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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.”


            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? 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?”


            “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.


Friday, March 11, 2022

F³ Bringing The Weirdness

             I was on the verge of unleashing a positronic lightning bolt to destroy all of CERN when Nat and Anna Maria showed up with fondue takeout. We quickly took over two tables in the CERN dining hall. They unpacked a small cauldron of molten cheese and laid out varieties of bread and meat that would satisfy a dozen people. So it had a small chance of satisfying the four of us. Fortunately, they also had a dessert fondue of chocolate loaded with liqueur.

            Scientists and others would occasionally come by, but an evil eye from me or Jack sent them on their way. Nat and Anna maria regaled us with what they had been doing. Kate had come in from the Pacific Northwest to help Nat cover my area, while Anna Maria got help from Stavros from Greece to cover Jack’s side of the Med. Fortunately, both the Plains states and Europe were fairly calm, weather wise.

“Except for this weird cyclone that just popped up in the same area where you first exploded,” Nat said, dunking in half a baguette into the cheese. “It was barely an F1, though, so we just let it peter out on its own.”

“’s weird, right?” I said, devouring half a sausage dripping with cheese.

I considered dipping the other half in the chocolate, but decided against it. Maybe later. “Only if we call every tornado in the Alley weird.”

“They’re weird,” Jack said.

“Joaquim, must you stir up trouble?” Anna Maria said.

“Never seen an F1 that small, though. I’d call it a dust devil but it reached the clouds. Don’t know. Weird shit is always happening to us.”

“Case in point,” Jack said, gesturing between the two of us.”

“The two of you, bring the weirdness on yourselves,” Anna Maria said, and shoved a chocolate dipped strawberry in Jack’s mouth before he could reply.

“She has a point,” I admitted, dunking part of the sausage in the chocolate.

“Oh, God, I think you just ruined fondue, Reilly.” Nat tossed the rest of her baguette on the plate, looking away in horror.


Friday, March 4, 2022

F³ Limbo

             The loud thunking sound made me lose count of the holes in the ceiling tiles, so I started over. I got to 37 before the thunk sounded again, this time a double. I sighed, and began again, this time only getting to 18 before another thunk.

            “Do me a favor, Jack,” I growled. “Put a divot in your skull. Really cause some brain damage.”

            “Wouldn’t change my charming personality.” He thunked his head against the wall again.

            After five days in Switzerland, and at least two dozen tests, we were bored out of our skulls. Nat, Kate, and Anna Maria had to go and respond to weather threats since Jack and I were out of commission. We didn’t even have our phones as a stray static charge along the outside of the phone could react with the positrons Jack and I produced. Jack was still furious over losing progress in a game he had been playing.

            Ursula came into the room, looking cheerful as she flipped between pages of a report. “I have good news,” she smiled. “The latest test results are clear.”

            “So you know what we have?” I leaned forward.

            Jack paused his head thunking.

            “Hmm? Oh, no. I still don’t know. What I mean is that we do not have to repeat that test again. The readings are clear, so we can proceed to analyze them, now.”

            “Oh, great.”

            “Yes, I thought so. Well, it should only be another hour until we’re set up for the next test.” With that, she turned and walked back out of the room.

            Jack resumed his thunking.

            “Hey, you think you’ll reach level 30?” I asked.

            “Bite me, Reilly. Just bite me.”


Friday, February 25, 2022

F³ Experiment

             “Um, I don’t think this is what I signed up for.” Half a dozen science-y gizmos were strapped to me, and another dozen pointed at me in a threatening manner.

            “For once I am in complete agreement with Reilly,” Jack said, facing his own gizmos.

            “We must determine the level of energy from the photons to verify the presence of positron interaction.” Dr. Keller’s voice came over the intercom, behind a sheet of impressively thick glass.

            “Listen to the Doc,” Nat said. “And next time maybe don’t go doing whatever it is you did to do this thing.”

            “Yeah, that’s helpful,” I muttered.

            “I really want Hulk powers out of this,” Jack said.

            “I’m afraid gamma rays do not cause that kind of mutation of—”

            “No offense, Doc,” Jack interrupted, “but a few hours ago you would’ve said what we could do is impossible, so come on Hulk powers!”

            “Ja, this is true. Well, I cannot promise such. Now, please remain calm. When I ask you to, produce your positron stream as we discussed.”

            “The what?” I asked.

            “Your freaky lightning,” Nat clarified.

            “Oh. You know, I passed on being a science experiment in college. Back then they were at least paying.”

            “Quit your bitching, guinea pig,” Kate said.

Friday, February 18, 2022

F³ A Really Smart Person

            “From what Anna Maria has explained to me,” Dr. Ursula Keller began with only a touch of a German accent. “You people all possess the ability to directly influence the weather in some manner. She even demonstrated some of her abilities to me, which I find rather extraordinary.” She stood next to a whiteboard and had written down a list of what storm riders could do. Apparently, she had taken a lot of time to question Anna Maria.

            “She said you needed someone who knew about antimatter. But why is this?”

            “Reilly,” Nat said.

            I stretched my thumb and forefinger, then let loose with the crazy backwards lightning. Sure enough, the fuzzy arc of miniature explosions materialized again.

            For good measure, Jack did the same thing, though he made it more spectacular by stretching it between palms about six inches apart. Firecracker explosions went off repeatedly along the arc, making it chaotic.

            “Madre de Dios,” Anna Maria breathed. “You didn’t tell me that something was wrong with you, too,” she said to Jack.

            “It’s his fault,” Jack nodded his head at me.

            “I did shoot him,” I admitted. “Because he asked me to.”


            Jack shrugged.

            “Fascinating,” said Dr. Keller. “That really is not lightning as you showed me, earlier. And you suspect that this is positronic lightning, annihilating with air molecules to produce photons and gamma bursts?”

            “Um, yeah, we totally suspected all of that,” I said.

            “We really need more smart people that we can talk to,” Kate said.



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