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Dark and Stormy

Yes, my blog post this week is a day late. But as the wise old sages say, ‘Better late than not at all.’

When I mention to folks that my wife and I once lived in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, most of them react with, “Why did you leave?” The typical reply we offer to rationalize our return to the heat and humidity of the Missouri Ozarks: “Grandkids.” During our grandchildren’s early years, most everything my wife and I witnessed regarding theirs and our entire family’s activities was through secondhand information. Being secondhand grandparents (and parents) eventually took its toll and inspired us to leave the mountains behind to become ‘real’ grandparents. The kind of grandparents that were more often available to participate in our grandkids’ and family’s here and now experiences.

Such was the case this weekend, when I my wife and I attended our grandson’s baseball tournament––and when I typically write my weekly blog. Yes, the preceding week should have provided ample time for me to plan ahead and compose my blog post before the weekend. But…life tosses in other obstacles as well. To folks who anticipated my weekly post, please accept my apologies.

Explanations (excuses?) aside, here’s my entry for this week. As I often do, when not inspired by a particular event or idea, I return to my Prompts file and see what happens. This time the objects to build a story around were:

An old chenille bathrobe

Keys to the library

A pigeon

An expired passport

As it turns out, I had a lot of good old fashioned fun with this story––another two-part tale, which means I’m covered for next week, too. (YEAH!)

As always, enjoy. Thanks for stopping by.

Dark and Stormy

The night was dark and stormy––like too many of my nights lately. I pulled up my sport jacket’s collar and yanked down my wide-brimmed fedora to ward off the rain. Three blocks farther, I scuffed into the Martini Building on Olive Street. Once inside, I shook like a dog, then trudged up twelve flights of stairs to my business on the fourteenth floor. Yeah, that’s right, the math doesn’t jibe. Blame it on superstitious architects.

On fourteen, I stared at my name glorified in gold letters on my office door’s opaque glass––Barnabus White. My partner, Peter Wong and I made up the team of White and Wong, Private Investigators. I twisted the key in the lock and pushed open the entry. Lightning flashed followed by a clap of thunder. The hallway became black. No problem. I’d stumbled around this place in the dark before.

Out of habit, I flipped the light switch––nothing––swung the door closed, then tossed my hat and jacket at the coat rack. Besides being black as pitch, something was different. A waft of lilac perfume graced my nostrils. As I eased toward my desk, a woman’s voice spoke from behind me, “Don’t move.”

I held my ground. She stepped forward, stuck what felt like two thirty-eights in my back, then poked me with a gun. I grinned. She had my undivided attention. I wasn’t going anywhere.

“You Wong?” she said.

“No, I’m White. Mind if––”

“Where’s Wong?”

She pressed tighter. I grinned and sighed.

“Not my night to watch him. Mind if we talk face to face?”

She hesitated, then pushed off me and stepped back.

I sighed once more, then slowly turned around. Lightning danced across the sky and briefly lit up the office. The woman appeared to be wearing an old chenille bathrobe and little else.

“Nice getup,” I said.

“I was soaked and had to dry off.”

“With my robe. Why were you out in the rain?”

“Your robe?”

“It was my dear ol’ mom’s. I wrap up in it sometimes when–– Never mind. Why are you here?”

“I…I have to find The Pigeon.”

I snickered. “Homing or stool?”

“What?” She cocked her revolver. “Where is Wong?”

“Haven’t seen him for two days. Anything I can do for you?” There were definitely things I’d like to do for her on this rainy night, but she still held the gun.

“Gotta see Wong. He’s knows how to––”

Lightning snaked across the horizon and illuminated the woman’s face. She appeared to be of Asian descent. Was she somehow related to Peter Wong? The Wong family had been in the U.S. since Peter’s ancestors helped lay track for the first continental railroad. He’d been my partner for seven years. I’d never heard him mention anything about a pigeon. The only bird on the Chinese calendar was a rooster.

“What is it you believe Wong knows how to do?”

The woman two-stepped toward the couch, then rummaged in what I assumed was a purse.

The lights flickered twice, then stayed on. The distraction allowed me to grab the revolver and disarm the dark-haired woman, who fell back on the couch. The chenille robe had parted and revealed her nakedness. She gasped. Her brown eyes seemed to plead for mercy and understanding.

I surveyed her shape from head to toe, then waved the revolver. “Probably oughta cover up.”

She complied, then focused on the floor. I tracked her stare. The object she’d likely pulled from her purse had fallen from her hand to the hardwood during our scuffle. I reached down, picked up a small, square booklet, then flipped it open to discover my female intruder’s photograph was pasted beside her name and address.

“This expired passport why you came to see Wong…Susan Chen?”

She nodded. “Wong has information.”

“Information about what?”

She hesitated. “About The Pigeon––the man who––”

Chen cut off her explanation. Her eyes drifted toward the window, and she said nothing more.

I glanced at the passport again, then back to her. “The man who what, Susan? Or is that even your real name? This a phony passport? The address for real?”

She stared out the window but remained mute. Rain droplets gathered on the pane. Light from the street lamps below made the drops glisten like tiny prisms.

“Look, Wong is my partner. If he wanted to help, so will I. But––”

Exaggerated shuffling and in the hallway grabbed my attention––Susan Chen’s, too. I pressed my index finger across my lips. She nodded recognition. After padding to the desk, I retrieved my Smith & Wesson from the top drawer. More artillery was always welcome.

Chen and I waited in silence.

Someone grabbed the door knob and twisted. The door swung open and slammed into the wall. Peter Wong tripped into the office and fell face first on the floor. His soggy hat rolled to the side.

I rushed past him and checked the corridor––empty. When I turned around, Susan Chen was kneeling beside my partner. She slowly rolled him to his back and checked his pulse. I closed and locked the door, then joined Chen and Wong. Peter’s trench coat was rain soaked and stained with blood. “Is he…?”

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