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Money Trail

Chandler passed through the kitchen on the way to unlock the back door. He was in his boxer shorts and an oversized t-shirt. At 6:00 A.M., dawn had begun filling the back yard with its pearly essence. He opened the door and stuck his head outside, filling his lungs with the October air. A few wisps of chilled fog hovered around the bird feeder; a sleepy titmouse fussed as it tried to ferret out the tastiest flax seeds. On the way back to the coffee pot, he read 49.2 F on the display of the remote digital thermometer on the breakfast table. It was the first morning that the temperature had dropped below the 50’s mark.

He turned the oven on to preheat at 400 F. because he planned to bake a pan of blueberry muffins for the meeting of the Coffee Club. An hour would be enough time to dress, make twenty cups of coffee, and do the baking.

Julia still slept as he pulled on his socks and sorted through yesterdays laundry slung on the back of the chair in front of the computer. He took his shoes with him so he wouldn’t jar the bed and laced them in the kitchen.

He ground the coffee, a mixture of Eight O’clock and Taste of Houston, and filled the drip pot with water. While the coffee maker began its gurgling, he went out back and stacked some kindling along with a few selected larger rounds in the iron chimaeras. He’d just added a five foot stack to the top of the pit and was hoping the extra draft would move the smoke higher and out of the way. Some of the club had complained of smelling too much like smoke later in the day.

Satisfied with his placement of the wood, he lit a pine splint and stuck into the nest of kindling. Warm yellow flames sprung up immediately. Smoke was drawn up the extended flu and appeared as a shadow against a sky brightened by approaching dawn and a crescent moon.

He returned to the kitchen to break two eggs into the mixing bowl and add a half cup of milk along with the box of muffing mix. The coffee pot continued with its complaints. The oven beeped, reminding Chandler that it was up to temperature. He slid the pan onto the middle rack, closed the door, and waited for the coffee to slow down so he could steal a cup.

Five minutes after the he poured his coffee, the cup cakes were ready to come out of the oven. He popped them out on a cooling rack on the stop top to let them cool and transferred the rest of the coffee to a thermos. He heard Julia beginning to stir behind the closed door to the bedroom.

At 7 o’clock, Chandler moved back outdoors and settled with his coffee in front of a crackling fire. The white wing dove were fighting over bathing rights in the bird bath at his back. He received a text message from Carson saying that she was up most of the night writing reports and wouldn’t be able to make the meeting. Five minutes later, Jaqi checked in saying that she wasn’t feeling well and would miss the meeting. Chandler suspected a particularly fine bottle of Patron Tequila had something to do with Jaqi’s condition, but decided not to mention his theory.

The door banged and Julia joined Chandler with her steaming cup of coffee cradled in her hands. She went back inside and came out with two halves of buttered cupcakes to share with her husband. While the birds continued their noisy rising, Julia and Chandler discussed the revelations of the last three days.

They were just getting to the end of Carson’s report on what she saw out at the Schumflatt Ranch when they heard the swish of fallen leaves as Ash strolled up the walk.

“A fine morning,” he hailed them in a hearty voice. Ash dropped off his hand-tooled leather gym bag and went on to the kitchen to fetch a mug of coffee.

“Bring the thermos out, please,” Julia called after him. “I don’t want to have to fetch coffee one cup at a time.”

Chandler added another stick of pecan wood to the fire and waited for Ash to settle in. “Any word from Decker?”

“She was having a meeting with a rep from one of the companies that support Schumflatt,” Ash said. He sipped at his coffee. “I heard she told him to fuck off. Didn’t think she wanted to do business with low-class slime.”

Julia laughed. “I told you Decker wouldn’t be any good on the inside.”

“Steve Malinco is thick with Craig Schumflatt,” Ash said. “He’s always hanging around the same group of Texas alumni, the ones that spend big and bought the Free Range Party Van we saw at the Aggie-Longhorn game last year.”

“That’s high dollar booze and barbeque,” Chandler agreed. “I saw Gil Coppers leading a delegation of legislators to the Party Van bar at the last game. Whatever the Free Range Party is offering, it’s got big bucks to back it up.”

“I was hoping Decker could cozy up with Malinco and find out where those alumni donations were going. If that money is going directly into Schumflatt’s campaign pocket…well, that’d be good news for us.”

“You’d never prove it,” Ash chuckled. “Those boys could cover cow turds with shrink wrap and sell it as Texas pecan clusters.”

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