Today I am going to talk about Moss Landing, a little harbor town on the California coast. Frequently you will find Josephine there, especially in her new adventure, Cuckoo Clock Caper, available as we speak on Kindle. Actual books will be out soon. I thought I would tempt you with the first four pages of Cuckoo Clock Caper.
CUCKOO CLOCK CAPER CHAPTER ONE
It was the best of times…and suddenly it was the worst of times, the night my neighbor’s house blew up. Before that, my life was on cruise control with very few bumps or sharp turns in the road. I painted murals by day and socialized with my friends by night. Solow, my faithful basset, brought me a newspaper dripping with saliva each morning. Alicia Quintana, my best friend, invited me over for dinner at least once a week. Her ten-year-old son, Trigger, called me Auntie Jo, and her husband, Ernie, called me, Josephine. But David Galaz knew me best and called me Josie.
The explosion shook my bed, rattled the windows and sent books crashing into a heap on the floor. I leaped out of bed, tripped over the books and stumbled down the dark hall. A smaller second explosion pushed me off balance. My shoulder hit the wall. I staggered through the kitchen on wobbly legs and gazed out the living room window facing west.
There were ten homes west of my old adobe, each on five acres of grassland sprinkled with oak trees, wild lilac and poison oak. I knew by the red sky that a neighbor was in trouble.
Sirens shrieked up the road named after Otis somebody. I stared out the window, slack-jawed, heart pounding, listening to Solow’s intense howls.
My only comfort was the fact that David lived in the other direction. He had a bigger house than mine, an apricot orchard and a cat named Fluffy who led my dog on many a futile chase. David had been divorced ever since his wife ran off with the preacher ten years ago. He had retired at age fifty-two with a nice pension from IBM. On the night of the explosion, he was visiting his son and granddaughter in Modesto, which meant Solow and I were on our own.
I opened the front door and stepped outside. The red glowing sky finally turned grey as smoke obscured the western stars. Even in daylight I would not have been able to see the actual fire because of the hilly topography between me and my neighbors. Most of the houses on Otis were positioned similar to mine at the end of long driveways. We were all close to having a view of the Pacific Ocean, but not quite.
I stood in the dark wondering which neighbor had lost their home. I knew them all fairly well, except for the people two doors down. No one knew them well but we all had heard the rumors. Mr. Hooley and his sister were older than the spring-loaded bed I inherited from my grandmother and probably older than the giant oak tree in my backyard. People said they never went to school, held a job or married. A picture of Ma and Pa Kettle popped into my mind. I had never really seen the Hooleys, just a couple of beat up hats riding low in the cab of a barely blue eighty-four Chevy pickup.
Solow took one sniff outside and high-tailed it back to his doggie bed across the room from my bed. I followed Solow’s example of self-control. At first my pillow felt comforting but that didn’t last long. I tossed and turned, wrestling with my innate curiosity. Whose house exploded and why?
I clicked the lamp on.
“Solow, wake up. You want to go for a ride?”
He looked at me as if I’d been eating wild mushrooms. He dropped his head and closed his eyes.
“Come on. I’m going for a ride.”
Solow finally raised his head as I pulled on a robe and shoved my feet into slippers. He followed me through the house and out the front door. The smell of smoke sat heavy in the air. Stars were visible in the eastern sky only.
I gave Mr. Chubby a boost into the passenger seat of my middle-aged red Mazda pickup and turned the key. Solow drooled with anticipation as we made a tight circle, crunched down the gravel driveway and turned left onto Otis.
The one-lane road made three turns before we saw glowing embers rising above wild lilac bushes fronting the Hooley property. I cautiously made a left turn onto the Hooley’s asphalt driveway, drove a hundred yards and parked in the grass behind three fire engines. I recognized the frame of a burned out ‘84 Chevy pickup, still smoking near the glowing, collapsing framework of a two-story house.
A fireman aimed water at the big black pile. Water turned to white steam that billowed upward toward a mournful moon. Three firemen loaded the trucks with equipment, preparing to leave. There were no other signs of life.
Suddenly a face appeared in my window. As my head snapped to the left, Solow let out an ear-splitting howl.
The fireman outside my window motioned for me to roll the window down. When I came to my senses and did what I was told, he politely told me to leave the property.
“I’m worried about my neighbors. Are they OK?”
“I’m sorry, Ma’am, we haven’t seen anyone. We really can’t say much at this point.”
“I’ll move my truck right away…but can you tell me what caused the explosion?”
“You heard an explosion?”
I nodded. “Two of them. The first one shook my bed.”
“Interesting,” he said over his shoulder as he took off up the hill toward the action.
I turned my truck around and two minutes later we were home. Under normal circumstances, I would have sat for a minute enjoying the balmy, starry night. But that night was different. I wanted to forget the charred mess I had seen. I hoped and prayed the Hooleys were OK, somehow, somewhere.
Solow followed me into my dark house. We felt our way to the bedroom and crashed in our beds. Solow was snoring in his bed before the sheet hit my chin.
I dreamt about two little hoot owls sitting on a branch in a eucalyptus tree. A crowd of people looked up and taunted the birds, daring them to fly; but the birds made it known that they were afraid to leave the tree. A raccoon shimmied up the tree trunk and began swinging from branch to branch. One of the birds panicked and fell head first onto a rock below.
I looked up and noticed that the second bird was missing.