Saturday, August 5, 2017

This Art Is As Modern As It Gets

I call this series "Running With The Big Dog".

 Note the extreme vibrancy.
 Such passion!
 A touch of melancholy.
And resolution.

(Subtitled: "When your phone does its own thing while in your pocket")

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Rural Juror

I got summoned to jury service on Monday. I know everyone always gets the notice in the mail and groans, but I've never been called in before, so I was looking forward to a new experience. Also, the Yolo County Superior Courthouse is within easy walking distance from my house and on a normal Monday I have to drive 65 miles each direction in crappy traffic. So I'll just admit that it was not a bad thing to call in the night before and find out that I needed to go to court on Monday morning.

When I got there, it was just like going to Home Depot, except without the smell of lumber or the feeling that I have more DIY abilities than I really have. No, what I mean is that there was an automated check-in kiosk that scanned the barcode on the summons. Actually, there were three kiosks but one wasn't working according to the employee whose job it was to stand there and help people get the scanner to work properly. So you see, it was exactly like Home Depot except the kiosk didn't keep beeping because the item hadn't been put in the bag.

The good news is that the new courthouse is nice and spacious and the jury room is gigantic so I was able to snag a comfy chair next to the window without anyone next to me. There were probably around eighty people in the room by the time another employee came in and took roll. When she started at the top of the alphabet I was still rolling my eyes because we had just checked in and they already knew who was there, but -- someone had already skipped out. Theodore, you naughty boy, you can expect to get another summons in the mail soon.

Then we watched a quick video which reminded us that we were doing a great service to our country by showing up for jury duty (unlike Theodore!) and then we had a half hour recess. At this point I was trying to figure out how to switch my career to "professional juror" and I got half a page of my current novel written.

After recess, they sent all of us up to department eleven on the fifth floor.

Side note -- I hate elevators. I'm not really claustrophobic, but if I'm not in a hurry and it's only a few floors I'll usually find the stairs.

So seventy people lined up for the three elevators, and me and another ten people wandered around until we found the stairs and then started climbing. Only five floors, right? Piece of cake. Except each story in the new courthouse has high ceilings, so this was more like ten stories. After three flights of stairs I think all of us were regretting the decision. Silently regretting it because we didn't have the breath to speak. Then we finally made it to the fifth floor, walked down the hall to department eleven, and found out that all those bastards who used the elevator had taken all the seats.

When we walked into the room there were three high school students facing us. Then the bailiff -- who might have celebrated his eighteenth birthday at least two weeks before -- introduced them as the prosecutor, the public defender, and the defendant.

Some days I feel really old.

Then the bailiff took roll again. Theodore still wasn't there.

When the judge came in I was relieved to find he was at least my age so there was an adult in charge. The first thing he did was call out thirty names and send those people back downstairs again. I was starting to see some inefficiencies in the process but at least I had a seat.

The judge briefly explained that the case was for DUI, and that he expected it to be done by Thursday at the latest although he couldn't promise anything. Then he asked if anyone had a hardship that would make it impossible for them to serve.

About fifteen people raised their hands and we went through each one of them. In the end I think the judge let them all go, but most of them he sent downstairs to reschedule. I was secretly giggling as he grilled the first college student on whether he had talked to his professors about making up the absences. Of course he hadn't. I wouldn't have either when I was in college. It wouldn't have occurred to me that being in college wasn't a valid excuse for getting out of jury duty. But now that I'm older and see what entitled little snots college kids are, it was fun to watch the judge explain that college is a job like any other and that nobody wanted to go to jury duty. The students had to go reschedule. A few other people were primary caretakers who claimed they couldn't get anyone else to do what they did (and had to go reschedule). Three people didn't speak English well enough to serve (although the third one seemed comfortable enough to use slang, so I have my doubts). They didn't have to reschedule but I think the first two didn't understand what was going on so they might have rescheduled anyhow.

Finally eighteen random names were called (not mine!) and those people were seated in or in front of the jury box, and the fun began. The judge read off the list of people expected to testify and asked if any of the eighteen knew them.

How many people had been arrested or convicted of a DUI? (Clearly the whole designated driver thing hasn't caught on because fully a third of the potential jurors had a DUI in the past...)

Did anyone have any background in chemistry? (Apparently the defense was planning on challenging the blood alcohol results.) Woodland is only ten miles from Davis. We had three retired professors in the first group who were in fields that had some use for chemistry.

Did anyone have relatives in law enforcement? Turns out almost everyone does.

Every time someone answered in the positive the judge went through it with them and asked questions to see if the person could be fair to both sides.

Finally every person had to give their full name, what town they lived in, their occupation, and the occupation of any other adults that lived in the house. By the time we got to the fifth person this was going pretty quickly because everyone was ready for the question. And yet... the last guy, who'd listened to seventeen people answer the exact same questions before him... no. He gave his name. Then he had to be prompted on the rest. "Where are you from?" "Yolo." "The city of Yolo?" "No, Yolo County." "What city do you live in?" "Woodland." I'm really not sure how people like that go through life. He said he built buildings. "What kind of buildings?" "Big buildings, little buildings." Everybody who has dealt with contractors is nodding right now. This guy had found his tribe.

Then the judge turned it over to the attorneys. The defense and prosecution were pretty evenly matched, by which I mean that neither one could ask a clear question. The public defender was particularly bad about that, often starting the question in one direction and ending in another so that if someone answered "yes" it wasn't clear what they were agreeing to. The judge stepped in a few times and reworded the question after the potential juror became hopelessly lost.

Then we stopped for lunch. I took the stairs down to the first floor, walked home, let the dogs out, ate lunch, then walked back. I took the elevator back to the courtroom.

The attorneys finished confusing everyone with their questions. The defense attempted to remove a juror for cause, but the judge denied it. Then they alternated picking people. "The Defense would like to thank and excuse juror number..." "The People would like to thank and excuse juror number..." It was just like P.E. during grade school, but in reverse and a lot more polite.

Nobody was surprised when the village idiot was the first to be excused.

They freed up seven seats before they stopped, so another seven names were called out. I wasn't one of them.

Then the whole thing started again with the new people. The public defender looked like he thought the woman was pulling his leg when she said she was part of the Sheriff's Posse during the law enforcement questions. (We have a mounted group that does search and rescue operations in rural areas and also does PR at events.) The judge had to explain it to him. The public defender still couldn't say "posse" without looking confused and finally switched to calling it "that group". I started to feel sorry for him.

More confusing questions from the defense and prosecution. Most of the seven people just gave up on yes and no and talked about what they thought might be related to the answer. The judge stepped in and told the defense that he wasn't allowed to ask if anyone was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, but gave him an alternate wording that would be okay. The public defender repeated the revised question word for word.

I continued to feel old.

The attorneys took turns getting rid of the new people and stopped when they had twelve people total -- which meant they had to do it all over again because they still needed an alternate.

My name was the first to be called.

This time there were four of us. We knew all the questions. We had quick answers. We weren't members of the posse, but at least the public defender knew what a posse was now anyhow. I had to explain that my brother being the chief of lifeguards actually made him law enforcement but that didn't particularly bias me one way or the other. I had to say that I had been a veterinarian, so I had sent blood out to be analyzed, but that wouldn't keep me from going with the facts as presented. One woman, probably in her sixties, said that she didn't drive because she'd gotten her license when she was young, had three accidents, and decided the world was a safer place if she wasn't behind the wheel. The entire courtroom laughed.

At this point they only needed one person, and I was in the first seat. I didn't have any obvious bias one way or the other. I was pretty sure I was going to have to tell my boss that I'd be out until Thursday, especially when there was a long silence as both attorneys stared at their post-it notes.

Then... "The People would like to thank and excuse..."

Yep. I'd been rejected by a guy in a cheap suit. Story of my life.

I did the walk of shame through the room into the empty corridor, then took the elevator down to the first floor and walked home again.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 28

An explanation of what I'm doing is here.
If you missed the first chapter, start here!


Chapter Twenty-Eight
Four months later...
From the Newtown Gazette:

Former Police Officer Sentenced To Seven Years

Former patrolman Alan Dolan was pled guilty and was sentenced to seven years for second degree murder under a plea deal worked out by the prosecutor on Friday.

Under the terms of the plea deal Dolan read a statement in court expressing his regret for his actions. At the time of the murder he was in a relationship with the deceased, the wife of the former mayor. The victim’s husband fled the country to escape prosecution in an unrelated matter.

The son of the victim was in court for the sentencing. He had no comment.



Standing-Colby Marriage

Penelope Standing, age not given, married Jacob Colby, age not given, in the backyard of the Colby residence on Saturday. The Reverend CJ Miller, a long-time friend of the couple, presided.

The bride wore a vintage purple silk dress with a bouquet of wildflowers picked from the yard by her grown son who also walked her down the aisle.

The bride promised to love and honor the groom and “try to not argue with armed people”. The groom promised to “love and honor Her Honor”, a nod to the bride’s status as the newly sworn-in mayor.

The reception was held in the house immediately after the ceremony. The couple did not disclose their honeymoon plans.


THE END

Monday, February 27, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 27

An explanation of what I'm doing is here.
If you missed the first chapter, start here!

Chapter Twenty-Seven

With the shot ringing in the ear already deafened by the smoke alarm Penelope threw her hands up to protect her head, one arm knocking the gun out of Dolan’s hand. She felt more than heard the gun clatter on the hardwood floor and dove to the ground to cover it with her body. With it safely digging into her stomach she looked over to where Jake had been standing, but he wasn’t there. She scrambled forward with the gun cradled against her body to check the floor where he’d been.

Only when she saw the empty space did she notice the commotion behind her, and by then Jake already had Dolan on the ground, using the younger man’s own handcuffs to restrain him. She sagged to the floor in relief, only then realizing that blood was dripping onto the floor from her head. Indignation overwhelmed her. “He shot me.”

Jake was already on the phone calling for backup and an ambulance, yelling to be heard over the alarm and trying to fend off the excited Brutus with one arm. He finished restraining Dolan and crouched down next to her, reaching out to touch her head as if she were delicate porcelain. “You okay?”

“I think so.” She lifted the hand pressed against her wound. “How bad is it?”

His relieved smile told her everything she needed to know. “Just a scratch.”

They didn’t even have time to silence the smoke alarm before the first police car arrived.



A little while later Penelope sat on the couch, snuggled into Jake while a paramedic finished putting a butterfly band-aid on her head. Through the front window she could see the fire truck backing out into the street, threading a careful path between almost every police car the city owned and a gaggle of pedestrians. Brutus howled his displeasure at being locked in the back yard, Dolan was sobbing in the back of a squad car, and the whole living room was being documented as a crime scene. The room smelled of overheated oil and burned bread, but at least the smoke alarm was no longer blaring.

“This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind,” she said and winced from the additional pressure as gauze was applied. “But if you were looking for a big production, I’m not sure I could have managed anything bigger. So… Will you marry me?” She snuck a glance back at him and found him staring at her in disbelief.

“Really? You want to do this now?”

“Well, I was going to ask earlier but I didn’t want you to try to wiggle out later and claim that it wasn’t fair because someone was holding a gun to your head. Even though technically the gun was to my head not yours.” She tapped the bandage.

“You’re insane.”

“Is that a ‘you’re insane, yes’ or a ‘you’re insane, no’?”

“That’s an ‘I love you, yes’, but I swear if you ever start arguing with someone holding a gun to your head again I may kill you myself.” His arms tightening around her belied his words.

With a contented smile Penelope relaxed into his embrace and watched the chaos around her.

*** 
 (Comments, requests, and suggestions all welcome, but you'd better make it quick because tomorrow is the end...)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 26

An explanation of what I'm doing is here.
If you missed the first chapter, start here!



Chapter Twenty-Six

Penelope froze, watching the blood drain from Jake’s face across the room.

“Put your hands where I can see them!” the officer growled at her ear.

She lifted her hands to eye level before realizing he was talking to Jake. “Oh, sorry,” she said as the man behind her moved his head to see around her arm.

Jake held his hands out to the side. “Take a deep breath and think about what you’re doing.”

“Why do you always screw up everything?”

“Well, you said to put my hands…” She trailed off as Dolan’s breathing got harsher. “Oh, you mean the other stuff. That was mostly on accident”

“I spent hours making sure that everything about that scene pointed to her husband, and you went and cleaned it up.”

“Put the gun down and we’ll talk,” Jake said, his voice perfectly level.

“In my defense, that was mostly Brutus who messed it up.”

Dolan kept talking, the gun unmoving at her head. “I even made footprints with an old pair of his shoes that she kept for gardening. And then you destroyed it all.”

Penelope took a breath to defend herself and closed her mouth when Jake looked at her. Perhaps it wasn’t the right time to force him to accept her point of view. “You didn’t mean to kill her, though, did you?” she said. At least if he was talking he wasn’t shooting her. “I mean, strangling someone with a leash doesn’t scream premeditation.”

“She laughed at me.”

The whirr of the kitchen fan was the only sound for a few seconds.

Penelope reached up to pat the arm restraining her. “I’m sorry. That must have hurt.”

“I thought she loved me. I did things that would have ruined my career for her. It started out with just fixing a few tickets, and then she wanted me to find out things about people and cases, but that was okay because we were going to go away and start again somewhere else where nobody knew us.” He choked out the last few words.

Penelope tried to read the signs from Jake’s face. Was he encouraging her to continue, or was that a look telling her not to make the guy with the gun start crying? While they’d worked out a signal that they needed to be rescued from a conversation at a party, they’d never worked out a hostage strategy which seemed like a grave oversight at the moment. “What’s your plan now? Too many people know you came over here tonight. Jezza was an accident and a good lawyer will be able to work something out. Why don’t you put down the gun and we’ll talk about it.” The smell of overdone bread wafted out of the kitchen.

His voice took on a dreamy quality. “There’s nothing left for me anymore. Everything’s ruined.”

“Don’t talk like that,” Penelope said, calling on what her son called her “mom tone”. “We’ll get you a lawyer and everyone will sit down and talk and you’ll get a good night’s sleep and things will look better in the morning.”

She could feel him wavering. His arm loosened and the hand with the gun moved slightly away from her head. “Do you really—”

At the sudden blast of sound from the smoke detector above his head, Dolan started and Penelope felt a pain in her forehead as the gun went off.

*** 
 (Comments, requests, and suggestions all welcome!)

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 25

An explanation of what I'm doing is here.
If you missed the first chapter, start here!



Chapter Twenty-Five

Penelope looked around at the kitchen and ran through her mental list. Table set with the nice tablecloth, candles, and flowers — check. Wine open — check. Chicken breasts pounded, rolled up with butter, breaded and in the refrigerator awaiting frying — check. Broccoli (to magically counteract the hardening of their arteries from the Chicken Kiev) washed and ready to be steamed — check. Dog fed and bribed to stay in the other room with treats — check. Bread in the oven, waiting to be warmed — check. Only evening dress she owned, black velvet with an apron pulled over it to keep it clean until she was done cooking — check. No Jake yet, but it was still ten to seven and he hadn’t called or texted to say he’d be late so she had started heating the oil.

Her phone rang, an unknown number. “Hello?”

“Pen, it’s Brian. Sorry to bug you but Jake went to go work out a while ago and his admin needs him to sign something tonight for the payroll so it can get faxed before midnight. If I call him he’ll come back here and then we both know he’ll never get home on time, so I’m just going to send it over with one of the patrolmen. Don’t panic if a uniform knocks on the door before he gets there.”

That last sentence explained the call.  “No panic, I promise. And thank you.” She hung up and caught a glimpse of her reflection in the window. Her hair was all over the place and there was something on the shoulder of her dress where the apron didn’t cover it. She dashed to the mirror and found that she’d managed to get butter smeared on one spot while the left elbow had been breaded. So much for the evening dress.

Penelope jogged upstairs, yanking the dress off along the way, slipped into a skirt and pulled on a blouse, buttoning it as she went down the stairs. It wasn’t until she was at the bottom of the stairs that she saw the patrolman standing on the other side of the clear glass panes of the front door. His frozen deer in the headlights stare made her wonder how much of that journey he’d been present for.

Penelope decided she’d just have to brazen her way through the awkwardness. She opened the door. “Officer Dolan, isn’t it? Come on in. You have some papers for Jake to sign?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He took off his hat and came through the door, hugging the wall the furthest from her. Brutus came out from the spare room, sniffed the policeman’s shoes for a second, then trotted back to his treats. “If the chief’s not here I can go wait out in the car.”

“Nonsense, have a seat. Would you like something to drink?” Penelope didn’t really want to entertain someone when she was trying to get everything ready, but she didn’t want to be rude. That thought reminded her of their conversation a few days ago. “Look, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you who I was when you took all my information after Jezza was killed. I hope it didn’t cause too many problems when you called the chief to confirm my whereabouts that morning.”

“No, ma’am. Everyone thought it was funny.”

She might have believed his even tone, but a muscle twitched on the side of his mouth. And if he didn’t stop kneading his hat with those beefy fingers he was going to destroy it. “Well, I apologize anyway.” A silence strained the room as he sat gingerly on the couch.

The front door opened, saving her from further awkwardness. Jake came in, scratched the dog’s ears when he trotted over, and put down his bag. Penelope leaned into his embrace, enjoying the smell of soap and sunshine. “You forgot to sign some papers before you left the office.”

“So I see.” He looked her up and down. “Looks like I should have hurried straight home.”

Penelope left the two men in the living room and turned the oven on. “At least now we know how to keep Brutus calm,” she called back to the living room. “He was more interested in his Kong than he was about a stranger coming into the house. I thought he was going to tear down the door to get to the UPS guy yesterday.” The oil bubbled slowly when she dropped a cube of bread in. Another few minutes and it would be at the right temperature.

She wandered back out to the living room where Jake was handing over the freshly signed papers. Penelope moved to the door, hoping to hurry the officer on his way. She thought he’d likely leave quickly anyhow. Clearly she made him nervous, although at least he’d stopped mangling his hat. Those fingers reminded her of something though…

Dolan got up and picked up the sofa cushion that had tipped over and she had it. The picture from Jezza’s service, the only one taken in the new house, with a man’s face covered by a pillow. The man in the picture had those hands. Brutus hadn’t reacted to a stranger because Dolan wasn’t a stranger.

Penelope’s eyes widened and she accidentally made eye contact with Dolan as he walked toward her. With just a slight catch in her movements she plastered a smile on her face. “Thanks for bringing —”

The breath was knocked out of her as he grabbed her and spun her around, pulling her against his chest. Penelope saw Jake freeze at the same time she felt a cold metal barrel touch her temple.

*** 
 (Comments, requests, and suggestions all welcome!)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 24

An explanation of what I'm doing is here.
If you missed the first chapter, start here!

Chapter Twenty-Four

The more she thought about it, the more Penelope liked Esther’s idea, at least the dinner and candles part. True, the department was in the middle of a homicide investigation that had snowballed to include bank robbery, extortion, and possibly an involved policeman, but if it wasn’t that there would be something else. There were always reasons to procrastinate if one looked for them.

First things first — if she was planning a romantic dinner for two she had to make sure both people would be there and nobody else. Penelope scrolled through the contacts on her phone and frowned. She had Anne’s number but not Brian’s. Given her last conversation with Anne, she didn’t want to go through her, even if the couple was back together, which wasn’t a given. The guest bedroom door had been closed when she’d left in the morning.

Luck was with her. Brian was at his desk typing on the computer when she went to the station. “I have a big favor to ask,” she said when he looked up.

“I’ll warn you right now, I don’t have the key to the evidence locker,” he said. “But anything other than that is yours.”

Penelope sat down at the chair next to his desk. “I need a couple hours alone with Jake this evening,” she said in a voice low enough that it wouldn’t be overheard. Nothing secret ever stayed hidden long in the station.

“No problem. I’ll go out for a drink with the guys. You can text me when it’s safe to come over.”

“And I need you to make sure that Jake makes it out of here on time.” She saw his doubtful expression. “I know, but can you at least try to make it happen? I’ll leave you some Chicken Kiev and cherry cobbler if you come through.”

Brian leaned back in his chair and played with a rubber band. “Bribing a cop has some serious penalties, but if you promise to make lasagna some day soon, I’ll overlook it. What time do you want him home by?”

“Seven.” She stood up.

“I’ll do my best.”

“Thanks.”

Knowing that Jake would wonder about her visit if she didn’t stop in, she went back the hall to his office where she found him on the phone. He covered the lower portion with one hand. “Do you need me?”

She shook her head. “Just passing by. Dinner at seven?”

He glanced at the chaos on his desk. “I’ll try. I’ll text you if I’m running late.”

Penelope blew him a kiss and left.




Jezza’s son, Steven, was in line in front of her in the grocery store, buying a sandwich and chips. He glanced at her when she got in line and grinned. “Penelope! I’m glad I ran into you before I left.”

“Heading back to school?”

He nodded. “Yes, but I’ll be back when they release my mom’s things. I guess it might be a while, with…” he waved with the arm not holding his items, “well, everything.”

Moved by the impulse to be a better friend to Jezza in death than she had in life, Penelope gave him her phone number. “Let me know when you’re coming back and I’ll arrange things on this end.”
They chatted until he had paid and left.

“That was her son, wasn’t it?” The cashier paused with the package of chicken breasts in one hand as she watched Steven walk out of the store. “I still can’t believe everything his mother was getting up to. She made a joke a few weeks ago about having a get-out-of-jail-free card, but I thought that meant she was dating a cop. I didn’t realize it meant she was blackmailing half the men in town.” She started scanning Penelope’s purchases. “Big night with the chief, hm? Can’t go wrong with candles and wine.”

Penelope smiled and nodded and hoped that Jake would be the last person in town to find out about their dinner.

*** 
 (Comments, requests, and suggestions all welcome!)