Yellow Mama Archives II

Don Stoll

Acuff, Gale
Ahern, Edward
Allen, R. A.
Alleyne, Chris
Andes, Tom
Arnold, Sandra
Aronoff, Mikki
Ayers, Tony
Baber, Bill
Baird, Meg
Baker, J. D.
Balaz, Joe
Barker, Adelaide
Barker, Tom
Barnett, Brian
Barry, Tina
Bartlett, Daniel C.
Bates, Greta T.
Bayly, Karen
Beckman, Paul
Bellani, Arnaav
Berriozabal, Luis Cuauhtemoc
Beveridge, Robert
Blakey, James
Booth, Brenton
Bracken, Michael
Burke, Wayne F.
Burnwell, Otto
Campbell, J. J.
Cancel, Charlie
Capshaw, Ron
Carr, Steve
Carrabis, Joseph
Cartwright, Steve
Centorbi, David Calogero
Cherches, Peter
Christensen, Jan
Clifton, Gary
Cody, Bethany
Costello, Bruce
Coverly, Harris
Crist, Kenneth James
Cumming, Scott
Davie, Andrew
Davis, Michael D.
Degani, Gay
De Neve, M. A.
Dillon, John J.
Dinsmoor, Robert
Dominguez, Diana
Dorman, Roy
Doughty, Brandon
Doyle, John
Dunham, T. Fox
Ebel, Pamela
Fagan, Brian Peter
Fillion, Tom
Flynn, James
Fortier, M. L.
Fowler, Michael
Galef, David
Garnet, George
Garrett, Jack
Glass, Donald
Graysol, Jacob
Grech, Amy
Greenberg, KJ Hannah
Grey, John
Hagerty, David
Hardin, Scott
Held, Shari
Hicks, Darryl
Hivner, Christopher
Hoerner, Keith
Hohmann, Kurt
Holt, M. J.
Holtzman, Bernard
Holtzman, Bernice
Holtzman, Rebecca
Hopson, Kevin
Hubbs, Damon
Irwin, Daniel S.
Jabaut, Mark
Jermin, Wayne
Jeschonek, Robert
Johns. Roger
Kanner, Mike
Karl, Frank S.
Kempe, Lucinda
Kennedy, Cecilia
Keshigian, Michael
Kirchner, Craig
Kitcher, William
Kompany, James
Kondek, Charlie
Koperwas, Tom
Kreuiter, Victor
Larsen, Ted R.
Le Due, Richard
Leotta, Joan
Lester, Louella
Lubaczewski, Paul
Lucas, Gregory E.
Luer, Ken
Lukas, Anthony
Lyon, Hillary
Mannone, John C.
Margel, Abe
Martinez, Richard
McConnell, Logan
McQuiston, Rick
Middleton, Bradford
Milam, Chris
Miller, Dawn L. C.
Mladinic, Peter
Mobili, Juan
Mullins, Ian
Myers, Beverle Graves
Myers, Jen
Newell, Ben
Nielsen, Ayaz Daryl
Nielsen, Judith
Onken, Bernard
Owen, Deidre J.
Park, Jon
Parker, Becky
Pettus, Robert
Plath, Rob
Potter, John R. C.
Price, Liberty
Proctor, M. E.
Prusky, Steve
Radcliffe, Paul
Reddick, Niles M.
Reedman, Maree
Reutter, G. Emil
Riekki, Ron
Robson, Merrilee
Rockwood, KM
Rollins, Janna
Rose, Brad
Rosmus, Cindy
Ross, Gary Earl
Rowland, C. A.
Saier, Monique
Sarkar, Partha
Scharhag, Lauren
Schauber, Karen
Schildgen, Bob
Schmitt, Di
Sesling, Zvi E.
Short, John
Simpson, Henry
Slota, Richelle Lee
Smith, Elena E.
Snell, Cheryl
Snethen, Daniel G.
Stanley, Barbara
Steven, Michael
Stoler, Cathi
Stoll, Don
Surkiewicz, Joe
Swartz, Justin
Taylor, J. M.
Taylor, Richard Allen
Temples. Phillip
Tobin, Tim
Traverso Jr., Dionisio "Don"
Turner, Lamont A.
Tustin, John
Tyrer, DJ
Varghese, Davis
Verlaine, Rp
Viola, Saira
Waldman, Dr. Mel
Al Wassif, Amirah
Weibezahl, Robert
Weil, Lester L.
Weisfeld, Victoria
Weld, Charles
White, Robb
Wilhide, Zachary
Williams, E. E.
Williams, K. A.
Wilsky, Jim
Wiseman-Rose, Sophia
Woods, Jonathan
Young, Mark
Zackel, Fred
Zelvin, Elizabeth
Zeigler, Martin
Zimmerman, Thomas
Zumpe, Lee Clark


by Don Stoll


     Sometimes I wonder about becoming a copper. Seemed clever when I signed on. Tossing bad chaps in the nick’s got to be a good thing, right? But the line between good and bad’s not always drawn where it should be.

     Instead of becoming a copper could have bought an electric guitar and banged away with somebody like the Ramones. Bang on a guitar, bang my head. Bang you any way you like. Bang you some ways you’re afraid to ask for, luv.

     Reminded of all that by finding the Ramones on the jukebox: “Swallow My Pride.”

     And reminded of how often being a copper forces me to swallow my pride. Yeah, I don’t bang black heads together like a proper copper. But just being a copper makes me part of the problem. 

     But I was out with Sylvain, wanting a good time. I asked him for 10p.

     It started up and I said, “Dance with me?”

     “I’ll spill my pint, Ellen,” he said.

     “Sod your pint,” I said. “Get to sod something else back at your flat anyway.”

     He started dancing. Dreadful. I started laughing.

     “Thought your lot were natural dancers,” I said.

     Other customers kept quiet. Didn’t like seeing us together.  

     Pub got busy and we lost our dance floor. Half-seven up on an elevated stage, a young chap began strumming a guitar and warbling: Elton John, Neil Young, Don McLean. Puppy-dog eyes.

     “Can’t play the jukebox over him?” I said. “Bit soft.”

     “Wouldn’t hurt you to be soft,” Sylvain said.

     “I’ll be soft when you get hard. But he’s pretty.”

     I stroked Sylvain’s head.  

     “Your surgery ever involve hair?” I said. “Guitar chap’s mop would suit you.” 

     He laughed. Sweetest Labrador Retriever you had growing up would laugh like Sylvain, if dogs could laugh. His laugh makes me cry.

     Don McLean the last straw.

     “Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you?” I said. “Let’s hoof it.”

     Halfway back to Sylvain’s flat we were moving free and easy—we’d had too much—so I never noticed the GRAND OPENING sign sticking out over the pavement from the front of a florist’s shop. Hung from an iron bar bolted to the shop wall, sticking out two feet over the pavement at head level for a tallish lass like myself. Wouldn’t have needed someone pissed-up and besotted with love to collide with the bugger.  

     Dragging myself off the pavement I was thinking to have a chat with the florist bloke next morning when I saw a copper strongarming Sylvain. London’s Finest, indeed. Copper like that’s a greater danger to public safety than some fairy florist who’s got careless with his GRAND OPENING sign.

     I marched up to the young Constable.

     “Saw this dark chap knock you down, mu’um.”

     “Dark chap’s Doctor Sylvain de León,” I said. “Famous cosmetic surgeon.”

     Twat sees my badge is out: Detective Inspector Ellen Flay. Twat unhands Sylvain. Sylvain backs away. Hadn’t resisted the strongarm. Prudent choice for a chap of his persuasion.     

     “Florist’s sign knocked me down, Constable. Doctor de León is my lover and his black gorilla paws will soon be all over me in his flat.”

     “Ellen. . .” Sylvain said.

     “I need your name, Constable,” I said. “Want to charge police harassment, Doctor?”

     I added, “But not worth the time that could be spent getting to his flat pronto to get those gorilla paws on me.”

     Going too far’s my M.O.  

     “Charges would be better than what the doctor’s tribe will do if they hear about this,” I said. “Jungles of Côte d'Ivoire. Notorious for witchcraft.”

     I couldn’t tell if he believed my witchcraft rubbish. Wanker finally spoke.

     “You’re bleeding, mu’um,” he said in a mouse’s voice all meek and mild.

     I touched where the sign had struck. Hand came away red.

     Sylvain had been behind me. He steps forward.

     “My God, Ellen!” he says. 

     I sucked and licked the blood off my hand.    

     “I’ll drink your blood too,” I told the Constable. 

     With my head I let him know to piss off. 

     “Let’s get back to the flat and take care of you,” Sylvain said.

     He spoke soothingly. Best bedside manner. Love his manner inside the bed too. 

     “Days are numbered for his sort, Ellen.”

     I thought, don’t see racists going extinct anytime soon.


     Morning, I was up first. His great dark carcass in bed like a seal washed up on the beach.

     His flat in Twickenham a good haul from the Brixton station. Sausage rolls scarfed during the drive left a spot of grease on my overcoat.

     At the station, more grease: Dickie Woodford hanging about my desk all winks and snickers.

     “Admirer’s left you a gift, Ellen.”

     Wrapped up like a mummy it was. Shape left no room for guesswork, though.

     Something for the hard times,” the twat titters.

     But not so overcome by his own wit that he can’t speak more.

     “Might not measure up to the one hanging off your African doctor, Ellen.”   

     Marvelous, I thought. If Dickie knows about Sylvain then so does everyone else. We’d tried to lie low, but London’s smaller than you think.

     “You a spit girl or a swallow girl?” Dickie rattles on. “Or your African doctor decide?”

     Perfect time for Chief Inspector Redmond to pass by demanding all hands on deck. I can put Dickie out of mind.   

     My moment came early.

     Darkies on the warpath,” Redmond began.

     Bloody hell, I thought. But what hill you want to die on? I shut my eyes.

     “That showing at the local Odeon?” a voice said.

     “Sequel to Zulu,” another said. “Also ends bad for the chaps with spears.”

     Neither voice Dickie’s. One oily fish in an oily sea.    

     “But don’t have Michael Caine,” Redmond said. “Only D.I. Flay. Whom I’m boring.”   

     My eyes open, he continued.

     “A certain Viv Lloyd and his mate, Lester Richardson, are rousing the rabble.”

     “Blokes that put out that Marxist broadsheet?” I said. “Within their rights, sir.”

     “Let’s help them stay within their rights, Flay,” Redmond said smiling, if smile’s the right word. “Latest edition suggests they may soon exceed them.”       

     He lifted a sheet of newsprint off the lectern. Fished glasses from his breast pocket.

     The entrenched racism of the Metropolitan Police Service has been protected and even strengthened by David McNee’s leadership,” he read. “Even before Mr. McNee affirmed the right of his officers to murder citizens whom one might have thought the police should serve and protect—but then, Alvin Greenfield was a ‘seedy degenerate scarcely worth the dust on the bottoms of my men’s shoes,’ in Mr. McNee’s telling—the MPS had won notoriety for its shift toward jackbooted paramilitary techniques in the suppression of civil liberties.”

     Redmond removed his glasses. Gave him beady bat’s eyes. With that executioner’s smile, took away all the pleasure of looking at what might have been rather a dishy bloke.   

     “Commissioner McNee discerns an increasing shrillness of tone, Flay, so it’s irrelevant that they’re within their rights and that no crime’s yet been committed.”

     “Just as not committing a crime may have been irrelevant in the case of Alvin Greenfield.”

     My M.O. again. Wanted to bite my tongue. But teeth couldn’t catch up when it was already out there wagging.

     “Public drunkenness, resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer,” Redmond said metallically.

     “Speaking hypothetically, sir. I meant, irrelevant if you believe the outrageous accusations against our officers.”    

     My professional suicide wouldn’t bring Alvin Greenfield back.

     “No crime’s been committed,” Redmond continued, “and our courtesy to Mr. Lloyd and Mr. Richardson will be to make sure they maintain their spotless records. A courtesy you’re to extend, Flay. The spirit of courtesy being best embodied by a member of the fair sex.”

     Surveying the room he said, “By our Desdemona.”

     Confirmed: Dickie knew, Redmond knew, everyone knew.

     But not a chuckle heard. Redmond thought those mouth-breathers would know Shakespeare?     


     Viv Lloyd and Lester Richardson had emigrated from Barbados. Their restaurant on Lampard Road supported the Manifesto’s publication and distribution. The restaurant didn’t have a sign, so locals called it “Viv and Lester’s.” I’d eaten there. Lads cared about politics more than food.

     I claimed a table without waiting to be seated. From a magazine rack by the door I’d picked up a copy of the Manifesto that accused the Commissioner of resorting to “jackbooted paramilitary techniques.” I told a very dark, very pretty girl that I wanted a lime squash and to talk to whoever wrote the rubbish about Commissioner McNee. I pointed to the front-page headline next to McNee’s picture: WE KILL SEEDY DEGNERATES. The girl asked who I was and I said. She made a face like I’d shown her what the cat had killed.                             

     A slender handsome chap and a short round one, ages unclear because the sun doesn’t beat up their skin. Even in the Caribbean, where it shines all the time.

     “Sit with me?” I said. “Have a chat?”

     “We’ll stand,” scowled the handsome one.

     Viv Lloyd. Touch of Harry Belafonte. Under different circumstances, I thought. . .   

     “I’ve come with friendly advice,” I said. 

     “Friendly?” the short round chap said in a mocking voice.

     Lester Richardson.          

     The pretty girl brought my lime squash.  

     “Don’t forget to add the copper’s fifty-percent surcharge,” Richardson told her.          

     Entrenched racism among the Metropolitan Police, you wrote?” I said. “Course there is. Not defending it, but your Manifesto won’t make it go away. And you keep on, it’ll destroy you.”    

     “Why would it be in your interest to defend racism?” Richardson said, mocking me again.

     Was I supposed to say I’d spent the night shagging my rich African doctor in his posh flat in Twickenham so they’d understand that I was a friend of the blacks?

     I tasted my drink. Puckered up. Thirty years—or twenty—that’s my face full-time.  

     “Think about your own interest, not mine,” I said.

     But how was repeating my point in a louder voice going to help?           

     Wouldn’t hurt me to be soft, Sylvain had said. I made my voice gentle.

     “Not like I can’t see the point of violence against the government,” I said. “When there’s a chance of winning. If there’s no chance, it’s about your pride. And got to swallow your pride when the only chance is losing.”  

     “Not like she can’t see the point of violence against the government,” Lloyd said. “A revolutionary among the Metropolitan Police. That’s a giggle.” 

     Anything I said would make it worse. Best to piss off, I thought. Did so after telling the pretty girl she might want to go easier on the lime.


     “Building trust are you, Flay?” Redmond wanted to know.

     “Trying, sir.” 

     “Not to worry. You have a natural bond.”

     Meaning Sylvain. All blacks the same to Redmond, so I’m Desdemona to Lloyd and Richardson too.

     “Plus they seem like slow-boil lads, Flay: brainy sorts. So you’ve got time.”

     Rubbish, I thought. Also thought how stupid I’d been to mention pride, make sure that was foremost in their minds. “Swallow your pride,” I had said. You daft, girl?    


     My failure had got me down. I said to Sylvain let’s go out for a drink.

     “Place last night was all right,” he said.

     “Same young chap’s there. Was written on a chalk board by the door.”           

     “Stevie something. Williams. I’m all right with that. And you said he was pretty.” 

     “Like Jane Birkin,” I said. “But can’t bear him singing his Vincent song again.”

     “‘This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.’ That eats at you. But it only says the world is cruel. I’d think you as much as anyone would agree.”

     “Doesn’t only say that. World’s cruel, yeah. But don’t glorify weakness, call it beautiful.”  

     Sylvain sighed. He pushed away from the table. 

     “Should lay off the potatoes if I want room for a couple of pints,” he said.

     Horse had left the barn if he was going to lay off the potatoes.        

     “Glorify weakness, you flash a green light to cruelty,” I said. 

     He crossed his arms.

     “You can’t just hear a sweet tune and a pretty voice, Ellen? Pretty voice, pretty lad?”

     I crossed my arms back.

     “I’m fine going to see pretty Stevie Williams sing,” I said.

     I paused. Striving for what’s called comic timing.

     “Long as I get to shag him.”

     He laughed his Labrador Retriever laugh. Then he went serious.

     “But you’d rather listen to your Ramones than pretty Stevie Williams. Let’s stay in.”

     He put on his unsexy-bloke-acting-sexy voice. I love that voice. Not as much as his laugh.  

     “‘Swallow My Pride,’ indeed,” he said. “We’ll soon have you swallowing something else.” 

     I thought of Dickie Woodford.                                 


     Wasn’t long before Redmond had his hands full with protests of the exoneration of the officers who’d killed Alvin Greenfield. 

     “Hoi polloi are on high boil,” he said. “So you can lay off your slow-boil lads for a bit, Flay.”  

     He needed me for the excitable ones: put me to work with the other D.I.’s, bringing in blokes who’d smashed shop windows or cars. Difference was, no busting heads of the black chaps I brought in. Bloody hero to the blacks, I was. Their best mate.     


     A week later, with the excitable lads gone off the boil, Lloyd and Richardson seized the Brixton police sub-station on Ashcombe Mews.

     Redmond had always kept the sub-station lightly staffed. And since the start of the protests, staff not needed for basic operations had been sent to the hot spots. Lloyd and Richardson took notice. First thing one morning, without firing a shot or striking a blow, they surprised the two officers on duty. Locked them in a holding cell and rang the office of Commissioner McNee. McNee rang the Brixton station and like a good boy Redmond cut short his morning briefing.

     When he came back, he announced that he and I would lead the recapture of the sub-station. I was to choose ten officers to accompany us.

     I said, “There’s blokes specially trained for this, sir.”

     “Would raise the profile,” he said. “Told the Commissioner they wanted to prove a point. McNee’s made no bones about the power of the Metropolitan Police to crush any protest that crosses the line. Point of taking the sub-station’s to prove our power’s overrated.”

     He saw I wasn’t following.     

     “But we downplay this, Flay, let them think they’ve proved something, we can get them to lay down their arms, end this without violence. Back-pages item, soon forgotten.”

     Redmond pursed his lips.

     “Contingent on our establishing trust. So I want you to have the first word, Flay.

     I’ve done such a brilliant job of establishing trust already, I thought.

     “No violence? Seems that’s what they want, harming no one in the takeover.”

     “That’s the goal,” he said. “But we still need ten good men if this plan goes south.”

     It seemed dodgy, but I’d been given a job. I looked for blokes that I couldn’t recall having expressed racism overtly. Not born yesterday, so I know that still waters run deep. But would you have had me bring along chaps who go about in white sheets?


     The Ashcombe Mews sub-station occupied the remains of the old stables, carriage houses, and living quarters that had given their name to the little street. Officers, citizens making complaints, and other visitors could park in the converted stables and carriage houses. The former living quarters, one floor up, were for business.  

     Redmond and I studied the scene.

     “Dangerous for you to stand naked in front of them,” Redmond said. “So to speak.”

     His mind can go to that even now, I thought.

     “Though you won’t be naked in the full sense,” he continued. “They point a gun at you, they’re finished.”  

     He checked his watch.

     “Seven minutes to the hour. Which is when I’ve told them to look for your pretty face making advances toward them.”


     I crossed the street right on the hour. Stopped short of the sidewalk in front of the station.

     “Lloyd,” I shouted, “Richardson,” and then: “Viv! Lester!”

     Desperate to hear a word back, yet no clue what my own next word would be.   

     “Fuck me,” I said under my breath.

     A flicker of movement on the right of the broad window above me.

     I heard a shot from behind, far to my left. There was no more movement on the right, but the shattered window gave a clear view of Viv on the left, firing a rifle over my head. I heard more shots and watched him fall.

     Silence and stillness.                   

     “Lloyd! Richardson!” I repeated. “Viv! Lester!”         

     More silence and stillness. 

     Finally, Redmond’s voice.                                      

     “They were going to shoot you, Flay.”

     I spun around.

     “Bollocks. Who saw a gun pointed at me? Who started shooting?”

     I raised an arm toward my face. But I thought twice and froze it halfway.

     “Who started shooting?” I said.

     I dropped my arm. They’d know about my tears if I brushed them away.  

     “Was all about setting me up, wasn’t it? Could have killed them without involving me, but so much sweeter with me.”  

     Sweet to see Desdemona weep, I thought.

     But I kept my tears to myself as they streamed down. I was far away from the lot of them.

     “You’re all cowards,” I said.

     A voice from my right.

     “What?” I said.

     Same voice: “I’m Spartacus.”

     Dickie Woodford. But meant nothing. Same obscenity came from a voice to my left. Then many voices.

     The shouts of “I’m Spartacus” were loud. The laughter was louder.

     “Swallow your pride,” I’d told Viv and Lester. No chance. Weren’t buying.

     But what about Ellen? Too late to learn the electric guitar. This was the life I’d chosen for better or worse. Finishing up at the scene, then back to the station—had to swallow my pride.                  


Don Stoll has written about Ellen Flay, the protagonist of "Swallow," in 15 other stories published here in Yellow Mama and elsewhere, including Pulp ModernDown and OutPunk Noir, and the new noir anthology from Uncle B. Publications, Now, There Was a Story!  

Some Week


by Don Stoll


        Al stood with me over the body while we waited for the ambulance. Somebody else, it might have bothered me. Might have thought he was there to give me “comfort,” like wasting such a waste of space would have got to me. Not Al, though.

        “Looks like he only got one kid before you nailed him, Dave,” he said. “Boy. Fifth-grader, I think. Hard to tell, way the teachers are screaming. All hysterical.”

        “You know what’s gonna be in the papers,” I said.

        “Calls for gun control,” he laughed.

        “Bleeding hearts’ll be all over it.”

        He lit a cigarette saying, “Offer you one but you’re trying to quit, right?”

        I nodded.  

        “Know what else is gonna be in the papers?” he said. “Officer Dave McKeon, hero. How’s it feel to be a hero?”

        I caught a whiff and thought maybe one smoke. But Lisa was right: wouldn’t be just one.

        “Won’t be a hero to everybody,” I said. “Bleeding hearts’ll say could have shot him in the leg. Could have sung him a lullaby—sung ‘Kumbaya’—listen to him pour out his heart about his abusive childhood while you put on the tourniquet.”                  

        “Unbelievable. Like the other day when the SEALs took out Osama, there were people saying they shouldn’t have killed him. Should have taken him alive.”   

        “Yeah, give him a fair trial. You imagine the shit show?”

        Al exhaled. I caught another whiff. I thought of Lisa saying I went a month, she’d let me fuck her in the ass. But funny I’d never asked. Telling me maybe I didn’t need to pass her test. Get a few drinks in her so she’s relaxed, we’re doing it doggy style and I just slide from one hole into another like it’s an accident. I bet she’d be fine with it, me kicking cigarettes or not.

        But she’s right about the cigarettes. I really should stop.

        “You imagine the cost of guarding him?” Al said. 


        I’d gone hard thinking about fucking Lisa and had kind of forgot about him.

        “Shit show is right,” Al said. “Shit show for the taxpayers. I’d like to be on that guard detail, save them some money.”

        He brought his hands up to his chest and bent his fingers so his hands were like claws. He made like he was strangling somebody.

        “Osama was six-five, Al. You sure you could manage that, being the runt of the litter?”

        “You know how it is with guys like me,” he laughed. “Lot of anger.”

        He finished his cigarette. He threw it on the blacktop and lit another.

        “Jesus, Al. Kids play here.”

        “What they have janitors for, isn’t it?”

        I jammed my hands in my pockets. With my left hand I brushed the end of my dick, firm enough to get the feeling but fast enough so nobody could see. It was only Al and me there anyway. The other cops and the Fire Department had herded the teachers and kids away from us, past the classroom buildings. Parents were starting to show up, so talk about a shit show.

        With my right hand I felt for the scrap of paper where the blond in the Mustang that I’d stopped just before I got the call about the school had written her number. If I was wrong about Lisa I might be right about the blond. I pulled out the paper, holding it close to my pocket. Jane. And her number in neat block letters almost like they were typed.   

        “What’s that?” Al said.


        I slipped it back in my pocket.  

        We heard the ambulance. Al turned toward it. Usually hard to make out the direction, but the school was on a dead-end road. I was standing behind him, looking over his toupee. I gave the end of my dick another brush, but this time slower and firmer. That one was for Jane. With my right hand I patted Al on the head.

        “How many endangered species had to die to make this thing?”

        He laughed and swatted my hand away. 

        “How about for your next one they kill a Siberian tiger, give you a unique look?”  

        We heard the ambulance come closer.                                                                                   

        “Slow, aren’t they?” Al said. “Had to finish jerking off before they answered the call.”

        “That, and. . .” I said.

        I waited for Al to look back at me. Then I made like I was smoking a doobie.

        “You know they’ll take your gun away for a while?” he said. “Make you see a shrink?” 

        I shook my head.

        “Even in Palmdale,” I said. “Hour from LA, no ‘diverse constituencies’ whose asses we have to kiss. You think it’s a different world, and then—”

        “So, Officer,” Al said, changing his voice, “how do you feel about taking a human life?”   

        “I hear they like it better if you ‘open up.’ Gets you back on the street faster.” 

        We could see the ambulance.      

        “Been some week for you,” Al said. “This time last week you were. . . where?”


        “Rescuing your baby brother from the Arab Spring. You really are a hero, man.”

        “Baby brother didn’t need rescuing. Nothing happening there.”

        “That’s what you needed to rescue him from. No action with those Arab women, right? Get stoned to death or some shit.”

        He grinned. He had something green stuck in his teeth.

        “Get stoned to death or get your hand cut off. Or something else.” 

        He grinned again. 

        “So your brother fucking camels?” he said.   


        My baby brother isn’t much like me. Teacher, which is the last thing I’d want to be. Unless it’s to teach shooting. I’ve done a little of that with civilians, and it’s a kick. Especially the ones that you can tell they think there’s something wrong about guns. Maybe they’ve had some kind of scare so they’ve decided they need the protection, but even so they think they’re better than people who carry guns all the time. Then you get that baby in their hands, get them comfortable with it. Be patient with them because they’re nervous. But their nervousness is really excitement because everybody loves what a gun can do even if they won’t admit it.

        Be patient and encouraging until they can hit something. Then you don’t need to encourage them anymore because the gun does all the encouraging. You don’t show too much satisfaction because they still want to believe there’s something wrong with guns and that they’re too good for them. That’s all right, though, because you’ve done your job. You’ve taught one more civilian to shoot, so maybe one day he—or she—will put an end to another school shooting before it gets out of hand.  

        Anyway, my baby brother—Paul, who I call Paulie—was living in LA till his girlfriend dumped him. He had a steady job with the LA Unified School District teaching seventh and eighth grades. Never mind that I’d never want to teach school, kids that age are the worst. Paulie, bless his bleeding heart, loves them. But he wanted to get out of LA after Sally broke that heart, and right away he found a job teaching English in a technical college in Oman. I wasn’t sure where Oman was. When he said close to Saudi Arabia, I told him he was crazy. He’s stubborn, though. He said he’d be fine and he’d already bought the plane ticket. So that was that.

        This was last August. Way it went the first few months was fine. I started to think he was right: nothing to worry about. But then the “Arab Spring” cut loose and I had second thoughts. People were being killed and I didn’t want that to happen to Paulie. I thought, white guy among all those Arabs—and Paulie’s way white, impossible to miss—he makes a perfect target. The hell the Arabs were raising was supposed to be about their own governments. But people get angry to a certain point, the anger takes over. Doesn’t matter what they started out being mad at, they get to that point and they want to hurt anybody who might deserve hurting.

        So I started looking for a time to go check up on him. Wanted to make sure Oman was as mellow as he said, not like those other crazy countries. Too much going on at work, though, and other cops were getting sick or injured. The Chief couldn’t spare me.

        Not till last month, that is. Window opened up and Chief says, “Dave, I know you’ve been concerned about your brother. Don’t know when there’ll be a better time.”

        Funny thing, by then I pretty much believed what Paulie was saying. Eight months he’d been out there and he’s fine. And I think, I take this time then I don’t have vacation left to take Lisa to Mexico to lie on the beach for a couple of weeks.

        I would have told the Chief it’s okay except for the fucking royal wedding. Lisa wouldn’t shut up about it. I said why do you care, you invited? She said it was like a fairy tale and I said I got no use for fairies. She said you’re a real funny fucker aren’t you Dave, and I said nothing funny about the way I fuck.  

        Point is, I thought since the fucking royal wedding is taking over Lisa’s life till April 29, good time for me to disappear for a week. With two weeks’ vacation that still leaves me one, so take one week in Mexico instead of two.

        I fly out, Paulie meets me at the airport with his girl. Bonnie. Big upgrade over Sally. I’m thinking Paulie’s got the life. Work’s easy, he says, but the money’s good. And Bonnie. . .

        Baby brother’s fucking camels? No, Al.   

        He teaches in a town called Sur. First day I’m in his apartment, jet-lagged. He returns from the technical college with Bonnie, who’s also teaching, at noon. They say done, it’s beach time. They have three-thirty classes but all semester they haven’t had a single student show up. Only half the Arabs show up for morning classes. Late afternoon, when it’s hot, forget it.

        Beach and snorkeling are great. Drive’s an hour, though, and I fall asleep because their Toyota’s AC can’t keep up with the heat. Paulie pokes me when we arrive and says I’ll need to be more awake tomorrow.

        “Bonnie goes till one-thirty but I’m done before nine. In the afternoon we’ll all come here, but in the morning it’s just you and me at the wadi.”

        “The wadi?”

        “You’ll see.”


        A wadi, I found out, is a long narrow valley between two canyon walls. You can’t call it a river valley because it takes a big rainstorm—which doesn’t happen often in a desert country like Oman—to make the water flow. I guess when that happens, you get serious white water. Most of the time you just have little pools one after the other.   

        The wadi Paulie took me to is famous: Wadi Shab, which you can find on the Internet. He said his favorite part was the pool where little fish nibble the dead skin cells off your legs.

        It was quiet. Good thing since something happened that would have been bad if there’d been people around. I’ll explain later. For now, I’ll just say that after it happened I thought I should lay low. I was happy to go to the beach every day the rest of the week. I never got tired of seeing Bonnie in her bikini.

        Last day at the beach we heard about Osama. Party time.  


        Like I say, Oman had been a great vacation. Still, work gives you certain satisfactions. If you’re lucky you don’t work only to pay the bills.

        Second morning back saw a soul brother driving a Caddy, thought let’s have some fun. It was going to be the kind of fun you can’t have on vacation. You need a badge for this.

        I spotted him on the edge of town. I had the thought to be patient, see if he heads out to the country. I could have a serious good time with him out there. Not in the mood, though. I stopped him in front of the AutoZone.

        He says, “What’s the fine for Driving While Black, Officer?”

        Why would you be a smart ass like that? You really don’t understand that makes it worse?

        I was thinking about how medieval I wanted to get on his ass until I saw the blond coming out of the nail salon across the street.

        “Your lucky day,” I told Puff Daddy. “Just got an emergency call.”

        She’d made a left before I could start up. But a brand-new Mustang the same cherry red that I’d been able to see on her lips even across the street. . . an amateur couldn’t have lost her. She turned once more before I made the stop. 

        She could have had her registration ready but she waited till I asked. Stretching toward the glovebox, she bent over extra. Full view of her bra: hot pink, half off her hot pink nipples.

        If Puff Daddy had been lucky, on this stop the lucky one was me. I snagged Blondie’s name and number before the emergency call—a real one—came through.

        The thing civilians don’t understand about school shooters is that these sickos aren’t Lee Harvey Oswald. They’re not sharpshooters. Usually, two days before the Big Day, Mr. Sicko buys his gun, and next day he goes to a firing range for the first time in his life. His aim is shaky so if you fight back and stress him out, throw his aim off even more, you’ve got a chance.

        In this case I was first cop on the scene and I see the teachers and kids doing exactly the wrong thing: they’re on the ground. You want to make it easy on a guy who can’t hit a barn door at ten paces, do that. These teachers with all their education—I know this school: principal and vice principal both have Master’s degrees—and this is their bright idea.

        The one dead boy, the fifth-grader, had been shot in the cafeteria. It all began there. Then the teachers had hustled everybody outside. But the cafeteria had been the place to make a stand: turn those long tables on their sides and hide behind them. Then throw plates, cups, glasses, silverware, food—sloppy joes or whatever shitty thing is for lunch that day—hope for a bullseye. That many people throwing shit, bullseye probably happens. Same principle as you lock enough monkeys with typewriters in cages long enough, you get War and Peace.   

        Cafeteria opportunity’s wasted, though. Bodies stretched out on the playground blacktop, begging to be shot. I didn’t hesitate. I squeeze off one round and Sicko’s on the ground too, and never getting up. I’m a hero except to the gun-control types.

        To me, gun control means finish your natural exhale, hold your breath—chest muscles relax then, so you can hold it good and long if you have to keep shooting—and don’t pull the trigger. Squeeze. That’s gun control.           

        Anyway, Al got it right when he said I’d had some week. Standing over the shooter waiting for the ambulance and scoping out what my bullet had done to his head, I remembered the morning in the wadi with Paulie. The trail hugged the canyon wall on our right. We’re usually about fifty feet above the valley floor where the pools were. We joked most of the way. He was excited about the pool where the fish nibble on you but I said I didn’t know if I’d like it. He said you’ll like it, they nibble soft. He said about as soft as you want to be when you go down on a girl and I laughed. I said you grew up right, baby brother.

        Getting close to the fish pool, he was a good ways ahead of me. He was more used to the heat. I was on a narrow stretch of trail when this Arab comes around a curve. He doesn’t try to make room. Bumps me with his shoulder against the canyon wall.

        I tell him say you’re sorry and he looks back at me and laughs. Says something I don’t understand because it’s not English. Three quick steps and I’m level with him. Just like that, I shove him off the trail.

        The drop was straight and short. He didn’t have time to scream. His head landed on a boulder and split open. Kind of like the shooter’s.   

        This is why I was happy with the beach the rest of the week. It’s dumb because nobody had been there to see. But I kept thinking that if we went back, somehow a witness would turn up.

        Later, coming back from the fish pool, we saw some Arabs climbing down to the body.   

        “Maybe we should help,” Paulie said.

        I said, “Looks like they got it.”

        Paulie said, “Such a shame,” but I wasn’t ashamed. Figured I’d done the world a favor.


Don Stoll lives in Southern California, in the mountains overlooking Palm Springs. His fiction has appeared four times before in Yellow Mama and recently in Punk Noir (, Roi Fainéant (, Terror House (, and A Thin Slice of Anxiety (

Site Maintained by Fossil Publications