Public Service…new writing, unedited…incomplete…

Our friends stayed with us until almost midnight, at which time, they slowly packed up their gear and headed to their homes. Manson was the last to leave.

As she shoved her rifle into her Pelican gun case, she looked at me and Lilly. “You know,” she said as she buckled the latches, “I understand what chief was saying about not seeking vengeance. There’s no wiggle room under the badge for ‘gangster’ takedowns, but I think sometimes you need to prove you’re not weak.”

“What do you mean?”

Manson hugged Lilly and Gareth and shrugged, “I don’t know, Lilly. Walters doesn’t strike me as one who cares if he does a long stretch in prison. Changing his location to a cage filled with other animals doesn’t seem like much of a deterrent.”

I didn’t say anything, for I had spent years tracking and killing bad people all over the world and had thought just like her. “You don’t leave your enemies alive so they can hurt you,” Billy had told me. I had used that to justify the horrible things I had done. Cartwright had a similar rule. “Dead men tell no tales, son. When in doubt, kill everyone.”

Manson hugged my neck and whispered, “Take care of your family, Konan. Do what you must to protect them.”

My family and I watched as she carried her gear out to her car. She gave us a wave, and we waved back. I waited until she left before I shut the door. Gareth took my hand, and I looked down at my stepson.

He stared at me not uttering a sound, his big brown eyes locked with mine. His eyes shined with trust, knowing I would take care of any dangers that sought to damage my family, but there was something else in his eyes, something that said I should make sure no one dared try to take from me what God had blessed me with.

When in doubt, kill everyone.

The following morning, Lilly and I dropped Gareth off at the daycare and continued on with our search of the florists. Our agenda for the day was full. We had six florists to check, and Tammy Bowen wanted to see us, but first I needed coffee.

I pulled into The Donut Hole and ordered a dozen mixed donuts and two hot coffees. A pockmarked teenaged female, complete with braces and an attitude, stood in the window and glared at me, while I reached for my wallet.

“Eleven dollars and fifty cents.”

“You’re kidding,” I said as I handed her a twenty.

“No, I’m not kidding, grandpa.”

Lilly snorted and covered her mouth, I glared at the teenager and slammed the shifter into park. The woman tossed my change into the bag and shoved it at me. “Here’s your coffee,” she snarled, as she pushed two large coffees at me.

Hot coffee leaked from the lids and fell upon my hands. I grimaced, not only from the pain of hot liquid burning my hands, but because her attitude was typical of many in the world today.

She was the female version of Scott Walters. A narcissistic nihilist, a thinly disguised vestige of anarchy, a waste of God-given oxygen. I put the car in drive and drove off without tipping her. Lilly grinned and opened the donuts.

“How about that, grandpa? Little Ms. Attitude didn’t put any napkins in here for us to clean off our fingers.”

“There’s some in the glove box.”

Lilly laughed and opened the box. Shoved in on top of individual packets of salt, pepper, sugar and cream, were brown napkins. “Wow,” Lilly said. “You’ve got an entire condiment shelf in your glove box.”

“Yeah, it’s the downside of eating out. No one seasons their food anymore, you’ve got to ask for it. Flavor costs extra nowadays.”

We munched on donuts until we arrived at Annie’s Florist on Third Street. As with the previous two, she had no wolfsbane, nor did she know of anyone who grew it.

“Of course, she didn’t know anything about it,” Lilly muttered as we pulled our seatbelts on. “I bet the next five won’t know anything about it either.”

She was right except for the last one. Out in the woods, next to an old Victorian house, partially hidden from the road and blocked from view by oak and pine trees, wolfsbane waved in the gentle breeze.

Rows of flowers lined the dirt road, orchards of pecan trees, plum trees, and other types of fruit filled the level ground. A white sign informed us we drew near to the agricultural labs of Southern U.
I came to a stop in a dirt parking lot in front of the Victorian home. Lilly and I got out and made our way inside the building. A young woman, her name tag informed us her name was Christy, sat behind the counter doing a cross word puzzle.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes, I hope so,” Lilly said. “I’m Detective Lilly Thompson, eh, Konan. Is that wolfsbane growing outside your building?”

“Yes, it is. You know your plants.”

“Not really,” Lilly said with a grin. “We’d like to speak to whomever is in charge, please.”

Christy smiled a thin, cold smile, her eyes reflected no warmth as she shoved her glasses onto her narrow nose. “May I ask why?”

“Sure you can, Christy. My partner and I need some information about wolfsbane because we’re investigating a series of murders.”

“Dr. Wynette Robbins and Dr. Silas Roberts oversee our day to day operations. I can take you to them.”

She led us into a long hallway and walked to the end of it. An expansive room, a library I’d assume given all the books, with tall windows filled with stained glass, housed two desks-one at each opposite end of the room-and Christy motioned for us to have a seat in front of the one to the left.

“Dr. Robbins will finish her lecture in just a few moments. You can wait here.”

Public Service…today’s writing…unedited/incomplete…

I drove to the town square and sat on the bench and looked at my watch. It was 1145, fifteen minutes prior to the witching hour. Cartwright had sat on this bench with me, so had Billy. Now, of the three, only Cartwright and I remained.

My former boss emerged from the shadows, like a great white shark breaching water off the coast of Africa, I mused. He waddled toward me, a cigar held between his fingers of his right hand, his left hand shoved down into his pocket.

No doubt he held a silenced sidearm, a Walther probably. Cartwright had a fond appreciation for the craftsmanship of the Germans. He came and sat down next to me.

“Long time, no see. How’s the wife?”

“She’s fine. How are you?”

Cartwright shoved his cigar into his mouth and winced. His eyes squinted as he looked out into the shadows. He nodded and looked at me.

“Things are fine. Well, on my end. You have a knack of angering the wrong people son.”

“I always did. What brings you to town?”

“You did.”

“Oh yeah? Are you here to punch my ticket, old friend?”

“No, I’m here to save you. Tia Mathers says hello by the way, and asks you give Lilly her congratulations on your nuptials. Deputy Chief Scott Walters is a vile piece of human waste. Stay out of it, Konan.”

“Look, I don’t even know what the man wants, or what he has planned…”

“You’ve grown soft. Flabby and weak. I envy your love and marriage Konan, but you had to know the past still wants its pound of flesh. You took down Tia, and Walters wants your head for his trophy box. He’s dug around in our time, back when you weren’t a cop, and he plans to release all of this information to the public.”

“Good God, why now?”

Cartwright lit his cigar and sucked the smoke into his lungs. He held it for a second and let it out slowly. He cut his eyes to me, and he still looked like a predator when he did so, and said, “He’s not planning on ruining only you, but all of us. That’s why I am here.”

“You’re here to make sure the past stays dead.”

“Yeah, that’s right. I’m here to facilitate an event.”

“What do you need from me?”

“Nothing, Konan. I was in town and wanted to see my old friend.”

“Billy was your oldest friend, and he caught a bullet.”

“Yes, he was. Konan, he betrayed me. Would you have acted any differently than me? I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, I know you wouldn’t.”

I couldn’t say anything to him about that. Nor could I deny the charges he laid at my feet. In the past, I had exercised a heavy hand with traitors. There’s only one way to deal with traitors. Reprehensible as it might be, death is the only solution for those who deal falsely, for those who play both sides against the middle.

We sat on the bench for several minutes without saying anything, just two old friends catching up on the happenings and non-happenings of our daily lives.

“How does it feel to be married? Is it as blissful as people make it out to be?”

“I’m enjoying it, Cartwright. Lilly’s a good woman, an amazing mother, a fantastic wife.”

“And even better cop,” Cartwright said. “You need to take care of her, brother.”

He stood to leave, but I had one other question to ask my former boss. Cartwright seemed to sense it, so he turned around and looked at me.

“Tia Mathers took Billy’s place, didn’t she?”

“Well, you know me son. I’ve always had a need for talented people. Tia Mathers is talented.”

“Yeah, she was definitely that. I’ll see you around, Cartwright.”

“Not if I see you first, Konan.”

I leaned back against the bench and watched Cartwright disappear into the ether of early morning. The long shadows enveloped him, and I stood. There was no stopping Cartwright, I realized. He had given me a heads up, moreover he had came to Fredericksburg to save my life.

He had called me a softy, but the truth was we had both mellowed out. It’s why people like Scott Walters thought they could act the way they did without consequence, why people like Sasha and her sister paid the price for our softening, and why I had to get my edge back.

The wolves have no respect for sheep, but they respect the sheepdogs. Someone must stand post on the wall and keep the sheep from harm. As much as it pained me to acknowledge it, I needed people like Cartwright on that wall.

Those who would kill every last person if it protected those he loved from harm. Cartwright was a facilitator, a planner, strategist, and executioner. He could do it all, and I trained with him. He had taken me under his wings and taught me how to defend our nation, but also how to go on offense and end the threat.

Lilly needed to know I would do what was necessary to protect our family, and I needed to show her I still had the will to get the job done.

Public Service…new writing, unedited…

Allison Charlene, the first victim, had lived quite a life for her young 26 years on the planet. A professional secretary for the emergent law firm of Ash, Becker, and Curry, or ABC, she had traveled extensively throughout Europe and Southeast Asia prior to taking a job with the firm.
In the last three years though, she began to suffer from depression and anxiety.

She quit traveling and became a homebody. Yet, for someone diagnosed with depression and anxiety, there was no trail that indicated she had sought help for either.

Lilly looked across the desk at me, and I glanced up from the computer. Our eyes met, and I grinned. I knew what she was thinking about, because I had thought the same thing. I cleared my throat and looked back at my screen. Lilly had an impish grin on her full lips, and I took a deep breath.

“Can I see you outside for a moment, Detective Konan?”

Rankin snorted, and Manson grinned as she kept an eye on Sasha. “Sure, Lilly. I have a moment.”

We stood and walked out of The Murder Room. Down the hall, next to the latrines, was an unlocked janitor’s closet. Lilly took me by the hand and pulled me into it.

She threw her arms about my neck and kissed me. Is there anything sweeter than getting a kiss from the one you love? I think not.

“What’s all this about?”

“I wanted a kiss from my husband. I’ve wanted to kiss you all day. As a matter of fact, I wanted to ask you what you planned to do to Scott Walters.”

“I’ve not planned anything, hon. He’s digging his own grave, I don’t have to do anything to him.”

Lilly leaned forward and kissed me lightly on my lips, and whispered, “You’re not the kind of man to take a threat lying down, Konan. I know this, heck, it’s part of the reason I love you. Don’t play me like I’m stupid.”

“I’m not,” I said, as I lifted my right hand in the air. “I have no plans.”

“Maybe you should make some. He doesn’t sound like the type to just go away.”

“He’s not. If things get hairy, we cut and run.”

“No, Konan. That’s not you. You’re thinking of me and Gareth. Do what you must to protect all of us. Even if we must leave town and start over somewhere else, you can’t let this slide.”

I pulled my wife close and kissed her full lips, she let out a throaty growl, and I broke away.

“No, hon. We don’t need to add to our troubles.”

“The mighty Konan is chicken. I never thought I’d see the day.”

I laughed and stepped out of the janitor’s closet. Lilly followed on my heels, and she licked her lips and winked at me.

“Let’s do it again soon,” she whispered.

I watched as she walked past me. Lord help me, I whispered to myself. I’m sure He knew how much I needed Him. Besides, I would need all the help I could get to deal with Scott Walters.

I started to walk toward the office when my phone rang, and I glanced at the screen. The number was unknown. It rang three times and disconnected. Then, it rang again. I answered it on the second ring.


“Hello, Konan. Do you know who this is?”

“Yeah, I know who you are Cartwright. Why are you calling me?”

“You’re in a heap of trouble son. That goes for your pretty wife too, congratulations by the way. Meet me at midnight tonight at our spot.”

“I’ll see you then.”

He was back. I knew after our last meeting, Cartwright wasn’t gone for good. Billy had died at his hands because Billy had betrayed Cartwright. Now, my old boss was back in town.

Fear gripped my heart for a brief moment. I no longer lived alone, my wife and step-son lived with me, and I wanted to keep trouble far from them. I thought I could outrun my past, but it had an ugly way of showing up when I least expected it.

Now, I’m caught between Cartwright and Scott Walters. It was time to make a plan.

Lilly was deep into the life of our second victim by the time I returned to the office. She had brought a white board over to our desk and placed a picture of each victim on it, along with the date of death, cause of death, and location of discovery.

Sam I. Walton, 56, was in no comparison anything like the first victim. He had not traveled outside of Mississippi, in fact, he had not left the Fredericksburg area ever. In fact, the only link between him and Allison was depression and anxiety. Both suffered from these mental conditions, and neither had sought help for them. An interesting fact emerged in our findings though. Both victims had died near a body of water. I didn’t know how this fit together, but for some reason the killer had chosen to take their life near water.

“What took you so long to return?”

I looked at Lilly, and her green eyes bored into mine. She waited, and I couldn’t lie to my wife. For a marriage to survive, thrive even, there had to be a sense of trust.

“Cartwright called me.”

Lilly leaned toward me and whispered, “Cartwright, your old boss?”

“Yeah, he offered his congratulations to us. I’m to meet him at midnight. Manson and Rankin need to come stay with you and Gareth while I am out.”

“Okay, are you expecting trouble?”

“I wasn’t until he called. We need to leave early to prepare. Tell our friends, for her and Rankin to come loaded for bear.”

“What about Janko?”

“I’m going to talk to him now.”

“Okay babe. We will get through this. Just go easy, okay?”

Janko was yakking on the phone when I rapped on his door. His eyes cut toward the door and saw me, then he motioned for me to come in. I pushed the door inward and made my way to his desk. He said goodbye and hung up his phone.

“What now, Konan?”

“I just received a call from Cartwright.”

“Your former boss? The government’s assassin?”

“He’s a facilitator of events, Janko. That’s not important. What is important is that he said I was in a heap of trouble, as is Lilly.”

“Did he say why?”

“No, he didn’t. It doesn’t take a massive leap to figure out what he’s talking about though does it?”

“No, he’s talking about the deputy chief.”

“Yeah, that’s what I think also.”

“Hmm. Scott’s always had a reputation. What does Cartwright want?”

“I don’t know. I’m to meet him at midnight.”

“You don’t think that’s dangerous? Can you trust him?”

“There’s only one way to find out, chief. I need Manson and Rankin to stay with Lilly and Gareth.”

“Of course, done. What about you?”

“I’ll be fine.”

I hesitated and Janko noticed. He nodded his head and said, “Don’t worry, son. We’ll take care of your family. Go do what you must. We will deal with the fallout after the smoke clears.”

Janko dismissed me, and I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. It was good to have friends you could always count on, it was even better when your friends saddled up with you for the hard times.

Midnight was a ways off, but I needed to get ready for whatever trouble was on its way. Me and Lilly knocked off early. By 1800 Manson, Rankin, and Janko showed up at our home. All came strapped with sidearms, M4 rifles, and extra ammunition.

Lilly kissed me on my lips, and I took a deep breath. It was almost midnight. Time to go make a deal with the Devil’s brother.

Public Service…new writing, unedited, incomplete…

I drove us to the next florist on our list. Lilly’s phone rang and she looked at it, frowned, and turned it toward me. It was Janko.

“Hello? This is Detective Lilly Konan.”

“I know who it is, Lilly. Where are you guys?”

“Interviewing florists and following up on the cause of death, chief. What’s up?”

“You and Konan swing by here before you go any further.”

“Okay, chief. We’re on our way.”

I glanced at my wife, and asked, “What is it?”

“Trouble,” she answered. “We’re in trouble.”

Neither of us was unaccustomed to trouble, in fact, Lilly and I had served suspensions before for pushing too far on a case, or even for rubbing the wrong people in the wrong way. Somehow though, this time seemed to have the ring of finality to it.

“So it begins,” I muttered, as I spun the car around in the opposite direction. “Let’s go get this over with.”

Deputy Chief Scott Walters was unhappy, not that he ever spent much time being happy, instead he found glee in destroying those he despised.

Walters sat at his desk. He had fired his secretary and now had none to answer the phone, to take messages and dictation, and he had no one to bully. It angered him, and of course, he blamed it all on her.

If she had done her job and pleased me…

He took out his tape of Cissy and flipped it betwixt his thick fingers, and then he smiled. After searching for the number of the Fredericksburg Times Online Edition, he set up an appointment with a journalist and promised an exclusive to them.

Walters went to work. He had two previous tapes with Cissy, and he had time to work on his idea. With a little touch up and editing, Walters would find some minute piece of happiness in his cold, cold world.

Cissy Robideux-Monat had spent the best part of the weekend healing up from the bruising that covered her face, and the thick welts where her boss had gripped her by the throat. On the second day, she had called home.

“Hey, sweetie. How are things? How are the children?”

“They’re okay,” Richard said, as he scrambled eggs for their two children. “When are you coming home? Please tell me it’s soon.”

Cissy had gotten choked up. Richard Monat was a good man, a solid husband and father, and while he was not the most exceptional man Cissy had ever been with, he had spent twenty years loving only her and taking care of his family.

She hadn’t even hesitated to throw it all away with Scott Walters, in fact, she had received exactly what she had deserved when he began pummeling her face and abusing her.

“I love you, Richard. I should return to you soon. Give my love to the kids.”

“I love you too, Cissy. We’ll be right here waiting.”

She had hung up the phone and fell across the bed. Alone in this rat-infested motel, she sobbed. Her lamentation went unheard by any human. Only the furry denizens of The Quiet Place heard her sorrowing.

Cissy did not know how to begin to make up for her betrayal to her husband and children, but she knew she must find a way to do so, and she had to do it in a hurry-before her former boss released the tapes and ruined all of their lives forever.

Lilly and I walked hand in hand across the skywalk to Police Precinct 117. Neither of us had said much of anything on the ride over. However, we both knew our time was limited and that the hammer would fall on us soon. I just figured we’d have more time before Walters launched his campaign against us.

It seemed I was wrong.

We took the elevator down to the second-floor, the top floors of the precinct housed the forensic crime labs. As we stepped off the lift, I could see Janko, Manson, and Rankin standing around a blonde woman. It was Sasha.

As Lilly and I walked in, Manson and Janko looked up at us. Rankin handed Sasha a glass of water and a Kleenex. We walked up to them and waited for someone to fill us in.

“Do you two know this woman?”

Janko’s question didn’t take me by surprise, but I did wonder why she had came here, especially since Lilly had given her our numbers.

“Yeah, she’s Sasha Robideux. She works for some online magazine.”

Janko nodded and his mustache seemed to bristle. His mustache was a topic of much in-house discussion between his detectives. Some thought it added weight to an already impressive presence, but I held the opinion that it looked as if he had taped an angry porcupine to his upper lip.

Quills away, matey.

“She has told us quite a story of corruption and abuse of power.”

Lilly sighed and responded with an indignant “oh?” Janko nodded and motioned for the reporter to loop us in. Sasha sipped her water and dabbed at her eyes.

“My sister works for Deputy Chief Scott Walters, or worked for, he fired her on Friday-after he assaulted her. She needs help, but she refuses to trust anyone. Scott Walters threatened to ruin her life.”

I sighed, but Lilly put a fine point on my frustration by asking, “Does your sister have proof of any wrongdoing?”

“You mean besides the bruises and welts from him choking her?”

Sasha’s voice rose, and so did Lilly’s eyebrows. I had my own personal experience with the deputy chief, but no one else had witnessed our confrontation. Still…

“How did the deputy chief threaten your sister, Sasha?”

“He videotaped, um, look, she had an affair with the guy, okay? He shot a ‘home movie’ and has threatened to release it.”

“You can bet he will edit it to where he looks like a victim,” Manson snarled. “Men have no problem with making the woman look like a…”

“It’s not just men who play that game, Manson. I’ve known several women who play it the same way,” Lilly said. “I’m not excusing anyone who does this, but it’s not just the men.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s frustrating.”

“So, there’s a movie, probably more than one, and now your sister wants us to do what? We can’t roll up on him and accuse him without proof,” I said, as I pulled a chair over for Lilly to sit in. I got another and sat down next to her.

“Besides, Lilly and I have our hands full with this double murder. We’ve got six more florists to run down, and we still need to look into the victims.”

Janko sighed and wiped at his forehead. He nodded at Manson and Rankin. “You two take care of Sasha’s sister. We don’t have much wiggle room with this, one misstep and all of us are out of a job. Look into the deputy chief, find out about the movies, and see what you can put together.”

“Will do,” Manson and Rankin said in unison.

They led Sasha over to their desk and began to fill out the pertinent paperwork. Lilly and I went to our desk and began to check into the victims.

Manson’s words stuck in my mind. I couldn’t deny the truth of the words, men do sometimes abuse their power, some do take advantage of those under them in the rank structure, and all too often good men get lumped in with the garbage.

Hence the problem with painting with a broad stroke. Not all men are animals, nor do they behave in a way unbecoming and unwelcoming toward women. People tended to forget that good men exist, and often go unappreciated for being good guys.

Thankfully, I had married a good woman who appreciated me for who I am, not who she envisioned me being. These thoughts kept me company as I began my search of Allison’s past.

Public Service…new writing, unedited…

I woke early and showered, then I walked into the kitchen. For my beautiful wife, the woman who made me a better man without even trying, I cooked bacon, fried eggs, grits, and made coffee. My gesture seemed minute in comparison to the love she gave me, the support in the times of trouble, and the sly humor that kept me on my toes.

Lilly completed me. For years, I was fraught with distrust, never daring to hope I would find someone like her but unable to completely wash my hands of the dastardly emotion known as love. Now, I had secured the greatest treasure a man could find: A good wife.

I carried the plate of food and coffee to a small nightstand next to my sleeping partner. She stirred and sniffed the air, and then rolled back over and faced away from the food. I leaned over and kissed her neck and my affection caused her let out a throaty ‘mmm.’

“Good morning,” she murmured. “You’re up early.”

“Yeah, I wanted to cook you breakfast before we head out this morning.”

She opened her eyes and smiled at me, then rolled over. Lilly looked at the plate and steaming cup of coffee. One of her hands sneaked out of the patchwork bed spread and picked up a piece of bacon.
“You’ve already showered,” she said, staring at me and shaking her head.

“Yeah, I jumped in the shower before I cooked for you.”

She slid from underneath the cover and sat on the side of the bed. My heart raced as my eyes took in her beauty, and she smiled. Lilly leaned close to me and whispered, “Thank you for cooking for me. You’re quite handy in the kitchen, not to mention….”

“Well, thank you. You’re quite the dynamo yourself.”

Lilly giggled and finished eating and walked toward the bathroom. At the door she turned and gave me a smile and motioned for me to join her.

Looks like I’m running late this morning, I thought. Look at her, no flesh and blood male could say no to her. My eyes feasted upon the beauty that was my wife, and I smiled.

An hour and a half later, Lilly and I finally left for work. We had no less than a dozen missed calls between us. As I drove, Lilly returned calls. Manson and Rankin had called six times, Sasha Robideux had called three times, a reporter with the local television network had called twice, and Tammy called.

Manson and Rankin wanted to know how things were going for their favorite married couple. Rankin wanted details. The reporter wanted a comment on the current case, and Tammy wanted us to stop by when we had a chance.

“Where are we going, Konan?”

“We’re headed flower shopping.”

“Baby, I don’t need flowers, you’re all I need.”

Lilly grinned at me and winked, and I felt my blood flush my cheeks red. She knew how to get to me, and complimenting me was a surefire way to cause me to blush, but I freely admit I was thrilled to hear I pleased her. I wanted nothing more than to make Lilly happy for the rest of her life.

“I know sweetheart, but I’m referring to the Wolfsbane. We have a murderer to catch.”

“I haven’t forgotten, although you seemed to forget to tell me what happened at the deputy chief’s office.”

In truth, I had forgotten. Other things had captured my attention, and I um, had had my hands full at the time. I grimaced and said, “Yeah, I did forget. I’m sorry. The deputy chief is a friend of Tia Mathers, and he’s got an axe to grind.”

“What does that mean?”

“Um, he wants to crush me and you. Apparently, he’s got a serious man-crush on our former chief.”

“Did he threaten you?”

“Yeah, but not just me. Deputy Chief Scott Walters threatened me and you for “ruining Tia Mathers life.” I think he meant it too.”

“So, what do we do?”

“A guy like the deputy chief has enemies. We need to find out who has dirt on him, and bury him under his own garbage. Plus, we need to find out who’s doing the killing with the Bella Donna.”

“I thought the killer used wolfsbane.”

“He or she does, wolfsbane is also known as Bella Donna.”

“Okay, smartie. How many florists are there in town?”

“Six in town, two on the outskirts.”

“Let’s find us a killer.”

Our first stop was Wilde Flowers. An older woman with a single mole at the corner of her mouth, black eyes, and wearing a tie-dyed tee and a pair cutoff jean shorts looked up at us as we entered her shop. Her salt-and-pepper hair hung loose about her shoulders, and she smiled at us.

“Hello officers. What brings you by?”

“Hi,” I said. “I’m Detective Konan. I’m looking for the owner.”

“That’s me,” the woman said, as she extended her hand. “I’m Olivia Wilde.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you Olivia. Is it okay I call you Olivia?”

“Yes, it’s fine. What can I do for you?”

“Do you sell, or grow, wolfsbane?”

Olivia frowned and shook her head no. “Why in the world would I grow that? It’s poison, detective. I sell floral arrangements.”

Lilly walked through the shop while I spoke with Olivia. Pictures adorned the walls, Olivia was in every one of them. Most of the pictures were of funerals, but some covered weddings, anniversaries, and the like. Olivia noticed Lilly staring at the pictures, and she lifted her chin in Lilly’s direction.

“She’s found my shrine. Most of my business comes from funeral homes. I guess that’s the benefit of owning the oldest floral business in Fredericksburg.”

“Any idea who’d grow wolfsbane, or who might sell it?”

“No sir. May I ask why you’re looking for it?”

“A couple of people died from wolfsbane, and we’re trying to track down where they might have crossed paths with it.”

“That’s no way to die, the poor dears. The plant itself is highly toxic, why anyone would want to have it is beyond me. I mean it’s a pretty plant, but it’s deadly.”

“Thank you for the information, Olivia. I appreciate your help.”

“No need for thanks, detective. I hope you catch the person doing the killing.”

Lilly waited for me outside, and I walked out of the building and joined her. We got in the car, and I drove to the next stop.

“What did you see in the pictures?”

“They consisted of Ms. Wilde at various funerals, but a few had her at weddings or anniversaries. Do you think she did it?”

“I don’t know, Lilly. She seemed genuine, but you can’t never tell about folks.”

Our next stop was Flowers-R-Us. It sat the corner of 8th Street and Fitzgerald. A single story building, it had large windows that bore various writing and art on them. I pulled the glass door open, and Lilly walked in. A pair of twenty-something young women stood behind the counter. Both blonde and pretty, they looked at us and gave us mega-watt smiles.

“Hi! Welcome to our shop!”

Apparently being in sync wasn’t an issue for either of them. Lilly smiled and said, “Thanks, you have a wonderful shop.”

One of the women pointed at herself and said, “I’m Ashley and this is my sister Amber. We’re twins. How can we help?”

I ambled about the shop and looked at various plants while Lilly questioned the twins. In the corner of the room a table with dirt scattered on top of it, along with scissors, and a roll of ribbon sat next to the scissors.

“Do you guys carry wolfsbane?”

“No, what is that?”

“It’s a poison plant,” Lilly said. “I believe it’s also called Bella Donna.”

“No, we don’t carry poison. We’ve not been open long. A few days ago made one year, we’ve been open. Why do you need poison?”

“Oh, I don’t. My partner and I are investigating a crime.”

“Oh. Oooh. I see. No, we don’t deal with that stuff. You might want to check out Wilde Flowers.”

“Thank you for your help Ashley.”

I walked up and gave the twins a smile, and something on the back shelf caught my attention. A picture of the twins along with another woman had their arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders outside of a ski lodge.

“Nice photo. Is that you guys?”

“Yes, that’s us. We went to Aspen after graduating with our cousin, Sasha Robideux. She’s a reporter.”

“Aspen’s a beautiful place. I always enjoyed it when I went there.”

“Yeah, we had a blast.”

“Well, thanks for talking to us,” I said. “Have a great day.”

Lilly and I walked out together, and she gave me a long look when we got into the car. “I questioned them, and I never even noticed the photograph. I knew that reporter was trouble, Konan.”

“Hold on, Lilly. It doesn’t mean anything yet,” I said, as I scribbled a message into my notepad. “Sasha was bound to have family in the area.”

“Yeah, but Konan she was at both murder scenes, and she was always the last one to leave.”

The beginning of Thrash…unedited, incomplete…

It was the absolute worst of times, a time of war, of sorrow and regret, of wounded and dying, and I stood amid it all. A lone man caught up in the razing of his countrymen, killing those who opposed their government, and ransacking the corpses of those who dared to think for themselves. To my friends and enemies I am known as “The Corpse Eater.”

“Let go of what you can’t control,” my father had said. “There are things that’s not yours to handle.” I hadn’t listened then, and I wasn’t listening now. 

The whine of bullets passing overhead, along with rocket fire and incoming mortar rounds brought me out of my daze. 

“Get behind cover, idiota!”

Behind me, a line of bullets impacted against the portion of wall left standing after the air force had bombed these new ‘bad guys’ into oblivion. Granted, our new enemies were American citizens, those who refused to bow to the incessant demands of our ‘betters.’ 

“Buy this, do that, don’t say that, hate these people,” it wouldn’t stop. The media played the narrative until people believed the lie, and then, they sicced these rabid dogs upon their own, all while they cannibalized the remains of those they despised.

The media kept the lies churning, unrelenting in their quest for complete and total domination of those they hated. Until this moment, I had believed in the ‘righteousness’ of the cause. America had need of its sons and daughters to stand firm in the belief that censorship and government rule was needed. 

We the people are too stupid to figure out what is best for our lives, therefore, we need the government to rule over us.

I had believed that with such fervency the radicals thought me a fanatic. ‘A true believer, that one,’ an old man had said before I shot him between the eyes. Then, I shot his wife, kids, their kids, and even their dog.

There was no room for dissension. No room for freedom of expression, unless of course you agreed with the majority. If you disagreed or refused to have your life upended for no reason, then you had to die. 

Years passed, and I became disillusioned with the game. My dreams of blood, of the taut, wide-eyed rebels we had hunted until we broke the back of the rebellion, never ended. Their screams echoed throughout my mind constantly. My sleep schedule broken, my hallucinations occurred with frequency, and my mind and body neared a complete breakdown. 

One rebel had dared speak to me, and he had asked, “what is your name?” 

“Thrash,” I responded, and then I shot him in the head.  At the time, I thought nothing of it. He was a rebel, and I was hired to kill rebels. Still, his question had lingered in my mind for a while after killing him. Now, I saw him everywhere I looked. 

I had never told anyone my name before. As far as I knew, I had no last name. No one had ever asked me for my name. My mom had told me when I turned six years old, “Trash, keep your name to yourself. Names have power. Remember son, you’re one letter away from Trash.”

Both my parents were rebels. I turned them in when I was nine years old. An old man, Tank, made me watch as he killed my parents.

“This is how you kill those who’d stand against us. Watch, boy.”

Tank pulled a Ka-Bar knife from its sheath and slit the throats of my rebellious parents. After disposing of my parents, Tank handed me the knife. “A bullet is to clean of a death for traitors, boy. From now on, you do your own killing.”

I’d been killing since then. Tank taught me the fine art of blade work, how to prolong the suffering of traitors, how to clean and keep my kit in top-shelf condition, Tank became a father figure to me. Right up until he started a new rebellion.  That’s why we’re here. The Government homed in on Tank’s Headquarters and sent me along with a platoon of hardened killers, to root out the rebellion once and for all. 

Welcome to the Suck.

Public Service…new writing, unedited…incomplete…

“Yes, and because you did your job, my friend languishes in prison. If I had my way, I would have you removed from your position, but because I’m outranked, you’re afforded an opportunity to speak on your behalf.”

“If that’s the case, why am I here?”

“Because I wanted to look you in the eye and see the measure of the man I aim to destroy.”

“Ah, I see. The old intimidation factor. Speaking of Tia Mathers, how is she doing? Is she enjoying her prison sentence? Do you guys’ exchange letters?”

Walters slammed his hand down on the desk, and I shut my mouth. Me and Walters were the sole people within the building. This was a prime opportunity for him to knock me off, if that was what he desired, but I got the feeling he wanted me to live and suffer.

“I’m going to destroy your whole life, boy. When I’m done razing your world to the ground, then I will kill you. Until then, enjoy your pretty little wife while she still lives.”

He gave me a cold smile, and I chuckled, then I slapped him on the shoulder and burst out into laughter. Walters stared at me like I had gone mad, and I had. Scott Walters had the clout and power. If he wanted Lilly dead, there was no end to people he could coerce into killing her. Or even me. Still, I wasn’t worried.

“Well, I better get home then. I’m sure you’ve got things to do, and I’m tired of being threatened. Good day to you, sir.”

I gave him a small wave and exited his office. When I left, he stood where he was and watched me depart. His mouth hung open, as if he’d never dealt with someone he could not bribe or intimidate, which was too bad because he had the weight of an intimidating presence.

While Scott Walters wondered what had happened, I got in my vehicle and drove home. Lilly sat on the porch, a glass of sweet tea in her hand, and watched me pull up in the yard. Her eyes followed me as I stepped out, and her eyes never lost the intensity as she watched me walk toward her.

I opened the door to the porch and walked in. She sat in my favorite rocker, next to my sassafras porch swing. She had spread a blanket out on the swing, along with a couple of pillows, and I grinned.

“Are you carrying me across the threshold, husband?”

“Sure, or we can wait until later…”

Lilly giggled and licked her lips, then she stood and wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed me. “I like how you think,” she whispered as she nibbled on my ear. I pulled her close to me and stared into her green eyes, and I lifted her from the ground and carried her to the swing.

In the twilight, Lilly and I got to know one another better, deeper than we had ever done before, and as the lightning bugs danced in the darkness, we sought peace from the craziness of the world in one another.

The creaking of the rusty chains that anchored my porch swing to the ceiling joined the symphony of frogs and crickets long into the night.

Public Service…the beginning of Chapter Seven…unedited…

Cissy Robideux-Monat, former secretary to Deputy Chief Scott Walters aka ‘Big One,’ drove to the outskirts of Fredericksburg to a small pay-by-the-day motel called The Quiet Place. The paved parking lot had potholes large enough to swallow semi-trucks, and from the looks of the motel, it was all but deserted.

From the parking lot, she called her husband Richard. He didn’t answer right away, so she left a message on his voicemail. “Hi. It’s me. Something came up at work, and I’m headed out of town for the next few days. Sorry for such late notice. I’ll try to contact you when we land. Okay, bye.”

The Quiet Place sat off a once busy highway, but with the new addition of a superhighway, few people traveled this way. The motel catered to the unwanted, the drug addicts, escaped felons. If a person sought anonymity, they welcomed them at The Quiet Place.

It’s perfect, Cissy thought. I can rest here and heal up. Then, I can go home and forget this mistake in the loving arms of my husband and child.

She parked at the end of the motel. Her vehicle wasn’t visible from the highway, thus maintaining her cover while she healed up. Cissy walked to the manager’s office and walked in. The office smelled of marijuana, and a young, stringy-haired waif of a man watched a music video on a 13-inch portable television. Cissy rang the bell.

“Help you,” the lanky male said, as he put one hand over the bell. Cissy nodded and said, “I need a room. Way away from everyone else, please.”

“Lady, ain’t nobody here but me. Now, me and you. What room do you want?”

“All the way at the end, please.”

“That’s 13,” he muttered, as he tossed the key on the counter. “How long do you plan on staying?”

“A week.”

“115 dollars.”

Cissy counted out the cash and pushed six crisp twenties toward the human string bean. “Keep the change, bud.” The kid shoved the money into the register and went back to his program. Cissy walked to the end of the parking lot and walked into room 13.

Everything will turn out fine, so long as Deputy Chief Walters doesn’t release the video. If he maintains his promise to keep it to himself, there’s nothing to fear.

Who did she think she was? Who did she think she was dealing with? Deputy Chief Scott Walters sat behind his desk and considered his former secretary. She had known his penchant for roughing up his ‘girls.’ All the women knew of his nature, but they all wanted to rise above their stations, so they tolerated his abuse. He picked up his cellphone and looked at the time. 1615, Thermopolis would arrive any moment now.

I’ll crush him and then ruin Cissy. She’ll serve as an example for the rest of them. None anger me and get away with it.

Scott Walters heard the door to the lobby open, and he stood behind the desk. He knew it was Konan, and he waited until Konan stuck his head into the office before, he spoke.

“Detective Konan, please come in. Thank you for being available to stop by.”

“Thank you, Deputy Chief Walters. Um, I thought your secretary had called me.”

“She did, but she wasn’t feeling well. I gave her the day off.”

“Well, that was nice of you.”

“Ah, you do what you can for your people, you know?”

“Yes sir, I do. You needed to see me?”

Scott Walters sat behind the large hickory desk. It was expensive and elaborate, much more expensive than most of the command staff could afford to buy. However, Scott Walters spared no expense for his image. He was a powerful man, with powerful friends, and it would be unseeming for him to accept anything less than the best. Thermopolis studied the man.

The deputy chief wasn’t a tall man, 5’8, a hefty 230, most of its solid muscle. He looked as if he could sign up for any football squad and become a starter by the sheer mountain of muscle he had. God had shaped Walters like a fridge. From his head to his toes, Walters was square. Heck, even his jaws were square. For all his squareness, Walters had icy blue eyes, a neatly trimmed mustache, with an accommodating goatee. Konan noticed his hands. Short, stubby fingers, each adorned with rings, spoke of power. This was no man to tangle with, Konan realized. Walters wasn’t one to wait for someone else to do his dirty work. If Scott Walters wanted you out of the way, he’d make it happen on his own.

“Yes, I understand you’ve engaged in an inappropriate relationship with your partner. Worse yet, the media ran a story about it.”

“Yes, sir, but it’s no longer an issue.”

“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”

“I married her today, sir. My partner is now my wife.”

“Well, congratulations are in order, then. We still have a problem, detective.”

“Why’s that, sir? I thought the issue would resolve itself if the inappropriate relationship were over.”

“Oh, it did. No, the problem is that you and she can’t be partners any longer.”

“Why not?”

“Because I said so, detective. You didn’t think you’d come in here and persuade me to let Tia Mather’s arresting officers have a nice, normal life together without some sort of recompense, right?”

“Tia Mathers? What does she have to do with any of this? Besides, a jury found her guilty of murder and corruption. All I did was my job.”

Public Service…Chapter Six…unedited…

Deputy Chief Scott ‘Big One’ Walters sat at his desk and smiled. His receptionist, a petite blonde who preferred ponytails to stylish hairdos, ruthless men to men of high principles and morals, and chaos over order, stepped into his office and said, “Thermopolis Konan agreed to meet you at 1630.”

“Good,” he snapped, as he stood and grabbed her by the wrist, “then we have time for your next session.” Scott Walters dragged the woman to his side and let go of her wrist. He gripped her face and smashed his lips down onto hers. She sighed and melted into Scott Walters, nonresistant to his forceful desires and loving every minute she basked in his ruthless abuse of power. 

“I’m going to crush Thermopolis Konan, but first, I will punish you.”

Scott Walters shoved his secretary onto his couch and locked his door. Then, he pulled out a carbon fiber tripod and set up his camera. Walters filmed his domination of his conquests, not for future pleasure, but to study the effects of his dominance upon those he detested. His secretary waited breathlessly for her punishment, and Walters cracked his neck as he undressed. 

“This is for Tia Mathers. Soon, I will rip apart the world of those who stood against her.”

The blonde reached for Walters as he drew near, but Walters wasn’t having it. He slugged her in the jaw and proceeded to choke her. His excitement grew as the color drained from her face. “This is what I’m going to do to you Konan. I’m going to choke your world until there is no life in it.”

Walter released the throat of his secretary, and she gasped for air. “What was that?” Her eyes widened when she looked in his eyes, he no longer resembled a human being. Rage filled his pupils, and he slugged her. Blood splashed to the floor as he continued to smash his heavy right hand into her beautiful face until his anger was spent. His secretary choked on the blood coagulation in her throat, and Walters snatched her off the couch.

“Go wash your face. You got it dirty.”

The woman sobbed as she crawled across the floor to the bathroom. He scowled as he wiped up the blood and snot from the floor. He detested all women. Whores, each and every one of the them. They’re to be used and discarded. They serve no purpose other than procreation, an incubator for children, and when they’re too old to bear sons, they’ve outlived their purpose.

The secretary came out of the bathroom, her eyes locked firmly on the floor, and Walters scowled. “You’re fired,” he snapped. “You no longer serve any purpose. Pack your gear and get out.” She walked meekly from the room, fresh tears dripped from her eyes and pooled together at the point of her chin. Her tears angered Scott Walters, and again, he felt rage fill his heart.

“Oh, and don’t even think about filing a sexual assault complaint against me,” he snarled at the woman, as he pressed play on the camera. He played it until she had succumbed to his lustful desire and he paused it. “If you try to take me down, I’ll release this to the media. What will your kids and husband think then?”

Scott Walters looked at the clock on the wall. The time was 1530, he had an hour to clean up and prepare for Thermopolis Konan. This event with his secretary was only an appetizer. The main course was still an hour away.

The media packed up their cameras and microphones after my announcement of ‘no comment at this time,’ except for Sasha Robideux. She watched as I knelt next to the bench. I used a pair of long tweezers to lift the petal trapped underneath the rock. Lilly and Tammy watched as I dropped the petal into an evidence bag and then sealed it shut. 

“What is that?”

“It’s a flower of some sort, Lilly. Tammy, didn’t you say you thought the asphyxiation was brought on by Wolfsbane?”

“I did,” she said, as she took the bag from me and studied the petal. “This is wolfsbane. The leaves have toothed edges, and they grow into spires of deep blue to purple flowers, such as this.”

“How do you know so much about this?”

Tammy searched my face, as if I had subscribed to becoming dense all of a sudden, and she scoffed. “I get paid to know about this ‘stuff’ Konan. It’s my job.”

“I know that, Tammy. My bad. Here’s a question for you, tough guy. Why is that reporter hanging around?”

“I don’t know.”

Lilly waved at Sasha. The young woman nodded at her and turned her attention back to the scene. Lilly walked over to her and said, “Is everything okay, Ms. Robideux?”

“Yes, detective. I hoped you or your partner might have a comment. I mean, I know he said no comment, but I need something to write about for our website. We’re not mainstream media, but the people…”

“…Have a right to know. Yeah, we hear that often. Look Sasha, we have an SOP we operate by, and we can’t just give you a scoop. Give me your card, and if we come across something we can share-without breaching our procedures-I might call you.”

Sasha grinned and nodded excitedly. “Okay, that works for me. You can reach me at either number.” Lilly took the card and looked it over. “Is your information current?” Sasha nodded and said,  “Mmhmm. As of now, everything is current.”

“Okay. We will reach out when we have something.”

Sasha thanked Lilly, and turned to leave. She gave Lilly a small smile and reached into her purse, and then pulled out her phone.

“Hi, sis. What’s wrong?”

Lilly watched as the young woman’s face changed, but Sasha gave Lilly a small fake grin and turned from her.

“Are you okay?”

The young woman walked away, her voice low and secretive, but her posture seemed to morph into full body tension. Lilly watched as Sasha left, and bit on her bottom lip thoughtfully. I walked up to my wife, evidence bag still in hand and waited for her to speak. She said nothing, so I asked, “Are you okay? Are you ready to head out? I’ve got that meeting at 430.”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Sasha gave me her card, and I told her we might reach out. She got a call, and something must have happened. Come on, let’s go see what the deputy chief wants with my husband.”

Together, we walked back to our car. Our future was uncertain, as was everyone’s, but I felt things would turn out for the best as long as I had Lilly by my side. For years now, she had stood by my side, in good times and bad, and I knew of no reason why that should change now that we had married. 

It was more of the same ole, same ole. Well, except for this summons to Scott Walters office. That bit was new.

Public Service…new writing, unedited, incomplete…

After eating a nice lunch with Esther and Paddy, Lilly and I walked out to our vehicle. My phone rang again, it was the same number as earlier. My temper flared as I answered the phone.

“This is Detective Konan. Who is this?”

“This is the office of Deputy Chief Scott Walters calling for Detective Thermopolis Konan.”

“You’ve reached him.”

“Deputy Chief Walters requests your presence in his office at 1630 hours.”

“Fine, I’ll make sure to get by there.”

The line disconnected, and I deposited my phone into my pocket. Lilly had received a call and stood behind me. She let out an exasperated sigh. 

“Yeah, Manson. I got it. We’re on our way.”

Lilly walked up to me and gave me a sad smile. “You go first. What was that call about?”

“The Deputy Chief wants me to report to his office. I can’t imagine about what. Your turn. What did Manson want?”

“We’ve got another body. It’s out by the waterway.”

I sighed and wrapped my arm around my wife. She walked next to me and leaned her head on my shoulder. “So, you’re getting fired today?”

“Nah, I’m going to play it cool.”

“Yeah,” Lilly snorted. “I don’t believe that. Of course, they say there’s a first time for everything. Whatever happens, I’ll wait for you at home. Esther volunteered to keep Gareth tonight, and we’ve got things to do. Don’t stay away too long.”

“Well, I wouldn’t want you to overheat, so I promise. I will rush home immediately when we’re done. Now, let’s go see what fresh hell is waiting for us at the waterway.”

My watch read 1245, and it would take approximately fifteen minutes to arrive at the waterway. I put on a brave face for my wife, but inwardly I knew the Deputy Chief would want someone to pay, and why not the person who nailed the former chief of police for corruption?

Lilly wanted to drive, so I climbed into the passenger seat and strapped myself in. I grasped the handle above the door and prepared myself for the ride of my life. Lilly looked both ways and turned on her signal to indicate her intention to merge with oncoming traffic. She eased the car out and drove the speed limit to the crime scene. I kept waiting for the lurch of the vehicle as Lilly floored the accelerator, but that moment never came.

Again, reporters milled about with the camera operator looking for an unobstructed angle of the scene. Tammy Bowen knelt beside the body, and I noticed Sasha Robideux standing to the side. She held a tape recorder to her mouth and spoke into it. Lilly stopped the car short of the ticker tape, and the reporters turned toward us. 

“Do you want to handle the vultures, honey?”

“Sure, wifey. I’ll talk to them, you get the scoop from Tammy.”

Lilly cut her eyes to Sasha and said, “Did you see her?”

“Sasha Robideux? Yeah, I saw her. It might be coincidental.”

“Perhaps, but it might not.”

“Let’s find out.”

We stepped out of the car and pushed our way through the throng of reporters. Lilly stepped under the yellow ticker tape, and I turned to face the reporters. They crowed around and thrust microphones toward me for ‘an update.’

“We just got here. Neither I nor the 117th has a comment at this time. Let us do our job, and once we know something for certain, the appropriate people will reach out to you. Then, you can question them to your heart’s content. Thank you.”

I turned and slid underneath the tape. Lilly and Tammy stood away from the body, their backs facing the reporters, and I could see their hand motions. Tammy seemed agitated, and Lilly listened as Tammy continued to talk.

“What’s going on,” I asked as I walked up. “What’s the diagnosis, Tammy?”

“These reporters, I don’t like them. That talk scarecrow looking blonde over there with the tape recorder, she asked me if I was new on the job. She suggested, in front of all the other jackals, that I was incompetent. My work is top-shelf, Konan. I don’t need this crap.”

“Alright, Tammy. Calm down. Lilly and I both know you’re competent at your job, as does every other cop on the job. Tell me what we’ve got.”

“It’s the same thing as the last one. Except this one rubbed the flower on his face. You can tell by the redness on his right cheek.”

“Okay, good deal. Thank you, Tammy.”

As I turned toward the body, my eyes gazed under the bench. Underneath, weighted down by a pebble, a purple leaf fluttered in the breeze.