Road Trip (A Whisperings Short)

Road Trip

A lighthearted short for Jack and Dale enthusiasts.

ROAD TRIP

 

“Please,” Jack whined.

“No.”

“Pretty please, with sugar on?”

I rolled my eyes. “How many times do I have to tell you? I am not driving you to Mesquite.”

“But we haven’t heard from him in months. He didn’t return your calls. Something is wrong.”

“Not calls, Jack. I left one message three days ago.”

Jack stomped the floor. Or he would have, had he a physical body to stomp with. “Why do people have answering machines if they don’t return messages?”

I bit my lower lip in an effort to retain a modicum of patience.

Not hearing from Dale was odd. I acted as an intermediary for him and Jack, he came to Clarion every other month or so for that reason.  And in between times he liked to call and leave funny, cute little messages, ostensibly for me but actually for me to pass on to Jack. However, I could think of reasons we hadn’t heard from him.  “You know he went on a three-week cruise and cell reception on a ship is spotty. Then he stayed with a friend in the Rocky Mountains and I bet he didn’t have reception up there, either.”

“The Rocky Mountain thing was for a week. He should’ve come back two weeks ago.”

“He was having such a good time he decided to stay longer,” I offered lamely.

“The Rocky Mountains can be dangerous. Maybe a bear mauled him,” Mel suggested brightly.

“If he wanted mauling, plenty of bears are around here,” from Jack. He stuck his fingers in his mouth as if chewing them and moaned.

“He wanted a bear to maul him?” Mel asked seriously.

Jack scowled and spoke around his fingers. “Don’t be stupid.”

“But you said―”

“And you said―”

“Cut it out, guys! Jack, Mel is trying to get a rise out of you. Mel, stop it,” I all but screeched. My head hurt from Jack’s constant grizzling and he and Mel got into it far too often. They needed to get out of the house again, go on a little trip, investigate the wide world around them. “Nothing’s stopping you from going south.” And I’d suggested it when Jack first asked me to take him to Mesquite.

Jack’s voice rose aggressively. “It’d take forever.”

I wanted to chastise him, tell him not to speak to me in that tone of voice. Again, I reined in my temper. Prisoners in my house for decades, Jack and Mel could now latch onto a living person and go where they went. Although going all the way south would take time, it was possible. “Not necessarily. Planes fly to Mesquite. Tour buses go there.”

“But you could get me there by this afternoon.”

My shoulders tightened along with my jaw. “It’s not as simple as you think. It’s a six-hour drive, plus stops for a bite to eat and gas-up. Then all the way home. And I’ll have to put Mac in kennels. Who’s going to pay for it all? You?”

“Wanda can take care of Mac. She’s done it before.”

“Wanda’s on vacation.”

“Royal, then.”

“No way.” I couldn’t believe he suggested Royal care for Mac. I’d come home to find Royal with less flesh on his ankles and calves than when I left. “The final word is no, Jack. You hear me?”

Just to be contrary after my point blank refusal, my brain spilled an idea into my head. “Suppose I ask Royal to zip down there and see if Dale’s home?”

Jack came in close. “You’d do that? Do you think he’ll do it?”

“I can ask. Depends if he’s busy and what kind of mood he’s in.”

“He will!” from Mel. “He’ll do anything you want.”

Well, not anything, but Royal’s an accommodating guy.

I pushed back the kitchen chair as I stood, and went to the phone on the counter. Royal and Mike Warren were at the shooting range up in Eden. If they were still practicing, their phones would be off, but Royal could be driving back to Clarion by now. They asked me to go with them and I almost agreed. I enjoy target practice and I could escape Jack’s tirades. But I realized, in the mood he was in, Jack would come along and distracted me. Anyway, I had a heap of laundry needed dealing with.

Royal answered after two rings. “How’s it going, Sweetheart?”

“I’m fine. Did you and Mike enjoy yourselves?”

“I did.” Royal chuckled. “I think Mike’s nose is out of joint because I bested him.”

I imagined Mike’s reddish face getting redder and snorted down the phone. “You outshot him?”

“Indeed. He blamed it on the wind.”

“What wind?”

“And chickadees chirruping at the wrong time.”

“With guns blasting away, there are chickadees near enough to distract Mike?”

“And gunshot echoing off the mountains.”

“Come on! The range is almost surrounded by mountains. There are always echoes when it’s being used.”

“What can I say? With those handicaps, you can’t expect a man to shoot with accuracy.”

“I’m sure you did.”

“Ah, but I am not a man, darling.”

He had me there. I bet only another Gelpha could outshoot Royal. I remembered why I’d called him. “Say, I’m looking for a favor.”

“Anything.”

“See, I told you so!” Mel cried.

“I need to know if Dale Jericho is at home.”

“Jericho? In Mesquite?”

“That’s the one. Can you go down there? I haven’t been able to reach him and Jack’s worried.”

Royal’s tone went a little flat. “So this favor is for Jack?”

I could tell he didn’t think much of going to Southern Utah on Jack’s behalf. “No, for me, so Jack will let up on his whining. I think Dale’s still on vacation so if he isn’t home, can you do some snooping?”

“Sure. I will get back to you as soon as I can.” His enthusiasm was underwhelming.

I cringed. Now I hated having asked him. “Thanks. I owe you one.”

“You do.” His voice deepened, becoming warm and lazy. “And I will collect at the soonest opportunity.”

Ah, now that sounded interesting. I smiled at the phone. “Be sure you do.”

We said goodbye and hung up. Now if I could keep my temper while Jack fretted. . . .

 

“He’s there. I saw him taking trash out.”

Bother! I’d hoped Dale hadn’t returned from his vacation. Why hadn’t he called to check up on Jack? This was the man who mourned his lost lover for over twenty years, who regularly harassed Clarion PD about Jack’s case before I put him in touch with Jack. Dale was the reason Jack never went farther than Clarion and returned to the house once a day, fearing Dale would stop by to visit and he’d miss him.

And how was I going to tell Jack.

I didn’t need to. As I replaced the handset in the cradle and turned to face the kitchen, I found Jack’s nose a mere inch away from mine. He’d listened in on the conversation and heard what Royal said. “I’m sorry, Jack.”

He pushed his fingers through his hair. “I have to know, Tiff. Please take me there.”

Confronting Dale about why he hadn’t called was the last thing I wanted. If I knew Jack and his temperament, I’d be in the middle of a lover’s tiff. And if Dale didn’t want anything more to do with Jack, my ghostly roommate would be inconsolable. I needed to talk to Dale without Jack around.

Then I had it, although I loathed talking Royal into another mad dash to Mesquite.

“I can ask Royal to zip me to Mesquite,” I suggested reluctantly.

“Only if I come with you,” Jack said.

Damn. “Can you keep hold of me while Royal speeds down there? He’s awful fast.”

“How fast?”

“Think a speeding car times three.”

“I don’t know,” he said hesitantly.

“I’d hate to come off somewhere between here and Mesquite,” Mel said.

“He’ll go as the crow flies,” from Jack. “We could end up in the middle of the desert.”

“With the buffalo,” Mel added inanely.

Jack fisted his hands. “Then you have to take me there. I want to hear Dale’s lame excuses for myself and you can tell him what I think of them.”

Drat. If I’d stuck to my guns when I refused to take him, I wouldn’t be in this pickle. But I first raised his hopes then sent them plummeting when Royal found Dale at home. Besides, I wouldn’t be able to stand his pleading, and his sulks, and the leaden atmosphere when he came in the room. He may be dead, but he has the presence of a living guy and would use it on me.

So I folded.

 

There’s a lot of stunning scenery between Clarion and Mesquite, but I’ve driven there quite a few times so the surrounding countryside didn’t distract me from my foul mood. I caved.  I could only blame myself. But knowing it didn’t cheer me.

Mac was with Janie at her kennels, much to his disgust, and we three merry travelers headed for Southern Utah.

Mel folded her arms on the open rear window frame and rested her chin on them, but the wind didn’t blow her hair into worse disarray than it already was, it didn’t make her eyes tear up. Jack head-banged to the music, even when it wasn’t a head-banging tune.

We drove into Mesquite at six in the evening.

I clenched the driving wheel as we idled at a light and reluctance swamped me. If this ended badly, life with Jack would be intolerable. Poor guy, if Dale wanted nothing more to do with him he’d be miserable, a broken man.

If I was more of a dedicated driver, I could head right back to Clarion after we discovered what was up with Dale. But I dreaded the thought of the long drive home again, mostly in the dark, so I’d booked a room at Holiday Inn Express. Its rates are reasonable and the beds are okay. We could leave early and be home by lunchtime.

Mesquite has three big casinos – Virgin River, Eureka, and CasaBlanca – and the smaller Stateline. You can find slot machines in just about every establishment, even in the one large supermarket. There are a few gas stations and fast food restaurants, one or two gift shops, golf courses and a lot of housing. Condos, apartment blocks, gated communities, some truly stunning mansions, and street after street lined with small homes with stucco walls and clay-tile roofs. It’s a town for retirees who like to drop a few coins in the slots and people who enjoy golfing, hiking, cycling and horseback riding. Roasting hot in the summer, temperatures in late fall, winter and early spring are ideal. The terrain is red rock and dessert. At first glance it’s not a pretty town but it grows on you. I could imagine having a small home here to escape the snow and biting cold of a Clarion winter.

At the motel, Jack gave me enough time to open the door and sling my overnight bag on the bed, then he started in on me again.

“I’m tired, Jack.”

“Why?” asked Mel. “Apart from stopping for lunch you sat in the car.”

“Driving is tiring. And I’m hungry.”

“You can grab something to eat on the way back from Dale’s,” said Jack.

My entire body slumped. “You won’t give me a moment’s peace till we talk to Dale. Okay. Let’s get this over with.”

With Jack and Mel clinging to me again, we went back to my Jeep. I climbed in the driver’s seat and they slid off to sit next to me. To me, they looked squashed together, but almost blending one into the other didn’t bother them.

Rooting in the glove box, I found the piece of paper with Dale’s address and punched it into the GPS.

 

Formerly a New York City attorney, Dale Jericho is a wealthy man. His fancy three-story house with white walls and an orange-colored, clay-tiled roof sat on a bluff which must provide a marvelous view of Mesquite and beyond. My Jeep idled at the bottom of the winding road which branched off to other equally impressive homes.

Jack looked up at the house. “I wouldn’t mind living there.”

“Why don’t you,” Mel suggested.

After a minute, Jack’s chin dropped and his shoulders slumped, and I guessed what went through his mind. Living with Dale would be rare fun at first, watching his daily routines, tagging along on errands and social outings, but as time passed being with him but unseen, unheard, unfelt, would break Jack’s heart.

If Dale didn’t break it in the next few minutes anyway.

Before I continued up the road, I laid down the rules. “I’m not going to tell Dale you’re with me, not at first.”

“Why ever not?”

“So she can see the lay of the land, what he’s up to,” Mel said. “Then you can bust his balls.”

Exactly. I nodded at Mel, then drove up the hill.

A circular driveway fronted the house. Stone columns supported a high porch over the impressive entrance. I got out of the car with Jack and Mel clinging to my aura and went to the front door. I rang the bell and heard it echoing inside the house.

Several minutes passed before Dale opened the door a crack. He looked back over his shoulder. “You stay there, honey.”

Jack went very still, looking more frozen than usual. “Honey?”

“I don’t want to have to tie you up again.”

“Oh my dear god. He has a boyfriend and they’re into BDSM.”

Dale finally looked at me. “Tiff? This is a surprise,” he said hesitantly. “Give me a minute.” And he shut the door.

He opened it again a moment later and rattled off: “I’ve been meaning to call but I’ve only been home three days and haven’t had a minute to myself.”

“You don’t say,” Jack muttered

“I did try to call to let you know I’d be passing through, but you didn’t answer your phone,” I said.

“I was probably out or taking a nap. Nights are hell – I can’t get more than a couple of hours sleep at a time.”

“Yeah, I bet,” Jack growled.

“Can we . . . I come in,” I asked and hoped Dale hadn’t caught my almost faux pas.

“Sure,” he said with obvious reluctance. He opened the door wider.

Dale is a tall, slim, good-looking man in his mid-fifties with rugged features, his brown hair speckled with gray on sideburns and where it recedes at his temples. He led us through a hall with a towering ceiling, into a living room which looked as if Martha Stewart had personally designed it, not a throw pillow or framed photo or piece of art out of place.

I heard a clatter deeper in the house. It seemed to come from behind the door in the back wall. Dale flinched.

“So that’s where he’s hiding his boy toy.” Jack let go of me. He managed one step, and stopped. “No!”

Jack and Mel need human transportation to get from location to location, but once inside a building they can move freely. Not here, apparently. The only reason I could think of was Dale was sending out strong vibes he wanted us to stay right here.

“You have company,” I said.

“No. Yes. Kind of.” Dale’s face crunched up as another clatter came from behind the door.

Time to get this over with. I headed for the door, Jack catching me as I passed.

“Ah, Tiff.” Dale tried to get ahead of me.

I kept going. “I’m sorry, Dale. I know I’m taking liberties but I have a good reason.”

He almost reached the door. “You don’t want to go in there!”

“But I do.” I shoved past him and pushed the door open.

For a moment I stood in the doorway with my mouth open, then I couldn’t decide whether to hold my nose, get down on my knees or burst out laughing.

Dale didn’t have a lover in here. He was embarrassed I’d see his kitchen in a mess, and messy it was. It looked like the man hadn’t picked up or washed a dish in weeks. An upturned bowl lay under the table, another near the backdoor. A small brown lump sat in a porridge of kibble and water. It smelled. So did the puddle near the fridge.

“I don’t have a moment to myself,” Dale wailed. “I can’t leave him alone for an instant. I’m so tired I want to cry.”

“Oh my.”

“How did he manage it?” Dale flung out a hand to indicate the mess. “We weren’t speaking for more than a couple of minutes.” He bent over. “You bad boy,” he said sternly, then cooed, “Daddy’s bad, bad, bad little boy.”

In the middle of the kitchen, tongue lolling, sat the cutest little black pup.

“I don’t believe it,” Jack whispered. “How could he?”

Not only had Dale got himself a dog, it was a Scottish terrier, a little MacKlutzy wannabe.

“You’d rather he had a lover?” Mel asked.

“What’s his name?” I asked.

“MacDuff. It’s not as if I meant to get a dog. Pauline’s Scottie had a litter and she hadn’t found a home for him yet,” Dale said.

I grinned. “You were so reluctant to take him, you hung on in Colorado till he was eight weeks old and able to leave his mommy.”

“I know,” Dale said with a sigh. “But look at him. Have you seen anything cuter?”

Jack’s whispering voice all but exploded in a roar. “Traitor!”

MacDuff eyed Jack. His head tipped on one side as if considering what he saw. Then his ears went back flat on his skull, a snarl lifted one side of his mouth, and he charged.

“Attaboy,” I said.

 

 

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Now Available – Downside Rain, an urban fantasy novel.

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Downside Rain is now available as an e-book from online retailers Apple iTunes, Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble Nook.

Another place lies palm to palm with the world we know. Downside, Earth’s backdoor, where magic, madness and monstrosities abide; where rain falls from a cloudless red sky and neon pulses day and night.

A fallen angel in a derelict tower weeps crystal tears.

A powerful man hides a dark secret.

Wraiths skim through the streets, hunting monsters.

Rain and her partner Castle are wraiths. They will take almost any assignment, providing it’s legal and pays well. They specialize in ridding Gettaholt City of monsters, be they mischievous but relatively benign sprites, or ghouls which don’t limit their feasting to the already dead. The partners are also ears and eyes for Alain Sauvageau; unnoticed, the pair glean useful information for the crime lord. Rain would be happier working for Alain if he didn’t try to get into her pants, but she refuses to be the reigning lothario’s latest in a long line of affairs and jilted lovers.

Rain goes Upside on a mission for Alain and while there discovers River, a wraith who knows nothing of Downside. She is duty bound to introduce him to Downside society, an obligation she resents. When she’s marked for death, she must survive attacks by demons and Gettaholt citizens compelled by powerful magic. Who is trying to kill her, and why? Is River friend or foe? Can a wraith die twice?