The Reckoning: Chapter Nine . . . The Shrine – concluded.

Reckoning

The National Shrine of the Little Flower Catholic Church. Royal Oak, Michigan.
The National Shrine of the Little Flower Catholic Church. Royal Oak, Michigan.

Picking up the story again . . .

“Mr. Wahl, I presume?” I asked as he reached me, doing my best Henry Morton Stanley greeting.

“Yes,” he replied, reaching out for a handshake. “Jedidiah Wahl. Good to meet you. Please just call me Brick, Johnny. Everybody does.”

Our hands clasped, and we each held our shake for an extra moment or two, carefully eyeing each other and sizing up just what we were seeing. It was an old routine, and an ancient kind of mental dance between new team members. Pretty much, according to the theory, fresh partners can tell in just the first few seconds if the new “marriage” was going to have a chance or not. I had engaged in this dance myself a time or two over the years, and I could tell that Mr. Wahl was no stranger to it either.

I wondered if I were passing the test, as a thin smile finally came to his face, and a moment later, one to mine as well. Basically, we were to the altar, metaphorically speaking, as well as almost literally. It remained to be seen if we were going to be able to get to the “I do” part anytime soon.

It was shaping up to be an interesting day.

We broke off the handshake as Brick motioned me into a nearby pew.

“Your first time to the Shrine?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “First time ever to the Detroit area in general.”

“Well, I was born here,” Brick said. “Or a little more exactly, in a suburb called Walled Lake. It’s about twenty-five miles to the Northwest. It was a sweet little town back when I was a kid—barely a wide spot in the road. Grown up big now though. Driving down Woodward Avenue, and past this Church, well that was something we did all the time. We never thought much about it, one way or the other. Dad wasn’t really a religious guy. Me either—at least when I was young that is.”

“Dad was born in 1949, a little too late to be very familiar with the history of this building, but grampa lived right around here in its heyday. Which was back in the 1930’s.”

“What was the history?” I asked. All of this was very interesting to me, but still, I did want to get to the crux of the matter that had brought me here. Little did I realize at the moment, that Brick was talking about just exactly that.

“Father Charles Edward Coughlin. A Roman Catholic priest and an Irishman to boot. A lot of clout, and that was even before he grabbed a microphone and became one of the biggest radio stars of the 1930’s. Always a lot more political in nature than religious, he was one of the first politicos to reach a huge audience in what was the mass-media of the day. Up to thirty million listeners per weekly broadcast. He did his thing from the Charity Crucifixion Tower—the rather large stone structure you saw as you entered this building. It once had a rather impressively tall radio transmitting tower attached to the top of it. The Catholic Church built the Charity tower in response to the Ku Klux Klan rampages in the south. It has a crucifix on the side. Made of stone. One cross, the Church said, that the Klan couldn’t burn.”

I lifted my eyebrows a bit in impatience. I hadn’t know Mr. Wahl very long at this point, but I was already pretty sure that I was not going to be able to reel him in very much, at least before he had imparted all of the information that he wanted me to have.

“He broadcast from the tower for nearly a decade before the Vatican finally pulled the plug on him and jerked him off the air in 1939. But in that period of time, the man spewed out a lot of hate.”

“And now you’re getting to the point of your story—correct?”

“I am,” Brick replied.

“Which is?” I prodded.

“Which is,” Brick continued, “that the man was a virulent anti-Semite, although he always denied it. He was also a Hitler supporter and booster. Remember, at the time, Hitler was not yet recognized as a madman. The Jewish holocaust hadn’t yet started. Hitler had not yet invaded anyone, nor had he yet tried to conquer the world. But Father Coughlin recognized a kindred spirit. Coughlin blamed the Jews, and Jewish bankers in particular, for most of the ills of the world and of the United States—just as Hitler blamed them in Germany. Coughlin was the first to advocate violence toward Jewish businessmen, in thinly veiled form, of course. Hitler just took a page from the good Father’s playbook and removed the veil.”

“So?”

“So—this is where it started, Johnny. In this very place. Nearly a century ago, an Irish Catholic priest became one of the first men on the planet to package and market hate and broadcast it out into the thin air. It’s still going on today. Now it’s the Internet, and before that it was television—but it’s all the same thing. Now days it’s not just the Jews that are hated. Now it’s the Christians, right along with them. And it’s not the Nazi’s either, doing the hating—and the killing. Now it’s ISIS, and dozens of other crazy radical Muslim organizations like them, that hate us. That want to kill us. And they want to put us into concentration and extermination camps. Good ideas never grow old Johnny. They just get re-cycled. Radical Islam is very much like German nationalism. It’s a whole lot more a death-cult than it is a religion.”

Brick paused to take a breath, and for dramatic effect, letting his words settle onto me.

“But this is where it all began. This hallowed ground, Johnny—is where Satan first went high-tech. That’s why I wanted to meet you here. To begin at the beginning. It’s no wonder that this place, this area, is the epicenter of the hate and violence we came here to stop. Father Coughlin’s chickens have come home to roost,” he concluded.

“Do you believe in Satan, Brick? I mean really believe in him? As a living, breathing, walking, talking, humanoid entity—not as a symbol.”

“I do,” he nodded, and without hesitation—not the hint of a smile on his face. His eyes bore into mine. Do you, Johnny?”

I paused to consider my reply. I remembered Kylie Blakely’s headless corpse-littered horse barn, and blood-soaked torture chamber. I thought of Ingrida Barbaraslovia’s slowly draining life-fluid pooling at my feet in blood-alley, and her guts spilling out onto the cobblestones. As I did, the slash-wound that Jack-the-Ripper’s knife left on my forearm throbbed slightly. I remembered the sight of his dreadful blood-flecked face, and insane eyes burning out of his head.

I paused a long time, before I answered. Probably three full seconds. “I do,” I replied.

Silence hung in the stale air like a palpable presence for several seconds before either of us spoke. Finally, Brick broke the silence.

“What do you say Johnny, that we get out of here for a while and go for a ride? I’d like to show you something else.”

“Sounds good to me partner. Where we going?”

“Into the city. A little stretch of pavement on what is now the surface of the moon. It’s called Nevada Street.” “Sounds to me like a good place to get into trouble,” I replied. “Hope you’re packing. My guns are still back at the hotel—in the safe, of all places.”

“That’s another thing I need to tell you Johnny. You might want to hold off on that officially making me a partner business just yet. I come with some baggage. Some baggage that might just have an effect on you.”

I raised my eyebrows again—question like. “I don’t carry a gun, Johnny. I haven’t touched one in years. And I never will again. I’m telling you this Johnny, because it has the potential to sort of become a big thing between us, somewhere along the line.”

I was beginning to see that Mr. Wahl might just be a master of under-statement.

“Sounds like an interesting story,” I observed.

“It is. Maybe I’ll tell it to you—one of these days—if I decide I like you.”

Good luck on that one, I thought to myself. “Your car or mine?”

“Yours,” he said. “I don’t drive either.”

“How the hell did you get here?” I asked.

“Bus,” he said, heading for the door.

I shook my head a bit as I followed him out. Why, I wondered, can’t anything ever just be easy? The words of my old best friend echoed in my head. “Because then it wouldn’t be a Johnny O’Brien story.”

I half smiled to myself as we got into the Town Car and headed back down Woodward Avenue. Toward Nevada Street. Toward the surface of the moon. Toward some new revelations. And toward one really old, old ghost. A gentleman of a ghost, and one that I would carry with me in my heart and mind for the rest of my natural life.

The slate-gray sky had turned to snow, as flakes began to accumulate on the hood of the car. It was a good day for Satan to come a calling.

A very good day indeed. 1

 

Thanks so much for reading. Be back in a few days with some new material. Until then . . . Goodnight!

Dumb joke of the day: Question: How many cops does it take to screw in a light-bulb? Answer: Just one. But he’s never around when you need him.

Light-Bulb

The Reckoning: Chapter Nine . . . The Shrine

Reckoning

The National Shrine of the Little Flower Catholic Church. Royal Oak, Michigan.
The National Shrine of the Little Flower Catholic Church. Royal Oak, Michigan.

 

                       CHAPTER NINE

 

 

March 21, 2015

Detroit, Michigan

     Well, it wasn’t exactly the Ritz-Carlton, as I had bragged to Matt that it would be. As it turned out, Detroit didn’t even have a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and hadn’t in many a long year. A few other things weren’t actually going to according to plan either. Agent Faris did not have my FBI credentials, although she did promise me that she would in the next day or so, along with my own set of wheels. The Detroit Police Department had promised a hand delivered State of Michigan concealed weapons permit too. It hadn’t materialized either. All of my weapons now rather uncomfortably resided in the hotel safe. I was feeling just a little exposed. And all-expensed? . . . Well, let’s just say that at the registration desk, old John-boy was the only one pulling out a credit card.

It was a pretty nice hotel though. The Hilton Garden Inn, on Gratiot Avenue. A darn-sight better than the old Motels two and a half, that I was put up in back in my former police department days. Then, the cockroaches were practically paying guests.

Not here—this was a classy joint. Indoor heated pool and all.

It had a good restaurant and bar as well. Shahida and I enjoyed a robust steak dinner together, and then talked for several hours more, over coffee. It didn’t worry me that the caffeine might keep me up at night. All my life I had literally been able to take a bath in the stuff, and then pound the percales like a newborn babe. Besides, I had been up for far too long, and was suffering enough jet-lag, that insomnia was to be a very unlikely upcoming event.

It generally surprises someone that doesn’t understand, or have experience in the profession, to find out that very few interviews or briefings, take place in solitary and private darkened back-rooms. Generally speaking, public places are much safer locations for secrecy. Never knowing exactly where such a meeting is going to be taking place, it’s extremely difficult for the bad-guys to either bug it, or to eavesdrop on it.

Shahida and I spoke conversationally, only being mindful of keeping our voices down a bit. Whispering, as much as shouting, is to be avoided at all costs. You might as well hang out a sign that says “we’re talking secret stuff here,” in big bold red letters, in either case.

As I had hoped, she did have a name for me, and it was one that I was going to learn in extremely short order to take very seriously indeed. It was the name of the Arab trainer, Saudi in fact, and the coordinator of the tragic events that were about to unfold. I had known a lot of stone-cold killers in my life, but Mr. Saal Moradi was to prove not only that, but perhaps the most intelligent, clever,  fiendishly depraved,  and diabolical opponent of my long career. He was not only a master of firearms, but explosives as well. He was known to carry a short-barreled .357 Magnum revolver, and he knew how to use it—killing at least three known individuals with it. Doubtless, the actual tally was higher than that.

I did not intend to underestimate him—and Agent Faris wasn’t about to let me do so, even if I had been so inclined. She had a thick dossier with her. It contained an impressive amount of information about Mr. Moradi. What it didn’t contain however, was a single, solitary photograph of the mysterious person that had become known to the agency simply as, “the man of disguises.”

He could have been sitting at the table next to us, and in point of fact, Agent Faris would not have had the slightest idea of it—anymore than I would. Fortunately for us, I guess, there was no one sitting at any of the tables near us.

Our meeting finally broke up around eleven, and Shahida said her goodbyes and headed out to her home in nearby Bloomfield Hills. From her description of it, it sounded like a pretty nice place, and certainly not one that she would have been able to afford on a Bureau salary. Fortunately, she didn’t have to depend much on that. Recently divorced from a two-timing Detroit area television weather personality, she had done alright—winning not only the rather grand digs in the legal proceedings, but a substantial monthly alimony to boot. Good for her, I say. I hate cheaters. I might not be an altar-boy, but cheating was one thing I never did on Jan—and it damned sure wasn’t something I was going to be doing on Maggie either, and I didn’t much care if our relationship was serious yet or not. We were going together, and to me, that was as good as gold.

I was showered and in bed at 11:59 that night—and asleep by midnight.

And I would stay that way for the next ten hours.

 

 March 22, 2015

Royal Oak, Michigan

     The hotel desk woke me at ten the next morning with a phone call. Parting the curtain, I could see a cloudy but dry late morning. No snow—either in the air, or on the ground. Detroit is a pretty chilly locale in the month of March, so I dressed hurriedly and grabbed an overcoat to go along with my black homburg and dark suit. At least I was going to be looking the part of a private investigator. I swore quietly to myself when I checked at the front desk to see if the Detroit PD had dropped off my concealed weapon permit, and of course the answer to that was no. As anything even close to a “well-oiled machine,” this operation was off to a pretty rocky start. Not much of a surprise, I suppose. After all, the Feds were involved.

With a sigh, I headed out the front door. Although irritating, I guessed it didn’t matter much. I was pretty sure that not a soul knew I was in town, or what I might be doing here, so the decided lack of armament was small disadvantage, although once again I was feeling barely dressed.

As always, I was to prove to be a lousy clairvoyant.

I had better luck with the valet. Shahida had come through with flying colors in getting me a car, although not exactly the sleek and deadly fast bullet I had been secretly hoping for. It was nice enough though—a very late model limited edition Lincoln Town Car. From the deep-throated rumble under the hood, I knew it to be one of the larger muscle engines. She’d be able to get out of her own way, but would never win a drag race. Black of course. I was pretty sure that was the only color the Bureau was aware even existed.

With a little help from the friendly valet kid, I was able to get it onto the street and pointed in the right direction. As in north on Woodward Avenue and heading toward Twelve Mile Road. Specifically a Catholic Church of some fame and repute in a suburb called Royal Oak. It was the National Shrine of the Little Flower. It was here that I was slated to meet my new companion, the somewhat enigmatic Jedidiah Wahl, at around eleven o’clock.

Traffic was pretty light as I headed up Woodward, and as it was plain that I was going to be early, I pulled into a doughnut shop for a large carry-out coffee and apple-fritter. If it turned out that I couldn’t ever say a good word about the city of Detroit, at least that wouldn’t be true of the brew—it was wonderful.

Fortified by caffeine and warmed by the liquid, I was at last ready for the meeting, as the Town Car pulled into the parking lot of the Church about thirty minutes later.

As a first real impression of the city of Detroit, I had to admit that the Shrine of the Little Flower wasn’t a bad one. Not a bad one at all. The building was magnificent, ornate—and beautiful. A massive stone tower easily commanded the view from anywhere on the grounds. The Church building itself seem to be round, solidly built, and just a tad bit longer than six months ago too. The grounds surrounding it were green, trimmed, and well kept. Massive bare trees, evergreens, and shrubs were everywhere, and it seemed to my eye at least, that not so much as a pine-needle was out of place. I could say one thing for the Catholics anyhow. They sure knew how to do Churches.

I parked the car and hot-footed it toward the building, just in time to keep my appointment.

Entering the nave was an experience. It was octagonal, services being performed from the center, rather than one end, as in most Churches. Surrounding the stand were dark wooden pews. I imagined them to be either oak or rosewood. My eyes had not yet adjusted to the darkness of the interior fully, but even at that, I could easily pick out the shape of the back of a man’s head sitting in one of the pews. He didn’t turn as he spoke, and I vaguely wondered how he knew I was there, having made virtually zero noise as I entered.

“Mr. O’Brien?” the head asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “Please just call me Johnny. All my friends do.”

He arose, turned and started toward me. A well-built man. Probably forty to forty-five years old. Not a bad-looking guy. Around six-feet, maybe one-eighty. Rugged face—kind of used up and worn down look to it. I liked that. Wearing a dark pea-jacket and a black watch-cap. Black hair poked out from under it. Common man look. Earthy—or more exactly perhaps, nautical. It gave him a sort of sea-bearing appearance. I liked that too. It all put me at ease—something I had definitely not been expecting.

He was off to a good start.

“Mr. Wahl, I presume?” I asked as he reached me, doing my best Henry Morton Stanley greeting.

“Yes,” he replied, reaching out for a handshake. “Jedidiah Wahl. Good to meet you. Please just call me Brick, Johnny. All my friends do.”

Our hands clasped, and we each held our shake for an extra moment or two, carefully eyeing each other and sizing up just what we were seeing. It was an old routine, and an ancient kind of mental dance between new team members. Pretty much, according to the theory, fresh partners can tell in just the first few seconds if the new “marriage” was going to have a chance or not. I had engaged in this dance myself a time or two over the years, and I could tell that Mr. Wahl was no stranger to it either.

I wondered if I were passing the test, as a thin smile finally came to his face, and a moment later, one to mine as well.

Basically, we were to the altar, metaphorically speaking, as well as almost literally. It remained to be seen if we were going to be able to get to the “I do” part anytime soon.

It was shaping up to be an interesting day.

 

To be continued . . .

 

Thanks so much for reading. Next time . . . Chapter Nine concluded. Until then, Goodnight.

 

Dumb Joke of the day: (From my ten-year old granddaughter Melanie)

Question: What does a pig doctor say to his patient?

Answer: Oinkment.

The Watchmaker’s Wedding . .

 

Good Looking (on the left) and Looking Good (on the right)
Good Looking (on the left) and Looking Good (on the right)

It is with a great deal of pleasure that I write this blog today, and announce the marriage of Matthew James Schutt (the real-life watchmaker) and his lovely bride Cassandra Nicole Bruner, on Saturday the 11th of July. It was a very fine ceremony, deftly officiated by well-known Fantasy/Sci-Fi  author Avery K. Tingle, and well attended by family and friends.

Matt and Cassi are now on their honeymoon in the Caribbean, and will return shortly to resume their new lives together. Matt is no longer a watchmaker, but is pursuing a career in aviation, while Cassi continues to look at employment opportunities in the area of communication.

Two nicer people you just ain’t gonna find anywhere on the planet, and we wish them all the best. Long life, much prosperity, and a whole gaggle of kids to carry forward the good name of Schutt well into the future.

Please click on the video (the green date line) to see the entire seven minute ceremony.

Thanks so much for reading today. Next time, we return to the fictional world of the watchmaker, with the first half of Chapter Nine of The Reckoning. Until then, good day!

In Paradise
In Paradise

Wedding Ceremony -I have no idea what the quality of video this will load as… but I wanted to share it.

Posted by Cari Jensen on Sunday, July 12, 2015

Indie Authors: Alternatives to Amazon – by Avery K. Tingle

Monday, July 13, 2015

Outlets

In my last post, I discussed some of Amazon’s new policies and how they affect indie authors. One of the questions fielded from that post was possible alternatives to Amazon. While it may be true that Amazon is the largest distributor for indie books on the planet, they certainly aren’t our only choice, and in order to increase our chances of success, we owe it to ourselves to explore every possible avenue that may grant us greater exposure. We can release our materials either directly to other distributors, we can go through aggregators, or both.

Smashwords is an excellent resource for new authors. You can release your work for free, they’ve enabled assetless pre-orders, and their premium catalog gets your work on Nook, Kobo, and the other vendors. The only drawback is their rigid formatting requirements, which means you’ll either have to invest in a formatting expert or a yourself. Scrivener is one of those programs that’ll do this for you.

Smashwords has no word count requirement for pricing, so if you’ve created a standalone short or a lead-in to another story, you can throw it up there and charge whatever you like. I’ve found that releasing preludes, or other shorts for free on Smashwords leads to great results on Amazon. So what I do now is release free stuff on Smashwords, watch the downloads, and release the paid stuff through Amazon. I also use Smashwords to release stories unrelated to the fantasy series I have going on Amazon. Basically, I use Smashwords to find my audience.

Smashwords is an aggregator, which means they will distribute your material to multiple sources. Another great aggregator is Draft2Digital. In addition to getting your work to all of the places Smashwords will, they don’t have Smashwords’ formatting requirements.

Also, Draft2Digital is aggressively pursuing partnerships with Oyster (they may have finalized that deal by now) and othr distributors in hopes of increasing their reach. So they’re not lazy and they’ve built themselves as the author’s distributor. I’ve gained greater exposure through Smashwords than Draft2Digital, but the latter is easier to use.

I invite you to do your own research on both of these, and others, and use what works best for you. Thanks for reading, and best of luck in your endeavors.

Avery K. Tingle
Avery K. Tingle

Avery K. Tingle is a brand-new writing coach and author of multiple short stories across varying genres. Epic fantasy Era of the Scourge Book 1: The Ring of Asarra was named a recommended read by Amazon. Scifi/Romance The Anniversary was just released in paperback. You can also read urban drama The Price of Justice for free. Sign up for the newsletter, never miss another post, and get more free stuff and discounts than his business manager is comfortable handing out. 

– See more at: http://averyktingle.blogspot.com/2015/07/indie-authors-alternatives-to-amazon.html#sthash.xHhPA0PZ.dpuf

The Reckoning: Chapter Eight . . . The Arrival

Reckoning

The Arrival

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

March 21, 2015

 

The hostess on my flight poured me another drink. If there was ever a time in my life when I needed a good stiff one, this was it. I watched her as she substituted the short glass for a tall one, and shoveled in a double scoop of shaved ice. The Diet Coke went in next, followed by a straw, a twist of lemon, and a little umbrella—just for show. I wasn’t about to fall off the wagon over the events of the last few days, and if there was ever anyone that needed a good clear head for the business at hand, it sure as hell was me.

With less than thirty minutes to touchdown, I went over the scant few facts that Howard had been able to relay to me. Additionally, I worked the on-board computer Google machine for info. It wasn’t much, but it did give me a starting point. Detroit. Specifically Dearborn, a very near suburb of Detroit, and home to the largest Muslim-American community in the United States. On the order of thirty percent of the total population. It wasn’t exactly what Dearborn had been traditionally known for—but hey, what the hell—times change. They had changed a lot in Dearborn, Michigan too. It was a matter of some dispute as to whether those changes had been for the better or not.

I intended to keep an open mind.

It was common knowledge, and common sense as well, that the vast, and I do mean vast, number of Arab immigrants to the United States were both peaceful and hard-working citizens. Many had not immigrated just lately either. More than just a few were descendants of folks that had come to American back in either the late nineteenth century or the middle of the twentieth, looking for work in the then burgeoning auto industry. Even though most of those jobs had long gone south to Mexico, north to Canada, or east—as in Far East—to Japan, Dearborn was still World Headquarters to the Ford Motor Company. And all those Arab immigrants weren’t Muslim either. A clear ten percent of Dearborn’s Arab-American population were Christians. In total, both Christian and Muslim, we were talking a population of around forty-thousand souls. Like I said—mostly good people. And a few bad apples, some really bad apples. Those were the ones that were going to have to be sorted out, and removed—fast.

I was slated to meet my new partner, the somewhat mysterious Jedidiah Wahl, the next morning. And not in Dearborn either. I can’t really say I was looking forward to it very much. Partners are very much like a pair of shoes. The older they are, the better they fit, and the more comfortable they become. I know I had picked up a bit of a reputation around the Washington State private-eye community for working with children at Watchmaker Enterprises, but the true facts of my professional relationship with Matt McCabe were comforting. The man, despite his youthful looks, was forty years my senior. I doubted very much that was going to be the case with Mr. Wahl. Wahl was much more likely to be like a very new pair of shoes. As in, stiff, hard and unyielding. Chafing the feet, causing blisters and aches, and taking a hell of a lot of getting used to.

Today was a different matter. An FBI operative would greet my plane upon arrival, and in a very private part of the airport. He was going to have more information for me, beyond even what Carter knew. Like maybe even a name. Seems the FBI had been watching certain home-grown terrorist groups in the southeastern Michigan area for quite some time. Mostly they were dormant, or exhibiting very little activity. Lately however, the agency had been picking up a lot of “chatter” in those groups about an impending attack on US soil, a big, bloody one—chatter that had turned into a full-blown and red-hot alert as it was investigated.

I had met more than a few FBI men back in my police department days. I had never met one that didn’t have a very high opinion of himself, whether deserved or not. For the most part, they were pretty damned hard to get along with too. There’s an old saying about some people that didn’t think their poo-poo had an odor. Bureau agents generally didn’t think they had poo-poo at all. I had little doubt that was going to be exactly the case this time too, and I intended to blow this one off as quickly as possible and get to work on my own. I imagined that he thought he would be working with me—but that was one damned thing that wasn’t about to happen. One partner at a time was more than enough. Besides, I was sure he probably had a lot of paper on his desk back at headquarters that needed to be re-shuffled and pushed around. I was going to let him get back to doing that as fast as humanly possible.

As I’ve said so many times in the past, if I’d had to make a living as a fortune teller—I would have starved.

The hostess arrived again to collect my empty glass and let me know that we were beginning our descent into the Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

It was almost show time.

I could see the downtown business section of the once proud city out my window and just to the east. Detroit had been through some rough times in recent decades, and the former center of the industrial might of the mid-west was not quite what it once had been. Large sections now lay in ruins, former vibrant neighborhoods now as empty and vacant as the surface of the moon.

From the air however, it was still impressive, situated as it was along the banks of the mighty Detroit River. Many skyscrapers still dotted the skyline, but there were also a lot of empty spaces where others had been, giving much the same appearance as that of an old woman with missing teeth.

We made a smooth landing, and almost immediately the plane veered off the runway, headed for an obviously little used area of the airport.

As the plane taxied to a full stop, I could already see my waiting contact. Back turned to me while talking on his cell-phone and waiting by the side of a large, dark-blue limousine. It might as well have had large scarlet letters emblazoned on the side: FBI. I shook my head a little in amazement. It didn’t seem the agency was ever going to change very much, wedded as they were to both convention, and the stereotype.

Exiting the jet a couple of minutes later, I made my way down the roll-away steps and toward the agent. Only when I approached to close-range, did I realize that this was not exactly my grand-daddies FBI agent. Her dark hair might have been close-cropped, but the figure that filled out the equally dark pant-suit was most definitely not that of a male. She had a set of long legs that went all the way to the ground, and a lot more shape to her backside than a bale of hay in an old pillowcase, as dear old papa used to say. Even before she turned, I knew in the pit of my stomach and with every fiber of my being, that she was going to be a looker.

I was wrong. She was a stunner. It was beginning to become apparent that I might have been a bit rash in deciding that I wanted to ditch this agent immediately. Everyone deserves a chance to show what they’re made of—and heavens only knows I’m a fair-minded guy.

Time for a test, I thought—two tests to be exact—and no time like the present.

She heard my approach and switched off the cell phone, returning it to her blazer jacket pocket. Smiling, she approached, hand outstretched, in a businesslike manner.

I got rid of her smile in a hurry.

“Hey babe,” I opened, ignoring her hand and tipping my homburg back to a cocky angle. “The Bureau out of male agents?”

Her face went white. “Excuse me?” she said.

“If I’d known they were going to send a ‘chick-cop’, I would have brought my own man with me. Or are you here to take me to the real agent? I guess I’m supposed to be briefed or something.” I shoved my hands in my pockets and tried to look bored. The look on her face was almost comical, and in another way, kind of sad. I was almost sorry that I had begun this, but dammit, if I were going to be working with, and depending on, this lady in any kind of a life or death situation, I had to know if there were any fire in her belly or not.

There was.

Her eyes flashed an anger I hadn’t seen since I had missed my first wedding anniversary with my late wife Jan—and I want to tell you—that was some kind of mad. It had started a life-long good habit with me, as in, marking my calendar really, really well.

“Why you sorry little prick,” she started, in a clipped tone of voice. “You misogynistic, male-chauvinistic puffed-up little pig-swine. Just who the hell do you think you are, anyway, you mouthy little bastard?”

Her face had gone from white to beet red within a matter of seconds, and it was hard not to smile, obvious as it was that she was just getting started, and to tell the complete truth, I didn’t know exactly where it was going to end. She had passed the first test I had put her to—with flying colors. If I didn’t stop this soon though, I was pretty sure she was going to go for her gun.

Can’t really say I blamed her very much.

It was time to end it, and time to put the second part of the test into action. For just a fleeting moment, I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that if this didn’t work, I was going to be in for one hell of a long bumpy ride with this lady. I almost wished I’d thought of that before I started.

And then my hand closed over the pocket-watch in my jacket pocket, and in what I can only describe as a lightning-fast flash, I was in another place and time. About five minutes before, to be exact. Still sitting in my seat, belt still fastened, as the jet taxied close to the terminal. I could just see the lady agent, still standing by the limo, and still talking on her phone.

I was about to get that rarest of gifts in life—a complete and total do-over.

Matt had told me that the watch would work for me. He was right. He had also told me that since the replacing of the five missing stones, it was going to work a lot better. In that, he had completely understated what I had just experienced. I had used the watch before, there in the darkened streets of 1889 Seattle. Oh, it had gotten us where we needed to go. After a fashion. Just like an ancient and rusty old Volkswagen Beetle, it got you where you needed to be. But this new watch, this was something else. This was like a souped-up Lamborghini.

Deadly fast. I had just gotten my first wake up call, as to just what kind of power I now possessed. Again, the image of Bilbo’s ring flashed through my mind.

Finally exiting the plane again, a few moments later, I once more made my way toward her, this time taking her offered hand without hesitation, and shaking it warmly.

“Hello,” I said. “The name is Johnny O’Brien. Just Johnny to my friends. A real pleasure to meet you . . .” my voice trailed off.

“Faris, Johnny,” she said. “Agent Shahida Faris. A pleasure to meet you too. I’ve heard enough about you from Chief Carter, I almost feel I know you already. I’m here to take you to your hotel, and to brief you on the latest developments.”

“Which are, Agent Faris?” I asked.

“Just Shahida. We need to talk. Long story short, Johnny—we don’t have nearly as much time we thought we did.”

“So what else is new?” I responded. “Or, as my dear old pal Matt McCabe used to say, “If it were easy, it wouldn’t be a Johnny O’Brien story, now would it?”

Agent Faris smiled broadly as she nodded affirmatively, and held the limo door open for me.

Classy, I thought. This gal might just turn out to be a keeper after all.

We headed out of the airport, and got onto I-94, heading east.

I could have sworn that the many and much repaired pot-holes of that old highway made a sound under the wheels much like bricks, as we headed toward a town that was most definitely made of anything but emeralds.

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Thanks for reading.  Next up, a profile of the late horror and fantasy writer who has been called “The Twentieth Century Poe” .  .  .  H. P. Lovecraft.

Dumb joke of the day:

What do you call an alligator in a vest?

Answer:  An Investigator.