Monday morning Clarkson is on the hotel roof top, the sun already hot on his back. Around 8:30 the balcony door opens at Bobrowski’s room. A waiter wheels a food cart out before him. With a practiced flourish the man snaps a table cloth and places it on the table top. Placing the plates and silverware on the table first, he brings the silver domed food platters from inside the cart. Checking the table to be certain everything is in place, the waiter goes back into the room pushing the cart.
Ally and Fay are the first two people to appear. Clarkson brings the rifle up and sets it on the roof’s ledge. The women are pouring coffee into cups and beckoning the men to the table. Clarkson pulls the rifle stock to his cheek. Two men come out on the balcony. Clive sits with his back to Clarkson. Reggie sits across from Clive.
Claire Fairthorpe rushes back to her room to get her Walther pistol specially equipped with a silencer. The fat man rises from the bed and grabs her wrist. “Come back to bed my sweet little dumpling, I am ready for you again.”
Claire yanks her wrist from his grip and takes the pistol from a dresser drawer. Turning back toward the man Claire points the pistol at him. “Do not be here when I return, you fill me with disgust.”
He puts his hands up defensively and turns away. Claire grabs her purse and rushes from the room. At the cab stand in front of her hotel she steps in front of a couple and slams the door closed. She yells at the cab driver, “Get me to the Harbor Hotel now!”
Throwing money to the driver when they arrive at the hotel she bolts from the cab. Facing toward the front of the hotel she sees two wings of the building that jut out from the center rooms. She knows where Bobrowski’s room is but now must decide which of the wings Clarkson would choose. She rushes to her right.
“Son of a bitch,” mutters Clarkson. Clive’s head is in the way of his shot. Clarkson takes the rifle down and moves further out to his right. The shot will have to be at an angle he did not foresee. Laying the rifle on the ledge he puts a blanket down to kneel on. Looking through the scope he brings the center of the crosshairs to bear on the left side of Reggie’s head.
Claire reaches the roof top of the building’s wing she chose. Opening the door to the roof slowly, she looks through the gap. Not seeing anyone she goes through the door. The roof is empty, no one is at the ledge overlooking the rooms below. “Damn it! Wrong wing.” Fairthorpe runs back to the door.
Ally and Fay are putting the food on plates and setting the plates before the men. Clarkson waits for the women to sit down. With the women settled he pulls the rifle’s stock into his shoulder and sights through the scope. Ally’s head is just forward bending toward her food. Reggie’s head is perfectly in the crosshairs. Clarkson takes a deep breath.
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His terminal path was irreversible and had been certain from the moment he palmed the cash at the blackjack table. The greedy moment was his second chance. Once before, he had attempted to steal from them. It was only a small amount that would not be missed, or so he thought. But they caught him, and later in an isolated shed deep in the woods, he experienced what they called awareness training…and he suffered. He survived the test only to gain a renewed, but baseless, confidence.
Greed can blind the goodness of a soul. Its selfish nature ignores those things important to the rest of humanity, consumes more than its share, and discards its rubble. Greed cultivates only that which feeds its insatiable appetite.
As time passed, the fear and pain dissolved with the distance of the memory. He learned from the experience and now believed that he knew the unwritten rules crucial to his survival. He settled back into the routine of his job and yearned for acceptance into the family. His desire to be one of them was fueled by an internal fiery ambition, which caused him to forsake all who had loved him before, and this temptation for easy money made him a different man.
He had underestimated the pertinacious spirit and the tenacity of their stewardship regarding family money. The lesson they taught him that night in the shed had faded, giving way to the undeniable force of addictive greed, which romanced him and enticed him to take the short stack of hundreds left on the table by a distracted, inebriated gambler. He palmed it with a swift practiced motion; no one would know. The drunk was barely conscious and unaware, but the ever-watchful eyes had seen the quick hustle. They showed him the camera replay before his trip to this final place to endure their wrath.
Scars are etched and spoils discarded along greed’s ugly trail. Greed is a cancer that tangles its suffocating tentacles to all it can reach and eats away the foundation of its subsistence. Greed devours and moves on to its next host. Greed teaches greed.
They tied him by his wrist to pilings under a dilapidated industrial dock on the Sampit River. The river branched and flowed in a deep channel previously used by ships that had served the Georgetown steel mill. The mill was closed and forgotten. Greed had converted this life-giving estuary into an abandoned, rust-colored wasteland. The murky channel was a frequent path for large bull sharks cruising upstream from the bay in search of schooling mullet and trout. Sharks would not overlook this tempting morsel for long.
Before the big predator arrived, the thief hung in the changing tides for two days with his mouth taped shut and his castrated loins slowly seeping his bodily fluids to mingle with the secretions of bloody chum bags secured about his waist. He was the anointed temptation and the warning. The water rose to his chin and receded to his waist in a slow, consistent, tidal cycle. He had guessed what might finally happen, but did not know how long before death would come. Anxious, but resigned to his fate, he wished the end to be now. He craved the satisfaction of relief, but there was no answer to his false prayer offered to a feigned religion.
The beast circled, moving faster as it sensed the source of the blood trail and tested the defenseless nature of the prey. It became more aggressive. He felt the first tearing punctures of the powerful, predatory attack as the hidden beast surged and ripped away the lower half of his body in one crushing bite. The attack was painful at first but ultimately delivered anticipated relief from his tortured trial. For a few short moments, he remained alive and conscious and watched as his life’s blood drained away. He saw the mortal wound but did not dwell on the implication. The attack was fueled by hungry, gluttonous greed.
Greed is often without mercy.
He had lived a short, highly charged life on the edge, with all that a young single man could want, but he had wanted more. While seeking more than his due, he had crossed the avarice boundary patrolled by a greater greed, and then he paid. His termination was the justice dispensed by an unmerciful, pestilent force, a force he had once nourished, but never allied.
He no longer felt pain, released his apathetic grip on life, and floated, rising above the body that was once him, watching the shark attack again and again in a ravenous feeding frenzy that would not stop until the prey was consumed. His soul was already gone, maybe to his final paradise.
The setting sun illuminated the clouds in a peaceful orange-and-blue sky. His violent death did little to disturb nature’s beauty at the end of this fine summer day.
Greed will prune the fresh buds of nature’s spring and sour the taste of its life’s stream.
A young hitchhiker stood on a high bridge that crossed the Sampit River. He was tired and hungry, but he stopped to watch the sunset over the vast stretch of pine forest that swallowed the winding river to the west. Without concern he looked down the river channel to see thrashing water under an abandoned pier. The dim light and the distance to the pier conspired to obnubilate his view of the prey and the predator. The water settled to a calm, black surface. He quickly lost interest and looked back at the distant sunset, picked up his bag, and moved on. He was going to Myrtle Beach, and he was sure that life would be better.
Battleship gray merged to powder blue as the eastern sky met the new day. Pelicans flying in a disciplined flight formation skimmed the glassy, rolling surf. Sandpipers raced along the seafoam cast to shore on the edge of each wave.
“I love this time of day. It’s just so perfect.” Edna sighed.
“Me too. I just wish it didn’t come so early.” Evelyn yawned and rubbed her eyes.
Each morning Edna and Evelyn walked a half block west from their apartment and crossed four lanes of asphalt, known as the Kings Highway, to purchase one of their little decadent pleasures: coffee and a warm Krispy Kreme doughnut. With the treats, they returned east two blocks, kicked off their flip-flops, and walked on the cool beach sand, to their favorite morning rendezvous off First Avenue South.
They enjoyed commanding views of the surf from this spot in front of the Swamp Fox Roller Coaster and Amusement Park. The two thirty-something friends relaxed on seats attached to either side of a lifeguard stand positioned near a high-tide beach drain know as the swash. While watching the calming turmoil of the surf, they savored each bite of the scrumptious, hot doughnuts. Both had a habit of dipping the sugared, caloric bombs into their coffee prior to each bite.
The early-morning salt air, the ocean’s constant music, the sand creatures scampering for their morning meal, and the new beachcombers’ bounty of shells left on the high tide were all things precious to these aging, but not old, former beach babes.
They had come to the beach during the most impressionable time of their young lives to experience the joy of the glitter and lights of Myrtle Beach in the summertime. At first, to stay or leave was an easy choice, but time rerouted the path to any other place. Each swore to the other she would never leave, and the promises had been kept, so far.
As friends since elementary school, Edna and Evelyn had enjoyed the summer beach vacations of their youth. They had played all the Pavilion games, shared cotton-candy swirls, ridden go-carts and all the amusement park rides. Each had swooned over a beach romance, falling in love for a week with a guy they would never see again.
Edna and Evelyn lived in an affordable two-bedroom apartment over Eddie and Vera Rondell’s garage. The girls had been renting this beach apartment from the Rondells for over ten years, and they had all grown to be like family.
Evelyn was Twiggy-cute, anorexic thin, and wore thick, black-rimmed glasses. She had straight black hair that she trimmed when the bangs hung over her eyes and had an uncanny ability to select unflattering fashion styles that hid her natural beauty. She was a prime candidate for a professional makeover.
With each of the many minimum-wage jobs on her Myrtle Beach resume, she left when the breaks were cut back, the boss was too bossy, or she just needed a change as a reminder that her dream was still possible. That new job would surely provide the bridge to greener grass and a path to her dream. She typically found the new patch of green grass to be maintained by similar gardeners.
For now Evelyn worked the two-to-ten shift at the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop. The shift was too late for breakfast and too early for the late-night pot-toker’s feast. But someone was needed to tend the counter for that late-afternoon sugar urge and for those who craved the hot, sweet appetizer that Krispy Kreme had delivered in the South since 1937. While the Krispy Kreme was short on bridges, it provided rare opportunities to pick up extra cash tips to supplement her hourly minimum wage.
Evelyn lived for the coffee, her cigarette breaks, and the occasional big tipper, the guy who dropped by more for conversation and a break from loneliness than a doughnut. For a few minutes, they met each other’s needs—a caffeine, sugary, afternoon high, mixed with a no-brain, incoherent conversation about the latest government-induced gripe, the sports report, or the weather. The tippers left thinking someone cared, and Evelyn left with a tip.
She held holy her ten-minute break allowed each hour by store management. The only smoke break location was out back on a concrete step, but in the heat or in the rain, Evelyn was there. For nine minutes and fifty-eight seconds, every hour, she sat on the back step thinking about her future and occasionally what her soul mate might be like when she finally found him. The available candidates were rare visitors at this job.
She wondered how long she would work the counter at this joint. Was she trapped in a life gradually morphing into someone she had never wanted to be? For now this beach resort was her place, her inescapable island of life.
She punched out at exactly ten every evening, a cigarette in her lips and a tired dream in her heart. When she left, she walked across Highway 17, the Kings Highway, to “her” happy hour at the Frisky Rabbit. She had a seat at the end of the bar that was always open for her. Each night Evelyn met her friend and soul mate, Edna, at the end of the bar, in the middle of life.
Edna still had the same curvaceous figure of her early twenties, with all the right parts in the perfect places. She dressed in a modest style but accentuated her positives and could still turn a few heads. Since her early teenage years, she had pampered her waist-length blond hair with expensive shampoos and one hundred brushes each and every night.
From the first week of her arrival at the beach, Edna had worked in a gift shop touted as the world-famous One-Eyed Flounder. She had worked her way up through the employment ranks of the Flounder, learning the retailing tricks required to succeed in the extremely competitive business of selling tourist trinkets in a coastal resort market.
She had toiled faithfully through the growth years to see each new addition to the One-Eyed Flounder as it slowly expanded upward and outward into a multilevel tourist bazaar. She was one of the few who could navigate the many aisles, rooms, and stairways without getting lost. She knew where every item in the store was supposed to be located.
On occasion and more often recently, she hinted to her supervisor, her supervisor’s manager, and the storeowner that she felt capable and deserving of the opportunity to move into a management position or at least a floor supervisor position. Unfortunately, all of these growth opportunities were currently filled and were likely to remain that way, as the owner had overstocked the positions with relatives. Most were lazy, clueless, unmotivated, and overpaid. Edna continued to labor silently under the supervision of the owner’s twenty-eight-year-old son, Darrell Jr.
All too quickly their morning routine was done, the sun was surprisingly hot in the early morning sky, the doughnuts were eaten, and the last sip of coffee emptied from their mugs.
“Ready to go?” Edna asked with an obvious reluctance to leave.
“No. But I guess it’s time. You know I could sit here all day and play on the beach. The tourists aren’t here yet, and the beach is so fresh and clean with all of the trash gone, but it won’t be long. I see ’em coming already, one by one.”
“Yep, the confused and thankless horde will be along directly. Look at that guy over there at the edge of the water already digging a hole in the sand, and for what? What is he thinking? The guy gets up at seven a.m., puts on a swimsuit, and starts diggin’ a hole in the wet sand. Has that particular urge ever hit you—to go out and dig a hole in the sand before dawn? I mean…what the hell?”
“Well, now that you ask—like, ah, nope, haven’t had that urge—but then I get to see this masterpiece of nature everyday, so I suppose I’m just spoiled. I’ve never been able to figure out what goes through the minds of most tourists anyway. They almost seem like an alien breed of some sort. It’s freaky, ’cause they look like the rest of us, except with a sunburn.”
“Hey, you know, you might be right. Maybe it’s just a disguise or something to fake us out!”
“Oh, Edna, you’re crazy, girl. Let’s get our fat butts moving. We got things to do.”
“Speak for yourself, fat butt. I’m gonna waltz my fine, tight, young stuff on back to the house. Maybe some redneck stud in a jacked-up pickup truck will whistle at me when I cross Ocean Boulevard! Woo-hoo! You know how I love that kind of intellectual love call,” Edna teased with sarcasm.
“You will just never grow up, you silly thing.”
They both laughed and trudged through the sand, flip-flopped over the hotel parking lot, and trotted across the asphalt of Ocean Boulevard. No studs of any type were out this early, but a large four-door Buick with Quebec licenses plates almost hit them.
The driver, with oblivious concentration, guided the car forward in the wrong lane, ignored the pedestrian crossing, turned sharply across four lanes without even a glance in his side mirror, clipped a stop sign, and continued weaving down a side street as if nothing had happened. Ahh, another day in paradise had begun. Summer was coming fast, and the Canadians were migrating back to their northern habitats.
The girls decided to reroute their path home, giving the main road and the unpredictable morning traffic a wide berth. They cut through the amusement park, taking a boardwalk trail that passed near the base of a large wooden and steel guy-wire structure, the world-famous Swamp Fox Roller Coaster.
“Edna, is that the kiddie train I hear running at this ungodly hour?”
“It sounds like it, but it’s too early. They never run that noisy thing much before noon. If it’s not against the city noise ordinance, it should be.”
The kiddie train was a small-scale replica of a passenger train and served as an amusement-park ride, normally complete with a properly attired engineer to drive kids and their attentive parents on a twisted route through the amusement park. They could hear the signature whistle of the engine making its way along its railed path beneath the massive trusses. The park was closed, and the girls were curious.
The miniature engine rounded a curve from behind a manicured Ligustrum hedge.
“Oh my God! What the—” Edna and Evelyn stood paralyzed with shock, their mouths agape as they stared at a naked young man with hands and feet tied and lashed across the engine. His head and upper torso were positioned over the front of the train and appeared like a figurehead on a ship’s bowsprit. A plastic bag filled with a small quantity of a greenish-brown substance was stuffed in his mouth and secured with duct tape. He seemed to be alive, but frozen in place.
“Call nine-one-one, call nine-one-one, call nine-one-one! Oh shit. Oh shit.” Evelyn trotted around in a small circle, her arms tucked at her sides and her hands flapping up and down on her limp wrist. She was not sure what to do, so she vacillated in place.
“No, I have not been drinking, ma’am!” Edna barked with extreme irritation to the emergency operator. “You tell the emergency boys to get here and get here quick. This boy doesn’t look so good.”
Finally, after thirty minutes, the Myrtle Beach Police arrived in their normal, less-than-rapid response to strange tourist sightings. The miniature train with its naked patron made ten more trips around the track before the first police car rolled into the parking lot. The officer eased one leg out of the car, and the rest of him struggled to follow. He carefully cradled a hot Krispy Kreme between his thumb and index finger. He reached back in the car to retrieve his coffee before moving his attention to this early-morning emergency.
Thirty minutes later the park manager arrived to turn off the ride. Lights were flashing, and sporadic sirens broke what was left of the early-morning calm. A small command post had been set up to support all the rescue teams, including policemen, fire trucks, firemen, an ambulance, and three EMTs. Two-dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts, a coffee thermos, and a small tarp were brought to the scene, while police gathered evidence.
The process was slow, and the mild enthusiasm decreased as the doughnuts disappeared. Sea gulls hovered, squawked, and looked for crumbs. Bored with the official disinterest and lack of progress, Edna went home to get ready for work. Evelyn went to take a nap before her weekly grocery-shopping duties.
The victimized young man, a first-year summer worker, was employed at the park. He had only been on the job for three weeks. He was confident, cocky, and considered a cool dude in his western Kentucky hometown. The teenager’s prayers had been answered with a summer job at the beach and a chance to get out of his nothing town for the summer. He was in heaven with girls, the beach, girls, pot, and girls. He relished the nightly parties that were easier to find in this town than a hamburger. He loved the crowded bars.
His small beach pad was a room in the Hutches Apartments located behind his new favorite bar, the Frisky Rabbit. All of these things created his perfect domain. He had met a pot dealer staking out new turf and had negotiated the rights for a small franchise to supplement his meager, ride-operator income. It was all good.
The young man had a bag of pot stuffed in his mouth and a note written with indelible black marker ink across his chest and duplicated on his back, saying, “Go Home.” The next day, he did.
The victim could not identify the assailant who perpetrated this weird crime of assault and harassment. The police report recorded the description of a thick, muscular man with a ski mask and gloves. The young man did not want to talk. He was scared, close-lipped, extremely anxious to go home, and of course, he did not claim the pot; it must have belonged to the attacker. At least, that was his story. He told the police he had no idea what the message was about, but he was not sticking around to help find the guy. His adventure in paradise was over.
From his front porch, Eddie watched the morning activity at the Swamp Fox Amusement Part with mixed feelings of disdain, regret, and satisfaction. He was weary of the unrelenting surge of unruly summer workers and overwhelmed by the continuous, unabated onslaught of tourism.
Eddie and Vera Rondell were lifelong residents of Myrtle Beach. They lived in the same house where Vera had grown up. For many years they had lived in an apartment over the detached garage, but after her parents died, the couple moved into the main house. Sixty years ago the modest white two-story frame house with gingerbread trim had been built on a quiet street near an isolated stretch of beach. It had been a quaint beach cottage.
Eddie had worked for thirty years at the Georgetown paper mill. Five days a week, he had endured the thirty-mile drive each way, first to save on rent and later to care for Vera’s parents. Moving from this paradise had never been an option. The resort town had grown up around them without their concurrence.
The vacationers were like an infected wound that healed during the winter months, only to have the scab scraped away each spring and the wound grow deeper. Tourists would blow into town, raise hell for a week, and then go home. The arrogance of each year’s crop of summer workers was overwhelming and caustic. These punks thought they owned the place for the summer season. To Eddie, these unwanted trespassers were infuriating, and he weathered each year’s crop with an increased anger and boiling anxiety.
The Frisky Rabbit bar was less than one hundred yards down the street from Eddie and Vera’s house. Cottages rented exclusively to summer workers were nestled between the bar and Eddie’s property. A scattered row of palmetto trees mixed with an eight-foot-high waxed-leaf Ligustrum hedge to visually isolate the co-ed cottages that were filled with loud, rambunctious, college-aged summer workers.
And if the bar and the cottages weren’t enough, a fast-growing lifeguard business had built an office and lifeguard dormitory across the street. The guards raced to check in at the office each morning before eight o’clock and raced out again two minutes later to set up their stands, tires squealing on both entry and exit. The same loud chaotic process took place around six o’clock, but with music, drinking, and loud profanities added to the irritating mix. Some guards who lived in the guardhouse raised the noise level late into the night.
Eddie and Vera had a clear view of all of this activity as they attempted to enjoy the summer evenings on their porch. The loudest and most obnoxious, late-night party hounds of all summer workers surrounded the couple’s quaint beach cottage.
Each summer developers discovered new space to squeeze more hotels on beachfront lots. Each new business required more workers. Eddie wished all workers could be handled like many hotel maids and maintenance workers, who were collected each morning from surrounding communities, transported into Myrtle Beach, and shuttled back to their homes at night.
Eddie saw the hotels, tourist trinket shops, fast-food restaurants, and arcades as an overgrown forest sorely in need of a vigorous thinning. He could relate to the words of a Joni Mitchell tune, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” But in his version, they put up another tourist trap. The last big hurricane to hit Myrtle Beach was Hazel in ’58. Eddie thought it was time for another one. Too bad Hugo hit so far south; another fifty miles north, and he would have had his wish.
“Vera…honey…oh, Veeeerrraaa! I’m going fishing for a while down at the pier. You need anything before I go?” Eddie set two surf rods and a bait bucket in the back of his pickup truck.
“No, darlin’. What’s all the noise over at the park? My goodness, there’s police cars and everything. Was someone hurt? Do we need to help?” Vera stepped out from behind the screen door and onto the front porch.
“No, sweetie, if Myrtle Beach police officers, EMTs, and firemen with all their vehicles and gear can’t help ’em, we sure as hell can’t.”
“Now, Eddie, no need for you to be swearing. You just go on and fish a spell, and forget about all that. Don’t be gettin’ all worked up. I love you. Now get along, or those fish are all going to be done with their breakfast.”
Vernon was a tall, lanky, chain-smoking, nearsighted, hip mountain man with a bad haircut. He was pissed. With this kiddie train catastrophe, he had lost three bags of pot and a new salesman who had been located in a prime sales location. It had taken two weeks to recruit the right guy to put on the job. The kid was new in town, young, and not extremely perceptive. The temptations of the promised reward of money and girls attracted more potential sales agents to build this marketing pyramid than a free recruitment breakfast at a Mary Kay Pink Cadillac Convention in South Florida.
Vernon was the new self-proclaimed pot sultan for the summer in south Myrtle Beach, a territory stretching from Central Avenue south to Garden City and twenty miles inland to the town of Conway. He had worked hard to establish this position, and he would not relinquish this claimed turf easily. And someone was messing in his business.
During the previous summer, Vernon halfheartedly stumbled through numerous jobs but had learned the ways of Myrtle Beach, the hot nightspots, the restaurants, the amusement parks, and the way of the summer worker. He was really not all that smart, but his subconscious was a keen observer of the facade.
Vernon had worked jobs in three amusement parks, the go-cart track, two restaurants, two bars, three hotels, a T-shirt shop, a gift shop, and a water park, and was typically fired from each job shortly after he was hired. He was lazy and a natural screw-up, showed up late, spent more time trying to pick up female customers than selling, took a little cash for himself, came to work stoned, and once got caught having sex with a questionably young girl while riding the Tilt-a-Whirl. Vernon was not what you would describe as a model employee, but during the summer, few employers checked resumes for work history or references. If you could walk and talk, not necessarily at the same time, you could get a low-wage job serving the tourist industry.
Vernon and his two undaunted thugs stood in front of the Frisky Rabbit waiting impatiently on Booney, the bar owner, to arrive. While the trio waited, they watched the emergency response team help Vernon’s mentally tortured young dealer recover from his naked night ride on the small train.
“Son of a bitch! Harley, I thought I told you to keep an eye on that boy! What the hell, man?” Vernon barked, exasperated with his young thug.
“I was watching him, boss. I watched him almost all night, and I was getting bored, man, and then this bodacious hot girl with gigantic hooters sort of distracted me. It wasn’t my fault, man.”
“Did you get any?” Vernon asked sarcastically with obvious rhetorical intent.
“Naw, she ran when I tried to talk to her, started yelling for the cops or something, but then when I came back, the guy was gone, so like, you know, it wasn’t really my fault or anything.”
“You dumb ass, you just don’t get it, do you? David, what about you? I mean, dammit, there was two of you idiots to watch one guy selling dope. How friggin’ hard can that be?”
“Yeah, like, it wasn’t me, man. I was on break, man. I tested some weed from one of the other new dudes we hired, you know, just checkin’ to make sure he wasn’t cuttin’ the stuff too much, and then I sorta jumped a ride on the roller coaster ’cause a guy I knew was running the ticket booth, and—”
“Shut the hell up! You losers have got to be two of the biggest idiots ever. Jesus H. Christ! What were you thinking? Never mind, I don’t want to know. All I know is you assholes owe me three bags of weed.”
Vernon turned away from the rescue and pointed at a disheveled, troubled, young dude staring out through a small barred window on the front of the Frisky Rabbit bar.
“And this idiot, when we get his ass out of here, no more beer chuggin’ for him. Jesus, you turds are more trouble than you are worth.”
With a disgusted look on his face, Booney pulled into a reserved parking spot next to the front door of the Frisky Rabbit. Last night Vernon had misplaced another one of his new lifeguard pot dealers; Shoots McCoy. At the time no one cared where he was.
Shoots’ cell-phone alarm had roused him to an early-morning consciousness. He had opened his red eyes to find himself lying under a pool table next to a naked girl he didn’t know but maybe should have remembered. It took him a few minutes to figure out where he was and more time to find his clothes and then finally to discover his dilemma of being locked in the bar.
The owners always bolted the doors of the Frisky Rabbit from the outside. Shoots had thirty minutes to be on the beach, or he would be fired. The guard had already been warned twice about late arrivals. He called Vernon for help.
Shoots now had five minutes to hit the beach, or Vernon would lose another well-placed dealer. Booney opened the four padlocks securing metal bars and unlocked the two dead bolts. The liberated lifeguard emerged on a run, heading back to the guardhouse to get his gear before making his way to the beach.
After a quick check for damage in the bar, Booney emerged from a back poolroom with a young girl who squinted at the bright light of day, buttoned her shirt, and staggered to her car. She opened the door and crashed down in the front seat. Booney pushed her feet in and shut the door. Complaining to himself, he locked the front door to the bar and walked over to Vernon.
“Hey, man, you and your boys are going to get busted, or somebody is going to get hurt. You might want to stifle the crazy shit for a while, dude, or it ain’t gonna be cool around here, you know what I mean, man. And Murph, he’s pissed too, man, so you need to chill.”
“Sorry, Booney. I’ll talk to the boys, see what I can do. Here, dude, take this for your trouble.” Vernon slipped Booney a plastic bag with four fat joints, and then he looked down the street at the running guard, who caught his flip-flop on the curb and fell headlong into an eight-foot camellia bush in Eddie’s front yard.
“Jeessuss H…get in the van, boys, he’s never gonna make it in time. See ya, Booney. We gotta get that sorry asshole to the beach. Stay cool, man, stay cool.”
He turned his eyes to meet mine through the water and a small smile came to his lips. “You are far more than I ever imagined you could be,” he said and sat forward, his elbows on his knees. “My magic, mixed with Fenrir’s, as well as the magic you inherited from your parents makes you—”
“A weapon, I know,” I interrupted, unwilling to listen to him.
The second exciting installment of the William Brody African Ocean Adventure Series: African Treasure:
After rescuing the kidnapped village girls, Brody has been hailed a hero by the people of Pemba. In thanks for his bravery and leadership with their safe return, he’s presented with an old wooden sailing dhow. Back to living the dream on the island, Brody’s days are filled with sailing the coastline, diving, fishing and enjoying life to the fullest…that is until his life is turned upside down once again…
A crazy race for lost treasure….
When diving one day, Brody finds himself fighting for his life against a school of sharks. Narrowly escaping death while trapped in an underwater cave, he discovers the hilt from a sword. After some investigation, he realizes this is part of a larger haul, so the hunt is on! But the Kaya Bombo - a radical Islamic group – also have their eyes on the prize. They want the treasure to return the island to Sharia law and will not let anyone or anything get in their way.
Time’s running out…
Now it’s a race against time as Brody battles the terrorists and the ocean to find the treasure and escape. With bullets flying, Brody will do whatever it takes…but only if he can manage to stay alive long enough to claim the prize.
“..... And do you, Iris Anne Evelyn Wright, take Charles Power, as your lawful wedded husband, for better or worse, in sickness and health and for richer or poorer............”
In the country town of Murrumburrah, Charles and Georgina Power from Cootamundra were seated in the front pew of Saint Paul’s Church of England. This was for the marriage of their son Charles to Iris Anne Evelyn Wright. (Iris’s mother had passed away several years before)
The Prominent stories on page one, of the Cootamundra Herald that morning had read; -
“Mr. Fisher says it will probably be arranged that federal Parliament shall sit in the daytime only, leaving the evenings free.”
“Coadjutor -Archbishop Kelly succeeded Cardinal Moran by right of succession and is now Archbishop of Sydney.”
“The police force in Perth is asking for an increase in pay of Is 6d per 'day on account of the increased cost of living.”
As the sun rose on that beautiful, crisp Saturday morning, no one realised that such a day of joy and hope would be marred in only three more years by sadness and loss. Events developing in Europe would have such a devastating effect on the newlyweds. As the wedding party gathered at the little church, all these other matters were far away from everyone’s thoughts. Today was a day of hope and joy!
The church, on the top of the hill at Murrumburrah, was bursting at the seams. The family had gathered in this picturesque town from throughout the Cootamundra District, and far away. Uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers and sisters, they were all there.
As he was waiting at the altar with his elder brother, Edward (who was his best man) for his bride to arrive, Charles looked around at the seated congregation. In the right front row could see his father Charles senior and mother Georgina at either end of the front right pew. Between them were his younger siblings Wallace, Leslie, Austin, Phyllis, and Thomas. Immediately behind them were his other siblings William, James, Thomas, and Georgina.
The next two pews were occupied by Aunt Eliza and Uncle Randal Schofield along with the cousins Ethel, James, Austin, Randall, Herbert Charles, Henry, and Frederick.
The other side of the church was for mainly Iris’s family, – Arthur, Leslie, Thomas, and Dorothy. There was a space left for Albert, who was standing in for Iris’s mother who had passed away twelve years prior.
Iris’s uncles and aunts and a couple of cousins were in the next few pews but, in the excitement, he couldn’t remember their names. He did, however, see Aunt Mary and Uncle Paul Kingston along with their children, James, Thomas, Alice and William, who arrived at the last minute.
His thoughts returned with the arrival of the bridal party. The bride looked radiant! She was followed by the bridal party, comprising Albert Wright, 26 (standing in for Iris’s father) Mary Anne Kingston (Matron of Honor), and Alice Power (bridesmaid). The wedding must have had some effect on Albert because; within two years, the young police constable himself would marry his sweetheart, Ellen O’Brien.
The wedding breakfast was a jovial affair with the younger children playing and getting into all sorts of mischief. Most of the younger cousins enjoyed the time together while; the older boys gathered around and seem to see who could drink the most. The older girls had all helped with the food, and it would be true to say that the feast was one that will be remembered for some time.
No doubt the refreshments for the wedding came from Tooth & Company Limited. And being the brewers of White Horse Ale, they were also wine & spirit merchants and being cordial manufacturers.
Charles and Iris made the perfect couple and in so many of their laid back ways they signified the hope of a new nation. Australia was only eleven years old as a nation. Earlier that year, the site procured for the new Australian Federal House of Parliament a few short miles away to the east in a paddock called, Canberra.
The Power family were genuine pioneers of the district. Private Thomas Power (son of William Power and Honor O’Donnell) was born about 1805 in Ireland. He married Isabella Hastie on the 19th of Sep 1828 in Manchester, England.
He was a member of the 1st /50th (West Kent) Regiment, Queens own of foot. Along with his wife (Isabella) and infant daughter (Jane), he sailed to Sydney aboard the convict ship Hooghly. Shortly after arrival (the 18th of November) at Port Jackson they departed (the 5th of December) for Norfolk Island to take up his new post.
They returned to Sydney on completion of the posting and raised their family before eventually settling in the Cooma area. Their son Edward John Power was born in 1837 in Sydney. He married Mary Ann Chalker (daughter of Joseph Henry Chalker and Eleanor "Ellen" Kelly) in 1858 in Queanbeyan. He died in 1876 in Adaminaby.
Charles Power (son of Edward John Power and Mary Ann Chalker) was born in 1859 in Cooma; He married Georgiana Belcher (daughter of John George Belcher and Frances Fanny Nancarrow) in 1883 in Cooma. She was born on 18th Sep 1864 in Cooma.
Robert Coleman-Wright was born on 2nd January 1824 in Bristall, Leicestershire, England. He married Elizabeth Bennett on 17th June 1850 in Adelaide. Elizabeth had been born on 1st February 1830 in Uxbridge, Middlesex England. She died on 20th September 1916 at Essendon. Victoria; He died in 1893 at Talbot Victoria.
Gilbert Wright was born in 1857 in Amherst Victoria. He married Annie Case (daughter of Henry James Case and Helen Abdy) in 1886 in Junee. She was born on 10th Mar 1869 in Queanbeyan. She died on the 11th of November 1899 in Junee. Gilbert died at Lake Cargellico, on the 30th October 1933.
Iris’s grandmother (Helen Abdy) was the first non-aboriginal child born in Armadale. Helen was descended from Sir Anthony 1st Baronet Abdy.
The newlyweds settled at Cootamundra. By October next year, their family began to grow.
Charles Gilbert Roy Power was the first son and two years later Edward Charles Power arrived. Eight other children followed on in due course.
The new responsibility settled Charles and he was no longer seen drinking as often at the Cootamundra Star hotel and he had steady work with Jack Clarkson. There was one occasion when Charles ran afoul of the law.
The Cootamundra Herald 16th March 1915 reported;-
“Charles Power, jun., was charged with being drunk in Parker. St. on February 6th, 1916, in Cootamundra Court. He was also charged with assaulting Constable Burgess while in the execution of his duty. Mr. McMahon appeared for defendant.
Constable Burgess stated: “At about 10.15 on date, in question I arrested Power rears the Star hotel for being drunk; on the way to the police station the accused struck me on the jaw with his fist; I threw him to the ground and tried to hand cuff him; while on the ground the defendant kicked me on the 'wrist and leg; Constable Cusack came to my assistance, and we handcuffed him”. He then addressed Mr. McMahon, “It was after 10 o'clock; there were a lot of people about at the time; he never denied that he was drunk; he never complained of me twisting his arm, and never tried to pull away; I fell on the ground with accused: Defendant called out to several people in the street to bring a doctor to the station to see if he was drunk.”
Constable Cusack deposed “I saw the defendant at the Star hotel about 10 o’clock on 6th Defendant was drunk; while I was coming down to the lock-up with a man named Glanville I saw defendant hit Constable Burgess; I let Grenville go, and assisted Constable Burgess to put the handcuffs on him.”
To Mr. McMahon: “I was arresting Glanville at the time; I was coming down behind when defendant struck, Constable Burgess; while the constable and accused were in hotel a crowd of people came around the corner; I never heard defendant call out, 'bring a doctor.!”
Constable Stuart deposed: “Accused was very drunk when brought ' to the lock-up; I had previously cautioned him that evening.”
William James Clear deposed: “I remember seeing defendant on the date in question; he was drunk,”
Charles Power, jun., deposed: “I was in town on 6th inst. Constable Stuart did not speak to me that evening before I was arrested; I saw ' Constable Cusack arresting a man;'' I was standing at the hotel door when Constable Burgess caught hold of my hand, and -said, -'You come along with me too'; I asked why? And he said, 'You, are drunk'; while coming along he twisted my arm behind my back; I tried to pull away; 1 did not strike Constable Burgess; his head bumped my hand; I did not kick at the' constable while we were on the ground; Constable Cusack came and cuffed me; I had been talking business to Jack Clarkson for some time, and after that to two ladies.”
To Senior-Sargent Suprex : “I was at the Star hotel from 10.30; Constable Stuart did not caution me; I was perfectly sober all the time; I wanted the doctor to prove that 1 was not drunk; I have been locked up before for drunkenness.”
Jack Clarkson deposed: “Charles has been working for me lately; I met defendant at the Star hotel, and paid him his wages; he was sober: it was between 9.30 and 10 p.m.”
Leo Clarkson deposed: “I saw defendant at the Star Hotel 'about 10 p.m.; he was sober then; I was in there when the defendant was arrested.”
Charles was convicted on both charges for drunkenness he was fined 20/, and for assault, he was fined £3. Fourteen days was allowed to pay.
Iris was not impressed!
As Iris’s mother had passed on, she also had taken on the responsibility of caring and guiding her sister and brothers who had also moved close by.
Charles’s parents were alive, and all of his siblings lived in the surrounding district. Charles Snr. was away droving a fair amount of the time but his wife Georgina, was a beacon for the family and was always on hand to assist Iris, whenever help was needed
In the Riverina the years of 1911 – 1914 were idyllic. The weather was great, and no one had a care in the world.
Arthur Wright thought he was the head of the family (at least he told his younger siblings and cousins such. He did concede that Albert was older, but as he was in the police force in Sydney, Arthur was the man in charge.)
As the younger boys grew into manhood, they chose their profession with gusto and hope.
By 1914 the world was changing!
1914 - War Clouds gather over Europe
Britain was still regarded as the mother country, as the majority of the Australians at the time were descended from British and Irish convicts. There was nothing more important as the British Commonwealth in the psychic of most Australians of the time, although there seemed to be a distrust of the British hierarchy.
The immediate trigger for war was the 28th of June 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo. This set off a diplomatic crisis when Austria-Hungary delivered an ultimatum to the Kingdom of Serbia, and international alliances formed over the previous decades were invoked. Within weeks, the major powers were at war and the conflict soon spread around the world.
On the 28th of July, the Austro-Hungarians declared war on Serbia and subsequently invaded as Russia mobilised in support of Serbia, Germany invaded neutral Belgium and Luxembourg before moving towards France, leading Britain to declare war on Germany.
On the 30th of July, 1914, a cablegram in secret cipher from the British Government to the Government of Australia informed it that there was imminent danger of war.
On the 4th August, Great Britain declared war on Germany. Australia pledged a force of twenty thousand to be placed at Britain's disposal. Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, declared that Australia would support Great Britain in the war against Germany'... .to the last man and the last shilling.
The nation awoke on the 6th August 1914 to read in the Sydney Morning Herald;
“A state of war exists between Great Britain and Germany.”
“The Austrians attacked the Servians at Semendria, and were repulsed with heavy losses.”
“The churches are packed with people praying for the success of the army.”
“The Prime Minister officially announced yesterday that war had broken out between Great Britain and Germany.”
“With a view to establishing a mobile reserve, it has been decided to mobilise the 8th Infantry Brigade.”
“The 16th Infantry Battalion will furnish a reserve for the defence of Newcastle.”
“Three thousand professional unionist musicians have offered for active service in Australia. “
“The Governor-General has received a message from the King, expressing his appreciation of the messages from the Dominions.”
There was no doubt that life in Australia was going to change!
Australia goes to War
By August 1914 Voluntary recruitment for the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.) commenced and the Australian Red Cross was established to raise funds to purchase comfort supplies for Australian service personnel overseas.
The formation of variously named 'patriotic funds' in all States to raise money to send extra food and clothing to service personnel overseas were established
In September the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (ANMEF) seized German New Guinea and nearby German-ruled island territories.
C.E.W. Bean was appointed as Australia's official war correspondent in October 1914.
So much happened so quickly and November saw the first division of the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.) sailed from Albany, Western Australia, for Egypt. HMAS Sydney sank the German cruiser, Emden, at the Cocos Islands, Indian Ocean.
For Australia, the war had commenced!
A Family Goes to War
At the outbreak of war the family boys were:
• Edward Power, 30, was married to Adele and worked as a general labourer.
• Charles (often referred to as Jerry) Power, 29, was married to Iris, had 2 children and worked as a labourer
• Albert Wright, 27, was a police constable in Sydney
• Leslie Wright, 24, was a grazier and was married to Myrtle
• Austin Schofield, 22, was a labourer
• William Henry Power, 21, worked as a labourer with his father
• Thomas Kingston, 20, was a Tailor’s Apprentice
• Arthur Wright, 19, was an Engineer
• Austin Power, 16, just started work as a Compositor with the local printer.
• Thomas Wright, 16, was a Jockey
• James Power, 15, was still at school
• Thomas Power, 13, was still at school
• Wallace Power, 9, was still at school
Austin Schofield was the first family member to answer the call. On Thursday the 17th of June 1915, Austin made his way to Liverpool to enlist (at this stage there were no facilities to join the forces outside the capital cities). He was assigned to the 8th reinforcement company of the 2nd Battalion A.I.F.
Seven days later on the 24th of June William Power was to enlist with the 8th reinforcement company of the 1st Battalion A.I.F. He was given the regimental number of 2893.
Arthur Wright was the next to enlist. On the 9th of August, he joined the 11th reinforcement Company of the 1st field engineers.
The following day Austin Schofield embarked on the troopship, HMAT Runic A54 for Gallipoli.
Ten days later (on the 18th of August 1915) young Austin Power was down at the newly opened recruitment office at Cootamundra. With his brother and two cousins already enlisted and with the opening of a recruitment office at Cootamundra, Austin decided to quit his job as a compositor with a local printer and enlisted.
He was sent to the 12th reinforcement company of the 4th Battalion A.I.F., outside of Liverpool where he was to commence his training.
Austin was only 17½ when he enlisted, and it took his mother (Georgiana) by shock when she found out a couple of weeks later what had happened.
She drew her breath and drafted this letter on the 28th of September requesting that the Army releases him from military duties due to him being underage.
Dear Sir, I am sorry, but I must object about my son Austin Power being in camp on active service as he is under the age of eighteen. He was seventeen last August, and I don’t see how the doctor passed him as he is a cripal(sic) in one foot – through burns when a child and has been treated for a ?????? and has been under a doctor for the last two years for a weak heart. I know that every boy should go that is of age and I have one son gone and a son-in-law, a brother and two nephews so I want you to give Austin his discharge and if you would oblige and don’t tell him that I objected as he would be very much upset. Just tell him that he is not fit for the army as I am sure he is not and I must object to him going until he is eighteen. You will oblige.
Mrs. C Power Cooper St.
It is interesting to note that during that period; the army did not ask for date of birth. Instead, all they asked was his age and where he was born. By 1917 this had changed and on the enlistment papers a new line, asking for date of birth, was added.
On the 7th of October, the army discharged him, and he returned to Cootamundra. As he had left his job, he had to find new employment. His family left Cootamundra in 1917 and moved to Marrickville and Austin became a glassworker in the local area.
William Power completed his basic training at Liverpool before he joined His Majesties Troop Ship A8 Argyllshire. It set sail for Egypt on the last day of September. Arthur Schofield had already left eight weeks prior on the HMAT A54 Runic.
Whenever a troopship, with any member of the family, departed, Constable Albert Wright always attempted to see his brothers or cousins sail off to war. Iris often joined him and where possible, spent time with them before their sailing.
Troopships travelled in a convoy with battleships for protection. Submarines were now an added threat, so convoys had to adopt new formations and changing patterns to elude the enemy.
The ships that were used for transport were owned by steamship companies (they were requisitioned by the government who paid a daily rate for them). Others were former German cargo ships, seized at the beginning of hostilities.
They were specially outfitted by the government to meet their new wartime role. This included increased numbers of berths; often in cargo holds. Conditions on board were cramped, to say the least. The lower decks were hurriedly fitted out with mess tables and hammocks and resembled large overcrowded barrack rooms.
Their quarters were all the way forward in the first hold. Having to sleep in hammocks William was pleasantly surprised to find they were very comfortable. It was his first experience of a hammock as it was with most of his comrades.
Shipboard life comprised drills, exercise sessions, games and sports that were all taken in shifts along with guard duties, and even mealtimes.
Weekly Sunday services were held on the deck. It was during one of these services they were told the on board death of one of the soldiers from illness.
A funeral service was held aboard the Shropshire, and the whole convoy of ships stopped out of respect.
It occurred to him how a vastly different experience of death in wartime was. They knew nothing about visions of death that most of them would face in the coming months.
She asked the driver to turn around. Her cabbie could not drive fast enough to suit her. When she walked through the lobby of the Cinema 18, everyone was buzzing. She ran toward the crime scene but authorities had closed the hallway where she had been attacked. Her superhero had vanished.
Too late. Now what? Brandi’s hands were still shaking. Her palm felt cold against her forehead. Then, deep in thought, she was startled to hear a raspy male voice behind her.
“Brandi? Hi, my name’s Cody.”
She turned around. Her stomach, still in knots, leaped into her throat. His chiseled face was handsome in a home-on-the-range sort of way. His sculpted cheeks were partially masked by a rough-hewn beard — the obvious cover-up for scars visible through his whiskers. His nose had been broken at least once. This guy had been in some fights.
The Pirates cap he had worn earlier was now in his back pocket and his sandy blond hair wet around the sides. Did he know that his shirt had turned pink on the front? The blood spatters had faded together, partially washed off by heavy rains.
Was she face-to-face with a superhero? He was not as tall as she remembered. His fiery eyes that could have intimidated Lucifer earlier were now softer, like quiet blue waters. He offered his hand, but his shallow, forced smile told her he was not certain how she would respond. Was his shyness just an act?
Whew! His extended hand was attached to a massive forearm. His neck was wide and muscular, his body built to last, rough-cut from head to toe — a description that would make good print in her eyewitness report for the Gazette.
“I wanted to thank you,” Cody told her, “for savin’ my life earlier.”
She could hardly believe her ears. Was it a come-on? Was his voice naturally that raspy, or just a poor attempt to imitate Batman?
“You want to thank me? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?”
She extended her hand. It was cold and unsteady. Would he notice? His handshake was warm, ardent, but gentle — the same paw that had just mauled three professional tough guys. She tried to swallow her stomach back down into place but her mouth was too dry.
“Well, I would’ve been a sittin’ duck if you hadn’t deflected that guy’s arm. You showed presence of mind and courage.”
“Presence of mind and courage?” She snickered. “You mean for a girl?”
Space Resources, Inc. (SRI) mines asteroids for the riches a populated Earth needs without degrading the planet. Yet there are those opposed to progress in whatever its form such as the Gaia Alliance, a front group for eco-terrorists. During a violent attack on the Moon, the terrorists steal an exploration ship, arm it, and rename it the Rock Killer. Charlene "Charlie" Jones of SRI security is trying to infiltrate the Gaia Alliance's cabal to find evidence linking them to the murder of her fiancé. But a run-in with the law threatens to reveal her identity to the dangerous men of the Alliance. Simultaneously, SRI Director Alexander Chun is traveling to the asteroid belt to bring a kilometer-long nickel-iron rock back to Earth orbit to mine for its valuable metals. Following him and his multi-national team is the Rock Killer. Without armaments, millions of miles from help, Chun must stop those who threaten him and the lives of his crew.
I stared after him for a few seconds before turning my eyes back to Geir. "Ever been struck by lightning?" I asked in an off-handed way, rubbing at my still tingly brow. Geir shook his head, his mouth working silently for a few long seconds. "I thought Queen Mara was wrong. I thought Liam was innocent. I never should have brought you here," he whispered so no one else would hear us. I shook my staticky head and winced. "He didn't mean to do it. I think I might have kind of forced him into it."
Hearing the Voices of the dead is something Gracie Charles has endured her entire life. When the power grid suddenly fails across the globe, she finds herself alone and facing a dark and dangerous journey through an unforgiving landscape, in hopes of finding sanctuary with friends who share her gift.
Early morning fog shrouds the Brooklands race track as Jack takes a new pair of goggles from his track bag. He breaks a cigarette in half and shreds the tobacco. He spits in the goggles and rubs the tobacco around the inside of the lenses.
The fog lifts a little, and Jack signals Carl to crank over the car. He pulls on his cloth helmet and grins at Carl. The engine temperature comes up and he pulls out.
The whole track is still not visible. Some of the men Jack sees on his way to the banking are making the slashing sign across their necks.
They mean cut the run, do not go out. Jack waves back to them.
Out on the track, Jack pulls around the cars that are running to keep the line dry. He motions them to pull in. Two more laps to check and make sure everyone else is off the track. Then comes the boom from the exhaust, Jack is hard on it down the straights. For two more laps, he takes a long lift off the throttle going into the turns.
The men watching are looking at each other as if to say I told you. Then Jack flashes by, a rolling fog envelops the racetrack, and just as suddenly lifts. The throttle lifts are getting shorter each lap. Then the exhaust note does not change. The same men look at each other and solemnly shake their heads. To themselves they think, the Yank just does not learn.
The next lap the car is like a ghost in the mist. Another lap with the engine screaming, the car flashes by like an apparition. Out of the mist, and then swallowed up by it. The engine’s scream does not die this time.
The loudspeaker system barks to life. “Ladies and gentlemen, a new Brooklands outright record,” the announcer says. “The speed is One hundred and forty two point five miles an hour. Brooklands presents another amazing performance. The Yank has done it!”
Jack brings the car down the finishing straight. The people that have braved the weather are clapping their hands above their heads for him to see. Others are cheering and waving, their thumbs raised.
The car stops in front of Carl who makes a wiping motion across his brow. Jack bounds from the car, he is clearly jubilant. He returns the waves, grabs Carl’s hand, and pumps it vigorously.
“I heard the loud speaker system when I shut the engine off. One forty two and change eh, not bad. The engine was turning 83 hundred, she was haulin’ freight.”
“Jack, you’re one crazy bastard, I don’t know how you did it. Hell, I don’t know why you did it.”
If Mark Wilkerson had to listen to any more of that morbid organ music, he was going to throw up. A migraine beat against his temples and tears rolled down his cheeks as he stood propped against his crutches, his dislocated shoulder aching. Through bleary eyes, he viewed the three closed coffins at the front of the viewing parlor. Gold glitter on white satin ribbons across the caskets read, “Devoted Father,” “Loving Mother,” and “Baby Sister – Sabrina.” She was only six.
Ornate floral arrangements surrounded the closed caskets, their florist shop fragrance adding to Mark’s migraine. He ran his hand across the smooth surface of his mother’s coffin; fingered the satin ribbon. She was in there, at least what was left of her, but he would never see her again. Never again would he feel the warm touch of her lips on his cheek when she kissed him good night.
His weepy eyes abruptly gushed with tears. What happened? He still wondered, shaking his head. Even though he’d somehow survived the accident, he still didn’t know anything about it. All he knew was what the County Sheriff’s deputy and the doctor at the hospital had told him; that he and his family had been in a tragic, fiery accident on the Carquinez Bridge on Christmas Eve.
The doctor also told him his memory would probably return, but it could take some time. He’d called it “dissociative amnesia," whatever that was. He said it was often caused by severe emotional trauma.
Mark’s grandmother, Emily Wilkerson, told him he’d performed with the family at a rest home earlier that night, but he couldn’t remember that either. He felt, more than remembered his father had been angry about something. Then there was Amanda Bonfili. What happened on their date? Or did they have a date? He just couldn’t remember.
Mark moved to his father’s casket. How could he live without him? His dad had been his greatest inspiration, his best friend. He looked down at the casket as his tears rolled. How could he live with the guilt of knowing their last words may have been spoken in anger? He’d never even had a chance to say I’m sorry, if he’d done something wrong or even good-bye. Somehow, he felt he might have been at least partly responsible for the accident. “Forgive me, dad.” His cries escaped his lips in a whisper, “for whatever I did. I’m sorry.” Tears stung his eyes and he wiped them on his sports jacket sleeve.
He wished he could see his family just one last time, but the undertaker had told him their bodies were too charred. The thought horrified him and Mark agreed it would be better to remember them as he’d last seen them alive.
At least his sister, Amy, was being spared the funeral ordeal. But she was still in a coma and her condition was serious. The doctors said she could have brain damage if she survived. That sounded worse than his amnesia.
The accident had only been three days ago and tomorrow, after the funeral, the coffins would be lowered into the cold ground. Is that all there is to life? Mark wondered, To live your life then be discarded like some trash. Hanging his head, he wished he could have died in their place, or at least with them. How Amy and he had survived was a mystery.
Moving to Sabrina’s casket, he laid his forehead against her tiny coffin. “Dear God! Please make this go away. Make them come back.” But even as he prayed, he knew God couldn’t make that happen, assuming He was even real. After all, why would an all-powerful, loving God take away the people he loved most; his parents and his six-year-old sister who had so much to live for, the family Amy and he needed?
Why? The question kept repeating over in his mind, as he wiped his eyes again. Why did his parents have to die and of all people little Sabrina?
SABRINA! Mark wanted to shout, as if it would bring her back.
He missed his baby sister every bit as much as he missed his mother and father.
“Sabrina,” he whispered.
He would never see her again. Tears rolled down his cheeks as Mark thought of her charred little body inside the tiny coffin and the pain she must have endured in the fire. She didn’t deserve to die.
Mark felt a warm hand on his shoulder. Straightening with his crutches, he leaned into his grandmother’s arms. “Go ahead and cry,” she said. “It’s good to let it out.”
Mark leaned down and laid his cheek in the hollow of her neck. He could smell her sweet, old ladies perfume. “Why?” he asked. “Why didn’t God protect them? Why did He let Sabrina die and not me? She didn’t even get a chance to live her life.” He turned away and tightened his fists on the crutch’s handgrip.
He felt his grandmother’s warm fingers turn his chin. “Mark, I know this is hard for you. It’s hard for me too and it will be hard on Amy when she comes home.” His grandmother choked on her words then blotted her eyes with her hankie, “if she does. Son, we don’t always understand why He allows things like this to happen, but my mother always told me, ‘what we see today as a tragedy, we may look back at tomorrow as a blessing.’” Emily hugged him tighter and stroked his hair.
“A blessing? How can losing almost my entire family ever be a blessing?” Mark huffed and pulled away. His head throbbed even more. Then looking back at his grandmother, he said, “If I ever find out who caused the accident, I swear… I’ll… I’ll kill him…. I promise that.”
“No, Mark. Don’t think like that. It was just that, an accident. You need to forgive them.”
“I can’t, Grandma. I just can’t.”
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Tastes Like Murder (Cookies & Chance Mystery #1) by Catherine Bruns Narrator: Karen Rose Ritcher Series: Cookies & Chance Mystery #1 Published by Gemma Halliday