The Sweeper

As I close the door to my room, I glance at the clock beside the bed.  Nearly midnight.  I’m really tired and glad to be home.  I feel good knowing it was a job well done, but to tell the truth, I think I’m ready to call it quits.  I’m getting a little long in the tooth for this line of work.
I undress and I’m just pulling off the blonde wig when I hear the bell at the front door.  I grab my robe and pull it tightly around myself.  As I tie the sash, I hurry downstairs to the door.  The last thing I need is for one of the others in the house to awaken.


When I spotted the bunch of tulips on the bench in the garden back in February, I wasn’t surprised to see the unexpected spot of spring color surrounded by the snow that had been pushed aside on the concrete surface.  Over the years, I’ve seen several such anomalies.  It meant I had a job.

I’m a Sweeper.  There are many of us, though I can’t tell you how many because I don’t know.  I’ve never met another one, but I know they are out there, living ordinary lives.  The guy in the cubicle next to yours?  That barista who hands you your cafĂ© macchiato with an almond shot each morning?  The nanny who pushes her charge in a pram down to Union Square Park every afternoon?  Any one of them might be a Sweeper.  

As for me, well, I am probably a bit different, if for no other reason than the way I spend the other 95% of my life.  You might say that my life is not all that ordinary.  Maybe so, but I challenge you to find a better life in which to hide.

I’m not sure why any of the others got into this, other than the obvious lure of the money.  I can guess, though, because I know why I was recruited and why I agreed to join.  And it wasn’t the money, not that the money isn't good.  Fifteen years ago, I came home from night school to find my husband and two-year-old daughter slaughtered, dead for the sake of the stereo and small amount of cash stolen by the killer.  One of the neighbors saw a man leaving the house, and was able to give a pretty good description of him and the car he got into.  The police identified him, and he was picked up pretty quickly.  And then it all went to hell in a hand-basket.  

Thanks to a series of bureaucratic mistakes, misplaced evidence and a bogus alibi, the guy got off.  I was outraged and wanted nothing more than to kill the bastard, giving him a taste of what he’d done to my family.  But I didn’t.  Not unless I killed him with the sheer force of my fury.  Because die he did, run over by a garbage truck three days later.  I know it was terrible of me, but I was grateful.  I thanked God for answering my prayers for justice.  I don’t think I could have gotten on with my life, what was left of it, if he’d still been out there, free as a bird.

The only representative of the Sweepers I've ever met came to me shortly after and told me just how that justice had been served.  It wasn’t God answering my prayers.  It was a Sweeper.  She explained how the Sweeper Program worked, and I accepted when she invited me to join them. I’ve been cleaning up ever since, in more ways than one.  Being a Sweeper has provided both me and my Cayman bank account great satisfaction.  I suppose this seems wrong to you, but the way I see it, cleansing society of evil is doing God’s work.  Besides, it’s not like I spend all my time doing this.  Finding the tulips marked only the ninth time I’ve been called upon.


I chucked the tulips, now dead from the cold, in the nearest trash bin and caught a cab to the main branch of library on Fifth.  I gave a nod to Patience and Fortitude* as I climbed the steps to the front entrance and made my way to the Rose Reading Room on the third floor.  Normally, you’re required to reserve a time slot on one of the computers there, but to do that, you’d have to show your library card.  I’ve learned that access can be much more anonymous than that.  

I pulled a book from the shelves, and sat down to wait.  It didn’t take long before one of the people sitting at a terminal scooped his belongings into a backpack and headed for the door.  I slipped into his seat, and in moments verified that payment had been transferred to my account in the Caymans. I closed the website, cleared the cache, and was headed over toward the encyclopedias in less than a minute. 

I quickly located the volume I wanted.  And there at the entry for “tulip” in Collier’s Encyclopedia was the blank slip of onionskin that held the secret of my instructions.  A minute or two in the oven, and the paper would tell all.


I was outside the courthouse this afternoon when the judge banged his gavel and said, “Case dismissed. You’re free to go, Mr. Wilson.”  When Frank Wilson walked out of the courthouse, there was no one there to meet him other than a few members of the press, and even they didn’t pursue him when he waved them off and headed down the street.  I wasn’t surprised that no one had much of an interest in this lowlife.  No one except me.

Marisa Dominico was a school teacher.  Out of college only a couple of years, she was dedicated and idealistic.  She’d stayed late to work on a project for the next day, and was walking alone to the subway after dark.  I doubt she ever saw him until he came out of the shadows and grabbed her.  The scumbag not only raped her repeatedly, he beat her to a pulp.  In all likelihood, she was dead before he tossed her in the dumpster like so much trash. I hope so.

They were on to him pretty quickly.  Wilson was a heavy drinker, and got himself picked up for drunk-and-disorderly a couple of weeks later.  More brag than brains, he'd been a little too enthusiastic with macho posturing and boasted about his conquest to a fellow guest of the city while in the tank. 

The cops charged him, but a jail house confession made to a drug dealer looking to cut a deal to avoid Rikers didn’t take them very far.  Not only was the dealer’s testimony a bit suspect, there was no corroborating evidence.  If fact, DNA evidence showed she’d had sex with someone else that day.  That turned out to be Marisa's boyfriend, who'd flown to Chicago around noon.  I heard that the DA found others who’d been attacked by Wilson and survived it, but none of them were willing to testify, especially after what happened to Dominico.  The bottom line was that the prosecutor couldn’t make the case.  Wilson walked, and I was there to follow him.

I trailed him at a discreet distance, and watched as he headed straight to a bar a few blocks from the courthouse.  I gave him a few minutes to get settled and order a drink, and then went in.  After my eyes adjusted to the dim interior, I spotted Wilson at the bar.  I slipped onto the stool two down from him.  He was concentrating on his drinking, but if I’d spent the last year being held in a cell without bail, I guess I’d be pretty parched too.  Soon enough, his glass was empty and he was looking to order another. He turned to find the bartender, and his eyes met mine in the mirror.  I gave him a small smile, and dropped my eyes, but not before I saw the spark of interest that flared in his.

Before I could order, Wilson slid over to the seat next to me, and said, “You are just what the doctor ordered, little lady.”  I had to smile at the irony of that.  Honey, you have no idea, I thought.

“What’re you drinking?” he asked me when the bartender came over.  I ordered a glass of white wine and he got another Bushmills on the rocks.  Over the next two hours, I nursed two glasses of wine.  I lost count of how many Bushmills Wilson pounded down.   

When he left the bar to visit the men’s room, I was ready with the tiny vial of highly concentrated oleandrin I had concealed in my pocket.  I poured the contents into the full glass of Bushmills the barkeep had just delivered.  In an hour or two, Mr. Wilson would come down with the worst case of the flu he’d ever experienced, culminating in a fatal heart attack. 

Business was starting to pick up in the bar as locals stopped by for a quick one and a bite to eat on their way home.  I grabbed our glasses and moved them to a booth in a dark corner.  When Wilson returned, I waved him over.

“I’m kind of hungry, sweetie.  Let’s get a burger, OK?”  Though I didn’t think it would be necessary, I knew some food would obscure the oleandrin in his system.

“Sure, doll.  Whatever you want.  Then maybe later, we can go to your place for some dessert, if you know what I mean.”  He gave me a sloppy grin and somewhat less than successful wink.

“Sounds like a plan, Frank.” I purred, leaning toward him and giving him a flash of cleavage.

A couple of hours and several Bushmills later, Wilson began to complain of blurred vision.
“I’ma… um, not feelin’ so good.  Too mush booze.  Gotta go.”

He threw a handful of crumpled bills on the table, and stood up.  I added some money to the pile, and jumped up to support him as he walked to the door.  We headed up Sixth toward the Spring Street station.  Frank Wilson never made it.


After twisting the knobs to release the locks on the big wooden door, I pull it wide to see Clare King standing on the steps outside.

“Good evening, Detective.  I thought I might see you tonight.”  I gesture to the policewoman to come into the foyer.

“Hello, Sister Catherine Mary. Sorry to come by the convent so late, but I thought you’d want to know.  We found his body in an alley off Broome.  The ME ruled it a heart attack.  He was obviously drunk as a skunk.  Pretty young for a heart attack.  But I guess for a guy like him, it was only a matter of time before there'd be the devil to pay.”


* Patience and Fortitude are the two massive stone lions flanking the entrance to the New York Public Library.

This was written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory.


I should say "thanks," right?

It was a good thing, right?

My 17-year-old self had tried for so long to be like him,
That older brother, thirteen years smarter and wiser,
That sibling held so high in esteem by the parent
I could never please, no matter how hard I tried,
The ideal cited in the frequent exhortation,
“Why can’t you be more like your brother?”

So if my brother said it, it must be good, right?  
 “You drive like a man.”

It meant I’d finally done something right.


Then why did it feel so wrong?

This is my entry in One Shot Wednesday.


The Top of the Bottom Line

Hey, Gadgetman!
I’ve got your number.
All you need is $6,400
And a licensed plumber.

It’s all automated;
You won’t have to strain.
Bring me your business.
You’ll be entertained.

Give a button a push.
You’re ready to go.
I’ll lift the lid, warm up your tush.
And when the job’s done, I’ll even flush.


Submitted to G-Man's Friday Flash 55. (tee hee)


Party Time!

He came with her tonight, as he usually does.
But it’s okay, she doesn’t mind if he roams a bit;
He always comes home to spend the night in her bed.
He eagerly sets off cruising, scoping things out.
Stuffed with self-importance and strutting his stuff.
He checks everything out, the old and the new.
Though he’s been here before, you just never know.
He looks back now and then to see where she is. 
Ah, there she is, way over there.  She’s got her eye on him,
He knows, but she seems quite unconcerned
As she watches him, while she chats on her phone.
He moves from one to the other, checking each of them out,
And finds the one he likes the best: young, tall and lovely.
He looks all around to be sure there’s no competition,
Then moves in with confidence, and lifts up his leg.
Just as he turns back, he hears her sharp whistle.
“Good boy!” she calls over to him.  “Come on now,
Beowoof.  It’s time for us to go home.”


Warning! Books Can Be Dangerous!

How important is reading to you?  To your children?  To our future?
Starting in childhood with the school library and the bookmobile that came around the neighborhood in summers, and continuing through the present, books have been my loyal companions, my fellow travelers to new lands, cohorts sharing many exciting adventures, food for the brain and balm for the soul.

They are cutting so many school programs these days. Can you imagine if they cut reading programs?

My daughter Lisa (many of you know her story) is a teacher, and is in the process of finishing her Master’s Program in Moderate Special Needs Education.  For one of her classes, she is working on a big research project about childhood reading, and how it impacts adult reading habits.  She has created a short  (it took me less than 5 minutes), anonymous online survey to gather data.

Will you give Lisa your input about reading?  Please take a few minutes to complete the survey yourself, and ask your friends and family to take it too.

The deadline is Friday, April 15.  Yes, I know some of you have something else due that day, but this will be a lot more fun.  And I know Lisa will be very grateful.

Here’s the link to the survey:

Reading Survey 

This is a cross-post, also appearing on my creative non-fiction blog, PattiKen and the Muses - Home Away From Home.

From Hell to Breakfast, and Back (Part 2)

This is the conclusion of a story begun in From Hell to Breakfast (Part 1).

“I’m pretty sure I’m being watched.”  Vera sits twisting the lace-edged handkerchief she’s taken from her handbag (a Prada, if I’m not mistaken, I think, bought with my money).  

Harry asks the questions and I mostly take notes while Vera gives us her story.  I don’t really trust myself not to turn this into yet another verbal brawl.  As I listen, I have to say I’m taking no small measure of satisfaction from the predicament Vera has gotten herself into.   
It seems that Vera’s favors in bed (and the kitchen, and the pool, and the…) aren’t the only booty that pool boy Paco is after.  It seems that Paco has been scoping out her jewelry and my art work as well.  

“I think I’m going to be robbed.  And as much as I hate to say it, I’m pretty sure I know who’s behind it.”

“That’s a pretty big leap, Vera,” Harry remarks skeptically. “What makes you think someone is going to rob you?” 

"Oh, I see him looking.  Paco, I mean.  I’m not the bimbo,” and here I can’t help but roll my eyes, ”that some people seem to think I am.”  She pauses to glance at me, and I shrug dramatically, as if to say “hey, if the shoe -- Jimmy Choo, no doubt -- fits…”  

“I walked in to the bedroom one night and caught him pawing my ruby necklace, the one your mom left to me, Marty.  ‘You shouldn’t leave this lying around, chica,’ he says. ‘It might get stolen.’ Seemed pretty obvious to me who might be doing the stealing.”

Harry cuts a glance at me, then says, “Geez, Vera, maybe the guy’s concerned about your safety.”

I swallow the guffaw that threatens to explode from my mouth, and say sarcastically, “Oh, yeah, Vera, I’m sure that’s it.”

“Oh, don’t be facetious, Marty.”  Vera glares at me. “It doesn’t become you.”

Harry clears his throat, and says, “OK, then, moving right along, children…  Vera, you said you were being followed.”

“Well, I can’t be sure, of course.  I’m certainly no expert at this tawdry sort of thing.  But I keep spotting the same pick-up truck.”  She shakes her head as Harry eyebrows lift in question. “No, no, it’s not Paco’s truck.  I’ve never seen this truck before.  It’s a gaudy blue thing that’s seen better days.  It was there outside the hair salon yesterday, and I saw it last week as I was leaving my garden club meeting.  Once or twice at the grocery store or around town might be a coincidence.  But this often?  And the man driving it is most definitely not Paco.  He’s a big, ugly guy, looks like a thug.”

“Uh oh, sounds pretty dire, Vera,” I comment, my voice as melodramatic as I can make it.  “So just what is it that you want from us?  If you think I’m going to go threaten the guy or something…”

“Of course not,” Vera interrupts impatiently. “I just want you to do what you do, whatever that is.  Check Paco out.  Find out what’s going on.  And like I said, I’ll pay for your services.”

I look at my partner, who gives a small nod.

“OK, fine.  We’ll help you clean up your little mess.  Our rates are $1,500 a day plus expenses, which, of course, I happen to be in a position to know you can well afford,” I said.  “We’ll need a retainer of $5,000 today.”


We spend an hour or so getting details from Vera, including a better description of the gaudy blue truck and the thug.  All the while, my mind is churning, scheming, planning.

A bit of legwork, both electronic and the old-fashioned kind, reveals that Vera is probably right.  Seems old Paco has a bit of a background Vera had never bothered to look into when she hired him to clean the pool, as well as perform other services.  His buff young body had apparently been all the credential she’d needed.

Vera’s boy has some experience with this form of entrepreneurship.  Last time, though, he got caught with his fingers in the cookie jar, so to speak, and he spent a couple of years making library tables.  And here I thought they only made license plates.  Joe Mendoza, the thug who drives the blue truck, was Paco’s cell mate at CMC San Luis Obispo. 

I’d heard that the prison rehab program was a failure.  I guess I heard right, because here these two graduates are, apparently falling right back into their old ways.  But this time, Paco isn’t working alone.  Maybe the thug brings some new skills to the table.  To be honest, that’s just what I’m hoping.


Harry and I are sitting in his Camry down the street from Paco’s Echo Park bungalow, eating powdered donuts.  I won’t allow the things in my Volvo, but a little powdered sugar added to the trash heap that is Harry’s car won’t make a bit of difference.

I lick the sugar from my fingers,  keeping my eyes on the blue truck sitting in the driveway.   “So, here’s what I’m thinking.  I say we let them have at it.”   

“Wha’d’you mean?” Harry asks with his mouth stuffed with donut.

“Obviously, Mendoza’s been tracking Vera’s movements, charting out her schedule.  It won’t take a brain trust for them to pin down pockets of time plenty big enough to pull off a robbery.  And the house is pretty isolated up there in Calabasas.  No one’s going to see a damn thing.  We’ll tell Vera we don’t have any concrete evidence that Paco’s up to anything, but we’ll keep digging.  Meanwhile, we keep an eye on their movements so we know when they pull the job.  Then we move in.”

What?”  Harry quickly swallows the last bit of donut.  “What are you talking about?  Move in where?”

“We wait until Mendoza and Mr. Pool Boy grab Vera’s jewelry and my art work, and stash it.  It’ll probably be in some warehouse or something.  And then we help ourselves.”

Harry’s looking at me like I’m speaking in tongues.  “Are you fucking crazy?  We're not dealing with a cheating husband here.  These guys are ex-con whack-jobs.”  

“Think about it, Harry. The stuff goes missing, who’s Vera going to blame?  And when these guys discover it’s gone from their hidey hole, what are they going to do?  Call the cops?  I don’t think so. And they don’t know shit-all about us.”

“No, but Vera does.”

“Don’t worry.  I’ve got it covered.”

Harry didn’t jump on board that afternoon, but I was pretty sure he’d come around.


It pretty much happened just like I predicted.  In the course of our “investigation” for Vera, we discovered the boys had themselves a storage unit up in Oxnard.  Check.  Vera came home from her book club meeting one night, and found all the jewelry, art, her stereo, the wide-screen TV and assorted other stuff gone.  Check.  She also found Paco unconscious on the floor with a bloody gash on his head . Huh? Those guys are smarter than I thought.  That was pretty damned clever.

Vera called me, of course, right after the ambulance left to take Paco to the hospital.  Semi-hysterical, she told me about the robbery, then demanded, “What kind of half-assed detective are you?  Why didn’t you know?  You said there was no problem.”

“Chill, Vera.  I never said there was no problem.  I said we couldn’t find one.  Why are you yelling at me?  You’re the one who took up with that loser.”

“But he didn’t do it, Marty.  Poor Paco was at the house tonight, and he got clubbed over the head.   He’s on his way to the hospital.”

Yeah, right. 
“Sorry, honey, but I really couldn’t give a rat’s ass.  Call the cops.  Now that there’s nothing left to steal, we’re done here. I think Harry and I are going to head up to Frisco to celebrate.  I’ll send you the final bill.”  With that, I hung up, leaving Vera to sputter indignantly into a dead line.


And then it was our turn.

“You can’t just waltz in there and help yourself, like it was some kind of fucking Vegas buffet.”
 “Sure I can. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  I’ve been waiting too long for this opportunity and now it’s here.  I’m sure as hell not going to let it just slide by.  If you’re not with me, then stand the hell back. Your choice.”   

In the end, of course, Harry went along, sort of.   We flew out the next morning for our “long weekend in Frisco.”  After we’d checked in at the Union Square hotel, I left and caught a bus back down to Oxnard, paying cash for the ticket, of course.  When I got there, I picked up the unregistered beater with stolen plates that Harry had “bought off a guy” and left at the bus station.  I headed over to the storage unit, where as I expected, it was a piece of cake to cut the padlock off the door.  In and out in minutes, and back in Frisco in time for lunch on Fisherman's Wharf the next day. By the time anyone noticed the old Chevy sitting in the used car lot across the street from the bus station, we’ll be in LA and back to business as usual.

I’m not greedy.  I didn’t take it all, just the jewelry.  I’d spent a friggin’ fortune on that stuff, and I figured we could unload it pretty easily and get a nice chunk of change for it.  Not enough to make up for the bucks Vera robbed me of in the divorce, but enough to make me feel better.  Oh, and I did toss the place while I was there, scattering Paco’s loot from hell to breakfast.


I look at Harry across the table, grinning broadly, and raise my glass.  “Let’s drink a toast, shall we?  This one’s for you, Vera.”


This is the second part of a two-part story written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory.


From Hell to Breakfast, and Back (Part 1)

I’d been determined to leave her in the dust.  But Karma stepped in, took careful aim, and whacked me a good one upside the head. Go figure.

Of course, Karma doesn’t win them all.  Oh, no, not by a long shot.  Not when a guy’s got a point to prove, and is dead set on revenge.  And sure as Bob’s your uncle, I was going to get even. 

I had it all figured out.  I’d analyzed it step by step, looked at it from every side and inside out, and I could find no flaws.  It was perfect.


The two of us in the office couldn’t look more different.  Harry Carrold – He’s never quite forgiven his parents for that one, and I don’t blame him.  Who names their kid “Harold Carrold,” for Pete’s sake? – is a mess.  His blond hair obviously has no close personal relationship with a comb, and is sticking out wildly as usual.  His seersucker suit, a little too long for his 5’7” frame, is beyond rumpled.  He looks like he’s been sleeping on the leather sofa in the reception area.  In fact, he well may have been, since he does more often than he likes to admit.  Then there’s me.  I’m Marty Tremaine, and it’s my name (followed by “Investigations”) etched on the frosted glass window of the outer door.  If you were describing the two of us, you might say that I’m Esquire’s “after” to Harry’s “before.”   I’m tall and pretty trim, dressed in a crisp summer-weight poplin suit, Egyptian cotton shirt and Italian leather loafers.  I look pretty sharp, if I do say so myself.  

Despite our physical differences, Harry and I are lifelong friends.  We grew up next door to each other in Walton, Connecticut, and the fast friendship we formed in the tree house perched in the big oak tree behind Harry’s house carried us through school, into adulthood and out to California.  When I sold my family’s accounting firm and opened Tremaine Investigations, no one was surprised when Harry quit his programming job, got a PI license and went in with me.  Neither one of us had liked our jobs much – after I inherited the business from Dad, I couldn’t sell it fast enough.  Besides, I have always seen myself as something a bit more interesting than a bean counter.  “Private eye” fits my self-image nicely.  I am never happier than when in the office behind my scarred wooden desk.  The desk was my dad’s, and his dad’s before him.  It’s the one thing -- other than the money, of course – that I took when I sold the firm.  I love this desk.  Hell, I love this office.  I often spin my chair around to gaze out the dirty arched window behind me, and imagine myself to be Mickey Spillane.  Only better looking, of course.

Harry’s wife left him several years ago, saying she was tired of being married to a Goodwill model.  They had no children and she made as much as he did, so Harry has no financial commitments to anyone other than himself.  My situation has been a bit more complicated.  My wife Vera and I parted just after I sold the business, and we spent months embroiled in a bitter divorce.  I know that, all along, Vera had her eye on the proceeds.

Jerry and Linda, our two children, were left trust funds by their grandfather, and are well taken care of, so it all came down to a battle between Vera and me.  I swore that if I had anything to say about it, she wasn’t going to get one red cent  After all, I’d found her in my bed with the pool boy. Seriously? The pool boy?  It was such a fucking clichĂ©, not to mention beyond tacky.  I was determined that all Vera would get out of the divorce was the house, the pool boy, and little else.

Of course, my best intentions had come to naught.  In the end, I had very little to say about it. Vera hired Mary Jo Montgomery as her lawyer. Behind that sweet smile and Southern girl drawl, Mary Jo is a shark.  Before I even knew she was circling, she’d frozen my assets.  Thanks to Mary Jo’s quick thinking and my hubris, Vera cleaned me out. What few crumbs were left behind went to Mary Jo. All except for the PI business, which Vera magnanimously left for me. Not that it was worth anything.

I am not reduced to eating dog food, not by a long shot.  Harry and have done well thanks to Tremaine Investigations, if not from actually sleuthing. We quickly discovered that we had little patience for skulking around in the shadows and digging up dirt.  But between my understanding of things financial, and Harry’s facility with computer data, we are very adept at ferreting out the hidden assets of a soon-to-be ex-husband of a client. Too bad I didn’t do better at hiding my own, but in a way, there’s a certain symmetry to it, don’t you think?  Before turning in our report to the client, we easily relieve the poor schmuck of a portion of what he was only going to lose to his wife in the end anyway, leaving no trace of our handiwork behind.  

So, yeah, I’m doing just fine financially, thank you very much.  But that isn’t the fucking point.  I. want. revenge.  It’s that simple.  If that mercenary bitch thinks she can just rip my life to shreds and scatter the bits and pieces from hell to breakfast, she has another think coming. 

Harry gets up from the client chair in front of my desk and starts pacing nervously.  Beyond the office door, we can hear end-of-the-workday sounds.   Our receptionist Steve “Don’t-ever-call-me-Stephanie” McGuire has packed up for the day, and joined the Friday exodus in the hallway.  The secretaries’ heels click-click toward the elevator, their voices excited as they chat about their evening plans.  The ding-ding of the arriving elevator and the whoosh-whoosh of its doors as it opens, swallows the waiting workers, and closes again tells Harry the hallway is empty, and he is free to speak without fear of being overheard.

He turns to look at me. “You can’t just waltz in there and help yourself, like it was some kind of fucking Vegas buffet.”   Harry is usually up for just about anything, but this time, he thinks I’m off my trolley.

I lift my eyes from racing form on my desk and look at Harry, raising my left eyebrow.  I can’t resist; the eyebrow thing drives Harry crazy.  Probably because he can’t do it.  

“Sure I can. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  I’ve been waiting too long for this opportunity and now it’s here.  I’m sure as hell not going to let it just slide by.  If you’re not with me, then stand the hell back. Your choice.”   

And the rest, as they say…   

This is how it all went down. 


It’s a quiet Thursday afternoon.  Shit, they’re all pretty damn quiet.  I’m sitting behind my desk reading the newspaper when Steve opens the door separating the reception area from my office and slips in stealthily.

“Marty,” she says in a stage whisper.  “Marty.”

I spin my chair around to meet her wide eyes.  “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.  What’s up?”

Steve comes closer to the desk and whispers, “You’re not going to be happy.”

"For Pete’s sake, Steve.  Stop talking like you’re in a soap opera or something, and tell me what's going on.  Why do I think I’m not going to like this?”

“Oh, you won’t like it; trust me on that.  You’ll never guess who’s outside.”

“Another bill collector?  The IRS?  Or, unlikely as it seems, maybe an actual client?  And, geez, stop that whispering.”

“Well, it’s a client, all right.  But…”

“Why didn’t you say so in the first place?”  I leap to my feet, and head toward the door, smoothing my hair as I go.  “Go tell Harry to get in here.”

“Marty, wait.”  Steve’s urgent whisper comes too late.

As I pull open the door, I turn on my best PI charm and say, “Hello. I’m…”  And then I see her.  “What the hell are you doing here?”

Vera uncrosses her long legs – damn, she’s always had fine legs, I think – and rises.  As she walks toward me, she says in that low throaty voice of hers, “I know who you are, Marty.”  But the small smile hovering around her lips as she speaks fades quickly.  “As for what I am doing here… Well, I need your help.”

I burst out laughing.  “You’ve got to be kidding.  You really think I’d be willing to help you?”

I turn to Steve, who has come out of my office and is standing there wringing her hands, looking like a worried mother.  

“Stephanie, show this lady where the elevator is.  I think she’s lost.”  

I turn and stride back into my office, slamming the door behind me.  Yeah, always wanted to do that.  But before I get halfway to my desk, the door opens and Vera comes in and closes the door gently behind her.

I open my mouth and am about to let loose with a few choice words when she says, “I’ll pay.”

I clamp my jaw shut and just stare at her for a long moment.

“Oh for heaven’s sake, Marty. Get a grip.  I said I’ll pay.”  She walks around one of the client chairs in front of the desk and sits down, crossing those legs again. 

My eyes drop as her skirt rides up a bit, but I’m not really into it.  I’m still caught by the idea that she’d pay for my services.  So, okay, I’ll see what she has to say.  A germ of an idea is taking root in my brain.  Hey, mama didn’t raise no fools.

Just then, Harry comes in, disbelief written all over his face.  “Vera.”  He shifts his eyes to me and raises his eyebrows questioningly.  I gesture toward the other client chair, then walk around and take a seat behind my desk.  

“So what is it, Vera?  What’s so important that you would come here asking for our help?”

To be concluded in Part 2


This is the first of a two-part story written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory.


Doo, Do Doo, Do Doo, Do Do Doo

The From-Hell-to-Breakfast, No-Such-Thing-As-Writer's-Block, Write-Anyway Chorus

No matter the muse,
No matter the vacuum.
No matter that words hide behind
Posts or just skip gaily away.
No matter the vowels and the tenses
Scattered from hell to breakfast,
The music keeps playing 
And the beat keeps beating.
The back-up group keeps singing,
"Write anyway. Write anyway.”

Were this then and I sat here
With paper and an eraser grown thin,
Crumpled balls of frustration
Would carpet the floor at my feet 
With bits of stories that could only begin.
But this being now and times being modern,
And eraser replaced by a worn Delete key,
It’s my mind that’s littered from hell to breakfast,
While the refrain keeps on playing
“Write anyway. Write anyway.”

No matter the muse
Asleep in the corner.
No matter the absence
Of any inspiration at all.
The music keeps playing
To the beat always beating
As the singers keeps singing,
“Write anyway.  
Write any way.”


Doo, Do Doo, Do Doo, Do Do Doo...

This was written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory and 
One Stop Poetry.