Trouble Brewing — A Brock Parker Mystery

An Even Newer Novel By E. David Stillson

“Parker shrugged. Titles didn’t mean anything to him. Inspector Gadget had a title. Inspector. And Parker could take him in two seconds. Go go gadget spleen. That’s what they’d say at Urgent Care.” — Brock Parker, Trouble Brewing (Chapter 1)

The following is an excerpt from Trouble Brewing — A Brock Parker Mystery used with permission from author E. David Stillson. Film critic Marvin Chancellor described the character Brock Parker as “a poor man’s Jack Reacher… like Jack Reacher if he was really poor.”

He’s always been good at making coffee. It was his gift. Sure, it was easy when he was kid. Freeze dried crystals and a little water. His mom said it was the best she’d ever had. Patting him on the head and sending him into the yard with his wiffle ball. But his tastes changed as he grew older. More mature. His friends in college carried blue cups with the Acropolis on it. But he owned a french press. His clothes reeked of roasted arabica beans.

These days he knew more about a Nespresso than its manufacturer. He’d spent hours in his basement molding special spoons for just the right measure. It had worried his wife, until she’d tasted that perfect pour. After that, she still worried, but not until breakfast was over. He was a coffee fanatic. And that made him dangerous. And there isn’t a hero or a temporary receptionist who can stop him.

Brock Parker saw the man in the brown suit before the man saw him. It was his skill. His skill and his rule. His skill, his rule, and on chatty days his mantra. Always survey the terrain. It made him a commuter’s nightmare. At train platforms he scanned the perimeter. Back and forth. It confused people into thinking the train was coming. Tough. Pissing off junior partners with squash raquets was a small price to pay for being ready. And Brock Parker was sometimes ready.

“Hi Parker,” a voice called from his left.

“Hey Vicky.” Vicky passed the reception desk on the way to the mail drop. She was nice to look at. Medium height. Dark brown hair stretched into a tight bun. Dressed like Miss Beadle from Little House. Right up Parker’s alley.

“Do you have any overnight labels?” she asked. Parker shrugged. Opened the drawer to his left and pulled a stack of labels — overnight air and two-day delivery.

“These will do,” he said.

Vicky examined the labels and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear.

“Do I need authorization to use overnight?” she asked. Parker shrugged.

“What are you mailing?” he asked.

“Contracts.”

“Go overnight. Always go overnight, Vicky.”

“Why’s that?”

“You worked on those contracts, right? You put a ton of work in. There’s some bigwig upstairs. He’s got expectations. You meet those expectations, who knows? Promotion. Bonus. You get it there overnight, Vicky, anything can happen for you.”

“You think so, Parker?” her face lit up. Parker nodded.

“Positive, Vicky.”

“And here I thought writing up our carpet cleaning contract was shit work.” Vicky bounced off to the mail drop.

Carpet cleaning. Parker had done that for a few weeks. He picked up new odd jobs throughout his travels. He never stayed one place too long. He never actually left town — he just moved. A couple of blocks at a time. A finished basement on the East Side for a few weeks. A screened back porch the next. A room above a garage. Like Arthur Fonzarelli. The Fonz. He knew how to live. Except his office was a toilet. And Parker hated toilets.

He had no tolerance for any kind of crap.

Parker stayed off the grid. The electrical grid. Local power and lighting company demanded it. Even took him to court. Childish prank involving a transformer, a grappling hook, and a nearby nursing home. “Kids will be kids,” Parker told the cops. That was his defense. “You’re 39, Parker” the cops replied. Parker shrugged in his handcuffs.

Carpet cleaning. Shoveling at construction sites. Hawking pencil skirts at Dress Barn. Parker had done it all at one time or another. These days he was temping. Filling in for Lorraine the receptionist. Maternity leave. Right now Lorraine was pumping pints of high octane baby brew, and Parker was learning the names of hucksters in Italian suits who used too much hair product. But at least he got to watch Vicky pass.

The guy in the brown suit still hadn’t figured it. Parker pointed to the swipe card reader on the wall. Then he tapped his chest. Brown suit just stared at him. He had no clue. Finally he looked down and realized his badge was on a lanyard around his neck. He swiped it and the door unlocked with a click.

“Thanks. It’s Brock, right?” Parker shook his head.

“Parker.”

Parker. Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. Be right. Details matter. You’re new. You’ll get it. The name and the door.”

“Think so?” Brown suit gave a sarcastic smile.

“Positive. Dead certain. It’s a sink or swim world. Doors are the easy part.”

Brown Suit walked away with a confused look on his face.

“Dammit!” Someone screamed. It was Vicky. Parker vaulted himself over the semicircle desk. His hamstring twinged. Red Rover injury from third grade. They tried to send Brock over. He never made it. Mr. Harrigan scooped him up and carried him across campus to the nurse’s office. He spent 72 hours in an Ace bandage. Couldn’t play Hokey Pokey for a month. Parker can’t smell Icy Hot without remembering that day.

Vicky had screamed. Parker found her in the hall outside the mail drop with an overnight envelope in one hand and a mess of loose papers in the other.

“Was that Craig who just passed?” she asked. Parker nodded.

“New Guy. That’s what I call him. Yeah, that was him. Why?”

New Guy? Jesus, Parker. He’s the new Chief Operating Officer.”

Parker shrugged. Titles didn’t mean anything to him. Inspector Gadget had a title. Inspector. And Parker could take him in two seconds. Go-go gadget spleen. That’s what they’d say at Urgent Care. He didn’t even like movie titles. Never used them. Empire Strikes something? Parker called it “the good one.”

Vicky was on the brink of tears. She held out what used to be the carpet cleaning contract. Parker took it. It was weighty. At least eighty pages. Good stock paper. The kind for contracts and manuscripts. But Vicky didn’t like the story this paper was telling.

Parker fanned the pages, and found what he was looking for in the back. Last page where all the signatures go. A name. Craig Van Pelt. A title. Chief Operating Office. A date. And a perfectly round brown coffee ring surrounding it.

“Talk to me, Vicky. How did this happen?”

“I-I don’t know.” She was flustered. Parker shook his head.

“Vicky. You’re good. Damn good. One of the best office managers I’ve seen. And I’ve seen at least three.”

Vicky flushed.

“So tell me how this happened. Walk me through it.”

“I don’t know,” Vicky shrugged. “I set the contract on the shelf for a second so I could get an envelope. When I picked it up, the stain was there.”

“Show me.” Vicky walked him to the mail drop. He took three steps for every one of hers. He was tall. A full 6'5". But Red Rover doesn’t care how tall you are.

They found the shelf. It was cherrywood. Highly polished. Parker bent down and caught a glint of dancing light. He saw the moisture. He traced his fingers along the surface found it. Felt it against his skin. He brought his fingers to his nose. French roast. No doubt about it.

He held his finger out to Vicky. She leaned back and shook her head vigorously. Parker shrugged.

“It was there, Vicky. Before you even set the contract down. It was waiting for you. Invisible like any good trap.”

“But who would do that? Who leaves a wet coffee ring on a shelf near the mail drop??”

“I’ve heard of it. Mostly whispers. The short guy…Jensen… he caught one by the Account printer last week. Forgot he’d sent a job there. Got there an hour later. It was off to the side with a coffee ring. Painted like a bullseye on the fourth quarter earnings.”

“Jesus!” Vicky’s hands covered her mouth.

“They got Collins, too. She left her presentation notes on the podium in the big conference room. Couldn’t have been ten minutes. Coffee ring on the last slide. Around the single word on the page. Questions? And that’s what I have, Vicky. Questions.”

“What are you going to do?”

Parker shrugged.

“No. Parker. What are you going to do?” She asked again.

“What I was trained to do, Vicky. What I did for 12 years or my life. 13 if you count kindergarten. I can’t stand seeing people do bad. I don’t like seeing innocent people get picked on by bullies. I don’t care if it’s fists or bats or inconvenient stains. You don’t know about my past. I was made for this. I’m a tattletale, Vicky. The best there is. What am I going to do? I’m gonna find this guy. And I’m gonna tell on him.”

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I’m writing on WordPress now at https://notoriousdci.wordpress.com And feel free to check out my stuff at https://www.thrillist.com/authors/christopher-daniels

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Christopher Daniels (Notorious DCI)

Christopher Daniels (Notorious DCI)

I’m writing on WordPress now at https://notoriousdci.wordpress.com And feel free to check out my stuff at https://www.thrillist.com/authors/christopher-daniels

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