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Milky Way Galaxy. Solar System. Earth.-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Angel-Fiction by Gary Clifton
Backpage Baby-Fiction by Robb White
Elegant on the Outside-Fiction by Bruce Costello
A Life Examined-Fiction by Doug Hawley
Run, Baby, Run-Fiction by J. Brooke
The Pursuit of Presley Penguin-Fiction by Michael D. Davis
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Best Enemies Forever-Flash Fiction by Walter Giersbach
Glitter in the Dark-Flash Fiction by Dini Armstrong
Spirit Intoxicating Babe in the Woods-Flash Fiction by Monique Saier
My Only Christmas Story-Flash Fiction by Paul Beckman
Ode to Old Brooklyn-Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Bacardi Taillights Machine Gun Farewell-Poem by John Short
Pearl Diver-Poem by Wayne F. Burke
Abandoned Sofas-Poem by Ayaz Daryl Nielsen
Kafka Museum-Poem by Henry Bladon
Elegy for Frank-Poem by David Spicer
Schmoozy-Woozy-Poem by David Spicer
Dangerous-Poem by Marc Carver
Eternal-Poem by Marc Carver
The Race has Just Begun-Poem by J.J.Campbell
The Endless Nightmare-Poem by J. J. Campbell
The Last Word-Poem by Meg Baird
Vision of Steel-Poem by Meg Baird
Zen-Poem by Meg Baird
Estrangement-Poem by Brian Rihlmann
First World Herd-Poem by Brian Rihlmann
Christmas Morning in an East Hollywood Hovel-Poem by Brian Rihlmann
A Season of Bailing Wire and Duct Tape-Poem by Brian Rihlmann
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Angel of Manslaughter
The Gazing Ball
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No Place Like Home
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

77_ym_backpagebaby_blanch.jpg
Art by Darren Blanch © 2019

Backpage Baby

Robb White

 

          “This used to be the go-to place back in the day.”

          Jimmy Stoner looked at me as if I cared to reply to that. We were standing near Elaine’s on 2nd Avenue where I used to drink when I was a greenhorn junior trader like Stoner. He was on the rise. I was a senior forex trader on the down elevator. I used to see an arbitrage coming a mile away. Now it had to hit me in the face before I could spot it. I’d lost the firm a sizable amount on the margins with Deutschmarks. Our hedge fund manager had as much mercy for staff who couldn’t cut it as a racer snake for a newly hatched gecko. 

          I stood watching the traffic while the wind howled among the canyons of the Upper East Side skyscrapers. I used to love this town. My divorce was finalized on Thanksgiving. No great loss, but she got the apartment and the dog.

          When I turned around, Jimmy had finished his smoke and had gone back inside to celebrate with the others. When you’re part of the king’s retinue, it’s a good idea to stay close. In my case, it was irrelevant. Even if I was demoted back to junior trader, which was doubtful, I’d be wearing a sign around my neck that proclaimed LOSER.

          “What did you say?”

          “Nothing,” I said to the voice behind me. “Just talking to myself,” I replied.

          No passerby on a New York sidewalk in Manhattan or Hunt’s Point would ever ask a mumbling stranger on the street anything. I didn’t recognize her voice at first.

          Kori Andolsek. She was one of the few women on our floor and she was damned good. I know, I mentored her during her probationary period. She had a killer instinct to go with her degrees, one in math, and she advanced in record time.

          “Why aren’t you inside where it’s warm with all that hot air being blown around our head trader?”

          “You mean the ass-kissing?  I’m not feeling it now. Besides, Harper’s going on about his spoiled brats in some Connecticut prep school and Randolph is boring everyone, including our boss, with some artsy-fartsy gibberish about a Tang dynasty exhibition of Chinese tomb figurines at the Guggenheim.”

          “So, what are you doing out here in the cold with me? I see no plumes of vaping smoke around your head like a cotton halo, I hear no intense cell phone conversation with clients about rupees—”

          “Shut up, Dave. You used to be clever. No one thinks so now.”

          Kori could wield a scalpel as easily as a hedged grid on market volatility.

          “Tell me how you really feel about me.”

          “Dry wit isn’t your forte, either.”

          “Where’s your plus-one, the little blonde you brought to the Christmas party?”

          “Are you being stupid now? She was just a date I arranged.”

          “I never took you for a one-night-stand kind of girl.”

          “She was there to keep you boys from hitting on me. A single girl at a party where you guys get a couple dirty martinis in you, and it’s ‘Hey, gorgeous, wanna see my dick’?”

          “That’s us, all right. Depraved, sex-crazed maniacs, one and all. The toughest motherfuckers in our ivy-league finance classes.”

          “Speaking of finance, how bad was your margin call the other day? Everybody’s talking about it around the water cooler.

          “I burned the company for a couple hundred thou.”

          “You’re losing it, Dave. You’re supposed to take profits from a dead cat bounce, not give away the company’s money.”

          “Yeah, I fucked up.”

          I was shivering from the bitter wind and just about to make a farewell gesture when she stunned me to silence.

          “I want you to be quiet while I say something and then you can say something.”

          “Sounds mysterious, Kori.”

          “Does ‘be quiet’ register in your vocabulary?”

          I stretched out my arms to passing traffic. “Floor’s all yours, m’lady.”

          “I want you to come over to my place and have sex with me.”

          “What the—”

          “Shut up, I said! No talking yet . . . Here’s how I want it to happen . . .”

          Some kinky thing she’d picked up off the classifieds in Backpage.com for hookups between total strangers. Anonymous internet sex, the latest moral degeneration of her age group. One party goes to a person’s apartment at a designated time; the other party is waiting in a specific place. No talk, just sex. Stoner once started a wicked rumor around that same water cooler years ago; he said she got her career started thanks to a sugar daddy on Seeking Arrangement.  

          Kori had conditions; the main was silence, not easy when the rockets go off, but she was adamant about it. “I don’t want you to speak a single word, got it, from the moment you walk in, to the moment you stick it in me, and you will leave. No hanging around for pillow talk and that bullshit. I mean it: Get dressed and get out.” You won’t find subtlety next to Kori Andolsek’s name in the dictionary.

          I’m no prude but it struck me as too weird, even for Ms. Charm. 

          What the hell, I thought, I’m divorced, unattached, celibate as a monk in a nunnery. The better dating sites required a courtship period, the sleazy ones shouted STD’s, mental cases, con jobs, and trouble. Paid escorts and gentlemen’s clubs not being my thing, Kori’s out-of-the-blue offer sounded weird, like an Amish electric chair.

          “Am I speaking Tagalog, Dave?”

          “Agreed.”

          When I agreed to every condition, committed the directions to memory, she left me standing there without a word and returned inside. Cabs wove in and out of traffic, pedestrians played their usual dangerous game of skipping across the street like gazelles at a crocodile-infested crossing. Bits of windblown confetti from the Thanksgiving Macy’s parade decomposed in the gutter.

          I flagged down a cab. One of the nearby restaurants had rigged a loudspeaker to a pole playing schmaltzy Christmas music. Judy Garland told me to Have Myself a Very Merry Christmas. I’m sure I had a smile on my face.

* * *

          I dropped my clothes behind me in the semi-darkened bedroom. The white skin of a naked thigh glowed on the bed a few feet from me. In contrast to the rest of the condo I’d just passed through, this was a descent into the macabre, a discordant note. Black-and-white erotic photos of women entangled with men and other women lined the walls, a Mapplethorpe-esque exhibition of sexual frenzy, phalluses ejaculating onto women’s faces, buttocks, hair. Black satin sheets, black pillowcases. Kori, unmoving, lay stretched out, her wrists dangling from the bed posts where they were tied in black silk scarves. The Fifty Shades of Gray ambience, however, disappointed. I’d expected a more aggressive tableau from a woman like Kori, more sado, less maso.

          Twelve years of marital copulation isn’t the best preparation for kinky sex. Even so, I crawled toward her on the bed on my knees, member stiffening, and felt among the sheets for the contours of her body. My orders were simple. That’s exactly what I did. 

          After the orgasm, I lay down beside her, panting. Her hair had tumbled over her face during coitus, although she too observed her own rules about no talking. She hadn’t made a sound despite the bucking.

          “Kori, enough games,” I said. “Let’s be adults about this.”

          The same silence.

          “Kori, hey, Kori—”

          A pungent odor filled the room. I realized what it was immediately—her bowels had evacuated all over the bed sheets.

          Fuck this, I thought.

          I jumped off the bed and hit the light switch beside the doorway.

          It wasn’t Kori lying on the bed.

          The woman with the wig to match Kori’s hair was younger by many years. Her face was suffused with blood and the tip of her tongue protruded. I stepped closer to the body and brushed the hair from her face.

          My brain finally caught up. I knew her! Kori’s date from the office party, the little blonde. The girl was ten years younger, tattooed, dirty-blonde hair in one of those chi-chi, ragged-looking shorn cuts New York fashion was so enamored of. Jimmy had mocked her at the party as a cheap-looking club girl. Among our klatch of financial sharks, all speaking shoptalk, she seemed out of her element, but we dismissed her as easily as a real shark dismisses the remora fish cruising under its belly.   

          It got worse in the next ten seconds: I detected the thin steel wire looped around her neck so tight it embedded itself into the flesh and was tied off to a dowel obscured by a pillow. The word necrophilia leaped into my neocortex as if branded there with a white-hot iron. Then total panic.

          What the fuck . . . what the fuck . . .

           My prints, my semen—I had to get dressed, get out of there fast . . .

          I should have anticipated it, but a nightmare has only associational logic to offer. Two detectives were at the receptionist’s desk in the lobby. They’d been called, obviously, and were asking for me. Approaching, grim-faced, I overheard their commands to the concierge; they were not very polite about it.

* * *

          My lawyer assured me the jury would never go for a full murder count because there was no motive provided by the prosecution. Maybe he should have stayed in law school a bit longer because juries nowadays want forensics, not motives, and when they hear words like “the suspect’s DNA was found inside the victim,” they don’t much care about the why of it.

          My lawyer struggled with that: “You screwed her, she didn’t move, her bowels evacuated—yet you’re still doing the whango-tango with a corpse? Christ Almighty, Dave, you’re one prize perv.”

          “Kori told me to do it that way,” I said. “She insisted!”

          “And you always do what your domme says like a good little boy?”

          “It wasn’t like that, I told you.”

          “Jesus Christ, you’re a wonder, Dave.”

          “She said she’d grease her vag with a little extra-fine olive oil in case I needed a lubricant. She was concerned about my age. Her exact words were ‘You’ll be hanging on by your fingernails before you know it, cowboy.’”

          “My appetite for salads just left town for good.”

          “Fuck you, just get me out of this nightmare!”

          He tried, I’ll give him that. Three weeks of trial ended in twenty-five-to-life. Kori on the witness stand denied everything, the talk in the street, our secret “arrangement,” which she said “nauseated” her when she heard it from the detectives. She openly wept for her murdered “friend” on the bed and even added a lagniappe, as they say in New Orleans, a little something extra for the jury:  “She saved my life by being in the apartment instead of me.”

          I watched the jurors’ faces when she sniffled through her testimony. Some of them had their mouths so wide open they could have hit high C at the Met. The judge added three years concurrent for the “abuse of a corpse.” I can still see his mouth wrinkled in disgust when he tacked that on.

          “Be grateful it wasn’t LWOP, Dave,” my lawyer said as the bailiff put the cuffs on me from behind.

          Why did she do it? Why me?

          I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. I’ll have decades more to ponder if I don’t find the correct answer. My lawyer said he’d file the appeal that afternoon and assured me I won’t do the full sentence. Easy for him to say, the prick. He was all about billable hours, not my freedom or a new trial.

          Kori beat out Jimmy Stoner for my position after the trial. The most my lawyer’s investigator could discover about the dead girl was that she was a runaway from Iowa, lived in several places in a couple boroughs, met Kori at a club in Soho. CCTV cameras showed the girl coming and going from Kori’s apartment. A girl with no history, no family, zilch.

          The prosecutor’s lame theory was that I broke into rape Kori, in some kind of frenzy of goatish lust, found the girl there instead and forced her into the bedroom, tied her up, and killed her with a ligature while engaging in deviant sex. The autopsy could not establish a time of death. No rigor, little blood pooling, just the telltale petechiae of the eyeballs from strangulation. 

          My attorney went at Kori hard on the stand, but she came across as sincere, vulnerable to “an older man’s manipulation from his position of power” at the company. Kori hinted strongly at my “pattern of unwanted advances” over his numerous objections, although no one at the firm supported her allegations. The jury gave a big yawn to the witnesses testifying about my character. Even Jimmy Stoner left a bad taste in their mouths with his nonchalant testimony about how often he’d seen me with Kori on the trading floor.

          “What physical positions were the defendant and Miss Andolsek in as you observed them?”

          “Objection, your honor. Irrelevant,” my lawyer chirped.

          “Overruled.”

          “Dave was usually leaning over Ms. Andolsek’s shoulder to point out something on the screen.”

          The prosecutor objected to any attempt to portray Kori as anything but a woman struggling against the male bastion of her workplace and then having her very home invaded, desecrated—here, a lip-curled glower in my direction at the table—that the judge’s sustaining them had a couple jurors openly grimacing. They all got the same message: any attack on a dead girl’s character or on my co-worker was going to backfire and fast.

          The fact that Kori was seen on security cameras leaving 15 minutes before I arrived never got in. The judge ruled in the prosecutor’s favor at the pretrial hearing.

          “She killed her just before I walked into her place,” I told my lawyer during deliberations. “That’s why the body was still warm. That’s your proof, damn it!”

          “No, Dave, it’s proof of nothing. No lividity. It’s in the autopsy that way. Did you think she evacuated her bowels out of some sexual turn-on?”

          “At first, I didn’t know what else to think.”

          He chuckled and then coughed to cover the stupid-sounding comment. Yet he was only echoing what the Post had been saying about “The Backpage Killer” all week.

          The whole invitation “excuse” was deemed so off the wall that, when I testified why I was at Kori’s apartment in the first place and about our conversation in the street, even my ex-wife refused to believe it. She got up and left the courtroom.

* * *

          Metropolitan Correctional Center is a rathole. I’ve done six weeks and am scheduled to be transferred upstate to Dannemora. It can’t come too soon. Every other guy in the chow line is a gang member. Every tenth inmate you pass here has a zipper for a neck scar from being shanked or shivved, whatever the right term is. It’s pandemonium from morning wake-up to lights out. I live with fear every day. I’ve fallen so far, so fast.

          “It could have been worse,” my lawyer said, a useless Job’s comforter if ever there was one. “MCC is a charm school compared to Riker’s.”

          I glared at him through the scarred plexiglass. “That makes me feel much better, you asshole. Scuttlebutt says they’ve already got the word on me up there. I’m the ‘Corpse Man’ and they tell me I’d better pay off the first time I’m asked or I’m going to take a suicide dive off the top tier.”

          “Just con talk, Dave,” the lawyer said. “That’s how they scare the new arrivals.”

          “It worked. I’m fucking scared to death.”

* * *

          Prep school, Dartmouth, and a corner desk at an elite Wall Street brokerage firm were not an adequate preparation for a maximum-security prison. My cellmate back in MCC was a normal street hood. My cellmate in Dannemora was a bona fide homicidal, paranoid schizophrenic. Every day was a new challenge to stay on his good side—if that’s the right word for a maniac. Cons who have beefs with their cellies settle differences in private inside their cells. Guards don’t interfere. 

          Every night at bed check, Michael would count every personal item in his space to make sure nothing was missing or had been replaced by something inferior by me while he was in the yard or in the shop. I sweated bullets until he was satisfied with the count. At night, I slept with the proverbial eye open. A filed-down toothbrush with a razor soldered into the plastic from a contraband Bic was considered de rigueur at Dannemora, essential accoutrement for all fashionista killers. 

          After my cell assignment, three burly cons slathered with helter-skelter tattoos paid me a visit. Clowns collided with spiderwebs and shamrocks on arms bunched with muscle. The two bigger ones stayed silent, allowing the smallest—a clean-shaven hillbilly with a pronounced brow ridge, to do the talking. He quietly informed me in his bollixed-up, inflated diction precisely how much I was to pay “henceforth” and how the deposits were to be made into the four accounts “so as not to incur undue curiosity among the penal staff.”

          Penal staff . . . Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

          I said nothing, they said nothing further, turned around and walked out, the bigger ones like two pulling guards shielding a running back. The whole shakedown occurred in less time than it took me to urinate in the morning. 

          I summoned my lawyer, relayed the shitkicker’s instructions, and told him if he said one word about not paying these scum off, I’d use every dollar left in my savings to have him “visited” by one of those muscle-heads’ friends on the outside. He thought I was kidding, then he nodded, sighed, and put the instructions of numbered accounts I had him write down inside his expensive Armani jacket in deconstructed weave.  My transition from shark to minnow was formally and totally complete.

          Three months in, I’d had enough. The whole mind-numbing routine of stupid male chatter, the ragged sleep because of my crazy cellmate, the starchy food, fluorescent lights everywhere, the clang of cell doors sliding into locks, the fart-smells wafting up and down tiers, the body odor of mentally deranged and unhygienic men was taking too big a toll. The boredom of prison is exacerbated only by abrupt moments of terror, punctuated by the shrieks and cries of the unlucky, vulnerable men singled out for “demonstrations” by one gang or another for rules infractions, real or suspected. It was like living inside a combat zone—only one planted inside a rotten jungle atmosphere. I wasn’t inclined to wait 15 years for a first parole hearing.

          I got word to the clean-shaven con who’d entered my cell that first week of my arrival.

          No pleasant greeting this time. He walked in and stared at me sitting on my bunk, shoeless feet dangling.

          He cut his eyes to my hands in case I had some foolish notion of leaping down and sticking him.

          “This visit ain’t free,” he said. “You know that.”

          Jailbird lingo for a ‘legal consultation.”

          “I understand,” I replied.

          “Have fifty in my commissary account by the week’s end. Two twenties and a ten. Don’t be stupid and put the whole amount in at one time.”

          “I understand.” You motherfucker . . .

          I told him what I wanted him—or wanted his outside associates to do for me—and we negotiated a price. The haggling over his fee took half as much time as my little speech. I agreed to his terms—specific amounts to be paid to addresses he’d provide me later. Like that first time, he turned around and walked out sans another spoken word.

          When my cellmate returned from shop, he demanded to know what I’d discussed with “the lifer” from another cell block. I gave him an abridged version, leaving out pertinent details and names by substituting a scenario I hoped his deranged, paranoid brain would find acceptable.

          I admit I was relieved when he grunted.

          “You know, man, that guy, he’s an enforcer for the Brand,” he told me after supper, briefly interrupting his count to glare at me.

          “I know.”

          “You just bought yourself a pig in a poke, fuckhead.”

          Subtle as a rain-wrapped tornado, as ever.

          “Maybe.”

          I hadn’t heard that colloquialism pig in a poke spoken in my entire life, but it rang inside my head with the authority of a papal bull from the Vatican balcony. I was down to the slimmest of hopes. I knew in my brain, heart, and guts, I could never last three more months in this place, let alone face the likelihood of parole denial my first time up, which was the norm. Doing the full life sentence—hell, that was something you’d ascribe to a glacier’s speed, not to an innocent man trapped in a steel cage.

          If this failed, they wouldn’t have to throw me headfirst off the tier. I’d do the dive myself.

* * *

          When I summoned him again two months later, he showed up just before bed check.

          “This ain’t a freebie, neither. Fifty in the account, same way.”

          “I understand. I’ve paid up. I want results. My lawyer is aware of our deal.”

          That wasn’t true. The cash payments were handled through an intermediary and a different private investigator. My lawyer told me he wouldn’t get involved in any blackmail. “It’s an ethics thing, Dave . . .I just can’t.”

          “Good for your pig-fucking lawyer.”

          “When do I get the results?”

          “You’ll know when I do. Why? You goin’ somewhere soon, Corpse Man? Got a Caribbean trip comin’ up?”

          “I’m tired of waiting for what I’ve paid a considerable fortune for.”

          His beetle-brow furrowed, making the bump of his ridge look more Neanderthal than ever. He turned around and walked out without speaking a word.

          My cellmate, of course, with his specialized antennae, already knew about the visit by the time he arranged his items for the nightly count.

          “They say men gossip more than women,” I said, risking his wrath.

          “You’re in a prison, shithead,” he replied; “what else is there to do but beat off, fight, play chess, cornhole trannies, lift weights, and send kites up and down the rows about punks who screw corpses.”

          Touché, you crazy prick—

          My imagined plummet from the top tier moved closer to the front of my mind each day from then on. Time didn’t drag, it slipped like tectonic plates colliding. I was aware of seconds passing, then hours passed while I barely functioned in my fugue state. The thought of suicide slithered like a banded viper and curled a forked tongue into the crevices between my thoughts. In no time, the thought of ending this hell became a siren song, beckoning me when I was at my lowest.

          The Neanderthal showed up in my cell one gray afternoon in spring after rec period.

          “I didn’t summon you,” I said. I glanced at him over my copy of The Wealth of Nations.

          He threw a fat manila envelope stuffed with papers at me and walked out—once again, cat-like, in silence.

          I scooped up the papers that had drifted to the floor and quickly perused what I’d paid a king’s ransom for. It was gold—everything I needed to end this nightmare.

          I paid the ten-dollar fee to get to a phone from one of the gang members on “phone duty.” I told my new lawyer what I had.

          “How’d you get that kind of information?”

          “Through people with better sources and more connections than your shitty investigator.”

          “I’ll be up there tomorrow.”

* * *

          The nightmare, however, wouldn’t end as soon as I wanted. The wheels of justice turn slowly but grind exceedingly fine, as Sun Tzu said. He’d have revised that statement if he’d ever gone through an American justice system, which grinds up the petitioner along with any semblance of justice. But on rare occasions, it does work.

          When my lawyer presented the evidence to a three-judge panel in the court of appeals, I was granted a new trial; my sentence was vacated—for the time being.  

          The explosive discovery revealed some new facts pertinent to my case. For one thing, Kori was born Korinne May Andolsek in Gobblers Crossing, Alabama in 1987. She was state-raised in Tallapoosa County because both of her parents had died in a trailer fire. Each parent, however, had a neat bullet hole in the skull in the temporal lobe region. Both were executed in their beds from a Ruger 10/22 deer rifle. The charred remains were found near the bed after the fire. Kori alone escaped. Or rather, the papers said, “was spared by the killer,” a man no one could identify from her vague description and the police composite. Being of tender age, however, she was spared a grilling by detectives who never did find the mystery man she claimed broke into her trailer apparently for the sole purpose of executing the two adults inside.

          Sound fishy?

          Kori proved to be a brilliant student, if a loner, an autodidact who taught herself algebra and calculus while her classmates were still drawing stick figures for the family refrigerators. A copy of her eighth-grade report card was notable for two reasons: the straight A’s and the teacher’s acerbic comments about the girl’s “antisocial, hostile, and downright belligerent behavior” in her classes.

          She attended the University of Alabama in what should have been her junior year of high school. Her SAT score missed perfection by two points. She took an advanced degree in math and computer technology from Brown on a full-ride scholarship.

          The motive came like a blinding flash of light in a darkened room—in this case, my brain, which could not fathom so elaborate a betrayal for no reason except that it must have been owing to some deviance in her personality, some hatred that laser-focused on me specifically and irrationally.

          It never once occurred to me her motive for destroying me could be personal.

          The bombshell evidence was this: six years ago, my firm interviewed a Robert Klagg for a position. He was 25, newly engaged, and had all the right credentials. As a senior trader, I sat on the interview committee with several partners and the head trader. Possessed of golden reference letters from both business and academe, Klagg was highly recruited. He was as good as hired—that is, until I noticed a familiar name in one of his glowing reference letters. Frankly, no one gives a goddamn what your grades were in college, it’s all about the degree. But that particular professor happened to be someone I had once consulted for a project concerning the development of application strategies with robots in the forex market. A robot studies peaks and suggests reversals or opportunities; in other words, it’s a marriage of necessity between intuition and IT nowadays.

          I asked him several questions about his relationship to that professor and received curt, dismissive answers. That irked my pride. He was the interviewee, not me. Right after the interview, I found that professor’s cell number in my office and called him. He had never heard of anyone named Robert Klagg. I informed the head trader, and I went as far as to suggest we call Klagg and tell him to clean up his résumé—a friendly warning, nothing more. I never gave that interview or Robert Klagg a second thought. I assumed some other firm had snapped him up.

          In fact, he was never hired by anyone. That became clear when I found a xerox of an obituary from a Charleston newspaper six weeks after his interview. It was perfunctory as obituaries go; none of the lavish praises heaped upon the dead. Klagg had died “after a short illness” and the clipping stated few personal details. That translated to death by suicide or by drug overdose. I surmised the former cause.

          My hunch was confirmed by a printout of the engagement between Robert Klagg of Charleston, SC and Korinne May Andolsek—dated a year prior to Kori’s hiring.

          Kori blamed me for her fiancé’s death.  The only person who could have blackened Klagg’s name in Manhattan was our head trader. His memberships in the most exclusive clubs in Manhattan and his contacts ensured every big name in finance would know of Klagg’s dishonesty. It was mere sport for him, a boy pulling the wings off a fly. I’m sure he never gave what he did to Klagg a second thought.

          Kori’s iron will put herself on a path of intensive study—just to get to me. And she got to me, all right. The girl on the bed was a sacrificial lamb to her vengeance, another step along the way. A nobody that no one would miss, another New York girl whose life was interrupted by death. I remember sorting the papers in my cell that afternoon and shivering despite the warmth. The coldness shocked me.

          I’m looking forward to the second trial. It looks promising but nothing is guaranteed. I’ll be the main witness, and I’d better be up to it. Kori is no slouch at acting for a jury.

          I haven’t seen her since the day she testified. Untouchable on the stand, a woman with a genius IQ who manipulated authorities, detectives, and caseworkers as an adolescent would have no fear of dissembling again. A New York jury of her peers would be another cakewalk, so I had better be prepared. I even wrote a personal letter to the Manhattan Southern District DA’s Office begging them to assign one of their best trial lawyers to the case. 

          That “research firm” I employed back in prison cost me most of my savings. Everything is different now. I’ve sold all my assets, my stocks and cashed out my money-market certificates.  

          I’m living in a bedsit near the Bowery, a far cry from my former plush digs on the East Side. I’m working at an all-night diner waiting tables and learning how to become a short-order cook. It’s a handy skill. I’ll need it because I’m almost flat broke, my last bond certificate went to pay for a down payment and a new suit for trial. Good lawyers cost money. I don’t want a pro bono attorney or a fresh graduate out of Cardozo from the public defender’s office going up against Kori.

          After the trial, I’m leaving to go out West for the Big Sky country. I’ll never touch a spreadsheet again. I plan to drop my cell service and go off the grid. Being falsely accused has changed me. Prison has changed me. But most of all, a brilliant, amoral woman with a block of ice for a heart has changed me for good. As they say, no one hates you like your friends.

THE END


Robb White writes noir, crime, and hardboiled stories and novels featuring series character Thomas Haftmann. A recent collection of crime stories is Dangerous Women: Stories of Crime, Mystery, and Mayhem. He published Perfect Killer and Northtown Eclipse in 2018. “Inside Man” was selected for inclusion in Best American Mystery Stories 2019. His website is  https://tomhaftmann.wixsite.com/robbtwhite.

Darren Blanch, Aussie creator of visions which tell you a tale long after first glimpses have teased your peepers. With early influence from America's Norman Rockwell to show life as life, Blanch has branched out mere art form to impact multi-dimensions of color and connotation. People as people, emotions speaking their greater glory. Visual illusions expanding the ways and means of any story.

Digital arts mastery provides what Darren wishes a reader or viewer to take away in how their own minds are moved. His evocative stylistics are an ongoing process which sync intrinsically to the expression of the nearby written or implied word he has been called upon to render.

View the vivid energy of IVSMA (Darren Blanch) works at: www.facebook.com/ivsma3Dart, YELLOW MAMA, Sympatico Studio - www.facebook.com/SympaticoStudio, DeviantArt - www.deviantart.com/ivsma and launching in 2019, as Art Director for suspense author / intrigue promoter Kate Pilarcik's line of books and publishing promotion - SeaHaven Intrigue Publishing-Promotion.

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