Category Archives: Don Herald

Blue Scarab

“Roger! Stop it!”
+++++A pause. Nothing.
+++++And then again. This time louder and more urgent.
+++++“Damn it, Roger! Stop it!”
+++++A longer pause. “Right now!”
+++++With a loud sigh, Wesley Hicks heaved slowly up from his knees, appreciating with every movement that his body was not as young or nimble as it used to be. Once again, he silently promised himself that next week for sure he would go back to his early morning workout at the Y before catching the Queen streetcar to work. He hadn’t made it to the gym since Cassie had gone to a girls’ night out almost a year ago. She never returned.
+++++On this particular mid-summer Saturday morning, he had been grumpily pulling weeds for over an hour, squeezed uncomfortably down in the damp, black smelly earth among the lush cucumber vines and staked tomato plants. Until he met Cassie several years ago, he hadn’t the slightest interest in growing vegetables. Wesley Hicks was a city boy, born and raised, so he preferred getting his vegetables right off the produce counter at the nearest Freshco.
+++++Roger had been barking continually for at least ten minutes, ignoring all commands to stop. Walking toward him, Wesley noticed that his dog had dug a hole so big that almost the entire front half of his body disappeared into it. Frequently he would stop digging, but his tail continued to wag rapidly. Even when Roger was a pup, he didn’t seem able to wag, dig and bark all at the same time.
+++++That’s how he got his name. Cassie and Wesley had a good friend who was so remarkably uncoordinated that they joked he was an accident always about to happen. “That silly pup reminds me of Roger” Cassie had observed. So in honour of their friend, Puppy became Roger even though Wesley had badly wanted to name him Jackson, just like his first dog as a little kid.
+++++In spite of himself, Wesley smiled at the memory. It turned out that was one of the few things he and Cassie appeared to agree on. But then again Wesley reminded himself, when you are in love or at least believe you are, one’s just expected to make compromises. Looking back, he had made more than his fair share of compromises for the few years he and Cassie were together.
+++++Roger the dog was deep in the hole now, growling and worrying something with his paws. Sometimes nudging it with his nose then jumping back suddenly as if whatever it was wasn’t taking kindly to his noisy attention.
+++++Leaning over, Wesley grabbed the excited dog by his collar, jerking him backwards up onto the edge. “Stay, Roger!” Wesley commanded.
+++++Lying at the bottom of the small pit was a slobber covered, mud-caked object about the size of a half brick. “Well Roger, what have you found this time?” Wesley knelt onto the freshly dug soil around the hole and reached down.
+++++In spite of its size, the object was surprisingly light. Brushing away the dark, damp soil, Wesley realized that the wrapping was some sort of old canvas material, deeply darkened with age and dotted in a few places with the thin, white spider lines of water stains. Wesley blew away some of the more sticky chunks of dirt. Tightly spaced stitching appeared at both ends and down one side of the brick.
+++++“What the hell is this, Roger?” exclaimed Wesley as he fingered one of the seams. “It looks and feels like some kind of leather lacing. Look here how some of it seems to have rotted away. This has been buried for a long time, my friend. Let’s get a better look.”
+++++Wesley held the object in both hands as he headed for the mid-morning patch of sunlight on the forever peeling back porch steps right off the kitchen. Roger followed closely along, still growling low. Wesley noticed that the dog’s long slim tail was curled tightly up and under his hind quarters. He had never seen Roger do that before.
+++++Sitting cross-legged on the lower step, Wesley turned the object over and over in his hands, blowing away lingering dirt and occasionally spitting on his fingers to better expose more of the seam lines. His fingertips seemed to be tingling slightly. Wesley realized that all of his fingers felt warm, much like when he held a fresh mug of hot coffee.
+++++Down on the grass, Roger was keeping a comfortable distance from the package. Yet the dog persisted in leaning way forward, almost off balance, his brown eyes focused intently on Wesley’s hands. The growling had stopped, but been quickly replaced with loud snuffling as Roger’s muddy nose fluttered rapidly in and out, actively sampling whatever new scent he was picking out of the air.
+++++“Ok, boy let’s see what’s inside.”
+++++Wesley shifted awkwardly to one side and reached with some difficulty into the side pocket of his jeans. His fingers felt the cold shank of the small, expensive Lee Valley folding knife that Cassie had given him on their first anniversary of being together. “Every guy needs his own knife” she had told him with a teasing smile, even though she knew that her Wesley was that very rare exception to the rule.
+++++For Cassie, the knife had been a symbol of her undeclared and dedicated campaign to make him over. But Wesley, who truly believed that it was totally silly for a guy in this day and age to carry a knife, dutifully kissed her on the cheek while silently vowing to lose the god damned knife at his first opportunity. Now as fate would have it, several years later he still had the knife but had lost her.
+++++Wesley cautiously worked the sharp blade along the side seam, soon leaving only the ends still tightly stitched. “First time this damn knife has come in handy” mumbled Wesley as he concentrated on separating the end seam stitching.
+++++His careful work had exposed what appeared to be the end of a small box. Grasping the unopened end, he gently shook the object up and down until the contents slid out into his empty hand. It was a beautifully carved wooden box.
+++++Even though Wesley was not skilled with hand tools, he could tell that this was the work of a master craftsman. All sides of the box were delicately and intricately carved. What Wesley guessed was some kind of gel-like coating had protected the box from any dampness in the ground that had managed to seep through the canvas cover.
+++++As Wesley admired the carved birds and human stick figures on the box, Roger backed slightly away from the box and began to quietly whine. His eyes remain fixed on Wesley’s fingers as they continued to gently trace the finely carved lines.
+++++“Looks a bit Egyptian don’t you think, old boy?”
+++++Roger cocked his head to one side
+++++“Here’s what appears to be a lid ridge along one side.”
+++++It wouldn’t budge using his fingernail. So he worked the knife blade slowly along the ridge, putting a small amount of upwards pressure on the blade. There was a soft popping sound as the lid separated from the lower half of the box. Wesley was sure he recognized the subtle, sweet scent of eucalyptus rise from the open box.
+++++The box was lined with what looked like the tufts of long, stiff mane hair of a lion or some other wild cat. Before he had met Cassie, Wesley was a regular visitor to the City Zoo, often attending the public evening seminars on endangered wildlife habitats. His special interest was in the uniquely fascinating adaptations made by its animals, especially the large cats of Africa and the Asian sub-continent. So Wesley was pretty sure he was looking at lion hair.
+++++In the centre of the box, nested tightly in the deep folds of dark fur, was a small object wrapped tightly in a piece of soft, lightly tanned leather. Setting the box down on the step, Wesley gently lifted out this smaller object, about the size of a large hazel nut. It felt warm to his touch. He decided it was just the adrenalin fueled excitement of his imagination working overtime.
+++++Wesley carefully peeled away the leather wrapping. He gasped involuntarily.
+++++Roger instantly jerked back a couple of feet and began a low howl that turned piercingly shrill. Wesley immediately experienced it not only as irritating, but inexplicably unsettling. The fur along Roger’s back rose in an alarming Mohawk ridge, his tail now fully and stiffly extended.
+++++“Roger, for god’s sake, shut up!’ shouted Wesley. Oddly, he too was feeling shaken at what he was cupping in the palm of his hand.
+++++It was a magnificent, brilliant turquoise coloured gemstone set on a ring mount of expertly crafted and twisted gold strands. Like the box that had held it, the ring was delicately carved with exquisitely detailed symbols on both the gemstone itself and along the sides of the ring’s base.
+++++“Oh my god, it’s so beautiful.”
+++++Wesley was instantly embarrassed by his sudden and totally uncharacteristic outburst. That was so Cassie-like, he scolded himself. It was all emotion with her and rarely any logic. “My ying to your yang”, she used to spit at him when she wanted to cut him with her words.
+++++Holding it lightly between his thumb and forefinger, Wesley re-positioned the ring more completely into the sunlight, turning it slowly every which way.
+++++The stone had been expertly carved along its surface. Whoever had crafted the stone had slightly shaped it, apparently to give it a bit of a waist-like tuck about a third of the way down. Its colour was not translucent but still strikingly vibrant in the sunlight, exposing shades and subtle shimmers of deep blue violet and surprisingly, small flashes of bright crimson from deep within the depths of the stone.
+++++On one side of the gem, Wesley unexpectedly found a small fragment of a different stone, light brown with flecks of white embedded within it. The shape reminded him of the geographic toe of Italy. Odd, he thought, that a master carver would choose to use a turquoise stone with such a noticeable imperfection in it.
+++++Another surprise revealed itself.
+++++On the inside hoop of the ring, up near the top slightly below the gem itself, there appeared to be an inscription of some kind. Telling Roger to stay in place, Wesley quickly went into the kitchen to get a magnifying glass from the junk drawer beside the old, chipped white porcelain sink that Cassie had always threatened to replace when he was at work. What a bitch, he thought for no particular reason.
+++++Returning to the bright patch of sunlight still flooding the porch steps, he settled back down in front of Roger and turned the ring so he could see the under markings clearly.
+++++Using the glass, he discovered a cluster of letters. Not hurriedly or amateurishly scratched into the soft gold, each letter had been carefully inscribed. It was as if someone had definitely wanted each letter to be noticed. Shifting the glass to sharpen the image, the inscription appeared faint but readable.

Auribus teneo lupum

“What the hell does that mean?” Wesley looked at Roger as if waiting for an answer.
+++++Wesley smiled at his recent tendency to speak aloud to his dog as if he was a human.
+++++“Looks like Latin or something to me. Shit, I knew I should have taken it back in high school when I had the chance.”
+++++Wesley laughed as he knew that was just nonsense as back then all he was interested in was playing football, getting drunk and hopefully getting laid.
+++++“But not in that order, Sir Roger” Wesley slipped naturally into a respectful form of address for his loyal companion.
+++++“I think I need to get a social life and stop being a dog whisperer.”
+++++He chuckled softly at his own joke. But with a twinge of embarrassment, he realized that there was indeed some truth in it ever since Cassie had suddenly and unexpectedly abandoned him and Roger.
+++++Wesley went to the kitchen, brewed some coffee and returned to the porch steps. Just beyond, Roger lay watching him intently. Curious, Wesley moved the ring slowly back and forth from his body. He smiled when he saw Roger’s eyes lock steadily onto it and move in time with the motion of the ring.
+++++With the movement, Roger once again began a deep, menacing growl. Wesley laughed at the weirdness of it all. Still examining the ring, he slowly sipped his coffee.
+++++His fingers holding the turquoise ring began to tingle and feel warm. Must be the sun warming the gold band of the ring. So Wesley shifted the ring to his left hand and waited. Sure enough, each finger began to tingle and once again the unusual warmth of the ring was noticeable.
+++++Looking at the carvings on the turquoise stone more carefully, Wesley realized that what he initially thought was a random design created by the gem maker, actually had a defined, vaguely familiar shape to it. A memory slipped unbidden into his consciousness of a documentary he had numbly watched in the dark, ugly days after Cassie had left.
+++++It was about the priceless treasures uncovered in a recently discovered pharaoh’s tomb. Among them was a sacred finger ring with a gem stone carved in the shape of a beetle. A scarab beetle if he remembered correctly.
+++++“Yes”, he said aloud. “That’s exactly what’s on this ring.”
+++++“Come Roger.” And with that Wesley got up and went into the kitchen followed by the dog who, while cautiously keeping a safe distance behind his master, never took its eyes off the hand holding the ring.
+++++On the scarred, gray formica counter, Wesley fired up his Apple and searched ‘scarab beetle; ancient Egypt’. Numerous sites popped up. The first link Wesley clicked on showed a piece of ancient Egyptian jewellery that had a gem stone carved almost identically in the shape and markings of his ring.
+++++Further links indicated that the Scarab beetle could be both an amulet of good fortune or in some rarer cases, the symbolic messenger of a sinister curse or dire warning of pending misfortune. Interesting, thought Wesley as he pocketed the ring and returned to the yard to finish his weeding while pondering on what exactly he and Roger had uncovered.
+++++Later in the afternoon, Wesley began to feel like he was coming down with the flu. His bones ached. His leg and arm muscles began cramping up. A few times, his vision seemed to blur then clear. Twice he had to grab onto the neighbour’s fence to prevent sudden dizziness from knocking him down.
+++++Hurtful memories of Cassie and their tumultuous times together flooded uninvited into his racing, oddly frenzied thoughts. Frightening feelings of stabbing grief and irreconcilable despair similar to what he had experienced in the months following her disappearance, caused him to sweat and gasp in short, raspy breaths. For Wesley, it seemed as if he was once again being overwhelmed by the corrosive bitterness and paralyzing panic of those past dark times.
+++++When supper time arrived, Wesley was feeling too lousy to make anything, so he ordered in a pizza. While waiting, he barely managed to fill Roger’s food bowl and water dish.  With the pizza on the coffee table, Wesley sat restlessly on the front room couch, half-heartedly eating several slices until he felt too wobbly and nauseous to finish what remained.
+++++Wesley was holding the Scarab ring, sometimes pausing to unsteadily examine it more carefully with his glass. He stared at the faint but careful inscription inside the hoop. For some vague reason, it seemed faintly familiar to him. And then unexpectedly, the confusing fog in his mind cleared somewhat. Now he was certain he knew where to find the meaning of the words.
+++++Getting up slowly, feeling more than a bit wobbly, he stumbled back into the kitchen, the ring clutched tightly in his fist. It seemed hot but he was determined not to let it go until he had the answer. For a brief moment, Wesley lost his balance, banging heavily into the small, overflowing and disorganized Ikea bookcase by the kitchen table. Feeling faint and slightly disoriented, he sagged heavily into a nearby kitchen chair. Once he was sure he wouldn’t faint, Wesley slowly reached out to the Apple on the counter. He set the ring on the table.
+++++His mental confusion was deepening. Wesley couldn’t remember the words on that beautiful ring. He thought he might have written them down but searching clumsily through his pockets, he could find no paper. Inexplicably angry at his stupidity, he wildly swiped the computer off the counter and began to cry.
+++++Was that someone speaking to him? Wesley looked up. Cassie was sitting opposite him, smiling and nodding. The old washed denim blouse that he had always loved to see her wearing was unbuttoned half way down. She wore no bra, teasing him with the promise of delights to come. She has returned, he thought.
+++++“Oh, Cass I’m so sorry about us.” He cried aloud and reached out to warmly embrace her.
+++++But Cassie swirled and disappeared. Wesley felt like he was inside a bad acid trip, far worse than the numerous rough ones of his college days. If I just close my eyes and rest, he thought, it will all pass and I will be fine again.
+++++The ring lay beside him on the table and something was terribly wrong. It was glowing and pulsing with a pale blue light. The Scarab beetle suddenly freed itself from the restraint of its gold mounting pins and scampered quickly and menacingly directly toward him.
+++++Somebody or something was howling now. Wesley knew he was helpless, being swept away in a roaring tempest of unbearable sound and a blinding turquoise blue light. He felt his bladder let go. His legs felt warm, wet, sticky. Vaguely, he knew he should be embarrassed but he didn’t care.
+++++The snapping giant mandibles of the hungry Scarab beetle hungrily grabbed his arm. He could hear the crunch of the bones but felt no pain. Losing consciousness, Wesley slipped awkwardly from his chair onto the floor beneath the table. As he fell, Wesley’s involuntary spasms knocked over his chair and shifted the table heavily toward the counter. The ring scittered across it, falling end over end as if in slow motion, then scattering along the floor.
+++++Roger’s howling soon attracted the attention of Simon, the next door neighbour. Coming into the kitchen from the back porch, Simon discovered Wesley’s twisted, rigid body lying beside a defiant, snarling and growling Roger. The dog refused to let him provide assistance to Wesley. Paramedics were summoned, patrol officers arrived and soon thereafter two homicide detectives from 52 Division came in to take control of the scene.
+++++An autopsy two days later could not determine the exact cause of death. Subsequent toxicology results were negative. Wesley’s death was a mystery. Of course, the detectives would keep the file open but in their experience with such matters, they knew that in time the unexplained death of Wesley Hicks would become another cold case.
+++++In an upstairs room, his parents found a brown manila folder containing the Last Will and Testament of Wesley Randall Hicks among a scattered pile of files on an untidy work desk. Dated about three months before the separation, his entire estate, monies and chattels were left to ‘Cassandra Eve Williamson, common-law partner’.
+++++Two weeks after Wesley’s funeral, at the request of Wesley’s lawyer, Cassie reluctantly met him at the house to sign papers completing the probate process for the Will. After the lawyer left, Cassie wandered aimlessly through the rooms, lost in memories of a few good times and a whole lot of bad ones.
+++++On her way to the meeting, she had retrieved Roger from the city pound on Eastern Avenue. The day after Wesley’s death, one of the detectives called to tell her that Roger had been taken there, growling and snapping the entire time. She was surprised when Roger seemed to easily slip into his familiar and comfortable routine with her.
+++++If Cassie was honest with herself, there were only a couple of things she missed the most when she had escaped from Wesley. First was Roger. She loved that mutt. Second was her veggie garden. Now living in a small, walk-up apartment on Beverly near the Art College, she had no realistic way to indulge this particular passion. All the plots in a nearby community garden made available by the city were assigned and there was at least a two year wait to get space.
+++++With Roger trailing happily behind, Cassie turned and headed through the kitchen for the yard and her much missed garden over in the far corner.
+++++As they passed the neatly piled legal papers sitting at the end of the pine harvest table, Roger growled quietly, his spine hair rising sharply.
+++++“What is it, boy? What’s the trouble?”
+++++Cassie bent over to rub behind his ears. This had always calmed him before. But this time, Roger remained stiff and alert. He was fixated on something out of her sight beneath the lower cupboard door next to the Frigidaire.
+++++Curious now, Cassie knelt down beside Roger and looked with interest. “Oh my god. It’s a ring!” She reached beneath the cupboard door and pulled it toward her.
+++++“Oh what a beautiful blue stone. Abyssinian turquoise, I think. And look at the design work on the gold band. Exquisite craftsmanship, don’t you think Roger?”
+++++She held it out to him so he could sniff it and realize it was not going to harm him. But Roger backed away and began to bark loudly, fake snapping at her open palm and the gold ring sitting on it. How weird is that, Cassie thought. It’s just a bloody ring for god’s sake.
+++++Ever since she was a kid in grade school, Cassie had loved unique jewellery pieces. As an adult, she frequently haunted vintage stores and antique shops along King West, looking for collectible and wearable pieces. When she and Wesley were together, they would often argue bitterly about how much she was spending on what she laughingly dismissed as her hobby. Of course, Cassie would never admit it to anyone, but antique jewellery was really her secret addiction.
+++++This will make an excellent addition to my collection, thought Cassie.
+++++So she pocketed the ring and carried on to the garden. She was astonished to see that Wesley had kept it in great shape. “Not too shabby, city boy” she said to no one in particular. Everything seemed to be flourishing. She picked half a dozen Giant Burpee tomatoes, a few cucumbers and the last of the summer crop of the ever blooming red raspberries.
+++++Returning to the house, Cassie carefully slid the veggies and fruit into an empty Freshco bag she found neatly folded on the counter beside the frig. Taking Roger’s plaited leather lead from its usual spot on a hook by the front door, she clipped it onto Roger’s collar. Cassie locked up and stepped out onto the street. She and Roger walked slowly north a block to catch the Queen East trolley home.
+++++That evening, Cassie studied the ring with the turquoise stone, trying to understand the meaning of the strange engravings on it and the surrounding gold band and tiny clasps. She didn’t notice the inscription inside the hoop.
+++++Throughout the evening she turned the ring over and over, occasionally slipping it on and off the ring finger on her left hand. She just loved how strikingly beautiful it looked on her delicate finger. Twice she thought the ring felt warm, almost hot. Once she even thought it was vibrating very subtly.
+++++But Cassie, never being one to believe in such silly hocus pocus, dismissed it as the inevitable result of being overly tired and seriously stressed from Wesley’s sudden and mysterious death,  the boring but necessary meeting with the lawyer and worst of all, the flash back memories while wandering alone though the house she and Wesley had shared.
+++++“Ok, Roger, it’s bed time.” He knew the routine.
+++++Roger followed her into the small, sparely furnished bedroom. With a deep sigh, he curled onto a red wool blanket she had taken from the sofa for him. Cassie slipped off the ring and set it on the dressing table near her bedside.
+++++“Good night Roger” she said. “Sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
+++++She smiled at how easily those words still came to her lips. That’s what her late mother used to say when Cassie was little and frightened of the yellow eyed monsters that most certainly lurked beneath the bed or lay hungrily waiting in the closet. Of course, her mother’s words did nothing to calm her fears. Although she had never seen a real live bed bug, she always expected to wake up in the morning totally covered in itchy, swollen, red blotchy bites.
+++++Cassie awoke abruptly from a fitful sleep. She had been dreaming that she and Wesley were making love out in the garden at their old house. The tomato plants were gossiping about their mating behaviours. That’s odd, she thought. Not once since I left him, have I ever had a dream that he was in. That’s when she noticed that her sleeping T was drenched with damp, cold sweat.
+++++There was an unfamiliar, soft bluish glow in the room. It seemed to be pulsing slowly. Startled, Cassie sat up and looked around. She noticed that Roger was also up and staring at the dressing table. His ears were turned toward it and he was growling deep in his throat.
+++++Cassie followed Roger’s gaze and her heart stopped.
+++++“The ring is glowing. It’s pulsing just like it’s alive.” Hearing the unnaturally high pitch of her own voice, scared her. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. A cold sliver of fear pierced her gut and sliced painfully upward toward her oddly tightening chest. She blinked her eyes once. Twice. The glow disappeared and the pulsing was no more.
+++++Roger stopped growling and lay down on his blanket. She could hear a soft whimper from him. “It’s ok, Roger. It’s gone now. Nothing to get excited about. It’s just a silly old ring. No damage done.”
+++++With her words, the whimpering stopped. Cassie lay down on her side, involuntarily curling up into the fetal position that she had found so comforting when she was that scared little kid waiting for the monsters and blood sucking bed bugs to attack her.
+++++Later, she had another vividly frightening dream.
+++++Wesley was sitting beside her on the bed. His normally tidy and clean clothes were stained, torn in places and he smelled like burning sulphur. His gorgeous blue eyes were now a brilliant yellow, the pupils tiny black slits like a cat.
+++++Wesley was smiling weirdly. He was missing his front teeth. His red gums and lips were blistered with specks of dried blood and spit. Lumpy, pale green-yellow snot dribbled freely down from his nose. Wesley seemed to be speaking to her but it was as if his voice was on mute. Both arms were extended toward her, all the fingers long, bony and covered in tiny red, licking flames at the tips where nails should be.
+++++In Wesley’s right hand, the open Lee Valley pocket knife twisted and jabbed menacingly toward her. In the other, he held the ancient gold ring with the turquoise stone. He was offering it to her. He was insisting by his actions that she must take it.
+++++And suddenly, just like it had on the table, the gemstone in his outstretched hand began to pulse in a deliberate one, two, three rhythm. It gave off a faint blue glow that blended into a soft red aura that expanded and contracted like a beating heart within the bedroom. The four walls seemed to be shimmering, glowing then shimmering again.
+++++Without warning, the light rapidly transformed itself into a brilliant crimson mist which rushed like a rampaging river of blood from his outstretched hand and wrapped itself tightly around her.
+++++Cassie screamed. And Roger began to howl.


Auribus teneo lupum

 An obscure Latin phrase meaning “I hold a wolf by the ears”. These words suggest that one is in a dangerous situation because either holding on or letting go could be deadly.

The Prey Series : Viktor

It was almost impossible to see her. She knew that was the way it should be. It was how she had been field trained by Master Li.
+++++Wearing a full body camouflage suit especially designed for the Costa Rican jungle where she now found herself, Razr had been hiding in place near the target for almost two days. Exposed skin was coated in dappled greens, light browns and the occasional black slash that she had expertly applied from the kit just after leaving the entry point a dozen kilometres away.
+++++Water was in a camel pack attached with web gear, a small tube running up over the left shoulder stopping just short of her lips. If she needed food, squeeze-it tubes with high carbos were clipped to the waist belt. Her footwear was not the customary boot but rather a more durable, high tech version of the slip on in the shape of a human foot that was so popular with marathon runners these days. For this particular situation, that was her choice and Master Li had approved.
+++++A light weight communication helmet, although mostly hot and uncomfortable in the oppressive jungle humidity, contained a high frequency, auto-encrypted, speech activated mike and satellite enabled micro-transmitter to keep in touch with Command several thousand kilometres away. As she had been instructed, Razr had kept radio silence ever since she had rappelled from the helo at the drop.
+++++Slung across her chest was a customized Exocet crossbow, the selected weapon for this target. Master Li, himself an expert in crossbow technology and unique adaptations for this type of hunting, had chosen wisely. Lightweight, compact and with perfectly blended camo, the carbon fibre recurve designed bow was fully cocked with safety on. Firing a four hundred grain arrow silently at one hundred sixteen metres per second, the cross bow was a truly lethal weapon. Sitting atop the bow was a small laser optic scope mated with a side by side laser direction finder.
+++++Under the demanding tutoring of Master Li, for months Razr had practiced over and over again until she and the bow had merged into one deadly unit. Now virtually invisible near the edge of the jungle, without thinking she touched the bow and gently stroked its stock as if it were the thigh of an anxious lover. Focus, thought Razr, keep your focus on task. Damn, that was a stupid mistake that could have exposed me to anyone in the cottage who may be looking into the jungle at that moment and seen the slight shift in the leaves.
+++++Viktor Ramirez was her unsuspecting target. Chosen for her by the Great Father himself, Razr did not know, nor did she care, why this man had been selected as her prey.
+++++Great Father and Master Li were her family. Ever since that day eight years ago when Master Li had approached her when she was working the street for that tweaker Graham. Master Li had been gentle and polite, wanting nothing from her that night except for some time to talk privately. He said that he had been watching her for a couple of weeks, learning her habits and routines. He remarked on her interactions with the customers and for a fourteen year old, he had observed that she had a calmness and maturity beyond her young years.
+++++They arranged to meet several times more to talk but he paid her the rate so that Graham would not suspect.
+++++Master Li offered her a place in a secretive organization he called The Family. It was a group, he promised, where she would be safe, educated and taken care of by both himself and someone he called the Great Father. They would not abuse her. They would not sell her to others. They would not cut her like someone had apparently done with a blade on the neck and cheek near her left ear. Interestingly, Master Li had never asked her name but yet he seemed to know many details about her family and how she had come about the facial scars.
+++++He knew about the soldiers coming to her home in the middle of the night a long time ago and dragging her mother, father, sister and brother out into the street, viciously beating and killing them. She had crept out of the house and hidden in the stable under a pile of hay and was not discovered. In a terrifying, horrible instant, she became an orphan. Not long after, Graham had come upon her begging and befriended her. Soon she was one of his best producing girls in Old Town. Men were instantly drawn to her waif-like features and Eurasian heritage. Graham sold her services for a high dollar and used her himself whenever he felt the need. And that was often.
+++++Razr told Master Li that she would join The Family but she had one condition that she hoped he could meet. She wanted Graham out of her life forever. Master Li nodded and promised her that he would take care of it. Two days later, Graham’s body was discovered by the police, lying in a large pool of dried blood with deep blade marks on his left cheek and neck. His heart had been expertly cut out and left to dry and shrivel beside him. Yes, it was violent, but Razr knew it had to be done. With this one act, her trust in Master Li deepened.
+++++They travelled by Land Rover for several days deep into the countryside and then switched to a small pack horse caravan moving even deeper into the southern mountains. They moved at night and rested by day, hidden in caves and old river beds. Just after dawn on the third day, the caravan arrived at a large, well concealed encampment. It was here that she met the Great Father for the first time.
+++++The Great Father reminded her instantly of pictures she had seen on the state television of a bearded man who had lived and fought in the mountains of Cuba for many years. The Great Father welcomed her warmly and offered richly creamed tea and a bowl of fresh fruit. It was then that he noticed her scars. After several moments of silence as he considered the scarring, the Great Father told her that from now on, she would be known to him and all members of The Family as Razr.
+++++He did not mean it as a punishment, he said, but rather as an always reminder of the horrible things that some men choose to do to those that are unable or unwilling to stop them. She was fine with the name. She had been so eager to ask the Great Father so many things about…
+++++There was sudden movement at the rear door of the cabin. At first, two heavily armed guards emerged and carefully scanned the small yard and the surrounding jungle edge. Apparently satisfied, the taller fat one waved a quick hand into the doorway and Viktor Ramirez strolled casually out.
+++++He was lighting up a cigarette and chatting to a beautiful woman who appeared behind him in the doorway. Ramirez sent his guards to the corners of the dwelling while he continued to stand smoking and talking back toward the woman. They were laughing. Razr could not hear their words. Nor did she care. She was here for one reason. To kill him for the Great Father and Master Li.
+++++As she had practiced so many times with Master Li, Razr slowly, in tiny degrees of movement, shifted the bow up on its sling toward her right cheek and shoulder. The shifting into firing position was so slow and finely practiced, that no one at the house would have noticed.
+++++Razr flicked on the scope with her right thumb and settled her eye into the rubber ring. Slowly she moved the bow until Ramirez’s head was centred in the softly illuminated crosshairs. The laser confirmed the target at forty seven metres. In practice with Master Li, she had become accurate at this distance and even slightly further, one hundred percent of the time. To Razr here in the Costa Rican jungle, this was just another one of those times.
+++++Razr steadied her breathing, noiselessly snicked off the safety and put soft pressure on the trigger. A deep cleansing breath. Crosshairs evenly centered on the side of Ramirez’s head, just in front of the left ear as he turned once again toward his woman. A slow, firm squeeze. And release.
+++++In an instant, Ramirez’s head sprouted a spray of red and the end of a dappled green feathered dart appeared suddenly three centimetres to the left of the ear. He crumpled and fell, the burning cigarette unbelievably still firmly in his mouth.
+++++As she had trained for so many times, Razr took advantage of the next few seconds of shock by the woman and the bodyguards, slipping backwards and down into a crouch, re-positioning the bow across her chest and moving cat-like off into the lush cover of the jungle.
+++++She had to be at the primary egress point before dark. A heavily mufflered Apache helo running dark would appear and take her home. Successfully evading the ground radar systems of several countries along the return route was something that the air crew had practiced many times in the weeks before Razr was dropped into the jungle.
+++++Three quick clicks and two short on her mike to monitoring ears thousands of kilometres away told them it was done and she was heading for the rendezvous with the helo. Razr would soon be heading home to the Family, Master Li and her Great Father.

There’s something about Fiona

Looking out through the grease streaked window of The Diner, Fiona watched the silver Mercedes wagon come to a stop in front of Andre’s Yoga studio. As was her habit, the bitch slid effortlessly out of the car and stood for a few moments beside the door. When she was sure everyone nearby had noticed her, she slowly and leisurely stretched like a cat waking from a long nap in the sun.
+++++God, how I hate her, thought Fiona.
+++++As usual, Mercedes Lady’s trim, beautifully toned body with all those not so subtle curves was showcased to best advantage in her usual royal blue Onesie from Lululemon. That must have cost Liam a couple of hundred bucks easily, mused Fiona. And what was even worse, that bitch has a different Onesie outfit for every day of the week. Fiona had been watching her for several months now and knew it to be true. I bet she just loves to spend his hard earned gig money on those fancy clothes and all she has to do for it is spread her legs from time to time. Fiona smiled at the thought of it all. In her imagination she could easily put herself on his bed, giving him a real workout.
+++++Moving away from the car, Mercedes Lady turned and pointed the key at the door, followed by a soft beep and a quick flash of the lights. On her slim, delicate wrist, a silver Patek Philippe watch sparkled in the sun. From her on-line research, Fiona knew that it was a Calatrava model with a price tag of close to four thousand dollars. Bitterly, Fiona quickly did the math and knew that just the high end yoga gear, the daily private lessons for the past six months at eighty bucks a pop and the Patek, all of it cost way more than Fiona’s wages and tips brought in over at least three, maybe four months.
+++++God, how I hate her, thought Fiona.
+++++Fiona placed the two hot breakfast plate specials – crispy bacon, two eggs over easy with multigrain toast and home fries – in front of the customers at Table Four and moved closer to the only smear free patch on the front window.
+++++Damn, that bitch even moves like a well fed, satisfied cat. She doesn’t even walk the way normal women do. Look at the sassy swing of those hips and that tight, rippling ass. Jeez, she’s not even wearing any panties under that Onesie. If that isn’t advertising the product, I don’t know what is. Ho, thought Fiona. She’s probably getting it on with Andre right there on the sweat stained yoga mat in front of that fake gas fireplace in his office. Fiona smiled at the thought, remembering how damned uncomfortable it had been for her in front of that very same fireplace. Of course that was before Mercedes Lady came on the scene and Andre abruptly dumped Fiona with no real explanation.
+++++How old is she? wondered Fiona. Maybe mid-thirties? Perhaps a carefully Botox’d early forties? An expensive nip-tuck here and there along with a boob job can do wonders to turn a man’s head. Or other body parts. Fiona chuckled aloud at her private joke. Several nearby patrons looked up curious about the unexpected soft laugh.
+++++Fiona moved slightly to the right so that she could better see her own reflection in the front window glass. She smirked admiringly. It’s all natural, baby. Eat your heart out. And just like she often did when checking herself out in The Diner’s window or more often, the full length mirror on the back of her bedroom door, Fiona imagined herself naked, lying on Liam’s king size bed among the damp tangle of high thread count, Egyptian weave sheets.
+++++Liam Brown was a music industry A-lister. A near legend in the country music scene across North America. Fiona knew all his musical stats by heart.  Four CMA awards. Third highest grossing concert act last year in the United States. Forty-four years old. Once divorced, married again three years this December to Mercedes Lady. When fans and even the folks here in town saw her with him, everybody immediately thought Trophy Wife. No kids from either marriage. The nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. Or sleep with, fantasized Fiona.
+++++Of course, Fiona had all his albums. Knew the words to every one of his songs. Been to just about all of his concerts in Canada and a few in the US when she could afford it and get time off work. Her cherished collection of twenty-three of Liam’s concert T’s were all lined up in chronological order in that section of her bedroom closet exclusively reserved for Liam’s merchandise and the carefully chosen outfits she had worn to his concerts.
+++++Fiona even had a small collection of the serviettes Liam had used whenever he had come in for breakfast at The Diner. Sometimes, when she held one of them to her face, she could smell his citrus scented after shave or even better, the intoxicatingly musky smell of his beautiful body and sweat. She kept them locked tightly in a zippy bag so his delicious scents wouldn’t disappear.
+++++I bet that bitch hasn’t been to even half of his concerts. And better still, based on what Fiona had overheard Liam telling Teddie his road manager over breakfast at Table Two back on the July long weekend, the bitch was like a cadaver in bed. We don’t have sex anymore, Liam snorted between noisy bites on the crunchy bacon. Teddie laughed and said Liam sure as hell deserved better. Damn straight I do, said Liam.
+++++It was just after that when he had glanced into the deep crease between the tops of Fiona’s boobs as she bent over to pour him a third cup of java. She lingered just a touch longer than necessary to give him a good look and get his imagination fired up. She was sure his strikingly blue-green eyes widened involuntarily. Fiona was happy that she had decided to wear her sexy black push-up that day. She knew from a whole lot of experience that it was a sure fire man-killer.
+++++Shortly after Liam had eagerly stared down the front of Fiona’s blouse, he and Teddie had left the diner and headed out to Liam’s Durango with the distinctive bright red paint job. From her on-line research, Fiona knew that it was called Rock Lobster and was only available as an expensive custom order. Fiona could easily imagine herself in a matching Durango or maybe even a Ram Diesel that Liam would give her as a gift just to use when she was running around town doing errands for both of them.
+++++That boob flash looky-loo was the precise moment when Fiona decided that bitch Mercedes Lady just had to die. And when that happened, Liam could have all of her. Fiona Eileen Webster, the next Mrs. Liam Brown. Fiona repeated it several times to herself and really loved the sound of it. By the way Liam always checked her out when he came into The Diner, Fiona had absolutely no doubt that he would quickly get over the unexpected death of Mercedes Lady.
+++++Serious research on the net began when she got home from waiting tables that evening. Fiona was amazed at the amount of helpful information she could find that described various techniques for killing someone. After careful consideration of all the alternatives, Fiona decided that a small explosive device would easily kill the bitch. Yes, a bomb would do quite nicely.
+++++But Fiona would need some help making it. Somebody that had the technical know how to build it small and deadly but whom she could trust totally to keep their mouth shut. It took her only a moment to decide who she would get to help her.
+++++Kyle Dunlap. Computer nerd and electronics whiz. Social inept. A loner. And best of all, hopelessly in love with Fiona. Ever since grade nine, Kyle had been like her own little puppy dog, always following Fiona around, willingly doing almost anything she asked of him. Whether it was writing her essay assignments or regularly scoring a large baggie of BC Gold from a dealer in Toronto. All of this for just a smile or a lingering soft fingertip brush on his cheek. Or starting about a year ago, the occasional romp in the sack whenever she felt the urgent need of it. Friends with benefits, she thought, that’s what the younger kids called it these days.
+++++Ever since Fiona had turned her attention to winning Liam’s favours about six months ago, she had cut Kyle off. She never returned his pathetic, pleading emails or brutally ignored him when he came into The Diner for his usual noon hour BLT on toasted whole wheat, hoping desperately for a chance to speak with her. If she was going to permanently take care of Mercedes Lady she would need Kyle’s help with the bomb. So what if it meant a few bonus booty calls to ensure his help, it was all a small price to pay for soon having Liam all to herself.
+++++It didn’t take Fiona much work at all to bring Kyle back under her spell. A carefully worded, slightly suggestive email here and there. A tongue tipped, pouty type smile whenever he came into The Diner. Sometimes a slim finger gently brushing across his hand as she put down his plate at the table. Soon they were having sex a couple of times a week and occasionally, Fiona even let Kyle sleep over. Men are so easy to manipulate, mused Fiona. They never seemed to learn that every gift of a sexual favour always comes with many strings attached. During her first week in grade nine, Fiona had quickly figured out that even if a girl with a body like hers over promised and under delivered, the guys would always come back panting for more.
+++++After about a month of her deliberate campaign to seduce Kyle, Fiona shared her wish to teach the current Mrs. Liam Brown a permanent lesson about the heavy cost of marital infidelity. Kyle was sipping a mug of freshly ground Brazilian coffee at her small kitchen table while openly ogling her naked body as she fried up some eggs before they both showered, dressed and headed off to work.
+++++To her surprise, Kyle seemed eager to help her out. He asked a few more questions about the habits of Mercedes Lady and where and how Fiona imagined the bomb would be detonated. Give me a couple of weeks, Kyle said and I’ll have it ready for you. Fiona smiled and turned slightly into a back lit, side profile that she knew from experience would cause Kyle to forget the eggs and lead her eagerly back into the bedroom for yet another uninspired quickie.
+++++First thing every weekday for the last few weeks, Fiona would watch that bitch park her car and swing her way into the yoga studio. There was a beat up, metal garbage can to the right side of the front door, sitting just below the ledge of the shop window. That was where she would have Kyle place the bomb.
+++++Of course, when he had proudly shown it to her last night after work, Fiona made sure that she never touched any part of the small device. She noticed that Kyle always wore a pair of lightly powdered latex gloves whenever he handled the bomb. It was the size of a small milk carton which he carefully wrapped in plain brown shipping paper, securing everything with old used garden twine double knotted about the sides and ends of the package. He assured her that everything was untraceable.
+++++You activate it, he said with some noticeable pride, by pre-dialing double zero into memory then pressing the Talk button on a throw away phone that had a transmission range of just over a hundred yards. Kyle enthusiastically told Fiona how he had trial tested a prototype of the bomb and cell phone transmitter in McConnahie’s abandoned gravel pit out on the Fourth Line. Everything had worked perfectly.
+++++The morning of the killing, Kyle came into The Diner sharp at 630. He sat at Table One just inside the front door. He had a well-used Goldie’s Gym bag with him that they had decided was the best way to carry the bomb and not arouse suspicion. Fiona came over to him, lightly touching his right hand which was still cool from the early morning air. She flashed him the warmest, sexiest smile she could manage.
+++++And of course, as this was a very special day, Fiona wore her favourite blue denim blouse with the top three buttons undone to the point where the fringed top of her black lace bra that he so much loved to see her wearing, peaked invitingly out. As sure as ducks quack, Fiona knew that if Kyle was having second thoughts, the glimpse of the bra and the promise of the delights within, would boost his courage, giving him the final push he needed to go through with it.
+++++Kyle smiled and winked at her, then set upon his BLT with great, noisy gusto. Another customer came in and went to the table at the back of The Diner. Fiona excused herself and went back to take her order.
+++++Kyle smiled to himself and slowly opened the gym bag on the floor beside his feet. He took out a small paper bag and pushed it under the bench of the booth. He checked to make sure it was almost out of sight and looked up to confirm that Fiona had now moved off to place the order at the cook’s window.
+++++Satisfied, Kyle got up slowly and appeared to briefly lose his balance as he leaned over to pick up the stained nylon bag. Using his right foot, he kicked the paper bag all the way under the bench. Apparently regaining his balance, Kyle straightened and whistling softly to himself, went out the door and casually jay walked across Church Street toward Andre’s studio.
+++++After Fiona had brought the pancake special to the woman at Table Nine, she moved back to the front window beside Table One. Through the window she watched Kyle stroll up to the garbage pail, remove the lid with a slight tug and gently place the gym bag into the container. Carefully, he replaced the lid and looked up briefly at Fiona. With a slight nod and a wide, full smile, Kyle moved off down Church Street toward the large stone arch gates of Memorial Park. Everything was going as both he and Fiona had planned.
+++++Kyle sat down on the rusted metal bench under the Four Soldiers statue and waited. Since the air still had a noticeable chill, he kept both of his hands tucked deeply into the side pockets of the Tough Duck brown canvas work coat that he always wore at this time of year.
+++++At 730 the silver Mercedes wagon moved down the nearly empty street and parked in front of the yoga studio. Just as Fiona had promised, the woman easily slid out of the car, slowly and leisurely stretched like a cat waking from a long nap in the sun and moved easily to the door of the yoga studio. She’s a damn fine looking woman, thought Kyle. Liam was lucky to have her in his life. Mercedes Lady knocked twice and a man Kyle recognized as Andre, opened the door and said something to the woman. She laughed and stepped back slightly to move in through the opening.
+++++Kyle took a deep breath and firmly pushed the Talk button on the phone in the front pocket of his Tough Duck. He smiled and held his breath for just a nano second before a sharp, deep explosion, instantly followed by a rolling, rapidly expanding bright red-orange fireball, blew out into the street.
+++++The entire front of The Diner seemed to bulge out like an overfilled balloon and burst into a million deadly shards of wood and glass. A twisted and leaking pile of burning rags tumbled crazily through the air and plopped heavily into the middle of the roadway, with small pieces of smouldering debris from the explosion settling like wounded butterflies all around it. In the centre of the bundle’s bright yellow, flickering flames, Kyle could see the shredded bits of a blue denim blouse. Further across the street, beside the badly damaged Mercedes, a red stained, white Adidas runner, laces still tied, lay obscenely on its side.
+++++Kyle smiled and got slowly up, walking briskly deeper into the park to the south end where he had parked his beat up Jeep YJ.
+++++Crazy bitch, he thought. You can play me once. Maybe twice. But you can’t play me for a sucker ever again. Fuck you, Fiona darling. May you rot in hell.
+++++As Kyle turned right out of the parking lot, he thought that he would treat himself to a large Dark Roast double double at the Tim’s drive-thru out on the Trans Canada before heading north toward a new life and identity waiting for him in Kenora.