The Tambinder Engine (part five)

Oil painting of river landscape and lock-like structure




The Tambinder Engine 
A McAlley Story

(part five)



Dear Victor


I am not a scientific person, but I believe I understand some of what you’ve kindly explained. You envision—or your ancestor, I ought to say, envisioned—a spiral chamber to capture the energy of the tides and accelerate the displacement of air, as the waters rush in and recede, to produce an oscillation of push and pull, that operates continually, as the tides ebb and flow continually.


Deenie decided this opening a winner.

If she had got his engine right at all, he would be flattered; proud of himself, for plugging knowledge into so simple a brain. And she was confident of Victor, that if she had him wrong, pages more would be his pleasure to write.

The apt pupil’s spark was Deenie’s gambit, her hope of feeding a hunger for respect, of befriending her son’s strange friend. Of coopting him, no less, of stealing him from Dustin…even that…

If he would answer her questions.


How incredible for the planet if this could be true! You make me envy you, the wonderful conversations you and Dustin must have had together. I don’t know if you are ever lonely, Victor, but as for me


She wanted to say here, I confess, or I admit, and the formality felt awkward. If she were going to get under Victor’s skin…

She ran a line through as for me.


I work all day, and I come home and watch a little television. Do you? Or do you go out to clubs? I can’t, myself. I hate ignorant, pointless chitchat. I do envy you, Victor. I hope you can pity me a little. It may be Dustin pretends he writes to me, but he doesn’t. May I ask you


This, again, she disliked, some letter-writing phrase belonging to her charity work. But the poignancy of tendering and withdrawing a weakness could not be labored.


to write me anything you like, even if it’s over my head. And if you can let me know about Dustin, I would be so happy to hear he’s doing well, wherever he is.


She reached for her phone. “Tirza, it’s Deenie.”

“How are you? No, you’re calling for some particular thing…don’t answer. Whatever I can do.”

“A sort of investigator, his name is McAlley. I need to find him.”

“This is work? Or private?”








Confide. Deenie urged herself, but couldn’t. “I’ve met him twice. He’s in touch with a friend, and I don’t… I can’t safely mail this person a letter.”

Women came often to Gaia, fearing to have their new addresses set on paper. Led astray, Tirza promised to ask Rory. “He won’t know. But he’ll think of who might.”

Deenie tried Matthew.

“You’re a treasure,” he told her. “Don’t you suppose a professional man will be in the book?”

“You’re old, Matthew.”

“Well, then, ask the bloody item. The doohingus. The woman.”

“You can change her voice, you know. She could be a man, if you’d rather. But I thought you knew huge numbers of people. Don’t PIs loiter around racetracks?”

“Do you imagine I do?”

She would have McAlley’s name flying here and there, and he, a touch supernatural, would catch wind of it. He would arrive at her door.

Her work at Gaia bored her now. Tirza’s lost souls could raise in Deenie no charitable feelings. Because I’m an ingrate, really. I hold back what I don’t trust her with, and why? Because I want all the credit for finding Dustin?

She entertained this. She felt not.

He had been a small pet veterinarian, Matthew—what he could make money at. His help at the courses was semi-voluntary; he was called to give opinions, on drugs and ill-treatment, paid when these inquiries bore fruit. He owned a patch of land his daughter Lynn had busied her dying marriage’s days on, saving thoroughbreds.

Lynn had moved away.

Deenie knew only this, and that Matthew was counting on a neighbor for the turning out, and the stalls, and the feeding, and that he hated it.

“But of course I’m not talking about having you on sufferance, madam. If you’d keep the house and the animals, worth my while to put something in your account each month.”

Matthew rang back. “It seems I might know one person who calls himself a private investigator. I’ve had a chat with him. He has never heard the name McAlley.”

“Well, I’m so glad you shared. The breakthrough I’ve been waiting for.”

He laughed, and she told him: “Matthew, I will take the house.”


On that busy day of calls, she had gone back to Tirza, and to Rory, apologizing with genuine shame.

“A quiet place, and care to give. And creatures,” Rory said. “So much easier…a heart needs to feel gratitude.”

To strengthen its poor way to selflessness, Deenie understood. “But I’ll do letters, and books if you like, anything I can by distance.”

“In good time.”

The next day found another envelope pushed under the door. It held only a scrap of paper, the handwriting McAlley’s.


Victor Tambinder, M.S.E.

Bitterroot Cooperative

Room B223

2000 Wendover Parkway NE

Capital Post, Dispatch Code 99AML [Int] 1322 6






The Tambinder Engine

Oil painting of river landscape and lock-like structureThe Tambinder Engine (part one)
















(2022, Stephanie Foster)




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