Friday, September 25, 2020

Mareka Paints Her Masterpiece

This is chapter 40 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK
Friday morning, September 25th, 2020

“OK everybody, we’re going to do painting this morning,” said Jo to Benny, Sara, Jack, and Mareka, the four students in her little home-school class, “We’ll be using water colors so… everybody go to the sink and put some water in their can, fill it about half-full.”

In the bathroom adjacent to the mudroom that opened into the garage there was a sink where the children lined up to get their water. Jo mused on the scene—that these 7-year-olds could peaceably engage in a cooperative action, without supervision, without a pecking order, each child from a different ethic background, without societal taboos—yet.

But… they’re just kids,” she thought, ”In ten years, who knows what they’ll be thinking?

“Everybody set? Good. Today you are going to paint a picture of one of your favorite things, it can be anything, just paint something that you really like.”

“I like my cat,” said Jack.

“I’m going to paint a picture of my Xbox,” said Benny.

“My Teddy,” said Sara.

“Those are all good things,” said Jo, “How about you, Mareka?”

“I'll show you when its done,” said Mareka, “You’ll know what it is.”

As the children began to paint Jo took the free time to check her phone. The most recent message was from Artie Shapiro, her late mother’s lawyer:

Re: John Stroud - CALL ME ASAP!

Jo called Mary.

“Hey, sup?” said Mary. Mary was in her office, working on some marketing details for the upcoming relaunch of Hilmar’s Spells App. Hilmar had noticed an uptick in interest as the Covid crisis wore on and he thought it would be a good idea to reconfigure the app. He also needed the money, his regular tourist guide business had collapsed after the lock-down in March.

“Sorry to bother you,” said Jo, “But could you take over the class for a bit, I’ve got an important message from my mother’s lawyer, he wouldn’t have done that unless it was really important. They are painting their ‘favorite things’, see if you can guess what they painted.”

“No prob, be right over.”



Sean was buying groceries at the neighborhood QSC. As he went through the store he thought about the perks of living in the Northgate district of Seattle. The ease of shopping for food and other necessities while still living in a quiet residential area had been an intangible asset when he and Mary were looking for a place to live, but after a few months here it it was obvious that many other people thought the same, the opening of the light rail station in Northgate next year would really drive real estate prices up. They had already received offers for well above what they had paid for it two months ago.

How did I become such a mercenary capitalist?” he thought, “I’m becoming a…

Sean’s train of thought was interrupted by the sound of a woman’s voice.

“Excuse me, Mr. Carroll,” said the woman, “I wonder if I could have a word with you?”

The woman’s mask didn’t hide her identity—it was Barbara Merrit.

“Six feet apart, of course,” said Barbara.

“I’m ready to check out,” said Sean, warily, “You can talk to me on the way to the car.”

Sean thought that if he was able to converse with her she might see his side of things, at least a little bit. He paid for his groceries and Barbara met him outside the store”s door.

“What can I do for you?“ asked Sean, “I’m willing to talk about anything I can say for certain. I’m not your enemy, you know.”

“I’m beginning to see that,” said Barbara, ”I had a little run-in with some of the same people that you were involved with in the ‘Billygate’ affair.”

“You’ve spoken with Agent Marchan?”

“He saved my life,” said Barbara, ”I would have died in the attack by the ‘foreign agent. He had an inhaler of poison gas. Agent Marchan said it was the same kind that Jo’s attacker had, and what Reverend Stevenson died from.”

“O.K. I’m convinced of your story,” said Sean, as he began to put the groceries in the car, “The existence of the inhalers has never been released to the press. You were very lucky. Sally O’Donnell wasn’t so lucky. Are you still going to write your book?”

“I-I-I don’t think so, at least not the exposé I was planning. I guess I was wrong about a lot of things.”

"We all make mistakes," said Sean, “The only reason I’m still alive to talk with you has been dumb luck.”

“What are you going to do now?” said Barbara.

“My life is pretty simple now,” said Sean, “I’m a family man, my wife and my children come first. Professionally, I’ve been promoting my grandmother’s art. My cloak and dagger days are over.”

“Can I ask you one question, for a friend?”

“You can ask.”

“What was the story with that woman that seduced Marcel DuPage?”

"You might say that it was some role-playing that got a little out of hand,” said Sean, “She was a professional… an escort, putting it politely. And, as she was a professional, I will honor her privacy. Now, let me ask you a question. Is there anything I can do to put your mind at ease concerning the death of your brother? I assure you we had nothing to do with it. We are not involved in any conspiracy about anything.”

Barbara Merrit said nothing. After waiting a bit for an answer, Sean got into his car and drove away.



Jo was on the phone with her mother’s lawyer:

"What is it Artie?”

“Jo, I want you to know that I’ve gotten a report on John Stroud, your ex. I still get updates from the Spokane PD whenever they concern the restraining order that your mother had on him. It seems as if he’s really done it this time. A couple of his druggie pals overdosed on some supposed heroin that he furnished them. That is really not the news I’m calling about, however. It seems that Mr. Stroud is heading to Seattle, I don’t know if he knows you are there, but please be careful.”

“Thanks, Artie,” said Jo, “I’m pretty much stuck at home for the duration, I’m home-schooling some of the neighbor kids, I takes up a lot of my time.”



“Is everybody finished?” said Mareka to the school children, “Let guess what it is that you’ve painted.”

The children posed proudly next to their creations.

“So, Benny, that’s a video game console?” asked Mary.

“Yep. It’s my most favorite thing in the whole world.”

“An Sara, that’s a bear, right? A real bear or a stuffed one?”

“Its a stuffed one, but its real, too.” said the girl.

“That’s your cat, isn’t it Jack?”

“My favorite thing, and he likes me, too.”

Mary looked at Mareka’s painting for a long time. It was a field of abstract orange blobs, nicely done but still abstract enough to make it hard to figure out.

“I give up… ”

Mareka smiled and said:

“TATER TOTS!”



Next Chapter: Ain’t No Sunshine

By Professor Batty


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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Mist

A Thriller
by Ragnar Jónasson


Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb

Minotaur Books, 2020

Another in the Hulda Hermansdóttir series, this book takes place at various locations in Iceland in the late 1980s. There are three parallel stories going on here: Hulda and her relationship to her daughter and husband, a double missing persons case and a horrific crime scene on a remote farm in the east of Iceland. Ragnar has a laconic writing style, suitable for this kind of story.

This is an Iceland of the pre-boom years and Ragnar does a good job of portraying just how grim Iceland was in those days. It is also a very dark story—don’t expect any uplift at the end.

A good choice for fans of Ragnar, it might not appeal to the general reader, it gets an automatic thumbs-up from me because it references Halldór Laxness’ Salka Valka!

By Professor Batty


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Monday, September 21, 2020

Poppy’s Return

My favorite Reykjavík Grapevine presenter has turned up in a new YouTube video:



Evidently shot last summer, the fearless Poppy Askham and her intrepid cameraman Art Bicnick explore Glymur, the notable Icelandic waterfall.

Not for acrophobics!

Be sure to stick with it until the very end.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 4 




Friday, September 18, 2020

Fire on the Mountain

This is chapter 39 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Friday Morning, September 18, 2020

Mary woke with a start.

She had been dreaming that Mareka was in a forest that was burning. The fire had surrounded Mareka and tendrils of flame were licking at her clothing. As Mary shook off her cobwebs she realized that Mareka was calling her. Mary got up and went to her daughter’s room where Mareka was calling out for her in her sleep. Mary put her hand on the child’s forehead and spoke to her in a soothing voice.

“I’m here, baby girl,” Mary said, “Wake up honey, it was just a dream.”

Mareka slowly awoke. She was breathing heavily and restlessly turned from side to side.

“Oh mother, everything was on fire, I could hear the animals screaming, it was awful.”

"I had bad dreams too, dreams of fire. The smoke in the air is from the fires, to the east of here, and in Oregon and California. A lot of people are having those dreams.”

"When will the smoke go away?” aked Mareka.

“I don’t know, they’ve been saying that it may be tonight, or it may be tomorrow,” Mary said, “Com’on, get dressed, we’ll have some breakfast before school starts.”

When they got to the kitchen, Jo was already there.

“You guys didn’t sleep so well, did you?” said Jo.

“Bad dreams, both of us,” said Mary.

“I heard you talking,” said Jo, “So I thought I’d make you some blueberry pancakes. They’ll erase any bad dreams you may have.”

“Yum,” said Mareka, “My favorite.”

“What’s today’s lesson?” said Mary, “Are you ready for it, Mareka?”

“Numbers and adding,” said Mareka, “I’m ready, but I don’t know about Benny. He isn’t so good with numbers.”

“He’ll get it,” said Jo, “He’s just a bit of a dreamer, too.”



Barbara Merrit was meeting with Marcel DuPage for the first time since they had gone to the Khorosho Tavern. They were in the Olympic Sculpture Park, wandering in Wake, the huge Richard Serra sculpture.

“So, you were telling me over the phone that you had a little action the other day?” said Marcel, “I assume that’s why we’re here, playing a game of cloak and dagger.”

“It’s no game, I nearly met my maker when I was walking my dog," she replied, “My dog wasn’t so lucky.”

“Someone killed your dog?”

“I was next, but an FBI agent intervened.”

“So who was it?” asked Marcel, “And why did he pick you?”

Barbara Merrit paused to choose her words carefully.

“Evidently, when you and I were poking around above the that tavern, we had stumbled across what the agent said was a “sleeper cell” of foreign agents. He would say what country they were from but I think you can figure it out.”

“And now we’re both in danger?”

“Maybe, maybe not,” said Barbara, “The cell has cleared out. Whether they will be any further action against us remains to be seen, or so says the FBI.”

“What happened to the man who attacked you?”

“He was shot and killed, but there was no mention of it in the news. The agent told me that ‘I should forget about it.’ Evidently they have ways of disposing unsavory characters. He also said that if I continued my investigations that I might be the one being disposed of.”

“You could stay with me, if it would make you feel safer,” said Marcel.

Barbara Merrit laughed.



Mareka and Jo were sitting on the front porch, waiting for the other children to arrive at their little ‘homeschool.’ The sun, glowing through the smoke, was surrounded by blood-red skies.

“Is this how the world will end, Jo?” said Mareka.

“No… look! Here come Benny and Jack,” said Jo, “And that’s Sara coming up the hill with her parents. This is the way the world, your world, begins… with math!”

The children filed into the garage/classroom to begin their school day. Sean and Mary were in the kitchen discussing the publication of the new book of the art of Sean’s grandmother Emily.

“Well, it’s pretty obvious that Mareka’s commentaries are the best choice for the text, even if they have been channeled through her from Emily herself,” said Sean, “Have you gotten any further communication from Emily?”

“No, nothing at all,” said Mary, “When she was with us, Emily said she wanted to see her great-granddaughter, I guess this is the way she’s doing it. How can we justify putting what a seven-year-old said into an art book?”

“We could just say ‘Text by M. Robinson’ which wouldn’t be untrue.”

“I can see that coming back to bite us, but it’s probably the most workable solution,” said Mary, “Have you heard from the printer about the feasibility of doing a print-on-demand of the individual works?”

“He didn’t think it would be a problem, once the initial scans have been done. He’s going to have a test print and a breakdown of the costs for us next week, if we don’t all perish from the smoke by then.”

“Is it just me, or has it suddenly gotten brighter outside? The wind might finally be shifting.”

They went out in the backyard and could see a definite clearing of the air.

“Maybe this is an omen,” said Mary, “Maybe things are going to start looking up.”

“It’s been a hell of a year so far,” said Sean, “We could use a glimpse of heaven.”



Next chapter: Mareka Paints Her Masterpiece

By Professor Batty


Comments: 0 




Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Red Wing Spongeware



Now that the thrift stores have been reopened, I can get my weekly fix of low-budget collectables.

These days, my interests are in hand-made pottery pieces—sometimes arty, sometimes what might be generously called “plebeian.” The bowl shown above was hiding among the usual tacky modern Chinese vases in a nearby Goodwill. Made sometime in the 1920s, it had a advertisement printed under the glaze in the bottom of the bowl:



Herman is a small town in west-central Minnesota, Allen was probably a general store or perhaps a feed mill. Red Wing Pottery was, at one time, the largest pottery in the United States. It lasted nearly one hundred years, but foreign competition and labor problems shut it down in 1967. The name has been resurrected from time to time, but antique shops throughout the upper Midwest are still saturated with the original stuff. The advertising ware is popular with collectors.

One problem with collecting any kind of ceramics (or collecting anything for that matter) is finding a use for it. In this case, the smaller size of the piece made it a perfect place to park my markers and pens:

By Professor Batty


Comments: 2 




Monday, September 14, 2020

Balthazar



The biggest surprise of my summer viewing has been the French crime drama series Balthazar.

The title character is Raphaël Balthazar (Tomer Sisley), a forensic examiner for the Paris police. He works with the Hélène Bach (Hélène de Fougerolles), chief homicide inspector, and a supporting cast of regulars. Each episode features some grisly crime that Balthazar and Hélène solve. This is pretty standard fare, but the twist in this show is that you actually see the corpses being examined and dissected in graphic, close-up detail as  Balthazar quips and flirts with his boss. This show is full of Gallic stereotypes and is definitely not PC. This will be off-putting for some but Tomer is so endearing and surprising that it somehow works. His dialogs with the corpses in his care (and his dead girlfriend) is a great dramatic device that allows him to explore his character in depth. Hélène is a wonderful actor as well and she was familiar to me, I had seen her in an Icelandic film from 2002! The cinematography is excellent and there are a lot of beautiful shots of Paris and the French countryside.

Highly Recommended.

Balthazar is distributed by Acorn, a company that usually handles British dramas. I found it in my library, season two will be available in October or you can stream it.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 6 




Friday, September 11, 2020

Truth and Consequences

This is chapter 38 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK



Friday Evening, September 11, 2020

FBI Agent Marchal was studying surveillance tapes from the Khorosho Tavern.

He had been given them by the Seattle PD’s crime watch task force. The neighbors had been complaining for months about suspicious activity centered around the tavern. The task force convinced the health department to shut the tavern down for Covid violations but the activity had continued so cameras had been installed facing the front and back of the building. What had caught Marchal’s eye was the visit a week earlier by Barbara Merrit and an unknown male. Merrit had been a person of interest concerning her role in the witch riots of the previous summer but until now there hadn’t been a solid link with her and the Russians.

Marchal thought that it was high time that the two of them had a little chat before she found herself in over her head.



Sergey Limonov was sitting in his car, waiting for Barbara Merrit to take her dog for its nightly walk. She lived near the Center for Urban Horticulture, an annex to the University that had garden plots for students and youth groups situated along its paths. Sergey had been instructed to ‘neutralize’ her. Her misguided efforts in trying to find some covert plot by Sean and Mary were getting to close to the cell that Sergey was working in. As a hit, Barbara posed no problem to Sergey, with the possible exception of her dog. Animals were always an unknown factor in any situation like this, their reactions could be unpredictable. He had a poison-dart gun for the dog. For Barbara, he had the inhaler.

He had been tracking her movements for several days now; her ritual with the dog was the one constant. Sunset was at 7:30 tonight—just about the same time that Barbara and her dog would be in the most remote part of the park. The smoke from nearby forest fires would also help to ensure that no one would see him. There was a crude solar green house there that evidently had not been used this year. He had removed its padlock and replaced it with one of his own. It would be a perfect place to ditch her body. He had prepared a shallow grave and there was already a pile of mulch in the structure. With any luck her body might not be discovered until spring—when he would be lying on the beach in Sochi.

Sergey saw Barbara and her dog cross the street and enter the park complex. He waited a couple of minutes, and then left his car and entered the park from a different entrance.



Sean was reading to Mareka from a book of Icelandic folk tales.

“… And so ends the story of Thorgeir's Bull,” said Sean, “And now time to go to sleep.”

“Aw. gee, Pops,” said Mareka, “Just one more?”

The ‘just one more game’ was a thing Mareka had done many times with her father. Her request nudged Sean’s consciousness into a different plane. He knew that there wouldn’t be many more of these sessions, Mareka was already reading well past her age group; she wouldn’t be a ‘little kid’ very much longer and this routine was one of the last remnants of her early years.

“Pops? Anybody there?” queried the girl after Sean failed to answer.

“I’m sorry honey. I was thinking about Iceland, about Villí and his mother, about how much we miss all of them.”

“We’ll go back there soon, won’t we?”

“Not for a while. They’ve put new Covid restrictions in place again. Maybe next summer.”

“I miss them too. And Uncle Hilmar. He tells the best stories.”

“We’ll be talking to them Sunday,” said Sean, “Now have a good sleep.”

“Are you crying, Pops?”

“It’s just the smoke. Smoke gets in my eyes.”



Barbara Merrit tugged at her dog’s leash.

“Com’on Slow-Poke,” she said. She wasn’t usually this impatient for although it was a warm evening and she looked forward to these nightly walks with her dog the smoke from nearby foest fires was starting to get uncomfortably dense. Since the Covid crisis hit, the Urban Horticulture Center grounds were generally empty and it was, for Seattle at least, a relatively quiet area. She was thinking about the over-all thrust of her book about Mary, Sean and Jo. She knew that she had harbored a resentment against them for a variety of reasons: they were successful, Sean and Mary had a daughter, they had a nanny, and, most importantly, they were a real family of sorts. A family was a thing that, since her brother died, she didn’t have.

And what did she have? A deaf old dog, a weird old man who wanted to fuck her, and a book that nobody wanted to read. Her agent had returned her sample chapters and outline, with a note saying that ‘The material in this book is not of sufficient interest to warrant further promotion.’ “Maybe they’re right,” she thought. Suddenly, the dog’s leash went slack. She turned around and saw her dog lying still on the ground. A man, holding a strange gun-like device, was standing over Slow-Poke.

Barbara screamed.

The man put the weapon in a pocket in his cargo pants and began calmly began walking toward her, holding what appeared to be an asthma inhaler in his other hand. Barbara turned to run, but he had already grabbed her shoulder and began pulling her toward him. As he lifted the inhaler to her mouth, a shot rang out and the left side of the man’s head exploded as he collapsed.

“Are you OK?”

Another man, this one wearing a badge on a lanyard that hung from his neck, stepped out of the smoky shadows of a nearby hedge. He pulled out his phone and barked some orders into it.

“Special Agent Marchal, FBI,” he continued, “Sorry about your dog, I was too late to save him.”

“What happened?” asked a visibly shaken Barbara, “Who is that man? And why did he kill my dog?”

A half-dozen men dressed in black converged on the scene.

”I think you had better come with me,” said Marchal, “We’ll discuss this downtown. One of my men will take care of your dog.”




Next Chapter: Fire on The Mountain

By Professor Batty


Comments: 2