NAKED TAO – CHAPTER 13

Sunday Night Cliff hanger3

Welcome to Sunday Night Cliffhangers at NT Publishing Company where we post entire books a chapter at a time. We are pleased to present the wonderful off beat novel, Naked Tao, by Robert Grant. Last week we posted Chapter 12 And here is Chapter 13 for your enjoyment!

CHAPTER 13

“Having a cup of coffee with Buddha.” – Padma

I hoped it wasn’t the same SUV that tried to run us over in the parking garage, but of course it was them.  The passenger side head lamp was smashed in and there were streaks of green paint on the SUV’s front bummer.  I just wished I knew who I was dealing with.

Since the damaging file memos seemed to trigger this messy chain of events, they were probably thugs working for Pathogen.  Speaking of the memos, who had left the documents in my office and why did they give them to me?  There were a lot of unanswered questions, but right now I needed to do something about the SUV.

There were several options.  I could try to lose them in traffic, but River Road doesn’t have much traffic to speak of, unless you include the occasional biker enjoying his favorite scenic byway.  I didn’t think the old truck would outrun the SUV.  So that was out.  In the movies, they run traffic lights or make last minute turns, but neither would work here since there are very few traffic signals and a last minute turn would most likely end up in the river.  Trying to lose them just wasn’t a good option.

We could stop and confront them, but the last time I tried to do that they shot at me.  I did have a .357 magnum under the seat of the truck, but a wild-west shoot out in a residential area did not seem like the best option.  The last encounter we had with the SUV was in a parking garage.  It’s possible they would be less likely to shoot on a public road, but I didn’t want to risk it.  There were homes along this street and I didn’t want an innocent bystander to get hurt.

We could set a trap.  I liked the sound of that option best.  I just needed to figure out how to do it and we were less than ten minutes from Uncle’s Jim’s house.  Since they didn’t know where we were headed, I could use that to our advantage.  Uncle Jim is an ex-marine sniper who knows how to set a trap better than anyone, so I called him and told him we were being chased by some maniac in a SUV and asked him for his help.  I knew I could trust him with my life and he didn’t let me down.  He told me to get everyone to his house as soon as possible.

My dad died in a motorcycle crash when I was eight years old.  Mom was on the bike with him.  A hit-and-run driver ran them off the road and left them to die in a ditch.  Mom survived, but she was incapacitated by a serious brain injury.  Her brother, Jim, took me in after the funeral, but it wasn’t easy.

Some know-it-all social worker wanted to place me in foster care.  She kept telling the Judge I needed the positive influence of a woman in my life.  The social worker didn’t like the fact that Uncle Jim had lived all over the world, mostly on military bases, and she was suspicious that he had never married.  She was convinced that a single man knew nothing about raising a son.

The social worker picked the wrong man to attack.  Uncle Jim knows a few things about winning a fight.  The Marine Corps trained him for some hush-hush special ops unit that he never talks about.  A legal battle is no different than any other fight and Uncle Jim put up a tough fight.  He convinced the Judge that it was in my best interests to be with him.  As far as I’m concerned, the Judge made the right decision.  What kind of crazy person would think foster care is better than a loving family member?

I kept an eye on the SUV as we made our way into Prospect.  I wasn’t sure what Uncle Jim had in mind for them, but I was about to find out.  It was only a few more blocks until we reached his street.  The SUV followed close behind as we turned into his upscale subdivision, but stopped short when I made the last turn onto Uncle Jim’s quiet cul-de-sac.

Uncle Jim lives in a red brick two story on the cusp of the circle.  As I pulled into his driveway, I felt a little uneasy about leading the SUV to my Uncle’s home, but Uncle Jim knows what he is doing.  We found him sitting on his covered porch dressed in his usual faded jeans and Harley t-shirt.  His bare feet were crossed at the ankle and his right hand held a smoldering Cuban cigar.  Don’t ask me where he gets them.  Lying across his lap was a hunting rifle intended for large game.

A hand carved staff he uses when an old injury is acting up was leaning against the brick wall.  He managed to escape the Gulf War unharmed, but fell rock climbing in the Red River Gorge a few years back.  He survived the fall, but broke his back and lost an eye.  The doctors said he would never walk again.  Uncle Jim proved them wrong of course.

Thanks to a lean muscular frame, he looks younger than his age.  His hair is more pepper than salt, with only a touch of a receding hairline.  He wears an eye patch over the missing socket like a proud pirate.  The remaining blue-grey eye was locked onto the SUV idling on the street corner.  I thought it looked like a dangerous beast that couldn’t make up its mind whether it should venture into the cul-de-sac or not.

Uncle Jim waited.  The tension was thick.  I wondered what would happen next.  Of all the things I imagined, it sure wasn’t what happened.  A splash of rainbow descended from the heavens, squawking “Death from Above”, and splattered bird shit all over the SUV’s windshield.  It was my dad’s crazy macaw.  That’s all it took for the mighty beast to tuck tail and run.  Of course, the sight of Uncle Jim’s high powered rifle might have had something to do with it too.

I suspected we weren’t finished with the SUV, but it was a welcome relief to see it leave.  Uncle Jim flashed his Cheshire cat grin and shouted Generalissimo.  I stuck my left arm out the window and waved.

Ginny poked me in the side.  It really hurt the broken rib, but there was a smile in her voice as she said, “Generalissimo.”

“He says I might be a reincarnated Civil War general…he just can’t figure out which one,” I said sheepishly.  “He’s partial to Grant.”

“Grant or Lee,” she murmured.  “But isn’t your last name spelled Li?”

My mom’s family is a distant relative of U.S. Grant on her mother’s side.  She and Uncle Jim had different fathers.  He is lily white in a Nordic sort of way and every bit the Viking.  My mom is half African-American.

Dad was Chinese and always said we were related to a famous internal martial artist who lived a ridiculously long life.  It was someone named Li Ching-Yun that the New York Times reported to have lived to be 256.  I think my dad believed the crazy long life nonsense to be true just because it was in the newspaper.  This very interesting bloodline explains my somewhat exotic, foreign look.

I was about to explain the nuances of my mixed heritage to Ginny, but was distracted by a flash of color and a screeching, “Aaawk, Grant’s a peckerwood.”

It was dad’s macaw with his usual greeting.  The bird flew across the hood of the truck, up the windshield, and landed on the top.  Hanging upside down he stuck his head in the driver’s side window and looked around.

“I love you too bird,” I grumbled.

He cocked his head at me.  “Aaawk, get a life,” said Bird.

“Dad loved this bird,” I said.  “He belongs to me now.  He hates me.”

“Aaawk, I belong to no one.  Hate will be the death of us all.”

Ginny looked mystified and said, “Did he just respond to what you said?  I thought birds only mimic speech.”

“Aaawk, such a pretty girl.”

Ginny cooed, “Oh such a flirt.  I like him.”

“Aaawk, give us a kiss.”

“How cute, he just winked at me,” said Ginny.  “What’s his name?”

“Bird,” I answered.

“No really,” said Ginny.  “What’s his name?”

“Dad always called him Bird.  I’ve never heard him called anything else.”

“Humph.”  Clearly she wasn’t satisfied.

“Aaawk, my name is Senor Juan Ponce de Leon.”

Ginny asked, “Did he just say he is Ponce de Leon?”

“Aaawk, the one and only, pretty girl.”

“It’s news to me,” I said.

Uncle Jim limped over to the truck.  He handed Bird a peanut and said, “That’s enough Bird.”

Then he opened the truck door, pulled me out, and gave me a bear hug.  I winced as pain shot through my ribs.  Uncle Jim doesn’t miss anything.  He felt me stiffen from his embrace.  He leaned back until I was at arm’s length and looked me in the eyes to make sure we were good.

Satisfied, he looked me up and down, only pausing a moment to take in the blood stains.  He knew I was there for a reason, but waited for me to begin an explanation.

“We should talk before we call the police,” I said.

He nodded his head and then shifted his one-eyed gaze to Ginny.  A slow easy smile spread across his face.

“Don’t pay any attention to that crazy fluff of feathers,” he said.  “I’m Jim.”

“Aaawk, not crazy.”

Uncle Jim took a lazy swipe at Bird, who flew off squawking, “Aaawk, PETA alert!  Someone call 9-1-1.”

Ginny smiled at Uncle Jim and said, “I think you hurt his feelings.  I’m Ginny.”

“Don’t let him fool you,” said Uncle Jim.  “That bird is tough as nails.  Girl, you look just like your father.”

If Ginny was surprised that Uncle Jim knew her father she didn’t let on.  Instead she said, “Well except for my dark hair, green eyes, and assorted girl parts.”

Uncle Jim flashed a wolfish grin and said, “Your girl parts are welcome in my home.  Who’s your friend there?”

“This is Padma Ganesha,” said Ginny.  “He’s my guest.  I invited him to America to talk about his book.  He was speaking tonight at the Kentucky Center for the Arts when someone tried to kill him.  I think he was just about to reveal a secret about living a long life when it happened.  We barely escaped with our lives thanks to Grant.”

If Uncle Jim was surprised by any of this, he didn’t show it.  Instead he gave Padma a long appraising look before saying, “I just lit the grill.  Come on out back and have a bite to eat.  Grant, come inside for a moment, so I can take a look at that wound.  Then, we can talk about your adventure over a cold drink.”

He and I went inside where he cleaned the shallow gash with peroxide, and then protected it with gauze and first aid tape.  I had told everyone it was just a scratch, but it was a little more serious than that.

Uncle Jim is fond of telling people he has everything he needs in his own back yard.  He is most proud of a 1970’s style barbeque pit he built himself.  Every evening the barbeque sends puffs of smoke into the sky as he grills burgers and sips cold beer.  Its distinctive smell is a like a call to prayer for friends and neighbors, who heed the call religiously.

Folks wander in from all four corners of the neighborhood.  Gathering around the grill, they talk about the day’s events and watch meat sizzle over hot coals.  Later they sit in Adirondack chairs grouped under an ancient oak tree and watch the setting sun paint the clouds coral and blue.  These are simple salt of the earth people sharing simple pleasures.  There are no fences separating them.  They move freely from yard to yard, house to house.  It is a community in its truest sense.

As promised, Uncle Jim led us to the back yard where we settled into comfortable chairs and watched a squirrel gather acorns for the winter.  Up and down the tree he went, never venturing onto the low hanging branch with the bug zapper.  The distinctive sound of the zapper’s grim work was balanced by the refreshing sound of bubbling water coming from Harrods Creek bordering the rear of the property.

The creek deepens enough at its mouth to provide a safe haven to area boaters who like to idle and party before emptying into the Ohio River.  However, at this location it looks more like a mountain stream as it runs white over large flat rocks.  This familiar scene calmed my nerves and the day’s events began to feel surreal.

Uncle Jim disappeared into the house and then returned a few minutes later with tall glasses of Jim Beam and coke.  He flashed his trademark confident smile and told Ginny it was for medicinal purposes only.  She returned his smile, saying she could use all the medicine she could get.

Uncle Jim looked at me and winked.  “Grant”, he said, “this one’s a keeper.”

Ginny beamed at Uncle Jim.  I took another sip of the bourbon and relaxed into the scene playing out before me.

We sat quietly for a few minutes and listened to the evening’s sounds.  It felt good to not talk for a while, but then Uncle Jim spoke up.  It was the last thing I wanted to talk about, particularly in front of Ginny.

“Grant, you want to tell me what’s going on?”

I stiffened and felt the first twinges of a headache.  Rubbing my temples I said slowly, “I don’t know where to start.”

“Do you remember calling me last night?” he asked.  “You must have been about halfway through a bottle of Patron.  You said you had won a big case for Pathogen yesterday, but it didn’t sound like much of a celebration.  Instead, you got yourself fired.  Your boss hung himself.  Ch’ing, your martial arts master has gone missing and you showed up here being chased by gangsters with guns.  Does that about cover it?”

“Actually, no, but I’m too wrung out right now to elaborate,” I answered.

Uncle Jim looked like he wasn’t about to let it go, but Ginny asked me about my law practice.  I think she was trying to help by changing the subject.

I was grateful she was trying to change the subject, but didn’t really want to talk about it.  “Corporate defense litigation,” I answered reluctantly.

Uncle Jim had a tear in his eye.  “Last night you said you were done being a lawyer.  You told me they were going to disbar you, maybe throw you in jail.  Please tell me that was just crazy drunk talk.  All of this can be figured out.  As far as Ch’ing goes, he can take care of himself.  You need to focus on your current predicament.”

“Aaawk.  Lawyers get to lie and cheat,” squawked Bird.  “Peckerwood wants to give up all that good fun.  Aaawk.”

“Bird, you’re supposed to be guarding the perimeter,” said Uncle Jim.

“Aaawk.  Eyes and ears on it.  Perimeter secured.  Aaawk.”

I shook my head at Bird.  “Things can turn on a dime,” I said.  “I think I’ve made some powerful enemies, either because I defended Pathogen, or because some possibly incriminating evidence has fallen into my hands.  I’m not sure who the players are in all of this.”

“Your enemies have given you the gift of change,” said Padma.

I had a flashback of Ch’ing teaching us baguazhang, one of the internal martial arts.  The student is encouraged to overcome their natural resistance to change.  High-level fighting techniques can be found in the transition moves, if the student has the courage to embrace change.

Ch’ing liked to spar ten-on-one and was always the last man standing.  He moved like a whirling dervish teaching hidden techniques as he laid waste to all ten opponents.  When the session was over, he’d look at our bodies on the floor and tell us we needed to do a better job embracing change.  We’d ask him how to do that, but he’d just shake his head and tell us to keep our feet moving next time.

Uncle Jim pulled me back from my reverie with a question.  “Do we need to talk to someone about getting you an attorney?”

“Probably,” I answered.  “It doesn’t look good.  I’m their number one murder suspect for John’s death.”

“You would never do such a thing!” said Ginny.

“No, but my word won’t mean much under the circumstances,” I said.  “I need proof of my innocence or I’m in for a rough time.”

“What kind of proof?” asked Ginny.

“For starters, I need to get those documents back,” I answered.

“Documents?” asked Uncle Jim.

I nodded.  “That’s where the disbarment comes in,” I answered. “I had possible evidence that they are involved in an illegal bio-weapons project.  I disclosed this confidential information to Eric and now to you.”

“You said you had evidence,” said Ginny.  “What happened to it?”

“No, that’s where John fits into the story,” I said.  “I gave the evidence to him, and now he’s dead.”

Uncle Jim knows me well.  “You think it got him killed, don’t you?”

I nodded grimly.

“Do you think this has anything to do with the murder at The Center?” asked Ginny.

“I’m not sure what the connection is, but there definitely seems to be one,” I said.

“Wait a minute…you mentioned a gunman earlier, but you didn’t say anything about someone getting killed at The Center,” said Uncle Jim.

“A security guard was stabbed,” I said.  “He was a friend of Eric’s.  A biker named Tiny.”

“The leader of the Dragons,” asked Uncle Jim.

I nodded.  “I had a run in with the murderer,” I said.  “He broke a couple of my ribs and escaped.”

“The Dragons will be out for blood,” said Uncle Jim.  “To bad he got away.”

“I wished I had caught him,” I said.  “It all happened so fast.  I went after him with the murder weapon.  My prints are all over it.”

“That’s not good,” said Uncle Jim in his best deadpan voice.  At this point, I don’t think anything I said could have fazed him.

“This is bad, very bad,” I said.

“We need to find the murderer,” said Uncle Jim.  “What did he look like?”

I shrugged.  “I didn’t get a good look at his face,” I said.  “He wore a hooded monk’s robe.  I just saw a monk.  They all look the same to me.”

Padma snorted.

“Ch’ing will not be happy to hear you weren’t more observant than that,” said Uncle Jim.  “Have you called the police?”

“I know I should talk to them about all of this, but I must get proof of my innocence first,” I answered.

Uncle Jim nodded.  “What were you doing at The Center?”

“Working as a body guard,” I answered.

He looked astonished, “Body guard…who were you protecting?”

“Padma,” I answered.

Uncle Jim raised an eyebrow.

“I am a simple monk,” said Padma.  “I have no need for a body guard.”

“You didn’t request protection,” asked Uncle Jim.

Padma shook his head.

“Eric hired me,” I said.  “The strange thing about the whole thing is that his client specifically asked for me.”

“Who are they and why you?” asked Uncle Jim.

I shrugged and turned to Ginny.  “Since your company sponsored this event, maybe you know something about the security arrangements.”

She shook her head.

“Eric is looking into it,” I said.  “We should know something soon.”

There was a flutter of feathers as Bird landed softly on Padma’s shoulders.  Bird looked lovingly at Padma and then gently rubbed his beak against the monk’s cheek.  Padma welcomed the comforting gesture, but looked like he was exhausted and fading fast.  In a tired voice he said, “It was a long journey from Bhutan and I must rest now.”

“Not to mention your night of sexual debauchery”, I thought to myself.

Uncle Jim turned to Padma and asked, “Do you have any enemies?”

“Enemy…friend…two sides of the same coin,” answered Padma.

The corners of Uncle Jim’s mouth tightened, “You don’t give straight answers to simple questions, do you?  Why is that?”

Bird inched closer to Padma’s cheek and glared at Uncle Jim.  Padma reached up and gently smoothed his ruffled feathers, stroking from the back of the neck downward to the tip of his tail.

“Easy my friend,” whispered Padma.

Ginny reached out and placed a soothing hand on Uncle Jim’s forearm.

“Padma came all the way from Bhutan at my request,” she said.  “He planned to reveal an ancient secret.  Someone tried to stop him.”

“What secret?” asked Uncle Jim.

Padma smiled gently before answering, “Something that will change everything.”

Uncle Jim shook his head, “You’re not going to tell us, are you?”

“Now is not the time,” replied Padma.  “Be patient.  Events must run their course.”

“Run their course…people are dead and they’re trying to kill us,” I growled.

Uncle Jim looked thoughtful and nodded toward the house, “Padma, you can use the bedroom at the end of the hall.  I’ll show you the way.  I better call a few friends at the station and see what I can find out.  Just sit tight until we figure out what to do next.”

Bird stayed glued to Padma’s shoulder as he followed Uncle Jim into the house.  In the fading light, he looked like a strange two headed beast.

*****

Thank you for reading Chapter 13 of Robert Grant’s quirky novel, Naked Tao.  We will see you next Sunday night for Chapter 14.  In the meantime, we invite your comments and by all means, spread the word.

 

NAKED TAO – CHAPTER 12

Welcome to Sunday Night Cliffhangers at NT Publishing Company where we post entire books a chapter at a time. We are pleased to present the wonderful off beat novel, Naked Tao, by Robert Grant. Last week we posted Chapter 11 and here is Chapter 12 for your enjoyment!

CHAPTER 12

 

“Pay attention now or you’ll miss life’s secret.” – Padma

 

Great!  On top of everything else, now I’ve been shot.  I took a mental step back to evaluate this growing surreal catastrophe.  A hippie just shot the place up and I’m wounded.  John is dead and I am under investigation for his murder.  A monk stabbed Tiny to death and the police will think I did it.  To make matters worse, I was careless enough to leave the murder weapon in the Ladies room covered in Tiny’s blood and my fingerprints.  The police are going to love that!

I let out a sigh.  I had messed up big time.  Instead of chasing after Tiny’s killer, I should have called the police and reported the murder.  I didn’t because I wasn’t ready to face a barrage of questions about John’s death.  I needed evidence proving someone else had a better motive to kill John than I did.  My money was on Pathogen.  Now I would have to prove my innocence in two murders….so much for innocent until proven guilty.

On top of everything, I was completely confused by Ginny.  I saw her flirting with several guys at a sex party last night.  In fact, one of those guys may very well be the one who just shot the place up.  She had disappeared from the party without a saying a word to anyone.  When I next saw her in the parking lot, she totally blew me off.  Afterwards, she flipped out when she saw me with a bloody knife…like I was Norman Bates or something…and what’s with the engagement ring?

Wait there’s more.  I find myself standing in a parking garage with a Tibetan Monk, who just happens to be a sex fiend.  It’s my job to protect him because I got fired yesterday from my real job.  It should have been an easy job to protect him, but no, someone wants to kill him.  I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to kill a Tibetan monk, but there was one thing I knew for sure, there was a killer on the loose and whatever was going on could probably get me killed too.

I could walk away right now and be done with it.  All I had to do was climb into the truck and head back to my safe little shithole of an apartment, where I could pick up the pieces of my shitty life while my ribs healed.  Yet, I knew I was already in too deep, and whatever this was, I would have to see it through to the end.  Besides, I’d never be able to look Ch’ing in the eye again if I quit…assuming we find him.

The killer was still out there somewhere and needed to be apprehended before he hurt someone else.  Or worse, tracked us down and hurt one of us.  Every second was critical and I didn’t hear any police sirens rushing to our aid.  Where were the cops?

One of my favorite law school professors, Laurence Filmore, once told a room full of first year law students that the police have no duty to protect us.  We were discussing a wrongful death case filed by the parents of a teenage girl who was brutally raped and murdered after the police failed to respond to a 9-1-1 emergency call.  The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the police and threw out the grieving family’s lawsuit.  They said it was law enforcement’s job to investigate crime and apprehend criminals, not protect individual citizens.

I knew we were on our own.  It was my job to protect Padma, and I would get no help from the police.  Still, Pony Tail was on the loose and it was their job to apprehend him.  It was unlikely this ordeal would be over anytime soon.  While I wasn’t feeling very optimistic about it, I hoped we could work together on this.  It was time to call the cops even though they would have plenty of hard questions for me.

My iPhone was grimy with dried blood and didn’t open when I swiped a finger across the screen.  Resisting the temptation to fling it across the garage, I wiped it on the front of my shirt, but that only made it worse.

“Should I call an ambulance?” asked Ginny.  She was staring at a bullet hole in my shirt.

I was pretty sure it was just a scratch, so I shook my head.  “No, did you call the police earlier.”

Ginny held my gaze.  Her eyes were clear and calm.  I could feel her searching for confirmation that she made the right choice.  After a long moment, she shook her head and said, “No, I didn’t.  What do you think we should do?”

“Do you trust me?” I asked.

She gave me a long appraising long before answering, “Yes.”

I felt relieved on several levels. It was less likely she would call the police if she trusted me, but more importantly, I felt like we had a chance together.  Trust is a critical component in a relationship.  Without it, there isn’t much chance it will last.

“Then let’s call the police,” I said.

Ginny nodded and reached into her purse.  Before she could locate her phone, we were startled by the sound of screaming tires and she spilled the purse onto the garage floor.  Someone was speeding up the ramp and headed in our direction.  Given the shooting, people should be in a hurry to get out of the garage.  This guy was racing to the rooftop.  Nothing good was going to come of this.

“We need to get out of here,” I shouted.

Ginny had squatted down to gather up her things.  I looked at the two seats in the Porsche and sighed.  Trying to hide my disappointment, I grabbed Ginny’s arm and pulled her up.

I did my best to build a sense of urgency into Padma, but the man moved like a turtle.  I had a feeling if he didn’t get a move on, none of us would see our next birthday.  Maybe everything was starting to get to me, but that’s no excuse for the rising irritation I felt.  I was about to bark at Padma when he winked at me and said, “The way of long life is slow and easy.”

I blinked.  That sounded exactly like something Ch’ing would say.  Padma held my gaze with calm eyes.  It felt to me like he reached into the center of my being and stilled my soul.  Only Ch’ing has ever been able to do that.  It occurred to me that Padma may know something about Ch’ing’s whereabouts, but that would have to wait for later.

Once I got Ginny and Padma to the truck, the mercurial little guy shifted gears and now sounded like a twelve year old as he clapped his hands and called out in his high pitched voice, “Shotgun!  Shotgun!  I call shotgun!”

Padma slipped in front of Ginny as she reached for the door handle, climbed into the truck, and closed the door in her face.  The little turtle can move when he wants to.   Instead of being upset by Padma’s rude behavior, Ginny’s shoulders were shaking with barely contained laughter.  I was instantly caught off guard by her unexpected sense of humor.  I helped Ginny climb into the truck from the driver’s side and slipped in next to her feeling a lot better about her.

She smelled delicious, like fresh baked bread.  To take my mind off her yummy smell, I took one last look at the Porsche before starting the truck and shifting into reverse.  We were nearly out when a black SUV roared to life and sped toward us.  This maniac wanted to smash us into the concrete wall!

I slammed it into first gear and gunned the truck back into the parking spot.  The SUV clipped the corner of the truck and went spinning into the Porsche.  The crash echoed through the garage like thunder.

Ginny’s beautiful car was a crumbled wreck.  A billowing cloud of smoke drifted in our direction.  I couldn’t see the driver through the tinted windows, but suspected it might be Pony Tail.  I had all I was going to take from this creep.

“Wait here,” I said.

As I opened the door to investigate, the SUV’s driver side window lowered and a gun barrel peeped out.

“Duck,” I screamed.

The garage exploded in gunfire.  Shattered glass sprayed across the back of my neck.  I backed the truck out without looking and then gunned the engine down the ramp.  We raced out of the garage and turned right on 7th Street.  It was a block to River Road, where we made a right.  I accelerated past the YUM Center and headed east toward Prospect.  I kept checking the rearview mirror for the SUV and didn’t see any sign of it.  I sped out of town along River Road.  I needed to get somewhere safe where I could lay low and think.

“Where are we going?” asked Ginny.

“We need to lose the SUV,” I answered.  “I’m headed to my Uncle’s house.  He will know what we need to do next.”

The truck has a standard transmission mounted on the floor.  Ginny’s left thigh was squeezed next to the shifter.  Each time I changed gears my wrist brushed her leg.  It triggered thoughts of tearing fabric in the parking lot.  I glanced down.  The short dress was hiked up and revealed damn near all of her legs.  That brought back thoughts of no panties.

Feeling the first signs of arousal, I willed my eyes up.  They came to rest on her cleavage, which didn’t help much with the arousal problem, so I locked my eyes forward on the road ahead.

Thinking it would help to shift my focus, I opened my mouth to ask Padma why someone wanted him dead, but nothing came out.  My throat was dry.  I tried to swallow, but nothing happened.  As I struggled to find my voice, Ginny turned toward Padma.  She studied him closely before asking the question for me.

In response, he laughed and jiggled like a department store Santa.  Ginny looked at him like he’d lost his mind.  The laughter finally stopped.  The jiggling took a bit longer.  She waited patiently.

Finally, he said, “What makes you think someone wants to kill me?”

“You were about to reveal a big secret just before someone fired two shots at you,” she answered.  “They want you dead for some reason.”

Padma ripped off a long noisy fart and said, “Life and death are two sides of the same coin.”

Ginny opened her mouth and then closed it again.  To our utter amazement Padma began singing a popular teeny bopper hit.  A silly little song popularized by a half-naked pre-pubescent girl.  It was something about lost innocence.

An incoming call interrupted his song.  I tried to dig the phone out of my jeans pocket without straightening my legs, but the pants were too tight.  Cursing under my breath, I stretched and finally managed to get hold of it, but by the time I got it out of my pocket, the ringing had stopped.  The missed call was from Eric.

I considered waiting until we arrived at Uncle Jim’s place to return Eric’s call, but the phone went off again.  I figured it must be important and answered it.

“There’s trouble dude,” said Eric.

“The last twenty four hours have been nothing but trouble,” I replied.

“Are you sitting down because it just got worse?” asked Eric.

“What is it now?”

“I just got a call from my friend…the homicide detective,” answered Eric.  “They are under pressure to bring you in, Grant.  You have made some powerful enemies.”

“If I go in now, Eric, I may never come out,” I said.  “It will have to wait.”

“I know,” agreed Eric.  “Did you find anything in John’s office?”

I didn’t want to mention Pony Tail in front of Ginny, so I said, “Nothing.  Did you learn anything from the witness?”

“Not yet,” answered Eric.  “They are keeping her under wraps.”

“Stay at it,” I said.  “My life may depend upon it.  In the meantime, I’m headed to Uncle Jim’s.”

“Good idea,” said Eric.  “Maybe he can call in a few favors from his friends on the force.  Wait a minute, Grant.  Something just occurred to me, the lecture can’t be over yet.  What’s going on?”

“Too much to tell you over the phone,” I answered. “Ginny and Padma are with me.”

Eric groaned.  “I got a feeling I’m not going to like this.”

“There was another murder,” I said.

There was a long pause before Eric finally said, “Geez, another one!  What happened?”

“It was Tiny,” I answered.  “I’m sorry, Eric.  I’ll fill you in on the details later.”

“Damn…I got him that job,” said Eric.  “There’s some crazy shit going down.  Do you think there is a connection to John’s murder?”

“I do and I’ll explain later,” I answered.

“You can’t put the cops off much longer,” said Eric.  “If you delay too long, it will look like you’ve got something to hide.”

He was right, of course.  I couldn’t put them off much longer.  Sooner or later, they would find me and if they did, it was unlikely my word would be enough.  The pressure was on to find proof of my innocence for two murders, and I needed it fast.

If I learned anything as a trial lawyer, I learned that you never know where the answers to a problem might turn up.  I remembered something that was bugging me about this job.  “Eric, you said this morning they wanted me to guard Padma.  Who are they?”

“I don’t know,” answered Eric.  “Someone else took the call.  I thought it was odd myself.  I’ll have one of my people look into it.  Have you asked Padma?”

Don’t you just hate it when you miss the obvious?  “Good idea,” I said sheepishly.

After I ended the call with Eric, I intended to ask Padma about the security job, but happened to glance in the rear view mirror.  There was a black SUV coming up fast!

*****

Thank you for reading Chapter Three of Robert Grant’s quirky novel, Naked Tao. We will see you next Sunday night for Chapter 13. In the meantime, we invite your comments and by all means, spread the word.

NAKED TAO – CHAPTER 11

Welcome to Sunday Night Cliffhangers at NT Publishing Company where we post entire books a chapter at a time. We are pleased to present the wonderful off beat novel, Naked Tao, by Robert Grant. Last week we posted Chapter 10 and here is Chapter 11 for your enjoyment!

CHAPTER 11

“Reverse your un-wilding way.” – Ch’ing

 

The audience erupted into applause as Ginny walked across the stage.  Her step had lost its spring and her eyes were noticeably puffy.  At first it puzzled me to see her on stage, but then I remembered she was the CEO of the program sponsor, Emerald Allure, Inc.  Despite the bombshell good looks and the hot clothes, Ginny feels like the girl-next-door.  It’s easy to forget she is a rich and powerful woman…the kind of person who can summon the police.  I figured she had them searching the premises for me now.

The thing that upset me the most was something I had not noticed beforehand.  The stage lights reflected sparks of light from a diamond ring on her left hand.  It was huge…a damn boulder…unbelievable!  How could I have missed that before?  She was either married or engaged.  I had been such an idiot.

I wondered if Pony Tail had anything to do with the ring and returned my attention to him.  He was at Eric’s party, the office, and now here.  To make matters worse, he might be the master of disguise, so I couldn’t be certain where else he would show up.  The best way to be invisible is to appear ordinary.  While Tibetan monks aren’t a common sight in Louisville, that disguise was a stroke of genius today.  Tiny must have thought he was with Padma.

If Tiny had read Padma’s book, then he would have known that Buddhists believe all life is precious.  They won’t even dig the foundation for a new monastery without carefully sifting the earthworms from the soil and moving them to safety.  Tiny would not have felt threatened by a Tibetan monk. I figured he never saw it coming.

If Pony Tail was the killer, he must have changed into the hippie clothes after he ditched the robe.  It was a perfect disguise to blend in with this peace and love crowd.  Still, I couldn’t be certain he wasn’t another body guard hired to protect Padma, like me.  I decided to keep a close eye on him.

The gun concerned me, but he made no move for it.  Instead his eyes were locked onto Ginny.  The way he watched her every move bothered me.  What were they talking about last night at Eric’s party and what was he doing at my office?

Ginny stood before the packed house.  She was focused on the audience and did not acknowledge me or Pony Tail.  Given her reaction to the bloody knife a few minutes earlier, I wasn’t sure what to expect from her.  Was she going to cancel the event while the police searched for the murderer…searched for me?  The buzz from the audience slowly subsided until you could have heard a pin drop in the place.  Everyone waited, including me.

Slowly Ginny began to smile.  It seemed to radiate from her whole being.  I was certain you could feel the smile in her touch and when she began to speak, you could hear it in her voice.  This is not what I expected at all!

“Hello.  My name is Virginia Bardough, but my friends call me Ginny.  So, please call me Ginny.  I want to thank you for joining us at this session of Ideas to Change the World.  These presentations are offered to you on faith.  Not blind faith, but absolute faith in you.”

“We hold the sincere belief that each of you has everything you need to have an impact on the world,” she said.  “Sometimes all it takes to get things going is a little reminder of what could be.  So without further fanfare, we would like to present a remarkable man who inspires us with his simple message.”

Ginny paused for dramatic effect before saying, “We are sovereign.”

Her shining eyes surveyed the audience. One by one she pointed to individuals in the audience and repeated, “You are sovereign.”

The audience was riveted to their seats by the spell she had cast.  She scanned the crowd before adding, “No one has the right to interfere with a sovereign’s decisions.  You choose how to live your life.”

Ginny owned the audience.  “Now that I have your attention, ladies and gentlemen, please give Padma Ganesha a warm welcome.”

The crowd erupted into cheers and applause as a small round man in Tibetan Buddhist’s crimson robes waddled onto the stage.  Unbelievable!  Padma was the monk from Eric’s party.  What the hell is going on?!

His tiny hands were held high above his head with the palms facing the audience.  He took a few steps and stopped.  A smile stretched across his round boyish face.  Bowing he brought his hands to his heart.  The audience went wild.  The little guy was like a rock star.

Padma repeatedly bowed to the audience.  After five minutes of standing ovation, he finally moved prayer hands to his left shoulder and tilted his head to the side as if saying, “Give it a rest folks.”  The crowd roared with laughter at his good natured gesture and began to quiet down.

He took a step toward the podium, paused as if he had seen it for the first time, and then a sly grin tweaked the corners of his mouth.  Taking the last few steps in its direction, he slipped behind the podium and disappeared.  Well sort of.  He was much wider than the podium, but the top of his head was barely visible.

If it wasn’t for the extra three inches the green cowboy boots gave him, he may not have made it to the top.  Seriously…green cowboy boots!  The combination of red and green made him look like a chubby little Christmas elf.

An awkward silence descended over the audience before it was broken by a lady in the front row who said, “You’d think somebody would have thought of this.”

As if on cue, Padma peeked around the side of the podium like a child playing a game of peek-a-boo.  A few in the audience laughed nervously.  Most were quiet.

The ensuing silence was broken by an outrageously long and noisy fart.  Padma let out a sigh of relief.  The audience shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

You could have heard a pin drop before an old man in the front row busted out with laughter.  Padma turned to me and winked through thick black rimmed glasses.  As I stood there in shock, he stepped away from the podium and began speaking in a sing song voice.

“Hello again dear friends,” he said.  “Are you ready to learn the secret of a long life?”

Mr. Giggles in the front row said, “Damn right I am.”  The crowd applauded.

Padma directed his attention to Mr. Giggles, “If you could live forever, what would you do differently?”

Mr. Giggles didn’t hesitate, “I’d live life without regret.”

“What is it you regret my friend,” asked Padma.

“I did what I was told instead of doing what I wanted,” answered Mr. Giggles.

Padma leaned toward Mr. Giggles and in a conspiratorial tone asked, “Do you want to hear a secret?”

Thirty two hundred hungry souls eagerly leaned forward in their seats.  They came from all over the world to learn the secret of happiness and long life.  Padma gave them a relaxed peaceful smile and said, “The secret is…”

I felt a sudden chill.  Pony Tail reached for his gun.  Without thinking, I hit the light switches and bolted toward the podium shouting, “Gun, everybody down!”

The handgun exploded with a loud bang.  I ignored the ringing in my ears and tried to adjust my eyes to the sudden change in lighting.  I suddenly felt Pony Tail to my right and turned him so that I had his back.  Knowing I needed to disarm him quickly, I hooked his throat with my left hand and tilted his head back.  His back was bent like a bow.

Once his balance was broken, I owned him.  I slid my right hand down his shooting arm.  Something was wrong. There was no gun and the arm was soft.  It was definitely not Pony Tail’s arm.

The stage area was filled with the smell of gunpowder and fear.  Still, I caught a whiff of a vaguely familiar scent and buried a nose in my captive’s hair.  It was not a man’s smell. Nor was it perfumed.  It was natural and real.  This had to be Ginny.  I decided to hold on to her.

A second shot was fired.  The first shot must have shocked the audience.  The second woke them from their stunned silence.  Shrill screams and fearful shouts of escape filled the hall.

My first instinct was to get Ginny to safety.  Thinking of Padma, I resisted the temptation to rush to an exit.  It was also my job to protect him.

As my eyes slowly adjusted to the limited light cast from the emergency exits, I scanned the area for Padma.  He wasn’t on the stage.  Where could he be?  Beyond the stage, I saw shadowy shapes moving toward the auditorium exits.  The shooter seemed to have disappeared into the shadows.  Ginny was tense, taking shallow breaths, but she didn’t try to get away from me.

People were stampeding the exits.  It was starting to get ugly.  The mood of the peace and love crowd had changed dramatically.  Panic was growing and the shrieking intensified as people fought their way to safety.

I whispered to Ginny, “We need to get out of here before the gunman finds us in the dark.  Come with me.  Try to move quietly.”

She didn’t budge.  Since I couldn’t see her expression in the dark, I wondered if she heard me over the screams.  Maybe she panicked.  Finally, her head nodded slightly.  Good, I thought, she’s calm.  I took her firmly by the elbow and we maneuvered through the stage curtains.  An exit sign above the double doors glowed in the dark.  We headed toward it.

Just as we reached the door, I heard footsteps behind us.  Without looking back, we hurried out the door and took the stairs to the parking garage.  The door opened behind us and someone followed us down the stairs.

We burst into the parking garage and rushed to the concrete steps leading to the roof top.  There were four flights to climb before we reached the top level. My breathing was ragged and my broken ribs were killing me.  Ginny showed no signs of exhaustion.

We sprinted toward the truck.  Ginny quickly surveyed the rust bucket before allowing herself a small smile as she said, “Maybe we should take my car.”

I turned to the Porsche and my pulse quickened.  Damn, I wanted to drive that car more than anything and despite the situation, could hardly contain my excitement.  I nodded in agreement.

At that instant, the stairwell door burst open and clanged against the wall.  I immediately turned toward it and dropped to a crouch.  There was a flash of crimson and for a moment I thought it was the killer before I finally recognized Padma’s smiling face.

He headed toward us at a turtle’s pace.  I’d forgotten all about my charge… some bodyguard I turned out to be.

“Are you injured?”  I asked.

Padma’s gaze dropped to my ribs before answering with a smile, “No.”

I followed his eyes.  There was fresh blood on my shirt mixed in with Tiny’s dried blood.  I was about to explain the blood when Ginny took a step back and exclaimed, “Oh my god Grant, you’ve been shot!”

*****

Thank you for reading Chapter 11 of Robert Grant’s quirky novel, Naked Tao.  We will see you next Sunday night for Chapter 12.  In the meantime, we invite your comments and by all means, spread the word.

NAKED TAO – CHAPTER 10

Welcome to Sunday Night Cliffhangers at NT Publishing Company where we post entire books a chapter at a time. We are pleased to present the wonderful off beat novel, Naked Tao, by Robert Grant. Last week we posted Chapter 9 and here is Chapter 10 for your enjoyment!

 

CHAPTER 10

“Live free or die.” – State Motto of New Hampshire

 

The Kentucky Center is located in downtown Louisville on the Ohio River at water’s edge.  While not far from the apartment, it was too far to walk on a hot day, so I headed out in dad’s old truck.  Traffic was bumper to bumper on Main Street.  Horns were honking.  People were partying in the streets.  Their hands were stuffed with super sized beers and foot long hot dogs.

Street vendors were selling t-shirts that read, “Immortality Is Only Kinky the First Time.”  It was a festive carnival atmosphere.  I wondered if these people really believed they were going to learn the secret of immortality, or if it was just another reason to get rowdy.

Even though the event didn’t begin until 7:00 p.m., the Center parking garage was already jammed packed when I arrived a few minutes before six.  I made my way to the roof top where I spotted one last empty space at the end of a row.

Before I could park, a green Porsche whipped around the corner heading in the wrong direction and straight at me.  A brunette with wavy hair blowing in the wind was behind the wheel.  A phone was stuck in her ear.  She was focused on her conversation and did not see me.

I hit the brakes hard enough that I was jerked forward and smashed into the steering wheel.  A sharp pain shot through my sternum as the Porsche slipped into the last spot.

The chick was completely oblivious.  I leaned out of the window intending to give her a hard time about what she’d just done, but stopped short when I heard her conversation.

“This is for the best,” she said.  “Please, get on with your life.”

She listened for a moment and shouted, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

I realized it was Ginny.  My fury dissipated.  I was relieved to finally find her and see that she was okay.

She dropped the phone into her purse before gracefully swinging her legs out of the Porsche.  The hem of her forest green dress was short enough I got a peek up her skirt.  She wasn’t wearing panties.  I forgot the pain in my sternum.  I forgot she stole my parking space.  I forgot she nearly crashed into me.  Damn, if I didn’t forget to breathe.  Somehow, getting that accidental peek was even more exciting than seeing her completely nude the night before.

Then to my utter amazement her grace evaporated into a spell of clumsiness as she awkwardly dropped her car keys onto the pavement.  When she bent over to pick them up I heard the unmistakable sound of tearing fabric followed by, “You’ve got to be shitting me!”

Still oblivious to my presence she tried looking over her shoulder for the torn fabric.  When that didn’t work she twisted at the waist.  Finally, she bent over and tried to peer up her dress.

When she looked up for the first time, she saw me watching her from the truck.  Her jaw dropped as we made eye contact and I smiled.

“Your dress is torn,” I said.

Her beautiful eyes narrowed slightly.  I tried again.  “You need some help with it?”

She mumbled something I couldn’t make out.  Turning on a heel she stomped off in the direction of the stairwell.  For the first time, I could see the rip down the small of her back revealing a glimpse of an ornate hamsa hand tattoo.

“A Porsche,” I muttered.  “I’m sure she was real impressed with my truck.”

Since Ginny had taken the last available parking space, I reluctantly parked the pickup in front of a no parking sign at the end of the row.  There was a good chance it would be impounded.  At that point, I just did not care.

It was the first time I had ever been back stage.  I expected security to be tight at all of the entrances, but there was literally no one attending the door.  I quietly surveyed my surroundings.  To my right was a small vending area with several empty tables.  To my left was a security office.  Straight ahead was a corridor with a sign posted at the entrance that read  “Authorized Personnel Only”.  I didn’t see Tiny anywhere.

I returned my attention to the security office.  The overhead light was on, but the view into the room was obscured by a smoked glass window.  I could barely make out the outline of a desk surrounded by security monitors.  No one was sitting in the desk chair.  The office looked empty to me.  I figured Tiny was making his rounds, but since the door to the office stood open I decided to just have a peek inside.

As I moved closer to the office door I smelled it for the second time in the last 24 hours…a strange combination of coffee, rust, and shit.  I froze in place, listening for any sound that would explain the now familiar odors.  The last few drops of a fresh pot gurgled from a coffee maker.  I heard nothing else so I peeked cautiously inside the door.

A mountain of a man, obviously Tiny, was lying in a pool of blood, his meaty hands around a combat knife buried in his chest.  I rushed to his side and dropped to my knees.  Tiny’s head rolled in my direction.  His pupils were large and unfocused.  Blood trickled from the side of his mouth.  He tried to speak, stopped, and then gurgled something that sounded like “Mung”.

I wiped his mouth with my shirt tail and I put my hands around his to stop him from pulling out the knife.  “Don’t,” I said.  “Just hang on.  I’ll get help.”

I dug into my pocket and pulled out my iPhone.  It squirted from my blood soaked hand and landed on the floor a few feet away.  A thin stream of blood squirted from the edge of the wound.  “Damn,” I cursed.

I needed both hands to stop the loss of blood.  Tiny needed medical attention fast.  How was I going to get help?  I had to make that call.  Tiny’s life depended on it.  Trying to keep pressure on the wound with one hand, I stretched the other hand toward the phone.  Just as my fingertips reached it, a foot came out of nowhere and kicked it across the room.  The phone bounced off a metal file cabinet and spun out of reach on the other side of Tiny.

In the corner my eye, I saw a sandal heel pivot and point in my direction.  I instinctively rolled under a hard back kick that would have crushed my chest, and slammed hard into the attacker’s supporting leg.  The maneuver worked.  His knee gave way and he crumbled to the ground.

I thought I had him, but quick as a cat, he popped to his feet.  I lurched at him with blood soaked hands, but missed.  The miss cost me dearly.  I never saw the foot that slammed into my ribs or the hand that grabbed my throat a second later.  Before I could retaliate, his knee pinned my arm to the floor.  This guy was fast.

Instinct is to pull away, but Ch’ing had trained me well.  Instead of trying to yank my arm away from him, I rolled in the direction of the pinned arm and slammed a palm into the back of his elbow.  It worked.  He grunted in pain and released my throat as he tried to tumble away from me.

I followed close behind, but he caught his balance and I caught his fist in my sore ribs.  Grimacing in pain, my hand clutched at a cracked rib.  It was instinctive, but the wrong move because it gave him a chance to roll to his feet and flee the room.

I wanted to follow him, but scrambled back to Tiny instead.  His pupils were fully dilated.  The bleeding had stopped.  I checked his pulse.  It confirmed what I already knew.  Tiny was dead.  My second death in two days.  What was happening?  People around me were dropping like flies.

There was nothing I could do for Tiny, but I could do something about his killer.  Determined to catch him, I pulled the knife from Tiny’s chest and scrambled after the killer.  I didn’t make it far before I slipped on the blood soaked floor and crashed head first into the door jam.  The blow brought me to my knees, stars dancing before my eyes and then I blacked out.

I’m not sure how long I was out.  When I came to I remember gingerly touching my brow and feeling something wet.  I looked at my finger tips and saw blood.  I vaguely remember thinking I needed a doctor.  I stuck a hand into my pocket to call one, but couldn’t find the phone.

I was disoriented.  It was the sight of Tiny’s body that brought it all back.  I pulled myself together as best I could, grabbed my phone and the knife before staggering out of the office.  I headed for the door marked “Authorized Personnel Only” which opened into a long corridor.  I was pretty sure it was the direction the killer took thanks to the blood stains on the floor, but the trail he left didn’t last for long.

The passageway was lined with doors.  As I rushed down the hallway, I looked for something that would tell me which way the killer might have headed.  There were more doors on the left, the N.E. Stairs, and an elevator.  The elevator did not appear to be moving.

I peeked into the stairwell, but didn’t hear any footsteps.  I was about to turn back when a small bit of blood dripped at my feet.  Another drop followed, but this one splattered on my wrist.  I looked upward and caught a glimpse of crimson fabric.  The monk was on the landing above me, waiting for my next move.

Rather than rush in and try to chase him down, I decided on stealth.  Ch’ing taught me that the secret to moving with stealth is balance.  The key to balanced movement is to never move a weighted foot.  You must take all the weight off a foot before you move it.

As quietly as I could, I stepped into the stairwell and let the door close behind me.  Still as a tree, I waited to see what the monk did next.  He didn’t budge, so I inched toward the first step as quietly as I could.  I stopped and waited again.  Everything looked good, so I started up the stairs.  One by one, I slowly climbed the steps.  All the while, my neck stretched to catch a peek of the monk before he saw me.

Laying in a crumpled mess on the landing was the monk’s discarded robe.  It was damp with fresh blood.  Disappointment washed over me.  I nudged the robe with a toe and saw a slice in it.  Tiny must have gotten in some blows and gone down fighting.

I didn’t get a good look at the killer’s face.  Without the robe to distinguish him from everyone else, I had little hope of finding him.  He could be anyone.  There were over three thousand people at the Center to hear Padma reveal his big secret.  Finding the killer in that crowd was definitely beyond my skill level.

Besides, I didn’t know whether he used the stairwell to dump his disguise, or if he took the stairs to a different floor.  The Kentucky Center is a big place and Tiny’s murder could be anywhere.  Capturing Tiny’s killer would have to be left to the police.  It was time to call them, but first I wanted to wash the blood from my hands.

I didn’t have any trouble finding a bathroom, but I was preoccupied and didn’t pay much attention to the sign on the door.  I wish I had.  Instead, I rushed in, set the knife next to the sink and began cleaning up.

As the blood swirled down the drain, I thought about the statement I would give to the police.  That is when it hit me.  I had made another huge mistake.  I was in the ladies room.  It is also the exact moment the door opened and Ginny walked in.

She took one look at me and froze before the door closed behind her.  At first there was an odd confused look on her face, but then it changed to concern.  “Oh my god, Grant, is that blood!?”  she exclaimed.

I don’t know what I expected from her, but after last night I knew she was a player.  More to the point, despite what Kinsey said about her, I figured she didn’t care one way or the other about me.  I wasn’t sure what to think about her concerned behavior.

“I was just cleaning up,” I answered.  “I guess I missed some.”

She fumbled in the purse hanging on her shoulder and said, “Let’s get you a doctor.”

“I’m okay,” I said.  “It’s not my blood.”

Her concern shifted to confusion and then to shock.  “What do you mean it’s not your blood?”  she asked.

I didn’t like the direction this was headed and said, “It belongs to someone else.”

I was about to explain what happened when she noticed the knife.  She started to say something and then snapped her mouth shut.  It was her eyes that instantly concerned me the most.  They were filled with terror.  I had seen the same look many times before in the eyes of witnesses I badgered during cross-examination.  I hated it.

Ginny took a cautious step back.  When I extended a hand in her direction, her eyes widened in alarm and then she fled the room.

“Shit,” I muttered.

I’m ashamed to say, I considered fleeing.  I wish I could say I decided to do the right thing instead of running, but the truth is I wanted to protect myself.  I knew if she called the police and told them about the bloody knife, they would lock me in the deepest hole they had.  So I went after her.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized I had forgotten the murder weapon.

Once out of the bathroom, I scanned the hall for her.  She was nowhere in sight.  I couldn’t understand how she managed to disappear so quickly.  She could be anywhere.  I took a moment to weigh my options, but what I did instead was feel sorry for myself.  I had done nothing wrong, but everything that could possibly go wrong, had gone wrong.  First John and now this!  What else could go wrong, I thought.  The answer is plenty and it did.

When I regained my composure, I noticed an unmarked door standing open.  I was pretty sure it was closed earlier and decided to take a look inside.  There were several rows of alternating stage lights hanging from the ceiling separated by sliding curtains and open movable wall partitions.  A simple podium was the only stage prop.  I could hear the buzz of the audience’s conversation.  Somehow I had managed to find the stage.

That’s when I remembered I was there to protect Padma.  I had a job to do and that was what I needed at the moment to take my mind off of myself.

I didn’t have a clue what to do next.  There was one thing I knew for sure…I had no training as a body guard and there was a killer on the loose.  Ch’ing would tell me to listen, not just with my ears, but with my whole being.  Sighing, I wondered what that meant and decided the only thing to do was wait and see what happened next.

I chose a position out of the way, but with a strategic view of the podium and audience.  The audience was an odd crowd…a cross section of America.  For example, a hippie chick in the front row sat next to man in a conservative business suit.  The rest of the crowd was equally in-congruent.

Leaning lightly against the wall, I felt something poke me in the back and looked over my shoulder.  It was a bank of light switches which must control all of the stage lights.

When I turned around again, a man was on the opposite side of the stage watching me.  He was medium height, brown skinned, and round faced.  A long blond ponytail hung midway down his back.  He was wearing jeans, sandals, and a Bob Marley t-shirt.  It was Pony Tail!  What was he doing here and why did he have a gun tucked into his jeans?

*****

Thank you for reading Chapter 10 of Robert Grant’s quirky novel, Naked Tao.  We will see you next Sunday night for Chapter 11.  In the meantime, we invite your comments and by all means, spread the word.

NAKED TAO – CHAPTER 9

Welcome to Sunday Night Cliffhangers at NT Publishing Company where we post entire books a chapter at a time. We are pleased to present the wonderful off beat novel, Naked Tao, by Robert Grant. Last week we posted Chapter 8 and here is Chapter 9 for your enjoyment!

CHAPTER 9

 “…you should be very confused right now.” – Ch’ing

 

My head throbbed to the jungle beat of a rap song crackling from an old clock radio salvaged from my parents’ attic.  Like a scratched record, the same two annoying lines repeated again and again.

“I’m a man of Tao, naked and wild.  I can make you howl, naked and wild.”

Something had to be done about that throbbing.  Either I needed more tequila or the radio needed to die.  Since making a decision was totally out of the question, I decided to do both.  First, I hit the mute button, but it didn’t work.  Frustrated, I stabbed it a second and then a third time.  It must have been possessed, because it kept playing.

That’s when a brilliant idea leaked through the alcohol haze and I yanked the cord out of the wall.  The music played on.  Just as I was about to take a swing at the radio, a bright light dialed the headache up to max.

I put a pillow over my face and groaned, “Just kill me now.”

It didn’t help.  The pillow stank from last night’s sins and the radio continued tormenting me.  I groaned and tossed the pillow to the floor.  Then I grabbed the radio and smashed it against the wall.  It couldn’t have gotten much worse, but it did.

“Have you lost your mind, Grant?”

It was a chick’s raspy voice, sounding like she’d smoked one too many unfiltered Camels.  The voice belonged to a tall brunette with nearly two inches of dirty blond roots and chipped red nail polish.  She was naked in my bathroom doorway.

There was something familiar about this woman, but I couldn’t place her.  She was also a little scary.  Her torso was covered with a tattoo of Eve holding a snake in one hand and a half-eaten apple in the other.  Her face was hard-worn, as if she had seen some tough times.  I thought she might look older than she actually was.

I realized I was staring at her and averted my eyes.  I was also naked, so I reached for a dirty sheet to cover myself.  I have a habit of giving strangers nicknames and tagged her Eve.

She cleared her throat expectantly, so I mumbled the first thing that came to mind, “The music woke me.”

She blinked a couple of times.  I wasn’t sure if she was adjusting to the light, or if she was trying to decide if she should ask about the radio.

“What music,” she finally asked.

Now I was confused, so I asked a question of my own, “You didn’t hear the radio?”

“No, you were dreaming…all curled up into a ball and begging someone to please stop,” she said.  “Do you want to tell me about your kinky dream while we act it out?”

I let out a little groan.  I was not interested in kinky games.  Besides my head felt as if last night’s tequila had taken root and a large, festering agave was growing in it.  I fought back an eruption of stomach acid burning its way past my heart and half way up my esophagus, before I finally managed to choke it back down.

She was nearly to the bed when I blurted out, “I have a headache.”

She froze in place and fixed a glassy stare at the center of my forehead, as if she could see into my head.  “Really?” she asked.  “You have a headache.  I can’t believe you just said that to me.  It sounds like something I would say to my husband.”

Even though it was the truth, I also hated saying it.  Cynthia often used the same excuse.  I heard it often enough from her that I became reluctant to initiate sex.  The truth is, begging for sex made me feel like a loser.

That wasn’t the worst of it.  Cynthia revealed her true nature on those occasions she tried to negotiate an exchange of sex for something she wanted from me.  As you can imagine, it didn’t go well when I pointed out she was trying to turn a trick with the love of her life.

So, I eventually stopped asking.  After a couple of sexless months she told me I was emotionally bankrupt and demanded a divorce.  It was just like her to make it my fault.  She said she needed more from a partner than I could give.  Go figure.  She emptied our bank account, moved her girlfriend into the house, and kept the Benz.

Eve was looking a bit impatient as she crossed her arms over her small bosom.  I didn’t know what she expected me to say.  I sure didn’t want to talk about headaches or spouses.  If anyone was due an explanation, it had to be me.  Geez, she was a married woman standing naked in my bedroom.

I shrugged. “The headache is real, but you have a husband at home,” I said.  “Maybe you should offer to do kinky things with him.  I’m really not interested in married women.”

Her eyes traveled downward and came to rest at my groin area, where the bedding was tented.  I followed her eyes.  Damn, I was hard.  My body had betrayed me and it was embarrassing.  I wished I could do a better job of hiding it from her, but I knew it was hopeless.

“Yea, that’s what you said last night and your lack of response proved it,” she said.  “Fortunately, things are looking up this morning.”

My hands were shaking.  I wasn’t sure if it was caused by an overdose of tequila, or the nightmarish day I had yesterday.  I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about, because I didn’t remember a thing about last night.  Was she saying I couldn’t perform?  Not that I wanted to have sex with her, because I didn’t, but not being able to perform in that way was something a guy never wanted to happen.

“I’m not interested,” I said.

Maybe I should have been more diplomatic, because it started to get ugly at this point.  “Look at you,” said Eve.  “You’re a mess.  You live above a hookah bar.  I thought you were some kind of hot shot lawyer.”

She was right about the apartment.  It wasn’t much.  Two small rooms above a hookah bar in a busy section of the Highlands.  The larger of the two rooms was divided by a Formica counter top into a kitchen and living room.  The initials of a prior tenant were carved into the Formica and judging by the burn marks, it was once used as an ash tray.

Two mismatched thrift store bar stools lined the bar.  One was solid enough, but the other was a menace.  I kept meaning to throw it out before someone got hurt and sued me for what little I had.  Not that I entertained guests in the place.

Other than a half-eaten pizza and an empty tequila bottle, the apartment was neat enough.  A stack of unopened mail lay in a pile of dust at the end of a beat up old coffee table.  Several of the envelopes were marked “final notice”.  I should have opened the mail and paid a few bills, but I really got distracted with the big case I was working on for Pathogen.

The only thing of value in the place was a dusty antique sword with strange markings standing alone in the corner like a silent sentry.  It was a gift from Ch’ing.  With a twinkle in his eye he told me it was older than the hills, and a priceless piece of junk.  I felt a stab of panic remembering that he was missing.  I needed to get it together and find out what was going on.

At the end of the counter was an open door leading into a small windowless bedroom.  On the floor was a king sized mattress that took up most of the room.  That’s where I was at the moment.  The only light in the room came from a bare light bulb in the small bathroom.  It provided back lighting for Eve.  The truth is I would have preferred something closer to total darkness.

I sighed.  I couldn’t remember ever waking up with a stranger before, and didn’t know how to handle it.  What I did know for sure was it was time to get rid of her, but first I asked her about last night.

“For the last six months I watched you come into my bar and order the same thing” she said. “It was the most expensive bourbon in the place, a Jim Beam Devil’s Cut…never diluted with a mixer or ice, and always ordered neat.”

She swept her arm around my crappy apartment and shook her head in disbelief.  “You have that right mix of bad boy and good guy that is so delicious,” she said. “The devil’s cut drew attention to the danger lurking behind your smooth lawyer facade.  I could tell you were some kind of bad ass, but I could also see a lost little boy in there too.  It made you especially hot!”

“It was always the same,” she continued. “You would sit at the bar and sip your one drink, while the hottest chicks in the place hit on you.  Once you finished your Devil’s Cut, you would excuse yourself and go to the men’s room.  From there you would quietly slip out the door without saying good-bye to anyone.”

“I thought you might be gay or something,” she said.  “What a waste that would be.  I always wanted to turn a gay guy.  So, last night when you started ordering shots of tequila, I saw an opportunity and decided to take it.  You were interested at first, but then you noticed my ring and chilled.  So, I made some adjustments.”

I raised an eyebrow and asked, “Adjustments?”

“I told you my husband died in a motorcycle wreck a few months ago and I wasn’t ready to take my ring off,” she answered.  “You got all sappy and told me about your dad.”

“But why would you lie like that,” I asked.

She narrowed her eyes and said, “Because I can.”

I didn’t remember any of this and I didn’t like her lies.  “How did we get back here?”  I asked.

“Seriously…it didn’t take much once you were good and drunk,” answered Eve.  “I let you call me Ginny and bent over every once in a while to show you my tits.  We closed the deal when I followed you into the men’s room and grabbed your cock.  Men are so easy to manipulate.”

I didn’t like being manipulated and the last thing I needed was a jealous husband.

As an afterthought she asked, “Who’s Ginny by the way?”

I wasn’t about to discuss Ginny with this woman and decided to keep the discussion focused on her.  “Won’t your husband want to know where you spent the night?”  I asked.

“I’ll tell him I couldn’t sleep after work and went to my sister’s for coffee,” she said.  “He’s so stupid.  He believes whatever I tell him.”

The lies reminded me of Cynthia.  I did not need another liar in my life.  I was trying to figure out how to get rid of her when my iPhone vibrated.  The call was from Eric.  Getting rid of her was going to be an unpleasant task.  I dislike being rude, especially to women.  I don’t usually take calls when I’m with someone, but it was a welcomed diversion.

“It’s very early,” I said.

“He lives,” said Eric. “Glad you survived the night.”

“What do you know about last night?”  I asked.

“Only that you didn’t go home like you promised,” answered Eric.  “You were seriously wasted dude and wouldn’t tell me where you were.  I’ve never seen you so paranoid.  You kept jabbering some nonsense about a blond, a ponytail, Ginny, and a kiss.”

“I didn’t kiss Ginny last night,” I said.  “You’re tripping man.”

“Damn, I was afraid of that,” he said.

Eve was ransacking the room for her clothes.  The place was a mess before she started, but somehow she still managed to make it worse.

“How do you find anything in this mess,” she growled.

“I hear a chick’s voice,” said Eric.  “Dude, you’re holding out on me.  Did you take Ginny home?  It’s about time you found someone like that.  I have to say…you stayed with Cynthia way too long!  What was that skanky stripper’s name?  You know…the one she left you for…Chasity…Candy?”

“Candida…and no I didn’t bring Ginny home with me,” I said.

“Unbelievable…Candida…how fitting she chose a STD for a stage name,” said Eric.  “It’s not Ginny…bummer.  Well…anyway, I’m glad you got some action last night, but if it had been me, I would have poured my energy into Ginny.  Damn, that girl is special!”

“Take it easy Eric,” I said.  “Aren’t you the one who’s always telling me it’s only sex?”

“What I tell you my friend is don’t be afraid, it’s only pussy,” answered Eric.

Eve said a little too loudly, “You’re a loser, Grant,” then slammed the door on her way out for added emphasis.

“Damn, she’s pissed,” said Eric.

“Yeah, the perfect ending to a really bad night,” I said wryly.  “Is there any news on Ch’ing?”

“No, but I’ve got my best guys on it,” answered Eric.  “There’s nothing to do about the angry chick but move forward, Grant.  Speaking of which…I’ve got a job for you.”

“I don’t want a job, Eric.  I’m moving to Bhutan.”

“Yeah right, you’re broke.  Let me help you out, Grant.  I have a job for you.”

I was suspicious.  “What kind of job?”  I asked.

“Padma Ganesha needs protection,” replied Eric.

“You’re joking right,” I said.  “I’m not a body-guard, Eric. I’m a lawyer.”

“Grant, you’re an unemployed lawyer,” said Eric.  “You need the money and maybe it’s time for a change.  Besides, who knows where this could lead…perhaps a rich corporate client.  On second thought, I was starting to think you might not be cut out for that attorney shit anyway.”

The one thing I knew for sure was, I wanted nothing to do with another heartless client like Pathogen.  Maybe it was time for a change.

I wondered why Eric needed me to guard someone and asked, “You’re the professional.  Why don’t you do this?”

“I would, but I’ll be busy trying to save you’re sorry ass from guys who lift weights all day in prison,” replied Eric.  “Besides, they asked for you.  It’s a lot of money and could keep you occupied while we get the rest of this mess sorted out.”

“Asked for me…really…and who would that be?”  I asked.

“You know better than to ask that question, Grant.  I would tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”

“Geez, you can be so damn corny sometimes,” I said.  “How about cutting the crap and telling me why the winner of the Nobel Peace prize needs a body-guard?”

“Who knows, buddy,” said Eric.  “It’ll pay a few bills and might even buy you a plane ticket to Katmandu.  He is speaking today at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.”

“I thought Padma Ganesha never did speaking engagements,” I said.

“Yeah, I know,” said Eric.  “He surprised everyone when he accepted.  The sponsor is Emerald Allure, Inc.  It’s part of their lecture series, Ideas to Change the World.”

“Emerald Allure…isn’t that Ginny’s company and don’t they make slut wear?”  I asked.

“Slut wear seems like a good place to start world change,” snickered Eric.  “I find it uplifting.”

I ignored Eric’s crude joke and searched my memory for details about Padma Ganesha.  A few years ago he wrote a best-selling book about the happiest place on Earth.  The inhabitants are totally at ease with themselves and the world around them.  There is no hatred in their hearts.  Their minds are free from worry.  They live simple and honest lives, giving much and expecting little.  It is a place of peace and prosperity.

It is also a place where people live long lives.  The natives credit their longevity to a magical pool of water they call the “Bubbling Well”.

Padma’s book stayed on top of the best seller list for one hundred and thirty-six weeks.  Although he never gave the place a name, the media took to calling it “Shangri La”.  His fans hounded him for the location of the Bubbling Well, but he steadfastly refused to reveal it.

I thought about the pile of unpaid bills and asked, “What do I have to do?”

“You should dress in black,” replied Eric.  “Keep it casual.”

“What…no uniform boss man?” I quipped.

Eric sighed.  “Amateur.  I’ll send over a shirt that identifies you as security staff.  Be at the Center by 6:00 p.m. smartass.  Use the back stage entrance off 7th Street.  Ask for Tiny at the security desk.”

“Let me guess,” I said.  “Tiny is 6’8”, weighs 350 pounds, wears a pony tail, and is covered with tattoos.”

“With a face only a mother could love,” said Eric.  “He’s a real character.  This is his night job.  His day job is leader of the outlaw motorcycle gang, Dragon Gate.  You’ll like him, Grant.”

“Does Tiny have a last name?”  I asked.

“If he does, I’ve never heard it.”

“This should be interesting.”

*****

Thank you for reading Chapter 9 of Robert Grant’s quirky novel, Naked Tao.  We will see you next Sunday night for Chapter 10.  In the meantime, we invite your comments and by all means, spread the word.

 

NAKED TAO – CHAPTER 8

Welcome to Sunday Night Cliffhangers at NT Publishing Company where we post entire books a chapter at a time. We are pleased to present the wonderful off beat novel, Naked Tao, by Robert Grant. Last week we posted Chapter 7 and here is Chapter 8 for your enjoyment!

 

CHAPTER 8

 

 “…strip away everything and start fresh, like a newborn.”- Padma

 

What a day.  My biggest victory morphs into a nightmare and costs me my job.  A miracle cure that will heal my mother appears, and is just as quickly taken away.  I’m served with divorce papers.  My boss is dead and the police suspect me.  My best friend turns out to be a sex freak.  Ch’ing, who is a father to me, disappears without a word.  Ginny appears after ten years and then disappears.  Oh, and let’s not forget the small matter of needing to save the world from a villainous drug company.  Have I left anything out?  I couldn’t imagine it getting any worse, but of course it does.

“This is a huge mess,” said Kinsey.  “Grant, when did you last see Ginny?”

“What difference does it make?” I growled.

“Why do you say that?” asked Kinsey.

“She left the party with another guy,” I answered.

“Is that true?” asked Kinsey.  “Can you say for certain that is true?”

“I saw her talking to some guy,” I said.  “I assume they left together.”

Kinsey let out a disgusted growl.  “I thought you were a Taoist,” she said.  “Would Ch’ing let you get away with such sloppy thinking?”

Ch’ing focuses on the facts.  He only considers data acquired directly from his senses and carves away any assumptions.  One of his favorite internal arts is called Marrow Washing Chi Kung.  While it has a physical component, the internal aspect of the practice contains the hidden secrets of the art.  It is used to scrub the mind of self-deception.  Ch’ing insists it is the shortest path to clarity.

I could certainly use a little clarity at the moment.  Kinsey was right.  I needed to wait and see what had really happened to Ginny.  In the meantime, it was time to do something positive, so I suggested we see if the stalker was still outside.

We searched the street for any sign of Pony Tail.  While there were several white vehicles parked out front, none of them were occupied.  Eric grabbed Mr. Bear and his wife, but they only confirmed that the car had left.  To be on the safe side we searched the house and yard for any sign of him.  As expected, we did not find him.

“Do you think something bad has happened to Ginny?”  I asked.

Kinsey didn’t answer.  Instead she chewed on her lower lip.

“Should we call the police?”  I asked.

“And tell them what…that the C.E.O. of a large corporation disappeared from a sex party,” said Kinsey.  “A sex party hosted by the principles of a security company entrusted with the safety of others.  It will destroy our credibility, Grant.  It might destroy our business.”

“Sooner or later I will have to talk to them about John’s murder,” I said.  “Maybe I could downplay the sex party stuff.”

“Let’s wait until we know more,” suggested Kinsey.  “In the meantime, let’s see what we can find out on our own.  It’s time to see the rest of these guests off.”

I nodded and added, “Eric, I’m sorry I called you a liar.  You know…about the swinging thing.  Discretion was the right thing under the circumstances.  You owe it to Kinsey to keep a low profile about this strange lifestyle you’re into.”

Eric slapped me on the back as we made our way to the truck.  “Get some rest and we will sort this out tomorrow,” he said.  “Are you headed home to the Highlands?”

I nodded.

“Be careful, Grant,” he said.  “Are you good to drive?”

“Yes, I’m good to drive,” I answered.  “Eric, I’ve got a bad feeling about all of this.  I feel like time’s running out for me.  If John was murdered, then we need to find out who did it.  If we don’t get some answers soon, I’m going to end up in jail.”

“Then we’ll start with John’s secretary,” said Eric.  “I’ll interview her myself.”

I was dog tired, but the threat of jail time for a murder I didn’t commit was incentive to keep moving.  Instead of heading home, I decided to return to the office to see if I could retrieve the documents I had given to John.  My gut told me there was a connection between those documents and his death.  I came to regret that decision.

Law schools flood the market each year with fresh eager faces hoping to make a mark for themselves.  A young lawyer works long hours to get a toe hold into the legal market.  Being a lawyer may sound glamorous, but it’s a competitive profession where you have to get your hands dirty to get ahead of the rest of the pack.

Attorneys learn to criticize everything, including each other.  It creates a mindset that infiltrates our personal lives as well.  It is not easy to sustain a relationship when you’re busy attacking others.  Most young lawyers give up the practice once they get a taste of these harsh realities.

The documents proving Pathogen’s duplicity was all I needed to remind me of the lie I was living.  John had actually been right.  This profession really wasn’t for me and I did want out.  Before I quit though, there was something important I needed to do.  I decided that I was going to bring Pathogen down because somebody had to do it, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out who that would be, if not me.

Someone had given me the proof I needed to do it…but who left those documents in my office and why me?  Someone could be playing me, but bringing Pathogen down was not only the right thing to do, it was a necessary thing to do, if I intended to survive the coming challenge.

There was also a more personal reason to go after Pathogen.  Their scientist mentioned the discovery of a miracle plant that cured any illness, restored optimal health and led to a long life.  The motorcycle crash had left my mother with a severe brain injury.  Maybe this miraculous plant could heal her too.

It was a little after midnight when I pulled up to my office building.  We were on the thirty second floor and ordinarily there would be a few lights still shining through the windows, but on this night the office was dark and ominous.

I still had a key card to the building, but I wasn’t sure if it still worked.  I had never been fired before and a part of me felt like a thief sneaking into someone’s home.  The security camera pointing straight at my face didn’t help relieve the angst I was feeling.  My hand shook slightly as I slid the card into the slot for the garage overhead.

A wave of relief washed over me when the door began rising, but it turned to confusion when a car roared out and damn near side swiped me as soon as the door was high enough for it to pass through.  They were obviously in a hurry. It didn’t help my growing anxiety one bit, and I had to resist the temptation to just forget the whole thing and go home.

The garage was mostly empty.  A lone car was parked in an area where the lights were burned out.  It reminded me of a tombstone standing watch on a dark night.  I was accustomed to leaving the building at a late hour, but being here under these circumstances was creepy.  I managed to pull it together enough to slip the battered old truck into my assigned parking space.

I never lock the truck.  I figure no one would want to steal it…but I did lock it this time.  Stuffing the keys into my pocket, I headed toward the elevator, but stopped when I thought I heard someone calling out from the direction of the tombstone.  When I turned toward the sound, there was no one there.

I changed my mind about taking the elevator and chose the stairs instead.  I wanted to keep moving and being trapped in a box hanging from a cable did not appeal to me at the moment.

Since I was parked on lower level two, it was a thirty four story climb, but I had done it many times before as part of my training for mountain climbing trips out west.  A busy lawyer has to find ways to incorporate fitness training into his daily routine, if he hopes to stay on his game.

I hoped the physical exertion would help clear my spooked head.  The smell of stale piss in the stairwell door did little to alleviate my anxiety.  I noticed a puddle of fresh urine with a faint hint of steam still rising from it.  Why do people piss in stairwells?  I reconsidered the elevator, but couldn’t get past the uneasiness I felt about it, and began the ascent.

It could have been the tequila, but the climb seemed unusually difficult.  I had to stop several times to rest.  It might have been my imagination, but I thought it sounded like there was someone climbing below me.  Each time I stopped the steps below continued like an extended echo before coming to an abrupt stop.  Someone seemed to be following me and trying to avoid discovery.

The thought of someone stalking me was creepy enough, but under the circumstances it was nerve wracking.  Maybe I was being paranoid, but I figured it all might be connected to John’s death.  I had a few questions I wanted to ask this stalker, so I devised a strategy to catch whoever it was.

After climbing four more flights of stairs, I opened the door leading to the twenty-fifth floor, but didn’t step through the threshold.  Instead, I quietly crept further up the stairs until I was out of view and waited.  I expected the stalker to rush up the stairs, but that didn’t happen.  In fact, nothing happened at all.

It’s possible that my follower didn’t take the bait, but I convinced myself instead that the whole thing was nothing but my imagination.  Chiding myself for getting spooked over nothing, I finished the climb and slipped into my old office.  I obviously should have trusted my instincts.

The office foyer is intended to impress.  The marble flooring is polished to a high sheen.  Matching Doric columns and a fresco of the Parthenon is calculated to give the impression that Socrates resides within its walls.  To me, it’s a little over the top.  The first time I stepped into the place I half expected to see everyone dressed in togas and sandals.

Ordinarily, there are number of young attorneys working late on projects dumped on them at the last minute and a night shift of clerical staff working diligently to meet the next day’s deadlines, but not on this night.  On this night, the offices were all empty.  As far as I could tell, there wasn’t a soul working.  Everyone was probably sent home in deference to John’s death.  The place felt like a mausoleum.

This is the home office of Biggs, Scranton & Pulver, a multi-state firm with over 250 attorneys.  The firm services large corporations with deep pockets.  Pathogen has the deepest and tends to keep the firm very busy.  John was right about one thing, losing Pathogen’s business would definitely hurt the firm.  Cut backs would follow and more than one attorney would lose his job.

I was about to engage in some serious conflict with my client and all conflict is warfare.  It’s just matter of scale.  Collateral damage is the unintended consequence of war.  Many of the people who worked at the firm were friends.  They had mortgages and families to feed.  I wasn’t sure what they would do if I exposed Pathogen and they lost their jobs.  It was a sobering thought, and a premature one.  My first order of business would be to make sure those documents were authentic.

Since John was found dead in his office, it’s possible the documents were still in there somewhere.  Although he may have destroyed them, it’s unlikely he’d had time to remove them before his death.  I headed straight to his office and found crime scene tape barring entry.  It turned out to be a good thing, because John’s office door would have been locked otherwise.

I squeezed past the yellow tape and wormed my way into the crime scene.  Even though the place appeared to be empty, something told me to close the door behind me.  Rather than turn the lights on, I used the flashlight app on my phone.  I’m not sure what I expected to see, but it wasn’t this.  I assumed the killer was connected to Pathogen and expected the place to be torn apart, but John’s office looked intact except for the obvious mess indicating a crime scene, complete with mangled chandelier and chalk outline of dead body.  I thought they only did that in the movies.

Maybe John wasn’t murdered and maybe the evidence I had handed over to him was still here.  There was a stack of files on the corner of his desk that I quickly rifled through.  None of them had to do with Pathogen.  There was nothing else on the desk.  I scanned the rest of the room for any signs of the documents, but saw none.  The desk drawers were locked.  Unless I was willing to force them open, there was nothing left for me to do in this room.  I just couldn’t see myself breaking into John’s desk.

I was turning to leave when I felt something under my shoe.  As bent to pick up a wadded piece of paper, the door knob turned and the office door slowly opened.  Panicked, I slipped the paper into my pocket and squatted behind the desk for cover.

My mind was racing for a cover story, but I couldn’t think of a plausible excuse for violating the integrity of the crime scene.  I don’t know whether it’s true or not, but everybody knows a criminal returns to the scene of the crime.  If I was caught here, it would make me look very guilty.

I waited breathlessly for the lights to come on, but they didn’t.  The only light in the room came from a full moon shining through the window.  Now that my eyes had adjusted, it seemed way too bright at the moment.  I risked peeking around the edge of the desk and caught a glimpse of a blond ponytail just as the door shut again.  There’s no way that can be the same guy Ginny was talking to at the party.  If so, then what was he doing here?

I crept over to the door and listened for a few minutes, before I decided I could risk opening it and taking a peek.  The hall was empty and I slipped out.  I didn’t want to push my luck and thought about leaving, but I needed to do a quick check of my office.

By no means is it a fancy corner office like John’s, but it had been home to me for several years.  Unlike John’s office, it had been ransacked and was a total mess. One odd thing I noticed was the bottle of Pappy was gone and in its place was an empty bottle of Jim Beam.  I wondered about that, but it was time to leave.

I managed to get out of the building without further incident.  Once I was on the road again, I decided I needed to stop somewhere and have a good stiff drink.  It seemed like the best idea I had all day.

*****

Thank you for reading Chapter 8 of Robert Grant’s quirky novel, Naked Tao.  We will see you next Sunday night for Chapter 9.  In the meantime, we invite your comments and by all means, spread the word.

NAKED TAO – CHAPTER 7

Welcome to Sunday Night Cliffhangers at NT Publishing Company where we post entire books a chapter at a time. We are pleased to present the wonderful off beat novel, Naked Tao, by Robert Grant. Last week we posted Chapter 6 and here is Chapter 7 for your enjoyment!

 

CHAPTER 7

“…to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…” – Declaration of Independence

This terrible childhood experience had haunted me for many years, but I had never shared it with anyone, not even Ch’ing.  In some weird way I think the open atmosphere of the party made it possible for me to open up to Kinsey and I found myself looking to her for answers.  It was comforting to see her hard expression soften a little.

“This explains a lot,” said Kinsey.  “You do know, Grant, that you can’t spend your life victimized by the past.  Especially something that happened when you were five years old.  Ginny’s mom caught the two of you playing a game of show me yours, I’ll show you mine.  Big deal…it’s normal childhood curiosity.  It doesn’t make you a pervert.  Her mother is obviously the sick one.”

I had never considered that her mother might be wrong.  She had scared the shit out of me.  I never wanted to feel that terror again, so I did exactly what she told me to do and hoped our paths never crossed again.  I stayed away from Ginny as I was told.  Public nudity was out of the question.  In fact, my feelings about nudity were so intense, I even felt uncomfortable when showering.  I’m pretty sure it spilled over into my sex life.  Well actually, I had no sex life.  Sex was out of the question prior to my marriage and, unfortunately, I think it may have ruined that as well.

“I guess she made me believe that’s how all women think,” I answered.

“Grant, you don’t know anything about women,” said Kinsey.

“I know they can’t be trusted,” I snapped.

“Really Grant…and why is that?”

“My wife for one…she cheated on me with another woman,” I said.

“You married a lesbian and now you’re shocked it didn’t work out,” said Kinsey.  “Have you considered for a moment that embracing her sexual orientation is the most honest thing she could have done, or are you too caught up in your own drama as usual?”

She may have had a point.  “I guess at some level I knew she was gay,” I said.  “There was never much chemistry between us, and the truth is I liked it that way.  There was no pressure to perform.”

Kinsey nodded and looked thoughtful.  “I asked you earlier why you were searching the house for Ginny,” said Kinsey.  “You never answered my question.  I’m still waiting.”

“What does this have to do with Ginny?” I asked.

“You really don’t know, do you,” asked Kinsey.

“Know what?”

“She has always been in love with you,” said Kinsey.  “Judging by the way you’ve been acting, you have always been in love with her too.”

It was too good to be true.  “If she loves me, then why couldn’t I find her earlier?”

Kinsey made a disgusted sound.  “Ginny was on the front porch making a telephone call.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that earlier?”

“Because I didn’t know earlier…one of the smokers saw her,” answered Kinsey.  “You have some serious trust issues.  If you don’t learn to trust, then you will never have the love you so desperately want.”

“Oh really,” I said.  “You’re throwing a swinger party and you want to lecture me about trust.”

“You have some serious hang-ups,” said Kinsey.  “If you can’t relax and open up you will never have a healthy sex life.”

“Seriously Kinsey, you call this healthy,” I said. “You guys are into some really freaky stuff.  What do any of these people here tonight know about being faithful?”

“These people are not like your wife, Cynthia,” said Kinsey.  “They are not lying to each other and they are not cheaters.  You only cheat when you break the rules established for the relationship.  Couples are free to make their own rules.  Unfortunately, most people are afraid to discuss what they really want from the relationship, so they accept by default what they believe to be society’s rules.  That never works out for them because it isn’t what they really want.  Those people eventually cheat on each other.  All of these people here tonight have agreed with their spouses to do this together.  They are not breaking any rules.  They are not cheating on each other.”

She could be right.  Cynthia and I had never discussed what we wanted or expected from each other.  I just assumed it would be heterosexual monogamy.  Cynthia was obviously attracted to women and eventually she had acted on it behind my back.  If I had listened to her, then maybe we would have openly explored it together.  Instead, I was left feeling betrayed and hurt.

“So you don’t think Ginny rejected me tonight for someone else,” I asked.

“There is no one else in her eyes,” said Kinsey.  “I don’t know why she feels that way about you.  She has always worshiped you and you have always ignored her.  You have always chosen the likes of Cindy, the cheerleader, and Cynthia, the lesbian, over her.  What the hell were you thinking?”

“I did what I was told and always kept my distance from her,” I said.  “I wish I had figured out sooner that her mom is insane and that Ginny still has feelings for me.”

“Ginny has been trying to tell you for years, but you always refused to see it,” said Kinsey.  “Open your eyes, Grant.”

Some part of me knew all of this back then, but I was too terrified of her mother to do anything about it.  Ignoring these feelings had been a bad strategy.  I now saw that the cost had been huge.

As for Ginny, her light dimmed after the childhood incident with her mother.  I watched from a distance as she gradually declined and withdrew into books.  I sensed her constant pain and had the power to do something about it.  I could have helped her, but I didn’t.  I was too busy being afraid and trying to cope with my own dysfunctional relationships.  I wish now that I had faced my fears.  So much pain could have been avoided.  I had failed her.

“Why are you just now telling me this?”  I asked.

“When we were teenagers, I made a solemn vow to Ginny that I would keep this secret,” said Kinsey, “but you kept making a fool of yourself and it’s too painful to watch.”

I was already feeling pretty lame, but Kinsey still had plenty more to say.

“One more thing, you need to convince her that she is the one you choose…that you desire her above all others,” said Kinsey.  “That shouldn’t be too hard.  I mean, here you are at a sex party, all these women want you, and you spend the night rushing around looking for Ginny.  Seriously, you kicked our bedroom door in because you thought she was in there and someone was hurting her.  It’s time for you to be honest with Ginny, and with yourself, about how you feel about her, Grant.”

It was suddenly so clear, of course I want to choose Ginny, but my wounds were deep.  I felt I didn’t deserve her.  My behavior toward her had not been admirable or lovable.  I was also very afraid of rejection…afraid I’d get hurt.  “Again, what if she doesn’t choose me,” I asked.

“Think about it, Grant,” said Kinsey.  “If you allow her to consider all the options, see as many guys as she wants, and she chooses you, then you know you’re the one for her.  That takes confidence…it takes guts, but the reward is huge…the relationship home run…you have a real shot at something that might last.”

“You want me to show her that I desire her above all others, but let her be with whoever she wants?”  I asked.  “I’m confused.  Those two things seem inconsistent to me.”

Kinsey winked at me and said, “You’re a smart guy.  You’ll figure it out.  Let’s rejoin the party.”

I have to admit I wanted to talk about it a lot more, but Kinsey was done talking.  Instead, I staked a claim at the dining room table, where I sat with a bottle of Patron hoping Ginny would stop by and have a drink with me.  I know it was kind of lame, but searching the house for her hadn’t worked out too well.

Plenty of other folks stopped by the table to chat with me and share their tequila stories.  Most of the stories began with, “I don’t drink tequila because…and ended with I’ll never do that again.”  For some reason, they never refused the shot of the Patron I offered while I listened to their stories.

Unfortunately, Ginny was not one of them.  I didn’t see any sign of her for the rest of the evening.  Clearly she left the party, and despite the advice Kinsey gave earlier, I wasn’t too happy about it.  I was trying to make sense of my feelings, when guests began coming up from the basement looking spent, but happy.  Others wandered in from the back yard and the bedrooms.

It wasn’t long before all of the party goers had gathered to share a post coital meal.  Most of the women glowed and the guys just looked done.  The monk was the last one to emerge and he still looked like he could go a few more rounds.  His slightly disappointed demeanor shifted when he saw the feast.

Like a little kid on Christmas morning, he clapped his hands with glee and said in a high pitched voice, “Oh yes, let us all break bread together.”

Eric looked at him like he was a cartoon character.  Kinsey rolled her eyes.  Mr. Hairless snickered.  More than a few of the women appeared awestruck.  I decided to cut him some slack since he was after all a monk.  He was completely oblivious.  Instead, he busied himself piling food high on his plate.

Schoolgirl plopped down in the seat next to me.  In contrast to the monk’s feast, she was nibbling on a small spinach salad.  She saw me staring at her food and said with a sheepish grin, “A girl’s got to work hard to stay this small.”

Her presence reminded me of my embarrassing behavior upstairs, so I smiled weakly and kept my eyes on the plate Kinsey had sat in front of me earlier.  Schoolgirl picked up her fork and slowly ate her salad.  I pushed my food around, but ate very little.  Everyone else was chatting away as they enjoyed their meal.

I felt a hand on my thigh.  Schoolgirl ran her finger tips up the inside of my leg.

She leaned over and whispered, “Did you find your wife?”

There was a moment of confusion before I realized she was asking about Ginny and not Cynthia.  I winced and kept my eyes glued to the plate of food.  I just wanted Schoolgirl to leave me alone with my thoughts, painful though they were.  Hoping to put an end to the conversation, I shook my head and continued the food vigil.

Kinsey must have had something on her mind.  I could tell she was having a hard time focusing on the spirited conversation around the table.  She snapped when a bear of a guy mentioned someone was watching the house.

“Watching the house,” she barked at Mr. Bear.  “Why didn’t you tell us earlier?”

The poor guy seemed to shrink to half his true size.  He opened his mouth and then closed it abruptly.  His wife came to his rescue.

“We were running late tonight,” said a petite brunette with smeared mascara that made her look a little like Alice Cooper.  “Our baby sitter bailed on us and it took a while to find a replacement.  Anyway, back to the point.  We noticed a parked car when we arrived.  The only reason I paid any attention to it was the glint of a glowing cigarette inside.  I thought it odd, the driver wasn’t smoking outside.  Throughout the night we took a couple of smoke breaks and he was still out there.”

“Did you get a look at him?” asked Kinsey.

They shook their heads in unison.  “No, all we saw was hair pulled back into a pony tail,” said Alice.  “We’re not even sure whether it was a man or woman.”

“What kind of car was it,” I asked.

Mr. Bear finally found his tongue and answered, “It was a white mid-size, but I can’t say for sure the make and model.”

“Do you think it was an unmarked police car?” asked Eric.

“I don’t think so,” said Mr. Bear.  “It wasn’t a Ford.  I think maybe a Camry.”

Eric cut his eyes toward me and nodded toward his office.  He and Kinsey left the table and I followed them out of the room.  Once the door closed behind us I said, “I saw Ginny talking to a hippie with a blond ponytail.  It was the last time I saw her.”

“I don’t know anyone like that,” said Eric.  He turned to Kinsey and asked, “What about you babe?”

Kinsey shook her head.

“Is it normal to have one of your parties staked out?”  I asked.

“No, it has never happened before,” answered Eric.

“What do you think it’s about?” I asked.

He inhaled deeply and said, “We need to talk more about what happened at your office today, Grant.”

I told him as much as I could about winning the case for Pathogen and then getting fired, but the details of the mysterious package were confidential.  I wasn’t sure how much of that I should be talking about.  When I started telling him about finding John hanging in his office, he became very agitated and interrupted me.

“Ah…hell,” he said.  “The police think you killed John Biggs.”

“John committed suicide,” I said.

“I got a call from a friend on the force,” said Eric.  “He’s the homicide detective assigned to the John’s death.  He wants to talk to you immediately.”

“Why do they want to question me about a suicide?” I asked.

“Homicide, Grant…he’s a homicide detective,” said Eric.  “Again, they’re investigating a murder.”

I was stunned.  John was a jerk today, but I sure wouldn’t have killed him over it.  “Do they really think John was murdered?” I asked.

“There’s a witness,” said Eric.

“A witness to what?” I asked.

Eric shrugged. “Exactly why were you fired?”

“We argued over a client matter,” I said.  “Afterwards, I went into his office to confront him, and like I told you, I found him hanging from his chandelier.  John’s secretary saw me trying to revive him after I took him down, but that’s all I did,” I said.  “This should be easy enough to clear up.  By the way, why would the police share information about an open investigation with you?”

Eric looked a little embarrassed, but answered, “The detective is one of our special friends.”

None of this made any sense to me.  Why would anybody want to murder John?  What could possibly be the motive?  I just spoke to him shortly before his death?  It had to all be tied together somehow and my first instinct told me it was tied to Pathogen, but how and why?  There were a lot of questions running through my mind, so I hadn’t registered Eric’s odd comment that the detective was a special friend.

He must have seen the confusion on my face because Eric added, “We swing with him and his wife.  They planned to be at the party tonight, but he was called in when they found John’s body.”

“A police officer is involved in this kinky lifestyle?!” I asked incredulously.

Eric narrowed his eyes.  I don’t think he liked my judgmental tone of voice.  “It’s all legal, Grant.  We are all consenting adults.”

I should have kept my mouth shut, but it had been one of those days.  “So a pervert is investigating me for murder?”

Eric’s face flushed bright pink.  It does that when he is infuriated.  “If you’re so damn innocent, my shady friend, then why the hell did you flee the scene and come here, and why are you spinning such a vague story about why John fired you shortly before he was murdered?”

The truth of my predicament washed over me like a sulfur bath.  I realized I was in a very awkward position.  Withholding information about Pathogen’s activities could land me in jail.  Revealing it could get me disbarred.

“You have some explaining to do, dude,” said Eric.  “You’re in some deep shit and you need your friends.  So I’d soften the righteous attitude if I were you.”

Eric was right. I was in some deep shit. If I did tell anyone what the memos revealed, who would believe it and could I even trust the info in them?  Pathogen’s public relations machine had successfully branded the company as a corporate angel devoted to relieving human suffering.  Why did I automatically assume the documents were authentic?  Because my gut told me they were and Ch’ing taught me long ago to always listen to my gut.  It never lied.

I would need solid proof and John had taken all of the evidence.  Now he was dead and I didn’t have a clue how to get it back.  What if that was what got him killed?  If so, I might be next.

Up until this point, loss had defined me.  I wasn’t about to lose my freedom too.  I had made some bad decisions on this day, but opening up to my friend was not one of them.  I told Eric everything and together we conspired to save my sorry ass.

*****

Thank you for reading Chapter 7 of Robert Grant’s quirky novel, Naked Tao.  We will see you next Sunday night for Chapter 8.  In the meantime, we invite your comments and by all means, spread the word.

 

NAKED TAO – CHAPTER SIX

Welcome to Sunday Night Cliffhangers at NT Publishing Company where we post entire books a chapter at a time. We are pleased to present the wonderful off beat novel, Naked Tao, by Robert Grant. Last week we posted Chapter Five and here is Chapter Six for your enjoyment!

CHAPTER 6

“The Tao is wild and unruly.” – Ch’ing.

It was a wild and unpredictable chase. Our prey suddenly changed directions and landed within reach. I stretched my tiny hand toward its powdery wings, but jerked to a stop when a voice pleaded, “Don’t scare it away, Grant.”

We chased it around the yard for the better part of an hour, giggling each time we had it cornered and then shouting when it made its escape. We were finally close enough to claim our victory and now she didn’t want me to touch it. Geez!

I wanted to touch it, but I didn’t want to disappoint her either. Not sure what to do, I shuffled my feet in the fresh cut grass. I could feel the blades between my toes, but not much on soles hardened from a summer of running barefoot throughout the neighborhood.

She gently squeezed my hand. I looked up from my grass stained feet and into her innocent eyes. They shifted between green and blue like a tropical sea. She was about my height, a little over three feet. She wore white shorts, a little pink top, and no shoes. Her dark hair was pulled back into a pony tail that dangled in soft curves to the middle of her back.

Her olive skin was tanned from the summer sun. She once told me the spattering of freckles on her nose and shoulders were a gift from her daddy. She was adorable and I was hopelessly in love with her.

Standing in a little patch of sun next to the creek, we watched the butterfly move from the flower to a cattail. Smiling she changed the subject. “Boys and girls are different,” she said.

“Huh..,” was all I said.

Her eyes were big and innocent. “I saw a baby getting his stinky diaper changed,” she said crinkling her nose. “He was different.”

I had no idea what she was talking about. “Different,” I said.

She pointed at the cattail and said, “Boy.”

I said nothing, so she pointed at the flower and said, “Girl.”

She waited expectantly. I still didn’t know what she was talking about.

“Oh silly, let me show you,” she said.

Grabbing the elastic waist band, she yanked her shorts to her ankles and stepped out of them. Her little white panties followed.

“Now your turn,” she coaxed.

I shrugged and pulled my shorts down. She giggled and pointed. I looked down and didn’t see anything unusual. She pointed at herself. At first I didn’t see anything odd, but then it hit me. Where was her thingy?

I was about to ask her about the puffy slit where her thingy should dangle when she said, “It’s growing. What’s wrong with it?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “It just does that sometimes.”

A dark shadow loomed over us and something hard smacked me across the mouth, knocking me to the ground. I landed on a sharp stone and pain shot through my tail bone. Stars danced in front me as I gasped to catch a breath.

Two fat women loomed above me and then began moving together until there was just one. When I could finally breathe again, I gingerly touched my throbbing lip. I tasted something salty and saw blood on my finger.

The fat woman’s lip was curled upward exposing yellow teeth. Her face got bigger and I felt a weight on my legs, pinning them to the ground. She planted her hands next to my ears.

I didn’t like the look in her eyes, so I focused on a big vein throbbing in her neck. It made me think of the snake with big sharp teeth I saw on television the night before. I was pretty sure she had one crawling inside of her, and it scared me. When she opened her mouth I expected it to crawl out and bite me. Instead, the pungent scent of garlic blasted me. I crinkled my nose. Yuck, I hate garlic.

“You little pervert,” hissed the fat woman.

I was confused and scared but managed to mumble, “What’s a pervert?”

She grabbed my ear and twisted it hard. “A nasty boy who can’t keep his pants on,” she said. “Outside even, where everyone can see your nakedness…you’re such a perverted little flasher. What’s wrong with you, boy? Didn’t your mother teach you anything?”

My ear hurt badly from the twisting she gave it and I desperately wanted the safety of my mother’s arms. “I think I hear my mother calling,” I cried.

“So the little pervert is a liar as well,” she said as she inched her face closer.

The movement shifted more weight to my legs and my knees were starting to hurt. I tried to squirm free but couldn’t budge her. A wave of hopelessness washed over me.

“What do you want,” I asked.

“I’m going to make certain you never expose yourself to another innocent little girl,” she hissed.

She even sounded like a snake. I shuddered.

“We didn’t…we didn’t do nothing,” I said.

“Nothing…nothing, he says,” she snarled. “You think molesting my little girl is nothing. You’re a pervert like the rest of them.”

I didn’t know anything about molesting, but it didn’t sound good. Maybe she was talking about the butterfly.

“We…we didn’t…didn’t hurt the butterfly,” I stammered.

It didn’t seem possible, but her face screwed up into a tighter ball of anger.

“You…you insolent little punk,” she sputtered spraying a little garlic flavored spittle on my face.

I moved my hand to wipe the nasty stuff from my face, but she grabbed my wrist and slammed it back to the ground.

“How dare you raise a hand to me,” she screamed. “I’m going to beat the devil out of you.”

She raised a menacing hand to her ear and poised it for the first blow.

“Beat me,” I said in voice that was barely audible.

Something warm and wet drizzled to the small of my back. The sour smell of pee was strong and I was afraid she would get even angrier if it got on her clothes.

“No…no please,” I begged. “I didn’t do nothing.”

A small hand grasped the fat’s woman’s fist and I heard the girl’s voice plead, “Mama…mama, please don’t hurt him.”
Her mother’s head whipped in the girl’s direction.

“How dare you interfere with me,” the fat woman said. “So you want to protect this little pervert. Then you’ll get the first beating.”

I was relieved when she climbed off of me, but it was short lived as I watched her snap a limb from a tree and strip its branches. She quickly ran her finger tips along its length and then shifted from the switch to me. Slowly they traveled downward and stopped at my thingy. The tip of her tongue moistened her lips. I didn’t like the way she looked at me at all and reached for my pants, but they weren’t at my ankles. Abruptly, she pulled her eyes from me and turned to the girl.

“Someday you will thank me for this,” she said. Giving the girl a cruel smile, she added, “I’ll beat the wickedness out you yet, you little slut.”

With that, she tore into my Ginny with a vengeance. It was brutal. Ginny’s screams pierced the quiet little neighborhood. The thing that scared me the most was the way her mother’s smile got a little bigger with each blow.
I wanted to make her stop, but I couldn’t move. I wanted to protect Ginny, but I was afraid the woman would turn the switch on me.

“You’ll not speak to that nasty little boy again,” her mother hissed. “Do you understand me?”

“Yes mama,” sobbed the girl. “I promise.”

Holding my knees, I rocked back and forth. “Please stop,” I pleaded.

My stomach was feeling hot and then I threw up all over myself. As I was wiping the vomit from my chin, the beating stopped, but not before angry red welts swelled across Ginny’s backside.

Her mother was breathing heavy from the exertion. There was an odd glow to her face, as if she had enjoyed herself. When she finally caught her breath, she said to Ginny, “Get your pants and go to your room while I deal with this evil half-breed.”

“Yes, mama,” said Ginny.

“When I’m finished here, I better find you on your knees in prayer,” said her mother. “Say ten Hail Mary’s and ten Our Father’s as your penance. When you’re done with that, beg God for forgiveness, and pray he does not to send you straight to hell for your sins.”

Ginny nodded and then limped in the direction of her house. She only stopped and looked back once. Her eyes met mine. They looked so sad before she turned and disappeared into the house.

Terror filled me as I turned back to her mother. She was eyeing me curiously. She seemed to soften for a brief moment, but it passed. Taking a menacing step toward me, she raised the switch. I shrank from her and tried to make myself as small as I could. Closing my eyes, I waited for the first blow. Instead of the swish of the switch, I actually did hear my mother calling me for dinner.

Relieved that I hopefully wouldn’t get the beating after all, I jumped up to run home, but she grabbed my arm and pulled me close and hissed.

“You think you’ve escaped your punishment,” she said. “I’m sure you’ll get much worse from your mother after I tell her about the terrible things you did today.”

I pulled away, hoping the ordeal was over. It wasn’t and my hope evaporated in an instant. The image of her beating Ginny flashed through my mind, and then was replaced with a picture of my mom standing over me with a switch. I felt a chill run up my spine and shuddered.

“Please don’t tell my mother,” I pleaded.

“The boy’s afraid of his mother,” she said. “That’s good. I can use that.”

She thought for a moment and then said, “If you don’t want your mother to know she has a little pervert for a son, then you’ll do exactly what I tell you. Is that understood?”

I didn’t answer right away, so she squeezed my arm and glared at me. I wanted to tell her she was hurting me, but knew it would please her. Instead, I nodded my head.

“First, you must promise you will never expose yourself to another girl again,” she said.

I wasn’t sure what expose meant, but I was willing to agree to anything to escape. So, I nodded my head and said, “I promise.”

“Second, if you ever come near my daughter again, I’ll make sure your mother gives you the beating of your life,” she said.

“I won’t,” I promised.

“May God have mercy on your miserable soul,” she said.

With that she finally released me and I fled for home. I should have been happy I escaped without a beating, but I wasn’t. I kept my promise, and had never spoken to Ginny again…until the party.

*****

Thank you for reading Chapter Six of Robert Grant’s quirky novel, Naked Tao. We will see you next Sunday night for Chapter Seven. In the meantime, we invite your comments and by all means, spread the word.

NAKED TAO – CHAPTER FIVE

Welcome to Sunday Night Cliffhangers at NT Publishing Company where we post entire books a chapter at a time. We are pleased to present the wonderful off beat novel, Naked Tao, by Robert Grant. Last week we posted Chapter Four and here is Chapter Five for your enjoyment!

CHAPTER 5

“We the people…” United States Constitution

Ch’ing was eccentric. We wanted it to be just another oddity in the world of Ch’ing, but our guts weren’t buying this superficial explanation. We knew deep down that something very bad had happened to him, and we needed to help him.

Even though we had known him most of our lives, in many respects Ch’ing was still a mystery to us. Other than the monastery in Tibet, he never spoke of a place you’d call home. He had appeared out of nowhere, and didn’t seem to have any family that we knew of. Nor did he ever mention other people, let alone, any enemies. We couldn’t think of anyone else we could call who might know where he could be, other than our fellow students. Our plan was to begin with them. It seemed pretty lame and I was not feeling very optimistic.

A knock at the door interrupted our brilliant strategy session. It was a woman with the most beautiful chocolate complexion I had ever seen. She nodded in my direction and politely asked Eric if she could have a minute of his time.

“There’s a single guy out by the pool who is creeping all the girls out,” she said. “He’s getting drunk and grabby. Do you mind saying something to him?”

Eric sighed. “There’s one at every party,” he said. “The first rule of this lifestyle is to assume nothing and ask before you touch. I’m sorry Ebonie. I’ll take care of it right now.”

I followed them out back, but wasn’t interested in Mr. Grabby. I knew Eric could handle him and I wanted to find Ginny. As far as I was concerned, there had been enough loss for the day. It was time to leave this crazy party, but I wanted to talk to her first. I even hoped we might schedule a date to see each other again. Or even better, maybe we could go somewhere quiet now…somewhere normal, where we could talk.

Ginny was nowhere in sight. Hoping I missed something, I searched a second time. She wasn’t in the hot tub, pool, or any of the groups of people engaged in various sexual acts, so I headed back inside.

I found Kinsey standing outside of the office talking to Eric in hushed tones, but she stopped abruptly when I approached them. It felt like I was intruding, but the sense of urgency was growing. Trying to keep the concern out of my voice I asked if they had seen Ginny.

Looking distracted, Kinsey answered, “I came inside to use the bathroom and left her near the hot tub with Billboard.”

I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about, so I asked, “Is Billboard a surfer dude with blond hair and blue eyes?”

Kinsey shook her head.

“No, he’s the most gorgeous hunk of Jamaican chocolate I’ve ever seen,” she said.
“I don’t get it,” I said. “Why Billboard?”

She spread her hands wide.

“That’s what he calls his penis,” she answered with a smile. “The man is blessed. He enjoys telling everyone that all eyes are drawn to it, like a billboard. He’s right you know. No one can keep their eyes off it.”

I tried to bite back the first thought that came to mind, but it squirted through clinched teeth anyway, “Billboard my ass.”

Kinsey studied my face. I did not like the knowing look in her eyes and tried to deflect it.

“Well she’s not out there now,” I said. “Last I saw of her, she was flirting with some surfer dude.”

“Try the play room,” she said.

She must have read my confused expression and nodded toward the basement door. It had a small sign on it that read, “Play Room”. Eric and Kinsey didn’t have any kids, so the sign puzzled me.

“Go ahead,” said a grinning Kinsey. “They won’t bite you, unless you want them to.”

Eric’s basement is set up for entertainment. We usually watch football games on his 60’ LED above the fireplace, shoot pool, or just relax over a couple of beers. At the moment, it sounded like someone was watching porn with the volume cranked way up.

I did not have a good feeling about this. My apprehension grew with each step, so I took my time with them. The closer I got to the bottom, the less I wanted to see the play room. I realized the sounds were live and I had seen enough live porn for one evening. If it wasn’t for the compelling need to speak with Ginny, I would have just turned around. At the bottom of the stairwell, I ran right smack into the middle of an orgy.

People were having sex everywhere, even on the pool table. A short muscular guy had a tall brunette bent over the regulation size table. Seriously…I bend over that table to line up my shots! A pretty blond was standing behind the bar dressed in nothing but a black bow tie. She was pouring a blender concoction into hurricane glasses and serving a sexy couple sitting on the bar stools across from her. There wasn’t a stitch of fabric between their backsides and the hardwood. Again, I sit on those bar stools all the time.

At the center of a group of giggling women, was a short round man with red and gold monk’s robes hiked to his chin. My mind grappled with the incongruity. Tibetan monks are supposed to be spiritual…above base sexual desire. This man was obviously immersed in it, and judging by Jessica Rabbit’s toe curling orgasm, quite well schooled at it too.

The rest of the eager girls were vying for his attention, and he sure looked like he had the stamina to satisfy each and every one, all the while laughing deep from his belly like Santa Claus. It was perhaps the weirdest thing I’d seen so far at the weirdest party I’d ever been to.

I surveyed the room for Ginny, but she was nowhere in sight. It was both a relief and troubling. Where was she? There was nothing for me in the play room, so I turned to leave and was startled to see Kinsey standing behind me.
I couldn’t face her knowing she was into this bizarre lifestyle.

I tried to look away, but she held my eyes and asked, “Are you okay, Grant?”

My life had become a train wreck and she wanted to know if I was okay. I didn’t know where to begin, and I didn’t want to burden her with it. She was a friend, but my day had been filled with massive betrayal and loss.

Conflicted, I settled on a shrug. The look of concern on Kinsey’s face deepened.

“Has something happened, Grant?” she asked.

She never cared much for Cynthia, so I decided the easiest place to begin was the divorce. What spilled out surprised even me. I don’t know if it was the crazy day I was having, or if it was the open-minded atmosphere of the party, but I confided things to Kinsey about my marriage that I had never admitted to anyone, including myself.
I told her about everything, including our horrible sex life. Cynthia was free spirited in the bedroom. I was much less adventurous. We were never sexually compatible and it led to a lot of fighting.

When I finally finished talking, I looked at Kinsey expectantly. She was inscrutable. I wasn’t exactly sure what I expected. I hoped she would give me a feminine point of view about my crappy marriage that would somehow make sense of it.

“Why are you spending so much time looking for Ginny?” asked Kinsey.

Her question was unexpected and had the odd effect of increasing my discomfort.

She took my arm and said gently, “I’ve never seen you wound so tight over a girl before. Then again, there have only been two. Come with me, Grant. Let’s get you something to eat and talk.”

Kinsey meant well, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was running out of time. I needed to find Ginny before it was too late. My stomach rumbled in response to the thought of food, but I didn’t want to eat. In fact, I don’t think I could have eaten a bite.

Instead, I wanted to search the house until I found Ginny, and then escape this insane party before it was too late. As a cover, I did what I always do when I want to avoid an unwanted invitation and told her I needed to use the bathroom first.

I walked past the powder room and headed to the living room where I heard some chick moaning like a porn star. The first thing I saw were locks of wavy dark hair hanging over the back of a chair. My breath caught in my throat, because it sure looked like Ginny. I did not want to see that.

The chick’s moans deepened, a little too deep, in fact. Something was off. I looked closer and was shocked. The chick was a dude! It wasn’t Ginny after all.

It was definitely time to go, but where was she? The only place left to search was the upstairs bedrooms. As I climbed the stairs I heard a voice behind me. I turned to see a petite Asian girl with no breasts to speak of. It could have been a guy’s chest.

“Nice ass,” she said.

Her long black hair was pulled to each side into dueling pony tails, as if she was trying to accent her already youthful appearance. Although she was completely nude at the moment, I figured she probably came to the party wearing a school girl costume.

“Uh…thanks,” I responded.

She openly stared at the bulge in my pants.

“You’re not even hard and you’re still huge,” she said. Glancing at an open bedroom door she added, “Let’s step in here and I’ll help you with that.”

“Geez, she thinks I came up here for sex”, I thought to myself.

“Actually, I’m looking for a friend,” I said.

Smiling sweetly, Schoolgirl ran her finger tips along the front of my pants and said, “I want to be your friend.”

Her touch felt good and I felt myself instantly get hard, but all I could think about was finding Ginny and getting her out of this place.

“Let’s do a threesome,” she said. “Where’s that hot girl you were with?”

Schoolgirl’s question broke the spell and the sense of urgency returned with a vengeance.

I pulled away from her touch and said, “I’m flattered, but I need to find her. Have you seen her?”

She frowned as she dropped her hand. “I saw her talking to a gorgeous Latino earlier,” she answered.

“Where?” I demanded.

She stiffened. “Out back,” she said.

I pressed her for more details, “When?”

“Geez…the questions,” she said. “Are you some kind of lawyer or something?”

In a gentler voice I said, “I apologize, but it’s important.”

“Less than a half an hour ago,” she said. “Is that who you were looking for outside?”

“Yes,” I answered.” Did you see her leave?”

She shook her head.

“No. One minute they were there and the next gone. I figured they came inside to play. Your wife is quite the player and I would love to play with you guys.”

Her statements confused me. Why did she think we were married, and if I were married, why would I want to include her? I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

I must have had an odd look on my face, because she added, “This isn’t the place to be jealous. Love and sex are two different things, you know.”

Jealous…I’ve never been jealous in my life. I was just trying to…protect her.

Her eyes softened a bit.

“I saw how you looked at her,” she said. “I wish someone would look at me like that. Did you look in the playroom?”

“This is the only place I haven’t looked,” I mumbled.

“Well, let’s look together,” she said.

Schoolgirl took my hand and led me to the first door. I peeked inside and was relieved to find it was empty. We moved to the next room, but the door was closed.

As I reached for the door knob she said, “You can’t do that if the door is closed.”

I shrugged and opened it anyway. The double bed was crowded. The room smelled of sweat and sex. There was a lot of moaning and grunting to match the smells. A dark haired man smiled and waved us in.

Schoolgirl flitted into the room and chirped, “Finally, someone who understands why we’re here.”

I shook my head, closed the door and headed to the next room where I found two chicks enjoying the pleasures of oral sex. One of them was Mrs. Hairless. I guess she was turned on. Her nipples were at least twice the size they were earlier. They didn’t look up and I quietly closed the door. There was just one bedroom left and it was locked from the inside. I had searched every inch of the house except for this room. Ginny had to be inside.

I hadn’t thought about what I was going to say or do when I found her. I certainly didn’t expect to find her locked in a bedroom. This was none of my business. I was about to walk away when I heard a slap followed by a shriek. Without thinking I kicked the door in and rushed inside.

I might have shouted something like, “Get your hands off of her you son of a bitch.”

Sitting on the end of the bed was Mr. Hairless with some guy lying across his lap. His hand was frozen in the air, ready to deliver another slap.

Mr. Hairless giggled. “Ah, honey it’s okay. Do you want a turn at it?”

“Where’s Ginny?” I mumbled.

I felt a friendly hand on my shoulder and turned to see Eric. “She’s not in here. Come with me Grant. There’s something we need to talk about.”

The reality began to set in. Ginny was no longer at the party. She must have left with Billboard, Gorgeous Latino, or Pony Tail. Who knows… maybe she had hooked up with all of them. She must be just like my wife. I obviously didn’t know her at all.

I shook my head in hopes the incongruent pieces would suddenly fall into place and make sense of it all. I thought about the awkward teenage Plain-Jane Ginny had been. What happened to her…how did she change so much?

Eric led me back to his first floor office. Kinsey was standing at the window with her back to the door. She turned to face us when we entered the room. Her face was unreadable. I figured they were going to give me a hard time for destroying the bedroom door and disrupting their party.

“Something must have happened to you that made you so uptight about sex,” said Kinsey. “You’ll never have a healthy relationship until you face it. What was it?”

Her question was unexpected. It scared me. There’s not much that scares me, but I was damn scared. Something bad was about to happen. I wanted to run…get out of this place…escape the party and Kinsey’s question, but I was tired of feeling this way.

There are pivotal moments when we have a shot at something different…something better for ourselves. This was one of those moments. I think Kinsey sensed it, because she held me there with nothing but her compassion. That’s what friends do for each other. We hold each other accountable when it really matters.

What happened so long ago had become a shadow program running in the background of my operating system. The implications of this startling realization were scary. I didn’t want this virus running amok in my life any more.
Standing there with Kinsey in the middle of her crazy sex party, I realized it was time to talk about my past and the subject of my ongoing nightmares. Since I wasn’t exactly sure where to begin, I pictured what happened in my mind and told it to Kinsey as best I could.

*****

Thank you for reading Chapter Five of Robert Grant’s quirky novel, Naked Tao. We will see you next Sunday night for Chapter Six. In the meantime, we invite your comments and by all means, spread the word.

NAKED TAO – CHAPTER FOUR

Welcome to Sunday Night Cliffhangers at NT Publishing Company where we post entire books a chapter at a time. We are pleased to present the wonderful off beat novel, Naked Tao, by Robert Grant. Last week we posted Chapter Three and here is Chapter Four for your enjoyment!

CHAPTER FOUR

“Nurture ecology of spirit.” – Ch’ing

I wish I could say the brooding resulted in an epiphany, but not a single light bulb went off in my head. The only conclusion I reached was that I needed to talk to both Ginny and Eric. With that thought in mind, I headed into the house. On my way there, an attractive Latina with big hair and melons on her chest grabbed my wrist. In sharp contrast to her ample chest, she had a long waist and a tiny rear end. Like most people at the party, she was au natural. I politely stopped to see what she wanted. Her voice was soft, almost a whisper.

“Where did you get that big wet spot in your lap…you find yourself a squirter or something?” she asked.

At twenty eight I had never been with a squirter. Maybe that’s because I have only been with one woman, my wife, and she certainly wasn’t. In fact, I’m not positive she ever had an orgasm when we were together. I always had the feeling she was faking it for me. After I learned about her affair with another woman, I realized maybe men didn’t turn her on.

Melons raised an eyebrow, so I answered her bizarre question with a question, “How long have you been doing this?”

“I’ve always hated clothes,” she said with a wry grin. “Why don’t we liberate you from yours?”

My stomach flipped. “Uh, sorry…but I’ve…I’ve got to go inside…umm…I’m searching for my friend.”

She shrugged and shot me an amused grin as I retreated to the house. Ginny was nowhere in sight. Standing in the kitchen was a couple who looked to be in their late twenties. They motioned me over.

The man was medium height and hairless except for a cheesy goatee. He couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred forty-five pounds soaking wet. His pale blue eyes darted back and forth between my eyes and the big stain in my groin area. I was starting to get a little self-conscious about the spilled whisky.

His wife smiled sweetly as I walked up. She was a few inches shorter than her husband and had a full head of red hair. I couldn’t help but notice her nipples. They were exceptionally long.

She caught me staring and said, “They aren’t even erect right now. You ought to see them when I get turned on.”
I wanted to ask them if they had seen Ginny, but Mr. Hairless launched into a story.

“A few days ago, a co-worker told me how he killed a twelve-point buck,” said Mr. Hairless. “I listened politely, but hunting doesn’t interest me.”

The back side of Eric’s house is a wall of glass that provides a view of the pool and yard. I glanced out the window and was surprised to see Ginny back outside talking to some guy. He leaned in and touched her arm to emphasize a point. The jerk was definitely testing the waters and he was a good looking guy in a hippie sort of way. He was wearing jeans, sandals, and a Bob Marley t-shirt. His skin tone was brown, but his hair was blond and his eyes were blue. He wore his long hair pulled back into a pony tail.

I expected her to lean away from Pony Tail, but she didn’t. Instead, she reached up and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. My jaw and stomach tightened. Ginny was obviously flirting with this guy too. I realized she was in full game-on mode and I did not like it.

I resisted the impulse to rush out and…and what…intervene…stop her? I had no claim on her. In fact, even though I always felt this overwhelming connection to Ginny from the time we were kids, I never acted on it. Instead, I avoided her at all costs, choosing to date Cindy, the cheerleader, like everyone expected and for whom I actually felt nothing. What right did I have to be jealous now when I had shunned her all those years ago?

A tap on the shoulder interrupted my thoughts. “This is the best part,” said Mr. Hairless. “When my co-worker finished his hunting story, he politely asked about my weekend. I told him we went to Nashville. Of course he wanted to know whether we went to Coyote Ugly. In a matter-of-fact voice, I told him we went to a sex party where I did five women.”

Mr. Hairless paused for dramatic effect. He was way too full of himself. I was more interested in Ginny’s conversation and was about to return my attention to the window when Mr. Hairless’ finger tips brushed my forearm.
“He looked at me like I was full of it and asked me what I really did,” said Mr. Hairless. “He had no idea I was telling him the truth.”

It all sounded like a bunch of bull shit to me. Five women…seriously…why would you want to do something like that? He should be paying attention to his beautiful wife, instead of chasing after other women.

Besides, Mr. Hairless didn’t look like anything special to me. The guy flirting with Ginny was a different matter. I could see why women might find him attractive. He was a classically handsome surfer dude.

I needed to talk to Ginny, but Mr. Hairless insisted on continuing with his story. Shaking his head he said, “People think killing something is believable, but getting laid isn’t.”

He raised his hands to his side, palms facing upward like a scale of justice and said, “Let me see, sit in the cold wet forest waiting to kill something or participating in an orgy. Humm, tough decision, but I choose sex over sport killing any day.”

Finally, he appeared to be finished. I gave him a polite smile and turned to the window. Ginny was gone. Where did she go? I had to find out and started for the door, but Mr. Hairless grabbed my arm and said, “So what do you think?”

He was beginning to get on my nerves, and my response was probably a bit short, “Aren’t you just using women for sex?”

Shaking his head he answered, “Not at all. They are using me for sex.”

I snorted in response, so he added, “Wives are the ones who drive the swinger lifestyle. They want to explore their sexuality while preserving their marriages. I’m happy to help.”

My first reaction was to think it didn’t sound anything like my marriage. Then I remembered a conversation early in our relationship when Cynthia asked if I had ever considered a threesome.

After stuttering and stammering for a minute or so, I told her no, I had too much respect for her to do something like that. I remember thinking she looked disappointed with my answer, but convinced myself it was my imagination. Maybe she had been trying to explore her sexuality with me.

Mr. Hairless was shrewder than I originally gave him credit. Maybe he saw recognition in my face. I can’t be certain, but in any event his words seemed much more calculated than I had originally thought.

“These women have huge appetites,” said Mr. Hairless. “They are voracious. Most of their husbands have declining testosterone levels and diminishing sex drives. If it weren’t for Viagra, the guys wouldn’t have a chance of keeping up. It’s the drug of choice for swingers.”

I cut my eyes to his wife. She was nodding in agreement. “You don’t look like you need Viagra,” she said. “So do you want to play with us?”

She must have seen the confusion on my face. Before I could ask what she meant by the word “play”, she said, “I can tell you’ve never done this before. It’s okay, everybody has a first time. We want to know if you want to have sex with us.”

I have to admit I was stunned. I couldn’t imagine a man’s wife asking me if I wanted to have sex in front of her husband. It was inconceivable to me. I didn’t know what to say. I just stood there like a deer in head lights. Fortunately, Eric appeared and rescued me.

He touched me on the shoulder and asked, “Do you have a minute, Grant?”

The relief on my face must have been plainly visible, because Mrs. Nipples gave me a small smile and said, “It’s okay honey. You don’t have to be afraid of us.”

I gave her a grateful smile in return and followed Eric to a small home office off the living room. Finally, we could talk about the bizarre events of my day.

While he has corporate offices nearby, Eric prefers to work remotely. He also likes to brag about running his company from anywhere in the world with a laptop and a cell phone. The truth is, while Eric works hard, Kinsey is the brains behind their success.

Following her modeling stint in New York, Kinsey returned to school. She attended the local community college for two years before enrolling at the University of Louisville. After graduating with honors from a tough business program, she set out to build a first rate business.

At that time, Eric was working as a bouncer in a biker bar. Kinsey wanted more for them and it was her idea to start a security company. Thanks to her marketing skills, the business grew rapidly. It is wildly successful and continues to earn them a good living.

Eric closed the office door behind us, and grabbed a robe from a closet. I was about to settle into a comfortable over-sized chair, when he pointed at the stain on my trousers and said, “You smell bad, Grant. I’m pretty sure that suit is ruined. Can I get you a change of clothes?”

I shook my head. “Ruined, pretty much defines my life right now,” I said.

“Ruined…did you lose your big trial?” asked Eric.

“Pathogen won…but apparently I lost,” I answered. “I was played and then fired by my boss, who I think may have also been played. It gets worse, dude. I found him dead in his office.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, Grant. What the hell is going on?”

The day had gotten away from me and I rushed to Eric’s house from the office seeking the counsel of a friend, but now that I was here and had the opportunity to talk to him, I was unable to open-up and speak candidly. He was right.

I was speaking in riddles and couldn’t help myself from saying, “It’s complicated, but I no longer believe I was on the right side. Nor do I believe in Pathogen’s right to protect its patents.”

Eric looked tired. There was something more on his mind and he didn’t seem to register my vague responses. I watched quietly as he ran his fingers through his blond hair. He didn’t say anything for several minutes and then finally opened his mouth to speak, but stopped short. His hands were trembling.

“Ch’ing is missing,” said Eric.

Ch’ing has been our martial arts teacher and mentor since we were both eight years old. Calling him our teacher doesn’t begin to describe the depth and reach of our relationship. He teaches us in the old way. Most dojo’s today are businesses, but our relationship with Ch’ing is not a financial transaction. We are tied together by bonds far greater than a tuition payment. It is a family bond that is stronger than any family I’ve ever been around. I couldn’t imagine loosing Ch’ing.

“What do you mean…missing?” I asked.

“He didn’t show up for class today,” answered Eric.

To my knowledge, Ch’ing has never missed a class. He loves teaching and never seems to get sick. “That’s not possible,” I said.

“I know,” said Eric.

Eric looked lost and afraid. I had never seen him like that and wanted to reassure him, but I felt fear in the pit of my stomach like nothing I’ve ever experienced. “Have you tried to call him?” I asked.

“No answer,” said Eric.

“Yea, I tried earlier and it went straight to voicemail,” I said. “Has anyone stopped by his house?”

“Yes, I sent one of my guys over,” he answered. “That’s who’s been calling for the last half hour keeping me updated. Ch’ing’s door was ajar. The house had been trashed.”

I couldn’t imagine Ch’ing’s house being trashed. His home is like a Zen garden. It has a simple elegance. Everything has its place and is in perfect order at all times. More importantly, it is a peaceful retreat from the chaos of the outside world.

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“It looks like he was taken by force,” said Eric.

This day was getting crazier and crazier. There’s no way anybody could have taken Ch’ing by force. He’s like superhuman or something. He is a martial arts master…the greatest that has ever been.

“There has to be some other explanation,” I said.

Eric shrugged. “We have to find him, Grant,” said Eric.

I was getting really scared. More scared than I’ve ever been in my life.

*****

Thank you for reading Chapter Four of Robert Grant’s quirky novel, Naked Tao. We will see you next Sunday night for Chapter Five. In the meantime, we invite your comments and by all means, spread the word.