Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Episode 10

Claire's House

By the time Claire Monroe got home, all she wanted to do was put her feet up and enjoy a glass of wine in peace and quiet. Biff was out for the evening (whatever that meant these days), so she didn't have to worry about dinner for him. Cheese and crackers would be enough for her, maybe a few celery sticks so she had something sort of healthy. She'd eaten spaghetti in the hospital cafeteria during her three o'clock lunch break. She wasn't hungry now. Just tired. Two double shifts this week had taken a toll. She wasn't as young as she used to be. Back in the day, she could work a double, go to her classes at nursing school, and head back to the hospital with only three hours of sleep.

There had been a price to pay for that, however. She hadn't always been there for Biff. Claire felt guilty about that, but what choice did she have? Getting pregnant at seventeen had been a total game-changer. Her parents had never forgiven her. They moved away to escape the humiliation she'd brought on them, and they'd never looked back. Never tried to contact her. Didn't care about Biff.

Claire had raised her son as best she could, which had been rough on them both. Between the ages of 8 and 18, Biff had been a handful. Rebellious, angry, and too smart for his own good.

She had just settled herself on the sofa, feet propped on the ottoman, glass of merlot at her side, when the doorbell rang. Unexpected visitors after eight at night were not welcome. Reluctantly, she roused herself, prepared to be nasty to whoever was inconsiderate enough to disturb her.

Annoyance was replaced by fear when she opened the door to Chief Donati.

"John? What's wrong? Is Biff all right?" Claire felt the blood drain from her face.

"Hi, Claire." The police chief stood with his hat in hand. He had a sweet smile, but his eyes looked worried. "Biff's fine, as far as I know."

The two of them stood staring at each other while the air between them thickened with tension.

"Can I come in for a minute?"

"Business or pleasure?"


Claire stood aside and Donati walked into the house.

It was a small place and not much to look at from the outside, but Donati noticed the living room was tidy and inviting. He wished this were a social call. Maybe one day he'd get up the courage to see if Claire would have dinner with him, but right now, there were police matters to attend to.

"Biff's not home?"

"No. Why?" Claire's eyes narrowed, and the tension in her face was replaced with a harder expression.

Donati didn't like what he was about to say. "You heard about the body found over at the Adams' place?"


"Biff's business card was found on the guy."

"So what? Biff hands those cards out to everybody."

"Well, I agree it doesn't mean much on its own, but the thing is...we got an anonymous tip that Biff was seen coming through the woods behind the Adams' property pretty close to the time this guy, Lassiter, was killed. I need to ask him some questions."

"Are you kidding me?  He's been back in town three weeks, and the first thing that happens you figure it has to be his fault?"

"I'm sorry, Claire." Donati reached out to touch her arm.

"Just leave," she said, shrugging away from him.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Episode 9

Nick Kallias was half-asleep on the couch in the family room. The football game was on television, but he couldn't care less who won. He didn't even really like football, but figured he had to have it on just to assert his masculinity in a house full of women.
Helen and their younger daughter, Tiana, were in the kitchen preparing a traditional Thanksgiving meal, in which he also had no interest. On a rare day off from the restauarant, he'd have preferred a burger and fries. When he'd said as much this morning, Tiana had accused him, good-naturedly, of being un-American.
"You behave like a middle-aged, old-maid school-teacher," He'd fired back. "Are you 16 or 60?"
That brought Helen into the argument, "Nikolas! Leave her alone."
And the shouting match was on. Helen won. She always did. Nick grabbed a beer from the fridge and escaped to the family room.
He had to admit the scents wafting from the kitchen were enticing. And if Tiana was a little too much of a mama's girl, at least she was a good girl. Nick was increasingly worried that he couldn't say the same for his older daughter. Selena was twenty-two, but by God, if she lived under his roof--which for reasons he couldn't fathom, she still did--she had to obey his rules. Last night, she hadn't come home until three in the morning, and now she was out again, probably with that damn Monroe kid. Nick was going to have to put a stop to that.


Blake Adams nodded to the maid to remove his plate. Juanita? Rosa? Every week it was a new girl from Fish Town working in their kitchen. Genevra was demanding and the help usually didn't last more than a couple of weeks. Fortunately, there seemed to be an endless supply of new workers.
It had been a rough couple of weeks for the whole family, what with cops and reporters crawling all over the place trying to figure out what had happened. All Blake knew was that a nineteen-year-old drifter by the name of Frank Lassiter did a nosedive from the balcony outside of Billy's room and splattered himself all over the terrace. Nasty business. The cops had been grilling Billy mercilessly; the poor kid was a wreck.

From his place at the head of the table, Blake surveyed his family. Billy was staring off into space, the food on his plate untouched. He looked like crap. Blake wondered if maybe Genevra ought to take him to the doctor. Then again, Billy was in his senior year of high school; he couldn't afford to miss classes and get worse grades than he had already. Getting him into college was going to be tough enough.
His other two children, Whitney and David, both had their heads bowed, the telltale glow from their phones reflected in their faces. The hours Whitney spent bartending at Taverna meant Blake seldom saw her, but they didn't have much to talk about anyway. He was more or less resigned to his disappointment with her, recognizing that she'd only taken that ridiculous "job" to annoy and embarrass him. He really ought to kick her out of the house, make her understand that she needed to do something more with her life, but Genevra would never allow it.
Blake employed his eldest child, David, at Adams' Investment Services. The guy was at the office every day, but that made him no less of an enigma. David had his own small house on the south end of Pine Lake, and rarely came home. Blake had driven past the house once or twice. He'd never been invited in, and he had no idea what David did with his time when he wasn't at work.

Genevra, as usual, was making notes in the spiral she always had at her side. Her phone sat next to her plate, too. She had not uttered more than a dozen words during the meal.

"May I be excused?" Billy asked. His plate was still untouched.
"Yes, of course, dear," Genvera answered without looking up from her notes.
"You haven't eaten your dinner," Blake said.
"I'm not hungry." Billy stood. He looked shaky and pale.
"This is a family meal. Sit down until the rest of us are finished," Blake demanded.
Whitney and David looked up from their electronic distraction devices.
"Does anyone want some pumpkin pie?" Genevra asked, finally raising her eyes from the spiral. "Billy, it's your favorite kind, the one with pecans and coconut."
"I said, I'm not hungry." Billy turned and slouched from the room.
"Damn kid," Blake muttered.
It was the longest conversation of the day.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Episode 8

Caroline Wilson was almost pretty. Clothes looked great on her slim figure, but her face was too sharp: edgy cheekbones, pointy little nose, and short, dark hair cut so that it angled harshly across her forehead. Discontent had made her lips thin and hard, narrowed her granite eyes, and put a permanent crease between her brows. Still, when she made an effort, she could be attractive.

She slapped a plate of pork chops, green beans, and a baked potato on the table in front of her husband, Matt.

"I sure wish you'd have let me take you to Taverna for dinner tonight," Matt said, picking up his knife and fork.

Caroline drained her wine glass, not the first of the evening, before replying, "What for?"

"Well, because it's your birthday for one thing. And sometimes it's nice to go out. See people."

"Whoop-tee-damn-doo. I'm thirty-eight. Nothing to celebrate there." Caroline helped herself to a half a pork chop and five green beans. "And there's no one in this town I want to see. Besides, I cook better than anyone at Taverna."

"You sure did a fine job on this meal."

There was a long silence. Matt chewed contentedly.; Caroline toyed with her food and sipped steadily at her wine.

"Did you do anything interesting today?" he asked, his eyes on the chop he was cutting apart.

She shrugged. "Not much. Went for a walk down to the Lake."

"Did you take the new binoculars?" For her birthday, Matt had given her some Pentax binoculars that he'd bought on eBay. Caroline liked birds. She had bird feeders hanging from half the trees in their backyard. Sometimes he'd come home and find her standing by the window, watching the birds through an old, scratched-up pair of binoculars that had belonged to her father.

"Yeah. They're good."

Matt wasn't sure how she'd take the gift. Caroline was quirky. She'd told him early on that she'd had a tough childhood. Abandoned by her mother, she'd been raised by a father who was too busy with his law practice to give her much attention. The old binoculars, she'd said, were about the only thing they'd ever shared.

Caroline looked across the table at her husband. He was shoveling in the food like a peasant, which, of course, he was. Sometimes, she couldn't think what possessed her to marry him. Or to come back to Pine Lake. If she'd stayed in D.C., she would have found another job eventually. That place was nothing but scandals, and her little incident would probably have been forgotten soon enough. But no, idiot that she was, she had to go and marry this jerk. She drained the wine glass again.

"So are you finished at Claire Monroe's house yet?"

"Nope. Now she wants me to paint the bedroom."

"Oh, that's just great." Caroline's voice rose. "It's not enough for you to spend two weeks on the outside of her house. Now she wants you in her bedroom?"

Matt put down the piece of bread he was buttering. "Caro, I paint houses. Inside and out. It's what puts this bread on the table."

"My inheritance puts bread on this table."

"That's not true and you know it."

"Bullshit." She got up and poured herself more wine.

"Hey, go easy on that. You know what the doctor said."

"Screw the doctor. And screw you, too. Oh, wait, maybe that's what you're doing at Claire's. Everyone knows she's always been good at that."

"Christ's sake, Caro. Get a grip."

She shot a malevolent glance his way, but sat down again. "Did you know my dad hired Claire to babysit for me one summer? Jeez, what kind of a father has some slut watch over his six-year-old daughter? It's amazing I didn't get hit by a car, or drown, or get kidnapped while she was doing bad things with all the boys in town. Served her right, getting knocked up."

Matt looked away. In the eight years they'd been married, he'd heard this rant before. Either this one or one just like it. Caroline had something bad to say about everyone in Pine Lake. Occasionally, he wondered if there was any truth at all to her spiteful tales. He'd already figured out her father couldn't have been as bad as she claimed, and if Claire Monroe was wild in her youth, she'd certainly changed her ways now.

Anyway, who was Caroline to criticize anyone else after what happened in D.C.? The press had had a field day with stories about her and Senator Coleman. Sometimes Matt thought the only reason she'd married him was to stop the paparazzi from chasing her around. When she'd insisted that they move back to Pine Lake because she missed her friends and the folks she'd grown up with, he'd agreed, but as far as he could see, she didn't have any friends.

"Maybe you need to get out of the house more," he suggested, trying to change the subject.

"What the hell does that mean?"

"I was just thinking you might want to get a job. It would give you something to do."

"Here's an idea. Why don't you get out?" She picked up her plate and threw it across the table at Matt.

"Get the hell out right now!" she screamed.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Episode 7

Whitney stretched and admired Jack Donati's naked ass as he walked across the bedroom. She was as close to happy as she'd ever been. The realization surprised her and made her smile. Pine Lake was the last place in the world she wanted to settle, but at least for now, life was good. Jack was good. And talk about surprises. She sure as hell hadn't planned on actually falling in love with the guy.

Being with Jack was getting complicated. If the two of them got any more intense, her father would figure out what was going on, and that would mean trouble. Blake Adams thought he had his daughter's life all worked out. Although Whitney had always put considerable effort into proving him wrong, she was growing weary of the constant battle.

"My dad is so clueless," she said aloud.

"You think? It looks to me like he knows what he's doing," Jack answered.

"You don't know him."

"I know he's got a gorgeous daughter."

"And two really screwed up sons."

"David's doing okay. Isn't he working for your dad now?"

"My brother, David, fakes it better than anyone I know. He's not quite as bad a mess as Billy, but let's just say he has his own problems."

"So you're saying money doesn't buy everything?"

"I'm saying we need to be careful. He will not be happy if he finds out about this." Whitney circled one hand over the rumpled bed. Her father had freaked last year when Whitney took the job bar tending at Taverna. If he knew she was hooking up with John Donati's kid, there would be all kinds of hell to pay. She wasn't much concerned about herself--she could handle her father--but it could get ugly for Jack.

"It's pretty bizarre that we've both lived in Pine Lake all our lives, we went to the same school when we were little, but we never said a word to each other until three months ago," Whitney said.

Jack poured wine in the glass by the light of half a dozen flickering candles. "Maybe that's because I didn't talk to any girls until I was fifteen. And then there's the fact that you hardly qualify as a full-time resident. Four years away at boarding school, a couple of years at college, a year in Australia, a year in New York. How was I supposed to meet you?"

"I was home most summers."

"Doesn't count." He came back to bed, leaned down to kiss her, and handed her the wine glass. "But then, it doesn't matter because we've found each other now."

Whitney breathed in the smokey richness of the pinot noir and took a healthy sip. She set the glass on the bedside table. "Let's work some more on finding each other a little more closely," she said, pulling him down to her.

With music playing in the background and her attention fully on Jack, she wasn't sure how long her cell phone had been ringing, but it soon became apparent that whoever was calling was hitting "redial" over and over.

"Shit. It's almost midnight," she said, rolling over to check the clock. "Who the hell is that?"

"Maybe you'd better answer," Jack said. He got up, fetched the insistent phone from her pile of clothing on his bedroom floor, and brought it to her.

"My dad," she said after glancing at the caller ID. "This can't be good."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Episode 6

Billy Adams heard the scrabbling sound, like a rodent in the wall, before he opened his eyes. He tried to ignore it, but it wouldn't stop. He banged his fist against the wall. The noise stopped for a minute, but soon started up again. Pissed, Billy sat up, rubbing his hands over his face, still feeling pretty buzzed. The noise stopped.

In the darkened room, he pulled his phone from the bedside table and squinted at the numbers. 10:15. Still early evening. His eyes burned and his head felt like someone had stuffed it with feathers.

He'd ditched senior seminar at school and spent the afternoon at the Roach. Lassiter had just gotten a new shipment and was offering samples to his best customers. Billy couldn't recall how he'd gotten home, but he did remember the stuff smelled jinky. When the other two guys didn't say anything, Billy kept his mouth shut, too. He didn't want to sound like a jerk, but now he thought there must've been something weird in that weed, because it wasn't like Billy to pass out on his bed before ten. As he rubbed his head again, the scrabbling sound returned.

Damn. What the hell was that?

He swung his legs over the side of the bed.

It was coming from the closet.

Billy tried to focus his eyes through the darkness of the room. The hair on the back of his neck rose as his closet door slowly creaked open.  Even though everything else in the room was obscured by darkness, he clearly saw Frankie Lassiter walk out of his closet.

"Dude. What the fuck?"

"Hey, little buddy," Frankie said, casual as could be. "How're you doing?"

"Uh, fine." Billy rubbed his face again. "What're doing in my closet?"

"Oh, was that what that was? Jeez, man, it's a mess. Stinks bad in there, too."

"Yeah, well, stay out. Why are you here, anyway? I thought you had some big plans for tonight."

"Yeah," Frankie nodded. He moved to the other side of the room, sat on a chair at Billy's desk. "My plans got a little messed up. That's what I came to talk to you about."

Billy didn't like the tone of Lassiter's voice. There was somehting vaguely threatening about it.

"So, okay. What?"

"Ah, that's your trouble, kid. You talk too much."

"Bullshit." Billy's head was throbbing. "You're not making any sense. Go away."

Frankie laughed. The hollow sound sent chills down Billy's spine. Something was wrong. Billy couldn't figure out what it was, but Frankie looked creepy, kind of smeary and out of focus. Then Billy realized it must have been the shit he'd smoked earlier that was making everything weird.

"So, kid," Frankie said, "you know how you was telling me that your folks were going to be out tonight?"

"What about it?" Billy fought an urge to pull the blankets around himself.

"I cooked up this little adventure. I figured since you also mentioned you had a couple grand stashed in your bedroom, I'd leave you and those other morons huffing away, while I came by your place. I could help myself to your piggy bank while everyone was out partying. Would've worked good, too, except you came home early."

"I don't remember."

"Billy, I trusted you to stay out and you let me down."

"Man, you're messing with my head. You trusted me to let you rip me off? Are you nuts?"

"No, buddy. You are."

Slowly, Lassiter seemed to be absorbed by the darkness until he couldn't be seen at all. Billy stood, walked unsteadily to his desk, and turned on the light. There was no one in the room.