Eyebrow Cyclops

(Unedited preview – may contain errors.)

A short excerpt from Permanently Deleted.  Phee has rescued a puppy named Fritz.

 

An hour later, I was at Paws n Claws Veterinary Clinic. My parents had been taking our Irish Setter, Hamlet, there for years and Dr. Vicki Betters had squeezed Fritz into her busy schedule.

Dr. Betters ran her hands over Fritz’s shaggy frame. She checked his ears and teeth and listened to his heart. “He appears to be about six months old. I’d guess he’s a mix between a Jack Russell and a long-haired Dachshund. He’s malnourished, but otherwise, he’s in good health. I’d definitely take him to a groomer to get these mats cut and for a good bath. Are you planning to keep him?”

“I think Ferdinand would never forgive me if I didn’t. He meowed up a storm until I went outside and found him.”

“He’s found his forever home,” Dr. Better said and smiled. “I’ll give him his first round of shots and a dewormer. You’ll need to bring him back in a few weeks for the second round of shots and a weight check, but I think he’ll be fine.”

Half an hour later, Fritz and I were back in Velma and heading downtown. He had a bone between his paws. The girls in the front office at the vet’s had insisted he needed a treat for being so brave when he got his shots. I pulled into a parking spot in front of Tinted Love Beauty Salon.  Kimmie and Kristin were the owners of the beauty salon slash dog grooming salon.  Since they were the only place in town that cut hair besides the barber shop, most people didn’t mind that they did dog’s hair in the back of the shop.

I opened the door of the shop and Fritz and I walked in.  Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach blared in the shop. Kimmie, the older sister, sat on a salon chair reading a gossip magazine. She hopped up when she saw me. Her short hair was shaved on one side and sported a bright shade of magenta on the remaining long lock that fell over her left eye.

“What’s up, Phee? Who’s this little guy?” Kimmie asked.

“This is Fritz. I rescued him. Dr. Betters checked him over, and she suggested I have a professional cut out all these mats. Can you fit him in on your schedule today?”

“Sure can, baby doll. Come here, Fritzie Witzie. Give Auntie Kimmie some sugar.” Kimmie took Fritz’s leash and picked him up. “I’ll have him looking like a GQ dog model in about thirty minutes. You want to wait? Kristin’s finishing up a manicure, so she can do something about those caterpillars you have growing over your eyeballs.”

My hand went to my eyebrows. “What’s wrong with my eyebrows?”

“Darling, Brooke Shields is so yesterday with the brows. You need some shaping and some thinning. Kristin will hook you up.”

“Papa, don’t preach! I’m in trouble deep! Papa, don’t preach…tra la I don’t know the rest of the words…la la la la la,” Kristin caterwauled. The woman whose nails she was polishing grimaced at the off key singing.

“Who’s that?” I asked Kimmie. I hadn’t seen the woman in town before, and she didn’t look like one of the protester.

“Her name is Elizabeth Shields and she is with the feds,” Kimmie hissed. “The FBI feds. She’s here helping investigate some kinds of financial hinky dinky going on with some business. I only know this because my cousin Grace works at the hotel where she’s staying. FYI, she knows your man, Clint. Rumor has it they were eating dinner together the other night. Everything alright between you two?”

“We’re fine. It was probably business.”

Kimmie gave me a doubtful look. Heck. The words didn’t even ring true to my own ears. Clint did say he didn’t want a commitment. Guess he was making sure I believed him. Kimmie gestured for me to take a seat and carried Fritz to the back of the salon.  A few minutes later, Kristin put the nail dryer over the agent’s hands and motioned me to a chair.

“What’s up, girl? Kimmie wasn’t kidding when she said those brows could use some love. Not tainted love either!” Kristin let out a loud guffaw of laughter at her own joke. Where her older sister was all eighties glam, Kristin was 1950s rockabilly. Both girls, however, loved karaoke and a good time and their vast array of song lyrics in their head never ceased to amaze me.

“I guess I haven’t been loving my brows. Who knew they were so needy?” I sat down and closed my eyes as she cleaned the area on my brow bone.

“How’s Clint? I bet he’s busy with this latest murder? I heard they were holding Nellie Jo as a suspect.” Kristin applied wax to one brow and seconds later, she ripped off the muslin causing me to jump out of my seat.

“Nellie had to be questioned since she’s his wife. Clint and I are good. Both of us have been busy with work and stuff,” I said nonchalantly.

Kristin applied wax to the other brow. A second later, I felt her arm jostle against me as she went to yank the second strip of muslin. “Oh crap! Oh crap!”

I opened my eyes. “What? What’s wrong?”

“I am so sorry,” Elizabeth Shields said. “I’m such a clumsy person.” She shrugged and gave me a sheepish smile.

“Phee, don’t look. I can fix it,” Kristin squeaked. “I can.” She pressed the muslin back against my brow and frantically patted it.

“Fix what?” I asked. I turned my chair to look into the mirror. I had a unibrow. As in, one eyebrow over one eye. No eyebrow over the other. “Oh my sweet pepper of paella! My eyebrow is gone!”

“It’s my fault. I was looking down at my nails and accidentally bumped Kristin. I really am sorry,” Elizabeth apologized again. If she was so sorry, why did she have a triumphant gleam to her eyes?

“It’s okay. I’m sure Kristin will fix it,” I said smoothly. No way was I going to let this polished, blonde federal agent know that inside my voice was screaming Eyebrow Cyclops!

“Your Clint’s friend, Phee, aren’t you? I’m Elizabeth Shields. He told me about you,” Elizabeth said. “I’ve got to run. I’ll buy you a cup of coffee next time I run into you to make up for this.” She strolled out the shop door.

“That little…!” Kristin fumed. “Phee, I swear she did it on purpose. There’s more than enough room for her to walk past me. I’ll fix it though.”

“How?” I said. “I look like a…a freak!” I wanted to cry, but I knew if I did, Kristin would fall apart. It wasn’t her fault.

“I’ll give you bangs!” Kristin said. “Yeah! That’s what I’ll do. I’ll give you long bangs that you can wear swooped down over one eye to hide the missing eyebrow until it grows back.”

“Like Veronica Lake?” I said with a small hint of hope that I wouldn’t be a social pariah for the next six weeks.

“I don’t know who that is, but sure.” Kristin pulled out her scissors and began to cut on my hair.  A few minutes later, she twirled my chair around to show me my new hairdo. She had managed to get my unruly red hair to fall into a natural looking swoop over my left eye. Although it didn’t hide the missing eyebrow entirely, it did make it a little less noticeable.

“I can live with it,” I said. “Worse comes to worst, I’ll hide in a dark room for the next month.”

“I am so sorry, Phee. I swear she bumped me on purpose. You can use a pencil to try to draw an eyebrow on if you think it will help. ”

“I believe you. Somehow I think Miss Elizabeth Shields, federal agent, was trying to intimidate me. Well, Ophelia Jefferson is nobody’s doormat!”

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NYC Midnight Short Story Entry – The Burnt Man

Nicola Galliani reread the note instructing him where to go after he made it through L’Isola dell Lagrime. His orders were to meet Vanzetti in New York. The date of the revolution was set. If the people ever wanted to break the stranglehold that the crooks and hucksters of Wall Street maintained on them, he couldn’t fail. With a grim smile, he folded the paper into a small rectangle and tucked it inside the band of his hat. He slipped the hat onto his head and tilted it to hide the scarring. He needed to hurry if he wanted to make it to the ship. America waited.

Thomas Sullivan looked at the Norwegian woman in front of him. Her particulars were on a landing card pinned to her dress. He verified that the information on the manifest matched the card. After a minute inspection, he gave her a curt nod and moved on to the next immigrant. He repeated the process over a hundred times every day. It was a rare occasion for him to detain anyone. When the last person from the steamship passed his station, he tallied his marks and turned in his report to the head immigration inspector. Donning his hat, he left for home. First, he planned to stop at O’Malley’s for a pint to wash the stench of hundreds of unwashed bodies from his nostrils.

Two hours later, he climbed the stairs to the set of rooms he shared with his widowed sister, Irene. He could smell the warm, yeasty scent of his sister’s bread when he entered the flat. He hung his hat and coat on a nail by the door.

“Irene, the angels in heaven envy me,” Thomas said. He sat at the table and Irene put a bowl of stew in front of him. He grabbed a slice of the bread and dipped it into the stew.

“And why is that?” Irene asked. She blew a stray curl from her eyes.

“Because I’ve got a sister who bakes me the best bread in New York.”

“Did you kiss a piece of the Blarney Stone one of those young Irish girls brought with her?”

“This load was mostly Germans and Norwegians. Different faces and accents, but the same look of confused hope on the lot of them.” Thomas mopped up the last of the stew with his bread.

“I have news,” Irene announced. “The Granvilles invited a spiritualist to the house tomorrow evening. They’re hosting a séance.”

“A séance? Why talk to the dead? There’s enough problems with the living without inviting the dead into the mix.”

“Mr. Giles asked me to stay late and help the other girls clean up after the party. I’m going to see a spirit!” Irene said excitedly. “Maybe Daniel will send me a message if he knows I’m there. If you want to come listen, I’m sure Mrs. Hudson would let you stay in the kitchen. She’s still waiting for you to come calling on her daughter, Anne.”

Irene’s husband, Daniel, had died the previous year when he fell into machinery at the factory where he worked. They had only been married six months. Thomas worried his sister would never remarry despite her attractive face and excellent cooking skills. The last thing Irene needed was to think Daniel would come back to her as a spirit.

“I don’t believe in ghosts and such. It’s not natural. The dead go to heaven or hell. They don’t wait around for some grifter to help them speak,” Thomas said.

“Well, I’m excited,” Irene declared, “and I don’t care what you say, Thomas Sullivan. My Daniel will come. Just you wait and see!” She snatched his empty bowl from the table and stalked away.

Thomas sighed. He knew his sister. Once she had an idea in her head, nothing could shake it loose. Tired from his long day, he headed to bed.

The next evening, Thomas made his way to Banker’s Row and the Granvilles’ stately home. He knocked at the rear door by the kitchen. Mrs. Hudson’s exasperated face relaxed when she saw Thomas. “Thomas! Irene told me you might come by this evening. Anne’s in the dining room, but she’ll be done soon. Would you like a bit of supper while you wait?”

“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson. A bite to eat would be most welcome after today.” Thomas settled onto a wooden chair. “Irene said there was a séance this evening. Have they started?”

“So much foolishness. Folks with too much money and time on their hands and not enough sense. Madame Valentina, as she calls herself, is here. She’s waiting for her men to finish setting up the room.” Mrs. Hudson placed a plate with a generous slice of roast and vegetables in front of him.

“Irene believes Daniel is somehow going to speak to her tonight,” Thomas said. “I tried to tell her it’s all fakery, but she wouldn’t listen.”

“Anne tried to tell her the same thing,” Mrs. Hudson said. She pulled a pie from the cupboard and sliced a generous portion. She slid it onto his plate.

The door between the kitchen and hallway swung open. Anne and Irene rushed into the kitchen giggling. The dishes they carried threatened to topple to the ground. Thomas jumped up and relieved Anne of several plates.

“Thank you, Thomas.” Anne blushed. A plump blonde girl, Anne Hudson always had a smile on her face.

“You’re most welcome,” Thomas said and carried the plates to the sink. “Have the shenanigans started?”

“Thomas!” Irene scolded. “If you met Madame Valentina, you would be a believer, too. I can sense the spirits hovering around her.”

There was a rattle of pots and a loud harrumph from Mrs. Hudson. Thomas decided to keep his own counsel and not add his thoughts on the mysterious Madame Valentina. “I’ll wait here in the kitchen until you’re done for the night.”

Irene and Anne rushed out of the kitchen to finish their chores. Thomas sat back at the table. Mrs. Hudson poured them both a cup of coffee. She heaved a tired sigh as she settled her ample frame opposite of him. “Give her time. She’s young, and it’s only been a year since Daniel passed.”

Thomas sipped his coffee. He was opening his mouth to ask Mrs. Hudson if he could call on Anne when Irene burst into the kitchen.

“Thomas! Madame Valentina says she has a message for you! Come quick!”

“What in the world…” Thomas started to protest, but Irene had already darted back down the hall. Thomas quickly followed her down the hallway to the sitting room. A dark-haired woman with a lace shawl draped over her head sat at a round table. Anne and Irene were the only other people in the room.

“Come here, Thomas Sullivan,” the woman said in a heavy Italian accent. “I don’t have much time.”

Thomas stepped hesitantly towards her. “No disrespect, ma’am, but I don’t believe in spirits.”

“It doesn’t matter!” Madame Valentina rapped her hand down on the table. “What I have to tell you is urgent and a matter of life or death! Stop the burnt man. If you don’t, hundreds will die. Now go before they return!”

Thomas stumbled out of the room and rushed back to the kitchen. He shivered despite the warmth of the room.

The next day, Thomas yawned his way through his shift at Ellis Island. Irene and he hadn’t arrived home until close to midnight. Irene had chattered about the séance nonstop. Daniel hadn’t spoken to Irene, but she thought maybe he had sent the warning to Thomas.

“Do you know a burnt man?” Irene had asked.

“No, I don’t. Nor do I need to stop anyone based on a psychic’s warning. It’s all fakery. Madame Valentina was warming up for her upcoming performance,” Thomas had replied.

He struggled to focus on the man in front of him. Mr. Manning had warned all the inspectors of a credible threat.

“We’ve received word that a group of anarchists are making their way to America from Italy and Poland,” Mr. Manning warned the immigration inspectors earlier. “You check, then double check, every man’s credentials over the coming days and weeks. You are the first line of defense against these blasted revolutionaries.”

Thomas eyed the man in front of him. An immigrant from Greece, his information appeared to be in order. He nodded, and the man moved forward. He was the last passenger.

Thomas tallied up the day’s count and handed his sheet to his boss. “I’ll see you on Monday, Mr. Manning.”

When Thomas opened the door to his home, the familiar scents and sounds that usually greeted him were absent. He found Irene sitting at the table crying.

Alarmed, Thomas asked, “What’s wrong? What happened?”

“Madame Valentina is dead.” Irene sobbed. “Murdered last night after she left the Granvilles.”

Thomas was shocked. Madame Valentina had said she didn’t have much time. Did she have a vision that she was going to die? He shook his head. What a silly thought. She had probably meant that she had to hurry because it was time for the séance. Her murder was a coincidence.

“Who killed her?” Thomas asked his sister.

“They haven’t arrested anyone.” Irene sniffled. “The circumstances were strange. She left the Granvilles shortly after midnight. Mr. Giles said she was alive when she climbed into the carriage. By the time she arrived at her hotel, she was dead. Stabbed through the heart! The police questioned the driver. According to him, he never stopped between the Granvilles and the hotel. He had no blood on him, so the police believe him. This is awful.” She pressed a handkerchief to her mouth and tried to calm down.

Thomas gave his sister an awkward pat. Although the spiritualist’s death was shocking, the woman was a virtual stranger. “The police will figure it out. People like her often come into contact with rough characters.”

“She promised to try to channel Daniel for me. Now I’ll never have a chance to speak to him!” Irene wailed. She ran from kitchen and slammed her bedroom door shut behind her.

Thomas considered going after Irene but decided to let her be. The emotions of women baffled him at times. Clearly, dinner wouldn’t be appearing, so he put his hat back on and went in search of a corner pub and a cold pint.

On Monday, Thomas reported to work as usual. He and Irene had passed Sunday with nothing more said about the murder of Madame Valentina. They attended church a few blocks from their home and ate a cold supper before they retired to bed early.

The passengers disembarking today had left the port of Le Havre in Italy three weeks ago. All of the inspectors were alert to the possibility that one of these passengers could be planning an attack similar to the bombings throughout the city in the previous year. Ellis Island, or the Island of Tears as the immigrants called it, was the gateway, and Lady Liberty reigned as gatekeeper; however, it was the immigration inspectors who ensured those allowed through were worthy.

The majority of the passengers filing past Thomas were women and children. A few men had passed through his station earlier, but none of them had seemed suspicious. He gave the old woman in front of him a smile. Her daughter and son-in-law were already settled in Brooklyn. She was finally coming to join them and her new grandchild. He approved her entry, and she nodded her thanks. The next passenger stepped up to the station. He wore a gray cap pulled low.

“Take off your cap,” Thomas said in exasperation. Surely the translators had explained the inspection process to the man.

The man reached up and pulled off his hat. Thomas tried to hide his shock at the man’s appearance. Angry scars mottled the side of his face and twisted his mouth into a permanent grim smile.

“Fire. Burned my face,” the man said in broken English.

Thomas froze as Madame Valentina’s warning about the burnt man filled his thoughts. It had to be a coincidence. He scanned the manifest for the man’s name.

“Mi scusi. I pass?” The man gestured towards the gate.

“Um…no. Wait.” Thomas held up his hand to stop the man. He wondered if he was foolish to believe a scam artist’s warning about a burnt man. He could lose his job if he was wrong. Before he could decide, the man pushed past him and began to run.

“Stop him!” Thomas shouted. He ran after the fleeing man. The old Italian grandmother was still shuffling towards the exit. At his shout, she turned. Seeing the man running towards her, she screamed and dropped her small bag. The burnt man stumbled but quickly regained his footing. It was all Thomas needed. He leapt forward and tackled him.

Two weeks later, Thomas and Irene sat at their kitchen table. Irene listened as Thomas read the news article aloud.

“Immigration inspector, Thomas Sullivan, was instrumental in bringing Nicola Galliani to justice. A known revolutionary and avowed anarchist, Galliani refuses to speak; however, plans to bomb Wall Street were found hidden in his belongings. In a related story, Madame Valentina, spiritualist and psychic, was murdered by known associates of Galliani. The culprits worked for Mme. Valentina and used her travels throughout the city and into the many homes of our esteemed city leaders as cover for their work.” Thomas folded the paper and smiled at his sister. “The credit belongs to Madame Valentina. If not for her warning, I wouldn’t have stopped him. I have to wonder if she actually had a psychic vision or if she overheard her assistants planning an attack.”

“We’ll never know. You know what? I prefer to leave it that way,” Irene said. She stood up. “I’m off.”

“Where are you going?” Thomas asked. They usually spent their Sunday afternoons relaxing. If the weather was nice like today, they would walk to the park and feed the ducks.

“Mr. Giles asked if I would walk with him in the park today. I said yes.” Irene turned to grab her hat but not before Thomas saw the tinge of pink on her cheeks.

“I think that’s a fine idea,” Thomas said.

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