Coming together is a beginning” Henry Ford

 “Here’s a secret I learned lying in a ditch…covered in my own blood, thinking I was going to die: you go out broke; everything’s on loan. You’re not an owner, you’re only a steward…” Stephen King, addressing grads Univ of Maine, 2005

Upon leaving the podium after giving a rousing, much applauded dedication speech, and promising a generous donation to restore the ancient stone cairns and natural spring of Magog’s Grotto, nonagenarian Deandra McBride O’ Hennessy was startled to see her husband, Sebastian, waiting for her. He stood just inside the heated tent to the right of the stage. A lavish cocktail reception would be take place after the final speech. Her husband’s appearance at one of her many charity functions was not a good sign. She thought it odd she had no presentiment of his nearness. Well, they were both old. Even the keenest of abilities failed occasionally.

            She walked directly to the distinguished looking man she had been married to for more than sixty years. His broad, muscular shoulders now arched forward, devoid of the muscle mass that once enabled this 6 foot, 4 inch Irish behemoth to─as occasion demanded─knock unconscious four or five average size men with a few well aimed blows. His thick, shoe polish white hair was combed straight back, as it had always been, every hair in place. Age and the elements had etched deep, leathery ridges into his square jawed face. His deep, dark blue eyes were two reptilian slits now, which still keenly observed the world.

            It was what she didn’t see in her husband’s eyes that alarmed her. Her hand flew to her chest. Long, elegantly manicured and discretely jeweled fingers scratched at the faintly etched gold and emerald brooch pinned to the lapel of her wool jacket. Often, she thought her husband’s face was that of a man who took malicious delight in other’s misery, including her own. Today, there was no glimmer of the corruption often evident in hers.

            His long, gnarled hands reached for hers. One landed heavily on her shoulder, the other firmly cupped her elbow and led her to the far side of the tent, where a series of heaters threw waves of warmth into the chilly tent. He pecked her check as they walked, but maintained a tight grip. In a low, flat tone, he warned her he had grave news. At first she thought he was being his usual cruel self, applying undue pressure to her shoulder, sending sharps pain through her arthritic bones. Quickly though, she realized this rock of a man, whom few had ever bested—was barely staying erect. The news must be grave indeed.

            They stopped in front of the heaters, and he asked her how the dedication had gone. He quickly followed with a second question, was she packed and ready to travel?

            “O’Hennessy, get to the point.” Deandra spat out the words. “I’m off my mark today. I didn’t sense your arrival, and I don’t sense any warp in the thread. What is it, old man?”

            “Martin phoned me from Philadelphia. The car’s waiting. Make your excuses quickly. We’re booked on a late evening flight back to the states. That’s all I’ll say until we’re safely in the car. Heed me Deandra.”

            Too momentarily shocked to do anything but, she quickly gave her regards to Lord and Lady Yardley, and nodded a hasty good bye to others as her husband led her to the limo. A dread formed in her gut and spread upwards. It felt as if her upper body had developed hairline cracks she must prevent from spreading further. Her mind tried and rejected a dozen combinations of what the bad news was. Her torso felt frozen, but her legs moved fine. She led Sebastian to the car.

            The driver leapt out and opened the door. Deandra instructed him to head directly to the airport. She withdrew money from a slender silk bag and thrust it at the driver, along with an address she scribbled. She told him to swing by their townhome after he’d dropped them off, pick up a bag, which the housekeeper would give her, and ship it to the O’Hennessy estate in Nelline, Pennsylvania. She added the housekeeper would give him a further tip for his troubles.

            Sebastian poured a large Irish whiskey into a beveled rocks glass. After taking one large swig, he stared into its amber interior. Without looking up, he asked Deandra if she wanted one too. When she didn’t answer, he knew he must stop stalling and relate the bad news.

            “Martin phoned earlier—to tell me there had been a fire at Dea’s. The garage burned to the ground. The house is intact—with some smoke or water damage. A badly burned body was discovered in the driver’s seat of Dea’s car. Martin—he paused and took another swig and grimaced─Martin tentatively identified the body as Dea’s. He recognized the ring she always wore, and perhaps a necklace. Understand, no positive identification was made. The illustrious police don’t know if this was suicide or murder.”

            “Suicide. What in bloody blazes are those Americans thinking? It makes no sense, old man. Then . . .” her voice grew smaller as if she were talking to herself; her eyebrows arched. “When did Perdura ever make sense?” She rubbed her hands together as if to kindle a fire within. Her voice recovered its volume and tension. “You may pour me a sherry. No, just hand me a glass. I’ll do it myself. When did you say this happened?”

            “I did not. Yesterday─late afternoon.” The old man sank back in the soft leather seat, his glass empty; he closed his eyes. His mind drifted back to the 1950’s, the decade Dea was born. It was an extraordinary time, when dreams were realized, trails blazed, and lives were altered forever. Was it so long ago—1966, that his daughter, Dea’s mother, Aubra, died? Had he survived both his daughter and his granddaughter? Life was cruel, no one knew that better than Sebastian O’Hennessy.


The Brentains and O’Hennessy’s were neither of old Philadelphia stock nor old money.  They were descended from the disposed gentry of Ireland, from a trade class of people with some very interesting side lines, long since dead. What bound them was not dissolved by death. What bound them was more than blood ties. It’s there similarities between the Brentain and O’Hennessy clans stop.   For while the Brentains worked long and hard to Americanize themselves and prepare future generations for their place in modern society, the O’Hennessy’s stuck to the old ways and kept in close touch with their interests in Ireland and Scotland.

            Dea was born at the end of the confident, post-war 50’s, a decade many called tedious. Perhaps it was when compared to the technology talented, tune in, turn on 60’s that followed, Sebastian mused. Republicans thought the 50’s were a banner epoch; Eisenhower was the first Republican President in several decades. The sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg thought it was a ghastly time, their youth and parents ripped from them unceremoniously. Nearly $3 million was stolen from Brink’s North Terminal Garage in Boston in 1950 during the robbery billed for a time as the crime of the century. It might have become THE perfect crime, except that in 1956, a mere eleven days before the statute of limitations expired, one of the bank robbers confessed to an FBI agent. A low chuckle sounded deep in Sebastian’s throat as him remembered he’d won a considerable sum of money wagering the robbers would be caught and prosecuted.

            In 1953 Edmund Hillary of New Zealand reached the top of Mt. Everest, and Moscow announced it exploded a hydrogen bomb. Alfred Kinsey, an ahead of his times sexual liberator, published Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. More than 250,000 copies were sold, but despite the popularity of his books, the religious right condemned Kinsey, and in 1956, at age 62, he died, a tired and disappointed man. What a shame, thought Sebastian; Kinsey had inspired him to convince his investment group to pay for and sponsor research aimed at restoring men’s sexual potency after age 50. His argument was that baby boomer’s obsessions with their libido’s would reap someone big bucks—why not them? The drug Viagra was about to be approved by the FDA. Kinsey would have been pleased to know he had contributed to advancing understanding about the sexual behavior of men, and paved the way for sexually liberal future generations.

Sebastian’s investment group didn’t sponsor research aimed at improving women’s sexual potency after age 50. There wasn’t enough money in the world to untangle what makes women tick, what lights their inner fires, and kindles their fierce desires. A man might keep a woman amused, but certainly never satisfied. His daughter and granddaughter were proof of that. Were they both now dead and beyond all desires and wants? These lusty women had assuredly inherited the O’Hennessy sexual drive. Dea had also inherited his vast appetites and curiosity as well. That certainly hadn’t come from the Brentains. No, his granddaughter didn’t have an ouce of Brentain blood or characteristics.  

            Of some interest to the O’Hennessy’s, but not the Brentain’s, was the 1954-55 “there’s a commie in every corner of America” hearings, led by Joseph McCarthy, a man, unfortunately, of Irish heritage. Joe was the grandson of Stephen Patrick McCarthy, an Irish immigrant. Sebastian, and several of his moneyed colleagues had miscalculated. Too late they realized McCarthy’s Cold War paranoia set American’s chances for leading the space race back by nearly a decade. Sebastian and his associates lost a significant amount of money. As a result, there were scores to settle and coffers to refill. His group invested in a new form of plastic, Styrofoam, and in a product that would soon line shelves in homes across America—contact paper. They watched and observed as farcical and devastating Commie Witch trials swept across America, ruining careers and businesses.

            Mitchell Brentain, Dea’s father, served in the Korean offensive between 1951-53, an engagement few dared call a war, though it contained many of its essential elements—blood, death, pain, anger, profiteering, corruption . . . Mitchell’s parents could have bought his way out of serving in this conflict, where few would earn glory for meritorious service and too many would return home with minds clouded or scrambled. He had already enrolled in law school. A commission was bought, which kept him out of the nastier aspects of the Korean engagement, and well behind the contested 38th parallel. Mitchell’s worst memories of his Korean years was getting dysentery, and its embarrassing symptoms, and a lung infection he contracted, histo—something—plasmosis, which was serious enough to get him shipped stateside months before his mustering out time.

Aubra O’Hennessy’s compassionate heart went out to the skeleton of a man who returned from Korea, who’d replaced the tall, gawky boy she’d said goodbye to two years earlier. There was little Sebastian or Deandra could do to dissuade their daughter from lavishing attention on a man they deemed unremarkable. After Mitchell’s near miraculous cure, which Aubra effected by evoking her special gift, they married in 1956. Aubra took her place in Philadelphia society. Sebastian bided his time, reasoning his gifted daughter would tire of this ‘common man’or give him a grandson he could instruct, mold, and make the heir to his considerable fortunes.

            In the mid 50’s, the issue of race and equality was tested via the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. the Board of Education. They ruled segregation in public schools was illegal. This took the march for human rights into nearly every corner of Sebastian’s adopted country, including areas where commies and traitors were hiding. The action also brought out the KKK, clad in plain, non-designer sheets. Unfortunately, walking around in a sheet, Sebastian reflected, tends to put one to sleep—at least it put values and sense of right and wrong to sleep—but therein lies a different sort of tale, one better told by a Irish seanachie.

            In Montgomery, Alabama a frightened, plucky, very tired Rosa Parks provided fellow bus riders with a reason to boycott Montgomery buses. They united in purpose—to secure social and political justice—and any seat desired, on any bus, train, plane or floating conveyance. Sebastian, with old ties to the Kennedy clan and to certain human rights advocates, was one of the few white men to walk freely in segregated neighborhoods of the deep south. He openly supported the African American cause for equality. These men and women reminded him of those he’d left behind in the forgotten, isolated Irish hills of his youth.

            This damn darling world, Sebastian thought, couldn’t let go of its war mongering, not even in the 50’s. Hungarians challenged their Soviet occupiers; the Red Army marched into Budapest, which made the Western part of the world hot, though not red-hot, under their starched, floppy, or Nehru collars. How often did he hear the word peace uttered in those years? The word had long been misunderstood. Was his feisty granddaughter at peace now? No, he knew better.

He shuddered, briefly interrupting his meanderings into the past, and glanced at Deandra, lost in thought. If the news had greatly upset her, she wasn’t showing overt signs of panic or distress. She revealed little emotion to the world at large. When she did expose herself, it was via precisely calculated, superbly executed moves—that achieved exact effects intended. How well he knew that. His wife had no use whatsoever for words like peace, compassion, or emotional frailty. The car plied the twisting miles of highway, passing quaint villages that held onto a past way of life. His thoughts resumed their journey back in time.

            It was in the 60’s, the decade Aubra died, you began hearing words like ‘disarmament and peace’ uttered regularly, and sometimes casually, in the same breath. The word was important to his granddaughter and to Langley, decades later, as they argued, divided and impassioned, over its meaning and worth. Israel routed the Egyptians from the Sinai, and US forces stationed in Europe cleaned their guns and readied for another war, one that might well be a big war—because in 1952 the USA tested a terrible weapon of mass destruction—the H bomb—on the Eniwetok Atoll.

Deandra, not Sebastian closely followed news about H bomb testing and the potential of its dreadful power. Both the Brentain’s and the O’Hennessy’s thought it prudent to build extraordinary well fortified bunkers and bomb shelters deep into the Pennsylvania bedrock. They were, thus far, not needed. All the same, it was money well spent, for even the most powerful seers couldn’t predict a future that had the ability to evolve and change its mind. Deandra found numerous uses for their underground fortress.

            Americans, Russian comrades, and German colleagues worked feverously, and primarily in the deep South in the 50’s to develop a satellite before the Russians did, but didn’t succeed. The Russians launched Sputnik (fellow traveler) in October, 1957. They even invented a Sputnik cocktail. What was in it? Yes, two parts Stolly and 1 part sour grapes. In 1957, they launched Sputnik II. Aboard it was a dog named Laika. The US attempted to launch satellites they didn’t name, though others did, calling them “Kaputnik, Flopnik, and Stayputnik. America’s Missile #29 made it into orbit in 1958. Sebastian remembered that well, for the next year, on a small island 90 miles from Key West, where he kept a modest two story house Deandra never knew about, a swarthy, bearded, fatigues wearing military rebel named Fidel launched a pro Soviet regime. Fidel aimed his cigar smoking sights on the US, after ousting Sebastian’s greedy, but amiable friend Fulgencio Bastista. Damn, those sherbet smeared sunsets were spectacular, enhanced by potent dark rum, chased with tart lime juice. The profit he made off shipments of black market goods tasted even better. The word communist was uttered often, though he paid little attention. His Cuban days mellowed him. He might have stayed if it wasn’t for McCarthy.

            The man had always been a pian sa thóin (pain in the ass). He received support, for a time, from the Kennedy’s. Joe Kennedy and Sebastian looked at the world from similar lens. McCarthy also had an ally in Hoover. It took some careful maneuvering to convince the Senate to condemn Joe in 1954—for conduct contrary to their traditions. Sebastian and his faction moved cautiously in the shadows, building consensus slowly. Their subtle, carefully phrased suggestions worked. Joe’s fellow senators began calling him cruel, reckless, a cowardly bully. McCarthy’s closest companion became the bottle; he died in 1957 at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. Sebastian’s face relaxed as he recalled his role in McCarthy’s fall.

            Those Beat Bums, Kerouac, Kelsey, Cassidy and the other men his daughter found exciting and sexy, hit the road in the 50’s, and the pavement of oblivion not long after. Candy cotton brained girls and mature women fell hard for the gyrations of Elvis Presley. The age of rock rolled right in. His beautiful daughter continued to embrace beatniks and their wild ways. Once she married Mitchell, there was little he could do to prevent her from inviting them to her home—he did what he could. It was beyond him to understand why more people didn’t take to emerging jazz and blues music, which arose from the bruised, aching souls of its more oppressed members.

            Sebastian opened his hooded eyes just enough to observe Deandra hadn’t moved an inch. Her gaze was still focused far beyond the rapidly changing landscape as the car approached Heathrow. Her  empty glass of sherry was tilted sideways in her lap. A still elegant, expressive hand fluttered across her neck, like the wing of a delicate bird. There was little else delicate or birdlike about his wife of nearly six decades. Their passion for each other had ended by the time their daughter was about to enter college in the late 40’s–perhaps even earlier. Still, it had burned more intensely and far longer than he’d expected. Was it ambition or familiarity that had shifted their focus from each other to new passions and people? It drove both of them on, long after retirement.

It had really been in the 1950’s that decades of plotting and planning had paid off. Only then did he consider himself successful, head of an immensely powerful dynasty. His family could again take their place and be counted among the top 1% of the wealthy and powerful people residing on the two continents most dear to him and his interests. 

            His only child gave birth to Martin, then Dea. Aubra married Mitchell a scant year and a half after she’d enrolled in college, abandoning academic life and his carefully laid plans for her future as the wife of a business titan, or a titled, sophisticated man who could help further the O’Hennessy name. It was a life orchestrated for her when she was still a toddler. He intended that she would take over when he retired.

            It had been a serious miscalculation, underestimating his daughter. He’d relied on Deandra to curb and redirect her, to take advantage of their daughter’s incredible gifts. Aubra could physically heal others. If only she’d learned to play the game—if only she hadn’t risked her own life blood. Her death in 1966 at the tender age of 30 staggered him, might have overwhelmed him if not for the fierceness of his love for his granddaughter. At age ten, Dea had a will and intensity equal to that of only one other person—himself. She was everything he ever wanted in a son. As a result, he never properly mourned his daughter. He never ingested the grief, or let it circulate through him, digest, and pass from him.

There was no reason not to mourn for both of them now—to admit defeat. No matter how mighty and cunning he imagined himself to be, he was no match for a nemesis that had claimed the two people he loved most. If Dea was dead, there was little reason to continue. Ah, he couldn’t dwell on that now. He wouldn’t allow anyone to see his helplessness. Beyond all doubt, he knew his granddaughter hadn’t taken her own life. If Dea was dead, she’d been murdered. She would be avenged, no matter the cost. If it was the last act he would execute, so be it. He would summon whatever resources were required to hunt down and punish the person responsible. He would be merciless.


What stuck in the crawl of a handful of Lazer Licks staff at the studio where Dea worked, was she didn’t need to work, there or anywhere else. She chose her own hours and assignments. Many of her projects received critical acclaim and instant recognition. That she donated many of her paychecks to good causes—or to staff who were behind on a car or mortgage payment, or whose child needed braces or special surgery—made little difference to the employees who were jealous of Dea’s life of privilege.

            It was Lloyd Hammersmith, Lazer’s US anchor, who first coined the moniker disgruntled Lazer Licks folks used when discussing Dea. Despite her wry sense of humor, she neither understood nor appreciated the nickname. Lloyd made sure the slur made its way around the office. He called Dea SLICK, an acronym whose letters spelled ‘Shameless Lush & Inept Chief Knacker.’ It was a label he hoped wounded the woman he felt had wounded him.

            Lazer Licks Studios was the inspiration of Tallin Anders, a former Madison Avenue advertising exec who had persistently kept a polished shoe inserted in television’s news and entertainment door. He eventually sold a network bigwig on the concept of a flashy weekly news and entertainment show, which in less than ten years, had spun off in two other directions. He produced, in 1985, a new monthly magazine, and in 1990 added a small arts and technology enterprise that supported documentary makers.

            When Lazer Licks staff arrived at work Monday morning, they found a notice requesting their presence at a mandatory10 am all-hands meeting. Speculation over why the meeting was being called rapidly circulated. Leading rumors included: 1) a hostile takeover by a rival “zine” rag; 2) an announcement of someone receiving a coveted reporting, photography or technology award; or 3) the inevitable rearrangement of people and space to accommodate some bigwig’s offspring.

            Tallin didn’t enter a room so much as materialize from a quiet, innocuous corner. Many claimed he was responsible for introducing casual workplace attire, with his trademark pressed khaki pants, rolled sleeve linen jackets and high end tshirt emsemble and leather or suede boat shoes. He addressed audiences as if he were a conductor, tapping an invisible wand that focused everyone’s attention exclusively on his message. Though curiosity was piqued that morning, the first thing staff noticed was Tallin was off his mark—way off. Twice he cleared his throat and reshuffled papers before addressing the crowd gathered in the lobby, the only space big enough to accommodate everyone.

            Lloyd made an offhanded remark to Liza Dowling, whose dresses were often light on substance, rather like junk stock. Her clothes exposed firm, tanned flesh that one could easily believe bore no tan lines what so ever. Lloyd turned to Mack Firth, who headed up Lazer’s 12 person Advanced Technology Department and asked him if he’d seen SLICK, or was she taking another of her one day work weeks?

            Mack scowled at Lloyd as Tallin fumbled with his microphone, something he rarely used though they were a high-end media firm. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I have sad, shocking news to relate. On Friday…”


When Lazer Licks Studios Eyes on Everyone weekly news show aired, Vivian and George “Governor” Jones had just begun unpacking the suitcases that accompanied them on their working vacation to Tulum and Chitzen Itza, Mexico. Viv knew this chore would occupy her for the next hour—sorting through grubby work clothes, souvenirs, jewelry and pottery concealed in rolled up socks, and rubbings from etched petroglyphs. She promised to deal with her husband’s clothes if he would bring her a tall, cool rum punch. It was her way of stretching the end of their work/play vacation a bit longer.

            Gov returned a few minutes later with a tray holding two frosted glasses, a frothy pitcher of ruby tinged, heavily rummed punch, napkins, and a bowl of macadamia nuts. He set the tray down on a large, upholstered hassock that served triple duty as coffee table, foot rest, and storage cube. Then he searched for the remote control. He found it stashed behind the doors of their Louis XIV armoire, which concealed a TV, video player, and a stereo system.

            “OK, TV junkie, what you gonna watch? I know you be feeling deprived of your shows for a week now?”

            Viv threw a dusty, red clay streaked workshirt at her husband. She glanced at her bedside alarm clock, and realized their favorite program was airing—now. “Gov, we’re missing Eyes on Everyone; turn it on and hand me a drink. Unpacking can wait.” She stretched out on the love seat she’d recently reupholstered to match the master bedroom’s fern and apricot brocaded comforter and drapes, and daintily picked a salty nut from the dish. “I sure do need a manicure.”

            A newscaster she didn’t recognize was telling the TV audience about the fire that destroyed the garage, last Friday night, at Dea Brentain’s, a Lazer Licks Studios employee and executive, and daughter of a prominent Philadelphian family. “The body found in one of cars had tentatively been identified as that of Ms. Brentain, who had last been seen at about 2 pm Friday.”

            The glass of sticky rum punch slid from Viv’s hand, splashing red liquid all over the new brocade. A deep groan escaped from her quivering lips as fat tears ran down Viv’s smooth ebony cheeks. Governor shakily set his glass down on the tray and held Viv in a bearlike hug. Together, they rocked back and forth.

            “Langley,” Viv half whispered through sobs. She leaped up, her foot squishing through the drink now dripping onto the plush rug, and frantically punched in Langley’s number, dragging the phone from the desk to the bed. After 15 rings, she hung up. She punched in Dea’s number. It too rang continually.

Viv crossed her arms and shook her head. “Gov, look out there. Boats be drifting down the Potomac, just like always. People are dancing and drinking on board the Odyssey—holding hands, being loud. It just ain’t right.” She turned back to the TV.

            Gov sighed and used both paper and bath towels to soak up the spilled drink, then sprayed and scrubbed the wet spots. He retrieved the mail and week’s accumulation of newspapers from the dining room table and dumped it across the bed. Unsteadily, he sorted through the large pile, searching for the weekend papers. On page 3 of Saturday morning’s paper, he found a two-column story about the fire, which he scanned silently.

Viv dialed Langley’s number again. The familiar voice on the TV continued “. . . other family members are being contacted. It was Mrs. Frieda Lorrie who suspected a problem at her neighbor’s house, investigated, and barely escaped with her own life. By the time police arrived, the fire was raging. Her husband, Mr. Charles Lorrie, fought valiantly to prevent Ms. Brentain’s house from being engulfed in flames.”

            Gov turned down the volume and read aloud: “Sources say a note, allegedly written by a despondent Ms. Brentain, was found in the house by police. The badly burned body, tentatively identified as Perdea Brentain, granddaughter of Sebastian and Deandra O’Hennessy, a prominent Philadelphia family. Mr. O’Hennessy was chairman of O D N Industries. Ms. Brentain’s father, Mitchell Brentain, a senior partner in the Philadelphia law firm of Cutter, Cutter, Brentain, and Nash, is on leave, recovering from a stroke suffered several weeks earlier.

Perdea’s mother, the late Aubra Aria O’Hennessy Brentain, died in 1966 after an undisclosed illness. The O’Hennessy family has been linked to some of the biggest business deals of the 20th century. Family members could not be reached for comment in time for the airing of our show…” Gov rattled the paper, though it was really the journalist he wanted to shake. At Viv’s urging, he continued reading, despite the anguish in his wife’s eyes.

“Positive identification of the victim and a full investigation is currently under way by Loudoun County police. The possibility of foul play is being investigated. Perdea Brentain’s daughter, Langley Brentain, provided police with valuable information about possible suspects. Mickey Rydell, Ms. Brentain’s house guest, had just returned from an out of state trip, and was questioned. He is not considered a suspect at this time.”

            “My, oh my, oh my. She’s gone. Our Dea’s gone. I can’t, it just don’t… What’s that poor child gonna do without her mother? What she gonna do?” Gov sat back on the bed and rubbed his face with meaty, callused hands, then he made two fists and slowly raised them upwards. “What we gotta do is find Langley—help that child.” He’d never felt more helpless.

Viv slammed the phone. “No!—it’s all lies. You listen here─she ain’t gone, glamoured maybe, but not gone, not our Dea. What are we thinking? Don’t you talk like that. Let me see another paper.” Viv poked through the pile of mail, looking for today’s pm edition. She scanned the front sections. On page 2, there were new headlines: Body Found in Friday’s Garage Fire Positively Identified. The first paragraph began: The charred body found in Saturday’s garage fire at the home of Perdea Brentain, daughter of Mr. Mitchell Brentain, and granddaughter of Sebastian & Deandra O’Hennessy, has been positively identified as that of Perdea Brentain by her brother Martin Brentain . . .

            The phones shrill ring jolted Gov and Viv, who were momentarily stunned as the answering machine clicked on. They threw newspapers and mail off their laps and scrambled for the phone. Viv reached it first, but was unable to speak.

            Langley’s worried voice kept repeating, “Viv, Gov, are you there?”

            A deep, painful sigh issued from somewhere deep within Viv. She lifted the phone. “Langley honey, where are you? We just got back. Mon dieu. We saw the TV show and started reading papers. I can’t believe what they’re saying. Where are you baby? Gov and I, we’re gonna come get you sweetie. We just can’t believe . . .”

            George ‘Governor’ Jones had been called Gov by Langley since she was a towhead toddler who’d crawled up into his lap and fell asleep. Gov gentle pried the phone from his wife’s shaking hands. “How are you baby? We’re so sorry. We didn’t know. We just got back. We’re on our way. We can stay with you or bring you back here.”

            “Thanks, but I’m not ready to mourn mother yet. I know it sounds utterly odd, but I don’t think she’s dead. Before you say anything, I’m not in denial—or any other exotic river of grief. I’d know—and you would know, Gov, wouldn’t you? I don’t think this is another of mother’s creepy jokes—something’s happened to her, of that much I’m sure. I’m upset, but not a raving looney, not yet. The body they found wasn’t mother’s─I don’t have a clue who’s it was, but I will find her.” Langley paused and Gov pushed the speaker button.

“I’m sort of working with one of the detectives. In fact, I just got back from mother’s, grapped two winks of sleep, and was about to head out again. We’re going to talk to Micky, and return his tool box, which didn’t burn up in the garage like he thought. Eam, the detective I’m working with, found the toolbox on the back porch. Which is odd, because Micky swore he left it in the garage.” Without catching her breath, Langley rushed on, one hand rubbed her hair with a towel, the other routed through her neatly organized drawers for clean clothes.

“You won’t believe—earlier today, Uncle Martin went to the morgue and identified mother’s body—based on some melted jewelry and blackened, cavity free teeth. That’s not proof. It doesn’t help that there’s no dental records. You used to kid Mother that no one had perfect teeth, especially not imperfect people. Wouldn’t it be ironic if mother’s perfect teeth bit us in the proverbial butt? The body was so badly burnt it looked like one of those people from Pompeii you and Gov once showed me. It’s definitely not mother. I’ll call you later tonight or come by tomorrow morning. I’m OK, really. I miss you both awfully.”

            “We’ll be here baby,” Viv yelled at the phone. “You stay far out of harm’s way. Let the police do their job. We’ll help you get through this. Langley honey, you shouldn’t be alone now. Your mother—”

            “Mother left me one more mess to fix. I’m fine Viv. I’ll talk to you and Gov later.” Langley ran a comb through her damp hair, slammed drawers shut and slipped on a pair of hard-soled moccasins. She ran outside just as Detective Able’s car slowed in front of the canopy that framed the ornate, stain glassed double doors of her six-unit Georgetown condo.

            Eam shook his head and grinned at the freshly scrubbed young woman who seemed as wired as a ginseng junkie with a double espresso buzz. His broad smile revealed two dimple-creased cheeks. “I’ll give you this—you’re faster than most females, and maybe that’s just as well because your involvement in this investigation is about over. I’ll humor you today, but come Monday, you’ve got to start facing reality, and let us finish our investigation─without your assistance.”

            “Humor me—face reality—you mallardhead. There’s nothing funny about what happened. It’s not my mother’s body, trust me. You’re going to feel majorly stupid when I figure out who it was that chose my mother’s garage to take a permanent dirt nap into the hereafter. You need me—Eam. I know where the bodies are—not buried.”

            Eam threw her a quizzical look, but let her continue. She was wound tighter than a $2 watch.

            “If everyone just uses their brain, they’ll understand my mother would be the last person to kill herself. You’ll see. You’ll turn up people that would be glad to hear she was dead, but you won’t find a single person who’ll say my mother was suicidal–no way. She’s done everything short of pulling me through her womb backwards, but she’d never do this. Say, you did remember the toolbox? Where is it?” Langley glanced at the back seat and noticed a gingham-covered basket, but no red toolbox.

            “Buckle your seat belt and let me worry about the details. That’s my job. The tool chest’s in the trunk. Now where exactly is this Micky Rydell staying?”

Up next a new chapter of Act of Ambition and C4 of Remains to be Seen: A Bundle of Thorns