Disarming The Phantom

If you are new to Darlene’s Story, here’s the gist:  Darlene Whitman always heard that you can pick your friends but not your family.  She realizes the lie in this statement when nosy eighty-two-year-old neighbor, Myrtle Crawford, insists on helping unravel the mystery behind the disappearances of her husband and father.  Darlene discovers her father’s involvement in illegal cancer drug testing, which is also linked to her husband’s courier business.  Her ties to Myrtle are more complicated than she thought, and now, she must piece together the truth before it’s too late to save either of them.

The last segment left off with Darlene talking to Jeff, Darlene’s pseudo uncle, and her father’s former business partner. 

And now, for the next segment in the story:

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Darlene had stayed up most the night reading.  Myrtle’s notes corroborated much of what he’d claimed.  She’d told Jeff to meet her at the Albuquerque Indian Cultural Center at 8am.

Plans changed.  She glanced at the dashboard clock- 6:21.  She took another swig of her tar-like convenience store coffee and bumped the cruise control up a couple notches.  She’d be in Phoenix by eight.  Questions swirled in her mind and the only way to find peace was to ask the only man with answers.

She pulled into the West Phoenix apartment complex that Jeff said her father had been renting for the last year.  The stucco needed paint; patches of gray peeked through the terra cotta hue.  The roof tiles had faded under the unforgiving summer sun.

After climbing three flights of stairs, she stood in front of the weathered door labeled “312C.”  She almost lost her nerve.  She raised her hand to rap on the door just as it flung open.  Darlene and her father gasped at the same time.

“Darlene.”  A tight smile followed.

“Can we talk?”

He stepped aside and she entered the sparsely furnished one-bedroom.  As he bolted the three locks, she put Jeff’s gun to the back of his head.

“Here’s how it’s going to work.  I ask questions, you tell the truth.  You lie, it’s over.”

He turned.  “Darlene.  This isn’t you.”

“I don’t know anymore.”  She took a deep breath, prepared to expose the phantom of security urging silence to preserve her past.  “Were you involved with mom’s death?”

Anger flickered in his eyes.  “Jeff.  I knew that bastard wasn’t dead.”

“Answer!”

“Indirectly.”

“Did you inject Myrtle with cancer?”

“Possibly.”

“Are you involved in illegal cancer research?”

His jaw clenched.

Darlene leveled the gun.

“The laws are archaic.”

“Did you embezzle federal grant money?”

“Can’t be proven.”

“You tried to kill me in the cabin fire.”

“It was for your own good.”

“So is this…” She flashed the digital recorder.  “You’ll be front page.”

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Scroll down if you want to read the final piece of Darlene’s Story.  The ending is a little vague but will be filled in in the longer version of the story.  Thanks to everyone who has followed this story at any time since I began writing it- in January!

TrifectaPicture11-1This is my response to the Trifecta weekly challenge, which is to write a 33 to 333-word response (mine is 331) using the following word/definition:  PHANTOM: (noun) – 3a representation of something abstract, ideal, or incorporeal <she was a phantom of delight — William Wordsworth>

If you want to read other responses, or try the challenge yourself, click here to view Trifecta’s site.  Happy writing (and reading!)

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Darlene tucked the recorder back in her pocket.  “No need trying to stop me.  Our conversation has already been transmitted.”

Her father’s face went ashen.  She undid the three locks and glanced back at her father, who’d collapsed into the only chair in the room- an armchair covered in a worn floral pattern, obviously not his taste.  She felt a flicker of guilt, but slipped out the door anyway.

She sprinted to the rented Camry and pulled onto Thomas Road, heading east.  She called her best friend, Jen.

“Well, how did it go?”

“I got some answers, mostly excuses.  I think he bought it, anyway.”

“So what now?”

“I wait, I guess.”

After a couple beats of silence, Jen said, “Okay, don’t be mad, but I called my old friend, Melanie Sorensen.  She works in sales at the Republic now and she talked to Alex Curtis.  He wants to break this story.”  She took a breath.  “He wants to meet with you.”

Darlene felt light-headed.  She hadn’t considered taking this anywhere.  It was supposed to be a bluff; pulling the trigger without actually pulling the trigger.

“Helloooo?”

“Uh, I don’t know…”

“You want justice for your mom, and Myrtle, right?”

“Of course.  But when my father is dead, that will happen.”

“What if your meeting this morning just spooked him enough to run?  There’s no closure in that.”

Darlene sighed.  “He’s a coward.  He will kill himself before he lets his reputation get dragged through the mud.”

“It may take seeing the first specks of dirt to push him to that point,” Jen said.  “You’ve gone through too much to let it go at this.”

Silence.

Jen continued, “I’m sure there are others.  What about their families?  MEG is a big corporation… they will go on with or without your father.”

“Okay.”

“Okay, what?”

“I’ll meet with Alex.”

“Good.  He’ll be at Cooperstown at one.”

Darlene ended the call and dropped the phone into her purse.  She pulled into a QuikTrip station.  She retrieved a duffel bag containing “Evie’s” clothes from the trunk and headed for the bathrooms.  Four hours would be enough time to transform herself into Myrtle’s niece and visit her old neighbor again.

Time weighed heavily on Darlene.  She had to tell Myrtle she’d read all her papers.  She had to tell her she knew everything- before it was too late.

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Click here for Darlene’s Story page to read the entire piece.

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This post is already too long, but I didn’t want to close out without a proper “Thank You!” to everyone who read, commented, and voted on my Trifecta challenge response last week.  Love Song ended up first place in the community-voted challenge.  As an added surprise, I received a $33 Barnes and Noble gift card from the editors.

Darlene’s Fear

I search Jeff’s face for sincerity.

My past has unraveled into a taunting illusion.  I’m afraid to build a future on lies, but truth could render me a stranger in my own skin.

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TrifectaPicture11-1This is my response to Trifecta’s weekend prompt:

Katherine Paterson, author of Bridge to Terabithia, wrote, “It’s like the smarter you are, the more things can scare you.”  We are looking for a 33-word explanation of what scares you (or your character).”

Check out the link above to read other responses, or even better – submit your own.  It’s only 33 words!

NOTE:  This is another community-voted challenge, which means that readers have the opportunity to vote on their three favorites by visiting Trifecta’s site after the challenge closes on Sunday, at 8PM Eastern time.

Since I haven’t written anything on Darlene’s Story for a while (since September 23, to be exact) I decided to address her fear.  She could turn away and not explore whether or not her father is involved in illegal drug testing, or if he’s responsible for her mother’s death, but if she does that, the not knowing will nag her forever.  If she continues her quest and uncovers the truth, it could make her past a lie and leave her uncertain of who she really is.  Further complicating the matter is whether to trust Jeff (her father’s ex business partner) to help her.

Click here for Darlene’s Story page if you want to read the entire piece.  Thanks for stopping by!

Survival Instinct

If you are new to Darlene’s Story, here’s the gist:  Darlene Whitman always heard that you can pick your friends but not your family.  She realizes the lie in this statement when nosy eighty-two-year-old neighbor, Myrtle Crawford, insists on helping unravel the mystery behind the disappearances of her husband and father.  Darlene discovers her father’s involvement in illegal cancer drug testing, which is also linked to her husband’s courier business.  Her ties to Myrtle are more complicated than she thought, and now, she must piece together the truth before it’s too late to save either of them.

The last segment left off with Darlene talking to Jeff, Darlene’s pseudo uncle, and her father’s former business partner.  (Scott is Darlene’s husband, killed in part 12.)

And now, for the next segment in the story:

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“What do you mean, Scott didn’t know?”  Numbness crawled down Darlene’s extremities.

Jeff nodded toward the papers on the table.

Jaw hung slack, she scanned through the three pages.  “Where did you get this?”

“The cabin.  Right after the police cleared out.”

“You were there before?”

He smirked.  “I came back expecting to find more information.  Not to be restrained by my own shoelaces.”

Darlene suppressed a smile, remembering her handiwork.  “Why would he be Scott’s main contract?  Father hated him.”

“All part of his plan.  He can pinpoint and play weaknesses.  With extreme patience, I might add.”

“You’re suggesting my father orchestrated everything so I’d be alone?”

“Not suggesting, Dolly.  It’s in black and white.”

“Why?”

“You were Scott’s weakness.   Paris was a new life, not a second honeymoon.   The fire was a warning for him to stay put.”

Darlene’s throat tightened.  “Scott tried to kill me.  I removed the mask and saw for myself.”

“Your father is persuasive.  And survival instinct makes a person do shocking things.”

Recalling Jeff’s involvement in her mother’s death, her anger flared.  “So Scott was just a savage animal inside?”  The waitress glanced her way, so she lowered her voice.  “He was incapable of selflessness, driven only to protect his life?  No.  He wasn’t like you!”

Jeff snorted.  “It’s at everyone’s core.  Better believe, or your blood will be on daddy’s hands.”

Darlene flinched.

“You gotta do what it takes.  He won’t stop.  You know too much to live, Dolly.”

Tears trickled down her cheeks.  It came down to kill or be killed.  Darlene doubted she had what it took.  He might be wretched, but he was her father.

“You have to get past him being your father,” Jeff said, as if reading her thoughts.  “I want to help.”

She nodded, still unconvinced… still unsure if she could trust him.  She feared faked death didn’t diminish his survival instinct.  Kill or be killed. 

“What do you have in mind?” Darlene asked, summoning her inner animal.

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This is my response to the Trifecta weekly challenge, which is to write a 33 to 333-word response (mine is 332) using the following word/definition:  ANIMAL: (noun) – 3  :  a human being considered chiefly as physical or nonrational; also :  this nature.

If you want to read other responses, or try the challenge yourself, click here to view Trifecta’s site.  Happy writing (and reading!)

Once again, this is a community-voted challenge, which means that readers have the opportunity to vote on their three favorites by visiting Trifecta’s site after the challenge closes on Thursday, at 8PM Eastern time.

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This continuation of Darlene’s Story is still in Darlene’s point of view.  Click here for Darlene’s Story page if you want to read the entire piece.  Thanks for stopping by!

Faded Rainbows

If you are new to Darlene’s Story, here’s the gist:  Darlene Whitman always heard that you can pick your friends but not your family.  She realizes the lie in this statement when nosy eighty-two-year-old neighbor, Myrtle Crawford, insists on helping unravel the mystery behind the disappearances of her husband and father.  Darlene discovers her father’s involvement in illegal cancer drug testing, which is also linked to her husband’s courier business.  Her ties to Myrtle are more complicated than she thought, and now, she must piece together the truth before it’s too late to save either of them.

The last segment left off with Darlene talking to Jeff, Darlene’s pseudo uncle, and her father’s former business partner.  (Scott is Darlene’s husband, killed in part 12.)

And now, for the next segment in the story:

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Darlene looked at Jeff expectantly.  Her heart fell when he didn’t answer.  She repeated, “Did my father love her?”

“It’s complicated…”

She couldn’t read his expression.  “I’m twenty-eight.  I can take it.”

“Not how she deserved to be loved.  Greed took over.” He paused.   “Your mother deserved to be wrapped in love twenty-four hours a day.  Breakfast in bed, a kiss and a rose each evening, and passionate caresses throughout the night.  But making deals drove him.”

“So he didn’t do any of that?”

“Not in her eyes,” Jeff said.

“She confided in you?”

“Sometimes… I mean, only a few times.”

“No.  It’s too much.  I can’t do this.”  Darlene slipped the tote bag straps over her shoulder and slid out of the booth.  “I’ve heard enough.”

“When did you stop chasing the rainbow, Dolly?”

Darlene halted mid-step and turned around.  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Jeff shrugged.  “Well, Myrtle needs help, and your mother deserves justice, and you’re running because you don’t like what you hear.”

“I just need time…I need-”

“There’s no time, Dolly.”  Jeff shook his head.  “In high school, you expected to change the world.  We need that girl now.”

“She was foolish,” Darlene said.

“She believed.”

“She didn’t know any better.”

“Reckless optimism can topple the foe.”

“Meaning, my father.”

“MEG.  But your father is a big part of it.”

Darlene slumped into the booth.  “I don’t understand how.  My father works for New Way Pharmaceutical, MEG’s competitor.”

“That was true, until 2004.”

“The year mother died,” Darlene whispered.

“The year I died,” Jeff added.

“Why did you fake your death?”

“I had to keep my promise to your mother.”

“Which was?”

“To protect you.  And I almost failed.”

“How?”

“The fire at your cabin.  I should’ve seen that coming.”

Darlene shook her head.  “Scott set me up.”

Jeff reached into his jacket and pulled out some papers.  He unfolded and smoothed them before his fingertips pushed them across the table.  “I don’t think Scott knew.”

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TrifectaPicture11-1This is my response to the Trifecta weekly challenge, which is to write a 33 to 333-word response (mine is 331) using the following word/definition:

RAINBOW (noun): 3.  [from the impossibility of reaching the rainbow, at whose foot a pot of gold is said to be buried] :  an illusory goal or hope

If you want to read other responses, or try the challenge yourself, click on link above to view Trifecta’s site.  Happy writing (and reading!)

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This continuation of Darlene’s Story is still in Darlene’s point of view.  Click here for Darlene’s Story page if you want to read the entire piece.  Thanks for stopping by!

The Truth Hurts

If you are new to Darlene’s Story, here’s the gist:  Darlene Whitman always heard that you can pick your friends but not your family.  She realizes the lie in this statement when nosy eighty-two-year-old neighbor, Myrtle Crawford, insists on helping unravel the mystery behind the disappearances of her husband and father.  Darlene discovers her father’s involvement in illegal cancer drug testing, which is also linked to her husband’s courier business.  Her ties to Myrtle are more complicated than she thought, and now, she must piece together the truth before it’s too late to save either of them.

The last segment left off with Darlene alluding to Jeff’s multiple appearances/disappearances since his faked death eight years ago.  (Jeff was Darlene’s father’s business partner and pseudo uncle.)

And now, for the next segment in the story:

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Jeff’s eyebrows knitted together.  Then, suddenly, he laughed.  “Like the possum, I understand that faking can be key to survival.  Sadly, Dottie and her husband didn’t have the skills.”

She gasped.  “You killed them.  And left my scarf to implicate me.”

Jeff shrugged.  “I had to make you run.  It worked.”

“That’s it?  It’s that easy?  You can talk about killing two people in the same manner you’d tell me you ate tuna salad for lunch?”

“Actually, I had a grilled chicken sandwich.”

Darlene scowled.

“Look, survival is about one thing:  kill or be killed.  It’s not hard to choose which actions to take.”

With her elbow, Darlene pressed her tote bag to her side and felt the handle of Jeff’s stolen gun through the fake leather.  “That, I understand.”  Myrtle’s words ran through her mind again.  If you need someone to confide in, Jeff is on our side.

“Tell me about my mom’s death.”

Jeff leaned back and sighed.

“You claim to be for justice.  Prove it.”

He focused his stare on the faux wood tabletop.  “It shouldn’t have happened.”

“Did my father inject her with aggressive cancer?”

His gaze snapped up and held Darlene’s for several seconds.  His eyes, glassy with tears.  “Do you remember how even the nurses tending to her wore protective gear from head to toe?”

She nodded and uttered a half-laugh.  “It felt like the set of a sci-fi movie, with each face a pair of eyes peering over a sterile white mask.”

Silence brewed for several heavy seconds.

“So, he did it.”

Gaze averted, he muttered, “With his gun at my head…”

“What?”

His lip quivered.  “I-I did.”

Darlene narrowed her eyes.  “What’s going on?”

“I loved her.  Always did,” Jeff whispered.  “He hated that.”

“Oh, God.  Please don’t tell me you had an affair.”

“No!  I loved her too much.  Your mother was a pawn.”

“Meaning?”

“Her death served as a warning.”

“Did he love her?”  Darlene’s voice sounded as hollow as her insides felt.

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I wanted to write a special “thank you” to those who read, and voted for, the last segment I wrote to Darlene’s Story.  It was a community-voted challenge and tied for first place.  I appreciate everyone’s support and comments as the story progresses!

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TrifectaPicture11-1This is my response to the Trifecta weekly challenge, which is to write a 33 to 333-word response (mine is 333) using the following word/definition:

MASK (noun): 3.(a) a protective covering for the face; (b)  gas mask; (c) a device covering the mouth and nose to facilitate inhalation; (d) a comparable device to prevent exhalation of infective material; (e) a cosmetic preparation for the skin of the face that produces a tightening effect as it dries

If you want to read other responses, or try the challenge yourself, click on link above to view Trifecta’s site.  Happy writing (and reading!)

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This continuation of Darlene’s Story is still in Darlene’s point of view.  Click here for Darlene’s Story page if you want to read the entire piece.  Thanks for stopping by!