New Words


See Jon Assink on Flickr

Graphic by Jonathan Assink

Our heroine is still here, Dear Reader. Well, I suppose that depends on what “here” means to you. When I’m not overcome (and sometimes when I am) by a problem, usually my health, I get onto Twitter and chat. I read it more than I chat, lurking a bit behind the drapes. Yeah, see those tips of shoes? They’re mine.

Since I’ve posted here, I’ve had everything from a slightly dislocated shoulder and rotator cuff tear to a stroke. My life is beset by doctor appointments, in home therapists, tests, emergency room visits, and of course my favorite: inpatient stays. Exile. I’ve no new words to share in flash, but I promise to get back to it very soon.

It seemed readers felt the fourth part of See How They Fall was a good place to end it. I tried to let it go at that point, but I so feel there’s a concluding fifth part. What do you think? Ends dangle, daring me to tie them up in one part.

I hope you’ve been well and happy, that your family and loved ones have, too. I’m grateful for each of you. Thank you for your encouragement.

Take care!

#FridayFlash: Help Me


Help Me, flash fiction set in a prison, by JC Rosen

Photo by r. nial. bradshaw


Cramped muscles in his shoulders made Dr. Broder twist. He looked around the office, also cramped, the windowless walls creeping inward. The prison didn’t have many spaces to spare. Only six months into his voluntary sentence, he overheard the file clerk confide to a guard the last shrink only lasted three months. Now, two months later, he felt he was getting through to some of the men in the facility.

A clock counted silently on his desk. Dr. Broder began the deep breathing he did before each appointment. Ground, center, calm. His jaw tightened at the thought of who was next. He was different. He required a few extra moments of readiness. Ground, center, calm. Brad Rangell could wait. He had his whole life to wait in here. The psychiatrist, wrapped in brittle relaxation, made some notes on his clipboard before going to the door.

Two burly guards stood over Rangell, who was in a chair. Cuffs and leg chains were linked together with a heavy chain locked beyond his reach. “Please bring him back,” Dr. Broder nodded to the guards. He got out of the way and settled into his office chair. A guard tugged the patient’s chair farther away from the desk. Together, the guards pressed Rangell into the chair. There was a time Dr. Broder protested against the increased distance from his patient. They told him it was for his own protection. He believed it now.

Amusement burbled in deep sounds within Rangell’s chest as the guards took up position right outside the unlocked door. Dr. Broder could summon them by pressing an alarm on his desk or simply by making a loud noise. He thought these measures unnecessary in his first days. The next week, when he met more inmates, he realized the warden took it easy on him at first. Who knew how many barely slid past the diagnosis of psychopath – not to mention those who fit it perfectly when they got here – were crammed together in this hellhole.

Brad Rangell not only fit the diagnostic manual, he radiated it. He added to it delusions of grandeur and narcissistic personality disorder. Dr. Broder wasn’t sure if Rangell’s standing with the other inmates justified these issues. His crimes were legendary. Rangell left a brutal, bloody path between truck stops in Southern California and Nevada. Deep breath. Ground, center, calm. The doctor steepled his forefingers. He watched his unmoving patient, silent now, so far beyond the other side of his desk.

As usual, Rangell forced him to speak first. They once spent an entire session in silence. Dr. Broder had attempted to gauge his patient’s perspective on the treatment process he was ordered to endure. The treatment process they were both ordered to endure. The silent session amounted to little more than a pissing contest, so now the doctor took the offense.

“You spent some time in the tank again.” He didn’t expect so much as a twitch in response to the mention of the isolation tank. “Four days, I believe.” It was five. Rangell continued to ignore him. He didn’t flicker a shift of his eyes from his gaze at the clock. The inmate could neither see the face nor hear the clock. His intent focus on it made Dr. Broder slow down, as though he could slow time’s passage. As though he weren’t afraid of being alone with the hulking man.

He decided to take a new approach.

“Brad, let’s be open with each other. You don’t want to be here. I don’t particularly give a damn. We’re doing what’s required of us.” For some reason, that got through to Rangell. His gaze slowly moved from the clock to Dr. Broder’s face. The doctor felt his guts go a little cold. Now that he had the inmate’s attention, he wasn’t so sure he wanted it. Summoning calm, he forged on.

“What if, just for the hell of it, we took a chance of accidentally doing something helpful for you?”

Rangell’s eyes may have widened slightly. He stared at Dr. Broder’s eyes. The doctor fought successfully with the impulse to adjust his glasses.

“I suppose what I’m saying is if you help me, I might be able to help you.”

Rangell cleared his throat. “You want me to help you help me?” His voice was a rasp against wood.

Dr. Broder appeared to think this over as he contained his sense of success. The patient conversed. Breakthrough! “Yes, that’s what I’m proposing. We’re stuck with each other. May as well use the time.”

“What makes you think I’m not using the time?” Rangell smiled slowly.

“Humor me,” Dr. Broder told him and Rangell’s eyebrows raised. He leaned forward.

“Let’s say I do that. What would that look like? Help me so I can help you help me.” Rangell’s eyes were wary. The doctor could hear the clink of metal as Rangell worried his hands together. Unconscious display of discomfort. Another breakthrough.

“I don’t know about how you became a truck driver. Let’s start there,” Dr. Broder suggested, hoping it was neutral territory.

“That could work,” Rangell nodded once. “It’s one way you could help me help you help me.” Dr. Broder got a little lost there so stayed non-committal. He listened for the clank of the chain. It kept coming, Rangell’s tell he was reacting to the line of conversation.

“I have another idea,” Rangell continued softly, eyes actually shining with unshed tears. He paused, seeming to choose his words. “It’s a better way to help me help you help me help you help me.”

In a flash second, he was across the desk, chair and all. His teeth snapped at Dr. Broder’s shoulder. They caught hold. Dr. Broder cried out in pain and shock. Hot blood surged down his chest. The noise summoned the guards. Together, they dragged the rabid beast backward and slammed him facedown on the floor, chair still pinned to him. Dr. Broder couldn’t look away. He tried not to vomit as Rangell slowly chewed, swallowed, and gave him a bloody smile.

After being treated for his wound, Dr. Broder left the prison.

And his resignation.


#NaNoWriMo: Prep and Plotting


JC Rosen's NaNoWriMo Prep and Plotting

Photo by Robert (Jemimus)

While the title here is “NaNo Prep and Plotting,” most of this information is applicable to any project. As an example, I used clustering to plot a flash story. It just wasn’t showing itself to me via the usual means, so I tried something different. There it was, exposed and waiting to be written.

Johanna Harness, founder of #amwriting on Twitter (archives for the site here), has explored many plotting methods. As a result, her blog is often my go-to for information which is accessible and useful. I’ll use a couple here as well as other sources.

I call my entire process of prep “outlining.” That’s misleading. While I begin with a basic – and extremely loose – outline, I may more deeply explore the plot and/or characters using other methods. Having discovered the benefits of clustering, I often use it in the “outline” at some point. Describing arcs for structure may figure into it. You get the idea.

I consider myself a combination of a pantser as well as a plotter. No matter how carefully I plan and plot, my story ends up wandering into places I didn’t know existed. Secondary characters take on whole lives and become more important than intended. Never fails – thank goodness! As such, I don’t plot so tightly there’s no room for breath and movement within the structure of the plan.

Right. Time to address some plotting methods:

  • Clustering: The reason Johanna Harness suggested I try clustering for my short story is the oddities of my migraines. That is to say, I can write with a migraine, but cannot plot or edit. Johanna sees clustering as a right brain/left brain process. It uses (*gasp*) pen and paper and is simply bubbles of words all over the page, willy-nilly. While it goes against all my instincts, I found it immensely helpful – even with the migraine. (YMMV) Check out Johanna’s blog article for more on clustering. She speaks to it far better than I.
  • Snowflake Method: Randy Ingermanson is generally known as “The Snowflake Guy” and his Snowflake Method for novel writing is immensely popular. This article is chock full of interesting ideas on what he calls “designing a novel.” As no two novels are exactly alike, no two snowflakes are, either. His position is, however, novels can be designed. This article teaches how to do that. Please read the entire article to get the full impact.
  • Phase DraftingIt’s Just a Phase is an article from 2003 by Lazette Gifford. It’s no less useful today. Lazette brings fresh thoughts to the subject of outlining a project. She leaves room for growth and fleshing out the story. Don’t miss this one.
  • Big Board PlanningHere’s another one from Johanna Harness’s blog. She also turned it into a YouTube video, which is embedded on the page. Do you cleverly organize your ideas on note cards or post-it notes? (Do you think you should but don’t?) I didn’t start the post-it notes idea until Johanna showed me Big Board Planning. It’s as simple as taking a large poster board and putting your cards or post-its on the board. I use a tri-fold board so I can fold it up and put it somewhere safe. Johanna has some ideas for how to organize the colors and placement in this article so please do give it a read. Scrivener has a version of this, but I like it being tactile.

There are more to be found. With NaNo breathing down my neck, my goal is to get the outline broken down using clustering as needed. Big Board Planning beyond that would be gravy. I may need to take breaks writing in November to BBP my way through a section. Who knows? Anything can happen during NaNo.



#NaNoWriMo: No More Waffling

This originally appeared on the #amwriting site a couple years ago, but bears repeating.

No More Waffling about NaNo by JC Rosen

Photo by TheCulinaryGeek

November 1st is just around the corner, a mere handful of days away. For wrimos, Halloween / Samhain is spent in anxious anticipation of the stroke of midnight. Wrimos spending this time alone talk to themselves, coaching themselves to jump through that midnight gate with vigor. Those at write-ins with other wrimos? Well, they experience a group dynamic I like to call hooting crazitude. (Come on. It’s fun to say.)

You – yes, you – can still be caught up in the excitement that is NaNo. Have you been compiling pro and con lists? Perhaps you think you just don’t have time for it. Maybe the idea of writing that much in one month is too daunting to contemplate. Are you in the midst of a work-in-progress and simply don’t wish to step away from it to start something new? Do you sigh and wistfully say you just can’t do it?

There are so many reasons people state to explain why they don’t want to do NaNo. Don’t get me wrong: I respect another’s choice in the matter. A simple “I don’t want to do it” makes me nod and back off. NaNo’s not for everyone. It is, however, for many people who think it can’t work for them.

  • The spirits of encouragement and camaraderie during NaNo are not to be underestimated. Put those on your pro list and underline them for emphasis. Whether you’re in it to be utterly nuts and compile a novel full of “plot bunnies” and challenges (see Forums for more info) or you’re working on a more conventionally legitimate project, you’ll find people ready to support you and keep you going.
  • The NaNo Rebels group is going strong again this year. Check out this link about NaNo Rebels on the site for official info about the Rebels. If you’re in the middle of a WIP and don’t want to set it aside, write nonfiction, or write in formats other than novel-sized ones, you can participate by being a NaNo Rebel. The goal is the same: 50k new words on your project.
  • Consider setting a different goal for yourself. No one says you have to write 50k words. No, you won’t “officially win” NaNo by writing 20k words. You may write your heart out during the hours you have available, though. You may be pushing yourself in ways you never have in order to reach the goal you set for yourself. That’s NaNo, baby!

The whole point of NaNoWriMo is to push yourself and just write. Gag and tie up that inner editor who makes you go over everything you write as you write it. Just. Write. No matter what, it’s a great exercise for anyone who gets into ruts because of that inner editor. If you need to set a different goal for word count, no matter. The exercise and purpose for it are the same.

So no more waffling! Whether you’re a pantster, a plotter or somewhere in between, it’s time to stock the cabinets with food for easy meals and snacks, get your favorite source of caffeine ready and clean off your writing space. (Trust me, it’ll become cluttered enough during November.)

Write on, wrimo!


I have done NaNoWriMo for several years. It’s a huge reason I began writing after a 15-year hiatus. On the NaNo site as JC_Rosen (isn’t that clever?), I’m open to buddy listing. I usually use the #NaNo hashtag in addition to #amwriting during November. Join us! We do sprints. Progress measurement is up to you.



#FridayFlash: See How They Fall, Part Four

<- Read Part One

Part Four of See How They Fall, by JC Rosen

Photo by

“I hear we caught you just in time. Planning to escape the jurisdiction?” Kitterick’s grin made Rich feel dirty.

“Can it, Kitterick,” Rich bit off. “I’m just changing hotels. Why are you here?”

Sergeant McClean coughed and pushed past Kitterick. “That’s my cue.” She held out a folded paper. “Warrant for your arrest.” Metallic clang. “Your bracelets for the ball.” She pushed hard on his shoulder to flip him around and threw on the cuffs. A couple of uniformed guys came in while she read him his rights. “Bag that laptop,” she instructed and his stomach clenched as he thought of the strange data on it. “Look for any official documents. There’s the briefcase, bag it as is. We’ll catalog the stuff at the station.”

Rich shifted, his discomfort from having his possessions taken as much as from his hands cuffed at his back. “Aw, you don’t mind if I supervise this search, do you, Brandt?” McClean smirked. “Don’t worry, we’ll throw your jacket over the cuffs when we leave. Don’t want your shiny image tarnished.” She left him in the foyer while they searched the rest of the suite. He heard drawers casually yanked open and winced when something crashed to the ground. When they left the hotel, it was even more humiliating than he expected. The phrase “perp walk” echoed through his mind.

Standing before the judge, finally unbound but without “personal effects,” Rich rubbed the empty space where his Dartmouth ring should be. The taste he had of captivity today was more than enough. “Pritchard, you have to get me out of here,” he hissed to his new attorney.

The older man nodded as he reviewed a document. “I believe I can get bail set.” He paused and looked at Rich over his reading glasses. “Could be high given this new corporate espionage aspect. Can you come up with it?”

Rich opened his mouth and snapped it shut again. Arson and now corporate espionage? He didn’t know how, who or why, but someone’s screwing him royally. It was the first thing he was sure about since this fiasco began. “I think so,” he responded, trying to feel confident.

“Yes, your honor,” Rich said when prompted. He gladly surrendered his passport as part of the bail requirements. George would have to cash something in or whatever he did. All Rich cared about was getting out of the building.

“Dude, I don’t know what to tell you about that bail,” George held his hands out wide. “I’m going to have to do some serious juggling, man. Hang in there, okay?” Rich’s shoulders slumped as the reality of more time in prison seeped in.

Michelle appeared like a genie. In a stunning magic trick, she made the courthouse go away. “Sorry, boys,” she told Pritchard and George, “He’s mine, bought and paid for. Say goodbye, Rich.” He followed her down the marble stairs, not at all embarrassed at the giddy grin he felt plastered on.

She led him to a spiffy red BMW in the nearby parking garage. “This is yours?” he gawked.

“I have lots of fun toys, Rich.” She gave a slow smile. “Time for dinner.” She looked him over and shrugged. “You’ll do, I suppose. Smooth your hair and straighten your jacket.” They pulled up to an exclusive restaurant. He’d never gotten a table here. “The usual spot, please, Peter,” Michelle told the valet as she handed him the keys.

Rich felt jail clinging to him as the maitre d’ arched an eyebrow. “Your guest is seated at your window table, Mademoiselle Michelle,” the man smiled.

Molly’s flowery sundress and curly hair nearly disguised her. Michelle squeezed her hand, saying, “So good to see you. You look lovely!” Rich was taken aback as his normally taciturn lawyer blushed. There were no menus, but the ladies apparently knew their way. When Michelle ordered prime rib, Rich just said, “That sounds good. The same for me.”

“You look somewhat worse for wear, Rich,” Molly grinned.

“Poor boy, he’s been through the wringer,” Michelle agreed, talking as though he weren’t sitting right there.

“Well,” Molly traced a fingertip along the curve of her wineglass, “I wouldn’t say he’s even seen the wringer yet.” She turned a frosty look at Rich and continued. “Shall I bring you up to date on what they have in evidence?”

He nodded, not trusting his voice.

“Remember that medical group in New Mexico, the project that went south – or should I say southwest?” Molly grinned. “Well, they got a better offer from a company called Banda. Records on your laptop and on Sybil’s office computer, seized in a warrant your former employers were not very happy about, show that ‘Banda’ is actually ‘B and A’ or ‘Brandt and Associates.’ Sound familiar?” This time she giggled. “The LLC filing documents for Brandt and Associates, dba BandA, were also found on both hard drives.”

Michelle knocked lightly on the table as their food arrived. “The rest can wait. A meal in peace for the poor guy.”

Conversation was casual and did not include Rich. Over coffee, Molly told Michelle, “I didn’t realize how constrained I felt at that firm until I left it today. She’s sending me to Tahoe for a week to celebrate.”

Michelle flashed a glance at Rich. “I think we’ve said enough for now. You’re right, though. It’s time.” She pulled a business card from her little purse and held it out. “Rich, come to my home at eight tonight.” She winked at Molly and walked away.

Not caring how it looked, Rich stumbled after her. “Wait,” he called out as he read the address on the card. “You have a house? But you were living with me.”

“Of course I do, Rich. I’m a responsible adult who didn’t set fire to her own home. Be there at eight.” The valet held the door of her BMW open and she disappeared into it, leaving Rich confused and alone, belly trembling.

#FridayFlash: See How They Fall, Part Three

See How They Fall, a flashfic series by JC Rosen

Photo by Maiquel Borges

A buzzing grated on Rich’s brain. His eyeballs were dry, but he had no energy to blink, much less investigate the buzzing. A groan sapped him, but he managed another as he curled around a pillow.

Peeling open an eye, he scanned his surroundings. Sure enough, his bed in the hotel. His phone vibrated on the nightstand, seeming to aim toward his head as it traveled across the slick wood. A lovely caramel-colored hand caught the phone as it edged off the table.

“Rich?” Michelle whispered. “It’s the third time that arson investigator called. Should you take it?”

Rich struggled upright. He had to grip the headboard when the bed began spinning. He gulped a breath and answered. “Yes, Kitterick?”

“It’s about time. Thought you should know we have a decision. The fire that destroyed your house was arson.” The little shit sounded giddy. “We even have a suspect. Can you guess who?” Kitterick chortled.

Stalling for his brain to kick into gear, he twisted the school ring on his finger. He couldn’t come up with a clever retort, though. Aching, his head a clanging mess, Rich just waited. “You going to be at that fancy hotel for a while, Brandt?”

“You have my cell number, obviously. My lawyer will be in touch.” Rich ended the call and slumped against the pillows, lifting a blanket to cover his face. Michelle brought him a glass of something fizzy. He drank it dutifully and huddled again. When the phone buzzed another time, he answered just to make it stop.

“Rich, it’s George.” Rich frowned at the breathless tone in his accountant’s voice. “Look, I need you to get down here like now, man. Too much to go over on the phone and I need some signatures anyway.”

“NOW now? Or just sometime soon now?”

“Right now. Ten minutes ago, man,” George responded. Rich hurried through a couple cups of coffee before leaving.

He settled into the armchair by George’s desk. His head was still spinning, though his stomach was settled. As George droned on, Rich was beset by memories of being let go from the company and how polite that phrase was, of doing “just one more” vodka shooter while being encouraged by jeweled lovelies he knew not where, and the nagging feeling Michelle helped him into bed last night, seeing him at his worst.

“DUDE! Pay attention, man!” Rich nearly jumped. George shuffled some papers on his desk. “Sorry, didn’t mean to yell. You have to get this through your head, man. You’re in a world of hurt. You’re overextended and can’t keep living this way unless you get some money coming in and fast. Yeah, your company already called to work out your severance.” Rich flinched at the salt in the wound. Severance. “As it is, the car has got to go.”

“What? The Jag? I own it free and clear!” He had wanted a Jaguar since before law school.

“Dude, chill. Yes, you don’t have car payments on it, but you do pay incredibly high insurance, not to mention the auto club and the maintenance on the car. It’s bleeding you dry. Add to that staying in a five star hotel and maxing out a credit card we thought could not be maxed out? Dude, you gotta cut back. That starts with the Jag. You’ll have to downgrade your hotel and get going on the search for a little condo in the meantime.”

Body blows, one after the other. He heard George trying to placate him. “You could get a late model Audi. That’d be sweet, man. Insurance would be a fraction of what you’re paying now.” George was an accountant, what did he know from a decent lifestyle?

The suite was empty when he returned. Pouring himself a splash of vodka, he sucked it down. It would be nice to have Michelle here. She’d make it better. She was probably at that studio, what was it she did? Oh yes, interior design. That’s how they met, when she did his office. Rich slumped, thinking of his office being dismantled. He left a voicemail on her cell. Trying for a lighthearted message about trading in the Jag for a VW Microbus and the Avenue Suites for a Motel 6, he ended it with, “Meet me at the hotel soon.”

He checked the impulse to call Sybil and have her deal with the Hyatt, the search for a condo, and for packing up this place. He didn’t have a Sybil anymore. Another splash of vodka. After downing it, he sat for a while, absently twisting his ring. He didn’t have a Sybil, but he still had a Molly. He called his lawyer and brought her up to speed. “I guess we should have bail money ready. No idea what they’re going to do, Molly.”

“Darren Pritchard is a criminal attorney here. I’ll take care of it. Get in touch with your accountant about assets for bail,” she replied. Another splash of vodka after ending the call. Deep breaths helped him fake composure.

His phone trembled in his pocket. Michelle’s voice was reassuring. She laughed about the VW and “Motel 6 is fine so long as we’re together.” Corny and it should have made him feel better. Instead, he felt hollow inside at his inability to live as he should.  “In the meantime, maybe you should make a list of things to do.” She left his briefcase next to the bar, she told him, saying she’d see him soon.

He felt like a walking disaster: the fire, his job, now his car. Strangely, Michelle didn’t seem to mind.

Making a list would help. He opened his laptop and frowned. Closing it again, he swept his fingertips across the top. There was the scratch he hated so much. No doubt it was his, but the monitor display was wrong. Unfamiliar icons, one labeled BRANDT AND ASSOCIATES. A logo for a company by the same name was the wallpaper for the desktop. Waves of dread buffeted him.

Grumbling at the timing, Rich answered a knock on the door. The concierge apologized for the intrusion, but the gentleman refused to wait. There was no gentleman. It was Kitterick. McClean stood behind him, grinning.

#FridayFlash: See How They Fall, Part Two

<– Read Part One

Part Two of See How They Fall, by JC Rosen

Photo by Russell Trow

“What the hell does this mean?” Rich stabbed a finger toward the letter his lawyer held.

“They won’t pay the insurance claim until the investigations conclude. You must be cleared of implication in the fire. Of course it won’t come to that.” Molly peered over her reading glasses and inquired blandly, “Will it, Rich?”

“Of course not!”

“Good. It’s an annoying delay, but unavoidable. If it becomes protracted beyond a reasonable period, we’ll take action.”

Shifting slightly, Rich responded, “How long is reasonable?”

Molly closed the folder. “That depends upon the arson and insurance investigations. Charging someone requires deciding the fire was caused deliberately. You said there’s no possibility of arson, so it shouldn’t take long.” She touched a keypad. As her secretary entered, Molly shook Rich’s hand. “My door is always open to you.”

Some kid in a suit was in his secretary’s office when he got to work. “Hank Paulson with Premiere Royal.” The kid handed him a business card. Rich read it and frowned. His insurance company had some child playing investigator?

“I understand a friend was in the unit when the fire began?” the boy asked as he set up his laptop in Rich’s office.

“My girlfriend, Michelle Napier. She lives with me.”

“Oh? I’m sure you were going to call us with that update.” Hank’s voice dropped to a confiding stage whisper. “I’ll just correct that on the policy.”

“Look, let me save you some time. I gave out four keys.” Rich ticked off his fingers. “My girlfriend, my secretary, my housekeeper, and my maintenance company.” He dropped his hand to the desk. “I’m good at brokering mergers. That makes people angry sometimes, but our security says there are no credible threats against me. My secretary prepared a memory stick with all the information.” He handed it over.

“Were you expecting any deliveries?” The keys on the kid’s keyboard stopped clicking as he looked over the documents. “Wait, I see it here. All deliveries are routed through your assistant, Ms. Sybil Dunmar. Did Ms. Napier do the same?”

“I don’t know if she had any,” Rich responded with a shrug.

“That’s fine, I’ll contact her today.” Rich fiddled with Hank’s card as the kid typed. Hank glanced up and fixed him with an intent look. “Is there anything I should be made aware of? Something not directly asked as yet?”

As yet? Rich shook his head.

“That’s all I need. You’re off the hook for now!” Hank’s laugh made Rich want to punch him. “I’ll contact you directly as needed. Just easier that way.” With a shiny smile, Hank waved as he left.

Just easier that way. Nothing about this was easy. The email from his accountant did little to put him at ease. So much of his money tied up in the house, now a pile of rubble. More invested in futures and underperforming. No, not easy at all.

He tried to focus as he typed an email to his project managers. Time to demand a meeting for an update. After the fiasco with the last account, he wasn’t taking any chances with the Stemple project.

Over dinner, Michelle told him she met with the insurance kid. “Nothing I didn’t expect,” she added between bites of her prime rib. “A few questions, a couple signatures.”

Rich’s brows lowered. “What did he make you sign?”

“A waiver and a copy of my statement.” Michelle lifted a shoulder slightly. “Why?”

“I just want to stay on top of it all.” Putting his fork down, Rich realized he’d been on edge since that annoying kid’s visit. “What would you like to do after dinner?” When she gave him that delicious smile, his mind fogged and he forgot to be upset.

After the meeting with his project managers the next morning, Rich checked his voicemail. The arson investigator, Kitterick, wanted to ask some questions. He said it would be best if they got together at the police station with Sergeant McClean. Sounds simple enough, Rich told himself a few times. Keep everyone in the loop this way. That’s all.

When McClean and Kitterick finally stopped tag-teaming him, the sergeant sneered, “Don’t leave the city.” Too wiped out and jittery from coffee to bite her head off, he lurched down the hallway to the restroom. Hours had passed in that close room, hours of coffee and “let’s take it from the top,” not allowing him basic relief. After washing his hands, Rich dampened a paper towel and wiped down his face.

“You know,” he heard a familiar voice growl, “we’re going to find the asshole who set the fire, Brandt. When we do, heaven help him.” Halfway to the door, the arson investigator paused. “You smoke, Brandt?”

Rich shook his head. “No. Quit last year.”

Kitterick barked a short laugh. “Go figure.” The door slammed behind him. Rich leaned against the sink and tried to settle his thoughts. The first clear one to emerge was his need to get out of the building to the safety of his office.

“Oh, Mr. Brandt, here you are,” Sybil’s voice quavered. “Mr. Barbrooke’s assistant called. Mr. Barbrooke wants to see you immediately. I know it’s late, but his assistant said he would be waiting.” The white showed in Sybil’s eyes as she gripped a tissue.  Rich checked his watch. What the hell was a VP doing here at 8:15 on a Friday?

“Thank you, Sybil. You can go home.” He handed her his briefcase and straightened his tie.

On the way back down in the executive elevator, Rich was oddly calm despite the ringing in his ears. Disjointed thoughts flit through his mind. His last time riding this elevator. Sybil would pack up his office. Would the Stemple account survive this? He didn’t care right now. He wondered if he’d care later. Perhaps when he woke up from the drunk he planned to pull on tonight.


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