Internet Truisms

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I’ve been playing in cyberspace for several years now. In fact, if I had to stop playing on the Internet it would make me sad and I’d probably need a 12-step program to help me through it. But in my travels I have observed there seem to be certain truisms on the Internet. The following is my list; raise your hand if you recognize any:

  1. Always post the most flattering pic of yourself for your profile – even if it’s 20 years old. Unlike the real world, this is perfectly acceptable. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who has ever signed up for an online dating service. Yikes.
  2. No matter what term you use for image searches, you will always get at least one naked picture in the search results. Apparently naked goes with everything.
  3. Anybody who says they handle their social media posting in under an hour a day is lying. I don’t care what you say; I don’t believe anyone handles their social media in under an hour. Not if they’re actually participating in social media.
  4. Nothing ever goes away on the Internet – if it was posted it’s out there somewhere. The good news is that we still have hope of finding that funny cat picture that seems to have disappeared.
  5. If you have a web site you’re automatically an expert in something. Unlike the old days when you had to have a brick and mortar store, for very little money and a little bit of skill you can put up your store on the Internet and become an expert. Actually, I’ve even seen marketing ‘experts’ advice people to act like an expert and people will believe it.
  6. You’re nobody if you don’t show up on page one of the search results. Kind of interesting that our self esteem and confidence in our products and services is based on some secret algorithm that we have no way of controlling.
  7. Information is king on the Internet. Ditto with information products. Even if you are selling information about information, are blogging about blogging, or writing about writing – somebody will buy it
  8. Half the trolls on the Internet are 14, live in their parents’ basement and rarely go outside or have contact with other human beings. At the very least, this gives one some perspective, right?
  9. If you say it enough times on the Internet, it’s true. (See #5) This to me is one of the most powerful and yet mystical truths. A person can make the most outrageous statement on the Internet, with absolutely no proof or supporting facts and if they can get it circulating and enough people reading it, suddenly it becomes true. Scary much.

In your Internet travels, what truisms have you stumbled across? So did I miss any Internet truisms? Any you care to add to the list?

American Sniper – Movie Review

I wanted to see American Sniper for a while but my bad, never got around to catching it in the theater. Or maybe I just knew that it was the kind of film I didn’t want to watch in public because certain stories are so gut wrenching.

I watched it last night and I’m still affected by it. Which I suppose is the mark of a good film – that you’d be thinking about it the next day.

Clint Eastwood approached the story in his usual understated style and treated it with respect and sensitivity. His depiction of war, military life on and off the battlefield, and our troops was real without the usual Hollywood romanticization or exploitation that so many of these types of films possess.

The film is the story of Chris Kyle, distinguished by having the highest number of recorded sniper shots of any soldier in American military history. His nickname was the Legend. But Kyle wasn’t the kind of man who cared about fame or flattering nicknames, he cared about his fellow soldiers and keeping them out of harm’s way. He cared about keeping our guys alive. And it’s what drove him to do four tours in Iraq.

The film chronicles Chris’s military life and family life in between his tours. And it’s hard to evaluate the story because it’s not a story, it’s what happened to one man. It’s his story. The story of a man who wanted to make a difference and did. The story of a man who put others before himself. The story of a man who lived his beliefs and principles. A man that most of us would’ve liked and been happy to share a beer with or call a friend. Sadly, his devotion and desire to help, ultimately led to his death. Not on the battlefield but at home.

I highly recommend this film not because it glorifies war but because it celebrates the perseverance of the human spirit. It shows that one man can make a difference and did. And it honors those who stand the watch so that we can have the freedoms we enjoy and take for granted every day.

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I thank Chris Kyle for his service. I thank his family for their sacrifice.

Writer Chick

False Witness – Final Installment

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CHAPTER SIXTY-EIGHT

Susan, Joe, and Terri studied Morgan. The man didn’t like to talk or play board games and wasn’t chatty about himself. They pulled into a trailer park and settled for the night. Joe spent a bit of time on the pay phone and didn’t share with Susan and Terri who he called. When he returned, the girls had made a dinner of cold chicken, salad, and rolls. Morgan was happily chowing down and slurping Joe’s beer when Joe joined them at the table.

“You enjoying that meal, Frank?” Joe asked.

Morgan nodded and mouthed a yes through a stampede of chews and swallows.

“That’s good,” Joe said. “Suppose you tell us, how you and Finn Frayne kidnapped that little kid fifteen years ago.”

Morgan stopped mid-chew. “Come again?”

“He said, suppose you spill your guts about that kidnapping you committed with your gal Finn,” Terri said.

“I…I…I…”

“Time to spill the beans, son,” Joe said and sat back.

Morgan looked like a treed cat, wiped his mouth on a paper napkin, and cleared his throat. “You the law?”

“Let’s just say we’re interested parties,” Joe said.

“In that case why would I tell you anything?”

Joe leaned across the table and gave him a dangerous smile. “Cuz I still got connections.”

“So you’re going to turn me in?”

“Why don’t you give us the whole story and then we’ll think about what we’re going to do next?”

Morgan took a swig of beer. “God-damned women. Never trust a woman; she’ll screw you every time.”

“Just start talking, Frank,” Terri said. “We’ll tell you when you can shut up.”
Frank sat back and spilled his guts. He didn’t want to but what choice did he have? They outnumbered him and he hocked his gun the week before. He sighed; the cash cow was further and further away. If he was lucky, he wouldn’t end up in a federal prison fetching and toting for a predator. “Okay,” he said, “I got this call from a southern lady who said…”

CHAPTER SIXTY-NINE

Lucas was mad as hell at the snot-nosed reporter who sat before him. “I’m telling you this is the story of the century!”

The reporter pushed his rimless glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Well, sorry Mr. Webster, I just don’t agree with you. Naturally, you’re welcome to take your story to other papers.”

Lucas was unwilling to share with the reporter that the other papers, and the news shows had turned him down. Now, not even the Glendale Star Press didn’t want it.

“I mean, if you had her confessing on tape or something?”

“If I had that I’d be talking to Larry King, not you!” Lucas yelled.

The reporter shrugged. “Sorry, a story about a woman who was acquitted of murder fifteen years ago and is now a model citizen just isn’t that interesting. And truthfully, we just don’t do that kind of story. Why ruin a person’s life by invading her privacy?”

“Ain’t that what you ass-holes do?” Lucas asked. “Since when do newspapers give a shit about invading a person’s privacy?”

“Like I said, we don’t do those kinds of stories.” He returned to his computer keyboard. “Thanks for coming in.”

Lucas limped his way to the door. “Well, we’ll see you on the seven o’clock news then.”

CHAPTER SEVENTY

When Billy saw Susan, his heart ached with joy. Their baby pushed at her stomach and made its presence known. He wrapped his arms around her and vowed never to let go again. “Oh Baby, I’ve missed you so much.” His eyes moistened with tears. “I’m so happy to see you!”
Susan laughed and cried happy tears. She pulled back from his embrace and looked at him. “You look thin.”

He rolled his eyes. “Thanks, you’re looking pretty hot yourself, chubby.”

She giggled and punched his arm playfully. All the things they had to say to each other, wedged between them. “I’ve got a lot to tell you,” Susan said.

Billy nodded, “Me too.” He pulled her along. “Let’s talk.”

Susan dug her heels in. “No, not about us. I mean . . .” her eye wandered to the parking lot where the RV stood like an old knight in search of the Holy Grail. “About Rachel and that whole thing.”

Billy was confused. “What do you know about Rae? I mean, I have stuff to tell you about that. In fact, you’ll probably think I’m nuts but I’ve found out a lot of screwy things. I think.” He shook his head as if that would clear it. “Long story, but I want to tell you everything.”

Susan squeezed his hands. “Billy, come with me. There’s someone I want you to see.” She dragged him across the parking lot to the RV and brought him inside.

Billy’s face brightened when he saw Joe’s smiling face. “Joe!” he clapped his back. “How the hell are you?”

He spied Terri out of the corner of his eye and spun on his heel and grinned. “Terri!” He picked her up and twirled her around.

“Hey put me down, you big ape,” Terri laughed.

For a moment it was like old home week and the four had a good laugh then Billy noticed Frank Morgan sitting quietly on the daybed. “What the hell is he doing here?”

Morgan pulled a butterscotch candy from his pocket, unwrapped it, and popped it in his mouth. “So, we meet again.”

“You remember Frank Morgan, don’t you, Billy?” Joe asked.

The man from Billy’s dreams swooped into his head and superimposed over Frank Morgan’s countenance. Something clicked in Billy’s mind. “Yeah, I remember him. More and more, actually.”

Morgan pulled an old watch from his pocket and checked the time. “Time is money, folks.”
“Ol’ Frank here’s, got a story to tell you, Billy. Set down, it could take a spell.”

Billy looked at Susan, who nodded. Billy took a seat next to Susan and looked at Morgan. “Okay, shoot.” But his own memories were surfacing and he knew what Morgan was going to say. It was eerie, because Billy knew the future seconds before it happened.

Morgan tapped his foot furiously and unwittingly. He shifted in his seat then looked at Joe. “I told you everything I know. Any particular reason, I gotta tell the kid too?”

Joe snarled and said, “Damn good reason, you owe it to him. Don’t you think, Frank? I mean, ain’t no statute of limitations on what you done, is there? Nope, there sure ain’t. I do believe it’s still a federal crime.” He crossed his arms over his chest and stared Morgan down.

Morgan lolled his head like an old doll. “Well, okay, if you’re gonna take that attitude.” He looked at Billy. “Me and your Aunt Finn we go way back.”

Billy made a face. “You and Finn? What do you mean, way back?” Billy got a picture of Morgan and Finn laughing and talking together. Was it a memory or a dream?

Morgan fidgeted more. “Okay boy, now I’m going to tell you a story and I just want to be sure you won’t go off on me.”

“Just spit it out,” Billy said gruffly.

“Well now, I can’t be sure it was you. I mean, the kid was just six or seven at the time . . .” he appealed to the others in the group.

“Get off it, Frank,” Terri snapped. “Tell him what you told us and then we don’t ever have to see your ugly, fucking, face again. Okay?”

She popped open two beers and gave one to Joe.

“No big deal,” Morgan muttered. “And some of the gals think I’ve still got it.” He cleared his throat. “All right then. Me and Finn, like I said, we go way back. Truth is I was sweet on her for a while. I got me a job and I needed some help.”

Billy’s eyes narrowed, the doubts about the truth falling away like veils. “What kind of job?”

“Just supposed to watch some brat for a while. Some rich southern lady hired me. Gave me a lot of money. I mean a lot of money.” He scratched at his beard. “In those days you just couldn’t turn down that kind of money. You know what I mean?”

Billy shook his head. “No, not yet, I don’t.”

Susan took Billy’s hand and held it tightly. “Let him talk, honey.”

“Okay, so this stuck-up broad gives me a hundred-k and I ain’t about to turn it down. All I got to do is meet a bus in Illinois and take you to your auntie. So, that’s what I did.”

“And? Come on, say it.”

“That boy was you, Billy,” Joe said softly.

Billy couldn’t handle the memories that rushed at him. Of him and Rae and Lulu, his father, Libbie, Lucas. All of it a blur of happiness, misery and confusion.

“Your folks didn’t die in any car crash, Billy,” Joe said trying to coax him. “I think you know what I’m trying to tell you here. I think you’ve been putting the pieces together just like we did. Ain’t that the truth?”

Billy sat back. “Ironic, isn’t it, Joe?” He grinned. “All this time I’ve been pretending to be who I was . . . or am.

“Sometimes, the joke’s on us, Billy.”

Billy leaned back and let the truth soak in. “Are you sure?” he asked Morgan, though he knew it was true.

“Like I said, I can’t say if that little guy was you. But if you grew up with Finn then I gotta believe it was you.”

Billy shook his head. “Why would Rachel pay you a hundred thousand dollars to take me to Finn?”

“It wasn’t Rachel, Billy,” Susan said. “It was her sister, Elizabeth.”

The words cut through Billy like lightning. “Libbie?”

“But we just don’t know why,” Terri said.

Billy knew why. His memories or his dreams had told him. He now knew was the truth. “She wanted me dead.”

“Well that’s the truth,” Morgan piped up. Billy sneered at Morgan.“Hey, don’t look at me that way. I didn’t do it, did I?”

“Why didn’t you?” Billy asked.

Morgan made a face and shook his head. “Ain’t my style. Don’t have the stomach for that sort of thing. I split the money with Finn and she said she’d take care of it. Apparently she meant she’d take care of you.” Morgan stood and shrugged. “Seems it turned out okay after all. Guess I’ll be on my way.”

“Wait a minute,” Billy said.

Morgan turned, “Yeah?”

“Didn’t she want proof? She just took your word for it?”

“Yeah, I guess she did. I sent her a clipping of some poor kid who got himself killed. Guess she wanted to believe it was you.” Morgan smiled uneasily. “Maybe she didn’t have the stomach for it either.”

Morgan tipped his hat and made his way out of the RV. For a moment, no one moved. All eyes were on Billy whose head spun like top.

“You okay?” Susan asked.

Billy nodded then stood up.

“Where are you going?” Terri asked.

“To get the truth,” Billy said.

“No, don’t go back there, Billy,” Susan pleaded.

“I have to, honey. I have to finish what I started. I thought I could just leave, but I can’t. Don’t you see?”

“We’re going with you,” Joe said and fired up the engine.

“No,” Billy said and went to the door. “I’m going alone.” He looked at each of them. “I’ll be back in a few hours. If you don’t hear from me by tomorrow morning, call the police.” He laughed. “Or the Cavalry.”

He gave them Rae’s address and left to face the last surviving monster.

CHAPTER SEVENTY-ONE

The heat of the day stretched into night and there was no relief to be had. Rae turned on all the overhead fans, having given up hope that the air-conditioning repairman would show up before Christmas. She wandered into the kitchen in search of something cool to drink. There she found Libbie fanning herself and standing before the open refrigerator. “Do you suppose a person could fit into one of these, if they really tried?” Libbie asked.

Rae laughed and nudged past her for the pitcher of iced tea. She poured them both a tall glass. The ice cracked and popped as the amber liquid rushed in and around them. They sat at the kitchen table and sipped their tea in silence. “Do you ever think of it?” Libbie asked, her eyes looking into some far away place.

“What?” Rae asked.

Libbie’s dark eyes peered into Rae’s face as if searching for a secret. “That night. The night Tommy died.”

Rae shook her head not as a response but more an effort to chase away any reminders of it. “I work very hard not to.”

Libbie’s lips parted in a smile. “But why?”

Rae recoiled. “Why? You have to ask me that?”

Libbie shrugged. “It’s part of our history, sister, we should remember it.”

“I only want to think of my son now,” Rae said simply.

Libbie chuckled. “Seems your long-lost son is lost once again, doesn’t it, sister?”

Rae wanted to reach across the table and slap the mean smile off Libbie’s face. “Why is it you’ve always taken such joy in hurting me? And him?”

Libbie acted stunned by Rae’s remark. “Why that simply isn’t true.”

Rae stood and felt dizzy for a moment. She clutched the edge of the table and steadied herself. Then she took her glass and emptied it in the sink. “Yes, it is true! Admit it, you were happy that I’d made such a bad marriage. Positively ecstatic! Happy that he beat me and Beau. Happy at our misery.”

Libbie leapt out of her seat and charged Rae. “Take that back! You take that back!”
Rae was disgusted by the sight of her sister, suddenly. Feelings she hadn’t had in years came to the surface and she wanted only to get away from Libbie. “Leave me alone!” she cried. “Just leave me alone!” She stormed out of the room and to the stairs.

Libbie followed Rae like a new puppy dog, nipping at her heels. “I will not leave you alone. I am tired of leaving you alone. Treating you as if you were the princess and I, your handmaiden.”

Rae climbed the stairs as if getting to her room would make her safe. Libbie followed her still, doggedly and with purpose. “You’ll not get away from me this time!” she screamed in a voice that Rae didn’t recognize. The voice of evil, true and complete. Rae trembled as she opened her bedroom door and rushed inside. She tried to close the door but Libbie pushed her way inside. The room was shadows and slivers of moonlight and the hot humid air was a weight on Rae’s already exhausted shoulders. “Get out!”
Libbie cackled like a crone. “Get out, you say? Oh my, sister, I don’t think that will do. Won’t do at all! Where you go, I go. Don’t you remember? We are bound by a secret, a terrible, dirty, little secret that daren’t be told. Metaphorically, we are joined at the hip.”

Rae tore a brush through her thick, hair angrily. “Why do you keep at me, so?” she asked near tears. “Why can’t you get a life of your own? Why must you suck it out of me, one breath at a time?”

Libbie became furious. “Why? You have the nerve to ask me that? You, who stole the only man in the world for me. You, who could have had anyone had to take the only one for me?”

“Tommy didn’t love you, Libbie!” Rae screamed. She turned from the mirror and stared Libbie down. “You can paint the picture any way you like in your pathetic mind, but he didn’t love you. He never did. That’s what galled you so. I didn’t steal him. He was never yours in the first place.” In disgust, Rae moved away from Libbie to the window. She looked out at the night sky, looking for relief in the far away stars. “He loved me, until you poisoned him against me. Against our son.” Tears fell but she felt a relief finally saying it out loud. “You could never face the truth, so you had to twist it to make yourself a victim.”

Libbie’s eyes burned holes in Rae’s back. She grabbed a heavy music box from a side table, went at Rae and raised it over her head to strike Rae.Suddenly a man’s grip had her arms locked over her head. “Let it go,” Billy said so quietly that it made Libbie shudder. Rae turned in time to see what Libbie had intended. “Beau!”

“Stay back,” Billy commanded.
She stopped, mid-step, startled by his reaction. “Honey. . ”

“Don’t you honey me,” Billy yelled. “I’ve had enough! I’ve had enough of both of you! I want to know the god-damned truth and you’re going to tell me!” He pulled a .38 colt from his waistband and pointed it at her. Both Libbie and Rae went limp. Billy released Libbie, taking the music box from her and tossed it aside with a clunk. Libbie sat on the bed and stared at the floor. Rae crossed to the side table to turn on a light but Billy waved the gun. “No, just leave it.”

“It was an accident,” Rae said quietly. “Nobody meant to hurt anybody.”

The scent of jasmine floated in through the open windows on the muggy, evening air and Billy felt spinny. Libbie ran her hand through her long hair and the gold charm bracelet caught a sparkle of moonlight. Billy stumbled back and leaned against the armoire for support, keeping the gun trained on them. “Bullshit,” Billy said, “tell me the truth.”

“I am telling you the truth, darlin’” Rae pleaded.

Billy looked to Libbie who met his gaze with a simmer. “Tell me, Libbie. I know you’ve been dying to for a long time. Tell me what happened.”

Libbie grinned like a shark. “Why nephew, don’t you remember? You weren’t so little that you couldn’t remember some of it.” She narrowed her eyes. “You do remember some of it, don’t you? I can see it in your face.”

Billy looked at the gun in his hand and a memory flashed of holding a similar gun. “I don’t need you to tell me what I do remember. I need you to tell me what I don’t remember.”

Libbie looked energized by the exchange, her face lit up and her features became animated. “Why Beau, you were the hero that night. You saved your mama from certain death at the hands of her husband and your daddy.”

“Monster,” Billy muttered.

Libbie nodded like a smug schoolteacher to a slow student. “Yes, that was your mama’s pet name for your daddy.” She leaned back against the pillows languidly and smiled. “He was a passionate man.”

“If I was such a hero then why did you pay someone to take me away?” Billy asked.

A moan escaped from somewhere deep inside Rae. She tried to search Libbie’s face in the sparse light and though she couldn’t see her expression, Libbie’s ascension to the accusation was palpable and could be felt. “You sent him away? You did it? You stole my boy from me,” she said furiously.

She started to charge Libbie but Billy waved her back with the gun. “Stay back, Rae.”

Libbie reveled in Rae’s torment. “Yes, you were the hero.” She laughed and lowered her voice, “but we couldn’t keep you around after that. What if you’d blurted out to Joe what you’d done?”

Billy didn’t understand. “What if I had? So what? I was defending Rae.”

“I was afraid,” Rae cried. “I was afraid they’d take you away. Put you in a hospital or a prison.”

“So you let her send me away? To strangers?” Billy was appalled.

“No!” Rae cried. “I didn’t let her send you away. I never would have done that. You were going to stay with your aunt. ”

“Aunt Finn,” Billy grimaced. “You sent me to grow up with a drunk?”

Rae looked confused. “You haven’t any Aunt Finn. You were to stay with your great-aunt Mildred, in Chicago.”

Billy grabbed Libbie’s wrist and twisted it slightly. “Tell her, Libbie. Tell her about the lovely woman you sent me to live with.”

Libbie cackled like an old bird. “I can’t nephew, I’m afraid I never met the woman. I paid a man to take care of it and so he did.”

Billy twisted her wrist a little harder. “Frank Morgan? Is that the man? Because I talked to him this afternoon. And to hear him tell it, you hired him to kill me.”

Rae shrieked. “What?” She charged Libbie, unconcerned by Billy’s gun or any other force that would seek to stop her. She pounced on Libbie and grabbed a hank of hair. “Say you didn’t! Swear you didn’t do that!”

Libbie could only laugh. The more furious Rae became, the funnier it seemed to Libbie. “Oh sister, the look on your face. If you could see yourself.”

“My, my isn’t this a sight?” Lucas, flanked by his henchman stood in the open doorway, their silhouettes dark and sinister.

Billy pointed his gun. “Get out of here, Lucas. I told you I’m through with you!”

Rae came out of her anger. “You know him? You have business with him?”

Lucas and his shadow chanced to enter the room. “And he did me proud, he did. Led me straight to you. Now you’re cornered with nothing to protect you anymore, Rachel.”

“Get out of my house,” Rae screamed. “Get out or I’ll call the police!”

Lucas laughed. “The police? That’s a funny idea considering how much you like those folks.” He took a cell phone from his pocket and offered it to her. “By all means, cousin, call the police.”

“Maybe they’ll get here at the same time as the TV. News – now that’d make quite a sight in this one-horse town. Don’t you think?”

“What are you talking about?” Rae asked. “Are you drunk?”

“Sober as a Deacon on Sunday,” Lucas winked. “Yeah, I can’t tell you just how excited that news man was when I told him he could get an exclusive interview with my dead cousin’s wife and murderer.”

“You used me to get to my own mother?” Billy was furious.

Lucas stopped and snapped his head in Billy’s direction. “Come again, son?” He laughed. “Oh, I get it – still playing the part, eh? Game’s over boy, you can stop pretending.”

Libbie cackled louder still, unable to suppress her amusement. “Isn’t this just the most fabulous thing you’ve ever seen? I mean, mind-boggling, isn’t it? Rae is Billy’s mama because you see, we found out just today about the DNA. Billy dear, this is your second cousin, Lucas.”

Lucas looked stunned. “You’re Tommy’s boy?” His face broke out in a grin. My God, you ain’t dead?”

Lucas came at Billy with open arms but Billy aimed the gun at him. “Don’t you come near me. Don’t any of you come near me! You’re all insane!” He wished he’d never come. He wished Susan was with him and they were on some stupid trip in Joe’s RV. He wanted to wake up from this nightmare and the more he learned the worse it became.

“You leave my mother alone,” Billy screamed at Lucas. “Just get out of here!” He paced. “I remember what you did now. The way you pawed at her, like she belonged to you. You and my father! Both bastards! I hated you! I hated him! I wanted him . . . ”

“Dead,” Libbie egged him on. “Isn’t that right, boy? You wanted him dead because of the beatings and the yelling. You were little and whiney but in your dreams you killed him every night! Didn’t you?”

Billy’s head pounded. “No! I did not! I just wanted him to stop!” Suddenly, he was there, in that room where his father’s life ended. He beat Rae, tore her gown, screamed like a madman. They struggled over the gun and Billy charged him. Thomas dropped the gun and it spun and skidded across the wood floor.

“Yes, you did!” Libbie screamed and yanked him back to reality. “You took that gun and . . . ”

Billy charged her and put his hands to her throat. “No! I did not!”

“Billy, don’t hurt her,” Rae cried from some far away place. “No, Beau, don’t do it!”

He turned to Rae. “I didn’t do it, Mama! It wasn’t me!” He grabbed Libbie by her hair and forced her in front of him. “Tell her! Tell her!” Libbie was limp like a rag doll and remained mute. “It was her,” Billy cried. “She bent down and picked up the gun. She did it.”

The room went still as all present absorbed Billy’s accusation. The only sound was Billy’s panting. He looked from face to face and searched for affirmation.

“Billy . . . ” Rae began.

“It’s true.” He released Libbie and moved away from her as if she had a contagious disease. “I don’t care if you believe me. I don’t care what any of you think.” Exhausted, he fell into the chair by the window.

Lucas turned on the lamp at the bedside table which threw a low light across the room. He studied Billy’s face for a moment. “But why? What reason would Libbie have to kill Tommy?” He looked to Libbie but she remained silent, an amused look on her face. He looked to Rae who shook her head.

“Tell them, Libbie,” Billy urged. “Tell them the truth.” He looked at her and held her gaze. “It was an accident wasn’t it?”

Libbie looked as if she would crack but said nothing. A trembling lip the only indication that Billy’s words affected her. “She didn’t mean to kill Thomas, did you Libbie?” He shook his head. “I mean, why would she kill a man she was desperately in love with?” “The idea was to get rid of you,” he said to Rae. “She wanted to rile him up so you’d have a fight. She knew you had the gun, didn’t she?”

Rae nodded. “Yes, she convinced me to buy one. For protection.” Rae’s face changed and her eyes blazed with anger and hurt.

“Maybe she thought if you got scared enough you’d pull the gun and Tommy would end up killing you. She’d swear to the police it was accident. Then she’d end up with him, the house and the money?” He grinned at Libbie. “Is that it, Libbie? That what you planned?” Billy went on. “But Tommy was damned drunk and lost control of the gun. You didn’t count on me, did you? Didn’t know I’d charge my own father to protect my mother.”

Libbie shook her head and mumbled to herself. “There it was, lying on the floor. Daring you to pick it up and kill Rae yourself.” A moan like an injured animal issued from Libbie. “But you missed, Libbie. You hit Tommy instead. Then you panicked and tried again. That was the one that got him. Your whole world shot to hell like that,” he snapped his fingers.

“Damn you!” Libbie cried. She jumped to her feet and charged Rae but Hansen held her back. “You god-damned bitch! He was mine! I saw him first! He was mine! And you stole him from me, just like you stole everything else!”

“Libbie I . . . ”

“Shut your lying mouth! It should have been mine. All of it. Mine, do you hear me!” She broke free from Hansen and grabbed Rae. She scratched her face and kicked her, spat in her face. “Witch! Why didn’t you die? Why?” her tormented voice was a screech from Hell.

Billy pulled her off of Rae. “That’s right, she deserved it right? That’s why you shoved the gun in my hand and swore I killed my own father. That’s why you convinced her to send me away. That’s why you talked her into confessing to something she didn’t do. To protect her only child.”

Rae crumpled into grief. “Say it isn’t true, Libbie. Please say you don’t hate me that much.”

Libbie struggled out of Billy’s arms and ran for the door. “It’s true! It’s all true! Burn in Hell!” she screamed and ran out of the room. Billy and Rae ran after her down the stairs. “Stay back,” she screamed. “Stay away from me!” She pulled a small gun from her jacket pocket and waved it at them. They stopped and stood still. “I could kill us all,” Libbie mused. “Let the reporters come and take pictures of all our dead bodies. Nice Sunday paper story, don’t you think?” She laughed like a madwoman. She pointed the gun at Rae and Billy stepped in front of her. “Aw, isn’t that sweet? Still trying to protect your mama?”

Billy grabbed for the gun but Libbie pulled back and put it to her head.

“No, Libbie, no,” Rae cried. “I forgive you! No, don’t do it!”

Libbie stared venom at Rae. “You forgive me? You, forgive me?” She aimed the gun at Rae, put her finger on the trigger then in an instant put it to her own head and fired.

Rae screamed and started to fall, Billy caught her and held on tight. “It’s okay,” Billy said. “It’s over, it’s all over now, Mama.”

CHAPTER SEVENTY-TWO

Michael and Rae took one last tour through the now empty house. A sadness tugged at Rae’s heart because despite the tragic end of her sister’s life, it had been home to her for many, happy years.

“Things change,” Michael said and interrupted her thoughts.

She leaned her head against his shoulder and her heart ached again because Michael was not coming with her. She looked up at him. “I wish you’d change your mind.”

Michael gave her a bear hug. “The timing just isn’t right.” He held her out to look at her. “You’ve got lots of catching up to do with your boy.” He smiled. “It’s a miracle you’ve been given, Rae.”

“Yes, a bona fide miracle.” She looked at the old fashioned stove upon which Libbie had made so many wonderful meals. “I hope the new owners love this kitchen as I have.”

“They will.”

Rae went to the window and looked out on the yard, empty and peaceful. “I wonder how the kids are. You know, they were like my own and I hated to let them go.” She turned and looked at the man she loved. “Though I suppose their mamas are happy to have them away from all the publicity and noise.”

Michael laughed. “Have you heard the latest?” Rae shook her head.
“Lucas’ book premiered at number three on the New York bestseller’s list.”
Rae cursed Lucas for the carpetbagger he was. In her mind, it was outright theft the way Lucas had written Billy’s story and sold it out from under him. “Someday, I suspect he will get what he truly deserves.”

Michael shook his head. “Well, he gets high points for balls. And to call it “My Family, Myself”….hopefully, he won’t be showing up for any holiday gatherings.”

Rae made a face. “Oh, what an awful thought!”

“Mom?” Billy called out from the other room.

“We’re back here,” she answered him.

Billy appeared in the kitchen and smiled at his mother. “You having second thoughts?”

Rae shook her head and smiled. “Not on your life.”

“Michael hasn’t convinced you to stay with him?” he asked.

“He’ll come to visit. Maybe he’ll even move out there if I’m convincing enough.” She winked at Michael and hugged him.

“Come on, Gramma – your granddaughter is crying for you.”

Rae hooked an arm through Michael’s and Billy’s and they walked through the empty house and out the front door. Rae locked it for the last time and gave Michael the key. “You’ll make sure the realtor gets the key?”

“Of course.”

Michael walked them out to the Impala where Susan and baby Jennifer waited. He gave Rae a last hug and kiss and shook Billy’s hand. “You take care of her for me, okay?”

“Will do,” Billy said returning the handshake. “Come out and see us, anytime. You’re always welcome.”

Rae got in the back and sat next Jennifer, gurgling and snug in her baby seat.

“Let’s hit the road,” Billy said, gunned the engine and pulled out.

Rae waved and watched Michael grow smaller as they drove away, until she could see him no more.
“You’ll love Michigan, Rae, it’s so green,” Susan beamed.

“Yes, the color of spring,” Rae smiled and sat back. “Onto a new life.”

The End.

Copyright Anita Rodgers

Thanks so much for reading.  I hope you enjoyed False Witness. Please feel free to give any type of feedback you like in the comments, if you’re so inclined. And if you wanted to post an honest review on Amazon or GoodReads I wouldn’t hold it against you either. Seriously, thanks so much – much appreciate.

Annie

Eight signs your story has been taken over by plot bunnies

plot bunnies
Do you know what plot bunnies are? I didn’t – until today. Apparently, plot bunnies are subplots or elements that we love and leave in our stories though they contribute nothing to the story and may even lead us way off the path of the plot. I’m not sure why they’re called plot bunnies but I’m thinking that it’s because they are apparently, warm fuzzy things that you dear writer, hold dear, and just can’t kill. Or maybe it has to do with the speed with which bunnies multiply?

I digress. If you think you may be guilty of populating your stories with plot bunnies, the following may tip you off  or whether or not you’ve lost the plot:

1. You name all your characters after people you know and/or from the list of baby names you’ve had since you were twelve in case you ever have babies.

2. The steamy sex scene between your main character and the UPS man, meant to show the character’s problem with sex addiction, has now become a major plot point. And the story has turned into a Telenovella but without the subtitles.

3. A secondary character you particularly like has more dialogue than your hero/heroine and you just can’t bear to edit it out.

4. Your story is intertwined with stories of things that actually happened to you but aren’t really funny, monumental or even very interesting to anyone other than you and your BFF.

5. You find a way to save a character you should definitely kill off and sacrifice for the good of the story – but you just can’t. Because you love him.

6. You just can’t, can’t, can’t cut out that dialogue because you love it so much and laugh every time you read it. Even though it has jack to with the story, characters, theme or anything germane to the story.

7. You bristle whenever a beta reader makes an unflattering comment about a plot bunny and write a 10 page response, justifying its existence.

8. You threaten bodily harm to any reviewer who spots your plot bunny and gives your story one less star because of it.

I have to go now because I’ve bought ten pounds of carrots to ferret out my plot bunnies. Wish me luck. Where is those wily wabbits?

How about you? Do you protect your plot bunnies to the end, or do you just make rabbit stew?

Writer Chick
Copyright 2015

Words that only a writer could love

words
I’ve always thought that words were the coolest thing. As a kid (and now as an adult) my idea of a good time was reading dictionaries. For me, discovering new words – the weirder the better – was more fun than a box of bunnies.

I suppose that’s not much of a surprise – I don’t know any writer who doesn’t love words. Readers love words too. There’s a certain magic, a certain power in a well placed word – even if most your friends have no idea what you’re talking about when using it. In fact, maybe some of your friends and family have word shamed you – accused you of using a $20,000 word when a $3 word would do, right?

Following is a list of a few of my favorites:

Discombobulate: Don’t you just love the sound of that word? It conjures up pictures of machines deconstructing or things blowing up, right.
Definition: To upset or confuse.
Aunt Myrna was discombobulated by the food fight at the family picnic.

Fetching: This was once a fav in romance novels.
Definition: Attractive, pleasing to the eye
Her raven hair and bright green eyes fringed with thick lashes made her quite the fetching lass.

Balderdash: So Wodehouse, right?
Definition: Foolish words or ideas
According to the World Health Organization, the idea that one can contract Swine flu from eating pork chops is pure balderdash.

Peckish: A word you’re more likely to hear down south.
Definition: Slightly hungry : Irritated or annoyed
Let’s stop for lunch – I’m a might peckish.

Gumption: A word Jimmy Stewart could’ve uttered with a straight face.
Definition: Courage and confidence
What we need here is a little gumption – give those high and mighty bankers what they deserve. That’ll teach ‘em.

Drivel: Don’t you just love the sound of this word?
Definition: To talk in a very foolish or silly way
I’m so tired of TV, nothing but one-dimensional characters talking drivel to one another.

Drubbing: Now here’s a word you can sink your teeth into
Definition: To beat severely : To berate critically
After the drubbing the actor received from the NY Times critic, he cried like a baby.

Licentious: Sounds kind of dirty, doesn’t it?
Definition: Sexually immoral or offensive
Though 50 Shades of Grey was lauded as a romance, it was really a licentious tale of two very troubled people.

Licketysplit: You can feel the motion in this word, can’t you?
Definition: Fast. Quick. At great speed
Get cracking boy – time to move it – licketysplit.

Maw: I love this three letter word, it’s dark, it’s sinister and so easy to spell.
Definition: The mouth, jaws, or throat of an animal
His heart was a gaping maw of blackness.

So, what are your favorite words? Share them with us. Why do you like them? Have you been word shamed too? What happened?

Writer Chick
Copyright 2015

The King of the Blues Plays His Final Set and Other Good Reads this Week

B.B._King_in_2009

The King of the Blues, BB King Dies at Age 89. Very nice retrospective on blues legend BB King, that offers more than just the facts and a superficial assessment of his many accomplishments.

Paid Reviews: Why Authors Should NEVER Buy Amazon Reader Reviews. More sage advice from Anne R. Allen on why paid reviews ain’t such a hot idea.

Can’t Everyone In The Publishing Industry Just Get Along? Makes a great case for just being grateful that books come in all types and from many sources. Hooray for books.

Publication Opportunities for New Writers at Endless Edits is a nice post with lots of tips and links to writing opportunities for new writers.

Agonizing Over Antagonists by Keith Cronin. Is a great straightforward post about giving your bad guys some dimension and making them more like real life. Basically, if real bullies have something good about them. I agree. Makes for a better villain in my mind.

Enjoy the reads and have a great week everybody. Let BB get you there:

 

WC

False Witness – Installment Nine

False Witness new

CHAPTER FIFTY-EIGHT

Billy felt smothered as both Rae and Libbie fawned over him. He was home from the hospital and staying in the guest room next to Rae’s bedroom.

After plumping pillows and fluffing comforters Libbie said, “I’m going downstairs and making some soup for you, young man.”

“No,” Billy said weakly.

Libbie turned sharply. “No? When have you ever refused my cooking?

“Not hungry,” he lied for he was ravenous.

“Well,” she patted his hand, “you will be, once you get a whiff of my special soup.” She smiled and left the room humming. Billy had no intention of eating anything Libbie made. Maybe it was his dreams or her recent behavior toward him or just a gut instinct, but he knew she meant him harm.

Rae sat on the edge of the bed and smiled at him. “Happy to be home?” she asked.

“Home?” Billy asked. He wondered if the hospital stay had erased part of his memory. “This is your home, Rae. I just work here.”

Rae laughed in the lyrical way of angels and Billy fought hard not to fall under the siren spell and feel safe. “Not after all that’s happened. Not after everything we know now,” Rae said as if he knew what she was talking about.

Billy struggled against the mountain of pillows and comforters to sit upright. “All that’s happened? What did I miss?”

Rae’s face clouded. “You don’t remember?”

“Remember what?” Billy asked. He felt woozy when he moved around so he focused on a potted plant that sat on a table just behind Rae. “I got sick, passed out, and woke up in the hospital. That’s what I remember.”

Rae looked so disappointed that Billy thought she might cry. “Really? You don’t remember our conversation?” she asked. “Your confession?” Billy slowly shook his head. Rae’s sad smile filled the room. The afternoon breeze fluttered the curtains like a child hid behind them. She took his hand. “Billy, I know you know who I am. I know why you came here. Who you were looking for.”

Billy felt his stomach bottom out and worried he would wretch. “Who I was looking for? Rae, I wasn’t looking for anybody. Remember, it was just a road trip? A vacation?” He tried to lift his head from the pillow but it was made of lead. “I have to go back to school. Fall semester starts in two weeks.”

Rae moved closer and leaned in. “It’s all right darlin’; you don’t have to pretend any more.”

Billy fought to keep his expression blank. “I’m not pretending.”

Rae became agitated and pulled the locket from around her neck. She opened it and showed Billy what she kept inside. “You see this?”

Billy looked at the open locket and saw a picture of a little boy on a horse, smiling. On the other side was a lock of golden hair. “Lulu,” he said without realizing it.

Rae’s eyes filled with hope. “Yes! You remember her? You do, don’t you?”

“Who?” Billy asked while his head spun.

Rae bit her lip and frowned. “Billy, we found it. All of it.” Billy didn’t comprehend her meaning. “Your files. Your clippings.” Billy felt the blood drain from his face. Why was she so happy to discover his treachery? Had she and Libbie planned to kill him by poisoning him? Rae’s eyes teared up. “I’m sorry darlin’ I know I shouldn’t have spied on your private things. Libbie thought you wouldn’t mind. I mean, after all, you’re family. My family. My boy!” She threw her arms around his neck and wept. “You’re home, Beau. Mama’s not angry. Really she isn’t.”

Billy fell into a pit of dark memories and couldn’t claw his way out. The monster chased him again. Closer than before. But Rae was there too. She held his hand and pulled him along. “Hurry honey,” she said terrified. “Hurry or he’ll get us.”

But the other monster came around the corner and they were trapped. They stood between two evils with no escape. “Help me, Mama,” he cried.

He was suddenly alone. The monsters advanced, slowly, painfully. “No!” he screamed. The gun felt heavy in his small hands, cold and hot at once. He spun right then left and tried to keep both monsters at bay.

The hand rushed up behind him. It slapped him hard and the bracelet jangled as it struck. The gun jumped into her hand and he ran toward the other monster.

Rae stepped in front of him and beat at the monster’s chest. “Run, Beau, run!”
He ran as fast as he could but there was nowhere to go. He fell into the shadows and watched her fight the monster. It beat her. She cried out. His breath froze in his lungs and his chest threatened to explode. A flash and a bang. The monster dropped. Mama cried. The gun felt hot and cold in his hands.

“Billy? Billy?” Rae sounded far away. “Billy, you come back to me, you hear”

His eyes fluttered open and Rae drew nearer.

“Is he all right, sister?” Libbie came into view.

Billy let out a moan and began to cry. “I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it.”

Rae stroked his brow and murmured to him. “It’s all right. It’s all right.”

Libbie set down a tray with soup and bread on the side table and put her cool hand to his forehead. “I think he’s still running a fever, sister.”

“We should take him back to the hospital,” Rae said.

“No, sister,” Libbie protested. “We’ll take care of him. Who better than us to minister to his needs? Our boy is back. Let’s never lose him again.”

Billy fought to stay conscious; certain Libbie would kill him in his sleep. “I didn’t do it,” he said again and again. “It’s a lie.”

CHAPTER FIFTY-NINE

Lucas was as stunned by Rachel’s beauty as he had been fifteen years before. She had only grown more beautiful and his heart clutched in his chest. He spied at her through high-powered binoculars from Hansen’s van. Each time she moved from view or Libbie moved into frame, he winced.

“Enjoying the show?” Hansen guffawed and munched on a meatball sub.

Lucas looked away from Rachel and scowled at Hansen. Meat sauce stuck to his chin and stained his shirt. “Ever hear of napkins?”

Hansen wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and chewed with his mouth open. “You ever hear of tact?”

Lucas raised the glasses again. Rae and Libbie walked Billy around the room. “What the hell are they doing to that boy? He looks terrified.”

Hansen put down his sandwich reluctantly and looked through his own binoculars. “Yeah, food poisoning -takes the tar right out of you.”

“I said he looked terrified, not sick,” Lucas snarled.

Hansen took another look. “I don’t know how you can see that from here.” He put the glasses down. “I mean, these glasses are good but not that good.” Daisy stirred and in one move she snatched the meatball sub and swallowed it. “Son-of-a-bitch!” Hansen lunged at her but she darted away from him.

“God damned smelly rat-dog,” he shook his fist.

Lucas patted Daisy’s head. “Good girl, Daisy.”

“That was my lunch!”

Lucas eyed the bloated lump that sagged over Hansen’s belt. “Wouldn’t hurt you to miss a few meals. Seems your mama raised you to expect seconds. Bad strategy.” Lucas took up the binoculars once again but they had moved away from the window. He cursed under his breath. “Thought you said you got the bugs and cameras in place?”

Hansen nodded, chomping on popcorn he found in the glove box. “Uh-huh.”

Lucas checked the monitor but the screen remained blank. “Then why the hell ain’t we seeing something?”

Hansen sighed and climbed to the back of the van, checked his instruments then banged on the side of the monitor. A picture of the empty kitchen came up. “There you go,” he said smugly.

Lucas repositioned himself. The van was smaller than a linen closet and was wreaking hell with his leg. “Uh-huh. Ain’t nobody there, what else can you show me?” John flipped from room to room until they found the room where Billy slept. Rae sat at his bedside and held his hand. Lucas cocked his ear. “Is she saying something?”

“I don’t know.”

“Turn the sound up, you idiot,” Lucas said. Hansen obliged but Rachel spoke so softly they could barely hear her. “What the hell is she saying?” Lucas complained.

“Boo?” Hansen offered.
Lucas snapped his fingers! “No, she’s saying Beau.” He tapped the monitor screen. “That’s the way Billy boy, you got her now all you gotta do is reel her in.”

Hansen snorted. “He don’t look like he’s going to reel nothing in. Like he couldn’t even wipe his own ass.”

Lucas narrowed his eyes. “Then we’ll just have to help it along, won’t we?” His hand stroked the .38 in his pocket. Soon, Rachel, soon.

CHAPTER SIXTY

“Next stop, Phoenix,” Terri called as they passed the freeway sign.

Joe crossed three lanes in his house on wheels and shook fists at fellow motorists who had the audacity to honk their horns. “Dab-burned Yankees!”

Susan looked over his shoulder. “You sure you know where we’re going?” she asked doubtfully. Joe made a face at her in the mirror. “I’m just asking,” she said. “I mean, we don’t even know if he’s here, right? Like I said, he skedaddled the day after we found him. What makes you think he’d come back?”

“Because, scum always goes back to their home pond,” Joe said with confidence. He pulled into a gas station and told the proprietor he was handicapped so he’d pump the gas for him. “What makes you think I don’t know he’s here, little girl?”

“Well, do you?”

Joe turned around and looked at Terri, who leaned against the kitchenette counter. “She thinks I was born yesterday when I fell off the turnip truck, eh? Just some dumb hick who don’t know his ass from a beer barrel.” He looked back to Susan. “I was a homicide detective for thirty years, ma’am. Believe me, I still got me some tricks you ain’t even begun to learn.”

Susan crossed her eyes and stuck out her tongue at him. He annoyed her but in a way that was endearing. “Okay, Mr. Hotshot detective guy, where is he?”

Joe handed the service man two twenties and asked where the nearest hotel and diner was, then rolled up his window up and headed out. “Terri, where is our guy?”

Terri read from a note taped to the fridge. “1173 El Dorado Road, Phoenix.”

“You expect we’ll be getting there soon?”

Terri nodded. “I expect so.”

Susan’s mouth gaped. “When did you two become Starsky and Hutch?”

“That’s Batman and Wonder Woman to you,” Terri teased.

Joe slowed his tin dragon and pulled into “Happy Jack’s” diner. “End of the line, time for vittles.”

<<>>

Frank held up the line at the Greyhound station as he offered various credit cards to the clerk. “That one won’t go through either?” He scratched his head. “I can’t figure what the heck is wrong with your machine. You sure it’s working okay?”

The clerk, a no-nonsense, black woman, whose name tag read Joyce, gave him a stony look. “Ain’t my machine, Mister.”

“It’s got to be,” Morgan insisted.

“Well then, how come it works for everybody but you?” She waved a hand at him. “Step aside sir, and let the paying customers through.”

Morgan scuffled off and muttered. “God-damned technology. Whatever happened to trust in this society?”

He needed to get his hands on some fast cash. He reconciled himself to the fact that it was time to hock mom’s diamond ring again. He looked at the clock on the wall. If he hurried, he could get to George’s Loan Shop before six.
He dodged traffic, making cars screech to a halt as he smiled, and waved and put leather to the pavement.

CHAPTER SIXTY-ONE

Billy awoke and the sunlight was a welcome sight rather than a searing pain between his eyes. He cocked an ear and was met with the filtered sound of sparrows serenading from trees and squirrels arguing over property lines. He chanced a sitting position and his stomach remained intact and his vision remained clear. “Okay Billy Boy,” he told himself, “rise, and shine.” He eased his feet to the floor and rose slowly. “So far, so good.” He took a couple of steps and that seemed okay too. His stomach growled loudly. “Ssh, mustn’t wake Libbie.”
In search of clothes, he crossed to the closet which he found empty. As was the chest of drawers. He was stuck with the sweat pants and tee shirt he was wearing. Taking a deep breath, he crossed nimbly to the door and turned the privacy lock. Peeking out the window that faced the west side of the property and saw nothing but a couple of Jays fighting over a tomato appropriated from Libbie’s garden. “Oh,oh, boys, Libbie’s gonna hunt you down for that,” he said to the battling birds. The room, he judged was above the kitchen and to the left. He crossed to the other window which faced north and looked out toward Foothill Boulevard. A red flag went up when he spotted a beat-up, paneled van parked across the street. He stepped back out of view. From his vantage point, he studied the truck for a minute and saw there was no one in the driver’s seat. Though he was sure he saw the van shimmy a little, like someone was in the back. He shrugged, “probably a plumber looking for tools.” Still, he decided coming out that window would be chancy.

He returned to the western window and opened it. Looking down, Billy saw he couldn’t scale the side of the house without falling. There was a trellis that had bougainvillaea growing through it, but the sharp thorns of the plant were sure to rip him up and the trellis wouldn’t hold his weight either. Clearly, he had to exit the room in the conventional way.

He scratched at his three-day stubble, took a deep breath, and unlocked the door. Cracking the door an inch, he peeked into the hallway. Silence. He stepped out, stood, and listened. If anyone else was on the floor with him, they were either asleep or dead. The thought struck him funny and he clamped a hand to his mouth to stifle a laugh. He moved the ten steps to the top of the staircase and tried to see what awaited him below. After what seemed hours, he put his foot on the first stair. The creak gave his heart a start but seemed to rouse no one else. “Aw, fuck it,” he said and came down the stairs like a normal person. Standing at the bottom landing, he toyed with exiting through the front door and going around to the back but if they were going to catch him, it wouldn’t matter what exit he took. He went through the living room, dining room and to the kitchen.

Relief washed over him as he was met with empty rooms. No one leapt out at him or said his name as if he’d been caught in the cookie jar. The kitchen clock read ten o’clock. But he didn’t know what day it was. If his memory was right, he got sick on Saturday – he guessed he was in the hospital for three days but still didn’t know how long he’d been home. It could have been one day or four, he wasn’t sure. But there were no screaming children or harried mothers, no teachers’ aides or housekeepers, so it had to be the weekend. Which meant that Rachel and Libbie were out on errands, shopping or getting their hair done.

His stomach growled again and he couldn’t ignore it any longer. He pulled a box of cereal from the cabinet and filled a huge bowl, then doused it with milk and sugar. The food exploded on his tongue and he ate like a junkyard dog that’d been thrown a steak. He felt a surge of energy race through his body and some of the cobwebs cleared from his head. He made three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and walked out the back door to the yard.

Other than the creatures who lived in trees or bushes there were no signs of life. The total absence of other humans unnerved him and he expected ghosts or goblins or monsters to leap from the bushes at him. He laughed at his paranoia. Reality flanked him on either side and whatever fears he experienced during his illness slept in his subconscious.

He whistled and walked through the trees to his little cottage. It was still just a little shack surrounded by overgrown shrubs and plants but it welcomed him and made him feel safe. “Ah, home sweet home,” he smiled. It was time to leave. Pack up his clothes and laptop. Make a quick call to Joe and be on his way. He could drive the Impala to the bus station and leave it there for Rae. A quick note to her on the fridge and the whole episode would be behind him. His need to win the bet, get Rachel to confess and write his bestseller, was gone. It didn’t matter any more who did what to whom.

He had faced death and won – this time. Playing with fate was for stronger men than he. Lucas, Hansen, Rachel, Libbie, and all their secrets was a scary combination that was better left in a locked box. And the dreams – he wanted them to stop. He didn’t want to visit any more monsters in his sleep. Slaying dragons was for heroes, not stupid, smart-ass college kids with bad attitudes. He was done. For the first time in days his mind turned to Susan and his baby growing inside her. “What an ass you are, Frayne.” It would be tough but he would make it up to Susan and the baby. Billy put his hand on the doorknob and stopped when he heard muffled voices. His hand jerked back and his heart pounded like a hammer on concrete. He strained to hear the voices but he couldn’t make them out. Steadying his trembling legs, he threw the door open.

Libbie and Rae looked up in surprise. They sat on his sofa, going through his files. The fear seized his stomach and squeezed. At least they hadn’t found the bracelet. Libbie’s treachery was no surprise, but Rae? He was crushed and felt violated. “Find anything interesting, ladies?” he asked, barely able to contain his anger.

Rae’s faced creased in worry. “Now Billy, it’s not what you think.”

Billy strode into the room and snatched the papers out of their hands, throwing them back into the box he kept them in. “Really?”

“I don’t know what you’re getting in such a tizzy about,” Libbie said. “We’re family now, no use in keeping secrets.” Her smile was like a reptile crawling up his leg.

“Family, eh?” he said searching out his clothes. “Is this how family works? Sneaking around and spying?”

He threw his clothes into his duffel bag.

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Libbie said, “but I believe you were doing the very thing that you now accuse us of?”

Billy stopped. Of course she was right, but things were different then. And he didn’t buy the sudden family angle – much as he wanted to believe it. How could he be Beau? How could he not know who he was? They could be the two, plotting, evil sisters he believed them to be when he arrived. The only thing that had changed was their tactics. “I’m leaving,” he announced. “If you ladies will excuse me, I need a shower, shave, and a change of clothes. Then I’ll be out of your hair for good.”

“I told you so, sister. Clearly, this isn’t our boy. He’d never do such a thing,” Libbie said and stood.

“No!” Rae said and clutched his hand.

“What the hell is he doing?” Lucas yelled at the monitor. “He’s got em just where he wants em!”

Hansen chugged on his diet coke. “The kid’s a squirrel,” he said. “Just as well, don’t you think?”

Lucas looked away from the monitor and glared at the stupid ape. “What’s just as well?”

“If he gets out of there, seems to me, leaves it wide open for your big entrance.” He munched on the super-sized portion of MacDonald fries, licking the grease off his fingers as he talked.

“Okay Einstein, go on.”

“Well, he got ol’ Rachel to believe he’s her kid, and got her all charged up with hope. Now he’s going to leave her again. That’s gotta hurt, right? Then you show up and give her a fricking heart attack, right? Seems to me there ain’t no better way to end this movie.”

Lucas turned it over in his mind and smiled. “You figure she’ll have a heart attack?”

John shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe not for real. But the newspapers print the story and everybody finds out a murderess is watching their kids, they’ll be run off to the far corners of the Earth. Don’t you think?”

Lucas laughed so loud he went into a choking fit. Hansen clapped him on the back hard a couple of times. “You okay, man?”

“I’m okay,” Lucas rasped. “More than okay.” To himself, he thought, There will be more than the shock of seeing me and newspaper stories for you, dear Rachel. Much more.

CHAPTER SIXTY-TWO

Susan, Joe, and Terri climbed the stairs to Morgan’s office. The heat rose with each flight and left them wilted and sweating as they reached his door. Susan tried the door and it was locked. “Crap! I told you he wasn’t here. I knew he wouldn’t come back. Damn it!”

Joe banged on the door. “Anybody to home?” He banged some more. “Hello?”

“Stop that damn banging,” the old man called up from the lower floor.

They looked over the banister and saw the old man in trousers and undershirt scowling up at him. “That’s the same old guy I told you about,” Susan whispered to Joe.

“Howdy,” Joe said. “We’re looking for Frank Morgan.”

“I know that, you’re banging on his door loud enough for the whole building to hear.”

Joe came down a couple of steps. “Know where we might find him?”

The old man made a sour face when he saw Susan. “You were here before, with that other kid?”

Susan shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Jeez, I guess I have that kind of face. Nope, never been here before.”

“So, you know where Frank could be?” Joe asked again.
“Could be anywhere. Under a rock, hiding in a closet, in the titty bar down the road . . . ”

Joe came down a few more steps. “I get it. A real winner, eh?” He smiled. “Name’s Joe Enders, Detective Joe Enders.”

The old man registered on ‘detective’ but looked suspicious nonetheless. “Yeah, so?”

“Frank Morgan is a key witness in a case I’m working,” Joe said in his most officious tone.

The old man smirked. “You, the hippy, and the pregnant girl working a case, huh?”

“They’re witnesses too,” Joe said.

The old man cackled. “That’s a good one. What kind of detective brings his witnesses along to find another witness?”

Terri and Susan came down the stairs too. “What do you care?” Terri asked. “Like you said, he’s a slime ball, right? We need to find him and find him now. You going to help us or are we just going to sit on your doorstep and annoy the hell out of you til you do?”

The man lost his grin and looked constipated again. “I’ll call the cops.”

“It’s not against the law to ask questions,” Susan said.

“It oughta be,” he complained.

Joe took a twenty out of his pocket and pressed it into the man’s palm. “We just want a little information. Five minutes should do it.”

The geezer eyed the twenty in his hand. “It’s gonna cost you more then that.” Joe added pushed another couple of twenties to the kitty. The old guy smiled, baring yellowed teeth. “Well, all righty then, I believe the information even comes with a free cup of Joe.”

“Now you’re talking,” Joe smiled as they all went inside for coffee and conversation.

CHAPTER SIXTY-THREE

Billy felt better after a shower and shave and he’d stuffed the three sandwiches down his throat. “Almost as good as new,” he told his reflection in the mirror. He made one final attempt at reaching Susan, leaving a message on Terri’s machine and then Joe’s. It bothered him that he didn’t know where she was. He cursed himself for not getting Joe’s cell phone number, although he wasn’t sure if the man even knew what a cell phone was. Joe was part of the old school and Billy suspected he scoffed at things like palm pilots and cell phones.

To cover all bases, Billy also sent an email to Susan’s mailbox on the off chance she might check it. His email box was empty though – not one email since he got sick? Strange. The last he heard from Joe he was on his way to get Susan. And not a peep out of Lucas – stranger still. No voice mails on his phone account either. He was desperate to return to normal. He looked forward to seeing their awful apartment and even snide remarks from Professor Glass and his classmates. Swallowing his pride didn’t seem like such a bad thing anymore.

All his files were still intact and nothing was missing. The password-protected files on his laptop weren’t accessed and he found Lucas’ file and the bracelet still safe in their hiding place. At least Libbie and Rae didn’t know everything. He looked at the bracelet again, holding it up to the light. It mesmerized him and he felt himself going back to dark memories. The slap came again. Then Libbie screamed and pointed in horror. “He did it! He killed his own daddy! Oh God, what are we to do?”

Billy shook his head, “No, Mama, no . . . ” tears streaming and his voice a whisper. Rachel moans and cries.

Billy yanked himself to the present, covered in sweat and panting. “Can’t be,” he told himself. “Can’t be.” How could he possibly be Beau Clarke? It had to be some sort of weird sublimation borne out of his obsession. What had convinced Rae that it was true? She had no proof. There were no blood tests or DNA tests. If there had been, she’d know that Billy was just a stupid college kid who fancied himself some sort of detective. “Not even in a novel,” he teased himself.

Another thought nagged at him. The food poisoning. Libbie was behind it – he knew it. But how did she do it? What did he eat or drink that made him sick? He shook the thoughts from his head. Paranoia – it happens when you deceive people. Still, just to be sure he planned to go to the hospital and find out if knew what caused the food poisoning.

The taxi driver honked and brought him out of his reverie. And he walked out, leaving behind what wasn’t his. Including the memories.

CHAPTER SIXTY-FOUR

Rae chased after the taxi as it pulled away. “Billy!” she called. “Come back!” But it was no use, the taxi sped down Foothill Boulevard and soon became a small, yellow blur racing away from her.
“Come back in the house, sister,” Libbie said behind her.

Rae turned to Libbie with tears in her eyes. “I’ve lost him again.” Libbie put her arm around Rae’s shoulders and led her back into the house. “We have to get him back!” Rae sobbed as Libbie prepared a pot of tea for them.

“You can’t keep a butterfly in a jar,” Libbie said and poured Rae a cup of tea.

“He’s not a butterfly,” Rae protested. “He’s my boy.”

Libbie pulled out a chair and sat. She blew on the surface of her hot tea and was mesmerized by the ripples that simple action made. “We don’t know who he is, sister.”

“I know!” Rae insisted.

“The lab results come back?” Libbie asked.

Rae’s shoulders hunched. “No, they haven’t.”

“All right then, we don’t know.” She patted Rae’s shoulder. “At least, not yet.”

Rae took Libbie’s hand and squeezed it. “And you’ll believe when the results come? No more doubts?”

Libbie took Rae’s hands in hers and smiled. “Sister,
if the results come back positive, I will not rest until we find him again. Of that you can be sure.”

CHAPTER SIXTY-FIVE

Morgan couldn’t convince George to accept the ring for a loan. Nor were any of the other pawn shops in Phoenix interested in the offer. And if he had listened to his little voice he would have just gone home and hoped to find a message from a potential client on his answering machine. But something inside him just wouldn’t settle down. He smelled money, lots of money and he wanted to put his hands on it.

It delighted him that the old case would return with the promise of even more money. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew Finn didn’t have the guts to do the deed. It was hard to fault her for it, since he couldn’t meet the challenge himself. Giving her half the money seemed a wise business decision at the time, although now he could kick himself, imagining she drank the money away when he could have done something more productive with it. He could have bought that quarter horse he had his eye on then. It turned out to be a winner and Frank would be swimming in dough and women if he had followed his gut. But offing a kid was something he just didn’t have the stomach for.

He considered calling Finn. She wouldn’t be hard to find and was probably still living in Cleveland as she always had. What a reunion that would be. She’d be pissed of course, but a couple of drinks and she’d be back to her old self again. He caught his reflection in the store window and thought he still had some of his looks left. Women, some women, still found him attractive. The jacket concealed the paunch that came from too much whiskey and fried food. His shoulders were still broad and though his blue eyes were underscored by laugh lines and creases at the corners he could still make them sparkle.

He disposed of the thought because he had to get to sunny California where the cash cow resided safe and undetected. She might think that she could flick him away like a dead fly but she was way off the mark. He picked up his bag and headed for the freeway entrance. “When in doubt the thumb goes out,” he said to himself.

<<>>

Joe, Susan, and Terri split up and each took a pawn shop in the seedy neighborhood. There were only seven, two of which were closed, another that only dealt with musical instruments, leaving four to check out. They each hit pay dirt. “Oh yes, Frank Morgan, sure I know him. Sorry you just missed him . . . ” They met back at the RV and conferred.

“Okay, so he hit every pawn shop that was open and got squat. Now what?” Terri asked rummaging through the fridge for a nosh.

“Grab me a bologna sandwich, would you?” Joe asked.

Terri narrowed her eyes. “Hmm, ain’t seeing no baloney samich in heres. I guess you must mean you want the fixin’s?”

“Maybe if you’d stop being an uppity, young lady we’d get some plan into action here?” Joe shot back.

Terri grabbed all the sandwich fixings she could put her hands on and hauled them over to the dinette table. They made lunch as they talked. “He must have gone back to his place if he couldn’t get any money. I mean, obviously he’s trying to leave town,” Susan said. Joe munched and nodded, eyeing Susan when she reached for a dill pickle. She dropped it like a hot frying pan and reached for carrot stick, instead. Then glared at him for busting her.

“Maybe he just needed lunch,” Terri said.

“My guy said he was trying to hock a lady’s ring,” Joe said. “Don’t sound like lunch money to me. I think Suzy’s right. Neighbor said he ain’t got a car. Probably thought he’d hop a bus or something.”

“But where is he going?” Terri asked. “You think he knows we’re looking for him?”

“Could be,” Joe said. “For all his snarling, it could be the neighbor was his buddy. Coulda called Morgan soon as we left.” Joe took a long swig of root beer. “Fella like that ain’t going to be happy that the cops are looking for him.”

“What about hitchhiking?” Susan asked.

“What about it?”

Susan made a face at her soy-cheese sandwich and took a tentative bite. “If he didn’t get the money to take a bus or something? Maybe he’s using the economy method? The thumb? You know?”

Terri and Joe both liked the idea. Joe grabbed the map, getting mustard on its edges. “Let’s see, here’s his place and here’s the nearest highway entrance.” He put down the map and carried his sandwich and root beer to the driver’s seat. “Hang onto your hats, ladies we’re on the road again.”

It didn’t take long for them to make it to the highway. “There he is,” Susan cried out. She leaned over Joe’s shoulder and pointed at Morgan, at the side of the road, thumb stuck out, and a dumb smile on his face.

“It might not be him,” Terri said.

“Only one way to find out,” Joe said and signaled to pull over. He brought the RV to a stop and opened the door. “Need a lift?”

Morgan looked in without making a move to enter the vehicle. “Yeah, guess so.”

Joe laughed like a mental patient. “You guess? Well shoot, if you ain’t sure, I guess we’ll be on our way then.”

Morgan’s expression changed to glad. “No, I mean, yeah, definitely looking for a lift.”

“Well come on in then,” Joe said.
Morgan boarded the RV with his bag and gave smiles all around. “How-do.”

“Hi,” Terri said. “I’m Terri, this is Susan, and our driver is Joe. And you are?”

“Frank, just call me Frank.”

“Where you headed, Frank?”

“West,” Morgan said and took a seat.

“Us too!” Terri said.

Morgan eyed Joe’s sandwich. “Don’t suppose you got an extra sandwich you could offer a weary traveler?”

Terri went back to the kitchenette and made a big sandwich and brought it and a root beer back to Morgan. “Here you go.”

Susan and Terri watched Morgan as he ate and looked out the window. He appeared to have not a thought in his head, nor did he seem to notice he was the object of scrutiny.

“Where out west are you headed?” Joe asked.

“Los Angeles,” Morgan answered through a mouthful of bologna, salami, and ham.

“Ain’t that a coincidence,” Joe chuckled. “So are we.”

CHAPTER SIXTY-SIX

Billy took the taxi a motel near the hospital and dropped off his stuff. He called the bus company and figured out how to get to the hospital and within the hour was at the Verdugo Hills Admissions office. They gave him his doctor’s name and said he would have to discuss his case with him – they weren’t permitted to discuss any details with patients, only the attending physician. He was directed to the main hospital- third floor to Dr. Harrigan’s office. Billy was greeted by a dark-haired woman with a kind and maternal face. “May I help you?”

“I’m looking for Dr. Harrigan.”

“Do you have an appointment?” she asked and opened her appointment book.

“No,” Billy said. “I was a patient of his, a few days ago.”

“Oh, he wanted you to come in for a follow up? I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood, you have to go to his Burbank office for that.”

Billy smiled. “No, I came because I had a question.”

“Ah, well a question . . . ”

Billy raised his hands in defense. “How about I just tell you why I’m here and then once I’m done, you can tell me if you can help me?” The woman smiled and nodded. “I was brought in here last week, I think . . . I had food poisoning. What I wanted to ask the doctor was if they had run any tests? You know, did they find out what the poison was?”

The woman shook her head. “I doubt it. If you were brought in with food poisoning, they probably just pumped your stomach and gave you antibiotics and electrolytes.” Her expression changed. “Unless you were brought in by the police? Was there reason to believe there was some sort of foul play?”

Billy shook his head. “No, no reason. I was brought in by friends. Guess I just ate something that didn’t agree with me. Thanks.”

He went to the door and opened it.

“I’d be happy to call the doctor, if you like?” she said. “If you want to be absolutely sure.”

Billy turned and smiled at her. “No, it’s okay.” He chuckled. “Don’t know why I even came, guess I’ve been watching too many crime shows lately. Thanks.” He left before she had a chance to respond and hurried out of the hospital. He felt stupid for going and worried somehow it would create a problem for Rae if he persisted. Still, he was sure Libbie had done it. She put something in his ice tea, or soup. Something. It was poisoning all right, but not the food.

He had to find another way to get the information he needed. His mind flicked to Spider – it would be a nice challenge for him, hacking into a hospital system. Yes, he would get Spider on it.

Billy grabbed a bus to a little strip mall in Montrose. The diner on the corner looked good and festive in its fifty’s motif. An Elvis tune cranked as Billy wolfed down a burger and ordered a second shake. The waitress, a cute little blond in a skin-tight denim skirt and tee shirt smiled and lingered every time she passed the table.

After a hot-fudge, brownie sundae, Billy paid his bill and sauntered to the bus stop. He was soon in his motel room again and felt oddly safe. No long distance calls were permitted so Billy had to be satisfied with sending Spider an email. He sent up an SOS, checked for any messages from Susan or Joe then signed off.

He fell asleep watching Hitchcock’s Vertigo on a cable station. Dreams came on him suddenly and vividly. The monster was gone and so was the hallway. Billy sat on the limb of an old oak tree and watched the night. The stars were bright and the humid air heavy with the scent of magnolia and jasmine.

He heard voices singing in drunken glee and spied Finn and Libbie, arm in arm, swaggering up the walk. Billy shimmied down the gnarled trunk of the old oak to take a closer look. The two women took on the same look, more like sisters than Libbie and Rae. Ineffectual rebels each in their own right. He followed them around the house to the stables and hid behind Lulu’s stall as they whispered and laughed like rebel spies. They had spread out a tea party on the hay and were eating corned beef and cabbage. They both had gold bracelets that dangled and caught the light of the lantern.

The monster roared and chased Rae into the barn. Her face was bleeding and she called out to Billy. “Come to Mama. Honey, where are you?”
Billy came out of hiding and reached out his arms, noticing for the first time that Batman was drawn all over him. His hand became a gun and it fired and popped. The monster fell again. But Libbie and Finn kept drinking tea and offered some to Rae. She didn’t want any but they forced her to drink it. It made her disappear. And Billy was alone in the dark barn. He reached out his arms and stumbled and bumped into walls. “Mama? Mama, where are you?”

A light came on and shone in his eyes so he could only see the silhouette of the woman holding it. “I’m here, honey. Come along.”

Billy took her hand and let himself be pulled along. When they stepped out into the night, the barn was gone and they stood at a bus stop. He looked up at his mother and smiled. She looked down at him and grinned. Billy was horrified. “Who are you?” He tried to pull his hand away but she was too strong for him.

“I’m your mama,” she said her voice heavy with whiskey.

“No, you’re not my mama!” he said.

“I am, now,” she said and smiled the coldest smile he ever saw.

CHAPTER SIXTY-SEVEN

Billy was more exhausted when he awoke than when he had gone to sleep the night before. The weird dreams just became more vivid and frequent. He needed to turn off the memory channel and get some rest. He refused to read any meaning into them but the meaning was there whether he wanted it or not. If he was Beau, then he had killed Thomas Clarke, his own father. Tears sprang to his eyes whenever he let himself consider it.

Spider didn’t answer his email and Billy figured he wasn’t going to. The guy could be such a putz. Billy was on his own. All he really wanted was to find Susan and go back home. Especially to get away from the dreams that haunted him. He imagined returning to school and announcing to Glass and the others that he knew the real story of the Clarke case. “I did it. Yep, it was me. Killed my own daddy. Ain’t that a kick?” Guilt ate at him. “No wonder I don’t remember being a kid.”

A man approached him as he stumbled out of his motel room. The sun was bright and he squinted against it as the somehow familiar fellow continued toward him. “Howdy,” the man smiled.

Billy nodded. “Howdy.”

“You Billy Frayne?” the man asked.

“Who wants to know?” Billy’s hackles rose.

“I come in peace.” The man laughed at his own joke and put out his hand. “Gene Baugles. I’m a friend of Joe’s. He asked me to look you up.”

Billy relaxed. “No shit?” He returned the shake. “Nice to meet you. I’ve been looking for Joe, heard from him lately?”

“Yeah,” Baugles said. “He asked me to give you a message. He said, he’s got your package and all is well. He’ll be here tomorrow. Wants you to wait for delivery.”

Billy cocked his head. “Package?”

“Suzie.”

“Oh,” Billy said. He broke into a smile. “Well that is good news. Wait here? You mean, the motel?” Baugles nodded an affirmative. Billy started toward the diner. “I was going for breakfast -join me?”

Baugles shook his head. “No thanks, got to be on my way.” He started off as suddenly as he’d come.

“Okay, well thanks.”

Baugles smiled. “No problem. Glad to see you’re out of the hospital,” he winked. “You take care now, you hear?”

He was off and across the street before Billy could ask him how he knew about the hospital. Billy wasn’t hungry after all and went back to his room. He eyed the paneled van that seemed to appear wherever he did. He took down the license plate number. When he saw Joe, maybe he could run the plates.

He had two emails waiting for him on his return – one from Spider, who apologized and said he was getting nowhere with the hospital records but would keep trying – The other from Susan.

Billy,
We’re on our way. We’ll be there tomorrow. Wait for us at your motel. There’s so much to tell you. I love you! Please wait for us.
Love,
Susan

Billy wasn’t even curious about what she had to tell him. He wanted only to see her and get out of there and be done with all the craziness. You killed him, you killed him, you killed him, Libbie screamed in his head.

He fell into sleep again and the dreams continued. Still a small boy, Billy was dragged along by a man in a hat. “Time is money,” the man said. When they reached a bus stop, the man became Finn. She stuffed twenty dollar bills in his pockets and said, “for a rainy day.”

Finn deserted him at the bus stop with a note pinned to his shirt that read: return to sender. It started to rain and he huddled under the bench. Libbie peered under the bench and gave him a sandwich. “Eat, Billy boy, eat.”

Billy didn’t want to eat. He huddled further beneath the bench but Libbie crawled in after him. “No!” he cried. “Get away from me!” The thunder struck and he was once again alone, crying under the bench and hugging a gun to his chest. “I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it.”