Karen looked down at the book on Paul’s desk, trying hard to keep from laughing. The title alone was enough to send her into a roar – “Baseball For Dopes”.
“What is this??” She picked up the book for a second, then put it back down.
Paul shifted in his seat. His cheeks were starting to turn red. “It’s a book – what does it look like?” His French accent got stronger when he was agitated – as Karen had learned long ago.
“Oh.” She paused. “And how is it that I can help with, huh, the baseball problem?” She couldn’t suppress a little giggle.
Now he got mad. “Sit down! That’s where you can start! And stop laughing. I can see it!” He wagged an elegant finger at her. Of course it wasn’t hard for Paul to be elegant. Standing at 6’5″ and with Gallic good looks, it seemed to most people that he was a highly intelligent walking men’s cologne ad. Karen was no exception.
Seating herself and maintaining a sweet smile, Karen was quite charming and an unusually stunning woman. Paul did not miss either one.
“I don’t understand this American game. It’s complicated.”
Karen raised an eyebrow. The man had a PhD in Engineering. Complicated? Really? Still she waited for him to proceed.
Paul looked down at the book with a look of disgust only a French person could truly accomplish. And on him it was actually cute. “Baseball! Who ever invented such a thing?” He put a hand up so Karen wouldn’t respond. “Yes. I know who he was. Doubleday. Abner! What a name! And the man was a devil. I tell you he came straight from hell! Just when you think you know what is happening he throws in another rule. Another stupid rule!”
Karen forced a serious face. “OK. Calm down. What don’t you understand? And why is it so important?”
“My brothers are Yankee fans. God! And my son, Lauren, goes to school here. He too loves baseball. I pretend I understand when I go to the games, ” Paul shook his head, “but I don’t. I need your help!”
Karen was flattered. Of course she knew Paul usually had one eye on her as she walked around the office. But, there were many others he could’ve asked. And he chose her. A personal and rather endearing request from a very no-nonsense company president.
“I’d be happy to. Where shall we begin?”
The rest of the afternoon went by quickly. Karen had spent an hour or so going over important baseball points such as what an assisted double-play meant and why a shortstop was necessary. She smiled as she thought of the last one, remembering Paul blurting out as he pointed to a diagram on page 78 of his book, “What the hell is this guy here for?”
It was just before 5 o’clock when Paul’s righthand man, Cyrus, came into Karen’s office. “It looks like a thunderboomer is brewing quickly out there.” He pointed toward the window. “That sky looks like midnight. Most of us are heading out to Conchy Joe’s for a cocktail. I know you never do but I thought I’d ask just in case you might prefer to wait out the storm indoors instead of in traffic.”
Karen smiled. It was true enough that she rarely joined her co-workers at the local bars, unless it was someone’s birthday and she got pressured into going. But today she felt like it. It sounded like a nice end to a very hectic day. “You know that sounds good. I’ll wrap up here in a few minutes and meet all of you there.”
Cyrus smiled. He was nice man. One of the types that everyone liked and who seemed to always say and do the right thing. A corporate guy down to the bone but he wasn’t formal or cold. Instead he was very down-to-earth and put people at ease. “Great. See you there.” Meticulous to the core, he took a moment to straighten the bright blue tie he was wearing, smiled again and left.
Karen made one last call, to her mom, put away the paperwork and picked up her briefcase. Today had had its challenges, but it looked like it could turn out to be fun after all. It’d be nice to have a martini and chat with everyone. She worked with a lot of nice people. And maybe Paul will show up.
Conchy Joe’s was a landmark in the area. Situated on the wide river, the ambiance and the food just couldn’t be beat.
The main parking lot was full, so Karen had to pull into the overflow lot across the street. It was thundering very loudly now, and she saw the first few big, fat, raindrops fall on her windshield as she pulled into her parking space.
Patricia and Judy were also just getting out of their cars and they called out to Karen. “You came! Was an act of congress passed or what?” It was Judy who spoke. Between the two it was Patricia who had the sense and Judy who had the sense of humor.
Karen laughed. “Let’s outrun this storm! It looks like a big one!”
The wind was starting to kick up and broken branches and palm fronds were lifted up into the air and tossed around the road. Cars had their lights and wipers on and started moving a little slower, allowing the three women to easily cross what was normally a very busy street.
Inside, Conchy Joe’s was an enormous tiki hut, with a thatched roof and very old wood floors. Karen loved the place but hated getting her heels stuck in the spaces between the planks.
The group was assembled at an outside bar that was thankfully protected by Eisenglass, but still allowed a magnificent view of the big river. Cyrus was, as usual, the unofficial host of the party and stepped out to greet them first.
“Glad you could come.” He glanced out to the water. “That storm looks nasty. Some of us are talking about staying here for dinner. Would you care to join us?”
Patricia and Judy were fast to say yes, but, as usual, Karen hesitated. “Let’s see how bad the storm gets. I have some things to go over tonight.”
Enjoying a traditional martini and eating conch fritters, Karen got distracted from who was coming and going. And so it came as a surprise to feel a hand on her shoulder.
“This is quite the honor. Having you join us, Karen.” Paul’s deep voice was right behind her.
Karen turned around, and without thinking, gave Paul a hug. No one mentioned it, and in fact they seemed to be busy chatting and enjoying their drinks. But the truth was that they all saw it – and that it confirmed what they had all been suspecting for some time.
“Yes.” Karen took her arms away quickly. “It’s the storm. I thought I’d stay here until passes.”
Paul smiled. It was bright as the Sun itself. “Smart. Very smart.”
And just as Paul reached to pick up the glass of wine he had ordered, there was a deafening sound, like an explosion of wind and rain and the roar of a raptor, that came from outside. Paul turned quickly, missing the glass entirely, and it fell to floor, shattering into tiny, glittering pieces, and spraying red wine over anyone standing close enough to where it landed.
But no one really took notice. There was something else going on. Something loud and frightening as hell.
It all happened in a flash. A dark cloud-like form rushed in from the river, right through the Eisenglass. It filled the room with a low growling noise that sent chills up a person’s spine and gave off a smell that wreaked of death and decay.
And it headed straight for Cyrus.
Witnesses standing nearby said they heard the nauseating sounds of flesh tearing and bones breaking. And that Cyrus didn’t have the time to blink. Or scream. In seconds he was devoured and the monster cloud was gone.
The manager of Conchy Joe’s, Tony, ran out to the spot where Cyrus had been standing, shaking his head and trying to take in what had happened. Another man, dining at the restaurant, came forward to stand next to him.
“I saw everything.” The man sounded out of breath. “It was like a black bolt of lightning. It growled. And it smelled rotten. This poor guy, ” he gestured to what was left of Cyrus, “didn’t stand a chance. It was like he was the thing’s target. He’s just bits and pieces now. Even that blue tie he was wearing is in shreds.”
Tony smiled. It wasn’t humorous at all; instead it was a reflex born from shock and terror. “It’s an election year. Maybe whatever it was hates Democrats.”
The other man looked at Tony sharply at first, then threw his head back and burst into laughter.
Book # 1 in this series, “Without Notice” will be published in October 2018. Until then look for a monthly Blue Clue.