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Friday, May 20, 2022

F³ Planning Ahead

             Jack guided us via cloudsurfing northeast until we reached a city. Jack plunked us down right next to a medieval church, near a bridge. Without a word, Jack took off at a quick walk across the stone bridge, sticking to the pedestrian walks. The church itself had been dark, but the city, especially across the bridge, seemed quite lively, still. Anna Maria quickly joined Jack, shaking her head, but not saying anything.

            “Okay,” I whispered to Nat, who had started moving in the same direction. “What gives? Jack and a church?”

            “Well,” she said, it is a pretty good place for us to dropdown. It’s closed and people aren’t likely to see us. What concerns me is that this place is very familiar to both him and Anna Maria. Unfortunately, after our little impromptu dunk in the sea, I can’t use my phone. Last time I tried, it didn’t do anything. I’m going to have to take it apart to blow all the water out.”

            I fished my phone out, still in its drybag.

            “Since when do you do that?”

            “Since Russia. You can use the phone through the bag. Sometimes the audio gets distorted, but it still works.” I held the bag out to her.

            She quirked an eyebrow at me. “Why don’t you use it?”

            “Positronic lightning. Guessing that won’t work on the electronics too well.”

            “Ahh, good point.”

            “We’re here,” Jack announced, stopping in front of Middle Eastern restaurant.

            “Okay,” I said, “last time I checked, Iran is way southeast of us.”

            “So what? They have awesome kebabs here, but the real reason is the desserts” He chuckled. It was a disturbing chuckle that I had come to know as the Jack chuckle. It wasn’t a good sign.

            Anna Maria rolled her eyes.

            Definitely not a good sign.

Friday, May 13, 2022

F³ Consensus

             The coldness of the North Sea didn’t really bother us. Since we spent most of our lives at altitudes higher than Everest, a little seawater was nothing. However, we had to flop on the sand, and sand gets everywhere, especially on wet clothing.

            “Joaquim, if it were not for your . . . affliction, I would slap you, right now.”

            “What’d I do?”

            I rolled over and punched Jack hard in the shoulder, digging a knuckle in.

            “Ow! What the fuck?”

            “Just shut up, Jack. You’re normally a pain in the ass, but you’re even moreso, now, so just shut up.”

            “Hey, I—”

            “Shut up, Jack!” We all said simultaneously.

            For a wonder, Jack shut up, though he did grumble under his breath.

            “I’m hungry,” Nat said.

            “Me, too.” I said.

            “And I,” Anna Maria added in.

            “Now can I—” Jack began.

            “No!” We all said.

            We stood up and used whirlwinds to blow the sand off and dry ourselves out, though I could swear I still had sand in my shorts and socks.

            “Anyone know where to eat at this time of night?”

            Having never been to Europe for more than a few stops on the way to solve a crisis, I shrugged.

            Jack held up a hand.

            “Oh, God,” Nat said. “Fine, Jack. Where?”

            He retracted fingers on his upraised hand until only one finger remained.

 

Friday, May 6, 2022

F³ Drowned Sorrows

             Once out of eyeshot in Switzerland, we left via cloudsurfing. There had been no storms in the area, and at least Jack and I could do that. Lacking any leads on how to cure our conditions, we headed west to find out if Belgian chocolate was actually better than Swiss. That had been the rough plan, but a strong desire to push the limits of our ability to metabolize alcohol won out, so we ended up in a sports bar in. . . .

            “Where the hell are we, again?” I asked.

            “Knokke-Heist,” Anna Maria answered, though she slurred a little.

            Jack belched, pointing at Anna Maria.

            Some of the other patrons looked over at Jack, frowning.

            Nat was gradually sampling all of the different beers the bar stocked, and gradually I meant an entire bottle in one go. She had the empties lined up like a curved wall around her, keeping the rest of us out.

            “Why here?” I asked.

            “The seaside is very pleasant,” Anna Maria said. “A refreshing change of pace from the Mediterranean. “ She gestured to the window and the view of the beach, which was dark since it was ten at night.

            “She shells sheashells by the sheashore!” Jack said, butchering the tongue twister, probably on purpose.

            “Jack,” I waggled my finger at him. You might not wanna do that. Think those guys are getting pissed.” I stopped waggling my finger with my other hand.

            “We’re all getting pissed!”

            “Joaquim!” Anna Maria shouted, then backed it down. “Do not cause a scene.”

            “Oh, come on, it’s fucking soccer. No one fucking cares about soccer.”

            Apparently, the men watching the game disagreed and we soon found ourselves being carried out of the bar, down the beach, and literally thrown into the incoming tide.

Friday, April 29, 2022

F³ It's About Who You Know

             “I think you were right,” Kate said.

            “Most people would be pleased at that kind of acknowledgement, but I’ve often found that being right is pretty painful,” I said, already looking back at Wilson’s schedule.

            “Well, that might be the case here, too. So I found something, carved, er painted, or I don’t know, but the rock here is marked.”

            I looked back at my screen, and she focused her camera on the bedrock. “Can you see it?”

            I squinted at it. “Looks a little like a pinwheel, or a vortex, or something.”

            “That’s what I thought. I can kind of feel something from it.”

            “Feel what?”

            “Pressure, and then not. It’s not constant. Makes me think of the wind.”

            “Well, that’s it, then.”

            “What’s it?”

            “The dingus, the whatsit, the thing.”

            “This?”

            I looked back down at Wilson’s schedule. “Yup.”

            “So you know what this is?” Her voice got louder from pointing the camera back at herself. “You can fix Reilly and Jack.”

            Peripheral vision caught her smile of relief.

            Really hate to kill that. She’s going to be mad at me.

            “Nope.”

            “Nope? What the fuck do you mean nope? If you can identify it, you should know what it is!”

            “Not a clue. I’m not an encyclopedia of everything supernatural.”

            “I’m going to fucking kill you.”

            “Nope. I don’t know what it is, but I know who it belongs to. It’s Sioux.”

            “Sue? Who is Sue?”

            “Not Sue as in short for Susan. Sioux as in the Native American nations. You’re in South Dakota. That’s their land you’re in.”

            “The Sioux Nation?”

            “Yup. Well, reasonable guess. There are other tribes in the area, but they’re the biggest.  So what you want to do is go talk to some members of the tribe. Chances are that symbol belongs to a weather spirit or something. Probably sacred ground, and knowing Storm Riders, Reilly probably offended something. There’s probably a ritual, maybe an apology. But that’s the move. Talk to the Sioux. There. I’ve earned my fee.”

            I disconnected the call and went back to the Wilson schedule.

            There it is, racquetball, Wednesday night.

Friday, April 22, 2022

F3 New Business Model

             Kyle Wilson was having an affair, but I still didn’t have the pictures that his wife likely would need to believe that he wasn’t under a gypsy curse. I had, in fact, talked to the “gypsy” who wasn’t even Romani, just a licensed psychic who used the trappings to bring people in. She crumbled pretty quickly when I pointed out all the things in her shop that had nothing to do with Romani and everything to do with being a practical businesswoman trying to lure customers in with the latest crystals, aromatherapy, and calligraphied gibberish on fancy postcards purporting to be spells.

            But Sarah’s not going to believe just that. She’ll need to see proof that Kyle is having an affair.

            I looked back over his schedule when the video call app on my laptop sounded. I clicked the button.

            “I’m here,” I said, but was still looking over the papers.

            “Okay, so, I think I might have found something. Took fucking forever. For reference, thunder to crack the ice works better than lightning to melt it.”

            I looked up to see that all the snow and ice in the immediate region was gone, completely swept clean.

            “Wow, you know, if you ever wanted to go into business, you’d make a fortune clearing walks or even whole streets of the snow and ice. That stuff isn’t light, how’d you do it?”

            “Like I said, some thunder to crack the ice, and a small 200 mph whirlwind. It formed really easily, actually.”

            “Seriously, I think this is an untapped business model for storm riders. The snow in Boston sucked.”

            “Somehow I don’t think they would want thunder loud enough to shatter windows or pocket whirlwinds that could move cars just to get rid of snow and ice.”

            “Maybe. Depends on how bad the storm was.”

Friday, April 15, 2022

F³ Snow Blower

             I was on my third spoonful of the leftover chowder when the video call came in. Ira and Jen had set me up with the tech, so I took it on my laptop. Kate’s face appeared, though it kept bouncing because she was walking around.

            “I see you,” I said.

            “Yeah, I can see—are you eating the leftover clam chowder?”

            “Yep. Good stuff. Thanks.”

            “This is so unfair. You’re eating the food I hauled all the way from Boston, and I’m . . . here!” She turned the phone around to show me the icy rocks of South Dakota’s badlands in winter.

            “You definitely didn’t pay me enough to endure that.”

            “Whatever. So what am I looking for?”

            “Why do you people think that I just have all the answers? I have no idea what you’re looking for. The thing that’s odd or different. You’re at the exact place he was when he got whammied?”

            She swung the camera back to her face. “More or less, I think?”

            I sighed. “The answer would be no, then. Get to the exact spot. Look around. Especially look under that snow and ice.” I ate another spoonful of chowder.

            “Does it look like I packed a snow shovel?”

            I didn’t look. I just blew on another spoonful of chowder. “No, but I bet with those fancy wind powers you could make like a good snow blower.”

            “All right, yes, I could do that. Fine. I’ll call back, soon.”

            “Take your time, I don’t want the chowder to get cold.”

Friday, April 8, 2022

F³ Storm Rider Class

            I licked cannoli cream from my finger. “So you left them in Switzerland with the mad scientist?”

            “Basically, but I’m not buying that she can help them. Just doesn’t fit, you know?”

            I shrugged. “What else is there?”

            “You. You were asking about different supernatural things, but that was only what Reilly knew. What if there was something he didn’t know about?”

            “Very possibly.”

            “Okay, so what is it?”

            I shrugged. “No idea. I’m not a divining rod, here. But I’ll give you your money’s worth, here,” I waved at the empty takeout containers. “First, someone did this to him deliberately through some means, he just didn’t see anyone. Second, he interacted with something that did this to him, and he didn’t recognize that it was a thing. Mystical artifacts can look like anything. Third, well, there really is no third that I can think of, right now. But your options are basically the same when it comes to figuring this out: Go back to the source. You’ll need to go back to where he got whammied and see what’s what.”

            I stuffed the last of the cannoli into my mouth, chomping away at it as she thought about what I said.

            “Okay. That makes sense. Knew coming back to talk to you was the right move. So I can have us in the Dakotas in less than an hour. Let’s go.”

            “Whoa there, slow your lobster roll. This fee, as good as it has been, is not enough to drag me behind lightning bolts at terrifying altitudes for the likes of Reilly Hawkins and Jack Dailey. You go and check it all out. Take pictures, we’ll do the video phone thing, and I’ll consult from here, okay?”

            “Coward?”

            “Smart and fiscally-minded,” I corrected.

            “Next time I’ll bring a bigger fee.”

            “Much bigger,” I said. “But I still may not take the case. I really do not like flying Storm Rider Class.”

 

Friday, April 1, 2022

F³ A Different Fee

             My brain was skeptical, but my nose was sure.

            “You carried this in an insulated bag from Boston?” I asked, inhaling the aroma of the still warm clam chowder.

            “Yup,” Kate threw out as if it was an ordinary thing. “I remember you saying you were from there, and I came back that way from Switzerland, so I thought I’d grab us something.”

            She popped the lid on a plastic to-go box, and the aroma of lobster and butter filled the car.

            “Lobster roll,” I almost drooled. “I haven’t had one of those in years.”

            “Full confession,” she said, “I had a dozen of these before I left. I think the buttered ones are better than the mayo.”

            I nodded. “Me, too,” and my hand reached out of its own accord to pluck up a roll, and I took a bite, feeling the pop of the lobster meat under my teeth as it exploded with juice and flavor.

            We ate more or less in silence, just talking about the food, especially my memories of it growing up. I still couldn’t get over just how much food Storm Riders inhaled on a regular basis. Kate downed half a dozen more lobster rolls and a quart of chowder and its bread bowl while I had barely finished off a pint of chowder and three rolls.

            She graciously offered me the last lobster roll, but as I reached for it, I paused. “You’re not going to do something to me if I eat it while you’re still hungry, are you?”

            “No promises,” she said. “Getting between a storm rider and food is a hazardous venture.”

            I went for it, anyway. “I think you’ll let it slide since this is supposed to be my fee. Not sure for what, yet, but you went a long way to butter me up. This still have to do with Reilly’s and Jack’s problem?”

            She frowned at me, then sighed, rolling her eyes. “Okay, yes, I guess I am that transparent for the detective. So, will you take the case?”

            “What’d you bring for dessert?”

Friday, March 25, 2022

F³ Stakeout Interruptus

             I rubbed at my eyes as I squinted through my car window. I had a small piece of cardboard jammed at the top that did a passable job of keeping the drizzle off the window. Raindrops played hell with trying to get a decent photo, especially at night.

            Across the street from me, the light had gone on in the bedroom. I was at a bad angle since the bedroom was in the back corner of the house, but I could just make out a corner of the bed. I checked the viewfinder in my camera. A tie draped over one corner, tossed there haphazardly.

            I’m going to have to go back there. I really hate these kinds of jobs.

            There were times, and I strongly suspected this was one of them, that some people hired me to track down something supernatural going on with their spouse, when it was just an ordinary affair. Not fun, but easily proved with a couple of snaps.

            I settled my hat, ready to bolt from the car when I got a text message.

            Nikki? No, she has her own sound, so do Jen and Jessie.

            Having run through my usual suspects, I checked the message, which consisted of one word: “Incoming!” So I checked who it was from, and sighed again as a flash of lightning split the night and rolling thunder echoed in the clouds.

            Behind me, I heard a knock on the passenger window. Kate waved at me, pointing at the door lock. “I brought food!” she said.

I sighed, knowing I wasn’t going to be getting those pictures, tonight.

 

Friday, March 18, 2022

F³ The Final Insult

             “Ah, good,” Ursula said, clipping the end of the word in her German accent. “You are all here.”

            We were still in the dining hall, finishing the dregs of our fondue meal.

            “Lay it on us, Doc. You won’t find us in a better mood,” I said.

            “Well, I have excellent news. We have confirmed that you both are producing positrons and the annihilation reactions with ordinary matter are producing high energy photons. This is very exciting.”

            The four of us looked at one another, then back to her. “Still waiting for the good part,” Nat said.

            “The two of you present a nearly limitless potential for fueling our experiments. We will finally uncover the secrets of antimatter thanks to the two of you. We may even be able to realize new sources of unlimited, clean energy!”

            “Great. So, how do you fix us?” Jack asked.

            “Fix you? I do not understand.” Ursula appeared genuinely confused

            “We don’t want to shoot positronium—”

            “Positronic,” I corrected.

            Jack flipped me off, but didn’t stop talking to Ursula. “—Lightning. I want to shoot regular lightning, like they can.” Jack pointed to Nat and Anna Maria.

            The girls spread their fingers and created spiderwebs of electricity between their fingers.

            “I am always amazed at that.” Ursula gushed. “Would that we fully understood those processes. Perhaps we can start some experiments with you, too.”

            “How. Do. You. Fucking. Fix. Us?” Jack said.

            “I have no idea. We do not want to fix you. You are far more valuable to us shooting the antimatter than lightning.”

            I could feel it, kind of like how the charge changed in a room before shooting off lightning, but it was sharper than that, much more tense, so I grabbed Jack. “No, Jack. Definitely no. Let’s just go.”

            Slowly, Jack turned away, and we moved toward the exit.

            “Good, Joaquim, good,” Anna Maria soothed. I will throw lightning and disrupt their experiments for a time.”

            Just before the door, Jack turned and yelled out, “Belgian chocolate is better!”

            “And the French make far superior cheese,” Anna Maria added.

 

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