Flash Fiction Published in FromOneLine Vol 3 Anthology
@FromOneLine publishes poetry and flash fiction prompted by suggested first lines. I selected the line “Well, it’s done now,” and I’m very happy to report that my piece was accepted for inclusion in FromOneLine Vol. 3, available on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/FromOneLine-3-Meghan-Dargue/dp/1914949110/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2BTBWYNV2602M&keywords=fromoneline&qid=1657495600&sprefix=fromoneline%2Caps%2C80&sr=8-1.
First Significant Gun Control Legislation in 30 Years Passed
On June 25, President Joe Biden signed into law the first significant gun control legislation in 30 years. Remarkably, the underlying bill was a bipartisan effort. Major components of the legislation include:
- More scrutiny on buyers younger than 21.
- $15B in federal funding for mental health programs and school security upgrades.
- $750M in federal funding available to states that enact “red flag” laws to remove firearms from people a court with jurisdiction deems a threat. The money is intended to help enforce those laws and fund crisis intervention programs.
- A ban against ALL those convicted of domestic abuse from owning a gun. (Previous laws applied this restriction only to married abusers. This provision closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole.”)
- Requirements for more gun sellers to register as Federally Licensed Firearm Dealers
- Creation of new statutes against gun trafficking. The intention is to go after people who buy guns for people who can’t legally buy them.
It doesn’t have the ban against assault rifles I was hoping for, but it did hit several of the wishlist items in my June 11 blog. It’s a good start, but it’s just a start. There’s a lot of work to be done.
Here’s hoping that for the Fourth of July 2023 the bangs won’t be as much from guns as they were on the Fourth in 2022.
Elon, Elon, Elon
Well, it’s been coming for a while, and today (07/11/2022) Elon stopped beating around the bush and withdrew his offer to buy Twitter for $44B+.
It is highly unlikely that he will walk away from this financial shitshow without forking over at least $1B. I say “at least” because it is possible that the court will order Elon to go forward with the purchase at the offered price.
Elon’s been hinting at withdrawal since Twitter’s price took a nosedive along with a lot of other stocks. He’s said his hesitancy was due to Twitter not being able to substantiate its claimed 5% fake account rate. I, personally, think he’s right that the 5% claim is a gross understatement. However, Twitter has put enough wishy-washy language around that estimate that I don’t think Elon will prevail on that point. In addition, in articles I’ve read, experts on such acquisitions say that in this particular contract there will be language significantly limiting the circumstances under which either party can back out.
Twitter has vowed they’ll sue to enforce the sale as offered and accepted. Prior to today, they might have caved and just gone for the $!B termination fee to save the legal costs of a lawsuit. But, after Elon’s withdrawal announcement, Twitter’s stock price dropped another 30%. In my opinion, that loss may spur them on to try to get that $54/share price that Elon offered three months ago.
Of course, it’s also possible that either or both sides may be inspired to renegotiate the deal. If I were Twitter, I wouldn’t go that route because Elon hasn’t proven to be an aboveboard suitor.
Book Review: Arnetta and the Mirror of Destiny by Jeannie Chambers
Meet Arnetta, a sixteen-year-old orphan in 1985 who has lived with her maternal grandparents for the last eight years after her parents, her brother and her paternal grandparents (the ‘fun ones’) were all killed in a fluke car accident. Named for her father’s love of Gunsmoke’s Marshall Dillon and her mother’s love of Etta James, Arnetta feels like she doesn’t belong and finds her grandparents unloving, stuck in hopeless routine, and overly-restrictive.
In the books opening, she’s flashing back to the notification of her family’s accident as she looks desperately for shelter from a violent storm. She finally finds that shelter in What’s New, a secondhand shop. She meets the shop’s owner, Little Mann. (A little person, his name was a bit of cruelty inflicted on him by his mother.) While in the shop, she picks up an antique mirror and within it witnesses a car accident in front of the store. The driver, a girl about Arnetta’s age, looks directly at her in the mirror as it happens. Only, there was no accident – at least not that day.
Several days later, she comes along the street and sees the accident actually happen, just as it had in the mirror, only her perspective of it is different. She sees the medics take the driver to the hospital, and becomes obsessed with talking with her. When she finally does, the driver, Brinda, reveals that when she had her wreck she saw Arnetta in the shop – as she had been when holding the mirror, but not when she witnessed the actual accident.
Finally, Little Man tells both girls that the mirror allows gifted people to see glimpses of the future. Then the three of them take turns looking into the mirror. Arnetta sees herself going to the school dance in a beautiful dress with her crush, Brinda sees her mother happy and successful, Little Man sees the Challenger explosion and becomes so upset he has a heart attack. The girls end up on a road trip to try to stop the Challenger disaster and along the way Arnetta, perhaps, learns some things about life in general and her life in particular.
I say “perhaps” learns because it’s not abundantly clear that she has learned anything. See, Arnetta comes across as self-absorbed, and repeatedly in the story she uses her friends and lies to get what she wants. I had hoped after her trip she would realize how good she really has it and vow to be a better granddaughter and friend, but all she gives is a weak “she was home.” She really doesn’t come off as a very good person.
There were other things I hoped for in this book but didn’t get, such as a revelation of exactly what gift the three mirror gazers have in common and an explanation of the mirror’s powers and history. Perhaps more will be revealed in future books ‘Mirror’ books?
Jeannie Chambers’ writing style is free-flowing and has a good cadence. The story’s premise is good, and the image of President Ronald Reagan granting a single-use favor made me smile. Overall, it’s a good story – it could just be more.
Short Story: Something in the Air
My cover story is that I’m here to assess station KZZA in a competition to rank local television stations servicing mid-size markets across the country. The station manager, Bob, looking for the edge that will propel his career to the broadcasting big leagues, questioned nothing about my story and pretty much gave me free roaming privs. Oh, I have a handler assigned to me, but he’s easily intimidated, and I can be…shall we say…compellingly intimidating.
It’s an overused cinematic quote, but I am a man with a particular set of skills. I’ve honed those skills performing various…investigative…services for a selective clientele. If I give you additional detail, I will, as they say, have to kill you.
Okay, that’s bullshit. But, I’ve always wanted to say it. In actuality, I’m a successful and very much in-demand private investigator. I’m exceedingly good at what I do. But, I’m not here on a gig; I’m here for family. Three weeks ago, my cousin Brian – we grew up as brothers sharing a bedroom through most of our childhood – called and told me his youngest sister, Amelia, had gone missing, and the cops seemed to be doing nothing. Amelia is a meteorologist at, you guessed it, KZZA, and she’s like my kid sister.
In my line of work, I end up knowing a lot of things I’d rather not know. If something bad had happened to Amelia, I’d rather not know the details. But if something bad hadn’t yet happened to her, I’d never be able to live with having not tried to save her. I was on the next plane.
Since then, I’ve ruled out her disappearance having anything to do with her private life. Brian said that when he’d tried to talk with Amelia’s boss, programming director Carroll Cecil Lombard (yes, his parents thought it funny to name him Carroll Lombard – he goes by C.C.) about Amelia’s last day at work, he was “twitchy and evasive.” I’d decided then not to approach the station directly.
Today, I let Bob set me up with an intern who gave me a presentation on the History of KZZA. The alternate title of the presentation could easily be How Bob Mendelsohn Made Everything Better. I wonder if the pretty little thing presenting was as annoyed giving it as I was sitting through it. Still, it did give me an opening.
When she trogged through the improvements Bob made to the meteorology department, I interrupted to ask, “Who’s your head meteorologist?”
“Sloan Missick is the acting head.”
“Acting? Did the former head meteorologist leave for a different station?” I furrowed my brow to convey that this was a serious consideration for ranking purposes.
“Oh, no,” she said quickly, then gulped and continued, “I mean I…I don’t know.”
“Is the former head still with the station then?”
She replied, “No…well, maybe…I don’t know if she’s actually been terminated.”
I opened my mouth to ask what that meant, when she blurted, “I’m not supposed to talk about it.”
I looked over at my handler, Kent, who sat up straighter in his chair and ran his hand through his almost black mop of hair. “Amelia McKenzie was the head meteorologist until about a month ago. Then one day she didn’t show up for work.” He shrugged, but his eyes looked sad – sad and something else. I couldn’t tell if the something else was fear or quickly masked anger. Did my handler know something, or did he do something?
Slowly, I said, “Are you telling me she just walked off the job? ‘Cause I gotta say if conditions here cause—”
“No,” he interjected. Then, “I mean she appears to have walked away from her whole life.”
“She’s missing?” I asked incredulously. “As I think you know, our group has been reviewing KZZA’s broadcasts for quite some time. No one has said anything to me about a story about a missing team member, particularly the head meteorologist.”
The intern nervously looked at Kent. Kent squirmed and finally said, “The cops asked us not to make a big deal about it.”
“Not the police,” the intern offered. “The feds.”
“The FBI’s involved, and the station hasn’t run the story?”
The intern, looking again at Kent for help, said slowly, “I’m not sure it was the FBI.”
I sat back and said, “I gotta say guys, you’re both acting squirrelly about this—what’s her name, again?”
“Amelia McKenzie,” they said in unison.
“Yeah, Amelia McKenzie. You’re acting squirrelly, and it gives me pause. But for now, let’s just go ahead with the presentation.”
The intern finished her presentation, with me peppering her with questions intermittently, so it wouldn’t appear that I was unduly concentrated on Amelia. After the presentation, I asked Kent to join me for lunch. I could tell he didn’t want to have lunch with me, but he agreed to go, anyway. We went to a local diner, and we both had the club sandwich special – me with chips, him with fries.
I asked him a few questions about the activities planned for that afternoon – interviews with a few department heads and a behind-the-scenes audience to the 5:00 p.m. news. Then, I took my shot.
I swallowed a bite of sandwich, and while Kent’s mouth was full I said, “So, I could be wrong, but it seemed to me that you looked very sad when we were talking about Amelia McKenzie’s disappearance. Did you know her well?”
Kent stopped midchew to stare at me. He’d been pent up since we sat down, so I think he’d been expecting me to come around to questions about Amelia, but he’d perhaps gotten a little relaxed as I’d talked about everything else throughout most of lunch. Now, he chewed fast and swallowed visibly. Then he took a drink of water – I think he was buying time to figure out what to say. For my part, I just continued to look him in the eye unwaveringly.
After wiping his mouth, Kent finally said, “Yeah, we’re friends.”
“Friends friends, or the benefits kind?” I asked.
“Friends,” he repeated displaying just a hint of annoyance.
“What do you think happened to her?”
“I don’t know,” he replied with even more displayed annoyance.
I held his eyes. “I know you don’t know. I’m asking what you suspect happened.”
He was silent for just a moment. Then he said evenly, “I think somebody grabbed her.”
“Hmm,” I said. “For what purpose?”
He sat back, dropping his napkin on the table. “I wish I knew,” he said.
“Did the feds truly tell CC to keep things bottled up?”
“Maybe you should ask him.”
I leaned forward and lowered my head so that I had to look up from under my brows at him. Then I put my fists on the table. Overkill, perhaps, at this point, but I was barely keeping control of myself. I knew this skinny guy knew something.
The words came tumbling out of his mouth. “It has to be her focus on the fine particulate matter hanging over the desert Southwest.”
I thought he might say a lot of things, but that was nowhere in my inventory of possibilities. I didn’t realize I was sitting with my mouth open until he said, “I KNOW, It sounds like a crazy thing for the feds to want to bottle up, but if it’s not that, why did they confiscate all the tapes of her last broadcasts, her computer and one of our servers?”
“They took everything?” I asked.
He hesitated, and then said, “Yes.”
In a split second, I decided to take a chance on Kent. “Kent,” I said. “I/m not really here to rank KZZA in any competition. I’m investigating Amelia’s disappearance.”
He just looked at me, so I continued. “I’m a private investigator brought in by the family who is frantic to find her.”
Immediately, Kent said, “I have copies of some of her broadcasts, and I have prints of some of the analysis she’d performed.”
Turns out Kent was concerned enough for Amelia that he was willing to trust the first person who came forward to try and find her. Luckily, I was that person. We quickly made plans for me to go to his house to look at the files he had and for him to help me understand what Amelia had been on to. I impressed upon Kent that, at the station, we must both act like my assessment was still ongoing.
When I went to Kent’s house that evening, I learned that he had more than just Amelia’s files and broadcasts; he had security cam footage of the federal agents who visited the station. Some of that footage was from prior to Amelia’s disappearance. We isolated photos of each man, and I sent the photos to my tech guy Arnie to run them against photos from the fed employee databases.
Then I turned my attention to what Amelia had been working on. She had been tracking smoke from a wildfire in Colorado – tracking it through meteorological computer programs that measure fine particles in the air. She’d noticed that the smoke seemed to have split in two directions – northeast and south to New Mexico. This was highly unusual, and she was excited to find whatever phenomena caused it. Part of her analysis was to contact fellow meteorologists in New Mexico and in Nebraska. Nebraska reported the skies were hazy, and air quality was poor. But, New Mexico reported perfect visibility and normal air quality.
So, Amelia doubled down on analyzing the data, and found a pattern in the particulate matter over New Mexico. She hadn’t yet worked out all that the pattern indicated, but she knew that a pattern meant that the particles were not naturally occurring. She contacted the National Weather Service, and the next day, the mysterious feds visited KZZA. The following morning, Amelia was gone.
I didn’t know whether to hope they truly had been feds or that they hadn’t. If it were feds and they wanted her to help them with something, she’d probably turn up. If they were feds and they wanted to shut her up, she might not ever be seen again. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but my mind was spinning every evil government plot I’d ever seen at the movies.
Arnie didn’t get back to me on the facial rec until the next afternoon. Pentagon. He couldn’t find exactly what division, which he said was very strange. I didn’t have time to worry about that. I instructed him to get me a phone number for the highest-ranking agent, and then I canceled my next station interview and went out to buy a burner phone. Or, more specifically I went out to pay some kid to buy me a burner phone.
After I got back to my hotel room with the burner phone, I sent all of Amelia’s files to Arnie to secure them, meaning multiple back-ups in multiple locations. Then he and I discussed how he should start laying eggs throughout conspiracy sites and social media. Just enough to hint that the feds were involved in Amelia’s disappearance. Depending on how my phone call went, we’d start dropping specific names and info about the pattern Amelia had found in particulate matter over New Mexico.
At almost midnight, I heard my phone ping. Arnie. The highest-ranking of the feds we’d been able to identify was Terrence Hachey, and I had his desk phone and personal cell phone number. Now, how much shit to stir? Apparently, I was in a shit-stirring mood because my fingers were punching the number into the burner phone a little 14-year-old extortionist had charged me $50 to purchase.
“Hello, Terrence,” I replied menacingly.
“Hey, man, what’s up?” Not quite menacingly enough, apparently. Oh, well, let’s just go along for a minute.
“Not much. You?”
“Oh, nothing much OTHER THAN TRYING TO SLEEP!”
Well, either Hachey was alone, or he didn’t give a rat’s ass about anyone else sleeping.
Calmly, and still trying to sound menacing, I replied, “Well then, let me get to the point. You need to return Amelia McKenzie to her home forthwith, or there will be hell to pay.”
Silence, So, I repeated, “Forthwith.” I try to use the word ‘forthwith’ at every opportunity.
Still, he said nothing. I figured he was trying to get a trace without alerting me to that fact, so I knew to keep it short.
“Terrence, we’ve already put it out into the ether that feds from the Pentagon snatched her. If you don’t return her tomorrow, we’ll attach your name to that information, and we’ll also reveal the fact that there’s something going on in the air over the Southwest. Yeah. Your secret’s not secret. I’ll call you again in three hours.”
I didn’t wait three hours. I was hoping they’d think they’d have three hours and be trying to set up all sorts of confabs, only to have me call Hachey before they were set up. Yeah, sometimes I overthink things.
I dialed him again an hour and 20 minutes later. I didn’t even let him get his greeting out. “Have Amelia at the door to her apartment by 8:00 a.m. tomorrow – uhm, I guess it’s today — or, your name and what you’ve been up to goes out on the internet.”
“That’s impossible,” he blurted before I could hang up.
“Why?” I asked quickly, hoping that the simplicity of it would catch him off guard and he’d just tell me. You’d be surprised how often it works.
“Because I’m not the master of time, space and dimension,” he snarked.
Instantly, I was both shocked and furious. In a tone that sounded frightening even to myself, I said, “Are you telling me she’s dead? If you killed her, the internet is the least of your problems.”
“No, no,” he replied, much less cocky. “There’s just no way I can have her in Indiana in six hours.”
Okay, so she’s alive. Maybe I could get him to let me know where she was.
“Okay, Terrence. Here’s what you can do. Get over to wherever she is, and have her ready to talk when I call back in 30 minutes.”
“I’ll need more like an hour.”
“You got 45 minutes. Better get a move-on.” Then, I hung up.
That tiny voice in my head warned that I might be a little overly self-confident, but my gut told me that Amelia was alive and that Hachey was going to make sure that I spoke to her in 45 minutes. I wasn’t sure where we’d go from there, but I’d figure that out when I heard her voice.
I gave Hachey five extra minutes before I called back this time. I figured it wouldn’t make a difference on them setting up the trace, and it might save me from having to call back. The phone rang twice and then a quiet female voice said, “Hello?”
I couldn’t tell if it was Amelia or not. In a gruff tone I said, “Put Amelia McKenzie on.”
“This is she.”
Still couldn’t tell.
I demanded, “Tell me something about yourself only your oldest brother would know.”
She countered with, “How about something only my oldest brother and our cousin Virgil would know? I don’t think I have anything only Brian would know.”
I suppressed a laugh. My name is Victor Steven Samuelson. I go by Steven. Once, Amelia had asked what my first name was, and I refused to tell her. She, knowing that it started with the letter V, decided the only thing it could be was Virgil. She called me that for a solid month one summer before I finally broke down and told her. Still, I couldn’t give myself away by accepting that clue.
“Whatever,” I growled. “What’s the fact?”
“Well, my brother and my cousin convinced me I could change my eye color with food coloring, and when Mom saw the mess on my face, she made them do theirs, too.”
I put them on hold both to act like I was verifying facts and to laugh outloud. It was Amelia all right. Once she got over her nerves, her voice sounded right. For the record, we didn’t have her put food coloring directly in her eyes. It was colored water. Her dad read all of us, including my Aunt Clara, the riot act when he got home “All of our effing kids could’ve been blinded, Clara!” He does not find the story the least bit funny to this day.
I got back on the phone. “Checks out,” I said. “Have you been harmed, Miss McKenzie? Are you being held against your will?”
“I’m unharmed,” she said. “The other question is a little complicated.”
“Tell Hachey he’s got eight hours to get you back to your apartment.”
“Well, eight hours might be a little tight. We have to get to ABQ, then ORD, then IND, and then the drive…”
In the background I heard Hachey hiss, “I told you not to tell him where we were!”
Responding to him, she said in her sweetest playing dumb voice, “I didn’t – I just told him airports.”
I did laugh out loud at this point. Then I said, “Tell Hachey not to worry about it – I can reach out and touch him any time I want.”
She declined to relay that message.
“Okay, “ I said. “But tell him you have to call your brother from your cell phone in two hours with your full itinerary.”
She passed on that demand. I couldn’t hear what Hachey said, but he must’ve agreed cause she told me she’d call Brian within two hours.”
Kent and I were sitting outside her apartment building when a black SUV dropped her off. We waited for it to leave the complex before we went to her door. She didn’t immediately open the door. Instead, she yelled, “Who is it?”
Simultaneously, Kent yelled his full name while I said with a wry grin, “Virgil.”
She had the safety latch and the deadbolt engaged; I guess some lessons were learned. When she got the door open, she threw her arms around Kent first – I suspect their “friendship” is headed in a bit of a different direction. Then she bear-hugged me around the middle. When she finally let me go, we went inside to get the details on where she’d been the past month.
Seems somehow the feds had not detected the anomaly until Amelia started talking about it in her broadcasts. They had just identified a pattern when she called the National Weather Service with her more detailed information on it. The feds convinced her to help them study it, and through both manipulation and then downright coercion, further convinced her to leave with them without notice to anyone. Stupid move on their part. Had they taken time for a cover story, I wouldn’t have been on their tail.
They were adamant that the anomaly was better studied at a specific location and that the whole thing be kept hush-hush. “Why?” I asked. Remember me saying that in my line of work I learn a lot of things I’d rather not know? This turned out to be one of those times.
She summed up the answer to my question and the question of what Pentagon division Hachey worked for in three words: Roswell, New Mexico.