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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

          She thought he'd never leave.  There was absolutely nothing wrong with an afternoon romp.  Unless perhaps,  Cassie's thought, your partner didn't understand the meaning of the word "afternoon". It was well after 7 pm, and she practically had to push Teddy out the front door.  Maybe it was the miserable weather, or maybe, God forbid, he was getting much too attached.  Either way, he seemed terribly reluctant to make his way back to his house, and leave her to her own affairs.  He'd even hinted around that they should share a quiet little dinner, which of course in his mind meant Cassie should get up and prepare it, knowing full well a restaurant was out of the question.

          There was no way that was going to happen.  She had business to take care of this evening, starting with the envelope the priest had dropped off a few hours earlier.  She watched Ted walk the two blocks to his car in the pouring rain, and developed a momentary stab of guilt that she hadn't offered him something to eat, or at least an umbrella to take with.  But the fleeting guilt didn't linger long.  It was probably best that he he should find her rather obnoxious.  It would make it easier on him when she disappeared without a backward glance. Teddy had been fun to have around, and because of his position as Sheriff, she had an inside track on the workings of the town.  But with Lizzie, and the half million gone, she needed a new plan of action, and a quick exit from Dollyville.  Ted was just a casualty of tough business.

          She grabbed the envelope off the table and spread the stacks of cash on her bed, dividing it in even piles of $200.  She reasoned that the $4000 should at least get her through the next three weeks if she remained sensible with her money.  Most things she could charge, but the electronic paper trail that she'd leave made her nervous.  It couldn't be helped for things like plane tickets and hotel reservations, but for most of the day to day expenses, including the PI she'd hire to track down Lizzie, she'd use the cash.  She stuffed the stacks of bills into a small cosmetic case and shoved it in the armoire. That finished, Cassie grabbed her laptop and got down to the question of where she should head next.  The west coast was out...too expensive and too few opportunities for what she had in mind.  She certainly couldn't return to New Orleans, not after the way she left things there.  Maybe Florida, although the humidity was a killer this time of the year.

         Before she could settle on a destination, the land phone rang again, just as it had several times in the last few hours.  She knew who it was, and let her answering machine pick it up. "Hi.  You've reached the number for Cassandra McKreedy, of Fickleman and Fines, Account Services.  I'm not able to take your call right now.  Please leave a message, and I'll return your call as soon as possible.  Thank you. BEEP"

        "Hello?  Ms. McKreedy?  Are you there?  This is Tessa Peppers again.  I really need for you to call me back.  I'm having a problem withdrawing money from my late husband's memorial fund, and those damn bank people are telling me the account is empty.  We both know that's absurd.  I trusted you with my accounts, and I expect you to fix this nonsense immediately.  Call me right now at 563-8871."

          Cassie deleted the messages, and turned back to her laptop.  Tampa, Florida was sounding just about perfect right now.  All she had to do was take that first crucial step out the front door.

Copyright 2012 Victoria Rocus

Monday, July 30, 2012

Okay...and now a word from our sponsor.  This blog, and each and every post and photo, is the exclusive property of the author, and may not be copied or reproduced for any type of commercial use.  Thank you for your continued support!  Vicki

          Risky business it was.  Smoking a joint in the rectory parlor.  Fr. Kevin sat on the davenport near an open window, waving as much of the smoke out the crack as he could, and knowing it probably wasn't helping much.   Tomorrow, he'd have to open all the windows on the first floor, and use several cans of FeBreeze before the room would smell normal.  And that was just too damn bad.

          His nose throbbed with every exhale, and he could see that by dawn, he'd a have a pair of award winning shiners, just in time for 8:30 Mass.  He could imagine his parishioners whispering and poking each other as he said Mass with a huge bandage on his swollen nose, his eyes racooned in shades of black and blue.   The news of how he came to look like a prize fighter was most likely the topic of conversation around every dinner table in town, and by Wednesday afternoon, he'd be the butt of dozens of unfunny jokes.

        So be it.  He had really thought the woman was having a freaking heart attack, and the last thing he had expected was for her to haul off and pop him one in the nose.  Touching it gingerly, he winced and determined it was likely broken across the bridge.  He debated whether he should stop by the clinic and have someone look at it, see if there would be any permanent damage.  Of course, then he would have to explain to the attending doc how he came to be in such a position, and he wasn't up for the smirks or snickers that would follow the story.  In addition, his last remaining pair of decent dress shoes were soaking wet, and probably ruined, from his walk back home in the railing monsoon.  No...he'd just stay here and self medicate with this mighty fine weed.  It seemed to be doing the trick already.

        From outside the opened window, he could hear cracking and creaks, as if someone were shuffling around in the hedges next to the building.  He should have been alarmed, what with the murder and arson still unsolved.  But he was far too mellow to get off the sofa and investigate, and in a few moments, he saw two small hands curl around the window sill, followed by the rest of Brian's wee body.

       "Go away!"  Kevin mumbled.  "I'm not in the mood for any other worldly fairy shit right now.  I've had a crap-ass day, and I just want to relax in peace.  Besides, the last time you were here, I ended up sick as dog "

        The little man hopped off the window sill, and dragged a small burlap bag behind him.  Leaning on the arm of the sofa, he chuckled and replied, "Not my fault ya ken not be holding your whiskey, lad.  Boys your size in the Old Country can handle double what ya swallowed up."

       "Honestly...I don't give a flying flute about the 'Old Country'...or the 'Old Sod'...or anything else right now.  So why don't you just take your mini self off some where...and crawl back under some rock ...or rainbow..or where ever it is you came from...and leave me alone."

        Brian scowled and shook a pointy finger at Kevin.  "Your rudeness, lad, is second only to your need to act like a wee bairn.  If you weren't Margaret's boy, I'd have turned you into moss for the tone ya been taken' with me.  So why don't ya be settln' your ginger self down, and share some of that fine tobacco you be smokn', and we can be friends again.  See...I come bearn' gifts."  He opened the ties on the burlap bag, and from it produced both of Kevin's missing shoes.

         "You didn't happen to also bring along my gold proof coin, did you?"  Kevin asked, passing the joint to the tiny man perched on his sofa arm.  Despite his common sense, he giggled at the thought of a stoned clurichaun wondering around the streets of Dollyville.

         "I most certainly did not!  The day I willingly give up gold is the day my Creator should come and whisk me home.  That gold was your gift to me...and I intend to keep it!"

         Feeling pleasantly happy, Kevin was in no mood to begin an argument with fairy folk, so he dropped the subject and asked instead, "I suppose you'll be wanting your chair back?"

         "Ay...and my bowl and spoon too.  Mighty hard breakn' the fast without 'em.  And since ya be singing a politer song...I may be inclined to help ya out a bit."

         "How so?"

         "That face of yours be lookin' like a piece of raw meat, lad.  With a snap of my fingers, I could make ya right as rain."

          "You mean with some type of strange fairy magic?

          "Now, I wouldn't be calln' it's as real as the air we breath and ken not see...but yes..a touch of fairy magic... and poof!  Face looks good as new."

           " thanks.  I'll just let it heal the good old fashioned mortal way."

           "But that'll take way too long, lad.  Ya'll be walkn' aroun' with that nose lookn' like a grape for days and days.  Why not take me up on the offer...and let me do ya a favor?'

           "Um, maybe because I'm a Catholic priest.  I can't go dabbling in supernatural, fairy magic.  It just wouldn't be right.  My conscience wouldn't allow it.  I'm sure it's bad enough you're here, sitting on my sofa, having this conversation."

            "Suit yourself, lad.  I was only offering a wee bit of kindness."

           Despite the absolute absurdity of the situation, Kevin laughed and added, "You must think I'm pretty stupid.  We both know that a clurichaun, or any fairy folk for that matter, would expect something in return for a favor, and I'm surely not going to put myself in debt to the likes of you. Not now...not ever"

            The little man smiled slyly, and handing the joint back to Kevin, replied, "Ever is a mighty long time, lad.  Ya'd be wise to watch your words."

Copyright 2012 Victoria Rocus




Sunday, July 29, 2012

           It took all of six seconds for Fr. O'Kenney's brain to register that something was terribly wrong with Mrs. Peppers.  He dropped to his knees and began to administer CPR, while at the same time offering the prayers for the Sacrament of the Sick.  He yelled for the teller, who seemed frozen in place, to call 911.  He placed his left hand over his right, and began the chest compressions, praying to God that the paramedics would arrive soon.  He opened his mouth to ask the teller if the bank had a defibrillator, but never got the chance, as Mrs. Pepper's right hand flew up, smashing him on the bridge of his noise with a sickening crunch.

          "What the hell do you think you're doing?  Get your damn paws off of me, you red headed baboon!"  With slapping hands, she pushed the priest away, and worked at getting to a sitting position.

           Fr. Kevin eyes watered while pain radiated from the center of his face, and he could feel a trickle of something warm running over his lip. If he had been a television cartoon character, he was sure stars and birdies would be floating over his head, signaling an alarming injury.  Too stunned to speak, he heard the teller scolding Mrs. Peppers.

          "Lay back down, mam. It will be alright.  The ambulance is on the way.  We think you had a heart attack, so you need to lie still."

           On her knees, Tessa crawled over to a chair nearby, and using it as leverage, pushed her ample frame to a standing position.  "Don't be idiotic!" she barked.  "Can't you see I'm just fine?  Just had a fainting spell, is all.  It's so damn hot in this asinine bank, it's not surprising a soul would pass out."  Noticing Fr. Kevin on the floor holding his aching nose, she grabbed a box of Kleenix off the teller's counter and tossed it to him.  "Jeez, Fr. O'Kenney!  You have blood running from your nose.  You look a mess...very undignified I should add."

            At that moment, the paramedics arrived, and thinking it was Fr. Kevin who needed their aid, rushed over to him before being corrected by both the teller and Mrs. Peppers.  Sheepishly, they gave the woman a quick look over while she fussed and ranted, and decided that a trip to the hospital was   probably in order.  As she was being strapped to the stretcher for transport, Tessa continued to take the poor teller to task, warning her, "You people aren't going to get away with this!  Can't go stealing people's hard earned money and get away with it, mark my words!  You tell that Gus Mooney I'll have his head for this!"  Her voice trailed off as she was loaded into the ambulance, and the teller gave an audible sigh of relief.

         Noticing the priest still standing there with his hand to his nose, and a fistful of bloody Kleenex, the young woman went into the back office and returned with a damp hand towel, and a small bag of ice.  While Kevin tended to his injury, the teller worked at preparing Cassie's withdrawal.  He paid little attention to the amount of money she was counting out in front of him, as he was busy wiping the blood from his face and the front of his jacket.

       When she finished, and slipped toward him the receipt, and a large manila envelope with the stacks of hundreds inside, he was left speechless.  Cassie McKreedy had requested a withdrawal of $4,000, a great deal of cash, he reasoned, for someone not going anywhere, to have on hand. Shaking his head over the strangeness of this town, he remarked to the teller that he would be glad when he could finally deliver this to it's owner, and be done with the errand from hell.  The teller, who already felt she was vastly under paid to be expected to deal with this type of bullshit, gave him a weak smile, and turned back to her computer.

         As Fr. O'Kenney left the bank, the wind and rain picked up, just in time to make the trip more of a disaster.  He pulled out his cell phone, and noticed that it was 2:20 pm, and that he was going to be late for his appointment with Sheriff Beckett.  He called the office at the county building, hoping for a reprieve, but was told that since he had not shown up, the Sheriff had left for the day.  He was asked if he'd like to re-schedule for another time, and after setting up another appointment... two days from now... hung up in a frustrated state.  At this point, he wanted only to deliver this money, and return to the rectory where he could tend to his nose, and feel sorry for himself in peace.

       He trudged his way to Cassie's house...corrected was the Franklin's house...and by the time he arrived, his shoes and socks were soaked, his nose throbbed in rhythm, and he really needed to take a pee.  He rang the bell with more force than was polite, and stood waiting in the down pour.  When no one answered after several minutes, he tried pounding on the door, and then on the front window.  He argued that the woman must be at home, as that was the whole reason he was standing here in the rain.  As he reached to bang on the bell yet another time, the door opened a crack and Cassie McKreedy stood in the doorway in a pink bathrobe.

       "Oh, Father, it's you.  Sorry, I didn't hear you, with the storm and all.  Were you able to get the withdrawal for me?  No problems, I hope?"

        Not wanting to tell the whole story while he stood wet in the pouring rain, he replied, "No...they had everything ready for you at the bank, but I was a bit curious about a few things.  May I come in?  Honestly, I really need to use your restroom."

        "Gee, Father.  I'd love to'm feeling a bit under the weather today, and I'm really not up for company.  Some other time, okay?  Besides, I might be contagious, and we don't want you catching what I have, right?  You know, you don't look so hot yourself.  Maybe you need to get home and rest, maybe with a hot drink or something?"  She put her hand out for the envelope, and once she had it in hand, thanked Kevin with a wink, and closed the door.

          Devoid of any remaining good will, he stomped down the porch stairs and headed toward the rectory, thinking today was one of the shittiest days he had experienced in a long time.  Well, at least since the day he found Marco dead on his front lawn.  Debating it a bit more, he decided that the last two weeks had been pretty crappy, and he was sick of the whole terrible nonsense.  Pondering his state of unhappy affairs, he morosely sloshed onward. The street was deserted and quiet, except for an occasional clap of thunder, and the sound of the rain hitting the pavement.  As he turned the corner on Bay Street, two blocks from Cassie's home, he noticed the Sheriff's patrol car, locked and empty.  In disgust, he picked up the pace, and tramped his way back home.

Copyright 2012 Victoria Rocus

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Like this little mystery story?  Drop me an email and let me know who is your favorite character!  Thanks for the continued support!


       The First Savings and Loans of Dollyville was the smallest bank Fr. O'Kenney had ever seen.  With it's French door and floral print paper, it appeared as if it had started life as a bakery or cafe, and then had aspired to bigger and better things.  Shaking the water off his dripping umbrella, he walked through the multi-paned door, and gave a quick look around.  The office boasted of approximately two teller stations, one of which was empty at the moment, and an imposing door marked "Bank President".  Kevin wasn't quite sure who he was supposed to see about Cassie's withdrawal.  She had mentioned talking to the bank president, but he didn't feel as if he could go barging into the person's office without any type of introduction.  He decided he'd wait in line to see the teller first, and then perhaps, she would direct him to the right place.

       He placed himself at the end of the line, his mind going over the conversation he planned on having with the Sheriff.  Because it was raining, and he was on foot, he didn't bring the original photos of the crime scene.  Instead, he had taken shots of the sticky residue on Marco's t-shirt from the original picture, and his own photos of the same adhesive on the grotto wall, with his cell phone.  The clarity wasn't the best, but it would serve the purpose of explaining his solid theory to the unbelieving Beckett.

       Because he was lost in thought, he failed to notice the other customers in line ahead of him.  But as the woman uttered her first few words to the teller, there was no mistaking the body standing in front of him was none other than the volatile Tessa Peppers.  Cursing under his breath, and feeling a lot less compassionate towards Cassie McKreedy, Fr. O'Kenney silently prayed that he'd remain unnoticed behind her.  He thought about slipping out without the withdrawal, but chided himself for being afraid of a harmless old lady forty years his senior, and remained where he stood.

     As it was, Tessa was so imbued in an argument with the teller, she payed little attention to any of the people waiting their turn in line.  Because the volume of her words was so loud, it was impossible for Fr. Kevin, or any of the other customers, not to hear the conversation going on at the counter.

     "Check again, young lady!  You must have hit a wrong key, or something.  There should be $80,000 in that account.  I deposited it myself  last October, and it's been sitting there since, untouched!
What's wrong with you people?  I've been a customer of this bank for twenty years, you twit!  Don't you think I'd know what's in my own account."

      The young teller blushed a bright pink, and taped away on the keyword.  "I'm sorry, mam, but the statement says the account has  a $2.00 balance."

     "That's utterly ridiculous!  I'm the only name on that account.  I set that memorial fund up right after my Thomas died.  That money is there to build a beautiful park in his loving memory, and damn it, I want my money now!"

      "There's no need for that type of language, Mrs. Peppers.  I can give you the $2.00, but that's all the money that is in this account.  I'm terribly sorry, but I can't give you what's not here."

       Tessa's face had turned a bright purple color, and sweat beaded on her forehead.  "I want to see the Bank President right away.  You tell Gus Mooney I wanna talk to him this very minute.  You thieving bastards have stolen my ..." The old woman suddenly stopped speaking, and clutching her chest, slid to the floor with a loud thump, landing at the feet of a very shocked Fr. O'Kenney.

Copyright 2012 Victoria Rocus

Friday, July 27, 2012

       As far as Fr. Kevin was concerned, Tuesday morning dawned the perfect day.  Thunder rattled the window panes in the parlor, and the rain pounded on the roof in a symphony written exclusively for percussion.  The daily liturgy finished for the morning, he could now leisurely enjoy a second cup of coffee and guilt free internet surfing, the lousy weather an honest excuse not to attend to the weeds and overgrown lawn.

       Despite the downpour, 8:30 Mass was well attended, a happy surprise he hadn't been expecting.  He hoped the arrival of his "regulars" meant that things were returning to normal after the craziness of the past few weeks, yet the unsolved murder and arson was like an itch he couldn't quite scratch.  Learning his lesson, he had scheduled an official appointment with the Sheriff for later that afternoon.  He was more than concerned that Beckett would brush off his discovery of the tape residue, much as he had the rosary and glove found in the grotto garden. And as hard as he tried to avoid the pull of gossip, the information he'd gleaned at the committee meeting niggled at the back of his overworked brain.  This visit, the Sheriff would discover that the O'Kenneys could be just as ornery as the next guy when the situation called for it.

      This new sense of direction and determination called for  another cup of java, and perhaps one of those treats from yesterday's gathering.  He padded to the kitchen, debating between lemon squares and brownies, when the land phone rang in the parlor.  He figured the call was most likely parish business, as he usually took personal calls on his cell.  "Good morning.  Holy Family Parish."

      "Uh yes...good morning.  May I please speak with Fr. O'Kenney?"

       "This is Fr. O'Kenney."

         "Oh Father, it's so nice to talk to you again.  It's Cassie McKreedy...from over on Elm Street.  Remember, you came and visited last week?"

         Fr. Kevin made a face, thinking of how the young woman had made an ass of him, but regained his composure and continued.  "Yes, Miss McKreedy, I most certainly remember you.  What can I do for you?'

         "Well, I'm almost too embarrassed to ask, Father.  But you seemed so lovely and kind...I ...umm...didn't know who else to call.  I'm desperate here and  kinda need a really big favor.  I just don't  know who else I can turn to."

          On his end, Kevin could hear the childish whine in her voice, and could almost imagine the woman batting her eyelashes at him.   He wondered why, if the rumors were true, she didn't ask the Sheriff for help.  His conscience immediately pricked him, and sheepishly he replied, "I would be happy to help you if I can, Miss McKreedy.  What is it you need?"

           "Well Father, as you may remember, I have this difficulty about going out."

            "Yes, you did explain that when I came to visit.  How can I help?"  Despite his feelings about being lied to, the young priest was curious to see where this was all leading.

             "It's like this, Father O'Kenney.  I really need to do some banking.  I normally can do everything online, but I'm a bit cash poor, and need to have some cash on hand.  You know...for deliveries and such.  But, I just can't seem to make myself go through the front door.  Honest...I tried and was so sick afterward.  It just won't work...and I was desperately hoping you'd help me."

            "What is it you need for me to do?"

             "I was wondering if you might go to the bank for me and make a withdrawal, then bring the money over to me at my house"

              His eyebrows twitching at the phrase 'my house',  Fr. Kevin politely replied, "No problem, Miss McKreedy.  But I'm not sure the bank will just let me walk in and take money out of your account."

              "Oh that won't be a problem, Fr. O'Kenney.  I called the bank, and talked to Mr. Mooney, the bank president.  He said it wouldn't be an being a pastor and all that.  I already faxed over the withdrawal slip to the bank and everything is set."

               For a brief second, he was slightly annoyed that she just assumed he'd agree to all of this without first discussing it with him, but being who he was, tapped down his pride.  "That will be fine then, Miss McKreedy.  I'd be happy to help you out.  I have an appointment for 2:00 pm, and I could stop at the bank, and then your home, on the way there."  The irony that the appointment was with the Sheriff, her supposed Sheriff, wasn't lost on him, and he let himself smile a bit.

           "Oh, Father O" are simply the best!  I so do appreciate this little favor.  You just don't understand how much of a life saver you are.  Thank you so much!"

            He was pretty sure she never doubted his compliance, but accepted the gratitude and replied, "No problem, Miss McKreedy.  I'm happy to help.  I'll probably reach your house around 1:45, if that would be okay?"

            "Oh that would be perfect, Father!  I'll be waiting.  Thanks ever so much!  Bye now."

             She hung up the phone before he could reply, lightening flashing and thunder crashing as he placed the receiver back in the cradle.  An hour ago, he had welcomed the lousy weather.  Now it appeared he would end up tramping around in it, getting completely soaking wet.  Dumping out the cold coffee he had fixed before the phone rang, he poured himself a fresh, hot cup and decided on both the brownie and the lemon square.

Copyright 2012 Victoria Rocus






Thursday, July 26, 2012

        Despite waking to gray skies that promised a steady onslaught  of rain and multiple achey joints, Tessa Peppers was in a surprisingly good mood.  Thinking about it, she could barely remember a day that felt so right.  As she scrambled the eggs for a leisurely breakfast, her head sketched mental, day-dream plans for the memorial park.  She wondered how long it would take to clear away the rubble, and whether they would be able to break ground within the next few weeks.  The election was only seven months away, and there was still so much to do.

        She filled the dog's water bowl, and scooped out some kibble into the matching dish.  "Here boy, breakfast is ready."  A small, West Highland terrier padded into the room, his nails clicking on the tile floor.  Sir Basil Wrath-bone III, Bass for short, wagged his tail expectantly, and looked at his mistress with brown, pleading eyes.  "What's the matter, boy?  Not in the mood for dry this morning?"  As if he understood each and every word, the little dog set to yapping.  Tessa bent down and scratched the pup behind the ears.  "Well...alright then...I guess a special treat's in order.  After all, if all goes as planned, you'll be the First Dog of Dollyville by next April."  She chuckled at her own joke, and poked around in the refrigerator, removing a chunk of deli liver sausage.  Cutting it into little bits, she scrapped the meat into the grateful dog's bowl.  "There you go, boy.  Bon Appetit!"

      Having taken care of Bass, Mrs. Peppers grabbed a yellow legal pad off the counter, and settled down to her own breakfast.  Between bites of toast and eggs, she crossed off several lines from Monday, and began to add add to her column headed with Tuesday's date.  The Picnic Committee meeting yesterday afternoon had gone exceedingly well.  She even thought she had made some head way with that stubborn, young priest, although one could never tell with the Irish.  Her husband had always said that once an Irishman dug their heels in, there was no getting through to reason.

     The pig-headed Father was, for the most part, the least of her problems.  The big obstacle had always been the property on Front Street.  With it's proximity to the train, and it's location near he center of town, it was prime real estate, and a perfect location for her memorial park.  If that damn woman hadn't been so unreasonable, the park would be near finished, and her position as mayor set in stone.  As it was, things had gotten so... off schedule.

      But now, that was all water under the bridge.  The sister was looking for a quick sale, and was willing to sell at a greatly reduced price if Tessa could produce a substantial deposit... in cash.   With $80,000 in the memorial fund, it wouldn't be a problem.  The rest she'd mortgage against her home, and   worry about what to do next when she was firmly ensconced as mayor.  It felt good to finally see things moving along as they should.  She had never planned for issues to get so out of hand, but damned if she was going let anything stop her now.  Not after she had worked so long, and so hard.  She had payed her dues.  Now it was time to start collecting.

       The buzzer on the stove timer went off with a shrill whine.  Tessa pushed the legal pad to the side, and checked the clock above the fridge.  It was just about 7:00 AM, and she only had a few minutes to get things ready.  Giddy as a young girl, she grabbed the binoculars off the kitchen counter, and dragged the kitchen chair to the window.  The little voice in the back of her head whispered at the huge  risk she was taking.  Getting caught again would surely cause additional problems.  But as usual, the heart pounding rush she felt won over the nagging doubt. "You deserve this, Tessa."  she whispered.  Seating herself in a comfortable position, elbows resting on the window sill, she pointed the expensive binoculars at a 2nd floor window next door.  As if on cue, the unsuspecting neighbor wandered into his bathroom, unawares that he was, once again, her morning's entertainment.

        "Well...a grand morning to you, Mr. Scutney."  The old woman held her breath as the man in the window shed his boxers, and leaned forward in her chair.  "And don't we look fine and fit today." She let out her breath with a contented sigh, and smiled wide.   When things were good with Tessa Peppers, the world was one happy place.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

           The quiet time in the grotto may have helped Fr. Kevin feel better spiritually, but the late afternoon sun baking the church's front lawn did little for the banging in his temples, or the churning of his stomach.  Beads of sweat gathered under his collar, and beneath his jacket, the dark dress shirt he had carefully pressed that morning was melted to his body like a layer of chocolate.  He surely  regretted the several lemon squares floating around in a sea of Irish whiskey, and if he was lucky, he'd make it back to the rectory without leaving evidence of his indiscretion in chunky puddles across the church commons.

        With a sense of weariness usually reserved for men much older, Kevin pulled himself off the stone bench, and looked around Holy Family's little garden.  The plants needed weeding and watering, and the lawn called out for the attentions of a mower.  Marco had always handled that, and now that he was ...gone...Kevin would need to hire someone new.  A piece of crime scene tape fluttered from the side wall of the grotto, a reminder of terrible things.  Watching it flap in the breeze like some type of hellish windsock needled the unhappy padre.  It seemed inherently disrespectful to the peace and meditation the place was meant to induce, and Fr. Kevin was set on removing it.

         Climbing over the stones that bordered the garden, he reached up and pulled hard at the tape.  The yellow banner tore in his hands, leaving a piece remaining, attached with a slice of silver duct tape.  Determined to leave no trace of it, Kevin pulled out his keys, and using the edge of a large one, began scrapping at the tape until all that was left was a tacky residue.

        "Need some turpentine, or gasoline to get this sticky shit off," he thought, "otherwise it's just going to turn black and never come..."  Despite the bourbon fog, something clicked in the back of his head.  Sticky.  Residue.  He crunched the yellow tape in a ball, and jamming his keys into his pocket, hustled back to the rectory.  Heading straight for the desk in the parlor, and leaving the front door wide open, he rummaged through the files, looking for one page in particular. Finding the coroner's report, he located a photo of the clothes Marco was wearing the day of the murder, and raced back to the grotto.

           Holding the photo up to the spot where he had removed the tape just moments before, it was obvious that the residue on the grotto wood, and the residue on Marco's undershirt, were one in the same.  Something had been taped to the gardener's shirt, and removed, thus leaving the same sticky residue behind.  He sat back down on the bench and thought long and hard about the morning of the murder.  That was the day he had decided on a bike ride around town.  He arrived back at the church about an hour before the start of 8:30 Mass.  That was the same morning he saw the blond woman with the rosary in the chapel.  What was it about Marco, on that specific morning, that was floating in his head, just out of reach?

            Then it came to him...the proverbial cartoon light bulb clicking on in his brain.  He remembered thinking how odd it was that Marco was wearing a heavy cable knit sweater on a warm summer morning.  Now it made sense to him.  The murdered gardener was probably trying to hide whatever it was that was taped to his t-shirt underneath.  The question was...what was the tape holding?



Tuesday, July 24, 2012

      Her pacing footsteps echoed through the empty house, a scolding reminder of the terrible predicament she found herself in.  The clacking of her shoes against the hardwood floors seemed to follow her like a shaking finger, smugly pronouncing that, yet again, she was shit out of luck. For the twentieth time in the last hour, Cassie tried dialing her cousin's cell phone.  Like the nineteen tries before it, the call went directly to voice mail. "Hi.  You've reached Elizabeth McKreedy.  I'm not free to take your call right now, but if you leave a message at the beep, I'll get back to you as soon as I can.  Chow!"   

      "Lizzie...damn it...Pick up!  I don't know what game you think you're playing here, but you can't do this!  I need that money!  I earned it!  You bring it back right now, do you hear me?  We've known each other too long, and if you think I'm just going to let..." BEEP!  The phone went dead, cutting off yet another tirade.

       Cassie flung the phone back in her purse, and pulled out her wallet.  Her hands shook in rage and frustration as she dumped out the contents on the bed.  Counting quickly, she figured she had only about $78 left in cash money, and of the dozen credit cards, most having her photograph attached to different names, only one had not expired, or been maxed out.  That little bit would not last her the rest of the week.  The rent was due the following Monday, and the electric bill a few days later.  She'd need to do something before then, on the chance that Elizabeth would not return. The bite of fear tingled up from her toes, and threatened to work it's way up.  The room suddenly felt smaller, stuffier...more prison like...than it had a few moments before.

        Tired of pacing, a nagging threat of choking building in her throat, she sat in front of her desk top Mac, thinking hard, and pinching her thigh until it bled.  The pain helped to clear her mind, and after a few seconds, she felt as if she could breathe normally again.  What she needed was a cash flow.  Enough to hold her over until she could pack up and get the hell out of this stink hole of a town, set up a few new identities, and start fresh.  Once she settled in the new place. she could work on tracking down that bitch cousin, and hopefully take back her money, one way or another.

         Cassie hated to go back into the accounts after so carefully covering her tracks days earlier, but at this point, she had little choice.  With shaking hands, the young woman scrolled through one after another, disregarding the ones that might send up red flags.  The Su Casa account had been a great money source for almost 18 months, but with both Riveras dead, the estate was sure to go into probate, thus making any with drawls impossible.  The Super Mart had a new boss, a micro manager who was likely to follow every cent, so playing games there was risky. Holy Family Church?  No...not enough capitol to make it worthwhile.

       "Shit!  This is going nowhere!"  Cassie squeezed the ever growing wound on her thigh until blood ran down her leg, and sucked in big gulps of air.  "You can do this, Cassie" she mumbled to the empty, shrinking room.  Think!"  Her fingers flew faster over the keyboard, passing on several possibilities, until she came across one she hadn't tapped before.  A memorial fund with a little over $80,000 sitting unused, unnoticed and begging to be spent.  Accounts like this one usually sat untouched until the money was needed, and from what Cassie could tell, there had been no activity in over six months.  $80,000 would get her out of Dollyville, and tie her over until other plans could be made.  Tapping in the correct password and social security number, the money was transferred from the memorial fund into the account of Cassandra A. McKreedy, almost like magic.  For the first time since she found the empty suitcase, she let herself smile.  "By the time anyone notices the money is missing, I will be long gone." she explained to no one in particular.

        The knowledge that she had a financial safety net made her feel better, but didn't solve the immediate problem of cash on hand.  She always paid her bills on line, but as she didn't use a checking account that left a tangible paper trail, cash money was a necessity for daily expenses and the 'what nots'.  Lizzie had always been the one who took care of the regular teller visits.  With her cousin off who knows where, Cassie would have to make the with drawl herself.  She thought about having Teddy do it for her, but decided it was much too risky.  She'd have to force herself outside, no matter the fear involved.  A quick cab ride to the bank, in and out with the cash, and she'd be home free.  The wolves could be kept from the door just long enough to finish up business.

        Having a plan of action made Cassie feel in control again.  She grabbed a sundress from the closet, and ran a brush through her dark curls.  A little blush, some lip gloss, and a pair of dark glasses, and she was set.  Once she was through the front door, she'd call for a cab, and be on her way.  It was those first few steps out the door that hung her up.  When she was with Dr. Patterson, the psychiatrist would give her a sedative first, and then help her with some hypnosis and relaxation techniques.  But it would be too hard to explain the desperate need for this sudden trip to the good doctor, and the less people she talked to before she disappeared, the better.  No, she was on her own for this one, she determined.

          She strolled down the stairs, her tongue heavy in her mouth, and her palms sweaty.  When she reached the front door, she hesitated a moment, and poked her head out.  Looking left and right down the quiet street, she attempted a few steps out on to the porch.  Immediately, her throat closed off in one single breath, and her head began to spin, lights shooting behind closed lids.  She grabbed for the door frame and forced herself back into the house with every bit of strength she had left,  throwing herself on the sofa,  and grabbing big gulps of air while she pinched and pinched until she could only focus on the pain.  After several minutes that felt like hours, her breathing and pulse returned to normal.  It was obvious.  Leaving the house today, being out in the open, was simply not going to work.  She'd have to think of someone else she could trust to get, and return, her money.

            Being trapped inside had not given her the opportunity to make many friends here, so there was no one she could easily call.  Except for Liz, Teddy, and several on line acquaintances, she had spoken to very few people in the past few months, and none of them were suitable, or available, to help her get the cash.  Spotting the church directory the young priest had left on the coffee table during his visit, an
 idea sprouted in the back of Cassie's mind.  He had graciously offered to help in any way he could, and if she had ever needed help, now was the time.  "Yes," she mumbled as her head raced with plans, "that Father whats-his-name just might do."



Monday, July 23, 2012

        Chuckling over the mental image of Mrs. Peppers tearing off in search of a red-breasted sap sucker, Fr. Kevin dried his hands on a towel, and wandered back into the living room, vowing to keep things polite with his hostess.  He silently groaned, knowing that his promise would be hard to keep, as he watched Tessa say good bye to the remaining group of committee members, leaving him as the solitary guest.

        Determined not to let the old woman drag him into another heated argument, he jumped at conversation before she could open her mouth, following the old adage about catching more flies with honey.  "Thank you so very much, Mrs. Peppers, for inviting me to this committee meeting.  I can tell that the parish picnic will be a huge success...the best one ever... under your capable hands."

          Tessa narrowed her eyes, and looked at him shrewdly, "Your most welcome, Father O'Kenney.  It's just knowing how to motivate people, is all.  Can I send you home with some treats?" she asked, changing the subject, and waving her hand over the still full table.  Without waiting for Kevin to answer, she grabbed a plate and began to heap on an assortment of the cakes and cookies.  Wrapping the entire bundle with foil, she handed it back to him, "There you go.  Enough to keep you satisfied for a few days."  She took him by the arm and lead him to the front door, seemingly anxious to give him the 'heave ho'.  "Enjoy the goodies, Father.  I'll let you know the final totals on the cost of the picnic."

       "Thank you again for everything, Mrs. Peppers.  You've been most kind."

       "No problem at all, Fr. O'Kenney.  Friends take care of friends."  And without another word, she quietly closed the front door in his face.

        For a moment, Fr. Kevin stood stunned, not believing that he had escaped her attentions so easily.  If this was a gift from heaven, who was he to complain?  Treats under arm, he rambled down the stairs and headed toward the rectory.  He was only about a block away, when he noticed Tessa Pepper's huge, black Buick pull out of her driveway, and race down the street in the opposite direction.
She obviously had somewhere else to be, he thought, but if it had played a role in his being able to leave so easily, he was grateful to whatever had pulled her away.

         The walk back to Holy Family was a short one, and not wanting to be locked inside on such a pleasant day, Kevin sat himself down on the stone bench in front of the grotto for some quiet time of prayer and reflection.  The last two weeks had been strange ones indeed.  Marco's murder...the deliberate fire and death at Su Casa...his ongoing feud with Tessa Peppers...Cassie McKreedy's bold faced lies...and of course the unbelievable appearance of 'Brian'.  A crazy, horrible, mixed up series of events.  He had this nagging feeling that all the answers were right there in front of him, but he couldn't fathom how he to make sense of it all.

         The sound of scrapping in the bushes startled him, and for just a second, he half expected Brian to come waltzing out from among the greenery, carrying his missing shoes and the proof coin.  Instead, it was just Patches, Irwin Teller's free roaming dog.  Normally, Patches would run to Kevin, jumping up and slobbering all over his clothes, he'd wait patiently for a belly rub or an ear scratch.  But today, the little dog kept his distance, staring at the priest with serious, brown eyes

        "Here, Patches.  Come here, boy."  Kevin coaxed, patting the bench next to him.

          The pooch remained where he sat, continuing to watch him with an uneasy stance.  For a dog person, this slight was too much to bear.  He unwrapped the plate of treats, and breaking off a piece of sugar cookie, held it out in the dog's direction.  "Here, Patches.  Want a treat?  Look boy...I've got some cookie for you."

          Patches held his ground, but then, catching a whiff of the cookie, decided better, and slowly made his way over to the bench.  He gingerly accepted the tidbit from Kevin's fingers, but then giving the priest a once over sniff, the dog took of, cookie firmly ensconced his mouth.

         Now thoroughly depressed at being shunned by the town's friendliest dog, Fr. O'Kenney turned back to the grotto and his prayers.





Sunday, July 22, 2012

             Although he hated to admit it, Fr. O'Kenney was relieved and grateful when Mrs. Peppers called for quiet, and began the meeting.  Watching her in action, he had to say that she made an excellent chairperson.  Although her ideas were obviously the most sensible, she let the committee make several suggestions of their own, but always managed to bring them around to her way of thinking.  When members wandered off topic, such as when a debate grew over whether friend chicken should be dredged in buttermilk or egg wash, she firmly reigned the chatty women back in, reminding them that the food was to be catered and that it's preparation mattered little to them.  She was definately a force to be reckoned with.

           When the last of the topics were voted upon, Fr. Kevin wondered why it was he was here.  For the most part, they asked for little of his opinion, and he spent most of the meeting smiling and nodding until his teeth hurt.  The payoff came when refreshments were served, and he gazed upon a table groaning under the weight of home baked treats, with all the members pushing their specialties on him. His stomach had settled down from last night's over indulgence, and he loaded his china with representatives from all five of his favorite food groups...lemon square, chocolate brownie, blueberry muffin, oatmeal cookie and banana pudding.  He noticed that Mrs. Peppers was eyeing his trip around the table, so he carefully added a tiny croissant with her world famous tuna salad to his collection, though he had no intention of eating it.  He hoped the little dog was a bigger fan of tuna than he was.

          The content commtitee members milled about the living room, happily munching away on the afternoon feast, and chatting over a bit of this and that.  He carefully avoided both Mrs. Parker and Mrs. Martin, not wanting anymore details on the private lives of Miss McKreedy or the Sheriff, a combination that for some reason bothered him now that he knew about the girl's untruthfulness.  He wandered over to a group gathered near the midget sofa, tisking and clucking over the fire at the restaurant, and listened in.

        "My husband said there wasn't a wall standing.  Everything was burned to a crisp.  He's the Fire Chief of the Dollyville Volunteer Fire Department, you know." explained a tall red head, popping a tiny cream puff into her mouth.

        "Of course we know, Sandy.  You never let us forget."  mumbled Bess Tiller, her grey hair permed into tight ringlets.

         "You don't have to be rude, Bess.  I was just making conversation.  Just for that, I won't tell you what else he told me.  Things nobody is supposed to know."  Sandy crossed her arms across her chest, a pout crossing her wrinkled face.

         "Don't be so pissy, Sandy.  You know I was just teasing.  Go on and tell us."

         Sniffing, Sandy continued her story, " appears the fire was no accident.  At least that's what my Henry says.  The whole place reeked of gasoline, and the fire raced through that building like there was no tomorrow.  The investigator says it was arson for sure."

         "How awful.  And I heard that the Rivera woman was inside at the time.  That makes it another murder...the second in two weeks.   Dollyville is going to hell in a handbag for sure.  It's a good thing we have this election for mayor...something here's got to change."  The woman turned and looked toward Tessa, who was busy campaining across the room, her booming voice carrying across the buzz of several conversations.

          Fr. Kevin stood silent, both shocked and uncomfortable.  Arson?  Murder?  It was hard to believe that two homicides in two weeks...from the same family... was a coincidence.  And why hadn't the Sheriff mentioned this arson information to him this morning?  There was something terrible going on, and Kevin felt frustrated at his inability to do anything about any of it, despite his best intentions.

          As people finished their treats, and began to say their goodbyes, Kevin looked for a way to gracefully make his exit, and avoid any further one on one time with the volitile Mrs. Peppers.  He inched his way to the door, nodding farewell to several of the women, when Mrs. Parker handed him a stack of plates, and asked his help in carrying them to the kitchen.  Not wanting to see impolite, the anxious Pastor found himself further from the front door than he would have liked.

        He located the kitchen off the hallway, and began to stack the dishes in the sink.  Mrs. Peppers' kitchen was like the rest of the house, stuck in circa 1965.  A pair of ceramic roosters eyeballed him from the shelf next to the sink, and the dinette set had to be all of fifty years old, though it appeared as new as the day it was bought.  Looking for some paper towels to wipe his hands, he noticed a pair of expensive, state of the art, binoculars hanging on a nail next to the east window.  He never figured Mrs. Peppers for a bird watcher, but one could never tell about the types of hobbies people chose.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

          Flushing a deep red, Fr.O'Kenney glanced down at the gnarled finger poking his chest.  He quickly rose and moved across the room, causing the dog to jump from it's throne and bark wildly at him.  He wondered why, all of a sudden in the past few weeks, did dogs seem to dislike him so much?  "Mrs. Peppers, I came here this afternoon in good faith to help work on the picnic for the good of the parish community...not to be badgered about the mayoral election.  Now if we can't get through this afternoon civilly, then maybe I should leave right now."

         Tessa gingerly moved from the low sofa, and scooped the yapping dog in her arms, who still continued to growl at the sputtering priest.  "Don't be getting your collar all in a bunch, Father.  Surely you can't be as naive as that?  You need to understand how things work in this town."  She raised a finger to shake at Kevin, but then thought better of it, and put her hand at her side.  "Either you're with me, or against me.  There's no "neutral" in this race.  Now Fr. Cunningham...he knew which side of his bread was buttered!  He saw my late  husband and I as the movers and shakers in this little town, and knew we got stuff got done.  You know that lovely grotto in front of the church, Fr. O'Kenney?  The one everyone admires?"  She raised her thumb and pointed it toward her chest. "That was me...all me!  And if you like your position here, well...I better see more support from you, and less running around worrying about people who didn't belong to your church, and who never gave you a dime!"

         Kevin knew she was referring to the Riveras, and his hot-tempered Irish dander was up to full speed.  How dare she threaten his pastoral position!  Opening his mouth to tell her just what she could do with her money, he was saved by the forceful buzzing of the door bell.  The dog jumped from Mrs. Peppers' arms, and his hostess tottered off to see to her arriving guests.  He silently thanked the Lord for His perfect timing, as the conversation he and the woman were having was sure to go bad very quickly.  Noticing that the dog was otherwise occupied, Fr. Kevin made himself comfortable in one of the teal drum chairs, glad to have escaped both Tessa Peppers, and the uncomfortable sofa.

         A group of woman wandered in, each carrying a plate of some type of home made goodie.  His rolling stomach had settled down a bit, and he hoped that one of those dishes maybe held lemon bars or brownies, his personal favorites.  After the last half hour with Tessa, he deserved both, he thought.  Smiling and offering cordial hellos, he watched the women settle themselves around the living room, listening to bits and pieces of the ongoing conversations.  He knew that most of them had pulled in their claws today on his account, but there was still enough gossiping going on to make their trip worthwhile.

         He heard Mrs. Parker, a woman as round as she was tall, complain to Mrs. Martin that Cassie McKreedy's lawn was much too high, and needed immediate attention.  Feeling he should come to Cassie's aid, as she wasn't there to defend herself, Kevin interjected, "Ladies, you have to understand.  That's an awfully big house for a young woman to handle on her own, especially with her disability.  I think it's admirable that she wants to hang on to the house she grew up in, after losing her parents and all."

      The two women looked at him as if he had suddenly grown two heads.  Mrs. Parker giggled, and asked, "Whatever are you talking about, Fr. O'Kenney?  Cassie McKreedy doesn't own that house.  She's been renting it from the Franklins, who are in Spain for two years with Mr. Franklin's job.  That house is Margie Franklin's pride and joy.  She'd never sell it.  Almost killed her to leave it for as long as she had to."

        Mrs. Martin added, "And I do believe her parents are still alive, Father.  She told the two of us that her parents were living in a retirement community in Sarasota, and were happy as clams."

        Blushing, Fr. O'Kenney explained, "Well, I must be confusing her with someone else then.  I apologize fro my mistake"  Silently, he wondered what was up with Cassie's lie, and felt foolish for falling for it.

        "Oh don't worry about it, Father.  You're still new to Holy Family.  Must be difficult to remember all these different faces and names"  Mrs. Martin offered.

        The two women smiled sympathetically at him, and nodded in agreement.  He knew that when he left, they would discuss amongst themselves that the new Pastor was a complete idiot, who didn't know his ass from a hole in the ground.  Still, he was more bothered by the information he'd garnered about Cassie, and for the life of him, couldn't understand why anyone would lie about the death of one's parents.

      Helen Martin leaned into her friend, and whispered, "I'm sure the lawn will get done soon, Betty.  It seems Ms. McKreedy has a new beau.  Maybe he can mow the grass for her." She gave a shrill giggle, her dentures clacking with each breathe.

       Betty Martin tittered, "Spill the beans, Helen.  Don't keep me in suspense."

       Relishing the attention, Helen smiled and rolled her eyes.  "Well, my dear, unless Cassie McKreedy is some kind of big time criminal, Sheriff Beckett is spending an awful lot of time over at that house.  Was over there for five hours yesterday."

       Betty, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the parish priest was sitting directly across from them, trying hard not to eavesdrop, but failing miserably, slyly said, "Must be some type of special 'investigation'...if you know what I mean."  She gave her friend a salacious wink.

         The two women then broke into peals of laughter, leaving Fr. O'Kenney to turn a most delightful shade of pink.





Friday, July 20, 2012

        The remaining morning hours disappeared so quickly that Fr. O'Kenney was shocked when the grandfather clock in the rectory parlor chimed 1:00 pm.  He had been able to track down Marita Rivera's sister, who was understandably distraught at the loss of yet another family member.  Her brother-in-law owned a dry cleaners a few blocks away from the restaurant, and had immediately phoned her when the fire trucks had begun to arrive.  She raced to the scene, but had gotten there just as the fireman were removing the charred remains of her sister from the smoldering ruins.  She thanked Fr. Kevin for his kind concern, but turned down his offer of a memorial service for the deceased couple, as she was unsure what the family's next step would be.

      After he hung up with the sister, the priest phoned Sheriff Beckett to relay this information, and to give him the grieving family's contact information.  The Sheriff had been polite, but not very forthcoming with any knowledge on either the fire or the murder, and was noncommittal about a promise to update Fr. Kevin later in the day.  Deciding he had done all he could for the moment, the frustrated young pastor trudged upstairs to get ready for his dreaded afternoon commitment.

       Tessa Peppers lived only four blocks from the church, so Fr. O'Kenney decided he'd walk rather than take the bike.  He was grateful that the day was cooler than it had been of late, as he was still feeling the results of his adventure the night before.  Strolling the quiet neighborhood, the Peppers' residence was easy to spot, as the front of the house was covered in patriotic bunting, and the front lawn brandished a huge campaign sign suggesting that " A Vote for Tessa was a Vote For Change".
Carefully avoiding several concrete gnomes and plastic angels guarding the steps to the door, Fr. straightened his spine, and rang the bell.

         Amid the yapping of her small dog, Tessa Peppers opened the door and ushered Kevin inside.
"Fr. O' you are, right on time.  Welcome to my home!  Please come in and make yourself comfortable."

        Walking into the living room, Fr. Kevin felt as if he had entered a fifty year time warp.  Everything in the room, from the sparkly teal drum chairs to the Danish faux fireplace with a chimney leading nowhere, screamed 1960's sitcom.  The curved sofa in front of the window was so low to the ground that Kevin would have to bend himself nearly in half to sit on it.  This in mind, he made his way to one of the drum chairs circled around the fireplace, but the deep throated growl of the dog mop enthroned on the matching chair, discouraged him from selecting that seat.  With a sigh, he lowered himself to the tiny tot sofa, and perched awkwardly on the end of the cushion.

        "Can I get you a cup of tea, Fr. O'Kenney.  I have a lovely pot of Earl Grey steeping in the kitchen."

         Despising tea, especially Earl Grey, it's smell reminding him of stagnant swamp water, Kevin politely replied, "Oh don't go to any special trouble, Mrs. Peppers.  I 'll wait until the rest of the committee arrives.  It's after two...I'm sure they'll be here any minute."

        " worries there, Father.  I told the rest of the group to come at 2:30.  I had hoped you and I could have a little talk before the rest of the committee arrived.  I so feel that we got off on the wrong foot, don't you?"

         At that very moment,  Kevin knew exactly how a trapped animal feels.  If he had been a fox, he would have chewed his own leg off in order to escape the prospect of a 30 minute one-on-one "chat" with Mrs. Peppers.  " Peppers, I do want all my parishioners to feel like vital members of our parish community.  But I want you to know it's perfectly alright for people to have a difference of opinion, and still respect on another"

       "That's where you're wrong Father O'Kenney.  Too many opinions just lead to chaos. Murders..fires and who knows what else!  What this town needs is someone to take charge, and do what's best for the citizens of Dollyville." Plopping herself next to him on the sofa, Tessa continued, "I have lived here all my life.  No one knows this town better than I do, and I will be it's next mayor, come hell or high water.  And you, Father O'Kenney," poking a finger at his chest, "can be an asset or an obstacle.  But I need to know what side of the fence you're sitting on."



Thursday, July 19, 2012

       By the time Cassie McKreedy woke on Monday morning, the fire at Su Casa Restaurant was old news.  It was possible she was the only one left in Dollyville who didn't know the town had tragically lost yet another citizen.  Trying to shake off the last of the Ambien, she rolled over and reached for her iphone, buried somewhere on the clutter of the nightstand.   She thought maybe she'd Skype Teddy and say hello, but checking out her hair in the full mirror, decided she'd just text him instead.  No use destroying his belief that she rolled out of bed looking like an angel each morning.

     She listened for Liz's footsteps above her head, but heard nothing.  She thought maybe she had gone downstairs to start breakfast, but Cassie couldn't smell the fresh coffee that was usually her signature scent.  "She's probably still pissed at me." Cassie mumbled.  "Such a crybaby."  She turned her attention back to composing her text to Sheriff Beckett.

     Hello my love.  Miss u!!!!  What do you say 2 a lte morng visit?  Have silk ties ready!

    A few moments later, her cell phoned buzzed back.  Wish i could... swamped at work... rain check?

    Cassie made a face and typed back.  u rather be at work than with me?  :(

    lol...of course not sweetheart...crzy here bcause of fire

    What fire?

    U dont know? Su Casa burned last nite.  Found Rivera woman body inside.  

   Just got up. didnt know  accident?

   Not sure.  fire marshall investgtng.

   r u sure u can't get away 4 little while?  miss u mood to be a bad girl  ;)

   lol...dont tempt me...luv bad girls!  maybe early evening????  worth the wait! im not happy :(

    will bring a present.  will that help?

    the kind I like?  ;)

    4 sure!

    ok...u r 4given.  C u when?

    maybe round 5?

    okay...bring some champagne...and the present!  i have strawberries ...and whip cream   ;)

    lol...u gonna kill me!

    yes...but what a way to go!  :)

    gotta go...2 many people here now..ttyl

    C u at 5  oxoxoxoxoxoxo

    right bck at ya! 

       Cassie slipped the phone back onto the night stand, and rolled out of bed, grabbing her robe from the chair.  She padded down the stairs to a quiet kitchen, where the coffee pot stood cold and empty.
" here?"  When there was no answer, Cassie made the rounds of the room downstairs. "Hello?  Elizabeth, where are you?"  Only silence returned her response, and a sliver of fear ran through her slight body.

         Tearing back up the stairs to the third floor, Cassie burst into the tiny room without so much as a
knock.  The bedroom was empty, the bed neatly made, and the gifted ipod carefully laid at the foot.
She flipped open the dresser drawers to find not a stitch of clothing, and the closet was void of her old, worn suitcases.  It appeared that sometime during the night, Elizabeth had packed up and left.  "Oh shit...what have you gone and done now, you crazy bitch?"  She sat at the end of the bed, flinging the ipod across the room.

         It was just about then that Cassie had a sudden, horrible thought.  She raced back down a flight of stairs to her room, and reached under the bed for the blue suitcase. Pulling it out, and flinging open the lid, she screamed in frustration at the sight of the empty luggage.



Wednesday, July 18, 2012

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         By the time Fr. O'Kenney finished dressing, and found another pair of some what acceptable shoes in the back of the closet, he was late for 8:30 Mass.  He reasoned that no one would much care, as he expected to once again say Mass to an empty church.  Rounding out of the sacristy to the sound of Mrs. Martin's kazoo, Kevin was shocked to see the pews filled to almost capacity on this strange Monday morning. Even Irwin had shown up, dressed and ready to serve as his altar boy.  He wondered if maybe his parishioners had felt a bit guilty about missing Mass on the Lord's day, but the realist in him deduced that they had all probably come to gossip about the fire when the liturgy was over.  None the less, he would take advantage of this opportunity to preach to his wayward flock, and so he did, giving a rousing Homily and shouting out his prayers in a booming, confident voice despite the pounding in his head.

        At the end of the service, he made his way down the main aisle, as the people began to file out, already whispering to one another about the details of the fire.  On the steps of the church, Tessa Peppers waved to him, surely a punishment sent straight from God for his over indulgence of Irish whiskey and his entertaining of fairy folk.

       "You who...Fr. O'Kenney!  Over here, dear!  Can I speak to you for a moment?"

       Tessa's shrill voice went through his brain like a $30 drill bit through solid wood, grinding away at the last of his ability to keep his rolling stomach at bay.  "Gee Mrs. Peppers, I'd love to stay and chat, but I'm extremely busy this morning.  How about we set up an appointment for later today...or maybe tomorrow."

        "Oh, this will just take a minute, Father, but as a matter of fact, later today works great for me.  In fact, I was hoping you could drop by for tea around 2:00 this afternoon.  As you probably already know, I'm the Chairperson for this year's parish picnic, and the committee and I would really like to finalize the plans as soon as possible.  We need to get your 'ok' on a number of things before we can go ahead."

         Feeling like he had been hit by a semi, the last thing he wanted to do was spend a few hours with a gaggle of women fussing over whether to serve potato or macaroni salad.  In addition, he had promised the Sheriff he would help locate Marita Rivera's sister.  He was about to apologize and find some reason to excuse himself, when Tessa continued.

       "I'm sure you realize Fr. O'Kenney, that the annual parish picnic is Holy Family's biggest fund raiser of the year.  And of course, I'm sure you'll want to do whatever you can to help make it a big success, right my dear?"

        Even feeling as he did, the threat was not lost on Fr. Kevin.  He knew the picnic brought in loads of cash for the church, and with the ever decreasing Sunday collections, he could ill afford to piss off committee, or it's obnoxious chairwoman.  "Yes, Mrs. Peppers, I am well aware of the benefit the picnic has on Holy Family, and I certainly appreciate the committee's hard work.  2:00 pm, then?
At your home?"

       "That would be fabulous, Father." the old woman whinnied, a smug smile crossing her wrinkled face.  "We'll see you at 2:00 pm, then.  Bring your appetite, Reverend.  I'm serving my famous tuna salad on tiny, little croissants from the French bakery in town."

       At the thought of tuna salad, Kevin's stomach gave another roll, but he managed a weak smile and a wave as the woman tottered away.  He desperately needed to pull himself together today, and do what needed to be done.  He still held hope that he'd have time to do some research on the Rivera's family, and take another look at the coroner's report on Marco's murder.  Something about that report still bothered him.  And there was that issue with his missing gold coin and favorite dress shoes.

       He made his way back into the church and into to the sacristy to change out of his vestments.  Pinned to an alb in the closet was a note, again written in the same fancy longhand, "I'll be needing my chair, bowl and spoon back.  Best wishes...Brian"

      Not wishing to be out done by a three foot clurichaun, Fr. O'Kenney turned the note around and wrote on the back, "You may have your stuff back, when I get my shoes and coin.  Have a nice day...Fr. Kevin"  He pinned the note back on the same alb and shut the closet door.  "Two can play this game" he giggled, and then laughed out loud at the absurdity of that statement.



Tuesday, July 17, 2012

         Monday mornings seem to appear earlier, and with much more sun shiny gusto, than other days of the week.  It's as if Mother Nature needs to give you  a gentle pat, a reminder that weekend playtime is over, and your presence is required elsewhere.  For Fr. O'Kenney, this particular Monday's sunrise was more like a boot in the ass.  He squinted open one eye, barely wide enough to acknowledge the piercing light, and quickly snapped it shut, the pain traveling to his head, and down into his stomach. He'd have to think hard to recall the last time he felt this awful.

        He knew he should check the time, although he guessed it couldn't be much after 6 AM.  He congratulated himself on having the foresight to schedule morning Masses for 8:30, as it would take at least that long to be able to open both eyes at the same time.  Attempting to roll over, he realized that he was laying face first in a plate that smelled suspiciously of smashed bananas, and the movement, plus the odor of decaying fruit, was causing his stomach to roll in sea faring waves of nausea.  He tried to remember exactly how many shots of Jameson he had foolishly consumed, but the strain of thinking caused the hammer in his head to pound with greater fury.  If his condition was any indication, it must have been quite a few.

         After several minutes, Fr. Kevin attempted to sit up, and swing his legs over the side of the bed.  Things seemed fine for a bit, but suddenly the contents of his gut fought for escape, and he ran, hand over mouth, to the bathroom down the hall.  With his head in the bowl, he could hear his cell clanging away in the bedroom.  Even in the throes of his hangover, he knew a phone call this early in the day was generally not tidings of good news, so as soon as he was able, he splashed some water on his face and went in search of the phone. Finding it under the dresser, he looked at the caller I.D. and saw the call had come from the Sheriff's office.  Before he could even return it on his own, the phone rang again, the Sheriff obviously determined to reach him.

      "Good Morning, Sheriff.  No, you didn't wake me...I was getting ready to..ah...take a shower.  No, it's perfectly alright.  What can I do for you?"  As the Sheriff continued his end of the conversation, the young priest felt a sudden need to sit down.  Perching himself on the end of the bed, he said, "That's terribly sad, Sheriff.  Horrible stuff.  Do they know what caused the fire? Yes, I understand, they'll need to do an investigation. Well, I will certainly do what I can.  I believe Mrs. Rivera had a sister.  Remember, we met her after Mr. Rivera's murder? Yes, I can see if I can locate her.  Okay, Sheriff.  I'll check in with you later."

      Clicking the cell phone off, Fr. O'Kenney laid back across the bed, trying to ignore his throbbing head and queasy stomach.  Both Riveras...dead within a week.  He didn't know either of them very well, but he guessed they must be pleased to find themselves together again in heaven.  At least he hoped so.  It was just that both of their ends had come so violently.  It was terribly depressing...and odd, like the plot in some second rate movie.  Not knowing what else he could at that moment, he quietly prayed for the two of them, and promised he would offer some Masses for the repose of their souls.  In the mean time, he would do his best to find Mrs. Rivera's sister, and offer her whatever help he could.

       Dragging his reluctant body off the bed, Fr. Kevin got down to the business of starting his day.  A long shower had made him feel somewhat more like a human being, and the pounding in his head had subsided to just a dull whack.  He thought he might be able to do with a cup of coffee and a piece of toast, but his missing shoes seemed nowhere to be found.  It was then that he recalled he had left the shoes, and his 1oz proof coin, on the dresser as "fairy gifts".

        It was the first time all morning he had the opportunity to even think about that weird experience the night before.  He was pretty sure he didn't even he want to tackle that strange discussion until he got some caffeine into himself.  Turning to go downstairs, something caught his eye near the window.  Looking closer, he noticed it was a pile of acorns and a note written in fancy longhand,
" Lad, thanks for the hospitality and the gifts.  Be seeing you soon.  Brian"  A stunned Fr. O'Kenney, didn't know whether he should be amused...angry...or possibly freaked out. "Damn!" he mumbled.  "The little shit stole my shoes and the gold coin!"




Monday, July 16, 2012

          It was almost midnight when the last customer left, and Marita Rivera could finally get off her aching feet.  Today had been the busiest Sunday the restaurant had seen since the Cinco de Mayo Fiesta  in May, and although she was thrilled with the profit, every last bone in her body screamed surrender.  Two busboys and a cook had quit this week, and her best waitress had called in sick, leaving Marita to man the kitchen, as well as take orders and occasionally clean tables.  "You see Marco," she scolded to the urn near the fireplace, "hard work is all it takes!  You want success, you got to earn it.  You just wait and see what happens, necio!  This place will be packed seven days a week!"

         She retrieved a bottle of tequila from the kitchen, and poured a goodly amount into a tumbler.  Toasting her husband's urn, she tossed the glass back, and let the liquid burn down her throat.  By next month, the Town Council would vote unanimously to issue a liquor license to Su Casa Restaurant, and she could make bigger and better plans.  Using an old napkin, she sketched a design she had in mind for a roof top patio, similar to the kind she had seen in Cancun.  The roof would need to be re-enforced before any patio could be installed, but when business increased, as she knew it would, the cost of the remodeling shouldn't be a problem.  She'd check with that McKreedy woman about the tax issues regarding adding to the building.  Her property taxes already seemed out of line for such a small establishment, but what did she know about accounting and tax law? She'd let the professionals handle that, and worry about the day to day problems she was more comfortable with.

        Marita thought about her visit this morning and smiled smugly.  How she wished she could have been there when the package was found.  What a sight that must have been!  Pouring herself a second drink, she sipped this one slowly, her eyes closing and her body relaxing for the first time in a week, thoughts of colored patio umbrellas still lingering in her head.

       She wasn't lost in this reverie very long, when she heard the sound of breaking glass, followed by the acrid smell of smoke.  Worried about a grease fire, she hurried to the kitchen in the back of the restaurant, where the smoke was thick and heavy.  She could feel the heat before she reached the entrance, and knew better than to push the door open.

        Reaching into her empty pocket for the cell phone, she remembered that she had left it on the prep table inside, and the only land line was on the kitchen wall next to the freezer.  She'd need to call the fire department from the grocery store down the street.  She grabbed the money from the register and headed toward the restaurant's front door.  Despite turning the lock, the door remained stubbornly shut, as if it had been nailed from the outside.  Pounding and kicking the heavy wood, she screamed for someone outside to help her, but heard nothing but the roar of the fire, which now had escaped the kitchen.

        Coughing on the smoke, Marita grabbed the chair she had only awhile ago been sitting on, and smashed out the window in the front.  The incoming draft caused the fire to explode behind her, and she quickly squeezed her way out the small panel.  As she lay on the grass in front of the burning building, she could hear the sound of fire trucks racing toward her.  It was in those seconds that she remembered the urn next to the fireplace.  Marco's ashes!  Not thinking about the risk involved, she pushed her way back into the smoke and flames.  The urn was near the corner closest to the window, and if she could just reach around, she would easily be able to grab it through the broken pane

       And that plan would have been a success, if not that the roof had decided to give in at that very moment.  When the fireman arrived just moments later, the building was a total loss, and there was no sign of Marita Rivera.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

          At the word badhb, Kevin froze, and the little man chuckled.  "I see you're just as afeared as before.  And wisely so."

           "I'm not... afraid at all."  But the pause in his sentence gave his apprehension away.  As a child, the older adults in the O'Kenney and O'Brien families would brandish stories of the badhb as a weapon against naughty behavior.  This Irish "bogey man", with bird like face and raven black hair, looked for misbehaving boys and girls, so that he could swoop down and carry them off to his nest.  Once there, the badhb would use the children as a meal, keeping them alive and eating them piece by piece.  Fr. Kevin shuddered, remembering a certain Christmas Eve when he was seven years old.  He and his sister Maureen, who was five at the time, were wrestling near his Nana O'Kenney's Christmas tree.  In the melee, several of her ornaments were knocked off, and went crashing to the floor.  Nana pointed her finger at them, and warned that the badhb especially like the flavor of bad children at Christmas time, and that they should watch their step.  He and Maureen had fled in terror, and while their siblings and cousins rejoiced in their holiday gifts, the two frightened children huddled under a bed and could not be coaxed out.

          As the tiny man continued to chuckle,  Kevin demanded, "Stop laughing at me.  It isn't funny."

         Wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes, the man explained, "I mean no harm, lad.  But the expression on your face was priceless.  Not to worry, though.  The badhb has no use for adults."

          "Don't be ridiculous!  There's no such thing!  Those were make believe stories for adults who didn't know how to parent very well.  You don't expect me to believe that nonsense, do you?"

          "Very strange words for someone who set out a line of fairy gifts.  As to to the gifts, I could do with some hospitality, lad.  A bite to eat, perhaps, and some more of that fine Irish whiskey?"

           The  priest was a bit unsure about leaving the wee man alone in his room, but not knowing how to refuse, padded his way down to the kitchen.  His research earlier that evening had suggested that fairy folk were partially to sweets, especially honey.  Rummaging through the cabinet, he could only find some saltines, and an opened jar of peanut butter.  Smearing several of the crackers with the peanut butter, he arranged them on the plate.  Deciding it looked rather sparse, he eyed a ripe banana on the table, and cutting it up, added it the platter.  Grabbing the bottle of Jameson, and an extra glass for himself, he headed back upstairs, hoping the inelegant snack would suffice.

          When he arrived back upstairs, he found the creature had made himself very much at home.  He had propped himself up with all the bed pillows, and had removed his long, pointy shoes.  Tried as he might, Fr. O'Kenney could not help staring at the man's feet.  They were dark and hairy, with toes as long as fingers that he waggled back and forth, as if glad to be free of the confining shoes.   Trying to tear his eyes away from the creepy toes, the priest placed the tray with the food and whiskey near the man.  "Go ahead.  Be my guest."

         The man picked up a peanut butter cracker, and somewhat daintily, held it to his nose.  Giving it a quick sniff, he nodded and popped it in his mouth.  "Strange feel to this fare, lad", he mumbled with his mouth full, "but quite tasty!"  He reached for the Jameson and poured himself a full cup, and seeing the second glass on the tray, poured a double shot and handed it to Kevin.  "I be supposing himself has a question or two, so go ahead and ask."

         Kevin dropped the shot down his throat in one gulp, and in his next breath asked, "I'm not really sure how to put this politely, so I'm just going to go ahead and spit it out.  Who...or what... the hell are you?  Leah Bhrogan?"

        The small man, grinned, and poured himself a second glass of whiskey, all the while curling and uncurling his long toes.  "Well, if you're looking for instant wealth, lad, I hate to disappoint.  I'm no leprechaun, and there's no wee pot of gold."

         Not wanting to appear uneducated about fairy matters, Kevin continued, "Well, I doubt you're grogach, as you most certainly would not be making yourself at home in the presence of a clergyman.""

         "I see you've been well versed in fairy lore, my lad.  That is correct.  I am no wee grogach, and for that I thank the Creator.  Ugly, smelly things are the grogachs."  he pushed the bottle of whiskey toward Kevin, and added, "Drink up, lad.  The evening's early."

         Tossing down another double, and feeling quite mellow, Fr. O'Kenney went on, "Then, I must deduce that you are certainly a clurichaun, given the way you're tackling my Jameson."

       Clapping his small hands, the fairy giggled, "Well done!  Well done, lad!  Margaret would be proud of her ginger grandson.  You be her favorite, ya know."

         Knowing full well the fairy was feeding him a line of shit, and not much caring after four shots of whiskey, Kevin leaned against the bed post and watched the man polish off the plate of crackers, carefully avoiding the bananas at all costs.  "Do you have a name?  Something I could call you?"

        "Ah lad, you must be knowing the power one's name invokes.  I no be sharing that power with you, mortal.  But your Granny liked to call me 'Brian', and I'd be well pleased if you did the same."   Leaning over the tray, Brian poured Kevin another shot out of the nearly empty bottle.  "The question   an buachaill what is it you want of me?"