|Aldrich, Janet M.
|Allan, T. N.
|Allen, M. G.
|Ammonds, Phillip J.
|Augustyn, P. K.
|Aymar, E. A.
|Baumgartner, Jessica Marie
|Bennett, D. V.
|Bernardara, Will Jr.
|Bohem, Charlie Keys and Les
|Boyd, A. V.
|Brown, R. Thomas
|Burke, Wayne F.
|Butler, Simon Hardy
|Cameron, W. B.
|Campbell, J. J.
|Campbell, Jack Jr.
|Cooper, Malcolm Graham
|Cosby, S. A.
|Danoski, Joseph V.
|Davis, Michael D.
|de Bruler, Connor
|De France, Steve
|De La Garza, Lela Marie
|Deming, Ruth Z.
|De Neve, M. A.
|Dennehy, John W.
|Di Chellis, Peter
|Drake, Lena Judith
|Dromey, John H.
|Dubal, Paul Michael
|Dunham, T. Fox
|Dunn, Robin Wyatt
|Fisher, Miles Ryan
|Flanagan, Daniel N.
|Flanagan, Ryan Quinn
|Funk, Matthew C.
|Gardner, Cheryl Ann
|Garvey, Kevin Z.
|Gay, Sharon Frame
|Goddard, L. B.
|Greenberg, K.J. Hannah
|Gurney, Kenneth P.
|Hanson, Christopher Kenneth
|Hayes, A. J.
|Hayes, Peter W. J.
|Hockey, Matthew J.
|Hogan, Andrew J.
|Hoy, J. L.
|Huffman, A. J.
|Huguenin, Timothy G.
|Huskey, Jason L.
|Irascible, Dr. I. M.
|Jaggers, J. David
|Jones, D. S.
|Jones, Erin J.
|Kaplan, Barry Jay
|Keaton, David James
|Kevlock, Mark Joseph
|King, Michelle Ann
|Krafft, E. K.
|Lacks, Lee Todd
|La Rosa, F. Michael
|Lerner, Steven M
|Lewis, Cynthia Ruth
|Liskey, Tom Darin
|Lopez, Aurelio Rico III
|Lucas, Gregory E.
|McFarlane, Adam Beau
|Mooney, Christopher P.
|Moran, Jacqueline M.
|Morgan, Bill W.
|Moss, David Harry
|Muslim, Kristine Ong
|Neuda, M. C.
|Ogurek, Douglas J.
|Perez, Juan M.
|Perez, Robert Aguon
|Powers, M. P.
|Purfield, M. E.
|Quinlan, Joseph R.
|reutter, g emil
|Rhiel, Ann Marie
|Richey, John Lunar
|Robinson, John D.
|Rodgers, K. M.
|Sayles, Betty J.
|Schraeder, E. F.
|Seymour, J. E.
|Shaikh, Aftab Yusuf
|Sheagren, Gerald E.
|Shirey, D. L.
|Shore, Donald D.
|Simmler, T. Maxim
|Sinisi, J. J.
|Small, Alan Edward
|Smith, Brian J.
|Snethen, Daniel G.
|Solender, Michael J.
|Stanton, Henry G.
|Stewart, Michael S.
|Stryker, Joseph H.
|Swartz, Justin A.
|Taylor, J. M.
|Thompson, John L.
|Valent, Raymond A.
|Waldman, Dr. Mel
|Weil, Lester L.
|White, Judy Friedman
I was paying bills when the tentative
knock came at my door. I wasn’t sure if
it’d been mine or a neighbor’s until the second series of taps. I
eased the door open and peered through the
She wore a loose T-shirt that hung a
couple of inches above the waistband of her faded jeans. Her navel peeked out
beneath the white
cotton. Her eyes were cautious, but when
she saw me, a hesitant smile touched her mouth.
The slightly crooked tooth at the edge of her smile glinted at me.
A strange rush of emotions washed over
me. Desire. Curiosity. Shame,
because of recent events.
“Stef,” she whispered.
I motioned her inside and closed the
What could I say to her? I’d just spent fifteen
days in jail on a gun
charge and had my name dragged through the streets like Hector in the dust
behind Achilles on his triumphant lap around Troy.
“Are you okay?” she asked me.
“Is it true? What the newspaper wrote about you?”
“No,” I answered automatically. I hadn’t
read the newspaper, but experience
told me it wouldn’t be accurate.
“I…I didn’t think so.”
We stood still for a tense, awkward
moment. The weight of unrealized,
brooding desire all those long months hung between us. I motioned toward my
kitchen. “Can I get you—
She stepped into me, catching me on the
mouth in mid-sentence. Her lips were warm and soft. After a moment’s surprise,
I returned her
kiss. Body heat radiated from her as she pressed into me. Her tongue found
mine, chased it. Caught it.
I reached around her, pressing my hand
into the small of her back. She clutched at my shoulders and pulled me tighter.
My surprise faded, replaced by an erection that came on so suddenly that it
A first kiss is always magical, whether
surrounded by romance or awash in passion. Her lips and tongue sent zinging
thrills out to the ends of my hands and feet. All sound in the room faded. My
whole world became Cassie. Her warmth. Her electric touch. The scent of her
excitement and light perfume
rising in waves off of her body.
We struggled out of our shirts, breaking
off from kissing for just the barest of moments. I reached out for her breasts.
She gasped. Pants and underclothes were stripped away, I barely remembered how.
We staggered back into the table. I swept the bills and my checkbook aside and
sent them clattering onto the floor. I lifted her onto the edge of the table.
She moaned into my mouth.
I entered her in one deep thrust and
groaned at the sensation of her wet warmth and she answered me with a long
sigh. Her heels dug into the back of my thighs, pulled me deeper, forcing her
hips forward to meet my thrust. Our mouths mimicked the connection below, hot,
I felt pressure building and willed it
down, but it had been too long. Too long since I’d known a woman. Too long that
I’d wanted her.
I broke away from her mouth. Her moans
turned to gasps. Every stroke, I went as deep as I could and held for half a
I kissed her neck. Her head lolled back.
She dug her fingers into my upper back, pulling me ever tighter.
The familiar ache began to build. Two
strokes later, the ache became ecstasy and washed over me. I let out a guttural
cry and thrust into her. She matched my movement. For a long moment, we froze,
bodies tense and
rigid and pressed together. Ribbons of warmth flooded out of me and into her.
We held that position for a lifetime.
Afterward, we moved to the bed. She
nestled her head onto my chest and draped her leg over mine. The sweet, pungent
aroma of our sex hung in the air. Sound returned to my world. The ticking of a
clock. A distant car horn. Muffled voices in an upstairs apartment.
Neither of us said a word. I was afraid
to break the spell. I knew the first words after this were important ones, but
I didn’t know what they should be.
“I didn’t believe them,” she finally
She meant the newspaper. I’m sure they’d
had a field day with me. Arrested with a fourteen-year-old runaway in my car,
outside the house of an admitted pornographer.
No doubt the implications were lurid, but the truth was that I’d found
the girl as a favor to her father. I was getting her out of there. And even
though Detective Jack Stone hated my guts, he couldn’t twist the truth into
anything but what it was. The newspaper could, though.
I stroked the long braid of her hair.
“They wanted to sell papers.”
We fell silent again and eventually, to
When I woke, she was gone.
I haunted the Rocket Bakery, even after I
learned she didn’t work there any more.
I kept hoping somehow that she’d change her mind and come back to her
old job. To me.
The summer passed, hot and slow.
Fall came. Hockey season started. I took
a job helping a player named Phillipe Richard. Huge mistake. After that, I quit
going to games at the arena.
Instead, I thought about her all the
Thanksgiving came. Christmas approached.
A subpoena arrived for me to testify in the Richard case in January. I taped it
to the fridge.
Three days before Christmas, I heard it
again. That same tentative knock. This time I knew it at the first tap. I
pulled the door open. She stood there with puffy, red eyes. She’d cut
her hair short.
We stood silently, staring at each other.
I tried to think of the right words, but before I could, she burst into tears.
“I didn’t know who else to go to,” she
sobbed and fell into me.
I held her close, standing in my doorway
while she cried. Once her sobs lessened, I swung the door shut and guided her
to my kitchen table.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her as we sat
down. A jumble of different emotions screamed at me. I wanted to help her with
whatever made her so upset. To know why she came to me eight months ago like
she did and why she left just as suddenly. And what was it I really felt for
her? Lust, or something more? Had it ever been anything more?
She wiped at her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
She shook her head. “I am. I’m sorry I came
here like this. And for
leaving before, without saying anything.”
I didn’t know how to answer that.
Instead, I asked, “What’s wrong?”
“I’m in some trouble.”
She met my eye. I thought I saw a flicker
of the passion that had flowed out of them eight months ago. “I’m sorry I left.
I didn’t know what else to do.”
“You could have stayed, that’s what
“You’re right.” She bit her lip. “I was
She sighed. “Everything. You and me, just
getting started. What the paper wrote about you. A new job.”
I ignored the first item on her list.
“The paper lies. What new job?”
“A nursing job. I graduated from school
while you were…”
“In jail,” I finished for her.
She nodded. “Yeah. I got a job offer in
Seattle, but I didn’t want to leave without seeing you. Then I came over and
we…well, it was all just too much.”
“That’s where you’ve been? Seattle?”
“Uh-huh.” Her eyes brightened slightly.
“It’s a good job.”
“Better than schlepping coffee, I imagine.”
She smiled. “That wasn’t so bad. Some of
the time, it was even pretty good.”
I swallowed. I wanted to tell her how
much I’d missed her, even though I couldn’t say why. I couldn’t even explain it
to myself. I wanted to ask her to leave her job in Seattle or let me leave River
City and go with her. I wanted everything.
This time it was me that leaned into her.
Instead of raging with passion, our kiss was slow and sweet. Careful. I touched
her tongue with mine with a gentle hesitation.
Her hand brushed my cheek, then cupped behind my neck and pulled me
deeper into the kiss.
Neither of us moved with any great speed.
Steadily, though, I pulled her to me.
She straddled me in the chair, pulled my face into her chest. My
hardness strained against the denim of my Levi’s as she rocked slowly atop me.
Her small breasts pressed into my face.
I reached up and caressed them with both hands. A low moan escaped her
In that chair, we rocked together, we
rubbed together, like we were dancing to some ancient tribal song. Clothing peeled
off and fell away. The warmth of her skin radiated against mine. I flicked my
tongue over her hardened nipples and was rewarded with a sharp intake of
breath. Then she lowered herself onto me and it was my turn to make noise.
The first time had been frantic and then
it was gone. That’s why I think we took it so slow this time. She barely rocked
on top of me. I hardly returned her thrust. I traced my fingers up from the
small of her back to her shoulders, delighting in the softness of her skin. She
took my face in both hands and rested her lips next to mine. We tried to have
the longest kiss on record. I don’t know if we succeeded. I know that after a
minute or an hour or a year, I felt her stiffen and clamp her thighs tight to
my hips. I recognized the urgent sound that spilled from her lips when they
broke away from mine. I felt the beads of sweat form on her brow. They rolled
off hers and coursed down mine.
We rocked for another slow forever until
I made urgent sounds, too. She never stopped moving until my sounds ended and
my face fell forward into her breasts.
She held me there and silence found us
Much later, we moved to the bed. She toyed with the hair
on my chest. I stared
at the ceiling until she was ready to talk again.
“I’ve made mistakes in my life,” she
finally said without prelude. “Stupid things, when I was younger.”
I smiled bitterly but said nothing. My
mistakes were legion.
“I dated a guy named Erik Yeager about
eleven years ago. I’d just turned twenty.
He was a few years older.” She ran her fingers through my chest hair. “I
let him talk me into things. Maybe I wanted to do them. I don’t know.”
She was quiet for a moment, then went on.
“A few pictures was all at first. Then he
convinced me to let him videotape us having sex. He said we’d erase it
Lies, I thought.
The check is in the mail. I love you. And I promise not to cum in your
I said nothing.
“I thought he did erase it. Even after we
broke up, I figured the tape was gone and all he had were a few pictures of me
in sexy poses. One topless, that was the worst of it.” She sighed. “Until
about a month ago.”
“He contacted you?”
“He sent me a DVD.”
“Of the sex.”
“Yeah. From the videotape.”
“Why’d he send it to you?”
She burrowed her head into my chest.
“He wants five thousand dollars or he’ll
post it on the Internet.”
The Internet. My mind flashed to the case
that landed me in jail and the shady fucks I’d rescued Kris from. If that
experience was any indication, the Internet was full of videos like Cassie’s.
“Is that all?”
She shook her head. “No. He said he’d
send the link to everyone at the hospital I work at.”
of a bitch.
“I’ll lose my job,” she said. “It’s a
religious hospital. They won’t want to deal with the scandal.”
“You could get a job at a different
hospital,” I offered. “Nurses are in demand.”
“I could. But I like it there. It’s a
good job. Besides, it isn’t just the job.”
She paused. “It’s hard to describe.”
She heaved a sigh. Her breath blew across
my chest in a hot rush. “When I was young, I felt differently about things. Sex
was just sex. Love was a myth. Everything was for fun.”
“Now?” She sighed again. “Now, I just
know that there should be a certain dignity to it. Some kind of meaning. Not
trotted out onto the Internet for some horny perverts to look at and…”
“Can you pay him?”
She snorted. “No. I’m up to my eyeballs
in student loans and it’s expensive to live in Seattle.”
“Did you try to reason with him at all?
Offer less money?”
She nodded. “I offered fifteen hundred.
He said no.”
should’ve taken the deal.
“What are you going to do, then?” I
asked, though I knew what the answer would be.
But she didn’t answer.
She didn’t have to.
Erik Yeager’s house was a California split-entry
on the fringe of the Hillyard neighborhood. Beyond a haphazardly shoveled
walkway, there were no signs of habitation. The windows were absent of
I knocked, reverting to the authoritative
rapping of a police officer, even though those days were more than a decade
A red-headed man without a shirt opened
the door. Flaccid nipples hung from his soft chest above a roll of fat at his
“Who wants to know?”
“Cassie,” I said.
His eyes narrowed. “What about her?”
“You think we should talk about blackmail
out here in front of your neighbors?”
His glanced darted left and right. “You
got the cash?”
“Let me inside.”
He pursed his lips for a moment, then
swung the door open and stepped aside.
“Lead the way,” I told him.
He gave me an irritated look, but turned
and stomped up the stairs.
I stepped inside and closed the door
behind me. Almost immediately, the gamey scent of body odor assaulted my
nostrils. There was another smell, too. I’d encountered it when I’d done
walkthroughs of the dirty book arcades. That was years ago, but there’s no
forgetting the pungent stench of stale cum.
Yeager stood in the center of his living
room, his arms crossed in front of his flabby chest. “You got the money?” he asked
“No,” I said.
“Then why are you here?”
“Who the hell are you?”
“I’m a friend of Cassie’s.”
He studied me for a moment, then smiled.
“You’re banging her, aren’t ya?”
I didn’t answer.
He took my silence as affirmation. “She
still a hot number?” he asked. “Because she was a fine piece of ass back when I
I ground my teeth. “Listen—”
He leaned forward conspiratorially and
lowered his voice to a stage whisper.
“Cause ya know I had her first, don’t’cha? Had her
when she was a ripe young thing. Had her every which way you can imagine,
He leered at me. “She still give good
“Do you want to work out a deal or not?”
I gritted through a clenched jaw.
His leer spread into a greasy smile.
“Does she still like to take it in the—”
I hit him.
I didn’t plan it, but the smug look on
his face and the image of him and Cassie together was just too much. I lashed
out with my left hand before I even thought about it. My hand curled into a
fist on its way toward
the center of his face. I drove that fist into the tip of his nose, smashing
it. Blood exploded from his nostrils.
Yeager squealed. His hands flew to his
face. I threw my right as a reflex, stepping into the hook punch and catching
him low in the gut. My fist powered through the roll of fat with a slap. Yeager
grunted and sank to a knee.
I didn’t hesitate. The left came back
across, landing on his jaw, right on the knockout button. This time he didn’t
make a noise, but his eyelids fluttered and he fell forward to the carpet with
I stood stock-still in his living room
for a moment, staring down at his unmoving body. The coppery smell of blood
mixed with the
putrid odors already dominating the air. Then I looked around. The far wall was
dominated by a computer desk. Wild lines drew themselves randomly against the
dark background of the computer monitor. Next to the desk, I spotted a
bookshelf full of videotapes and DVDs.
Yeager groaned and stirred.
I strode to the bookshelf. Many of the
movies were commercial titles I recognized. Some were obvious porn titles. On
the third shelf, nearest to the desk, I found a series of homemade labels. Each
label had a name. The fifth one was Cassie.
“You son of a bitch,” Yeager muttered in
a thick voice.
The DVD cover showed a much younger
Cassie, arms in air and topless. I ground my teeth and slid it into the inside
pocket of my bomber jacket.
“Take it,” Yeager said. “I’ll just make
He looked at me from his knees, one hand
pressed against his nose to staunch the bleeding. His eyes remained smug.
I’d have to destroy the computer file. I
touched the computer mouse, exiting the screensaver. A password request popped
“What’s the password?” I demanded.
“Fuck you,” he said.
I stepped toward him and drove the point
of my boot into his stomach. He folded over, retching. I stepped to the side to
avoid the vomit. My bad knee throbbed.
When he’d caught his breath, Yeager began
to laugh. He looked up at me, blood streaming from his nose. “You can beat on
me if you want. Maybe I’ll eventually tell you my password. But then you’ll
have to find the file. And even if you do, it’s backed up online.”
I stared down at him, processing what
“You think I’m stupid?” he asked me. “Now
where’s my fucking money?”
I shook my head slowly. “She doesn’t have
His eyes burned into me. “Then she’ll be
the star of the Internet.”
“How about if she just calls the cops?”
“How about if I call them on you?” he
I considered that. Right now, I couldn’t
prove the blackmail, but he could easily prove that I assaulted him.
He shook his head and spit on the carpet.
“If the cops were an option, she’d have called them already.”
He was right, but I didn’t want to show
it. “Then maybe she’ll just sue your ass.
Take your shitty little house.”
He laughed harder. “Now that’d be real
quiet, huh? A public lawsuit?”
I lowered my voice. “If you don’t delete
those files and destroy the DVDs, I’ll come back and visit you.”
His laughter turned hysterical. Fresh
droplets of blood flew from his mouth as he howled. “Oh, that’s good, that’s
I narrowed my eyes at him. His mood swings were lunatic.
I told him.
His laughter melted away. “Oh, I hope so.
Because next time I’ll be waiting for you with a little friend.”
We stood there, not speaking. I glanced
around the room to see if he had a gun stashed anywhere nearby. The hum of the
computer fan was the loudest thing in the room. When I looked back at him, he
glowered darkly. I noticed that all the smashing I’d done hadn’t knocked that
smugness off his face.
“What do you want?” I finally asked.
“Five thousand dollars,” he said, and
grinned at me.
“Asshole,” I said. “You shoulda taken the
I walked past him and out the door.
On the way home, I pulled in next to a
dumpster. I removed the picture from the sleeve of the DVD case and tore it
into small bits. Then I snapped the DVD into pieces and threw it all away.
I wanted to see her again. I wanted to kiss her, hold
her, love her. But
I knew I wouldn’t. I’d failed her. And she’d be humiliated because of it. I
knew from experience that you can live through humiliation, but she didn’t.
Until she figured that out, if she ever
did, she’d remain lost to me.
I called her on the phone. She listened
to my words and hung up quietly. I stayed on the line a little longer,
listening to the dial tone until it became an insistent, harsh beep. Then I
hung it up and was alone with the
thickness in my throat and the unbidden tears.
Over fifty of
Zafiro’s stories have been published in a variety of venues, including
anthologies, print magazines and online magazines. His first novel was
published in 2006 and the sequel will be out in September 2007.
“A triple espresso?” the fat barista asked
me. He was new, and unpleasant.
“No,” I said,
trying to stay patient. “A double on the
espresso. Triple-shot on the flavor.”
He squinted at
me while I wondered what was so hard about that order. I hoped he didn’t
screw it up, because I knew
I would end up just drinking it anyway.
“You know I
gotta charge you extra for all that?” he said.
“It’ll be damn
near a seven dollar coffee,” he said, looking me up and down.
I corrected him, without thinking. He
glowered at me and I shrunk backward.
I wondered how
he’d grunt if my favorite detective Mike Hammer were here to whack him upside
his head with a revolver. I imagined it
would be him pulling away in
fear. Hammer wouldn’t need to use the
gun, though. His look would be enough.
kept staring at me, so I pulled out my wallet, ripped open the Velcro strip and
laid a five and two ones on the counter.
He eyed them suspiciously, then set about making my coffee. The espresso
machine gurgled and hissed under
his quick hands. I had to admit that
even though he was a fat, rude, suspicious bully, he was pretty skilled at
the brew and crimped the lid down, then slid it across the counter toward
me. “Double-Mocha with triple caramel
He took the
seven dollars and made change. I waved
off the quarter.
saying thanks, he glared at me and slipped the coin into his pocket.
him and made my way to the corner of
the little coffee shop. I’d been coming
in regularly for the last couple of months.
I worked the midnight shift as a system operator for a mainframe system
that serviced a local bank. Most of the
work on the system was done by the daytime techs, the ones with Master’s
Degrees. I was more of a baby sitter,
hired to watch over the system during the night while more important people
slept. The fact that my computer degree
was from a two-year community college meant that I came cheap but knew enough
about computers to know when to call in the big guns.
working for the bank for three years now.
It was a crappy job, but it paid my rent, put mac and cheese on the
table and made sure my Internet connection was up. And it kept me in my coffee.
For a while, I
got my Internet fix at work. While the
computers as big as closets hummed and the air-conditioner blew air, I sat at a
desk and surfed the ‘net. I started out
just reading news articles and checking out gaming sites, but after a while I
accidentally came across a porn site.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t an accident but either way, it filled the time.
about a year, I heard they were going to do a computer use audit and I spent a whole
shift frantically erasing my Web history and all traces of where I’d been. Afterward,
I got a couple of strange glances
from the daytime techs, but no one ever said anything to me directly so I
figured that I got rid of all the evidence.
They may have been suspicious, but they didn’t have any proof. Or
they didn’t want to invest the time and
effort into ferreting it out.
After that, I
only used the computer at work to monitor the mainframe. I didn’t even
check my email there.
Instead, in my
backpack with my lunch, I brought paperbacks and spent the night reading. That
was okay for a long time, but I
eventually ran out of books. I mean, how
many Raymond Chandler, John D. MacDonald and Mickey Spillane books can a guy
read? It got to the point where I was
bringing my computer game manuals to work with me. That’s when I knew
I had to get out of the
Sitting in the
corner of the coffee shop, I patted the PDA on my hip. It was connected right
into the mainframe and
I could monitor the system from anywhere, as long as I was within 300 yards of
a Wi-Fi site. Lucky for me, the coffee
shop was wired in.
I sipped the
coffee. It was deliciously warm, but not
scalding. The new barista was good.
shop sat three women. I thought they were
probably hookers, wearing too much makeup and easy access clothing. One had
a head shaped like a horse’s and she
was the loudest of the three. The other
two were subdued. One with short dark
hair stared down into her coffee. The
redhead next to her was listening to loud woman, her lips parted and forming a
seductive little oh.
“So he says,
‘Paula, you gotta do that again,’” said the loud woman. “And
I told him, ‘I will, baby, but you gotta
pay again first!”
gave her a hint of a smile. Then her
lips returned to that oh-shape. I stared
at those lips. They were full, and
red. The oh-shape had an endearing
quality to it, as if an unexpected orgasm had rushed up and washed over
her. I stared at them, stared at them, stared…stared…stared…
She sees me
looking at her, and her expression shifts to a half-smile. Her tongue slides
out between her lips and
wets them. I am instantly hard.
she says, her voice husky.
“Hey back,” I
say. My voice brims with confidence.
lonely,” she says.
answer. She stands up and sashays toward
my table. Her hips swivel with each step
and she oozes sexuality.
taken?” she asks me, pointing to the bench right next to me.
answer. Then I give her a rakish grin
and say, “Well, it is now.”
She smiles and
settles in next to me. Her perfume
drifts past me and I bask in her smell.
It’s something classy, I can tell.
There’s perfume there and a hint of woman, too. Just raw woman. I draw it in like smoke.
Her hands are
on me, quick but graceful. One is behind
my neck, caressing me with her nails.
The other one strokes my thigh.
“You do look
lonely,” she breathes in my ear. I can
smell the coffee and chocolate on her breath.
I think about tasting it on her lips.
“I was,” I
say, “a little.”
She shakes her
head and clucks her tongue. “How can a
big man like you ever get lonely?”
“I’m not big,”
I say. “I’m five-foot-two.”
“Oh, I know,”
she coos lightly and drops her hand between my legs to feel my hardness
there. “But that’s not what I
involuntarily. She had a point.
“In fact,” she
says, her voice a hot whisper, “what I’d like to do is slide under this table
to my knees and undo your—”
Paula yelled. “Look at that! He’s
She pointed at
me. The red head followed her
finger. The perfect oh was gone and her
mouth drew downward in disgust. The
dark-haired girl didn’t bother to look up from her coffee.
I put both
hands back on the table. My erection,
which had been straining against my slacks, started to fade in panic.
pervert!” Paula said.
I snapped a
frantic look toward the counter, but the fat barista wasn’t there. He
must have gone into the back for
charge you for that,” Paula said. “You
looking at you, I thought.
Instead, I said, “I wasn’t doing anything.”
sounded squeaky and guilty. Paula
laughed at me.
“I know when a
man is jerking off,” she said. “Don’t
try to bullshit me.”
manage to finish, pal, but you were definitely jerking it.”
There was a
moment of silence. Paula looked at me
with an expression of superiority. The
redhead with the full lips wrinkled her nose.
The dark-haired girl pushed away her cup and got up to leave.
Janice,” the red-head said to her, “I’ll
go with you. I’ve got one of my regulars
to meet anyway.”
hurried from the coffee shop.
eyeing me with her haughty gaze, then stood herself. “I oughta tell the
manager he’s got a freak
for a customer,” she said.
I’m not a
freak! I wanted to yell. But all I could manage to do was look at her
and hope she wouldn’t do anything.
She stared at me for a few seconds more, then snorted
and left the shop. I breathed a sigh of
returned to the counter a few minutes later.
He noticed the empty table, sighed and cleared it away. If he’d
heard any of the exchange, he gave no
indication of it.
I checked my
PDA. The system showed normal. I
only checked it out of habit. The mainframe ran on a triple-redundancy
system, so it wasn’t like there was a lot of danger of a system-wide failure.
The shop was
quiet for about ten minutes. I sipped my
coffee and played solitaire on my PDA. I
tried not to think about the redhead’s lips or Paula’s jibe.
Then the cops
There were two
of them. Probably partners, I
guessed. One was tall and broad and
looked like he might be ten or fifteen pounds overweight. For a guy that size,
though, ten or fifteen
pounds didn’t amount to much.
The other cop
was more average-sized, with a thick mustache that crept down from the corner
of his mouth. His eyes passed over me
briefly, then to the barista. His
partner, The Hulk, didn’t even bother looking at me.
Officer Mustache asked the barista.
the barista answered cheerfully. I
cringed at his servility, but I knew that if they were talking to me, my tone
would be the same.
Mustache didn’t miss a beat. “I’ll have
a double cappuccino, low fat milk and easy on the foam.” He jerked his
thumb toward his partner. “And this brick wall here will have an
“I just want
regular coffee, Jack,” The Hulk said.
Mustache sighed. “Christ, Pete, that is
regular coffee. Or the closest thing
you’re going to get here, anyway.”
“I don’t see
why we couldn’t go to the diner,” Pete said.
have cappuccino there,” Jack the Stache said.
paying, so shut up.”
laughed nervously, like he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to or not. He
whipped up their order and handed the cops
their drinks. Jack walked toward the
table on the opposite side of the coffee shop from me.
barista said, “Those drinks are five-fifty.
look back. “Just put it on my tab.
Officer Jack Harper, San Francisco Pee Dee.”
broke out in a sweat. “I, uh, I don’t
know nothing about tabs here…” he started, his voice shaky.
his gaze back to the barista and glared at him.
The barista swallowed.
“I just…I’ve never heard of a tab here. The manager
didn’t say anything…”
what?” said the barista “It’s not a problem.”
Jack set his
cup down across from Pete and strode back toward the counter.
“Jack…” Pete said.
Jack shot his
open hand back toward Pete while he walked, shutting him down.
watched the police officer approach and blinked stupidly. I looked on, enjoying
the show and glad it
wasn’t me that had Jack’s attention.
the counter and leaned in. He crooked
his finger and beckoned the barista to lean in as well. The fat man hesitated
but obeyed. Then Jack whispered something.
I couldn’t hear the words, but the barista’s
eyes widened slightly, then flared open even wider a moment later. He began
nodding frantically and didn’t stop
until Jack had already turned around and walked back to the table where Pete
This guy is
tough, I thought. I watched him
sit down. I watched him, I watched him, watched…watched…watched…
into his seat and reaches for his cappuccino. I get up from my seat and walk
over toward the two officers. My stride
is confident and purposeful. He is in
the middle of a sip when I reach the table.
He eyes me
carefully before he asks, “What do you want?”
I shrug. “I
want to know what you told him.”
but it is a hard smile without humor.
“Get a load of this one,” he says to Pete. “He’s
small but he’s got balls.”
back to me. “What’s your name?”
Walter,” he says, motioning to an empty chair next to Pete, “sit down.
Let’s talk a bit. You ever do any undercover work? Because we could use someone like—”
“You got a
fucking problem, pal?” Jack’s eyes bored into me from across the coffee shop.
I jumped in my
seat. “Huh? Me?”
Jack said and stood up. “You’ve been
eyeballing me for the last five minutes.
You some kind of queer?”
and shook my head.
toward my table. When he reached it, he
leaned in and stared at me, his eyes hard and flat. Waves of panic washed over
me. There was foam in his mustache. I
avoided his eyes by looking at that.
“Not too fun,
is it?” he said in a low voice.
“No, sir,” I
said and my voice cracked.
stare at people,” Jack said.
“Yes, sir,” I
Before I could
answer, his radio crackled. Back at the
table, I heard Pete’s crackle at the same time.
I couldn’t understand the transmission.
It was just a garbled female voice and some number codes to my
ears. But Pete answered, “copy” into his
radio and then said, “Jack, we gotta go.
Rowan and Adler are fighting with that guy on their domestic.”
I didn’t know
what that meant exactly, but Jack nodded his head without turning away from
me. He pointed his finger at me. “Don’t
“Yes, sir,” I
squeaked, sounding a lot like the barista, only worse.
and followed Pete out the door.
I looked over
at the barista. He looked back at me.
Then he shrugged and went into the back room
I wiped my
brow and was surprised at how much sweat was there. I took a drink of my mocha
and caught my
breath. Then I checked my PDA. There
were a few error messages on the
mainframe, but all of them were yellow so they weren’t critical. I’d
look up the codes when I went back to the
shop in a few hours. I liked to be there
for at least the last hour of my shift, just in case some of the big gun day
techs came in early.
I wiped away
some more sweat. Then I took a deep
breath, minimized the system monitor and brought my solitaire game back
up. Jack’s words rang in my ears, but I
ignored them and concentrated on the pixilated cards.
It was twenty
minutes later when the gang came in.
I figured they
were a gang, anyway. There were seven or
eight of them. Most were black or
Hispanic, with one white kid and a couple of white girls. I didn’t see
any handkerchiefs that were red
or blue like in the movies, but they wore the baggy clothes and talked too loud
and swore a lot. From the pinched look
on the barista’s face, he wasn’t happy to see them, either. But
they ordered like a bunch of prep school
kids at a Starbucks and they had money, so he took their orders and their money
and set about making coffee.
settled into the table next to where the hookers and the cops had sat. A few
of them turned the chairs backward and
draped their arms across the back of them.
quietly, but most of them spoke in loud outbursts, laced with profanity.
just about knocked him into next week, man,” the white kid said to a black kid
in a San Francisco Giants baseball cap.
the black kid said. “Damn, cuz, I hit
that motherfucker so hard, I knocked him back around to last week!”
and the two of them exchanged a ritualized handshake that I couldn’t quite
brought their coffee out to them. As he
walked away, someone whispered something that got the whole group laughing
loudly. The barista pretended he didn’t
notice, but I saw his ears turn red as he went into the back room. I watched
him go, glad it was him and not me.
Then I turned back to the gang. I
watched them, I stared at them, watched…and
I get up and
walk over to the table, past where the cops were sitting earlier, and I stop at
the edge of the gang’s table. The
chuckling and whispering tapers off and they all stare at me with hard eyes.
want?” says the one in the Giants cap.
I ignore him
and focus on the one I know is the leader.
He’s wearing an Oakland Raiders football jersey with the silver numbers
zero-five on the front. I know he’s the
want in,” I say.
looking up and down my small frame, appraising me. Then he asks, “Can
you handle yourself?”
shit,” I tell him.
believing me. “But what else you got?”
I think about
it for a minute, then I say, “I’m smart.
I know business. I know
computers. I can help you revolutionize
huh?” he asks, making a sucking noise with his lips and teeth.
money,” I say. “The Green Dream.”
about it for what seems like a long while.
His gang watches me. I know that
if he turns me down, the one in the Giants ball cap will be on me in a second,
followed by the rest. I prepare my mind
and body to release my kung fu.
says, “A’right, a’right. You in,
nigga. You in.” He points
to the chair opposite him. “Sit yo’ ass down.”
I sit down and
the one in the Giants ball cap smiles at me.
The white kid gives me a comradely slap on the shoulder. The white girl
next to me slides her hand
onto my thigh.
“Can we break
him in, Nate?” she asks the leader coyly.
“Because I want to ride him like—”
Wars theme exploded from my hip. The
entire gang looked over at me and caught me staring at them. I glanced at the
one in the Oakland
jersey. His eyes narrowed.
I looked away
and grabbed my PDA off my hip. The Star
Wars music was an alert tone I’d set up if one of the servers ever went
down. I called up the status window and
saw right away that was exactly what had happened. There were several red error
then it had shut down.
I muttered a
curse. At least there were still two
servers up. I’d have to go back to the
shop and try to get the other server back up, but even if I didn’t before the
day techs came in, it was not a big deal.
They didn’t expect miracles from me.
the last of my mocha and headed for the door, avoiding the gaze of the
gang. At the door, I threw my cup into
the garbage and reached for the door handle.
I looked up
sharply at the leader in the Oakland Raiders jersey.
“Why the fuck
was you lookin’ at us, bitch?” he asked.
I felt sweat
pop up on my brow. I couldn’t think of
goin’, anyway,” the one in Giants ball cap asked, “you Yoda-lookin’
This brought a
fresh round of laughter from the gang.
“He even got
his theme music,” said one of them.
Yoda man, ain’t you supposed to be in
the jungle or some shit?” said another.
answer. Then I turned away and hurried
out the door.
The cold, wet
air on my sweaty skin made me shiver.
Then music blared again from my PDA.
More Star Wars, but this time it was the Imperial Death
March. Darth Vader’s theme. That
meant that a second server had gone
down. It also meant that an automated
telephone call was going to my boss.
He’d be at the shop in no time flat, followed by the big guns, and
they’d all want to know how in the hell two servers went down on my watch. I
was in big trouble.
I scurried up
the sidewalk. I made it about twenty
paces before I heard the door to the coffee shop swing open again and the
pounding of feet. My stomach lurched in
fear, but I didn’t have time to react, other than to start to turn toward
them. I thought maybe I could reason
exploded into stars and there was a sharp pain and then a heavy push on the
side of my head. I thudded to the
ground, striking first my shoulder, then my head against the pavement.
goin’ nowheres, Yoda!” I heard from
A medley of
blows landed on my back and chest. I
tried to scream, but someone kicked me in the groin. My yell dissolved into
a tortured groan.
blows. An icy bite in my side that
turned to fire. Some laughter. Then
hands patted me and removed my wallet.
I heard, though the sound was muffled.
he’s bleeding like a stuck pig,” came a worried voice.
bucks is all he got? Stab that motherfucker
“Just take his
computer thingy,” some girl’s voice said.
said another. “They can trace that
shit. Cops got satellites just for
came another voice, this one more authoritative. “Take the money and let’s
thudded into my side.
footsteps moving away. Then it was silent.
I tried to
groan, but all that came out was a wet wheezing sound. I reached for my side. Felt warmth flowing from it.
I tried to get
my mind around what had happened, but it was too quiet except for my wheezing
washed over me.
I opened my
eyes and stared out into the street. The
redhead was walking toward me. Her hips
swayed. Then she shimmered and faded to
Harper came sprinting down the sidewalk, shouting into his radio. The Hulk lumbered
behind him. I blinked and they were both gone.
I ground my
eyes shut and let out a gurgling moan.
When I opened
them, there was a flash of the white girl that had been with the gang. Concern
was splashed across her face. She
reached a tentative hand to my face, then disappeared, too.
My PDA chimed
Over fifty of Frank’s short stories have been published in a variety of
venues. His story "Cassie" appeared in Issue # 4 of YELLOW MAMA in
In Association with Fossil Publications