|Allen, R. A.
|Baker, J. D.
|Bartlett, Daniel C.
|Berriozabal, Luis Cuauhtemoc
|Burke, Wayne F.
|Campbell, J. J.
|Centorbi, David Calogero
|Crist, Kenneth James
|Davis, Michael D.
|De Neve, M. A.
|Dillon, John J.
|Dunham, T. Fox
|Fagan, Brian Peter
|Fortier, M. L.
|Greenberg, KJ Hannah
|Holt, M. J.
|Irwin, Daniel S.
|Karl, Frank S.
|Larsen, Ted R.
|Le Due, Richard
|Lucas, Gregory E.
|Mannone, John C.
|Nielsen, Ayaz Daryl
|Owen, Deidre J.
|Reddick, Niles M.
|Reutter, G. Emil
|Ross, Gary Earl
|Rowland, C. A.
|Sesling, Zvi E.
|Slota, Richelle Lee
|Smith, Elena E.
|Snethen, Daniel G.
|Taylor, J. M.
|Traverso Jr., Dionisio "Don"
|Turner, Lamont A.
|Waldman, Dr. Mel
|Weil, Lester L.
|Williams, E. E.
|Williams, K. A.
|Zumpe, Lee Clark
Hate and Love
Millie woke and massaged
her temples. Sunbeams framed drawn shades. Afternoon?
She turned; her blue bandanna covered the clock. Another
anxiety blackout? What’s the last thing . . . the morning meeting
with Simon’s spineless principal!
She rubbed her neck. Advil!
She slipped on her terry
robe and stepped into the hallway. Simon’s door was closed. Past four already? She approached and knocked. “How was school, sweetie?”
She grabbed his doorknob. Locked!
eyes watered. “Did Nick bully you again?”
Silence, still, as usual. He’d
have swept his desk clear and laid his head on his arms, crying.
on your friends. Nobody who matters cares about your
She felt the slim key through
her pocket, then dropped her hand.
respect your privacy”—she wiped off tears—“but talking always helps.”
Mousy Moorehead! He set up today’s
meeting after last week’s threats, then gave Nick a warning after his hollow apology.
“I’ll make sundaes.”
She waited, then bit her
lip. Refusing ice cream? Nick must’ve pulled his
Bang! Bang! A fist pounded the front door. “Police, Mrs. Gold!”
yelled to Simon. “It’s the police! Maybe
they’ve arrested Nick.”
She ran downstairs and opened
the door for a muscular patrolman.
Broderick, ma’am. There was an incident at the
Moorehead leniency would only encourage Nick Marden. Mousy dismissed them both to Woodshop.”
He nodded. “I need to ask about afterward.”
“Simon’s decompressing. I give him
alone time when he’s upset. You understand, with kids.”
raised his left eyebrow. “It’s urgent we sort this out.”
“Then I’ll fill you in. In elementary
school, Simon’s microtia was a curiosity, not a curse.” She brushed her left
ear. “And it’s barely noticeable now, with the surgery. But Nick’s been
calling him ‘half-head’ since September, shoves him in the hallway, and scorched
interviewing Nick—his father gave permission.”
“Of course. Now his parents respect authority. They skipped our meeting, wouldn’t
face that Junior’s a hateful delinquent. Don’t trust what Nick says.”
“We tried calling here, about talking
“I silence my phone
when I get migraines.”
“Someone pulled the woodshop fire
alarm fifteen minutes after your meeting. Was it Simon?”
would he . . .” Her jaw dropped and she grabbed
Broderick’s shirt. “Was Simon hurt?”
windmilled his right arm, breaking her grip. “Ma’am!”
he yelled, red-faced. “Don’t do that!”
out her hands. “I—I’d never hurt
anybody, especially a policeman. Just tell
me what happened at school.”
Broderick brushed down his
shirt. “Right, school. The alarm caused a big commotion, everyone packing the halls.
And the shop teacher was focused on securing the flammables, following protocol.”
He paused. “Mrs. Gold, were you still in the building then?”
narrative evoked forgotten memories, like yesterday’s dream. “I was. . . .
I left with everyone else . . . so crowded. . . . Some of the kids were yelling.”
Broderick’s phone chimed. He tapped
it, muttered, “From the captain,” then looked back at her. “Mrs. Gold, I have
to come in now.”
Simon’s been through—”
“Fine! Seeing the police take this
seriously might help, anyway.”
She led him upstairs. “If
only the Mardens taught Nick consideration, or Moorehead meted out consequences. . . .”
She gestured to Simon’s door.
Broderick rattled the knob, then
scowled at her.
“It’s his safe
space. Just knock.”
“He locked this?”
allowed it, since the bullying.”
Broderick shook his head, turned
back toward the door, then stooped and stared.
Millie followed his gaze
to a crimson speck. “Simon’s bleeding!” She reached into her pocket,
then fumbled with the key. “We’re coming, sweetie!”
When the lock popped, Broderick burst
in, stepped to the desk, and held up his phone. Millie followed, then froze, dropping the
Simon wasn’t there,
yet his desk had been swept clear, clear
except for three items: his clock, sixteen red LEDs displaying 12:15; the nub of an earlobe, matching the scoring knife’s gash in
Nick Marden’s photo on the cop’s phone like a puzzle piece; and her cursive
on a stained sheet of paper, Nick will never
tease you again.
as one of the diehards who ventures out in the winter nights to gaze at Edison
Tower, aiming his battery-less phone, feigning clicks, having shortly before left the museum
through the same door he’d busted to get in.
was the plan.
But his backpack should be bulging with two fireproof,
waterproof boxes, and he shouldn’t have a gash in his right glove. Better not
have left blood.
He gets in the car
and preempts my tirade with an outburst of his own. “You screwed up, Lee! There wasn’t
a cam lock on that cabinet, it had an electronic deadbolt! I nearly sliced my hand forcing
He waves in my periphery as I focus on the road.
there were no records inside,” he says.
recordings. Just some old parts and boxes of knickknacks.”
grew up in Edison and never went to the Thomas Edison
Museum? His lab was there!” I turn right.
yeah. The light bulb, the phonograph.”
idiot! Early recordings were on cylinders. Those knickknacks
would’ve fetched enough Bitcoin to buy a couple of Cadillacs.”
did you call me?”
idiot!” I shake my head. “We could circle
“I’m no dimwit.”
you think that new lock was alarmed separately from
the phone line I had you cut?”
least I know the difference between ignorance and stupidity.”
focus, ignoramus!” I slow down before Dellwood Road. “Should we backtrack or
“Quit the insults.
If I’d planned this job, I would’ve given clear instructions.”
slam the steering wheel and continue straight. “You think staring at a fortune and
leaving it behind isn’t your fault at all? A smart person would’ve asked questions
if he didn’t understand something. A curious person would’ve visited the only
museum in his hometown. Ignorance is usually caused by stupidity—”
“—which is clearly
the case now.”
I fume, and both of us stay silent until I start pulling
into my garage. Billy says, “You’re sure no one will remember my car’s
been parked at the Fix-It?”
are always different cars there overnight.”
this will be our last job together?”
for sure, Einstein.”
“Then I’m coming
in for the evidence burn.”
I huff. “Fine.”
I close the garage door and we get out of the car. Billy
puts the backpack on the ground, takes off the black coat, hat, and gloves I’d bought
and piles them together on the hood, then retrieves his coat from a hook.
sure your own gloves are on before you come in.”
That time I hadn’t meant it.
say, “Stay here a minute. I’ll double-check
that the shades are drawn and start the fire.”
I’d left the wood
and wax starters stacked to burn and get back to Billy quickly. He’s wadded the robbery
outfit and backpack in his arms and holds the tools in his hands. I lead him in, then nod
to the bathroom. “Steel in the tub. I use straight vinegar for any residue that’s
stuck.” He’s gentle with the crowbar but clunks the hammer and screwdrivers.
“Careful!” Careful, moron!
continue to the hearth. He kneels with the pile and
hands me the clothes. I toss the hat and gloves into the flames, then cut the coat into
strips with shears.
backpack’s completely empty?”
what? I’m a dope?” Billy unzips it, puts both hands in, then pulls out four
brown-wax cylinders pressed together with the fingers of his left hand.
I raise the shears as Billy brings up a silenced pistol
with his right hand. He smirks. “I’m thinking one Cadillac is all I need, and
a boat. Or would that be stupid?”
Brett voted in the elementary school gym, then followed the lilliputian
hallway to the cafeteria for the volunteer recognition breakfast.
Principal Newman always honored Brett
last. “Many are surprised that Georgia’s most dedicated volunteer isn’t a
parent. But I saw it coming: his third-grade essay was Robin Hood Belongs in
Heaven. Now, he captivates the kids with his nature presentations, concealing
that his expertise comes from being an exterminator.”
at the bad joke with the crowd. Deception wasn’t
the worst skill he’d honed.
No! No!” Brett yelled at the Restaurant for Sale sign in front of Seymour’s, smacking his steering wheel. Never should’ve counted
on that slacker to go the distance,
he thought. Only opens for four dinners a
He fumed until he reached
Possum Hill, then calmed down and plotted. He returned to
the restaurant at three and rang the service-door bell.
“Congratulations, Seymour! Retiring
“Semi-retiring. This place sucks most of my time, but internet sleuthing for the
banks earns me more—all those white-collar crimes—so I figured, just work
How about one last deal, a free inspection if you’ll recommend me to the next owner? Freezing nights
I’m swamped, and you marked me critter-free at
the quarterly check. That’ll do to close the sale.”
on, Seymour. I’ll be done inside before the ovens
get warm, and won’t bother anyone from the crawl space.”
Seymour huffed. “Shouldn’t refuse free.”
Brett went to the pantry and was
finishing behind the shelves when KISS started blaring. He found Seymour trimming zucchini,
shouted his name, and gave a thumbs-up.
Seymour nodded back.
Brett went out to the front of
the restaurant and donned goat-leather gloves. The crawl space was long but narrow, closed
in with cedar-stained latticework and buffered from the parking lot by a strip of myrtle
and a central stairway.
Brett opened hinged panels
on the side. With four feet of clearance and a checkerboard of sunlight
shining through the lattice, he could crawl in without waiting for his eyes to adjust.
But the silty soil sloped up gradually from the front, leaving the back shallow
and dim. Bass tones throbbed through the floor.
he got behind the steps, he crept right, concrete closing
in from above. He pulled out his flashlight and scanned the slab’s underside for
his yellow blotch, then took the hand spade off his tool belt and began digging. He soon
yanked up a clear plastic bag and removed five velvet pouches. Even gloved, he could identify
the pieces of jewelry by touch, remember when he stole each one, whose house, which room.
His only regret now was greed, burying the larger jewels for years instead of fencing
them hot, for less.
Suddenly, the pouches brightened and he was casting a shadow. He turned and blinked against the glare
from a cell phone recording a video. “Shut that off!”
“I knew it was you,” Seymour
Brett shaded his eyes. “What
the crap.” Seymour turned off the light. “I
helped my cousin cater the Atlanta Opera Gala, and when we came out to restock the flambé
trolleys, I spotted you at the high-bidder table with Anna Netrebko. Made no sense, exterminator
gushing money, so I pulled your credit report: no mortgage, no delinquencies, yet your
credit cards come from those rip-off companies that cater to deadbeats. You’re hiding
income. Lots. Dug deeper, and found the pattern of a thief.”
“Nonsense! Your bank job has you
Seymour waved his phone.
“It’s undeniable now. You know, before you insisted
on reinspecting here today, I’d thought you’d pay ten percent to keep me from
sending that credit research to the cops. That was really how I could afford to move.”
suppose. But recording you retrieving your stash, at
my restaurant—that makes me a fifty-fifty partner. I’m going beachfront!”
“You expect me to accept half?”
“Hey, if I were a killer, or
worried you were, you’d be accepting a cleaver in the back.”
“I’ve done all
“Oops! Almost uploaded
“OK! OK! Just give
me a minute.”
Brett swept the higher ground with his flashlight. “There are two
more.” Brett tucked the pouches into his chest pocket, kept the bag in his right
hand, and held his light in his mouth. He crawled farther in, angling to conceal the excavations
from his blackmailer. When he finished, he twisted the bag closed. “Let’s go.”
Brett crawled quickly, closing the gap to eight feet as Seymour
neared the opening. “Wait!” Brett called. Seymour turned, and Brett kept approaching.
“I handpicked you.”
had the largest crawl space?”
needed the right person.”
chose poorly. And stay there, I’m leaving first.”
Brett stopped, momentarily, then
edged closer as he talked. “I needed someone who wouldn’t stumble upon the
jewelry.” He pulled out a twelve-carat ruby ring and made it gleam in a sunbeam.
“Someone who’d confided in his exterminator.” Brett pocketed the gem and
planted his left hand on the ground. “Someone afraid of snakes!” He thrust the
plastic bag three feet from Seymour’s eyes, an eastern garter and foot-long Dekay’s
writhing, freshly extracted from their winter burrows.
Take those away!” Seymour turned, but Brett lunged
and grabbed his ankle.
“Drop the phone, Seymour!”
“Let go!” Seymour kicked, but
couldn’t break free.
“Ten percent to keep
mum, and you’re safe.”
slithering between your legs!”
“OK! OK!” Seymour tossed his
phone. “Get rid of them!”
his victim and smashed the phone. When he reached daylight,
Seymour was shuddering.
nearly killed me! I should call the police.”
“Just scared you. And apparently
can’t trust you…. The new deal is ten grand a year, which’ll reach ten percent
eventually, if you don’t rat me out.”
shook his finger at Brett. “If I find one snake—”
Brett held up his hands. “No more
Jacob Graysol (jacobgraysolnovelist.com) lives and writes in central New Jersey. He wrote the lawyer-laden police
procedural Righteous Judgment, and published its sequel, Righteous
Endeavors, in February, 2020. His flash fiction has been published by Yellow
Mama (#92 & #95), as well as Every Day Fiction, Mystery Tribune,
and Reflex Press (UK).
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