Darla parted her long blonde hair on the side, letting a segment fall like a curtain across the edge of her right eye, à la Veronica Lake. Next, a bit of vibrant red lipstick to match her nails, and she was done. She rose from her dressing table and turned to examine her profile. The black lace evening dress with the crystal-beaded neckline was more than flattering on her. Lovingly, she placed a hand on the slight swell of her belly. Barely showing, she thought to herself.
She picked up her spangled clutch and snapped it open. Darla proceeded to slip in her lipstick, mirrored compact, embossed party invitation—and her grandmother's pearl-handled derringer. Loaded, of course.
Upon arriving at the gala event, Darla made straight for the open bar. No booze for me, she reminded herself. She ordered soda water, served in a champagne flute. In the glittering twilight of the hotel’s ballroom, no one could tell it wasn’t champagne.
She turned and surveyed the well-heeled crowd milling about the various objet d’art for sale, for this 1940s-themed party was disguised as a charity fundraiser. Darla sauntered over to the one display that snagged her interest: a small sculpture of a man and woman, not embracing, but pushing each other apart. The empty space between them was shaped like a heart. How appropriate, she thought. If I had the money--
Looking through this heart-space, she spotted him. Boyd, ever dapper in his tux, though he was short and slim with thinning brown hair. He always carried the latest accessories: a monogrammed gold cigarette case, matching tiger-eye cuff-links, his statuesque wife on his arm.
Darla stared long enough to catch his attention. When their eyes met, he raised his eyebrows in surprise, then patted his wife’s slender arm and made his way towards Darla, who in turn made her way to one of the ballroom’s many patio balconies.
She posed herself against the stone balustrade, throwing her head back to better reveal her plunging decolletage. Darla sank into the eclipse of his approaching shadow.
“What are you doing here?” Boyd asked flatly.
“I was invited, remember?” Darla sighed. “You made the arrangements, yourself.”
“That was months ago,” Boyd said, smoothing his sparse hair. “Things have changed.”
Instinctively, Darla’s hand went to her belly. A protective, maternal move. Boyd’s eyes slid down Darla’s body, then rose to meet her eyes.
“I told you to get rid of it,” he said coldly. He roughly grabbed Darla’s arm and dragged her into the blue shadows on the far side of the balcony. Inside, strains of Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” wafted from the retro big band.
Now it was Boyd’s turn to lean against the balustrade. He opened his cigarette case, tapped a cigarette on the lid—one of his little idiosyncrasies that Darla once loved—lit it with his gold lighter, and blew smoke into her face.
Darla opened her clutch, and retrieved the derringer. In the moonlight, the muzzle glinted; she used it to push the hair back from her eye.
Boyd laughed. “So what are you going to do with that? You gonna cause a scene here, in front of all these fine people?” He took a long drag. “You gonna kill yourself?”
Inside the ballroom, the music paused. The MC told a joke.
“I’m not,” Darla said coolly, shoving the muzzle under his chin, “the one who’s going to die.” She pulled the trigger. From the ballroom, an uproar of laughter and applause drowned the derringer's single muted boom.
Darla shoved him over the balustrade before he could crumple to the floor. Boyd landed in a thorny hedge of bougainvillea.
Darla re-entered the ballroom, skirting the dance floor on her way to the exit. A man’s hand landed on her shoulder. She stopped as a baritone voice behind her asked, “Leaving so soon?”
She turned to face a youngish man with slicked-back black hair and a leading-man mustache. Very Clark Gable, she mused.
“Pardon my intrusion,” he grinned shyly, “but it seems you’re alone, and well, they’re about to play the last song of the evening. I was hoping you’d—”
“I’d be delighted,” Darla said, answering his unfinished proposal.
“Call me Clark,” the man said as he took Darla’s hand and swirled her onto the dance floor.
She cocked an eyebrow. “And I’m Veronica.”
The band slid into their rendition of Arty Shaw’s sultry “Nightmare.”
“What an odd choice for a final song,” Clark murmured into her hair.
“Yet when the song is over,” Darla replied huskily, “so’s the nightmare.”
Clark leaned back and locked eyes with her. Darla smiled for the first time that evening. Cocooned in the heart-beat bliss of their burgeoning attraction, neither could hear the shouts and screams rising from the outside. Even if they had wanted to.
About the author:
With a Masters in English Lit, Hillary Lyon founded and for 20 years acted as senior editor for the independent poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. When not writing, she is the assistant art director for Black Petals. She resides and thrives in the harsh but beautiful Sonoran desert of Tucson, Arizona.
The woman entered Hotel Latvija from busy Brīvības iela, took the glass-walled viewing elevator twenty-six floors, all of Rīga in summer bloom stretching out before her during the climb. In her arms she carried a bundle of carmine-red-colored bunting, the rolled cloth heavier than it should be, a weighty secret within its folds.
When she reached the top, the woman stepped off the elevator into an empty, low-ceilinged room. Nearby was the entrance to the Skyline Lounge, the tourist-friendly discotheque closed at this hour of mid-morning. She used a stolen passkey to unlock an access door and followed the stairs up past the Event Room level to the hotel’s roof.
Not a soul in sight.
Under blazing sunlight and gentle June winds, she proceeded to the roof’s southwestern side, overlooking the Freedom Monument, Esplanāde Park with its winding canal and beyond to the spires and gabled roofs of Rīga’s Old Town. Catty-corner across wide Brīvības was the Palace of Justice, trapezoidal in circumference, four stories high, its inner courtyard in view from the towering hotel top.
The woman set her bundle down against the safety rail and hiked up the cloth’s edges to make sure her weapon remained concealed. She checked the time on her mobile. 10:23.
Three stories below in Room 2401, Artem Melnikov used a specialized glass-cutting saw to open a hole in his hotel suite window. When the extracted piece came free, he pulled it inside with affixed suction cup grips and set the glass on the carpeted floor, allowing no shard to fall to pavement so far below.
He lowered himself into a sniper’s position and pointed his DXL-5 Ravager rifle into the opening he’d created, focusing his telescopic sight on the gathering inside the Palace of Justice’s courtyard, where Supreme Court Chief Justice Samuels Lediņš would speak precisely at 10:30 A.M. The press was already present, filling in the seats before the podium, only one chair empty.
Latvia’s Supreme Court had ruled. Lediņš was to announce the impending destruction of the monolithic Soviet Victory Monument across the river, a symbol in the Latvian people’s eyes of fifty years of Soviet occupation, of mass murders and mass deportations, and a still-looming threat from their neighbor to the east.
The foreign government behind Artem wanted their Soviet monuments to stand forever. And to make a point about “little country” defiance.
So, Lediņš must die. As an example.
About time. Artem had heard rumors this was an open contract, other assassins vying to earn that bounty on Lediņš. Well, nobody beats Artem to a kill.
He focused his sights. The moment Lediņš entered the courtyard…
Someone knocked on Artem’s hotel door.
At 10:28 the woman unrolled her streamer bunting along the rooftop edge, careful to keep her rifle hidden beneath the cloth. If her tip was correct, Melnikov was three floors below, gunning for Justice Lediņš.
She wouldn’t allow him the kill.
She had her own living to earn.
“Security! Open up!” repeated hotel detective Oskars Tauriņš, pounding on door 2401 for nearly three minutes.
Troubling, thought Oskars. They received two separate alerts within seconds. The security cameras caught a woman on the roof, preparing to spread some banner or streamer down the building’s side. Likely a political protest meant for the Justice Ministry across the street. Almost a daily occurrence in these troubled times. They would soon escort the protester off the premises to the nearest police station.
But the more immediate concern was this room. Situated on the side facing the Justice Ministry’s offices, hotel sensors went off whenever anyone broke the window glass. Those panes were sealed at this level and almost impossible to damage accidentally. It must be deliberate vandalism, a suicide attempt, or something much worse: a national security issue. The woman protesting from the roof would have to wait.
Oskars swiped his passkey, went inside.
A tall, thin man stepped out of the bathroom. An automatic pistol-with-silencer in his hand.
Oskars felt the impact of two slugs hitting his chest, saw the eruption of blood as they penetrated his sternum.
The last sights of Oskars Tauriņš’s life.
Artem pulled the dead man’s body into the bathroom, then pushed the couch in front of the hallway door. He pocketed his pistol, returned to his rifle at the window. Lediņš was already in the courtyard, stepping to the podium. Artem set his finger on the trigger.
A red shroud lowered over his window.
It was some sort of streaming red bunting dropped from above. Either the discotheque or the roof. He tried to push it away with the rifle muzzle, but the cloth was too heavy and enveloping to clear. He fled to another window. No, the wrong angle. And no time to cut the glass. Security would be here when their man didn’t call.
Artem pulled the key from the dead guard’s hand, shoved aside the couch, and sped out into the hall, rifle in his hands. He should flee this hotel. But five million euros and professional pride egged him on. He swiped the key card, vaulted up the stairs to the roof.
When Artem Melnikov burst through the rooftop door, the woman shot him in the head. The rubber bullet bounced off his cranium hard enough that it sent him tumbling back down the stairs to the next landing.
She cautiously followed. Found him stunned, a little broken but living. She picked up his rifle, pulled the pistol from his pocket, and retreated up the steps to a safe distance. Then she called the hotel lobby on her mobile.
“Front desk? This is Santa Ezeriņa, journalist. I’ve interrupted an assassination attempt from the roof. Yes, I’m serious. Call the Palace of Justice, the police and send someone up.” She texted her editor. What a headline tomorrow “Justice Lives!”
Santa watched Melnikov stirring. Pity if she had to shoot him again. The assassin’s had a bad day.
About the author:
William Burton McCormick is an Edgar-nominated writer of thriller and mystery fiction set mainly in Eastern Europe. He presently lives in Latvia, the setting of "Assassin's Bad Day" and his award-winning novel KGB BANKER.
Evil Eye by T. Fox Dunham
Momma Finola made a V with her index finger and thumb then aimed it at Tony Sola, who strutted out of the Lancaster courthouse, celebrating his third hung jury. “Malocchio,” she said, then gazed into his eyes, cursing the man who whacked her son. The evil eye smacked Sola in the head harder than a bat, and his bones weighed heavy. A moment later, she dropped to the sidewalk, and he got the fuck out of there: heartache.
Sola crossed the street, heading to his car, and a crow dropped some white shit into his perfect hair. He yanked out a handkerchief and used his phone as a mirror. She shouldn’t have done that, he thought. Richie Finola knew the rules of this thing. Sola had no beef with the kid, but word from their source was he flipped after getting pinched for dealing out in Gettysburg. It wasn’t personal.
When Tony got to the club on Duke Street, he excused himself from the party, stepped into the kitchen and poured some olive oil into a bowl of warm water, just like his grandmother had taught him to do. The oil coalesced into an eye, and he made the sign of the cross. The next morning, he picked up a silver horn painted red from a street vendor and wore it from a bracelet. Once he was properly secured with countermeasures, Sola walked to the club, and a Red Rose bus lost control and slammed into a brick wall, nearly crushing him. He staggered into the club and nearly collapsed.
“You having a coronary?” the boss said, then dealt a hand of poker. “Za, drive him over to the ER.”
“I just gotta sit down.”
“You need a Perrier?”
“I need a priest,” Sola said. He’d faced deranged hitmen, Feds with wiretaps and holy vigilantes, but he’d never been up against an Italian mother before, and for the first time in his life, terror burrowed so deep into his guts Sola struggled not to vomit.
“Just pull yourself together for tonight.”
“Curse or not,” he said, pouring himself a cup of coffee, “I’ll do my duty.” He sipped the cup, and the lid popped off, pouring scalding brew down his neck and chest. He yelped and dropped the cup. After he cleaned up and applied some balm to his seared skin, he took the boss aside. “Hey listen, skip. I can’t do it. She gave me the evil eye.”
“She cursed you good, eh? Well, fuck it. Get someone to buy it.”
“You can do that?” Sola said. “Fuck.”
“It’s gotta be their choice.”
Just after midnight, they parked out front of the Sheetz and watched the driver carry a coffee back to the Best Buy truck parked at the diesel pump—just like their tip said. Sola sat in the back seat and fingered a rosary in his trench coat pocket, hoping he could cure the curse with enough beads. He watched the driver flip his hat around then climb up into the cabin, where Joey Za perched in the passenger seat. They followed the truck as it pulled out onto Route 30, drove about three miles to an abandoned sunglasses factory, then pulled into a derelict warehouse.
“4K flatscreens,” the boss said. “Nothing beats an old-fashioned heist.” The truck pulled into a makeshift tunnel designed to shield GPS and alarm systems. “Balaclavas on. Fuck, I love saying that.” Bobby waited for them with a lit blowtorch. He went to work on the trailer lock.
Sola got out of the backseat, stepped in an oil streak and flipped onto his back. “Mother Mary’s c—”
“You need a full body cast, Ton’?”
“Just give me a minute.”
“Yeah, sure. Why don’t you have a nice lie down while we steal for a living?” The boss offered Sola a hand. Tony reached for it, and the boss yanked it away. The rest of the guys nearly shit themselves. “Okay. Go babysit.”
Sola pulled himself up, took out his piece then escorted the trembling driver over to a crate. He eased his sore body down next to the other man, and a splinter ripped a second hole in his ass. He yelped, jumped up and nearly pulled the trigger. The driver whimpered.
“Didn’t mean to scare you,” Sola said. “The evil eye’s a bitch.”
“I have two kids,” the driver said. “I’ll tell ‘em you knocked me out. I’ve got a poodle with eye cancer. Sammy Davis needs me! I’ll do anything.”
“Will you?” Sola said. “I’ll make you a deal. I’ll take care of you if you take my evil eye.”
“You want to give me your eye?” he said.
“Why the fuck would I give you my eye?”
“For the poodle or some shit. Maybe you like dogs.”
“No, you fucking moron. I got cursed, and I want to trade it.”
The driver hesitated then finally agreed. “What shit do I have to do?”
Sola imitated the hand gesture and tried gazing into the driver’s eyes, but the fuzz from the balaclava obscured his line of sight. He knew better than to take it off—guys who did that got pinched—but he figured he’d be dead by morning anyway. Finally, he yanked it from his head, looked deeply into the driver’s eyes and imitated the gestures until he felt the weight lift from his bones.
“Vaffanculo, Momma Finola,” Sola said.
“Is that it?”
“Yeah, but you’ve seen my face,” he said, aiming his piece.
“But you said you’d take care of me.”
“This curse is a bitch,” Sola said and put one through his eye. The driver fell over face-first onto the cold concrete.
“You’re dragging that down to the well!” the boss admonished.
Sola grabbed the driver under the shoulders, feeling like a new man, and dragged him towards the basement stairs. He thought about grabbing his wallet to find out where the guy lived so he could go put that damn mutt out of its misery, too.
About the author:
T. Fox Dunham lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with his wife, Allison. He’s a cancer survivor, modern bard, herbalist, baker and historian. His first book, The Street Martyr, was published by Gutter Books, and is in production by Throughline Films. He’s contributed to official Stargate canon with a story published in the Stargate Anthology Points of Origin from Fandemonium Books. More information at tfoxdunham.com & Twitter: @TFoxDunham
Dirtbag by Rick Homan
Why doesn’t that dirtbag shut up? All I want is a quiet ride. Is that too much to ask? Instead I have to listen to him yelling, “Do it! Do it, baby!” He just sits there staring at his phone and giggling. He must be watching porn, and he’s definitely high on something. I don’t know why they let these guys on the subway.
Now he’s holding his phone up and showing it to the woman sitting across the aisle. “Look at this,” he says. “Look!”
She keeps her eyes on her magazine and tucks her purse under her arm. The purse looks expensive.
“Hey, look at this,” the guy says, waving his phone around. “Do you do this? Huh? Do you do this?”
“No,” she says without looking up from her magazine. She’s a pretty lady with a really nice haircut.
“Aw, c’mon,” he says, like he’s being really sweet. He pushes his phone closer to her face.
From behind me a man’s voice rings out. “Hey!” A big guy comes down the aisle to the front of the car where the one with the phone and the woman are sitting. He’s not only big, he’s built, and he’s got that clean-cut look—buzz-cut, clothes pressed, shined shoes. Maybe ex-military. Maybe he’s an athlete. He’s wearing a big, heavy ring on one hand, like a championship ring.
The big guy stands there staring at the phone guy. “Did you touch her?”
“Who the hell are you?”
“Did you touch her?”
The big guy glances at the woman, “Did he touch you?”
She shakes her head.
The train slows down. We’re coming into a station. There’s no one on the platform, which isn’t unusual at this time of night.
The big guy loses his balance and grabs the bar. The phone guy jumps forward. Big guy grabs phone guy’s hand. They lean in, close to each other. They’re pulling each other back and forth.
The woman tries to scream but sounds strangled. She jumps up and runs toward me. With her coming down the aisle, I can’t see what the guys are doing.
The train stops and she runs through the door behind me. The rest of the people in the car run out the back door.
I look up front and see the big guy is still hanging onto the bar while his legs are buckling. There’s blood on his shirt.
Phone guy pushes past him, and goes out the front door. Once on the platform, he puts his hands in his coat pockets and tilts his head down, doing that walk that makes him look like he doesn’t want anybody to look at him.
The doors close, and the train moves on.
Big guy is lying on the floor. There’s blood all over.
I look out the back door of the car. No one in the next car seems to notice what happened. The same goes for the car in front.
I walk forward to see how the big guy is doing. He’s lying on his side. His eyes are open but they aren’t moving. There’s a knife on the floor.
The way he fell, one of his arms reaches out toward me. There’s that ring. It’s got a big red stone in the middle and initials on either side. It looks like there are diamonds around it. Of course it could be a knock off. But it’s bound to be worth something.
I check the car behind and the car in front. Nobody’s watching. I go down on one knee and pull on the ring to get it off his finger. It’s stuck. I lean down, spit on the ring, and twist it around a few times. It slides off his finger. Easy-peasy.
The ring in my pocket, I stand near the door, waiting for the next station, only a minute or two away. An old woman is looking at me through the door to the next car like I’m a dirtbag and I wonder what her problem is. It's not like I killed anybody, right?
About the author:
Rick Homan lives in San Francisco. Along with performing as a guitarist and leading tours at the Maritime National Historical Park, he writes mystery and suspense.
It’s a warm night in February, the songbirds singing and the box elders crawling up from their nests.
I follow May to the Concord, an old dinner theater in downtown Blackwater. The whole administration is here: Jim Bradley, Dusty Rose, Herald Convoy. And May’s new lover, Mayor Jackson Miles.
I find a spot in the overflow lot, reverse in so I can see the exit, and cut off my lights. When they leave the show, he holds her under the streetlamp, his fingers sprawled around her waist like a spider closing in on a fly. He whispers in her ear and starts kissing her neck, his hands moving south. She laughs and latches onto his shoulders.
Jackson opens the door for her, watches her legs as she swivels into the passenger seat, then closes her in and circles around to the driver’s seat. He backs out of his parking spot and takes off down Route 32, kicking up dirt and gravel as he leaves. I turn my lights back on and follow behind them.
He turns left onto the river road, snakes around every bend going sixty. I’ll confess he’s hard to keep up with. Good thing I already know where they’re going.
I cut off my lights as I turn down his driveway, a quarter-mile stretch of river stone surrounded by evergreens and paddock fencing. I stop near the end and park between two pine trees. He pulls around the driveway and stops in front of the house, a three-story monstrosity built of stone with white pillars and brick stairs at the entryway. I guess my place wasn’t good enough for her.
He guides her out of the car and they stand in the shadow of the house, admiring the starlit evening. Her dress blows gently in the wind as she leans her head on his shoulder. He places a hand at the small of her back and walks her up the stairs and through the double oak doors.
I take a drink of whiskey and watch them through the window, two silhouettes dancing and drinking from tall skinny glasses. He leads her to the master bedroom, their garments piling at their feet on their way up the stairs. Their sounds echo through the night. Each scream of pleasure is like a knife through my chest. Letting them finish is the least I can do.
The hounds, unleashed, race around the streets of Blackwater, sniffing at everything in town trying to pick up their scent. There are uniformed officers at every intersection, directing traffic and searching vehicles as they pass. They called in reinforcements from Tucker County, who pitched in an extra thirty-some officers and fifteen patrol cars to help with the search.
As I stroll along the Black Fork River, I see a police boat pushing slowly along the water. A diver surfaces, empty-handed, and strips off his scuba mask.
I see the mayor’s dock up ahead, a pair of jet skis bobbing gently in the current. A crew of officers is swabbing them for prints and checking all the compartments for evidence.
The mayor’s backyard is a stretch of brown and yellow grass surrounded by woods. A group of officers gather under the covered patio, chatting and making notes as I walk up.
“Find anything out there?” One of them asks.
“Nothing,” I reply.
“They better finish searching the river soon. They’re calling for snow next week.”
“Get home to your wife, Carter. We got it from here.”
I circle around to the front yard and find my patrol car where I left it the night before. I pop the trunk and confirm their bodies are still there, cold and lifeless, staring blankly into each other’s eyes. They don’t yet know it isn’t only the mayor who’s missing. Figure I’ll wait for the crew to finish their search, then I’ll dump them in the Black Fork, let the fish pick away at their flesh. I’ll leave the mayor with his gun. I don’t need it anymore.
I climb in the driver’s seat and coast along the river road. As I look out over the Black Fork, I roll down the windows and let the wind break over my palm, enjoying another unseasonably warm February day.
About the author:
Anthony Barton is a tax accountant with a passion for writing fiction. He lives and writes in Front Royal, Virginia with his wife, Tracey, and a cat named Hazel.
Rat by Brandon Barrows
Richards tried to get off the floor, but his arms had no strength. He rose a few inches then fell against scuffed linoleum. He rolled over, chest heaving, and stared at the harsh yellow ceiling light. His vision swam.
“It could get worse, Richards.” The man by the door was tall and thin, with an air of authority.
From a corner, the third man laughed softly. “He doesn’t like playing rough.” He was thick through the shoulders, and through the middle, too, but the extra weight only added to his power. Still chuckling, he cracked his knuckles.
The thin man lifted the gun in his hand and looked at it like he wasn’t quite sure what it was for. “He still doesn’t think we’re serious.” The severe lighting caught the planes of his face, making it sinister. He shifted again. The effect disappeared.
“You bastards,” Richards gasped. “I told you, I don’t know about any investigation. Why can’t you believe me?”
“We know you were in the district attorney’s office this morning.”
“And rats live by squealing,” the beefy one said, stepping forward. Richards flinched. The big man grinned.
“They called me in. I didn’t have a choice – but I didn’t tell them anything.” Richards’s face was puffy, swollen. He knew his voice sounded strange.
“Maybe, maybe not,” the gunman countered, gesturing.
The strongman bent and lifted, holding Richards upright against the wall. The smaller man moaned, “Oh, Jesus… Jesus, don’t start on me again.” He raised his hands, but they were as swollen as his face, and almost useless. He tried to fight earlier. They knocked him down and stomped on his hands. Now, even if he had strength for a punch, he couldn’t make a fist.
The heavyset man growled, “Quit whining. I don’t mind giving you another lesson.”
“Jesus,” Richards whispered. “Please. I can’t take any more. I’m gonna die. Just let me lay down and die.”
The big man turned. “You hear ‘im? He says let him die.”
“We could. We could even help him along.” The thin man crossed to the other two and pressed his gun against Richards’s head. “We’d have to explain, though, and it’d be messy.” He smashed the gun-barrel against Richards’s temple, making him cry out. The thickset man released him and Richards staggered sideways, then crashed to the floor, gasping for breath, one ruined hand pressed to his bleeding head.
“Let’s hear you admit it now,” the gunman demanded. “How you were going to turn on us to save your own selfish ass.”
Richards’s head wobbled back and forth. “I wouldn’t…”
“Not now.” He pointed the gun directly at the cowering man. “We wouldn’t let you.”
“Jesus, help! Someone!” Richards cried suddenly, even knowing it was useless. The room was nearly soundproof.
“Go ahead. Scream if it makes you feel better.”
Richards scrabbled backwards, bumping against the far wall. “I didn’t say a god-damned thing!”
The heavy man appeared at his side like magic, planting a sharp-toed shoe in Richards’s ribs. The smaller man shrieked, then slumped and lay still.
“Too much,” the thin man said.
“Give it a sec.” The other slapped both of Richards’s cheeks. After a moment, he began to come around.
“Just say it and it’s over, Richards,” the big man whispered.
Richards looked from one man to the other. The pain made it hard to think. He just wanted it to stop. There was only one way.
“Fine… I was going to tell the DA’s office everything. I wanted out and thought I could swing a deal.”
“Weren’t we good to you?” the gunman asked.
“Not what? Not right? Not legal? We do a thankless job for peanuts. So what if we treat ourselves to some cream now and then?” The gunman sighed and shoved the automatic into its holster. To the heavyset man he said, “Get him out of here, sergeant. Show him what we do to cops who come down with honesty.”
“Sure thing, captain.”
Detective-Sergeant Bell again lifted Richards to his feet, almost gentle now. The smaller man squeezed his eyes shut, knowing what came next, and wishing to god he never took the detective's exam, never even took up the badge.
About the author:
Brandon Barrows is the author of several novels, most recently 3rd LAW: MIXED MAGICAL ARTS, a YA urban fantasy, and over one-hundred published stories, mostly crime, mystery, and westerns. He is a two-time Mustang Award finalist and a 2022 Derringer Award nominee.
Find more at http://www.brandonbarrowscomics.com and on Twitter @Brandon Barrows
Ben Hurt! by Jim Guigli
Drumbeats: Boom—boom, boom—boom.
Pulling harder and faster on his oars, Ben grunted, “I can do it.”
Ben liked to see himself both as Jack Hawkins in Roman battle dress and as sweaty Number Forty-One, Chuck Heston, straining behind an oar below decks. Jack’s imperial aura matched Ben’s status as chief designer at Lifecizer, one of San Francisco’s hottest hi-tech lifestyle firms. Chuck’s hard, glistening muscles were, Ben thought, just like his own.
“Crap!” Ben released his oar handles and poked PAUSE on his thirty-two-inch touchscreen to stop his HD video of Ben Hur. When he hit DOORBELL CAMERA, he saw on the screen a young man wearing a hoodie. “Yes?”
“Delivery for Ben in Suite 1207.” The man held up a silver designer bag.
Ben recognized the bag and touched CLOCK. “You’re two hours early!”
“I do what they tell me.”
“Wait.” Ben climbed off his Lifecizer R500 prototype rowing machine and grabbed a towel on the way to the door. He opened the door to the security chain’s limit.
“What’s going on? Eric knows how I want my delivery. Not late, not early.”
“I’m Kevin. All new management and staff—no more Eric.”
“Another change—they say you pay up front now. They told me to collect the thirteen-hundred on your tab this month, plus three-hundred for today’s bag.”
“Three-hundred? It was always one-fifty.”
“Not my prices. You want the delivery?”
“Okay.” Ben released the security chain and opened the door. He led Kevin to his desk and pulled a fat envelope from a drawer. He counted out $1600 in hundred-dollar bills.
Kevin lowered his hoodie and watched, then swapped the silver bag for the bills.
Ben opened the bag. “What’s this? This isn’t right.”
“They fill the bags. What’s wrong?”
“These are not my brownies. Mine are a special low-sugar mix of gluten-free flour with Maui buds, a mix Eric and I developed years ago. These look like some cheap microwaved brownie mix, and I see stems sticking out.”
“You should talk to the boss. Call him.”
“You bet.” Ben sat down on his rowing machine and touched PHONE on his screen, then CONTACTS, then ERIC. “Hello, Ben calling.”
“You’re Ben in Suite 1207?”
“Yes. Where’s Eric? My delivery is wrong. I row an hour, uninterrupted, take a shower, and then answer the door at the scheduled time to enjoy my brownies. These are early and are not my brownies.”
“Sorry, Ben. Eric’s gone. We have a new plan for you. You order what we have, no specials, and you pay our price on delivery. Understand?”
“Wait a minute. Eric started this service after we founded Lifecizer. He was number one from Tiburon to Palo Alto.”
“No more. He sold his customer data and remaining product to me. Said he dumped his Lifecizer stock, too. For land in Maui.”
“I’ll go to another service.”
“Awesome. Tell Kevin. I have other calls.” Clunk.
“He hung up on me.”
“He does that.” Kevin looked down through Ben’s picture window. “Is that Orkle Park?”
“Or-a-cle Park, yes. I can watch the Giants games from up here, but Lifecizer has a double luxury suite above third base. Custom outfitted with leather recliners and wide-screen TVs. Super hot cocktail waitresses serve drinks, garlic fries, crab sandwiches, everything.”
A seagull landed on Ben’s balcony railing and sat watching them.
“Your rowing machine, I never saw one like it before.”
“That’s because it’s my new design. It’s just a prototype now, but as soon as it’s released, it will easily outsell our Lifecizer stationary bikes.”
“How’s it work?”
“Like a high-end rowing machine, except it has the largest touchscreen, suspended right over the oars, real wooden oar handles, not cables. People will love it. You’ll have Netflix, podcasts, instructional videos, music with Dolby sound, YouTube, even your choice of live personal trainers when you subscribe and pay the monthly fees. Special videos, too, like from all over Oracle Park. You can row around the bases, or from home plate to the centerfield wall, or even race the kayakers for a splash home run ball in McCovey Cove.”
“Cool. What about virtual reality?”
“No. It was too realistic for some of our test subjects. They’d get sweaty and dive off the machine onto the floor. They saw the floor as water. Lots of injuries.”
“Awesome.” Studying the touchscreen, Kevin asked, “What are these other icons?”
“For machine-paced rowing. You can choose the rowing resistance, or the rowing speed. The oars and slide seat will move faster than you’ve ever rowed before. See the resistance and speed symbols?”
“Hard for me to see. Let me get behind you.”
Kevin pocketed the fat envelope from the desk drawer and Ben’s roll of duct tape, pulled his hoodie back up, and set the lock on the door. He turned toward the unconscious Ben, still rowing at max speed.
“So Ben, I’ll put you down as a ‘no’ on the new plan. Cool.”
Ben woke up sweating with a headache. Smoke! The motor powering his machine was burning up from running all-out. He made a mental note to add limits to the motor control software before he saw his hands were duct-taped to the oars and his waist to the seat. Ben was rowing faster than he ever had, too fast to loosen the duct tape with his teeth. Pecking at the touchscreen with his nose didn’t stop the motor.
Exiting the elevator, Kevin stepped into the path of a firefighter.
“Stand clear, sir. Smoke alarm up on the twelfth floor.”
“I can’t believe I might die taped to my oars!” Jerked back and forth like a rag doll, Ben frantically pecked his nose at his touchscreen. Finally, he hit TEXT. Then, ALL. After defeating autocorrect, his text went out as BEN HURT!
About the author:
Jim Guigli retired after a design/engineering career at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and lives near Sacramento, California with his wife, Fran, and two Labrador Retrievers.
From my boat I watch through binoculars as she strides down the gravel path. Her long legs, deeply tanned under purple running shorts, pump a strong and confident pace. It’s a steep mile to the lakefront from the cliff-top parking lot. She covers it as easily as a stroll around the block.
Last night I anchored off-shore in my J-30. I researched for a few months before picking this spot and made three trial runs. Once again, mine is the lone boat in the secluded inlet. Almost perfect. Sapphire Bay, one of the most beautiful sites on the enormous lake, is marred only by its sole building—the sprawling replica of a Rhine castle facing the beach. It’s there that she’s heading.
Donashaus was built in the 1920s by a widow from Kansas City with beefsteak money to burn and a fascination with Wagner. The widow left her property to the state of California when she died and the castle and grounds are now a state park. The building holds little appeal for me—a random assortment of stone turrets and Gothic arches—but it’s a major attraction in the summer months. Fortunately it’s too early in the morning for any tourists to descend, huffing and puffing, for a guided tour. Donashaus won’t open to the public today for at least a few more hours.
She reaches the deserted shoreline in just under fifteen minutes, stopping at one of the picnic tables in front of the castle. She cups one hand above her eyes, gazing out over the clear blue-green water toward my boat. I put down my binoculars to wave a friendly hello. I think she acknowledges me with a nod but I can’t be sure.
A young man emerges from a door on one side of the castle. I check my watch. 7:15 am. Right on time. Although I don’t know his name I know by now he’s the resident caretaker, a state park ranger assigned to the cushy, yet lonely job of guarding Mrs. Sirloin’s fantasy. Clad in a brown park service uniform, he drags a large plastic garbage bag. Prep for the morning run to the dump. He slings the bag into a pickup truck parked alongside the castle, stopping short when he sees her.
Did I mention how beautiful she is? He certainly seems to think so. I pick up my binoculars to focus on his face as he stares at her lithe body and long blonde hair. She ignores him and moves closer to the water, beginning a series of stretches on the sand as though she’s about to embark on a long run. He can’t take his eyes off her as she rocks lightly on her toes, her palms flat on the sand.
“Back to reality, kid,” I whisper. “Get back to reality.”
As if he hears me, the park ranger gives himself a little shake. He grabs a bucket and mop from the back of the truck, and walks off toward the public restrooms behind the castle.
She waits until he disappears and then whips off her white t-shirt and the rest of her clothes to stand naked on the beach. I put the binoculars away and go down below to mix up a pitcher of Mimosas.
“WOMAN VANISHES AT DONASHAUS!” scream the headlines a few days later. By now, I’m some two hundred miles from the lake and the J-30’s been hauled. The story is sexy enough to get coverage throughout the state and beyond. Sitting on my terrace with the San Francisco skyline spread out before me, I scroll through the news on my iPad.
According to the Chronicle, her name is Samantha Watson. Early thirties, a married real estate agent who competes in mini-triathlons. On the day she disappeared, Samantha told her husband she was going for an early morning run. He knew she took their Hyundai SUV—Samantha liked to work out in pretty scenery—but he didn’t know she headed for Sapphire Bay. The Watsons lived in a subdivision about forty minutes from the lake. When she didn’t return by noon he called her cell. When she didn’t answer he called her friends. At five he called the police. The search really didn’t get mobilized until the next day. They found the empty Hyundai half-hidden by the Ponderosa pines ringing the Sapphire Bay State Park parking lot.
Sipping my glass of Merlot, I reread the story. Samantha carried a hefty life insurance policy, listing her younger sister who struggled with MS, not her husband, as the beneficiary. Although an unnamed friend of the couple described the husband as controlling and the marriage as “rocky at best”, he didn’t seem to be a serious suspect. Apparently the neighbor directly across the street spent that morning overseeing a landscaping project on his front lawn. He saw Samantha drive away alone in the SUV and swore the husband never left the house.
The story doesn’t mention the young park ranger. I think long and hard, weighing the benefits and drawbacks of getting involved at this point. In the end I place an anonymous phone call to the police. And then I wait.
It pays off in less than a week. Jamie Thompson, the resident ranger at Donashaus, is arrested for the murder of Samantha Watson. It seems that the idiot was questioned initially, but denied ever seeing her. Too scared, I guess, or feeling too guilty about his lecherous thoughts. Thanks to my call, the police tracked down the garbage bags from Donashaus that morning. Buried in one of the bags, along with Samantha’s cellphone, was a pair of purple running shorts, a white t-shirt, flowered bikini panties and a jog bra.
After the police confronted him, poor Jamie finally admitted to seeing Samantha at Donashaus. He claimed he saw her standing at the edge of the lake while he was collecting bags of garbage for the dump trek. He said he went to clean the restrooms behind the castle and when he returned to his truck she was gone. It sounded so feeble it had to be true. It was true, of course; I saw it all. Unfortunately no one believed him, except maybe his public defender.
This morning I’m back on the terrace, waiting for my French roast, when I turn on my iPad. “DONAHAUS DISAPPEARANCE SOLVED!” proclaims the Chronicle. Although the police didn’t find a body—no surprise with the average depth of the lake at about a thousand feet—Jamie Thompson virtually confessed. The freaked out kid hanged himself in his cell while awaiting a preliminary hearing. It’s over.
I turn my head at the rattle of coffee mugs behind me. She gently kisses my cheek and hands me a steaming cup from the tray she’s holding. She’s as lovely as the day we first met at the road race my tech company sponsors, even with freshly dyed and permed brown curls.
“Thanks, Sam,” I say. I see the question in her eyes. I decide to tell her about Jamie later. I don’t feel a twinge of guilt but she might.
Instead I simply smile. “Don’t worry, honey, it’s going to be a beautiful day.”
About the author:
Christine Eskilson is an attorney living in Massachusetts. She loves Bruce Springsteen, the Chicago Cubs and Boston Terriers, not necessarily in that order.
Sumpin Extra by Carman C. Curton
“Put ’em glasses in that tub and bring it behind the bar,” Granma says. “Mind you don’ drop it, now.” I don’t answer. It’s early. I’m tired. And I know the job. You can keep all the money you find. “Theys loads of money down the seats, there, say huh?” I nod. I know that routine, too.
The Old Man had laughed the first time he saw me running my hands behind the back of the seats, tracing my fingers over the red plastic seams, dragging up sticky quarters and damp five dollar bills. And other things, too. “Ho, yeah,” he said. “Digging for a little something extra, ain’t ya?”
I stack the glasses in the gray bus tub. Ashtrays, too. They all go in the same dishwasher. No one cares. There’s no spoons or forks or knives to add. No one eats in this place. No one but me. I slap a rag over the top of a table and drag it around, chewing on an orange slice I grabbed from a tray on the bar. I move to the next table and the next. I’m wiping the rag in big circles, and I have to stand on tiptoe to get the middle of the table. While I’m stretching my butt squeezes between the table I’m wiping and the one behind me.
When I look over my shoulder to the sound of hot breaths behind me, I see the Old Man’s hand is inside his pants, but the top of his dick is outside, squeezing past his zipper. Gross. But I seen gross-er.
After everything, Granma tosses a knife with a weird white blade in the tub I’m still holding. “They’ll find it, you leave that there,” I say softly.
“Thas the point, say huh.”
I’m not scared or sick, I just don’t like this part. But Granma’s in no rush, gumming out words to herself, tossing the green zippered bank bag into her bucket, grabbing a tall bottle from a high-up shelf to put in, too, dropping her rags and yellow rubber gloves on top. I walk out behind her, climb into the front seat, even though I’m not s’posed to.
Granma’s gray hand pushes her gray hair off her forehead until it stands up straight. The gray road stretches out ahead until it touches the gray sky. I remember the Old Man moving his hand under the table when I bent over to pick up a dime he flipped on to the sticky floor in front of me. Remember his dumb open mouth with the knife sticking out of it after Granma finished, “Here’s sumpin extra for ya, say huh.” Then I remember something else. The long knife with a white blade that Mancy yelled about when I put it in the tub at the M&H Chop House yesterday morning. We clean the Chop House on Fridays and Saturdays and this place on Sundays. Or did. Mancy’s big red mouth saying, “Don’t wash this knife. Don’t pick up this knife. Don’t touch this knife.” Something else to remember: Mancy’s big feet sticking out from under the table one Sunday morning. And the look on his face when he crawled out and the Old Man opened up the green bag with the zipper. Flicked a stack of bills across the table at him. The way Mancy’s eyes stayed on the floor when he pushed the money in his front pocket.
I look over at Granma. “I left my Rainbow Pony notebook in my locker at school,” I say. “I really liked that one.”
She grins that gummy grin at me, pulls the rubber gloves out of the bucket at my feet, still dripping soapy suds off the fingertips, and—driving with one three fingered hand—digs around in the bucket some more and pulls out a tall glass full of bright red, long-stemmed cherries. Tucking it between my legs, she grabs three, shoving them into her mouth straight away. Sometimes all we walk out with is a drip tray of orange triangles. Or popcorn.
“That one where we got those cinnamon sugar almonds,” I say, picking up a cherry, “that one was the best.”
“Yeah, the best,” she says. “We’ll look for another place like that, say huh? Get us some pancakes in a few miles. Be like you don’t even miss that Rainbow Pony thing.”
I roll another cherry around on my tongue. “These cherries’ll probl’y taste really good on some pancakes, say huh?”
Granma laughs. “Mmm-hmm. Little sumpin extra.”
About the author:
Carman C. Curton consumes caffeine while writing a series of microstories called QuickFics, which she leaves in random places for people to find. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook @CarmanCCurton.
Arizona Shuffle by William Kitcher
The big guy slapped his money on the bar. “Keep the change.”
The bartender nodded at him. The guy got off his stool, and started to walk away.
“Hey,” I said, “what about my money?”
“You owe me money. You lost a bet!”
“Come on, man.”
The few people in the bar turned to watch us. A young blonde woman in a gray t-shirt and jeans stood up from her table, and sipped on what looked like whisky.
The big lump turned back to me. “What are you gonna do about it?”
He was a much bigger man than I was. I didn’t have a real answer so I said, “I’ll figure out a way, ya prick.”
The lump pulled his fist back to take a punch at me. The blonde grabbed his arm and wrist, and twisted them behind his back, quickly, professionally.
The guy grimaced and turned his head. “Piss off. None of your business, blondie.”
“You shouldn’t have said that.” And with a twist of her own wrist, she forced him to the floor.
From the end of the bar, the bartender said, “Hey, enough of that.”
“Stay out of this, man,” she said. She looked at me. “How much does he owe you?”
“Five-hundred bucks. I would have bet more ‘cause I knew I was right, but I figured that was about his limit.”
“What was the bet?”
“Who won the 2001 World Series.”
“Arizona,” she said. “Bloop single. Game Seven. What did he say?”
“Nah, ’96, ’98, ’99, 2000. Lost in 2001. Haven’t won since ’09. Good thing too.” She released her grip on his arm. “Get up.”
The guy got up and rubbed his arm, and looked at her stupidly.
“And now, my lad,” she said, “we’re going to a bank machine to see if you have five-hundred dollars.” She waved a twenty at the bartender and put it on her table. “Keep the change.” She finished her whisky.
She pushed the lump to the door and out to the street. She walked beside him down the sidewalk. I paid my tab and followed them outside. They went down the sidewalk and I trailed them with a grin on my face.
The guy made a break for it but she quickly caught up with him and tripped him, his palms and knees scraping on the sidewalk. She forced him to his feet, twisted his arm behind him again, and pushed him forward.
“I’ll get you,” he said.
“Unlikely,” she said, giving him a little shot to the kidneys.
We reached a bank, and there was a teller machine in the lobby. She pushed him through the door and up to the terminal. He hesitated and she jammed her middle knuckle up into the pressure point behind his ear. He yelled, then took his bank card out and made the transaction. He stood there stupidly with the five-hundred in his hand, looking from the blond to me and back again. He finally handed me the money.
She pushed him toward the exit. “See ya.”
The lump went through the door and shuffled away.
She looked at me. “You know what’s gonna happen now, right?”
I gave her the five-hundred.
“And you have a bank card too, right?” She smiled at me.
Damn, I thought, didn’t see that coming. And to top it off, I got hit with a five-dollar service charge because it wasn’t my bank.
About the author:
Bill lives in Toronto, used to work for a terrible company, and now works for something much better: himself. He knows he can’t live forever on pizza and beer, but he’s going to try.
Free flash fiction on the first and third weeks of the month.