Thursday, June 21

A June Visit

Liam and Grandma on a walk by the Redondo Beach Pier.
Mid-June brought another visit from Grandma Myers, who was delighted as ever to spend some quality time with Liam. It was good to see Mom and even better to have a few days of free, live-in, more-than-happy-to-do-it child care. I got to slip out to see a movie one afternoon, and Liam got a whole suitcase full of goodies from Grandma--including some workbooks, flash cards, and other preschool resources I can use with Liam when I stop working in September. We had a good visit, but it was somewhat marred by the nasty combination of a head cold (for Liam and I) and teething pain (just Liam), which made most nights less than restful. Nonetheless, a good time was had by all!

His hat says, "Get me on the first flight to Grandma's!"

Wednesday, June 20

A Detective Story

Over the past five years a lot of stuff has piled up in my office file cabinets. Given the size of the task of packing everything up, I recently started combing through files in order to determine what to keep, what to digitize, and what to toss unceremoniously into the recycling bin. Since moving to L.A. I've never had a lot of storage space at home, so my work filing cabinets are stuffed with the usual office detritus as well as papers I've had on file since I was an undergrad. Last week I discovered a gem I hadn't seen in over ten years--a short story I wrote back in college for a Detective Fiction class I took my senior year. I loved that class. I loved it not only because I'm a forever fan of detective fiction as a genre and I could get actual, real, legit college course credit for "studying" it, but because it was taught by the incomparable, delightfully sarcastic Betty Richardson. In my days at SIUE she was nearing her retirement, and had lost all patience for pretense with students. All of my interactions with her as a student were like taking a double-shot of scotch. She served her advice and feedback straight-up neat with no bull pucky, and it often left the one on the receiving end with a slight burning sensation. If you sucked, she told you so. That being the case, I count it as one of my greatest college achievements that she selected the genre piece I wrote for her class as one of the two stories submitted for the assignment worthy of sharing with the class. Sadly, I don't have the original with her comments, but they were something along the lines of, "Not bad. Someday, sometime, if you have nothing better to do, you could write." So here's to good professors, good times past, and to not being too proud to laugh at yourself.

The Exclusive

     The bar was just outside of town, tucked away off a two-lane highway in a grove of trees.  The neon signs in the bar’s windows were barely visible through the trees, and most travelers were never aware that they had passed up their last opportunity for a cold drink and a hot bite to eat for forty-six miles.  Loyal patrons of the establishment didn’t mind this.  After all, it was hard to speak candidly when there were strangers present, and talk was of the utmost importance over a good drink.
     Mayson Clarke found her way to that bar one night through sheer intuition.  She was sure Quinn would show up there sooner or later, because his uncle ran this bar and very few of his acquaintances knew of it, making it a safe and cozy hideaway for times when he didn’t want to be found.
     Her entrance caused something of a stir, not because she was a stranger, but because everyone knew she was Jack’s nephew’s fiancée.  She eased onto a bar stool amidst a chorus of greetings and rude speculations as to the reasons for her visit.  Mayson couldn’t help but crack a smile at one suggestion in particular—she was certain Quinn would find the charge of being henpecked objectionable.
     Jack had, of course, noticed Mayson’s entrance—he could hardly have missed it for it took several minutes for the ruckus to die down.  He tossed his dingy, once white hand towel over his shoulder and joined Mayson at the other end of the bar.  “Why is it I get the feeling you’re not here for a good drink and some casual conversation, Mays?”
     “Jumping to conclusions again, Jack?  If Quinn’s here you know exactly why I’m here, but there’s no way I’m seeing him without at least one shot of whiskey.”
     Jack grinned and had Mayson’s drink before her in record time.  “You know, for a girl who came from a family of wine-tasters, you sure do drink whiskey a lot.”
     “Actually, I only drink it when I visit you and I never tasted liquor until I met Quinn and discovered a need to dull pain and stiffen my nerve,” she replied wryly.  Mayson enjoyed bantering with Jack—usually about her affluent background—but the reason for her visit overshadowed the conversation.
     Jack chuckled.  “Just be glad you found him after he mellowed.”  Then Jack’s smile faded and his lined face grew both puzzled and serious.  “When he got here, he was beyond pissed—he broke eight of my pool sticks and threw an eight-ball through the back wall of my office.”
     Mayson winced.  “That bad, huh?”
     Nodding, Jack continued, “That was yesterday evening.  Since this afternoon he’s gone from being red-hot mad to acting like a whipped pup—all the fight’s gone out of him and he won’t tell me what the hell happened.”  The muscles at the corners of Jack’s jaw bunched, betraying his hurt and concern for his nephew.
     In one gulp Mayson finished off her whiskey and made a face.  She hated both the taste and fiery feeling of it sliding down her throat, but something about the action of throwing back a shot helped set her will and calm her nerves.  In a somewhat hoarse voice, Mayson said, “You know the arrangement, Jack.  He can’t talk, and neither can I or I lose my exclusive.  All I can tell you is that it’s the worst he’s ever dealt with before and they’ve put him in charge of the entire investigation.  None of the other detectives wanted to take the heat from the media when the leads ran out while more people died.”
     “How many more victims have there been since he took it on?”
     “Four.”  Mayson stood up.
     Jack’s eyes fell.  “He’s in the back room.”

     Jack’s back room was more of a cozy den, with its soft couch and recliner in front of a thirty-six inch television, surrounded by handmade coffee tables and dusty Indian rugs.  Some people might have found the mounted deer heads (one for each wall) a little disturbing, with their lifelike glass eyes, but Mayson found them quaint.  Especially since Jack used one of the buck’s antlers as a hat rack.
     Mayson stood in the doorway wondering if Quinn had given Jack the slip until she saw a pair of large shoes hanging over one edge of the couch.  When she came around the side of the couch she found Quinn asleep, his head awkwardly propped against a very small throw pillow.  The low coffee table in front of the couch was covered with documents, photographs, and notes on the murder case Quinn was currently working on.  On the floor next to the table was Quinn’s standard issue side arm, tucked tightly in a shoulder holster.  A familiar uneasiness stirred in Mayson’s mind when she saw it.
     She had only been eight years old when one of her playmates had gathered a few fellow classmates together in a far corner of the schoolyard to show off something he had discovered in his father’s underwear drawer.  Like the other students, Mayson was anxious to get a look at this forbidden fruit that adults guarded so closely.  It happened so quickly, the repeat so forceful and loud, Mayson’s heart stopped.
     Her playmate had been showing off his aim when he really fell into his role and pulled the trigger.  The bullet passed between two of the spectator’s heads and struck a boy in the lower back who was playing nearby.  Mayson had watched with horrified eyes as the boy arched back and fell to the ground with an anguished cry.  Though the gun was only a .22 that had been purchased for the purpose of target practice, the bullet damaged the spinal cord.  Mayson’s classmate would never walk again.
     “Do you often stand around staring into space?”  Quinn was awake.
     Forcing the memories out of her thoughts, Mayson replied, “You certainly weren’t offering up any good conversation.”  Quinn’s eyes narrowed a bit, seeing something in Mayson’s countenance that puzzled him.  Then he noticed his gun, on the floor near Mayson, and was puzzled no more.  He was well aware of Mayson’s aversion to firearms.  Nightmares brought those little things into the open with a very naked honesty.
     Quinn sat up and wearily rubbed his eyes.  “It’s a good thing you came in and woke me up.  I’m so tired I might not have come to until morning.”  He began rifling through the mess on the table, looking for his notepad.  “I don’t know whether I should be cheered or terrified that you figured out where I went.”
     “I wouldn’t worry about being terrified so long as when you slip town you’re always sleeping alone on your uncle’s ratty couch.”
     Quinn laughed for the first time in three days, a realization that disturbed him a little but did not surprise him.
     “So what the hell happened that you took off without even telling me and made you mad enough to redesign Jack’s back wall with an eight-ball?”  She sat down next to him and leaned forward, ready to listen and be supportive.
     Quinn resisted the urge to grind his teeth.  “Hanks is taking me off of the case as of nine o’clock tomorrow morning, at which time I’m to hand over everything to Detective Uphoff.”
     This announcement was too much for flesh and blood to endure.  Mayson sprung from her place on the couch, propelled by extreme ire and agitation.  “Uphoff!  Uphoff!  That’s it then—there goes my exclusive.  That woman has never liked me personally and you know how she loathes reporters and the media in general.  This will put me in the chief’s dog house for the rest of my life!”
     The source of Mayson’s anger and frustration came from the fact that she and Quinn had a professional arrangement as well as a personal one.  The deal was that Quinn would not talk to any other reporter about the case in exchange for information gathered by Mayson from some of her most useful sources in the criminal underground.  Mayson had no shortage of friends in low places.  She had gained a reputation among such persons as being straightforward and fair, but most importantly they knew that she had never, never revealed a source.  Naturally, candor is not a prominent characteristic among criminals, so they still spoke in vague, half-truths most of the time, but Mayson could glean more information from them than others.
     Though Mayson was impulsive and dramatic in her outbursts, they never lasted long and as soon as they faded she could again see all sides of an issue.  She fell down on the couch next to Quinn, slouching in as much despair as she ever did in her high school algebra class.  “All right.  I know I’m not the most impartial person on the issue, but I know you’re pretty damn good at your job.  So why is that jackass taking you off the case?”
     “He’s taking me off the case because I haven’t found the killer.”
     “Since when do investigations have to fit into a set time span?  I always thought they continued until they were solved.”
     “You know how it works.  Hanks is getting a lot of pressure to get this thing solved from city officials who are in turn being pressured by the families of the victims.”
     Now that she had all of this new information, Mayson again looked at the table and the mess of papers and photos on it.  “You’re going to try and solve the case before tomorrow morning, aren’t you?”
     “Naturally.  Care to help me out?  Two brains are always better than one.”

     From the beginning everyone connected to the case knew that these murders were the result of some sort of ritual.  The five victims were all female, none younger than twenty-two and none older than twenty-eight.  All the victims were bound by their hands and feet; rope marks were especially bad on their wrists, cutting deep into the skin depending on how hard each victim had struggled.  Once they were bound, they were bludgeoned, then garroted, and finally their throats were slit.  The bodies were found unclothed.  Quinn was convinced this was for the purpose of removing a means of identifying the bodies rather than indicating sexual assault, and his conclusion was reinforced by the forensic reports.
     When it came to the disposal of the bodies, each case was different.  The first two victims were thrown into a nearby river in approximately the same area and both bodies caught in the same rough patch of rocks further down river.  The last three victims were dropped into the river from three different, widely separated locations.  The killer was trying to confuse the probable search area in which investigators might look for him—or her.  This detail annoyed Quinn considerably.  He was trained to search out patterns and trends first and the harder those were to find, the harder his job was.  Quinn remained annoyed until he pulled Jack’s calendar off the wall in order to map out the dates the forensic reports indicated the victims had died.
     Jack was an avid fisherman; he made sure every calendar he bought indicated the phases of the moon because fishing was better in certain phases than in others.  After Quinn transcribed all the dates onto the calendar, he finally noticed a pattern.  Every day a victim died was also a new stage in the moon’s cycle.  Victims died on the first day of the new moon, the first quarter, and the full moon.  It also didn’t escape Quinn’s attention that tonight was the first night of the next new moon.
     When Quinn shared his new discovery with Mayson, who had been going over the victims’ backgrounds for the hundredth time hoping to find a common link that had previously been overlooked, she pounced on it at once.  “There’s our in!  If your pattern holds, another ritual will happen tonight and another victim will be needed.  All we need to do is--”
     “Hold on a minute, Mayson!  We don’t even know where to find the damn killer!  We don’t know where he kills his victims—we only know that he dumps the bodies in the river afterwards and the points at which he does that are random.  Look, Mays, I’m sorry—I never really expected to solve the case tonight.  I’m sorry you’re going to loose your exclusive, but--”
     Mayson put her hand over Quinn’s lips.  “Quinn.  Stop apologizing and acting like it’s all over.  You’ve forgotten that I’ve been doing my own investigating.  Forget about my exclusive.  That doesn’t exist yet and when it does, I want a happy ending to it.  So first thing’s first—let’s nail the killer.”
     Quinn peeled Mayson’s hand from his mouth and held it.  In alarmed, accusatory tones he asked, “What have you done?”
     Mayson gave her fiancée a challenging look.  “I’ve found a man who looks to be a probable suspect for these murders.”  Quinn gave her a skeptical look.  “Just listen to me before you decide whether you believe me or not.  From the beginning we’ve known these are ritualized killings.  Your first thought was that some satanic cult or one satanic individual was responsible.  I disagreed—those type of people rarely commit crimes and tidy up after themselves.  So what if these killings were the result of a pagan ritual, committed by an entire cult or maybe even just one individual?”
     “I do know that those kind of people are around, usually hiding in the woodwork, but why did the killings just start?”
     “I’m not finished and if you don’t stop interrupting me I’ll take this information to Uphoff and damn the exclusive.”  Quinn’s mouth was open as if he was about to speak, but when he caught Mayson’s eye he closed it.  “Do you remember my friend Star?”
     “That flaky psychic woman who runs that New Age store?”  The question shot out of his mouth before he could stop himself.
     Mayson laughed.  “Yes, she is pretty flaky, but she also knows her pagan religions.   I described the method of the killings to her, and she said it definitely sounded like a pagan ritual, but what kind was beyond her without more details.  Like you I wanted to know why these killings began just now, so I asked her if she had gained any new customers lately.  She assured me she didn’t, but after I questioned her some more, she mentioned that a little over a month ago she started receiving phone requests for large numbers of ‘ceremonial’ candles.  She never saw the customer—he called in his orders (she told me the voice was a male’s) and paid for her to mail them to his address.  I have the address, and I happen to know that that area is miles out of the city and only fifteen or twenty miles from the river.”
     Quinn bowed his head and rubbed his temples.  He knew exactly what Mayson was thinking.  She wanted to pose as the victim so that the killer could be apprehended that night.  This was the best lead he had come across yet, and if he and Mayson chose to pass it up, someone else would die.  They could just watch the house all night, but he had no idea whether or not the murders were committed in the house or elsewhere.
     He looked up and met Mayson’s steady green gaze.  “I’m calling James and Rob.  They’re the only ones I can trust not to turn me down or go running to Uphoff and throw me to the wolves.  If Hanks knew I was going to do this he would have to stop me, but if I pull it off, he won’t say anything—he’ll be too glad to have this case closed.”  He paused.  “When you write your story—if this works out—your audience will get the edited version.”
     “Well I have very little choice, do I?  Call James and Rob; we’re wasting time.”
     Quinn stood up and walked over to Jack’s rotary phone which was hanging on the opposite wall.  He picked up the receiver and held it for a moment, then he slammed it back down in its cradle and walked over to Mayson and pulled her to her feet.  He wrapped his arms around her and held her so tight her ribs creaked.  At Mayson’s urgent demand for air he relaxed his hold.
     “Why don’t I just pass all this on to Uphoff.  She can try and get a search warrant--”
     “And someone else dies.  This might not amount to anything, but it might end up saving some young woman’s life.  Also, if you haven’t noticed, it’s too late to organize anything official.”
     Quinn looked at his watch and growled, “Shit!”

     “Do not take anything to eat or drink from this guy.  We don’t know how he chooses his victims.  If we throw a wrench in his usual routine he may try to drug you.  James and Rob are going to be watching the back of the house from that side road down there past the house.  I’ll be watching the front.  You have thirty minutes before I bust in through the front door and James comes in through the back.”
     They were sitting in Quinn’s car about a mile from the house.  As Mayson looked out across the countryside, she saw nothing but farm fields and an occasional cluster of trees.  There were no other cars to be seen.  Mayson’s palms were cold and damp.  She hoped that this was the killer’s house and that they weren’t too late.  “Is your cell phone on?”
     “Yes.”  Quinn looked at her with intense blue eyes.  “If you still want to do this, you can start walking to the house.  James and Rob can see you, but I’ll radio them anyway.”
     “See you in thirty minutes, darling.”  Mayson smiled brightly and gave Quinn an enthusiastic parting kiss.  She was careful not to touch him with her clammy hands.

     The plan was for Mayson to ring the doorbell and, if she found anyone home, to explain that her car had broken down some distance down the road and ask to use the bathroom and the phone.  She was to use her trip to the bathroom to get a look at the house and see if she noted anything out of interest.  If she did, when she made the phone call to Quinn’s cell phone she would answer his questions with affirmatives or negatives.  If the answers were affirmative, what happened next would be up to Quinn and his backup duo.
     The house was two stories, white, and box-like.  It reminded Mayson of the houses she used to draw in kindergarten, before she figured out how to use curved lines as well as straight ones.  Mayson was still walking up the driveway, heartily thankful for the bright outside security light, when a dark-haired man came around the back of the house, his car keys rattling in one hand, a stuffed duffel bag in the other.  He seemed not to notice her.
     “Excuse me, sir!”
     The man looked up sharply, his eyes narrowed in suspicion.  “Who goes there?  What are you doing here?”
     Still walking toward him, Mayson said, “I’m sorry to bother you sir, but my car died on me some distance back down the road and I was wondering if I could use your phone to call someone to pick me up.”  She came within five feet of him and stopped, trying not to think disturbing thoughts.
     Now that she was closer to him, she was able to see that he was of medium height and solidly built.  Very solidly built, she thought in dismay.  She also noticed that as soon as she had come within his line of clear vision his expression lightened considerably.  In fact, Mayson would have said his eyes lit up suddenly, like gas and fire when they collide.
     “Of course you may use my phone, ma’am.  It would be too cruel to refuse your request and leave you to walk up and down the road in the dark.”  He smiled.  When he spoke, it was with a charming, good-natured Irish brogue.  Charming and good-natured it was, but it sent chills down Mayson’s spine.  It was the Bible that said evil will come disguised as an angel of light, she thought. . .That is what makes it so deadly.
     In no time Mayson found herself in Declean’s (so he introduced himself) kitchen, holding a glass of cold tea that she had no intention of drinking although she could have used it.  Her mouth felt like the Sahara.  She put her glass down on the table and asked in her sweetest voice, “Do you think I might use your bathroom before I make my phone call, Declean?  I had no idea how long my drive was really going to be, and then with this new problem it might be quite a while before I have another opportunity.”
     “Oh certainly!”  Declean jumped up and gestured for her to follow.  Mayson was starting to get nervous when he stopped at the foot of the stairs and turned to face her.  “You’ll have to use the upstairs bathroom, I’m afraid.  The one downstairs is torn apart right now.  In fact, it’s always torn apart.  I’m in the middle of remodeling it.  Just go up the stairs here and turn left.  I’ll just wait for you in the kitchen.”  He smiled.
     Mayson smiled.  What the hell was she doing here?  This was not just nuts, it was pure, undiluted insanity.  Damn Quinn!  He should have talked her out of this!
     As she had hoped, the bedroom was located just down from the bathroom.  Stepping as lightly and as quickly as possible, she peeked in the door then stepped inside.  On first glance it was just an ordinary man’s bedroom, being decorated sparsely and in dark colors.  Then something caught her eye in the back corner of the room.  The light of the outdoor security light spilled in the bedroom window and fell on what Mayson believed was a large German sharank, or cabinet.  She drew closer to it and put her hand out and touched the surface of the doors.  The light was weak but with the help of her hand she found that the doors were carved with odd, weaving circular patterns.  As she ran her hand along the door, Mayson sensed that something evil was behind those doors.  She had felt that vague sense of uneasiness before.  Still, her curiosity was yet stronger than her fear.  She opened the doors.
     In the beginning she could see nothing, but she pulled out a small yet powerful flashlight and twisted it on.  When she could see inside, the breath caught in her lungs.  One shelf was lined with large, gleaming ceremonial knives; the glint of light off the blades declared how dangerously sharp the edges were.  They could probably cut leather like it was paper, she thought.  Next to the blades lay a thick purple robe made of what appeared to be velvet.  The next shelf was much worse.  There were several skulls on the next shelf, some of which looked to be very old.  As Mayson looked at the skulls, something stirred in the depths of her mind, like bubbles rising to the surface of swamp muck.
        Being a compulsive reader, Mayson had gotten her hands on an extremely wide variety of books through the years.  Some of her less well-read acquaintances were fond of joking that Mayson had turned herself in to a veritable mine of useless information.  Those acquaintances failed to recognize that it is impossible to predict when seemingly useless information will become useful, as in this instance.
     Since she was already thinking along the lines of pagan religion, the skulls on the shelf before her recalled what little she knew of druidism.  Ancient druids had served as priests and intellectuals in Celtic culture.  These ancient priests worshiped nature and believed that the head harbored the soul; skulls were placed in sanctuaries to ward off evil.  The skulls by themselves would not necessarily confirm that Declean practiced his own, modern version of druidism.  However, the large bloodstained bowl tucked away in the bottom of the cabinet certainly pushed the evidence further in that direction because Mayson also knew that druidism involved studying the death throes of human sacrifices and collecting their blood, both for the purpose of divination.
     Mayson was just beginning to feel dizzy from nausea and revulsion when a heavy hand fell on her shoulder and her heart leapt into her throat.

     So this was it—she had always wondered, morbidly, how she was going to die.  Mayson supposed it was a natural human impulse, but there was no way by any scope of the imagination that she could have come up with this scenario.  Really, what were the chances that she would end up in the basement-lair of a man who practiced druidism, prostrate on some sort of altar, her hands and feet tied and fastened with rope to either end of the altar while rescue waited nearby for the countdown to end?  Impossible to predict--unless of course she walked knowingly into such a situation.
     As Mayson fought with her bonds she believed that, at long last, she had finally reached the very pinnacle of idiocy.  Declean was in the next room, alternately staring into space in some sort of trance and crooning over a bowl of blood.  Apparently he saved the stuff.  Mayson could only see his back; her eyes remained fixed on him as she struggled but he made no move to come in and stop her.
     With a growl of frustration Mayson ceased her struggles.  Her hands were tied together above her head, so for obvious reasons she could not see her watch, but she estimated there was at least ten minutes before rescue would swing into motion.  By that time she would surely be filleted.  Declean began to croon again and Mayson tried to turn her head so that she could see the ropes that tied her hands.  Her hands were being scorched.  Declean had lighted numerous candles (likely the ones he had ordered from Star) and set them everywhere around the room—including around Mayson’s head and feet.  She had been about to pull her hands as far away as she could from the candles to keep them from being burned.  Instead, she now pushed her hands toward the candle, angling her hands so that the majority of the flame was concentrated on the ropes.
     Unfortunately, though the candle’s flame was burning though the ropes, it was also burning her hands badly.  The pain was intense, but Mayson put tension on the ropes by pulling her hands in opposite directions so that the moment the ropes were sufficiently burned through they would snap apart.  A few seconds more and they did snap apart, and Mayson carefully sat up and grabbed a candle to start burning through the ropes that bound her feet—burning was faster than trying to untie Declean’s thick, complicated knots.
     Mayson kept shooting apprehensive glances back at Declean.  Before the flame had quite completed its work, Mayson glanced over and saw that Declean was rising.  She put her candle down and grabbed the ropes with her burnt hands to pull them apart.  The pain from her hands made tears run freely from her eyes but the ropes came apart.  The moment her feet were free Mayson was up and running.  She did not look back to see if her would-be killer was following her.
     In his arrogance Declean had failed to lock the door at the top of the basement stairs so Mayson ran into no problems there.  She tore through the first floor directly toward the front door.  Hoping Declean might think she had gone for the back door, Mayson used all her self-control to make herself open the front door slowly and step quietly outside and down the porch steps.  Just as she reached the last step someone rose from the shadows and grabbed her from behind.
     Without even thinking Mayson elbowed her opponent in the ribs, then spun around and backhanded him with her fist, which was powered by a frenzied, adrenaline-packed force.  He groaned and fell back on his backside with a solid thump.  Mayson thought there was something familiar about that groan, so she grabbed him by his collar and dragged him out of the shadows.  Sure enough, it was Quinn; the upper portion of the right side of his face was already swelling.
     “Oh my God!”  Mayson dropped to her knees and whispered vehemently, “Where’s your gun?”
     “I dropped it when you hit me,” Quinn replied somewhat indistinctly.
     Mayson’s hand touched the cold metal and she rose to her feet.  Declean, in his long robe of purple velvet, was standing less than five feet away, holding a very large, nasty-looking knife, his shoulders shaking in silent laughter.  Quinn saw him just as Mayson did, and tensed.
     Mayson leveled the gun at Declean, who was still laughing.  “Very good.  I’ve never offered up anyone with such ingenuity, Mayson Clarke.  I don’t know who this man is, but he’ll serve as an offering as well.  Tentates is always ready for human blood—it’s the only way to appease him, you know.”
     By this time Quinn had had enough.  “What the hell are you waiting for, Mayson?  There’s a bullet in the chamber.  Shoot him!"
     Mayson had never held a gun until this moment.  She could still see the boy falling to the ground as the bullet pierced his back.  All phobias gained in childhood are intense and extremely difficult to face and overcome.  Mayson had never tried to do either, and now she was in a cold sweat and shaking terribly.  Declean took the blade of the knife between his fingers and prepared to throw the knife.  His eyes were focused on Mayson’s chest.
     “Shoot him!”
     Quinn knew he could wait no longer, he shot to his feet and threw himself at Declean just as Mayson’s damp finger began to squeeze the trigger.  The bullet contacted just before Quinn landed on Declean.  Without waiting for the numbness to fade and the pain to set in, Quinn began to throttle the man under him.
     After a few moments Quinn suddenly realized that his opponent was not fighting back, and that his right fist was slick with blood.  Mayson had shot Declean in the shoulder, and Quinn had inadvertently pounded the bullet wound with his fist.  Declean had fainted from the pain.
     Still sitting astride the fallen druid, Quinn looked up to see James and Rob running toward him, their guns out and their faces pale.  Together they managed to get Quinn off of Declean and between the two of them they carried the wounded man off to their car.  Quinn went to Mayson, who was still standing but still shaking badly.
     He took his gun from her hand and put it in his shoulder holster, and saw Mayson’s badly burnt hands.  He pulled a large handkerchief from his back pocket, then ripped it into two pieces and began to wrap Mayson’s hands.  A few minutes later they were sitting together on the steps, considerably calmer.
     Quinn put his arms around Mayson.  “Just so you know, darling, I’m never taking professional advice from you again.”
     Mayson did not turn to look at him, but she leaned back.  “I think I’ve just been cured of giving it out, so don’t worry.”  After a moment she went on, “I didn’t hurt you very much, did I?”
     “Actually, it hurts like hell.  I think I’m going to have a damn shiner.”
     “Like hell you are.  You’re delighted to find that you can hit that hard, and I know it.” 
     Mayson grinned.
     After a few minutes, Quinn sighed.  “Well, Mayson, you’ve got your exclusive.”

Monday, June 11

What's Next?

A little over a month has gone by since the layoffs were announced at work and my long goodbye to the place I've worked for the past five years began. There are still a lot of emotions stirring around in my head about my changed circumstances, but the storm has passed and I'm determined to make the most of this unexpected turn of events. Just how I'm going to do that is, in many ways, yet to be determined, but it is going to start with me using this time as an opportunity to take a leap of faith and try something I never thought I would--full-time motherhood.

Before marriage and motherhood, if you asked me if I'd ever consider being a full-time mom, I'd have said no. The thing is, I like to work, and most of my adult life has been devoted to finding a career identity for myself--not an easy task for someone with an advanced degree in ancient Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. And if I may say so, my progress wasn't too shabby. After earning my Master's at UCLA, I joined the staff at LACMA during the blockbuster King Tut exhibition, and my success there led to a recruitment call from the Education Department at the Getty Museum--a department with a nationwide reputation for excellence and a best-of-the-best staff. A foot in the door at the one of the preeminent cultural institutions in the country, I thought, meant I would be well-positioned to earn my stripes and advance my career at a steady pace. And what's more, for the second time since grad school, I was in a position in which I could directly apply my specialized knowledge of the ancient Mediterranean--again, not an easy thing to come by!

The position and the opportunity seemed ripe with potentiality. The bases were full. All I needed to do was deliver and send the pitch headed over home plate back over the wall. ...Uh, not quite. The economy tanked shortly after I was hired on at the Villa, and instead of the opportunity to advance, the Great Recession resulted in a stagnant wage and the elimination of career opportunities across the board, not just at my home institution. The Getty ultimately experienced two rounds of deep cuts to its staff, the second of which found me among those holding one of those infamous blue folders from HR containing a "letter of separation."

By the time I was handed that blue folder, I was already frustrated by the lack of room for advancement in a down job market. For a brief moment at the end of last year, I thought my willingness to take on duties and tasks beyond the scope of my position had finally paid off when I was reassigned as a coordinator for Teacher Programs. In the end, of course, the change never fully materialized. The new leadership of the museum froze the paperwork because they knew massive layoffs were coming to Education this spring. As frustrated as I already was, the layoffs this April were the final *head-desk* moment of despair and aggravation. As crappy as having a door slammed in your face is, the finality of it is freeing. You can't go this way. Move on.

So what's next? I've been asked that question a lot lately, and the more time passes, the more confidence I feel in my decision. I have the chance to explore an option I've been thinking about more and more over the past nineteen months and spend some time as a full-time mom. After this most recent lesson on the folly of making plans, that's about all I'm willing to say with any certainty at this point. For several years now I've been looking for the bigger and better career opportunity because I assumed a bigger and better salary (read: greater financial security) would ultimately serve my family best. But the lessons of the past nineteen months and especially recent events have served as a wake-up call that that assumption may not be true at this moment in time. All that has happened obviously got my attention in a big way and has made me rethink where I am most needed and how I can best serve my family right now, a time when professional opportunities are hardly blossoming beneath my feet. Reflecting on the last ten years, this experience has also reminded me that it's okay to follow my instincts--even when they are leading toward an uncertain and unknown path rather than a more certain, well-traveled one.

Sure, maybe we are wrong and will find that we can't quite get by on one income--that's part of the uncertainty. But even if that is the lesson we eventually learn from all of this, what I do know about this decision is that I'll never look back and regret choosing to spend more time with my son.

As uncertain as these times are, of that I have no doubt.

Wednesday, June 6

A Morning at the Pier

Looking toward Redondo Beach pier.
Yesterday was another gorgeous, sunny SoCal morning, and Liam and I took full advantage of it. We are lucky to live within walking distance of Redondo Beach Pier and the Veteran's Park and Memorial. The pier provides a scenic ocean-front walk with plenty of sidewalk for the stroller and the opportunity to do some wave watching, which Liam loves. When Liam grew tired of the confines of his stroller, Veteran's Park provided plenty of wide-open space for him to run around in as well as a little playground area. 

He had a blast climbing all over the playground equipment, playing in the sand, and chasing squirrels around the park's grassy knolls. In short, it was the perfect way to tire him out for naptime! If he had his way, he would probably never leave, but the promise of some graham cracker cookies and a sippy cup full of cold water persuaded him to get back in his stroller. While he munched on cookies and sipped on water, I got my workout for the day in by hiking us both back up to our neighborhood. The walk down to the beach is lovely (i.e. downhill), but going back is an uphill slog all the way. Even so, there's no question that the hot, sweaty return trip is totally worth the opportunity to get out and enjoy the sunshine and outdoor activities. At the moment it appears most likely that I will become a full-time, stay-at-home mom in early September when I'm laid off (more on this in a later post). If so, Liam and I will definitely be paying regular visits to Veteran's Park.

Squirrel chasing.
Liam loves watching the waves.