait,” the guy at the register says after Jack has both drink in hand.  “Is the person you’re guarding out there right now?”

“Yes.  She is.”

“Is she important?”

“Very, so it seems.  At first I wasn’t sure but…  Let’s say somehow she has attracted a lot of attention lately.

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