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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Art by Steve Cartwright © 2017


by Stephen Tillman



        “You can’t take her out!” Carlotta said, standing with her back to the door and her arms crossed. “It’s too cold. She’ll get sick.”

       “You have no say in the matter,” Jodi said, glaring at her mother-in-law and trying to keep from exploding. “I’m the mother. Besides, it’s nearly fifty outside, and she has a warm jacket. Get out of the way. Please.”

       “Then I’m going with you.”

       “The hell you are!”

       “Don’t use language like that in front of the child!”

      Jodi fumed, trying to remain calm. When she had herself under control, in as reasonable tone as she could manage, she said, “We’ve all been cooped up here for over two weeks. Marissa and I both need fresh air and she needs time with her mother.”

       “Where are you taking her?” Carlotta asked, pushing her head forward and sneering. “To meet with your boyfriend? One of the men you cheated with when Tony was alive?”

       “Go fuck yourself, Carlotta!” Jodi yelled, her self-control giving way. “I don’t have a boyfriend, and even if I did, it’d be none of your business. In the ten years we were married, I gave him three kids and never cheated once! Tony couldn’t say the same! If he hadn’t killed himself by crashing my car into a tree while he was drunk, we’d be divorced by now!”

       “More language,” Carlotta said, as Jodi bent down, winced in pain, and scooped up Marissa. She took a moment to collect herself, grabbed the stroller, elbowed Carlotta aside, and opened the door.

      “I’d leave, but somebody has to protect the children from their slut of a mother,” Carlotta shouted, just before the apartment door slammed shut.


      If only she would leave, Jodi thought, as she headed toward the park. If I could afford a full-time nanny, even a part-time one, I’d kick that bitch out on her ass.

      After giving herself a chance to both cool off and let the fire in her ribs recede, Jodi took out her phone and called her boss. “Hey, Jodi,” he said. “How you doing?”

       “You’ve got to put me back to work, LT,” Jodi pleaded. “My mother-in-law is driving me bonkers. If I don’t get away from her, the next case you take will be arresting me for killing her. I’ll plead justifiable homicide.”

       “I hear traffic in the background,” he said, laughing. “You at least got away for a while.”

       “I’m taking Marissa to a park. That was an ordeal in itself.”

       “How’s that?”

       “First the bitch said she wouldn’t allow Marissa out because it’s too cold. Cripes, it’s fifty, and I’m not exactly bringing her out naked. When I said I’m the mother and she had no say, she decided that she was going to come along. I told her that wasn’t going to happen because I needed alone time with my daughter. The kids turn to her more than to me now.”

       “Well, it seems like you handled that situation appropriately.”

       “You don’t know her like I do. She thinks I’m going to a park that’s about four blocks from our place. I know she plans to wait ten minutes and then go there herself. Once she’s there I couldn’t very well force her to leave. It’s a public park.”

       “So what are you going to do?”

       “I’m not going to that one. I’m going to one about a mile and half from our apartment. She won’t walk that far even if she could figure out where I went, and she doesn’t drive. The downside is the neighborhood’s not that great. Not that ours is so wonderful either.”

       “I can tell there’s still a problem. What?”
       “It’s not beyond her to call the police and tell them Marissa’s been kidnapped.”

       “You’re the police,” the lieutenant pointed out.

       “Yeah, but it’d be a hassle and it’d be embarrassing. Help me out. Let me come back early.”

       “I can’t do that, Jodi. The doctors said you need at least another week of convalescent leave.”

       “I feel great,” Jodi lied. “Really. Let me do desk duty. Anything.”

       “You just complained that your kids turn to their grandmother more than to you,” the lieutenant reminded her. “If you stay home you have the opportunity to bond with them.”

       “I know, I know,” Jodi said with a sigh. “Commuting from Queens to Manhattan, plus regular hours, plus overtime means some days I don’t see the kids until after they’re asleep. I wish I could afford to live in Manhattan.”

       “You know what housing costs are in New York.”

       “That’s something else. I think, … oh shit! Something’s come up. I’ll get back to you in a few minutes.”


       “Possibly. I can handle it. I’ll call back.”

      “Give me your location.”

      A dark blue van with a bumper sticker reading “Gulderson Academy Soccer” pulled up just ahead of her. Three well-dressed young men, looking a little too old for high school, emerged blocking the sidewalk. Wafting after them was the distinct odor of marijuana. Jodi knew that rich kids, especially athletes, who couldn’t get into the college of their choice, sometimes went to Gulderson for a post-graduate year.

       “Hello, miss,” one of them said, with a small bow. “The gentlemen with me and I have decided to skip classes today to celebrate our conference winning victory. We invite you to enter the van to join in on the festivities.”

      “Thanks anyway, but I’ll pass,” Jodi said.

      “Our invitation is not optional,” number Two said, taking a step toward her. “Get in the fucking van! Now!”

       “Listen, guys,” Jodi said, backing up a step. “I’m feeling more than a little cranky right now, so before someone gets hurt, just move along.”

       “I do believe it’s that time of the month,” One said, stepping toward the van and making a sweeping enter gesture with his right arm.  “Don’t you worry about that, sweet thing. A little blood doesn’t bother us. Climb right in.”

      Two continued toward her. She pushed the stroller up against the apartment house on her right, and twisted back intending to reach for her badge. She came up short and gasped, as pain from her cracked ribs lanced through her body. Two grabbed her left upper arm. She kicked him in the crotch. Hard. He bent over in pain, screaming and releasing his hold. She grasped his arm, twisted it up behind his back, dislocating his elbow, and ran him face first into a tree to her left. His screaming stopped. He fell, stunned and bleeding, with a broken nose.

      Jodi started to take a deep breath, but stopped as the pain from her ribs once again went through her. One came over, pushed her to the ground, and pulled out a knife. He loomed over her with the rictus of a smile, while swishing his knife back and forth. Jodi noted that his pupils were dilated and there was a small amount of white powder near his left nostril. Evidently they were doing more than smoking grass.

      “You’re in for it now, bitch!” One said, kicking her hip as she lay on the ground. “After we do you, we’re gonna push you out bare-ass naked. Maybe cut you up a little, too.”

      He swung the knife toward her in a roundhouse right. His posturing, however, gave her time to recover. She kicked his knife arm with her left leg, causing the knife to rise up so that it missed her. Using her right leg, she knocked his legs out from under him. He staggered, whirled trying to keep his balance, overcompensated, and fell with his head near hers. She rolled to her right, keeping her upper torso rigid, grasped his hair with her left hand and slammed his head twice on the sidewalk. He lay motionless.

      Number Three, the largest preppy, had been watching his buddies with a smirk on his face. He pulled out his own knife, and stepped toward Marissa’s stroller, saying, “I have to admit, you’re a feisty little cunt. But you’ll be more cooperative if you don’t want anything to happen to the kid.”

      “Don’t fucking move, asshole,” Jodi commanded.

      He barked a laugh and looked contemptuously at her. Then he froze at the sight of a nine millimeter Berretta pointing in his direction.

       “I trust you’ve heard the cliché about bringing a knife to a gun fight,” Jodi said, getting painfully to her feet. “But go ahead. Give me an excuse. Take one more step toward my daughter. You’ll spend the rest of your life with no kneecaps, getting around in a wheelchair. And don’t think I won’t shoot. You guys have brightened an otherwise miserable day for me.”

      Suddenly they were both aware of a siren, as a patrol car pulled around the corner and came to a screeching halt. A policeman stepped out of the passenger seat with his own firearm freed from its holster but not yet raised, and said, “Put the gun down ma’am, do it … oh, it’s you Jodi.”

      Jodi glanced to her left and saw a large black man with graying hair and sergeant stripes on his sleeve. The nametag on his uniform read “Cawdrell.”

       “Hey, Bill,” she said, smiling, as she thought that she’d at last caught a break.  “I didn’t know you worked in Queens. Congratulations on making sergeant. I think you’re going to need a bus for those two, and a wagon for this douche-bag. Check the van for coke and weed. My lieutenant call you?”

      “Got sent here by dispatch,” Cawdrell said, shrugging. “Don’t know who called them.”

      An elderly man came out of an apartment house, saying, “I saw the whole thing. These three punks tried to attack this lady. I’ve never seen anybody move so fast in my life. It was better than a TV show. It’s a good thing the baby wasn’t hurt.”

      With his last sentence, he tried to lift Marissa out of her stroller. The little girl started to scream. Jodi put her gun away and took Marissa from the man, trying to ignore the pain in her side. The girl buried her face in her mother’s neck, saying “Mommy, Mommy,” holding on tightly. Jodi felt a measure of satisfaction that her daughter wanted to be comforted by her rather than by a stranger. Nor did she call for her grandmother.

      In the meantime, a policewoman had gotten out of the driver’s side of the patrol car and was putting handcuffs on Three.  “I’ve called it in, Sarge,” she said, staring at Jodi.

       “Good work, Kathy,” Cawdrell said, nodding in approval.  “Kathy Pokorni meet Jodi Cinto. Jodi and I used to work together in Manhattan. I was her partner until she made detective.” To Jodi, he said, “When I passed the sergeant’s exam, the only opening was in Queens.” Then turning toward the old man, he said, “Thank you for your help, sir. These idiots made the mistake of accosting the toughest little lady who ever put on a police uniform.”

       “Cinto,” Pokorni said. “You the one who took out that mob guy?”

       “Yeah,” Jodi said, as she took painful breaths, and put Marisssa back in the stroller. “It put me on the sidelines for a while.” To Cawdrell, she said, “Listen Bill. I’m sure this man will give you a complete accounting of what happened here. My daughter’s upset. I was taking her to the park, and I’d like to continue. How about if I come to the precinct house this afternoon and give my statement?”

       “You didn’t actually discharge your weapon, did you?” Cawdrell asked.

       “No. No shots were fired.”

       “Fine. Professional courtesy.”


      As Jodi continued toward the park she thought, I’m too old for this physical shit. I’ve got to resolve the family situation, even if it means going over to the dark side of the force. She took out her phone and wallet, removed a business card from the wallet, and punched in the number written on the back of the card.

      “Feinstein,” a voice said.

      “It’s Jodi Cinto, Mr. Feinstein.”

      “What can I do for you, Ms. Cinto?”

      “Please call me Jodi. Is that position you offered a couple months ago still open?”

      “Indeed it is. Does this call mean you want to take it? And call me Izzy.”

      “If the money’s right, I do. I need to get more than I’m getting now. A lot more.”

      “What do you make now?”

      “Ninety-five,” Jodi said, exaggerating a little by including her overtime pay. $95,000 sounded like a lot, but with New York prices, and five people to support, she was living from paycheck to paycheck with her credit cards maxed out. Plus, the piece of shit car she’d bought to replace the one her late husband wrecked was spending too much time in the shop. To make matters worse, the mayor wanted to cut back on overtime. Carlotta contributed nothing to household expenses, claiming her contribution was babysitting and doing some chores. If Jodi could get $150,000 from Feinstein, she could move to a better neighborhood and possibly get a part-time nanny. That would allow her to get her mother-in-law out of the house.

      “I think I can offer a bit more than that,” the infamous and insanely expensive defense attorney said. “I really need a good chief investigator. Let’s multiply that by three. How does $285,000 per annum sound? Plus bonuses.”

      Jodi was dumbfounded. With that much she could buy a house, get a new car, and afford a full-time nanny. She smiled as she thought, Goodbye, Carlotta.

      Evidently taking her silence as meaning it wasn’t enough, Feinstein said, “I’ll sweeten the pot a little. I’m in Atlanta right now, but you go to my office–Lexington near 93rd–tomorrow to fill out the paperwork. I’ll have my administrative assistant give you a check for ten, no make it fifteen thousand as a signing bonus.”

      “You’ve got a deal, Izzy,” Jodi said, feeling as if a huge weight had been lifted from her.


Stephen Tillman is an emeritus professor of Mathematics at Wilkes University, where he taught for forty-two years. Wilkes is a small, private college located in Northeastern Pennsylvania. He holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Brown University. He is an avid reader of mysteries and science fiction. Short stories he has written include, “The Tunnels,” published in the January 2015 issue of Mysterical-E, “Payback,” published in September 2016, in Twisted Sister Lit Mag, “Cold-Blooded,” accepted for publication by Vinculinc, Inc., “Reversal,” published in January 2017 in Twisted Sister Lit Mag, “Invasion,” published in May 2017 in Scarlet Leaf Review, “Dust Pile,” accepted for publication by Vinculinc, Inc., and “Caged,” published in June 2017 by Aphelion.

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