Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas 2009

First and foremost I want to wish you a very Merry Christmas.

You might find your circumstances somewhat changed this year from Christmases past, or you might be one of the fortunate folks who are prospering in the current economy. Either way, I hope you take the time to enjoy family, friends, and this most special Christian Holiday.

Vicki and I will be attending the Lutheran Version of midnight mass (11:00 PM) tonight and spending Christmas afternoon with our oldest daughter, our grand kids and Vicki's parents.

Both of us went out this week to shop for each other and I finished my shopping yesterday. I wandered the malls, looked at women's stuff and finally managed to pick some presents for my spouse.

In this I feel blessed, there are many this year without the luxury of having even the minimal funds I possess to buy gifts. Take a minute if you can and say a prayer for all those less fortunate when you celebrate tomorrow.

I'll leave you with this bit of tomfoolery.

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the House (well, really the Senate)
The Health Care Bill was circulating amid death threats from Senator Bennett
The amendments were hung throughout the Bill's tree
But hidden were possible so the voters won't see

While the bankers and Wall Street pulled strings as they could
Like our Congressmen and Senators were puppets of wood
And the foreclosures continued right on through the Season
Though the parties involved could not see the reason

And the Airlines and Trains and Buses and Cars
Ate up the petroleum we import from afar
As our citizens traveled to visit their kin
To forget the predicament our country is in

The weather got feisty with storms and with snow
Affecting our progress and where we could go
To deliver the presents and our shiny faces
To loved ones in various cities and places

But in spite of the contemporary circumstance and challenges faced
Old Santa's still coming with Reindeer well paced
To deliver the goodies on his annual flight
Saying "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!"

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Rich and Vicki


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Catching Up

I have not written in several weeks due to other pressing activities. Vicki and I have been rehabilitating the house next door for her parents. They were fortunate enough to sell their home in this market and are moving at the end of the month into a rental that's smaller, less expensive and more suited to their needs at their age.

I met the homeowner next door some months ago and eventually talked to him about renting to my in-laws at a reduced rate if I put in the labor to fix the place up and make it habitable. Since Vicki was available as well, she jumped in and together we cleaned, painted the interior and oversaw the tile contractors that replaced the flooring in the baths and the kitchen. The project (at least as far as we are concerned) ended today. The house is looking great. We finished hanging Levelor Blinds in the master bedroom, painted the entry double doors, caulked all the counter tops and bathrooms, hung a ceiling fan, installed a doggy door in the master and myriad other tasks.

We will be moving at the end of the month as well. We've leased a "Villa" (just a fancy duplex) on the golf course across the road at Oakwood (a gated community in Sun Lakes) and will start moving on the 27th.

So.... As you might guess, we've been very busy.

While all this was going on I received word that a man for whom I worked at Lodi Door died on Sunday the 15th. He was just 58 years old, two years younger than me. I worked for him for several months, played golf with him, called on customers with him and was a proponent of hiring him when my good friend Jack went to another company.

The folks at Lodi are a close-knit group and I don't doubt he will be sorely missed. I know Jack will feel the loss of a friend and co-worker as well.

Life is a strange business at best; full of surprises, pitfalls, happy accidents and tragedies. The events of the past few weeks remind me that it's not so much what happens to you as how you handle it.

Take care of yourself, enjoy your friends and family, live on purpose and thank your God for each day given to you.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Saturday, October 3, 2009

As always please refer to the Raven's Nest for information about wordzzling.

The Ten Word Challenge: family, cheese cake, 20 years ago, refrigerator, laugh and the world laughs with you, bath brush, zombies, African violets, butterflies, holding hands

The mini: monsters in the closet, roughly, bowling, menu, Pennsylvania

My Last Wordzzle:

I will miss the weekly Wordzzle challenge. The people who read my work and whose work I read have become like an on-line family to me. And the words kept me guessing as to what would be on the literary menu for each week. Yet, like most goods things, this too must come to an end. After a year of a summer of my discontent (no job, 113 days in Phoenix over 100 degrees and still counting) and with my wife finally back to work and doing very well thank you; I have determined to fill my days with supporting her efforts, looking for work, writing seriously (if only I could) and generally being a 110% productive househusband till I am once again gainfully employed.

This effort leaves roughly zero hours a day and not many more a week to apply to internet writing. It might surprise some of you to hear this, but keeping house, fixing meals, shopping and the other varied pursuits necessary to provide comfort and care for your spouse is a full time job. I knew this before but was damned glad to be out of the house each day working. Now the joke (so to speak), is on me. I am keeping a good attitude and humor with the old adage in mind; "Laugh and the world laughs with you." It certainly beats the alternative.

No departure from the Wonderful World of Wordzzle would be proper without thanking the creator and literary hostess, Katherine at the Raven's Nest. I have greatly enjoyed my long distance relationship with her and consider her a great blog friend as well as a talented writer. Katherine resides in Hancock New York, a town just across the border from Pennsylvania. She is currently having her home remodeled and has graced us with progress reports and pictures of everything from her new refrigerator to a bath brush. (OK, maybe not a bath brush)

One of my favorite writers and readers is Dr. John. He writes from both his Castle and his Dragons' lair at Fandango. I have been consistently amazed at the exploits of 012 and the amazing poetic talent of his dragons.

There is no denying the imagination of Betty who introduced me to invisible Penguins and other hard to see animals. I always enjoyed the exploits of the various critters and their humans.

Speaking of imagination,Stephen has certainly shown me the depths to which a new world can be created in his writings. Jay at Bailey's Buddies entertains each week with tales of Phrog and the Salamander sisters. C.J. at Pro Atrz spins wonderful stories which leave me yearning to go on an archeological dig or some other adventure. Still no signs of Zombies yet, but who knows what she'll think of next. It's hard to tell what Monsters in the closet she has in store for us.

The folks at Reston Friends delight each week with a variety of poetry and prose. It's like getting coffee and cheesecake for the price of just one. Then there's Gabrielle at Wild Goose Scoops the Moon. (Man I love that blog title) and many others who have come and gone in the year or so I've been writing and reading the Wordzzle at the Raven's Nest.

I will often reflect on the varied styles and talents of the Wordzzle writers as Vicki and I, holding hands, take our evening walks now that the weather has finally cooled. In the past, perhaps 20 years ago, when Vicki still belonged to a bowling league and I coached the kids' baseball team, I would have never thought to write or meet people on the internet. Back then I would have gotten butterflies in my stomach just thinking about having to write something, especially weekly and with a deadline. My writing ability in those days paralleled my one experience with growing African Violets, which was sad indeed.

It has been a great experience for me to participate in Wordzzling. I can only hope that you get as much from it as I have. With all this practice at plot and character development, dialogue and narrative, perhaps I will find it in me someday to actually write a real book.

So, with no further ado, I bid you all farewell till next we meet amongst the electrons and packets of the ethersphere. Thanks to all for writing and reading.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

It's at least ten times better if you go by the Raven's Nest and check out the other stories.

This Week's Ten Word Challenge: Tibetan sky, symbols, won’t you come home Bill Bailey, shadow figures, brain cortex, practice makes perfect, life, start of school, lavender, chow down

The mini: mental hospital, falling leaves, apple cider, packing crates, clues

This week's Episode: Endgame

Laughlin, Nevada-Police headquarters.
McCool and Jean had come down to the cop shop to say goodbye to the team. The captain thanked McCool for his help, adding that under usual circumstances the town seemed less of a mental hospital and more like an elderly friendly Vegas. Thomas admitted this trip had been a bit more than he bargained for and commented that the falling leaves of the Cottonwoods along the river signaled it was time for the couple to head back to Phoenix. "Besides, I can only take so much of the good life here in Laughlin" he laughed. Both he and Jean thanked everyone for their kindness and the couple promised to come back as soon as Dan and Carla set a date to tie the knot.

"With the most difficult case in memory all but wrapped up, it's time to give my fragile brain cortex a diet of golf, old movies and "Survivor" he added with a grin. With farewells said to all Thomas and Jean drove their new 2010 Honda Civic Hybrid across the bridge and headed clueup the hill to I-40 and the trip home. Both would be happy to exchange the chase for clues and suspects for their normally more laid back existence in Phoenix.

Washington, D.C. the Hoover building.
Sgt Johnson sat quietly in his office and contemplated the results of the interrogation of the killer from Laughlin. The suspect had been surprisingly cooperative. Johnson had watched him chow down after the flight from Phoenix to D.C. and then seated himself opposite the man. His name had been revealed as Fred Dumphreys. He was ex-military special ops and had contracted with the CIA in the 80s. The story he told took him around the globe from lands beneath Tibetan skies to the back yards of financial barons in the Hamptons. He stated plainly that he had always been an assassin of one sort or the other. "You know the old saying, Practice makes perfect; well I guess you could say I didn't practice enough since I got caught" he offered. Johnson explained to the man that the shadow figures in his world didn't normally come to light, but in this case they'd received the results of an interrogation of his client and that had given the good guys the edge. "I had never worked for this client before "Fred volunteered. “The offer was just too good to pass up" he added. "Two million dollars upon completion of the contract and I could retire." "I should have known better than dealing with a flake" he concluded. "Your flake confessed to 23 murders and several billion dollars in real estate fraud" Johnson told the killer. "She's dead and you're going to live the rest of your life in prison unless you have something to tell me that is worth saving your miserable ass" the FBI man shot back. Johnson had no respect for murderers no matter how skilled they were.

"Well how about a lead on the largest drug smuggling ring in the world that just also happens to be the major funding source of the Taliban in Afghanistan?" the killer asked, "Would that be enough for some slack here?" he asked. Indeed it was more than enough. Johnson called a contact in Homeland Security and they transferred the prisoner to their facility. The information led to the exposure of a producer of apple cider that was smuggling opium in liquid form into the U.S. and laundering the money before it went to supply weapons, bribes, and all the other expenses necessary to fight American forces on a world wide scale.
The elicit drug had been designated in the packing crates with special symbols on the IBM bar code and allowed the stateside distributors to pull the proper bottles and reconstitute the opium.

It would take several weeks, but the information would allow the government to stop two thirds of the influx of heroin from the Middle East and keep billions of dollars out of terrorists' hands.

The killer would spend a couple of years in a country club jail and then be released back into the population.

Basra, Iraq a sidewalk cafe in the center of the city.
Somehow Charlotte had made it across the border and into the relative safety of Basra. It had taken two days to have her account in the Cayman's wire money to her location. After that she found a source for papers and ID. When she got back to Europe she'd have her own man make better documents, but these should work for now. At least she was clean and alive. The first thing she'd done after bathing was to buy clothes. Though there were few shops for western women's clothing, she found sufficient attire to travel. Today she wore a lavender head scarf that made her pale skin shimmer. Charlotte sipped her coffee and watched the young Iraqi children pass by her table. Someone had told her that today was the start of school and the kids were happy to be safe enough to walk the streets again.

The following day she would cross the border again but this time into Iran. She'd hired a car and driver for the trip from Ahvaz to Tehran. Once in the capitol city she'd fly to Greece and then on to France. Charlotte let her mind wander to what the world had in store for her and found herself humming "Won't you come home Bill Bailey" under her breath. She had to admit that in spite of her ability to speak enough Farsi to communicate here that she would be damned glad to get out of this region of the world that seemed stuck in the 13th century.

She looked up as a young Iraqi girl that looked to be no more than 12 approached her table. Smiling, the young girl uttered the phrase "Allah Ahkbar" and then pulled a cord at her vest. Charlotte's world exploded. The over pressure from the proximity to the blast shattered every bone in her body and in the millisecond while the shapeless and dead form of the former serial killer remained erect it was eviscerated with steel shot and nails traveling in excess of the speed of sound.

The blast killed several other foreigners who were at the cafe as well. What Charlotte had forgotten was that she was a symbol of the oppressor in a war zone. The oversight had proved to be fatal.

In the end in turned out that the Saudi's hadn't lied at all. Charlotte did actually die while trying to escape, if just a few days later than reported. The prince and princess had thought about warning the McCool's but found out that Charlotte had been spotted in Basra and had actually viewed a video taken of the blast from a government building across the street. The quality of the images was enough to see the startling emerald eyes of the serial killer open wide in the instant she knew she was going to die.



Saturday, September 19, 2009

Wordzzle 81 - A stitch in time saves nine

Whether dressed to the nines or in your jammies, don't dream of doing the Wordzzle without checking out the Raven's Nest first.

This Week's Ten Word Challenge: dangerous, engine, sullenly, bespoke, evergreen, bauble, medicine, freight, destined, tinsel

The mini: carbon, feelers, outright, ballet, fizzing

This Week's Episode: Almost Home

Washington, DC the Hoover Building.
The last missive from the Kuwaiti government concerning Charlotte/Connie/ Constance had arrived. The fact that it had come through State again bespoke volumes on its credibility. "The Kuwaiti government was sorry to inform the United States, but the criminal in question had attempted to escape after her interrogation and been fatally wounded during this action." While Johnson had no doubt that Constance Lawler was a dangerous serial killer, he doubted the timing of her death. It seemed more than likely in his opinion that she succumbed to the interrogation techniques in use in that part of the world. Or perhaps she was murdered outright by her interrogators when they were done with her. He would put out some feelers with his contacts overseas, but doubted they would ever know for sure how she died. The one thing he did believe however was that she was indeed dead.

Kuwait, a jeep in the desert headed towards the Iraqi border. Charlotte would have been surprised to know that she was already reported as deceased to the Americans. She felt very much alive indeed. After completing the carnal ballet with the young lieutenant, she had sullenly, but charmingly pleaded with him to allow her to adorn herself with a bauble from her make-up kit before servicing him further. This behavior played right into his ego and further fueled the engine of his desires. He commanded her to make herself becoming for him while he went outside to relieve himself. When he returned she was attired in a short skirt that looked to be made of little more than tinsel and was bare breasted. The lieutenant felt he was destined to a day or two of sybaritic vacation before his men came back from the small village to which he'd sent them. By that time he would have administered the medicine which would end the infidel woman's life. He had decided it would be a sin to mar her beauty when killing her.

Charlotte had quite different plans and hers were the ones that took precedent. When Amir joined her back in the tent she used the incapacitating powder and within minutes was gone. But not before she undressed him (she needed his uniform) and shot him through the head at close range with his own pistol. Her plan was simple. Make it across the Iraqi border and head to Basra.
There she could use her one remaining account to acquire funds, papers and make travel arrangements. She knew that Iraq was still a war zone and her chances of escape were better there than in Kuwait. If she made it across the border she felt she would be home free.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Martin and Jane had traveled back to Jane’s home town after hearing from Johnson about Charlotte’s death. It seemed unlikely now that she would somehow return from the grave and threaten them in this peaceful setting. Jane had missed the streets lined with evergreen trees in the old neighborhood where she’d grown up. Even the passing freight trains brought back pleasant memories of warm sunny days at the park waiting for a train to pass and the walk to the root beer stand. She could almost taste the fizzing bubbles of a root beer float now. As a matter of fact she would take Martin to the Hires drive-in for a treat right after closing. First though they would close on their little house on the outskirts of her old stomping grounds. There would be plenty of time to settle in to life back in America.

Bullhead City, Arizona, the banks of the Colorado River. The killer’s plan had worked to perfection. He found himself drifting slowly towards his targets and quite close in to shore. He took the first shot and watched as the target fell, though he failed to see the “pink mist” that should accompany such a shot. He put it off to the dim light and took aim at the second target. The funny thing was that it hadn’t stood up. The natural reaction to someone getting shot right next to you is to stand up, though experienced professionals will do the opposite and get down. In this case the target seemed frozen. No matter, he would take that as good luck. While sighting in on his targets he failed to see the electric boat slip in silently behind him from upstream. When the 1 million candle power spotlight hit him he was more than surprised. “Drop your weapon now” came from a loudspeaker immediately to his rear. He turned to be confronted to by an FBI special weapons team in full combat gear including state of the art carbon fiber body armor aboard a 20 foot pontoon boat. The killer dropped the rifle to the deck of his boat and kneeled as they handcuffed and then searched him.

Only later would he find out that he’d failed in his mission and had damaged two robotic doubles and nothing more. But even attempted murder on two people carried stiff prison sentences and he was likely to get the maximum. His only option would be to cooperate with the authorities on solving other contract hits. It was a double edged sword, but if he played it right he could actually live to see the world outside a lockup again.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wordzzle 80

Take a turn past the Raven's Nest Drive-In and get all the dope on the program.

This Week's Ten Word Challenge: Charitable, alligator, tribute, drunk, slave, preparation, carrots, mountainside, propeller, lark

The mini challenge: chisel, worship, suicide, organic, plus

This Week's Episode: Desert Nights

A tent in the Kuwaiti Desert. Lieutenant Amir Al Kasishada had seen few women like the one tied to the center pole of his tent. His ancestors might have had fine slave wenches in their tents when they fought the Turks, but that had been many centuries ago. She had made herself up nicely after her interrogation; so much so in fact that she merely appeared drunk rather than abused. The interrogator had given the lieutenant little information concerning the woman's crimes other than she had offended the royal Saudi family in a major way and would not be allowed to live.

Charlotte smiled once more at the young officer. She knew it would be suicide to move too soon. First she must make the man so enamored of her that he would be unwilling to share her. Amir approached her with a combination of arrogance, ignorance and eagerness. The predator in her undertook the preparation necessary to accomplish the life and death task she faced. Not unlike the way an alligator can wait patiently near the banks of a river for its prey; she would wait till the lieutenant was clearly within her power before she struck.

Once he untied her she stayed on her knees and slowly unzipped his uniform trousers. It was here she would start the process. She would worship his member and body like it was that of a god. She needed to motivate him to get rid of as many of his men as she could. Charlotte engulfed him with her lips and uttered a moan so real and organic that the young man almost came in that moment.

The South of France, the Vignoire Estate. Count Vignoire was surprised to receive another visit from Inspector Georges De Solemaone. He was even more surprised when the officers accompanying him arrested his housekeeper. The old man and the inspector sat in the parlor while the gendarme explained that he knew who Charlotte really was and also that the housekeeper was slowly killing him with South American parasites. "I was just waiting here to die" the old man explained. "Why don't we put that off till your time has really come?" asked the inspector. By the time they were done a new live-in nurse had come out to the estate from town and the Count was being seen by a physician that still made house calls and as an added plus would start the treatment to eradicate the exotic parasites. Inspector De Solemaone left the estate with the feeling that he'd actually made a difference in the tragic life of one very sad old man.

Laughlin, Nevada. The dusty mountainside that stood above Casino row was filled with double and single wide trailers that housed the dealers, clerks, and assorted other workers that were fortunate enough to rent these relatively cheap and close to work abodes. Sitting at the very top was a water tower. Atop this tower were two surveillance techs borrowed from the Nevada State Police. It was somewhat of a tribute to the little Laughlin PD for their work in the uncovering of a serial killer and serial fraudster that they could get this kind of help on short notice.

The two techs had both night vision and infra-red scopes. From their viewpoint they could see over a mile of the river, the McCool's condo and all approaches from the Nevada side. If they spotted an individual with a gun the whole department would know immediately. The Bullhead cops and Arizona State patrol had the Arizona side covered.

McCool’s plan involved a modified carrot and stick approach to capturing the killer. In this case the “carrots” were two life sized figures made up to look like the couple. It would have been less than charitable to call these decoys “dummies“. They were really more like actors. These were specialized robotic doubles used in film making that had been donated on a lark by an L.A. producer who’d been swindled by the Hollingsworth/Liplin team. The FBI had not had a use for them till now, but Sgt Johnson was glad to help when McCool called. While not perfect, they would seem very lifelike from a distance in the dark.

Jean was staying with Carla while Dan and Thomas staked out the area. They had gotten the decoys set up ahead of nightfall in the belief that the killer would not come out before dark. In this they were lucky. The killer didn’t resume his surveillance of the McCool’s Condo till 9:00 PM and by that time the team was in position and the decoys hard at work. A technician controlled their movements by a wireless controller and made the couple shift in their chairs, move their arms and seem to take a drink from their glasses.

The assassin watched for just a few minutes and then headed down to the marina. He had rented a boat earlier in the day and made a copy of the key. He would cut the chain holding the boat to the dock, push the boat away to float downstream before starting the engine and then set himself up for his shooting run. A small tripod would steady his 223 custom sniper rifle with scope and silencer. He was an expert shot with this weapon. The current ran slowly past the McCool’s condo and his plan was to run upstream and drift back down with the current. He would be careful and go slowly. The last thing he wanted to do was to run aground or hit a rock in the shallows with the propeller and become stranded in the river. Using any lighting was out of the question, so that meant no running lights as well. After the hits he would cruise to the airport dock and catch the ten o’clock shuttle to Vegas. He loaded his gear into the boat and pushed off.

Bullhead City, Arizona outside the McCool's condo. Directly below the condo the shoreline had been built up with large rocks and boulders. McCool situated himself behind a large boulder on the upstream side and Griggs found a spot on the downstream side. They had been waiting since nightfall. McCool's legs were starting to cramp and he needed to pee. He glanced at his watch and noted the time, 9:43. The only thing they'd seen in the last 1/2 hour had been a fishing boat slowly heading up the Colorado with its lights out. Since then nothing. He had become so bored that he'd used his pocket knife to chisel "TM loves JM" into a piece of sandstone next to him. After this was all over he would bring Jean down here and show it to her.

His earpiece squawked from the lookouts on the tower "Boat coming downriver, possible gun setup on bow". The com network lit up with double clicks as the team stood ready. This could be their guy.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Idiot Congressman

There is nothing quite so galling as a Liar calling another person a Liar.

For those who were watching the president's speech on Health Care to both houses of the congress last night you were witness to that event.

Representative Joe Wilson, a republican rep from South Carolina
was the culprit in question.

A look into this moron's past record and history will explain it all. He was an aide to Strom Thurmond, head cracker and bigot of the beltway for decades. It seems Joe is attempting to take his place.

Bite me Joe.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Wordzzle 79

Go by and say hello to Raven at the Raven's Nest. She is the originator and facilitator of Wordzzle.

This Week's Ten Word Challenge: Spam, perpetual motion, sprinkle, telephone pole, stains, alphabetical, surgery, flattery, liberty, preservation

The mini challenge: shadows, singularity, Florida, caterpillars, copy

This Week's Episode: Chances

Laughlin, Nevada. The killer tried his luck at the tables in the Colorado Belle while he waited for nightfall. He knew better than to not gamble. That would be a sure giveaway if the presumed investigation that followed the killings looked for anomalies. Of course he did wear a baseball cap, sported a very good mustache, (fake but movie quality) and wore glasses. He enjoyed the perpetual motion of the casino floor and the security of being in a crowd as well.

Later he would scope out the targets' residence from a perch in the shadows across the river. At some points the Colorado is quite narrow and the section in front of the McCools' condo was less than 250 yards wide. It had been almost too easy to locate his prey. The leasing company's alphabetical listings of temporary tenants had provided him with the McCools' address. With the help of Google maps he'd found their condo and been happily surprised to see it was on the water. He would take the shots from a stolen boat, catch a shuttle to Las Vegas and fly to Florida.

Around 11:00 PM the killer took up a position across the river from the McCools' condo. It came complete with a cottonwood tree and a nearby telephone pole to give the assassin a better view if required. He sited through his binoculars and found the sliding glass doors of the condo in question. He could see two couples sitting in the living room. He had not found good recent picture of the targets, so he would wait till the other people left to confirm the identities. If they came out onto the patio tonight he would put the plan in motion. It required just the slightest singularity of events, the couple on the patio by themselves, to provide him the opportunity to make the kills and secure his commission.

Kuwait, a bunker in the desert. Charlotte had been interrogated three separate times. The first had broken her, the second had been recorded while she was under the influence of sodium pentothal and the final one had been for the pleasure of her interrogator and to assure nothing had been held back. The stains on her now shredded gown contained blood, urine, feces, semen, saliva and various other substances the interrogator had felt appropriate for the final session. It would not be undue flattery to say that the interrogator was as good as one gets in the Middle East. Charlotte had revealed all of her crimes; the 27 murders, the various and sundry financial frauds and the gigantic fraud committed against the Saudi Prince and the American people.

In spite of all she had endured there was still the will within her crazed being to fight for her liberty. She would do whatever it took to accomplish the preservation of her life. There had been two things, two bits of information she'd been able to keep from her torturer. She held on to these bits not because of any great strength or bravery, but because the man failed to ask her about them. While he had put her through all the agony and humiliation, even threatening some radical and unpleasant surgery on her face and figure, she would have told him anything. He needed only to have asked, but he didn't. So Charlotte didn't tell him about the account number hidden in her cosmetics or that she kept a powdered version of her custom formula for incapacitating her victims with her mascara.

The interrogator was not Turkish as she had thought, but she had been close. He was an ethnic Kurd from northern Iraq. He had left her in reasonable but weak shape to allow the drivers and guards some fun with her before her disposal. It had been known since the first interrogation that her deeds against the royal family would not be allowed to see the light of day. It was royal pride and honor at stake. They could afford the money, but not the humiliation of being taken by an infidel and a worse, a woman. She was to be eliminated after she was drained of all useful information. The tapes had been passed on to the Saudi security messenger and now she was just another plaything for the group before they were dispersed.

Washington, DC, the Hoover building. The tape came in through the state department. It was fortunate that Sgt. Johnson had been there to receive it. He was reviewing the footage with his team when it came to the part about the last phone call Charlotte made to a hit man. The targets were the McCools. He grabbed his cell and dialed Thomas. “Thomas, how are you?” he asked. “OK, I guess” McCool replied. “I was stepping out on to the patio to check the weather when you called” he continued. “Looks like this coming storm might at least bring us a sprinkle” he finished. “Do me a favor and step back inside a minute, will ya?” Johnson asked.

Bullhead City, Arizona. McCool had listened as Johnson told him about the tape and Charlotte’s plans. He fired up the laptop in his office and after deleting the annoying spam from the health care wingnuttia, he found the e-mail and attached video sent from the encrypted site at the Hoover building. The addendum stated in legalese that this was a classified copy and not for distribution. McCool finished watching the portion sent by Johnson and went back out into the living room. Once there he told the group of Dan, Carla and Jean what was going on. Jean strolled casually to the patio door and pulled the vertical blinds closed. A few calls were made; one to the captain of the Laughlin police and one to the chief in charge of the Bullhead city police. There was no description available for the killer, but they could start by looking at late fly-ins.

In a little over half an hour they had a plan and Dan and Carla left to go back over the bridge to Laughlin. The McCools locked up and went to bed. Thomas put a chair in front of the sliding glass door on the inside and put his home protector shotgun next to the bed. He prayed he wouldn’t have to use it.

Kuwait, outside the bunker. The interrogator had allowed Charlotte to put on makeup and clean herself up for the drivers. He supervised the packing of the equipment, the loading of the trucks and then locked up the bunker. He wanted no part of what was to come. He left the Kuwaiti lieutenant in charge with the responsibility of disposing of Charlotte’s body when they were done with her and drove away towards the border. Charlotte was presented to the young officer as both reward and charge.

Charlotte knew she would have only one chance. She smiled at the young officer when he entered the tent. She would be careful but swift with this one.

Laughlin, Nevada overlooking the river. The killer had watched as the visiting couple departed the McCools’ condo. He took the opportunity to confirm the targets' descriptions. He watched as one of the many caterpillars that infested the cottonwood tree under which he crouched swung lazily on it's thin silken thread as the night breeze blew down the river. If the couple didn't come out on the patio tonight, there was always the next day. The weather report called for storms and a cooling trend. He knew would get his opportunity before the week was done.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Wordzzle 78

Raven can tell you all you need to know at the Raven's Nest.

The Ten Word Challenge: records, impulsive, really cool, bread crumbs, angels, Sponge Bob, magical moment, back and forth, suffering, good fences make good neighbors

The mini challenge: side effects are generally mild, clingy, rooster, samples, curiosity

This Week's Episode: Answers

Kuwait, west of the Al Burgan oilfield. The bunker had been used by the Kuwaiti forces to fight the Iraqi invasion, then as a command post for American troops during the aftermath. It had sat empty for years till just a few days ago. The trip by truck, car or ambulance to the bunker from the airfield at Al Magwa was several hours through the desert. There had been much travel back and forth in the last few days. Any oil field workers that might have noted the activity could have only thought that the trucks were headed to the frontier for work at the border because they knew better than most that good fences make good neighbors.

Charlotte awoke in a sitting position. She was fastened at the wrists and ankles to a cold metal chair. Her attire was a thin cotton robe open at the front. Attached to her nipples were alligator clamps that had wires running to a small metal box with colored lights and dials. The air smelled musty but very dry. The room she was in was windowless and dark. A man who appeared Turkish or mid-eastern was speaking to her. "The side effects are generally mild if you answer promptly and truthfully" he stated. "Where am I" Charlotte asked. Instantly she felt a terrifying shock in her breasts. She screamed in pain and horror till the shock stopped.

"We are not here to satisfy your curiosity" the man said sternly. "That was one of what can be many and various samples of your continued suffering if you fail to follow my directions implicitly" he added. "Nod your head if you understand me" he commanded. Charlotte nodded her head as instructed. "There are no angels here" he continued, "but there will come a magical moment when you tell me all." Looking at Charlotte intensely her interrogator asked "Tell me your name?"

Washington, D.C. the Hoover building. "Special" special agent Rodgers had spent two months looking into the finances, investments and businesses of the deceased Charles Hollingsworth. The records that he reviewed told of a massive interstate real estate fraud encompassing California, Arizona, Nevada and not surprisingly, Florida. This operation was clearly not the result of impulsive risk taking, but rather cold calculated financial action. The ex-con- artist turned FBI agent respected the art and artifice necessary to pull off a scam worth billions. The really cool part was that he had found it and figured it out. Perhaps his next office would have a window. After all, no one but him had been able to follow the financial bread crumbs that lead to the Liplin/Hollingsworth partnership and in doing so had uncovered the largest real estate fraud in the history of not only the United States, but the entire world.

Laughlin Nevada, the airport. The man in the Hawaiian shirt stepped off the little twin prop commuter from Phoenix. His appearance was nondescript by design. No one would remember him. He'd received a call for a job on Monday morning
while shopping for a Sponge Bob Square Pants lunch box for his 6 year old son. He ex-wife had given him a shopping list of back to school needs and he knew enough not to disappoint her or the boy. Even a contract killer feared some things and an ex-wife was one of them. He'd listened intently to the instructions and raised his eyebrows when the caller mentioned the fee. With the amount of money he would get from the completion of the job he could buy his son a whole classroom.

Laughlin Nevada, the McCool's condo. Jean slipped into a clingy teddy, the kind that Thomas had told her for years that he loved to see her in. Their plans were to watch a good movie with dinner and wine, and then she would invite the horny old rooster to take advantage of her. It never took much asking. But that was actually one of his good points.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wordzzle 77 - A pair will do

Double your understanding of Wordzzle by visiting the Raven's Nest.

The Ten Word Challenge: blind panic, apartment, fleas, soap operas, Cajun cooking, free and easy, legal, sangria, public school, new

The mini challenge: class, calendar, keeping secrets, boring, fashion

This Week's Episode: Let's Make a Deal

Charlotte received two unexpected pieces of bad news on Monday morning.

The first was contained in a small article on page 5 of the L.A. Times. It concerned a fatal two car accident on Getty Center Drive in which the occupants of the smaller vehicle ( a Honda Civic) walked away unscathed and the driver of the much larger SUV was killed. Charlotte couldn't believe the luck of the McCools or the incompetence of the hired help. Obviously the people she had hired (who came with references and were highly recommended) were not of a class necessary to take out a retired cop and his wife. She would have to resort to other more expensive means.

The second bit of bad news was at first very troubling till she learned the reason for the situation. She'd gotten a call on Monday morning from a representative of Prince Akim telling her the Prince and Princess had unfortunately been called back to Saudi Arabia due to a family emergency. She was unable to get any more from the assistant, as he was paid well for keeping secrets about the royal family. He did tell her she would hear from the Prince later in the day. While waiting for the call she did some detective work of her own and found out the Prince's favorite granddaughter had been in an auto accident in Europe. The royal couple had flown out immediately to oversee her care and bring her back to Saudi Arabia.

By the time the Prince's call came in the afternoon Charlotte had finished all the boring details involved in rescheduling the contract signing. In her typical almost OCD fashion she'd prepared, she thought, for any outcome short of canceling the deal. In this she was to be surprised once again, but this time somewhat pleasantly so. The Prince apologized profusely for the delay, told her about his granddaughter and suggested she fly to the Mid-East at his expense on his official jet to sign the deal and take care of the legal matters necessary to conclude the contract signing in his country. He hinted that there might be the occasion for a quick introduction to his Uncle the King while she was there.

Charlotte demurred at first, telling the Prince she would need to look at her calendar for the coming week and get right back to him. In truth she knew of no impediment to going, but didn't want to sound too anxious. Charlotte took a half an hour to adjust to this new turn of events; thinking her life at times seemed like the soap operas her long dead mother so loved. "What was the point Mom?" she wondered. "While you were watching "Days of Our Lives", I was being gang raped in my High School" she continued. "Now my life is more real and exciting than anything those boobs that produced your favorite show could have thought of" she finished to herself. This would be the inverse of the old saw he father had used when telling her to be careful of her friends in school. "If you lie down with dogs you'll surely get fleas" he quoted to her. Well, it looked like Charlotte was going to hobnob with Kings and Queens instead, didn't it? The faux Ms. Vignoire called the Prince back and said she'd been able to reschedule her commitments for the week and would be delighted. The Prince gave her instructions to meet the plane that afternoon at LAX.

"She's coming to us" the Prince said to his wife. The Princess looked at the note Jean had passed her and the e-mail she'd received concerning the attempt on the McCool's lives. "We will find out who this woman really is, won't we dear?" she asked. "Yes beloved, our friends in Kuwait will see to that" he answered.

Martin/Mike and Jane disembarked at LAX. The flight from Manaus had been long but uneventful. Both were glad to be back in the US and yet doubtful of their safety and security in their home country. Sgt Johnson met them at the gate. He'd been surprised to hear from Martin, amazed at what he had to say and then delighted to learn who his companion Jane was and the relationship to his suspect Constance/Connie/Charlotte. As they walked away from the gate and looked out at the tarmac the Royal Saudi plane got their attention. The group watched a striking redhead board the jet. Martin and Jane just looked at each other and laughed.

"Well we won't be running from her in a blind panic for a while will we?" Martin asked. "Not if that jet is going home we won't" Jane smiled back. Johnson had watched with the pair and asked them what they had seen. They explained that the woman who they'd witnessed boarding the airplane was the one who had been looking for Jane and the very same woman that Martin saw at Hollingsworth's house. Johnson couldn't believe it. If what the couple thought was true, his prime suspect was this very minute leaving the country for parts unknown.

Sgt Johnson pulled out his cell phone and dialed the tower. He identified himself and asked for the flight plan of the Royal Saudi aircraft. He thanked the tower and rung off. Then he called the McCool's. When Thomas answered Johnson asked "Any reason the Prince is taking our suspect to Kuwait?" he asked. "Not quite sure about that" McCool answered, "but we received a request for the DNA map of Constance Lawler from the Saudi authorities this morning" he answered. "The captain called me before we boarded for the flight back to Laughlin" he finished. Johnson hung up with McCool and then turned back to Martin and Jane. "Let's get you two to our West Coast headquarters and take your statements" he said. While they made their way to the waiting Suburban he wondered if he would see his suspect again.

Dan and Carla picked up the McCools at the Laughlin airport. The four went back to Thomas and Jean's rented Condo (really nothing more than an apartment) and settled in for updating each other on events in the case. Though they'd been in contact by phone and e-mail all along it was always better to talk face to face when brain storming about murder, evidence, motives and the like.

Thomas made Sangria to go with the Cajun cooking the group had decided on, though his public school upbringing made him think beer would have been sufficient. It mattered little to him because the lifestyle that Jean and he lived was very free and easy. The conversation turned to the latest news. the group discussed Johnson's finding Martin and Jane, the attempt on the McCool's and the sudden departure of Charlotte Vignoire on the Saudi jet. There was no consensus on what that meant and until the Prince contacted them it was out of their hands.

Carla stated "Boy I'd like to be a fly on the wall in that jet". They discussed the matter some more and all wondered what was happening in the Saudi airplane.

Charlotte knew exactly what was going on. The crew had been instructed to treat her as royalty. She was the only passenger and every need was to be met. She reviewed the menu for dinner and chose the caviar, lamb, and a vintage wine. The meal had been excellent though after eating she felt somewhat ill. She felt almost as though she was airsick. She found the airsick bag in front of her seat just in time as she vomited violently into the bag. The attendant rushed to her aid taking the offending bag at once.

Tamir al Satar was doing well playing a royal Saudi flight attendant. In spite of ten years in the Saudi Secret service and 5 before that in the army special ops branch, he was always up for the royal family's special assignments. This had been one of the easiest. Just make the lady puke into a bag, put the contents in a special machine or more what looked like a series of highly miniaturized lab machines at the rear of the plane and set the equipment to send the results to the kingdom. This he had accomplished with ease. He awaited the outcome of the tests.

The pilot of the aircraft in question was wondering why he'd been assigned this flight. The plane had been worked on all Sunday and part of Monday morning to modify the rear compartment. He was told it was testing equipment and that a subject would be brought aboard. Little else was known to him other than 1/2 of his flight crew was now Saudi Secret service. Well, the pay was good and he'd spent two wonderful days in the land of the infidel doing what all the faithful did when they came to America; namely everything they couldn't do at home. In a little while he would hear if he was to continue to Kuwait or divert to Riyadh. It could get interesting from there on in.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Health Care Reform and the Biggest Lie

Maybe you've heard the old people raging against the government getting involved in their health care. In almost all cases these are of course seniors on Medicare. One wonders what these poor souls think the source of their medical services might be if not the government.

Still, we are treated to countless videos of seniors yelling at their representatives. I actually would like to yell at my representatives as well. But not so much about health care as other things, but that's for a different post. The masses have been infused with industry lobbyists propaganda of all sorts concerning the evils of health care reform.

Some interesting lies being told concern mandating end of life counseling, with the idea of putting old folks out of their misery sooner thereby saving the government money.

Here's a short video from Rachel Maddow on one of the lobbyist's bigger lies.

Along with this is Sarah Palin's death panel fantasy she concocted for use with special needs folks. What Horse Puckey.

But the biggest lie of all is that the government can't do anything right and we ought to fear it. Let's remember we rely on the government for all (100 %) of our essential services in one fashion or the other. The government taxes us and then spends the money on schools, roads, armies, medical research, and on and on. It's because of our government's actions that we have the lifestyle and standard of living we enjoy today. If not for government intervention and oversight the wealthy would have most of us living in hovels like any other third world country.

Our government plays an important though flawed role in standing between the greed and rapaciousness of outright capitalism and the bodies that feed the beast. If you think otherwise you would be advised to think again. The recent bank bailouts should be a signal as to what power and influence money has in our way of life. The banks will be healthy and thriving long before the rest of us come back from this recent recession. Why do you suppose that is?

So,back to the big lies and the Biggest Lie: No, the government will not convene panels to tell you when to die and the government will most certainly not do any worse with health care than the medical and insurance industry. In fact, if we are fortunate enough to have a government option, it should force some competition from insurers and providers alike. We might actually get a favorable result.

Food for thought for the reform naysayers and ammunition for the supporters.
Good Luck!


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Factually Deficient Republican Outrage

I've known for some time that Faux News rots your brain. Now there is actually proof.

Here it is. Nuff said:

Seems it's easy to be wrong when you move too far right.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Yea, what he said!

You have most likely been hearing lately about the proposed health care reform bills and the outright batshit crazy rightwingnutters commentary.

Like many, I am appalled at the misrepresentations and outright lies used by the insurance industry lobbyists and their dupes on TeeVee and at the rallies.

Today, thanks to links at Eschaton, I found the following two articles from the Washington Monthly. The really interesting thing about them is that they contain e-mails from Bruce Bartlett, a veteran of the Reagan and Bush senior administrations as the basis for the articles.

If you want to know how things got this crazy, how the rhetoric got so out of hand and why there is little if any intelligent discussion on matters political these days, then check out the following two articles.

The Pennance has not been paid part 1

The Pennance has not been paid part 2

Happy Monday


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Wordzzle 76 - Is Thirteen always unlucky?

Go by the Raven's Nest and test your luck with the dos and don'ts of Wordzzling.

The Ten Word Challenge: superlative, flea market, falling leaves, disinformation, who was that masked man?, keeping kids out of trouble, I'm a believer, bonnet in the attic, staff, generation

The mini challenge: deep in the forest, government, charming, heirlooms, flabbergasted

This week's Episode: A Bumpy Road

Thomas and Jean pulled out of the parking lot and headed back towards the 405. Jean told McCool how charming the Princess had been and how glad she was that they had met as private citizens without the government officials that normally supervised royal encounters. "It just felt like two women of the same generation but different cultural backgrounds finding common ground" she said by way of explanation. "It was nice to talk to a modern Muslim woman without all the prejudice and disinformation the media likes to spread about the culture differences" she continued.

She finished by jokingly commenting that she was flabbergasted that the Princess had not once referred to her (Jean) as an infidel during the whole time they spoke together. "They're probably a lot more modern in some ways than we are baby" Thomas smiled back. "Look at the two of them; they're billionaires, philanthropists, and grandparents, all the while running around the globe starting and maintaining charitable projects and good works at an amazing pace" he added. "I bet the majority of their staff makes more than the president of the United States" he quipped. "And their new project in L.A. called "Art on the Down Low" ought to help in keeping kids out of trouble in the projects" he finished.

While Jean and Thomas had been having this lively conversation, Thomas had been keeping his eye on a black Escalade that had followed them out of the parking lot. What had started to trouble him was that every time he changed lanes the Escalade changed with him. He'd mentioned none of this to Jean as of yet. He still thought it might just be someone wanting to make good time like he was on the fairly busy Saturday night freeway. Perhaps one of the attendees at the opening was in a rush to get home and tell their kids about some heirlooms or superlative bronze statues they'd seen tonight.

Well he knew that was BS, didn't he? He reached down and snugged his seatbelt while telling Jean to do the same to hers. "Look's like we've got company and I'm thinking you might really be on to something with the Vignoire woman" he stated. "If I were them I'd make my move when we exit" he remarked. "Just bump us in the left rear quarter and send us into the wall" he finished.

The exit was coming up, but Thomas stayed one lane over towards the center. There was a good chance that whoever was following them didn't know where they were staying so his plan was to continue on down the freeway and then double back when they lost the tail. When the time came to exit he'd make a quick move from the second lane and get off the 405 before the Escalade could make the last minute turn. They'd been running 72, so Thomas slowly picked up to about 80 mph. He looked to the GPS they'd just bought at the Mesa Flea Market the week before and saw what exits were coming up. About two miles down was a nice cloverleaf he could use to get headed back in the direction of the motel.

The pursuing SUV must have suspected something because he sped up within two car lengths of the McCool's Civic and stayed in the far right lane. Thomas picked his way through the evening traffic and put some distance between the two vehicles. This forced the Escalade to move into the center lane to catch him. The exit came up quick with the little Honda doing right at 100mph. Thomas waited till the last instant then sent the car rushing up the curving exit ramp. He used the curve and the steep incline to bleed off speed and didn't touch the brakes.

The Escalade slammed on the breaks and actually backed up a hundred feet or so on the shoulder to make the turn. The Black behemoth caught the McCool's car in the center of the cloverleaf. Thomas let the driver draw a bead on him then swerved at the last minute. The SUV skidded along the concrete wall and ruined that marvelous Caddy paint job. Thomas knew he couldn't outrun the Escalade, but felt he might possibly outmaneuver it. It would be the only way to save their lives. There was now no doubt the big Caddy SUV intended to ram their car.

"Baby, I don't think these people like us" he sarcastically remarked. "I'm a believer" Jean replied. She caught a glimpse of the driver during their last miss and he seemed determined. "They look like pros from what I can tell" she commented. "Didn't see a weapon in the passenger's hand" Jean added. "Must want it to look like an accident" Thomas shot back as he downshifted into 4th and the little 4 cylinder engine hit 7000 rpm. "Now would be a good time to call 911" he continued as he swerved again to make the Escalade miss.

Jean did just that and made sure the occupants of the pursuers’ vehicle saw what she was doing. This backfired by only motivating the driver to hit their car sooner. The two vehicles exited the roundabout headed back out the 405 and Thomas up shifted into 5th at 90 mph. He could literally hear the engine screaming as he watched the TAC hit 7500 rpm, well above the little engines red line. He had speed shifted into top gear and gained a second or two on the Caddy. It was enough for him to gain a few car lengths and put some other cars in between the SUV and their car. With the 911 call in and cops on the way, the occupants of the Escalade had to know their time was running out, didn't they? It was this thought that kept him moving the little car up the freeway and away from the black SUV.

The Caddy driver was not having it though. He charged through traffic and muscled cars out his way as he moved towards Thomas and Jean. McCool watched the progress in the rear view mirror and made a decision. He went almost past the exit, then braked hard, downshifted into 4th and screamed off the 405 back onto Getty Center Drive. Only this time they were doing over 80. The sturdy little Civic made the corner and held on. Right then the Escalade charged into the exit but was carrying too much speed. It lifted off the two outside wheels and looked as though it might roll. The driver brought in back down just in time and headed straight at the McCool's Honda.

Seeing he couldn't avoid a collision, McCool braked just enough to let the oncoming Escalade slip by to the outside. There was a terrible grinding sound as the two vehicles scraped against each other and then the Escalade was by the Honda. McCool downshifted and poured on the gas. They hit the Escalade in the right rear. This pushed the Escalade past the point of stability once again and this time the driver couldn't get it back down. The huge SUV rolled over and flipped down the ramp managing to clip the front of the Civic with one tire. It was enough to put the Honda into the wall at over 70 mph. Then it all went black.

Thomas and Jean woke up in their car with the airbags deployed and feeling like they'd just been beaten up. Jean looked over at Thomas and asked "Who was that masked man". Thomas felt around his body for broken bones and missing pieces before grinning and replying. The detritus from the collision and resulting crashes continued to flutter down like falling leaves for several minutes after the incident and what he intended to say was that someone must certainly have put a bee in someone's bonnet to cause such quick and brutal attention, but it came out sorta sounding like someone had a bonnet in the attic or something.

Jean looked at him then with some concern till he grinned again and said "Well shit, they wrecked our little Honda pretty damn good didn't they?"

At this point a fireman and a paramedic helped the pair out of their car and onto the back end an ambulance. While they were being checked out the investigating officer came over and asked if they had called in on 911. "I did officer, after the SUV attempted to hit us the first time" Jean spoke up. "Well you won't be troubled with them any more tonight" he explained, "We've got one deceased and the other with serious head trauma headed to county medical with a police escort." "The SUV and the men have no papers or any forms of ID, even the plates are bogus" he finished. "Got any idea why these guys where after you?" he said as he looked at Thomas.

"We're civilian consultants investigating some murders in Laughlin, Nevada" Thomas said. "It's possible it has something to do with a missing suspect" he finished.

Thomas and Jean and the cop finished their conversation as the couple was given a clean bill of health by the medics. The air bags and luck and Thomas's driving had combined to make what looked nearly fatal into an accident from which they walked away. The just one year old Civic was another matter. It had extensive frame and body damage. The little car's useful life was at an end.

Thomas made a call on his cell for a rental, then called into Laughlin PD and reported on the accident. After that he called Sgt Johnson in D.C. and left a message.

From what he'd learned tonight there may have been something wrong with the DNA test of Charlotte Vignoire or some other issue that caused the attempt on their lives. Unless it could have been the Prince, someone on his staff or an entirely unknown person, it just didn't make sense any other way. Somewhere deep in the forest of all the clues and facts concerning this case he knew there must be some other way to link Charlotte and the killings.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

Wordzzle 75 - Cheaper by the Dozen?

You can get a baker's dozen worth of info on Wordzzling at the Raven's Nest.

The Ten Word Challenge: reluctant, sacrilege, territory, humiliating, master of ceremonies, gesture, dirty deed, crumbling, thaw, token

The mini challenge: official portrait, personal bank account, shoulder bone, unbearable, widow

This Week's Episode: Communication Breakdown

The Amazonia Grande made its way upriver through the territory of ancient jungles tribes. Martin/Mike had given Jane a small figurine from the last village they'd visited as a token of his affection. Jane wasn't quite sure what to make of the rotund and obviously pregnant wooden carving, but thanked him for the gesture. She was pretty sure he knew she was past the age of having babies now and just enjoyed the "dirty deed" for the sheer pleasure and sexual release.

She asked him about the figure as they walked through the crumbling ruins of a long lost Amazonian civilization and was relieved to learn that he just liked the color and facial expression of the statue.

With that out of the way she was free to enjoy the remainder of the trip up to Manaus. At that point they would have to make a decision on what to do and where to go, next.

Martin fought with himself concerning his feelings for Jane and dreaded the humiliating possibility that she wouldn't feel the same way as he did. It would be unbearable if she didn't love him as he had so unfailingly come to love her. It was for this reason that he had been reluctant to discuss their plans after Manaus. For her part, Jane had taken his timidity as a lack of concern or a cavalier attitude towards her and their future together. "I'll know when we get to Manaus" she thought to herself.

Four thousand miles away in L.A. Thomas and Jean were pulling their Honda Civic into the Getty parking lot. They had parked in the new off street parking garage and walked down two flights of stairs to street level. They crossed over Getty Center Drive to enter at the front of the spectacular structure. It was interesting to see the number of classic cars parked in the VIP spaces, including a vintage Packard with the now infamous "widow maker" doors that opened in the reverse direction. The couple had arrived early to allow time to view some of the other exhibits and then meet with the Prince Akim and the Princess before the opening of the newest exhibition, the French Bronzes.

Most of those attending this event this evening had personal bank accounts with balances in the 9 digit area. In spite of being dressed in their formal finery, (for Thomas a rented Tux and for Jean a shimmering evening gown she'd purchased for their last cruise) the couple felt a bit overwhelmed by the raw opulence of their surroundings and the attendees. They passed through galleries featuring the official portraits of the kings of industry and government before making their way to the conference room that had been reserved for the meeting with the Prince.

The Prince's personal secretary greeted them at the door and invited them into the room. There the Prince and Princess introduced themselves. The Princess gently took Jean aside and they spent the time getting to know one another. To Jean's great surprise she found the princess to be a very modern woman indeed and they enjoyed each other's tales of children, grandchildren and husbands.

Thomas wasted no time in getting to the point of the meeting. "Prince Akim, you are aware of the connections between your losses with the company backed by the now deceased Charles Hollingsworth and the woman known to you as Connie Liplin, correct?" "Yes, I met the woman one time at a meeting in L.A." the Prince replied. "We believe this woman is not only party to real estate fraud on an enormous scale, but also a serial killer" Thomas added. The Prince's eyebrows rose just slightly and he smiled fleetingly at the news. McCool sensed that a thaw in the somewhat cool reception he'd been given had taken place.

In the next half hour McCool gave the Prince all he could concerning the investigation, the evidence and the inability to find Liplin. He even went so far as to mention the Prince's soon-to-be partner, Charlotte Vignoire. This gave the Prince some pause. Thomas assured the Prince that with the results of the DNA test it would be physically impossible for the two women to be the same person. They concluded their meeting and the Prince was unable to add anything helpful to Thomas's inquiry.

At this point the master of ceremonies was calling people into the main gallery for the opening. The Prince and Princess along with various other donors and dignitaries took seats that flanked the massive podium. Thomas and Jean spotted Charlotte seated just a few seats away from the royal couple. The program included thanks to the donors, (Charlotte had given a million dollars and used her family name to help secure the exhibition of some of the French Bronzes) a special thanks to the Prince and Princess, and a hat tip to the Hollywood crowd that was fully represented there as well.

Jean knew it was artistic sacrilege, but she found Warren Beatty much more interesting than French statures. One fascinating though totally unrelated observation she made this night was that Kiera Knightly seemed to be held together by skin and her shoulder bones. At least in the dress she wore to this event it seemed that way. She kept the thought to herself till she and Thomas had time together after the show.

Shortly before leaving she excused herself from the group, including the Prince and Princess who'd stopped by to say goodbye, and went to the ladies room. Jean entered through the luxurious sitting area into the restroom proper and picked a stall. She'd just finished up when she heard someone come in. As she left the stall and started around the corner she spied Charlotte leaning over the sink and cussing in a very un-French fashion. "Goddamn this frigging contact" she heard muttered, as a dull hazel colored contact slipped down the drain. It almost sounded like a Jersey accent, though in truth it was just one short expletive ridden phrase.

Jean eased back so she could peak around the corner without being seen. She watched as Charlotte removed a bottle with a contact in it and put it in. In the edge of the mirror she caught a glimpse of a startlingly emerald green eye before the contact covered it up. At the same time she thought she might have been seen now by Charlotte. She reached back into the stall, flushed again and let the stall door slam before coming around the corner. At the sink she washed her hands quickly and exited the restroom. Jean wasn't sure if Charlotte had seen her or not. On a hunch she stopped by one of the tables and scribbled a short note. This note she put in the Princess's hand as they said goodbye and exited the museum.

The Prince's Rolls stopped at the front door and picked up the royal couple. Thomas and Jean strolled down the sidewalk towards the crossing to the parking garage. "Thomas, you won't believe what I saw and heard in the ladies room" she began. By the time they got to their car she had related the incident and the note she'd given the Princess. "I know you might have wanted to think about that, but I liked her and didn't want her and her husband to get involved with a potential serial killer" she explained. "Well just because she wears colored contacts and swears when she drops one down the sink doesn't make her Connie Liplin" he remarked. "At least she's been warned" Jean answered. "OK baby, I know you did what you thought was right, lets head back to the hotel" he finished.

Charlotte stopped in an alcove and made two phone calls. The first was to her chauffeur to bring the car to the front entrance and the second was one that she had hoped not to have to make. "It was just as well" she thought to herself, "there were much more important things to focus on than paranoia. "This was a problem easily solved."