Saturday, May 30, 2020

Heroes and Villains

Minneapolis, May 29. The Schooner Tavern is the building in the background with sign on top, damaged but still standing.

The recent protests in Minneapolis and neighboring communities were triggered by the police murder of an unarmed man, caught on video. That incident is not what this post is about, there are far better voices to be heard on that subject than that of a fictional professor.

The rioting, while related, is another problem altogether. Recent evidence indicates that organized provocateurs from out-of-state are behind much of the mayhem, particularly the arson and destruction. Some of the perps (seen at right) have been caught on camera and they sure weren’t protesting George Floyd´s murder. Much of anarchy is aimed at black businesses and all of it aimed at black neighborhoods. Most of the Twin Cities area is under curfew, the National Guard has been mobilized to prevent and recurrences of the previous three days.

If there are any heroes in this tragedy they have yet to emerge. The villains are easy to spot, with Donald J. Trump the foremost. Donald Trump’s incendiary Twitter feed has been blocked by Twitter for violating its standards. His devoted lackeys (most of the Republican Party) can all take credit as enablers. A more subtle villain, however is the duplicitous head of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. He has, from its very inception, used Facebook as a tool to pander to the basest emotions, enabling sociopaths to thrive while destroying lives of innocent people. Note Zuckerberg’s recent refusal to reign in Trump’s lying:
“We’ve been pretty clear on our policy that we think that it wouldn’t be right for us to do fact checks for politicians,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “I think in general, private companies probably shouldn’t be — or especially these platform companies — shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”
It is in complete contrast to his recent (October 2019) sworn testimony to congress:
“If anyone, including a politician, is saying things that can cause, that is calling for violence or could risk imminent physical harm — or voter or census suppression, when we roll out the census suppression policy — we will take that content down.”

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Friday, May 29, 2020

Lawn Order

This is Chapter 23 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Monday Morning, July 20th, 2020, Seattle

“I’ll be out back, mom,” said Mareka, hopping down from the kitchen stool where she had been eating breakfast.

“Put a hat on,” said Mary, “Your natural tan won’t protect you completely.”

In the backyard, Mareka was eager to try a ‘power’ that had been revealed to her in her dreams the night before. She found a perch on the large boulder that defined one border of the yard and began to look at the grass in a new way. As she concentrated on the lawn patterns began to form. Stripes appeared, then a checkerboard motif emerged. The grid was subtle, so subtle that a causal observer might not have noticed it. Mareka laughed when she saw the grass responding to her mental gymnastics.

“Nice trick!” said Mary as she walked out onto the patio, “Can you mow the grass as well?”

“I will do no harm with my powers,” said the girl, “Do you know when Jo will be back?” The pattern in the lawn dissipated, then a giant question mark formed in the grass.

“She said she would probably be back sometime tonight,” said Mary, “I expect that she will text me today, probably when she’s ready to leave.”

“I’m going to miss her when I go to school.”

“You will still see plenty of her, but you’ll have new friends, kids your age, you’ll be busy learning things, things that the powers won’t help you with. Like math.”

“Math, huh?” Mareka grinned as the pattern in the grass showed 2+2=4.

“Ha ha, that grass trick is one that you had better keep under your hat,” said Mary as she tugged the nón lá that Mareka was wearing, “Anything that magical will scare people.”

The letters O and K appeared in the lawn.

Monday Morning, July 20th, 2020, Spokane

At the lawyer’s office in Spokane Jo presented her ID to the receptionist who was seated behind a plexiglass barrier.

“When the papers are ready for you to sign, you can go through the door to the right. It is a room that has been sanitized, as well as the papers and pens that are in it,” said the woman behind the desk, “Artie will be there—virtually—on a screen, he will be able to see you and guide you through the forms you need to sign.”

The lobby reeked of disinfectant.

My signature cologne,” thought Jo as she sniffed the office’s air through her mask, the day spent cleaning her mother’s house fresh in her mind, “It isn’t exactly White Shoulders but I’m not in the market for romance right now.”

Jo thought of her life since leaving Spokane. She was 35 and single. Mary and Sean were fine people and Jo had drifted into the the role of a go-between: planning their schedules and, after taking some business accounting classes, overlooking their finances. Mareka was the exception, of course. Jo had spent a lot of time with her, in a real sense Jo had become a member of the family. With Sean away from home so much during his promotion of his grandmother’s art, and Mary involved with her ‘Magick’ apps, Jo became a big sister to the girl, or perhaps the youthful aunt featured in so many YA novels. Despite all this history, everything changed overnight with the lock-down imposed in reaction to the spread of covid-19. Sean’s grandmother’s art was no longer being shown and interest in Mary’s supernatural app became another casualty of the pandemic. Magick was no match for a virus. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, Jo’s social life, which had been pretty minimal before social distancing, was now non-existent. Mareka would be going to school, at least in some way, in the fall.

“Now what am I going to do with the rest of my life?”
she thought.

“The papers are ready for you,” said the receptionist, “and please use the hand sanitizer before entering the signing room.”

Jo did as she was told and entered the ‘signing room’, obviously a remodeled cloak room. There was a desk with the papers and a monitor.

“Hello again, Ms Sanford, please excuse the technology” said Arthur ‘Artie’ Shapiro, pictured on the monitor, ”I’m sorry for your loss, your mother was a fine woman. Did you get to say goodbye?”

“No, I was a day late,” said Jo, “But I did get to talk to her on the phone the day before.”

“Yes, that is common now.” said Artie, “As to the papers, they are what we discussed on over the phone on Saturday, you can read through each article if you like, you will see an arrow next to each place you need to sign.”

“Thank you, Mr. Shapiro,’ said Jo, “I’m sure they are in order.”

After Jo was finished signing, Artie spoke:

“Are you aware that you are trending today?”

“What are you talking about?”

“It may be nothing, its just a Twitter thing, but you should check it out,” he continued, “Do you have a lawyer in Seattle?“

“Not personally,” replied Jo, “But the firm I work for has excellent representation.”

“There is also the matter of your ex, Mr. Stroud,” said Artie, “He is a fugitive from justice, wanted in connection with a drug-deal gone bad. If he tries to contact you call the police immediately, He’s killed before.”

And so have I,” thought Jo, “Thanks for the warning, Artie.”

Next Chapter: Tweet Storm

By Professor Batty

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

New Dreams

An album by JFDR

After three years of waiting for its release and then nine weeks more  (it was held in quarantine by The Royal Mail!) my copy of this CD has finally arrived at Flippist World Headquarters. It is a fine effort and, unlike some of her recent work, the lyrics are intelligible (mostly).

Jófríður Ákadóttir has been one of my favorite Icelandic singer/songwriters for over ten years. With a body of work that belies her young age of 25, she has released three full-length albums with Pascal Pinon, four with Samaris, as well as numerous one-off collaborations with a wide variety of artists from all over the world. Her breathy soprano is an acquired taste, as is her unique phrasing, dropped words, singing against the beat and moody chord changes. In this album she fearlessly plays around with the building blocks of production: compression, gating, echoes and other standard studio tools. This album definitely has most distinctive audio footprint. The lyrics, as is her wont, are concerned with exploring her maturity in relationships and dealing with personal growth. Some of the strongest tracks (My Work, Gravity, Dive In) have been released before in different forms but are a perfect fit here; the New Dreams version of My Work is stunning. Most of the tracks do have a some ‘frosting’ on them—(there are over twenty musicians and production assistants listed on the jacket!) but some are quite spare—whatever works, I guess.

All in all, it was worth the wait. New Dreams is another step forward for this musical pioneer.

UPDATE: New Dreams has won the Reykjavík Grapevine “Best Album of 2020” award!

Image: Anna Maggý

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, May 25, 2020

No Fair!

Again, it was just a matter of when, not if.

In another Covid-19 casualty, The 2020 Minnesota State Fair has been cancelled. The last time that had happened was during the 1946 polio epidemic. FITK has featured it many times but its coverage this year will have to be virual.

The Fine Arts Exhibit may still be held on-line as suggested by the notice I got from the Fine Arts Committee:
We are exploring options on how we might still be able to showcase the work of the incredible artists that we are so fortunate to have in our great state.”

So there is at least a glimmer of hope.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 4 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Needle Park

This is Chapter 22 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Sunday Evening, July 19, 2020, Spokane

Jo Sanford had spent the day with a mask and gloves and a can of Lysol as she sorted through her late mother’s effects. The cleaning company that she had contracted to remove the furniture and household items told her to take any personal things she wanted, bag the clothing, but leave the bed and bedding alone; they had a special procedure for dealing with those items.  Jo had boxed up the business and legal papers—the documentation of her mother’s entire life—in a single legal box. In the box of her things which she did was a small album simply labelled ‘Jo’—containing photos of her childhood and teen years. Jo stopped her sorting for a minute and paged through the photos. The pictures of her as an infant were more telling for the glimpses of her mother, when her mother seemed happier than Jo ever remembered, smiling at the camera, at her father. Jo’s father left when Jo was six, and the pictures became fewer and blurrier. Just pictures of Jo, her mother had a little 110 camera and she took one roll a year, marking Easter, Jo’s birthday, Halloween and Christmas.  As Jo looked at her younger self she was struck by how solemn she appeared. Her mother had already begun her slide into an alcohol-fueled depression. Jo remembered that these photo sessions were always a trial, mostly  because of her mother’s comments on her appearance. These photo sessions ended in a meltdown on her thirteenth birthday, when no amount of makeup could cover Jo’s acne. The only pictures after that in the album were the occasional odd snaps that Jo had received from her friends, and some of those some were early inkjet prints that had faded badly.

The last image in it was of Jo on her wedding day, alone, without John, her new husband. The only trace of him that Jo found in her mother’s effects was the restraining order that Jo had obtained against him after the second-to-last beating Jo had received at his hands. After the last beating, Jo had hitch-hiked to Seattle, hooking up with Mary and Sean. Jo wondered where her ex was. A couple of years earlier she had heard that he was an addict and homeless. Jo had no desire for a reunion.

After returning to the Tiki Lodge, Jo parked and got out of the car. She heard a sharp snap as she stepped onto the crumbling surface of the parking lot and, looking down, she saw the broken syringe that she had just stepped on. She thought about checking out of the motel, but she decided against it, she reasoned nobody would suspect that she was here and the denizens of the ‘needle park’ huddled at the far end of the lot had showed no interest in her. In the morning, she would drop off the necessary papers with her mother’s lawyer and return to Seattle. She felt as safe here as anywhere. She did, however, wedge the room’s only chair in the entryway of her room before she went to bed—no one would get in that way unless they had a battering ram.

Sunday Evening, July 19, 2020, Seattle

Mary had just put Mareka to bed and then joined Sean on the patio for a nightcap.

“What’s your poison?” she said.

“Fizz water,” replied Sean, “I’m thinking of giving up alcohol. Things are depressing enough as it is.”

“Hmm… I’ll admit that the last four months haven’t been exactly peachy, but I’m not giving in to despair yet. I’m going to have a Scotch,” said Mary, “I’ve talked some of our old ADR crew yesterday… about that preacher in Arizona. They have some leads and found out that there is also someone—not a real reporter—doing research on us and the events eight years ago.  Her name is Barbara Merrit, and she is the sister of one of the techcreeper reporters who died in a car crash on the night Mareka was born. She’s been trying to interview people who were around us then. The ADR guys kept mum, but they had started a file on her, even before I asked. She has also been in touch with that preacher, they’ve already intercepted and read the emails she sent to him. She seems fascinated with Jo.”

“With Jo.”

“Yeah. Apparently she has pictures of you and her that her brother had taken eight years ago when he was covering us. She was also taking pictures at the riot. One of the guys thinks that she has concocted some conspiracy theory, a theory that the three of us planned the deaths of several people: Billy, the Russian who attacked Jo, John Regelind III and the brotherhood, even Sally O'Donnell. And she even thinks we killed her brother.”

Barbara Merrit had spent the day analyzing the images her brother had taken at the Halloween party in Carkeek park almost eight years earlier. The woman who Marcel DuPage had insisted was Emily Carroll, Sean’s grandmother and the painter who went missing in 1946. Barbara could see the resemblance, but couldn’t accept the fact that if it was true, Emily would have been well over 100 years old. The images were, for the most part, dark but, with a little tweaking, she could make out at least the shape of most of the people in them. The first image of the sequence was Sean and Mary leaving their car with the woman who resembled Emily. The death head figure that Marcel had shown her was the last picture that had Emily in it. There were more of Sean and Mary—evidently her brother hadn’t thought that any of the others in attendance were important. The last picture showed Sean and Mary getting in their car, without the older woman.

“I’m missing something here,” thought Barbara, “Maybe this ‘Emily’ is yet another victim of Sean and Mary. And who knows who, or what, that skull-creature is?”

Next Chapter: Lawn Order

By Professor Batty

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Viral Sharon

Sharon makes an unsettling discovery as she searches for the Covid-19 cure…

Sharon Spotbottom character Copyright Karen Heathwood, 2008.
Used by permission.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, May 15, 2020

So Far Away

This is Chapter 21 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Sunday Morning, July 19, 2020, Seattle


Vilhjalmur’s cry when the FaceTime link was established was like a dagger plunged in the heart of Sean. The only regret Sean had about fathering the boy was that he couldn’t be with him enough. Now, with the Covid-19 restrictions on travel, he missed him more than ever. It had been a year since he had been in Iceland to be with him, and it looked as if it might be another year, or longer, until he could return. There were ways to get into Iceland but none that didn’t involve days of quarantine and/or flights from outside the US, all direct flights from Seattle were canceled and the ones out of Boston were few. Mareka also missed her half-brother, they were very close when little and still had a special bond. Sean knew that it would be even harder to arrange a flight for a child.

“Hæ,hæ. Villí,” said Sean, trying to be as composed as possible, “What’s new?”

“Oh Pabbí, I swam two laps in my swimming lessons! I’m learning about big cats in school, and I am going to sing með tvö stelpur at Fríkirkjan next month.”

Villí’s mix of Icelandic and English meant that Sean always kept his laptop open to a translation page whenever he FaceTimed on his iPad with his son.

“With two girls! Oh how I wish I could be there,” said Sean, “Þora will do a video, I hope.” Þora was Villí’s mother; she and Sean had gotten together in Reykjavík eleven years earlier, during the ‘Billygate’ affair. After that rocky beginning, Sean and Þora had made the best of the situation and, with the help of Þora’s uncle Hilmar, Sean had done whatever he could to help raise the boy, including living in Iceland for extended periods with Mary and Mareka. Sean and Villí talked for several minutes, with Villí showing his father his latest artwork. “Would you like to talk to your sister?” asked Sean before he handed the iPad to Mareka.

“Já, hæ hæ Mareka,” said the boy, “How are you doing?”

After that ‘formal’ greeting, the two children were off on an extended conversation, Mareka telling her brother all about her adventures of the previous two weeks, with special attention to ‘Ms Bright Eyes’, the backyard raccoon. Villí had some trouble figuring out exactly what a raccoon was, and why there was a wild animal living in her yard. The talking part didn’t seem to bother him. When the two had finished talking, Sean asked to talk to Þora before they disconnected. When Þora came on the screen Sean was shocked at her appearance. She looked as if he had been crying. He knew that the Covid crisis had been hard on her—she had lost her job in the tourist industry-literally overnight. Some tourists were now starting to come again, mostly from the Schengen Area, but the number was only a small fraction of previous years.

“Hello, Þora,” said Sean.

“Hæ.” Þora’s voice was quiet, restrained.

“Email me, tell me everything that is going on,” said Sean, “You know that I will do anything I can, anything in my power for you and Villí.”

“Já, I will. I feel like I’m loosing the thread sometimes,” she said, “We miss you and Mareka, and Mary, she is like a sister to me.”

“We’ll continue to monitor the travel situation, a lot depends on how big the Covid rebound is. We’d love to come, or have you come here, we have a lot of room in the new house.”

“Takk, I will write, goodbye,” said Þora, disconnecting.

Seattle’s TV station KWAH had seen better days. William Preston, its news director, had felt somewhat put upon by staffing cuts and he resented having to do grunt-work, things that used to be handled by flunkies and interns. That was why he had spent Saturday in the station looking at footage from the ‘witch riot.’ He had found Jo Sanford in his search but she was only in the background and, toward the end, standing on the bench of a bus stop across the street. He didn’t have any footage with Sean or Mary in it. A dead end or, what was more likely, a diversion and irrelevant to any real story. Preston couldn’t care less that Sean had been two-timing Mary, but he could make stretch the story to fill a couple of minutes on Monday’s newscast. Nobody had seen Mary or Mareka in Seattle after their return, and the only sighting of Sean and Jo was at the riot, no one had seen either of them since.

The story wasn’t dead yet.

Sunday Afternoon, July 19, 2020, Seattle

Barbara Merrit, against her better judgement, had agreed to meet Marcel DuPage again. She sensed that he had always been a ladies man, and that he had more than an idle interest in her. Seven years ago, when he met the mystery woman who had been to a dance with Sean and Mary, he may have been appealing, but now that he was older he was just creepy. Still, he had been the perfect gentleman and he just might know more about Sean and Mary than he was letting on. She had been waiting at the Paccar Pavilion in the Olympic Sculpture Park. He was late and Barbara got the impression that he liked to make a dramatic entrance.

“Ciao, bella!” said Marcel, as he breathlessly swept into the empty seat across from Barbara, “A beautiful day and a beautiful woman,” he continued, “I hope my not wearing a mask doesn’t disturb you. At least we are six feet away for each other.”

When they had previously met they were mask-less, at a bench in a nearly empty park, but most of the well-spaced crowd in the Paccar were wearing masks. Barbara took off hers.

“I choose this table because it is the most remote and not near the doors,” she said, “We should be alright. What have you got for me today?”

Marcel may have been six feet distant but Barbara could still smell his cologne. She saw herself becoming attracted to him, in a weird kind of way, before thinking; “He may have gotten involved with someone twice his age, but I’m not going to,” and then she laughed at herself even considering the notion.

“I’ve been looking at those pictures you sent me. There are some of Sean and Mary from Halloween, a few weeks later, it looks like they are in a park at night, there is a bonfire. File names IMG8732 through IMG8802.”

Barbara opened her iPad and found the files. She hadn’t noticed them before, they were available light shots and quite dim.

“File IMG8766,” said Marcel, opening his iPad, “I processed it in Photoshop and brought out some details.”

Marcel had massaged a nearly black image into a clear photo of Mary, Sean and ‘Emily’, Emily in a novelty witch costume. There was another woman in what also appeared to be a witch get-up, but her clothes were old, museum-grade, obviously antique. The face of the woman was still dark, however.

“One more adjustment,” said Marcel as he slid to the next image, “The mystery deepens.”

Marcel had enlarged the mystery woman’s face and done some more processing to bring out the features. It was very grainy, but what it portrayed was unmistakable. It was not a mask, but a real, three dimensional object.

What Marcel had coaxed from the shadows of the murky image was a human skull.

Next Chapter: Needle Park

By Professor Batty

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Mysterious San Francisco Redux

Blood Relations
by Jonathan Moore
Mariner Books 2019

Vanishing in the Haight
by Max Tomlinson
Oceanview Publishing 2019

It has been quite a while since I reviewed any mystery novels set in San Francisco.

The day before the start of the Covd-19 restrictions I had picked up a whole batch of books from my library but I had finally run out of the unread ones. Fortunately, it recently started a curbside pickup service where I could order materials online and pick them up a few days later. I was hungry for some ‘fresh meat’ from the literary butcher-shop AKA The San Francisco Mystery Genre.

The first novel I consumed after my hiatus was by an author whom I had previously read—Jonathan Moore. Moore’s work always has modern technological twists in them and Blood Relations is no exception. The somewhat sleazy private investigator Lee Crowe, while working on an unrelated case, comes across the corpse of a beautiful young woman embedded in the roof of a Rolls-Royce in the Tenderloin district of SF. Crowe isn’t above exploiting someone’s personal tragedy to make a few bucks; he takes a picture of the victim and sells it to a tabloid publication. He soon regrets that action when he becomes ensnared in a bizarre plot involving a rich dowager, mistaken identities, a movie star and some gruesome thugs. Written in first-person singular with a linear time-line, it easy to follow the plot. Its San Francisco and California settings are well handled, almost cinematic at times. It has been said that Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest was the first James Bond movie; this book fits perfectly in that genre. Blood Relations is a delicious change of pace—like good gastropub cuisine paired with a fine wine.

The other book I got was Max Tomlinson’s Vanishing in the Haight, a Colleen Hays Mystery. This is the start of a new series featuring a woman who had been recently released from prison (on dubious charges) and who is trying to break into the private investigation racket in San Francisco in 1978. This is a very straightforward and realistic, which is another way of saying dull. All the pieces fit, but the leaden prose and its predictability made Vanishing a bit of a slog for me. Greasy burger, soggy fries served with a flat Coke.

See all the FITK San Francisco posts here.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, May 11, 2020

Littte Richard

In my junior year of high school I met K——, a vivacious and intelligent young woman who has remained a dear friend for more than 50 years. She loved to talk and I loved talking with her. One of our recurring topics was popular music. She brought up Little Richard, and how he really impressed her. I knew who he was, of course, but at that time (1967) he was sort of out of fashion. I had heard the Beatles do his songs (Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey is one of Paul’s finest vocals), in an unabashed emulation of Richard’s style. My friend K—— mentioned that she had a copy of one of his early albums—it was belonged to her older brother—and she graciously lent it to me. My mind was blown. Years later, the band that I did sound for would do some of Little Richard’s hits, they were always a high point of the night.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, May 08, 2020

Social Distance

This is Chapter 20 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Friday evening, July 17, 2020, Phoenix, Arizona

Andrew Stevenson had just put the finishing touches on his latest video, a sermon titled ‘Modern Adultery.’ He had started his missal by giving the back story on Mary Robinson and Sean Carroll then going into detail about Jo Carroll; about her killing of an intruder and her link to Mary and Sean. Stevenson had given a particular emphasis to the line in John 4:18, ’For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband… ’ as he flashed the picture of Jo in the arms of Sean, an image that Barbara Merrit had sent him. Stevenson went on to imply that even if Mary was aware of this little ‘affair’ between Sean and Jo, Jo was no better than the Sumerian harlot that Jesus had spoken with at Jacob’s well. That was all Stevenson needed to prime the pump and the rest of the sermon—equating Seattle with Sodom and Gomorrah—wrote itself. When he was satisfied, Stevenson uploaded the file to his server and then clicked the ‘publish’ button. A notification was immediately sent to almost 100,000 followers as well as a dozen news outlets, including one special email to the newsroom of KWAH, the Seattle TV station that had covered the ‘witch’ riot.

Saturday morning, July 18, 2020, Seattle

Mary Robinson was watching her daughter Mareka eat her granola. It was heavy on honey and fruit but, in Mary’s judgement, it could have been worse—the only breakfast fruit Mary had eaten when growing up was spelled ‘Froot.’ Her phone chimed so she opened it to read her notifications. An email from Jo topped the list:
Hi mary m in spokane.
Got here too late to say goodbye to mom.
Some stuff i need to do probably b back monday pm.
C u then
Mary went on to the next one. It was from a media watch service that she and Sean had subscribed to. It gave regular updates on any mention of Sean or Mary that it found in various media. As she read it she gave a sigh of resignation: “What’s next?” she muttered to herself and began to read:
Notice of Activity: 22:30_17_Jul _2020:  subject(s) mentioned in closed captioned YouTube Video "Modern Adultery": https://astevenson/
Mary took the phone outside and clicked on the link. It was the same sketchy preacher who had helped instigate the previous week’s riot. She scanned the video at double speed with the closed captioning on, stopping only when she saw the picture of Sean and Jo embracing.

I’ll have to talk to Sean about proper ‘social distancing’,” Mary thought, smiling.

Saturday morning, July 18, 2020, Spokane, Washington

Jo woke up in a cold sweat.

She had booked a room in The Tiki Lodge motel—trendy when it had opened in the 1960s—was now but a shadow of its former glory. The trains passing nearby woke her several times during the night and, when she did manage to drop off to sleep in the early morning, her dreams were colored with an air of menace—always culminating in a replay of the night she shot and killed the Russian intruder in Seattle eight years ago. That event was in steady rotation on her ‘dream-playlist’, along with beatings from her ex. She had taken the room to get out of her Mother’s house, and all the baggage that came with it. She was staying in Spokane because she had to sign some papers at the lawyers Monday morning before she could return to Seattle. When she had been a teenager The Tiki Lodge seemed exotic. Now the parking lot of the motel had been a human zoo when she checked in: obvious drug dealing, apparent prostitution, signs of drinking and general air of vagrancy. Social distancing did not seem to be a concern here. She became aware of the weight of her mother’s gun in her purse. After she had checked in and gone to her room she took it out and placed it alongside of the sink as she undressed to take a shower.

You can go back home again, just not all the way,” she thought as she pretended not to notice the cockroach that scurried along the floor of the shower stall, “I’m never coming back to Spokane again, ever.

Saturday Morning, July 18, 2020, Seattle

William Preston, the news director of Seattle’s TV station KWAH, was trying to make some sense of the email that he had received from Andrew Stevenson, the tele-evangelist from Arizona. Preston was checking his computer at breakfast to see if there was anything that he needed to go into work for. At first glance The video linked in the email seemed to be about the morality of adultery, but when the Pastor mentioned Sean Carroll and Mary Robinson in the email, he read further. It seemed that the preacher had found some connection between Sean and a ‘mystery woman’, and included an image obviously taken at the ‘witch riot’ of the previous week. The preacher named the woman as Jo Sanford, a name which rang a bell in Preston’s memory but, for some reason, he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He did a quick search for ‘Jo Sanford Seattle’; her name came up in a news report about the killing of an intruder eight years ago, but he didn’t get any hits with an image search. “The news video of the riot might have a better image of her,” he thought.

He would be spending Saturday morning at the station.

Sean had a sick feeling as he watch the preacher’s video.

“This is not a good thing,” he said to Mary, “Someone’s trailing us again.”

“I’ve already put the lawyers on it,” said Mary, “And I think I’ll talk to some of our old ADR crew, they can get the lowdown on these characters.” Applied Diffusion Research was the industrial security/espionage firm that Mary had founded and had been purchased by Amasales, a giant internet retailer. Many of the ‘crew’ had, over the last eight years, gradually left the firm and had regrouped into a smaller business—‘Baby ADR’ as they called it. “This is definitely one of those occasions when the best defense is a good offense,” she said.

Saturday Afternoon, July 18, 2020, Reykjavík, Iceland

Vilhjálmur Stefán, Þora Sigmundsdóttir and Sean’s son, was in Reyjavík with his mother, in the children’s play area at the Vestubaerjarlaug swimming pool.

“I miss pabbi Sean,” said Villí, out of the blue, “And Mareka, when can I see them again?”

“You’ll see them tomorrow, on FaceTime,” said Þora, “Like we do every sunnudagur.”

“We didn’t see them last week!”

“They were busy, moving to a new house.”

“They are too busy, they don’t like me,” said Villí, with a quaver in his voice.

“That’s not so, they love you very much. When travel restrictions are over you and I will go to Seattle and see them in person.”


“Really,” said Þora, as she brushed some wayward hair out of Villí’s face, “I promise.”

Next Chapter: So Far Away

By Professor Batty

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Why I Still Blog

This informative video is about the ephemeral nature of coding vis-à-vis internet interactions is much more clever and engaging than it would appear at first glance. Towards the end (featured above), however, it becomes quite philosophic. Much of what Tom Scott says in closing is a pretty concise summation of my personal struggle with FITK, an endeavor which, to be honest, at times seems to be Sisyphean.

By Professor Batty

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Tuesday, May 05, 2020

My Own Private Iceland #7

This is the last in a series of posts imagining what my scheduled trip to Iceland would have been like…

This is the real weepy and like tragic part of the story, my droogs.

Homeward bound, with a couple of hours to kill in the not-so-purgatorial Keflavík airport.

In 2000 KEF was little more than a hallway with a dozen gates servicing 600,000 tourists a year. That humble hallway remains, but is now augmented by a vast complex that handled over two million travelers in 2019.

My fantasy trip is over. Will I ever return?

In an ironic real-life twist, today is the day that some quarantine restrictions are being lifted in Iceland

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Monday, May 04, 2020

My Own Private Iceland #6

This is the sixth in a series of posts imagining what my scheduled trip to Iceland would have been like…

My last free day.

Although I have been here seven times before, the Sun Voyager sculpture is still worth the chilly walk along the bay. So cool.

Tonight should have been a cultural experience in a cozy pub, listening to fellow “writing retreaters” read from freshly-composed literature while basking in the warmth of their companionship.

Back in the real world: “… basking in the warmth of their companionship… ” seems like a concept from another planet after two months of social distancing. During this time the “Daughters of Reykjavík” have been busy creating some NSFW culture of their own during the social distancing lock-down:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Sunday, May 03, 2020

My Own Private Iceland #5

This is the fifth in a series of posts imagining what my scheduled trip to Iceland would have been like…

O.K., I'll admit that this post might be stretching the concept of my “fantasy island” trip too far. But, if I am allowed to have an fictional travelog, why not include a night spent in Harpa in the company of Eivør, the Faroese (not quite Icelandic but close and she is immensely popular there) performer.

I don’t think anything I can write can compare to the vitality expressed in the image presented above, so I’ll let her ‘speak’ for herself:

BONUS: BBC article about þetta reddast featuring Alda and Audur…

By Professor Batty

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Saturday, May 02, 2020

My Own Private Iceland #4

This is the fourth in a series of posts imagining what my scheduled trip to Iceland would have been like…

Some afternoon free time to spend exploring Listasafn Reykjavíkur (Hafnarhus).

It is in the old customs house, commerce had out-grown its original function. When I was here in 2000 it was being converted. It usually features a gallery of Iceland’s Picasso/Warhol/Lichtenstein mash-up artist, Erró. His migraine-inducing collage paintings are a compendium of modern pop art and culture. He shows no sign of slowing down at age 87.  Once considered the bad-boy of the Icelandic art world his work, for better or worse, has been enshrined in that holy-of-holies—the Keflavík International airport!

More on this artist:

By Professor Batty

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Friday, May 01, 2020

Art School

This is Chapter 19 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Friday Afternoon, July 17, 2020, Seattle

Sean and Mareka had just finished getting his basement storeroom ready for his grandmother’s paintings. They had assembled the racks Sean had bought and he had installed a climate control system to keep the paintings in an optimum environment. The paintings had just been returned after being held in storage in New York since their last exhibition, an event which had been shut down by the Covid-19 pandemic in the spring. Sean was eager to see their condition, and to get Mareka’s impressions. They went up to the garage where the shipping crates that held the paintings had been dropped off.

“Let’s see what we’ve got here,” said Sean, as he opened the first of the crates. The paintings had been carefully wrapped in Tyvek and there was no sign of trauma to the canvases. He began to unwrap them, positioning them around the perimeter of the garage so that they could get a good look at them, and taking pictures to inventory their condition. He had a stick of sidewalk chalk that he used to write the work number on the garage floor in front of them. Mareka, looking in wide-eyed wonder as they were revealed, had a strange sensation, similar to what she felt when she visited the ‘Power Centers’ in Iowa after her great-aunt’s funeral.

“These are so cool!” said Mareka, “I feel like Emily is talking to me!”

“It’s good to have them back, to have them ‘home’, as it were,” said Sean, “Here’s another piece of chalk, write an ‘x’ on the floor in front of the ones you like the best and we can put them up in the house.”

“I like them all!” said Mareka, “Can I have one for my room? I have room above my bed.”

“Certainly, one of the smaller ones will fit there,” said Sean, “Emily will be looking over you as you sleep.”

“How is it coming along?” said Mary, who had just entered the garage, and was surveying the expanding collection. “That’s quite a big job!”

“This is fun!“ said Mareka, “Pops said I can have one for my room.”

Mary smiled. She was glad to see Mareka happy. The last several months had been hard on all of them, and Mary had been very concerned that Mareka was in danger of losing what was left of her childhood innocence in the face of recent events. Mareka’s growing awareness of her powers was, potentially, an additional source of conflict.

“How about you, Mary, anything that catches your eye?” said Sean, as he opened the second crate, “Something for the living room?”

“You choose, but pick a couple with a lot of color,” said Mary, “I’m ready to move on from the monochrome look of our old apartment. It’s a new decade, after all. We’ve got some nice perennials blooming in the garden and I’m going to fill the house with flowers.”

Mareka had moved over to the last canvas Sean had unwrapped. “This is the one for my room,” she said, marking the floor in front of it: XXX.

Spokane, Friday Afternoon, July 17, 2020

Jo was too late; her mother was dead. The EMT’s, who had been first responders, had told her that it was obvious that her mother had died hours earlier, probably not long after Jo had last spoken with her. They told her not to touch the body, not to stay in the same room, and that she should stay outside if at all possible. The police came soon after and took down Jo’s information for their report. After they left, Jo went back to the bedroom and found the loaded 32 caliber handgun that her mother had always kept in her nightstand. She put it in her purse.

Jo was waiting for the coroner to arrive. As she sat on the front porch, Jo pondered her next moves. Her mother’s estate, except for the house, was probably worth nothing; Jo had given her mother money several times in the past couple of years. Her mother did have a lawyer, however, a family friend who had helped out when Jo’s ex was threatening Jo. Jo contacted the lawyer and he said he would start the paperwork to wrap up her estate. There was nothing left for her in Spokane, she thought, only bad memories and wasted opportunities. In Seattle she had a small circle of friends—including Sean and Mary, of course. And then there was Mareka. In a few years Mareka would be leaving her behind, it was already obvious to Jo that Mareka would be carrying on in the tradition of her Mother and her great-grandmother. Sean and Mary were winding down their businesses so Jo wondered how much longer they would be in need of her help. Her mother’s demise—dying sick and alone—made Jo think that it was a preview of what hers would be.

And that thought made Jo sad.

Friday Afternoon, July 17, 2020, Seattle

Barbara Merrit had been sitting on a park bench near the Green Lake wading pool, waiting for her meeting with the mysterious ‘Marcel DuPage’. He had emailed her, offering information on Sean Carroll and Mary Robinson. An older man with white hair and flamboyantly dressed in a vivid floral print shirt with a scarlet-lined cape, came strolling up.

“I take it that you are Marcel,” said Barbara, “You were correct in saying that I’d notice you.”

“Ms Merrit, I presume,” said Marcel, sitting down beside her, “I’m so very glad to see you. Thanks for meeting with me.”

“Well, shall we get right down to it? What do you have for me, and what can I do for you?”

“I’ll assume that you are familiar with all the media coverage from about seven years ago concerning Sean Carroll and Mary Robinson,” began Marcel, “Feel free to interrupt if you have any questions,” said Marcel, pausing to wipe his glasses, “I run, or I should say, ran a dance studio specializing in ballroom styles. We would have weekly dances, very popular at the time, I liked to think of them a island of class in an ocean of grunge. At one of these events, in Saturday the 13th, October 2012, I met a young couple, a couple whom I would later learn to be Sean Carroll and Mary Robinson. Are you following me?”

“Yes, of course,” said Barbara, “That was the same time-frame as when my late brother was conducting his investigation. Please continue.”

“Now accompanying the young couple that evening was an older woman—closer to my age—who wore a stunning vintage high-fashion dress, a Schiaparelli, probably from the 1930s. We ‘hit it off.’ Without going into intimate detail, let me just say that… we shared breakfast in the morning. Now, you might well be asking yourself, what does all this have to do with Sean and Mary?”

“Yes I am, please continue,” said Barbara, who had found herself caught up in the Marcel’s enthusiastic telling of the story.

“You will also recall that about this time Sean inherited a large quantity of artwork that had been created by his grandmother, Emily Carroll, in the 1920s and 30s.”

“Indeed, that is one of the things I’m interested in.”

“Now… this is the difficult part of my story… I have reason to believe that my mysterious dance partner and Sean’s grandmother, Emily, were one and the same person. I can’t explain it, she would have been over 110 years old if she had been still alive, certainly not up to dancing the night away with someone less than half her age, much less staying over. After our interlude, I bagged up her dress, she borrowed some clothes, took a taxi to Pike Place Market, and I never saw her again. I placed personal ads about her for weeks. It was not until much later, when Sean published his book about her and began to exhibit her art work, that I made a connection,” Marcel wiped his brow with a monogrammed kerchief, “I was wondering if you, in your research, have come across any pictures or other evidence from that time that would help explain this mystery.”

“I do have images, I have copies of all my brother’s files from that time, right here on my iPad,” said Barbara as she opened the device and began to search, “You said October 13th?”

“Yes, that’s the date.”

“Here we are,” said Barbara as she scrolled to that day’s folder, “2012-10-13.”

There were dozens of images, some of Sean, some of Mary, some of both of them. But when Barbara scrolled to exposures taken at night outside of Marcel’s ballroom, he barked “STOP!”

One of the images showed Sean, walking arm-in-arm with Mary and, on his other side, arm-in-arm with an older woman, a woman wearing a stylish red dress. The familial resemblance between Sean and the woman was striking.

"That’s her. Emily Carroll,” said Marcel, “Would you be so kind as to send me those pictures, and any other ones with Emily in them?”

Next chapter: Social Distance

By Professor Batty

                                                                                     All original Flippism is the Key content copyright Stephen Charles Cowdery, 2004-2024