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Nov 04 2000

BEAR IN MIND (excerpt)


 (a Bear Jacobs Mystery)







Case Notes

March 14, 11 a.m.

Bear Jacobs let his Private Investigator’s license expire about the time he nearly did the same thing himself. A crash team shocked his heart out of the Arrhythmic Boogie and back to its natural shuffle. Afterwards, Bear growled and moaned from hospital to nursing home, his attitude damn near getting him booted out to the streets. Now denned up at Latin’s Ranch Adult Family Care, he has recovered a fair amount of his strength and a little bit of good humor. He thinks he’s a real sweetheart now. Yeah. Sure.

Anyhoo, idle hands aren’t his problem. It’s that his big old brain doesn’t have enough to think about now that his physical worries have eased up. Simple boredom has him chewing on any mysterious bone that comes his way. Bear in mind that when the big man gets involved, he needs a strong-willed sidekick to stick like a burr and keep him on point.

Who better than a one-legged tough customer like me?

  • Lily Gilbert, Lovely Assistant to PI Bear Jacobs


Lily powered down, closed the lid on her laptop and stretched her back. At seventy-seven, she figured she could call herself lovely if she damn well felt like it. And, in fact, she was. Her daughter had clipped her dove gray hair into a fluffy cloud, and her skin was rosy with health, never mind the wrinkles that crosshatched her cheeks like the grain of fine old suede.

It was a mistake to think of her as a sweet little granny. Lily was opinionated, feeling she had a right to be. She’d done a hell of a lot in her years on this earth. Seen a lot, too. As she’d once said to Bear, “I was a multitasker long before the word was invented.”

Lily liked to write down her adventures with Bear. She called them her case notes. Of course, she’d never seen actual case notes, didn’t know what they were for and didn’t care. She did it for the fun of it. She was proud to have mastered the little Toshiba so late in life and loved the opening riff, the touch of the keys, the gentle clicking sound. She felt like an eWatson.

Lily set the computer on her nightstand then swung herself to the side of the bed. She eyed her wheelchair but decided on the walker instead. She’d been practicing with it, building up the arm strength to get around without wheels. It wasn’t easy, what with having only one leg. She’d learned to balance herself and hop along, holding onto the walker as she swung her leg forward. Bear said her arms were as buff as a lowland gorilla.

All and all, Lily was content. She’d gotten over shaking her fist at the sky long ago, resigned to the physical outrages of old age. She’d rather be young and in charge of her life and raising hell, of course. But she had all those times tucked away in her memory bank. She could take out each deposit to study, enjoying the memory almost as much as the experience. Mentally, she hadn’t lost a step. As long as that was true, she could make do with some loss of mobility.

Of course, it was always possible Bear would get her killed, and she wasn’t crazy about that.





Case Notes

March 14, 3 p.m.

The whole thing started with the bookkeeper’s call. Eunice Taylor and Charlie Barker were in the living room watching All My Great Great Grandchildren. Bear and I were there, too, and I was whipping his sorry ass at Scrabble with a triple word score that included a q. Jessica Winslow – she’s the owner of Latin’s Ranch – came in and asked Charlie if she could speak with him.

“A personal matter,” she called it. Her voice is naturally soft, but I noticed she lowered it even more.

“Hell, Jessica,” Charlie answered. His voice is high, often rat-a-tatting in staccato bursts like a triple-tongued trumpet. “Everyone here knows I got sores on my nuts. Not much left that’s too personal for them to hear.”

That was true enough. We all knew a nurse came in special to medicate the backside of Charlie’s scrotum. He was troubled with sores from sitting all day. Not an uncommon complaint for wheelchair jocks.

“Well, Charlie, the bookkeeper called to say you have some unclaimed PNA funds,” Jessica said.


“Personal Needs Allowance. For things like tooth paste, shaving cream, deodorant – ”

“- and a hooker?”

“I don’t think that’s what the State has in mind. But I’ve noticed you could use a few new clothes.” Jessica cocked her head, causing her natural curls (and not so natural blonde streaks) to bounce as she eyed him up and down. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt so old it looked like the fronds would drop right off the palms. It was way too big for him, too. He’d lost weight trying to put less pressure on the aforementioned unmentionable bits of his anatomy. “If you like, I’ll call your wife. She could use the money to buy you some new things.”

Bear and I went dead quiet. Eunice tried, but the tinkling of her jewelry always rivals a wind chime. We all knew Charlie’s wife never called him or visited any more. She’d flat out abandoned him. Jessica knew it, too, but Louise Barker must still be listed as his emergency contact. I’ll bet she’s listed somewhere as a heart breaking bitch, too, pardon my goddamn French.

Charlie gave Jessica a winsome smile. “Sure, go ahead. If you reach Louise, let her know I miss her.”

  • Lily Gilbert, Judgmental Assistant to PI Bear Jacobs


Jessica Winslow was aggravated which was rare. She was by nature even tempered, and that served her well in all of her businesses. She boarded horses, gave riding lessons, and raised Paso Finos. Her stallion, Latin Lover, had sired a line of champions, his stud fees supplementing her income.

She’d been widowed one winter night when her husband jackknifed his truck on an icy mountain pass in the Cascades east of Seattle. He’d left her with a shattered heart and a backlog of expenses. No matter how hard Jessica worked to shoulder the burden, she’d been failing financially, bit by bit.

To stave off selling her horses, she’d taken on her most demanding job of all. By remodeling her house, passing the state-required courses, and hiring a staff, she’d opened an adult family home called Latin’s Ranch in honor of her stallion. She gave her two-legged residents as much fine care as she gave her four-legged.

That’s why she was so aggravated with Charlie’s wife, Louise Barker. If the woman didn’t want to buy new clothes for Charlie, Jessica would help him pick a few things out of a catalog. No big deal, no reason to make Charlie feel like a bother. Jessica just needed the approval, that’s all. She’d left three messages on Louise’s voice mail in as many days. No answer. That settled it. Jessica trounced out to her old Camry and drove toward Louise’s house to make a demand or two. A knock on the door would be harder to ignore than a ringing phone.

Jessica made two wrong turns looking for the Barker house, which did little to sweeten her mood. She caught a look at herself in the rearview mirror and saw the frown line puckering her forehead. “Great,” she muttered to no one in particular. “Wrinkles instead of laugh lines.” She took a deep breath and relaxed her face muscles. Soon all signs of irritation left her fair skin free of anything but freckles.

The Barker place was hidden in a hilly neighborhood between Everett and Seattle, not far from the Puget Sound coastline. Some roads were only a couple blocks long but twisted and looped so the little cottages weren’t side by side in tidy rows. Even though the area was congested, overgrown rhododendrons and photinia blocked the houses from sight.  Neighbors wouldn’t easily keep an eye on each other.

Still, when she parked in the Barker drive and approached the front door, Jessica wondered if anyone else had noticed the rank odor in the yard. Had a raccoon or rat died in the bushes? No, the stench seemed to be coming from the neat bungalow itself. She noticed the windows near the door were open, with screens in place.

What on earth can this god-awful odor be?

The closer she got, the worse it reeked of decay. Meat gone bad. Jessica’s eyes began to water as she reached the front door. She fought back nausea.

I don’t want to be here. I want to leave now!

Jessica battled the impulse to take flight and stood her ground. She rang the bell. And rang it again. No answer.

Finally, she dug in her purse for Kleenex. Holding a wad up to her nose with her left hand, she tried the door knob with her right. It turned. With a loud shout out for Mrs. Barker, Jessica pushed the door open.

A swarm of blowflies blasted out of the house, riding the fetid airwave. Jessica shrieked as the filthy, buzzing cloud flew into her face. She turned and ran back to her car, flailing her hands in front of her eyes all the way. Once inside her dependable old Camry, doors and windows closed tight, she waited for the shivering chill of repulsion to pass. With great gulps of air, she finally got fear under control. Then she called 911.

“She’s dead! I mean, I think.”


Jessica got out of her Camry when she saw the first patrol car pull up to the front curb. It was a county sheriff Crown Vic. Before she had a word with the uniformed deputies who emerged, an unmarked Charger pulled into the Barker driveway and parked behind her. It was a color that Dodge probably called White Gold Pearl or Sunlit Desert Sand.

Or Boring Beige.

Jessica was having a hard time focusing as she watched two people in plain clothes get out.

A hint of shock, maybe?

They glanced at her, and the woman flashed the briefest of smiles before saying, “Please wait here for us, Ma’am.”  She nodded, and they both walked past her. The guy took a quick look back at her then went on with his partner into the house.

Plain clothes.

The guy’s sure were. A white shirt and jeans. Wolverine lace-ups that might have been new around the turn of the century. But that butt was anything but plain. Jessica figured he was a few years her junior, enough to make her feel like a cougar, and she was only thirty-something.

Probably girl hearts break with audible pops whenever he passes them by. OMG. My mind’s flitting around like all those flies.

Jessica shook her head, sighed and concentrated on reclaiming her composure while she waiting for the authorities to deal with it. The uniforms had followed the plain clothes inside so she was alone.

A dead body. Has to be.

Finally, the detectives came out of the little house and walked toward her. Neither looked upset or sickened or angry. They didn’t look anything at all, like finding a body was business as usual.

What must it be like for death to be commonplace in your daily life? Not that it isn’t a worry for me with my old tenants. But still

The female officer spoke first. “Ms. Winslow, I’m Deputy Detective Josephine Keegan of the Major Crimes unit. This is my partner, Clay Galligan. You reported the body, yes?”

Galligan. That explains the blue eyes and dark curls of the Irish.

“Ah, yes. No. I mean, I reported smelling a body.”

Keegan cocked her head, frowning slightly. “You didn’t see it?”

Jessica thought the investigator was pretty in a tough sort of way. Like Ripley in those Alien movies or –

Stop it.

“Well, no. I didn’t actually go inside. An odor like that … it was nothing living. I couldn’t help her.”


“Yes. Mrs. Barker. Louise Barker. It’s her house.”

“You think she’s dead?”

Jessica was confused. “Well, we haven’t heard from her, you see. Her husband or me. For a long time.”

“You spend a lot of time with her husband?”

Jessica felt the heat of indignity. “He lives in my adult family home. Latin’s Ranch. Neither Charlie – that’s Charles Barker – nor I have heard from his wife for several weeks. That’s not unusual, but I need some instructions on his care. She didn’t return calls so I thought I’d come see her. Am I wrong? Isn’t there a body? All those flies and the odor …” Jessica wound to a stop.

“There is a body but not what you think,” Keegan said. “It’s a dog. Poor thing was locked in the foyer.”

“What? A dog was locked in there long enough to smell like that? That’s … that’s awful.” The wellbeing of animals was as sensitive a subject as the wellbeing of her pack of humans.

“Died of thirst most likely. It tore up the entry pretty well trying to get out. But the rest of the house looks untouched. And Mrs. Barker isn’t there.”

“You mean to tell me she just locked her dog in there and LEFT IT TO DIE? How could anybody do that?”

“Don’t know, Ma’am,” Deputy Detective Clay Galligan finally spoke. “Either she didn’t intend to come back … or she couldn’t come back.”

“Whichever, it’s a missing persons case for now. Let’s go have a chat with this husband of hers. We’ll follow you to, what was it?” Keegan looked at her notes. “Oh yeah. Latin’s Ranch.”





Case Notes

March 15, 8 p.m.

Before coming to Latin’s Ranch, we lived in a nursing home called Soundside Rehab and Health Care. The place wasn’t evil or anything. There were some first rate people working there. But even good nursing homes have a bad rep for a reason. They can’t avoid the smell of overcooked greens and medicines and bodily functions, no matter how much lemon disinfectant they use. Or the sight of diseased bodies and the deepest despair. For me, it was the noise that was worst. The blaring televisions, alarms, and shrieks from broken human beings.

Bad as it was, we found each other there, Bear, Eunice, Charlie and me. We were the lucky ones with minds still intact even though our bodies were on the decline. If we stuck together we could just make it through each day.  But then, Soundside began to kick out its Medicaid patients. Lots of nursing homes are handling the budget crunch that way. It would have left us with no place to go but the streets. We were in some seriously scary shit until the cavalry arrived.

 Jessica’s heart – and my daughter Sylvia’s know-how – got Latin’s Ranch up and running in the proverbial nick of time. It’s not a nursing home; it’s an Adult Family Home. It’s much smaller and, as the name implies, feels like family.

Four of us moved here from Soundside. Eunice and I are roomies as are Bear and Charlie. There’s a fifth resident here, too, a guy named Frankie Sapienza. We think he’s rich, but we don’t ask a lot of questions about his past. Good looking dude. Suave. Still has his hair and his teeth. He also has Eunice Taylor’s old heart pitter patting in a way a whole bottle of nitro tablets wouldn’t help.

Some of the staff from Soundside took jobs here at Latin’s Ranch. Our aides Chrissie, Rick and Alita have stories damn near as important to us as their ability to keep us healthy. Our critters made the move, too. Furball the cat and our cage of canaries are trying to get along with Jessica’s dog Folly and, of course, the horses. The jury is still out on whether Furball and Folly can live on the same planet much less the same ranch.

The saddest cases can’t be cared for here; we know that. They still exist in miserable rooms away from public view. None of us will ever forget we’re just one fall or one brain freeze away from going back.

Anyhoo. That’s a snapshot of how we got here, but back to Charlie’s missing wife. We all knew Jessica had gone to see Louise Barker so we gathered together to wait for her return. Damned if she didn’t beat feet through the front door right along with two detectives.

 And might I say this about that young stud cop. He shouldn’t be sprung on LOLs – my anagram for little old ladies – without warning. Mercy.

  • Lily Gilbert, Hot and Bothered Assistant to PI Bear Jacobs


Lily and the rest were gathered around the door in a wheelchair, walker, and quad cane traffic jam when Jessica got back to Latin’s Ranch with the two detectives.

“We look like the street gang that lost the rumble,” Bear muttered with some disgust. But he was in the thick of things with everyone else to hear Jessica tell Charlie that the authorities wanted to speak with him.

“Detectives? No!” Eunice said with a theatrical hand to forehead. “They’ll take him down to headquarters and get out the waterboards!” Lily was pretty sure Eunice had been watching too much television.

“Actually, we can talk right here, Mr. Barker. No need for torture devices,” said the woman dick while the dick with the dick tried not to snicker at Eunice. She introduced herself and her partner to everyone then asked Charlie, “You have a private place where we can go?”

“We can use my room, I guess,” Charlie said, looking glum. Of course, with his cheeks wrinkled in velvety pleats like a basset hound, he always looked pretty glum.

“Think I’ll come along, too,” said Bear. He used his low growly voice in counterpoint to Charlie’s high squeaky one. Lily knew that meant he expected to get his way. He leaned hard on his quad cane and shoved out his chin in a display of aggression.

Detective Keegan said, “But we – ”

Bear interrupted her. “Hiya, Cupcake.”

At the use of that endearment, Keegan squinted hard into those small obsidian eyes. They were nearly buried behind the fringe of silver hair and beard that surrounds Bear’s huge round head. After a slight intake of breath, she asked, “Al? Al Jacobs?”

“At your service.” Bear doffed an imaginary hat at her.

“Al! I thought you were dea … uh, Clay, this big galoot used to be a PI for the classiest law offices around. Worked with law enforcement more often than against us. Helped solve some tough cases. We met when I was just a rookie.”

“You can call me Bear,” the big man said, shaking hands with Keegan’s partner.

In case any of the Latin’s Ranch residents or staff had doubts about Bear’s bona fides, they were cleared up right then. Keegan invited him to sit in on the questioning of Charlie. After the delegation left for Charlie’s room, Lily and Eunice sat in the living room. A startling realization smacked Lily in the face for the first time. “Charlie is the hubby. That makes him Suspect Numero Uno in a case of foul play!”

“Cheese it,” Eunice replied. “Here comes the heat.”

As Jessica came into the room, Lily was hoping Eunice would soon give up on the hard boiled shtick. “Come on, ladies,” Jessica said failing to quite stifle a yawn. “I’ll help you get ready to hit the hay.”

“But what if something really juicy happens?” Eunice protested.

Lily saw the yawn even though Jess tried to conceal it with her hand. Those pretty eyes were marred tonight with dark smudges on the delicate skin beneath.

“We’ll find out first thing in the morning, Eunice. Let’s go.” Lily used her walker to lift herself from the living room chair. She knew Jessica had too much to do, what with all those hayburners and all these people. She never wanted the caregiver to choose between the two, because the horses might just win out. Even with compliance from Eunice and herself, it would take Jess an hour to get them in and out of the bathroom, given their meds, dressed in their nightgowns and provided an evening snack for late night TV.


The next morning at breakfast, Bear and Charlie told the rest of the household about their interview with Keegan and Gallaway. Chrissie, Lily’s favorite aide, was serving the green chili burritos made by Aurora who ran the kitchen as pleasantly as a pit bull patrols her yard. The little Latina was a tyrant, but her cooking was worth her fractious moods.

“Okay, you guys. Fess up. Who committed the crime?” Eunice chirped. Her hoop earrings were braided strands of white, rose and yellow gold. Lily waited for her each morning to accessorize with gems and scarves. The octogenarian would never consider appearing in public any other way.

“So far there is no crime,” Bear said. He took a grizzly-sized bite from the burrito and chewed for a moment. “Charlie’s wife is a missing person, not a victim. She might have just done a runner.”

“I can’t believe that, Bear. Why would she leave without a word?” Charlie shook his head, the folds in his cheeks wobbling gently. “I mean, she doesn’t visit often, I know, but that’s because she says it makes her feel too sad.”

Eunice rolled her eyes.

“And she always tells me when she is going out of town for one of her many charity functions.”

Everyone at the table rolled his or her eyes.

Lily didn’t believe anybody could seriously suspect Charlie of harming Louise even if her body was found with wheelchair tread marks across its chest. He’d been in mourning ever since she’d stopped coming to see him. Besides, someone would have noticed if he left Latin’s Ranch long enough to push himself miles away and back. With activity like that and sores where he got them, he’d never sit again.

“I don’t know yet, Charlie. But I agree that it is suspicious,” Bear said.

“Why?” Lily asked.

“Well, first the dog, of course. Charlie says his wife doted on that mutt. That she would never hurt it.”

“She loved Fluffy-san,” Charlie confirmed.

“Any idea how long it’s been dead?” Lily asked, controlling an impulse to giggle at the name.

Bear scratched the beard on his chin. “Detective Keegan guessed three weeks, maybe more. A week to die of thirst, and the rest of the time for eggs laid in the remains to reach adult fly size. The flies that greeted Jessica.”

“Eeeuuu,” Eunice cringed and set down her fork.

“The lab will know for sure if they process the dog’s carcass, which they probably won’t without any more reason than they have now.” Bear said. “But there’s something else. Tell them, Charlie.”

Charlie leaned forward in his wheelchair, placing his elbows on the table. “Louise is not the only missing person that’s been reported. Other seniors have disappeared recently, too. That’s what Detective Keegan said.”

Everyone stared at him.

Dio mio,” Frankie said in his smooth Italian. “Sono venuta per uno di noi?”

All heads now turned toward him.

“What’s that you said, my dear?” Eunice asked.

Frankie translated. “Are they coming for one of us?”



Permanent link to this article:

Nov 04 2000









Fun House Chronicle: Mealtime


“Get me down to dinner, you goddamn bitches.” Gladys announces she’s ready to eat.

The cognitive residents share one end of the dining room, each with three tablemates. They gossip, tell tall tales, and gripe about the afternoon’s entertainment, especially if the Belly Dancing Grannies performed again. One resident might introduce another’s brittle ankle to a lightning quick swing of her walker, but otherwise meals pass uneventfully.

The more helpless residents eat in the war zone at the other end of the dining room. Some manage on their own in about the same way toddlers do. Others are spoon fed. After each meal, bits of food cling to the popcorn ceiling and to the staff. Eying an aide’s scrubs, the physical therapist says, “I see squash was on the menu tonight.”

Most aides are patient with their old charges. The youngest among them chirp like song sparrows, filling old ears in great need of idle chatter. They share their stories about two-timing men and frizzy ends and what little Bobby did yesterday. Some even seek counsel from the residents who have seen more and done more. These may be the only solid relationships they’ve ever had with the elderly. It will end, of course. These old people will die. Experienced aides grow wary of exposing their hearts.

The day passes by, and mealtime begins again. “Get me down to dinner, you goddamn bitches.”


Lily Gilbert counter sank another pie plate of beer under her border of hostas. Tucking a dove gray tendril into her scrunchie, she knee walked to the end of the row and sank another plate in the rich earth then filled it with flat Coors. That made four plates, one at each corner of her backyard garden. It had been a disappointment this year, suffering slugs the size of bear scat.  “Just crawl in and drown, you slimy little bastards.”

Getting down on her knees was not as easy as it used to be, but it sure as hell beat getting back up. She steadied the flat blade of her hoe on the soft ground, grabbed the handle and hoisted herself upward. Her foot slipped off the side of her Croc, and she nearly toppled because she was standing on the blade of the hoe.  After regaining her balance, she slipped the clog back on, picked up the beer can and her garden gloves, and limped back into the house.

She never felt the small wound on the bottom of her foot where the blade, fresh from the dirt and manure, had nicked her skin.


“Mother, you nearly died,” Sylvia Henderson said to Lily in the hospital days later as she smoothed the sheet were Lily’s leg should have been. She still couldn’t bear to touch the stump itself. “Another infection could kill you. You just can’t live alone any longer.”

“Who says I can’t?” Lily, skin grayer than her hair, was entrapped in a web of tubes and wires. Surgeons had removed her leg bit by bit battling the infection that raged from her foot upward. A nurse called it a galloping amputation. Now the leg ended at the knee.

“Who says you can’t?” Sylvia had gathered all the data she needed to win this argument. “Damn near every doctor this side of the Rockies.”

The two women locked eyes. Lily’s were crusted and yellow from the pain meds. Sylvia knew her own would be fiery red from lack of sleep, but she’d hidden the puffiness with a generous application of light-toned concealer.

“Then why don’t you come live with me?”

Sylvia had to be realistic for them both. She stiffened her spine yet another notch. “We’ve talked about this before,” she said and counted on her fingers. “I have no nursing skills whatsoever. I run a business so I can’t be with you all the time. We’d fight like two cats, and you know it. Besides, there’s Kyle.”

“Lucky for you.”

That’s the first time she ever said there was anything lucky about Kyle.


Eventually, they compromised. Sylvia agreed that Lily could go back home to live if Lily would accept caregivers round-the-clock.  Sylvia was thrilled to have an action plan, some way to move forward at last.

She decided it would take three full time caregivers plus visits from home health care nurses. How hard could that be to arrange? Her mission was one-third accomplished when Lily’s housekeeper, Aurora, agreed to be the morning caregiver. Lily already liked the scrappy Latina. And Sylvia knew she was reliable.

For the others, Sylvia imagined excellent women with stellar credentials, superior references and the soothing touch of Clara Barton. She soon learned that, at least in Washington, a home care aide doesn’t need training so there was no certification to guide her choice. Besides, at what Lily could afford, Sylvia would be lucky to find someone with no known felonies plus a regular pulse.

Sylvia finally hired a student from the community college for the night shift. Lily would be asleep unless there was a problem, so the girl didn’t need to pass all of Lily’s rules for sainthood. But finding someone for the afternoon shift was a horror.

“Tell me what type of person you would like,” Sylvia asked her mother in the colorless hospital room, hoping to interest her in the task.

“A cabana boy. Italian, maybe Spanish.”

“Come on, I’m serious.”

“I’m not?”

“You’re not.”

“Okay, a fashionable woman in her forties, well educated and attractive, one who knows me and won’t steal me blind. Why, that sounds like my daughter. But, of course, she’s too busy.”

By the time Lily came home from the hospital, Sylvia had managed to hire a quiet woman who’d never been farther from Edmonds, Washington than Tacoma. Lily fired her before the day was out because, “She just crept around making me nervous.” The second hire lasted almost a week before Lily fired her for being too bossy. The third, according to Lily, couldn’t cook worth a damn.

Next, in desperation, Sylvia hired a male Certified Nursing Assistant. Lily took one look at him and said no goddamn wet-behind-the-ears boy was going to handle her hoo-haws, and if Sylvia thought that was such a spiffy idea, she could let him handle hers. Sylvia was so nonplussed she hadn’t thought to ask what a hoo-haw was.

“Lily doesn’t realize this is no picnic for me either,” Sylvia lamented one evening to her husband, Kyle. “She hates getting weak, but I hate it, too.” Your mother is always supposed to be stronger and wiser than you. But Lily was frail now. She’d lost muscle tone quickly in the hospital so her lithe athletic build seemed a thing of the past. Lily would always have the high cheekbones and sculpted features of a genuine Nordic beauty, but her lovely skin, soft as suede, now hung looser on face and body. It didn’t return to its natural pink blush but stayed as pale as ash.

Lily looked old.

Of course, Sylvia hated to see her mother lose ground for all the emotional turmoil it caused them both. But there was a practical reason, too. The more Lily failed, the harder she was to handle.

Finally, a miracle applied for the job. Sylvia prayed that this one, this Jessica Winslow, would take it. She approved of the attractive young woman as soon as she met her. Jessica was dressed in a respectable blouse and slacks for the interview, her natural curls and not so natural blonde streaks were neat, her only visible piercings were in her ears. She was younger than Sylvia, maybe mid-thirties, and looked strong enough to help Lily should she fall.

“You sure you don’t want coffee, too, Mother?” Sylvia asked as she handed Jessica a delicate cup with a matching saucer at the beginning of the interview.

“You should know by now I prefer tea in the afternoon,” Lily snapped while she gave Jessica the once over. “You have any candy?”

“I have some gummi bears,” Jessica answered, diving for her purse.

“Now you know you shouldn’t have those,” Sylvia intervened then said to Jessica, “Mother is a diabetic, you know.”

Jessica had not been an official caretaker before but said she felt up to the Activities of Daily Living, government-speak for meal prep, dressing, bathing, transferring, and toileting.  She wasn’t wild about cleaning, though, not with her own house and barn to keep up.

Sylvia quickly assured her. “The morning woman, Aurora, does most of the cleaning. And it’s just mother, so there’s never really much mess. She’s quite tidy, aren’t you, Mother?”

“Sylvia, I’m seventy-six years old. I know how to behave.” She unlocked her wheelchair brakes and pushed herself slowly to a room at the end of the hall, leaving her daughter and Jessica to their coffee.

There was a brief but very pregnant pause until Sylvia said, “Mother is a little peevish these days.”

“Losing her leg, her freedom … it must be hard for her to stay positive. Hard for you, too.”

“Yes,” Sylvia said. “I’m not sure which one of us is losing the most strength.”


Jessica Winslow stopped for groceries and two fifty pound bags of oats after her interview, fretting about the cost of feed for humans as well as horses. When she thought about the job as caregiver, she was excited. She wanted an afternoon shift, and this one was three to eleven. That gave her mornings to tend the horses and even filled lonely evenings.

“It’s not going to be easy,” she said to the talk jock on the car radio even though he always ignored her. “Sylvia strikes me as wound pretty tight.”

God help the wrinkle that mussed those linen trousers or the fingernail that split. The woman even had a personalized notepad imprinted with Suggestions from Sylvia in elegant type. “Don’t think I want to receive too many of those suggestions.”

On the other hand, the mother was a tough old bird. But she could tell that Lily knew just which of her daughter’s buttons to push.

By the time Jessica got home, there was a message from Sylvia on her voice mail offering her the job.  Had there even been time for her to check references? Personal caregivers must be hard to find, especially those who want the second shift.

Add to that I’m not a crack head, and I have more teeth than tattoos. What’s not to like?


Lily was more than peevish. She was pissed. After a lifetime of independence, she was stuck in a goddamned wheelchair. She had been good to her body, other than a few youthful escapades involving unsafe drugs and unsafe sex. And what sex isn’t unsafe considering all the problems it leads to?

Her body had let her down anyway, long before her mind was ready to push up daisies. The only vice she hadn’t reined in was a sweet tooth, the single characteristic she shared with her son-in-law Kyle. But it was never out of control enough to cause diabetes.

Although she wouldn’t admit it to Sylvia, Lily knew the next infection would likely kill her. Or, worse, strip her bit by bit. The other leg? Her hands? Eye sight? It was all possible. She was left with two options for the future: suicide or a nursing home. Door number one or door number two. Behind either, the Grim Jokester sat in wait.






Funhouse Chronicle: The Tumbleweed


Ken lived unfettered as a tumbleweed. He loved racing cars and racy women, longed for that something that was just out of reach. He inhaled, ingested, or injected every type of vice, and everyone fell in love with him when he landed in his final lock-up, the small town nursing home.

He haunted the halls in the small hours, providing company for the other night prowlers. Sometimes he would simply disappear to the chagrin of the administration, and buzz down to the local steak-and-egger in his electric wheelchair. Or to Safeway to get a cherry pie to share with other residents. He always had a story, and even the overworked nurses stopped long enough to listen to him tell it.

It took a lot of time, fight and pain to finally stop his big old heart. When his next of kin was found and informed, her first question was, “Where’s his wallet?”

Everyone at the nursing home is glad that’s one final pain Ken missed.


Jessica belted out Kenny Chesney’s song about shift work as she drove to Lily Gilbert’s house on the first day of her new job. She was off key because she no longer had a CD to sing with. Ed had taken them all out of her Toyota and put them in his truck. It was one of the minor reasons Jessica thought of him as Ed the Evil these days.

That morning she had taken Folly for an extra long run in the woods before feeding the horses. He wasn’t used to her being gone so she was feeling guilty about leaving him alone. The cocker/dachshund mix was a rescue dog they called their cockadock. He loved a good snuffle through the undergrowth, especially if it resulted in a rancid treasure even raccoons rejected. Ed had left this little dog when he left her, so Folly had to make do with her girly toss of a stick or pine cone.

See? Ed the Evil.

She pulled into Lily’s driveway, arriving early to give herself time to get oriented. Sylvia had told her that the morning woman would show her the ropes. Aurora, a rotund Latina, was cleaning silver when she arrived. After they introduced themselves, Jessica asked, “Getting ready for a party?”

“No. No more parties. Sylvia will take the silver now.” The two exchanged a sad glance but said no more about the gleaming tableware.

For the next half hour Aurora brought Jessica up to speed on everything from petty cash to medical equipment. Finally Aurora finger combed her raven hair, shrugged on a baggy sweater, picked up a tote bag and went out the door with a cheery, “Buena suerte.”

Good luck?


Lily heard the new girl walk down the hall toward her bedroom. She was lying down but alert, with an old afghan in a jumble beside her where she had tossed it. Jessica. That was the name. Blue eyed blond. Irish if the freckles don’t lie. We’ll just see how long this one lasts.

Jessica peeked into the room, and Lily saw her grin. That smile’s broken a heart or two. “Well, come in if you’re coming.”

Jessica entered and put a small bag of candies on the nightstand. “These are sugar-free. Not as good as gummi bears. But pretty darn good. My horses like them, and they know about these things. What can I do for you first, Mrs. Gilbert?”

I can’t be bought that easily, my dear, not with a bit of candy. It was clever, though. Maybe there’s actually somebody home behind those baby blues.

Lily pointed to a velvet-cushioned boudoir chair. “Pull that a little closer and sit down. And for heaven’s sake, call me Lily.”

Jessica did as instructed. “Tell me about yourself, Lily. I need to know –”

Lily interrupted. “Here’s what you need to know. I am older than God and less predictable. I am not cute. I hate cute so do not confuse me with The Golden Girls. I would prefer never to be given anything with kittens or teddy bears printed on it. I like junk food when I can get it, but I don’t smoke and rarely drink, although that doesn’t make me holier than any thou. I have been a waitress, a florist, a picture framer, and a hundred other things. I did them all well, else why the hell do them? People often don’t like me, and I just as often don’t care. If you want to work for a pushover, please leave. If you’re willing to stand up for yourself and not pity me, stick around.”

Jessica nodded, then continued the statement she’d started. “– more about your medical condition.”

“Oh, that.” Lily reviewed the whole picture for Jessica. She’d struggled for years with neuropathy, brought on by diabetes. Her nerves were damaged, so her hands and her lower extremities were numb. “I stopped driving when I could no longer feel the accelerator.”

“Probably a wise decision,” said Jessica.

“Wasn’t my decision at all. I terrified Sylvia so bad tearing out the driveway that she hid the keys from me. I told her to sell the damn car if that’s how she felt about it. And by God, she did.”

“Another wise decision.” This time, Jessica added a laugh.

“Yep. Sylvia’s got more piss and vinegar that it appears at first. Anyhoo, I couldn’t tell where my feet were on stairs either, so I even had trouble with the front stoop.”

“Good thing your bedroom isn’t a loft.”

“Or that I’m not a roofer.”

“Or an aerialist.”

Lily realized how long it had been since someone had laughed with her about losses that otherwise made her cry. Jessica was earning points. “Let’s see, what else? Oh yes, since you will occasionally see me in my altogether, you better know I have acute cellulitus.”


“No, not dimpled thighs. Cellulitus. It’s fluid build-up in the numb areas. Looks ugly and leads to infections I can’t feel. It’s dangerous because my immune system is screwed up by the diabetes.” Lily tried for nonchalance, but she was terrified her body would become a live trap. If this girl was to be her caregiver, she’d better hear it all. So Lily even admitted to her newest problem. “Since the amputation, I’ve been feeling phantom pain. As if I didn’t have enough of the real McCoy.”

“How did you lose your leg, Lily?”

“A slug got me.”

“Someone shot you?” Jessica’s eyes opened as wide as blue moons.

“Not that kind of slug.” Lily explained she was in her garden killing slugs when she stepped on the hoe. “It was rich with cow shit at the time.”

“Fertilizer is better on dirt than it is on feet.”

Lily brightened. “Do you garden?”

“Only when I have to.”

“Well, in this job, you may have to. My garden is important to me.” Not much else is anymore. Except Sylvia.

“I guess I’ll survive. What happened next? With your leg, I mean.”

“At first, I thought I had a cold. But I kept getting weaker, having chills. Sylvia says I was fuzzy headed, more so than usual. About the time I turned yellow as a lemon peel, she rushed me to the emergency room. The sepsis nearly killed me. I finally beat it, but not before my leg was amputated at the knee.”

“Will you be getting a prosthetic?”

The question surprised Lily. “I came home too weak for the sawbones to even consider one.”

“Well, maybe we can get you in good enough shape for the sawbones to reconsider.”

Okay. Sylvia might have gotten this one right.


Jessica was preparing dinner in the obsessively clean kitchen, wondering if Aurora picked up every crumb with tweezers. She wasn’t a stellar cook, but she could handle the basics. As long as Lily liked stew or baked chicken or meat loaf, she’d stumble through well enough.

Lily was parked in her wheelchair at the kitchen table, having a cup of tea and watching her every step. As the day had progressed, Jessica had realized Lily was inquisitive as a cat. She was fairly sure she would never be fired as long as there was more to any tale she was telling. So Jessica began telling her own story, doling out installments like Scheherazade.

“I board horses, give riding lessons and show my own Paso Finos,” she said while chopping a red pepper for a salad. She carefully wiped up the seed that fell to the floor.

“Paso Fino … past their best, right? That pretty much describes me.”

“It doesn’t mean they’re past their best. It means fine step. A Paso Fino horse is a very smooth ride. They prefer a kind of speed walk to a trot.” Jessica dried her hands, then took her wallet from her purse and removed a photo for Lily’s inspection. “That’s me with Latin Lover.”

“The horse or the guy? They’re both gorgeous.”

“The horse. The guy is Ed, my husband. Well, he was my husband,” Jessica said, her voice catching just the slightest bit.

Lily peered up from the photo. “Touchy subject?”

It was inevitable that Lily would hear the story of Ed the Evil. But not now, not yet. Jessica wasn’t ready to reveal that much of herself. Her old charge might decide she was in less need of care than her caregiver.


Sylvia sat at her mahogany desk in her home office. She was trying to work, pasting a love seat in front of a fireplace then dragging it into the floor plan’s bay window. She sat back against the lumbar support in her ergonomically designed chair and frowned at the monitor. She clicked on the love seat, turned it slightly and pasted an end table to its right. With a sigh, she saved her work and closed the program. She really couldn’t concentrate while she hovered near the phone waiting for a call from the new girl.

If she wasn’t all goosey about that, it would have been a wonderful afternoon of blessed quiet, the first time to really concentrate on her work in weeks. She just couldn’t help holding her breath, waiting for whatever would hit the fan.

She wondered where Kyle was at the moment. His real estate business was tricky right now so he was always out with some prospect or other. Sometimes he got a listing for a house that she was hired to stage. It was always fun to work together. That hadn’t happened in a while.

Her glance meandered over to the photos nearly buried under fabric swatches on her desk. There was the studio shot they’d had taken for their twenty-fifth. They were still handsome people thanks to the sensible diet and exercise program she managed for both of them. Goodness knows what he might do on his own without her to watch over his taste for sweets. Probably end up just like Lily. With her help, Kyle was still slender, sporting that little bit of gray at his temples which helped dignify his boyishness.

She had bigger breasts and wider hips than when she was young, of course. But it wasn’t unattractive, especially if she were clever about the clothes she chose. She favored suits that highlighted her small waist.

Thinking of their youth, she rummaged under the swatches until she found the small snapshot of them both from design school, what, twenty-six years ago? Twenty-seven? We look too young to be so sure of each other. Kyle was the first person she’d ever met who liked her just the way she was. He didn’t try to change her. And that thought bounced her right back to life with her mother.

When she was a little girl, she’d wanted riding lessons. She’d requested English style, loving the look of the proud ladies on their jumpers. But her mother bought her Western lessons instead so she would be at home on trail rides anywhere in the country. Sylvia fancied the grand plie of ballet over the shuffle ball change of tap dance, but Lily laughed at the little pink tutus. Sylvia loved her mother without question, but they were as different as lady fingers and molasses cookies. Their prowess at irritating each other grew as the years went by.

“I like to follow the rules,” she’d once said to her mother.

“And I like to flout them,” Lily had answered.

Lily was a time bomb at home just waiting for another infection to explode. She’d no doubt need a nursing home one day. That fact filled Sylvia with a burning knot of dread that even Prevacid couldn’t touch. She knew that in the end she’d have to be the bad guy and say when it was time.

She hoped Lily’s finances would allow her the best care choices. Sylvia wanted every nickel to go to her mother’s welfare, not to her own inheritance. She’d even asked Aurora to clean the silver that had been her great grandmother’s, the antique samovar, teapot, bowls and tray. She’d sell it when the time came that cash had more value than legacy.

Lily would be as hard to transplant as a wildflower. When it happened, she’d give up on life long before she died. Sylvia shuddered and willed the bubbling grief to still before it overflowed. Then she replaced the photo, blew her nose, and stared at the phone.

She’d waited to get the “I quit” call from Jessica all afternoon. She’d just have to call her mother herself.

“Hello?” Lily answered.

“Hi, Mother, how are things going?”

“Fine, dear, but would you mind calling a little later?”

“Well, okay. Are you all right?” Her mother was never too busy to talk these days.

“We’re having dinner. Jessica made me oyster stew! I haven’t had it in years.”

“Oyster stew? You hate oysters.”

“No, dear, I just hate them raw. And that’s the only way you ever serve them.”

Maybe I’ll just go kill her now. No jury of my peers would convict.





Fun House Chronicle: Glossary


Nursing home trade speak can be irreverent, offensive, even morbid. It’s not spoken in the public lounges or resident rooms. But when the staff lets it rip in the privacy of their break room it is not for the faint of heart.

            Chrissie suffered a direct hit on her first day, fresh from her Certified Nursing Assistant classes. A coworker welcomed her to the job, calling the nursing home the Departure Lounge. Over time she learned a dying patient was CTD (Circling The Drain) or ART (Assuming Room Temperature) or FTD (Fixing To Die).

            Incontinence is a Code Brown or Code Yellow, depending on the source of the leak.  Seniors are Raisins, and the ones who use walkers or wheelchairs are Creepers. Gardening means tending to those in a vegetative state.

            It went on and on. And it appalled Chrissie. At least it did until the night when, attending to a patient blowing vomit and diarrhea simultaneously, she heard herself call for help with an OBE (Open Both Ends).

Now Chrissie understands the language is a way to cope with ongoing trauma and death. These days, she goes about the wiping and cleaning a far more tolerant servant in God’s Waiting Room.


Clarice Hagadorn avoided being drawn into the lives of a bunch of sad old sacks. Life can be depressing enough without that, thank you very much. Still, the morning news was damned irritating. The dingleberries at Madrona Park Assisted Care had announced they’d no longer take Medicaid patients. They were looking for other facilities to take their current handful of long term residents.

“I don’t understand. How could something this horrible happen?” asked Lia when Clarice arrived at work that morning. Lia looked up from the newspaper spread open on her reception counter. The Indonesian’s soft brown eyes usually looked serene as a doe, but today that doe was caught in the headlights.

Clarice explained. “A state law passed that denies facilities the right to take in private pay patients then evict them when they go on Medicaid.”

“That sounds like a good law.” Lia’s brows puckered in concern. “Doesn’t it?”

“It’s well meaning. But it scares the crap out of some places.”


“They don’t want Medicaid people if they aren’t profitable. Now they have to find loopholes. Some claim they can no longer meet the patient’s needs. Some are dropping their Medicaid contracts so they can evict patients they already have, and carry on with only a private pay clientele. That’s the Madrona Park route.”

“But that’s cruel! It’s these peoples’ home. Where will they go? Just out on the street? Who’ll take care of them?”

Clarice didn’t know the answers, so she hated to be confronted with the questions. As the bookkeeper for a nursing home, she knew how thin the profit line could be. “Care facilities are in a bind. We all need to make a buck to survive.” She shrugged at Lia then trudged on to her office.

After hanging her windbreaker on the peg behind the door, she flopped into her desk chair and turned on her computer. She forgot Madrona Park when she remembered the joy of losing another half pound that morning.

Six months ago, Clarice had been 70 pounds overweight. She was tall so she carried it well, and her job at Soundside Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center was sedentary enough that she could do it in comfort. Still, drop a pen and let it roll under her desk, she was in trouble. She was only forty-two, but she was as out of shape as someone twice her age.

Then their gung ho administrator, Jeff Parkinson, had come up with a new torture. Office staffers were to take turns handing out food trays to residents who didn’t eat in the dining room. Jeff believed it was good for everyone to get to know the residents. It was part of his from-our-family-to-yours-because-we-care bullshit.

To handle the multi-level meal cart, Clarice had to get her back in shape for bending and lifting. That meant another fucking diet. The day Jeff circulated his memo, Clarice snuck into the rehab room to weigh herself while the residents were gathered in the activity room listening to the AccordiAnnes butcher polkas. She was appalled when she tipped the scale at 240 pounds. She gasped so loudly that Babs Sloane, the Activities Director, heard her and came to see if a pipe had burst.

“No, no, everything’s fine … just stubbed my toe,” Clarice said, quickly turning so Babs wouldn’t see her tears. She turned her head away from Lia, too, passing behind the reception desk and scuttling into her own office.

To be caught crying would be the icing on the cake. The no fat, no sugar, no taste cake. Being fat is public enough as it is. Everyone could tell she had security issues since obesity is as obvious as a clown’s shiny red nose.

Dieting was nothing new to Clarice. She’d lost weight before, always regaining those pounds and more. But this was the first time she was living alone, not counting the two Burmese cats, Kit Kat and Hershey. Dick Head had divorced her years ago. And her son Cole was off at college. Dieting might be easier now that she wasn’t cooking for anybody else.

Before that brief flicker of hope could die out, she’d emptied her dish of Werther’s Originals into the wastebasket and placed an online order with NutriSystem. She needed portion control, but she damn well wouldn’t go to any groups. My name is Clarice, and I’m fat as the Hindenburg.

That had been six months ago. She was down almost 40 pounds. She still was heavy, but the other staffers had started saying things like, “Did you get a new hair cut?” and “Are those new glasses?”

Clarice kept a list on her home computer of things she noticed as she lost:

–        My pants are getting longer.

–        My boobs stick out farther than my midriff.

–        The bus seat next to me isn’t always the last one taken.

–        Kit Kat and Hershey can’t fit on my lap together.

She glanced around to be sure nobody was looking her way, and rummaged inside her blouse for a moment. Then she emailed herself an addition to her list:

–   With your bra hooked in the smallest position underwires poke you in the armpits.


Jeff Parkinson, the administrator at Soundside Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, was taking inventory of his progress toward a smoother operation. All in all, he was pleased. In his first months on the job, he’d made changes that settled major staffing issues.

“You want a latte, Jeff? I’m making a Starbuck’s run,” Lia called from the reception desk.

“Make it a decaf, thanks. Iced with two percent.” A few months ago, Lia hardly spoke to him, much less offered to be the coffee mule. Of course, he couldn’t pat his own back too energetically about his success with the staff. It was in no small part due to their disgust with his predecessor. The numbskull hadn’t done the slightest thing from their point of view. On day one, Jeff revised the rules. He allowed CNAs to work four long days so they could avoid paying for day care or buying gas on a fifth day. The new policy was an instant hit.

Next he began giving the Certified Nursing Assistants bounties if they brought in friends to take the CNA course. Because they liked him, they actually did it. Now Soundside trained enough CNAs to fill its own needs and to staff one of the other centers in the CompreCare Group. Happier CNAs made for happier nurses and, in theory, happier residents. He wasn’t naïve enough to think they all loved him, but he doubted they called him a JAFA, their term for ‘Just Another Fucking Administrator.’ Jeff could almost see his star rising in corporate eyes.

Jeff’s good mood was shattered when he finally found the time to scan the newspaper. He grappled daily with the crisis in costs for long term care, so he wasn’t really surprised by Madrona Park’s plan to boot out their Medicaid residents. He even knew of one place that got around the law by sending some to the hospital and refusing to take them back. They had the stones to call it ‘dumping.’

Jeff had no stomach for such conduct. He’d never offload Soundside’s lifers. We can even take in one of the displaced seniors from Madrona Park. CompreCare corporate doesn’t have to know as long as I keep Soundside operating in the black.

Jeff patted the short hair around his prematurely bald spot, wiped his glasses with a lens cloth, and left his office to take a stroll around the halls before Lia got back with the coffee.

Clarice was covering for Lia at reception, and Jeff said hi but she apparently didn’t hear. He wondered if something was different about her, a new hair style or some such. But he forgot about it as he prepared to greet Gladys, the resident most likely to tell him to go to hell.


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Permanent link to this article:

Nov 04 2000








I wasn’t always lolo, you know. People didn’t think I was crazy. Keeping silent is where I went so wrong. And nothing was ever right again.

–        My Book of Revelation

Excerpt from the Year 2012





Tattooist Found Guilty of ‘Ass-inine’ Crime

By Jackson O’Reilly

Excerpt from the Keawalani Voice, 2012


Kaleo Palea, proprietor of the Tat Joint, has been sentenced to thirty days in the Hamakua District jail. The judge also closed his tattoo shop for six months, a little extra punishment to dissuade him from vandalizing the backsides of others in the future.

In the opinion of most villagers, including this reporter, Kaleo Palea does not deserve his fate. “He’s not a bad guy,” his sister Nani Palea said in his defense. “Just a little unrestrained in anger management.”

The blonde muscle man who was his ‘victim’ is a locally-known blowhard from California . Everything is better in Pismo Beach, according to him, so everyone here on the Big Island wondered why he didn’t just go back home. Apparently he has now done just that. Surfer Dude made bail and skipped town, but Kaleo will serve his time. For the next thirty days, prison tats received in the Hamakua jail will no doubt be of a distinctly higher grade.


Nani Palea was philosophical about the temporary closure of her brother’s tattoo shop. She figured business would have been bad anyway. Even though the town did think he’d done the right thing, who’d trust her brother with their skin now?

Kaleo had told her – and the rest of Keawalani – all about it. Surfer Dude had swaggered into his shop, interrupting him in the midst of sketching a delicate hibiscus. The Californian had demanded a tattoo on the small of his back.

“What you want in such a hurry, haole?” Kaleo had asked using the not-necessarily-flattering term for a Caucasian mainlander.

Surfer Dude explained he wanted a naked chick who would bump and grind when he flexed his butt muscles. Wouldn’t that be ‘fuckin’ awesome’ undulating above his Speedo? He pointed out a girlie pattern he liked from the designs tacked to the Tat Joint’s wall. For the next three hours, Kaleo worked. When at last he finished, he said, “Some of my best work, haole.”

“I gotta see it.”

“Not yet. Leave this bandage on it ‘til you get to the beach then remove it and lie in the sun. Bright rays bring out the colors. Them beach babes gonna love it.”

Kaleo was right. The women did love it when Surfer Dude unveiled his body art. They pointed and laughed. They made fun of his ass. That’s how Surfer Dude discovered his tattoo was actually Kamapua’a, the Hawaiian Pig God, a porker best known for vulgar conduct.

When Surfer Dude busted in to confront the tattooist, a waiting customer called 911 before Kaleo could beat the snot out of the idiot. Police arrived and arrested them both.

Today, thirty days later, Kaleo was getting out so Nani was anxious to get to the Hamakua District jail. If she were late he’d start thumbing, and he’d be cranky enough as it was. But she couldn’t rush Bethie Kalapana’s feet. Bethie’s tongue relaxed right along with her arthritic toes as Nani worked to loosen them. The brittle-boned woman was on the massage table, fussing about the new people who’d purchased the house just downhill from her own.

“She move da bonsai wikiwiki. Even before Martina Martin stay gone.” Bethie used the pidgin English that was Hawaii’s unofficial language, a rich stew from the immigrant populations who had settled the islands. Nani translated in silence. She moved her bonsai plants in fast, even before Martina Martin moved out.

Bethie’s eyes were shut tight as Nani’s talented hands manipulated hot stones to release the hammer toe. “Thirty da kine bonsai all over da lanai. Jacaranda … shower tree … all kine.” The buyer of the Martin home came each day to water, prune and talk with her plants.

Nani understood that new neighbors were big news and no small cause for alarm, but she hurried the session as much as she could while still giving her client more than her money’s worth. She believed in the art of touch, that all humans benefit from contact with others. Through massage or reflexology, she helped those around her with their physical woes.

What had surprised her early in her career was the amount of emotional woes that also came her way. Clients told her the most remarkable tales. Through no intent of her own, Nani Palea had become the Big Island secret keeper. Secrets that she kept, and sometimes even acted on, if she felt her involvement was justified.

Bethie finally climbed down from the table, slid into her slippahs, and wrote her check to Keawalani Hands.
“You know you need better support for your feet, Auntie,” Nani said, using the respectful title for older women whether they were relatives or not. She said it well aware that flip flops were the only footwear Bethie would ever consider.

“You da support fo dese feet,” the old woman said, stretching up to kiss Nani’s cheek. Bethie was actually up on her toes. She could barely hobble before her session.

At last, Nani closed down her massage salon which was once the front bedroom of her house. She hurried out back and started up her Vespa. A car would have been better today, but the scooter was her only vehicle. It could just barely carry two when one was the size of her brother, Kaleo. He had customized her bike with a surrey top made from woven palm, and as long as she kept under 40 mph, the top stayed in place protecting her from sun or rain.

Nani putted through the village at slow speed then accelerated out the other side. Keawalani was far enough off the Big Island’s beaten path that the air was still perfumed by plumeria more than by exhaust. Few tourists made it up the secondary road from Highway 19 to the village perched on the shoulder of Mauna Kea, the highest peak in the Pacific. If they did, they might stop for a pineapple shave ice at Halemano’s Heavenly Treats or even a loco moco at the Big Island Girl, a diner whose signmaker had misheard the word grill. The islander attitude was “no worries” so Girl it remained.

After filling their bellies and maybe their fuel tanks, tourists moved on. There was no Hilo Hattie or Walmart to keep them or their money in the village. They traveled back down the road through cattle pastures to the highway and turned left toward Kona or right toward Hilo. It was the road that Nani took now, turning to the right to pick up her little brother, the convict. Kaleo had been in the slammer for thirty days sitting out his sentence. He’d been released to the custody of his big sister who was widely known to be the more dependable of the two.

Nani saw him walking along the side of the road and knew she was late. His boardshorts and tee-shirt looked a smidge tight. Prison food must have appealed to him. She’d get him off the fried rice and back on fresh fruit and mahi mahi.

“Aloha, bruddah,” she said after she u-turned and pulled up next to him. They exchanged the Hawaiian embrace, kissing cheek to cheek. Then she placed a lei around his neck. “Welcome home.” She’d made it from brown kukui nuts because they symbolized knowledge. Maybe some would actually rub off on her little brother.

“You’re late,” Kaleo griped. “I was released hours ago.”

Okay, maybe knowledge will never rub off on him.

“You’re welcome for picking you up at all.”

Kaleo climbed aboard the Vespa behind her, grabbed hold of her waist and said, “You can drop me at the Tat Joint. I guess I’ll stay there until I find someone to rent it. Hit it, sistah.”

“No you don’t, bruddah. According to the judge, you’re coming home with me.”





The Great Loco Moco Debate

By Jackson O’Reilly

Excerpt from the Keawalani Voice, 2012


This reporter was hanging with the boys down at Sunny Daze barber shop, awaiting a bi-monthly scalping. The conversation turned to loco mocos. Rumor has it this Big Island comfort food was invented in Hilo after WWII to keep the cholesterol of hungry guys climbing sky high.

“You gots to start with da good ground beef,” Sunny claimed. “Not dat low fat crap.” There was general agreement except from Motorhead who claimed to prefer his loco moco with pork or fish.

“But that ain’t right,” Sunny snapped back, snipping the air with his scissors. (Note to readers: you don’t want to make Sunny mad just before you get your haircut.) “A real loco moco got da big scoop white rice under da burger patty, eggs sunny side and plenty brown gravy. No onions, mushrooms, kim chee, dat kine stuffs.”

Vincent Moy revealed that his family’s secret for a superior loco moco was bacon fat in the gravy, but others shouted him down using an unprintable phrase implying he didn’t know poop from polish.

The battle raged over long or medium grain rice … Worcestershire in the gravy or chili pepper water … shoyu, Maui onion or daikon pickles as a condiment. But everyone did agree on two things:

First, the proper way to eat a loco moco is to break the eggs and blend with a bit of the meat, rice and gravy on your fork, then devour together in one ono bite after another.

Second, the best loco moco on the island can be had at the Big Island Girl. Asked later for a comment, Daya the Waitress said their secret ingredient was safe with her. She followed up with her enigmatic smile before gliding away to serve another round of the village’s best coffee to her happy customers.


“Got any ice cream?” her little brother asked. ‘Little’ was misleading for Kaleo. True, he was twenty-six which made him three years younger than Nani. But at six foot four, he was ten inches taller. While he had the size of his Hawaiian ancestors, she’d inherited the slighter height of their Filipina great grandmother or maybe the Chinese plantation worker even farther back on their family tree. The Palea family, like most Hawaiians, was a mixed bag of backgrounds. Chop suey as the local slang went or poi dogs which meant mongrels.

Nani was a little brown dove of a woman who could best be called curvaceous. Her body wanted to be as lush as the island greenery, and it required as much maintenance to keep it trim. She wasn’t crippled by body shame issues like so many of her haole sisters on the mainland, but she felt better when fit. It was easier to perform her job when her hands and arms were in peak condition.

Her round face was the perfect frame for an easily evoked smile. Her almond shaped brown eyes were as dark and welcoming as Kona coffee, yet an empathic spirit might divine the sadness always there, just behind the smile.

At long last, Nani’s shiny black hair had outgrown the oddball slant created by Sunny Daze, the Keawalani barber. He disliked it when someone called him a stylist. Nani wouldn’t make that mistake again. Snipping at the ends a bit at a time, she’d finally been able to even out the cut until her hair once again draped straight down to the middle of her back.

“There’s frozen yogurt, non-fat vanilla,” she said to her brother.

“Wailelenani. That is unfit food for a big man.” Kaleo used her full name when she annoyed him. It meant beautiful waterfall. Her nickname, Nani, was common in the islands and simply meant beautiful.

“That man better not get any bigger if he doesn’t want to look like a certain Pig Man himself.” She believed he’d been making a few too many loco moco runs to the Big Island Girl.

By now Kaleo had been living in Nani’s house for a couple weeks. He’d claimed the lanai so he would have his own back entrance without bothering Nani’s clients who came through the front door. He’d busily framed in and screened its open walls, moved his bed into one end and reassembled his sound equipment along the other. Soon the entire residence – including Nani’s massage table – vibrated with its volume. Their first argument had been over the use of headphones whenever clients were in the house.

Kaleo took on the job of doing all her spa sheets and towels since the washer and dryer were also on the lanai. The old machines seemed to dance along with him as music pounded through buds directly into his eardrums. He kept fresh Kona coffee brewing all day for her clientele, made sure there were plenty of water bottles in the fridge, chatted with clients who had to wait while Nani finished up a session, and took to answering Nani’s phone to schedule appointments. He also launched into household maintenance, fixing the wobbly handrail out front, replacing a faucet washer and cutting the tough centipede grass with her hand mower.

Nani knew he was trying to earn his keep, and she appreciated most of his help. But she just never knew what change in routine awaited her each time she finished with a client. She was not pleased when he rearranged her kitchen cabinets to suit himself and updated her bookkeeping program. Now she could no longer find a frying pan or call up a balance sheet for Keawalani Hands Massage and Reflexology.

Today, Bethie Kalapana was back for her second appointment of the month. She was filled with news about the new neighbors soon to move in next door. “Martina Martin yard sale tomorrow den she goin’ afta. Da peoples moving in wid all the bonsai name stay Yohay. I finally seen him first time oddah night. Now I get big problem, I tell you.”

Bethie had begun to gesticulate with both hands while Nani decoded the pidgin: Martina Martin was leaving right after she held a yard sale. The Yohays, who owned the bonsai plants, would then be moving in. Bethie had finally seen Mr. Yohay the other night, and now she had a problem.

“You must keep still, Auntie Bethie,” said Nani. She was trying to loosen the joints in the old woman’s arthritic fingers. “Your hands are fluttering like ‘i’iwi birds.”

Bethie stopped her waving but continued her story. She had recognized Mr. Yohay as the boyfriend of her best friend, Likolani, who’d shown her a lovey-dovey photo of them together at the beach. “How you figgah? How he be husband of dis Miz Yohay and boyfriend of Likolani? I tink somethin’ not right, yeah?”

“Hmmm. Sounds like one too many women to me,” said Nani.

“How I tell my friend Liko? Do I tell her? She hate me for telling? For not telling? Auweeee.” Bethie had worked herself into a snit again.

Nani knew her massage efforts would go to waste if the old woman didn’t settle down. She thought about the problem for a moment then said, “I’ll tell you what we will do, Auntie.”


After Bethie departed, Nani had a half hour before her next client. She padded barefoot to her kitchen for a cup of coffee. She was humming as she bent down in front of the fridge to get the low fat milk from the bottom shelf. While she was down there, she opened the crisper and rummaged around for one of the carrots she had cleaned. They had to be there. Kaleo wouldn’t have touched them.

Now let’s see …

“Nani? We have a guest.” Kaleo’s voice was right behind her.

She shot straight up, slammed the refrigerator door on the gaping crisper drawer, opened it enough to shove the drawer back in, then whirled around as she kicked the door shut. Kaleo was sitting at the table in the breakfast nook with a smirk on his face and a stranger in a deep blue uniform sitting across from him. A stranger who’d just received a view of her blue jeaned butt gyrating to the Lady Gaga tune she was humming.

“Oh!” she said. “I didn’t see you!” She glared at her brother who should have warned her.

The officer had a wide smile on his face as if he’d seen plenty of her. He stood and offered his hand. “I’m Officer Lindsey. You can call me Hank.”

The handshake was a good one. Not the bone crusher she’d found common among men with a little authority. But not limp either. Firm and warm. She felt like the tropical temperature was rising. His face was all chiseled planes and sun browned skin and his pumped-up arms were …

Maybe I better open the fridge again for a shot of cold air.

“It’s the long arm of the law checking up on me,” Kaleo said. “Hank here is the one who arrested me.”

Nani bristled, tender thoughts of the cop dispersing. Any cop might bring back memories of that bad time years ago, of course. And this one had recently busted Kaleo. Her brother might be a pest, but he was family which made him her pest. “I assure you my brother is here all day long with me, helping run my business. He will be no further trouble to the law, Officer Lindsey.”

“Glad to hear it, Ms. Palea. So you do massages here?”

Not the kind you’re picturing, Officer Friendly. In a haughty tone she replied, “I am certified in Swedish, cranio-sacral and sports massage. As well as Thai, Danish and American reflexology.”

The doorbell rang.

“Excuse me, officer, my next client is here. If you are through with my brother, he has work to do. I’ll show you out.” She turned to go then whipped back around. She wasn’t giving him another rear view. “Please, after you.”

Hank Lindsey must have substantial haole blood for his eyes to be that pure blue. They sparkled at her as if he saw right through the ‘stick up her butt’ routine.

Of course he would. He’s a cop. He pries truth out of suspects.

His only parting shot was a smile that added laugh lines to those ocean blues. He went out the screen door as the village librarian scuttled in for her session. As Nani watched him go, she thought this cop was the most intriguing Big Island scenery she’d seen since cancelling her wedding two years ago.

Fo’ shua!





My Book of Revelation

Excerpt from the Year 2000


Tomorrow I’ll be fifteen. But a birthday party for me? That’s totally not happening. I have to babysit for the dentist’s kiddies. And give Father all the money.

He says it’s for my education fund. Yeah, right. How much does home schooling by Ma cost, anyway? It’s not like he’s ever going to send me to college or anything. I’ll never be out of his sight long enough to do anything but work my butt off.

I’m sure most missionaries who came to the Big Island in the olden days were well-intentioned. But my parents are descendants from the other sort, the ones who turned the good in the Good Book into something unrecognizable. They’re stone cold unforgivers, teaching the golden rule with a golden ruler across our backsides. I’ve learned such fear of damnation from them that it feels safer to never utter a word.


My BF begged me to come outside after the kiddies I’m babysitting go to sleep tonight. To meet him on the lawn behind the dentist’s house. He says he’ll give me my birthday present then. As if I don’t know what kind of present he has in mind.

I shouldn’t go. Ma will kill me if she ever finds out. Father will kill my boyfriend if he ever finds out his name. I can never tell, so BF will have to do. And nobody but he will give me anything. Nobody else will even remember. So I will go.


My Book of Revelation

Excerpt from the Year 2000


Oh my God!!! Oh shit. Maile Palea is hurt, really really hurt. And we did it. My BF and me.

Jesus help me now.

It all happened so fast. My heart was flying high, then wham! it plunged like a bird shot from the sky.

I was lying in the tall grass, gasping. But he was pinching my nipple again even though he was still soaked with sweat, and so was I. We stank of it. There was that other smell, too. Not just the sweet grass or the flowers. That sex smell. Boys are so messy. At least if they’re all like my BF.

We could hear a kids’ birthday party next door. Children were hunting some sort of prizes that Mrs. Lopaka had hidden in the yard. Flashlight beams danced. Little girls laughed, sounding so happy. The way kids are supposed to sound if their parents aren’t shitheads.

BF whispered that the children were celebrating my birthday, too. I don’t like his tongue in my ear. It makes me shiver, but he thinks it turns girls on so I let him do it.

Or maybe the shiver is because I’m always scared what will happen if anyone finds out about us. I said, “No they’re not. They know nothing about me. Nobody can ever know about this. That I’m here with you.” I put my hand around his penis and felt the life surge inside. I squeezed. “Promise me.”

He promised. But he’s a boy. What does he stand to lose?

My need for him frightens me. He’s the only one who cares if I live or die. I know that sounds all over-the-top and shit, but it’s the truth for real. Does he need me as much as I need him? Won’t all the boys at his school laugh if he scrawls that I suck cock on the locker room wall?

He climbed on me again. That’s when we heard footsteps. Coming nearer. Nearer. We froze. His naked ass was a second moon in the night.

“Oh!” said a little voice. “I was just looking for these. I’m sorry.” Maile Palea held out one of the little prize boxes. She began to back away. Her eyes locked on our nakedness.

Then, I don’t know. I think I screamed something about stopping her. BF leaped up and pounced. Maile fell backwards. She dropped her prize box and her flashlight. Its beam went out. She started crabbing backwards, out of his reach. I grabbed her arm, pulled her up and pushed her back toward him. Between us, she turned like a rabbit looking for a bolt hole. She tried to scream but somebody, BF or me, told her to shut up. We jumped her again, both of us, I think. I grabbed for her mouth, but she fell again. A slushy thump like a muskmelon split with a mallet. A little cry. Then quiet. This time she stayed still.

I think I cried my boy friend’s name over and over. He shook Maile but couldn’t rouse her. He turned on her flashlight, and we saw lava rubble in the grass where she fell. Jagged shards. One rock had blood on it. She’d hit her head on the sharp edges.

Together, we wrapped her and the rock and the prize box in our beach towel, the one we’d been making love on. I couldn’t stop tears flooding from my eyes.

“I better get someone. Mrs. Lopaka,” BF said, his skin looking pasty and his body shivering now as much as mine. He snapped off the flashlight and began to cover his nakedness.

“Jesus, no! The questions. We can’t.” I pulled my muumuu on over my head. His semen sticky between my legs. Hide it, hide the evidence.

My brain couldn’t go forward, couldn’t go back. Stuck in neutral. We continued to dress. In the moonlight, I saw him forcing his shirt buttons into the wrong buttonholes. I pulled my panties on backwards.

Then we heard another little girl. “Maile? Maile, where are you?” she called.

No time for more talk. No time to figure what to do. Just time for panic.

BF picked Maile up. Gently, gently, but she groaned. Rolled in the towel, her little body was limp as bread dough. “I’ll take her to my place. You go back inside. Meet me when you can.”

Then he was gone. My knees didn’t work right, but I wobbled up onto the dentist’s lanai. It was dark there behind the screens. I stood in the shadows, shivering in the hot night from the cold in my soul. This wasn’t real. A horror movie. Not real. But it kept on.

I heard the child call for Maile again. I saw her flashlight beam approach the yard. Then she saw something on the ground. She picked it up and turned on its beam – it was the flashlight that Maile had been using. She aimed it at herself like she was seeing if the bulb was getting dim. I saw the child was Lynn Martin. But I don’t think she saw me.

Nobody ever really sees me.

My brain feels paralyzed. But in my gut I know the world changed forever.


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Oct 19 2000

BEAR CLAUS (excerpt)


A Holiday Novella




Case Notes

December 8, 11 a.m.

I have nothing to say.

It’s the fault of that retired pile of ursine melancholy, PI Bear Jacobs. Even on his best days, observers could be forgiven for thinking of him as a cane-wielding, king-sized, potty-mouthed grouch. But now? Right here, up against the ho-ho-holidays? The big man is a beacon of gloom and doom, a grump who wouldn’t just steal Christmas, he’d ram it into the trash and set it on fire.

Bear says to leave him alone with his seasonal depression. He wants to hibernate through the ‘whole damn tinsel-covered mess.’ The other residents and staff cut a wide swath around him, hoping he’ll be okay again when the tree is taken back out of the Latin’s Ranch living room and twinkly bulbs no longer circle the dining room crown moulding.

But I know he’d really rather join the fun. So it’s up to me to poke the bear, so to speak.  All he needs is a mystery to solve. That would make him festive as a cup of Christmas cheer. If I’m going to be his eWatson and keep his case notes, I better find him something to scratch his head about. Otherwise, I might slip into a pile of uselessness myself.

I believe a mystery may be coming through the door very soon now. My physical therapist Ernie let it slip that his girl friend Clarice, who is also our bookkeeper, is worried about unexplained goings on involving Eunice Taylor. Worry about my roommate is a worry for me, too. And unexplained goings on? Bingo! A mystery for Bear.

I’ve arranged for tea to be served in the living room after lunch. Gives us residents a chance to be alone with our guest. And for the mystery to begin to unfold. That means I should have a lot to say any time now.

Lily Gilbert, Jolly Assistant to PI Bear Jacobs
Clarice Hagadorn loved birds and birding expeditions. She’d learned to get along with old people as well as administrators of adult care facilities and nursing homes. Her independent bookkeeping business was burgeoning. Her son had managed not to flunk out his first year of college, and it appeared he might actually be growing up, praise the day. Nobody ruled her roost except the two Siamese cats, Kit Kat and Hersey, who clawed, bit, yowled and purred their way through her life. She had an ongoing relationship with a very sweet man. While Ernie wasn’t the handsomest of guys, he was among the most limber, what with being a physical therapist and all. It had its advantages.

From nearly every point of view, Clarice was a successful woman. But if anyone asked her, she’d say her greatest accomplishment had been the loss of seventy pounds. She could now bend over and put her palms flat on the floor. She could reach far enough to shave her legs all the way around. She could cross them, one right over the other. Her upper arms didn’t flap in the breeze. The two cats no longer fit in her lap at the same time. She could hike the trails of the Cascades. She felt in shape, strong and lithe.

Clarice had not only taken it off but was keeping it off. Until now. And here it was again, a dieter’s greatest dread. The downfall of all foodies. Nightmare on Loser Street.

Yes. It was the holiday season. Chestnuts roasting. Figgy puddings baking. Sugar plums dancing. Partridges in pear trees. Nogged eggs and uncontrolled wassailing. It was hearty food and drink time, and Clarice was not feeling all that grateful about it. She was on her way to Latin’s Ranch to visit her client, Eunice Taylor. And since Latin’s Ranch was also a client, she’d been invited to lunch. A lunch prepared by that Mexican marvel, Aurora. It would no doubt include cheese and crispy fried things and roasted pork and cream. It would be heaven on earth.

Clarice shook in the new, smaller-sized boots that fit her now trim calves. Would it also be her nemesis from a formerly plump point of view? Would the holidays put her in the kind of tailspin that could easily lead to the fat suit again? Heaven knows, she hated to impart the news she had for Eunice. It was enough to make her stomach growl for a wee bit of comfort food.


If there was one thing that could lure Bear out of his den during the holidays, it was Aurora’s cooking. At Christmas time, she created a minor miracle every day of the month. It was her holiday gift to the residents and staff at Latin’s Ranch Adult Care Home. The evening before she’d served their cocoa with her buñuelos, each little fritter sprinkled with powdered sugar. It had been almost enough to make him smile.

Monday’s lunch had been pozole, a hearty soup of hominy, pork, chili and garlic. Today, according to the posted menu the residents checked every morning, the entree was chicken with black mole sauce. Aurora made hers spicy and sweet, with chocolate, cinnamon, clove and so many other surprises.

Bear was glad they had a luncheon guest. Everyone liked Clarice so chatting with her would draw their attention away from his funk. He could enjoy his mole in peace. He couldn’t believe the reasonable portions that Clarice seemed to be enjoying. He remembered when she could out-wolf him. The woman would be an inspiration if, in fact, anything could inspire him at the moment. Maybe after lunch he’d think about the connection between food and fitness. Then again, maybe not.

Alita, their youngest aide, served them tea in the living room following lunch. The four other residents included Bear’s roommate Charlie Barker, Lily, Eunice and retired capo Frankie Sapienza. Clarice Hagadorn joined them there. Bear thought he saw conflict in the bookkeeper’s usually open and friendly face. He wondered what was up. Not that he really cared, of course.

“Lunch was lovely,” Clarice said. “But Eunice, remember we need to talk for a moment before I leave.”

“Okay, my dear. Talk away.”

Clarice colored a pink blush that did her auburn hair no favors. “Well, I … um … it involves your finances, of course, and might be a bit personal if you’d like to go …”

“Oh, heavens no, dear.” Eunice made an expansive gesture with her spindly arms to include the gang. “Everyone here knows all there is to know about me, including how I look before make-up in the mornings.”

Bear saw a ghost of a smile cross Lily’s lips. It made him wonder if he’d actually ever seen the carefully coiffed, jewelry bedazzled Eunice before she was good and ready for her close-up. Eunice might put on airs as ditzy, but he’d learned long ago that the octogenarian had plenty of marbles under that spiky orange hair.

“Well, still …”

“Come along, speak up girl, no mumbling,” Eunice urged.

Bear watched as Clarice cleared her throat, donned a cloak of professionalism and began. “I’m aware that you do a certain amount of shopping at My Fair Pair, have for as long as I’ve known you.”

“Yes, that’s right. Lovely things they have for day or night.” Eunice tucked in her chin and glanced sideways at Frankie.

This time, Bear and Charlie also concealed their smiles. All the residents knew Frankie was over the moon about Eunice. The two had been an item damn near since the day Latin’s Ranch opened its doors as an adult care home.

Bear considered Eunice’s purchase of lady geegaws and scanties and other unknowns to be none of his business. Charlie was more likely interested in that kind of crap since the old sumbitch was known to have an eye for the ladies. At the moment, Charlie was petting Furball, the fat cat draped across his exceptionally skinny knees, but Bear assumed he was listening with great interest.

Clarice soldiered on. “Well, recently, it seems to me your purchases have increased. They were under $50 a month. But that’s being going up. In October alone, you spent over $300. And I thought, I mean, I wondered, well …”

“You wondered how many pairs of fancy pants one old woman could need.”

“Exactly!” Clarice said, following it up with an exhale that sounded like relief to Bear. “So I have to question whether someone there is fiddling with your charge account.”

“Of course there is, my dear. Has for some time.”

Everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at Eunice.

“Huh?” said Clarice.

“I’ll second that,” said Lily. “Huh?”

“Well, of course I know about it. I go over my bills quite carefully, you know. And yes it has increased here in the fourth quarter before the holidays.”

Finally, Bear couldn’t take it. He may have withdrawn from the group temporarily, but he’d be damned if he’d let them withdraw from him. “Eunice, if you knew about it, why didn’t you tell me? Ask me to figure out what’s going on? I’ve been known to solve a crime or two, you know. I could stop it.”

“But Bear, I don’t want to stop it.”

“Then I, too, have to ask, ‘Huh?’”

“Someone steal from you, my little dove? I have his head for this,” seethed the old capo.

“No, no, no! Nobody will have anybody’s head. Louella Bowles has owned that store for decades. She’s been my friend for decades, too. Now her daughter works there. I don’t want to let Louella know someone’s stealing from me. Don’t want to hurt her. Don’t want to accuse her daughter or any other clerk for that matter. I’d rather just pay the extra as long as it doesn’t get any more out of hand.”

Eunice got up from the hard backed chair she favored, flapping her wings like a sparrow in a birdbath. “And since that is my wish, Clarice I want you to forget about it.” She hip-switched out of the room as quickly as an agile old woman could manage. Frankie, with the aid of his walker, rose and followed her out at a far statelier pace.

When they were gone, Clarice said in some distress, “Oh no. Have I made her mad? I’d hate to upset her.” They all looked at Lily. As Eunice’s roommate, Lily was the final authority on this matter.

“She’s not mad, Clarice. Eunice just loves a dramatic exit and she so rarely gets the chance to do one anymore.” Lily shrugged. “But I am sure she really means it. She would hate to hurt an old friend even at her own loss.”

“I guess I’m glad she knew it was happening,” Clarice admitted. “I like to know my clients are aware of their finances.”

“Oh, she’d know all right. It’s sometimes easy to think of her as flighty. But Eunice always knows what’s up.”

“Maybe,” said Bear. “But this time, what’s up doesn’t just affect her. Others may be getting taken, too.”

“Well, that’s a good point, Bear,” Lily said. “I’ll talk with her about it when she calms down a bit.”

“Might have to give this some thought,” Bear muttered mostly to himself, struggling up with the help of his custom-made quad cane.

“Maybe there’s a way to stop it without Louella Bowles even knowing that Eunice started it.” Lily flashed a broad grin at him before he turned to walk away.

As he kachunk, kachunked down the hall to his room, Bear hummed a few bars of Here We Come A-Wassailing before he realized what the hell he was doing. He always hummed an oldie but goodie when he was thinking about a crime but not a damn Christmas carol, for God’s sake.

Then another thought flitted through his massive head. It involved the Mona Lisa grin that Lily had given him as he left the living room.

Lily. Did she have something to do with this mystery? Did she set up that tea party? Had he just been conned into action? He damn well wouldn’t put it past his conniving little assistant to do something just like that.



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Oct 19 2000

HARD TO BEAR (excerpt)





As Solana Capella came to, she groaned, her head pounding like a jackhammer.

What happened to my head? Ouch, my arm. Where …?

Her eyes fluttered open and slowly focused on the feral eyes of a swamp monster staring back. Pain was joined by its old friend, fear.

But wait. Not a swamp thing.

The hollow-cheeked face wasn’t really green. It was smeared with camouflage muck. The stranger was pushed up against her and seemed to be spreading the same green and brown ooze on her face.


She yelped and began biting and scratching at Camo Man’s hands. She inhaled the breath she needed for a championship scream, but his enormous hand clamped down over her mouth and pinched her nose, shutting down the air passages. She fought, but he tightened the grip. “Shhh,” he hissed low as a whisper. “They’re coming. You must be very still. Do you understand?”

They’re coming? Oh, God.

Now she remembered. She tried to control her fear of this new captor. She did her best to nod and, failing at that, blinked her eyes rapidly. Maybe he’d take that as, “Yes, I understand.” He may hurt her, but at least he wasn’t one of them.

Any old port in the storm, right?

She felt a hysterical bubble of laughter behind the hand over her mouth as it eased up, letting air rush into her lungs. He glowered a warning at her, then slithered down prone, pressing hard against her. That shoved her backside up to a damp cold wall of earth. The kind with spiders and centipedes and worms. She shivered, pressing back against him in hopes of moving her ass off the wall.

Solana was afraid she would suffocate as her face squashed into his slender chest. But some deep instinct of a small cornered animal told her to be ever so quiet, to freeze in place. Playing dead, she took inventory. From the little she could see pressed against him, it appeared they were in a shallow, low cave. Roots from a million plants laced through the dirt and clay, holding its walls in place. It smelled of mold and rotten vegetation, overcoming even the fetid odor of filthy clothes and man sweat crushed against her nose. She could hear the sound of rushing water, and through the mouth of the cave, she was aware of only deep grey light. It must be nearly dark.

The pain reasserted itself. They had not marked her body. The scrapes, bruises and sprained wrist were from her wild flight. The real ache was buried deep within, raw and torn, from the rape. She shuddered against this stranger who now held her fate in his control.

Fear had been her companion since she’d been taken. It rose and fell like swells on the ocean. Now it was ebbing, as she accepted that Camo Man was helping her hide from them. When she felt his muscles tense, hers followed in lock step. Then she heard the sounds he was hearing.

Movement in the underbrush above. More than one hunter. Footsteps overhead, coming to a halt. Shuffling feet. Men swearing.

Flashlight beams crisscrossed the grayness in front of the cavern’s opening. Then she heard in a voice she knew, “It’s too dark. We’ll miss her again. She’ll be easier to track in the morning. Killing this bitch will be more fun than most.”

They left. It was still. A minute, five, maybe a year. Then the man next to her moved back just enough for her to see his face. “They call me Ghost,” he said. “You knocked yourself out trying to run under a tree limb. I brought you here. But we have to move on.”

She considered his ragged military jacket as well as the face paint. “Are you a soldier?” she whispered.

“Was. Can you walk?”

She nodded, although she was unsure how far she could go. Her stolen sandals were no more than shreds now, one sole flapping loose against the bottom of her foot. She’d run so far, so fast that vine maple whips and blackberry thorns had cut her feet and her legs. The cowboy shirt she’d taken was so big it had caught on snags, and now shreds flapped like home made fringe. Same with the basketball shorts. But she was a fighter, and she would not give up. Her sister’s life depended on it.

Ghost turned and slid on his butt out of the cave. “Follow,” he said and she did, mimicking his action. As she slid out and down, he caught her just as her feet entered the freezing water of a fast moving creek. She gasped.

“We’ll walk in the creek for a while. No tracks to follow. No detectable odors unless they bring dogs tomorrow.” Ghost headed upstream.

Solana looked back at the cave but could not see the mouth. It was hidden in the dusk behind the grasses on the bank. Her instinct was to go back there and hide forever. But she told herself it would not be so hard to see in the daylight. She had to swallow her exhaustion and fear.

Her baggy shorts rode so low on her hips that they dragged in the water. Holding them up with one hand, she followed Ghost. He seemed to sense where he was as the darkness became absolute, the journey only lit in patches where pale blue moonlight soaked through the forest canopy. He grabbed her uninjured wrist to lead her, and in time the freezing water dulled the pain in her feet. It seemed like a thousand miles until he stopped and pointed up the bank.

“There,” he said. The massive root system of an ancient Sitka spruce looked like clutching fingers in the moonlight. The tree must have crashed to earth many decades before. Now other trees were growing from the nurse log which was at least twelve feet across near the base. The massive old roots swept out into an impenetrable arch of tendrils that intertwined with boulders rising above the muddy bank.

Ghost left the creek and pulled her up the bank to the far side of the roots where they jammed against a casket-sized chunk of volcanic rock. “Kneel here and crawl forward.”

She did as she was told. On her knees she could see that there was room for her to shimmy between two tangled roots. She crawled through and found herself in a hollowed out cavern inside the fallen tree.

Ghost followed her in. He reached for a flashlight tucked inside the entrance and turned it on. “This is one of my hidey holes,” he said to her. “Nobody knows it. We’re safe. For now.”

Solana watched him open the padlock of a battered foot locker with a key that hung on the chain with his dog tags. He lifted the lid of the locker and handed the flashlight to her. “You can leave it on for a little bit.”

While he removed fur pelts from the locker and spread them over the bottom of the cavern, Solana flashed the light around her. She could see the space was a circle with maybe an eight foot diameter. “How did you do this?” She asked. “It’s awesome.”

“Burned it. Like some tribes hollowed out trees to make canoes.” Next he rummaged out several strips of jerky. “Venison,” he said, handing some of the dark, smoky slices to her. “Eat then sleep. We’ll leave at daylight.”

Solana took two of the pelts and crawled under them. If he meant her any harm, there was little she could do about it. She tried to chew the tough meat, but she was so tired. Too tired. The last thing she remembered was Ghost pulling out a satellite phone and calling somebody named Vinny. They made plans to meet. Solana was asleep before she heard where or when.





Case Notes

September 16, 2 p.m.

            Society places certain expectations on Italians like Frankie Sapienza. Maybe his family puts horse heads in each others’ beds. Maybe they use car trunks as portable caskets. A person can be forgiven for thoughts like these if you’ve seen enough movies.

The rest of us residents at Latin’s Ranch Adult Family Home are fascinated with the Sicilian octogenarian. After all, gossip is our numero uno group activity. We like to speculate that he’s a don of the highest order. But, alas, Frankie pretty much keeps his trap shut no matter how much the rest of us bump our gums. Oh, he’s a smoothy all right, with a fine line of patter when it serves his purpose. But about his past he reveals zip, zilch, nada. And we don’t push it, not as long as Frankie’s goomba Vinny Tononi hangs around looking threatening as a hawk in a henhouse.

Maybe my roommate Eunice Taylor could make some inroads now that she’s what Frankie calls his little dove, which is apparently somewhere between first date and betrothed. But she doesn’t ask him awkward questions. She likes him and the gifts he bestows, but she isn’t actually interested in sleeping with any fishes. Eunice is smart that way.

Anyhoo, imagine my surprise when Frankie up and asked Bear Jacobs to handle a private investigation. That’s right. The could-be capo, who should have a lot of young hot shots on his payroll, chose a cane wielding, overweight, grouch of a has-been shamus to trust. I take it as a show of respect for Bear’s brain. Bear takes it as nothing less than his due.

Of course, when he elicited Bear’s help, the secretive Sicilian didn’t mention that the rest of us would soon be hiding a terrified young woman. Or that murderers might climb right over us to get to her.

                                                – Lily Gilbert, Curious Assistant to PI Bear Jacobs


Lily Gilbert shut down her laptop, sat up and swung her leg over the side of the bed. Ever since she had become the eWatson to retired private investigator Bear Jacobs she’d kept her version of case notes. They weren’t official files, of course, in the sense of admissible court documents. There were no “pursuant tos” or “time of the incidents.” But they were the kind of notes that appealed to Lily, and if Bear needed something else, he could go find another assistant who worked for goose eggs. He could do that right after he pounded sand.

She fluffed up her cloud of light gray hair, pinched a little more pink into her cheeks, and hopped down from the bed on her one remaining foot. With the help of her walker she traveled out to the Latin’s Ranch kitchen in search of a cup of tea. Lily actually knew that Bear was grateful for her case notes and even more so for her help. But everyone had been a little edgy since Frankie had consulted with Bear. What the hell was up?

Bear Jacobs, Lily Gilbert, Eunice Taylor and Charlie Barker had all come to the adult family home together, after departing a nursing home. Frankie Sapienza was the only resident who had arrived from points unknown. Latin’s Ranch was a lot smaller, friendlier, and homier than a nursing home. And usually safer, too, from things like communicable illness.

But safer from gangland warfare? Well, that wasn’t the kind of thing most care facilities worried about. It hadn’t been an issue at Latin’s Ranch either until Bear gathered the rest of the residents together to tell them what Frankie wanted him to do.

“He’s honorable by crook standards,” Bear had begun. “His family made their living in the traditional rackets of gambling, protection and prostitution.”

Eunice’s feathers ruffled. “A friendly card game or two, maybe helping a few storekeepers out with security, but prostitutes? Not my Frankie.” Her lips compressed into a tight little pout as she crossed her arms over her kaftan-covered chest. With that orange spiky hair she looked like an irritated pin cushion.

Bear rolled his beady black eyes. “Right. Not that. What was I thinking?” He crossed his own arms over a chest covered in an ancient flannel shirt that must have been an XXL.

Lily the Peacemaker quickly intervened. “Keep going, Bear. I’m sure there’s more you want to tell us.”

“Okay, but only if you’re interested,” Bear grumped.

Lily knew the big man could pout every bit as well as Eunice. Based on his mass, Alvin Jacobs might have been a retired lumberjack instead of a sleuth. He was in his seventies with silvertip hair and beard surrounding his massive head. Size and hair together provided his nickname. But Lily knew that Bear described his personality, too. He could fool you into thinking he was a big ambling dope, slow and easy to underestimate. You’d be wrong. Bear was steely sharp. It was never wise to underestimate him.

“We’re all interested, Bear,” Charlie said, glancing up from the hand of solitaire spread on the living room game table. He was tall enough that his voice should be in the basso profundo range, but instead, it was sort of a squeak. “Really. Tell us.”

“Okay. As I was saying, the Sapienza family made its nut in traditional cri- , um, pursuits. Frankie has his standards.” He tipped a metaphorical hat to Eunice.

She brightened and returned the nod vigorously, moussed spikes bobbing with her. “Thank you, Bear. Of course he does.”

“He says he never condoned things like street drugs or kiddie porn or the slave trade. All the seamy shit that newer gangs are into. To an old Italian like Frankie, newer gangs mean Latin or Asian or Russian.” Bear paused, momentarily pushing out his lower lip before saying, “And, to be honest, I’ve never heard about anything like that in Frankie’s past.”

Bear should know, Lily thought. He’d had a long career as a private investigator before bad health ended it. If the cops had dirt on Frankie Sapienza, he’d have heard about it. As far as she could tell, Bear’s noggin was a bulging filing cabinet of all his past adventures.

“He’s heard rumors of a business one of those gangs has started. Innocent people dying in a bizarre way. In Frankie’s system of ethics, it’s bound to bring the wrong kind of attention to mob activity, and that’s bad. He wants it stopped. He doesn’t want organized crime under a spotlight. I imagine none of the families really want one going rogue.”

“Why did Frankie come to you with this, Bear?” Lily asked.

“You think I’m not capable?”

“Oh, quit it.” Lily took just so much guff from her old friend. “You know I mean instead of going to one of his own people.”

“He wants to know exactly what’s happening, and which gang is behind it. He can hardly go to the cops. And someone in his own family would be recognized by the others.” Bear leaned forward in his easy chair and looked from one to the next. “I’m telling you about it because you all have a decision to make.”

Our ears cocked like bird dogs sighting quail.

“A frightened girl was found out in the woods by one of Vinny’s pals. She’s involved in this somehow. Thugs were chasing her and are still trying to hunt her down. She needs a place to hide until I can hear her story and work this all out. A place nobody would guess.”

“A place like Latin’s Ranch?” Charlie piped up.

Bear nodded. “You guys willing to hide her here? Could be dangerous.”

Invite murderers into our little safety zone just to help a girl we don’t know?

Even as she thought it, Lily said, “Of course.”

“Of course,” said Charlie still slapping red cards on black.

“Of course,” said Eunice, giving Bear a why-would-you-even-ask shrug.

Bear nodded at his little band of operatives. “Good thing we all see eye to eye. Because she’ll be here tomorrow.”

“But Bear, you need to ask Jessica about this first,” Lily cautioned. Jessica Winslow was the owner and caretaker of Latin’s Ranch as well as Lily’s closest friend. Jessica believed the seniors in her care needed a certain amount of freedom and control over their own lives, that being old didn’t make them a bunch of big babies. But would she allow them to put each other in danger?

Fat chance.

“No, Lily,” Bear said. “We’ll get the girl here first, then you’ll tell Jessica.”


“Sure. That’s what BFFs are for.”




Case Notes

September 16, 4 p.m.

            The girl arrives tomorrow. Frankie told Bear she was found in the woods by a former special ops buddy of his bodyguard, Vinny Tononi. Just being that goomba’s pal makes him one spooky dude in my book. It really ups the stakes when you know the guy’s name. It’s Ghost. Yeah, normal people walk around with a name like that. Ghost.

            After a lunch of our cook’s homemade enchiladas – with the best kick ass salsa in todo el mundo – Bear and I figured out what to do with the girl when she arrives. First, we considered the layout of Latin’s Ranch. It’s a rambling affair that was a farmhouse at the beginning of its life. After Jessica decided to take us in, the upstairs was expanded and a wing added, a porch was built across the front and a patio across the back. A lot of it was done with my daughter Sylvia’s money. More about her later. She’s on my list of worries, too.

Anyhoo, Jessica lives here along with the five of us residents, plus Ben Stassen’s daughter, Rachael, and her baby. Ben is Jessica’s hunka hunka but he’s not a live-in, at least not yet. We also house a fat cat, a dog with a limp and two canaries. The staff includes three aides, Aurora the cook, and a youngster who swing-shifts as Aurora’s kitchen slave and housekeeper.

It’s a full house. There’s certainly no room to hide another person. Outdoors, there are the sheds, riding ring, and horse barn. Fertile pastures are surrounded by woods, a mix of deciduous trees, cedar and fir typical of the Pacific Northwest. It’s all owned by Jessica who splits her time between caring for us and caring for horses. She boards them for other people, gives riding lessons, and raises a breed called Paso Finos. The Latin’s Ranch name came from her stallion, Latin Lover.

            “There’s only one place on this property that Jessica doesn’t feel free to go uninvited,” I said to Bear. There was little chance Jess would agree to this plan, and until we sprang it on her, we needed a place to hide the girl even from her.

            Bear was ahead of me. “Sam’s trailer.”

Sam Hart is Jessica’s barn manager and handyman. He lives in an old Airstream between our house and the barn. “Bingo. But we can hardly put a girl in there until we get Sam out.”

            “I imagine he would notice a thing like that.”

            We sat on the patio in the sun. The days are still long enough for a breezy warm afternoon. It makes me think of my garden, the one that was sold along with my house when I went into the nursing home. I loved that garden, even the autumn chores that coaxed it into glorious bloom the following springs. But I’ve come to love Latin’s Ranch about as much. In some ways maybe even more. Proof that there’s at least some gold in the golden years.

            “We could talk Sam into taking a vacation. Frankie would probably pay for one.”

I was pretty sure Bear knew that was hopeless when he said it. “He wouldn’t leave the horses with no notice to Jessica.” Sam loves those hay burners almost as much as she does. If horses can have bodyguards, they have one in Sam.

            We sat and rocked and thought and rocked. Bear hummed Come Fly with Me. He always hums old standards while he thinks.

            “I’ve got it,” Bear said. “The dogs.”

            It took me a sec before I caught on. “Yes, of course!”

            Other than Folly, the cocker/dachshund mix that Jessica calls her cockadock, pooches are canis non-gratis around the ranch these days. A pack of feral dogs had attacked her colt, Latin Dancer. They had severely damaged him in the flesh and in the spirit. He would never make a show horse or command a stud fee as high as his sire. It was a heartbreaking loss to Jessica’s emotions and financial plans, even though her lover, Ben Stassen, bought the colt. Jess trained Dancer for him, and Ben now uses him as a trail horse.

            The night it happened, Sam shot one of the dogs, a Rottweiler. It was tearing off a piece of the colt’s hide at the time. The rest of the pack took off unmolested. Nobody knows for sure if they were wild marauders or local dogs banded together for sport. Either way Animal Control hasn’t been able to catch them, and that’s a big worry for stock owners. Now, just lately, Sam has heard them again, howling in the night. They may be coming back around. His rifle sits next to his trailer door, loaded and ready.

            “I think he’d move to the tack room in the barn to be closer to the horses,” Bear said. “Leave the trailer for a few days. That’s all it should take.”

            “He’ll do it if you ask. But if Jessica probes for more of an explanation, he’ll never lie to her,” I said. And then I just had to add, “I won’t either. I made a promise.”

            “Yeah, I know what you mean. After we get the girl here so Jessica can see it’s really okay, we’ll tell her.”

            “You mean the she-followed-me-home-can-I-keep-her defense?”

            “Sure. Jessica would never turn down an animal in need. And old farts like you and me prove she’s a marshmallow when it comes to people in need, too.”

                                                                        – Lily Gilbert, Needy Assistant to PI Bear Jacobs

The residents were in the living room, staring through the big front window at the long driveway. Lily figured they looked like meerkats with mobility equipment. Bear had asked Frankie to have the girl delivered in the afternoon because Jessica would be away at a Paso Fino show with her stallion, Latin Lover.

Lily agreed. “The timing is serendipitous.”

“It’s what?” asked Charlie. “Isn’t Serendipitous that group from the sixties?”

“That was the Serendipity Singers, Charlie.” Eunice focused a pair of mother-of-pearl opera glasses on the road which was barely visible at the end of the drive.

“Whatever. Nice young people. Those boys had short hair and ties. The girls wore skirts and curled their hair.”

“Well, here comes Serendipitous now,” Lily said, always eagle-eyed. They rushed outside as fast as a wheelchair, two walkers and a quad cane could rush. Only Eunice sailed along under her own power, even helping Frankie move forward.

It was the first time any of them had ever seen Vinny Tononi’s Cadillac look anything but sleek as a black panther. Now its hood was littered with twigs stuck in every crevice. Small fir branches clung to its mirrors, wipers and grill. The polish was scratched, and when Lily touched the hood, it felt sticky with tree sap. At least the car smelled fresh as a cedar chest.

Vinny Tononi was a hulking big guy who preferred dark glasses and darker suits. Lily maintained that if you really listened, you could hear his weaponry clank as he walked. With no more than a nod at the five oldsters and a baleful glance at the front of his car, he opened the Caddy’s back door.

A waif stepped out and faced them. Little, fragile, with eyes that rivaled those old Keane paintings.

Lily thought she was one of the sweetest looking girls she’d ever seen. Seventeen or eighteen, maybe. Her slight build might make her look younger than she was, but the wounded look in her eyes aged her. Her brown hair hung straight to her shoulders as though it had been washed but not styled. She wore a new pair of jeans that were rolled at the ankle, and her blouse had fold marks. Even her athletic shoes were bright with newness. A bandage around her left wrist looked clean and newly applied.

As Vinny unloaded shopping bags from Fred Meyer, Lily moved forward. “Hello, my dear. We’re so glad you are here. My name is Lily.”

“This is Solana,” Vinny said, handing the shopping bags to the girl and going back to his stricken car. “She is for your care now.”

“This is Eunice, Charlie, Frankie and Bear. Once you’re settled, Bear will want to speak with you. He’s a private investigator. And a good one. Whatever is going on, he will fix it.” Lily gave the girl an encouraging smile but received no such gesture in reply.

Bear bowed slightly, a nod of the head but not of the body. “We’ll find the bastards, miss.”

The girl eyed the old PI then seemed to back away from someone his size. Lily thought a frightened child might find his gruff manner intimidating.

“Please,” whispered the girl looking back at Lily. “Can I talk with you instead?”

“Well, but …”

“That will work fine, Miss Capella. You tell Lily and Eunice your story,” said Bear. “In the meantime, Vinny will take me to meet Ghost.”

“Why didn’t he come here?” Charlie asked.

Vinny, who’d been mourning over the hood of his car, said, “Ghost almost never talks with people. And even more almost never, he does not leave the woods.”

* * *

Solana Capella didn’t know whether to be charmed or scared shitless by these geriatric weirdoes. She was sitting next to Lily in an old trailer’s tiny banquette, watching Eunice search from one cabinet to the next. “Lily believes in the restorative powers of tea. I myself believe the same about whisky. Ah! Here we go. Apparently, Sam Hart believes in both.” Eunice assembled the ingredients, along with the honey and lemon she’d already found.

Lily looked at Solana and smiled before she spoke. “Sam vacated the premises earlier today before you arrived. Set up a cot for himself in the barn’s tack room. We’re sure that will be okay with Jessica, our caregiver.”

Solana noticed Eunice roll her eyes.

What’s that about? Maybe I won’t be staying here after all.

Lily looked calmer and smarter than the other one, maybe because she wasn’t tinkling with jewelry and adrift on a sea of perfume. Too bad she only had the one leg. Solana wondered what it would be like, not being able to run.

Fucking scary, that’s what.

She herself would be dead if she hadn’t been able to race like a gazelle. Both old women were kind enough at least. Of course, Solana’s experience with geezers was limited, but she knew they usually weren’t scary. Maybe she’d be safe here until she could get to her sister. Surely the bastards wouldn’t think to look for her in this place.

“You’ll be snug as a bug until Bear can figure all this out,” said Eunice as she fussed with the drinks. “You’re just a child, but this much whiskey won’t hurt you a bit. Warm you right up.” She set the beverages down in front of them. One teacup had lost its handle and the others were mismatched mugs from Reggie’s Tavern and the Black Sheep Diner. “The pickings are sparse in Sam’s dinnerware department.” Eunice seated herself on the other side of the table.

Meanwhile, Lily had booted up a laptop and looked ready to take notes, bony fingers poised above the keys. “Take your time now. And tell me what happened. But first, I guess we should call the authorities. Will you do that, Eunice?”

Eunice looked like a little kid told to go to her room. “I want to hear – ”

“No,” said Solana, sharply. “Nobody calls the authorities. It’s too dangerous for Rosie.”

It was the first thing she’d said since they came into the trailer. Lily and Eunice both stared at her. Solana looked from Lily’s old face to Eunice’s older one, making her decision. She needed to talk with somebody, and these two dinosaurs were all she had. Maybe it would be okay even if they were old. They didn’t smell bad or anything, and a couple kids she knew actually liked their grams. She’d never met her own.

At least these two wrinklies are women. I’m sick of men. She thought about the ones she’d met outside, Frankie and Charlie and Bear. Bear, right. How can that toothless old grizzly figure this out if I can’t?

She looked into Lily’s clear eyes and saw the intelligence there. Slowly, awkwardly, she began to speak. “I don’t trust the authorities for good reason. You know about homeless camps in the woods, don’t you?”

“I know what I’ve read,” Lily answered. “As the economy keeps tanking, many families reach the end of the line. They’re living rough.” She began to tap notes into the computer.

Solana nodded. “We lived with a family like that, my little sister Rosie and I. She’s just fifteen. They were good people. Let us stay with them as long as they could pay the fee out at the county park.” Solana glanced around Sam’s comfortable but utilitarian mobile home. “This place is a palace compared to theirs.”

“Sam’s loaning it to you for as long as you need to hide.”

Solana cringed with a shiver of fear. “Sam. He won’t … come for me, will he?”

“Sam?” Eunice and Lily asked looking surprised. “Sam would never hurt you,” they continued in unison.

“He’s a very good man,” Eunice’s earrings tinkled to punctuate her emphatic nod.

“I haven’t met many good men,” Solana said. “It’s not been easy keeping Rosie away from pimps and sex slavers.”

“No, I’m sure it hasn’t,” Lily concurred. Solana saw a warm shade of scarlet work its way up the old woman’s neck and into her cheeks. “This country went to war against slavery over a hundred years ago. Now it’s back, just in a different form. It’s an outrage.”

The old girl took a deep breath while her sidekick Eunice said, “The men you meet here have nothing but your safety in mind.”

The men I’ve met here so far are too old to have anything else in mind.

Solana, slightly ashamed of that thought, continued. “The family we stayed with fed us and let us sleep in their pickup in return for cooking and cleaning. But the park kicked them out once they stayed the maximum amount of days. When they hit the road, they left Rosie and me behind. So we had to join eight other families living in the forest not far from the park. It’s safer for us to band together. And when you stay near a park, it’s not such a long walk to get to clean water.”

“But … but that’s horrible for two young women,” Eunice gasped.

“These camps are today’s answer to the hobo jungles of the Depression,” Lily said, one old hand leaving the keyboard to pat the hand of her friend. “Only instead of men on their own, these are families.”

“Isn’t it dangerous?” Eunice asked Solana.

“Duh,” Solana said, instantly ashamed of her snotty tone. The old lady was probably just naïve, that’s all. Most were. She softened her voice. “We only have tents and tarps, so we’re pretty vulnerable to everything. Including each other. The camp managers, they’re real careful about who they let stay.”

“Can’t you get help? Are you totally out of resources?” Lily asked.

“Where are your parents?” Eunice said at the same time.

Solana tightened her jaw to control her emotion. She’d learned tears rarely helped anything. But it had been such a long time since anyone had seemed to give a rat’s ass about her. And now these old ladies acted really distressed. “For most people in the camp, public aid is long gone. Rosie won’t go to children’s services because she wants to stay with me. I’m her only family since we both had to get away from mom’s boyfriend. I get some food stamps. And we go into town to look for work when we have the bus money. But that’s a fuck-, um, joke. Even if we find jobs, nobody will rent to us without a deposit, and nobody at the camp has enough for that. So we’re stuck.”

“How long have you been there?” Eunice asked.

“Mmm. Maybe two months? The camp isn’t supposed to be there, but unless someone complains, it’s easier for rangers not to roust us. Or cops for that matter.”

“Can you tell us about your kidnapping?” Lily asked, keyboarding away once again.

“The bastards are like invaders or something. Last time, they swept through screaming and knocking heads. This time it was a sneak attack. Either way, they take people away with them.”

“You mean it’s happened before?” Eunice took a big slug of her spiked tea.

“Twice that I know of. To an older guy and a boy about my age. But this is the first time they showed any interest in me.” Solana’s control abandoned her, and she began to weep. “What if they come for Rosie before I get back? And what will they do to her if I talk to the cops? I can’t do that. And you can’t either.”

Lily leaned toward her. At first Solana stiffened, but then she allowed the old arms to close around her. They stayed that way for a long time, the girl expelling her fear and misery into the woman’s circle of comfort.

Finally, Solana could continue. When she began again, the tale she told was like a horror story. Not just scary but brutal. Sick. It wasn’t long before they all needed more whiskey, this time without the tea.

* * *

Bear wasn’t surprised when his roommate chose not to go with him to interview Ghost. Charlie had perpetual sores on his nuts from sitting in a wheelchair all day. The home care nurse who paid particular attention to that delicate situation was scheduled to visit Latin’s Ranch late that afternoon. Charlie wouldn’t miss the appointment for any amount of wealth or wishes.

Vinny drove the Caddy away from town and east toward Washington’s Cascade Mountains. He left the highway on a two lane paved road that plunged into national forest land. It narrowed even more when Vinny maneuvered the huge vehicle onto a dirt track, punching a tunnel through cedar and fir. Bear presumed this had been a logging road many years ago. As branches slapped against the car, he understood why Vinny’s prized possession was covered with twigs and pitch. He must have driven this way before when he picked up the girl, Solana.

Bear, in the backseat, listened when Vinny placed a call. “We are near,” Bear heard him say. The dirt track petered out on the edge of a small meadow where there was just enough room for Vinny to turn the hulk around between volcanic boulders and enormous stumps from fallen giants.

“You okay, Signore Bear? We wait here.”

Bear rolled down his window after Vinny shut off the Cadillac’s powerful engine. It was impossibly quiet, as though every living forest thing knew humans as threatening interlopers. A breeze produced the only rustle through the leaves. Then, one brave bird began to sing again. Others joined until they crescendoed in a merry racket. Bear never paid much attention to such things himself, but he knew Lily could have identified each singer, along with the wildflower remains that dotted the meadow. Now in September, the Indian paint brush, lupine and glacier lilies were brown or gone altogether, replaced by wild daisies. The breeze blew a chill through Bear’s window. For a while he hummed Autumn Leaves.

Minutes passed without a word from Vinny. Finally, Bear said, “Time for you to tell me just who this Ghost is, don’t you think? Now that I’ve joined the Sapienza family as Frankie’s personal PI?”

Vinny turned sideways in the driver’s seat and glanced back at his passenger. Bear could see the sharp planes of his chiseled face and the hawk nose. “You are not a member of the famiglia, Signore Bear. A friend, yes. Like Ghost. He es specialist, resource we trust. Same with you. But famiglia? No.”

Well, that settles that. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Bear snorted to himself, glad not to be part of this tight knit mob. Fine by him. He still valued his rickety old carcass, and it would stay a damn sight safer out of the direct line of fire.

Vinny glanced at Bear again with eyes cold and grey as stone. Then he stared off into the woods. “Was year 1991. Ghost and me, we do, ah, special ops in Iraq. What they call counter-terrorism. Capiche? He move with such stealth, unseen as a ghost. Got his name that way.”

“Good name. Ghost,” Bear said. He’d been rather fond of his own nickname ever since a crazy old crock at the nursing home had thought he was one. He was a lot fatter and meaner back then. Now he liked to think of himself as merely big, as well as pleasant.

Vinny squared his jaw and continued to face down the past. “We placed an explosive in enemy camp late one night. We could not know they had prisoners. Families. Families we were there to save. That night, they died by our hand.

“We left, silent as we came. But not Ghost. He stay behind. Frozen, you see, numb with guilt. The terrorists, they caught him. It went bad for him until our team got him back. Very bad. They ship him home and patch him together. But he still sees bodies of children who died that night. He keeps to himself now, wild in these woods for ten years. More. I bring him supplies time to time. We each have satellite phone. He has solar battery packs.”

Bear rumbled a disgusted sigh deep in his throat. So many war stories with damaged veterans who do what their country asks. He shook his head and looked back out his window.

A wild man, in the green and brown of a woodland camo jacket, was staring in.




Permanent link to this article:

Oct 19 2000

More About Me..

Hi. Thanks for stopping by. I live in the Pacific Northwest, out on the Olympic Peninsula. The most valuable thing in my wardrobe may be my rain boots. My Maltese Dotty gets curly when she’s wet, and since her tummy isn’t far above the grass, she’s wet a lot.


LESSONS OF EVIL was my first novel, written because trauma survivors are punished once by the trauma, then a second time by being misunderstood. It scared me to write this book, and it will give you a few jitters, too.


My parents and my husband died in assisted care facilities, so I claim an unrivaled record for placing my butt in those hard visitor chairs. I’ve seen the ins and outs of the elder care world. FUN HOUSE CHRONICLES offers earthy guidance to anyone facing tough decisions for themselves or their loved ones.


BEAR IN MIND is the first in my mystery series, appearing now on Kindle Select. It’s a return of the Fun House gang, this time solving a very ominous mystery. The second in the series, HARD TO BEAR, has just been added, as well. As long as you folks keep on liking Bear Jacob mysteries, I’ll keep writing them.


A TIME OF SECRETS is a suspense novel set in Hawaii. I have loved the Big Island for decades, having first visited it before it was even a state. This book is a dark mystery set against the lifestyle, quirky humor, and culture of a native village.


I’m currently developing a series of novellas called the CASCADIAN REVELS. These are fantasies with action, fun, fear … and, yes, a message.


The Early Years


Ferry on Puget Sound – Linda B Meyers


I live on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.


I won my first creative contest in the sixth grade back in the Dark Ages for my Clean Up Fix Up Paint Up Week poster. This started a career that even a Phi Beta Kappa and BA from Michigan State University could not derail.


The Career Years


I wrote a non-fiction book entitled “The Great Lakes: North America’s Inland Sea.” It was published back in the Dark Ages and is now out of print. It appears, naked and alone, on eBay or Amazon every now and then.


From that experience I learned how little an author can make. So I became a copywriter in Chicago and eventually a creative director. I learned it not only pays to advertise, it pays to write it, too.


I started my own marketing business under the name of Mycomm One. While I can tell others how to spend their money wisely, I have no idea how to manage my own.


And Now


my pets…


Charlie worries most of the time, but Sundance is often quite festive.


I turned in my stilettos for rain boots and moved to the Pacific Northwest with a nervous dachshund and grumpy parrot. I started to write for real.


After three years, I got an agent. I lost her a while ago (she got broken on a cruise. They’re supposed to be more fun than it turned out to be for her).


I’ve chased publishing the old fashioned way and have only succeeded with one book published in Turkish. See? Your mother told you to learn a second language.


So I’m moving forward in the eWorld only.

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Oct 07 2000

Linda B. Myers

Hi. Thanks for stopping by. I live in the Pacific Northwest, out on the Olympic Peninsula. The most valuable thing in my wardrobe may be my rain boots. My Maltese Dotty gets curly when she’s wet, and since her tummy isn’t far above the grass, she’s wet a lot.
LESSONS OF EVIL was my first novel, written because trauma survivors are punished once by the trauma, then a second time by being misunderstood. It scared me to write this book, and it will give you a few jitters, too.
My parents and my husband died in assisted care facilities, so I claim an unrivaled record for placing my butt in those hard visitor chairs. I’ve seen the ins and outs of the elder care world. FUN HOUSE CHRONICLES offers earthy guidance to anyone facing tough decisions for themselves or their loved ones.
BEAR IN MIND is the first in my mystery series, appearing now on Kindle Select. It’s a return of the Fun House gang, this time solving a very ominous mystery. The second in the series, HARD TO BEAR, has just been added, as well. As long as you folks keep on liking Bear Jacob mysteries, I’ll keep writing them.
A TIME OF SECRETS is a suspense novel set in Hawaii. I have loved the Big Island for decades, having first visited it before it was even a state. This book is a dark mystery set against the lifestyle, quirky humor, and culture of a native village.
I’m currently developing a series of novellas called the CASCADIAN REVELS. These are fantasies with action, fun, fear … and, yes, a message.

The Early Years

Ferry on Puget Sound – Linda B Meyers
I live on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.
I won my first creative contest in the sixth grade back in the Dark Ages for my Clean Up Fix Up Paint Up Week poster. This started a career that even a Phi Beta Kappa and BA from Michigan State University could not derail.

The Career Years

I wrote a non-fiction book entitled “The Great Lakes: North America’s Inland Sea.” It was published back in the Dark Ages and is now out of print. It appears, naked and alone, on eBay or Amazon every now and then.
From that experience I learned how little an author can make. So I became a copywriter in Chicago and eventually a creative director. I learned it not only pays to advertise, it pays to write it, too.
I started my own marketing business under the name of Mycomm One. While I can tell others how to spend their money wisely, I have no idea how to manage my own.
And Now
my pets…
Charlie worries most of the time, but Sundance is often quite festive.
I turned in my stilettos for rain boots and moved to the Pacific Northwest with a nervous dachshund and grumpy parrot. I started to write for real.
After three years, I got an agent. I lost her a while ago (she got broken on a cruise. They’re supposed to be more fun than it turned out to be for her).
I’ve chased publishing the old fashioned way and have only succeeded with one book published in Turkish. See? Your mother told you to learn a second language.
So I’m moving forward in the eWorld only.

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Aug 24 2000

BEAR AT SEA (excerpt)



It’s quiet now. Eunice and I are both in our beds, needing sleep but it won’t happen. Sorrow steals your ability to turn off your brain. I keep playing the whole thing over and over in my head. I cannot conceive of the how and the why. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to start before the day went so wrong. 
                        – Lily Gilbert, Assistant to PI Bear Jacobs 


    The Japanese feather industry damn near plucked the short-tailed albatross population to death. Volcanic eruption at the bird’s breeding ground took its toll as well. But WWII really did the trick. Somewhat understandably, the welfare of the albatross was not a top concern at the time. After the war, an American researcher visited Japan’s Torishima Island and declared it to be barren of the birds. 
    But he was wrong. 
    Juveniles had been growing up while soaring over the Bering Sea during the war years. They flew for months on end, producing a stomach oil that made an energy rich food. Along the way they desalinated their own bodies. When they matured enough to require mates, they returned to the island to breed.  Japan and the United States took measures to save them. Today, a fragile population still flies the North Pacific skies. 
    They were called fool birds by Japanese and boobies by Americans because the albatross is awkward on the ground. They also allow humans to get close enough to kill them. This name-calling might better have been aimed at the people who labeled them. The tail of the short-tailed albatross is no shorter than its relatives, even longer than some. But if they were called long-tailed, then the entity formed to save them would have been called the Protective Association of the Long-Tailed Albatross or PALTA. 
    And everyone can agree that PASTA is a much catchier acronym. 


Case Notes 
May 3, 11 a.m. 

    Eunice Taylor has always been fond of pasta. But it’s not the kind served here at Latin’s Ranch Adult Family Care on Sicilian Night that I’m talking about. It’s PASTA as in the Protective Association of the Short-Tailed Albatross. Turns out she’s a sitting duck for an albatross, so she – and her money – have taken on the PASTA cause big time. Donations, sure. Plus a whopping big endowment for the future. 
    She surprised everyone but me with an announcement at breakfast one morning not long ago. She held up a photo of a white bird with a blue-tipped pink beak. “This is a short-tailed albatross. These beautiful birds are drowning, caught on hooks or tangled in long-lines dragged by fishing boats.” Her false eye lashes fluttered and she patted her silk kaftan in the general area of her heart. 
    “I’ll be damned,” muttered Bear Jacobs as he buttered a warm corn muffin.  “Could you pass the honey, Lily?” 
    He could have at least acted like he was interested. 
    Eunice would not be sidetracked. “It happens to a hundred thousand boobies a year all around the globe.” Her orange spiked hair trembled in sympathy with her lower lip. 
    “Imagine that. A hundred thousand boobies,” said Charlie Barker, plopping a dollop of guacamole on his huevos rancheros. “I’d give my eye teeth to see just one nice set again before I die.” 
    “That’s not funny, Charlie Barker,” Eunice snapped. 
    “It is not wise for you, this interruption of my little dove,” Frankie Sapienza said, staring icicles at Charlie. If the two hadn’t been friends, the old capo would have stared something scarier. Like daggers. 
    “All right, no harm meant,” Charlie replied, holding up both hands. “No need to mobilize the mob.” 
    Eunice patted Frankie’s hand then resumed. “Through PASTA, I have supported the introduction of by-catch mitigation devices in the North Pacific.” 
    “A by-catch mitigation device. Is that a marital aid?” 
    “Charlie,” growled Bear. “I suggest you let Eunice say her piece and get it over with.” 
    “Thank you, Bear. By-catch mitigation devices are specialized hooks and lines that can save birds or fish that were never meant to be targets. The poor things can disentangle themselves and go free. It’s for my efforts on the birds’ behalf that I have been awarded PASTA’s Arctic Angel Award. I pick it up in a ceremony in Juneau, Alaska on May 18.” 
    Eunice paused for effect. She straightened her back and may have puffed out her chest although the kaftan hid that particular bit of body English. She spread her arms in a graceful movement as though trying to encircle us. “And you’re all coming with me!” 
    Silence while we all looked at Eunice then at each other. Not one of us is on the south side of seventy-five. And not one of us gets around without some help from a fall-on-your-ass mitigation device. Well, except Eunice. Maybe she’s forgotten that even though she’s an octogenarian, she’s spryer than the rest of us. 
    “Just how do you think we’re gonna do that?” asked Bear, who was the only trained investigator in the breakfast room. As his assistant, I keep these case notes. Not that they’re real case notes. There isn’t a real case, at least not yet. But leave it to a retired private investigator to probe for answers. 
    “By cruise ship, of course!” Eunice said in the same bright tone she would use to yell ‘surprise’ at a party. “And I’m paying for the whole thing.” 
    “Juneau?” asked Frankie. He stared at ‘his little dove’ as though she’d just become his little dingbat. 
    “Cruise?” asked Bear. His frown deepened the plenty-deep lines in his frowny face. 
    “Free?” asked Charlie in delight. 
    “Yes. A cruise … to Alaska … and it’s free,” answered Eunice, nodding from one to the next.”We leave week after next.”
    “Did you know about this?” Bear swung toward me, his lower jaw jutted out. 
    “Me? Why would you think I wouldn’t tell you about a thing like this?” 
    Of course, I’d been carrying Eunice’s secret while she planned it all out and prepared to deal with the million objections that would follow. I must say I consider Eunice, like the short-tailed albatross, a pretty rare bird. It’s hardly her fault that her long association with the bird was soon to lead to ‘murder most fowl’ for the Latin’s Ranch gang. 
                – Lily Gilbert, Seafaring Assistant to PI Bear Jacobs 

    Retired PI Bear Jacobs sat at the game table waiting for the others to assemble in the living room for their trip to the senior center. The Latin’s Ranch regulars went twice a week to socialize and to give Jessica Winslow, the owner of the adult care home, a little time off from senior sitting. While he waited, Bear was feeding Baby Benny. Baby Benny was seeing just how far he could spit his oatmeal. 
    “I knew people at the nursing home who acted just like you, champ,” Bear muttered. “We’re not done ’til you get more of this goop inside than out.” 
     Benny made a facial gesture that Bear chose to interpret as a smile. Jessica had said the baby was sleeping better now and seemed happier more of the time. Bear could feel his iceberg of a heart melt just a bit at the baby’s drooly smirk. 
    “Stay out of the casinos, kid,” Bear said. “You got no poker face at all.” 
    Bear was one of Benny’s favorites. The old man could have been mistaken for a stuffed version of his namesake. His head was round, his eyes dark as black beads, his brown beard and hair shot through with gray. His arms were a genuine bear hug that held the baby safe from a dangerous world. They often sat together when Jessica needed a helping hand. 
    Nobody spoke of it, as though talk could make it real. No need to court disaster. But Bear knew all the residents hoped for the same thing: that this baby would rise above the crack and booze that may have poisoned his system in the womb. Their caregiver Jessica was Benny’s mother now. She and Ben Stassen had adopted him after Ben’s daughter disappeared back onto the Seattle streets, leaving her baby behind.     
    Bear was making yummy noises that Baby Benny was ignoring when the big man heard the sound of Lily’s cane tapping the floor. “Just look at these beauties,” she said as she walked into the room holding a vase bursting with reds, yellows and whites. The strong aroma of species roses wafted into the living room with her. Bear knew she loved to be out on the patio, working with their container garden. He figured a fresh breeze was responsible for the pink in her cheeks and her disorganized cloud of white hair.   
    Charlie looked up from the sports page and smiled. “Still a pleasure to see you walk into a room, Lily. It’s a sight to behold.” 
    “One of these days, Charlie, I may even skip like a little girl.” Lily had received her new prosthetic leg at the start of the year. She’d pushed through pain and fear of falling and threats of deadly infection that could manifest where the artificial and the real leg joined. At facing down problems with dogged determination, Lily was a rock star. Her wheelchair was a thing of the past, and she only used her rolling walker at times when she removed the prosthesis. Otherwise, she employed a cane to help her with balance. Her physical therapist said she’d always feel more secure with one. Then he’d shrugged and added, “Of course, I’m thinking of normal people.” 
    Eunice came into the room just after Lily, a sprig of clematis tucked over an ear. Rhinestones in her sunglass frames twinkled and little bells in her earrings tinkled. “It’s gorgeous outside. And so warm I only need a shawl.” She was wrapped in an eye-popping red and black scarf with the Salish tribal art pattern of hummingbirds. “Every blooming thing is having a field day. Even the horses are racing around the pasture feeling their oats.” 
    “Eunice,” Bear said, interrupting her song of spring in a far less lyrical voice. 
    She stopped. In fact, his tone was serious enough that they all looked up. “Yes, Bear?” 
    “About this cruise.” 
    She bloomed again. “Doesn’t it sound fun? I have brochures we can share at the senior center today.” She patted the tote bag she carried, the one she’d Bedazzled with GOOD VIBES. 
    “Guess I don’t need to wait ’til then to tell you.” He wanted to get this over with. 
    “Tell me what, Bear?” Eunice took a seat next to him at the game table, looking like a worried ginger poodle. Baby Benny made a grab for her tote, a fat little fist wrapping around the blingy strap. 
    “I’m not going.” 
    “What?” said Charlie, Lily and Eunice, pretty much in unison. 
    “It’s very generous of you, Eunice, but it’s not for me. Cruising.” 
    “Why not?” 
    “Spent time in troop carriers in Nam, you know. Never much liked boats ever since.” 
    “Oh! But this isn’t a boat ride, Bear. This is a luxury ship. Taking people to beautiful places.” 
    “Never much liked people, either, come to think of it.” 
    “All your friends will be there,” Eunice said, once again holding her arms wide to include everyone in the room. “You won’t have to talk to strangers if you don’t want to.” 
    “Well, I don’t want to, and there’s almost no chance of it if I stay here.” 
    “Some of them strangers might be real lookers,” Charlie cut in. “I know you got an eye for a redhead when you see one.” 
    Bear began to feel cornered. And that meant he could get dangerous. “Not that it’s any of your business, people, but I get seasick. There. That’s the end of it.” He shut his mouth tight, not unlike Baby Benny when faced with a spoonful of medicine. 
    At that moment, Jessica breezed in and picked up the baby. “Thanks for watching him, Bear.” She wrinkled her nose. “Hmmm. Smells like he needs a change.” 
    “Yep. Goop to poop in next to no time.” 
    “I’ll see to it. Vinny’s out front waiting for you all.” The Cadillac could handle all five residents. “Frankie’s already in the car.” 
    “We’ll talk more about it at the senior center,” said Lily. 
    “Nothin’ more to talk about. I’m not going.” Bear stood, waited a couple seconds for his hips to stop barking, and kachunked on his quad cane out of the room. But he wasn’t so far ahead that he didn’t overhear the rest of them as he went out the door. 
    A crestfallen Eunice said, “He must know he can wear a patch for seasickness. Just behind his ear.” 
    “It must be serious,” said Charlie, unlocking the wheels of his chair and following the rest of the pack. “Redheads can usually bring him around.” 
    After a few hours of entertainment at the senior center, Vinny Tononi drove the group back home to Latin’s Ranch. The Cadillac was approximately the same size as a cruise ship. Frankie, Eunice and Charlie sat in the back. Lily was sandwiched up front between Bear and Vinny. 
    Vinny was Frankie’s bodyguard, chauffer and all around goomba. He was big, stern and often clanked with concealed weaponry. There was a time when he made Lily nervous. Now that he was her daughter’s amore, Lily was edgier than ever. The high probability that one of them would end up broken hearted – or cuore spezzato depending – made her as jumpy as a jackrabbit.     
    Vinny took his eyes from the road long enough to look down at Lily. “You are well, Miss Lily? You are so quiet.” 
    “Oh fine, fine. Just enjoying the spring color.” Rhodies flashed by pink white pink white pink white as the vehicle zoomed toward home. 
    In fact, she wasn’t fine. Their visit to the senior center had been unsatisfactory. First, she’d lost to a newcomer at Scrabble. That simply wouldn’t do, and she needed a rematch soon. Then she’d made an effort to talk with Bear while he and Frankie checked and checkmated each other. But the big man wasn’t talking about the cruise. She’d have to wait for a moment alone with him to find out the skinny. 
    That was bullshit and she just knew it. 
    They were approaching the Latin’s Ranch driveway when Bear’s phone rang. He frisked himself before locating the little device in a shirt pocket. 
    “What?” he asked into it when he found it. “No, we’re gone … no, I didn’t … no … yeah. I think you maybe should stop by.” 
    Bear clicked off. Lily watched him cloud over like a front moving in. She waited. Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore. “Who was that? What’s happened?” 
    “Someone was shot at the senior center right after we left. Cupcake’s coming to talk about it.” He turned his great head toward the back seat. “Eunice?” 
    “Think I might go to Alaska with you after all.” 


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