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The Wrong Thing to Say-Fiction by Bill Baber
Late One Night, We Killed them All-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Call it in the Air!-Fiction by Jim Farren
Arendt and Eichmann: Behind Bars-Fiction by Edward Francisco
A Provocation Game-Fiction by Norbert Kovacs
Carol's-Fiction by G Emil Ruetter
Casting Call for a Tijuana Firing Squad-Fiction by j brooke
Preserving Beauty-Fiction by Paul Michael Dubal
Straight Shooter-Fiction by Mark Joseph Kevlock
Meat-Fiction by F. Michael LaRosa
The Internship-Fiction by Henry Simpson
The Knife She Done it With-Fiction by Matt Phillips
Almond-Flash Fiction by Francis Woodland
Squatters-Flash Fiction by Paul Beckman
The Cookie Crumbles-Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
A Funeral Pyre-Flash Fiction by Karen Schauber
Twist-Flash Fiction by Ram Praseth
Something Has Happened-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
unbound-poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
Sweet Rivalry-Poem by Meg Baird
when it comes round-Poem by Meg Baird
Dat No Apply to Debra-Poem by Joe Balaz
No Can Change Its Stripes-Poem by Joe Balaz
Infested-Poem by John Grey
Living With the Dead-Poem by John Grey
They-Poem by John Grey
Chesapeake Night-Poem by Gregory E. Lucas
Sunrise on Port Royal Sound, SC-Poem by Gregory E. Lucas
The Final Dream-Poem by Gregory E. Lucas
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
The Gazing Ball
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Art by Steve cartwright © 2018



A Clayce Talcott and Luther Twoshoes Story


Jim Farren


Halloween Bandits Strike Again

Beckley Herald, Staff Writer


The Halloween Bandits struck the New River Bank & Trust early Friday morning, making off with an undisclosed amount of cash.  Nicknamed because of the cartoon character masks they wear, the pair entered the bank shortly after it opened.  No customers were hurt, although the bank’s manager was beaten when he had trouble opening the safe.  This is the third bank holdup in the last five weeks.  As in the other robberies, the bandits took a teller hostage when they fled.  The hostage was later released unharmed.  Witnesses were unable to give more than a general description of bandits as two white males of medium height and build.  Anyone with information about the robbery should call the Beckley Police Hotline.


----- / ----- / -----

Twelve-year-old Arjay Cahoon—of the Horse Thief Hollow branch of the Red Tom Cahoons—looked at the other diners in the Coffee Cup Café before curling the fingers of his right hand into a loose fist, tucking his thumbnail under the edge of his forefinger then flicking upwards as if flipping a coin.

“Call it in the air!” he cried.  As everyone’s eyes lifted skyward seeking what turned out to be a non-existent coin, Arjay’s left hand surreptitiously swiped a Snickers bar from the counter display and slipped it into his pants pocket.  He grinned at the other customers’ laughter when he caught the imaginary coin, slapped it down on the back of his other hand, peeked underneath, and declared, “Heads!”

After the laughter died away, Harve Nebhut paid his check, Bethella Shawver went to wait on a booth full of teenagers, and Dink Rogers returned to the kitchen.  With no one else around, Clayce Talcott rose from his stool and leaned close to Arjay so only the two of them could hear.

“Put seventy-five cents by the cash register or put the candy bar back.”

“You saw that did you, Mr. Talcott?” Arjay asked with an infectious grin.

“I did,” Clayce said, “but I almost missed it. It’s near impossible not to look up when you do that.”

“I don’t really want the candy,” Arjay said.   “Just stayin’ in practice.”

“Uh huh, keeping your hand in as it were.  Never know when you’ll need it, right?”

“Yes, sir.  Just keeping my hand in.”

“And now you get to choose whether you want to pay for the candy or put it back.”

Arjay reached into his pocket and returned the candy bar to the counter display.

“I didn’t mean nothing by it, Mr. Talcott,” he said solemnly.  “I ain’t no thief.”

          ----- / ----- / -----

“The Cahoons are passably strange,” Luther Twoshoes said while apple-buttering a biscuit fresh from the oven. The biscuit’s heat filled the air with the smell of cinnamon.  Luther nudged the jar toward Clayce.  “The Ladies Aid Society made this last fall.  Better have some, it’s uncommonly good.”

Reaching for the jar, Clayce mused, “I reckon we’re all passably strange in our own way.”

“How’s that, hoss?”

“Well, take you and Pasty for instance.  You’ve got what, nine kids?”

“Yup,” Luther beamed, “and another one on the way.”

“I’d call that big a brood passably strange, especially in this day and age.”

Luther swallowed a bite of biscuit, washing it down with coffee as black as his eyes.  “I’m reminded of the time we got a new preacher several years back.  After Sunday services he was standing on the church steps greeting the parishioners, one of whom was Flip Houchins with his wife and a gaggle of young’uns hovering around.  The preacher looked over the brood and asked, ‘How many children do you have, Mr. Houchins?’  ‘Eleven,” Flip said with pride.  Surprised, the preacher asked, “How on earth did you end up with eleven children?’ Flip gave him a serious look and answered, “Well, sir.  We live on the edge of town and every morning at 4:45 the coal train to Beckley runs behind the house and wakes us up.’  Confused, the preacher asked, ‘What on earth does that have do with your having eleven children?’  At which Flip gave him a sly grin and a gentle nudge.  ‘Well, preacher,’ he explained, ‘at that time of morning it’s too early to go to work and too late to go back to sleep.’”

They both laughed, then Luther added, “By the way, hoss, you’re passably strange, too.”

“How so?”

“Well, you’re the Chief of Police who wears work pants and a bomber jacket instead of a uniform.  You live in a boardinghouse with a dog the size of a kiddie car, and you sleep with your socks on.  How’s that for starters?”

“Seldom Fed is more than a dog, Luther.  He’s my friend.”

“Be that as it may, you still sleep with your socks on.”

“So did my Grandma Talcott.  She said it keeps away the spiders and the bee.”

“And you don’t call that passably strange?”

----- / ----- / -----

A lazy Thursday afternoon in the Idle Hour Billiard Parlor.  The owners—Roy Wallace and Cussin’ Sam Reddeford—were dispensing beer and serving up burgers and fries from behind the bar.  Two barely-legal couples were playing shuffleboard while a scattering of other customers crowded around the half-dozen pool tables or watched the baseball game on the big screen TV.  Two retired miners were playing dollar-a-game 8-ball to a gallery of onlookers that included—among others—Clayce, Luther, and twelve-year-old Arjay Cahoon who was sipping an RC Cola and eating a box of Milk Duds.

Finishing the candy, Arjay tossed the empty box into the trash can and casually approached the pool table.  Curling his right hand into a loose fist, he tucked his thumbnail under the edge of his forefinger and flicked upwards as if flipping a coin.  “Call it in the air!” he shouted and—as everyone’s eyes lifted skyward—he palmed the cue ball off the table and into his pocket.  Grinning, he caught the imaginary coin, slapped it down on the back of his free hand, peeked underneath, and cried, “Tails!”

After the laughter died down, the miners went to resume their game.  One of them noticed the missing cue ball and looked around suspiciously.  “What the fuck?” he said heatedly.

Arjay glanced at the miners, then at Clayce who stared back with a bemused look and an arched eyebrow.  The boy ducked his head in mock contrition and plunked the ball back onto the table.  To no one in particular he muttered under his breath, “Just keeping my hand in.”


----- / ----- / -----

“How’s your love life, hoss?”

Clayce and Luther were in the office drinking coffee spiked with homebrew at the end of the day.  Luther’s question made Clayce uncomfortable and he squirmed a bit in his chair.

“That’s a pretty personal question out of the blue.”

“Yeah, but Patsy made me promise to ask it.  So, you sleeping with anybody other than your dog?”

“Seldom Fed doesn’t hog the covers, nor does he wrinkle his nose when I fart.  It’s a mutually agreeable arrangement.”

“Seriously, hoss…”

Clayce fidgeted with his hands and took another sip of coffee.  “I like things the way they are, Luther.  Right now, Miss Letitia is enough woman for me.”

“Miss Letitia?  Your landlady?  Letitia Harper is seventy-some years old and thinks she’s your mother.”

“Yes, but she’s a damned good cook and you can’t beat the rent.”

“But no fun to sleep with.  You know what Patsy says, don’t you?”

“I can hardly wait to hear this.”

“She says you’re too fine a man to be without a wife.  You’ve got a good job, you’re easy going, great sense of humor, and a lot more tender than you let on.  Any woman with half a brain would consider you a catch.  That’s what Patsy says, and it so happens that I agree with her.”

Clayce fidgeted some more, sipping coffee to lengthen the silence.  He finally let out a sigh and pushed his hat back until an unruly lock of sandy-blonde hair fell across his forehead.  His voice dropped an octave, his halting explanation punctuated by awkward pauses as he searched for words.

“Vickie was my heart, Luther, you know that...  I fell in love with her in second grade...  We were inseparable all thru high school…  Marrying her was the most natural—the most right—thing in the world… We had six wonderful years together and, of course we had Davy…  When he drowned it left a hole in both of us that couldn’t be filled.  It wasn’t that we blamed each other, we just couldn’t get past it…  We spent the next six years trying to keep together, but they only got worse.  That’s when she divorced me…  Now she’s married to Burl McCammon, the closest thing we have to crime lord in this part of the state.  It’s been nearly fifteen years since we’ve spoken, though I do see her around town once in a while, and every time I do it’s like getting kicked in the belly by a horse…  As stupid as it sounds—as stupid as it is—I can’t help but think one day will bring a knock on the door and when I open it she’ll be standing there with that damned crooked grin and a suitcase in her hand…  No, I don’t need another wife, Luther.  Not while I’ve still got one.”

Luther nodded his understanding and poured more ‘shine into their coffee cups.

“You know what this is leading up to, don’t you, hoss?”

Clayce rearranged his somber face into a half-hearted grin.

“Of course I do.  I’m invited to supper Friday night, right?”

“Uh huh, and wear a tie.”

“Because Pasty will has invited someone to join us, right?”

“Uh huh, and make sure you polish your boots.”

“Patsy’s going to play matchmaker, extoling both mine and my ‘date’s’ many virtues, right?”

“It seems you’ve been to this dance before, hoss.”

“Too many times to count.  Tell Patsy I’ll be there with reluctant bells on.”

“She just wants you happy, hoss.  To her that means married with kids.”

“I don’t want more kids.  That’s why I had a vasectomy.”

“Well, you can always borrow one of ours.”

“Yeah.  The way Patsy pops them out you probably wouldn’t miss one.  Luther, y’all do know what causes all those kids, don’t you?”

“Hey, hoss, we both got straight A’s in Biology.  We’re not so interested in the babies as we are fascinated with what you have to do it make ‘em.”

----- / ----- / ----- 

The Greenbrier Valley Bank opened Saturday morning promptly at 8:30 and, ten minutes later, there were a dozen customers in the lobby, including Clayce at the ATM and Arjay Cahoon in line to deposit his paper route money.  At 8:43, Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse entered the bank brandishing automatics pistols.  The incongruity of armed cartoon characters was both disconcerting and surreal.

“Nobody moves!” Mickey Mouse shouted then jumped the teller counter while Donald Duck stood in the middle of the lobby.  “Empty the cages into a bag,” Mickey said to the head teller, Mavis Singlemount.  Then turning to Randolph Lilly, the bank president, he growled, “Let’s me and you visit the vault, Grandpa.”

Donald Duck herded the customers into a huddle near the loan department desks.  “Look down at the floor!” he screamed.  “Nobody moves, nobody gets hurt.”  Using his gun to point menacingly at Mavis who was emptying the tellers’ cash drawers into a canvas bank bag, he shouted, “No tricks, lady!  No dye packs, no trackers, and hurry the fuck up.”

Mavis was crying, as was an elderly lady with a rolled umbrella and an Hispanic woman with a toddler. None of the customers offered any resistance, including Clayce who kept a neutral, non-threatening look on his face.  He could feel the weight of his revolver high on his right hip, hidden by his brown-leather bomber jacket.

Arjay was standing next to Clayce who put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and said, “It’s okay, son,” in a protective tone.  A woman behind Clayce whispered, “It’s the Halloween Bandits.  I read about them in the paper.”

“Shut up!” Donald Duck screamed, waving his automatic in their direction.  Then he yelled toward the vault, “Hurry up, Frank!”

Frank—aka Mickey Mouse—reappeared with two bank bags in his free hand.  Using his automatic to prod Randolph Lilly ahead of him he said, “We’ll need some insurance.  One of the women.”  Pointing at Mavis he said, “You’ll do, sweetie.  Let’s take a little ride.”

“Please no,” Mavis stuttered, too scared to move.  “My husband.  My children.  They need me.  Please…”

“You’ll be okay, lady.  Nobody gets hurt as long as nobody follows us.  Now come over here.”

Arjay looked up at Clayce and slowly raised his right hand, forming it into a loose fist.  Puzzled at first, Clayce’s eyes suddenly registered understanding and he fought to keep his face neutral.  “Do it,” he hissed softly to the boy.  “Do it now.”   

Shuffling half a step forward, Arjay flipped his imaginary coin and cried, “Call it in the air!”

Every head turned and all eyes—including those of the Halloween Bandits—lifted skyward.  All eyes except those of the Chief of Police.

 In one fluid motion Clayce took two steps sideways to clear the gaggle of customers, drew his revolver, crouched into the classic two-handed shooting stance, and fired one shot into the air—*Bam!*  He yelled, “FREEZE ASSHOLES!” and watched Donald Duck throw his hands, and his gun, in the air.  Before the bandit’s automatic could hit the floor, his cohort in crime turned and brought his gun to bear.  Without hesitating, Clayce shifted slightly, refocused his aim, and shot Mickey Mouse out of his shoes—*Bam!Bam!Bam!*

Randolph Lilly fainted, and Mavis Singlemount wet her pants.

----- / ----- / -----

Monday at noon, Luther stuck his head in Clayce’s office and asked, “How you holding up, hoss?”

“Good.  It’s easier when they don’t give you a choice.  Instinct takes over before you can think about it.  Still…”

“He didn’t give you a chance to choose.”

“No, he didn’t.  And, nobody else was hurt.  That’s the main thing.”

“You want to go to lunch?”

“Sure.  Where?”

“We could go to the house.  Patsy makes a great sandwich.”

“No offense, but I had enough of Patsy at dinner on Friday.  Where does she find these women?”

“You didn’t like SueAnn?”

“No, I liked her just fine.”

“But not enough to ask her out?”

“She doesn’t like dogs, Luther.  What kind of woman—especially a Southern woman—doesn’t like dogs?”

“She has three cats.”

“Uh huh.  So many cats, so few recipes.”

“Want to go to the Café, or the Idle Hour?

“Either one works for me.”

“Well, don’t make me choose.  You know I hate to choose.  Just blindfold me and lead the way.”

“I’ve got a better idea,” Clayce said, reaching into his pants pocket for a quarter.  Curling his hand into a loose fist, he tucked his thumbnail under the edge of his forefinger.

“A better idea, hoss?”

“Uh huh,” Clayce said as he flipped the quarter skyward.

“Call it in the air!”  

Born and raised in the mountains of West Virginia, Jim has lived in ten states and three foreign countries. Currently retired somewhere in the Ozarks, he has a passion for his wife, blended (not sour mash) bourbon, Hawaiian shirts, anything fried in bacon grease in a cast-iron skillet, stray dogs, and whatever vegetables are in season with the exception of Brussels sprouts and eggplant.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications © 2018