IS A GOOD THING, RIGHT?
The rustic old used book store, The Written Word, with its two studio
apartments on the second floor, had managed to evade the urban renewal planners for half
a century. The apartments had been the
real money-makers for the building’s owner for the last ten or fifteen years. The cursed Internet and the movie rental industry
had changed the way of doing business for a lot of retailers. Many
had gone through reorganizations to accommodate the different customer preferences and
had stayed afloat. Many others had tried
and failed. The owner of The Written Word, Frank Jenkins,
had seen the oncoming tsunami, but had realized there was very little he could do as far
as making changes in the way a used book store did business. Had he
dealt in rarities, he could have taken advantage of the Internet and gone global. As it was, most of his clients lived in a forty-block
radius of his storefront. In the back of
the store, he was going through a box of books he had found at an estate sale. The person whose estate was being settled had
had a very nice collection, indeed. His only
employee, Mary Gibbs, was up front at the cash register talking to a teenager. Mary was a recent college graduate, an English major, no less, who
in addition to working six days a week at The Written Word, drove cab three or four nights
a week to make ends meet. When Mary wasn’t
waiting on the few customers who wandered in, she had her nose in a book. She especially liked late 19th, early
20th century horror and supernatural authors like Algernon Blackwood and Arthur
Machen. In less than a year she had learned
the business and was well liked by Frank’s regular customers.
Frank stopped to listen a minute as it sounded like Mary was giving this kid the
bad news. He rarely ever heard her being
anything but friendly to the customers.
I’ve told you a million times; the change we have is for our customers. If I give it to you, we might not have it when we need it,” Mary
said quietly but firmly.
“But I’ll miss my bus if ya don’t
give me change. My mom’ll get all
wigged out and maybe ground me,” complained the teenager in front of her. Frank supposed that Jimmy was the kind of kid who would be known by
his schoolmates as a geek or a nerd. Tall,
gangly, lots of acne; he even had some white tape holding one of the bows of his glasses
to the rest of the frame. Jimmy was a classic,
“Okay, I suppose if ya have to catch
yer bus, ya have to catch yer bus. But try to
plan ahead a little, will ya, Jimmy?”
face lit up with a big smile as he took the change. “Thanks, Mary,”
he said. “I’ll try not to let it happen again.”
“You know it will happen again, don’t you, Mary?” Frank
said after Jimmy had gone. “I think
he’s got a crush on you.”
be silly,” said Mary blushing. “He’s
just a kid. I’m almost ten years older
than he is.”
“I didn’t say he was going to
ask you to elope with him to Vegas. I just
think he enjoys spending a little quality time with you.”
“Quality time; I’m so sure,”
harrumphed Mary as she went back to her book.
change Jimmy needed, if he really needed it, and the inability of Frank to make the changes
necessary to keep the store going, got him thinking about how words like change had different
meanings in the English language. He really wished
there was something he could do to change the way he did business and turn a profit again,
but couldn’t think of any way to do it. He
was absently paging through one of the books that was part of his recent purchase,
mumbling the words “change this, change that” to himself, when a piece of paper
fell to the floor. It appeared to be a note
that had been used as a bookmark, and considering the recent thoughts that had been going
through his head, it was a strange note indeed. “So it’s
change you’re looking for, is it?” the note stated in someone’s careful
cursive. “I’ll show you change!”
Frank looked at the
book’s spine for title and author information. The title
was “Everyday Spells and the Use of Incantations” by an author named Francis
Jenkins. Odder and odder. The
copyright date was 1872. Maybe some crazy
great-great-uncle. Frank put the note back into the book and
decided to go for a walk to clear his head and then stop someplace for lunch.
going for an early lunch, Mary,” he said going out the door. “I’ll
be back before 12:30.”
Frank headed toward the market district, and
though feeling a little light headed, discovered he was glad to be out of the store and
into the fresh air. A welcome change. “There it is again,” he thought to
himself. Normally he would have chuckled
at this continuation of word play, but for some reason he felt uneasy. Looking
down, he saw a nasty looking rat was scurrying along, keeping pace with him. Then he saw another, equally nasty looking, coming toward him from
the other direction. The odd thing was that
nobody else walking in either direction seemed to take any notice of the two rats.
No, now three; now four rats. Frank was glad when he got to the little
bistro he often frequented and could leave the rats behind. Even as he sat down,
it bothered him that no one else had paid any attention to the uncommon occurrence of those
rats trundling down the street like they had important rat business to take care of.
Gerald, the waiter who usually took Frank’s order, was nowhere
to be seen. A rather scruffy little man,
in a dirty sweater much too large for him, sidled over to the table.
he asked, looking over Frank’s head and out the window.
around at the other customers and didn’t recognize a soul. “I
guess I’ll have a grilled cheese and a glass of ice water,” he stammered nervously. “Yes, grilled cheese and ice water; that’ll
do it,” he trailed off.
“The fish didn’t like it when
we put ice in the water, so we don’t have ice no more,” declared the waiter
as he shambled away.
Frank looked at the table next to him and
his jaw dropped. The couple next to him both
had water, and in each glass there was a live fish of some sort swimming around. The waiter came back with Frank’s water and
refilled the glasses of the two at the next table. Right then, Frank knew exactly
what was going on: He was losing his mind. Simple as that; going bonkers. First the rats and now the fish.
fish okay?” asked the waiter. “I can get
ya a different kind if ya want.”
I’m sure this fish is fine. But I suddenly
don’t feel too well and think I’d better leave.” He put a dollar on the table as a tip and started for the door. He couldn’t imagine eating a grilled cheese
that came from the kitchen of a place that put live fish in their drinking water. As he was walking out he saw a fellow do a
“bottoms up” with his glass and drink it right down, fish and all.
“Yep,” he said out loud. “Crazier than a peach-orchard
boar.” He decided to go to the little
grocery and just pick up an apple and some grapes to take back with him to the bookstore.
Why he thought the grocery would somehow be as it was the last time he was in it
was due to that age-old river in Egypt; denial.
Even though he had just verbalized that he was losing his mind, he still was going
through the motions of normality. The grocery
as seen from the entrance was a collage of weird goings-on that complimented the bistro’s
wackiness nicely. Two women were standing
by the fresh strawberries talking, but stuffing strawberries into their mouths as if they
hadn’t eaten in a week. An older gentleman,
about Frank’s age, was munching on a head of lettuce. He had
on an expensive looking sport coat, a strap t-shirt, boxer shorts, and mismatched socks. No shoes.
Frank put a bunch of grapes in a bag, set a couple of dollars on the unstaffed cash
register and headed quick-step out the door. There was a young
long-hired security guard at the exit singing an old Beatles song at the top of his lungs. Actually, he was pretty good…, if he hadn’t
been supposedly watching the exit of the grocery store.
got back to The Written Word, he saw that it was no longer The Written Word; it was now
“Mary and Frank’s Read It Again, Sam.” Somehow,
he was not at all surprised.
said Mary with a bit of a slur. “Wasn’t
expectin’ ya back. So freakin’ soon, I mean.” She moved the bottle of watermelon flavored
vodka from the counter next to her to the floor. It was one third gone. Looking around, Frank hardly recognized the place. There were movies and CD’s to buy or rent
and gaudy posters of punk rock bands decorating all four walls.
a glass for that vodka?’ Frank asked Mary.
“I was kinda
jus’ drinkin’ right from the bottle,” replied Mary with a dopey grin.
“So gimme it, already,”
Frank sighed in resignation. “I guess I
can drink outta the bottle for a change.”
Then brightening a bit, he said, “Ya know, Mary, I really like what
you’ve done to the place; ya did a good job.
I should’ve made some of these changes a long time ago. We’re
gonna have to get some rat traps, though. A lot of rat traps.”
|Art by Brian Beardsley © 2014
“I beg your pardon!”
Matthew Byrnes had just finished dinner at his favorite restaurant and
was getting ready to leave. He had moved into this neighborhood six months ago after retiring.
He had been a circuit court judge for almost thirty years and was thoroughly enjoying retirement.
On his way to the door, a slight altercation had occurred. “No
need to get all huffy,” said Judge Byrnes. “I didn’t know it was yours.
It’s raining and I needed an umbrella. This one looked like it had been on the top
of the coat rack for years. Here, take it.”
“Actually, it has been there for years. I
forgot it when I had dinner here with my wife on our fiftieth wedding
anniversary. That was three years ago today. That’s my wife over there by the
door. We were killed by a drunk driver just as we left the restaurant. He jumped the curb
and pinned us to the side of the building; we both died on the way to the hospital.”
The judge could only stare after that
little recitation. The man was obviously a little bonkers. He thought he’d best
be careful here or things could get ugly.
“Everything alright, sir?” asked
William, the waiter who had served him.
“Oh, things are fine, fine,” said
the judge. “I was just going to borrow what I thought was an abandoned umbrella,
only to find out that it belongs to this gentleman.”
Looking puzzled, the waiter asked, “And
which gentleman would that be, sir?”
“Why this gentleman right ….,” he
started. “Damn,” the judge thought to
himself. “He’s gone. The woman
by the door, too. How could they have left the restaurant that quickly? And without
taking his umbrella. How odd.”
“Well, sir, if that will be all,” said
the waiter, looking a little nervous now.
“Yes, yes, William, that will be all.
Thanks for the nice evening. See you again next week,” the judge said, trying
to make as graceful an exit as possible.
He stepped out onto the sidewalk and put up the umbrella.
He now felt a little odd taking it, but it was just an umbrella; though its previous owner
was certainly an odd duck. Even with the umbrella, the wind was blowing rain into his face
as he stepped into the street. Halfway across, a horn sounded and a car skidded to a stop
just inches from him. He looked through the windshield and saw the strange fellow and his
wife smiling at him.
“Hey, buddy, ya gonna stand there all
night?” came from a delivery truck driver who had stopped his van on the other
side of him. The judge didn’t bother to turn back to see if the mystery couple
and their car were still there.
“No, I’ll be walking back across the
street now, thank you very much,” the judge said, though not with as much
confidence as he normally would have had when dealing with sarcastic truck
driver types. He found he was a bit shaken. The first thing he was going to do was put
this umbrella back where he got it. He no longer thought of it as “just an umbrella.”
It seemed to be somehow connected to its owner. Or former owner. Or whatever; he decided
he’d rather get wet.
“Ah, back so soon, sir?” asked the
“Yes, William, I’ve decided that I don’t
need this umbrella after all. I’m going
to call a cab.”
“But, sir, it is still raining quite
hard,” said the waiter, standing on tiptoe and looking over the judge’s
shoulder out the front window.
“Thanks, but I’ll just stay in the entryway
until the cab gets here,” the judge said. “Say, William, do you know anything
about an accident happening out front about three years ago? Maybe two people
“Yes, sir, three years ago tonight. The
chef says to me earlier on, ‘Just you wait and see, William, there’ll be some
strange things happening in here tonight. There are every year on this date. People
say they see people who then, poof, are no longer there.’ Oh my, sir, you didn’t
see something unusual earlier, did you?”
“No, no, William, I didn’t see anything
strange at all,” said Judge Byrnes. “Now, would you please call me a cab? It
doesn’t look like this rain’s ever going to let up.”
“Yes, sir, right away. Oh, careful, sir, do watch your step. Water’s
dripped on the floor from your umbrella,” said William. “Oh, no! How awful!” he then shouted as the judge slipped and fell to the
floor. “Someone help me here! Someone call 911!”
“He’s awake, but still a little
groggy,” the judge heard a nurse whisper in the hallway. “You can stay for
a few minutes. He has no family in the area so we’re making an exception for you.”
sir, hope you’re feeling a little better,” said William. “That was quite
a spill you took. Thought I’d drop by and bring you some flowers for your room.”
“That’s really quite nice of you,
William. You can just put them on that table in the corner. Oh, no,” the judge said.
“Did you bring that umbrella with you too?”
“No, sir. That was sitting in the corner
when I came in. I just got here a minute ago.”
“I’m going to call the nurse. Nurse!
“Yes, sir, everything okay?” asked the nurse.
“No, actually, it’s not,”
said Judge Byrnes. “Where did that umbrella come from? Did it come with me from the
restaurant where I was injured?”
“Well, sir, I don’t quite know
how to tell you this,” said the nurse. “After
you were settled into bed, that is, after the doctor examined you, I came into
your room and there was an older couple standing by your bed looking down at
you. I asked them who they were and what they were doing and they both just
smiled at me. I went out front to ask the receptionist who they were and she said
nobody had come in for the last half hour. When I came back in here, they were …,
well, they were gone, sir. I guess it was them who must have left the umbrella.”
A look of distaste appeared on Judge
Byrnes’ face. They had been standing over him while he was unconscious. “How
creepy,” he thought to himself.
“That’s fine, that’s fine.
You may go now,” he said, dismissing the nurse.
“Just leave it for now, William. But after our
visit, please take it with you and put it back on the coat rack in the restaurant,”
the judge said.
“Do you really think that will be the end of it
then, sir?” said William, raising his eyebrows a little as if for emphasis.
“No, William, I have no idea what we
could do to bring an end to this. I think
you and I may be at just the beginning of it.
I don’t know how or why I’ve become connected to those two. But I tell
you one thing: I do plan to be at the restaurant for the fourth anniversary. I
hope that you will be there too. We can look at this as “our” mystery. You
know, the whole thing is actually quite invigorating, wouldn’t you say?”
William nodded his agreement, he rather
liked the old judge, but the look on his face said that he thought this whole
business was turning out to be anything but invigorating. He looked at the
umbrella resting in the corner and noticed for the first time that there appeared
to be blood on its tip. Blood had run down
to where the tip met the floor and a dime-sized spot of it glistened in the hospital’s
overhead lights. Judge Byrnes noticed the look of horror on William’s face and followed
his gaze to the spot on the floor. With a
grimace, he murmured to William, “Ever notice anything like that when it was on
top of the coat rack back at the restaurant?”
“No, sir,” said William. “It
pretty much stayed on the rack and behaved itself.”
“Interesting,” said the judge.
“Apparently something that happened tonight has brought about a change in its behavior.
I think it might have been us. Let’s leave it there until I’m released; then
we’ll both take it back to the restaurant and hope it goes back to sleep. I’d
still like to be at the restaurant for the anniversary next year. Maybe you can
get the night off and be my dinner guest.”
“I’m sure being your dinner guest
would be very pleasant, sir,” said William.
William then paled as he watched the
judge’s face become the face of another. It was of an elderly man that slowly
morphed into a grinning skull. At the
same instant, the judge was startled to see William’s face become that of the old
woman from the restaurant. After only a second or two, both faces were back to
normal. Each man eyed the other suspiciously. The judge then broke the ice when
he realized that in that instant William had looked as shocked as he himself had
“Did my face just change into something
rather ghastly?” asked the judge.
“Why, yes it did, sir,” said William .
“I thought so; yours did too. It was
the face of the old woman at restaurant.”
William groaned. “I’m not sure
I’m going to be up to this, sir,” he said.
think we have any choice, William. I don’t think
we have any choice.”
|Art by Steve Cartwright © 2015
INCIDENT AT THE CORNER GROCERY
Grocery. He’d passed that earlier,
hadn’t he? Yeah, he was pretty sure
To get a little exercise, Brad
Johnson had walked the ten or twelve blocks from his uptown hotel to this small ethnic
neighborhood and had somehow gotten turned around in his attempt to head back. No big deal; it was still early. He
could see the multi-storied buildings of the uptown in the distance. The morning fog was just about completely
burned off by now and there was no reason he couldn’t just walk toward that
skyline and be back in his room in an hour.
off again, he decided to put the grocery store puzzle behind him and think
about the upcoming day. He had flown in
early last evening and was looking forward to surprising his girlfriend, Linda,
at the museum where she worked. They’d
have lunch, and then after she got off work, they’d go someplace ritzy for
Linda had often made comments about his being too buttoned
down and not being spontaneous enough in their relationship. Flying cross country unexpectedly for lunch and dinner would surely
show her that he could be a little wild if he put his mind to it.
Ambling along, trying to stay
in the general direction of his hotel, Brad’s thoughts were still on Linda. They had lived together for almost two years. He loved her very much and he was sure she loved
him just as much. Friends, though, sometimes
remarked that it certainly must be true that opposites attract because his and Linda’s
personalities were quite different.
Brad was the cautious type.
He often diddled around seemingly forever
thinking things through before making a decision about something. Sometimes even ridiculously small things. Linda, however, wasn’t big on doing a cost-benefit analysis on
every choice that came along in her life. She
was a risk taker.
Linda had left Los Angeles for the new job in New York
City after giving the position offer ten minutes thought, her employer two week’s
notice, and Brad best of luck wishes in finding a position and following her as soon as
possible. He still remembers burying his
face in her hair at the airport and inhaling the smell of her one last time. Right then, he didn’t know if he would ever
be able to follow her to New York City.
was at a crosswalk, waiting for the light to change when he saw on the other
side of the street…, Donatelli’s Grocery.
“That can’t be,” Brad said aloud,
causing the old woman next to him jump.
can’t be, mister?” she asked, eying him warily.
“That can’t be Donatelli’s;
I’ve walked past that store twice already this morning on my way back uptown.”
alright,” she said. “Been there
for years. Why don’t you just catch
the bus uptown if you’re in a hurry?”
hadn’t been in a hurry before, but now it had gotten a little later than he was
comfortable with. As luck would have it,
there was a bus stop up ahead in the next block.
He only had to wait a few minutes before a bus
with the “Uptown” sign on the front pulled up. He got on and
took one of the remaining seats as the bus pulled away.
bus was just about full with commuters heading to work.
It was then he thought that he should have thanked
that old woman for the bus suggestion. Thinking
about it now, he couldn’t remember her crossing the street with him when the light
changed. He couldn’t remember seeing
her at all again after she suggested the bus.
Settling into his seat, Brad thought
about how much fun lunch and dinner would be with Linda.
She was such a dynamo; always laughing and kidding around. He couldn’t wait to kiss her…
“End of the line,” a voice
called from a distance. “Hey, buddy,
wake up; end of the line.”
sat up with a start. Looking around, he saw
that he was the only one on the bus. He
was the only passenger, that is. The
driver was in his seat looking back at him through the overhead review mirror.
“Where am I?” Brad asked. “Are we uptown?”
“We’re at the end of the line. Ya know, the bus barns. My morning shift is over. We were uptown, but you didn’t get off. I always yell ‘Uptown’, when we get there but you must
have been sleepin’ pretty soundly. Ya
gotta get off this bus, but you can catch another one heading uptown just across the street.”
Brad looked out the window and saw
a yellow bench at a bus stop. The bench was right
in front of Donatelli’s Grocery.
“Must be a fuckin’ chain,” he said with a sigh as he walked past
the driver to get off the bus. Stepping down
the two stairs, he almost ran into a beat police officer who must have been stopping
to chat with the driver.
me, officer, could I talk to you for a minute?” asked Brad.
“Sure, buddy, what’s up?”
said the cop with a “here to serve you” smile.
“Well, I know this is gonna sound nuts,” said Brad, “but I seem
to be having a little trouble getting uptown. Every
time I start out, after a bit, I end up right back at Donatelli’s Grocery.”
Brad saw the cop’s eyes stray
from his eyes to a spot just over his shoulder. Out
of the corner of his eye, Brad could see the driver was rotating his index finger
to the side of his head and making a goofy face.
The cop smirked but then directed his attention to Brad again.
“…don’t see anybody
going in or coming out of that place.” Brad had continued
talking while the cop had been watching the antics of the bus driver.
“What’s that you’re
sayin’?” asked the cop.
said I just realized that even though I’ve been past this store three or four
times, I don’t think I’ve seen anybody going in or coming out. Is it open?’
it’s open,” said the bus driver. “It’s
open Monday through Saturday. Has been
for years. Do you remember when
Donatelli’s wasn’t there, Charlie?” he asked the cop. “I think it’s always been there.”
been there ever since I can remember,” said the
ever been in there?” the bus driver asked the cop.
“Sure, I been in there; it’s a nice little
grocery. Ya mean you’ve never been in there?”
“Well, no, I haven’t. And
I was just thinkin’, ya know, about what the whacko here said. I don’t remember ever seein’ anybody goin’ in
or comin’ out of that place, either. Do
ya think it’s a front or somethin’?”
“Whadda ya mean a front? If it was a front, I’d know, wouldn’t I?” groused
the cop. “Just ‘cause it’s
named Donatelli’s doesn’t mean it’s Mafia or somethin’.
The driver and the cop had now pretty
much left Brad out of the conversation.
answer me this: When was the last time
you were in there?” asked the driver.
Charlie looked at the driver and then at Donatelli’s.
He stared at Donatelli’s for a long time.
it used to be at the corner of Fifth and Edwards?” he said.
Brad decided that there was nothing
more to be gained from listening to these two and crossed the street to Donatelli’s. He pushed open the screen door and went inside.
After stopping to let his eyes
adjust to the darkness of the place, he looked around the little store and didn’t
see a shopkeeper or any customers. No one
was at the register. He turned and looked out the plate glass
Across the street was a little grocery;
Looking out the cobwebbed covered window
with his back to the dark storeroom, he felt his bladder let go. Someone, or something, had come up behind him and was breathing raggedly
on the back of his neck.
Still staring straight ahead
at the Donatelli’s across the street, he saw the old lady walking toward the store
coming from one direction and the cop and the bus driver coming from the other direction. They stopped in front of the store and were now
looking in the picture window. He could not
make out who was looking out the window back at them, but he could guess who it was.
A large, hairy hand took his and attempted to lead him away from the window. Brad resisted.
He supposed he should do something, but he couldn’t think what. He just continued to stare at the grocery across the street; watching
to see if anyone would go in or come out. Though
he couldn’t put his finger on it, someone going in or coming out seemed very important
“Damn you, Linda,”
he whispered. “Damn you.”
“Not Linda,” a rumbling voice said from
chuckled bitterly. Then he barked
laughter. No, whatever it was that owned
the hairy hand that now held his arm in an iron grip was probably not named
When roughly prompted by his captor, he decided to go docilely
along, carefully keeping his eyes to the floor.
He was no longer sure of very much, but he did know he wasn’t in a hurry to
look at whatever it was that was pulling him along.
“Linda, Linda, Linda,” said Brad.
“No, not Linda;
Igor,” said his gruff companion.
“Well, of course you are,”
laughed Brad. “Who else would you be?” He
finally found the nerve to look up into the face of his captor. A horribly scarred face was attempting a smile of sorts. Brad smiled back and said, “Well, Igor, ol’ buddy; where
said Igor with a look of childlike wonder on his face. “We see Donatelli.”
Brad was surprised that he was really
looking forward to seeing Donatelli. He even
started whistling as he and Igor walked into the gloom at the back of the store.
“No whistling in Donatelli’s,”
admonished Igor seriously with a comic raising of his bushy eyebrows. “No whistling is allowed.”
When Igor opened a large sliding
oak door on the back wall of the grocery, Brad stopped in mid-whistle. He and Igor stood and looked through the door’s opening at a
panoramic view of the inside of a colossal temple.
Hundreds of “Igors” were milling about aimlessly and Brad bet that
not one of them was whistling. Whistling
was not allowed in Donatelli’s.
Brad shuddered as he thought that he
was about to find out what was allowed in Donatelli’s. He was pretty sure that Donatelli
wouldn’t be wearing one of those full length white grocery aprons that tied in the
across the floor of the amphitheater for what seemed like hours, but may have been only
minutes, Brad saw that they were arriving at what looked like a large altar. He didn’t like the looks of that at all. Altars usually implied sacrifices.
on a bench outside the railings that served as the barrier between the altar
and the rest of the expanse were the cop, the bus driver, and the old lady. They were holding “take a number”
cards. The old woman started waving enthusiastically
until the bus driver gently pulled her arm down and whispered something in her ear. She then gave Brad a pained “wouldn’t
want to be in your shoes” smile and gave him a little “bye-bye” wave.
“That Linda?” asked Igor.
“No, Igor, that’s not Linda. I may never see Linda again.”
“Linda, Linda, Linda,”
back across the vastness that he and Igor had just crossed.
He could feel the distance from
where he now stood and the hotel room that was back there in his own world.
this morning after setting out on his walk, he had taken a right when he should
have taken a left. Zigged when he should
have zagged and entered a world that was much like his own at the start, but
then had turned more wrong with each step he had taken.
The experience had changed him,
though. The quiet, conservative Brad who
had started the morning would have gone mad with fear being where he was now. The new Brad felt strength in himself that he thought would help him
through almost anything.
He looked at Igor standing next
to him. Well, almost anything.
is Igor your real name? Seems kinda cliché.”
“You know, sorta Hollywood. Assistant to the mad scientist in the horror movies.”
“Hey, Igor!” Igor called
out. The dozen or so Igors closest stopped
and turned to look over at them. Igor smiled a big smile. They all smiled and resumed their walking around duties. “All of Donatelli’s helpers are called Igor,” said
Igor to Brad.
two of them settled back into their own thoughts until Brad heard Igor making a
sniffing noise. He had just turned to
ask him what he smelled when he smelled something himself.
“Linda,” said Brad. He quickly looked around to see if she was somehow there with them.
Igor stopped sniffing and said, “That
swallowed hard and looked Igor in the eye.
“Yes, Igor, that Linda.”
The madness that still threatened his mind was as close
as Igor and as far away as his hotel room. The
urge to bolt from Igor and the yet unseen Donatelli and flee back the way they had come
was strong but he held it at bay.
It was strong, though. Very strong.
“Linda, Linda, Linda,” said Igor, sniffing
the air again. He was smiling.
|Art by W. Jack Savage © 2015
CAFÉ ERRATA I & II: WHAT GOES
AROUND COMES AROUND
was 9:45 p. m. when forty-eight-year old Billy “Sloe-Eye” Jenkins noticed
the neon lighted “EAT” sign as he was coming to the outskirts of a small town
in the middle of southwestern Wisconsin.
Billy was getting too old for this life. Both he and his expensive custom-tailored suit
had taken a beating over the last few days. He
really, really needed a shower and a bed in a hotel tonight.
The problem was that he had gone
too long “between jobs.” This made him low
on cash, which in turn had him sleeping in his car at rest areas and in supermarket
He pulled into the greasy spoon’s gravel parking lot and drove
up to a spot by the front windows. His was
the only car in the lot. The small handmade
cardboard sign on the door was still turned to the “OPEN” side.
Billy walked up the three steps and into the diner,
hearing the little bell ring as he stepped through the old wood-framed glass
Two men who had been talking at
an order window cut in the wall that opened into the
kitchen stopped their conversation and turned to look at him.
“We’re only open ‘til 10:00, but we can get you
a sandwich and coffee to go if ya like,” said the gangly young man on the counter
side of the window.
looked to be a year or two out of high school, if he’d even made it
through high school, and his tone said it all; he hoped that this late comer
would just make a U-turn and head on out.
The other man, probably the cook, was very short,
his head just a bit above the window sill, and looked like he’d been around
the block a few times.
pulled a gun from under his coat and shot both men in the head
before either could even move. The older
man fell back into the kitchen and the younger onto the floor behind the counter.
He had just opened the cash register when car
lights played across the back wall of the diner.
“Damn! Gotta get rid of this guy
quick,” thought Billy to himself. He
ditched his suit jacket, reached down and took the paper restaurant hat from
the head of the guy behind the counter, plopping it on his own head just as the
problem patron entered.
“We’re only open for another ten minutes,
but I can give ya a coffee to go,” ad-libbed Billy.
been on the road for eight fuckin’ hours,” said the customer. He was a tough looking fellow with a long scar on one cheek. “You get me the coffee, I’ll sit here a minute and we’ll
chat, and then I’ll get back on the road.”
As he was pouring the coffee,
Billy groaned to himself as he noticed yet another car
pull into the small parking lot.
thirty-something local woman, Mary Barnes, got out of the car and
entered the diner. The car she had
gotten out of was still running, the lights shone brightly into the diner, and
somebody was slouched down in the driver’s seat listening to some country western
music that was turned up loud.
“Who the hell are you?” Mary asked
Billy, leveling a steely gaze in his direction. “Where’s Fred and Jesse?”
She had been talking to Billy but now she cast
a quick glance at the customer in time to see him pull
a gun from a chest holster and aim it at Billy.
Billy had already taken his gun out when Mary
had pulled in and had it beneath the counter.
men fired at the same time and both were hit.
pulled a small caliber pistol from her purse and put a bullet into
each man’s head.
“Jeezus, Mary, you dumb bitch, you were
just supposed to case the joint, not kill everybody
in the building!” yelled Tommy Jones upon entering the diner. “Fred and Jesse said that they would give us the money if we
would give them part of it.”
Mary had been looking through the kitchen order
window. “Fred and Jesse are both dead;
Fred’s behind the counter here and Jesse’s in the kitchen. I don’t know who these other two guys are.”
her pistol at Tommy’s chest, she said, “Ya know, I’ve about had
it with that ‘dumb bitch’ stuff, Tommy.”
Mary shot him three times at point blank range.
Now alone in the diner with five dead men, she
began to clean out the register.
She took the car keys out of the pockets of both
of the dead men she didn’t know. “You can keep that nasty old Ford, Tommy; I’ll just borrow
one of these gentlemen’s until I get to Chicago.”
As she was hurrying to the door, she saw the county
sheriff pull into one of the last remaining parking places. The lot was getting to be as full as the diner.
flashing lights weren’t on so Mary figured he wasn’t answering a call
to check out the various shots fired.
Probably just stopping for coffee at closing time.
quickly, Mary yelled out the front door, “Sheriff, get in here
right away; somthin’ awful’s happened.”
a veteran of twenty years on the force, gasped when he saw
the three dead men on the floor of the diner.
Walking in a little further, he saw Fred lying dead behind the counter.
He didn’t even get as far as the order window
when Mary opened fire, shooting him execution style
in the back of the head.
“In for a penny, in for a pound,”
said Mary as she left the diner and went to check out which car she would take.
was not destined for greatness as a criminal. Neither of the two cars had more
than a quarter tank and she had to use quite a bit of her loot just buying gas to get
kicked around Chicago for a bit, but wound up a year later working at
a little open all night diner in a small town off the interstate that was much
too much like the little burg she had left in Wisconsin.
night, she was working alone in the diner. There hadn’t been a customer
in twenty minutes. Mary decided that this
was her last night at the diner. She planned
to clean out the register and head for Nashville the next time a customer came and
thought that she was still good looking and had always had a good
singing voice. The plan was to hook up
with some country band that needed a singer.
While Mary was going over all
of this in her head, a lone man walked in and shot her
twice in the chest with the sawed-off shotgun he’d had concealed under his trench
coat. He left with a couple of hundred dollars
from the register; not much more than Mary had taken from her diner heist a year ago.
Ironically, this murder was one of those “small
world” things that happen now and then; the man
who shot and killed Mary was the son of one of the four men that Mary had shot back in
When another customer finally came in a half hour
later, he called the police and reported that there was a waitress lying dead
behind the counter and the cash register was open.
said the customer to the dispatcher. “Just
her; she and I are the only ones in here.”
|Art by Steve Cartwright © 2015
An Early Christmas Present
by Roy Dorman
“Hey, Eddie, it’s me, Charlie, down at the
station. We have a problem, bro.”
Just twenty minutes ago, Eddie Scranton had dropped
off his old beater of a Chevy at the two-stall garage his buddy, Charlie Roberts, owned.
on now, don’t you be givin’ me some bad news,” said Eddie. “I told ya that I only have enough to get the
exhaust system fixed and you said you could do it cheap.”
said ‘we have a problem,’ I should have said ‘you have a problem.’ And it’s a lot bigger problem than a rusted
out exhausted system, Eddie-boy. There’s
a body in your trunk.”
There was ten seconds
of silence. “Ya still there?”
asked Charlie. “I said there’s a
stiff in your trunk; I’m gonna call the cops.”
“Hold on a sec;
don’t call ‘em yet. Don’t do
anything ‘till I get there. I’ll be
there as soon as I can get a ride. Half
“Kinda sounds like ya know something about this. I’ll wait a half hour, but only cuz we’re
pals. After a half hour, I have to look out
for Charlie; know what I mean?”
yeah, thanks. Don’t worry; I’ll be
Eddie made it to “Mufflers, Etc.” with only
a few minutes to spare. “What were
you looking around in the trunk for, anyhow? Ya
don’t need to open the trunk to install a muffler.”
you get all pissy with me,” said Charlie.
“I put the Chevy up on the hoist and had just started to poke around at the
pipes underneath when I saw what looked like a bloody white dress shirt pushed
through the floor of your rusted out trunk.
I touched it and turns out that it is blood; it was sticky, but still
wet. I brought your heap down, looked in
the trunk, and gave you a call. Now I’m
gonna call the cops.”
“Who is it?”
know who it is; I didn’t touch him.
Older white guy, well dressed, pushed way to the back of the trunk. Probably shot in the chest or throat cut; I
“Sue Ellen used my car last night,” said
Eddie. “Said she had some Christmas
shopping to do up in Wisconsin Dells. She
called me from her place this morning and asked if she could use the car again tonight. I gotta talk to her before we call the cops.”
got five minutes this time. Do it.”
pulled out his cell phone and made the call.
“Sue Ellen? Yeah, it’s me, Eddie.
I’m at Mufflers, Etc. with Charlie.
You know anything about something in the trunk?’
I’ve already called the police and told them that you’re there,” said
Sue Ellen, the words coming out all in a rush.
“I was with Charlie last night and he robbed a guy in the Dells. He stabbed him and put him in your
trunk. He called me a half hour ago and
said that he’s going to blame it all on you.”
Eddie listened to all of this and cut his eyes over at Charlie.
He seemed to be very interested in a hangnail
and was doing his best to keep from looking at Eddie. “Be careful; Charlie’s
dangerous. He’s not himself. He’s got some big gambling debts and could do
anything to get those thugs off his back.”
turned his back on Charlie and started to talk to Sue Ellen in a voice just above a
whisper. Charlie picked up a large rubber
mallet from the work bench and took a step toward Eddie.
“Freeze! Put your hands in the air!” yelled someone
from the entryway. Both Charlie and
Eddie put their hands in the air; Eddie’s right hand held his phone and
Charlie’s the rubber mallet.
Two huge, tough looking
guys in expensive suits entered the work area with their guns drawn. “Nice command voice, Ronny; ya got ‘em both standing there
“Thanks, Tiny, I’ll teach ya how to do that sometime. I’ll take that mallet,” Ronny then
said to Charlie. “You both can put
your hands down, but keep ‘em where we can see ‘em.”
received an anonymous call this morning that there was a body in the trunk of a
car here in the garage,” said Ronny, the one of the two who was obviously in
charge. “We’ve got a warrant to search
the premises. I want you two to go and
sit on those chairs over in the waiting area and stay there.”
“I was just gonna call you guys,” said Charlie. “There is a body in the trunk of this guy’s
car. He told me that he killed him last night
in Wisconsin Dells.”
lie, you asshole,” yelled Eddie. “Sue
Ellen just told me that you killed the guy and robbed him to pay off some gambling
“All right, all right; you guys just go sit in the chairs
and shut up. We’ll talk more after
we check out the trunk,” said Ronny.
a minute. How do we know you’re cops; you haven’t shown us any ID,” said
Tiny shoved the barrel of his pistol into Charlie’s solar
plexus, causing him to double over, the wind knocked out of him. “I’m Officer Friendly,” he said with a smirk.
where’s the warrant?” said Eddie. “Aren’t
you supposed to show….”
pistol-whipped Eddie once across the face. “Looks
we got us at least one slow learner here. I’m Officer
Not-So-Friendly, by the way; pleased to meet the both of ya. Now get over there and sit on the goddamn chairs.”
Charlie walked over to the waiting area and sat down in the chairs. They watched as Ronny and Tiny looked into
the trunk and talked things over. Tiny
went outside and then drove their car into the remaining stall. It
was an older model Cadillac Eldorado in excellent condition
and definitely did not look like any police car Eddie and Charlie had ever seen.
you think that Sue Ellen really called the cops, or did she call these guys?” asked
Eddie. “Or if she called the cops,
did someone at the station call these guys?
What kind of shit are you in anyhow?”
“I’m in the
really deep kind of shit,” said Charlie.
“And I don’t think that it’s just me that’s in it; we both
are. We’ll be lucky if we’re
still alive at lunch time.”
the trunk of the Eldorado and then he and Ronny hoisted the body out of the trunk
of Eddie’s Chevy. They transferred
the body into the Eldorado and slammed the trunk closed. Ronny then took out
his cell phone and made a call.
are we gonna do, Charlie? They’re gonna
got a .44 hidden somewhere on you, I don’t think that there’s anything we can
Ronny finished up his call and he and Tiny walked over to where
Eddie and Charlie were sitting.
couple of questions. The one of you that
offed this guy…., no, no, don’t start that “he did it” shit again. Just listen to the questions.
One: Did ya know this guy? Two: Why’d ya kill
Eddie looked at Charlie and then when Charlie didn’t say anything,
he gave him a shove.
said Charlie. “You’re probably
gonna kill us anyway. I’ve got some
gambling debts. I asked Eddie’s
girlfriend if she’d borrow Eddie’s car and give me a ride to the casino up at
the Dells. I was planning to rob a high
roller; I didn’t plan to kill anybody. I
saw this guy win a bundle at poker and when he left, I followed him out. I
told him to give me the money and flashed my knife at
him to let him know I was serious. He went
for the knife and I stabbed him once in the throat. I didn’t
mean to! It just happened! It happened so fast! Sue
Ellen didn’t panic; she went and got the car, drove it over, and I shoved him into
the trunk. That’s it. We drove back
last night and here we are this morning.”
figure how you’ve got a lot of gambling debts; you’re one lucky fella,”
said Ronny. “The deader over there
in the trunk is Bernie “The Jaw” Molinski.
He’s from the Chicago mob and he’s been nosing around up at the Dells
trying to horn in on my boss’s territory.
It’s not a lot of territory, but it’s his. Now my boss is a funny guy.
Not funny “hah, hah,”, but funny like “kinda weird”. He figures that you did him a favor. Here’s what he just told me:
I’m supposed to give whoever killed “The Jaw” five thousand bucks. Then, I’m takin’ “The Jaw”
with me for disposal. Tiny will be takin’
the Chevy, also for disposal. You guys got
no say in the matter; no take it or leave it.
You just take it. And I shouldn’t
have to tell you how rarely something like this happens.
Don’t think you two can quit your day jobs. You’re probably not cut out for this kind
of business. What I mean is this: Our paths should never cross again, kapeesh?”
Charlie and Eddie just nodded. They
watched as Ronny and Tiny got into the two cars and drove out.
Eddie now knew where Charlie fit into all of
this, but what about Sue Ellen?
“You coulda got me killed, asshole,” said
Eddie. “You do know that you’re
gonna buy me another car, right?”
“Sure, sure, ‘course I am,” said Charlie,
showing Eddie the envelope containing the bounty money.
“But do ya want another beater that your half of this five thousand would
buy, or do ya want to go up to the Dells and see if we can add to this?”
Charlie two quick slaps across the face with the back of his hand and grabbed
the envelope with the cash. He stalked
out of the garage and started the three mile hike to Sue Ellen’s place. He felt like he could use the walk to give
him time to think. He thought that he
and Sue Ellen had a lot to talk about.
He figured she owed him not only a good explanation, but also at least half of any
money Charlie had given her from last night’s robbery. Call
it car rental fees. Or hell, she could call it an early
Christmas present to him if she wanted to.
|Art by W. Jack Savage © 2016
WORKING ON A COLD CASE
After getting out of a late model
dark blue sedan, a man and a woman walked briskly up the sidewalk toward a well
kept-up little bungalow. Standing on the
cement stoop, the woman, the younger of the two, pressed the doorbell and then
stood back to wait. She did this with a
practiced ease that said she had done this before. The inside
door opened and a trim older woman peered out at the
two through the still-closed screen door.
“Yes?” asked the woman.
“Good Afternoon. Are you Jill Masterson?”
“Yes, I am, but I’m really not interested
in anything you might be selling.”
“Ms. Masterson, I’m Detective Carla Barnes and this
is my partner Detective Bill Griffin,” said Detective Barnes, showing her badge. “We’re with the Yavapai County Sheriff’s
Department. We’d like to ask you a
few questions. May we come in?”
Jill Masterson lived in this little
one story ranch-style house situated on a quiet street in a residential
neighborhood in Sedona, Arizona. She was
single, had never really had any serious relationships since high school, and
until recently had worked for the Arizona Water Company’s Sedona office as a
meter inspector. The job had paid well,
had good benefits, and now provided her with a comfortable retirement.
Having taken seats in Jill’s
tidy living room, Detective Barnes had started the interview. “Ms. Masterson, the reason we’re here is
that we’re following up on an old case that has recently been reopened. The incident occurred almost fifty years ago
and involved the death of a classmate of yours.
According to the files, you were friends of the deceased, Arthur Birdsong,
and we have notes from your interview with the Town of Jerome Police Department from that
was so long ago,” said Jill. “Why
are you looking into it again now?”
“Apparently, Mr. Birdsong’s family was never really
convinced that his death had been an accident,” said Detective Griffin. “With
forensics having improved a lot over the last fifty years, they’ve asked for a review
of the evidence of the case. DNA testing of
the blood stains on Mr. Birdsong’s shirt has shown that it’s not just his
blood on the shirt. Quite a lot of the blood
belonged to someone else. We’d like
your help in determining who that other blood belonged to.”
grandfather was a friend of your older brother, Edward,”
said Detective Barnes. “He told me
that there may have been some hard feelings between your brother and Mr. Birdsong.”
“You’d have to talk to
my brother about that; he’s been living in New York City for the past forty years. I don’t see what more you could want from
“According to the interviews in the file, you and Mr. Birdsong
had been dating and were together the day that he died,” said Detective Barnes. “Is that true? Were you with him when he died?”
“Do I really have to go through all of this again? It’s painful to think about what happened
Ms. Masterson, I’m sorry, but I’m afraid you do,” said Detective Barnes. “Why don’t you just start at the
beginning? What were you and Mr. Birdsong
doing at your brother’s house in Jerome that afternoon in the Summer of 1966?”
sighed Jill. “I’ll tell you what
happened, but I don’t think it’ll change anything. Jack and I were driving from Sedona to Jerome…”
“Jack?” said Detective
Griffin. “We saw that you referred
to Mr. Birdsong as “Jack” in the interviews you gave to the police back then.”
never liked the name Arthur. When John F.
Kennedy became president, Jack really thought he was a cool guy. He couldn’t legally change his name to Jack, he was just a kid,
but he told everybody to start calling him Jack and most people did. Now where was I? Oh yeah; Jack and I were driving from Sedona
to Jerome one Saturday for something to do.
It was summer, school was out, and neither one of us had to work that
day. Jack had fixed up an old 1950 Ford
coupe so that it ran, but it overheated going up that long steep road into
Jerome. It was probably a hundred
degrees that day. We weren’t planning on
going to my brother’s house that day because Eddie didn’t like Jack much, but
the car had given out near Eddie’s, so we started up the hill to see if we could
get some water. Eddie and his wife were
both at work, so we just filled up a pail from his garage with water and started
back to the car. We had walked up the road
on the way to Eddie’s, but Jack said it would be quicker if we cut down a grassy
slope back to the car.”
“So you’re absolutely sure Eddie wasn’t there
at any time while you were there getting the water for the Ford’s radiator?”
asked Detective Barnes.
no, he was at work. I already told all of
this to the police when it happened. Do you
want me to continue or is that enough? I
really don’t like talking about this.”
“Tell us what happened when you started
back,” said Detective Griffin.
“Well, we had just started down the
hill, Jack was in front singing some new Beatles song, when he tripped on a
tree root and fell. The slope was quite
steep and he rolled down the hill for quite a ways before coming to a stop against
a rock outcropping. I started to run down
the incline after him and I fell too, but I only rolled for a little bit. When I got to Jack, I saw that he had hit the back of his head on a
rock and…and he was dead.”
Jill started sobbing and Detective
Griffin went to look for some tissues for her.
Detective Barnes remained in her chair staring at Jill. She
decided to give her a few minutes to get herself composed
before continuing. She went into the kitchen
and found Detective Griffin going through the cupboards.
“Ya know, ya should have a
warrant before ya start going through things,” said Detective Barnes.
Louise, Carla, I’m just lookin’ for some Kleenex,” Bill responded with
was just jerkin’ your chain a little, but I do think we have to be careful here;
I don’t think she told the truth back then and I don’t think she’s telling
the truth now. Here, just take a clean dish
towel out to her and let’s get started again.”
“Ms. Masterson,” said Detective
Barnes. “We will be talking to your
brother when we go to New York City to see him later on in the week. We’ve already spent the last two weeks going
through all of the evidence and the interviews and have also reviewed medical
records from back then of the people who may have been involved. I
think that before we go any further, we should read
you your rights. You have the right to remain
a minute,” said Jill. “I haven’t
done anything wrong. Why are you reading me my rights like I’m
“We’re now to a point where we’re going
to be talking about some things that were not in your original interviews,”
said Detective Griffin. “Do you wish to
waive your right to counsel at this time?”
“I told you I didn’t do anything wrong;
I don’t need a lawyer.”
“So you want to stick to your original story?” asked
Detective Barnes. “That story being
that Jack fell down and cracked his head on the rocks and that you, Jill, came tumbling
mouth opened as if she was going to say something, but then it snapped closed again. Detective Griffin’s face registered
puzzlement at the phrasing of Detective Barnes’s statement but he carried on
with the questioning.
“How about this for a story?” said Detective
Griffin. “While you and Jack were filling
up the pail of water, your brother Edward came out of the house to the garage to see what
was going on. He said something to Jack about
how he didn’t want an Indian dating his little sister and Jack popped him in the
nose. Jack said that you both were leaving
and turned to walk back to the car with the water.
Your brother, blood running down his face from his nose, picked up a rock from the
rubble near the side of the garage and smashed it into the back of Jack’s head. When you two saw that Jack was not just
knocked out, but dead, Eddie, or you and Eddie, decided to throw him down that
incline and make it look like an accident.
We checked old medical records in Jerome and your brother came in for
treatment for a broken nose two days after Jack’s death. We think
that your brother’s blood got on Jack’s
shirt when he carried or dragged him to the top of the incline before throwing him down
had been listening in horror as Detective Griffin had been telling the story as if he’d
actually been there. “I’m not
going to say anymore; I want a lawyer.”
She asked to get her purse before going
“It’s in the bedroom; I’ll just be a
minute,” she said.
Barnes went with her to the bedroom and stopped to look out the patio door windows. “You have a really nice view of the mountains
A single gunshot brought Detective Griffin from the
living room. He saw Detective Barnes with
her back to the windows and a look of horror on her face.
Jill Masterson was lying dead on the floor.
making a call to the New York City Police in Queens and then completing a couple of hours
of paperwork, Carla and Bill were working on a pitcher of beer at Paul & Jerry’s
Saloon in Jerome.
really fucked up,” said Carla. “It
happened so fast; I stopped to look at the view, heard a drawer open, and when I
turned around she had the barrel in her mouth.”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself;
nothing she had said made it seem like she was suicidal.”
“What a weird twist to a weird
case,” said Carla.
“Jack and Jill went up the hill…”
“What did you say?”
Carla, just thinkin’ me thoughts. Just
thinkin’ me thoughts. Sit tight; I’m
gonna get us another pitcher.”
|Art by Steve Cartwright © 2016
Wilson Anderson is fourth in line
to checkout at the little gas-and-go market.
He’s in a little berg in Vermont, travelling from Wisconsin on his Spring
Break. A high school English teacher
recently divorced and in his late fifties, he’s seeing the northern part of the
East Coast for the first time.
Just ahead of him is a Vermont State Trooper
holding a can of soda and two bags of chips. He’s broad shouldered
and seems to be in quite good physical condition. Wilson’s eyes stray from the trooper’s
back to his gun belt. The strap that should
be securing his pistol has come undone and the pistol’s grip is open to anyone.
The stranger reaches for the sheriff’s gun and
orders everyone to the floor. He steps behind
the counter and takes all of the cash from the register.
Warning the clerk, stocker boy, two customers,
and the sheriff to stay put or he will kill them, he then flees the scene in a late-model
line hasn’t moved, but Wilson has taken a step forward while daydreaming. He accidentally
nudges the trooper who then turns and gives Wilson a look that says he should back off
eyes are quite bloodshot and he has at least a three
day beard growth. His uniform is too tight
in some places and too loose in others…
The clerk, an older man who is probably
the owner, is bagging the items purchased by a talkative local. They both seem
oblivious to the other shoppers in line and go on and
on about somebody’s teenager who apparently has gone missing. The trooper clears his throat.
The clerk quickly thanks the customer and moves on to the next in line.
Wilson stands with his quart of
chocolate milk, both now sweating as the temperature in the store starts to
rise as noon comes on. Once again his
eyes are drawn to the trooper’s gun butt.
After a bit, he looks up and sees the stocker boy, not long out of his
teens, staring at him. The stocker
pointedly looks from Wilson’s eyes to the trooper’s exposed gun.
He then looks up again at Wilson and gives him
an almost imperceptible nod. Is it a signal? If so, what could it mean?
The cop is not a cop. If anyone is going to stop this afternoon from turning into a bloodbath
it’s going to have to be the handsome, not-from-around-here, schoolteacher…
the trooper finally reaches the register, Wilson grabs the gun from his holster and takes
a couple of steps back. He holds the gun
in front of him with both hands and has it pointed at the trooper’s chest.
down on the floor!” yells Wilson. “Do
it now or I’ll shoot you where you stand.”
The trooper eases himself to the
floor. “You’re making a big mistake
here, mister. Just put the gun on the
floor next to me and put both hands on the counter,” he says with a
Wilson looks at each of the other three
still in the little grocery. He meets their
eyes one at a time and they tell him nothing. There is no surprise, fear,
or anger in any of the three; only a blankness as if they
are watching a rather boring episode of a law and order show on television.
He looks once again at the owner
and sees him cut his eyes to the trooper on the floor.
The trooper is up on one knee and looks to be
getting ready to jump at Wilson. Wilson
fires a shot that hits the floor about two inches from the trooper’s right hand.
Whoever this is on the floor, he’s
dangerous and would have no qualms about killing everybody…
Immediately after Wilson’s
shot into the floor, there is another shot. It
comes from the pistol the grocer keeps in a drawer under the cash register and it
catches Wilson Anderson in the left shoulder and spins him around. A second shot goes into his left eye.
St. Albans, Vermont. A Benson’s
Corners, Vermont, grocery clerk is being hailed as a
hero after he successfully stopped what could have resulted in the murder of possibly four
persons, including a Vermont State Trooper. Cletus
Farnum, age 67, owner of Farnum’s Grocery in Benson’s Corners, shot
and killed Omro, Wisconsin, school teacher Wilson Anderson after Anderson had managed to
take Trooper Jake Westfall’s pistol. Farnum,
Westfall, Anderson, stock boy Jesse Donaldson, and customer Alice Grimswald were at Farnum’s
Grocery yesterday at noon when the incident took place.
“I looked in his eyes and saw
the Eyes of Evil,” said Alice Grimswald. “They
were cold, dead eyes. If it hadn’t
been for Mr. Farnum we’d all have been killed.”
Omro Police said Anderson was travelling
during his break from teaching in Wisconsin and had never had any run-ins with the law
prior to yesterday’s events. Those friends, relatives,
and co-workers who could be reached had no comment to make other than
to say that Anderson was a wonderful teacher and was well respected in the town of Omro.
Two’s a Crowd
by Roy Dorman
Cabot was in the bedroom, looking out the window, when
the doorbell rang. She had been in the process of closing the drapes when she had noticed
the harvest moon hanging low in the eastern sky.
glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand. It was
“Now who could
that be, this late? Maybe whoever it is will go away if nobody answers.”
She just stood where
she was, listening to the repeated ringing of the doorbell. Finally, whoever it was, stopped.
pulled the drapes and was coming out of the bedroom, when she heard
a sound that she recognized as the patio door slowly sliding open. She couldn’t remember
locking it and apparently she hadn’t.
back into the now-darkened bedroom, she watched and
Whoever it was
crept silently into the living room by way of the patio entryway. He was a big
guy; a lot bigger than Annie. He had on a suit and tie and was carrying an expensive-looking
he did next puzzled Annie, at first. He took off his suit coat, and folding
it neatly, set it on the floor. From the briefcase, he took out a black sweatshirt. He
put the sweatshirt on and put the suit coat into the briefcase.
This guy’s smart,
thought Annie. He comes to the door in a suit and tie carryin’ a briefcase.
If somebody answers, he tries to sell ‘em something
or pretends he’s lost. If nobody’s home, once inside, he puts on his work clothes.
Annie quietly took
a golf club from the bag propped up in the corner behind the bedroom door. She soundlessly
walked from the bedroom to the living room, where the intruder was checking out some of
the knickknacks on the fireplace. When she got close enough, she swung the golf club like
a baseball bat and connected with the back of the would-be burglar’s head.
went down in a heap, and Annie nudged him a few times with
her toe to make sure he wasn’t faking.
was here first, asshole,” Annie whispered. “I shoulda
locked that patio door, but I didn’t expect no company. Anyhow, it’s first
come, first serve. By the time you come to,
this place’ll be cleaned out.”
|Art by Mike Kerins © 2017
“Come on, it’ll be an adventure,” Bill Zander
said to his wife, Elena. “The forecast says it’s going to be sunny and warm
this Saturday. I told Don I’d run it past you and let him know tomorrow at
work. The guy’s lonely; he lives on an island, for chrissakes. He could use
“Is it just going to be
the three of us?” asked Elena. “I’ll feel like
a third wheel if you guys start talking shop.”
“I promise I’ll
keep the shoptalk to a minimum. Don’s a Native American folklore buff. He’s
an interesting guy; I’m sure you’ll like him.”
but if I give you the sign, you’ll start making the “gotta get going”
noises, right? I don’t want to look like a nag in front of one of your office-mates.”
Elena drove out of town about noon on Saturday, headed for Moosehead Lake. As had been
predicted, the weather was fine. Summer was often a long time coming in Maine, but when
it finally arrived, it was beautiful.
Bill had seen pictures of Don Penley’s house at
work. It was a two-story log cabin with two small outbuildings. The island was about five
acres, fairly circular, and had woods on everything that wasn’t house, outbuildings,
a small beach, and the boat dock.
Lake was only about 20 miles from Greenville and an easy commute for Don. It was a fairly
large lake, but had only one inhabited island; Don’s island.
parked their car in the boat dock parking lot off the highway per Don’s
instructions. There were two other cars and four pick-ups, all with boat
trailers attached to them.
“I’ll call Don and let him know we’re here; he
said it would only take him a few minutes to get here from his place.”
About ten minutes later, Don pulled up to the pier in a Johnson-powered
fishing boat. After introductions, Bill and Elena put the stuff they had brought with them
into the boat.
“It’s a good
thing we didn’t bring anything more or there wouldn’t have been room for us,”
“Hey, no problem,” said Don. “I could’ve
made two trips.”
“But then I’d
have had to stay by myself either on this side or on the island,” said Elena.
started laughing shrilly at that. Then, seeming to catch himself, abruptly cut
it off. He bent over in the boat and started to arrange things so that the boat
would be balanced.
at Bill and mouthed the word “creepy.” Bill looked a little embarrassed for
his friend and shrugged. He was thinking maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea;
maybe he should have come alone.
Don started the engine and they headed for the island.
He nodded and smiled as they bounced over the small waves, but all three of them knew that
the mood had already been dampened.
started the coals in a huge Weber grill and there was a nice picnic table on
the front lawn with a view of the lake.
out the cooler and we can have drinks while the coals are getting hot.”
had gone inside, Bill and Elena turned to each other and both whispered at the same time.
shouldn’t have come,” said Elena.
shouldn’t have brought you,” said Bill.
“Shhh! Here he comes,”
they both said together. Then they laughed crazily like naughty kids who have been caught
by the grown-up.
Don at first looked puzzled and then relieved. Earlier it had looked
like the visit may have been over before it had started. That wouldn’t have been
good at all.
“I made a pitcher of sangria earlier,” he said, setting
the dark red drink on the table. “I
hope you like it. I make it with more vodka and no gin. I find the gin masks the flavor
of the wine too much. Try it and tell me what you think.”
“Oh, it’s great,” said Elena, taking a sip.
“I love it.”
“Yeah, this is pretty
good, Don,” said Bill. The ice is
a nice touch on a warm day.”
“You two just sit in the lawn chairs, relax, and
look at the lake. I’ll put some burgers and brats on the grill. I have some fresh-caught
perch too; fish are great on the grill.”
their glasses with sangria as Don walked back into the house to get the food.
stuff’s really tasty, but it’s kinda strong, ain’t it,” said Bill,
slurring his words a little.
Elena took a long drink. “Yeah, it’s strong, but delicious. Hmm…. Ya
know, I feel like I could take a nap right here in this chair….”
…. images of a wolf-like man swooping
down from tall fir trees and carrying off a screaming Native American
woman. Villagers running from their
tents and leans-tos yelling “Wendigo” and pointing at the sky….
…. pieces of bloody bodies,
hanging in the branches of trees, savaged by an animal out of a nightmare….
…. a Wendigo, standing in front of him, huge slavering tongue lolling on
sharp teeth, Elena, unconscious, thrown casually over it’s shoulder….
jerked awake and found the sun was setting across the lake. “Elena, wake up! Something’s
not right; we got here a little after noon and now the sun’s setting.”
looked at Elena’s empty chair and overturned his own chair struggling to get
out of it. “Elena! Penley! Where are you?”
followed the footprints of some sort of animal from Elena’s chair to where they
abruptly ended in the sand forty feet from the water. He stood there and looked
back and forth from where the tracks started and where they ended. There was
nothing to show that whatever made these tracks had walked up from the lake to the
chairs – just tracks from Elena’s chair to where they ended. And there were
no signs of Elena’s tracks except with his and Don’s from the pier to the
“Penley! Don Penley! Where are you?”
has her…., I drugged the sangria…., it took her when you were both asleep….”
turned to see an ashen-faced Don Penley looking at him with red-rimmed eyes.
“What are you talking about, Don? What has her?”
brought it here by calling its name in my sweat lodge,” said Don. “The smoke
had produced visions other times and a voice in the visions kept telling me to
bring a sacrifice. I’m so sorry, Bill, I thought I was only going through the
motions of what I read in some old books.”
where is she, Don? What has Elena and how do we get her back?”
have no idea, Bill. I’m sorry, but I don’t have a clue as to what to do next.”
from the tall old trees behind the house came a series of blood-curdling screams.
The screams sounded like Elena, but didn’t. Bill had never heard screams like
these in his life.
sound of rushing wind and the blur of something flying out of the trees directly
at them caused both Bill and Don to hit the ground and cover their faces. There was a deafening growl from just overhead and then the thump of
something heavy landing in the sand twenty feet from them.
Wendigo had returned with Elena. It threw her roughly onto the sand near the
two men. Walking up to Bill, it kicked him sharply in the head, knocking him unconscious.
It picked up Don and shook him like a ragdoll, its hot breath singeing his eyebrows. Then,
giving him a level stare, it shook him once more and tossed him to the ground.
swiftly for about thirty feet, it leaped into the air and disappeared into the
trees, leaving a charnel house stench in its wake.
Elena’s orders, Don tied and gagged Bill before putting him in the boat. Then, with Elena seated in the bow, her
clothing singed and torn, he started across the lake to the boat dock parking lot
and she and Bill’s car.
Don looked down at his co-worker, who still appeared
to be unconscious on the bottom of the aluminum boat. He nudged Bill with his toe to see
if he could get a response. Nothing.
looked up, he saw Elena staring at him. Her eyes momentarily took on a bright red color
and she smiled at Don, showing all of her teeth. And then she screamed. And screamed again.
There was an answering series of screams from back at the island and a flock of ducks rose
from the lake and flew off in a rush toward the mainland. Bill moaned in his sleep but
didn’t awaken. Elena sniffed the air and gave a guttural chuckle when she noticed
that both Don and Bill had pissed their pants.
Don turned in his seat a bit as if to adjust something on the boat’s
engine. He wondered if he had the nerve to return to his home on the island. When he
finished the adjusting charade, he didn’t look back at Elena. Instead, tears
streaming down his cheeks, he kept his eyes on the boat dock in the distance,
silently wishing it closer…..
Don continued to gaze trancelike at the shoreline, Elena
bent down and slowly licked one of Bill’s forearms. Out of the corner of his eye
Don then saw her tentatively bite the arm as if to test the sharpness of her teeth versus
the toughness of Bill’s skin.
broke him out of his reverie and without thinking about it, he pulled the flare
gun out from under his seat and shot Elena in the chest as she sat up from tasting
Bill. The Wendigo Elena exploded into a raging inferno that burned wildly for a few seconds
while she gave out with screams even louder than the previous calls.
heard one long answering howl come from behind him. Turning, he saw all of the
buildings on his island were completely engulfed in flames, and the Wendigo,
screaming and flying low across the water, was heading straight for him. In the next
few seconds it reached him and with razor-sharp talons on massive forepaws, tore his head
off, taking it as a trophy as it turned and headed back to the island.
Blood spurting from the severed artery in his neck, Don slumped
over into the bottom of the boat and landed on the still-unconscious Bill and a smoking
Elena. The boat continued toward the boat
dock where a couple of fishermen had come from their trucks to the shoreline to see what
was happening. The boat beached itself a bit off the mark and the police were
a Wendigo, Sarge?” asked Johnny Taylor, a recent recruit to the Greenville
“Damned if I know,” said his sergeant, Ed
Wilson. “That’s all the guy’ll say, but damned if I know what he means.
A year later, almost to the day, Bill Zander
made arrangements to have a fisherman boat him out to the island. He carried Elena’s
ashes in a copper urn and planned to scatter them among the ashes of the burned buildings.
At the end, she may have been more Wendigo
than wife and Bill felt this would be a sort of closure for Elena and the Wendigo.
himself. He had been feigning unconsciousness during the last leg of the boat ride and
still had nightmares of Elena ghoulishly tasting his arm and of Don’s headless torso
falling on top of him in the boat.
afraid the Wendigo might still be on the island. He actually hoped it was still there,
rather than having gone back to where ever Don had called it from.
While the guy
he rented the boat ride from looked on in puzzlement, Bill made a paste from lake water
and a little of Elena’s ashes and streaked it down his cheeks like war paint. He
knew if the opportunity came up confronting the beast would be suicidal, but he figured
to get in a few good licks with the new hunting knife he carried in the sheath at his side.
|Art by Sean O'Keefe © 2017
by Roy Dorman
who walked into my office didn’t quite fit the
bill. Oh, she was dressed to the nines and had a face to die for, but she had a fistful
of hundreds in one hand and a .38 special in the other. Most of my clients kept their cards
a little closer to the vest.
“I need to have been
someplace else this morning,” she said.
I didn’t tell her, but I’d had that very
thought run through my mind every day for the last two years.
“Most of the bars are still closed, but I
suppose I could set you up at a gym.”
in alibis. Somebody does somethin’ they shouldna
done, and don’t want to pay the price for doin’ it, I set ‘em up with
an alibi. I’ve got a string of staff on retainer in a variety of businesses who
ain’t afraid of a perjury rap.
Now, I don’t have “Alibi, Inc.” stenciled on
the glass on my office door; that would be dumb. My business cards and my tax
man say I’m a licensed private dick. Alibis are just one of my many services. I
also do ID changes, relocations, motel room photography, and all of the other
sleazy gigs that come with the private dick territory.
you want to know what I’ve done?” she asked,
all wide-eyed, still pointing the gun at me.
“Nah, that .38 tells
me I’ll prob’ly be readin’ about it
in the papers.”
In this business, the less
ya know, the better. I was curious as to why she was pointin’ the
gun at me when she had money clutched in her other hand, but figured we’d get to
the gym, found out who was workin’ this morning,
and set it up.
the deal. The owner of the gym is Monty Schwartz. The
trainers this morning are Herb and Lisa. You were there all morning, tryin’ the
place out to see if you wanted to buy a membership.”
I took a head and shoulders shot of her with my
cell phone and sent it to Monty.
it? I lie, they lie, and you get paid for it?”
“It’s a livin’. And, hey, don’t
forget about the part that you don’t go to prison. As to my pay, how ‘bout
you give me the gun and half the money ya got there and we’ll call it square? Ya
prob’ly don’t want that piece anywhere near you, when the questions start,
about I just shoot you and keep both the gun and the
money? I already have an alibi.”
“Smart cookie, ain’tcha?
I like that. How about us goin’ to lunch; I’ll
“Sounds swell, big
spender. Then I’ll have an alibi for this afternoon too, won’t
I turned the sign on the
door over to “CLOSED” and locked up. Smart, funny, good lookin’,
and knows how to use a gun. I’m thinkin’ this could be the start of somethin’
|Art by Cindy Rosmus © 2017
THE RETIREE’S EPIPHANY
James Callaghan was not paying much attention to his surroundings
when a car pulled up alongside him and someone got out.
He almost walked into the young punk who was now blocking his way on the sidewalk.
“Gimme your wallet, old man,” said the punk.
looked around like he was waking from a dream.
He was recently retired from working construction and hadn’t really
found anything to do with his new-found wealth of spare time.
It was still early, only about eleven o’clock,
and he hadn’t strayed too from his neighborhood. But apparently
he had strayed far enough.
“I’ll give you my cash, but I’m keeping
my wallet,” he said, taking his wallet from his back pocket. “Credit cards, drivers license….all that stuff is really
a pain in the butt to replace. Here, take
“You’re not making the rules here, Jack. Gimme the wallet.”
giving you the damn wallet. If you won’t
just take the cash, you’ll have to fight me for the wallet.” James had no idea why he said that.
He hadn’t been in a fight since high school.
“I’m not kiddin’. Give it up.”
you take the cash, I won’t even call the cops.
If you beat me up, that’s assault.
Assault and robbery. You ready
for that?” said James without hardly any tremor in his voice. He assumed what he hoped looked like a
credible karate fighting stance.
“Hey, buddy, ya need some help over there?” A car had pulled up behind the car the would-be
robber had gotten out of and the driver looked at the two of them through his passenger
James hoped the new arrival
was offering help to him and not the stick-up guy.
low-life’s trying to steal my wallet. I
didn’t bring my phone; could you call 911 for me?” he said.
“Arnie! Get in in the
damn car. We’re gettin’ outta here. Now!”
Lizzy!” said the robber, now known as
“So, we got first names, Arnie and Lizzy,”
said James. “You two new at this?”
are called and I got their license number,” called the guy in the second car.
“Forget that fuckin’ douche bag, Arnie,” yelled
Lizzy. “There’s lots more old
farts with wallets in the Bronx. Let’s
James walked over to the car.
“Who you calling a fuckin’ douche bag?” he said, kicking out one
of the tail lights.
Lizzy started driving
away without even taking time to close the passenger side door. Arnie yelled at her to stop and ran to catch her. She slowed down enough for him to jump in and they took off, turning
the corner at the next block.
no foul, right?” said the man who had pulled up earlier. “I
can give you a ride home if you want.”
walked over to the passenger side window and looked in. “Don’t
you think we should wait for the cops? Those dopes didn’t get anything, but we can still give them their
“I didn’t call the cops.
James looked down to the
passenger’s seat and saw a .45 was pointed up at him.
to hell,” he said, and started walking away.
almost fifty years of taking orders from somebody or other, James had told
himself that in retirement he wouldn’t take any guff from anybody. And
now something he couldn’t quite put his finger
on had also taken place in his psyche. He
The man drove slowly next to curb, pacing James. “I’m Bobby. You’re….?”
“I like your style, James.
I’ve got some work now and then for somebody like you. Ya interested?”
retired,” said James. “I’m done havin’
people tell me what to do.”
ask nicely rather than tell ya. That
work for you? Small jobs at a thousand a
James stopped and laughed. “Who do I kill for a thousand a pop?”
grand is for things like drop-offs and pick-ups; stuff like that,” said Bobby. “Maybe do some driving for me when I have
a stop to make and wanna leave the car runnin’.
If I need ya to kill somebody, I’ll pay more.”
never even had a parking ticket in his life.
But retirement hadn’t proven to be very much fun so far and he felt this
Walter Mitty rush coming over him. If
this guy was for real, James thought he could maybe finish this life with a
James opened the door and got in. “I’m at 812 Chestnut.
You go a few blocks down 233rd Street, then down Bronxwood, and then…”
where Chestnut Street is.”
said James after they had been driving for a few blocks. “It
would probably be a good idea if I had one of your small
jobs sooner rather than later. If I have too much time to
think about this, I’ll probably come to my senses and chicken out.”
don’t seem like a ‘chicken out’ kinda guy to me,” said Bobby. “I’m a pretty good judge of human
nature. But I’ll get ya somethin’
tomorrow if it makes ya feel better.”
day, James got a call from Bobby. Bobby
had given him a throwaway cell phone and three hundred dollars in good faith
money. He had also given James a .38
Special and a new shoulder holster.
James felt the phone, money, and gun were probably Bobby’s way of
manipulating him, but he had decided overnight that this was something he was going to
first job was to take the trains down to the Bowery in the East Village and
pick up a package from what turned out to be an upscale flower shop.
Bobby had decided that since James didn’t
have a car, James would use buses and the subway. With cabs there was more
record-keeping involved and also closer face-to-face contact.
to talk to the manager about placing a large order for a funeral,” recited
James to the young woman behind the counter.
will the funeral be?” came the required response.
dead yet,” answered James.
The young woman walked
into the back and came out with a woman closer to James’ age who was carrying a shopping
bag with the store’s logo.
“You’re new,” she said.
been around the block a few times,” answered James with a chuckle.
“Oh, did you have trouble finding us?” asked the younger
James smiled at her and then said to the older woman, “Aren’t
young people just precious?”
“Well, take care and I hope to see you again,”
she said, handing the bag to James. “Soon.”
James didn’t trust Bobby and he didn’t think he’d
be able to trust the clients Bobby sent him to visit. Something at that first job made
him think the possibility of danger had just been ratcheted up a bit.
He had seen something
when he was leaving the flower shop that he was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to
have seen. When he had reached to open the
glass door to go, the reflection in it was that of the front counter. Only the younger woman was in that reflection.
not entirely surprised by this. After
the goings-on of the last twenty-four hours it would have been hard to surprise him. He used that lack of presence in the reflection
for what it was – data. It told him
Bobby was most likely not the highest level of authority in this organization. He was probably just a delivery boy like himself.
James had been flattered
when he thought the woman may have been sending a friendly vibe his way. Now he realized he may have interpreted it incorrectly. Even so, he knew he was really committed to this walk on the wild side
when he found himself hoping Bobby would have another pick-up in the Bowery soon.
James thought she had very nice eyes.
Four weeks went by before Bobby told James he had a pick-up for
him in the Bowery. James had had one drop-off
near Times Square during that time period and it had gone well.
meantime, Bobby had arranged for James to get a private investigator license
and this entitled him to get a concealed-carry permit for his .38.
The private dick cover was important because
even if James never had a need to pull out his piece, the chance of him being frisked during
a routine stop could cause problems for everybody if he had no permit.
WILD FLOWERS was the name of the shop and the
password phrases were the same. James was
handed the shopping bag and felt a thrill when the woman held the bag a little longer this
time, causing a lingering touch of their hands.
we’re not supposed to exchange names or engage in conversation, but you could
call me “Rose” if you’d like. And
there’s a little coffee shop down the block; we could have some coffee and keep
the conversation light and not work related.”
James. You can call me James,” said
James with what he hoped was a warm smile.
“A coffee break sounds swell. I
don’t bother much with petty work rules.
I do my job and that’s what I get paid for.”
a table by the window and ordered coffee and croissants. For
a minute, they just watched the passers-by hurrying
to and from their important business doings.
A young mother with a stroller accidentally bumped their
table and Rose’s cup of coffee looked like it was going to end up in her lap. But both the spilled coffee and the cup and saucer
stopped in mid-aid and hovered a few inches above the table.
James had reacted quickly. He had set his cup down and had both hands around
Rose’s cup just as its fall had been arrested. Now
he held it, leaning across the table looking at Rose, while a loud, but
not unpleasant, choral refrain sang in his head.
Slowly, the cup in his hands allowed itself to be lowered to the table and the errant
coffee surged back into the cup without a drop spilled.
The refrain slowly subsided.
his hands from the cup and smiled at Rose.
“I suppose this raises some questions,” said Rose. “I was hoping to be friends.”
possible,” said James. “And when
I say, ‘Anything’s possible,’ I mean just that. Anything’s possible.”
told Rose about the attempted robbery and meeting Bobby. He
told her how he had gone from a mild-mannered retired
construction worker to an underworld bag-man.
happened to the way my brain’s wired during that robbery attempt. I mean, my idea of reality and some of my
core values have changed. I don’t know
if I’m explaining it very well, but I’m not completely ‘me’ anymore.”
that a lot of ‘you’ is still in there,” said Rose. “You just appreciate the ‘more’ there can be
in life. And you want it. Am I right?”
James stared at Rose. She had put into words what he hadn’t been
able to do.
“When I left your flower shop the first time,
there was a reflection of the front counter in the glass door. Your side-kick was in it, but you weren’t. At some level, I’d like to know more. But maybe I should just keep letting the whole scenario unroll day
by day. For some reason I trust you. What do you think?”
we both have to be very careful for a while.
I’m going to go back to my shop and you’re going to deliver the package
to Bobby. Please don’t mention our
coffee date to him or anyone else. If
it’s okay, I’ll be at your house at ten o’clock tonight to talk.
in the Bronx, at…,” started James.
where you live, James.”
“Will I have to invite you in?’
I would hope you would,” said Rose.
meeting Bobby in the park to drop off the package, James stopped at a liquor
store and picked up a couple bottles of merlot.
They had chips and dip, so he got some of them too. He
laughed at himself for the preparations – they
made him feel like a nervous school boy. But
he had to admit he was enjoying the feeling.
At ten o’clock, the doorbell rang. When James opened the door, he found Rose standing on his front porch
with a bouquet of roses and a small cake box.
“Rose, welcome, please enter my humble abode,”
“So that’s done,” said Rose. “Do you trust me enough to take off that shoulder holster?”
it on in case you showed up with Bobby,” said James.
“If that happened, I was going to kill
him. I don’t know what would have happened
Rose shrugged. “So,
merlot and chips and dip. I’m impressed,”
she said, looking at the array on the coffee table.
“I bet you even did a little straightening up.
You consistently show me that I’ve not made a horrible blunder.”
the flowers and cake box on the table and kissed James on the lips. It wasn’t a passionate kiss; just a “good to
see you” kiss.
James took off the shoulder holster
and set it on an end table.
He opened one of the bottles of merlot and poured two glasses.
us,” he said, toasting her.
Rose said back to him.
For the next hour they talked about music, books, and
art. They talked about current events, the
neighborhood, and the cost of a bottle of good wine.
They talked about everything except that Rose
was most probably a vampire.
“Bobby killed those two who tried to rob you,”
said Rose, finally bringing up something work-related.
“He ran into them at a 24/7 they were trying to hold up. He shot them both in the back and fled the scene. Now the police are looking for him.
Damn him, he knew a low profile was essential to his position.”
the big boss be pissed?” asked James.
“I’m the ‘big boss,’ James. And yes, I was very pissed”
that piece of information sink in. “If
you’re here to ask me to take care of him, I don’t know if I can just straight
out kill the guy. Not without him
actually being a threat to me. Even
having gone through some kind of weird epiphany, there would have to be a good
reason for me to kill somebody. Even
“I thought that would be the case, so I had Leah kill him. Leah’s cover is one of being my assistant
at the flower shop, but she is also my protégé, learning the darker arts.”
there’s somebody who is obviously good at acting her part,” said James. “I would have never expected she was capable
of taking Bobby out.”
“I came here tonight
to make you an offer. Leah and I are going
to relocate to London soon. I’d like
you to get a passport if you don’t have one, and also put your house on the market. If it doesn’t sell right away, I have a
friend who will buy it.”
What’s special about me? What
can I offer that some other schmuck can’t give you?”
you James, that’s ‘why you.’ I’d
like you to be my companion. My human
companion. I would like you to keep my
human side alive. Do you think you’d
like to do that?”
“What about Leah? Couldn’t she do it?”
done something to Leah that has made her more like me
than like you. What do you say? After London, it may be Paris. Or
Rome. Maybe Cairo. Are you interested?”
The new wiring in James’ brain continued its evolution. He thought about the sharpened stake he had made
from the end of a garden rake handle. It
was easily accessible just under the couch. His
mind played out what would happen if he plunged that stake into Rose’s
heart. He saw her eyes open wide in
surprise. Her body would then explode in
a cloud of dust that would drift to the floor.
His doorbell would ring and Leah would be standing there with crimson
eyes and long canine teeth. She would
say, “I’m the new boss and have you to thank for it. May
I come in?”
mind could just as easily conjure up the scenario that would play out if he didn’t
use the stake. If he chose to, he could
watch that scenario play out for minutes, hours, or even years.
looked at Rose standing in front of him waiting for his answer.
He decided not to see what his future with Rose
would be. Not knowing seemed more human to
“Interested?” he said.
“Hell, I haven’t been more interested in my life.”
|Art by John Lunar Richey © 2017
GUNS ‘N MONEY
gettin’ too old for this shit.”
Sanders had waited until the train had slowed down for a bend and had then
jumped into the tall grass, ending in a rolling stop ten feet from a gravel
road. Eddie was pushing thirty. He smoked
too much, drank too much, and generally lived his life as he chose to.
he sat up, he was immediately knocked back down as he was hit in the chest by a
duffel bag that had been thrown from a speeding car. Stunned, Eddie found
himself on his back, looking up at the sky. As he lay there, another car sped by, this
one a police car, lights flashing and siren wailing.
decided to just stay where he was for a few minutes until he was sure the
parade was over.
Eddie Sanders is
a private investigator and has an office in New York City. But here
he was, flat on his back somewhere in rural Illinois, probably
thirty miles from Chicago. Eddie thought he’d have to add this incident to the growing
list of fuck-ups that comprised what he liked to call the “go where the money is”
stories of his investigative career.
he had been tailing had made him about fifteen minutes out of Ohio and Eddie had escaped
with his life by jumping from the train in the dark without his hat, coat, .38, or the
travelling money stashed in his suitcase.
plan had been to follow this errand boy back to Chicago with the hope he would
lead Eddie to his client’s concern. Eddie’s client, Myron Weston III, had hired
Eddie to find out if his wife, Olivia Weston, was behaving herself in Chicago. He
had confided in Eddie that he hadn’t been able to reach her for a week.
The hood, Johnny Marco, had been hired
by Olivia Weston to make sure her husband stayed in New York. Johnny was to let her know if her husband left. Johnny was about the same age as Eddie, but was pretty much his opposite
in all other things. Johnny was a sharp dresser, kept himself fit, and turned the heads
of many women younger than himself when he walked down the street.
Johnny had followed Myron Weston for a
couple of days. One evening, Johnny had seen Weston’s driver pick up a woman Johnny
recognized and he was pretty sure she had recognized him. After Weston had hired a couple
of thugs to slap him around a bit, Johnny had decided his work was done in New York City
and he started back to Chicago. Weston had hired Eddie to make sure Johnny got there and
also to check on the little woman. He had also paid off the train’s dining car
manager so that two more people could ride to Chicago in the kitchen in order
to avoid being seen by a certain passenger. That passenger was Johnny Marco.
Now, as Eddie sat there by the tracks at
two in the morning, starting to feel some stiffness set in from his jump from the train,
he was thinking bad thoughts about the Westons and their so-called marriage. They were
the reason he was in the middle of nowhere getting bitten by mosquitoes.
for this I make a good livin’,” muttered Eddie as he got up from the bushes.
walked back up the grade to the train tracks so he wouldn’t be visible from the
road. One or both of those cars would soon be coming back to check on the
duffel bag he now carried. He sat down out of sight on the other side of the
tracks and opened the bag.
well,” he said. “What have we here?”
the light of a full moon, Eddie could see the bag contained stacks of bank-wrapped bills
and two pistols. He figured there was about twenty or thirty thousand dollars by a rough
count. It was probably from a bank robbery earlier in the day in some nearby rural town.
said the Depression was finally over and maybe it was; there was starting to be money in
the banks again. Eddie knew that this was good for the type of people who threw duffel
bags out of cars.
“Guns ‘n money, but no hat
or coat,” Eddie mused, smelling the money. “But
I guess I can afford to buy what I need with this.”
a licensed private dick meant that Eddie was usually on the right side of the
law. He had to be if he wanted to keep his license. But found money is found
money. Eddie would not be making much of an effort to find out who this belonged
to. Rather, he would be doing whatever it took to keep it from being recovered by either
the cops or the robbers. In the meantime, he had to find a way to get to Chicago. There
had to be a car around here that he could buy, rent, or “borrow.”
clutched the handle of the bag of new found wealth, stood up and stretched. He
figured he’d walk down the tracks for a while to put some distance between
himself and the spot where the bag had been thrown from the car.
Now he was thinking that trying to get new clothes and a car, either
by buying or stealing, would be a bad idea. The locals would take him for one of the robbers,
and with the bag of money in hand it would be hard to convince somebody otherwise.
No, he’d walk the tracks until a
freight train came along. It would be difficult to try and board another passenger train,
but he could easily hitch a ride on a freight into Chicago and get lost in the crowd.
After walking on
the tracks for only about a mile, Eddie was pulled from the random thoughts about his immediate
future by the sound of someone moaning. He had thought himself alone out here in the boonies.
had stuck one of the pistols from the bag into his belt. He took it out and
walked cautiously toward the moaning. Looking down from the tracks, he could
see what appeared to be a big man lying on his stomach at the bottom of the embankment.
Keeping his pistol pointed at the body, Eddie slowly walked down toward it.
a couple of loose stones rolled down the embankment in front of Eddie, the guy
lying there raised his head. “I could use some help here, buddy,” he said
through clenched teeth.
close enough now to see a knife protruding from near the man’s right kidney. The
handle looked like the handle of a steak knife from the dining car where Eddie had been
just an hour ago.
“You’re Johnny Marco, ain’t
ya,” he said, “You were gonna shoot me back on the train when I came out of
the men’s room.”
ask questions later,” said Johnny with a laugh that turned into a gurgling cough.
don’t think I’m gonna be able to help ya much even if I wanted to,” said Eddie.
“We’re a long way from civilization.”
I know I’m a goner,” said Johnny. “I
think some of Weston’s guys were on the train with us and must’ve been watchin’
me watchin’ you watchin’ me. While
I was leanin’ out from the last car lookin’ for you, one of ‘em stuck
me in the back and another flipped me over the railing.”
one of Weston’s guys,” said Eddie. “Weston wanted me to tail you back
to Chicago to see if you’d lead me to his wife. Why would his guys mess up that
know and don’t care,” said Johnny. “This whole deal is about
people who don’t trust each other. It’s good
they’re together; at least they aren’t messing up good people’s lives….” Another
coughing fit interrupted Johnny’s tirade.
Johnny, I’m gonna go on into Chicago. I’ll have the cops send somebody back
for your body. Is there anybody else ya want me to notify?” said Eddie.
Johnny took a deep breath like he knew
it was close to the last one he’d be taking. “Tell Olivia Weston that any money
due me she should give to you. You can take my .38, my wallet, and that money to The Silver
Dollar, a bar off State Street near that old water tower. Lillie Stanton sings there five
or six nights a week. We were…, I thought
we were an item, and I want her to know I was thinkin’ about her when I died. Can
ya do that?”
I can do all that, Johnny. I think we could’ve been friends if things would’ve
been different. One more thing I’m gonna do for you – I’m gonna find the goons
who stabbed ya in the back and do them the same. That’s a promise.”
When Eddie got to
Chicago, he started to take care of business. He stashed the duffel bag in a locker in
Union Station, keeping out enough cash for new clothes and other expenses. He introduced
himself to the Chicago Police Department and gave them the story of the train ride from
New York City. He told them approximately where they could find Johnny Marco’s body.
Eddie told them about who had employed him and Johnny, but even though they wanted more,
that’s all he told them.
he went to see Olivia Weston. He found her by talking on the street until he
found a friend of Johnny’s. Olivia Weston was a nasty piece of work, just as Eddie
had figured she would be. She was in her mid-twenties, had a movie starlet’s
face and hairstyle, and an overabundance of confidence.
“So, I’m supposed to give you that dummy’s paycheck
because he wasn’t able to go to New York and get back here without getting
himself killed?” she said, laughing at Eddie.
back with equal cynicism. “Your husband might be interested in knowing there’s
a young man lounging on your couch wearing a bathrobe with “MW III” embroidered
on the top-left pocket.”
could be a good boy and leave the room. I think I could change your mind about talking
to my dear husband.”
Mrs. Weston. I’m a little particular about who I let try to change my mind about
“You’re going to see Lillie,
aren’t you,” Olivia said. “If you are, you’re as dumb as Johnny.
You might want to check with the manager of The Silver Dollar as to what he knows about
Lillie’s whereabouts for the last few days.”
but I can’t see how that’s any of your damn business,” Eddie replied
as he walked out the door. He did wonder how somebody like hoity-toity Olivia Weston
knew about regular folks like Johnny and Lillie.
left with two thousand dollars and the notion that he would have to watch his
back very closely until this whole Weston mess was finished.
that night, about midnight, Eddie tipped the guy at the door of The Silver
Dollar ten bucks to get a table near the front. He had a couple of beers during
Lillie Stanton’s second set, and when she was taking a break, he got up from
his table and approached her. “I’d like to speak with you for a few minutes
about Johnny Marco when you’re finished for the night.”
“Sure,” she said. “I guess that’ll be okay….., yeah, yeah, we can talk about Johnny. Just follow
me back to my dressing room when I’m through.”
could see that Johnny and Lillie would have made a nice-looking couple. Johnny
had his rugged good looks and Lillie was a beautiful brunette. The way she fit
into her outfit definitely complimented her singing voice.
he hadn’t said what he wanted to talk to her about, Lillie looked worried during
her final set and glanced over at Eddie from time to time. Once
or twice a word seemed to get stuck in her throat and a few times
she just hummed the words at the end of a line. Indecision and fear marred what would have
been an otherwise fine performance.
the little L-shaped dressing room, Eddie gave Lillie a small satchel with
Johnny’s wallet, his .38, and the Olivia Weston payout. He explained what had
happened on the train trip, leaving out the part where Johnny had tried to kill
“I knew it,” Lillie sobbed.
“He called me every night, and when he didn’t call for three nights, I just
figured he was on the train back. But I knew it didn’t take three days to get here
from New York. I was fooling myself.”
wanted ya to know he loved ya and was thinkin’ about ya when he died,” said
Eddie. “Did anybody ya know have it in for Johnny – anybody ya know who would
want to kill him?”
everybody loved Johnny, but he was in a rough line of
work. He kept saying he was going to get into something a little more legit and we’d
get married. And now…”
then the door of the dressing room opened. “Get packed, Lillie. Now that
Johnny’s gone, Weston says you can go back….”
Eddie had had his gun in his hand the second the door opened. He now
had it pointed at a tough-looking goon who had turned a bright red.
do you mean, ‘Johnny’s gone’?” asked Lillie. “What have you
done to Johnny, Artie?”
Lillie had also turned red and her question to the goon sounded like a line from a B movie.
against the wall, Artie,” said Eddie, who then frisked him. “Something smells
like week-old fish and I’m gonna find out what it is.”
Eddie stepped back a few steps so he could
have his back to the wall and cover both Artie and Lillie. He didn’t really know
Johnny, and Johnny had tried to kill him, but he had asked Eddie to do a few things for
him with the last breaths of his life and Eddie was going to try and do right by him.
know this is gonna sound bad,” started Lillie. “I loved Johnny, but I got tired
of waiting for him to marry me. He was always saying there’d be ‘just a couple
more jobs.’ Mr. Weston came in one night with a bunch of businessmen when I was
singing. He told me he could get me set up in New York City in a classier joint
and maybe get me into show business. I was gonna break the news to Johnny when
he got back. Honest, I didn’t know he was gonna be killed.”
Eddie listened to all this without saying
anything. He remembered what Johnny had said about it being good that the Westons were
together and not messing up good people’s lives. He wondered if there were any good
people in this sordid mess.
While Lillie had
been talking, Artie had been looking around the tiny room for an opportunity to turn the
tables. Eddie had been watching Artie, and when Artie stopped looking, Eddie figured he
was gonna make his move.
With a sweeping motion,
Artie cleared everything from Lillie’s dressing table, sending a box of make-up powder
into Eddie’s face. Eddie managed to shoot Artie in the knee and he went down. Lillie
fell into a swoon and moved toward Eddie. As Eddie was reaching for Lillie to keep her
from falling, he saw the knife she was thrusting toward his middle. Instead of catching
Lillie, he grabbed the hand that was holding the knife and twisted her arm behind her back.
He saw the knife was another from the train’s dining car.
“It was you!” he said. “You stabbed Johnny,
and Artie pushed him from the train. I told Johnny I would put a knife in his
killer’s back, Lillie, but life in prison thinking about what you threw away
will be harder on you. Come on, you two, get movin’; we’re gonna go find a
often happens in cases Eddie Sanders is involved in, there weren’t a lot of
winners in this one. Artie turned on Lillie and Lillie turned on Myron
Weston. After all of the plea bargaining
was finished, a jury of their peers found all three guilty of the murder of Johnny Marco,
and a judge sentenced them each to twenty -to-life terms.
Weston made some bad picks as to her lovers, with the last of the group setting
her up to be kidnapped. From prison, Myron Weston refused to allow any funds to
be used for the ransom, and Olivia was found floating in the Chicago River.
of his own, Eddie paid for the burial expenses and a stone for Johnny Marco with some of
the money from the duffel bag that had been thrown from the car. That found money also
allowed Eddie to be a little more picky in choosing his clients, and he actually enjoyed
his work for a number of years.
|Art by Ann Marie Rhiel © 2018
DOING SOME RESEARCH
in a downtown
on a Tuesday afternoon
only the bartender
and a Mickey
I see myself
as a character
in a novel I
should be working on.
As if on cue, she walks
She takes in the bar
a practiced ease
that tells me she
exactly what she’s
walks up to me
and her emerald
give me a piercing stare.
As she leans into me
faces are inches apart
and the smell of
is making me weak.
she says in a husky voice.
your butt in gear—
you said you’d mow
we walk out,
I swear I can hear
in the Spillane paperback
it was that hipster bartender.
|Art by Hillary Lyon © 2018
I KNOW YOU?
Johnny Adams watched from his parked car as the guy
he had been tailing for the last two days staggered out of Rizzo’s Dew Drop Inn. Johnny already had the engine running, and in
five seconds he slammed into the guy just as he had made it to the middle of the street.
quickly wiped the steering wheel for prints, jumped out of the car, wiped the
door handle, and yelled, “Hey, stop him!
He just ran this guy over!”
There wasn’t much
pedestrian traffic at that time of night, but those who were on the street looked in the
direction Johnny was pointing, and some started off after “him.” A couple of others were on their cell phones, probably calling 911.
“Yeah, I saw the whole thing,” said Johnny. “I was right here on the sidewalk, waitin’ to cross, when
this guy, the dead guy, came outta that bar. This
car came like a bat outta hell and smacked him as he got to the middle of the street. Knocked him twenty feet, at least. The driver jumped out and ran off in that direction.”
you describe him?” asked Officer Ned Brown.
it was kinda dark, but he was well-dressed, ya know; nice suit. It was
dark blue or black. Oh, and I just remembered;
he had a rag or something that he wiped the door handle with. Like he was cleanin’ somethin’ off it.”
short, young, old; any unusual characteristics?”
don’t know; sorta regular, I guess.
Maybe six feet tall, well built.
Maybe about thirty; he ran pretty good.
Could’na been much older than thirty then, right?”
else you can tell us?”
took off runnin’ and never looked back once.”
may be in touch with you, Mr. …, Mr. Edwards,” said the officer, looking at the
ID Johnny had given him. “Are you going
to be in town?”
“Yup, sure am. I
ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
Adams, a private investigator by trade, had stolen that car just a half hour
before he killed Lance Nichols with it.
He had shown the police a very good set of fake ID and they would never
be able to connect him to the murder.
they identified Lance Nichols, a hired gun with a long rap sheet, they would
assume this was a revenge crime as payback from somebody Lance had wronged.
They were right about that.
Johnny Adams was the one who had been wronged and he had wanted revenge.
This was not how Johnny normally took care of business. He would be the first to tell you that he was
totally out of control.
been going well for Johnny for almost six months. He had helped a client,
Jennifer Ralston, locate her lost husband. Allan Ralston, an import/export wheeler-dealer, had disappeared after
telling her he was going to Iran to purchase some antique Persian rugs.
found that Allan Ralston had actually gone to South America to run away from gambling debts
owed to the Russian Mafia. He was found,
but he was found dead.
Jennifer and Johnny had hit it off from the get-go, and while their
relationship wasn’t serious, they did enjoy each other’s company and liked
to go out on the town now and then for a few laughs.
of their favorite places to go, was a little dive bar in Queens called The Shot
Glass. Long-time bartender, Sam Johnson,
was a personal friend of Johnny’s and that friendship was the reason Johnny was
out of control. It seemed that somebody
had tried to get to Johnny through Sam and Johnny didn’t like that. He
didn’t like that at all.
how ya feelin’ today,” said Johnny.
Johnny was visiting his friend, Sam, at Jamaica Hospital Medical
Center in Queens. The swelling had gone down
on Sam’s head, but his normal vibrant chocolate brown coloring was still a little
“Oh, I’m a little better; got some of those
tubes out and I’m takin’ some solid food.
Food’s not that good, but better than gettin’ it through an IV.”
still feel bad about you gettin’ beat up and almost killed because of me,” said
After closing time one night last week, Sam had been
emptying some trash in a dumpster outside of The Shot Glass when somebody, Sam was pretty
sure it was Lance Nichols, had sucker punched him and then followed that up with some vicious
kicks to his head.
about it, Johnny, it wasn’t your fault. That
Russian Mafia wanted to send a message and they used Lance Nichols to deliver it. It’s him I’m gonna have a talk to
up close and personal when I’m all healed.”
“Yeah, about Lance
Nichols; don’t mention his name to the cops if they question you some more. We should just keep —”
gonna handle Lance,” said Sam. “He’s
“Well, that’s kinda why I’m here this
early in the morning. If you’re reading
the paper or watching the news later, you might learn that Lance was killed last night
in a hit and run accident. It wouldn’t
be good if Lance was now somehow connected to you and me —”
stared at Johnny for a bit before saying, “I said I was going to handle
it. You had no right taking that away
“I think the mob’s still pissed about my part in sending
Ralston’s partner, Richard Payton, to prison before they could collect any of the
money he and Ralston owed them,” said Johnny.
“They also never got any from Allan Ralston —”
it, Johnny. I know you’re trying to
distract me. I think you should
leave. And when I get out of here, you
can come around to The Shot Glass and apologize. I may be
ready to accept your apology by then.”
“So, did you stop in to see Sam this morning?” asked
They were sitting in Jennifer’s
living room having a glass of wine. “I
hadn’t heard from you in a couple days and was starting to get a little worried.”
had some things to sort out and take care of.
And yeah, I saw Sam. He’s gettin’
better, but was kinda crabby,” said Johnny.
he was upset because you got into his business last night.”
“What? What are you talkin’
about?” said Johnny.
“You know damn well what I’m talking about. That was a stupid stunt you pulled and you’re
not stupid. What’s gotten into you?”
wasn’t about to let that Russian mob think they could get away with almost
killin’ one of my friends cuz they had a beef with me,” said Johnny.
“This wasn’t about you,” said Jennifer. “They had a beef with Sam and they sent him a message. Sam will be more careful from here on
out. That will be better for everyone
“Why do I get the feeling that once again I don’t know
what the hell’s really goin’ on,” asked Johnny. “This is just like six months ago when I was lookin’ for
your husband. Bits and pieces came
my way and I was supposed to put them together to make a pretty picture.”
know the expression, ‘What you don’t know won’t hurt you,’ right?”
said Jennifer. “This is one of those
things you don’t want to know so you won’t get hurt.”
you say ‘better for everyone involved,’ who’s ‘everyone?’”
asked Johnny. “Cuz to me ‘everyone’ seems to be you, Sam,
and the Russians. Not Johnny.”
come on, relax. Have another glass of
wine,” said Jennifer.
Johnny got up and put on his coat and hat. “Nah, I’m leavin’.
I’m gonna get some answers. If
not from you or Sam, from the mob. Stupid? Maybe.
So sue me.”
“Zharkov? It’s Jennifer Ralston. We have a problem. And
it’s because of your boy, Lance Nichols.”
“Oh, then it is
okay, Ms. Ralston; Lance is dead. Last night,
“Listen. I know Lance’s
dead. The guy who killed him is going to be looking
to see why Lance put a hurt on Sam Johnson last week.
Johnny Adams is a personal friend of mine and
I don’t want anything to happen to him. Anything,
“If Adams killed Lance, maybe we should tip the
cops off about —”
cops, Zharkov. And Johnny doesn’t get
hurt while he’s nosing around. Got
it? Tell him Lance has worked for you in
the past, but acted on his own as to the Sam Johnson thing.”
Ms. Ralston. I don’t think —”
right; you don’t think. You just do as I
walked into Sveta’s House, a Russian restaurant in Queens, and sat down at the
bar next to Dmitry Zharkov.
“Zharkov, we need
to talk,” said Johnny. “You wanna
talk here or someplace more private?”
Two of Zharkov’s goons had ambled over from a
table in the back and now stood behind Johnny. Zharkov
waived them off and they returned to their table.
can talk here if you can keep your voice down,” said Zharkov.
“If you are going to yell and wave your arms
in the air, we should probably go to my office in my apartment down the street.”
can talk here,” said Johnny. He asked
the bartender for a Baltika Dark, a Russian beer he had heard about from Sam.
Zharkov sighed. “This
is about Lance Nichols and Sam Johnson, is it not?”
in Queens knows more about what’s goin’ on than I do,” said Johnny. “Bring me up to speed, Zharkov.”
will tell you some things that may ease your mind. I
won’t be telling you how I run my business or
who I run it with. My business is none of
your business, you see?”
“So, ease my mind,” said Johnny. “Why did you have Lance Nichols rough up my friend, Sam Johnson?”
Nichols has done some work for me now and then, but whatever business he had
with Sam Johnson was between him and Sam.
Since Lance is now dead, you will have to talk to Sam about what their
“You probably won’t be too surprised if
I tell ya I don’t believe that line of crap,” said Johnny. “I have it on pretty good authority that you used Lance to send
Sam a message. Why would you, a big shot,
need to send a bartender friend of mine a message?
If you don’t level with me, we might have to go down to your office, cuz I’m
startin’ to feel like yellin’ and wavin’ my arms in the air.”
already thin lips got a little thinner.
He absently scratched the side of his neck and motioned to his two
bodyguards to come forward.
“I got it ‘on pretty good authority,’
as you say, that you would be coming around asking questions about this matter. I was told to tell you that Lance acted alone. I have told you Lance acted alone.
Our business is finished. My men
will show you out if you need assistance finding the door.”
Johnny threw the last little bit of beer in his glass into Zharkov’s
face. He felt a sharp prick on his neck,
struggled for a bit as two hands held him by the shoulders, and then everything went
wafted into wakefulness. He was in a
sitting position and his head was lying on his arms, which were resting on a
hard surface. He could smell coffee and…
Sitting up carefully and opening his eyes, he saw the
familiar walls of his office. Sitting across
his desk from him was Jennifer Ralston.
thought you might need this,” she said pointing at the coffee and ham sandwich.
I get here?” asked Johnny. He had
trouble getting the words formed and they came out a little slurred.
“And what are you doin’ here?”
Zharkov called me and I told him to have his boys bring you here.
I guess you and I have some things to talk about. Before you get yourself killed.”
do you work for Zharkov, or does he work for you? Is Sam on the mob’s
payroll too?” said Johnny, taking a sip of his
“I’m not going to start at the beginning; it would take
too long,” said Jennifer. “Zharkov
and I are business partners. Sam owns the
brownstone where Zharkov has his office and his immediate family and a couple of his employees
“Wait, Sam owns
a brownstone here in Queens? Can’t
be; he lives in a little efficiency above The Shot Glass. I’ve
been up there. Where would Sam get the money for
“From Zharkov. Dmitry Zharkov has enough money to buy all the
brownstones he wants, but the IRS would want to know where that money came from. The brownstone is in Sam’s name; he owns it free and clear and
Zharkov pays him rent.
“Sweet deal; who’d
he have to kill for that to happen?”
“Sam didn’t kill anybody,” said Jennifer. “He doesn’t have to do anything but
collect the rent, pay the property taxes, arrange to have any repairs made, and keep his
“So, assuming all you’ve said so far is true, and I
don’t for a minute think it is, why did Zharkov send Lance Nichols to put a hurt
“Everything I said is true,” said Jennifer. “There’s a lot more that we’ll get to a little at
a time. Sam got roughed up because he stuck
his nose in Zharkov’s business. I talked
to Zharkov about how sorry he’d be if he ever did something like that again to a
friend of mine and he got the message.”
you send somebody around to kick Zharkov in the head?”
“Shut up and eat
your sandwich,” said Jennifer. “Here’s
what happened: Sam went over to the brownstone
to check on some repair work that had been done. Since
nobody answered the door, he let himself in.
When he called out to see if anybody was there, he heard a muffled response come
from down in the basement.
went down to the basement and found a woman gagged and tied to a chair. Sam
loosened the gag and she told him that when she had
told Zharkov she wanted out of the “escort” business and wanted to go back
to Russia, Zharkov had said he’d give her some time to think about it in the basement
and then she could either go back to work or he would kill her.”
you’re partners with this guy?” asked Johnny.
business, Johnny; he’s a business partner, not a friend with benefits. So, anyhow, Sam cut her loose, jimmied a file
in Zharkov’s office to get her passport and personal things, and arranged for
her to fly back to Russia. Somehow,
Zharkov found out about Sam’s part in it and wanted to let him know that sort
of thing was not acceptable.”
“So if I wouldn’t have taken care of Lance,
and Sam would have when he was well enough, how would Zharkov have been with that?”
“He would have been
fine with that. I told him he was going to
be fine with whatever Sam chose to do to Lance as payback.”
Johnny stared at Jennifer. It occurred to him that she was his “good
authority” and also Zharkov’s.
don’t just sit there; say something,” said Jennifer.
“Your brow is all scrunched up like you’re
Johnny continued to stare at Jennifer a bit and then
said, “I am thinkin’. I’m
thinkin’ that I probably know a Russian Mafia boss better than my girl and my
best friend. I’m thinkin’ I
might need some time to reflect on things.
guess you’re saying I should leave, so I’ll go,” said Jennifer.
“But one last bit of advice: Be
careful reflecting; sometimes it can get you into even more trouble than you’re already
Jennifer stood up and left Johnny’s office. Johnny sat there a few minutes and then made a phone call.
Johnny Adams. Ya know that thing we
talked about a while back? If you still want me, I think I’m
ready to take you up on it.
I need a change of scenery.”
bringin’ anybody with ya?” asked Lester Wilson.
“Anybody important in your life right now? Cuz things
can sometimes get a little dicey out here.”
sat for a bit doing some more reflecting.
“Nope, nobody important in my life right now except me.
I can catch a flight to LA tomorrow. See
ya then, buddy.”
|Art by Hillary Lyon © 2018
NIGHT DRIVER AND THE INJURED MAN
“Looks like I’m doing that damn driving
thing again tonight,” sighed Robert Benson.
He glanced at the digital
clock on the dash and saw it was 12:05 AM; the same time it always was when he first checked
it while on “the drive.”
there was a little fog, but visibility was good. Robert saw the
figure lurch from the ditch onto the road and start
stumbling down the white center line toward him.
He put on
his brights and slowed to about 15 m.p.h.
Carefully, he veered over to straddle the left shoulder and started the
practiced maneuver around the man who was now frantically waving his hands over
“I suppose it could be me,” Robert said. “It’s
hard to tell for sure.”
He could see the man had cut himself on the forehead
and his face was covered in blood. Robert
thought he probably had been in a fight or more likely a car accident.
“Stop! Please stop!” the injured man yelled as
Robert slowly crept past him. He lunged
at the car and left a bloody handprint on the driver’s side window.
When he was sure he was past him, Robert hit the accelerator and
took off toward home.
In the morning after breakfast,
he went out to the garage to check the car. As always, the
handprint was gone.
those five minutes on the foggy road that occurred once or twice a month, Robert’s
life was pretty normal. He had a good job,
nice house, and a new car. But he had no
one to share this odd experience with. Even if he had,
who would believe it?
The first time it had happened, as the driver finding
himself in his car instead of in his bed, he had been too befuddled to consider stopping. That following morning, he had felt guilty
about not helping the injured man but hadn’t really been sure it had actually
So much was puzzling.
When he was the driver, he never knew where he was coming from or going to. At 12:05 AM he was just “there.”
The last thing he remembered before that was getting into bed for the night.
When he was
the one walking on the road, if he indeed was also the injured man on the road,
he didn’t remember the incident that had put him in the ditch. Each time, he started by struggling to get
out of the ditch and then walking down the middle of the road trying to flag
He was disoriented from the accident and the cut on his forehead
had bled into his eyes. This, coupled with
the bright lights in the otherwise dark surroundings, made the whole situation surreal.
another night, later in the same month, he found himself as the injured man in the
“Oh, damn, that hurts,” he said as he crawled through
the weeds and made for the road. He could
see a car approaching and started waving his arms to get them to stop,
The car did
slow down as it always did, but rather than stop, it again started to inch its
way around him.
“That could be me in there,” said the injured
man, trying to look into the car. The bright
lights made it so he could only make out a vague shape behind the wheel.
“Stop! Please stop!”
he screamed, but the car kept moving until it was safely past and then
it sped away.
The injured man staggered a few more steps and then fell face first
onto the road.
awoke in his car as he always did when he might have been the man on the
road. Fortunately, he always shut off
the engine. As he had done before, he
had somehow driven home, made it into the garage, and had fallen asleep.
checked the rearview mirror and saw no cut on his forehead or blood on his face. Was he the injured man or wasn’t he?
get ready for work,” he sighed.
later at 12:05 AM, Robert was driving
again and wondered if he changed things a little maybe he could make this whole
business go away.
What if he
just stopped now and made a U-turn in the road?
Or what if he sped up right now instead of slowing down and made it past
the spot where the stumbling man came out of the ditch?
option was too scary to consider — what if he stopped the car, got out, and
offered to help the injured man? Would his
mind be able to handle it if the injured man got into the car — and turned out to
be himself? He was already half convinced
he was somehow both the driver and the injured man. He didn’t
like what that might do to his mental health.
But now he
saw it was too late. Up ahead he saw the
injured man was somehow already on the road and finding his way to the center
line. Robert put on his brights but
didn’t slow down. Another option had
occurred to him — he could run the injured man down and kill him.
The man carrying a gas
can walking on the side of the road toward town waved to the oncoming driver, but then
stopped when saw the car was heading right at him.
three quick steps from the center and dove into the ditch.
continued accelerating and followed him. His
car abruptly stopped when it crashed head-on into a twenty-foot burr oak tree. Before the airbag could deploy, Robert’s head had smashed into
the steering wheel.
sign of any skid marks,” said State Trooper Lester Biggs, the first officer on
the scene. “Looks like he left the road
and didn’t try to stop at all; it was the tree that stopped him.”
“Well, the EMTs will be here in a few minutes,” said
Trooper Janice Wilson, a seasoned veteran who had arrived just minutes after Biggs. “I told ‘em we had an injured man. Seems like he’s breathing normally; I think
you’re right that we shouldn’t move him.”
“I wonder what he
was doing out here,” said Biggs. “I
mean he’s barefoot and in his pajamas. And there’s
no smell of alcohol. I ran his plates through the DMV. The driver, the injured man, might be a Robert
that guy sitting over there?” said Wilson.
“Was he a passenger?”
Biggs. “That’s the guy who first called
it in. He ran out of gas a ways back and
was walking on this side of the road. He
stepped out to flag this guy down and the guy veered from his lane and tried to
run him over. That’s his bloody
handprint on the driver side window. He
cut his hand on some broken glass when he dove into the ditch and left the
handprint when he checked on the driver.”
“Probably a broken
bottle,” said Wilson. “When we
were kids we’d get somebody old enough to buy beer to get us a six-pack. Then
we’d head out into the country, drink our beer
while we drove along with the radio blaring, and throw the empty bottles out the windows
into the ditch.”
“I wouldn’t share that little piece of your glorious
youth with the captain, Janice,” said Biggs.
“You are a police officer, ya know.”
“I was just thinking,” said Wilson. “Maybe the
detectives should see if there’s a personal connection between the driver and
the guy who ran out of gas.”
“Could be. This
shift sure does get the occasional odd one, don’t it?” said Biggs.”
Wilson. “Ya just can’t make this shit up.”
|Art by Hillary Lyon © 2019
CLAIRE MORGAN’S KEY TO HAPPINESS
by Roy Dorman
“Anything exciting goin’ on in your life?”
asked Charlie Evans as he sipped his first drink of the day.
a thing right this minute” said Claire Morgan.
“But we can always hope, right?”
so. Thing is, unlike you, I don’t figure
I’ve got a lot more years left for exciting stuff to happen.”
“Johnny’s sitting over there kinda quiet, isn’t
he?” said Claire.
weighin’ heavy on his mind, I’d say,” said Charlie. “Boy
that young shouldn’t have such serious problems.”
An hour ago, Johnny Dawson had taken a key from Eddie Kilgore’s
pocket as Eddie lay unconscious on the kitchen floor of their flat.
Then, having opened a
locker in the train station with the key, he had begun reading a handwritten note: “JOHNNY, UNLESS YOU’VE FLIPPED THE
TOGGLE SWITCH TO DEACTIVATE, YOU WON’T ….”
hit the floor and covered his head with both hands, expecting to be blown to
bits in the next instant.
After a few seconds had
ticked by and nothing had happened, he’d gotten to his hands and knees and looked
up at the expressions on the faces of the passersby. Some had
looked puzzled, a few concerned, but most had been grinning.
to see here, folks,” Johnny had said as he stood up and brushed himself off. “Just slipped on a wet spot on the floor
Johnny had peeked into
the locker again and had retrieved the note. “…. FINISH
READING THIS. BOOM!!!”
Other than the note, the only thing in the locker had been a small
wooden box. It was made of some kind of dark
wood, maybe mahogany, and had some intricate carvings on the lid. It had been much too small to hold fifty
thousand dollars in cash and a kilo of coke, but was definitely big enough to have
something explosive wired inside.
“This shit is so Eddie,” Johnny had mumbled.
hadn’t touched the box. He had closed
the locker, locked it with the key, and walked away.
figured he should think on this a bit.
and Eddie had grown up together in Elk Grove, a small town in the Midwest. In the town of about twelve hundred people,
there was a grocery store, three bars, two churches, a gas station, an elementary
school and a high school.
Beginning sometime around the time they were eight years old, Johnny
and Eddie teamed up and provided their own entertainment.
Elk Grove felt the wrath of their boredom until the boys turned sixteen
and were able to drive the fifty miles to Chicago on the weekends.
weekend Johnny and Eddie just never came back to Elk Grove.
The population of Elk Grove had breathed a collective
sigh of relief.
usually did his best thinking over a craft beer in a quiet bar, but the IPA in
front of him wasn’t helping him come up with anything helpful.
An hour had
now passed since he had hit Eddie over the head with the butt of his gun and
Johnny was wondering if maybe he had killed him.
sittin’ there drinkin’ beer wondering if maybe ya killed me, ain’t ya.”
jumped like he’d been goosed.
don’t sneak up on me like that,” he said.
“Ya could give a guy a heart attack.”
guy who snuck up on me and laid me
out with a whack on the head.”
Hearing this exchange, Claire, this afternoon shift’s
bartender, walked the length of the bar to the two.
“What can I get you?” she said to Eddie.
Claire, Eddie said, “So, what’s the deal, chump?”
have an IPA,” Johnny said, smiling at Claire.
“And get me another too, please.”
the taps and set them on the bar. “Eight
dollars; Happy Hour.”
“I feel happier
already,” said Johnny, lifting his beer to Eddie. “How about
Eddie just glared.
Johnny gave Claire a ten and put the ones in change on the rail for a tip.
down and whispered something in Johnny’s ear.
Johnny laughed and punched Eddie playfully on the shoulder.
“Ya think I was gonna skip town with all the money? Nah, I’d never do that to you.”
Claire Morgan, a hipster between twenty-five and thirty, liked the
two to eight shift at the Rusty Nail. The
owner, Rusty Burke, gave Claire a deal on the rent for the one bedroom apartment over the
bar and that allowed her to take a class at the university each semester.
The Rusty Nail usually saw a couple dozen customers come and go
during her shift, with there always being four or five regulars to keep her company.
occasional jerk who gave her a rough time, one or two of those regulars would
escort the guy to the alley outback if they got the nod from Claire.
a customer had been taken out back, they usually never stopped by the Rusty Nail
Claire had had a rough childhood. She had never known her father, and her mother, a crack addict, had
been killed by one of her crack buddies when Claire was ten. Too old for adoption, Claire had spent eight years in five different
foster homes before she was turned loose at age eighteen.
She had a
good heart, and most people who knew her would be surprised there was a dark
seething she kept suppressed. Claire
felt she was owed something by somebody for her shitty childhood.
Claire usually got a kick out of Johnny and Eddie, but sensed something
was not good between them this afternoon. Her
ears had perked up when she heard Johnny say something about money and she had strolled
down to their end of the bar.
Though Claire liked the
bartender gig okay, she was saving up for a move to the West Coast. If Johnny and Eddie had some new found wealth, she was sure she could
help them part with it.
She purposely walked a few feet past them, and then, one at a time,
started taking down the bottles of top shelf liquor from the ledge on the ornate back
bar. She dusted the shelf and then
meticulously dusted each bottle as she put it back in its place.
conversation was very interesting. When
Eddie mumbled something that sounded like fifty thousand dollars, Claire almost
dropped the Drambuie.
“So what’s in the wooden box?” asked Johnny.
said Eddie. “The key to another locker
where the dope and money are.”
“So are we
gonna take it and split, or what?”
“That was the plan
until you put my lights out,” said Eddie. “Now I don’t
know. What kind of partner does that kinda thing?”
I got restless,” said Johnny. “We
said we were goin’ to LA after the job. That
was two weeks ago. You just keep findin’
dope, and LA,” thought Claire as she put the dust rag away. “This keeps getting better and better.”
to think about how she might get the money from them now, talk them into taking
her with them and get it from them on the way, or wait and take it from them in
Claire had no doubts at all as to whether Johnny and Eddie were
a match for her abilities. Many was the time
she had seen her mother dupe some guy out his money so she could score some dope. Johnny was a little quicker than Eddie, but neither
of those two would ever be considered the sharpest knife in the drawer.
“Did I overhear you say you guys were going to LA?”
asked Claire as she set another couple of pints in front of Johnny and Eddie. “I’m planning to go to LA too.
“I’m thinking I’ll take the train; it’s
cheaper. I’ll take what I need and
have Rusty, my boss, ship the rest of my stuff to me once I’m settled.
train’s not as picky about how much you carry on like those airline TSA people
“Yeah,” said Johnny. “We’re goin’ to LA. Eddie and I have seen
our last Chicago winter.”
were thinking about driving, though,” said Eddie.
“That way nobody checks your luggage at all, right?”
“Take me with you and I could give you gas money and drive
some too,” said Claire. “We could drive straight through if we wanted too.”
think about it,” said Johnny.
“First Iowa, and now Nebraska,” grumbled Eddie as Claire
drove down the interstate on the first day. “Corn,
corn, and more corn. Oh, wait; is that wheat? When are things gonna get interestin’?”
don’t be such a whiner,” said Claire.
“We’re gonna be on I-80 all the way to San Francisco. After Nebraska, we start into the mountains and it gets more scenic.”
what?” said Eddie.
“Then we take the
Pacific Coast Highway down to LA,” said Claire. “I’ve
heard that’s a beautiful stretch. You should
take a nap like our buddy, Johnny. Just chill
and let me drive.”
waited in the car outside Union Station while Johnny and Eddie had gone in to retrieve
a briefcase. She figured the case held
the money and dope Johnny and Eddie had bragged about taking from a drug dealer
on the North Side.
As she sat in the car waiting for them, she decided that the next
time they left her alone in the car, she was gone.
LA was a big place and Johnny and Eddie would never find her.
no use for the dope; stolen dope was trouble.
She’d dump that after she dumped Johnny and Eddie.
Crossing the parking lot of a 24/7 at an I-80 exit outside of Salt
Lake City, Eddie expressed his frustration with Claire.
her better as a bartender. She’s a
little too lippy as far as I’m concerned.
I’ll be glad when we’re rid of her.”
on,” said Johnny. “She’s not so
bad; you just don’t like it when she tells it like it is.”
well if it was up to me, the next time she left the car, we’d take off without her.”
get the sodas and snacks and get back on the road.”
When Claire saw Johnny and Eddie enter the store, she stopped pumping
gas and got back in the car.
If she had
heard what Eddie had told Johnny about ditching her, she would have thought she
and Eddie had some sort of weird psychic connection.
She put the
car in drive and headed toward the I-80 on-ramp.
“What can they do?”
she said as she merged onto the interstate and moved the SUV up to 70 m.p.h. “This car’s probably stolen, so they can hardly call the
cops and tell them I stole their stolen car with a briefcase of stolen money and stolen
Claire decided that before she reached LA she would get a rental
car and move her stuff into it. She’d
wipe this car for prints, leave the keys in the ignition, and let whoever came upon the
car have both it and Johnny’s and Eddie’s stuff.
to herself as she pictured Johnny and Eddie washing dishes at some truck
stop. The fifty grand was going to give
her a nice start in LA.
I’ve still got the key to the briefcase in my pocket,” said Eddie.
“Ya know, somehow I don’t think somebody like Claire
is going to let that slow her down, buddy,” said Johnny, putting an arm around Eddie’s
shoulder. “Hey, you ready to tackle
Salt Lake City?”
Dorman is retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office and is the
submissions editor of Yahara Prairie Lights. He has had poetry and flash fiction
published in One Sentence Poems, Near to the Knuckle, Yellow Mama,
Shotgun Honey, Theme of Absence, Drunk Monkeys, The Flash Fiction
Press, Black Petals, and a number of other online magazines.