Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: In Pieces #27 (7.7)

Good morning and Happy Hump Day! If it's Wednesday, then it must be time for more flash fiction from the Wednesday Briefers! We're a group of authors who bring you our finest flash fiction every week, 500 to 1000 words, inspired by one of our prompts.

A jealous Ben removes Ryan from Cameron's attentions and takes him out to breakfast. Alone at last! What will they do with this opportunity? Find out in this week's chapter of In Pieces. Don't forget to visit the other Briefers and see what's up with them!  Their links follow my tale!  Enjoy!

In Pieces #27 (7.7)

Breakfast was every bit as delicious as Ben had promised it would be. The Cajun Hollandaise sauce was creamy and spicy, and  had just the right amount of heat without being overbearing. Ryan thought he could get used to eating like this all the time. He loved Missouri, but there was something relaxing about Louisiana, and at the same time invigorating. Some people might consider Missouri to be a Southern state, but this was the true Deep South.

Of course, a lot of his feeling of contentment had to do with Ben’s presence. There was no denying that. Just being back with Ben after all those years felt like coming home, as though a great weight had been lifted from his mind… and heart.

After they ate, Ben tried to take Ryan to a high end men’s clothing store, but Ryan balked at that idea. He put his foot down adamantly, despite Ben’s protestations that he could afford it. They ended up compromising by going to a boutique on Girod Street, which resembled a home more than a business. The staff was wonderfully friendly, and Ryan allowed Ben to buy him a suit and some casual clothes, but he insisted Ben get something for himself, which he did. Ryan hadn’t realized before how much fun shopping could be.

As they threw their bags into the back of Cameron’s car, Ben announced, “There’s this beautiful spot I want to show you.  It’s on the lake, but it’s on this side, so no worries about the bridge. You’ll just love it, I know.”

“If you love it, I know I will too,” Ryan said, feeling unexpectedly giddy. How could he even begin to doubt that Ben cared about him? “Let’s go.”

 They headed toward the lake, stopping just long enough to stop by the Café du Monde to get two cups of chicory coffee and fresh beignets.  Fontainebleau State Park was close to the long bridge across the lake, but not too close for comfort. Ben paid the small admission fee at the gate as they drove in. They parked near the Visitor Center, but didn’t go inside.

“When we come back to the car,” Ben promised. “They have some cool exhibits. Let’s drink our coffee while it’s hot.”

They followed a long tree-lined sidewalk until they arrived at the beach. Ryan noticed it wasn’t too crowded, especially for August. A few families cavorted on the white sand, the children running in and out of the water, screaming joyfully. A few couples were stretched out on large colorful beach towels, hip to hip, soaking up rays. Too bad they hadn’t brought anything like that. But then they were here on an impulse, nothing planned.

Ben must have been a mind reader. “We’ll have to make a day of it sometime,” he said. “What do you think? Bring towels, an umbrella, sun tan lotion. Something to eat, something drink… the whole nine yards.”

“I think that sounds wonderful, Ben. This place is beautiful, absolutely beautiful.”  
“Glad you like it.” Ben smiled almost shyly.

Holding hands was out of the question, not with what they carried, so Ryan had to content himself with following Ben a little ways down the beach, to a more isolated spot.  They made themselves comfortable on the warm sand and gazed out at the lake.

Nearby a long pier jutted out across the water. “Do people fish from there?” Ryan asked.

Ben shaded his eyes and squinted toward the pier. “Not there, I don’t think,” he said. “I think they have areas set aside just for fishing. Crabbing too.”

“Crabs. I forgot Louisiana has crabs.” He polished off the delicious beignet and licked power sugar from his fingers. “The closest I usually get to crab in St. Louis is when I order Crab Rangoon from a Chinese restaurant. Or when Cassie took me to the casino once. They had all-you-can-eat crab legs on the buffet.” He took another, longer sip of the chicory. He thought it would be more bitter, but it wasn’t. He liked it. Glancing toward Ben, he noticed a frown marring his forehead.

“Who’s Cassie?”

“My stepmother.  Dad’s third wife.”

“Oh.” Ben visibly relaxed with a visible sigh. “Did she make him happy?”

“Yeah, she did. They were really good together. She’s a good person. I think you’d like her.” He deliberately didn’t mention her age. Ben seemed upset enough about her without adding fuel to the fire.

“I’m glad. D-dad was a good man,” Ben said softly. “He deserved to find some happiness after…” He left the sentence dangling, but Ryan knew what he meant. He also heard the slight hesitation over the word dad, as if he was unsure whether he was allowed to call him that after all that time. And considering the divorce.

“Yeah, I know what you mean. That reminds me, I owe her a postcard. I promised I’d keep in touch.  She’ll be thrilled when I tell her about you.” Damn, he hadn’t meant to blurt that out, but somehow he had anyway. He found it hard to dissemble around Ben.

But when Ben smiled at him like that, a warmth formed in the pit of his stomach, and suddenly his faux pas didn’t seem quite so bad any more.

“She knows about me?” He didn’t say about us, but he might just as well have.

“Yeah. She’s been listening to me whine about you for years.” Ryan laughed, a little awkwardly. He hadn’t even had to explain to her how he felt about Ben. Cassie was intuitive, and very caring. “She helped me through some… rough patches. I didn’t think I could talk to Dad. Well, because… I mean, you know.” Damn, had he put his foot in his mouth? Should he at least ask about Eliza, or would that be hypocritical on his part?

He opened his mouth to ask, but Ben was too fast for him.

“Don’t ask… please…” and stilled any possible questions with a kiss.

to be continued

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Saturday, November 10, 2018

Book Review: Missouri's Forgotten Heroes by Ross Malone

Missouri’s Forgotten Heroes    

Author: Ross Malone
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing
American release date: June 28, 2016
Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/non-fiction/236 pages
Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

There are many books about the famous people in history, the heroes whose lives we study in school, the people we grow up knowing about, famed in song and story. But there are many more unsung heroes we never get a chance to appreciate. This book is about some of those people. And they are all from Missouri, which is a definite plus to me, as I am a native of the state myself.

Missouri’s Forgotten Heroes has many interesting stories to tell. Some of the names may be familiar to residents of Missouri as place names, but the people behind the names are greatly unknown. For example, Albert Lambert (Lambert Airport), John O’Fallon (O’Fallon, Missouri & Illinois), John Mullanphy (various places in Florissant, MO) and Paul Henning (of Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction fame).

There are stories about athletes and stories about pioneers, people who endured great hardships and persevered despite the odds against them. These people are not perfect, many of them have flaws, and they are all human. But that doesn’t matter. In some way, they were all heroes.

This was an interesting book from start to finish. I enjoyed reading about unsung heroes from my own state. I love history, and love to read about it, and this book is a great addition to my library. As a bonus, I received an autographed copy, how great is that? This is my first time reading Ross Malone, but it won’t be my last time. He has a wonderful way of telling a story that makes you feel as if you are there, listening to him. I would love to attend a class taught by him, or a lecture.

The only criticism I can make is that the book would have benefited with a little more editing, but that is not an authorial flaw, and I won’t ding him on that. I’ve seen so-called professional books with similar problems.

If you like history, if you are from Missouri, or if you just like to root for the underdog, this book is for you.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Book Review: Blue Exorcist, Vol 5 by Kazue Kato

Blue Exorcist, Book 5     

Author: Kazue Kato
Publisher: Viz Media
American release date: December 6, 2011
Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/manga/paranormal/202 pages
Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★

Well, the cat’s out of the bag, and all the ex-wires know Rin’s secret—namely that he is the son of Satan. They have mixed feelings about this revelation, understandably. But no time to dwell on that, Yukio and Rin are off to deal with an emergency situation. The trouble began when someone stole the Left Eye of the Impure King from the Deep Keep. A senior exorcist named Todo, along with an elite force, pursued a masked man but he’s taken a child and is using him as a shield. To make matters worse, a terrible gas has been released, and the hostage child has received severe exposure. The child’s mother begs for help, and when Yukio tries to explain that they might not succeed, Rin rashly promises to rescue her son. The brothers and Todo and his elite force are off to the rescue! But not everything is as it seems.

Meanwhile, back at True Cross, Suguro, Shima, and Miwa are concerned that they are unable to contact friends and family back home. Mephisto unexpectedly turns up in the ex-wire classroom and announces they have earned the right to go on a real mission—to Kyoto! To say that Suguro is less than thrilled would be an understatement.

Rin thinks he’s being sneaky but Shura catches him practicing in secret and tells him to pack, he’s going to Kyoto. Apparently the Right Eye of the Impure King is also in peril. On the train to Kyoto, Rin discovers the other ex-wires are going as well, but nobody seems particularly happy to see him, much less sit with him.  Shura tells them all to behave so she can get some sleep, but how likely is that?

On arrival in Kyoto, the ex-wires go to the inn where they are to stay, only to be met with some surprising information that a certain someone would wish to remain unknown. As they settle in, they get to know the okami (female innkeeper) and her family. Suguro realizes there is a problem there. He has to take charge  or two quarreling families will tear everything apart!

The ex-wires are unsure how to handle their new knowledge about Rin, and it shows. Rin is becoming frustrated because he thinks nothing has really changed, he’s the same guy he was before, but how can he convince them of that? In this new volume, Rin is as headstrong and determined as ever. He’s a good boy at heart, who’s found himself in a difficult situation, and still has some maturing to do. And he’s still determined to defeat Satan one day. Also in this volume, we get some background information on Bon Suguro, which helps to flesh out his character and make him more likeable.

I’m really interested in finding out more about these stolen Eyes. What’s so important about them that someone wants to steal them? Will Rin’s fellow students ever get over his satanic birthright and accept him for who he is? Will Rin ever find the courage to admit he likes Shiemi? Enquiring minds want to know! Good volume, looking forward to the next one.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Book Review: Blue Exorcist, Vol 4 by Kazue Kato

Blue Exorcist, Book 4    

Author: Kazue Kato
Publisher: Viz Media
American release date: October 4, 2011
Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/manga/paranormal/200 pages
Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★

Summer camp isn’t exactly idyllic for the ex-wires, who’ve been sent on a strange mission involving a lantern. Through trial and error, they discover that the only way to accomplish their mission is to actually work together, despite their first impressions that they needed to work alone. Shura is convinced that Rin will expose himself to the others (no, not like that lol) and when she sees the blue flame, she is convinced she was right. But appearances can be deceiving, especially at night. Matters are complicated by the unexpected arrival of Mephisto Pheles and Amaimon, unbeknownst to the others.

The lantern in question turns out to be more than the ex-wires anticipated, and getting it back to camp will be no easy task. They’ll have to utilize everyone’s unique skills to get the job done. In other words, it takes team work to make the dream work!  At least until Amaimon throws a wrench into the works!

Back at the academy, they are met by someone new – Arthur Auguste Angel, a senior exorcist first class from Vatican Headquarters. He has nothing but criticism for both Mephisto and Shura for having failed to carry out their mission properly, as evidenced by Rin’s presence among them. Will Rin suffer the ultimate punishment for being his father’s son?

And then an emergency summons takes the gang… to Kyoto?

I’m enjoying this series more and more. We are learning more about the characters as they interact with one another, and some backstories are starting to be told. There’s never a dull moment, especially when Mephisto is around. Although he is mostly cool and contained, the same cannot be said for his brother Amaimon, who is a hot mess, and that is being kind. I love the artwork. My only real complain is the need to constantly expose more of Shura’s chest than I’d care to see, but I guess we can chalk that up to fanservice, and the fact that this series is probably aimed at young teenage boys.

The action is moving right along, and I can’t help but wonder where it’s going. I’m glad I’m along for the ride. Another great volume, looking forward to more of the same.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: In Pieces #26 (7.6)

Good morning and Happy Hump Day! If it's Wednesday, then it must be time for more flash fiction from the Wednesday Briefers! We're a group of authors who bring you our finest flash fiction every week, 500 to 1000 words, inspired by one of our prompts.

So, back to our regular story! When we last saw them, Ryan and Ben were going to have breakfast, but Cameron showed up and Ben lost his appetite! What's up with that? Ben took Ryan out of the house, let's see what's going on in this week's chapter of In Pieces. Don't forget to visit the other Briefers and see what's up with them! Their links follow my tale! Enjoy!

In Pieces #26 (7.6)

Walking in the door, they were greeted with a warm smile by a tall uniformed redhead. She reminded Ryan of a waitress from a sitcom his father had liked to watch years ago. “Welcome to Liz’s, y’all! Grab a seat wherever you like and I’ll be right with you.”

Ben took Ryan’s hand and led him to a booth in the far corner, the only one that didn’t look out over the parking lot.  He motioned for Ryan to slide in first then followed him so they sat on the same side, hip to hip. The diner wasn’t large—it was comfortably small, and had a distinctive retro look. A turquoise counter was lined with matching bar stools, and the fixtures and furniture carried the same color scheme. Large and small peace symbols had been randomly slapped on the walls. The whole effect was to remind Ryan of an old fifties-style diner.

The redhead sashayed up to their booth and set a glass of water on the table in front of each of them, along with a plastic-coated menu. “My name’s Becky, and I’ll be taking care of you today. Would you like a few minutes?”

“We won’t need those today, thank you,” Ben said. “Can you bring us two Big Easy Benedicts, please, and coffee?”

“Sure thing, sweetheart.” She tucked the menus under one arm. “I’ll be right back with your coffee.”

A bell over the door tinkled before she’d even reached the counter. Another couple walked in, and they heard her give them the same welcoming spiel.

Ben shot Ryan a questioning look. “I hope you don’t mind that I ordered for both of us. These are really good, trust me.”

“I do trust you,” Ryan assured him. “What’s in them?”

“Fried green tomatoes, crab cakes, poached eggs, all topped with a Cajun Hollandaise sauce.”

“Sounds delicious.” Ryan unwrapped his straw and poked it into his glass. He sipped at the cold water as he glanced around them. The diner was maybe a quarter to a third full, but no one sat near them, affording a feeling of privacy.  It dawned on him that this was the first time they’d truly been alone since he’d arrived. Cameron’s house didn’t count, always someone else around. And he’d been too nervous on the cab ride across the huge lake to be very companionable.

“Sorry about that little… encounter with Cameron,” Ben apologized. “Sometimes he… he… Well, sometimes he’s a little hard to take, to be honest. I try not to let him get to me, but I don’t always succeed. It’s like he knows what buttons to push, you know?”

“That’s okay, don’t worry about it. I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it. Flirting seems to come naturally to him.”

Ben smiled wryly. “Maybe. Or maybe he’s just not blind and he can see how sexy you are.”

Ryan’s cheeks grew warm at the unexpected compliment.

“I hope you don’t mind that I set him straight about us. That I… said what I did.” Ben turned his head toward the wall, away from Ryan, a shy gesture that went straight to Ryan’s heart.

Ryan didn’t have to think hard to realize what Ben meant. Ben had claimed him, said he was his, in no uncertain terms. Of course he didn’t mind.  He reached for Ben’s hand and squeezed it. “I’ve been yours for a long time,” he said softly.

Ben exhaled, as if he’d been holding his breath.  He turned his head to face Ryan once more. His blue eyes shone brightly. “We’ll make up for lost time, you’ll see. And once the tour’s over, and Salvation’s on its way to stardom, we can take some time out to travel, just the two of us.”

“I like the sound of that,” Ryan said. “Where would you like to go?”

“Anywhere,” Ben said frankly. “As long as it’s with you.” He pulled Ryan’s head down until their lips met, and they breathed each other in until the clatter of dishes drew them apart.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt.” The waitress was smiling at them. Ryan had been afraid she’d meant that sarcastically. He was relieved to find no judgment in her eyes.

She refilled their coffee cups, as well as their water. “Let me know if you need anything else, guys. Enjoy!” She headed back toward the counter, filling cups of coffee as she went.

“You know I love you, Ryan, don’t you?” Ben sounded suddenly anxious, for no reason Ryan could think of. Ryan hadn’t heard those words from anyone since Ben had told him that ten years ago. He hadn’t sounded half as anxious then as he did now. What had happened to him in the last decade? And would he be willing to talk about it if Ryan asked?

“I know, and you know I love you too. Nothing’s changed.” Nothing except the tenuous legal thread which once bound them was long gone now, and there was no reason they couldn’t be together at last.
Was there?

Before he could frame any of the multitude of questions he needed answers to, Ben had picked up his fork. “Eat up,” he encouraged him. “I want to know what you think. After we eat, you and I can go shopping. I’d intended to take you before Cameron ever said anything.  I want to show you off at the party. I don’t have a choice of what to wear, my wardrobe’s fixed, but you… we can make you shine.”

Ben looked so excited, so hopeful, and so happy that Ryan didn’t dare say anything that might change that. They could talk about things later.

They kissed once more then began to eat.

to be continued

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Thursday, November 1, 2018

A GZ and Jeff Halloween: Part 2

As promised, here is the end of the story. Enjoy!

Jeff Mauro laughed. “Well, he does live in the Hamptons. Not exactly a place for the economically challenged.”

“Maybe, but he never lets that go to his head, you know? He’s really down to earth, and he has a big heart.”

Jeff was touched by Alex’s loyalty to Geoffrey. He knew he was the same way himself. “But you
have to admit, there are things he’s a bit naïve about. Like grocery shopping.”

“True,” Alex admitted. “On the other hand, he’s great with his kids. He spends lot of time with them. Like you do with Lorenzo.”

Seven-year-old Lorenzo was Jeff’s pride and joy. He loved spending time in the kitchen with him, and Lorenzo was a natural when it came to cooking. Jeff liked to brag he would follow in his father’s footsteps someday.

“You two are going out on Halloween, right?” Alex asked.

“Absolutely. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” He scraped up what was left of the food on his plate with a contented sigh and glanced at GZ. The regal cat was contently licking his paws from the comfort of Alex’s lap. Something nagged at the back of Jeff’s mind, but he couldn’t put his finger on what the problem was. He was supposed to do something at some particular time, but what was it?

Oh damn! He mentally snapped his fingers. How could he have forgotten? He wasn’t supposed to stay all evening.  He had to make an exit early enough to change places with GZ, and then they would both make their reappearances in new costumes. Except Jeff’s wouldn’t be a costume, exactly. He’d be coming as his shifter alter-ego, a champagne-colored labradoodle.

Jeff yawned widely then chuckled.  “Guess all this food is catching up to me,” he said, hoping his laugh didn’t sound at all fake. “I think I’m going to head back to the hotel, maybe call my fam and tell them good night before I get some sleep.” Which was a bit of a white lie, but one that couldn’t be proven without talking to his wife and son, and who would go to the trouble of doing that, and why would they?

“Good idea,” Alex said. “That reminds me. I should call GZ and see how he’s doing. I thought he was going to show up tonight. I hope he’s not sick.”

“I don’t think so,” Jeff said hastily. “In fact, I think he’s just running late. You know how he is.”

Wrong thing to say. Geoffrey Zakarian was never late for anything. He was the king of prompt. Jeff grimaced inwardly. Of all the stupid things to say about GZ, saying that to Alex Guaranaschelli was really stupid. She knew GZ better than just about anyone.

But Alex didn’t have any smarmy comebacks or witty retorts denouncing Jeff’s blatant lie. “I’ll wait a little bit and see if he shows up before I go all concerned friend on him. I’ll catch you later, Jeff. Nice talking to you.”

“You too, Alex. We should hang out more.” He reached for his companion, but GZ was already springing into action. He leapt into Jeff’s arms in one agile motion. Jeff positioned the feline beneath his arm, where he could still scratch the top of his head, and they made their way through the partygoers, bidding farewells as he went to the people he knew. Once outside, he waited patiently as the valet brought his rental car around. Jeff thanked him, settled GZ in the passenger seat, took the wheel and drove off.

But not very far. His destination was less than a mile away. He and GZ had met up in a deserted parking lot of a restaurant that was only open for breakfast and lunch. GZ had left his car there, now it was Jeff’s turn to leave his vehicle and shift. He waited for GZ to shift first. Once the chef was himself once more, he stretched his legs, then reached into the glove compartment and retrieved his glasses.

“Quite the soiree,” he commented. “We fooled them all, I think.”

“I think so too,” Jeff agreed. “Alex seemed quite taken with you, didn’t she? Of course, you made it easy by jumping into her lap like that.”

GZ laughed. “Just playing the part,” he said. “C’mon, it’s your turn. I’ll just grab my costume out of the back of my car. Be right back.”

Jeff watched as GZ exited his rental and approached his own luxurious sedan. He retrieved his costume from the car then disappeared into the shadows. Jeff waited for him to return, so he could get a good look at what his friend was wearing. He knew what GZ had told him, but seeing was even better. GZ had such good taste, he was going to look posh, Jeff just knew it. And sure enough, when GZ returned, he did not disappoint.

Geoffrey looked very elegant indeed. Jeff didn’t know what the names of everything was, but the fawn-colored pants flared at the hips and then narrowed into tall black boots. GZ wore a white ruffled shirt beneath a vest that may have been brocade, Jeff wasn’t sure.  A dark wine jacket that ended just above Geoffrey’s waist completed the ensemble, along with a black top hat and a walking stick.

“Wow, you’re quite the dandy,” Jeff commented in admiration. “Who did you say you were, again?”

“You hit the nail on the head, old chap,” GZ said in a faux British accent then laughed at his own wit.

 “Just call me Beau Brummell, one of the most famous dandies of all time.”

“Beau Brummell,” Jeff repeated the name. “Well, you certainly look spiffy, Mr. Zakarian. You should win a prize for that outfit.”

Geoffrey smiled. “You flatter me, Mr. Mauro. Well, you about ready to go back to the party?” He glanced significantly at Jeff’s unaltered state.

“Oh yeah, right. Let me change real quick. You sure you’re okay with me being in your car?”

“I trust you not to have an accident.” They shared a quick laugh before Jeff shifted into his dog self and GZ opened the car door for him.

The party was still in full swing when they arrived. Geoffrey had brought a leash for his canine companion—with Jeff’s permission. They were greeted by admiring comments and catcalls when they walked through the door.

“I thought you were going to dress up, GZ.” Anne Burrell approached them wearing a smile and carrying a drink. She eyed GZ up and down. “Isn’t that what you wear every day?”

Jeff yipped his laughter as best he could under the circumstances. He knew she was teasing but she was also right that GZ dressed better than the average chef.

“Very funny,” GZ replied. “I’m here as Beau Brummel tonight, what do you think?”

“I think you’re quite the dandy,” Anne said. “Who’s your little friend?” She knelt beside Jeff, cooing at him. “Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy?”

Jeff responded by trying to lap from her glass. Anne held the drink away from him. “Doggies shouldn’t drink, it’s bad for them.” She glanced up at GZ. “What have you been teaching him?”

“Don’t blame me, he has a mind of his own.” GZ chuckled. “I call him The Little Prince. Usually just Prince for short.”

Jeff snuffled against Anne’s cheek before laying a wet slobbery kiss on her. To her credit, she didn’t recoil from his touch or immediately attempt to wipe it off.

“Maybe you should feed him before he takes a bite out of someone,” Anne suggested, rising.
“Good idea,” GZ agreed.

Jeff had already eaten quite a bit, and not all that long ago, but hey, he could probably eat some more if the occasion arose. Which it just had. And to be fair, GZ had only eaten what little Jeff had given him. He must be hungry too.

They parted ways with Chef Anne, heading toward the buffet, greeting people they knew along the way. Well, Geoffrey greeted them in English, while Jeff woofed when required.

At the buffet table, their positions were now reversed, with GZ piling up plates for each of them, Jeff watching from the floor. Jeff was gratified to see his friend pile up a lot of meat on his plate. If only he had opposable thumbs, he could have GZ build him a sandwich. But alas, that was not possible in his current state.

“Well, well, Zakarian, about time you showed up. I was about to send out the St. Bernards,” a familiar voice came from behind them. Jeff raised his eyes to find Alex standing beside GZ, wearing an impish grin.

“If I’d known that, I’d have waited somewhere for the booze to arrive.” GZ returned her grin with one of his own. “I’d give you a hug, love, but I’m a little encumbered.”

“No worries, I’ll get one later.” She turned her attention to Jeff. “Oh my, isn’t he a cute one.” She knelt beside him and ruffled the fur on his head. “What’s your name, little man?”

“How’d you know he’s a he?” Geoffrey raised his eyebrows.

Alex cocked her head, looking up at him. “Oh, I can just tell. Is he a labradoodle? I’m surprised you don’t own an Afghan or a Russian Wolfhound or something.”

“He’s not mine,” Geoffrey hastily interjected. “I mean, he’s with me, but I don’t own him. He belongs to… a friend.”

Well, that might not strictly be true, but there was enough truth in that to keep Geoffrey’s veracity intact.

“Hey guys, you know what? It’s a really nice night for October. Let’s go outside, why don’t we? There’s a veranda at the back of the house with our name on it.” Not waiting for an answer, she took Geoffrey’s arm, first relieving him of the leash with a quick “I got this” and steered him in the direction she wanted to go.

Wrought iron tables had been set up on the patio for the use of the guests, with carved jack-o’-lanterns on each providing light. No one else was in sight. Personally, Jeff didn’t think it was cold, but then he came from Chicago. He was used to single digit temps. Plus, to be fair, he was wearing a thick fur coat.

Geoffrey set the plate of meat on the ground, then sat across from Alex, who had a drink but no food. He arched his eyebrows at her. “Not eating?”

“Not hungry,” she countered. “I ate before you got here. In fact, I was sitting with your friend Jeff.”

“Ah, sorry I missed him. Who did he come as?”

“Dr. Evil. And he brought his own cat. A gorgeous white one. Very elegant. A lot like you.”

Geoffrey laughed. “You’re too kind. You look beautiful, by the way. A veritable goddess.”

Jeff hadn’t paid any attention to what Alex wore before, and now he felt guilty he hadn’t complimented her when he could. But who was she supposed to be?

“How appropriate since I am a goddess.” Alex waved one hand to indicate her costume.

“Artemis?” GZ guessed.

Alex rolled her eyes. “Do you see a bow? No, I’m Athena, goddess of wisdom.”

“I don’t see an owl,” Geoffrey teased.

“You never know,” Alex said mysteriously. “By the way, that cat Jeff brought was adorable. He’s yours, isn’t he?”

“He’s part of the family, yes,” GZ replied evasively.

“Mmhmm,” was all Alex said.

Jeff turned his attention to his plate, wolfing down every last bit. Then he licked the plate for good measure before turning back to Alex and GZ. GZ had pushed his plate away, maybe half eaten. Jeff barked. Silly to let good food go to waste.

“You don’t like the food?” Alex asked.

“Oh yes, it’s good. Not very hungry, that’s all.”

“Or maybe it’s because you filled up on caviar and salmon last time you were here?” Alex suggested.

GZ’s mouth dropped open, and Jeff was too stunned to even bark.
** * *
Alex Guarnaschelli had to smile to herself at the two men’s discomfort. She’d figured them out a long time ago, just hadn’t said anything. Let them keep their little secrets. Until now.

“Boys, you can’t kid a kidder,” she said. “I’m on to you, face it.”

“I-I’m not sure what you mean,” the usually suave and collected GZ bluffed… badly.

“Yeah you do,” Alex said. “You know exactly what I mean. GZ, seriously? How long have we known each other? And Jeff, you weren’t hard to figure out either. Your labradoodle is adorable, by the way. Hyper, like you.”  She reached down and patted the dog’s head.

“I have an idea. Let’s go somewhere and celebrate Halloween in our own fashion. Like in those woods.” She pointed to the dark trees that stretched beyond the edge of the property. “Just for a little bit. You know, let it all hang out.”

Geoffrey looked as though he was going to continue to deny what she obviously knew, then gave up the fight. “What do you know about shifters?”

“More than you think.” She glanced around them, but the veranda was still empty, and there was no sign of anyone in that part of the house. “Come on, let’s just do it.”

“Let’s… as in us?” Geoffrey sounded confused.

“Us,” Alex confirmed just before she shifted into a beautiful barn owl. She hooted at them to follow
her and watched as Geoffrey quickly shifted to his cat form. Jeff barked his approval. Then the three friends headed toward the woods and a Halloween they wouldn’t soon forget.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: A GZ and Jeff Halloween: Part I

Good morning and Happy Hump Day! If it's Wednesday, then it must be time for more flash fiction from the Wednesday Briefers! We're a group of authors who bring you our finest flash fiction every week, 500 to 1000 words, inspired by one of our prompts.

Also, Happy Halloween!  In honor of the occasion, I have momentarily set aside my usual flash and I've written a Halloween story. I'm posting part one today, and I'll finish it tomorrow. Hope you enjoy it! This is especially for those people who, like me, enjoy watching the Food Network! See what my favorite chefs are up to! It might surprise you! Then see what the other Briefers have been doing. Their links follow my tale! Enjoy!

A GZ and Jeff Halloween: Part I

Although he’d been skeptical of the idea at first, Geoffrey Zakarian—GZ to his friends and colleagues—had to admit that Jeff Mauro had been right about which costumes they should wear to the Food Network Halloween bash. They’d brought smiles to many faces as they’d made the rounds of their fellow chefs, adoring fans, and network executives.

Of course, no one realized that the Turkish Angora cat Jeff carried was actually the Iron Chef himself.  Although Jeff referred to the cat as GZ, everyone assumed he was making a joke in the absence of the chef. The fact that GZ was a cat shifter was a secret he’d only shared with Jeff, who’d become his best friend after they’d started working together on The Kitchen, back in 2014. Not even GZ’s wife or his children knew that the aristocratic white cat who deigned to grace them with his presence on occasion was their very own Geoffrey/Daddy.

“I like your costume, Mr. Mauro!”  Chef Alton Brown complimented the Sandwich King. “But I’m not sure who you’re supposed to be. Care to enlighten me?”

“Dr. Evil, of course,” Jeff replied. He  placed his little finger  at the corner of his mouth, striking an appropriate pose, then moved his hand down to stroke the white cat in his arms, sinking his fingers into the luxurious fur, as if to make his point. The two chefs stood next to one another in the buffet line, waiting their turn to pick from long tables laden with an assortment of epicurean delights .  Of course the whole night had been dedicated to eating and drinking—that’s what they did. Only the best for these well-trained palates.

“Ah,” Alton said. “I thought maybe you were supposed to be Dr. No. He came first, you know.” He reached over and chucked the cat under the chin, who purred compliantly. GZ was used to being petted. His children loved to pet the white cat they’d nicknamed Prince. And Jeff was prone to do so himself. Sometimes it was nice to curl up in Jeff’s lap, in front of a roaring fire burning in one of his seven fireplaces, and nap, something he had little time for as a chef. The life of an Iron Chef/restaurateur was not easy, and he took his luxuries where he could.

“Yes, I know,” Jeff said, grinning widely. “James Bond is cool and all, but Austin Powers… he’s totally hilarious. You gotta love comedy, right?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t know anything about that.”

The cat lazily raised its head and fixed wide eyes on Alton. GZ wondered how he could say that with a straight face when everyone knew that Alton’s show, Good Eats, contained equal parts information and humor. As did Alton’s stint as moderator on Iron Chef America. The man certainly had a poker face.

Jeff just laughed. When they reached the head of the line, he made sure to acquire the finest of tidbits for his feline companion, including but not limited to Beluga caviar and smoked salmon. Jeff eyed all the delectable comestibles. “Looks like I’ll need both hands,” he commented. GZ knew the drill. He climbed up Jeff and settled around his neck so Jeff could fill two plates.

There was no central location for eating. Guests were free to sit where they could find space. As Jeff looked around for an open spot, GZ heard a familiar voice.

“There’s room over here, Jeff. Why don’t you come and sit by me?”

GZ would have known that voice anywhere. Chef Alex Guarnaschelli was one of his best friends, as well as his fellow judge on Chopped, and at one time she’d once been his sous chef on Iron Chef America. When people asked if they were husband and wife, she liked to joke that she and GZ had been married for all of ten minutes. She was strong and tough and she was an amazing chef. GZ had a great admiration for her, in and out of the kitchen.

“Well, since you asked so nicely, I think I will.” Jeff plopped down into the wing chair beside Alex, setting one plate on the small table between them so he could get settled. GZ clung tightly to Jeff’s neck, lest he fall, momentarily forgetting his claws.

“Ouch!” Jeff reached up and pulled the cat from his perch, settling him on one leg instead, one plate balanced on his other thigh. “Naughty boy, watch out for those things, willya?”

GZ meowed contritely.

“Let me guess, you’re Dr. Evil, right?” Alex said. “And that’s Mr. Bigglesworth? I thought he was bald?”

“The second one was, yeah,” Jeff said. “But this isn’t him, this is GZ. He’s just playing Mr. Bigglesworth tonight.”

Alex laughed. “Why am I not surprised you named the cat after Geoffrey Zakarian? Does he find that as amusing as I do?”

“Even more so, I think.” Jeff smiled. “You want to hold him?”

Not waiting for a response, GZ rose and leaped from Jeff’s lap to Alex’s, careful of Alex’s plate.

“Well, I guess he wants me to hold him whether I want to or not. He’s a smart kitty, isn’t he?”

“You have no idea,” Jeff said enigmatically.

Alex began to stroke along GZ’s back. He relaxed at her touch, purring luxuriantly. “You are a soft fellow, aren’t you? I think GZ has a cat like you. His kids told me about him. They really love him, but he’s wild and he only shows up when he feels like it. You gotta admire someone like that, you know?”

GZ purred again, the only response he could make under the circumstances.

“Let me guess, that plate’s his?” Alex motioned toward the food on the table.

“How could you tell? It’s the kitty seafood special. He loves the stuff. Especially the caviar. Feel free to feed him, if you like.”

“He’s got the same rich taste as his owner.” Alex snorted.

to be continued

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