July’s Short Story

Blurb image of holiday lights behind title

It’s 21 July, the third Thursday of the month. That means it’s time for a story.

Today, A Godfather for Christmas: It’s Eugene’s first Christmas since moving to Austin. Before the fun can start, she has to get through the funeral, stop a  hacker, and prevent a stranger from taking over her new home. Luckily, her godfather has a thing for Christmas lights and funeral pyres.

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A Godfather for Christmas

Until this week, only two weeks before Christmas, no one talked about James Earl. No one said his name. No one mentioned murder. But on Saturday, CC decided it was time to grieve. She shut down the office until the New Year; she packed James Earl’s clothes into boxes for donation, allowing Eugene and her brother, Phineas, to help; and she replaced James Earl’s name with Eugene’s on the business’s website to read: Catherine Carson, Security Consultant; Eugene Plumb, Associate. After all, Eugene was doing James Earl’s job, had been since his death. Eugene painted the door to the old servants’ room converted to computer control center with the head of a wolf to both honor the wolf James Earl was and claim the space as hers.

Phineas moved in. At first, it was just to help Eugene heal from her wounds, but he stayed on taking a job at a local health clinic. Eugene slept peacefully curled up next to him every night. She felt at home for the first time since leaving her parent’s house.

The sound of running water through the pipes reminded Eugene of the time. Since Mike’s sudden marriage to Stanly, Mike didn’t live in the house anymore, but he kept his bedroom for long nights at the office. She lifted her hand to turn off the final monitor when a man reached the front door and rang the bell. She tapped the screen for a closeup of the man’s face. He wore a dark suit, appropriate for a funeral, but she didn’t know him. A few other human friends of CC had come to the house today, which was also their place of business. Eugene tapped the microphone and told the man the wake was at the Cafe Philosophy. He didn’t respond.

“Fine,” she muttered, and leaped down the old servant’s stairs into the kitchen two at a time.

Without pausing her pace, she glided through the swinging door to the front reception room and opened the front door. “Hi,” she said. “The wake’s over at Coffee Philosophy. Do you need the address? It’s just a few blocks over.”

Dark brown eyes set under thick sandy brows stared at her. His chin jutted in and out before saying, “Is this James Earl Bane’s house?”

Eugene put a hand on her hip. “He lived here. You’re not looking for the wake?”

“Well,” the man stammered, his eyes scanning her up and down. The right side of his mouth twitched before he said, “Yes and no. I’m his brother, Stephen Banes. Is his business partner here?”

“Oh,” Eugene said. Her nostrils flared as she took in his scent. “You don’t sme-look like James Earl.”

The corner of Stephen’s mouth turned up. “We were both adopted.” He pulled a wallet out from his pocked. “Here’s my identification. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to talk with his business partner.”

Eugene examined the driver’s license. Looked real enough. She motioned Stephen in. “Let me get Mike. CC’s already at the wake. Have a seat.”

“CC?” he asked.

“Catherine Carson.” Eugene waited for him to sit down. She didn’t like his eyes staring at the swinging door. “Mike!” she yelled.

Stephen jumped as her voice echoed in the empty house.

She grinned, hearing his heartbeat double time. “No intercom,” she said.

Stephen looked around the room, at the large old-fashioned desk with its multiple monitors and candy colored lamp, the less than new chairs and side table with its little Christmas tree blinking red, green, and gold, the carved mule post and bannister to the stairs leading to the second-floor and private bedrooms, the paneled doors on each side leading to separate offices, the dark blue velvet curtains closing out the late afternoon sun from the garden window, and the swinging door beneath the stairs leading to the living room. 

Mike walked out of his office door. He was the only one with a bedroom on the main floor, hidden behind his office. His tie hung around his neck, his jacket folded on his arm. He tried and failed to fasten the cufflinks on his right wrist. He stopped, holding his arm out to Eugene. “Can you?” he asked, shaking his wrist. Nodding to Stephen, he asked, “How can I help you?”

Eugene leaned against the enormous desk, half sitting on it. She pointed her chin to Stephen. “James Earl’s brother.”

Mike smiled and twisted to extend his hand to Stephen, but Eugene pulled it back as she clicked his cufflinks into place. “Mike Young. My condolences. Afraid we’re closed until the New Year, but if I can help-”

“I should have called, sorry,” interrupted Stephen. “I was out of town when mother called to tell me about James Earl. She asked if I could stop in Austin to collect his things. Didn’t realize there was a wake today.”

Mike’s face remained unchanged. “I understood James Earl was estranged from his family.”

“You’re his business partner?”

Eugene rolled her shoulders back as the hairs on her neck stood.

Mike smiled into her face and held his left arm up. “And this one. All thumbs today.”

Eugene grunted, but smoothed Mike’s cuff and fastened his cufflink even as she kept her eyes on Stephen. 

Mike returned his attention to Stephen. “Business will have to wait until Monday. You understand. Today’s a bad day. Everyone’s been waiting. After his murder, and then the hunt for his killer-” Mike paused, releasing a long sigh. “You should come. It’ll give you a chance to meet his friends and his wife.”

Stephen’s gaze jumped between Mike and Eugene. He nodded his head, lowering his gaze. “Of course. Haven’t been myself since I found out about his death. I should have thought. I didn’t know he was married.”

Mike handed Eugene his jacket and knotted his tie. “You have your own car? Good. Follow us to the cafe. You have a place to stay?” Mike grabbed one of his business cards from the desktop. “Here’s my info. I always answer my cell. You need anything while in town, call me. Ready to go Eugene?”

Eugene nodded. 

Stephen’s eyes widened as he read Mike’s card. “Lawyer,” he said. 

“Yes. Partnered with James Earl and CC early on. We share clients with particular needs. Shall we go?”

Eugene locked the front door behind Stephen and followed Mike to his car parked behind the house. As Mike drove to the front of the house and waved to Stephen, making sure he followed them, she said. “I don’t like him.”

“I don’t either,” Mike said.

“What was this about CC being James Earl’s wife? I didn’t know-”

“Not even under Common Law,” Mike interrupted. “For now, I want him to think they were.”

Eugene pulled her visor down and opened the mirror. She adjusted it until she could see Stephen behind them. “You don’t suppose – no.” She shook her head and closed her eyes.

“Don’t think what?” Make asked.

“I told you someone tried to get into the servers last week. If I hadn’t changed the back doors James Earl created, they could have gotten in.”

Mike parked on the street a block away from the cafe. He scratched his chin. “Never understood why James Earl was convicted. If his brother was involved…”

Eugene opened the door. “If it was him, he’s good.” She grinned. “But I’m better.”

Mike reached out to her before she stepped out of the car. “Hey, you and Phin stay close to CC. I don’t want Stephen getting too close to her, not tonight.”

“You got it.” Eugene closed the car door as Mike got out and waved to Stephen. “Little prick won’t bother her tonight,” she muttered.

*****

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