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Michael Dunn, Voyage

Rules of Fog


by Robert W. Walker & Jerry Peterson

short story inspired by the fog and medical examiner Dr. Jessica Coran of the Instinct Series files




Dr. Jessica Coran lifted the lungs from the dead man’s chest cavity. As she did, she marveled at the shredded condition of the pair of sacks now like pizza dough without cohesion, threatening to slip through her gloved hands.  The lungs, pockmarked with countless rents and tears where membrane walls had caved in, was the worst she’d seen in her twenty-five years of autopsying questionable deaths.

Jessica guessed that this one had chained smoked five, maybe six packs a day, the sort unfazed by the Camel Tax, undeterred by reason or facts or statistics.  Jake Helspenny, the paperwork said, nickname’d “Smoke.” Coran guessed he’d lived in a perpetual fog of cigarette exhaust and carbon monoxide.  He’d traded breath for addiction.

Her auburn hair tied back and tucked beneath a surgical cap, Jessica stowed away a fact that Smoke Helspenny’s lungs told her:  he’d’ve been dead inside a year or two had nothing untoward happened.  But what had happened?

The ex-marine had been found dead in Arlington National Cemetery, once General Robert E. Lee’s family homestead, confiscated by the US government as “payback”  Lee’s having commanded the Southern armies in the War Between the States – Arlington, a cemetery consecrated to the dead of all wars, where heroes slumbered within sight of the tomb of the Unknowns. 

Jessica examined Smoke’s liver. She concluded it had been in less peril than his lungs, but not by much.  The man had been also been a heavy drinker.  The organs never lie, she thought.  The condition of a man’s organs at death stood testament to his life and frequently his character.  Often the sum of the injuries a man did himself damn near outweighed the thing that killed him.

Jake Helspenny’s epitaph: He’d come out of the Marines a broken man, missing far more than his left leg, right hand, and a piece of his skull and brain from what his wife called “the incident” in Iraq.

Jessica had met the woman before she had begun the autopsy, had interviewed her – a buxom blonde, whose once pretty features sagged from forehead to jowls, telling the tale of a rough life alongside Smoke.

“All that Jake’d gone through in Iraq,” the woman – Katherine Helspenny – said, “tooth-to-nail fightin’, facing death every day, acceptin’ the death of buddies—brothers.”

An Arlington homicide detective – Kyle Jensen, in possession of his gold shield for less than a year – had been with the wife.  He’d pushed Coran, the Commonwealth of Virginia’s medical examiner, to do the autopsy rather than assign it to one of her juniors. “Sounds like he was a good marine,” Jensen had said to Mrs. Helspenny.

“He was.”  Katherine Helspenny dabbed at tears.  “But Jake never got over being the only survivor in his squad.  Had nightmares. . . . Now this.”

Jessica studied the woman. “Do you know anyone who’d want to harm your husband?”

“Not a soul, except Dooley.”

            Jensen, a thin, wiry youngish George Carlin-type, swiveled.  “Dooley, ma’am?  You didn’t mention a Dooley before. Who’s he?”

“Went by the nickname Spider.  It was always Smoke and Spider in their time in the Marines. . . . Dooley blamed Jake for walking out of ‘the incident’ that killed all the others.”

Jensen and Jessica exchanged looks of concern.

Katherine Helspenny pulled at a her wedding band, as if by habit, but it wouldn’t come off her pudgy finger. “Yes, Smoke’s so-called best friend, Dooley was.”

Jessica turned to Jensen. “Looks like you’ve got a lead.  Find Mr. Dooley and you may well close your case.”

“Maybe?” the wife said. “What do you mean ‘maybe.’ Dooley hated Jake.”

“Enough to kill him, his old war buddy?” Jensen asked.

“That ‘buddy’ business was a long time ago.  People change. Dooley sure did.”

“Devolve,” Jessica mumbled.


Jensen put up a hand. “Never mind that, Mrs. Helspenny.  Do you know where I can find this Dooley.”

“I’m not sure. Somewhere out in the cemetery, in the fog.”

“He’s not likely still out there.”

“Dooley wanders among the graves – reads the headstones, searching for men from his old outfit, the outfit Jake was in before ‘the incident.’”

Jessica motioned for Jensen to step aside with her. “Were you in the military?” she asked.

He shook his head.

“I’d go out to Quantico, get someone to pull up Dooley’s service record. That might get you a lead on where this guy ended up.”

A fourth person bustled in, a stubby little man named Roth – Mrs. Helspenny’s lawyer.  Moments before, on seeing the corpses on gurneys parked in the autopsy room, Roth had run for the men’s room and retched.  “Theopolis,” he said, picking up on the end of Jessica’s and Jensen’s conversation.  He mopped at his face with a lavender handkerchief.  “Theopolis Alexander Dooley is the man’s full name.”

“You’re sure?” Jessica asked, a slight smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.


“Jensen,” she said, “there can’t be two with that name in the record dump. Your job just keeps getting easier.”

Roth wound himself up, to earn his fee.  “This woman’s suffered long enough.”  The lawyer waved a hand in the direction of Mrs. Helspenny.  “Dr. Coran, I expect you to get on this autopsy right away, and I expect you to give it your top priority.  Anything less and you can expect to see Mrs. H and me on the Today Show with Katie and Matt.”

Now it was Jensen who raised a hand. “Back off,” he said. “I’ve been told Dr. Coran doesn’t respond well to threats.”

“There are rules – protocol,” Jessica said, her hands braced on her ample hips.

“Rules?” Katherine Helspenny asked.

“This office’s policy book says we don’t autopsy a body unless there’s clear evidence of an unnatural death. The detective told me on the phone, before the three of you came here, that when he examined the deceased at the cemetery, there were no gunshots, no knife wounds, no signs of a struggle, nothing but a body slumped over a grave stone.”

Roth pushed into Jessica’s personal space, his face inches from her.  “Mrs. H found her husband dead in Arlington cemetery.  She’s convinced this Dooley character lured Jake there to kill him.  That’s premeditation!”

“All right, the body’s here somewhere.  I’m willing to do a preliminary, but if I don’t see any obvious indications of murder . . .”  Jessica turned palms up, as if to say ‘that’s it.’

            Roth’s face hardened. “We don’t want a preliminary, we want a complete autopsy, down to examining the man’s last whisker.”  Roth tried a mock softening of his voice, adding,  “Look, we were told you’re the best, and that you deal in unusual cases. This is an unusual case, doctor. The man was killed in the most famous cemetery on the planet.”

Which explains your interest in the case—potentially high profile, she thought but said, “Be that as it may, counselor, the Commonwealth doesn’t just start cutting on a corpse without some probable cause, some indication of foul play.”

            Roth, angry, took to pacing like an Irish setter in heat, his long, flowing gray mane whipping about.

Jessica thought she’d won the argument, but then Mrs. Helspenny shouted, “You government types’re all alike!  Took us forever to get the VA to deal with Jake’s depression, his panic attacks, the living pain in his stump, all of it.  Maybe if you’d stepped in earlier – maybe he’d never’ve felt compelled to…to go out there to find Dooley.”

Roth placed an arm about the distressed wife and helped her into a seat.  Jensen offered her a stack of napkins, and she began blowing her nose.  The wife looked up at  Jessica. “Took us even longer to get my Jake’s pension, and they give it out like it was some kinda fund he had no right to, like he didn’t have it comin’.”

Jessica held up both hands as if under attack. “Please, Mr. Roth, Mrs. Helspenny, let me put this as simply as I can. Until I’m satisfied that Mr. Helspenny died a questionable death, he stays on ice. I did take a quick look at him, and I’ didn’t find a mark on him to suggest murder.”

“But you have my word,” Mrs. Helspenny said.

“Alone that’s not enough, ma’am.”

“Rules is rules, huh?” The woman’s glare cut wounds in Jessica.

“To you, the rules may seem a bit absurd, but they are in place for a reason.”

“It’s protocol first,” Roth offered up, “before the wishes of the surviving spouse?”

“Procedure, yes.”

“So what you really need to do a full autopsy is a go-ahead.”

Jessica didn’t respond, and her silence only fueled Roth’s ego and tongue. “Well, by damn,” he said, his nostrils flaring wide, “I’ll get you your go-ahead. I know your superior.”

“Bully for you, counselor, so why don’t you just do that?”

“Good Lord, hasn’t anyone ever been murdered in a National Park before?” Mrs. Helspenny asked.

Jessica shrugged.  “Many times.  The most egregious are the young women and girls who go missing, their bodies are found in shallow graves.”

“Never happened in Arlington – ever,” Jensen said. “Hey, I looked it up on Google.  No one in the history of the cemetery has ever mugged, raped, or murdered within its confines.”

“If Google says so, it must be true,” Jessica said.  Google.  She didn’t know whether to laugh at that one or cry.

Jensen went on, an enthusiasm building in the detective. “You see, I belong to a Confederate reenactment group. Relieves tension.”

“Playing soldier, no real consequences.”

“If by that you mean no one gets hurt – ”

“That’s what I mean,” Jessica said.  “All the battlefield dead get up after it’s over and walk off to the nearest bar for lite Bud.”

“Well, it’s fun. How about you join me some weekend?  You’d look great in the uniform.”

Ooo, was that a pass?  A bit obvious.  She frowned rather than smiled. “My interest is in the genuinely sincere dead, detective.”

“Ahhh…the authentic murder.”

“Besides, if I went to one of those things, I’d stand with the North.”

“You’d look just as good in a blue uniform.”

“OK, I’ll make myself clearer.  I’m not interested in those who feign death.  I’m too busy with the real thing, detective.”


The next day, Roth and Mrs. Helspenny stood in Jessica’s office, a court order in hand. She read the paper and the attachments from the agency holding jurisdiction over Arlington National Cemetery, the National Park Service.  Everyone had signed off. Including Dr. Sven Rouric, her new boss who’d promised to maintain a hands-off approach along with a great budget, if she left FBI work for the State of Virginia.  The twirp had reneged.

The order cited Helspenny’s war service as the basis for directing this case to the head of the line. “We take care of our men in uniform and those who were in uniform, even in death.”

 Protocol upended.

Jessica pointed her unwelcome guests to the waiting room, then got into her scrubs and went into the autopsy room. 

So it had come to this.  Smoke’s chest cavity open before her, the internal organs removed, weighed, examined, commented upon for the record.  Jessica next sawed away the top of Helspenny’s skull, exposing the brain, and she reached in to lift the lesion-ridden gray matter from its cradle.  She then weighed the body’s most important mass of tissue which once held electro-chemical sparks transporting hopes, dreams, aspirations, imaginings, language, reasoning, rationalizations, mores, ethics, cultural biases, notions of goodness, evil, love, anger, sentimentalities, prejudices, lessons learned, knowledge gleaned, experiences at negative and positive poles, passions overflowing, small and large hatreds, and final betrayals.  All silenced now.   Dull and unresponsive, the organ of sentience dead to the touch.

She probed the occipital lobe, and a strange, nearly imperceptible yet filmy fog rose from the tissue, as if the room’s bright incandescent lights had somehow vaporized some portion of the brain fluid.  Absolutely strange and mystifying, something Jessica had never seen in all her years in an autopsy room.  But something tickled at her own brain – a memory.  She had read about this in the literature, no, in the textbook written by her mentor, Dr. Asa Holecraft, at the University of Tennessee.

 Holecraft had called it rare, a phenomena of undetermined origin, never captured save in anecdotal fashion.  When asked in class one day to explain it, he could not. Holecraft summed it up as illogical and out of the ordinary, but said he has seen it twice in his 40 years as a medical examiner.

Jessica was alone in the room with Helspenny’s body, and the bodies of six others waiting for her attention, so there was no one to verify what she’d seen.  She glanced up at the video camera, wondering if the ghostly wisp of fog had been caught by the rolling tape.

Jessica clicked on the intercom connecting the autopsy room with a waiting room. “I’m finding absolutely no wounds to the body,” she said to the microphone.

No answer.

“Mr. Roth, Mrs. Helspenny, are you there?”

Roth’s voice came back. “Look closer,” he said. “Mrs. Helspenny suggests you look at the base of the brain.”

“Why?  Is Detective Jensen out there?  Is he with you?”

“Jensen’s indisposed.”


“I called his office before we came in, talked to his lieutenant.  Said Jensen hadn’t come in…mentioned something about the blue flu going around.”


“Yes . . . Now where’s that coming from?”

Roth seemed to be speaking to Mrs. Helspenny, whose voice she heard in the background – indistinct.  She and Roth were going on about something, and Roth hadn’t cut off the intercom.

“Just yesterday,” Roth said, “you two were insanely in love, the deepest most – ”

“Please! I don’t wanna hear it.” Mrs. Helspenny’s voice came through clearly now.

Jessica listened as she examined more closely the brain of the dead ex-marine, fascinated by the “Desperate Housewives” dialogue.

“Perhaps we should take a walk, get some air, get some perspective on things,” Roth went on. “You seem in a fog.”

“Fog?  What fog?  I’m fine.”

And there it was, a small, near invisible hole at the base of the brain, the hole no larger than as ice pick, so filled in with ice crystals that she hadn’t noticed.

A scream came over the intercom, causing Jessica to drop the brain. She rushed from the autopsy room to the waiting room and found Roth splayed out on the institutional gray-green carpet, blood leaking from the back of his skull. Over him, an ice pick in her hand, stood a grinning Mrs. Helspenny.

“Dooley did it,” she said, “Dooley! I tol’ ya, tol’ ya all. Tol’ Jensen! And I tol’ this fool Dooley’d strike again if nobody stopped him.”

“What do you mean, stop Dooley?” Jessica asked.

Mrs.Helspenny dropped the ice pick and went to her knees.  “Can’tcha look? Can’tcha see? Don’t you all see now it’s happened?  Spider Dooley killed my Jake! Killed him at the grave.”

Jessica realized she’d held tight to her scalpel.  Keeping the ice pick in sight, Jessica knelt beside Roth. She checked his pulse. Nothing.  He was gone.  She clenched the scalpel more tightly, chilled by a feeling that there were three people in the waiting room yet alive – she, Mrs. Helspenny, and a third who had no corporeal body.

“Killed Jake at his grave,” Mrs. Helspenny keened.

“What grave?” Jessica asked as calmly as she could muster.  “Who’s grave?”

“Dooley’s, damn it!  Dooley’s grave.”

“Dooley’s dead?  Buried in Arlington?”

“God, you people!  Of course, he’s under Arlington’s sod.  Killed in action, same action Jake got hurt in.”

“What, the incident in Iraq?”


“But you said Jake met Dooley in the cemetery.  You said Dooley was angry with Jake because he survived—”

“When all the others died, yes!”

“Then if…how did—”

“Dooley came in the fog.”

“Forgive me for asking, but who is Dooley to you?”

“The father to my child.”

Jessica sat back on her heels. She meant to keep Mrs. Helspenny and herself calm, just as she’d been taught by the FBI.

“Even in death,” Mrs. Helspenny said, “he blames Jake to this day. And when Jake came home from the war, and he took me to his bed – made me his wife – he tried to take Dooley’s place – looking after his dead friend’s wife, he said – he never could, no matter how he tried.”

“Mrs. Helspenny – Katherine, why are you so sure it was Dooley?”

“He whispered to me from the fog. Told me to come to him.”

“Haunted you, you mean?”

“Me, and Jake.”

A shared haunting.  Rare, but it happened, Jessica thought.  “Is that why Jake was at Dooley’s grave?”

“Jake came angry.  Knew I’d be there.”

“Jake followed you into the cemetery?”

“He knew I’d be in the fog at the grave.”

“And he found you at Dooley’s grave?”  The headstone Jensen had failed to read.  Some detective.

“I was kneeling at the grave when – when Dooley came.”

“Came how? He’s dead, Mrs. Helspenny.”

“Came like he’s made of fog.”

This left Jessica fishing for words.  In the silence Jessica heard the soft whirring of the electric motor in the ceiling fan stirring the air overhead.  Finally, Jessica asked, “Did Dooley possess you, take you over?”

Mrs. Helspenny nodded once deeply. “An’ it did his dead heart so much good,” she whispered.

“Killing Jake?”

“Yes, with the ice pick, yes.”

“That pick?” Jessica asked, glancing toward the bloody pick on the carpet beside Roth’s body.  She had a taped confession thanks to the intercom being open, thanks to this entire conversation being piped into the autopsy room where her recorder drew every sound that reached its microphone to the tape, to be preserved.  Jessica wondered, would the confession hang the woman or send her to an asylum?

“Dooley did it,” Mrs. Helspenny said, her voice rising above a whisper, above the sound of the ceiling fan.

Jessica held firm to the scalpel in her hand as she studied the woman. “You loved him very much, didn’t you?”

“Was a helluva thick fog,” Mrs. Helspenny said, shivering at the memory.

And then it came to Jessica, the week that Jake ‘Smoke’ Helspenny had been killed – murdered – there had been a weather system stalled along the eastern seaboard, every morning fog so thick you could shovel it, from Baltimore through Washington, down to Richmond, and as far as 120 miles inland. She remembered it well.  The fog had made her drive in from the farm hell.  But by 11AM, it was gone, except for wisps in the valleys and hollows closer to the mountains.

“You ever take time to truly stare into fog,” Mrs. Helspenny asked, “I mean really watch it?  Just sit and watch it, watch it move inside itself?”

Jessica hadn’t, yet she said, “Yes, I have.”

“There’s a strange life in it, like the life of a breathing, invisible angel, like the way a gas lamp appears to breathe.”

“I’ve noticed that.”

“I think there’s an energy, a force that’s gotta obey its own rules – ”


“– like natural things all have rules, like gravity and such, yet fog has supernatural rules maybe – maybe makes ’em up as it goes – and that morning I run off from Jake, I watched the fog too long, I think.”

“Mrs. Helspenny – Katherine, do you mind if I call Detective Jensen?”

Had she heard the question.  Jessica doubted she had because Mrs. Helspenny said, “I saw Dooley come riding inside that fog when it rose from the earth over his grave.”

“Katherine, your child, a son or a daughter?  Where is your child?”

“Little Dooley?”


“Oh, he’s gone.”

“Gone where, Katherine?”

“Gone in the fog.”

“Is he lost in the cemetery?”

“He’s the reason I went to Dooley.”

“Katherine, what happened to Little Dooley?”

Her face twisted in anguish. “That bastard, Jake, he’ll never hurt no child ever again.”

Where is this going? Jessica wondered. “What did Jake do to Little Dooley, Katherine?”

“He broke his neck.” Tears rolled down the woman’s cheeks, streaking her makeup.

And tears rose in Jessica’s eyes, too. “Katherine . . . Katherine, I have to ask. Why did Dooley attack Roth?”

“He said I should give myself up, but Dooley didn’t like that idea.”

“Give yourself up to who, Detective Jensen?”

“Yes.  Dooley heard Detective Jensen say this case’ll make his career.  So Dooley whispered that Jensen was using me.”

“You saw Jensen last night?  Where?”

“My house – came to my house. There was fog and Dooley was there.”

“You didn’t – ”

“Dooley did.”

“In the fog?”


“But, Katherine, with Roth, there was no fog in here.”

“Yes, there was! Moment before you came in there was. Place was full of fog. Came spilling out the vents.”

Although Jessica knew there was no fog, she glanced around to assure herself.  No fog, no spilled coffee, no crushed-out cigarette butts, nothing out of the ordinary save for Roth lying dead on the carpet.

Tears stanched, Mrs. Helspenny tilted her head to one side, then the next as she peered at Jessica. “Dooley says you’re going to hurt me. Is that true?”

“Katherine, why would I?”

“Dooley never lied to me, not like Jake, or Jensen, or Roth.  Are you lying to me?”

“Me? No.”

“Dooley always said if we married, we’d make our own rules.”

“You weren’t married to Dooley?”

Mrs. Helspenny, distracted, rubbed at her forehead.  “Fog, makes its own rules,” she said.

Fog makes its own rules . . . rules of fog. These phrases, these concepts of a confused mind rolled over in Jessica’s mind.  “Katherine, we’re going to need some help here,” she said, motioning toward Roth’s body.  “I’m just going to . . .” Jessica turned away for a moment, picked up a napkin, then knelt to retrieve the ice pick.  She took care to not smudge the fingerprints or touch the blood. As Jessica rose, she Mrs. Helspenny clamped one hand over the other, the hand twisting, pulling, as if it were in a tug-of-war.

“Why can’t fog be controlled or quantified or figured like other things?” the woman asked to the ether.  She twisted toward Jessica, pleading, “Did you know I was a math teacher at the high school? I try to figure these things out, but they don’t figure.  I can only tell you . . . Dooley’s back!”

Jessica wheeled in the direction the woman stared, her face blanching white.” Mrs. Helspenny rose up and, as she did, she plunged a hand into a pocket.  When the hand came out – a fist – it held a second ice pick that now rose high, the woman screaming, “You’ll never hurt me now!”

 Jessica spun back as the hand and pick hammered down at her brain, but mercifully, the pick entered Jessica’s twisting shoulder instead.  She responded, sweeping up with her scalpel, slicing through the woman’s clothes, cutting a gash across her abdomen.

Mrs. Helspenny, shocked, paused.

Jessica continued around. She kicked out her foot, catching the mad woman behind her ankles, upending her.  Mrs. Helspenny’s windmilling arms could not stop her fall, and she struck her head on a sofa table, the sound like a gunshot.  The mad woman had gone silent and lay now in a heap on carpet.

Jessica, her chest heaving, her lungs sucking for oxygen, stood there uncertain, her hand going to her shoulder.  A clean, bloodless wound beneath her lab coat, but the pain was significant.  Then came a movement somewhere in the room.  The movement caught her eye but it was neither Mrs. Helspenny or Roth, but from near a vent to the side – an escaping gas.



Mrs. Helspenny, after she came to, talked, rambled on and never stopped, and Jessica could not help but wonder if it was Mrs. Helspenny’s defense against Dooley returning in the fog. The insanity claim put forth by her court-appointed lawyer held at a hearing, and the judge ordered the woman to the state asylum.

Jessica repeatedly visited Katherine there.  Sat with the woman for hours, listening, trying to make sense of it all.  Had she snapped on learning that Jake had killed her child?  The words rolled forth from the woman non-stop, most of them little more than nonsense and as disconnected as a Charles Manson monologue.  But some words, some phrases meandered through her discourse again and again . . . “It was the fog. . . . Fog’s got rules. . . . Got to figure the rules of it.”

The psychiatrist assigned the case told Jessica Mrs. Helspenny had gone to scribbling mathematical formulas and algebraic equations with crayon and on table paper. “Papers the walls of her room with it all,” he’d said, shaking his head.

Jessica asked, “Can I see her room?”

“Good timing,” Dr. Koontz replied.  “She’s in group session with my colleague on the case right now, so she’ll be out.”

Koontz led the way.

She wandered about the otherwise plain room, studying the scribblings while Koontz looked over her shoulder, frowning.  Finally, Jessica asked the psychiatrist, “May I  take a few of these with me?”

“Whatever for?”

“To be analyzed by experts, former colleagues still with the FBI.”

“I don’t think there’s much worth analyzing, but I see no harm in it.”  And he randomly pulled down three sheets and gave them to Jessica.

Her former associates at Quantico studied them as diligently as Jessica before they sent her a one-page report that could have been summarized in three words – nonsense, mathematical gibberish.

In quiet moments in her car or her office, and not so quiet moments in the autopsy room, Jessica replayed the case, Mrs. Helspenny’s torment, and came over time to fear that she was approaching a precipice beyond which lay insanity.  She came to speak little of the case and told no one of the smoky residue that had rises from Jake Helspenny’s brain, and somehow found life in the ventilation system; she dared not mention the slit of milky fog that wisped away through the waiting-room vent like a witch up the chimney.

She maintained a habit of, at 5:45 p.m., going home to the farm, to her husband Richard, sure that the stability of both would keep her steady, secure.  Yet, when the weather conditions were right, when the dew point and the temperature converged, when the air was utterly still, fog would engulf her and Richard’s farm, and she would stand at the window and stare until some movement, like that of a scurrying insect, drew her gaze. The movement might be as brief as a swirl in the fog, and it was gone, or had it been there at all?  Was it illusion, the mind playing tricks on itself?

The fog this night was so thick that Jessica could not see the horse stable less than fifty yards from their home.

Richard came up behind her.  The start she felt melted when he quickly grabbed her up and wrapped his arms about her shoulders.  “Jess, why do you stare out like this?  All it does is make you one bleak, gloomy Gus.”  Richard’s rich voice, firm and sure, had a reassuring quality she’d grown to expect and want.

Gloomy, melancholy, uncommunicative, Jessica thought.  It’s the fog.

“For heaven’s sake, talk to me,” Richard said.  He kissed her behind her ear.  “Tell me what’s going on.  Have I done something wrong?”

She touched his hand, caressed it. “No, just something troubling about fog.”

“Since that Helspenny case, you’ve been this way about the damn bloody fog. It never once bothered you before.”

“I’m sorry, Richard.  I can’t explain it, can’t put it into words.”

“Try the words ‘frustrating as hell.’”

She pulled herself from his arms and walked away.  “Rules of Fog,” she muttered.


“Nothing.  I’m going to bed.”  She could feel his eyes on her back as she walked off.

Alone again, Jessica knew she’d never shake off the Helspenny case, not fully ever, no matter how much time passed.  Nor could she share the details with Richard, the person she loved most.  It was, as he’d said, frustrating as hell.  But it was also as if she had deciphered one of the rules of fog.  She’d done so one dreary night standing over the tombstone of one Dooley there in cemetery fog.  She’d seen no ghost rise from the earth, had seen no spectral face in the stones, nor shapes in the fog, but she thought she’d caught a whisper ride past on the wind.  Perhaps one of the rules of fog, and since then, she’d chosen to live by it:  Silence is peace.




Award-winning author and graduate of Northwestern University, Robert W. Walker, created his highly acclaimed Instinct and Edge Series between 1982 and 2005.  Rob has since written his award-winning historical series featuring Inspector Alastair Ransom with City for Ransom (2006), Shadows in the White City (2007), and City of the Absent (2008).  This history-mystery hybrid straddles the Chicago World’s Fair circa 1893, and has had enthusiastic reviews from Chicago historians and the Chicago Tribune, which likened “the witticism to Mark Twain, the social consciousness to Dickens, and the ghoulish atmosphere to Poe!”   Rob’s most recent book is Dead On, a PI’s tale of revenge.


Short story writer and novelist Jerry Peterson taught speech, English and theater, then worked in communications for farm organizations. He followed that with a decade as a reporter, photographer and editor for weekly, semi-weekly and daily newspapers. Peterson left daily journalism to become a graduate student at the University of Tennessee/Knoxville. There he collected stories he incorporated into short stories and novels set in the Great Smoky Mountains. Peterson wrote nine novels that failed to see print, then a tenth – Early’s Fall, a crime novel set in 1949 Kansas. Five Star, an imprint of Gale/Cengage, published it last year.



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