Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Blue Norther - a short story

Dark clouds of an approaching Blue Norther gathered outside the window as Linda watched her husband pace worried circles around their living room.
"Please, Ted, don't go out tonight. The weather's awful and getting worse by the minute."
Ted stopped pacing and frowned. "No option. Big meeting at the bank."
"Friday night at seven?
Both Ted and Linda glanced up at their precocious nineteen-year-old daughter Britta. One year beyond high school graduation, she still lived with them. She glanced over the balcony, naked except for a pair of lacy panties.
Linda said, "Britta! Put some clothes on."
Britta pranced back to her room, returning with one of her father's starched white shirts over the panties.
"Hot date, Dad?"
Britta's jesting implication caused Linda's gaze to return to the pot on the stove. Ted didn't seem to mind.
"I have an important meeting at the bank, young lady."
"Even Gramps wouldn't call a meeting on a night like this."
"Your grandfather may own the bank, but he doesn't run it any longer. I'm president now. I call the meetings when I see fit."
"Whoa!" Britta squealed.
"Have you done your homework?"
"I graduated a year ago, Mom. Remember?"
"Just being facetious."
"I have a date tonight with Freddy."
"You can't go out in this awful weather. I won't allow it."
"I'm nineteen. I make my own decisions now. Remember?"
"As long as you live here you should as least listen to your mother."
"Dad, will you please tell her to stuff it?"
Ted glanced at his watch before replying. After winking at his daughter, he said, "Britta's a grown woman. Cut her a little slack."
"Thanks, Dad," Britta said, blowing him a kiss and disappearing into her room before Linda could protest.
Ted cracked the curtain and peeked out the window.
"Can you fix me a drink?" he said.
Linda swallowed her annoyance on the way to the liquor cabinet, pouring one for each of them. She touched his hand when she gave him the vodka.
"You know I don't sleep well when you're away."
Ted returned to the window, ignoring her distress. "How did the weather turn so bad, so fast? The sun was out when I left the office."
Drifting snow had already begun piling up against fences and houses. "Blue Norther," she said.
Ted saluted the snow with a raised glass. "Got that right,"
"See how bad it's getting? Please stay home tonight."
She returned to the kitchen without an answer. Linda was different from her daughter. Soft and milky smooth compared with Britta's lithe body and her all-over tan. Long, bottle-lightened hair draped her shoulders. Britta's hair was short and surfer girl blond. Britta was a chatterbox, Linda introverted to the point of angering her husband.
"At least eat something before you go."
Rattling ice in his glass, he just stared out the window. "Maybe. If the weather doesn't get any worse."
The ringing of Britta's cell phone interrupted their conversation, and she returned to the banister. "Guess I'm staying home tonight. Freddy's battery is dead."
"Good," Linda said. "At least I won't be all alone."
They all turned to look when someone knocked on the front door. Ted opened it, finding a tall stranger waiting in the doorway.
"Help you?"
"Car broke down, and I lost my cell phone in the snow. Mind if I use your phone to call for help?"
"Let the poor man in and close the door," Linda called from the kitchen.
Moving aside, Ted watched him remove his gloves and blow his hands to warm them. The young man's clean-cut good looks calmed any distress Linda may have had as she took his coat and pointed to the kitchen.
"Warm yourself by the stove. You look half frozen."
Britta shattered her concentration when she hurried downstairs to see who was there.
"Now I'm glad Freddy has a dead battery," she said, staring at the handsome stranger.
Ted frowned. "Britta, put some clothes on."
Britta frowned but trotted back upstairs as Linda followed the man into the kitchen.
"Coffee or hot tea?"
Looking at her drink glass, he said, "I'd rather have what you're drinking."
Feeling an inexplicable attraction to him, she turned to the liquor cabinet to mix another drink.
"What do you drink?" she asked.
"Scotch, neat, if you have it."
"The phone is by the coffee pot," she said as she handed him the drink.
Without taking his eyes off her, he raised his glass in silent toast. It brought an inexplicable flush to Linda's cheeks.
"Phone's dead," he said.
"Can't be," Linda said, concern replacing her facial flush. "Britta just had a call."
"On her cell phone," Ted said, walking up from behind.
Linda jumped. Regaining her composure, she called upstairs.
"Britta, is your phone working?"
"No bars. Sorry."
"Mine's not working either in this lousy weather," Ted said. "Guess you're out of luck. Sorry, we can't help."
Britta called from the banister. "Dad can take him into town. Invite the poor man to dinner, Mom."
"Pardon my rudeness. Will you have dinner with us?" Linda asked.
"Why not?" he said, his smile warming Linda's neck.
"Then make yourself comfy. My pot roast is almost ready."
The stranger smiled again. This time, Ted noticed how it flustered her. She turned away, averting his frown.
"How rude of me not to introduce ourselves. I'm Linda Stevenson, and this is my husband, Ted. The sassy young lady is my daughter, Britta."
For an awkward moment, the man continued staring at her as he squeezed her hand.
"I'm Dan Savage," he finally said.
"I'm going upstairs and try the weather band," Ted said.
"Well," Linda said. "Guess we'll soon find out about the highways. Dinner won't be long."
She smiled when she heard the rattling thump of logs added to the barren fireplace. Feeling almost guilty, she peeked through the door. As if he'd felt her gaze, Savage gave her a look that made her weak in the knees.
"Thought I'd heat things up," he said.
Before she could reply, Ted rushed down the stairs, bundled in coat and gloves.
"Can't wait for dinner. Got to go now. Storm's worsening by the minute. I'll drive you into town, Mr. Savage."
Dan Savage placed the last log in the fireplace and grabbed his coat hanging by the front door. Before he could button up, Britta rushed up from the basement.
"Wait, Daddy. We have a broken pipe downstairs."
Ted banged the door with his clenched fist. "You can't be serious."
"No need missing your appointment," Savage said. "I'm handy with things. I'll fix it for you."
"Fantastic! You go ahead, Dad," Britta said. "Mr. Savage can repair the pipe and then stay the night in the spare bedroom. You can give him a ride into town tomorrow."
Ted glare revealed his inner turmoil. After glancing at the cut of Savage's clothes and hair, he decided he was no ax murderer.
"Great. I'll take you into town tomorrow."
He kissed Britta's forehead, ignoring Linda's folded arms as he went out the front door without a backward glance.
"Show me the pipe," Savage said, interrupting the moment.
Britta led him to the basement. Despite Linda's concern, she experienced an almost forgotten flush of sexual excitement. The feeling embarrassed her as she returned to the kitchen.
Unable to shake her growing sexual fantasy for the young man, she fixed him another drink and took it to the basement. She almost dropped it when she saw his bare chest. Stripped to the waist, he was making final adjustments on an exposed pipe. Britta, sitting on the floor with her arms wrapped around her knees, was also watching Savage's every move.
"Thought you might need this," Linda said.
Sweat trickled down Savage's muscled rib cage. Unnerved by his physical presence, she had trouble averting her gaze.
"Thanks," he said.
Savage stood six inches taller than Linda, had a strong jaw, thick brown hair and probably fifteen years younger. After tipping back the glass, he touched the icy surface to his forehead.
"Fixed," he said.
"You are good!" Britta squealed, wrapping her slender arms around his neck.
Linda's face flushed, jealousy her only emotion as she watched Savage and Britta embrace.
"Follow me, Mr. Savage, I'll show you the guest bedroom. You can shower, and I'll find some of my husband's clothes."
"Call me Dan," he said, untangling from Britta and following Linda up the stairs, into the spare bedroom.
"Towels are in the cabinet. Take your time."
Linda waited in the kitchen for twenty minutes before selecting shirt and pants from her husband's closet. Returning to the guest bedroom, she tapped on the door and then entered without waiting for a reply.
Through the cracked bathroom door, she heard Savage humming a silly tune. She eased it open; senses sharpened as she stared into the steam-filled room, her eyes focusing on his hazy shape. Standing with his back to her, he stared in the mirror, shaving cream on his face and razor in his hand. She watched his naked backside until he stopped humming and turned around.
"See something you like?"
Linda's face flushed bright red. After dropping Ted's clothes to the floor, she hurried out of the bathroom.
"Dinner in ten minutes," she said.
Twenty minutes later, Savage joined her in the kitchen. Though Ted's shirt and pants were too small, he didn't seem to mind.
"Britta," she called. "Dinner is ready."
Wearing a sexy blouse and tight leather skirt, Britta danced into the dining room. "Where you from, Dan?" she asked.
"Here and there," he said, ladling corn from a bowl. "Mostly there."
Britta giggled, and Linda smiled. When they finished eating, Britta went upstairs, and Savage helped Linda with the dishes. They were soon together in the living room, basking in the warmth of the fireplace.
"Does your husband always have meetings on Friday night?"
Savage's question earned him a nervous titter from Linda. "I've wondered that myself."
"The answer?"
Reclining on the couch, knees bent, she rested her head in her palms. The posture caused her skirt to ride up on her thighs. She straightened when she realized Savage was staring at her legs.
"Sorry," Savage said with a smile.
Linda's face was on fire, but it felt good and she realized she didn't want it to stop burning.
"Britta says he's having an affair," she said.
"Is he?"
"Probably. I'll get you something to sleep in tonight."
"I usually sleep in the buff," he said
Linda ignored his comment and Savage stretched out on the couch as she hurried upstairs. He was grinning when she returned.
"You're bigger than Ted," she said, handing him the robe and pajamas.
He winked as he climbed the stairs to the bedroom. "Your husband has excellent taste. I can sleep naked if they don't fit."
Savage's words seared Linda's soul. Flushing with sexual warmth, she waited ten minutes. When he didn't return, she went to her bedroom, shutting the door but leaving it unlocked. Her body blazed as she squirmed beneath the sheets. She finally got out of bed and drew open the curtains.
The storm had more than arrived. She watched, perspiration beading her forehead as drifting snow piled up against the house. After returning to bed, she slipped into a restless dream, returning her to the shower scene:
A steamy mist filled the room as Savage reached for her hand. When he touched her breasts, she awoke, tangled in the sheets and needing a drink. Not bothering with robe and slippers, she arose to get one. On her way to the stairs, she found something amiss.
Ted's office door was open. Peering inside, she switched on the desk lamp. Papers lay scattered on the floor. His floor safe stood open and empty. With trembling fingertips to stifle a scream, she touched her open mouth.
"My God!"
When Linda discovered Ted's gun was missing, her hands began to tremble. She hurried to the guest bedroom and pushed open the door. She gasped when she heard the unmistakable sounds of lovemaking. Not only had the brazen stranger stolen their money, but he was raping her daughter. She reached for the light switch.
"Stop it now, you monster!"
Britta sat bolt upright,  shock on her pretty face. Savage grinned.
"Mother, how could you?" Britta said.
"Get out of that bed," Linda yelled. "Now!"
Grabbing Britta's arm, she yanked her to the floor. Britta curled up in a ball to hide her nudity.
"Thief! How could you rob us and then rape my daughter?"
"You kidding me, lady? The little bitch loves it."
"You're a liar," she said, scratching and flailing with arms and fists as he blocked her blows. When he slapped her and shoved her against the wall, she sank to the floor, wiping tears from her eyes and blood from a split lip.
Britta sobbed, as she lay crumpled in a naked heap beside the bed. Savage wiped the blood from three parallel scratches on his face. Linda crawled across the floor to her daughter. When she tried to put her hands on her shoulders, Britta wrenched away.
"How could you do this to me?" she said.
"Britta, you don't understand. This man is a thief."
"You only want him for yourself," Britta said, her tears returning.
"That's not true."
"I hate you," Britta cried. "Just like Daddy hates you."
Slamming the door behind her, she ran out of the room leaving her mother alone to glare at the thief on the bed.
"I'm calling the police."
Savage laughed, and it chilled her. "Phone's dead. Remember?"
"It was you that cut the line." Savage didn't answer. "How did you know about the money and jewels we keep in the house?"
"Maybe you should ask Britta."
Linda froze. "What do you mean?"
"You think I just met her tonight? We've been going at it like cats in heat for a month. We're taking the money and blowing this burg."
"Liar!"
"Am I? How do you think I managed the broken pipe in the basement?"
Feeling dizzy, Linda sank to the floor as he got dressed. She followed him out of the bedroom and down the stairs where Britta was waiting, suitcase packed. Savage grabbed his coat and opened the front door as the icy wind filled the hallway with blowing snow.
Linda grabbed Britta's elbow. "Where are you going?"
Britta shook loose from her grasp. "Away from you."
"What will I tell your father?"
Pivoting on her heels, Britta said, "Don't bother. He'll know why I left."
"Please stop," Linda begged as her daughter trudged through the snow.
Britta kept walking. Linda followed her into the brunt of the storm. When they reached a car parked on the street, Savage tossed the suitcase into the backseat. Linda grabbed Britta's arm, but she pulled away and climbed into the passenger seat, locking the door behind her. Banging on the window, Linda pleaded with her.
Savage tried cranking the engine until it became apparent the battery was dead. Britta led him to the garage. Minutes later, Linda's silver Mercedes screamed away through the misty darkness, Linda chasing, barefooted through the snow, after them.
***
Ted Stevenson returned next morning, easing his car into the driveway. In front of the house was a red Chevrolet, hood and windows covered with snow, he hadn't noticed when he left. He also saw something else.
It was Linda, on her knees on the front porch dressed only in her sexy nightgown. Crystals of ice coating her body glistened like broken glass in the morning sunlight. One frozen hand clutched the door handle in a deadly embrace. Paralyzed by horror, Ted stared at her pallid face.
An ironic smile lay frozen on her lips. Her eyes seemed to move, but it was only a frosty reflection. Rushing upstairs to check on Britta, he abandoned her to death's eternity and the frozen kiss of the departed blue Norther.


END



Louisiana Mystery Writer Eric Wilder is the author of the French Quarter Mystery Series, and the Psychic Cowboy Detective Series. If you liked Blue Norther, please check out his novels on his AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iBook author pages.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

New Cover for Upcoming Book RIVER ROAD

This is the cover for my upcoming book River Road (hopefully out by December). It will be the 5th book in my French Quarter Mystery Series set in New Orleans.
Wonderful cover artists HigginsRoss of Lowell, MA used many elements from the story. It features Ashland Plantation in the background where several movies including The Beguiled and Long Hot Summer were filmed. The cover model wears a gold medallion from the 1948 Krewe of Rex. Hope you like it!

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Eric Wilder is the author of the French Quarter Mystery Series. Please check out more of Eric's writing on his AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iBook author pages



Monday, July 20, 2015

A NIGHT AT THE TRIPLE X

I’ve heard it said the biggest sex organ in the body is the brain. Years ago, I had reason to confirm that claim.

Miss Carol and I were a number but we were beginning to get on each other’s nerves. She was smart, confident and good looking. I was simply young and dumb. Even though we worked in the same industry, the biggest attraction we had for each other was sex, pure and simple.

Six months had passed in our relationship and the attraction had begun to wane. Both of us, it seemed, was searching for a way to let the other down easy. My friend Joel was in town from Colorado and staying with me. I was divorced but my ex and I had not yet sold our house. We were taking turns staying there until we found a buyer.

Miss Carol’s friend Miss Ann took Joel with her to one of our favorite bars and Miss Carol and I were supposed to join them. It was Friday night, Miss Carol a lease broker who had just returned to town from a week of checking records in Roger Mills County, had been doing her thing during that time, and I mine.

“I just want to go home and go to bed,” she said.

“What about Joel and Miss Ann?” I asked.

“They don’t need us,” she said.

“Let’s drive over anyway. Joel can ride back with me and Miss Ann can take you home.”

“Fine,” she said, “But I’m not staying.”

On the way to the club, I caught a whiff of her perfume and suddenly remembered why I liked her so much. We were on 10th street, an area in Oklahoma City populated by strip bars and seedy hole-in-the-walls. About that time, we passed a stand-alone X-rated movie theatre.

“Have you ever seen a porn movie?” I asked.

“I’m not ten,” she said.

On a whim, I pulled into the parking lot. “Let’s go in.”

Miss Carol grinned. She was trying to dump me but had just enough kink to consider my offer.

“Okay, Perv,” she said. “You’ll say uncle before me.”

The XXX Theatre was a single-storied building with a very dark lobby. We purchased two tickets from the disinterested ticket puncher who had likely seen it all before. The theater was small and dark and smelled like urine. A naked man and an equally unclad woman were going at it on the screen.

There were probably ten patrons in the theater. All weirdos and not people you’d want to call friends. Miss Carol and I found an empty aisle and settled in to watch the movie. The couple on screen was performing every sex act imaginable, complete with grunts, groans, moans, and even a few screams.

As I began getting into the flick, I put my hand between Miss Carol’s legs, groping her most private parts, fully expecting a slap in the face. Instead, she began licking my neck. Before long, we both had our jeans pulled down to our knees, helplessly locked in the throws of hot, mindless sex right there in the middle of an x-rated theater, surrounded by perverts with their own pants down to their knees. We were shocked back to reality by a raspy voice.

“Real sex ain’t allowed in here. Take it outside or I’ll have to call the cops,” the man from the ticket booth told us.

I was having trouble discerning the difference between real sex and sex on the screen as we headed for the lobby. Didn’t really matter, faces burning and buttoning our jeans as we went. We were both still hot. Hell! My head was about to explode! I was all over Miss Carol soon as the doors of my car closed. She was as hot as I was, and I’m not sure who was all over whom. Our passion continued, the windows steaming like a sauna when someone tapped on the door. It was a cop. He wasn’t smiling.

“Take it to the house, and I mean now.”

Our ardor hadn’t waned when we made it home, spending the rest of the night locked in hot passion. Joel interrupted our ardor, knocking on the door around two in the morning. I let him in and quickly returned to the bedroom without bothering to hear the story he wanted to tell me.

Do I recommend a triple-X experience? I’ll just say this. It won’t save a relationship, but it’ll sure makes for unforgettable memories. Miss Carol and I broke up shortly after our night of red-hot passion. My lust had dissolved and my brain again able to add two and two and not come up with five.


END




Eric Wilder is the author of the French Quarter Mystery Series. Please check out more of Eric's writing on his AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iBook author pages

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Wind Chimes and Bad Times

Long after dark I sat on the porch swing, listening to Marilyn’s wind chimes performing a chaotic symphony. Another storm was approaching the city. It didn't matter because gusting wind had rivited my thoughts to an event that had happened many years before.

The mind plays tricks when darkness falls in triple-canopy jungle. I was a grunt in an infantry line company. We were somewhere near the Cambodian border. Hell! We were likely in Cambodia.

The area was hot (firefight hot) and our sister companies had all made contact with the NVA during the past days. That night we had heard a B-52 attack as the big planes carpet bombed a nearby patch of jungle. I sat in a damp hole in the ground, my senses disrupted and seeing nothing, not even an occasional flash of light.

It’s true when you have no vision your hearing becomes more acute. I was aware of the sounds of night. A tiger stalked in the distance and I could track its progress through the jungle by his low growls. I also heard elephants and horses. Yes, horses. Don’t ask me how or why they were in the jungle. Their sound is unmistakable. I also heard other things.

Helicopters supplied us every three days. After cutting a landing zone in the jungle, the birds would bring us food, water and fresh ammo. They also brought us beer and pop and each of us got three beverages of our choice every three days.

You didn’t want to drink your beer immediately. Everyone would beg a sip and there would be little or nothing left when the can came back around. Most soldiers drank them while pulling guard duty. The only time you were ever alone while on patrol. As I sat in the foxhole, listening to tigers, elephants and horses, I heard someone pop the top on a Black Label. Then I heard something else – the low moan of a soldier, thinking of his wife or girl as he masturbated in the darkness. I knew how he felt because I was thinking of doing the same thing myself.

Tension mounted as days passed without encountering Charlie. As we cut our way, single file through the jungle, a signal got passed back to the rear. The soldier in front of me pointed at a snake in the branches over our head. I didn’t know its real name. We called it a three-step snake because that’s about how far you could go before dying if it bit you. Not far from the snake, I saw something as eerie as I have ever seen.

A thousand pound bomb, or maybe bigger, lying flat on the ground amid broken jungle vegetation. A relic of a B-52 attack. The monster bomb hadn't detonated but still had the stark power to blow a forty-foot hole in the ground. Everyone in the row of soldiers realized as much. To say I was scared as hell would be lessening the aching fear throbbing in the pit of my gut. The bomb was longer than I am tall. Even lying flat, it came up to my chest. We snaked around it, no one touching it for fear that it was booby trapped by the NVA.

Fifteen days had passed without encountering the enemy. I can still remember climbing the incline to the forward firebase hewn out of a Vietnamese mountain. Guards stopped us at the perimeter. They had bad news. Instead of our five day stand-down, we were going back in the jungle for another fifteen day stint.

One of the soldiers, a southern black man, heard his animal brain louder than the rest of us. Removing his pack, he sat and refused to budge. I remember our idiot Lieutenant holding a .45 to his forehead, threatening to blow his brains out if he didn’t get up from where he sat.

Military police from the forward firebase soon led him away at gunpoint to an inevitable stay in the Long Binh Jail. As we watched them leave, I wondered if he wasn’t the smart one in the bunch and perhaps doing the right thing.

We stayed on the perimeter of the firebase that night, not allowed on the safer side of the razor wire. Next morning we reentered the jungle. I can go no further, my mind numbed and memories blocked from events that ensued.

As thunder rattles the windows and lightning illuminates the western sky, I'm reminded of a fiery B-52 attack. As Marilyn's wind chimes play a symphony of remembrance, I wonder if I'll ever forget.

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Eric Wilder is the author of the French Quarter Mystery Series. If you liked Moth Madness, please check out more of Eric's writing on his AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iBook author pages

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Moth Madness - a short story

It was a clear New Mexico day, the sky mimicking polished turquoise pierced with veins of crystalline quartz. At the Palace of the Governors, Navajo artists sold malachite rings and squash blossom necklaces. Across the street, non-native artisans expressed their own vision in a more contemporary fashion.

The old town was alive with color. Morning glories and hollyhocks lined the street. Pastels clashing with orange berries of mountain ash and chocolate adobe. Sunflowers, pumpkins, and sacred corn crowned flat roofs.

A message on an old car painted in a splashes of bright, freehand colors, said, “Never pet a burning dog.”

Two couples meandered down the sidewalk, stopping to examine silver baubles and turquoise rings. Finally, Pamela said, “What now, gang?”

Pamela’s husband Don winked at Raymond his male counterpart and said, “A drink at the nearest bar?”

“Honestly, Don,” Pamela chided. “Has the town’s ambiance not caught up with you yet?”

“Just the gas from last night’s frijoles,” he said.

Raymond added, “So spicy, there’s a fart in every bite.”

Pamela frowned and walked ahead in silent protest. Don winked at Raymond and Julie, puffing his cheeks in Dizzie Gillespie fashion to show his distaste for the local fare.

“Slow down, Dear,” he said, words dripping with mischievous inflection. She didn’t, and they hurried after her.

After lunch at a courtyard restaurant, Julie pushed her plate aside and asked, “Where to?”

Don stretched in his chair and yawned. “A nice nap?”

Pamela sipped her mineral water and smiled. “It’s the last day of our vacation, Don.”

“So what?”

“This is the center of New Age. We can’t leave without at least visiting a channeler and summoning a lost spirit.”

Don grinned, playing with his gray mustache. “Dear, you’re crazy.”

Pamela ignored him, turning to Julie and Raymond. “What do you two think?”

Julie glanced at Raymond, “I don’t know. Sounds silly to me.”

“It’s not silly,” Pamela shot back. “If you think it is, Don and I will go alone.”

Don glanced at Julie and Raymond. Then, winking at Raymond, he asked, “How will we decide which channeler to consult, Dear?”

“We’ll ask the waiter.”

Don grinned. “Sounds logical.”

Pamela ignored him. Raymond glanced at Julie and smiled. When the waiter with the Brooklyn accent returned Pamela asked, “Can you direct us to the best channeler in Santa Fe?”

“Depends,” he said.

Her curiosity piqued Julie asked, “On what?”

“How much you’re paying.”

His terse reply raised Pamela’s eyebrows. “Are there some that much better than others?”

“No, but for the right price, I’ll do it myself.”

This time, no one stifled their laughter. Pamela folded her arms, sat up straight and frowned.

“I wasn’t making a joke,” she said, reprimanding the young man.

“Well,” he paused, “If I’m not good enough for you, you might try the Wolf.”

“The wolf?”

“Steinhart, Wolf Steinhart.”

Bob chortled, “Wolf Steinhart?”

“Who’s Wolf Steinhart?” Julie and Raymond asked in unison.

“If you want to know about New Age, Wolf is your man.”

Don leaned back in his chair, folding his big hands behind his head. “Where might we find Mr. Steinhart?”

The waiter glanced at his watch. “Right now, he’s at the Pagan Bar.”

Don’s pale blue eyes widened. “He keeps a schedule?”

The waiter grinned. “Nah, he’s there most of the time.”

***

They found the Pagan Bar empty and eclectic, even by Santa Fe standards. Small dragons hung from the ceilings. A tree grew behind the bar. Louis Armstrong’s picture decorated the wall, along with crosses, lizards and stained glass dragons. A sign said, “This is the year of the dragon.”

A lone man occupied a pink stone table, his head resting on his arm. As they stood in a semi-circle around him, he began snoring at a level that would have made a tic on the chart at the nearest seismic station.

Don grinned and tried to rouse him. “Ahem!”

A louder snort erupted from the man’s nostrils and Pamela suggested, “Maybe we should come back later.”

“Not on your life,” Don said.

Raymond grabbed her elbow to prevent her exit. “He’s right. Let’s wake him.”

Raymond shook the man’s shoulder. Steinhart brushed away Raymond’s hand like someone swatting an annoying fly. A voice startled them. “You wanna talk with the Wolf.”

A dark-skinned lady wearing a bright red dress draped low over her shoulders stood looking at them, hand on her hips.

“Why yes, as a matter-of-fact.” Don said.

“Then waita minute.”

She disappeared behind the bar, returning with a shot of tequila which she placed beside the man’s head. The Wolf snorted and opened his red-rimmed eyes, glancing up at the five people standing over him. He drained the shot in one gulp and tossed the glass into the adobe kiva behind him. When it shattered, he winced and massaging his left temple.

“Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”

“I’m Don Brabham, and this is my wife Pamela. These lovely people are Julie Hamilton and Raymond West.”

The man stretched himself to his full, impressive height. Don was tall but this man taller, at least six-six.

“Wolf Steinhart,” he said, extending his hand. “At your service.”

Steinhart’s spoke with a clipped British accent, khaki shirt imparting the appearance of a big game hunter. A red stain on his shirt dispelled this initial impression. When Pamela edged to the back of the group and eyed the door, Don grabbed her arm.

“We understand you’re an expert in New Age philosophy,” Don said. “May we sit?”

“How rude of me,” Steinhart said, pulling out two of the red lacquered chairs and raising a finger to the woman in the red dress. “Ramona! Tequila and five glasses.”

The dark-skinned woman ignored his request, continuing to polish a glass. “Who’s gonna pay?”
Steinhart glanced at the group until Don raised his hand. “My treat.”

“Then make it Cuervo Gold, pretty senorita,” Steinhart said, popping all five fingers on both hands. He bent over and placed his palms on the table’s pink surface. “Ladies and gentlemen, you have found your man.”

Still beaming, Steinhart plopped down between Pamela and Julie on the pink-cushioned bonco. They wrinkled their noses and edged away as Ramona brought the tequila and five shot glasses.

“I’d rather have a glass of Chablis,” Pamela said.

Julie said, “Make mine a Coke.”

“Well, gentlemen,” Steinhart said, refraining from breaking the glass in the fireplace. “More for us.” He smacked his lips like a contented bovine and added, “My friends. You have arrived at the pith of the maelstrom, the mouth of the volcano, the eye of the needle.”

“The tail of the ass,” Don said.

Unperturbed, Steinhart continued. “Exactly what is it you wish to discover?”

“The address of a good channeler,” Don said.

Wolf’s chin dropped. “Is that all?”

“No,” Pamela said, becoming enthusiastic. “We need a guide through the mysteries of New Age.”

Wolf perked up at Pamela’s words. “A broad and demanding subject. I require a fee.”

“That’s no problem. . .” Pamela began.

Don interrupted. “How much?”

“Thirty dollars an hour and residuals,” Steinhart said.

Don squelched Pamela’s reply. “Residuals?”

Steinhart held up the bottle of tequila. Don glanced at Raymond and Julie. They smiled and blinked.

“You got it, old man,” Don said, taking the initiative.

Steinhart filled Don and Raymond’s glasses and poured another for himself. “As you mentioned,” he said, looking at Pamela. “This is the hub of New Age. The place where everyone’s karma hits the fan.” He chuckled. “In Santa Fe, experts perform diverse functions."

"Such as," Pamela said.

 Synovial fluid equalization, aura balancing, crystal healing, vibrational healing. Need I continue?"

"We're all ears," Pamela said.

 "Connective tissue polarity therapy, colon cleansing, clear light therapy, and bio-energetic synchronization.”

“More like bio-energetic money detachment,” Don quipped.

Pamela ignored her husband’s levity. “And channelers?”

“My dear lady,” Steinhart said, “There are hundreds of mystics, gurus, and spirit channelers in Santa Fe.”

Julie sipped her soda and Raymond fidgeted in his red lacquered chair. “Every waiter in town is a mystic,” Raymond said. “I'm sure most of these people are fakes preying on unsuspecting visitors.”

When he glanced away from Pamela’s glare, Steinhart nodded. “What you suggest is true, but they are here for a reason.”

Raymond asked, “What reason?”

Steinhart poured another shot and answered, “The Native Americans.”

Pamela leaned forward. “You mean Indians?”

“There are fifteen thousand Pueblo in New Mexico, along with the Navajo and Hopi. The Pueblo believe they are here, now and always. This is a fundamental view they keep because it reveals their feelings for bahana.”

“Bahana?” Don said.

“Whites. You and I. The original people have occupied this region for almost eight thousand years. Their culture is quite defined; more so than any in North America. There are things we bahana will never know.”

Julie asked, “Such as?”

“Koshare. . .”

Steinhart’s word died on his lips.

Don glanced at Raymond, then at Julie. “Koshare?”

“Powerful secret societies. Magic, both white and black. The so-called New Age practitioners gravitated here. To the Pueblo this is the center of the universe.”

Pamela’s face glowed with anticipation. “You mean these people could summon a demon, or heal a cancer?”

Wolf Steinhart nodded. “These people, as you call them, are quite capable of almost anything.”

“Then this is for real?”

“As real as you or I,” he said.

Pamela asked, “Can we experience this mysticism, or witness the summoning of a spirit?”

Don turned in his chair. “Dear, this is getting ridiculous. Let’s go back to the hotel and take a nice nap.”

Pamela glared at her husband. “You go, I’ll stay.”

Don frowned but remained seated, pouring another shot from the bottle. Raymond and Julie cast nervous glances at each other. Steinhart folded his arms, silent as he contemplated Pamela’s question.

“It’s possible,” he finally said.

Pamela glowed. “We’ll pay whatever it costs.”

“Dear lady, it’s not a question of money, though there is the matter of my small retainer.”

Don opened his wallet and handed Steinhart a Benjamin, asking, “What else is it a question of?”

“Belief,” he said, finishing his shot. “Where are you staying?”

“La Fonda,” Don said.

Wolf Steinhart glanced at his watch. “If you’re serious, I’ll pick you up in front of the hotel at five.”

***

The two couples waited, Pamela beaming, Don fidgeting. Julie looked bored as Raymond paced the sidewalk. “This is stupid, Pamela,” Don said. “Steinhart already has our money. He isn’t coming.”

“Of course he is. He’s just a little late.”

An old Land Rover pulled up to the curb, allaying Don’s doubts, Wolf Steinhart at the wheel in the same outfit as before. A broad-brimmed hat completed his big game hunter look. Raymond noted with relief he had at least changed shirts. Steinhart leaned across the front seat and opened the door with a smile.

“Pile in, good people.”

Because of his height, Don sat in the front seat. The others crowded into the back on the narrow bench. Steinhart pulled away from the curb and headed out of town.

Don asked, “Where are we going, old man?”

“First to Taos to secure a guide, and then to visit the witch.”

Julie sat in the back seat, arms folded and toe tapping. “I thought you were our guide.”

“Unfortunately, this excursion requires more than I.”

Pamela was ecstatic. “We’re visiting a witch, a real witch? Please tell us about it.”

“A practice passed through successive generations. Spanish monks introduced Catholicism to the region. Since then, the native’s belief in the spirit world has become intertwined with the Catholic view of god.”

Raymond said, “Such as?”

“The evil eye. The Pueblo and Navajo believe wizards and witches own the power to harm by gazing at you. The power of the evil eye. They wear amulets and talismans, Catholic crosses or votives to protect them from this power. They commingle Catholicism with their beliefs when they invoke spirits of the earth and moon.”

“And our visit to the witch. . .”

“A demonstration,” Steinhart said, finishing Raymond’s question. “It would take our combined lifetimes to understand this region’s mystical culture.”

Purple shadows engulfed the highway. They blended with a hazy orange sunset as they continued north to the Taos Pueblo. Steinhart entered through the back gate. In the encroaching darkness, they approached two pueblos separated by a clear creek. Both structures looked like ancient apartment complexes.

A church bounded the west end of the coyote-fenced enclosure. Steinhart crossed the narrow bridge, careful of the roaming horses and mongrel dogs. He stopped by the largest adobe structure, opened the door and stepped out.

“Wait here. I won’t be long.” Steinhart started away, but returned, as if forgetting something. He removed four crucifixes from his safari shirt and handed one to each of them.

“Wear these,” he said.

They watched him climb a ladder to an upper entrance, disappearing inside. Don glanced at the crucifix, saying. “You think this will work for a Jew?”

“Honestly, Don,” Pamela said. “Just put it on.”

Raymond nudged Julie and she bit her lip to keep from laughing. When Steinhart returned, only the stars and moon illuminated the surroundings. He wasn’t alone.

“This is Sam,” he said, introducing the young man. “He’ll lead us the rest of the way.”

Sam rode on the Land Rover’s fender to his own vehicle, an old pickup truck. Steinhart shadowed him out of the enclosure and into the darkness. They followed the highway several miles before exiting to a dirt path. It jutted into the desert, following a dry arroyo for five more miles.

Julie, Raymond and Pamela held on to their uncomfortable seats as Steinhart shadowed Sam’s truck. At the end of the arroyo, they found a single adobe cubicle, light radiating from its windows. Steinhart helped Pamela and Julie unwind from the uncomfortable back seat. The two couples waited in chilly bleakness, Sam and Steinhart soon returning from the house with a smiling boy. Steinhart took a bag of fruit from the vehicle, handing it to the lad.

“We’re just here to observe,” Steinhart said. “Please don't ask any questions.”

They followed him into the stucco house, finding a young woman standing beside a kiva fireplace. Two little girls giggled, playing ball, and jacks on the earthen floor. When they spotted the sack of fruit, they rushed with pigeon-toed gaits, demanding their share.

Peculiar objects decorated the walls. An old chrome hubcap, several jawbones of indistinct origin, and some shells. Lateral vigas supported the ceiling. Bits of hay in the walls suggested real adobe formed them, not the cement-variety used by local builders.

“This is Rachel Kucate, her daughter’s Verla and Natalie, and son Chester.”

Don, Pamela, Julie and Raymond, followed Steinhart and Sam to a room in back. An old woman sat alone in a rocking chair, a black cat at her feet. Sam closed the door behind them, a dim coal oil lamp illuminating the room. The old woman continued rocking.

The cat arched its back as it moved beneath her legs and the rockers of the chair. Though she looked the picture of antiquity, the brightness and color of her garments clashed with this notion. Withered as a corn stalk ruined by too much sun and lack of rain, a blue flowered bandanna capped her silver hair. Turquoise and silver draped from her earlobes. A flowered shawl cloaked her pink wool sweater. Twisted turquoise graced her gnarled wrist.

“I have brought visitors, Grandmother,” Sam said.

The old woman opened her eyes, one dark and old, the other green and alive. She studied the visitors as Sam brought a small table from the corner, placing it in front of her. He sat on the floor and began chanting and beating a drum he’d brought from the truck. When the old woman spoke, her almost inaudible voice quivered, and she looked straight at Don.

“You brought somethin’ for Grandmother?”

Startled by her question, Don reached for his wallet. Steinhart touched his wrist and shook his head. “She’s not asking for money.”

Confused, Don fished an old gold watch, attached to a length of frayed chain, from his pocket. Without understanding why, he placed it on the table.

“Bring me the cloud blower, my son,” she said.

Steinhart handed her the ceremonial pipe which she lighted with a thin piece of wood in the flame of the coal oil lamp. Acrid smoke of wild tobacco billowed from its bowl. After several puffs, she handed the pipe to Don. Don puffed it, coughing as the harsh smoke filled his lungs. The old woman took it from him, placing it on the table beside the watch.

Soon, her shoulders began to quake. The tremble continued up her neck until her eyes closed and head tilted backwards. Her wrinkled lips parted and emitted a moan that sounded like wind whistling through branches. Trembling enveloped her, and she shook in a wild paroxysm of movement. Her head slammed against the table so hard, Raymond thought she must have killed herself.

When Don moved to help, Steinhart’s upraised palm signaled him back. Her head thrashed against the table before finally surrendering to a few feeble palpitations. Finally, she was quiet, her motion ceasing completely. A voice spoke, her lips unmoving. The voice, coming from the bowels of her soul, sounded masculine and tinny, as if awakened from a long sleep.

“I plunged from the sky, embraced by icy blue water. Now I am free and can say goodbye little brother. Live your life in peace.”

The voice died away like an echo in an empty cavern as they watched, mollified and frozen in place. Sam stopped drumming and filled a ladle with cool water. He and Steinhart helped the old woman back into the chair and held the water to her lips until she opened her eyes.

Steinhart hugged the old woman and gave her a pouch of tobacco, then exchanged a silent farewell as he motioned them to leave. Raymond was the last out, stealing one last glance at the old woman before shutting the door behind him. He noticed the cat beneath her feet had only one eye, green and alive. In the cheery outer room, Steinhart gave Sam and Rachel twenty dollars each. Sam nodded and faded into the darkness.

“That’s the strangest experience I’ve ever had,” Pamela said, returning along the dirt path to the Land Rover.

“Amen to that,” Julie said.

Raymond asked, “What’s the story on those people?”

“The old woman is a witch, as is her granddaughter Rachel and the two little girls. They suffer from genetic epilepsy, and the foot abnormality you noticed. Navajos call the epilepsy moth madness—witch frenzy. This is because in the throes of a seizure, they move their limbs like the wings of a moth near a flame. The Navajo believe women possessed by moth madness are magical and able to converse with spirits. What you saw is its own explanation.”

“Fascinating,” Pamela said. “Whose voice did we hear and what did the message mean?”

“Maybe you should ask your husband,” Steinhart said.

Confused by the Wolf’s reply, Pamela put her hand on Don’s shoulder. “Don, are you all right?”

His usual joviality had flown out the window. “The watch I gave the old woman was my older brother’s, a tail gunner during the war. His plane crashed over Germany, his body never recovered. We were close, and I never told him goodbye when he left to go overseas.”

Pamela started to comment. Caught instead between reality and a dusty desert road, she reclined against the bouncing seat of the Land Rover. With his arm around Julie, Raymond gazed at the sky. As he did, a shooting star lighted the darkness before disappearing forever behind a distant mesa.

END



Eric Wilder is the author of two mystery series that feature private investigators adept in the paranormal AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iBook author pages. If you liked Moth Madness, please check out more of Eric's writing on his Website.