|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.
|Blackwell, C. W.
|Bohem, Charlie Keys and Les
|Boyd, A. V.
|Brown, R. Thomas
|Bruce, K. Marvin
|Burke, Wayne F.
|Cameron, W. B.
|Campbell, J. J.
|Campbell, Jack Jr.
|Cardoza, Dan A.
|Cooper, Malcolm Graham
|Corrigan, Mickey J.
|Cosby, S. A.
|Cross, Thomas X.
|Danoski, Joseph V.
|Davies, J. C.
|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
|Dillon, John J.
|Dioguardi, Michael Anthony
|Drake, Lena Judith
|Dromey, John H.
|Dubal, Paul Michael
|Dunham, T. Fox
|Dunn, Robin Wyatt
|Fabian, R. Gerry
|Fisher, Miles Ryan
|Flanagan, Daniel N.
|Flanagan, Ryan Quinn
|Funk, Matthew C.
|Gardner, Cheryl Ann
|Garvey, Kevin Z.
|Gay, Sharon Frame
|Goddard, L. B.
|Golds, Stephen J.
|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
|Kolarik, Andrew J.
|Krafft, E. K.
|Lacks, Lee Todd
|La Rosa, F. Michael
|Lerner, Steven M
|Levine, Phyllis Peterson
|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.
|Rowland, C. A.
|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.
|Smith, Elena E.
|Smith, Ian C.
|Snethen, Daniel G.
|Solender, Michael J.
|Stanton, Henry G.
|Stevens, J. B.
|Stewart, Michael S.
|Stryker, Joseph H.
|Swartz, Justin A.
|Taylor, J. M.
|Thompson, John L.
|Turner, Lamont A.
|Valent, Raymond A.
|Waldman, Dr. Mel
|Weil, Lester L.
|White, Judy Friedman
|Williams, K. A.
|Butler, Simon Hardy
|Art by K. J. Hannah Greenberg © 2018
GUILLOTINES CAUSE PERMANENT
M.A. De Neve
“I've figured out a way out of this
job,” Ron told me.
didn't say that.”
get over here. I thought I told you to...” Jack, our boss shouted above the noise
of the presses and the huge guillotine paper cutters.
I watched Ron hurry over to where Jack stood, I wondered what he had in mind. He could
pretend he hurt his back and collect disability. Here in rural Michigan,
tree cutting and paper-mill factory jobs offered opportunities for disabling injuries,
real or imagined. Ron wouldn't be the first
person I knew who took the easy way out of a boring, low-paying job.
Ron got fired, he'd get unemployment checks for 26 weeks. Jack often threatened to fire
Rowan, but despite Jack's gripes, Ron was a good worker. Jack was NOT going to make good
on the threat, and Ron needed this job.
went back to work. Jack didn't pick on me as much as he picked on Ron, but that didn't
mean he wouldn't call me on the carpet or dock my pay or give me the worst job in the plant.
The worst job usually belonged to Ron. Sometimes he
had to run the fearsome gigantic electronic guillotine paper cutters. These machines are
as big as a small bathroom. The wicked blades
come down with the power of thousands of pounds.
that day at the punch-clock, I asked Ron, “What did you mean when you said you found
a way out of this job? Are you quitting?”
don't know. I didn't say that. Did I?”
need a ride home?” I asked. Waiting for the bus could take up to half an hour, and
Ron took the bus. On our wages, I was lucky
I could afford a car, but then my wife works. Ron is a bachelor.
shook his head. He was upset. Jack had been extra mean that day, and as usual Ron got the
worst of Jack's ugly moods.
I drove to the bar down the road and ordered a beer. I wished Ron had come with
me. I was worried about him. All that abuse he'd been taking from Jack was bound to hurt. I was finishing my second beer when I heard the
sirens. Looking put the window, I watched police cars and fire engines head toward the
Rowan stood in the
parking lot. “Was the bus late?”
“I went for a walk. There'll be another
“What happened?” I nodded toward the plant. An ambulance had followed
the police cars and emergency workers hurried inside.
shrugged. I noticed some red stains on his shirt. Ketchup? Red ink that might have leaked
from one of the presses?
Other workers crowded around us. The parking lot was blocked off, but they found
parking spaces on side streets.
“What happened?” we asked each
“We didn't have a night shift.”
in the plant?”
“Didn't everybody check out?
Kyle, Jack's assistant foreman, approached the building and talked to an officer.
I walked up closer, so I could hear what they were saying.
us a messy accident. The guy somehow got caught in the guillotine cutter. It cut his upper
body in two.”
Other workers heard the news the same time, I did.
I heard their nervous murmurs. Our guillotine cutters used to have dozens of safeguards.
Since Jack became foreman, he cared more for production than safety. Many of those safeguards
had been discarded.
“Who was it?” I asked loud enough for the officer to hear.
Jack...” the officer took a stab at pronouncing Jack's long foreign name.
ran through the crowd. None of us liked Jack very much, but no one deserved to be cut in
half in a guillotine paper cutter. When I turned to look at Ron, he grimaced. Was that
a grimace? It looked more like a smile.
crime lab cleaned up, and all of us workers got a week of unemployment insurance while
they cleaned. Back at the plant, on our next workday, Kyle called us all together.
the machine that killed Jack is gone,” he
told us. “All the other guillotines
have been serviced and they've now got safeguards on top of safeguards. If you think there's
anything to be concerned about, call me over. I'll make sure the machine is closely checked
He paused and let us murmur about machine problems. “I've put in for five
percent raises for everyone,” he said.
hurrayed and applauded and a few of us patted Kyle on the back. We'd missed chances at
raises over the years because Jack didn't think we were worth squat.
I want everyone to say 'hello' to the new assistant foreman. Ron.”
nodded at all of us. He'd get an even bigger
raise than the rest of us because he had the new job. And Jack was gone. He wouldn't be
harassed anymore. As the others made their way to their work stations. I watched Kyle and
Ron. I hadn't realized they were such good friends before.
remembered the day of the accident. Ron had been in the parking lot waiting for the bus,
and Kyle had been in the plant with Jack. What if Ron had gone back in. What if Ron and
Kyle held Jack down and...
“How are the police handling Jack's... How are they handling what happened?”
“They don't know how it happened.
Machine probably malfunctioned,” Kyle told me.
never ran that machine. What was he doing stretched inside it when the blade came down?”
turned away. He didn't want to answer the question.
get back to work,” Ron told me. “And, Buddy, forget what I said about finding a
way out of the old job. I didn't mean
|Art by K.J. Hannah Greenberg © 2019
M.A. De Neve
School isn't a good
place for me. I don't like it. I don't even like recess.
see Trudie and Jeff talking. He's given her a ring.
This seems to add to the popularity of both, though we are sixth graders and most likely
their parents and our teachers don't know about the budding romance.
Trudie likes to have
things other girls don't have, like a boyfriend. She's a bit of a show-off, wearing pretty
dresses and practicing to be a cheer leader. The boys notice her. I've seen Jeff take this
snakelike thing out of his pants and show it to her in class. Being half hidden behind
the desk, he thinks no one else noticed.
walks away from her, and joins a group of boys. They
playfully punch at each other and laugh. Trudie watches the boys.
Jeff eats peanuts like
he always does. He stuffs his pockets with them. He leaves trails of peanut shells.
Back in the schoolroom,
I glance at the calendar. There're pictures of all the presidents right up to President
Eisenhower. I do like Ike. I wouldn't mind if he could run again in 1960. Some of the boys
make fun of the old-time presidents' hair styles. I Wonder
if someone will one day look at our hairstyles and giggle. I've read books about some of
those presidents, and they had lots of smarts under all that long hair.
I live 1.5 miles from
the school, so I have to walk home after school. I can take a short cut through the woods,
but I've been bushwhacked. Jeff and his older brother have knocked me down, kicked me.
This happened a few times. I've learned to avoid the paths and found my own openings in
the pines. It's hard to get lost in the trees. They're bordered by a busy highway on the
east and a railroad track on the west.
of the other kids live down this way, but they do come
into the woods. They smoke in here. Boys and girls come here. They lay down together, and
I don't want to describe what they do. Maybe I'm lucky I don't have friends.
Mama's still hung over
from last night. The guy she's living with now is even meaner than Jeff. Mama says I gotta
stay out of his way. He doesn't hang around too much, anyway.
make myself a peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich.
I open my math book and try to concentrate. It's too boring. I open a Zane Grey book instead.
I got this one from the library. I love Zane Grey. He writes westerns.
At 6 p.m. Bronco comes
on and then Wyatt Earp. Tomorrow it's my favorite, “Wagon Train.” I daydream
about my favorite cowboy heroes showing up at school and making the other kids stop bullying
me. Boy, would the other kids be jealous if Hugh O'Brien, the actor who plays Wyatt Earp,
was my friend.
When I walk to school,
I stay close enough to the path to notice a trail of peanuts. Jeff's been here. I move
further away from the path. I don't want to run into him.
trees are my friends. I spend some time with them each
morning before I go to school. I stand in a clump of trees and take deep breaths. I imagine
them as giant protectors, warriors who will save me from the bullies.
I’m real still. I don’t
want anyone thinking I am weird. I hug a giant pine, but what’s weird about that?
Someone’s coming. It’s
Trudie. I don’t want her to see me. Trudie thinks she's better than everyone else,
but especially better than me. When she talks to me, she looks at my shoes like that's
where I am.
deeper into the trees. I don’t make a sound. It’s Jeff. She smiles at him.
Then their voices get loud. They are having an argument, but I can’t make out the
words. They rush over me like violent ocean currents. Then they stop talking. I look up.
He’s tightening her scarf. She’s leaning against him and starting to fall.
He’s still tightening the scarf. I see all this, and it's like I'm watching an old
Jeff stands over
Trudie. She's on the ground. He's breathing really hard. He takes a handful of peanuts
from his bag and eats them. Then he turns away.
I am too scared to move. I silently recite the
names of songs in my record collection in alphabetical order. I have lots of records. I
am as far as “Don't Forbid Me” by Pat Boone.
Cheryl and Terry Johnson walk into the woods. They stop,
take out cigarettes, light them up and smoke.
After awhile, they
put out their cigarettes. Linda trips over Trudie's body and screams. Soon the
woods are filled with people running here and there. They haven't noticed me yet.
“What happened to her?”
“God, I don't know.”
“Is she dead?”
Other people come running. I
crawl through the bushes.
someone yells. I've been spotted. I get up and run. Someone grabs me by the ankles and
tackles me the way Green Bay Packers tackle the other team's players on television. I
go down like a cow roped and wrestled. Someone is pounding me. I smell hair grease and
peanuts. Shells cascade around me. Jeff pins me down and pummels my shoulders and head.
He's holding a rock or something hard.
When I wake up, I’m
in a jail cell. There’s a girl there with me. She’s older, but not very old.
“Your old man
beat the crap out of you?”
think I have a black eye. I can open the eye, but it
feels like there’s a big sack of pus covering it.
“I don’t have an old man.”
“You’re a skinny one.”
she observes. “What’s your name?”
“What did they catch
“I was hiding
in the bushes, and I saw Trudie Miller getting choked.”
“You choke her?”
A police officer opens
the cell and motions for me to come out. He waits for me to stand outside, and then locks
the cell door. I expect to be handcuffed. But he just nods toward a door to my right.
“Am I being
answer. I walk like a condemned convict toward the door that leads away from the cells.
Beyond that, there’s a hallway with office doors, all of them closed. The officer
points the way. I imagine an electric chair waiting. That’s the kind of imagination
He gently takes my
arm to stop me and to settle me. He opens one of the doors. I walk inside a room. I
keep my eyes on the floor. I don’t make eye contact.
you tell us what happened?” the man behind the desk asks. I look up at him or rather
I look as far as a uniform and a badge. I think he’s the sheriff.
I shake my head.
“Do you know what
know I should tell him. Maybe I have to tell him. I
don’t know what to do. It's like a dust storm rages in my head. I get confused like
this sometimes. I get angry and frustrated.
talking, but I am not paying much attention. I am too scared. “I want you to think
about this,” he says.
nod. Think about what? I missed some of what he said.
My mother comes in
then. She isn’t calm like the jailer and the sheriff. “What have you done?” she
demands of me.
“Don’t you lie to me.
How did you get beat up like that?”
“I fell down.”
I guess the sheriff
knows I’m a liar now.
“You look like
shit,” Mama says.
like she was just at the wrong place at the wrong time,” the sheriff says.
“Story of her
life,” Mama smells like the inside of one of those bottles she drinks from. “Is
she under arrest?”
but I want to talk to her again. I’m pretty sure she saw the girl's murder.”
stay out of trouble,” she says looking at me like I'm a useless knick-knack she meant
to toss out, but that instead got busted into a mess that's too much work to clean up.
There’s a mob
outside the jail house. They aren’t yelling, just murmuring. I hear some if their
words. “Crazy girl,” and “It was only a matter of time before she did something
The deputy says they’ll
have a police car stationed outside our house. He says the sheriff already issued a statement
saying I couldn’t have killed the girl.
“You sure of that?” Mama asks the
A puny thing like that couldn’t strangle a kitten.”
stronger than she looks, and she ain’t all there. Anyone can see that.”
The deputy turns
to me. “You all right with going home with your Mama?” I have nowhere else
next day Mama's sleeping and not feeling well. I hear
a knock on the door. I'm afraid to answer it. Some people still think I killed Trudie,
but I look out the window. There’s a pretty lady there. She’s wearing a nice
dress and pearls. She has a patent leather purse. She is tall and pretty like a Sears Catalog
model. I answer the door.
sick,” I tell the lady.
neighbors tell me your Mama gets sick a lot.”
I don’t see how that’s any of her
business, so I don’t say anything. I just hope she doesn't notice the empty whiskey
bottle on the counter.
take a walk?”
won’t like it,” I say, “And I have chores to do.”
“I’ll buy you lunch.
How’s that? You can have anything you like. Cheeseburger. Fries. Ice cream. All of
not hungry,” I lie. There isn’t any food in the house, and I was wondering
how I could get some money so I could buy some, but I don’t like strangers, and I
don’t know this lady.
the sheriff’s sister,” she tells me.
“Is he going to arrest me?”
“No. He’s issued a
statement that you definitely did not kill that girl, and he’s got a cruiser right
down there, to make sure no one hurts you.” She pauses. “You’ve been hurt
Is she talking about
the swollen eye and the bruises from when Jeff tackled me?
look like someone carrying lots of pain,” she says.
I touch my eye. “It don't hurt much,”
call you Little Professor. They say you read books all the time, and you know about the
lives of historical characters like General Lafayette and Wild Bill Hickok and lots of
do well in school,” I admit.
“I was the
same way when I was in school. I devoured information. I learned conversational French
and German before I was ten years old.”
“You must be
she tells me. “I was too just bored by school to get good grades. You remind me of
“Let’s have that
cheeseburger.” Her smile is real nice.
Large fires. Double
burger. Chocolate malt. She orders for me.
“So tell me
about your classmates,” she says.
do you want to know? I can tell you all their names.”
“What else do you know about your classmates?”
Not much, but I don't
want to admit it.
describe any of them as bullies?”
do you mean?”
“You know what
a bully is,” she tells me.
“Every school has its
share of bullies. Who are the bullies in your school?”
food arrives, and I take a big bite of the burger. I’m
real hungry. She eats her salad slowly and watches me.
Finally she says, “I used to get bullied
when I was in school. Thank heavens I had a big brother. He saved me from more than one
Her brother is the
sheriff, so I guessed that bullies had to leave her alone.
you do get bullied. Don't you?”
don’t want to talk about it.”
“That because you’re
hurt. You don’t have many friends and you think that’s your fault.”
“Who says I don't have any friends?”
“You don’t know
much about your classmates, so I guess you can't be good friends.”
“They're just kids,
“What was Trudie
Miller like? Did she have lots of friends?”
She dressed better than the other girls,”
I say. “She had a boyfriend.”
that have been?”
wouldn't be tattling if I told her Trudie liked Jeff,
would it? I keep eating for a while. I know she wants me to say something. She's waiting
for me to say something.
I'm autistic and I think you are too. Like I told you, I was just like you when I was a
kid. We’re not weird. Or maybe we are. We're different. We’re people who don’t
make eye contact naturally. Is that so bad? If we find something boring, we find a
way not to do it. But we’re smart and very focused. Sometimes we get blamed for things
other people do. We’re often loners, so that makes us easy targets of bullies. You
and me, Mandy, we’re both autistic. You’d have to be evaluated, and I can arrange
that, but the sheriff noticed it right away. You reminded him of me, his autistic baby
autistic people unable to function?”
Some of us are high-functioning.”
said we were weird. I thought maybe I could grow up to be rich and famous, but if I'm always
going to be weird.... I don't know. How do we get people to like us?”
start by you telling me who killed that girl.”
“He’s popular. The kids
don’t like me. They'll believe him, and they'll hate me for accusing him.”
“Do you think he should get away with murder?”
probably knows you saw him. He could come after you
and Bobby, that's my brother, can't justify having a cruiser follow you around forever.”
“He won't do anything.
It'll be my word against his. He'll say I'm lying.”
probably increase the bullying. Or arrange for you to have a bad accident. He already killed
doesn't think enough of me to kill me.” I finish
my chocolate malt and thank her.
don't want Jeff to get away with this, but what can
I do? The other kids hate me enough as it is. No one will believe me. They never believe
I think all that
food upset my stomach and then I realize, it isn't the food. I'm scared.
The cruiser has left. Mama says it scares her
friends away. Her friends are guys she picks up in bars. The latest boyfriend moved out.
I think all that attention scared him. He might be wanted by the cops. Mama said he had
a police record.
People watch me now.
They think I am even more of a freak, than they thought I was before. Someone spray painted
“FREAK” across the front of our house. They spray painted KILLER on the sidewalk.
“You can't stay out of
trouble, can you, girl?” Mama said when she noticed the writings. She's pretty upset
about the boyfriend moving out.
I think about skipping
school and going to the library to read, but someone will tattle on me. I walk around the
woods. The trees and the paths scare me after what happened to Trudie. Suddenly Jeff is
walking beside me. He gives me a shove that almost knocks me down. “Hey Fleabag,”
“My name is
is dirtbag.” He shoves me again. “Don't talk back to me. You're a dirtbag.
You got that? Say it. I'm a dirtbag.”
“And a snoop.
What were you doing watching Trudie and me? You some kind of a pervert stalker?”
“I catch you snooping again, I'll ring
that ugly neck of yours. You understand?”
I tell him. He gives me a good shove and walks away.
I don't think he'll
kill me. I'm not worth the bother. But if I'm not worth the bother of killing,
then why am I worth the bother of bullying? He knows no one will believe me. But
if I do tell, he'll at least be suspected. I am a danger to him.
The nice lady, the
sheriff's sister, said Jeff might arrange for me to have a bad accident.
I think about television.
What would Wyatt Earp or Cheyenne do? Wyatt Earp locks up bullies and Cheyenne punches
them until they stay down. I don't have those options.
I think about last
week's Sugarfoot episode. Sugarfoot hid in a tree and jumped on top of the bad
I'm not good at
climbing. But I could do it. At least I'll be safe up in the tree tops. No, I
won't be safe there either. Jeff can climb better than I can.
I think about running fast behind him, and knocking
What good would any
of that do?
He'd just beat me
up. I can't think of any way to stop Jeff or other bullies.
I'm real scared. When I go to bed, I don't sleep.
I think every noise is Jeff coming to get me.
I have to stand up to him. I must do it where
there are witnesses. I can't let him kill me or anyone else. He killed Trudie. She was
mean to me. They all are, but I can't let him kill anyone else.
In class, I'm really
scared. I hate to speak up because the other kids make fun of me if I have the
wrong answer. Even if I have the right answer, they make fun of me. They don't
is talking about the Revolutionary War. Those Boston Sons of Liberty had little
chance of winning a war against Britain, the most powerful nation on earth. I
wonder if Paul Revere and Dr. Warren were scared.
know I have to speak up. I swallow and feel the lump
in my throat. I have to go to the bathroom. It's almost recess time.
I stand up. “If you
have something to say Mandy, raise your hand,” Mrs. Stallmaster tells me.
I stare at her. I
am not sure my voice will come out.
stands up. “Tell her to sit down, Mrs. Stallmaster,”
he tells the teacher. She likes him. She'll listen to him, but not to me.
“He…he, he,” I begin.
“What are you
a donkey or something?” Jeff asks me. The other kids giggle.
her,” I say. “Jeff killed Trudie.”
“She's lying,” Jeff says.
“I think you should sit
down, Mandy.” Mrs. Stallmaster says.
bet they found peanut shells under the body,”
I say. “He's always eating peanuts. He was eating peanuts when he killed her.”
Jeff gives me a hard push. I
fall right over my desk and I hit the floor hard. He runs out the door.
The kids are saying.
“She's lying.” and “She's making it up.”
Mrs. Stallman sends the others out to recess.
“Are you making up stories, Mandy?”
is such a good boy.”
“No. he isn't.”
call your mother, and have her take you home.”
“I can get home on my
own,” I say.
to Jeff tomorrow in class.”
I say. I say it louder than I intended. I walk out
Going home, I move
slowly, Jeff could be hiding in trees. He could come out of nowhere and kill
me. There's no one else around. I'm still scared. Just as scared as I was in
I think, he could
be waiting for me. He could be in my house.
check each room. Mama's asleep in her room, but no one
else is in the house. Then I call the sheriff's office. I tell the sheriff what happened.
Then I sit on the couch and cry.
has been arrested for Trudie's murder, and he's headed
for reform school and maybe prison after that. The nice lady, the sheriff's sister, says
he'll discover a whole new level of bullying there. The coroner had wondered about peanut
shells on and around the body. Mystery solved. The other kids still don't like me much,
but they know I told the truth. And sometimes I see expressions of respect on their
|Art by Lonni Lees © 2019
by M.A. De Neve
People Helping Animals in Need.” I told the caller. “How may I help you.”
Calls to the cat rescue where I volunteer are routed to my home phone during the day.
how are you?” the caller didn’t wait for me to answer. “I want to report
animal abuse. There’s this woman who lives near me. She must have at least a dozen
“You need to report animal abuse to the
police,” I told her.
“I did. They told me to call you.”
“What seems to be the problem?”
“She’s got too many cats.”
does she live? Some areas don’t put restrictions on the number of animals people
“That doesn’t make it right.”
“So you think this person you are calling about is a collector?”
“Someone who takes in more animals than
she can care for. It’s what we call a collector.”
“Yes, that’s what she’s doing.
She needs to be arrested.”
“We’re a rescue
group,” I told her. “We rescue animals; we don’t arrest people.”
you can get the police involved. That’s what I need you to do.”
sighed. “What’s the address of this lady with too many cats?”
rattled off an address.
“Thank you for calling PRAIN,” I hung
up. That caller lives across the street, and she’s been trying to get me in
trouble for taking care of too many cats. Maybe she doesn't know that I work with a rescue
group, but why doesn't she come over here and talk to me? Why is she always trying to get
me in trouble?
Neighbors. I got up to pour myself another
cup of coffee.
The PRAIN line telephone rang again.
Sergeant Lisa Patterson
of the police department told me she had a complaint.
neighbor again. She keeps calling PRAIN expecting me to investigate myself.”
laughed. “Hey, we know you’re a legitimate rescue. This one’s different.
A lady over on Parkview has over two dozen cats. At least that’s the complaint.”
got me beat.”
“Thought you’d like to know there’s
another crazy cat lady out there. Think you can drive over there and check it
out? See if you can help her?”
“Sure, give me the address.”
put a light sweater on over my “Crazy Cat Lady’ t-shirt and walked to my car.
The drive was a short one. I pulled in at the address Sergeant Lisa had given me. I rang
the door bell. No answer. But I heard scurrying inside. Maybe the sound of the doorbell
scared the cats. It sounded like there were several cats inside. I noticed a cat nervously
peeking at me through the window. After a few minutes, I knocked instead of using the
door bell. No sense disturbing the pride.
Again, I got no answer;
I walked around to the backyard. A boy, seventeen or eighteen, sat at a patio table some
distance from the house. He wasn’t moving. Maybe he was sleeping. “Hello,”
I called. He didn’t answer.
A woman came out of the
house, “Go away, just go away.”
Are you the lady who lives here? I just wanted to talk to you about
“I don’t have any cats.”
kitchen window, several cats stared at me. They looked frightened. Something was off here.
What was it? “I’m not here to judge. I rescue cats myself, so I keep several
in my home. I’ve got ten now.”
“Well I do
have cats, but that's none of your business, now is it?”
want to see if you need any help. We can provide spay or neuter operations and shots.”
don’t need any of that.’
expensive, and help is out there.”
“I said I don’t
need help. I have some income and Social Security. My cats are adults and they’ve
all been altered. I got help from Animals And Us.”
a good rescue group,” I told her. “I know them.”
then the kid at the picnic table toppled over and I noticed the knife in his back. “Oh
my god,” I hurried over to check his pulse. “Call 911,” I shouted.
didn’t do it. I didn’t do it.” she said. “I found him like that
He was dead and ice cold. I took my cell phone
from my purse, and I made the call.
Sergeant Lisa Patterson showed up after
the ambulance. We talked. “It's not the neighbors,” Lisa told me. “Some kids
called the police several times about her cats.”
been in the house, but the cats I've seen look well-cared for. She was working with another
rescue. Her pets are up-to-date on shots and they're all spayed or neutered.” I had
already called Animals And Us to check her out. She seemed to be a middle-aged cat lady
“It's a case of kids trying to get an old
lady in trouble.” Lisa sighed.
“Don't I know about that. What was he
doing in her yard?” I nodded toward where the body had been.
“Officers are talking to the neighbors
and to the boy's parents. We've just begun the investigation.”
“She wouldn't kill anyone unless she or her cats were threatened.”
“And you know this because...”
“It takes a
crazy cat lady to know one. But the boy looks athletic.”
player on the varsity team.”
probably sixty something. And where did she get the knife? It's the kind of knife a hunter
or a kid would have.”
“Anyone can buy a utility knife. Check
out Amazon and eBay,” Lisa said.
“But the buyers
are outdoorsmen, not little old ladies.”
“Look, I don't
think she did it either,” Lisa began.
“I know she
didn't do it.” I told her.
“The kid was
probably a bully and she felt threatened. Self-defense?”
If the kid was
a bully, I wondered who else he victimized.
When I went into
the house to talk to the cat lady who lived there, I saw a girl of about 15 scooping poop
from a large litter pan. “Do you live here?” I asked her.
but I like Mrs, Avery, and I like her cats. My dad won't let me have another cat after
I lost my Rizzo. She was so pretty, a calico. So I come over here and help Mrs. Avery's
“Did you know the victim?”
Bobby? He goes to the same school that I do.”
a nice-looking young man. I bet a lot of girls liked him.”
me. I don't like anyone who hates cats.”
“How do you
know he hated cats?”
“He did things to
cats. Tormented them. Hurt them.”
Did you witness some of the things he did?”
show off. He'd show us videos of cats he hurt. He...He...” Tears flooded her eyes,
and she couldn't say more.
“You should have reported him.”
“I did. His parents laughed and said, 'boys will be boys.'
Lot of good talking to them did.”
“You could have gone to the police,” I
told her. But I realized that if he was torturing cats and video taping it, he
wouldn't have been showing the pictures to parents or police. “I'm sorry,” I
said. “Seeing those pictures must have been awful. And the cats...” I could
barely think about what that boy might have done to different cats.
The girl shrugged. “Is Mrs. Avery going to be arrested?”
“I don't think so. You knew this boy,
this Bobby, from school. Do you know anyone—besides cat lovers—who might have
wanted to hurt him?
“He's popular. The other kids like him.”
didn't know what he did to neighborhood cats?”
popular and good looking. People like that get away with things. He was giving Mrs. Avery
a tough time about her cats. He wanted to get her in trouble.”
he do things like that to other people?”
did he cause trouble?”
said he had my cat Rizzo. She ran away, and and...” the girl sobbed. “He had
this video... and... So this morning, one of Mrs. Avery's cats was out on the lawn and
Bobby...Bobby was going to... I couldn't let him do it.” She sobbed. “He hurt
my Rizzo and I couldn't let him hurt another cat.”
I didn't ask
her if she killed him. I didn't have to. I couldn't imagine what seeing a video of her
beloved cat being tortured might have done to her. And if he was threatening another cat...
“Are you going to tell?” she asked me.
“No,” I said. I hoped Mrs. Avery wouldn't tell either.
I was sure she wouldn't. We crazy cat ladies are not the kind of people who get other people
We aren't tattle tales.
|Art by Ann Marie Rhiel © 2019
ORDER UP: ONE ALIBI TO GO
By M.A. De Neve
My customers at Country Kitchen Cafe wear their business name on the backs of shirts
and jackets. First names are embroidered above the pocket on the front of the shirt. I
start learning about them as soon as I meet them. Joe from the heating and cooling company
has three kids. He shows me their school pictures. Debbie is substitute teacher and Weight
Watcher. Bill is a retired cop. Amy works at Subway.
Susie is a widow. She needs to get out more, do things and meet new people. She tells me everywhere she goes, she’s
reminded of her husband Denny. “We used to do so many things together.”
wouldn’t want you sitting at home every night watching television,” I tell
“There are just too many reminders everywhere,” she signs and looks
into her coffee cup as if she can see her late husband in there.
need to get far away. Go on an exotic vacation to Africa or China.”
laughs. “Don’t I wish I could afford it.”
the waitress. I like my customers; I talk to them, draw them out, find out as much as I
can about what’s going on in their lives. We’re family.
One day this expensive woman came in. I don’t know much about purse
and shoe designers, but I know quality and this woman was wearing expensive everything.
Her nails were a pale pink, but perfectly shaped; her hair was an auburn halo. She must
go to those salons that charge hundreds of dollars for haircuts.
must have struck the lottery,” Barb, the other waitress whispered.
nodded. We have a few professional women customers. They rely on easier styles, and wear
comfortable clothes. Unless they work in sales,
they don’t walk around on five-inch heels all day.
Betty, the sales lady, takes off her heels and wears sneakers in here. Maybe this
woman didn’t win the lottery, but she’d either been born into great wealth
or she married money. I decided she must
be married to a king or something.
This is a working-class cafe. The lady stood out. But why was she here?
She ignored Barb whose turn it was to take a customer; she used her index finger
to summon me to her table. I hate it when people do that. She ordered coffee and then after
I brought it to her table, she told me to sit down.
What am I? A dog? I figured I’d get a good tip, so I sat down opposite her.
She asked me questions about me. How long had I worked there? Did I like waitressing? Did I have a family living close by? Did I
have a roommate? Strange. Few customers are interested in the waitress. Usually they don’t
even want to know my name unless they want to complain.
But she got my name, age and educational background, all before she took a sip of
the coffee. I was surprised she didn’t ask for my Social Security numbers.
you have a boyfriend?” she asked.
It was time to turn the conversation. “You know somebody?”
“I know lots of people. I’m looking to hire a smart girl. Someone like you to come work for me.”
“Travel. Make some money.”
“I’ll need more of a job description?”
handed me a business card, the fancy kind in two bold colors orange and black - and with
raised letters. “I want you to be there tomorrow. What time do you get off work here?”
need to know a little more before I make appointments.
Just what are you inviting me into here?”
“I can use you.”
“I don’t doubt you can - use me.” People use each other all the
time. It’s a fact of life. “It says
here you’re an entertainment specialist. What kind of entertainment? It isn’t
what they call adult entertainment, is it? Kinky?”
She laughed. “No, this is not so-called adult entertainment or anything
so crass. I work with rock bands. Actors. Movie stars.”
what would I be doing with all these rock bands and movie stars?”
be making money.” she told me. She left a hundred-dollar bill on the table and left. She hadn’t finished her coffee and the bill
didn’t even come a whole five dollars. I paid for her coffee from my tips. I pocketed
the hundred and the business card. Her name was Luella Janice Thurman. On my way home from
work, I stopped at the library and looked her up.
Interesting. No wonder she could afford such
great-looking, expensive clothes. She might make a good employer. But why me? I figured I’d play along for a while. What did I have to lose?
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to her office the next day. She was just exiting the building when I arrived.
“My car’s over here,” she said. “We have some appointments.”
walked toward a new black Mercedes. I stood on the sidewalk staring.
Thurman…” I began
“Oh get in.” she said.
“We’ve got work to do. And call me Lou.”
exactly do you want me to do?”
“Get in the car, and I’ll tell you.”
hour later I still had no idea what she wanted me for, but I was having a great time. She
drove me to a beauty parlor. A shampoo girl whose only job was to shampoo rich ladies’
hair massaged my scalp with something that smelled like apricots. Then I was getting a
fresh color rinsed in my hair and a cut. I looked great when they were finished. I looked as good as Mrs. Thurman - Lou.
the next stop I got a pedicure and a manicure. This was decadent.
Surely she wasn’t still tipping me for the coffee that she didn’t even drink.
are you doing this?” I asked Lou as she paid my bill and generously tipped the nail
stylist. I still hadn’t gotten any
answers. “Isn’t it obvious? You
need the right look if you are going to work for me.”
drove me a cosmetic shop and bought me new makeup. “Honestly, what is this about?”
“We’ll go to my apartment next. You can wear my clothes.”
“I can? Why? For what?”
When we got to her apartment, she threw open the doors to a long walk in closet.
You’re going on a Caribbean Cruise.”
“Pick out what you want to bring with you.”
need to know more about what I’m getting into,” I said. “What is this
“We’re about the same height and very close in weight. Now our hair
is almost exactly the same color and it has the same cut. You could pass for me.”
“Why would I want to?”
“Famous people have doubles.” she said. “You will be my double.”
do you need a double?”
“All sorts of reasons. Are you in or not?”
not an actress.”
“You don’t need to be. People don’t scrutinize me that much. I’m
wealthy and outside of my profession, I am not famous. Smile, be courteous and remember
that you are me.”
“That’s all I have to do is smile and be courteous?”
I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on this cruise, but I picked out a few items
from her wardrobe just for the fun of it. I could always give them back. Trying things
on was fun. She handed me a package bulging with new bras, nylon stockings and panties. “These
should fit,” she told me.
“That bra,” she nodded toward my chest, “doesn’t
do much for you.”
Darn, it was one of the more expensive bras at the dollar store, and I always thought
I looked good in it. (If you’ve never been
to a dollar store, you might not know that some items cost more than a dollar. I buy bras at Big Dollar on Maple and
actually pay up to five dollars. I’m a
She handed me a copy of her driver’s license, a copy of her passport, and
a credit card. “There’s a thousand-dollar limit on it,” she explained.
“Don’t overdo the shopping.”
“I won’t need to buy anything.”
“I want you to buy some things. The credit card receipts establish location.”
Here’s the deal she offered me. I was going on a Caribbean
cruise, all expenses paid. I was to be seen only enough to establish my
presence or rather her presence. I’d get five thousand dollars cash before I
went and another five thousand when the job was done.
“Don’t call attention to yourself,” she instructed. “Just be there. Order room service and sign
for it. Use my name. We’ll practice my signature, Wear sunglasses as much as
you can when you are outdoors. Our eyes are different.”
“Why am I doing this?”
“That’s my business,” she told me.
my business if… if…. You aren’t doing anything illegal are you?”
course not. All famous people have doubles. It lets us go incognito
sometimes. It’ll give me freedom.”
wanted to remind her that she wasn’t famous, but I decided to play along. I needed
a vacation. As far as staying in my room
and doing little more than making my presence known with small purchases, I wasn’t
going to do that. She wanted me to establish
location. That’s what I’d do.
I bought a new iPhone with some of my advance money, not
that I had anyone I wanted to call. I
was interested in its camera.
I had a blast. I met the captain and as many other
passengers as I could. I kept my real driver’s license and a credit card with
my real name on it sewed inside one of my new bras.
Back home I unloaded my purchases in my real apartment. I
barely got in the door and my phone was ringing. “Very good job,” Mrs. Thurman
said. “You made enough purchases to establish my identity. Very good. I take it
you kept a low profile.”
did she define low profile? I hadn’t put a lamp on my head or danced naked on
the tables. As far as I knew she had no reason to complain about my
performance. I’d already returned the credit card and copies of the driver’s
license and passport per her instructions.
“You’ll find a money order for five thousand dollars cash
in your mailbox,” she told me. “I know
I can count on your discretion.”
“Of course,” I agreed. I didn’t add that my discretion
depended on what she’d been up to while I was gone.
When I went back to work at the restaurant, my customers
asked how I’d liked visiting my family. I don’t have a family; I’m divorced and
I haven’t seen my ex-husband in over five years; my parents were killed in an
automobile accident when I was still a teenager. But a home visit had been my
excuse for taking two weeks off.
When I got my break, I found a discarded tabloid magazine
someone had left behind. Johnny Mick the rock singer was dead, murdered, shot
to death inside his apartment. I opened the magazine and started reading the details.
He must have known his killer. He’d let someone inside the apartment. There were
no signs of a struggle.
After I finished reading the article, I folded the magazine
and placed it under the counter. We had an unusually busy lunch rush that day,
but Barb and I managed to get everyone served.
When Bill, the retired cop, came in, I sat at the counter
beside him. “I have a story to tell you,” I began. “I was involved in Johnny
“I assassinated JFK,” he said. “I stood at that window at
the school book depository building and I …”
“I’m serious,” I pulled out the tabloid magazine and
pointed to the article on Johnny Mick. “His marriage was on the rocks. He was
getting a divorce.”
“You read this trash?”
“It’s all true. His wife, Louella Thurman, would be a
suspect, but she was on a Caribbean cruise.”
“If she was on a cruise, she got an alibi. Of course, she
could have hired the job out.”
“She hired the job out, all right.
She hired me.” I took out my iPhone and
showed him my pictures. “Here’s me putt-putting at a miniature golf course on
the ship. Here’s me at Guy’s Burgers. Here’s me…” I showed him picture after
picture. I showed him the picture of Johnny’s Mick’s wife in the tabloid. “She
looks like me. Notice the manicure. I held my hands in front of him. “She paid
“So what,” Bill said. “You look like Johnny Mick’s wife.
Nice haircut, by the way. You went on a cruise the same time she did.”
“It’s quite a coincidence, isn’t it? I wasn’t supposed
to do anything in my own name, but I didn’t follow orders. I made credit card
purchases, a dozen of them using my own card. It’s called ‘establishing
location.’ ” I had transferred some of the cash she gave me into my account
before I left.
“It still don’t prove she wasn’t on the cruise with you.”
but someone else was on the cruise with me.”
At that moment Susie came in. I’d called her and asked her
to come to the restaurant. I showed Bill
my pictures again. Susie, the widow from a few blocks over, was there with me
in several photos.
Susie came over and sat with us. “We had such a good
time. She’s been after me to go out and
have fun again. Thank you, for paying my way,” Susie smiled.
Bill took us to the police station and we talked to
detectives. Mrs. Thurman or should I say Mrs. Mick denied my charges, but I knew
the captain’s name. She didn’t. She really should have researched better. I
also had Susie my witness who’d been with me for the entire cruise. She had watched
me sign Louella Thurman’s name to receipts for room service and for small purchases.
Lou Thurman Mick hadn’t specified that I take no one with me. And I really did keep
a low profile. I did the same things other cruisers did.
Susie was grateful. She met a nice businessman on the trip
and they’re engaged to be married now. He’s offered me a job working for his
company. I’ll make over twice as much as I did as a waitress.
I got to keep all the money and the clothes Mrs. Thurman
gave me and all the purchases I’d made. I also got money from the tabloids for
telling my story.
Crime does pay. At least it did for me and Susie.
By M.A. De Neve
computer was an old, cheap unit that her neighbor Ronnie had rescued from a recycle bin.
He had restored most of its abilities and he was teaching her how to use it. When she needed
Internet, she used the WiFi password from the coffee shop down the street.
Ronnie's parents lived next door, she could access their wireless network when
she needed to. The computer made her feel connected. She joined the Neighbor’s
website, and she loved this convenient wonderful way to connect with people who
lived close by.
heavens for the Internet. It took her mind off her troubles. Her husband Don, ten years
older than she was, had a degenerative heart disease. His health deteriorated rapidly. Then Don started forgetting things. He had
Alzheimer’s. Sheila stopped taking him to the doctor. Medicare didn't cover much
of the expenses. They couldn’t afford the medical bills, and the doctors didn't
help. When it often came down to choices between prescriptions and groceries,
groceries won out.
Aaron, Don’s son from his first marriage, had moved in
with them after he lost his job. Aaron took over Don’s
debit card and bank statements. He said Sheila spent too much money,
and that he had to protect his dad from her overspending. What overspending? She made macaroni
and cheese from boxes or peanut butter sandwiches on stale bread. She hadn't had any new
or second-hand clothing in over ten years. But Aaron could always afford his beer.
That's mostly what he spent Don's money on. But he had somehow convinced his
dad that Sheila was the problem.
Sheila scrolled down the news page at the Neighbors
website. Aaron, who seldom took care of his dad, was in the bedroom with Don. That night he volunteered to give Don his medications. Sheila wondered
if she should be in there. She feared Aaron would end his dad’s endless suffering
by putting a pillow over Don’s head. Or maybe he'd shake too many pills into Don's
coffee. She shook her head to ward off these disturbing thoughts and turned back to her
computer screen. Surely Aaron wasn’t that desperate. What was taking him so
long? Finally, he exited his dad’s bedroom.
“He’s dead.” Aaron said. “My dad’s
dead.” He said it simply like he was
reading off the numbers from a clock. No emotion. He had never been close to
picked up the phone.
are you doing?” he asked.
“Calling an ambulance.”
“What for? He’s dead.”
“We have to call somebody.”
“Are you stupid? Dad’s Social Security
is the only income we have.”
“You need to get a job,” she told him.
“That’d be nice,” he admitted. “Then I
can kick you the hell out of here, old lady.”
“What’s left of his Social Security is
mine,” she reminded him.
“Like you’ve ever worked anywhere.” It was
true, she’d never had a job. Wasn’t keeping house enough? Don
had never done any of the housework, and Aaron certainly
wasn't going to do it.
the house wasn't hers. Half of it had belonged to Don's first wife, Aaron's mother. When
Katherine died, she'd willed her half of the house to Aaron. Sheila assumed she'd get Don's
half of the house, but she wasn't sure. Would Aaron kick her out? She didn't think she
could find a job, not at her age.
Sheila started to dial. Aaron grabbed
the phone from her. “We don’t report he’s dead. The full-amount Social
Security checks keep coming.”
“We could go to jail for that.”
He began pacing the hallway.
“What are we going to do with… with
the body?” she asked.
“Dispose of it.”
At midnight Sheila helped Aaron drag Don’s
body from the bedroom through the kitchen and into the attached garage. They hadn’t
dared turn on any lights. Don’s fat body dragged along the hallway and then through
the kitchen. He was too heavy for Sheila to hold onto for long. She’d drop him. Aaron cursed. They managed to drag the body into
Behind the house in
the neighbor's yard, a dog barked frantically. Sheila had almost forgotten about that dog.
She needed to tell Aaron...
He was busy pulling tools from the shelves.
“About the dog,”
“What about the dog?”
She glanced back at the body. Don wore blue
pajama bottoms, stinky. He’d soiled himself in his last moments before death, and
the odor drifted up towards her, causing her to gag. But she choked
that down. His t-shirt, front and back, bore an emblem of the
plumbers' union. Don had belonged to the union for over forty years.
Aaron put heavy black garbage bags on the windows.
Sheila hurried into the house. After a few minutes, a light went on in the garage. When
she heard the sound of an electric saw, she ran into the bathroom and vomited. How could he do that to his dad?
Sheila hadn’t had much of a marriage.
They had stopped caring about each other years ago. Yet she’d done the best she could
to help her husband as he became more and more helpless. She wondered what would become
of her now.
worked even before her marriage. She hadn’t seen the necessity. She’d been
pretty once. She’d lived with a series of guys, and for the most part they treated
her well until they tired of her. Don had stayed longer than most. Then he married her,
and they’d been happy for a while. Long ago he’d tired of her, but they were
both getting older by then and they clung to each other like old rags.
Old rags reminded her of the clothes Don wore
when they dragged him into the garage.
She turned on the computer and typed in the address of the Neighbors
website. Sheila scrolled down the page. It took her mind off what was happening in the
garage. She didn’t get her nails done anymore, so she didn’t need five percent
off on the service. Someone needed a child or pet gate. She didn’t have one to sell
or give away. Ronnie, the neighbor who'd gotten her the computer, offered computer lessons
at reasonable rates. He'd been teaching her for free. She loved that kid.
Nelson who lived several houses down the next street had again organized a group of local
singers to walk around the neighborhood singing Christmas carols. What was new about that?
Doris brought her singers around every year. It was always a real nuisance to
get Don up and dressed so he could listen.
She’d told Doris that Don needed his rest. But
Doris had reminded Sheila and Aaron about how happy
Don had been while he listened to them sing. What would she and Aaron
do if the singers came around again this year?
Aaron came back into the house and asked for
more plastic bags.
out,” she told him.
don’t have any money.”
He handed her a five, his hands bloody
from the work he'd been doing in the garage. She grabbed the money by its edges and took a paper towel to clean
buy many bags.”
handed her a few ones and some change.
She looked at the clock; it was after two a.m.
“I don’t know what’s open.”
“The gas station down the street. They
sell groceries and garbage bags. Get a couple boxes and get some bleach too.” She
grabbed her car keys and left.
The clerk wished her happy holidays. “Surprised to see
you out so late,” he said. “I see you joined the Neighbor’s site.”
She placed the bags and the bleach on the counter.
me you’re cleaning this late at night. Guess
when you’re retired, you do things on your own schedule. How’s Don?”
she said. It wasn't a lie. He was just as
dead now as when she’d left the house.
But Don was in pieces now. Aaron had taken an
electric saw and...
she came home, the kitchen table was covered with items from the freezer.
“You’re putting him in there?” she
trembled as she asked. “In the freezer?”
She’d never be able to put food in there again. Not that it mattered
much to her. The freezer was used for deer meat after Aaron and his friends went
hunting each year. Sheila hated the taste of venison, but sometimes she got so hungry,
she’d eat anything.
any better ideas?”
are we going to do with all this deer meat?”
“There's a big dog in the yard behind
us. Toss the meat over the fence. That might keep him quiet.”
“Not a good idea. That dog belongs to
a cop,” she told him.
not a cop.”
new girlfriend is. And I think her dog’s a canine officer.”
Aaron swore and then he took the bags and disappeared
back in the garage. “We'll have to
throw out the venison.”
next night Sheila drove Aaron and a trunk full of plastic bags around the county. Thank
heavens he didn't expect her to help dig the holes.
While Aaron busied himself with the shovel,
she brought up the Neighbor's website on her iPod. Actually, it was
Ronnie's old iPod. He'd given it to her. The Pleashette's posted
pictures of their Christmas decorations. Joan
Lankford posted homemade gifts for sale. That
woman was always crafty. Bob posted pictures
of Connie, his new girlfriend and her dog.
Aaron buried a bag in an ex-girlfriend's yard. He buried a bag in his old boss’s yard.
He buried bags in several local parks including the one five blocks down the street.
Burying pieces of a dead person is hard work.
The pieces must be buried deep, so they’d never be found. When Aaron ran out of places,
he dropped Sheila off at home, and took the rest of the bags to a friend’s hunting camp. Deep in the woods he buried the remaining
The Social Security
checks went into direct deposit. As Don’s wife, Sheila’s name was on the account,
but Aaron had long ago added his own name. Sheila
thought about finding a job, but she was 68 years old and she had never worked.
She didn’t know how to start looking.
Mr. Opolka down the street was looking for a cleaning lady one day a
week. Maybe she could do that. Wouldn't she have to keep up the myth of staying
home and caring for her husband? If only Aaron would get a job. But then he'd probably
kick her out.
Bob Wixom, the neighbor whose yard sat directly
behind theirs, posted pictures of himself and his fiancé, Connie Sanders. She was a police
officer, and along with her picture, Bob posted several photos of her dog, Axe of the canine
The news hit her hard
and suddenly. POLICE. DOG. CANINE UNIT. She'd seen all those words before. Suddenly they
screamed at her. She remembered the dog
barking the night Don died. She
couldn't remember if she'd told Aaron about the police dog.
She'd seen the huge German shepherd playing
in Bob's yard. God help us, she thought.
There’s two cops living behind us. At least she hadn’t given the dog the meat
from the freezer like Aaron told her to. That would have been a big mistake.
She showed Aaron the post.
“Don’t panic,” he told her.
“It’s a police dog. He’ll smell the
blood. He’ll know something bad happened here.”
“People die all over the place. Even if
the dog can figure out something, you think a dog can talk? Worst he could do is bark in
front of our house.”
few days later when Connie walked Axe past the house, Sheila was outside getting the mail
and Aaron was cleaning out the trunk of his car. Connie introduced herself. The dog barked
furiously and jerked toward the car. Aaron swore.
“He’s not dangerous, is he?” Aaron
very well-trained.” Connie squinted as if the sun were in her eyes.
“Tell him to stay away from me and the
car.” Aaron ordered. Aaron
wanted to slam the trunk lid closed shut, but hesitated.
Would closing the trunk look suspicious?
“You don’t have drugs in there do you?”
Connie smiled a clearly fake smile.
“Ha. Ha,” Aaron clutched his beer
bottle. “Just keep that dog away from my property. I don’t like dogs.”
“Is he one of those dogs who sniffs drugs?”
a cadaver dog. He finds bodies.”
Aaron choked on his beer in mid-swallow.
“We live right behind you,” Connie
said. “I just moved in with Bob. We're going to be married.”
“I read Bob's post in the Neighbors website,
and I've seen your dog in Bob's yard.” Sheila
tried to smile.
strained at his leash.
don't like living next to a dangerous animal,” Aaron said.
“Axe shouldn’t bother you.” Connie smiled,
“Actually Axe is quite the hero. He’s the one who found that body in the trunk
on the car in the long-term parking lot at the airport. He helped us solve a
very difficult murder case, didn’t you, boy?” she patted Axe’s forehead. “He's
worked earthquakes and fires. He does a terrific job. He's
probably one of the best cadaver-sniffing dogs in the
Axe strained to get
at Aaron’s car. “I don’t know what’s gotten into him. He’s
usually not like this.” Connie moved
closer to the car like she wanted to see what was in the trunk. She strained to handle
the dog. “The real estate agent told me an older couple lived here with their son.”
husband’s ill,” Sheila said. “This is my stepson. Aaron's Don’s
son from his first marriage.”
“I’d like to talk to your husband
sometime,” Connie said. “I like to get to know all the neighbors.”
“He’s real sick. He don’t see visitors
Connie moved on.
Axe became a local celebrity when the newspaper ran an article
about the canine unit.
“Hi, Mrs. Herbert.
Ready for your computer lesson?” It
was Ronnie, the neighborhood nerd, who'd helped her so much with the computer.
“Can we skip the lesson today?” she
asked. “I've got a splitting headache.”
“Sure. Mom made some lemon bars, and she'll
bring them over later. They're your husband's
they are. But he's sleeping now. Tell your
mom that she doesn't have to bake for Don. He barely... He hardly... So...” Ronnie's
mom would want to see Don. She'd want to talk to him.
And Sheila couldn't even finish sentences anymore when it came to talking about
Don. Why hadn't she reported it when he died? How had he died? She still wasn't
sure that Aaron hadn't killed his dad, and now Don was buried in pieces all
over town. If anyone found him, they'd think
he'd been murdered.
“It's okay,” Ronnie said. “We can have a computer
lesson tomorrow. I wanna go to the park anyway. Something's happening down there. Jeffie
said that police dog, the one that lives back there,” he nodded toward Bob's yard,
“found some pieces of a body buried there by the swings. Scary stuff, huh?”
“It sure is, Ronnie. It sure is.”
As soon as Ronnie left, she pulled up the website
and read the posts.
“What's happening at the park? There's police cars all over and yellow crime tape.”
Comment: “I don't know, but there's dogs
there too. Police dogs.”
Comment: Did someone call Bob? Maybe he knows what's happening.
His girlfriend's got one of those police dogs. She's probably there with that big dog of
dog's just for sniffing corpses. You don't think there's a body buried there, do you?”
“I heard that's exactly what it is. A body in the park.”
Comment: “Maybe they found Jimmy Hoffa.”
Late that afternoon the newspaper
arrived. Sheila stole it from Bette's driveway.
She'd put it back before Betty got home from work.
The news story was too new. She didn't expect
much. But the story was there.
BODY FOUND IN PARK. “Axe, one of our
community's canine officers and his handler Connie Sanders made a surprising
discovery in Memorial Park. While
Sanders was off duty and walking her canine partner, Axe started barking uncontrollably
and then dug up parts of a body.”
Aaron was furious. “That damn dog. Someone needs to shoot
“What are we going
“What can we do?”
“Do we have enough money to move?”
Aaron didn't answer. Was he thinking about leaving
her here with this mess? She hurried
to return the newspaper. Aaron went out to open the garage door. He’d have to keep
their car locked inside from now on.
“Deck the halls with boughs of holly.”
Doris Nelson’s choral group had arrived. Damn. Sheila meant to call Doris and
make sure she skipped Don’s house this year. She'd forgotten, but it was too
“Get rid of them,”
sing so nice, and we don’t want them to get suspicious.”
“Just get rid of them.”
Sheila clapping her hands. “Bravo. Bravo.
That was lovely. You should all be professionals.” She hoped her
smile looked real.
“You look so tired, poor dear.” Doris
said. Then she turned to her singers. ‘Let’s go inside and cheer Don up.”
Sheila barred the way. “He’s napping,”
she lied. “The doctor left several medications. They knock him right out.”
“Is he in pain?”
“He wasn’t, but now you’ve probably woke
“I’ll go in and apologize.”
“No,” Aaron and Sheila both shouted.
Aaron moved over to help Sheila block the doorway.
“We could sing a few more songs. He'll
hear them better if we're all in the house. Goodness it's cold out here.” Doris
folded her arms across her chest and feigned a shiver.
“No. No. Thank you. He shouldn’t be
shook her head. “What’s gotten into you, Sheila? You always let us sing for
Don before. And now you're jumpy, and you don't look well.”
Just then three police cars pulled up. Connie
was in uniform today, and Axe barked like a puppy.
“Sheila Herbert, we have a warrant to
search your car, house and garage.”
“What’s this about?” Aaron asked as if he
older male officer answered. “The body Axe dug up included part of a t-shirt with
a local plumbers unit logo on it. Mrs. Herbert, your husband belonged to the union.”
“So what?” Aaron said. “Lots of men
belonged to that union. They all have t-shirts.”
The officer pointed at the dog straining at
his leash. “Axe seems to think the
body he found came from here.”
“What the heck does that stupid dog know about anything?”
Axe bounded through the open garage door with
Connie and another officer right behind him. Axe came back seconds
later with a bloody rag in his mouth. “Good boy,” Connie patted him. “You knew someone
died violently here.”
She turned back to Sheila. He never barks the way he did around
you and your car, unless there's been a corpse in there recently.” With a gloved hand, she pulled the rag from Axe's mouth. The Plumbers'
Union logo was clear despite the blood stains.
“We didn’t kill him,” Sheila said.
Aaron told her to shut up, but she didn’t
“He died, and
we needed the Social Security checks.” Her hands were being forced behind her, handcuffs
bit into her wrists, and someone read her her rights. Aaron struggled with the officers,
but they quickly put him down and cuffed him too.
The singers stepped back, wide eyed and some
of them open-mouthed. Doris wondered if they should sing another song. It might relieve
some of the tension.
Sheila got to use a better computer in the prison
library. She was able to keep up with events
in her old neighborhood by signing into their website.
Connie often posted pictures of her canine partner.
Axe had been awarded a gold star and had been named Police Dog of the Year. His ability
to sniff out blood and other evidence of violent death placed him among the world’s
most trusted canine officers.
By M.A. De Neve
Sheila couldn’t find her keys. Damn.
Why hadn’t the
designated driver waited until she was inside the house before he took off? She decided she’d give him a bad online
review and call Lyft the next time she decided to go partying. After a night on
the town she was in no condition to drive. At least she had gotten home.
Her purse clattered to the sidewalk. Lipstick, wallet, iPhone,
Kleenex, glasses case, all tumbled out. Some items rolled away. She dropped to her knees
and started gathering things up, but she couldn’t see much in the dark. She found
her flashlight and flicked the switch. It didn’t work. She must have forgotten to
buy batteries again. She stumbled forward. Her keys were a tangled mess. She couldn’t
find the right one in the dark. But the bedroom window was open. She hadn’t left
it that way. Maybe she had. She kicked some object in the dark. Whatever it was, she had
missed it when she gathered material from her spilled purse; she’d get it in the
morning. She stumbled toward the window, climbed inside, snagging her panty hose on the
window latch. It was dark inside, but she managed to crawl to the bed. She fell asleep.
Sheila moaned. Her mouth was dry; her head hurt. The woman who had screamed stood in the
bedroom doorway. She was probably thirty-something, but looked fifty. Her hair was pulled
back into a bun; her features distorted with anger. “Get out of my son’s bed.”
Sheila rolled over.
A wide-eyed teenage boy lay beside her, his hair ruffled. He too had just awakened.
“Bobby?” Sheila recognized one of her
“Get out,” the woman screamed. “You whore.”
“God, I must be in the wrong house.”
the boy, Bobby Benson, looked surprised. His mother pulled a cell phone from her pocket
and called the police. Sheila got up quickly. Should she rush to the window and try to
escape or try to explain? She chose the latter. “I went out last night, and I had
too many drinks. The designated driver I hired… I…He…He must have dropped
me off at the wrong address, the wrong house. I didn’t notice in the dark.”
She couldn’t find
her purse. She hoped she hadn’t left it on the lawn. She turned back to face Bobby.
His mother shouted, “I’ll have you
arrested for this.”
“It was just a misunderstanding. The designated
“Bobby, I hope you know you’re grounded
for the next hundred years.”
“Me?” the boy said. “I didn’t do
“It was all my fault or rather the designated
driver’s fault. He dropped me off at the wrong house.” She caught a glimpse
of herself in the dresser mirror. Her mascara was smeared; it looked like she had two black
eyes. Her hair so carefully styled the night before now stuck out at odd angles.
“Get out of my
house,” the woman shouted.
“Yes, of course. Could I call a cab? I
can’t find my cell phone.”
“Out.” Bobby’s mother somehow found Sheila’s
purse and flung it at her. More contents spilled out. Sheila was on the lawn
looking for her cell phone when a police car pulled up.
Mrs. Benson ran to greet
the officers. “She slept with my son last night.”
“No, I didn’t.
I just got in the wrong bed. I didn’t touch him. He didn’t touch me. At least
I don’t think he did.”
teacher; I want her arrested.”
After being fired from
her teaching position, Sheila drove a cab. She had looked for another teaching job and
attempted to straighten out the misunderstanding with Bobby’s mom and with the
school board, but so far, people preferred to believe the worst about her. Bobby
bragged to his friends about the night he spent with his teacher.
Sheila couldn’t even get a job as a substitute.
Winter brought freezing
temperatures and slippery roads. Driving a cab was a hell of a way to make a living.
She usually didn’t work the midnight shift,
but the regular driver had called in sick, and she needed the money. She had pepper spray
in her purse. She knew how to use it.
Of course, she got calls from the bars when
they closed. She preferred not to think about her own last evening in the bars. The hangover
had been terrible, and the police questioned her for hours. Bobby’s mom insisted
she was a sex offender, and wanted her listed as such. After all, Bobby was just fifteen.
Mrs. Benson wanted her sent to prison.
She pulled up in front
of the tavern door, turned off the music on her iPod down and studied the man who got into
“Where’s your car?” she asked.
“Think we can
make it there without you messing up my back seat?”
He stared at her and
swayed some more. “You want the address.”
He slurred his words, but she managed to understand.
She glanced back at
him from time to time as she drove. “How you doin’ back there, Greg?”
“You know my name.”
Instead of driving him home, she drove him far
into the country to a rest stop in a national forest.
“Where am I? This ain’t home.”
“No, Greg, it
isn’t, and you didn’t drive me home either when you were the designated driver.
She opened the car’s back car door. He fell onto the pavement.
“That’s the idea.”
M.A. De Neve
My husband’s body lay on the carpet. I hadn’t moved him. The oaf weighed
at least three hundred pounds.
Story arrived and almost tripped over one of my cats.
“I like cats,” I told him.
“How many do
“Eleven here in the apartment. There’s more upstairs in the cattery.
I run a foundation that finds homes for homeless felines. At times I might have up to a
hundred cats. When my husband collapsed, I got as many as I could into the cattery. Can’t
have them in the way now, can we?”
“In the way?”
“He obviously needs to be moved.” I nodded toward the body.
The detective looked around at the assortment of cat trees, scratching posts, cat
beds and feeders. “I admire the work you do with homeless cats. I’ve read about
“They aren’t all homeless. Many are pets, and all of them have a home
as the coroner’s staff got ready to lift the corpse. It wasn’t going to be
easy. A big guy like that. I wished they’d hurry up.
I led the detective into the living room, cats scattered
off the couch. My chairs and sofa are all covered in water-resistant fabric. We sat down.
A few cat hairs never bothered me. I hoped the officer wouldn’t worry about his cheap
“What happened?” he asked.
had a heart attack.”
“You been married long?”
“Not long. He just got out of
prison this morning.”
“How did you meet?”
“I’m curious. You’re wealthy and your husband…” A cat landed on his lap. He smiled and petted
little Fur Fuss.
was a drug dealer, a thug, and a convicted murderer. I married him when he was
on death row.”
“It must have been a surprise for you when he got out of prison this morning.”
I knew it was coming.
One of the cats
climbed a cat tree, and another shook an interactive feeder for her dinner. Yet
another cat chased a cloth mouse across the carpet. We heard a meow and a hiss,
and the sound of a toy rattling across the floor.
none of the cats get out,” I told the coroner’s assistants.
“Do you stand to gain from his death?” the detective asked.
“You can’t insure the life of a death row inmate.”
“Of course not,” he agreed.
nothing financially from his death.”
“But you get
your freedom. Surely you didn’t want to stay married to this guy?”
“My attorney already drew up the divorce papers.”
“Did you get a restraining order?”
need. I paid for the appeal. I didn’t expect him to get out, though.”
“Why did you marry a death row inmate?”
dad’s will. It says I had to be married before my 21st birthday to inherit.”
“And the will let you marry a convict?”
married Mr. Gordon, the deceased, three days before my birthday, and five months before
his scheduled execution.”
“But he got
“Some loophole. They wouldn’t have found it, but I had to hire a good
lawyer. It was my part of the marriage agreement. I had to give him something.” A
cat crawled onto my lap. I gently petted the purring animal. “Such a sweet fur ball.”
The detective got up, brushed cat hair from his suit.
husband died of a heart attack,” I told the detective.
When my husband walked into my
apartment, he got quite a shock. The cats ran right over to him, and one even
tried to climb his leg. He had a heart attack.
husband had an irrational fear of cats. It’s called Gatophobia. Poor
man. But like I told the detective, there
was no need for a restraining order.
I guess I maybe should have told him about the cats, though.
M.A. De Neve
At least three CD’s disappeared from the shelf at Denny’s
Stop and Go. Denny hadn’t sold any mini
bottles of wine, but the bin was
definitely lighter. A bottle of Maker’s Mark had found its way off the shelf.
Even cat food and razors disappeared.
Denny pushed his John Lennon glasses up closer to his
forehead and started a list of the missing items and totaled the losses.
got me a shop lifter,” he told Tony who came in for coffee each day and always stopped
for a while to chat with Denny.
Tony was short and fat;
he wore loose clothing thinking it hid the rolls of fat.
As he talked to Denny, he grabbed a candy bar and munched on it. “It’s
those dames with the big purses. That and kids with backpacks. I saw a special on TV about
it. It’s old ladies and teens who are the shoplifters.”
Tony was still leaning
against the counter munching a second or third candy bar when the old woman came in. “She’s
definitely someone to watch,” he whispered.
an old broad like her doing with a backpack,” Denny whispered back. “I thought just school kids used them for books.”
got other uses. And notice the big purse. She
can stick wine bottles
The two men watched
the woman as she walked up and down the aisles.
“Can I help you find something?”
“Just looking. Thank you, very much.”
Denny whispered. Tony nodded.
She bought a bottle
of mineral water and left.
“She knew we were watching her,” Tony said. “That’s why
she didn’t take anything.”
But then Denny noticed
two bottles of Dogfish Head, the craft beer, missing.
Whenever the old woman
came into the store Denny watched her closely. He didn’t notice her taking anything,
but afterwards, he’d find several candy bars and a bottle of expensive wine missing.
She was good at it. He’d give her that. Usually he didn’t notice the missing
bottles of wine or whiskey until she’d been gone for awhile.
Louise Martin had been widowed for just over a year.
A retired school teacher, she had adequate income
and she had always lived simply. She and her husband had saved when they were both teaching.
Now she had their savings and her Social Security. The schools offered good pension plans
and health insurance. She lived comfortably.
She didn’t have a car. Didn’t need one. She walked to the UPS
office and got her mail including second-hand books from Amazon. She shopped
mostly on line. A delivery service, delivered the groceries and the household
items she couldn’t or didn’t want to carry home with her.
Her clothes weren’t new or expensive. She
was retired. She didn’t need to impress anyone. Now that she was no longer teaching,
she liked comfortable loose clothing.
After walking to UPS
and putting her books in her backpack, she’d walk back home and stop at the convenience
store in the gas station. The store had the most interesting things. Ear buds for listening
to music, beer and wine, candy, crackers, cat food, dog treats and soda. They carried just
about everything. Usually she just brought a water and maybe some lifesavers,
but mostly she liked to just look around the store. She particularly liked all
the interesting labels on the liquor bottles.
The store sold more liquor than anything. They even
had a whole room full of craft beers and she often stopped
to admire them.
“You caught her
at it yet?” Tony asked when he stopped by.
He picked up a candy bar and started peeling away the wrapper.
it, I watch real close and yet every time she leaves, I'll find something missing.”
Tony had even followed her around the store, being real
careful not to be too conspicuous. That wasn’t easy, Tony being the fat man he was.
Tony was a good customer.
He’d always stop to talk for awhile. If Denny had to use the rest room, Tony would
watch the counter.
Louise liked the gas station/food and liquor mart. The manager
was so nice. He watched her so closely when she was in the store. He must be thinking of
her safety. She pushed a gray hair from her eyes and smiled back at him. Such a nice man. And the heavy-set man who was always there seemed
nice too. He watched her too, but didn’t seem to want her to notice.
Maybe he’d be
embarrassed if she thanked him for being so nice.
Older women were sometimes unsteady on their feet. But she wasn't one of them. She
walked every day.
“The old hag did it again,” Denny cursed the next time the
old woman left the store. “She no sooner left and there’s a carton of cigarettes
Tony nodded sympathetically.
look like no smoker.”
“Them street people all smoke.”
“What makes you
think she’s a street person?”
got no car. She walks everywhere with a backpack and a big purse.”
kleptomaniac. You know what that is. One of those people who can’t help but steal.
It’s like an illness.”
Tony walked into the parking lot. He hadn’t paid for his
coffee; he usually didn’t but if Denny said anything, he’d just say he forgot.
He got into his car and started the motor. Before he left he pulled a carton of
cigarettes and a bottle of Knob Creek from inside his jacket. He smiled thinking how
closely Denny watched the old woman while he was free to help himself. Tony drove out of the parking lot looking forward to the evening and
M.A. DeNeve is a retired college instructor, crazy cat lady,
tree hugger and bag lady. Her short
stories appeared in Over My Dead Body,
Yellow Mama, Everyday Fiction and Mysterical -E. Her novels are available
In Association with Fossil Publications