Excerpt from "Ghosts of Families Past" (available on Kindle & Nook)

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The explosion wasn't the most startling thing to happen to me that year, not even that six month period. It was just a really stark moment in time that was to change everything I knew over the following few days and weeks.

Surprisingly, though, even as it was a glass-shattering, life ending, honest-to-goodness explosion, at the very moment it happened, it just didn't really seem like that big of a deal.

It suddenly struck me that I was nesting.

If the “nesting syndrome” had been described to me back in college, I probably would have scoffed at it's just being some over-generalization of the feminine mind as set forth by someone who either wanted to discount all women or sell them something.
Until I found myself not just decorating a room in our tiny apartment for a new little one, but actually rearranging the whole place for my comfort. It wasn't really for my comfort, though. I realized I was trying to create the perfect place in which to raise a child.


My whole life was changing.

For one thing, I should never have bragged to my sister about not having any morning sickness. Carley, she had morning sickness almost from beginning to end on her first pregnancy. It was so bad her doctors were worried that she wasn't getting enough nutrition for the baby.

When I made it through three months without so much as a burp, I made some sort of supposedly witty comment about “clean living” or something. I think it was less than twenty-four hours later before I was kneeling before the toilet. I never did get morning sickness as bad as my sister—probably threw up a half dozen times in the middle three months—but I learned my lesson and never again bragged about how much better my pregnancy was than Carley's.

To be honest, other than the “gruesome half dozen”, the middle section of my pregnancy was my favorite part of the whole experience. When first pregnant, I may have never thrown up, but my body was putting me through hormone hell. The roller-coaster ride of emotions kind of reminded me of the recovery from a broken leg in that one minute I would be going along just fine and then something would set me off and I would be crying or griping at someone.

Usually my husband.

I have the greatest husband in the world, but in those first three months I too often treated him like he could do nothing right. In the midst of my petulance there would be a voice in the back of my mind telling me that either it wasn't his fault or—even if it were—it was not a big deal, but that little voice got beaten up and kicked to the curb by the hormones. I would beg his forgiveness later (and some of my begging went overboard, too) and he would always forgive me, but I think Bat was starting to think that getting me pregnant was the biggest mistake he'd ever made.

I have often wondered: if we had had more time to prepare, might things have been different? You see, my sister and her husband had begun trying for a baby pretty soon after their wedding and it had taken almost two years for them to get pregnant. They had even started seeing doctors about it. Bat and I had thought that might have been a family trait, so about two years into our marriage, when we started thinking about enlarging our family of two, I got off the pill with us thinking it might take a while for anything to happen.

As near as I can figure, I stopped taking the pill on a Tuesday morning and later that afternoon, before he went to work, a baby was conceived. Of course, I didn't really suspect anything for a few weeks, but once I had missed a month and we checked the little plus and minus sign, I went to the doctor. She measured whatever doctors measure to get such answers and, assuming she was correct, if I didn't get pregnant the first time we rolled in the hay after ditching the pill, it was the second.

Maybe things wouldn't have been much different if it had taken us weeks or months to get pregnant, but we'll never know because pregnant I was. Add to that the stress that was permeating our lives from the outside, and there may have been moments when both of us were wondering just what we had gotten ourselves into!

But then, I hit the second trimester and it seemed like everything just turned up roses. Physically, I felt better than I ever had in my life. When my belly started to stick out a little Bat was worried that I would be upset because I had long prided myself on being physically fit and had thought my flat stomach to be one of my better features. (I'm pretty sure Bat didn't think it my best feature [being more of a “leg man”], but he knew how I thought and after three months of me complaining about so many little things, he was afraid an expanding middle would push me over some edge.)

I actually thought it was pretty cool and, in those early days when no one could see it, I often took pains to stand up straight and sideways and point out that I really was showing. Why? I'm not sure. Part of it was that I was excited about being a mother. Part of it was that I was excited about it being my husband's baby. But, having talked to other women, I know part of it was that the same hormones that had made me a mental wreck the first trimester, were somehow turning me into some kind of Christian Zen master.

Nothing bothered me.

Not Bat's sudden change in employment, not his recovery from the accident, nothing. I was purposeful and sanguine at the same time. I was taking care of my husband and getting ahead on my school work and everything. “If this is what pregnancy is like,” I told myself with aplomb, “I'm gonna have twenty kids!”

Then, as the third trimester began, junior decided that his favorite place to take a nap (or, apparently, do the rumba) was right on my bladder. While I was still feeling pretty good for the most part, Bat accused me of having a bladder the size of a grape. As I got to know what every bathroom in the Flagstaff area looked like, I started to think he was right.

Still, there's something about having someone growing inside you like that that's just incredibly wondrous. You try to describe it to someone who's never experienced it—even other women—and it sounds like you're describing a sci-fi movie, but once you've felt your own baby—created by you and the husband you love—wriggling around inside you, it's just incredible. Even when you're in the bathroom of a less-than-savory gas station and trying to figure out how to go without actually touching anything. Those cultures where they stand on the toilet suddenly made a lot more sense.

My life wasn't perfect, but I had never been so content. Later, I began to wonder if I had been finding my comfort in the wrong places.

Chapter One
My name is Bat Garrett. Up until recently, I always introduced myself as a private detective, sometimes as a private eye, sometimes as a security expert and sometimes as a house painter. Most of those sounded pretty good—especially the first two—but they were never a source of steady or sufficient income for me. The painting came closest, but “not enough for horse shoes” as the saying almost went.

I used to be a private eye in Dallas, painting houses on the side, while my wife contributed to the household income as a speech therapist. But then she got canned and I got tired of eating out of a can and a job opened up to be a security expert with a company out of Tempe that was wanting to open up a branch in Flagstaff, a town Jody had always admired. I have to admit: when I first saw it, I fell in love with it, too. High desert, snow-covered mountains, it’s got everything.

You see, I had found the job to begin with through a friend of mine: Harlan Harrell. I had been a part owner in Harlan's baseball card shop back in Dallas, before he moved with his family to Flagstaff at the behest of his wife's grandparents. She, Kellie, became the full-time caregiver to her grandparents—as well as power of attorney—while Harlan moved “our” baseball card shop to Arizona. When he heard that I was looking for work, he put me in touch with a security firm he knew out of Tempe and, well, it worked for a while. The fact that it failed I never blamed on Harlan though he often apologized.

So we pulled up stakes and I took the job and she enrolled in the University of Arizona to work on getting her Master's and it seemed like a lot of dreams were coming true. We were even moving from the stage of “talking about starting a family” to “pregnant” when things started to rapidly change, and not all for the better.

For starters, the security firm I worked for got audited and it turned out some creative bookkeeping had been going on at the corporate level and a lot of the employees were put on “furlough” while the suits “straightened things out”. Suddenly, I had a pregnant wife in college and no insurance and my only source of income was that I was part owner of the last surviving baseball card shop in northern Arizona. While I was thankful for every dollar it brought in, my “take” was not exactly meal money.

So I started dropping resumes around town like a litter-bug and we were seriously thinking we'd have to move—either to Tempe where there might be more jobs and Jody would have less of a commute the two days a week she went to class—or back to Dallas and see if I could resurrect any of my old business(es). We were spending a lot of time praying for the baby and suddenly we were spending almost as much time praying for ourselves.

I had turned in a resume at the Civil Service office only after much convincing by my wife that it couldn't possibly lead to me being brought back on board by the Home Agency. I wasn't too thrilled with the idea of working with any government body as looking for long-term employment with a company that was already eight trillion dollars in the hole didn't seem like any kind of wisdom to me. Still, I told myself, work was work and as long as I wasn't killing anybody or having to listen to disco, surely I could do it until a better job came along.

I was invited to come down and take the Civil Service exam on a Tuesday and, on Friday, I was offered a contract (one year) job with the Post Office. Being the government, I don't think things normally worked that fast but I had shown exceptional aptitude for the job by filling out my address correctly. The job didn't start until the first of the month—more than a week away—so we decided to take a quick trip and go see Jody's best friend (Heather) and her husband (Whatisname). It was a good trip right up until one of Professor Nutjob's experiments went wrong and I had some sort of freaky reaction to it that almost killed me. I was barely recovered in time to make it to training with the Post Office and, even then, I came home from work the first few days and went straight to bed, sleeping until time to get up the next day.

Soon, I was sorting mail in the back room and, before I hardly knew what was happening, I was working a route for another letter carrier who's maternity leave had suddenly started about a month earlier than she had expected. Knowing that, and knowing I had a pregnant wife at home, made me even more nervous than I think I ordinarily would have been but I managed to deliver all the mail to the right houses. A month into the job and I was given the route on a permanent basis as Karen—the previous carrier—had decided she was going to stay home with the baby indefinitely.

Being a letter carrier was a lot different from being a private eye. I sometimes missed being able to set my own hours, dress how I wanted, and tell people I was a private investigator. On the other hand, it was kind of nice to have set hours and, above all, a regular paycheck with maternity insurance. I also got to be outside and moving around, which I really enjoyed. And most of the people I met were pretty happy to see the mailman come—especially when the government checks went out.

I kept my P.I. license active, but nobody was calling for my services. I told myself I would probably turn back to the biz full-time one day, but I wasn't sure. I know I mentioned it in the last paragraph, but the concept of a regular paycheck bears repeating. I especially liked the comfort it provided my wife, whose recent battles with morning sickness and almost debilitating hormone swings had almost run her into the ground. The hormone swings weren’t my favorite part of pregnancy, either.

I was able to keep my toe in the security and private-eye business in an unexpected way. Over time, and with help from Darla Gaston—a computer genius and owner of one of the fastest-rising tech companies in the world—I had gotten knowledgeable about on-line security, cyber-fraud, and etc. I had put that on my resumes and, thanks to having worked with them on a couple cases in the previous months, the Flagstaff Police Department asked me to be a “civilian consultant” on a task force they were forming to combat cyber crimes, most specifically those that involved bullying or underage trafficking. My consultant fee was almost enough to take myself and my wife out to eat a time or two a month but I figured the most value came from the good we were doing. I also figured that evening or two a month with the rest of the force might lead to gainful employment of one type or another at some point in the future. If I ever got to return to P.I. work, I knew having friends on the police force would be nothing but a boon.

So it was that I found myself pulling into the parking lot of the Native Sun Trading Post on old Route 66 when the doors and windows blew outward. Not of my mail truck (thankfully), but of the trading post. I slammed on the brakes and came to no harm, though a flying two-by-four cracked the windshield and other debris made it necessary for my truck to get a new paint job in the coming days.

The first thing I did, was put the truck in reverse and thank God it went. Once back out on the street, I whipped out my cell phone—which I had always sworn was only carried in the event of a pregnancy alert—and called 911. I thought about seeing if there was anyone to be saved in the trading post, but it was an old, wooden, building and already almost a loss. Still, I saw a water hose hooked up to a hydrant next to what appeared to be the pad of a building that had been the trading post's neighbor and ran over to it. When the first police officer got there, he found me spraying down the place with the water hose, and doing a pretty ineffectual job against such a great conflagration. He graciously took the hose from me and battled the heat himself for the ensuing minutes before the fire department could get there. They were actually pretty quick, but the old building had gone up like a tinder box and all they could do was just make sure it didn't spread.

Meanwhile, the policemen (more had arrived) asked me a myriad of questions but there wasn't much I could tell them. Yes, it just exploded as I pulled up. No, I hadn't seen anyone enter or leave the building. Yes, I used to be a private eye and, no, I didn't think you should use semi-gloss on adobe.

Even after doing something semi-heroic, the mail still had to go through. So we transferred all the mail out of my truck into the vehicle of another carrier (who had already taken care of his deliveries for the day) and I finished out my route driving his wheels.

Most of it, anyway. I came back to the station still carrying the mail that would have been delivered to the Native Sun Trading Post, or the Jamesons, the couple who ran the place. I asked my supervisor what I should do with their mail and he said we would hold it for a couple days in case they came looking for it. I asked if they had a house somewhere in town we could take it to but he said he thought they lived in the back of the trading post. So I took the mail back to my wall and put it back in the cubby hole reserved for the Jamesons.

After work, I swung by the scene of the fire just out of curiosity and found nothing left but a blackened hole in the ground and a couple police officers still hanging around. I pulled in at the abandoned parking lot next door and walked over, calling out, “Officer Kirk” for I recognized one of the men, having worked with him once while I was still with the security firm. He had been our “police liaison” in tending to the safety of a pampered and sullen pop star who had come to town for a charity concert. He wasn't on the cyber-security force, but we had passed each other in the hallway a couple times and always shook hands and said our “howdies”.

“Bat,” he said cheerfully, offering his hand. He was a tall, slatternly black man with an uneasy smile and suspicious eyes. As we shook, he gestured at my uniform and said, “I heard you were a mail jockey now. Sorry about the layoffs. You should join the police force.”

“I thought about it,” I told him honestly. What I didn't tell him was that—as much respect as I have for the police—I just didn't see myself as being a good officer. For one thing, I wasn't sure I liked people—in general—enough to protect or serve them on a daily basis. As a mail man, I didn't really interact with all that many people—or, at least, not for very long at an encounter—and I wasn't arresting any of them so they were generally pretty friendly.

“I heard you called this in,” he said, gesturing at the mess.

“Yeah. I gave my statement,” I replied, then repeated it all to Kirk and his partner, whose name I never got. As I finished, I asked, “Any word on the Jamesons? The couple that ran this place?”

The two officers—detectives, in point of fact—shared a brief look, then Arnold Kirk said in a low voice, “We think they were in there.”


“That's the preliminary indication,” he told me. “I'm sure it'll be on the news tonight, but don't spread it around, please. Not yet, anyway. We're working on dental records, contacting known associates, family … you know.”

“Yeah,” was all I could think to say in agreement.

I had met the Jamesons, though I didn't know them well. Back before becoming a postman, I had given them a bid on installing a new security system in the trading post but they had never gone for it. Since delivering their mail, I had seen them five days a week, but the total of our conversation ran along the lines of, “Good morning” and “How's it going?”

Mister Jameson, his first name was Harold, had been a scruffy guy of indeterminate age, though I might have guessed him to be in his late fifties to early sixties. His hair was long and somewhat greasy looking and he wore a “full” beard though he was one of those guys whose beard was never going to be thick. Sometimes he wore glasses—old wire-frames like the hippies used to wear—but not always. Something of a paunch, though his arms weren't fat (he was often behind the counter so I usually didn't see him from the waist down, and when I did, he tended to wear bib overalls—which tend to make everyone look heavier than they are). About my height.

Mrs. Jameson, first name of Dorothy, never seemed (to me) to go with Harold. She wore the uniform of a trading post operator—vaguely native-American-cut clothes, turquoise jewelry, occasional feather in the hair—but something about it always made me think she didn't really want to be dressed that way, like it was just for the image. She was of a similar age to Harold, though she looked a bit younger, mainly owing to the fact that even with the occasional feather her hair was expertly cut and there were touches of make-up that made me think she had once subscribed to the “fashion-plate” theory of life.

And her shoes. I remember noticing once that below the leather skirts and faded blue jeans she wore top-notch tennis shoes. I had just ascribed it in my own mind to being her “one indulgence” but they were such nice and expensive shoes that I couldn't help but notice their incongruity. When Detective Kirk asked me what I knew about the couple, I gave him all these details but I didn't know what help they might be. For instance, I had no idea whether the Jamesons had children or belonged to any local groups or anything. Just surface impressions and “How's it going?” (Answer: “Fine, and you?”)

To read this entire novel, go here: (http://garisonfitch.com/book/ghosts-of-families-past) and order it for your Kindle or Nook!