Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Long Awaited Chapter 5 of The Azure Shade of the Bluebottle Tree

Chapter 5

    Lammas/Lughnasa is one of the eight traditional sabbats but it is sometimes skipped, at least in Central Texas. Seasonally, it feels a bit out of place. Back in Celtic times and places, the first of August was indeed a time for harvest of grains and all that, but here in Texas it is just darn hot. Sometimes the festivals that were designed for places with one growing season were an odd fit for a place with two, or sometimes three. It's also a "fire" festival. There was no fire this time, for the sake of the temperature and the county-wide fire ban that was in its sixty-third day.
    Pen thought it was wishful thinking to celebrate the "end" of summer when they wouldn't be seeing cooler days for several months. He looked forward to the Fall equinox, Mabon, and then October's Samhain, the witch's new year, and the really kick-ass ritual. That aside, Owl and Lisa Garrison had done a great job on Lammas. Owl was the name Oso's wife Teresa used for magickal work. Some pagans used their own names, as Lisa and Pen did. Others choose names that suit them or represent a totem animal or interest.
Just as it is for spells, with rituals it is the intent that is important. Working a spell in community is always affirming. The fellowship after the ritual is fun too. Sharing bread, fruit, and wine with the others is always a treat. Pen looked around at this, his community of friends, his family of choice. Lisa was there, and Elena. Oso and Owl brought kolaches. Esme and the girls had brought pan dulce. Morgan's ice-cold sangria was fruity and refreshing. It was nice being with Esme and the girls.
    Officially, Lammas is August 1. Since that would be mid-week, they celebrated the weekend before. More of them could make it on a weekend. They had a good turn out considering the heat. For the past several years the circle had met here on Lisa Garrison's property. She had a perfect oak grove, open in the center, shady with a good constant breeze. A spring fed creek ran nearby with a small pool to cool off in. The circle took turns keeping it neat for meetings. It was one of Pen's favorite places. There are a couple of permanent altars near, one to Diana, another to Green Man.
    Even better, there was a view of Cedar Knob. On a moonlit night it was a magical sight. The hill loomed in the distance, the highest feature around, the top flattened as if a mesa had been transplanted from Anasazi country. Something about it made the viewer feel adrift in space and time.
For ritual purposes the sight felt almost as mystical as Stonehenge.
    As things wound down, they all hugged, kissed, and made their various ways home. Pen and Steve helped Owl and Lisa clean up the last few things and they started home themselves. Pen dropped Steve off at the house he shared with his mom, Renee.
    Steve barely remembered his dad. Pen's brother Sam died when Steve was four. Steve was now sixteen and growing up fast. Renee had been living with Darnell Culver for several years now. Steve never talked about him.
Pen felt uncomfortable about Darnell. He knew most of the Culvers but didn't know Darnell very well.
    Steve took Pen around and showed him Sam's old '55 Chevy BelAir that he was restoring. The work was coming along. It even looked as if the car might be finished by the time Steve got his driver's license.
    Pen admired the car and left for home. He didn't see Renee or Darnell around.
Steve was a cool kid and it was great sharing the ritual, but Pen felt a bit down going home alone after dropping him off. Esme had been in one of her distant moods, friendly, but not encouraging. Pen respected her feelings but he missed having someone to come home to.
    Nothing seemed amiss on the back roads from Renee's place. Pen reached his yard, fed Mau and Odin and unloaded the truck. He thought about the ritual and the conversations. No one had much to say about Dub Holt or Charlie. The murders were still too recent and painful.
    The classical radio station from Austin was playing Albinoni's Adagio for Strings. One of Pen's favorites, but a bit blue for this night. He turned it off and popped an old tape of "Hondo" into his trusty VCR. Sleep claimed him before the credits rolled.

* * *

    Early Monday morning Pen saw a work van parked in the tow away zone by the Main Street phone substation. He doubted he was the first to notice but there was no reason to broadcast the news by radio to everybody's brother-in-law with a scanner. Pen stopped by Machado's Market and used their phone to check with dispatching. They didn't have anything, as he had suspected, so he made another call and got the answer.
    Pen drove around the corner and parked.
    It looked like a utility van, one of those contractors who worked for one of the phone companies. The driver was eating a breakfast taco. The engine was off, but Pen could hear a generator running in back.
    He knew the driver.
    "Hey, Mick. Announce me."
    Mick shrugged and knocked twice on the divider as Pen walked around the van. One of the back doors opened just enough for him to slip inside.
The inside was all high tech. Pen could see cameras aimed out a dark tinted window, recorders ready to record something. His eyes took a second to recover after the bright sunlight outside. Two men were seated in captain's chairs. Both looked at him. Brad, the older one, spoke. "Damn, Pen, you just made us to every dealer in town."
     "Too late, that's who told me you were here. You working for D.E.A. now?"
"They wish. Meet Agent Frank Stark, he's the D.E.A. guy. This is his operation. Frank, this is Deputy Constable Pen Sadler, Precinct 3."
Stark looked barely old enough to drive. He looked Pen over. He ignored the outstretched hand and turned back to Brad.
"Is this some sort of joke, Scott?"
"No joke."
    Texas Ranger Brad Scott turned back to Pen. "What gave us away?"
"My source didn't say for sure, but I can think of a couple of things. It's a small town, remember? I didn't recognize the van. Also, nobody put cones out."
Ignoring Pen, Stark asked Brad, "Cones?"
Brad looked disgusted. "Traffic cones, Frank, every phone truck and contractor carries them. It's company policy. They have to put out cones when they stop anywhere, even for coffee! Damn! Your special van here doesn't have any!"
Stark waved that away. "Whatever, that doesn't give this local an excuse to blow our cover. This operation is important!"
    Brad looked back at him and shook his head, "You don't get it. The cover is already blown. We'll have to think of something else."
"What do you mean?"
"As Pen just informed us, word is already out on the street that this is a surveillance setup. No wonder we haven't seen any action."
    Pen said, "I called in, there wasn't anything on the books about any operation by you guys in town."
Brad waved it away. "Nothing personal, Frank here just wanted to keep a low profile." Brad gave a rueful laugh as he said it.
Stark was growing indignant, all his plans falling through. "Who do you think you are, constable?."
Brad laughed. "Pull in your horns, Frank. You know those people you piss off who say they can have you fired?"
"Yeah, so?"
"Pen really can. He's got connections you wouldn't imagine!"
Frank looked skeptical
"Besides", Brad said, winking at Pen, "Pen here is a witch. He can make your pecker fall off too!"
Stark actually looked more interested than scared. The other two saved him the trouble of a reply. They left.
    Carol's Cafe wasn't busy other than the mid-day domino players. Pen and Brad picked a table and ordered coffee.
Pen had questions, but first he needed to make a point.
"You know I don't do that."
"Do what?"
"Make his pecker fall off. We don't do that sort of thing."
Brad laughed, "make him wonder, though. Youngster like that. They're giving badges out in kindergarten these days. Don't worry about it. It's not even that big an operation. It's just Frank's first."
"I hope you can keep him alive."
"Me too, pardner, me too. So, who really told you about the van?"
"Damn, of course. He doesn't miss anything."
    Ernest Dry was the town character. In many ways he was considered slow. He was very canny in his own way. His brother Harry was a city councilman as well. Everybody took care of Ernie, he noticed everything, and most people just ignored him. In exchange for soda money he was happy to keep Pen informed. It was the same with everyone. He rarely had to buy his own Dr. Pepper.
    The men sipped their coffee. Carol's donuts were legendary. They each had two. Brad and Pen went way back. They'd played on rival teams in high school, and had worked together several times over the years. Ranger Brad Scott looked at Pen now.
"With your training and contacts, you could have gone anywhere, even federal. Why do you want to stay here in hicksville and let a no-good shit kicker sheriff bust your chops? I don't get it. And, what's with this Deputy Constable thing? You could even be working with me, real partners."
"Babysitting Frank in there? No thanks!"
"You know what I mean! You're too good for this!"
"I do know what you mean, and thanks. I like it here. I know these folks. I don't need that fast lane, been there, done that. Got the bloody t-shirt."
"You know I've got your back, no matter what."
"I know, and I appreciate it. Now, do you know anything about the Dub Holt and Charlie Adams cases?"
"Nothing you don't, I'm sure. I think the department finished the lab work. I can't see your sheriff asking for our help on anything else."
"Well, he doesn't want mine either, but he's getting it. Sara Beth made sure of that."
"I'd sure want to keep her happy too! Let me know if I can help."
"You know I will. In fact, I'm counting on it. Glad to see you again, Brad. Let me get the check."
Brad winked.
"We'll let Frank pay for it. He's got the expense account!"
    Pen grinned at that and waved at Carol as he left. Brad went back to Frank's stakeout.

* * *

    It was too early for the First Fidelity lobby to be open, but the green lights were lit in the drive-thru. Pen saw Josie Delgado behind the teller window. He punched the intercom button.
"Hi, Ms. Delgado. Is Tandy in this morning?"
"Sure is, Pen. I'll ask him to let you in."
    Pen walked around to the glass doors in time to see Tandy McAlister unlock the door. Tandy was a tall and dignified seventy seven. He'd married his high school sweetheart, Grace Parsons, way back when. He still wrote her love poems and called her Lady Grace. Tandy retired as high school principal the same year Pen graduated. He then took a position as vice-president of First Fidelity and for the last few years had been on the Shin Oak City Council.
    Following Tandy to his office now Pen had to put down a vague feeling of being in trouble. Tandy was still Principal McAlister to Pen's generation. He carried his years better than most men his age, at least until today. Looking at him now Pen could see all of those years and more on Tandy's face. Tandy's handshake was uncharacteristically limp and he shook his head sadly as he circled his desk. He motioned Pen to a chair and then sat heavily himself.
"How are you doing, Mr. Mac?"
"To tell you the truth Pen, I just don't know. It's a terrible thing, just terrible! First Dub and now Charlie. I can't bear it!"
"I wasn't sure you'd be open today, actually. Patricia said you would, though."
"I didn't want to. We have so many time sensitive operations, though, somebody had to be here. Might as well open. I haven't even looked at what Dub and Charlie were handling. I'm not totally sure on the protocols. With this much of a disruption we may even have bank examiners involved."
"We're going to have to let a forensics team look at whatever they were doing anyway, you know. Something got them both killed. It seems likely to be something they were handling here at the bank, don't you think?"
"I suppose you're right Pen, I just can't imagine what it could be. We're just a small town bank, nothing major going on. Heck, any big money usually goes to one of the big banks in Austin!"
"Well, keep your eyes open, Mr. Mac. Let me know if you come across anything that might explain it. We'll be in later this afternoon after the lobby closes to interview everyone."
"I'll make sure everyone is here. Do you think I could be in danger too?"
"There's no way to know. I'll check in on you now and then. I didn't see Randy outside, is he still on security?"
" He's still here."
"I'll tell him to keep his eyes open. We'll put a patrol by your house as well."
"Thanks, Pen. I don't want to worry Lady Grace."
"How's she doing? We haven't seen her out and about."
"She's fine, staying close to the air conditioner."
"I wish we all could, Mr. Mac! See you this afternoon!"
    Pen shook his hand again and left the office.
    Randy Perkins, the bank guard, had nothing much to add. He was shocked and saddened by the deaths, but was unable to shed any light on their actions. After telling him to keep his eyes open, Pen said his goodbys and left the bank feeling that he knew even less than when he came in.

Printed: 07-Aug-2014, 16:52

No comments:

Post a Comment