Books by Robert Burton Robinson Greg Tenorly Suspense Series: Bicycle Shop Murder Hideaway Hospital Murders Illusion of Luck Fly the Rain Sweet Ginger Poison Classical Revenge: Thirteen Short Stories Naked Frame

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Special thanks to Don Neuman & Lynda Robinson Cover background image by Sarah G. at The stories in this book are works of fiction. The characters and events described in these stories are imaginary and resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Twenty-two Short Stories
Free Promo Edition February 2011 Copyright © 2007-2011 Robert Burton Robinson Some rights reserved * * You may freely make copies of this book and give it away, as is, but you may not alter the book or sell the book or any part thereof.

romantic. Online readers expect a quick pace. twisted. Robinson delivers in this tightly-crafted collection of stories. and playful. buckle up for a fast ride. . including three novels. as the author carries you through a range of emotions by way of characters and situations that are variously creepy. suspenseful. funny. two novellas. So.000 words of fiction online. And that’s exactly what Mr.Robert Burton Robinson developed his skills while writing some 300. and numerous short stories. with no fluff.

Recycle Man Classical Revenge Writer’s Block Road Rage to Nowhere Kory Mantra Man Down. Ante Up BuckThirsty Prince of Pumpkinshire Your Personal President Impala Cruise April's Fool Heart of Gold Smiley Frowner Dreaming Debra Layoff Rumors Margin of Error Sun-Powered Car Screen 13 Horrors of Memory Governor Hooks a Lady Mary Goldalore Royal Highness of Intellectitude ********** Naked Frame (book excerpt) Sweet Ginger Poison (book excerpt) The Greg Tenorly Suspense Series (book info) .

“Let’s eat. Janice. “Hey.” She hopped up on the truck’s side step.” “Well. But it wasn’t clothing. He was busy listening to the radio while devouring his second egg and sausage burrito.” He didn’t respond. Janice saw a pile of clothing behind it. sitting at her kitchen table. He shrugged. I was hoping you’d tell me.” Is this guy drunk? At seven o’clock in the morning? “Just stay right here. When she reached for the second can. And thanks to the union. She delivered plates of bacon. and went over to help him up. “Phil!” He turned down the radio.” Phil didn’t hear her. what’s your name?” He seemed puzzled. He appeared to be in his twenties—probably close to her age. I need to go home.” “Phil. “Hey.” . Janice walked around to the cab of the truck. I don’t really remember. No big deal. but she had been manhandling other people’s garbage for three years now. Okay? I’ll come back and pick you up in few minutes. “I don’t feel so good. I’m not gonna tell him. When are people gonna learn that we only take what’s in the cans? You can’t just throw stuff on the ground and expect us to—. She had thoroughly enjoyed soaping him up good. Janice jumped down from the truck and grabbed one of the trash cans. You can do it yourself. But she could see that he was somewhat handsome. Buddy?” He didn’t answer. she was finally making a halfway decent wage. She open the back door of her car. And if Harry don’t like it. Phil. He was. She yanked off the lid and flung it on the ground. “I don’t know.” He began to gobble it down. and I need to go home right now. “You okay?” She walked around and touched his shoulder. didn’t that hot bath make you feel a lot better?” “I guess so. I’ll help you. I’m sick. Watching him there.” ********** As Janice drove her old car into the alley. “Come on. he looked a little like her ex—only more handsome.Recycle Man Janice loves working for the sanitation department because she finds so much perfectly good stuff in other peoples’ garbage. The can was fairly heavy.” The bath had made Janice feel a lot better. since she made her living smelling other people’s garbage. she prayed her mystery man would still be there. “Let’s go get you cleaned up and get some food in you. Her ex-boyfriend’s jeans and T-shirt fit him quite nicely. “What?” A little chunk of egg flew past her head. “Give me the dang mike. he can take it up with the union. did I ever tell you that you’re a major wuss?” “Bite me. “So.” “I don’t give a crap whether Harry likes it or not. eggs.” “You got any beer?” ********** “Now. It was a man. as if to say.” “I’m starving. She dumped the contents of the can into the back of the truck and then dropped it on the ground. Could you please call dispatch for me?” “Harry’s not gonna like it.” “Huh?” The pungent odor of regurgitated booze nearly took her breath away—which was saying a lot. His suit was torn and dirty. and toast to the table. “Leave me alone.

Janice ran out the front door.“Well. In fact. She hoped he never regained his memory. “You really know how to hurt a girl’s feelings.” John Rich. screaming. it’s after nine. I’ve got a couple of cool ones. and screamed at the top of her lungs.” “Wow. “We should pack a lunch and go out to the park today. She sat down and began to peruse it. as the car faded into the distance. this is a little embarrassing. Janice dropped her coffee cup. He was on the sidewalk.” “What?” “Sleep with a man before I even know his name. He might have suffered memory loss. He was involved in a fight at the bar. Maybe reading the paper would get him off her mind. a local banker. crying. You couldn’t get enough of me. I can’t remember much of anything.” He thought for a moment. threw the newspaper at the wall. She panicked. sleepyhead.” She giggled. I gave myself to you over and over again last night. Although. She couldn’t support both of them on her salary. How could he have left me—after all I did for him? We loved each other…didn’t we? She finally turned and walked back toward the house. Her eyes were immediately drawn to the headline. no. running all over the house looking for him. talking to some woman in her car. She hadn’t even bother to set it.” No response. She rolled over. But we really hit it off. Then she spotted him through the kitchen window. But I can’t be sure. Janice had spent every minute with her new boyfriend. “Hey. and is believed to have been injured. “Uh. Or…did we ever fall off the bed?” Janice nearly choked on her bacon. She tossed the paper on the kitchen table. When she opened her eyes. at some point he was going to have to get a job.” She smiled seductively. It was a dream come true. Janice stood at the curb. It’s all a big. People like to go out there and fly kites on Sundays. who was last seen in a local bar on Thursday night. she was facing her alarm clock.000 reward to anyone who locates his son. “Honey?” He was gone. Sound like fun?” Still nothing. I’m sure it was great.” “Really? My memory is foggy. “Maybe I banged my head on the headboard.” Janice pouted. Janice hadn’t see any news since she found—. Bob Rich. “Crap!” THE END . sexy blur. I don’t think so. I’m sorry I don’t remember. stopping only to pick up the newspaper. “Son of Local Banker Missing. wonderful.” The woman sped away. “We just couldn’t keep our hands off each other. She ran as fast as she could. “Hey! Stop! That’s my boyfriend. I don’t usually do this. poured a cup of yesterday’s coffee and heated it in the microwave. ********** For two days. Her man was getting in the woman’s car. has offered a $100.

” “Interesting name.” Luci formed a G Major chord with her left hand. did they?” “No. are you looking for a guitar for yourself? Or is this to be a Christmas gift?” “For me. Come on over here and take a seat.” “Good to meet you.” “Steel strings are all I’ve ever played. Those are Macho Delights. See what I mean about the tone?” “Yes.” “Actually. “Try this one.” “I didn’t think so. Our hours never change.” . Very nice. I’m Amy Kilmore. since I was 14 years old.” “Oh.” “Yeah. “No. But I’m considering a classical guitar. right? Customers are afraid to come to this part of town after dark. and strummed with her right thumb.” “So. “Oh. “They never really made strings from cats.” Amy turned and reached for one of the guitars hanging from the wall. they’re man-made. In fact. I do get some occasionally. So. What kind of strings are these? Catgut?” Amy smiled. I’ve never seen this many classical guitars in one place. convert me. It’s beautiful. “Welcome to Amy’s Classical Guitars. Then she saw the ring of keys in Amy’s hand. “If the stupid idiots can’t learn to drive in the snow they need to move out of Cleveland—find themselves a nice warm spot in Miami!” She pulled her hood back.” Luci reached into her pocket and pulled out a pick. I’m Luci. Amy took the ring of keys out of the drawer and walked toward the front door. and the warmth of the classical guitar are far superior.” Amy locked the deadbolt.” “I feel naked without a pick—but I’ll try it. Because the dynamics.” “Yes.” “Classicalism?” Amy smiled. “Were you about to close?” She checked her watch. Mostly those who have seen the error of their ways and are converting to classicalism. “Now put your left foot up on this little stool.” “Two days before Christmas?” “It doesn’t matter. no—you don’t use a pick. “That’s what I like to call it. and hung it on the coat rack near the door.Classical Revenge A woman ventures out at night during a snow storm into a dangerous part of town to get the last item on her Christmas list. the overtones. Amy frowned. and then gets his hands on a great classical guitar—well sometimes he’ll convert—as he should.” Luci walked over to the chair and sat down. I give each batch its own unique name. The door burst open. I guess you don’t get many rockers in here—even though the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is just a few blocks away. I understand.” “Thanks. It’s because of your location. took off the parka.” “It’s my specialty.” “Yuck. Usually sheep intestines. those are my own special brand.” “So. You pluck and strum with your fingers. We close at six. She handled it lovingly—as though it was a newborn baby. “It’s only six o’clock. and a woman rushed in and pushed the door against the blowing snow until it closed. When a guy’s been playing steel strings all his life. “Nice.” “Catgut is short for cattle guts. Wow. ignoring the woman’s comment.” “Okay.” Luci hesitated.

playing $5. So. Then she laughed.” “Whoa. There on the back wall I’ve got a couple of Japanese guitars.” “All I know is. he did. he dug up Fluffy and performed his first taxidermy. I’m so sorry. including the strings. But you can still buy catgut strings. so I can continue to charge $250 a set. So. I didn’t see any harm. But they’re not hand-made. he drove the Mustang down to the 7-Eleven to get more. And I plan to keep it that way. They have to remove them from the animal’s body while they’re still warm. It kept running into the store every time a customer came in. or that maybe Carl . Wasn’t that just a couple of weeks ago?” “Yes.” Luci walked to the back wall. when Carl realized we were running out of beer. I get orders from all over the world through my website. as though she wasn’t absolutely sure it was dead. “How do they make guitar strings out of intestines?” “It’s quite a process.” “So. Luci bent down and looked directly into the squirrel’s eyes. I’ve heard enough. he killed this poor little cat?” “Not on purpose. twist and polish—“ “—gross. what do you think of that guitar?” “It’s amazing. She looked more closely. “It’s so life-like.” “What’s a luthier?” “A person who makes stringed instruments. But he couldn’t stand to lose his best friend.” Luci got up and walked toward the cheap instruments. “What’s this? It looks so real. When he was 12 years old. I don’t get much walk-in traffic here.” “Well.” “Well. Why is it so expensive?” “Because it’s hand-made. Amy Strings are only available from me. Looked like some kind of furry alien.“Most classical guitar strings are nylon these days. don’t you have anything cheaper?” “Yes. and began to strum it. Then they clean and strip them. we were having our annual Christmas party with twenty of his old college buddies and their wives. So. and a few from Spain. But one day he accidentally whacked it on the head and killed it. stone-faced. “Does your husband help you run the store?” “My husband was killed in a car accident. picked up a guitar. I’d have to kill you. so we buried it in the back yard. You can order a set on the web for $80. But it’s a secret process. he raced up our driveway.” “Oh. “Yes. My 20-year-old son is an amateur taxidermist.000 instruments. “Wait. “That’s way too steep for me.” Luci walked over to where a stuffed squirrel was sitting.500.” Then she pulled back. if you don’t mind me asking—are you sure your husband was actually in the car when it went over the cliff? I read that they never found his body. That’s why your name sounded familiar.” “It is real.” Luci’s face contorted. It was a mess. I think I read about it in the paper. so that night he did a little research on the internet.” said Amy. Then he asked me if he could stuff it. “Just kidding. “Did Casey do this one too?” “Yes. In all honesty.” “That’s okay. So. his dog died. But when he came back. It was frozen in place. But he’s really improved over the years. The police think the accelerator got stuck. plowed through the backyard fence and went over the fifty-foot cliff—right into Lake Erie. These are professional musicians. Or a composite material made from synthetic fibers. And the next day.” Luci carefully handed the guitar back to Amy. he’s getting really good at it. she was startled by a cat that was sitting on the counter. he would shoo it out with a stick.” She hung the guitar back on the wall. The online sales are what keep me going. How much is it?” “$4. Most of these guitars were built by a wonderful old luthier who lives down in LaGrange.” Amy wondered how Luci knew her son’s name. On her way. I’ve lost track of how many little animals he’s killed and stuffed.” “People actually pay $250 for a set of guitar strings?” “Sure. what’s so special about your strings?” “If I told you that.

Then he threw his body into the back of the van. I’m glad I could help you get it off your chest. ‘Carl.” “I read that the top was down on the car. empty parking lot.” said Luci. “Casey got out of the car and moved the ice blocks to the driver’s side of the floorboard. Then she turned to Amy. And I had warned him after his last fling that if he ever did it again. If the car had veered off to one side or the other…but it didn’t. no matter what you’re driving.” “That’s why. that’s okay.” “I was just doing my job.” “Oh.” Luci sobbed. “Carl!” Luci ran toward the table. I told him. so… I can’t believe I’m discussing this with a total stranger. But it’s been two weeks. When Carl came to help. “We’re clinging to that hope. Brilliant. I’ve got to take care of that soon.” Amy opened another door and led Luci inside a large room with no windows. and rushed outside to see what was happening. “You didn’t have to kill him! Why didn’t you just divorce him?” “Because he would have wanted half of my business—even though he never lifted a finger to help me run it. And what would you do with my body?” . “Smells funny back here. “What have you done? You killed him! And then you let that freak Casey stuff him! Well. and he thought he was stepping on the brake. maybe he survived somehow. A dim light bulb suspended above the table barely illuminated four men playing poker.was drunk.” Luci reluctantly followed her around the counter and through the door. I was so proud of Casey. I would kill him. Everybody inside the house heard the screeching tires and the roaring engine. huh?” “What are you going to do with me? Surely you’re not going to kill me—I’m a cop. Casey hit him over the head with a pipe wrench and killed him. Honey?” Thank you. My car’s sitting out front. “Carl. “Like how I make my $250 guitar strings.” “Well. It’s the mold. depressing the accelerator. Apparently.” “Too bad they put you on desk duty and took away your gun. She reached into the workbench drawer for the pistol and then began to walk toward Luci. you’re 40 years old—you don’t look cool anymore. Now I know for sure that you’re The One. Because he was having an affair with you. Come on. you set the whole thing up? Ran his car off the cliff? Was he even in the car?” “No. you’re alive! Why didn’t you call me. “It was a daring plan. leaving no evidence of foul play. But now I do. he didn’t believe me. You’re the bumbling police detective who shot the Mayor’s brother-in-law in the arm. It would have come in handy right about now. And the ice blocks just floated away.” “So. Why would he put the top down in twenty degree weather?” “Because he thought it made him look cool.” “Yeah. “Carl?” Luci screamed. Carl’s buddies had moved their cars to the street to give him a clear path down the driveway.” “Well.” “That’s right. “I didn’t know who you were when you first came in. It looked like he was about to attack the mayor. thought Amy. One of the guys made it out the door just in time to see the Mustang going over the cliff. There was a small lamp sitting on a work bench.’ But he’d do it anyway—especially when he’d been drinking. “He tossed several big blocks of ice into the Mustang and drove it back to the house. I was visiting with some of the women.” “But I really want to show you. you’re not gonna get away with it! Do you know who I am?” Amy raised the pistol and pointed it at Luci.” “Kinda makes me want to share something else with you.” “So. But Luci’s eyes were drawn to the round table in the middle of the room. and didn’t even know he was gone. Casey called him while he was at the 7-Eleven and told him our van had stalled in a nearby dark.” “Like what?” Amy grinned. But you get used to it after a few minutes. I haven’t opened up to anybody about the accident until now. he wasn’t even in the car when it went into the lake. huh?” “Why did you kill Carl? I was in love with him.

ready to fire.” “Wait. Luci?” Luci didn’t respond. ********** Casey listened. THE END . But don’t worry—only the best will do for my husband’s lover. I was in love with him—I don’t deny that. “You killed these men just so you could make guitar strings?” “Sure. These men and many others.” “You said your strings were man-made!” Amy gave Luci a sinister grin. Casey said. So.” Luci felt that Amy might not shoot her as long as they kept talking.’” “That’s beautiful. The people in the store next door will hear the gunshot. You can’t shoot me in here. “What language is this?” “It’s Italian. It’ll be stolen before midnight.” “Yes. as far as what to do with your body…I’m sure I’ll think of something. She didn’t hear Casey sneaking up behind her. “Why did you kill these other men?” “I needed the raw material.“Well. It means ‘Shine your light into the soul. really. “What do you think. “That sounds amazing. “From the look on her face.” “Raw material?” “For my strings. “And now I’m going to enjoy the sound of you dying. and chopped into spare parts by morning. Pretty easy—if you have a commercial meat grinder.” “In hotel rooms.” “Thanks.” “So. as his mother played the Bach arrangement on her guitar. no. Amy Strings – Luci nell’anima.” Luci sat at the poker table. motionless.” She raised the pistol.” Amy lowered the gun. I’d say she approves.” “I see. Once I had put that first guy out of his misery. But we were just friends. I had a real business. Why do you think I bother with walk-in traffic?” “To get raw material? What did you do with the rest of the bodies?” “We just flush them down into the sewer system. smiling at her lover. Carl. Mom. When she finished. and he read the name.” Amy turned her head. Casey said. I did a little experimenting and discovered what wonderful strings I could make. The typical candidate is a loner that nobody particularly likes or understands. Practically overnight. What do you plan to name this batch of strings?” She handed him a freshly printed string box label.” “No. We just spent a lot of time talking. I told you I make most of my money through online sales. Luci relaxed a little bit. And it’s a shame. you weren’t lovers?” “No. he said. that’s why my strings sound so good. And. this neighborhood does have its advantages. Maybe she really could talk her way out of this mess. let’s see…the car’s no problem. You see.” “Good point. not at all.

All you’ve got to do is follow your muse.” “You know why not. Man. if you’re so tired of me. they’re tired of your crappy writing. Henry. You can’t write a great book without me. Henry poured the rest of the wine into his glass. Crazy.” “Whoa. I’m a famous author.” “Hey. My fans are tired of you. For three books. Fool. The repo man had picked it up early that morning. “Look. You need me. And besides. don’t you dare take that tone with me. You were just going through the motions.” “Tired of me?” Antonio sat up.” Henry fumed. Dangerous. “But it got old.” “Take it easy.” “Another Antonio book. and began to refill it.” The waitress delivered another bottle of wine.” Henry shook his head. spilling some it on the table. and never come back. Well.” “Trust me. “No. I’m you’re muse. Write another bestseller. write like one. Man. “Feeling inspired today. Okay? There. You shut me out. Quit fighting it. Go. He would have tried to take away his car keys. And you know why? Because you’re too stubborn to write what you’re supposed to be writing. “How do you plan to pay for that wine?” said Antonio.” “My publisher doesn’t want another Antonio book.” “So.” “That’s right. Your writing got stale. It’s not my fault that you make me sound boring. Jack. Henry. “I’ll tell you why. Dude. I don’t ever want to see you again.” “How many times do I have to tell you? Your series is over. “Time to get fired up. I’ve said it. “You can’t mean that.” “How do you think you wrote those first three books? Why do you think they were pure genius?” “Because you…inspired me. Henry thanked her and she walked away.” Henry’s speech was so slurred that Antonio struggled to understand him.” “Because I got tired of you.” “But it did work. Because you’ve got writer’s block. Done. Holmes. why haven’t you already written a book that’s not about me? It’s been two years.” . Man. Sales were way down on the last one.” “Why not? You’ve only written four.” Henry uncorked the bottle and refilled his glass.” “That’s what I’m talking about.” “Yeah. you got old. but Henry no longer owned a car.Writer’s Block A fiction writer is tormented by the man who made him famous. He enjoyed the privacy of the dimly lit corner booth at the back of the restaurant. Holmes. I hope you’ve learned your lesson.” “And I suppose you are my muse.” He gulped down the rest of his glass. The critics tore me to sleds…I mean…shreds.” “No. You thought you could go it alone. “Get out of here. And you shouldn’t have tried writing that fourth one without me. Henry?” Henry ignored Antonio. “Do they know you’re broke?” “My credit is good here. You got tired of me? My stories are exciting. A gang leader as hero. The fifth book will be frigging fantastic. I don’t really care what the critics say. “I don’t know how I ever made it work. My books made you famous. Why haven’t you moved on?” Henry’s response was to take another sip of wine. And it’s easy.

really? Dead?” Antonio searched Henry’s eyes.” Antonio pulled out his pistol. “You’ve had your say. “Without me. The lead investigator suspected someone had poisoned Henry’s wine with some undetectable substance. Man. Man. Over the course of their marriage.” “No!” Antonio squeezed the trigger. Man.” “If I never write another word it will have been worth it. she had learned one of the best kept secrets of great fiction writers: the characters are real. sloshing the red liquid all over the table. Sure. You’re making me crazy. you ain’t got no life. Then it just stopped. Or to torture him. an obvious result of his head hitting the table. No stroke. just to get you out of my life. they are forever in his life. ********** Cause of death: Unknown. Henry was sitting alone. The ex-wife knew who had killed Henry. To bring him joy. she would never tell the police. Or anyone else. Yet when she arrived. You can’t do it without me. “What are you doing? Put that thing away. knocking over the bottle. Punk. gang-style. The wine flowed freely onto the tabletop. The waitress told police she thought she heard Henry talking to someone as she was walking up to his booth to deliver a bottle of wine. No heart attack. There’s no turning back. Until the day he dies. But once created.” Henry words were barely intelligible. “You still don’t get it.” He rotated the gun ninety degrees. THE END . there’s only one way that’s gonna happen. Henry’s only injury was a bruise on his forehead. Although.” Henry held out his hands in a vain effort to protect himself. They wouldn’t believe her anyway. “Well.” “Oh. the writer creates them. “It was a great life while it lasted. The heart had been functioning normally.“I don’t care. He knew that authors sometimes make enemies with their writing.” “Are you listening to me? I want you gone! Dead. But he had no leads. Just go!” He motioned with his wine glass. To give him comfort.

Road Rage to Nowhere
Road Rage can take you on a trip to somewhere you’ve never been. And make you wish you hadn’t gone. Miguel pushed his cart to the front of the small grocery store. Just as he reached an empty checkout lane and began to place his items on the conveyor belt, a tall man in a business suit slipped in past him and handed a jug of milk to the cashier. The man glanced back at Miguel. “I only have this one thing. I’m sure you don’t mind.” Why should I mind? thought Miguel. After all, you’re white. And you’ve been working in a nice office all day making tons of money. And you probably think I’m an Illegal—right? He started to say it all out loud. But the man had already paid the cashier and rushed out the door. When Miguel walked out of the store he saw the man sitting in a silver Lexus SUV. Why was he still hanging around? Thought you were in a hurry, Chump. The man watched Miguel walk across the parking lot to a beat-up Ford Ranger extended cab. When Miguel was about to open the driver’s door, the man rolled down his front passenger window and yelled, “Hey! Stop!” Miguel wondered why Mr. Big Shot was hollering at him. Maybe he felt bad about the way he had broken in line, and wanted to apologize. Yeah, right. He got into his truck, placing the two plastic grocery bags on the passenger floorboard. As he drove away he saw the man in his rear view mirror, standing in the middle of the parking lot, yelling and waving his arms. Miguel had been on the road less than a minute when he saw headlights coming up fast from behind. The guy got right on his bumper and wouldn’t back off—no matter whether Miguel sped up or slowed down. There were no other cars on the road. Miguel rolled down his window and waved for the man to go around. But the man seemed determined to ride his tail all the way. Then he started flashing his headlights. This guy’s nuts, thought Miguel. Just a tap on the brakes would cause a collision. The man kept flashing his headlights like crazy. Miguel exited onto a dark two-lane road. The Lexus followed him. Miguel stomped on the accelerator. The Lexus stayed right behind him. Enough, thought Miguel. He slowed down and pulled to the side of the road. The Lexus pulled over and stopped behind him. Miguel jumped out of his truck, hopping mad. He didn’t even bother to turn off the engine or shut his door. He stormed up to the man’s window and screamed, “What’s your problem, Man?” The guy rolled down his window. Miguel was not about to back down, even though he could see that the man was upset too. “Get out of your car and let’s settle this right now!” “But—” “—but nothing! I’m sick and tired of being treated like this. You think I’m illegal, don’t you?” The man started to speak, but Miguel cut him off. “We’ll you’re wrong, Man. I’m just as much a citizen of this country as you are. And I work my butt off every day building houses for rich punks like you. But you think that makes you better than me, don’t you? Just because you work in a nice clean office all day wearing an expensive suit you think you’re high class and I’m low class. But I’ll tell you right now—if it wasn’t for guys like me who are willing to get their hands dirty and work all day in the blazing sun—you wouldn’t have any fancy office building to work in.”

Miguel noticed the man’s right arm beginning to move. It all happened in a split-second, but it seemed like much longer—as in slow motion. He could barely see the man’s arm in the glow of the instrument panel lights as he raised it higher and higher. Had he underestimated this guy? Was that a gun in the man’s right hand? Miguel knew he would not be able to react fast enough. If the man wanted to kill him—he would be dead in two seconds. Then he saw what was in the man’s hand. Nothing. He was pointing at Miguel’s truck. Miguel turned his head just in time to see his truck beginning to move forward. Had he left it in gear? Then he saw a hand pull the door closed. The truck sped away. Miguel looked the man, confused. “That’s what I was trying to tell you. I saw a man get into your back seat as I was coming out of the store. And I thought he looked suspicious, so I wanted to warn the owner of the truck. But I didn’t realize that you were the owner until I saw you walk over to it. I yelled to try to get your attention. But you ignored me. So, I followed you.” “I’m sorry, Man. I thought you were—” “—you thought I was crazy. I know. Maybe if I hadn’t been so rude in the store. Sorry about that.” “It’s okay.” “Well, hop in. Let me take you home, or wherever you need to go.” “Thanks, Man.” Miguel walked around to the passenger side and got in. “What’s your name?” “Miguel.” “Glad to meet you, Miguel. I’m Jack. If you want, I’ll follow that guy. We could probably still catch up with him.” “That’s okay. I was about ready to replace that old truck anyway. It’s a piece of junk.” Jack smiled as he reached into his shirt pocket, pulled out a business card, and handed it to Miguel. “Jack’s Used Cars. I can make you a great deal on a fine pre-owned automobile, Miguel.” “Are you kidding me?” “No, not at all. How much are you looking to spend? What kind of monthly note can you handle?” “Get out.” “What?” “You heard me. Get out!” Miguel reached under his shirt and pulled out a pistol. “Now!” “Why are you doing this?” “Because I don’t appreciate your attitude, Jack.” “What? I was just trying to help you.” “Fine. You’ve helped me. Thanks for the car. Now get out!” Now it all made sense to Jack. “That guy who stole your car—you two are working together, aren’t you?” “Good for you, Jack. You figured it out. You’re a smart guy. Or at least you were until five seconds from now when you’re gonna be dead!” Jack held up his hands. “Okay, okay.” He opened the door and began to get out. “Wait,” said Miguel. Jack froze in place. “I hear sirens. Did you call the police?” “Well, yeah. I thought that guy might be planning to kill you, so I called 9-1-1.” “Get back in.” “Are you sure?” “Get in the car!” Miguel opened his door and got out. The sirens were coming toward them from behind. “Take off. And drive as fast as you can.” Jack slammed the door. “Now!” He pointed the gun. “Or I’m gonna start shooting. Go!” Jack peeled out and drove away. Miguel hid in the nearby bushes while the two police cars raced by. Then he walked out to the road and stood there watching, as the flashing lights got smaller and finally disappeared. Fools, thought Miguel.

He took out his cell phone. “Hey, come back and get me…Yeah, he called the cops…It’s no big deal, Man. It won’t take long to find another sucker. But hurry up—before they come back here.” Only two patrol cars had responded to Jack’s 9-1-1 call. Miguel was surprised there weren’t more. There were. The third cop was trying to catch up—driving 125 mph, without siren or flashing lights. It was already too late to get out of the road by the time Miguel heard the car coming up from behind. THE END

and I meant it. flying across the restaurant.Kory Mantra Kory Mantra is a 32-year old computer programmer who. come on.” He started to walk away.” He smiled. “I want you to leave—right now. after losing his job and his girlfriend. “Have a nice evening. Bella’s demeanor abruptly changed.” She looked as though she would have spit in his face if he had been closer. he thought. He looked up to see the slim. Kory imagined it ripping apart at any moment. and landing on somebody’s plate of refried beans. They were exactly the same dark brown shade as her thick and lustrous. “Oh.” She scanned the room. “Let go.” she said sternly.” “I’m not going anywhere. The man’s swagger seemed to be based on the belief that every woman in the room was salivating at the sight of his rock-hard biceps and pecs. Honey. For a second. but he grabbed her arm and held it down against the table. Evan released the woman’s arm. at the table in the corner. with bulging muscles. or I’m leaving.” said Kory. So. Kory dipped another tortilla chip in the salsa and put the whole thing in his mouth. I didn’t run that guy off just so I could—“ “—do you have a girlfriend?” “No. looking for an attractive woman who was sitting alone. “Let go of her. She looked up at Kory with warm eyes. And to help him stick with it. he made weekly videos of his progress and posted them online. watching them. Kory nearly flinched.” “You’re not. Then a publishing company offered him a contract for a series of yoga books and DVDs. Bella. Baby. I—” “—oh. cheering him on. but his eyes kept wandering back to her. Evan’s eyes were cold and mean. He tried not to stare. Not what he had expected. but double-wide. His skin-tight T-shirt was the correct size for a fiveyear-old boy. shoulder-length hair. now he’s a celebrity.” The woman tried to get up. six-foot-four stranger towering over him. “Wait.” said the man. You’re gonna have dinner with me. He was average height.” He continued to hold her arm.” “I told you I didn’t want to see you again. By the time he reached his goal of losing 90 pounds. “I’ll call you later. went on a diet and took up yoga. as he pulled out a chair and sat down. He didn’t see a wedding ring. and slowly stood up. “Looks like I’m just in time for dinner. I’m fine. “Don’t bother. Why don’t you join me for dinner?” “Well. But will he ever find true love? Or will he die trying? Kory couldn’t help but notice the attractive young woman sitting a few feet away.” “Okay. Maybe a blind date. but buff. it’s not that. Evan. he thought the big hulk might jump up and rip his head off.” He walked off. you know you don’t really mean that. either you leave. Good. So. and neither are you. A stout young guy in jeans walked to the woman’s table. how stupid of me. without raising her voice. “Thank you so much. I just don’t want to intrude. “No. Kory figured it must be the boyfriend.” “I mean. You’re here with a date.” “Are you okay?” “Yeah.” “No. over a million people were watching his videos.” “A wife?” “No. but—“ . winking at a sexy blonde on the way out. She was dressed as though she was meeting for a first date.

” She extended her hand.” “Yeah. The publisher hired other people to write the rest of it. The Kory Mantra? The guy who made all those videos about losing weight doing yoga?” “Yep. But without the yoga.” “Well. I was out of work. Then a young man delivered a fresh basket of warm tortilla chips and two small bowls of salsa. “No.” She smiled broadly. when you really only wrote a small part of it. How much did you finally lose?” “Ninety pounds. “Me too. We had been together for almost a year. Your body looks lean and sculpted. I have mixed feelings about it.” Kory looked down at his clothes.” Bella seriously doubted Kory was over his ex. that doesn’t seem very honest—to put your name on the book. I’ve met a few women online.“—just sit down.” Her grip was firm. But I knew there was some truth to what they were saying. “Thanks. But no. she thought. . but nodded in agreement anyway. because they might just be interested in your money. Bella Cudry.” “Wait. And. it was tough for a while. If people realize I’m here they might come over and start bugging me for autographs. They decided on the Chicken Fajitas for Two.” “So. now you’re a yoga guru. do they know you’re rich and famous?” “Oh. But I only wrote about twenty percent of what’s in there. But the small company I was working for in The Woodlands went out of business about a year ago. I’m not a guru.” “Do they know who you are? I mean. “So. Why do men always think they can get over a relationship so fast? Women know better. as though he wondered if they had just become invisible. and lost down to 185. I’m comfortable. “And you are?” He shook her hand. The only thing she left was a very short goodbye note.” “Well. “So. you sure don’t have any flab. Her skin was warm and soft.” “Just by doing yoga?” “No. along with all her stuff.” “Yeah.” “Wow. that’s cool.” “That’s cold. And I would have ended up with a lot of flab hanging off my bones.” “They conned you. But haven’t you ever heard of ghost writers? Publishers do this all the time with celebrities. I saw how great you looked in one of your later videos. I’m hoping they don’t know about the yoga guy from YouTube. And some of them sound nice. So. I also rode a stationary bike.” “Or your good looks. I came home and she was gone. I went out and bought a bunch of yoga books and got serious. And now I have my own book. your name is Bella?” “That’s right. and cut my calories.” “I know. But I’m over her now. “I mean. So. hey. we both lost our jobs at the same time. “Please.” “What kind of work did you do?” “Computer programming. She took a job in Austin and moved out of the house while I was on an interview.” said Bella. which would lead to millions of people getting healthier and happier. My girlfriend worked there too. “Kory. A waitress came to take their order. That’s me. I watched some of your videos on YouTube. of course.” “I know.” “And I’ll bet it’s selling like crazy. I couldn’t have stayed focused. Kory Mantra. And they told me that my name would sell millions of books.” “Yeah.” She reached out and took his hand.” He leaned toward her and lowered his voice. I don’t talk much about money. I’m not rich. “But hold your voice down.” she said. I needed the money. it’s doing pretty well.” “I don’t anymore.” “I thought you said you didn’t have a girlfriend.” He sat down across from her. I hate dining alone.” “Yeah. I’m just a guy who was desperate to get into shape. sort of. I started at 275.

I thought it would bring back good memories. It made me so mad—I just wanted to hunt down all the creeps and—“ “—blow them away?” “Yeah. like certain TV shows we’d always watch. “Yeah. But it’s just making me sad. he’s been following me around and showing up at my door several times a week. So I just randomly picked one out of the yellow pages.” “So.” “So. They wouldn’t have given up two years of their life the way you did. thanks.” . you’ve got Evan. “Sorry—I didn’t mean to embarrass you.” “You’re kidding. It’s a ‘66 GTO. This is the first time I’ve ever come here without her. Now I know it’s not that easy. and walked Bella to her car. she hadn’t had a mammogram for a couple of years. But he begged me to have just one dinner with him.” she said. I felt guilty that I hadn’t made sure she was getting regular checkups. “Yeah. Shortly after graduation. this is yours?” said Bella. I lived at home with my mom and grandmother while I was in college. But I didn’t know any plumbers. pointing to the shiny black car. certain meals we’d eat on particular days. good life. that’s why you’re here on Saturday night by yourself. But it’s nice to see you haven’t let the fame go to your head. Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. My brother was killed in a convenience store robbery when I was sixteen. I wish I’d never met him. But she was amazing—especially when she smiled like that.” “Yeah. But during my senior year.” “No. I thought I could fix anything that was wrong with the world. my life is empty. He asked to come in for a while.” said Kory. ‘No. she died. He wasn’t so sure about his looks. He’s driving me nuts. It’s a classic.” “I’m sorry. I had a leaky pipe in the kitchen. And every Saturday night we’d get all dressed up and come here for dinner.His face reddened. I’ve spent the past two years caring for my grandmother full-time. My degree is in criminal justice because I thought I wanted to be a cop.’ he forced his way in. now that she’s gone?” “Get a job. This was her favorite restaurant.” “I know cars—especially the cool-looking classics. And he was quite charming when he asked me for a date.” “Well.” “No. But I can’t just sit around every day doing nothing.” “Well. and when I told him ‘No.” said Bella. But then he asked me to go to a movie. she had been suffering with heart disease for years. He called the next day and apologized. “You must have really loved her. Kory paid the tab.” “Sounds like you need a restraining order. and I said. I know—it’s old. right?” “I’m impressed.” “I’m so sorry.” When they finished dinner. but I’m just not ready. what are you going to do with your life. Most women would have put their grandmother in a nursing home. But I might not have any choice. at least she lived a long.” “I’m trying not to do that. But a hard kick in the shin and a few screams made him change his mind. “Hey. actually—until he took me home. “So.” “How did that go?” “Fine. I’ve thought about trying online dating. so I’m doing okay. She stayed so busy taking care of Grandma that she didn’t take good care of herself. He kept flirting with me. My mom and grandmother left me the house and some money.” Kory grinned. hoping she knew he was joking. We developed little rituals. And we were having fun together.’ And ever since. we parked right next to each other.” “How’s your grandmother doing?” “She died about a month ago. And I really didn’t think she’d hang on for more than another six months. I told him I wasn’t ready to start dating again.” “Yeah. Now that Grandma’s gone.” “Well. I wish now I had fixed it myself. But then she started feeling a lot better. But I was a kid.

” “I’m calling the police. But he quickly got back up to confront Kory again. hard kick. He knew he had to hurry. when I stab you. He had dropped the knife and couldn’t find it in the dark grass. so the back yard could be seen from the street. as the liquid rolled off his face. Teflon-coated blade. “Well. “What is this? Acid? I’ll kill you!” He held Kory’s arms down with his knees. it’s gonna slide in so nice and easy that you’ll barely even feel it. . He jumped to the right. and began to pry at the door. Tough Guy from the restaurant. taking out his cell phone. Evan threw a fast. fine. Then he laughed at her—until his eyes began to burn. Did she really expect to hurt him with a little water? He looked straight at her. Tonight he was going to get what he wanted. take it all off! She stepped into a pair of jeans and pulled a sweatshirt over her head. Silly woman. ********** Bella’s house was located on a corner.” he said with an evil grin. he noticed that she had no tan lines whatsoever. Kory’s spine and arms were jammed down against the concrete patio. but he was faster. He could barely see her through the narrow gap alongside the window shade. rather than the kiss he was dying to give her. barely missing the knife. Come on. and began to rub his eyes—which only made the burning more intense.” He handed her a business card. “Ever seen one of these Bad Boys? It’s got a super-sharp. And please let me know if you need any help with Evan. There was no rod securing the door in its closed position—just the flimsy. Man. landing somewhere in the darkness.” For a moment. But when he saw Kory standing there. And thanks for dinner. “Thanks. Her skin was creamy white. Evan fell to the ground in agony. “Me too. and sat on his stomach.” She got into her car and drove away. if it isn’t Mr. clutching his knee. Then he climbed on top of him. He took out his four-inch pocket knife. No—that sounds like a date. as he held up the knife. Kory. built-in locking mechanism. He lunged at Kory and knocked him down.” said Kory. But then he ran at Kory with the knife. go for a ride with me.” “Okay.” I guess this means she wants a handshake.” Bella smiled and held out her hand. grinning. Kory hopped back.” “Look. He was ready to go in. But the last thing on Evan’s mind was whether anybody could see him. thought Kory. he relaxed. When she took off her dress. So. and we’ll forget this ever happened. He whipped around with the knife. he thought. He made a fist and slowly cocked his arm for the first punch. “Here’s my number. just walk away right now. She might walk into the living room at any moment. I really enjoyed it. flying halfway to the back fence. Now the all-black weapon didn’t seem so cool after all. flipped out the blade. “Wonder what would happen if I punched your head into the concrete a few times?” Evan laughed. Enough watching. Evan looked up just in time to see Bella throwing a bucket of water at his face. he thought. “Go ahead—call the police. Their heads were two feet away from the sliding glass door. He decided that the sliding glass door off the living room would offer the least resistance. Evan acted like he was about to leave. All the strength Kory had developed through his yoga routine could not compensate for his attacker’s sixtypound advantage. “Call me anytime. Kory was not nearly as strong as Evan. The entire thing was black—even the blade. “Get away from that door!” the man’s voice shouted from behind him. he thought. ready to slice whoever it was. He had waited long enough. Buttface. The cell phone went airborne. It surprised both of them when the sliding glass door suddenly opened. and kicked the side of Evan’s left knee as hard as he could. But Evan’s boot connected with Kory’s right hand.Then. evading what would have been a groin-crushing blow.

none of the Pine-Sol and water solution had splashed into Kory’s eyes. still unconscious. She turned the flashlight toward the ground. I think.” “I’ll call from the house phone. Oh. And I’ll get you a Band-Aid.” “I don’t know. and saw that she no longer had the bucket in her hands. “One for his hands and one for his feet?” “No. I think he could pull this whole fence loose. on a country road. and stood up. got something out of a drawer. When he saw the red pickup turn into the long driveway.” She hurried into the kitchen. She had really liked him.” “Good idea.” They cuffed his hands behind his back.” He studied Evan. She turned. Ouch! I found the knife. “Thanks. Kory cut his headlights. Then she heard a car engine start. Perhaps after spending every day and night with her grandmother for two years she had lost her knack for reading people. Bella secured him to the fence with the second pair of cuffs. But there was little moonlight. “We need to call the police. Bella was gonna knock his head right out of the park. Then she noticed that Evan looked different. Then she walked to the bathroom to get a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a bandage. Got any rope?” “I’ve got something better than rope.” “Are you okay?” “Yeah. Maybe Kory was not a nice guy after all. Kory was a little surprised. There was Evan. “I’ll call 9-1-1. It was Kory’s cell phone. She leaned in to see if she could hear him breathing. Bella stepped on something. Then he resumed the search for his phone. And in the meantime—what if a deer ran out in front of his car? .” She held up two pairs of handcuffs. She heard tires screeching. until his eyes adjusted. She swung the mop handle at Evan. But then he remembered she had wanted to be a cop.” “And how about a flashlight?” “Sure. She couldn’t understand why Kory had taken off. Then she pressed two fingers to the side of his neck. and Evan collapsed on top of Kory. The nearest neighbor was at least a hundred yards away.” “Did you cut yourself?” “It’s just a nick. she thought.Miraculously.” Kory closed the knife and put it in his pocket. Now she was holding a mop—by the wrong end. The road completely disappeared for a couple of seconds. “Kory?” She turned on the flashlight and shined it around the yard.” He walked back over to where they had fought and got down on all fours to search for it. and then dragged his body to the nearby chain link fence that faced the side street. The house was a few miles north of Bella’s place. She picked it up and put it in her pocket. The wood handle cracked when it made contact. He was too pumped up to worry about the cops. but just figured it was the teenager who lived across the street. sitting against the fence. He just hoped he could negotiate the right turn into the driveway without going off into the deep ditch. Bella called 9-1-1. His head was resting awkwardly on his chest. I forgot—he kicked my cell phone out of my hand. That’s weird. He was gone. and felt…nothing. He strained his neck to look back at Bella. and his tongue was hanging out. ********** Kory was driving way over the speed limit. as though she was a big league slugger. His knife is out there in the grass somewhere. and saw Kory’s GTO speeding away. “There you are. and came back.” Kory reached into his pocket for his cell phone. we’d better tie him up. He tried to stab me. Kory rolled Evan’s body off to the side. “He’s not going anywhere. “These will hold him. But first. She grabbed a flashlight from the kitchen and walked out to the back yard. The second pair is to hook him to the fence.

I’m sorry. But he went and did something stupid. These are not poor people. He would sneak up and look through a window. Couldn’t he have come up with a better fake name? The flashlight got closer and closer.” said Billy. Daddy wouldn’t be too happy if I killed you just for sport. and a black Harley. and muted the sound system. and put it up to a man’s head. “The dart comes out at 350 feet per second. Billy. “Billy is quite the marksman. He froze.000 vehicle. Too bad Evan had to die. you done good. They walked across the wooden porch. Hot. with dual rear wheels.” said Bobby.” Kory had never seen a modern blowgun. They make them out of aircraft aluminum tubing. rancid breath blew spittle into his face as the man spoke. “I use a special poison from South America. But don’t get your panties in a wad. The red pickup was a big Dodge Ram Diesel. “You’re trespassing!” “Uh. thought Kory. “These babies are high-tech. No wonder his breath stinks. I can hit the bulls-eye at 250 feet. Another man came rushing into the room from the side hallway. I guess I’ve got the wrong house. “And just to make it fair. He’s the guy who attacked Evan tonight. But I could tell him you made a run for it—and that’s why I shot you in the back. was standing in the middle of the room playing air guitar screaming.” said Kory. Boy?” “Uh…” The man chuckled. dark blue Mustang. nearly knocking him down.” “You know what? I’ll just show him how it works. He held it there all the way to the house.” Billy picked up a long. and was about to get himself arrested. “it’s fun to sit on the back porch and watch Billy pick off stray dogs. and save the merchandise. “Let’s go. At first it just makes your body go all numb. And even then. Billy ignored him. He likes to do the killing himself. Kory got out of his car. Bobby had a long strand of beef jerky hanging out of his mouth. The music of Steppenwolf was so loud it nearly blasted them back out the door. thought Kory. his hearing aid would have to be cranked up all the way.” said Billy. “Put them away. reaching into his jacket pocket and pulling out a thin metal case. black object that was leaning against the wall by the fireplace. and squeeze the trigger—just to watch his brains blow out the other side. “Who’s this. Not unless he’s still up—which is doubtful. Boy. “I’ve always wanted to take a big pistol. and called the police. I was looking for John Smith. The man driving the truck had already gone into the house. I had to take him out. Bobby?” Kory finally got a good look at his captor. “Yeah. he thought. and the man keyed in the security code and opened the front door.” he said. thought Kory.” He pulled the gun away from Kory’s head and jammed it into his back. and carefully turned in.” “Yeah. That would have been the safe thing to do. He turned to Kory. wearing a blue jean jacket. “You know what I’ve always wanted to do?” Kory was about to say ‘What?’ when he heard a metallic click in his left ear. cool muzzle against his temple. grabbed the remote off the coffee table.” said the old man. About a $50. He could have just driven by. So. until it was six inches from Kory’s eyes. Wanna make a run for it. Then your heart stops. “Don’t that sound like fun?” “But wouldn’t your neighbor hear the shot? Wouldn’t he call the police?” “Nope. “Put that thing away!” . straining to see the driveway. A powerful beam of light blinded Kory. An old hippie-looking man with a beard.” That must have been what he took out of Evan’s truck. “I’ll tell you who he is. I’ll give him a good running start.” “I said ‘No!’” The old man backhanded Billy. and hopefully be able to determine if he had the right guy. “Born to be wild!” He caught a glimpse of the two men out of the corner of his eye.He slowed down. Parked in front of the truck were a brand new. Son. “—hold it right there!” shouted a big.” said the old man. grimacing slightly at the thought of his stupidity. located a pay phone. But what if this was the wrong guy? How could he be sure he hadn’t lost him in traffic? He had seen three or four red pickup trucks along the way. laughing. deep voice. Then he would go find a pay phone and—. Then he felt the hard.

go out there and shut it down before some cop happens to drive by. and pulled it tight— nearly cutting off the circulation. I did have dinner with Bella. When Bobby came back with them.” “Good. A loud siren started blaring. What do you want to know?” “Billy tells me that Evan had been dating a woman named Bella. “It’s my truck alarm. he might be able to hop to the door before they could catch him. the old man said. Kory still had Evan’s knife in his pants pocket.” She took it out. But I just met her for the first time tonight. Then she cut the one off his wrists. and cut the tie-wrap off his ankles. I saw him drive out of the parking lot as she was leaving.” “Then why did you follow her home?” “I wasn’t following her—I was following Evan. and when he asked her out again. The old man and his two sons ran to the front windows. in front of the house. Nobody had bothered to pat him down. Kory suspected that the old man was about to cut his throat. ready for action. Bella. Not at all. Then he sat him in a wooden chair and put the other tie-wrap on his ankles. But at least he had saved her from Evan. And now she would be okay. If he hadn’t met Bella tonight.” “You don’t believe him. Kory figured that if all three men were to leave the room for a couple of minutes. what good would it do him? “Okay.’ After that.” he said. Billy’s truck alarm went silent. ala Knight Rider. “are going to give it to me. as though he had summoned his car.That was close. Billy would surely nail him in the back with a poison dart. Why hadn’t he just driven by the house and called the police? The old man slowly paced back and forth in front of his uninvited guest. He had seriously miscalculated the danger of the situation. “Let’s go!” Kory turned his head and saw Bella. But he feared his life expectancy was less than thirty minutes. he ran back into the house.” Kory looked at Billy. tie his hands behind his back. as he casually walked around behind Kory’s chair. Have a wonderful life.” “What did she tell you he did for a living?” “She said he was a plumber. A voice from behind Kory said.” “She didn’t say anything about drugs?” “No. I don’t really know her. Then they ran outside and frantically worked at silencing the alarm. Maybe he was watching from the bar. taking out his keys.” said the old man. He’s got an honest face. “Yes.” said the old man.” “Well. and that you had dinner with her tonight. “I need some information.” said the old man. He didn’t remember his face from the restaurant. He wished he could have gotten to know her much better. But no sooner than Billy had opened the front door and taken a few steps. He nodded at Kory. . thought Kory. I suspected he was going to follow her home. reaching into his pants pocket. “There’s a knife in my right pants’ pocket. that’s right. I do. “Bobby. It took a sharp knife or a pair of wire cutters to get the things off. fed the tip through the self-locking end. go out in the garage and get a couple of them tie-wraps.” said Billy. I was right. “Yes. do you Daddy?” said Bobby. “His car rammed into the back of my truck.” All three men glared at Kory.” He pushed a button on the knife and the blade popped out. He showed her the tie-wraps. But even if he somehow made it out of the house.” “What did she tell you about Evan?” “Just that she went out with him one time. “Now. he started stalking her. she said ‘No.” Kory had seen these heavy-duty tie-wraps being used on cop shows. And I always trust my instincts. Bobby put a tie-wrap around Kory’s wrists. he wouldn’t be about to die. But with his hands tied behind his back. and then tie his ankles together. he thought. “It won’t turn off. opened it. Turns out. He clicked the remote several times. And you.

you just took a chance that this is where I went.” “And when I got here I saw your car in the driveway. I didn’t even think about the possibility of a car alarm. But when I saw the dart. So. Then I ran as fast as I could. We’ve just handed them three drug dealers.” “What do you mean? We’re still here. through the ditch and onto the road. and slid down. aimed.Kory and Bella heard somebody’s boots walking across the wooden front porch as they hurried out the back hallway. through the utility room. I knew it would pick up speed as it went along. “If he gets away.” said Billy. Bobby got into the Mustang. “There was a piece of paper in Evan’s shirt pocket. I see two people.’ and just let it go up the driveway. I peeked in the window and saw that you were in trouble. He could barely see the figure running across the grass toward the neighbor’s house.” “I’m glad you did. and out to the back porch.” “So. Kory would fall to his knees. “Did you hear something when we were running?” . “Daddy!” yelled Bobby. “Catch him!” said the old man. It had the directions on it. Three sets of flashing red and blue lights were racing up the road.” “So. “I think you missed again. But the cops quickly cut them off.” “But how could you be sure his alarm would be turned on?” “Actually.” said Bobby. “Look!” He pointed toward the road. nearly colliding with two police cars that were just arriving. and came in just as the truck alarm tripped. Fortunately.” said Bobby.” said Bobby. He picked up his blowgun and ran down the hallway. Billy drove diagonally across the front yard. Evan’s dead and you’re speeding away in your car. “the police are not going to be too happy with us for leaving the scene. and when I come out. I figured the crash would be enough to get them out of the house. Bobby and the old man were close behind him. It was the only clue I had.” “I think they’ll forgive us. Then I started up your car. I figured that maybe you had gone after the killer. The old man jumped on his Harley and stomped the starter. Just as the police were pulling up to the house.” Kory suddenly remembered Billy and his blowgun. and ran off the porch and around to the front yard. we’re dead!” “I’ll get him. your keys were in the ignition. and went around to the back of the house. and blew. “He’s gone!” The old man and Billy ran into the house. “This is your fault!” “Uh-oh. The old man tried to make a sharp U-turn. “How did you find me?” said Kory. you just might be able to escape. what was I supposed to think? I go into the house for two minutes. so I called 9-1-1 and gave them directions. Billy jumped into his truck.” He looked at his wrecked GTO in the distance and wondered if it would ever be the same. I figured you hadn’t killed him. I parked over here and ran up to their house. “They’re coming here!” Billy dropped the blowgun. Bobby and the old man drove out the other direction. I told them to look for a black ‘66 GTO.” “Yeah. and then drop dead— just like the mangy old dogs he used for target practice. dropped it into ‘Drive. Kory and Bella watched the circus from the neighbor’s driveway.” “I’m talking about the scene at my house—Evan’s body. I figured if I could distract them for a minute. “And by the way. Bobby?” shouted Billy. He quickly loaded his weapon. After I found the dart stuck in Evan’s back.” “Evan was a drug dealer? I can’t believe I went out with a drug dealer. Bobby surrendered. “He’s still running!” “Hey.” she said.” “He must have been planning to come here tonight to sell the drugs. at first you thought I had killed him?” “Well. “Why is he still running?” said the old man. I followed the directions. So. Billy blew another dart. “Why’d you go off and leave him alone in the house.

he said. “But I guess if he’d hit one of us. Then he took his pants off. by the waistband. “Looks like you’re dart-free. he grasped her head with both hands and kissed her on the mouth. I need somebody I can trust. and just see how it goes…. Almost immediately.” The moonlight was dim. I don’t think Evan planned to kill you. I want somebody who’s smart. stuff like that.” “Look. and you’re gonna be hands-free. I was running in front of you.” “But no more kissing or grabbing. “Hold still. “Great. Maybe if I could take it on a trial basis. but you were behind me. Why don’t you come to work for me?” “Doing what?” “You could be my personal assistant—taking phone calls.” She put her left hand against his right butt cheek. alright. But if he’d had his way with me.” “What?” “You heard me.” She turned her back to him. “Your wallet saved you. and pointed to the right rear pocket.” “Sounds like a secretarial job to me. That’s not part of the deal. “Bella?” “Yes?” “You said you wanted to get a job.” “Oh. No. Come over to my car.” She punched him hard in the stomach. Besides. but his pants were white. You’re gonna be fine. “I’m sorry. Take them off—carefully. I’d better check you for darts.“Like what?” “Like a dart flying through the air.” She took hold of his shoulders to direct him. Without thinking.” “So.” “Good. I would have wished I was dead. “What are you doing?” “Getting this. He turned back around. the bulb burned out. thanks. Those things are ugly—even in the dark.” “No. “Hey.” “Sure. His face went pale when he saw it.” “Hey. Turn around and let me check you. Not some nine-to-fiver who’ll go telling everybody my business. and looked almost glow-in-the-dark.” He worked his hands carefully down her back and across her firm rear end and thighs.” He slipped out of his shoes.” “Well. Bella. leading him to the truck.” .” she said. “Thank you for saving my life. Once he had caught his breath. and the light came on inside. He couldn’t have hit me.” She stepped back. turned them around.” “Turn around. and discrete. “I was just returning the favor. answering emails. He didn’t have any idea what she was doing. “Turn this way just a little. And my first order of business will be to make you go out and buy some new boxers. “I need more light. “Relax.” he gasped.” “Do that again. I’d already be dead. but he kinda liked it. There. and held them out.” She punched him hard in the arm. He felt her pull something off the seat of his pants. Bella. He pulled away from her lips sooner than he really wanted to. She took them.” “Oh.” He began to hyperventilate.” “No. “Let’s see. “I didn’t even feel it. “Ouch! You got me right on the bone.” Kory turned his back to her. like you said. She popped the lid. “I must be going numb—just like Billy said I would!” She dropped the dart in the trunk.” She held up a dart.” She dropped the pants into the trunk.” he said. You’re gonna need a new one.” She spun around. knocking the wind out of him. I don’t know. you want to start on Monday?” “Yeah. okay. tough. Take off your pants. we’d already be dead.” “Somebody to come to the rescue when you get your butt in a bind?” “I don’t usually get into this much trouble.” “No.

Kory moved in close to Bella’s side and put his arm around her shoulders. You’re gonna be a pain in the rear.” she warned. “Careful. smiling to herself.” They watched the police handcuff the three felons and stuff them into the back seats of their cruisers.” “But I’ll keep you on track. THE END .” “That’s what I need.Kory rubbed his arm. “I must be crazy.

” he said.” Ed continued to grin at Phil as he studied his old buddy’s out of shape body. Unless it comes back to bite you. Ante Up Revenge is sweet. “Fine.” he said facetiously.” Ed chuckled. “Where are you going? Come back here! Hey!” What a chump he was. you idiot.” “Right. Phil? I trusted you.” “I can see that. You’ve been robbing me blind. I do. And I’ve never hired a hooker before. tied to the bedposts. but he was certainly open to experimentation. Of course not. But instead.” “And you fell for it. Not until tonight. don’t it?” “You stole from me.” “Of course not. Did you think I’d never notice?” “I don’t know what you’re talking about. It would be easy for her to manipulate the numbers. “Ed. Honey? I missed you. He’d never tried that.” Phil was confused by the sudden change of subject.” “What are you talking about? What did I do? Steal your hooker?” “I don’t need hookers. “Fire ants are overtaking your entire yard. You’ve been cooking the books. Ed? Look around. Phil?” “I don’t want you here tonight. Sure—she’d probably gone out to her car for some equipment. Does it look like I’ve got any extra money?” “Probably spent it on gambling—or hookers. Just shut your stinking mouth!” “The truth hurts. I would never do that. Phil. “Have you talked to your dear wife about this?” “Oh. young hooker. Phil. I’m an idiot. “You need to take better care of your yard.” “What?!” “Don’t deny it. “Where did you go. so now you’re gonna try to shift the blame to Rachel? How dare you!” “Did you even ask her about it?” “No.” “Just this year alone you’ve stolen $40. What the hell are you doing here?” Ed grinned. Phil. “Having a little fun. They’ve built a huge mound against your bedroom wall. and— nothing! How was he going to get himself untied? Then he heard the front door open.” He watched the doorway for his sexy. but didn’t speak a word. she approached me—at the bar. A whip or something. Wait—that was you. Phil had paid fifty bucks to be stripped naked.” “What!? Are you out of your mind.000. Did you know that?” . In fact.” “If you say another word about Rachel—” “—what? You’re gonna kill me?” Ed stared at him. wasn’t it? You paid her to set me up—to come here and tie me up like this. But I didn’t steal any money.” “Yes. This made Phil nervous. man. Phil.” “Why not? She’s the bookkeeper. I believe you. Finally.Man Down. Phil. Ed said.” “But when’s the last time you—” “—shut up. his business partner appeared. You’ve got a gorgeous young bride—half your age. “So?” “Fire ants can be deadly. Right about there. pointing. “What are you looking at? You’re fatter than me!” “Why did you do it.” “You know I don’t gamble. Phil.

his ears—everything! And as he died in agony. bleeding.” Ed walked back in. But worse than that was the realization that hundreds. head resting on a large mound of soft dirt.” “Please! Ouch! They’re biting me! Please cut me loose!” Ed calmly put the lid back on the top of the bucket and walked out of the room with it. And those hundreds of stings eventually overpower the poor animal’s immune system.” “Fire ants are very resourceful.” “You know. Untie me.” “What is that?” Phil was afraid to hear the answer.” “No. it’s fire ants. And the raft carries the queen ant to safety. sending much of the dirt into the air. “Why. the ants band together to form a raft?” “You’re making this stuff up. He removed the lid and began to sprinkle its contents near the wall. no! An angry fire ant stung his lip. if not thousands. The one thing he had not anticipated was the bullet. It’s amazing. as his former friend began to scream. if a fire ant stings him while he’s on the ground and he doesn’t get up right away. Ed jumped back to avoid the airborne ants. Now. I stole the money! It was me—so call the police!” “Too late for that. It’s true. “Where are you going? Come on. “What we need is a nice little trail.” “No.” He walked out of the room. carrying a five-gallon bucket. Now.“I know it hurts when they sting you. The small town sheriff was a good friend. He walked out of the house and down the sidewalk toward his car. There were no other homes close by. the calf is completely covered with ants. Ed. I read about it. Ed fell to the ground.” “Yeah. And Phil had no family. But he didn’t die immediately. and untie him. When that one fire ant stings the calf. he could be a goner?” “You’re kidding. I’ll bet that colony of ants right there outside this wall could easily make its way inside if it had a good reason. Did you know that if it floods. he thought. Phil. He lay paralyzed. Phil. “Stop it! Stop it. untie me. of course. Ed smiled. Phil. It couldn’t be. Did you know that when a calf is born. Ed would get bored after a while. Rachel! How could you?! THE END . “Yeah. Hopefully. Ed! Okay. The pain was excruciating. Ed. His old buddy had not betrayed him.” “You read too much.” He would play along with Ed’s crazy line of thought. of ants would soon attack his nose. Nobody would hear.” he said with delight. it gives off pheromones that attract the rest of the colony. Ed. left in Phil’s mailbox. Please. okay! I’ll admit to whatever you want! Yes. It had been so easy. Ed’s only contact with the hooker had been via throwaway cell phone and two hundred in cash. The one that caught his left temple. “No! No!” Phil began to thrust his midsection up and down.” He poured the remainder of the dirt and ants on top of Phil’s bare crotch. “It’s no use. No. as he continued to create a trail of dirt and fire ants across the floor and onto the bed. Would he get away with it? Probably. In no time at all. Amazing. come on. his eyelids. you’ve had your fun. he understood.

Hope you ordered an extra large. he brought major cash. ********** .” Tara gasped. she had never made use of her business degree.” “I need to make a few business calls. Travis spent most of his time on the road.” After Tara had ordered the pizza. No problem.” “Of course. It was an electronic stethoscope for listening through walls and doors. she went to the study. That was not the issue. Couldn’t we just stay in and order a pizza?” Tara pretended to be hurt. She even loved Travis—as much as a woman like her was capable of loving a man.” “Oh.” He took off his suit coat and laid it on the bed. She grabbed the device she had recently purchased from a website. Baby.BuckThirsty Some people will do anything for a buck. She had a very sexy body. She hid it behind her back as she walked quietly to his study. How would she know? Not that she cared so much about fidelity. She turned up the volume until she could hear him talking. since she was so busy shopping and hanging out with friends.” “Okay. Her heart began to race as she put on the headphones and placed the diaphragm against the door. Then he walked over to Tara and took her in his arms.” “Great.” She smiled. I’m starving for that pizza. She walked around the room for a while. juicy steak. She would be broke—out on the streets. Months earlier Travis had sound-proofed the room—ostensibly to shut out the noise from the living room TV. I guess so. no more shopping sprees. You might call them BuckThirsty.” “Well. “Yeah. “Pepperoni or Meat Lover’s?” She reached into to her pocket for her cell phone. but wondered if her smile looked forced. And she wouldn’t be able to get the kind of job she needed to support her lavish lifestyle. Then I nailed her. Sometimes she wondered exactly what kind of work her boyfriend did to make all that money. “…watched her strip. And even though she didn’t know I was watching—it was like she was teasing me. But she didn’t have time to think about it too much. Baby. Had he heard her? She tiptoed to the bedroom and put the device back in its hiding place and closed the drawer. When she turned around. Travis was standing in the doorway. “Uh. Honey. “Pepperoni’s fine. She jumped. Where are we going for dinner? I’m craving a big.” He slid his hands down to her butt and pulled her against himself. Finally. yeah. The door was closed. I let her doze off for a few minutes. Her concern was that he might dump her for another woman. Tara hurried to the bedroom. he could have a girlfriend in every city he did business in. “Have a good week?” “Yep. That would mean no more country club. In fact. Her skills were more valuable in the bedroom than in the boardroom. Travis and Tara were thirtysomethings who lived in an affluent suburb. She hated it. The door was still closed. But when he did come home to his live-in girlfriend. Tara loved cash.” He kissed her on the forehead and then walked toward his study. Sweetie—I’m kinda tired. no more…anything. Can’t wait. Then she quickly covered her mouth. “And later I’m going to be starving for something else. “You okay?” He seemed genuinely concerned. What was he doing in there? What was he hiding? She often wondered if he might be having an affair. she got into to bed and turned off the light. I’ve got another satisfied client. as usual. naked.” “Thanks. Tara ran to greet him at the front door. It would be easy. Sure. reached into her dresser to the back of her panties drawer. In the ten years since college. “Well. Man.

On Monday morning, as soon as Travis had left for the airport, Tara put on a provocative outfit and drove into town to visit John, Travis’ attorney. John gave Tara the once over as she walked into his office. The outfit is working, she thought. She wasn’t ‘smoking hot’ anymore, but she was still sexier than just about anything else walking down the street. “So, what can I do for you, Tara?” Judging by the way he was eying her chest, she knew exactly what he wanted to do for her. And if she were available, she just might let him do it. “Before I get to that…just out of curiosity…has Travis made any changes to his will lately?” “No. Why?” She smiled. “Oh, you know me. I always worry about things.” “You’ve got nothing to be concerned about, Tara. Travis loves you very much.” “I know.” She paused. “The reason I’m here today is that I have this friend…” “Yes?” “Actually, she’s a friend of a friend. And she’s got an abusive husband. She’s called the police several times. But he’s got buddies on the force, and they won’t do anything. So, she just wants to get out.” “I see. But you realize I’m not a divorce attorney.” “Yes, I know. She can’t divorce him anyway. He says that if she tries to leave him, he’ll hunt her down like a dog and rip her heart out.” “Sounds like a rough customer.” “Yeah. And I just thought you might know of somebody who could…” “What?” “Somebody who could take care of the guy.” John frowned. “Hold it. You really think I would be involved with people like that?” He stood up and walked to the side of his desk, ready to escort her out. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” Tara stood and stepped in close to him. She placed her hand on his arm and looked up into his eyes. “Please, John. I apologize for even asking for you help—but I don’t know where else to turn. And this woman is desperate. That creep of a husband could kill her this very day.” John shook his head. “Surely you can give me some idea where to go for help.” “Well…I do know this lawyer. I take that back. I don’t really know him—I know of him. He handed me his card at a conference. I don’t know how he even got into the place. He practices out of his car, I think. Let me see,” he said, walking around to his desk, checking his computer. After a few mouse clicks, he said, “Here it is.” He read the name and phone number aloud as Tara wrote it down on a scrap of paper from her purse. “I don’t know whether he’ll have any useful advice for you, but you can give him a try.” “Thanks, John.” He led her to the door. “And don’t tell anybody I gave you his name. I don’t want to be associated with that scumbag in any way.” ********** Tara drove around for twenty minutes before spotting a pay phone. “Hello. Is this Mr. Johnson?” “Yes, Ma’am. Attorney at law—at your service.” “Somebody gave me your number. I don’t remember who.” She went on to explain about the problem her friend of a friend was having. He put her off at first, but after some pleading he finally relented, and gave her a phone number. “What’s his name?” The line went dead. She called the number. “I’m sorry—I don’t know your name, but a man gave me your number and—“ “—what’s the job?” the man said coldly.

It was a very deep voice—almost too low to be real, thought Tara. Perhaps he was altering his voice electronically. She didn’t care—as long as he could give her what she needed. “It’s my husband.” She gave him their address and told him when to do it: Friday night. ********** When Travis got home on Friday night, Tara had a lovely, romantic dinner waiting for him. Later she made passionate love to him. When they were done, she got up and went to the kitchen for her after-sex ice cream. Sure—it was mega calories. But still, it was much healthier than her old after-sex cigarette habit. Travis was beginning to doze off when she walked back into the bedroom. “We’re out of ice cream.” He didn’t budge. “Honey?” She shook him gently. “Honey, wake up. We’re out of ice cream.” “I’m tired. Please just let me sleep.” He rolled away from her. She shook him harder. “Please, Baby. You know I’ve got to have my ice cream.” Travis began to snore. “Honey! If I have to go out, I’m gonna buy a carton of cigarettes.” “Oh, alright.” He forced himself to get up and get dressed. As he was walking out the front door, she said, “Thank you so much, Baby. You’re so sweet.” It’s done, she thought. Travis would never be back with the ice cream. Tara went into the bedroom and sprawled out across the bed. She was going to be rich. She’d finally have her own money. She fantasized about all the things she was going to buy. ********** Tara was expecting a call from the police at any minute. But instead, she heard somebody coming in the front door. She checked the clock on the nightstand. It had been thirty minutes since Travis left. No sooner than she got up from the bed, he walked in. “Surprised to see me?” “Uh, no. But what took you so long?” “Didn’t you expect me to take a lot longer? As in forever?” “What do you mean, Honey? I was worried about you.” “Really? Then why didn’t you try calling my cell phone?” “I don’t know…” “I know why.” Tara had a sinking feeling. “It’s because you thought I was dead!” “What? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “You didn’t think John would tell me?” It was no use denying it anymore. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. I must be sick or something. Maybe I need to see a psychiatrist. Yeah, that must be it. I need help.” “After all I’ve done for you.” “Well, don’t act like you’re Mr. Perfect. I overheard you talking about a woman you were with.” “What?” “Last Friday night—you were in your study. I heard you say she was walking around naked and then after she went to sleep you nailed her!” “So, you thought I had sex with her.” “And you’re going to stand there and tell me you didn’t?” “That’s exactly what I’m telling you.” He reached around to his back to get something. “So, you’re just going to explain away the fact that you nailed her?” “I nailed her with this.” It was a large pistol. He reached into his left pants pocket to retrieve the suppressor, and attached it to the end of the barrel. “What are you doing?” Tara held her hands up, as though they could deflect the bullets. “I’m doing what do I do for a living?” “You told me you were in sales.” “You didn’t care what I was doing—as long as I brought home the money.” He aimed.

“Wait! Who was that lawyer I called—that Mr. Johnson. Was that you?” Travis grinned slyly. “Yep. Pretty convincing accent, huh? The hit man was me too. Oh, and by the way—John is the one who sets up jobs for me.” “No wonder he called you.” “Yeah. His legal practice is just a front. He’s my pimp. And I’m one of his girls.” “You’re good, Honey.” She smiled sweetly. “Of course, I’ve always known that about you. You excel at everything you do.” “Thanks.” He lowered the gun slightly. Could he really kill this woman that he loved? He had been deeply hurt when he found out she wanted him dead. But now he knew it was because she was jealous. She didn’t want to lose him. Sure—she didn’t want to lose his money either. But now that he realized there was no other man involved… “Please, Honey.” He put the gun back under his belt. “I’ll give you a few days to get moved out. Take anything you want.” “Thanks,” she said. When he reached the front door, he heard gunfire behind him. A bullet hit him in the leg. He spun around, whipping his pistol out as two shots caught him in the chest. He returned fire with a single bullet, surgically placed right between her eyes. She was brain-dead before she hit the floor. Who did she think she was messing with? He was a professional. But her lucky shots would prove just as deadly as his professional one. Travis lay on the stone floor of the foyer oozing blood, unable to move, trying desperately to stay alive…as his mind faded to black. THE END

We always start at the back of the neighborhood and work our way up to my house—because the bags get pretty heavy toward the end. Get it? I’m Chip. dressed like actors from a Robin Hood movie. back to my story about how I became a man. Then we pig-out some more. Besides. is sixteen. Today I turned 13. They were over six feet tall. I thought. Better stop reading now. but he’s not much taller than me. I became a man. She said it’s the least I can do after she spent money on it. we probably could have done it with our eyes closed. It was Halloween night. huh? Seems like my parents didn’t develop a sense of humor until I was born. Jimmy and I were about to walk around them. When we got back to my house our bags were only half full. Maybe when I popped out they just started laughing for the first time in their lives. But we had our flashlights. Mom? Why are you snooping into my stuff?) Okay. Forest Ridge. my name is Chip. You get more candy that way. so the woods were completely black. when one of them said.” .” Jimmy and I admire Dale’s mastery of the art of trick-or-treatery. blocking the trail. I wish she had bought me another video game instead.Prince of Pumpkinshire Chip’s life is changed forever after an encounter with bullies in the woods on Halloween night. By the time we get back to my house our bags are overflowing. Journals are for girls. Very believable costume. Might as well get it over with. We invited him to go with us. We dropped to our knees. But last year. They were way too old for trick-or-treating. We never even have to leave my neighborhood. each kid gets just one thing. It’s a long walk by road. But when you’re standing there all alone—like you have no friends. My best friend Jimmy and I were dressed up like Peanut M&Ms. things didn’t go so well. guys. I knew they had to be plastic. “Halt. (Are you reading this. Tomorrow is Halloween—and it’s going to be the best one ever. Dale. Otherwise they would have named their first son Chip and their second son Dale.” said the middle one. as many times as we’ve walked that trail. It was getting a little weird. ye peasants!” Cool. “You will bow down and worship the prince!” said the sheriff. But my mother gave me this thing and she said I have to at least give it a try. And we could see his point. We were about halfway through the woods when three guys jumped out from the darkness. it’s going to be hard to top last year. But they couldn’t be getting much anyway. It was a game changer. If you go to the door in a crowd. My birthday party was cool. I could see him as a prince. Anyway. These guys are staying in character—even when they’re not begging for candy. Although. My older brother is Dale. they usually feel sorry for you and drop a big handful of stuff in your bag. Very funny. There was no moon that night. Why did we choose little kid costumes? (1) We’re both short for our age. “No thanks. There was no way we could outrun those big guys. So. Yes. “You will obey…or you shall surely die!” The sheriff and the deputy stepped toward us. “There is a tax to be paid to the prince. so we always take the shortcut through the woods. With a little help from my big brother. Jimmy and I looked at each other. Then the two outer guys drew their swords.) By the way. but they looked very real.” nodding to the one on his right. Dale. “I am the Prince of Pumpkinshire. But we liked going together. Mom? That’s what you get for snooping. (2) Little kids get more candy—especially if they’re dressed up really cute. “and this is my sheriff. (Are you freaking out yet. We pig-out until we barf. I got a lot of stuff I wanted—and one thing I didn’t want: a personal journal. we decided to go over to Jimmy’s neighborhood. My brother. raising their swords. “I’m a solo act.” he said.

and this is my forest. I said we should go after them. Buddy. Well. Sire. sitting at a table eating a huge turkey leg. Jimmy agreed. And your parents let you eat all you wanted—even if it made you sick. we’re twelve—not five. “Let us see if your offering be worthy of the prince. I don’t make any wages. Then I came back and changed into my other costume. “Come in. Wait. As I walked home with my head held low. “You will bow down and worship the prince!” said the sheriff. “You must pay taxes to the kingdom. Not a modern laugh—it was a Medieval laugh. Butthead. I’m only 12. “Chip! You’ve got to learn to stand up to bullies. what if a dog eats it? The chocolate might kill him.A tax? What the heck? “Ninety-five percent of your wages. Why should he? His trick or treat bag was filled to the top. nodding for the deputy to pick up the bag. “Please. A few of them fell on the floor. . I was halfway through the woods when I heard. I took it out of my mouth and threw it as hard as I could. What was I thinking—of course they were fake. The bags were only half-full. Picture a fat guy. But Jimmy and I aren’t little. He didn’t seem to notice or care. “Halt!” I shined my flashlight up at the three towering Medievals. but we had worked hard for that candy. “I am the Prince of Pumpkinshire.” The sheriff and his deputy drew their swords.” “Where did you get another costume?” “I saved the one from last year. I should have stood up to those bullies. I wondered how Jimmy was doing. I unwrapped the Snicker bar and started to eat it. and sin no more.” “The first time around?” “Yeah. “But…” The sheriff and his deputy snatched our bags of candy.” he mumbled and chewed.” Dale was sprawled out across his bed watching TV. Here we go again. So what? I was mad. “We only got half a bag. “Where did you get all that?” “Right here in the neighborhood. The candy was free.” said the sheriff. The sheriff threw a couple of Snickers over his shoulder. I got down on my knees. “Go. It was supposed to be the greatest night of the year. Come on. When I got back home I went to Dale’s room and knocked on the door. All three of them began to laugh as they turned to walk away. isn’t that from the Bible? These guys are fake.” ********** On my way into the woods. Maybe his mom felt sorry for him and gave him all the leftover trick-or-treat candy in the house. But it only reminded me of how those bullies had laughed at us. He got mad. What a bust. drinking wine out of a big metal goblet. Jimbo. we’re little—but we’re not young. They were just bullies who steal candy from young little kids. Accept my humble offering.” I yelled. you said ninety-five percent. Can you hear the laugh? “Hey.” I told him what had happened to me and Jimmy. He tossed a handful of Skittles at his open mouth. Or maybe he had cried himself to sleep. I thought. and laughed even harder.” said the prince. But now it was ruined. Then he got sick and went home. Then I thought. You will give up your belongings…or your head!” They raised their swords. heavy clothes. dressed in fancy. I hoped not.” Ha! Got you there.” I placed my bag on the ground in front of me.” “So did I—the first time around. I pray thee.

rising to my feet. then angry.” Kyle was speechless. Then he got a whiff. Kyle’s been avoiding me ever since that day. “I’ll kill you. you won’t. Journals are for girls. elbowing my ribs in the process. “How did you know it was me?” “I didn’t know for sure—until now. No nipple twisting today. when I said. “Wait. These are my final words: the place you are is the place you’re in. Grade-A stuff. I assured myself. ********** The next morning I was sitting on the back seat of the school bus when Kyle got on.” Before they could decide whether to attack or retreat. you do.” said the prince.” “Shut up!” He checked to see if anybody was looking or listening.” “No. peasant.” I said it loud enough for everybody to hear.” “Thank you. “I believe the meaning is quite clear. And the next time I run into you and your friends at the mall I’ll command you to bark like a dog. His dad must have taken his driver’s license away again.” I said. “You were great in the movie. And you will. with the help of my brother.The deputy returned his sword to its scabbard. stepped forward and retrieved my bag. “The mighty Prince of Pumpkinshire—slain in battle. He got up and moved to a seat near the front of the bus. dropping their plastic swords and fleeing into the darkness. the prince sounded like a high school senior instead of a Medieval prince. I went on. “This candy stinks! It smells like—” “—dog poop?” I said.” “What movie?” “The one my brother shot last night. I blasted all three of them in the face with my warm. I reached for the Super Soaker water gun that was strapped to my back.” “Yes. Your Majesty. “The place you are is the place you’re in. Mom. Then he whispered. Chippy?” He reached for my left nipple. I think one of them ran into a tree.” I said. What was Kyle doing on the bus? He was a senior. “Now get out of my sight.” The sheriff spat on the ground and said. dethroned the evil Prince of Pumpkinshire…and became a man.” “What does that mean?” For the first time. He plopped down next to me.” “What?” said the sheriff. “You can’t imagine how much Coke I had to drink to get this much pee. how’s it hanging. He was about to go for the other one. That’s fresh. All three were poised to attack. Say your final words. I blocked his hand. liquid ammo. They screamed like little girls. The six-foot-five quarterback bypassed five or six empty seats on his way to my seat. “You have insulted the prince!” “Off with his head. And that is how I. He and the prince drew their swords.) THE END . Your Majesty. You’re in—get it? Urine. Sire. Mom? Good. “Yes. Your Majesty. You make me sick.” Clearly. Then I think we can agree that I don’t need to write in this stupid thing anymore. (Did my story scare you. he wanted to rip my head off. He moved back and seemed to be trying to evaluate it based on weight.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’ll never touch me again—unless you want to see your little movie on YouTube. “Not just any dog poop. The deputy tossed the bag into the woods.” He looked confused. I can’t wait to upload it to the web. “So. “Am I not entitled to last words?” The prince seemed amused.


Girl. “You’ve been drinking. small bedroom. She had needed to unwind. Liz unlocked the door. it’s as good as what most people have in their homes.” She giggled. and tried to push her suitcase through the door. it’s me. “Hey. She fell on top the suitcase and rolled to the floor. it’s not that bad. You don’t have to specify what you want—they already know. you know—my own toilet.” “Yeah—I’ll just have to remember to put the seat down. “Hello?” she said. Television is obsolete. “Do you like Law and Order: HC?” . that’s nice. He says if I don’t.” “But it’s government housing. So.” “Oh. But her first week on the job had been a tough one. “Okay.Your Personal President The year is 2018.” “Pod—that’s sounds kinda icky. nothing. “Well. right?” “Yeah. Place your grocery order.” “Hey. Fries with that? They don’t even need to ask.” “You’re at your new apartment?” “Yeah. They were state of the art five years ago when they were new. “So. she began to laugh. like getting drunk. The three Margaritas still had her a bit loopy. When she realized she wasn’t hurt. Stupid. it looks just like the one they showed me when I signed the lease.” “So.” “And you need to have your freedom. it’s a Federal POD. And thanks to massive computer databases and powerful processors. It got hung on something and abruptly stopped—but she didn’t. Watch any show whenever you want. It’ll be just like old times. Everything can be personalized.” “Oh. you can at least watch all your favorite web runs. I could definitely go for that.” “No.” “What are you laughing about?” “Oh.” “Tell me about the bathroom. swung it open. I’m gonna have to start paying him rent. “I mean.” “That’s right. now you’re stuck with yesterday’s electronics?” “Actually. Basically. even if you can’t afford to go out. Everything is web-based. And now I won’t be mooching off my parents anymore.” “How can you tell?” She giggled. It’s got the standard sixty-incher. when are you making the move?” “My dad’s been ragging on me to get a place of my own. There’s a thirty-inch screen in every room except the living room. They’re supposed to be superefficient. that’s not bad at all.” “I don’t think there’s much to tell.” “I just walked in the door. “I can sit down while I put on my makeup. let’s see—tiny kitchen.” “I’m sure you could—it’s pretty cheap. “At least you’ve got your own place. So I can do stupid things. Maybe I could get an apartment where you are. I just dropped in. you’ll have to invite me over soon. Even The President of the United States. still laughing.” “And my own pot. I’m sorry. Marci.” Marci laughed. you know I wouldn’t have rented a place without good web. POD stands for Private Occupancy Dwelling. what it’s like?” She walked around the apartment as she talked. We can watch some of our favorite episodes of Gossip Tree Creek while we pig out on chips and dip.” She tried to shake off the grogginess.” “Yeah.” She opened the bathroom door and turned on the light.” “So.” said Liz. small living room.” “So. Her phone rang. all data is now saved.” She started laughing again.

Her name is Willa Flushem. This must be live. “—and I want to continue be your president. Liz. Liz. resting comfortably in my grave. “What the—?” “What’s the matter?” “I’m in the living room and the screen just came on all by itself. Liz. But. And because they were created on the fly. Live in her time zone. My challenger makes vague promises about the future. it’s important. “You’re a beautiful young woman. She told him: ‘By the time you get out. It’s a hoot watching her lower the boom on every stinking murderer and rapist that ends up in her courtroom. after she’d sentenced some creep to 75 years. the latest polling data or other pertinent information could be incorporated into the message. you’d better figure it out soon—the deadline is midnight. what you need is someone in the White House who will look out for your own personal interests. I’ll be long gone. thanks. You just graduated from college and you’ve got your whole life ahead of you. But what I offer is a personal relationship. “A vote for me is a vote for the future. they could do that now that campaigns used animated avatars. Then Senator Baita appeared.” “What does the HC stand for?” “Hard Core. “Remember.” The voting age had been lowered from 18 to 16 in 2013. But you can come dig me up. It’s our right and our duty. Liz? Will you allow me to be your president?” . Did you remember to vote?” “Yeah. Suddenly he began to talk again.” What? How did he know her name? Liz had never seen an ad this targeted. It’s been five years and you still haven’t exercised your right to vote.” “Wait. “Don’t listen to him.” “No.’ The screen on the living room wall lit up. How many different Law and Orders does this make? Fifteen? Twenty?” “I’ve lost track. He’d start by cutting off each of her fingers and then her toes. if you’ve still got the balls. The president’s campaign must be spending a fortune. Liz had heard his campaign slogan a bazillion times: I want to be Your Personal President. So.” Liz had assumed she was watching a prerecorded ad. it’s all about the future. Your Personal President.” President Alfa was running for re-election. And there are so many more opportunities to vote now that we have one-year presidential terms. Marci. The things they do in Washington and in the state capitol have a direct impact on your life.” “Well.” “Well.” “Well.” What is this? The male avatar on the screen had paused mid-sentence. I feel kinda bad.” Liz admired a woman like Judge Flushem.” “I know—you’re right.” “Well.” “Enough. What do you think. “Come on.“I haven’t ever heard of that one.” “I know. she thought. Liz.” “Bye. The only limiting factor was the cost. Miley Cyrus plays this tough-as-nails judge.” “Weird. and his hollow promises. I remembered. There are only four hours left to cast your vote. I just don’t care that much about politics. You want me to tell you who I voted for. It’s your life. They were apparently mining the public records database—right down to whose name was on a lease.” “Sure you didn’t sit on the remote?” “I’m standing. of course. One time. he threatened to track her down as soon as he got out. I’ll make up my own mind. The screen went black. Hope you didn’t rent a lemon. I need to go. you should.” President Alfa butted in. Remember—I am your personal president. But the judge doesn’t scare easily. But I haven’t made up my mind yet. Goodbye. But you’re an activist. They could target regional areas—or even neighborhoods since the avatars were computer-generated. but I haven’t done it yet.

” “I didn’t push a button. yeah. Liz was five-foot-four. thank goodness. Get off. or I’ll appoint you Presidential Fisherman to Antarctica. Get out!” The screen went black. but…just relax. saying. I wouldn’t accept it. the screen came on and a female avatar appeared.” “Cool it. normally I wouldn’t mind.” She tried to close the door. And even if there was.” He just stared at her. the screen that was built into the mirror lit up.” said Liz.” “But I can hear everything. . She needed to pee anyway.” “Well. It was just a test. did it? They must be tapping into everything.” said Senator Baita. “You have successfully cast your ballot for Senator Baita. I’m just electrons in a computer. “This could be very close. “I’m counting on you.” “There’s no such post. please don’t be offended. “Get out. He doesn’t have access to Department of Defense technology. she told herself. When she got back to the living room. Her mind was playing tricks on her. The two candidates reappeared and began to argue with each other. The survival of our nation could depend on your vote. Your vote could decide this thing.” “You won’t have a choice. She went into the bathroom and shut the door. “And Mr. “I’m kinda busy here. President. They probably had the guest list of her Sweet Sixteen birthday party. She’d had those three drinks with dinner. We’re both just political avatars—advocates for our candidates. opened the breaker box and began to frantically trip the breakers.” “Then why didn’t you vote for him? What are your reasons? And please be specific. But Senator Baita can’t.Her jaw dropped. Please press either ‘A’ or ‘B. “Yes. She felt her way over to the door and looked through the peephole. “Do you mind?” screamed Liz.” “What? I haven’t voted yet.” said The President. I guess so.” “I’m not participating in any test.” “I know what you are. and now the two were in split screen mode. Tell me what you think. and walked out of the room.” Liz snatched up the remote. Baita. So. It was Maik.” “Can you see me?” said Liz.” “I didn’t vote for anybody. “But this is critical.” shouted Liz.’ This is only a test. the autobot leasing agent. This was crazy. “but I’m not a real person. Her lease application didn’t contain that level of detail. But no sooner than she sat down. turned off the screen. Leave me alone!” “I can see you. Finally the screens all went dead. Thank you for participating in this presidential election test. but Maik’s foot was blocking it. “President Alfa is very disappointed that you did not vote for him. Maik was seven feet tall. She was startled by a loud knock at the door. Liz took a deep breath and exhaled. she thought.” The screen went black and Liz heard the woman’s voice say.” said the senator. She opened the door and looked up at him. President Alfa broke in.” said the president. The apartment was completely black. “Hey—I’m not gonna discuss this with you. “You will now test your remote to make sure the voting buttons are working properly. I plan to launch a congressional investigation into your abuse of power.” Liz screamed.” “Did you believe him when he told you he wanted to be Your Personal President?” “Uh. “I can. one by one.” said the senator. All the lights went off. “Don’t be shy. Liz ran to the kitchen closet. “Just leave me alone. Liz.” “He’s right about that. The air conditioning stopped.” said the president.

She made herself take a deep breath and relax.” She knew her parents had voted for Alfa. she thought. YOU. It’s a scary thing when dreams seem more real than reality. This is illegal. removing his pistol from its hidden compartment as he continued to scan the living room. But it was just a dream. It was a wonder she had been able to drive home safely. and he tipped over and crashed to the floor. now will you please move your foot?” “I must watch you vote. I didn’t know you were here. knocking her back. She pictured leaving the restaurant and getting on the highway. Then she saw herself stop at the Federal POD. or sense the warmth of her body. She ran and leaped onto his back. She lay back down. with the exception of one man who unfortunately had a heart attack last night. Liz climbed down.“I need to know why you didn’t vote for President Alfa. But wait—she was going the wrong direction. He scanned the kitchen. “So. she could not do it. He ducked under the doorway and walked inside. Yes. She was barely able to hang on. “Sure. “You have miscalculated. I know you had a hectic first week on the job. just go back to sleep. she thought. hoping to erase what shouldn’t be there. that was probably it. It was President Alfa’s avatar. Maybe it was all that Mexican food she ate for dinner. If his heavy body had landed on hers. “I thought I was too. Her dreams weren’t usually so vivid. If he was a low-end model. she might have been a goner. Creepy.” “No.” She gulped. What a nightmare. Liz tried to visualize her drive home. She wondered whether he could detect her breathing. She would never get behind the wheel in that condition again. No—it must have been the three Margaritas. Honey. there should be a power switch right about…here. You will vote now. “I am not going to harm you in any way. His spinning slowed and then stopped. None of it made sense. thought Liz. pulled the covers over her head and tried to turn off her mind. But no matter how hard she tried. I’ll see you later. but did not see her. ********** “Oh. Then he walked into the living room. She normally stopped at one. “And thanks to those living in the Federal POD. of course. Her entire body began to tremble.” He pushed the door open. His eyes lit up like lasers. Couldn’t the actual human give his own acceptance speech? “I would like to thank all of you who live on Maple Street.” Liz rolled over in bed. My owner is being paid by the campaign. “Consider my lease hereby cancelled. I thought you were spending the night in your new apartment.” She closed the door. . Liz. And the name of their street was Maple. She clicked it. Maybe she just needed more rest. wasn’t it? She tried to block the false memories and see herself driving to her parent’s house. Do you promise to vote for him?” You’ve got to be kidding me.” “So. She was just beginning to doze off when she heard the screen on her bedroom wall come to life.” She kicked him hard in the torso. She ran into the short hallway that led from the living room to the bedroom. I’m sorry.” Liz spun around in bed and yanked the covers off her face.” “Hey—I’ll vote when I’m good and ready. But what she saw confused her. today I begin another productive year as your president. Hopefully he was a low-end model.” he said. Liz shook her head like an Etch-a-Sketch. closing the door behind him. Liz. and then walking into her old room and getting into bed. whatever. She remembered feeling tipsy when she left the restaurant. You must give me an answer. All of you voted for me. and. Each and every one of you voted for me.” “Very good. Mom.” He began to spin around.” “Well. Thank goodness he was programmed to shut down gracefully rather than to just collapse.

Liz: I am YOUR PERSONAL PRESIDENT. Because. won’t you. Liz? I mean. And that voice is mine.” THE END . why would you vote for anyone else? You need a voice in the White House that speaks for you.“But I know you’ll vote for me next year. always remember.

Most of the money is in the safe. Somehow the clerk had suspected him and called for help. The man jabbed Obadiah in the face with his left fist. Obadiah quickly took advantage of the man’s weakness. with a cold beer in hand. No! I just can’t deal with this right now.” “Then crack it open!” Obadiah wished he was anywhere but here. and wads of cash stuffed in his coat pockets. Her eyes tipped off the robber. He deserved to die. Since there were no cars parked out front. But what about the girl? The robber would have to kill her too.m. Obadiah grabbed the man’s right arm with both of his hands. and this was a small town. And the man would never even know Obadiah was there. He could either continue to hide and be safe. Why had he been so foolish? It was after 11:00 p. or try to help the girl and possibly die. an open bag of Fritos on the seat beside him.Impala Cruise A young woman offers a ride to a stranger. he no longer owned a car. He spun around. The police. The only way to pull it off was to do it without thinking.” shouted the man with the gun. “Now give me all your money. It was just a customer. The guy sounded crazy. The man struggled to break free. His hands began to shake. The man bent over in agony.” Obadiah stayed low as he hurried up the aisle. holding himself with both hands. Maybe it was for the best. “Please don’t hurt me. Just as he was about to grab the man’s arm from behind and try to wrestle the gun away from him. Adrenaline was no longer enough. Obadiah looked too. The robber gasped and looked down. Bitch!” “Please…please don’t shoot me—I have a two-year old. knowing she may regret it. The bullet blew past Obadiah’s ear. How had he sunk this low? Had he lost all sense of morality? Obadiah brushed his guilt aside. He was losing the battle.. Obadiah grabbed the man’s left forearm. He opened the glass door and grabbed a six-pack of Budweiser. He already felt guilty about what he was about to do. snatching the gun away. But he could be a criminal. His whole body vibrated with anticipation. But there’s not much in here. He could be dangerous. you do. Then he heard a man’s voice. leaving only one hand to control the gun. Would he kill the girl? “But…I don’t know the combination. Her smile had just made it that much more difficult. and the pistol went off. He’s good-looking. But Obadiah knew if he let go he was dead. He went straight to the back and began eying the wall of refrigerated beer.” “Hurry up! Just dump the whole drawer in the bag. he thought. The girl hit the floor and pushed the silent alarm button. . Just do it. and tore into the ceiling. Soon a red-hot chunk of metal would be lodged in his brain. Unfortunately. But he knew he couldn’t hold out much longer. so he thought it would be easy. the guy would assume he was the only customer. Then he heard somebody walk into the store. “And you’re gonna open it right now or I’m gonna blow your head off!” The girl began to sob. His head throbbed. So could she. even as his blood sugar level plummeted. “Yes.” Obadiah relaxed. He hadn’t eaten all day. The young clerk smiled at Obadiah as he entered the convenience store. the girl spotted him. He wanted to be back on the road in two minutes. and saw what appeared to be the tip of a steel-toed work boot—jammed deep into the man’s crotch from behind. He fought back with renewed strength. He froze. he thought.” “Okay. assessing the damage.” Obadiah bent over and tiptoed to the middle aisle to take a look. He felt weak. “Give me a pack of Marlboro Reds. okay.

Obadiah opened the door and got in. “I heard you tell the cop that your name is Obadiah Cross. you look like one. 1970-something car. at least make it believable. “Thanks. He had been too busy answering the questions of another officer. The boot woman walked out and got into her big blue.” Not anymore. what’s your last name? Chevy? Are you Miss Impala Chevy?” “No. took statements.” “No.” “Well—yeah. Lady. and I’ll break your arm kind of way. The young clerk repeatedly thanked Obadiah and the boot woman. When he reached the car and looked in through the open passenger window. His assailant was a woman—5-foot-6. He tried not the think about the beer and Fritos. it doesn’t mean you’ll grow up religious. That’s my name.” “You’re serious. and…steel-toed boots. and hauled the man away.” “Impala. I don’t.” The police arrived moments later. she said. Obadiah wouldn’t care if she broke his arm.” she said. you think I’m a nice guy because I tried to stop the robbery and save that clerk. Then what is your last name?” “Cruise. what are you—some kind of preacher?” “Look. “No. The big blue car passed him and pulled over. He began to laugh.” . If you’re going to lie about it.” “No problem. But even in the dim light of the instrument panel he saw an irresistible sparkle in her eyes. nobody’s gonna stop me. “You didn’t answer my question.” “So. “Now keep the gun on him while I call the police. with short brown hair. He fell to the floor. “Thanks again for saving me back there.” “Actually. She was not. just because your parents named you after somebody in the Bible.” She took out her cell phone.” “Your mom didn’t make it to the hospital in time. “Well. it made perfect sense to name me Impala…since I was born in the back seat of the car.” “No problem. He just kept fixing it up. but Obadiah didn’t catch it.” “I’m not lying.” “Okay. Get it out of your system. Obadiah began walking along the road. She was cute—in a kiss me. come on. He buckled his seat belt as she drove out onto the road. wearing a T-shirt. who delivered you? Your dad?” “Yep.” Oh. She studied his face.” “Why? Why in the world—” “—would my parents give me such a crazy name? Most people ask me if they were on drugs at the time. he thought. I’m not nice. And that’s why he could never bring himself to get rid of this car.” The clerk peeped up from behind the counter. “Get in.” “Oh. I’ve always been that way.” He looked straight ahead. that’s true. You need to stay away from me.” “So. What is your name? I never caught it.” “Yeah. of course not.The same work boot that had flattened his manhood kicked him in the back. wondering how long he would survive without food. jeans. Not every Mary is a virgin. And what about you? I’ll bet your name doesn’t say anything about who you are either. I saw it when I got in. he thought.” “Hey. You can do better than that. So. That would explain it. That wouldn’t work. “I’ve already called them. The correct order is Chevy Impala. The police had taken her name. It didn’t faze her.” “Really? You don’t think I know what kind of car this is? I’m not much of a car guy.” He checked to see if she was smiling.” “What? Am I a preacher?” He hesitated. Obadiah’s from the Bible. when I’m ready to go. isn’t it?” “Yes. “Go ahead. but the logo’s right here on the dash.’” “That’s right. Right now. Your name is really ‘Impala Cruise.

That’s why I came.” “Well.” “Okay. “What about the hamburger and fries?” “I don’t care.” “She’s not paying me anything.” “They take credit cards.” “Why? I’m a criminal. She helps creeps get out of jail—for money. How about a hamburger?” “That sounds great.“This car?” He turned to take a look at the back seat.” She looked as if she realized she’d said too much. If she had just let him live his life as he saw fit.” “Yeah.” He reached for the door handle.” “Oh. “How old are you?” “Twenty-four. you do.” Obadiah had guessed twenty-one. Glad to meet you. “Only thing is…I don’t have any money.” She pointed to a McDonald’s billboard.” “Mine are all maxed out. As long as he stayed away. He just beat you to it. yeah. “But you made up the last name. You’re no better than that other guy. “Zeela sent you. She’s worried about you. In Beaumont. The headlights blinded him.” But he couldn’t convince himself—much less her. She eased up on the accelerator.” Obadiah hung his head. She let him mope for a while and then punched him in the arm.” “Nope. “What makes you think I’m from Beaumont? It’s 200 miles from here.” She nodded. Then we can go our separate ways. right? You don’t want to give me your real last name because then I could track you down later. You’re scared of me.” “You’re right. I get it.” “Pull over. . “Let’s eat first. He sensed a car approaching from the rear and turned around. It’s too late for that.” “It’s a legitimate business. I’m scared of you. and not tried to control him.” “Fine.” “You’re probably just hungry. as though he might jump out before she even slowed down.” “My mother doesn’t have any friends. “That’s why I busted the bad guy’s balls for you.” “I don’t have a home.” He stared at her. you just go back and tell her to mind her own business. He was twenty-six. You jumped bail and now you’re having to pay her back.” “She’s a friend. Whatever. I’m being stupid. It was five miles ahead.” Obadiah didn’t care if he ever saw Zeela again. It was my sixteenth birthday present. You can’t think straight.” she said sarcastically. “This is a ‘72 model. That’s why I gave you a ride—because I’m scared to death of you.” “It’s a racket. You’re working off a debt. Don’t you want to pull over and throw me out of your car?” “I should. Gotta get you back home safe and sound. “Get over it. he could blame all his troubles on her. I should have let him shoot you. I’ll pay for the burgers.” “It’s not pity. “How were you going to buy that beer at the convenience store if you didn’t have any money?” “I was…uh…” “You were gonna rob it. I should have known. Impala.” She thought for moment. I don’t need her pity.” “Oh. How much is she paying you?” “Zeela? Who’s that?” “Don’t play dumb.” “Do it. things could have turned out so differently.

Of course. But I have no sympathy for you whatsoever. Jim reached under his jacket and produced a large hunting knife. You killed her!” . I’m afraid. You want one too?” “That would be great.” The restroom was empty. ********** Obadiah downed two Big Macs. Lady.” “I’m sorry. She trusted you. who stepped backward until he was against the wall. It is my business.” “I’m sorry.” “No problem. Oh. with a deer. “I need to…make a call. “You ever field dress a deer. “What’s your problem. And you used her. He had just sat down when he heard somebody else walk in. Impala was ten feet behind Jim. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore. “What’s going on in here?” Obadiah recognized Impala’s voice.” “What do you mean?” “This thing is a tank. He stood and pulled up his pants. “Imagine how she felt…just before she died.” “It’s okay. Buddy. his eyes did a quick scan of the room. Obadiah?” “Whoa. But he knew his killer was coming. euphemism.” “Oh.” He began to walk toward Obadiah. “Did you really think you could get away from me?” It was Jim. just pass me. “Come out of there and face me like a man.Impala glared into the rear view mirror.” He sucked down the last of his soft drink. “Put the knife down. that thou wouldest deliver thy servant into the hand of Ahab. “Local or long distance?” “Long distance. Maybe if he kept quiet… “I’m talking to you!” Jim kicked the side of the stall. Obadiah was struck with the words of his Biblical namesake: What have I sinned. It would be fitting.” said Impala.” “What?” “That car…he almost hit us. Obadiah went into the lone stall. “It’s none of your business. I know you are—now.” Jim stepped in closer to Obadiah. Every few seconds. and a Coke while Impala ate her chicken sandwich.” Jim ignored her. Obadiah sighed. “Ever feel like somebody’s watching you?” “I’m watching you. clenching her teeth.” False alarm. “And it ain’t pretty. she thought.” “You’re wrong. I guess not. Man? If you’re in such a hurry. I’m gonna get a large coffee to go. Thanks.” “No. Get out of here. he thought—for him to die half-naked in a public restroom. Put the knife away.” He nodded toward the restrooms.” “Okay. I get it. But with you. he would have been sorry. “before somebody gets hurt. to slay me? But he knew exactly what his sins were. I was starving.” she said. “Say something!” He kicked it again. Wanna borrow my cell?” “Not that kind of call. I see no need to be humane.” Obadiah froze.” said Obadiah. That’s my boyfriend. It’s forty-three-hundred pounds of heavy-duty steel.” “If he had.” said Obadiah. “You start by inserting the blade at the bottom of the sternum. “I’m coming out. And everybody trusted you. you coward!” Jim kicked the stall even harder. It was only a matter of time. “I’m truly sorry. a super-sized fry. because you knew better.” said Obadiah. Was it him? Had he seen Obadiah getting into the car? What if he had a gun? The car raced around them and sped away. He opened the stall door and stepped out. And this was judgment day. “Whew. Obadiah stopped breathing. I make sure the animal’s dead first. Then he heard somebody else come into the restroom.

“Get ready to meet your maker. But maybe she didn’t want to save him this time. She jumped into the air and landed her boots at the back of his knees. but conscious. She handed one to Obadiah and they walked out of the restaurant. come on. “Thanks for rescuing me—again.” “Look—whatever he’s done. He could almost feel Jim’s knife in his chest.” He lurched forward.” “You do remember that I don’t have any money. So…” She slowed the car down and began to pull off to side of the road. They got into the car and drove away. pushing Obadiah’s arms upward with his left arm.Obadiah prayed to see Impala’s steel-toed boot fly up between Jim’s legs. I’ve got an old friend who lives there. Just stay away from him. She threw the knife into the woods. After a few minutes of silence.” “I’ve got it covered. I’m sure he’ll pay for it.” “I don’t need her kind of love. It’s only two hours or so.” “Oh. Where is it?” “It got repossessed. His head slammed on the ceramic tile floor. “Why are you helping him? He’s a murderer. I’ll go into Beaumont and pay a visit to Zeela. Then you can do whatever you want.” “Look.” “What happened?” .” “It’s not the middle of nowhere. As they came out of the restroom. “So. Jim was dazed.” “Forget about Obadiah. Then. “Tell him you’re sorry. “Yes. Impala hopped out of the way.” said Jim. Impala. Impala wrapped the knife in paper towels and put it under her left arm. Or next time…I’ll kill you. They were getting close. we might as well stop at a motel and get some rest.” Obadiah did need rest. Obadiah said. Ten minutes—that’s all I ask. But I’m still not going to Beaumont. after I get up my nerve. that’s where this car is going. She glanced over at Obadiah. It’s five miles. It won’t kill you to just talk to her. exposing Obadiah’s chest.” “I guess that’s why you were gonna rob that convenience store. Perhaps she was having second thoughts about him—after what she was hearing. He went down backwards.” He looked away. “What are you doing?” “You’re either going all the way or not at all. But he wasn’t sure he could relax enough to fall asleep. I’ll have to think about it. causing his legs to buckle. So.” “How about a compromise? Drop me off in Silsbee. You can walk back to the McDonald’s. “How did you get in such bad shape? Weren’t you a pastor of a church?” He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.” she said. Surely you’re not going to just leave me out here on a dark highway in the middle of nowhere.” “I’m not going back there.” “Hmm. She loves you. She stomped his forearm and grabbed the knife out of his hand.” “Afraid you might run into the deer hunter?” “That would be preferable to running into Zeela.” “How can you say that? She’s your mother.” “Don’t rub it in. Impala picked up the coffees she had left on a table.” She pulled back onto the road.” Obadiah tiptoed his way around him. where’s your car?” “Huh?” “A guy like you has a car. tops. which is going to put us there at 3:00 in the morning. He rared back with the knife— oblivious to the fact that Impala was running toward him from behind. “But you don’t understand.” “Where’s your stuff? You don’t even have a backpack. Impala had spotted a Motel 6 billboard a few miles back.” “Well.

And it was wonderful…for the first year or so. I was contacted by the search committee of a small country church. They said it wasn’t a lethal dose though. I guess you’re right. He looked like he wanted to kill me right then. I told her their issues were fixable. I ended up accepting the call.” “But then you made a move on her.” “Luck has nothing to do with it. and now her husband wants to kill you. And then at the funeral. it was. They’d only been married two years. Sleep in the buff. But he must have suspected that something was going on. She said she loved me and threatened to tell her husband if I broke it off. I ran out of money and started sleeping in my car. He could probably see it in my eyes. Then my car broke down.” “Isn’t it unusual for a pastor to be single?” “It’s not the norm. fighting the tears. I tried to console her. One day she broke down in my office and started crying. “I had to get out of the parsonage right away. I think everybody could.” “But it wasn’t your fault she killed herself. I tried to get a job.“When I graduated from the seminary. I don’t even have anything to sleep in.” said Obadiah. she drove around to their room and they went inside. Your clothes can air out overnight. I…” “Just wear a towel.” “That’s no problem. for them to decide if they wanted you as their pastor.” “Yes.” she said.” Obadiah’s guilt overcame him for a moment. and then…she kissed me.” “It didn’t last long before I came to my senses. She’s the one who made the move.” “But you broke if off anyway. you’ve had nothing but bad luck. She insisted that Obadiah shower first.” “No.” “Was she pretty?” “Yes. Then he confronted me. He could barely speak. so I threw some clothes in my car and took off. If I hadn’t given into temptation she’d still be alive.” “Oh. He just wasn’t mad enough yet. After Impala had checked them in. and that she probably would have survived…if she hadn’t drowned. But they really liked me. and I confessed. ‘In view of a call’ means—” “—I know. I think I gave it away. It means you went there to preach and meet everybody. “Not in that way. Well. I resigned the next week. “Here it is.” Tears gushed down his checks. “How did her husband find out about the affair? Did she tell him?” “I don’t think so. The cowboy in the bathroom with the knife.” “Yeah.” She winked at him. And everything was fine…until this young woman came to me for counseling. But it’s much worse than that. She went home and took a handful of sleeping pills.” “You loved her. “She got in the bathtub. but nothing worked out.” “I had no right to love her.” “But married. He could have stabbed you with a letter opener. .” “Well.” “You’re punishing yourself.” Obadiah looked surprised. God is punishing me. “Okay.” “No. right?” “She and her husband were having problems.” he shouted. I went there ‘in view of a call’ one Sunday. “One thing led to another…” “You had an affair with her. I told her it was over.” She pulled into the motel parking lot and drove up to the lobby entrance. But I guess he didn’t have his knife with him. But you know I don’t have any fresh clothes to change into.” “Drowned?” Obadiah began to cry. right?” “Yeah.” “Man. “Zeela explained it to me.

trying to determine if they were fresh. she’d come back and drag him out by the ear.” “Well. When he was finished. “What did I say?” “I couldn’t quite make it out. he thought. “You okay?” she said.” “I did.” When she opened the door it nearly blinded him. Some guy was sitting at the table with her. he would. he came out of the bathroom with one towel around his waist and another draped over his shoulders. He pulled back the covers.” “Well. He stepped up to the window for a closer look. I guess. His bare skin could well be rubbing up against the dried sweat of a previous night’s lathery sex. He considered holding the sheet up to his nose for a sniff test. He closed his eyes and tried not to think about it. He opened one eye to confirm it. He heard Impala on the phone. but he didn’t much care who she was talking to.” She got into her bed and clicked off the lamp. Sleepyhead. Not that he minded. But he was hungry. I’ll try not to talk in my sleep anymore. Obadiah considered just leaving—walking back to the room. He jumped. using his finger as a toothbrush. But this time she was wearing a baggy T-shirt and gym shorts. His body was still buzzing with titillation. I’m fine. Probably Zeela. Whatever. he thought. ********** “Hey. then hop up and get dressed.” What a dream.” She got in with him. he saw Impala inside. She seemed to be having a nice conversation with him while sipping coffee. But some things are better left unknown. He found her tube of toothpaste on the sink and helped himself. As he walked along the front of Denny’s toward the entrance.Obadiah went into the bathroom and closed the door. I’m gonna walk over to Denny’s.” He gulped. She let it slam. It’s just that you were mumbling something. And who the heck was this new guy anyway? Then he saw the man get up from the table. sexy body. He barely even knew her. She was standing beside his bed in a towel. Maybe the maid skipped the sheet washing occasionally. “Sorry I woke you up. Obadiah was standing at the door when the two walked out. What did Obadiah think—that he was the only man in her life? Was he actually jealous? That was crazy. His body was going nuts. he would never see Impala the same way again. Goodnight.” “Okay. “Yeah. Impala pulled up his covers to take a look. “Nice. “Uh—yeah. His clothes smelled slightly better than the night before. But he would not stick around for long. Might as well get out of bed. That much he knew. You hungry?” Obadiah couldn’t believe it was morning. “Hope you saved a couple of towels for me. Impala was much hotter than he would have imagined—if he had even thought about it. Who could think of her in that way? When a woman talks and acts tough and beats up men—you don’t tend to think about how womanly she is. Really. And like it or not.” said Impala as she went into the bathroom. If he had to meet with her. When she came out of the bathroom. She followed him to the cashier and he paid the bill. I’ll get us a table. He opened his eyes. Their one intimate moment had taken place in a dream. . Then she pulled it off—revealing a very naked. “You like?” He couldn’t find words.” “Okay. Otherwise. “Are you okay?” Suddenly she was standing beside his bed again. It would be hard to get back to sleep. Impala got up too. but they looked as though they’d been slept in. Sleep well. let his towels drop to the floor and got into bed. He ran his hands across the sheets. Impala ignored him. he pretended to be asleep. Obadiah was not accustomed to sleeping in the nude. and saw the sunlight seeping in from around the curtains.

and called his buddy in Silsbee.” He made a run for his car. or that I knocked him down in the parking lot. “Sorry. Obadiah said.” “Oh. In fact. “So. And I tried to keep him inside until they got here. He’s moved way out in the country. I gotta go. one of the cops had a pistol aimed at his chest. “Yeah. and he says we’d get lost trying to find his house. “What was that?” “Shh. you’re telling me Zeela didn’t send you out to catch that guy?” “No. Or you used to be one. but decided to wait and see what would happen next. When I saw him through the window I thought he looked familiar. “So. Besides. “Hold it right there!” The man froze. But there he was—big as Texas. Not yet.” . Impala walked over to where Obadiah was standing. she’ll fire me if she finds out I did anything more than calling the police. Babe.” “So. Although I wouldn’t mind taking that car out for a spin. Then he’d be sitting there waiting for you when we pull in at 9:30. I can’t lie to him.” Then it hit Obadiah. She could lose her license. but he was in a hurry to get back on the road. And I knew it was him because I spotted his car. “Don’t you dare tell her I sat and had coffee with him. He was Impala’s first official catch. But I just kinda fell into it.” “Somebody else with a metallic blue ‘69 Chevelle SS396?” “Okay. Impala raised her right boot waist high and kicked him in the back.” She held up her phone.” “Were you actually gonna get in his car?” “No. of course not.” Impala stuck her tongue out at him. That’s what you do for Zeela—you hunt down bail jumpers. Don’t make it worse. “What are you—a bounty hunter? That’s it. that’s right—you’re a preacher. he’ll pick you up at Whataburger. he’s gonna be late. Impala ran after him.” she said. knocking him down.” Obadiah shook his head. He had stepped off the straight and narrow.” “Could have been somebody else with the same kind of car.” “Relax. If she finds out I’m toast. “People are already staring at us. He was just another one of Zeela’s bail jumpers. No sirens. But I’ve already finished my training.” “Just in case you run into one of Zeela’s bail jumpers?” “Yeah. I won’t squeal on you. I’m not a bounty hunter. and now she was reeling him in.” He followed her back inside the restaurant while the police handcuffed the man and took him away. What was the hurry? The Grand Slam breakfast? The man looked back at Impala. you called the police. Of course.” “Good to know.” “No. Probably not.” she whispered. Two police cars screeched into the parking lot. you should have told him 9:00. “I’ve got all the pictures and info in here—just in case. Even though I didn’t really think it would ever happen.” “Yeah. Obadiah asked to borrow Impala’s cell phone. I just got lucky.He started to say something. But there were no flashing lights. The man made it to his car and reached for the door handle. Obadiah just stood there and watched—amazed and confused. Right now I’m just a secretary. “Who was that guy?” “A bail jumper. Johnny is always late.” “Well. “Zeela must be awfully proud of you.” “That thing’s got a high performance engine.” Obadiah looked at her in disbelief.” he said felicitously. One of the police cars pulled up behind the man’s car. “Ready to eat?” “Uh…yeah. trapping it in place.” “I don’t mind waiting. By the time the man got to his feet. Impala was following the man into the parking lot. The he gave it back to her.” Once they were seated.

” said Obadiah.” said Obadiah. He was certain he’d been hit. since she saved our lives.” “No problem. and was on her cell phone talking to the police.” “Don’t worry about paying me back. two shots fired in rapid succession. bye. In fact. Fine. grieving widower. So. who was happily lying beneath him. “But I really could use…just a couple more bucks. Go ahead.” “A bounty hunter team? No. Adrenaline gushed into Obadiah’s bloodstream. He’s gone.” said Impala.. “How would you like a job? We can be a team. Why not just get it over with? Why not surrender? He had killed Jim’s wife just as surely as if he had stabbed her in the heart with a butcher knife. you called Zeela and told her we were coming here. “Mom?” Her pistol was still smoking.” “Okay. They’re working a shutdown. “And I’ll pay you back as soon as I get a job. The pain would kick at in any moment. And at close range. I’ll be right out. thought Obadiah. Zeela had already walked away. “I’m sorry. The police will pick him up there.” Obadiah paid the bill and walked out to the car. She killed the engine.” “I know. She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him back down. Then he spotted Jim—the vengeful. Jim got up from his table. He dropped his gun and ran out.” Yet he really wanted her to stay. My uncle is a pipefitter at the Exxon Mobil plant. “It means they shut the plant down so they can do maintenance work on it.” he said.” “No. I deserve it. As they hit the floor.” They got out and went into the restaurant. are you about ready to go?” “Sure. Impala was alone in the restroom on her cell phone. Kill me.m. I may be waiting for quite a while.” Before Obadiah could respond. I’ll come in and have a cup with you. This is it.” “What kind of work does he do?” “He’s a welder. “Good job. “Well. He was aiming it at Impala.” He started to get up.” Obadiah couldn’t believe it. You probably want to get home. “Thanks. I guess I’ll forgive you.” ********** They drove into Silsbee at 9:22 a.” “And it’s a good thing I did. “I’d like two large coffees. In the unlikely event that Johnny had already arrived. and pulled out a pistol. He looked up. thanks again for everything. “Let’s see how Whataburger coffee compares with Dennys’. “I’ve got to make a quick trip to the Ladies Room.He looked down and sighed. He would never give up until Obadiah was dead. he just came off a graveyard shift. you don’t have to do that. He’d come over and finish the job. he was probably asleep in a booth. He’ll be okay if he gets to a hospital soon. Why? Was it because of what she had done to him in the McDonald’s restroom? It didn’t matter why. But that wasn’t the worst of it.” She handed him the car keys and a twenty-dollar bill. “…yeah. I insist.” said Impala. reached into his jacket. Obadiah stood a few feet behind her. I’m a dead man. “Well. bullets would go right through his body. if you don’t mind. looking around the dining area. The Whataburger parking lot was nearly full. That was mean.” “Besides. But Jim wasn’t pointing the gun at Obadiah.” “Well. as he leaped on Impala. into Impala.” . about 9:30…okay.” “For coffee?” “Yeah. Jim wouldn’t just walk away. “It’s okay. Obadiah’s body was draped over Impala like a human shield. “You shot him?” “I got him in the shoulder. thanks.” “Oh.” she said.

my God. She released the kiss and smiled at him with a sweetness that he would not have thought possible from this butt-kicking woman. Obadiah knew he had a future worth living for. And then—” “—charm?” “What? You don’t think I can be charming?” “Well…” She grabbed the back of his head.” said Zeela. Oh. he could tell she wanted another kiss. But she had him. You’ll quote scripture like a preacher. passionate kiss. he thought. Ken and Barbie.” he said.“Sure. “I’ll think about it. Suddenly Obadiah flashed back to the sexy dream he’d had the night before. while I seduce them with charm. THE END . moist lips. pulled it down to her.” But Obadiah didn’t want to get up. As he gazed into her eyes. “Okay. And for the first time in a long time. So he eased in until he made contact with her warm. “you can get up now. And they both knew it. and gave him a long. I’m gonna do whatever this woman tells me to do.

” “Yeah. “What about you.” “Don’t you mean smoking hot?” said Heather. “I’m not really interested. …. She knew I wanted to go to the dance with Harry. April. I might have said yes. “So.” “I know. “What could it hurt?” April hesitated.” “Okay.” said April. Jennifer elbowed me.” said Heather. so ask him to the dance. then you should just ask one of them. if none of the boys are man enough to ask you out. April wasn’t cool enough to be part of our group. knowing he would turn her down flat. “Who are you going with?” She shrugged. “Because you’re going steady. Heather?” “Why are asking me?” said Heather.” “Husband?” “How did you guess?” The old woman grinned.” said Heather. “I get too nervous around boys. giving me the evil eye.” “Anybody can slow dance. “I wanted to go with him. She never seemed to mind.” I said.” “I don’t think so. And so do you. “It feels good. “No. “He’s nice.” I said. Heather?” I said.” I said. huh?” “Yeah. “I don’t know…” “How about Harry?” I said. “You and Andy must rub yourselves together all the time.” said Jennifer.” “Really?” I said.” “Murder?” “Yep. it had to be either the husband or the boyfriend.” I said. “Johnny asked me last night.” But I wouldn’t give up.” I said. April?” I said. But Johnny could have asked me anyway.” She took a deep breath and exhaled. “I do like Harry. April? An icebreaker. So. “You know what you need. The other girls agreed. I’ve got plenty of time. “Nobody’s asked you yet?” I said. “You like Harry. She never said much.” said April.. Honey. “You’re going steady with Andy. I don’t know how to dance anyway.” said April. “Right. The other girls giggled.” She spit on the ground. “It all started one day during my senior year in high school.” she said. April just ate her lunch and listened. one look told me you ain’t from the street. “Well. “What are talking about. “Does everybody have a date for the dance?” I said. “You just kind of walk around hugging. there you go. “Bastards. Just leave her alone.” .” “I wouldn’t know how.” “Good.” said Jennifer. but we encouraged her to sit with us at the lunch table so we could make fun of her. “Wouldn’t you enjoy some hot guy rubbing up against you all over the dance floor?” April blushed. He was one of the hottest guys in school.April's Fool A teenage girl’s mean prank backfires. “Why not?” I said. “Well. What did he do to you?” “It’s a long story. “Mind if I share that with Andy?” “Don’t you dare. We laughed at Heather. “she gets too nervous around boys. “Just came in today.

I ended up with Jake. Harry was my one true love.” “No. Harry should have been mine. actually.” THE END . It made her so happy that she started crying. We laughed our butts off.” “Well. but instead I made myself April’s Fool.” I said. “So. Harry had asked her to the dance because of that crappy poem. Wait—I know. Instead. Put his name on it.” It was sweet and syrupy—almost gooey. April would be humiliated. Harry asked you to the dance instead. I’m sure he would be so moved by your lovely poem that he would jump at the chance to be your date. …. “you should give him a copy. we saw tears running down her face. I had suggested that she douse it with perfume— something really potent.” I nearly lost my lunch. Harry married April. The old woman said. “Yeah. We huddled together in the hallway as we normally did between classes and pretended to be gossiping while watching April approach Harry at his locker.” “But you lost him because your prank backfired. I did write it for him.“What do you mean?” “You need something to get a conversation started with Harry. you ended up marrying him.” “But I thought—” “—when we saw April crying in the hallway that day—those were tears of joy. She hurried right past us without a word. after he’s had a chance to read. It would be such a perfect prank. I tried to make a fool out of April. You could give him a copy of that poem you wrote. And then. Harry held up the paper with April’s poem on it.” “Yeah.. None of us could read their lips or hear anything they were saying. and he beat the hell out of you until you finally killed him. You could slip it into his locker. you could ask him to the dance. You know—the one you read in class yesterday. The lamest piece of poetry I had ever heard. like you wrote it just for him. But when she turned around.

” The printer on his desk began to spit out a bunch of pages. This newfangled heart keeps all my arteries cleaned out. Coleslaw. “I could probably handle $300 a month. and sleep like a baby. They sounded like wonderful. that’s what insurance is for. But that $300 monthly note got to be a problem. “I think we can make that work. right? I could handle a small co-pay. When I need extra energy for football with my buddies. Especially after I traded in my year-old pickup. He explained that my procedure would not be covered by insurance. But instead of handing me a clipboard of forms. The new model was so hot. fried food. The dang thing had four computers in it. and all the Budwiser you could drink. I didn’t have much money to spare. Big cigars and raunchy jokes. Maybe if I had put off buying that new pool table and the 60-inch high-def TV. The secretary told me to get there early for registration. But I ain’t about to give up poker night with the boys. caring doctors.m. you’ve got to give up sausage. hushpuppies. And how was I to know this heart trouble stuff was gonna come along and kick me in the butt? Anyway. 4×4 diesel pickup truck. Milca Hue was a small Asian woman. So.” Heart of Gold. But don’t ask me about computers. For like three or four seconds. I just crank it up. Doc. Ding Dongs. the smoke was so thick you couldn’t see halfway across the table. smoking.000 too much. I thought. And the best part was that I didn’t have to give up any of my bad habits. fries. He sounded like a car salesman. Oh. I was about to blurt out a bigger number when he said. And this was life or death. Somehow I couldn’t see him making a counter offer. I think my heart literally stopped beating. Dr. and I can play like a maniac. She explained that my new heart would be made of space-age plastic and electronics. “Roy. I just had to have it. I said.” “Hmm. I don’t know squat. insurance and employment. I would have asked her out if my divorce had been final. and my extended cab. Very few of our customers pay cash. the secretary led me to the finance guy’s office.” “I’ll pay anything. “But they’re expensive. It’s so much better than my original equipment. She seemed very smart. I’ll never forget that day in my cardiologist’s office. . Later you find out you paid $5. “How much money are we talking about?” When he told me. But a man’s gotta have his boy toys.” He said customers. And the coolest part is the remote control.Heart of Gold A good old boy discovers a solution for his failing heart. But it was my only hope—unless I wanted to start exercising.” He messed around with his computer for long enough to make me nervous. It would be the usual questions about medical history. By 5:00 a. My surgery was a complete success. No problem. I figured it was worth every penny. In fact. “We a have finance plan for every need. “How much monthly payment can you afford?” It’s so clear to me now. Heart of Gold Clinic. It’s only about whether you can afford the monthly payment. There was nothing to make me hesitate about going under her knife. why don’t you just give me a lethal injection right now?” He told me there was a better solution. Quite beautiful. Didn’t he mean to say patients? I should have realized right then and there that something was funny about the Heart of Gold Clinic. I wish now I had read them before I signed. “But don’t worry. Even though I was willing to pay whatever it took. I was afraid to lowball him.” Fried shrimp. whatever the thing cost. When I go to bed I set it on Sleep Mode. I should have noticed it at the time. They never want to talk about the bottom line. “Doc. I felt like a new man. and salt.” he said. “I hear they work miracles over there. But my new truck note is $895 a month. So I made an appointment at the Heart of Gold Clinic.

what are they gonna do about it? Send a guy over to break my legs? The next day I got another text message. As hard as I tried. My phone beeped. Ten seconds. It’s one of those atomic clocks. my heart stopped again. at twenty seconds after midnight. Would there be a knock at the door? No. Must be some kind of glitch in the software. They don’t want to take care of their bodies. But I know they won’t listen. It was just gone. my heart started beating again. I thought. But as midnight came around. They just want an easy fix. I laughed at myself. But at least now I understand what Heart of Gold really means. It urged me to re-read my contract. I thought. I felt the side of my neck with my fingers. I would show this text message to the police. And I’ve never been late since. Only fifteen more seconds until midnight. I checked the clock.That’s when I started having trouble paying my bills. Four seconds…three…two…Pulse: 127. I felt my heartbeat begin to race. As the second hand clicked its way toward 12. Pulse? The display had gone blank. Their earlier messages were gone too. Just like me. Are you kidding me? I wasn’t gonna pay it now even if I did have the money. I would get it checked out the next day. I don’t know what I was expecting. Midnight. Five seconds. I didn’t delete it. They get the gold. PAY BY MIDNIGHT TOMORROW OR THERE WILL BE NO RESTART. I checked the readout on my heart remote. It had to be a bluff. So I skipped my Heart of Gold payment for a couple of months. They don’t want to have to work at getting into shape. I thought. You get the heart. As I began to relax. I sat in my kitchen watching the clock. I probably should try to warn other people about Heart of Gold. THE END . I started to get anxious. desperately trying to find a pulse. They can’t get away with this. The next day. Then. And I sure as heck didn’t want to be truck-less. That was scary. so I knew it was accurate. six seconds. They were killing me for non-payment. Still. I began to sweat. seven… At that rate I would be dead before an ambulance could get there. I panicked. I didn’t want to be homeless. It was a new text message. I could not cover everything. YOUR ACCOUNT IS 60 DAYS OVERDUE. They’re fools. I had two days to bring my account up to date. Pulse: 92. CONTRACT OPTION K WILL BE DEPLOYED AT MIDNIGHT. They had made me paranoid with those weird text message warnings. Pulse: 104. Six seconds later it restarted. I was hopping mad. What were they gonna do? Repossess my heart? I was surprised when I got a text message one day—warning me that my account was past due. but no need for alarm. Then the message disappeared. I found the money to bring my account up to date. It wasn’t there. What was I thinking? That my heart was being controlled remotely by somebody at the clinic? How ridiculous. Was this a pattern? My heart stops for five seconds. Higher than my normal resting rate. At five seconds after midnight.

” Then it clicked. Then it hit her: it was the woman from the newspaper—the one who married that rich old fart. Amber had been driving to Wal-Mart with her five-year-old daughter. Perhaps a few of them had been the little girl’s. Hopefully by the end of the week Miss Smiley would find her rightful place at the bottom of Jessica’s toy box. Most were missing arms or legs. She should have dumped him in high school.” Frowner? Okay—kinda weird. Most of the dolls were too expensive anyway. Hopefully it had not been in the room. she thought—a sugar daddy. The cops said it was a murder-suicide of a little girl and her foster parents.” said Jessica. Please. The young child had been strangled in her high chair. “Why are there so many dolls?” said Amber. “Her name is Smiley Frowner. Once they were back in the car. Jessica held up the doll. still looking away.” She hugged the doll with all her might.” They walked back down to the woman. “Let’s go talk to the lady about it.” The doll’s frown turned into a smile. It seemed just as sad as Jessica. Mommy. Then the man stabbed his wife in the chest and slit his own throat. The doll’s smile was gone too. She gave it back to Jessica. She looked familiar. Amber remembered the horrific story from a recent newspaper article. She walked down to where Jessica was standing.” At least there was no blood on the doll. “Look what I found. Jessica. “Mommy. Amber began to get the creeps and wished she hadn’t stopped. “That’s a good name for him. when she spotted the garage sale sign. I want her. Mommy. and Jessica hugged her new best friend. It’s free. Ryan was never going to amount to anything. She turned the doll around to look at its face. “So. clutching an old hand-sewn doll.” “Her. “So. it’s dirty. she immediately looked away. Honey. She didn’t believe in savings accounts or investments…or burial insurance. Mommy. I love Smiley. “Oh.Smiley Frowner Five-year-old Jessica doesn’t go anywhere without Smiley—the handmade doll that protects her from the evils of the world. The woman sighed.” “Please. “I don’t know. how much do you want for it?” “Nothing. These dolls had belonged to that poor woman. “Just get it out of here.” “I don’t care. ********** Twenty-seven year-old Brandy was on her way out of Wal-Mart when she passed a woman about her age with a young girl.” Jessica’s hopeful smile faded. ********** . Jessie. That’s what I need. “That doll should not have been in the fivedollar box. in front of a box of dolls priced at five dollars. When the woman saw it. thought Amber. She pictured the child in the high chair holding the doll. “Because it’s the only thing of value my sister owned.” Amber took the doll and examined it carefully. you’re asking five dollars for this one?” said Amber. Jessica said.” said the woman. She saw the girl’s little arms go limp as the life went out of her.” Jessica corrected. The smiley face and pink dress had been drawn onto the off-white material with some type of markers.

” Jessica had already discovered the persuasive powers of a sad face. Brandy walked over to Ryan. “Little girl?” “My name is Jessica.” “I will. I told her I would watch Jessica for her. It was in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago.” Jessica began to cry. He grabbed the TV remote. Her mother had an accident at Wal-Mart and had to be rushed to the hospital. Ryan.” A special news bulletin interrupted the TV show. Absolutely nuts. “Don’t be sad. can I please get a new coloring book?” “Jessie. But she didn’t see her mother.” “Good.” Brandy took Jessica into the house.“Mommy. I’m crazy. my mommy’s right over there. Cancun.” “Come over here and sit at the table. “Okay. “No.” said Jessica. “Yeah. alright.” “You’re crazy.” “Are you sure?” “Turn it up. She’s on her way to the hospital. “Who’s this?” “This is Jessica. “You can stay here and pick out a coloring book while I go right over there and look at the purses.” His scowl turned into a greedy grin.” Amber gave her a quick peck on the lips. pointing to the purses. We’ll move to Mexico.” “No problem. “I’ll be back in just a few minutes.” Amber squatted in front of her daughter.” “You idiot! She’s seen our faces. “Oh. “No.” “That’s the daughter?” Brandy smiled. And she asked me to take you there. lowered the volume.” While Jessica was eating her cookies. “What have you done?” “Don’t you recognize her?” He took another look. “We’ll never have to work again.” “We’ll just lay out on the beach all day. and I’ll get your milk and cookies.” “I know. Sweetie. “I want my Mommy.” she said.” “No. And we’re gonna be crazy rich.” “Yeah. Sweetie.” Brandy killed the engine. I just bought you one last week. Your mommy slipped and fell down. Mommy. Baby. “Hey.” Jessica grinned.” Jessica and Smiley had been looking through the large collection of coloring books for several minutes when Brandy rushed up to her. “There she is—that’s the mother. Her boyfriend. Your mommy will be here soon. Mommy. was lying on the couch watching TV. how about a big glass of milk and some chocolate chip cookies?” Jessica frowned.” “Okay then.” “But you have to promise to stay right here until I get back. I’m gonna take you to her.” Brandy held out her hand.” Ryan glanced over at Jessica and then looked back at Brandy. They’re taking her to the hospital. “Let’s go.” ********** “I thought we were going to the hospital. And they’re gonna have to pay a lot of money to get her back. “Your mommy’s gonna come here to my house and pick you up. Mommy. but I want a different one. You’re the one I’m looking for. “What are you doing?” “I’m about to make us rich. and whispered. I will.” “You know the woman who married that rich dude? What’s his name? The old guy.” “I know.” .

“I’ll take care of this. Her fingers seemed to wave goodbye as they disappeared into the drain. buzzing teeth. Her arm fell to the floor like a fresh cut of beef. Smiley’s head grew even larger. “I’m scared. very sharp knife.As they listened to the news report. We’re going to prison. “Jessica? What are you doing? Please don’t hurt me!” The knife jutted toward her and then back—the movement too swift for her eyes to follow. She’s gonna tell the police. She couldn’t move. The knife flew into the air and hung suspended directly in front of her. Brandy looked at Smiley’s face. Her body would not obey her brain. Smiley. “How are those cookies?” “Good. She couldn’t bend over to pick it up.” “What are you going to do?” “Go!” Ryan grabbed his cigarettes and lighter and walked out to the front yard. “Now what are we gonna do? We’re not going to Cancun. Brandy’s legs suddenly yanked in opposite directions. She heard her grandmother’s wedding ring clanging around for a moment. holding the knife in the air. Her spine hit the edge of the counter with such force that she dropped the knife. Her right arm tore off and hit the floor. Smiley’s head suddenly ballooned into something monstrous.” said Jessica.” “What about the lies you told the girl? You said her mother had an accident and went to the hospital. Jessica turned Smiley around to face Brandy.” Smiley frowned. “What are you doing to me?” The knife flashed again.” “Why?” Brandy walked toward her with the knife. she felt herself begin to float. “I’m afraid your mommy’s not coming. She turned around and said. Smiley manipulating her body like a puppet master. Jessica dropped her cookie on the table.” She had forgotten all about the garbage disposal until she heard the grinding behind her. She turned around to see one of her detached arms being gobbled up. Brandy walked over to the sink and turned on the cold water. who was now standing over them. Suddenly Brandy felt her body being sucked back toward the sink. She could see the shiny. the reality of the situation began to sink in. as the drain seemed to open its mouth wider. Then she opened a drawer and selected a very large. .” said Brandy. Brandy had kidnapped the child of some middle-class couple. It unnerved her to see that the painted-on smile had somehow changed to a frown. Her other arm went down fast. until it filled the room. Then they mercifully dropped back down—only to be chopped off. The expression on its face was more frightening than anything Brandy had ever seen. But it wouldn’t stop her from chopping Jessica into pieces and stuffing the little body parts down the garbage disposal. Brandy went into the kitchen. dropping her torso the floor. Her shoulder popped out of its socket.” “Go outside and have a smoke.” “No. “Great. and looked into the doll’s face. His horrifying face was two inches from Brandy’s. “No. I’ll tell the police I was just trying to help the little girl. Jessica’s parents were not rich at all. Her heart pounded ferociously. Had she been cut? She didn’t think so—until she saw something dripping from the blade. She felt a twinge in her left shoulder. Blood began to gush down her left arm. She flipped a switch and the garbage disposal came to life. Once the disposal had chewed and swallowed the two legs. Please. Her legs shot up to her sides until both feet kicked her in the head. I’ll say she was wondering down the sidewalk and I picked her up. She screamed. Then excruciating pain. She trembled uncontrollably.” said Ryan. we’re not. Flesh ripped. picked up Smiley.

” The painted-on smile broadened. But we won’t get scared. Honey? Maybe you should sleep with Mommy and Daddy tonight.” said Amber.” Amber turned off the light and walked out. Jessie.” “Okay. But what if she was just blocking it out of her mind? What would happen when it all started to come back to her? “Really. Jessica turned her around and hugged her. According to the police. closing the door behind her. and her torso was sucked down whole. Then he had stuffed ten cigarettes down his throat and choked to death. Once her head was chewed off at the neck.” “Goodnight. okay. “Goodnight. “Kiss Smiley too. Mommy. Jessica held Smiley in her arms as she drifted into a peaceful night’s sleep.” “Well.” She kissed the doll. Smiley Frowner. Jessica said she hadn’t seen anything.” “Okay. Jessica could see Smiley in the dim rays of her nightlight. But if you and Smiley get scared. Finally. “I love you. the disposal turned off and the water stopped running. I think you should sleep with us. The rate and volume of blood pumping out of her body began to surpass that of the water flowing from the faucet. She went into the sharp metal teeth head first. the boyfriend had cut up his girlfriend’s body and put it down the garbage disposal. Surely Jessica would have nightmares. Mommy. the drain expanded further. Smiley was back to normal. THE END . just come and jump in bed with us. Very strange. I guess we can try it. It’s her first night.” “Smiley and I want to sleep in our own room. ********** “Are you okay.” She kissed Jessica.The drain grew even larger. What was left of her began to rise above the sink. Jessica had not heard or seen anything.

And my eyes were closing. She placed her soft hand on my shoulder and smiled. I hopped out of bed. my God. I’m all in. It was real. Or find a pistol or call the police. It was Debra—from high school. are you?” My eyes popped open. I thought.” she said. But when I felt myself waking up. no home. No! I don’t want to… I have no idea how long I was asleep. There she was. Why was I wearing shoes in bed? Then I realized I wasn’t in bed. But I awoke to something hitting the bottom of my foot. To be walking around.” Wait. but everything looked blurry. “Last night was wonderful. I rubbed my hand across my face. it was. With my beautiful wife. Baby. I was falling asleep. Baby. It’ll be fun. What a life.” “Well.” What a nice dream. The bottom of my shoe. I had a huge crush on her. Just as before.” This time I would not fall back to sleep. I was good now. Be cool.” “Right. We can pack the lunch together. A bum in ragged clothing lying in bed with me.” I wanted to kick him out of my bed. We’ve been together for nearly a year. But my body felt heavy. Why was it so smooth? Where were my morning whiskers? And when had I let my hair grow so long? I turned on the light to get a better look.” Oh. This is too good. We had made love last night? I tried to remember it.” “It’s gonna be a perfect day. I was shocked to see—a man. but I never asked her out. “Honey?” I couldn’t help it. and you don’t even know who I am. not. I thought. I glanced at my left hand. I couldn’t move. I held it up to my eyes. Yes! Matching rings. Now you don’t even know my name. I was lying in an alley next to a dumpster. Face to face with a beautiful woman—in bed. “You promised me a picnic today. My eyes began to close. and recoiled in disgust. The man bent down and took the money out of my hand. “Who are you? And where’s Debra?” “Great. My eyes were open. All at once I inhaled his rancid breath. I knew this woman.” I walked into the bathroom. “Yes.” “Okay. I thought. it is. Too shy. backlit by the morning sun. He only wished she were the girl of his real life. “Finally. “Enjoy. But the sweet fragrance in the air gave me hope. The next time. My skin looked soft. I had breasts! “No!” “What’s the matter. “I’m ready to go. man.” Debra’s voice sounded funny—like she suddenly got a bad cold. Debra. Fantastic. no bed? The man grinned at me. Don’t wake yourself up. I looked kinda funny. and replaced it with a small baggie. But I couldn’t do any of those things. so happy to be awake. Her blonde hair glowed. Honey?” “I’m a woman!” “And you just now realized it?” I don’t know whether I fell back to sleep or fainted. “Hey. I couldn’t move. Sleepyhead. You’re not trying to back out on our picnic. But you might want to get dressed first. I was afraid to open my eyes. “Get away from me!” . let’s get going. “Of course. I began to get excited. “Yes.” Great. That’s pathetic. And this was not a dream. The picnic. Sweetie. How could I forget it?! Don’t overreact. When my vision cleared. Then I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Drugs? Was this my real life? Sleeping on cold concrete in a stinky alley with my fellow druggies? No wife. I thought you’d never wake up. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a handful of crumpled bills. Then I noticed her wedding ring. “Wake up.” “No!” I threw the baggie at him.Dreaming Debra Debra was the girl of his dream life. and it’s nearly 11:00.

I got them from that guy— the one who just offered me the baggie. “Be cool. Debra. Some of the cool guys were doing it. my body was sucked up into a tornado. No problem. checking her dress.” He put the baggie into his jacket pocket and walked away. At least that’s what it felt like. “Really.” Five years ago I dreamed this scene. why not? How stupid. It was Debra.Suddenly. I turned around and bumped into a girl. I looked around and thought.” she said. I grinned. Sleepyhead. “Sure.” “It’s okay. And that one word changed my life forever. “You promised me a picnic today. It was my high school prom. disoriented. Wait. Now it was coming back to me. lying in bed with me.” I opened my eyes to see my beautiful wife. ********** “Wake up.” she said. man. It’s okay.” When she looked up. and then abruptly spit out.” It was now or never. “Hey…you want to…” “…dance?” What I was doing? Every kid in the room was probably watching—seeing me make a fool of myself. It was exactly like this. what is this place? My head began to clear. She put her hand on my arm and smiled at me. “I don’t think any of it got on me. The young guy leaned in.” THE END . “I’m so sorry. I got a lump in my throat. “And a picnic you shall have. I was dizzy. Baby. causing her to spill her glass of punch. I decided it was time for me to go home. I felt my face turn red. Earlier that night I had taken some pills. so I thought.


Man. “What’s the big deal who the owner is? It’s still the same job.” said Mary. Whatever floats your boat.” “Hey. It was getting louder by the second. this just makes me sick. And then we could go out and get new jobs. That is the sound of your pink slip. “What’s that?” said Tony.” said Tony. But this is different.” “I can’t help it. “I really thought I was getting somewhere when I landed this job. “Yeah. Whatever gets you through the night. Tony had a blank look on his face.” said Lance. “But why doesn’t he just get rid of the old timers— like that guy.Layoff Rumors And you thought your job sucked. We’ve got a new owner!” “But this is my first day.” said Mary. New owners usually like to clean house—start fresh. Lance continued.” “Fair? You think he gives a flip about what’s fair?” said Lance. It’s about how you deal with it. “I’m afraid he’s right. “That you could just walk away from this thing? That you wouldn’t be affected like the rest of us? What makes you so special anyway?” “But it’s just a job.” said Lance.” said Mary.” said Tony. “What is that loud noise and why is it getting so dark?” “This is it.” “So?” said Tony. but somehow he’s managed to stick around.” said Lance. That’s all. “we’ve weathered a lot of storms around here. He really liked her. I just started here. “You’re just a number to him.” Tony wasn’t convinced.” “It’s not good.” His voice began to quiver. “Have you heard?” said Lance. “Breathe deeply. He looks like he’s been here forever. “But I thought the new owner would just let us all go. “There’s a new owner.” “That’s depressing. Too bad coworkers could not date. It’s not about your situation. And now—to find out it’s a dead end…” “Just accept it. I guess not. “What?” said Mary. “We’re dead meat. if the circumstances had been different he would have asked her out. In fact. “Don’t you know what that means?” “No.” said Tony. Tony?” “No. looking around. “but to each his own. “That wouldn’t be fair.” said Mary.” “Well. and most of us managed to hang on. Something was beginning to rumble. Tony shouted over the roaring sound. “Don’t fight it. That’s what I do.” Tony did not appreciate Lance making him look like an idiot in front of Mary. . Whatever—“ “—stop!” said Tony. “Why?” said Tony. “Are you kidding me?” said Lance.” said Mary. “Is it like one of those storms you’ve lived through?” “Nope.” said Lance. “Release the stress.” “Bob? Yeah. right?” “Wrong. you’ll be out of here so fast—you won’t even know what hit you. “You have no idea what I’m talking about. Bob’s been here longer than most of us have been alive. I don’t know what his secret is. “But I thought—“ “—you thought what?” said Lance. do you. as it began to sink in. But look at him.” “You fool!” yelled Lance. I don’t go for that new age stuff. This place has just sucked the life out of him. “Enough with the clichés!” Suddenly everybody got quiet.” said Lance.” said Tony. “I’m telling you. You’re just making yourself miserable.

They would begin to come onboard soon— unaware of their certain fate. he and his co-workers were bombarded by a thunderous tidal wave— sending their frail bodies airborne for a moment before they crashed to the ground. And you thought your job sucked.“This can’t be. Their jobs were down the drain—and so were they.” said Tony. THE END . Poor old Bob still clung to the hood ornament. “How can he just kill us?” Before Lance could answer. A new crop of employees were waiting in the wings. The new owner would have to scrape him off by hand.

“Well.” “No problem. and you did it. But I couldn’t have done it without you. Mayor. I hired you to pull a rabbit out of your hat. And now you’re gonna be my chief of staff. He was still four points ahead in the last poll. I do. I knew people were upset about all the homeless guys hanging around restaurants. I knew he was goner.Margin of Error An ambitious campaign manager claims she can deliver a victory every time—once she gets the poll numbers within the Margin of Error. thought Lucinda.” “Well. Lucinda. “Oh.” “And by the time he realized we were on to something. Don’t be modest. you and your margin of error. Nobody thought I could beat Elderman—until my poll numbers started getting better every week.” “Oh. wet kiss? “And now it’s your Job One. I’ve heard that every day for the last month.” “Right. Just get it done.” If you really want to show your appreciation. But I had no idea it was the number one concern. Margin of error this. it was too late. didn’t you?” The mayor grinned. Now.” “And somehow you turned public opinion around. “It was a great slogan. I was down twenty points.” “No.” “I know.” “Once we tied him.” And I’m glad you’re smart enough to realize it.” Lucinda smiled seductively. margin of error that. Job One: Clean Up the Streets.” ********** The mayor had avoided Lucinda for two weeks. begging for handouts. “It’s the biggest office in the building. thought Lucinda. you’re not. yes. “I sure did. “I do like the sound of that. The mayor got up and walked around to the front of his desk. why don’t you walk down the hall to your new office and get to work. We were within the margin of error. “Oh. . Sir—I mean Mayor. I don’t know about that.” “No.” Lucinda stood up.” He walked her to the door. And that statistics can only be carried so far…before you become one. But she learns too late that not everything in life works like an election. how about a hot. “Have a seat.” He laughed.” He smiled. Right?” “I’m still thinking about it.” “Besides this one. She guessed it was because of her romantic interest in him.” “Yeah.” “Hey—you won.” He checked his watch. It was impressive.” “You kept saying that.” She frowned at him. When you came in. Lucinda.” “Thank you. Sorry.” “Thank you.” “It depends. and—” “—twenty-three. Lucinda. “I’m going to need some money. You want the job. and our first order of business: the homeless. “Do you have any dinner plans?” “Uh.” “Your idea of doing our own private polling was genius. “It was brilliant. as a matter of fact. Go clean up the streets. yes.” “Don’t you want to know how—” “—I don’t care how you do it or how much it costs. Elderman probably thought we were nuts to go with that campaign slogan. thanks again. of course. no.” The mayor smiled. He was always too busy to meet with her. Wonderful job. But we never did tie him.

” She stood up.“Close the door and have a seat. She dropped a five-dollar bill on the table for the coffee. Dark gray. You’re not done.” “But.” She walked down the hall to her office. “I trust you.” “But…” She took the phone away from her ear and looked at it. “And you didn’t get that from me. and flipped open her cell phone. They’re so messed up—some of them don’t even know who they are.” said Frank. But what about the others?” “I tried everything. I want to talk to you about these poll numbers. She couldn’t give up now.” “I believe you. The phone number on the slip of paper was from another area code. No matter.” said the mayor. Mayor.” He handed her a slip of paper with phone number on it. Lucinda smiled. And believe me. He didn’t care.” “I don’t think so. Mayor.” “You can’t scare them into going?” “I told one guy if he didn’t get up and come with me I was gonna slit his throat. Good luck. gruff voice. The people are very happy with you. “This guy might be able to help you. Maybe he wanted me to do it—just to put him out of his misery. When are you going be finished? The Mayor’s losing patience.” . and—” “—who gave you my number?” He sounded even scarier than Frank.” “Look. You can’t carry them on.” He got up from the booth and walked out of the restaurant. “I’m on it. Lucinda. Fix it. Mayor—” “—look. Frank. Lucinda would finish the job. legally speaking.” “No. making sure it was still securely attached. I saw two men lying on the sidewalk outside Pappy’s Pancake House this morning. shut the door.” “Except when it comes to the homeless. They won’t come back. I don’t want to hear anything about a margin of error. And our margin of error was four percent. I want my cash.” “What do you mean? You got a ninety-six percent approval rating on that. I can’t have that. Whatever it takes. “Who—” “—don’t ask.” “I’m done.” “Well. The townspeople didn’t even know her—except for the mayor and his staff. He had already hung up. She punched in the numbers and waited. So. I even pulled out a knife and held it to his neck. “You’re looking great. But they’ve got to be able to stand up and walk onto the bus. Meet me in thirty minutes. She checked her wig for the tenth time. And all it takes is one or two business owners calling some reporter down at the TV station and they’ll do a story on the total failure of my cleanup efforts. The services she required were in the gray area. “Yeah?” It was a deep. you were perfect. I put the fear of God in them. “I can’t say. Lucinda. But she was desperate to complete her task. and walked out to her car. ********** “Aren’t you going to count it?” said Lucinda. You and I both know there are still bums out there on the streets. Lucinda looked around. But I may have a job for you. she thought. Nobody would recognize her anyway. what am I gonna do?” “That’s your problem. almost all of the people took the cash and got on a bus. It would be crazy to hire some anonymous man over the phone. “Uh…somebody gave me your number. Now!” “Yes. I want to see one-hundred percent approval on this thing. and then get what she wanted most: a date with the mayor. as he put the thick envelope into his coat pocket. Lucinda. “It’s been two weeks.” he said.

But where would she find somebody else to take care of the last few bums? The mayor was giving a speech on Thursday night. I’ve taken care of eleven.” Suddenly Lucinda felt dangerously exposed.” “What? No.” “Done. They all have to go. It doesn’t do me any good unless every one of them is off the street. she noticed something odd. she thought.” The line went dead. I’ll pay an extra five. Lucinda felt a great sense of satisfaction. Then she drove by a few of the other popular homeless hangouts. But as she drove past the high school. that’s not good enough. And I want my money. But I want my money today. It hadn’t taken long to discover that Bill had the best Apple pie in town. “And don’t bother trying to trace my phone. “Okay. hurried to the door and closed it. But you’ve got to finish it tonight. They were all gone. she decided to go for a drive. We managed to get most of them to leave town by giving them money. She had to get it done.” “I wouldn’t do that. He wanted to be able to claim success for cleaning up the streets.” If it was a throwaway.” “Fine. wait. And she knew just where to get it.” “Call somebody else. I’m done. it was probably a cloud way off in the sky. But I don’t even know your name.” “When do you need it done?” “As soon as possible.“What does it pay?” “Five thousand. Lucinda stopped the car and rolled down her window. And don’t be stupid enough to try to rip me off.” “I don’t know yours either. She took a shortcut through the high school parking lot on her way to Bill’s 24-Hour Coffee Shop.” “No.” “You said there were less than a dozen. But the others—they’re just too messed up in the head. . Since she couldn’t sleep anyway. She passed Pappy’s. above the building there was a cloud of smoke.” ********** Lucinda rolled over and stared at the glowing numbers on her alarm clock. So.” “How many people are we talking about?” “Probably less than a dozen. ********** “Hello?” “Ten is not enough. It’s a throwaway. She could smell the smoke.” She couldn’t pay him another ten-thousand dollars. Yes.” “Tomorrow night. It was after three. She killed the engine and got out of the car. Now that the pressure was off. I can go as high as ten.” “No. How had he done it? What difference did it make? They were all gone. she didn’t want to alert them to her presence until she could see who they were and what they were doing. Perhaps it was just an optical illusion. Then you can get somebody else. As she drove toward her apartment. I’ll pay the extra ten. In the moonlight. she had a craving for a good cup of coffee and a piece of pie. how did Frank have the number? “Don’t worry—I won’t.” “What’s the job?” “Getting the homeless people off our streets. She wondered if he had finished the job. She couldn’t believe it. If some kids were up to no good. It was no cloud.” “Then you’ll pay me an extra ten. Yes! No more homeless. You can’t reason with them.” Lucinda jumped up from her desk. I’ll look up the rest. That’s all. The number’s more like sixteen. But I have your phone number. “That’s was the deal.

What a fish. Her craving for pie was gone. It’s redundant. praying nobody had seen her. he chose to move out.” she said. as she put the necklace into her pocket. They should have stayed on the program. “Oh. it had belonged to one of the drunks who were now being cremated.” “Yeah. It was a silver necklace with a seven-sided silver charm that had two letters in the center: AA.” “Yeah.” “And you won’t from now on. That’s none of my business. and asked her what she thought. Once he was gone. He carried it to the incinerator and dumped it into the open hatch.” “Is that your son standing next to you?” “Yes. Then she eased in—just close enough to see down inside. Lucinda hurried over to the incinerator. He and Andy are best friends. she gasped and jumped back from the searing heat.” Lucinda gulped. She closed the hatch and walked back around the building. that was a great day. “Wonderful. Lucinda. The ‘AA’ stands for Andy and Aaron. He got into the van and drove away with his headlights still off. got into her car and drove away.” “Oh. Mayor. it sounds pretty good. she thought.” “Yeah. But I just don’t know how to fix it. They were actually very good—before the drugs. ********** “I didn’t see any bums on the streets this morning. The smoke was coming from the school’s incinerator. Surely this is not the man I hired. getting up from her chair and walking around behind his desk. She picked it up and studied it in the light of the raging fire. His eyeballs suddenly burst into flames. this is a nice picture.” . Peg thought I was too hard on Andy. A set of eyes in a burning face looked back at her. I’ve been working on my speech for tomorrow night. The engine was running. When she opened the incinerator hatch. “What are those necklaces they’re wearing?” “They had those made right after they started performing in public. closed the doors. Yes. And surely the thing he just threw into the incinerator was not a… The man walked to the back of the van. “I’m sorry. A man walked around from the back of the van with something across his shoulder. I’m sorry. Something shiny on the ground caught her eye. Great job. She found a crumpled paper bag on the ground to use as an oven mitt. That was before he got into drugs and moved out of the house. “Well. but the headlights were off. They were great kids—before they got all messed up. “I’d like to bounce something off you.” “So. She pointed.She ran around to the back of the building to take a look. Lucinda turned and vomited repeatedly. The man must have been so full of drugs or alcohol that he was just waking up to the excruciating pain of the fire engulfing his body. “But right here—I would swap these two sentences. Undoubtedly. An old commercial van was parked in front of the incinerator. I told him he could either give up the drugs or move out. That’s him in the picture with us.” “Yeah—I think you’re right.” “I’ll be happy to help.” The mayor read the passage.” “It’s okay.” And now. Perhaps his vocal chords had already burned away. that’s Andy. and there’s a spot that’s not quite right. And remove this one. it was a big part of it. He looked as if he was trying to scream. When the queasiness began to subside she turned around to close the hatch. The gate was open.” “Is that what led to your divorce?” She quickly added. And they’re a singing duo. how about a dinner date.” said Lucinda. I blame Aaron. Then it hit her. and then went back to the incinerator to close the hatch. she thought. Thanks. she thought.” Lucinda had never been on the front side of his desk.

Envy. and Pride. grabbed her purse off her desk. He had drugged her. He’s still around. It was exactly like the one in his hand! “I’m sorry. Then he pulled a necklace out of the top of his shirt and let it hang from his neck. “Which one are you—Andy or Aaron?” “I was the last one in the van. He held up his left hand. Wrath. but she couldn’t even lift her head off the pillow. There will be a nice bonus in your next paycheck. it couldn’t be. I saw him the other day walking down the sidewalk with Aaron. The mayor had gotten what he wanted. I didn’t mean for anybody to get hurt. I didn’t mean for that to happen. After he drove off. She strained her eyes to read each word: Lust. It was the seven deadly sins. Gluttony.” She went to her office.“Out of town?” “No. Her speech was uncontrollably slurry. I knew you were the one who had hired that man. How could any decent person live with that kind of guilt? Lucinda lay helpless as she melted slowly but surely into the narrow sinkhole…of her own MARGIN OF ERROR. I saw you holding Aaron’s necklace. “I’m so sorry. Whatever he drugged us with didn’t work as well on me. She cringed when she saw the empty syringe in his right hand.” The man took a syringe out of his pocket. And she had committed them all. There was an inscription on the edge of each of the seven sides. and began to riffle through it. Now she had the blood of a teenager on her hands. Greed.” He stuck the needle into her arm. Lucinda had no strength to resist. She opened her eyes and saw a man standing over her. closed the door. She pulled the necklace out and held it up. “No. it would be easy for them to believe she had committed suicide. what have I done?” ********** Lucinda found it tougher than ever to fall asleep.” she said. Once the police figured out what she had done. And when I found out you worked for my father.” He took the cap off the syringe. He threw the empty syringe on the floor and leaned down to her. This man had somehow figured out what she had done. No wonder she felt so weird and weak. She felt herself sinking into the bed. thought Lucinda.” She began to weep. Please don’t kill me.” No. “Oh. Maybe he would even get his son back. The lettering was so tiny that Lucinda had not even noticed it before. THE END . She could almost make out his face. God. thanks again. “I’m sorry. She tried to jump up and run away. It had been hard enough to live with the guilt of killing hopeless drunks and drug addicts. she finally dozed off. Sloth. The necklace dangling from it was the one she had so foolishly left on her nightstand. “Well. A couple of hours later she awoke to a sharp pain in her arm.” “Thanks. I ran into the woods before he could come walk back to the van and get me. The man’s face was just beyond the range of the nightlight. Or maybe two…or more! Somehow. They were completely zoned out though. The streets were free of homeless people.

one vanilla shake and two chocolate shakes. T-shirts and boots got out of the back seat. It’s my crowning achievement.” said Helen. “What that heck did you do to your car.” She walked around behind the counter and yelled back to the kitchen as though she were calling hogs. The bell on the door jingled as a middle-aged man in a black and gray beard entered the restaurant. he heard something coming up the street. Malcolm tried not to smile. “Just give us the usual. He turned around. But why was the engine so quiet? Then he realized that the flat thing on top of the car was not a luggage rack—it was a solar panel. Helen’s Hamburgers: the best burgers in town. Then they talked about Jake’s chickens for a while. Ma’am. Malcolm suspected that Helen’s might be the only burger joint in town. yet too quiet to be a car. Ned. He was starving. Been there for over 25 years. The brakes squeaked on the 1957 Chevy Bel Air 4-door hardtop as it pulled in behind his car. It was in decent shape for a 50-year-old car.” “But you do look kinda familiar for some reason. “Howdy.” “You’re the anchor?” “No. the sign read.” “Got it. what’ll you have?” One of the younger men looked like he was about to speak when Ned said. Two husky twenty-something guys in jeans.” “Okee-dokee. Malcolm picked a spot several tables away. Sometimes. Didn’t they at least have a McDonald’s in this crummy little town? He decided to stop at the next restaurant he saw—no matter what it looked like. And he hadn’t even looked at the menu that was printed right on the table. but…” “I’m their senior reporter. Ned?” Ned grinned. are you?” “No. Sir?” Malcolm had not noticed Helen approaching his table. How are you boys doing today?” “We’re fine. Jake. The older man thanked him. It was too noisy to be a bicycle.Sun-Powered Car A washed-up TV reporter sees a chance for a big story when he discovers an amazing invention while passing through a small town. but never quite made it. “What can I get you today. he’d long ago given up on his dream of sitting in the anchor chair. And his cowboy hat was so crumpled that Malcolm guessed the man slept in it every night. Malcolm hated to see a great classic car defiled like that.” “Well. It was only 11:00 AM—too early for most lunchers. “Three triple cheeseburgers with onion rings. And at age 57. But an odd-looking luggage rack had been bolted to the top. Just as he was about to go inside. The three men took a seat at a round table near the front window.” The men discussed Ned’s car for a few more seconds. It was a three-hour drive back to the city.” shouted a male voice. Helen. The fact the there were no cars parked in front made him hesitate. A middle-aged man wearing overalls got out of the driver’s seat. A woman in her mid-forties wearing a flowery 1950’s style day dress walked to the men’s table. “You ever watch Channel 12 News?” “Yes. “I finally got it right. I’m not an anchor. It’s not my favorite. “Uh…what do you recommend?” “You’re not from around here. Malcolm held the door for them. But the assignments he’d been getting recently were just downright degrading. Malcolm was past his prime. He checked his watch.” “Oh—are you the guy who reported the big high-rise fire last week?” . Should have been. It was just another lousy day in the life of a has-been TV news reporter. He parked his car and got out. His jeans had obviously never been near a washing machine.

Until they shut down.” “Yeah.” “I wish I hadn’t. they were half finished. By the time Malcolm had reached them. Because there’s no sunlight. That’s what I call it—my son-powered car. and the three men began to gobble it down.” Helen walked away. one other thing.” “That’s right.“No. One battery.” “Of course.” “Interesting.” “You’re kidding me. fries and a coke.” “Is that what he does for a living?” “No. That’s amazing. What a story. But how could he possibly forget any of this? “Mind if I take a closer look?” “No problem. Ned closed the hood and walked around to the side of the car. “What is this?” “This is where the power is applied. if you don’t mind. “She’s a beauty. does it use any batteries?” “Sure—for nighttime driving. They claimed it was destined to break the Guinness World Record of 27. he thought: Farmer outsmarts young high-tech whipper-snappers.” said Ned.” Helen turned to walk away.” Malcolm suddenly realized that he wasn’t writing anything down. “I was on a farm that day. He loves to invent stuff.” He opened the back seat door. I said it was son-powered.” Malcolm took a closer look. Besides.” “I’ve never heard of a jumping pig.” said Ned.” “Yes? What about him?” “I heard him telling that man with a beard that his car was sun-powered.” Ned sucked down the rest of his shake. I just wanted to ask you about that man over there—Ned. And I overheard you say that the car is sun-powered. it’s illegal. Helen turned back around.5 inches. The floor board where the passengers’ feet normally rest had been cut out to make room for what appeared to be bicycle gears. “So. “Back here is where the action is. Malcolm could not keep his jaw from dropping. Isn’t that something? He finally got it working. no. “I apologize for interrupting your lunch. chains and pedals.” He sighed. I can’t be driving around in the dark. smiling.” said Malcolm. That’s all.” “You mean you only have batteries so you can run your headlights?” “And taillights.” He stood up and proudly led Malcolm out to his masterpiece. But he used to work for an aircraft company.” “He did it himself?” “Yep. Just the one six-volter. “Onion rings?” “Uh.” Ned smiled as he continued to chew. That stinky animal couldn’t even clear a cinder block. but I just had to ask about your car. popping the hood. Might hit a cow.” “Coming right up.” said Malcolm. “Come on. There was nothing under the hood except a six-volt battery.” “Wow. building the first practical solar-powered automobile—in the form of a ’57 Chevy! A young waitress delivered the food to Ned’s table. “I thought you said this car was completely solar powered?” “Solar powered? Heck. “Oh. The two young men both nodded in agreement as they stuffed their faces. strapped down with a bungee cord. took a few bills out of his wallet and dropped them on the table. ain’t she?” “Yes. Malcolm was confused.” “Yeah. “Nope. Thanks. Just give me a hamburger. The people said they had a high-jumping pig. no thanks. Then he took over his daddy’s farm. “Check this out.” . He’s a farmer. Malcolm’s mouth began to water—but not for the burger and fries.

“That’s a solar panel. and sped off.” Ned got into the driver’s seat and shut the door. THE END . jumped in his car. But it was a quirky. But it only gives me enough power to run the headlights. It wasn’t the solution to skyrocketing oil prices. Malcolm stood there shaking his head. It was not going to be a lousy day after all.” shouted Ned as they drove away. Ned’s car was not the technical break-through story. He went back into Helen’s and started eating his lukewarm hamburger and fries.” “Then why don’t you use it?” “I tried. then what’s this?” Malcolm pointed to the solar panel on top of the car. “Let’s go. Then it hit him.The two young men walked out of Helen’s and took their places in the back seat. Ned could not be more than a few blocks away. He should have known better than to think he would be so lucky. “Nice talking with you. boys. “Well. rushed out of the restaurant. And he was going to get it! He threw some cash on the table. And I don’t need the headlights in the daytime. positioning their cowboy boots on the pedals. human interest story.” His two sons began to pedal as Ned steered the car onto the road.


She has the ticket stubs. The man opened the door and walked inside. “Of course. I saw him. which was dark. “Can you please help me?” the man said. But they guy went in there. but even she knew there was no Screen 13. Debbie hurried to the door. thought Debbie. She would apologize for Jessica’s mistake and lead him to the correct screen. Can’t wait. as usual. She helped him. He would soon be confused and upset. It was locked.” Why had Jessica told the man to go to Screen 13? wondered Debbie. Debbie checked the door throughout the night. which was directly across the hall. No response. Debbie saw him reach the end of the hall. Turning the corner. “Screen 13. then. I heard her. “Hey.” Debbie smiled. wanna go get a burger tonight after work?” “What’s the deal with this screen. Debbie saw her at the end of the corridor. Oh no.” “A guest? No.” “I know.” “She must have been daydreaming.” “Okay. “How about that burger?” “Not tonight. another guest stopped her. Zach shrugged. and then hurried to catch up with the Screen 13 woman. couldn’t have been.” “Jessica sent him down here. The man had just walked into a storage room. She knocked. She looked up at the electric sign over the door. Jessica took the man’s ticket. There was no response. Tomorrow night. The woman looked up at the sign over the door. She told him his movie was playing on Screen 13. She knows better.Screen 13 The new girl working at the local cinema suspects foul play among her fellow employees. Great. she thought.” Twenty-four screens. But—” “—the new owner is superstitious. . “How? It’s locked. Probably had one too many beers last night. Debbie. around the corner.” Zach tried the door. She began to follow the woman. Zach walked out of Screen 12. And I forgot which screen she told me. She never saw the man come out. and pulled the handle. Didn’t they teach you that during orientation?” “Sure. The woman was getting away. She followed the man at a distance.” “Maybe so. But I don’t want to have to search all twenty-five screens to find it. But a man just went in there. tore it. But after only a few steps. But she needed to give a quick answer.” “I know. Zach?” “That’s not a screen. Finally she heard Jessica direct a middle-aged woman to Screen 13. He doesn’t like having a screen number 13. “I stopped to get popcorn and my wife went on to get our seats. To the right.” “Zach?” He walked away. It was only her first week at Jefferson Cinema. and handed him the stub. and all the way at the end. ********** The next night.” Zach knocked on the door and they waited for a while. But I saw him go in. Debbie listened carefully every time she was near a ticket taker. but it remained locked.

” she said. But this smells like…Zach. “Smells like blood. Jessica was in her face. “Just keep moving forward. “Looks like blood. “or maybe his pickle wasn’t quite big enough. “I don’t know.” Jessica took out a key. “Happy Birthday. “Come on in.” ********** Later.” Finally Debbie saw a faint light. “Some guy was probably throwing a fit because his popcorn was too salty. With candles. Jessica followed her. it ain’t our fault. The two boys laughed.” said Henry. half-eaten candy and pickles. Debbie. “The smell of stale popcorn.” He laughed. do have a flashlight?” “Yeah. Debbie walked down to Screen 13 again to take another look.” He shrugged.” . “Is there a problem?” “No. Debbie jumped back. unlocked the door. I guess. Debbie walked faster. “Ooh. “What’s the big deal?” said Zach. that stinks. You seem to be obsessed with this storage room. “What is that?” Zach took a look. Debbie. We’re celebrating early. The woman opened the door and walked into the theater. can you give us a hand with this trash?” She turned around. it’s probably from the chicken wings. So. “Hey. It was Zach and Henry. and opened it for Debbie. “This is not funny. You know—we sell them in the snack bar. “Yuck. “Sure. “You guys are so funny.” said Henry.” said Henry.Debbie was amazed to see the sign lit up. “Oh. Debbie. “You want to know why I sometimes send guests down here to Screen 13?” “Uh…” “Of course you do. “She thinks somebody was murdered. if a guy’s pickle is too small.” “Ah. I know.” said Zach. “What did you expect?” said Henry. The boys laughed.” said Debbie.” “Yeah.” “Vampire barf. “What?” “That red liquid.” said Debbie.” Debbie walked inside.” He handed it to Debbie and she flicked it on and directed its beam into the dumpster.” She walked over and helped them roll the three large trash cans toward the exit to the alley. “But my birthday is not until—” “—I know. it was locked.” “Hey. Creepy. the manager slit his throat.” said Jessica. What in the hell is going on here? When she reached the door. “I can’t see where I going. Several people stood behind a small table which held a cake. come on. “Debbie?” She whipped around.” She looked around to make sure nobody else was near. As soon as the door closed behind the woman. Zach flipped up the dumpster lid.” said Zach.” said Zach. Why?” “You keep coming down here.” she said. “If it is blood.” she said. I’ll show you. the sign over the door went dark. When they got outside. Debbie was practically running now.

As her eyes adjusted. including the heart made of thick. red icing. But she would never know what really happens to those lonely people who accept a very special invitation…to Screen 13.” By the end of the song. She would never tell anyone about Screen 13. Debbie knew she couldn’t possibly get away. and selling their body parts? That would explain the blood in the dumpster. The secret was safe with her. Happy Birthday. “Okay. she knew the door would lock behind them. lonely people. she spotted a black blanket draped over something in the corner. She was dead meat. THE END . And she had run away from home several times. Those poor. and then we surprise them with a birthday cake. ********** Debbie would never again worry about Screen 13. It was her best birthday party ever. To the rest of the world. as she had promised. that’s why you send people in here? For a surprise birthday party?” “Yes. “We find people who live alone and don’t have any family or friends. Everyone began to sing “Happy Birthday. she noticed that there was a shoe sticking out from under the blanket. “Go ahead. “Here you go. Do it. Her grandmother was her only family.” He handed the plate to Debbie. We mail them a free movie ticket.” He turned around and cut a huge chunk out of the cake. But wait—she didn’t have any real friends.” said Jessica.” The man looked puzzled. blinding her. She pictured them being treated to a wonderful birthday surprise. Would anybody even come looking for her this time? “Cut out the heart first?” The large knife in the man’s hand reflected candlelight into her eyes. tears were streaming down Debbie’s face. Zach jumped up from where he was hiding: under the black blanket in the corner. Hopefully it didn’t have a dead foot in it. it was just a storage room. But what if it did? What if they were luring people into the theater—people that nobody would ever miss—killing them. When she saw someone go in.“So. smiling.” Just as Debbie started to relax.

” “Oh.” “Okay.” Two orderlies came in and unlocked the bed wheels and began rolling Mildred toward the surgery room. let’s see. What time is it?” Karen checked her watch. I don’t remember that.” She turned and walked away. and two cups of coffee.” said Mildred. Dr. Then she took out a syringe and injected a drug into Mildred’s IV.” “Well. “The anesthetist will be in shortly. of course not.” “Remember when you had your tonsils out. But then you were in recovery for nearly two hours.” said the nurse with no particular interest. looks like my mother won’t be needing your services.” “And guess how old I am. Applee that she would keep her comfortable throughout the surgery. Then we accidentally went off and left it at the hospital. And when your dad went back to get it.” “Karen. You’re cancelling the surgery?” said the doctor.” said Mildred.” said Mildred to her daughter.” said Mildred. I must have really been knocked out. You cried and cried for that doll. you’ve been awake.” The doctor’s eyes widened. “I was only kidding. No. This is not my first surgery. “I hate being put under. “Oh. “Oh. Mom?” “Okay.” “Love you. Doctor.” “Did I say anything to you when they brought me in?” .” “That’s right. “Hi.” “Oh. that you don’t want to have to bluff your way through this procedure. They brought you here to your room over an hour ago. Applee. Mrs.” Karen turned to the nurse.” Mildred surveyed the room. Applee. “How long was I in surgery?” “About thirty minutes.” “Wow. The nurse checked the chart in her hand. Mrs. See you later. I had steak and eggs and two biscuits for breakfast. “Mom—behave.” Karen looked confused. have you had anything to eat or drink since midnight?” “Well.Horrors of Memory 90-year-old Mildred Applee is thankful she still has an excellent memory—until a surgical procedure makes her blessing seem more like a curse. “Love you. Mom.” Mildred stuck out her tongue at her daughter. my goodness. “Says here you’re 90.” ********** “How are you feeling. “This will help you relax. it was gone.” The doctor smiled back. But I believe you. and then looked at Mildred. Honey.” said Karen. “Mom. “A little after five.” Karen Applee glared. “You’d rather be awake while they cut on you?” “I think I could take it. “She wants to stay awake for the surgery. I can assure.” “No. “I’m kidding. “My mother is a big bluffer. “Mrs. I can’t believe I’ve been asleep all this time. And I never forget a thing.” A young female doctor walked in.” said Mildred. Mom. “Well. back in 1947? We bought you that Betsy Wetsy doll. “My goodness. I guess. Honey.” The nurse stared at her in disbelief. Karen—can’t you tell when I’m joking?” Karen smiled at the doctor. “No. Johnson. that’s very impressive. your anesthetist. Sometimes I just have to call her on it. I’m Dr. Johnson assured Mrs. Applee. I know the rules. “My mother has a memory like a computer.

If you come you’ll just be waking me up. It’s a lot better than feeling the knife. she heard: “Okay. wait—I’m awake! Help! Somebody help me! But she could not speak. It’s no big deal.” Mildred took a peek.” “I appreciate that.” “But I don’t even remember rolling into the surgery room. I gave you some Sprite.” “That’s right. but you’re getting half of the money. Honey. you’re really out.” “That’s what you want. if only in her mind. It was her surgeon. It was the exact location as in her dream. then. but I’ll probably be sleeping anyway. So. Mrs. All she had was the house.” “Well.” “Right.” “Oh. . when they put you out.” “You don’t?” “No. Mom. Who wanted to be sound asleep in a hospital where killers were roaming the halls? She dumped the pills into her mouth. so…” As Mildred took the little paper cup with two pills in it. What money? she wondered. Mom. She would scream. It would have been nice to have someone to talk to.” “No. no. Man—I’ll have your back. Still no answer. Now it’s coming back. and down a hallway.” No answer. What a horrific nightmare. She heard the elevator doors open and felt herself being wheeled out. Here we go. “Hi. it’s got to be tonight.” “Don’t worry. I’m fine. She felt a sharp pain in her stomach. Neighbor. Karen. “So.” “That stuff works fast.” “Are you sure? We could come up tonight. Come see me in the morning. No. presumably orderlies. Honey.“Yeah. The nurse handed her a glass of water.” “Because remember: I’m taking most of the risk. Then I’ll reconnect everything and the alarm will go off. She could feel her body being transferred from the bed to the operating table. Applee. until her face turned blue.” Mildred recognized the voice. A fellow veteran from the trenches of surgery. began to talk. My mouth so dry that I could barely swallow or even chew. You get on home.” Mildred thought for a few seconds. “Boy. Then the surgeon would notice. there. After some talking in the distance that she couldn’t quite make out. Mildred felt like a prisoner after that nightmare.” “Oh. And then I fed you a few crackers. she prayed that the orderlies in her dream were not real. What’s your name? I’m Mildred. I remember saying goodbye to you and then…nothing. the doctor ordered it. I don’t think I’m going to need any help.” “Well…okay—if you’re sure.” “Oh. She quickly closed her eyes. Now I remember. A nurse walked in. She saw one of the men twisting a silver ring on his right index finger. yeah. You just make sure nobody walks in on me. “Here’s a little something to help you sleep.” “He can order pizza. and Mildred drank part of it. Two men. She couldn’t open her eyes.” “But the Sprite helped. Once I silence the alarm I can disconnect her and just let her fade away. and stop cutting her. Then she noticed that the other bed was now occupied.” ********** Mildred had been asleep for forty minutes when she heard the elevator doors close. what about Ed? You need to get home and make your husband some dinner. “What are you in for?” Sounded like prison talk. You said you were thirsty. She gently touched the area of her surgery. Mildred jerked and woke up.

“That poor old woman had terrible nightmares last night. “What’s the matter?” “There was a woman in that bed last night.” ********** A nurse and an orderly watched from a distance while another orderly rolled Mildred’s wheelchair into the elevator.” She checked to see if her roommate was okay. The stinky breath is what woke her up. and the doors closed.” No. Mom.” “It was just a crazy old woman’s nightmare.” .” “I know.” said the orderly.” “But I think she deserved to know the truth. Onion and garlic with a dash of stale tobacco.” “Yeah. Mildred stuck her finger into her mouth. It hadn’t been a dream after all. Fine.” “And what if she told the media her wild story? Just imagine some investigative reporter nosing around here asking all kinds of questions about an orderly killing a patient. But the TV station would try to turn into a scandal—just for the ratings. She hoped it was just a side effect of the drugs they gave her during surgery. We have a hard enough time getting any respect.” “What are you talking about. There was no trace of the woman.” “Okay. But what if she finds out there really was another patient in the room with her? Then she’ll think we lied about it to cover up a murder. But he covered my mouth and then shot me up with something. “There was never another patient in here with you. The orderly said. and stashed them under her pillow. And this orderly came in and disconnected all her life support—and killed her. Karen. Mom?” “I saw him doing it. Let’s get out of here.” Karen came back in five minutes. ********** “Mom? Mother?” Mildred suddenly woke up. dug the two pills out from under her tongue. And now he’s going to kill me! The orderly jabbed her arm with a syringe.” “Do you realize how crazy you sound.” “Alright. “When can I go home?” “You’re already approved to go. But you were yelling in your sleep last night. Let me go talk to the nurse. as she walked out. So. So. she got sleepy anyway and dozed off. “Oh. Her memory was finally beginning to fail her. He’s killing that woman. But she didn’t open her eyes. no! thought Mildred.” “Good. Mom?” “I don’t care—it really happened. “I’ll handle it. The poor woman in the other bed was being murdered! She quietly reached for the button on her bedrail and pressed it. thanks. It was happening right now. Then she heard the person walk away from her bed. But after a few minutes.“Sweet dreams. I’m so glad you’re here. She couldn’t believe she had pulled it off—just like in the movies. She opened one eye just enough to see an orderly pushing buttons on the medical equipment that was hooked up to her roommate. no. they gave you an extra dose of sleep medication. “It’s okay. “Help! He’s trying to—“ A large hand clamped onto her mouth. Aha! Gotcha. Then Karen stepped in.” Mildred was stunned. The bed was empty. Sucker! “May I help you?” said the nurse over the speaker. Jessie.” said the nurse. She blacked out. I pushed the button to call the nurse.

“Oh.” A murder? Right here under our noses? That’s ridiculous.” said the orderly. as he twisted the silver ring on his right index finger. THE END . come on—you can’t be serious.

And get out of my office—you’re starting to irritate me. as expected. Sir—it’s not really worth it. And it’s not just you. he’d been hesitant to hire her. At any moment he would rip off her flimsy nightie and get down to business. now do you. I wasn’t sure we could pull it off.” He paused. “What if she doesn’t follow the instructions? What if she turns on the lights?” “No problem. And he wanted to be absolutely sure this special john got his money’s worth. as a lover. The thighs were firm. Philip had gone over the instructions with her at least five times.Governor Hooks a Lady The new governor is flying high—until a certain lady brings him back down to earth. it is different. If anybody ever finds out. panting. What about your staff? You’re putting us all at risk. Very nice. In the split second before the door closed she saw that the john was in bed. She’ll never even hear my voice. And he liked her flat stomach. Her instructions stipulated that neither she nor the john would speak.000 job. Henry stood up. “I’ll take care of it. I’ll just give them a call and—“ “—Sir. Lucas. This should be no different. But we did. but never transacted any business there. all she could see was the moonlight seeping in at the edges of the curtain. And if word of this ever leaked out—” “—just set it up exactly as I told you and nobody will ever know. In each and every capacity. She quickly stepped inside. As her eyes began to adjust. I’ve got the National Guard at my disposal. with the sheet pulled over his head. Henry. She’d spent a few nights within the ornate walls of the fancy hotel. First. So. it was no surprise that Philip had chosen her for this $2. And now that we’re here. You’ve always done everything I asked of you without question.” “Look. So.” The governor stood up from his enormous desk—a not-so-subtle hint for his long-time advisor to leave. Honestly. he was voracious and insatiable. She could really get a guy going with what she said—and the way she said it. “Just do it. she thought. She realized that the client had lodged it between the door lock and the frame. Sir. When she had first approached him. she located the outline of the bed. as lieutenant governor. . Feels like a man’s hands. Creamy lifted the edge of the sheet and slid into bed with the mystery man. Henry. Some of the most effective tools in her arsenal were verbal. and heavy breathing were all good—but no talking was allowed. Sir. Creamy had been impressed when Philip told her the location for the job. Henry?” “No. She’ll never see me. you see. So. But after clients began to rave about her skills and ask for her by name. He’d finally made the big-time. he thought. he knew he had made the right decision.” “But. this would be her greatest challenge. but was not ready to go. You’re the youngest governor the people of this state have ever elected. He loved getting down to business—as a litigator. we just can’t take chances anymore. it’s just another task. You don’t want to irritate the most powerful man in the state. At first.” ********** Creamy was not her real name.” The governor turned around and gazed out across the finely-manicured lawn below. She stripped down to her negligee. “I’m just not comfortable with this. Wait—did she know for certain it was a man? The governor began to put his hands all over her body. you’re dead in the water. he felt her chest. Philip had bestowed that lovely alias upon her some two months earlier. She wasn’t quite sure how to handle the no-talking rule. this is not funny. The other side would do anything to bring you down. Moaning. She had quickly become a prime money-maker. She pushed on the door and it opened. A key card dropped to the floor. Sir. as governor. This too was expected.

She quickly checked below the earlobe—and found the other mole. But she wondered what he looked like. She knew she wasn’t supposed to speak. She ran her fingers through his hair and began to feel his face. Then she felt a small mole at the top of his left ear. “Mother???!!!!!!!” THE END . She could handle whatever he threw at her. “Lucas?” The governor jumped back in horror.Creamy sensed that he was about to attack. but she couldn’t help herself.

“It’s a great place to pick up men.” She grabbed her purse and stood up. So.” “Hmm. Dolly leaned in. wealthy divorcee in her mid-thirties. even for this fancy nightclub.” The bartender overheard. “It’s my first time. I don’t know if I—” “—look.” “Really? I was hoping to meet a nice gentleman. I’m Dolly Otterman. “But we’re still buds.” said Mary. “Then why is he alone?” “He’s kinda shy.” “Huh?” “You know—the horizontal hippie dance. “Mine too. She picked up her martini. walked over and sat down next to them. It was hard to tell whether she was admiring Mary’s ample cleavage or the four-thousand dollar cultured pearls draped across it.” “See you tomorrow at the club. “Sylvia Partov.” Sylvia’s jewels were also quite impressive. Mary noticed the wedding ring.” said Mary. I just thanked him for the nice dinner. This Dolly person was a bit on the raunchy side. and that was that. “Sort of. slender woman in her mid-thirties spotted the two wealthy-looking women about her age at the end of the bar. “Hi.” She looked over at Sylvia. She’s also a bit naive—making her a prime candidate for a con artist’s scheme.” Dolly shrugged. Sylvia. I do it all the time. How stupid is that? No wonder he’s sitting alone.” said Dolly. and offered Mary a translation.” “I’m Mary Goldalore. “And then I can hook you up with somebody.” She saw the woman’s eyes go to her chest.” said Mary. “I understand. It was stunning. “But you’re married.” “I see—one of those open marriages.” “You know what?” said Sylvia with a nervous smile. I went out with him once. right? And this is a nice guy—probably just your type.” said Dolly. What do you say? I love playing matchmaker. .” Mary took a second look. Dolly finished off her martini.” said Mary.” “Okay. “I believe I hear my husband calling me. yeah. So.” said Sylvia.” said Sylvia. believe me—it’s easy. And loaded. “Well.” said Mary. sounding like a virgin in every sense of the word. “Are you ladies expecting company?” Mary and Sylvia were overdressed. “She tried to do him. surveying the room. and she enjoyed showing it off. “Okay. “But he wouldn’t go for it. “He told me he was looking for true love.” “What does that mean?” “Weekends only.” said Dolly. you want to meet him?” “Oh. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you two in here before.” said Mary.” “He is super hot. A tall.Mary Goldalore Mary Goldalore is very attractive. “Did you see that hunk over there?” “Where?” “The guy sitting in the booth by himself. Mary’s diamond bracelet seemed to catch every light in the room.” “Oh.” When she held out her hand.” Sylvia began to squirm. I see him. “I’m afraid not. Tried to take him to the rabbit ranch—if you know what I mean. you came here to meet a man.

” “Yeah. But I just fell in love with that area.” said Mary. “Why did you stay in a bad marriage for so long?” .” “Well.” said Dolly. so I don’t feel very lucky.” She sat down across from him—well aware that Jennifer was right behind her.” said Dolly. “Are you kidding me? Look at you.” “So. Right now I’m staying at the Omni.” “You must be very patient.” He smiled.” He laughed. Dolly. I’m still looking for Miss Right. “I’m gonna leave you two love birds alone. “I just moved here to Atlanta a couple of weeks ago. “Well. “is Kyle Pickerpan—ladies man. “No problem.” “Okay. sitting with another woman in the booth adjacent to Kyle’s. “Frankly. This is Mary…” “Goldalore. “His name is Kyle Pickerpan. the house is too big for me.” said Dolly. He just turned out to be a major jerk. She was one of Mary’s close friends—known to be a voracious gossiper. Kyle slid out of the booth and stood up.“Okay. Actually.” She walked off. “Glad to meet you.” “I know what you mean.” “Why do you say that? Because I’m old?” “No—I’m sorry. But I was miserable for seven years. You’re just too beautiful to have made it this long without some guy winning you over. okay—just for a minute. He offered Mary a seat at his booth. But I can’t wait to get moved into the house. I’d like to introduce you to my new friend. I’m having the house renovated. it’s just you? No family?” “No. Who was watching her do this? Anybody she knew? Then she spotted Jennifer. Mary.” “Please join me. then.” “Hopefully he didn’t marry you for your money. Please forgive me. yes. “Well. I get that a lot.” “You were lucky then. Kyle.” “Yes. I have to be careful.” Homes in that subdivision appraised for five to ten million dollars.” Dolly slid off the bar stool. I suppose I was lucky in that sense.” said Mary. But so many of the women I meet are just looking to strike it rich. “I’m fine. I noticed. he looked younger and even more handsome. come on. Mary? You want to meet him or not?” said Dolly.” “That’s a nice hotel. I bought a lovely old home in Tuxedo Park. “I guess so. That wasn’t the problem. and would hear every word that was said. So. “And this. “Dolly’s a little rough around the edges. He had his own money. for two years. bye. “But what made you think I was divorced? Couldn’t I have been like you—still waiting for Mr. “Hello.” “No. He was about six foot.” Up close.” Mary followed her to Kyle’s booth.” “Thanks…I think. but his sleek build made him seem even taller. “How are you this evening?” He smiled. Hopefully she would just mind her own business tonight. That was so rude.” said Kyle. I assume you’re divorced. Right?” He laughed. “Yes.” “How many years were you married?” “Seven and a half. She casually checked the faces at each table as she walked by. “So.” “So. Kyle went on.” “Yes.” Kyle appeared to be slightly embarrassed.” “Lucky?” “He could have taken half your wealth.” said Mary.

I can understand that. I had to prove her wrong. ********** Mary had selected an exclusive restaurant downtown. She held him back. Remember: you’re saving yourself for Miss Right. He’s been with me for years.“Because of my mother.” Kyle made Mary agree to out with him for lunch the next day.” said Kyle. Let’s get out of here. Arguing was just something we liked to do. That sounds like I’m trying to get you into bed. “So. we could go to my—never mind. She ordered a chef salad. I can see what kind of man you are.” “To each his own. “Charles? I’m ready to go home. And I have a guest…Thanks. nice to see you again.” He smiled as he took her hand. Baby. We can relax on the couch and talk. huh? I don’t usually talk about this—especially on a first—” “—date?” “No. I’ve got a huge fireplace. she pulled away.” ********** Mary sat with Kyle on the plush leather couch in her den. you plan to stay for a while?” said Mary. “Charles is your chauffeur?” “Chauffeur and butler. I still remember her exact words: I forbid you to marry him.” “And I hope to spend a lot of time with you. “Forgive me for saying so.” “Well.” “Good.” His face lit up.” “And go where?” “Well. talking and watching the flames flicker in the fireplace. Mrs. “None of that. but you seem to be rather stubborn. Kyle moved over closer to her. I know. “So. sure. Kyle had a sirloin steak. I’m sorry. Weird. And have a glass of wine.” “Ah. Charles brought them two glasses and a $150 bottle of Pinot Noir.” she said. I never fully realized it until her death. she pulled me aside and told me I would be divorced within a year. It really does feel like a date. come on. I mean—” “—it’s okay.” He leaned in for another kiss. “Definitely.” “Charles will be here with the limo by the time we walk out front. I guess. at the wedding reception.” He smiled.” “What? Your hotel room? No.” “Oh. it would have—if she hadn’t kept telling me I was being stupid for not divorcing him. “Correction: time for sleep. After several glasses. Did you two ever settle your differences?” “Not really.” “Yeah.” She took out her cell phone. “It’s late. “No. why did you finally give in and get the divorce?” “My mother died. But when she felt his fingers fidgeting with her bra strap. “Sounds great.” said the head waiter. Then. He began to kiss her and she began to melt.” “Only when it comes to my mother.” said Mary. Goldalore.” . but those were our most fun times together. But let’s go to my house. You wouldn’t try to take advantage of me. I didn’t think that at all. But why did you stick it out for all those years? Wouldn’t one year have proved her wrong?” “Yes. no. “I love this city. Time for bed.” “So. But we did love each other.” “I think I’ve found her.” “I’ll get Charles to drive you to your hotel.

George. “I love jewelry.” She smiled warmly.” “Deliver it to your home as usual. “Twenty-five. “but I really think we could have something very special together. “So. It’s twenty-five thousand. and within a few minutes his rented limo pulled up outside the jewelry store.” “Mary who?” . ********** At 5:00 p. She certainly was not a maid.” “Oh. “Is that okay. Goldalore?” said George.” he said. handing George his American Express card. Kyle?” said Mary.” she said. She turned to Kyle. “No problem. the head waiter had dropped by for assurances that the quality of both the food and the service had been superb. “Uh.” He threw two one-hundred dollar bills on the table as though they were worthless scraps of paper. Kyle?” Kyle swallowed hard. maybe I’m way off base. as he looked deep into her eyes. Kyle’s limo pulled up in front of Mary’s mansion.” He looked disappointed. “No. “What?” “Let’s celebrate.” Kyle cleared his throat and tried to smile. Maybe in a few weeks.m.” said Mary. She looked a lot like Mary. “Wrap it up for her.” he said. “I can cover it—if it’s a problem. Kyle called his driver.” said Kyle.” “No. silly. But I really want it now.” They had a nice conversation while they ate. “Mary.” “I’m afraid you’ve got the wrong address.’ this can be my engagement ring. sure. Sir. and freshen up for dinner. Kyle walked up the steps with a dozen roses in hand.” she said playfully. Great.” George happily did just that. he said. “You know what?” she said. “This would be a lovely addition to your collection. I’ll wear it to dinner.“Wonderful. and rang the doorbell. took it out of the glass cabinet and showed it to her. “I think you may be right. “I don’t like to walk out of here wearing a brand new piece of expensive jewelry.” said Kyle.” He picked up her hand and kissed it. you’re ready for an engagement ring?” “No. take a nap. Look at this ring. “Would like to buy it for me. thank you. I was here this morning with Mary. It was to be a very formal evening. She took his hand and led him out of the restaurant. And last night. George?” Kyle didn’t seem at all surprised that the Mary and the jeweler knew each other by name. “Yes. Then she whispered. “Not yet.” “Who are you?” “I’m Kyle Pickerpan. A salesman already had his eyes and ears focused on them. Goldalore.” “How much. “Let’s go. smiling.” said Kyle. “Twenty-five hundred.” “No problem. A very attractive woman opened the door. as his face turned pale. Just after their bill had been delivered. Mary and I have dinner plans. It’s just asking to get mugged.” She lowered her voice. Mrs. She turned to Kyle. “If you ask me to marry you in a couple of weeks and I say ‘Yes. “You must be Mary’s sister.” “Okay.” She had assumed that a dinner invitation was forthcoming. Mary would go home. When they walked inside. “Ooh. Mrs. right?” said Kyle. down the sidewalk to a jewelry store.” The salesman stepped up.

And that was a year ago.” she said. “Mary?” “Sir.” said Kyle. But I’m gonna find out. “Is this some kind of a joke?” He tried to look around her. She called me this morning to tell me what she’d heard. I’m just glad you spotted Kyle yesterday morning when you were in town. You might remember me as a brunette. When you’re a maid it’s hard to get dates with well-to-do men.” “That wasn’t me. The two women began to laugh. His Mary joined the other Mary in the doorway. Thanks for all your help.” he said. Who knows?” “And then she saw you and Sylvia walk in—” “—wearing tons of jewelry.” He opened the limo door.” “Yes. now you’ve finally got your money back. “Yeah.” “Gee.” said a familiar voice from inside the house. I’m the only Mary in this house.” said Kyle. Mary? I’ll never forget that face. “I’m not really Mary Goldalore.” “But I really thought I was in trouble when I saw your friend.” . Of course. The next morning a realtor woke me up. “And you did give me a chance. Then he could get to know the real me. “That’s impossible—because I’m Mary Goldalore. Pickerpan.” “Thanks for writing me the check.” “Oh. you drugged me and stole my borrowed jewelry. then that’s quite a coincidence.” “Well.” “Let me talk to Charles. “We got him good.” Mary laughed. Maybe they were married.” “What about that Dolly woman—you think she was Kyle’s partner?” “Definitely. to go with me last night.” He hesitated. Mr. Now she feels pretty foolish. I’m surprised you recognized him. “I don’t know who you are. I don’t think I could have pulled it off without her help. “My name is Janice.” “Well. Janice.” “It’s okay. Dolly would have seen right through me. You were only with him that one night.” “Serves her right. She is. to see inside. she had already spread the story about my maid going around pretending to be me. “Mary?” said Kyle. The limo drove away.“Mary Goldalore. Sylvia. She stared at him for a moment.” He got in and slammed the door.” Kyle seemed to recognize Janice. “but I want my ring back. I guess I did okay. yeah. He was showing the house to potential buyers. “Just keep the stupid ring.” “Okay. huh?” “You totally fooled her and Kyle. I borrowed some jewelry and a dress from my employer and went to a nightclub.” The real Mary spoke up. or not rich enough. but he didn’t say a word. But I guess she was too busy listening. And it wasn’t even your house. looking for prospects. since his name was also Kyle Pickerpan. She might have already talked to several women before we came in. Mary?” said Kyle. yes. the chauffeur—he’ll tell you. but you are. we did. shall we call the police to discuss the ring? Or would you just like to call it even?” He began to step backwards. I’m not much of an actress. You’re going to have to leave now or I’m going to call the police.” “Then who are you?” said Kyle. “So. I figured if a guy thought I was wealthy he would give me a chance. She was just waiting at the bar.” “Are you kidding. pulling off the blonde wig. sitting in the next booth. I’m surprised she didn’t say something. or why he’s using my name. We’ve done business for years. But I would have been too nervous without Sylvia.” “Well. But when you took me home that night. “What’s going on here. “You’ve got me confused with somebody else. And it was so nice of your friend. Jennifer. toward the limo. “You women are crazy.” “You really don’t remember me? It was about a year ago in Little Rock. It’s no problem. I don’t know who this man is that you’re talking about. Are you sure George will take the ring back?” “Oh.

Suddenly there were headlights behind them—approaching fast. steering onto a two-lane road. She tried to run away. Ma’am. The cop said. “No. walked over to the breakfast nook and filled her cup.” “Oh.” he said.” said Janice. They couldn’t see the man holding it.” “I will.” said Kyle. “I know you think we should stay off the main highway. “Three. “There’s no way Mary has figured out that I replaced all her jewels with fakes. there was a flash at the muzzle.” “Well. she’ll never suspect me.” said Janice. “Okay.” said the cop. Suddenly Janice knew his identity.” and began firing. We’re like sisters.” “Maybe your mom’s health will take a turn for the better. They heard a car door open and close. “Yeah.” The three looked at each other. “Beautiful morning. a bullet through the brain. Dolly. And let me know how you’re doing. They could only hear his voice. She heard Kyle grunt and then heard Dolly scream just before their bodies fell lifelessly to the ground. “You can’t get away from me.” said Kyle. The three criminals got out and went to the back of the Suburban. I think he enjoyed being in on it. Kyle. “Were you speeding?” yelled Dolly. Then the beam of his flashlight found her.” said Kyle. “There’s not even any moonlight.” “Please be careful. Before she could finish her thought. Then they saw a very bright flashlight coming up from the rear. It wasn’t a policeman at all. okay then. But we’ll be fine if we just stay cool.” said Dolly from the back seat. “Maybe a taillight went out.” said Mary. ********** “It was a perfect plan—the best ever. so I’ll head out now.“He was great. ********** “Could I please have another cup of coffee.” “Quit worrying. look how dark it is.” said Dolly.” There was no time to react. who was sitting in the front passenger seat of the Chevy Suburban. Charles.” Janice thought the voice seemed familiar. “You were a very believable Mary Goldalore. Dolly—under your feet. What was he talking about? “I’m going to count to three…before I start shooting. I’ve got my car packed. but her feet kept slipping in the mud. Ma’am. Put the bag of jewelry on the floorboard. “don’t so melodramatic. I know it’s going to be tough caring for her around the clock.” he quickly picked up the pot. “I’m going to give you a chance. It would take a jeweler to tell the difference.” “Well.” said Janice. “we just need to get as far away from Mary Goldalore as possible right now. “Kyle Pickerpan?” How could this cop know his name? Had Mary Goldalore somehow already realized she’d been conned? “I need you to get out and step to the rear of the car—all three of you. I don’t know.” She laughed. She won’t know for months—or maybe even years.” .” Kyle pulled over. “I think all three of us deserve Oscars.” “He called after you two left.” said Kyle. by the way.” said Janice.” “Yes. “I’m just playing it safe. If the car dies and the battery goes dead we won’t even be able to see our own hands in front of our faces. And even then.” The two women hugged and Janice walked out to her car and drove off. and she knew it was over. Then they saw the flashing lights and heard the siren. They still couldn’t see the officer— only his blinding flashlight. It was—. “Yes. But what else can I do? She’s my mother. Janice lunged to the side and fell into a deep ditch that ran alongside the road. but this is kind of ridiculous.

I’ve always wanted to run a bar on the beach.” “I don’t mind the humidity. But I’m really going to miss you around here.” “Oh. By the way. And my brother’s got the deal all lined up. I wouldn’t want to put you in a bind. “You just want to make a lot of money.” She laughed. Ma’am.” “I’m sure it will work out just fine.” “Oh.” said Mary.” “Well. I’m sorry I missed it. no you won’t. “Now. it is a great opportunity.” THE END .” “I’ll miss you too. I hate that you missed all the excitement around here yesterday. “Are you absolutely sure you want to move to Miami? I hear it’s a lot more humid down there than it is here in Atlanta.” “Good.” said Mary. it certainly is. Thanks. “Well. you mean the big showdown between Janice and that Kyle character?” “Yes. “I enjoyed it very much.” He smiled slyly to himself. Ma’am.” “I know.” She took a sip of her coffee. It was great.” She smiled and then took a long sip from her coffee cup. you are giving me two weeks to find a replacement.” Charles turned around to put the coffee pot back in its place. right?” “Oh.“Yes. “But I enjoyed my day off. Charles. of course. “We got him good. Ma’am.

On his way up the mountain he encountered a road block. “Not today. At 30. Officer?” “Somebody went over the side. naked body. Gwen hated their cabin. located at opposite ends of their sprawling home. Each of them held a Ph. I suggest we go up separately. your humble servant requests a sexual rendezvous at the cabin. a Stanford girl. the victor would be crowned: either King Arthur or Queen Guinevere. in Electrical Engineering. admiring the reflection of her sleek. Gwen. and he would finish up his work and join her within the hour. The toughest part was penetrating Gwen’s ironclad firewall. Serf. Majesty. Your Majesty. Gwen stood in her lab.” Gwen sat down at the table. Your Majesty. “Permission to speak. Artie was an MIT man. it would prove that his application. Neither had stepped inside the other’s lab in four years. Their research was critical to national security.” . If she went along with this. What excited him more? The success of his hypnotic virus or the prospect of a wild. “It’s coming along quite well. Drove right through the railing. This would be the ultimate conquest.” “But omelets are your favorite.” “Today…I shall have Eggs Benedict. Each of them held highly secretive government positions.” “Watch your mouth. the prospect of saving the free world was not nearly as intriguing as winning their little daily game of war against each other. you were either the Royal Highness of Intellectitude. Gwen got dressed and walked out to the kitchen. For the next 24 hours. she was every bit as stunning as the day she met her husband. Artie was standing at the stove. or you were the Perfunctory Pauper of Pitydom. until the rightful owner of the crown was reassessed at 10:00 p. They had separate research labs.” “I am preparing a most royal omelet for you. Which one could outsmart the other? It was a daily game. She would go ahead. and its post-hypnotic suggestion had succeeded. My Feline. “Now you may speak.” She grinned. Yet. love at their first discussion of artificial intelligence. And was just for fun at first. Or perhaps. at an engineering conference five years earlier.” She sneered. Pass codes and retinal scanne/rs provided tight security over each lab. The one that will supposedly allow you to control my mind via post-hypnotic suggestion.” “But you will. “What’s going on. At the end of each day. Perhaps he would be King for a month. Majesty. “How’s your pet project coming along?” “The virus that will invade your computer system and hypnotize you?” “Yes.m. and—” “—you’ll make me bark like a dog?” “Not quite. and had refused sex for months. “Silence!” She paused for effect. He texted Gwen.” “Then Eggs Benedict you shall have. role-playing sex game. Peasant! You must address me with proper respect at all times. Artie.” ********** Two days later. but cats don’t bark. Gwen texted him back. Artie completed the final testing of his hypnotic virus application. Then it became an obsession. There was no middle ground. and meet there as strangers. I will make you bark like a cat. Eggs Benedict. My Queen. Your Majesty?” Gwen would enjoy her queenly perks throughout the day. It was love at first sight. They liked to think of it in terms of a Medieval Empire.Royal Highness of Intellectitude A brilliant couple’s love of competition leads to tragedy. Now it was time for the test. He pulled over and walked up to one of the cops. consenting. Artie gave Gwen a mere fifteen minutes of lead time. “Apparently they didn’t teach you this at MIT.” He smiled.D. Just a few more tweaks to the algorithm.

And she would be queen for months. “Yeah. . parked it behind Artie’s car. more to himself than to the cop.” said the witness. she dashed toward the broken railing. And she had been successful.“What kind of car was it? Did anybody see it happen?” “Yeah. Then her husband jumped off the cliff. powerful program that would remain top-secret. when she had accepted Artie’s suggestion of driving up to the cabin for a sexual rendezvous. Stop!” But Artie broke into a full run. as though he might have recognized her from somewhere. Had the hypnosis affected her driving skills? Had it affected her powers of concentration? Tears welled up in his eyes. It had been to beat him at his own game. “Come back. “Stop her!” yelled the cop. Past the other cop and the witness. Mister?” “It was my wife. But something had gone terribly wrong. Artie yelled. you were. “Sir. no. “Oh. “but the weirdest part was what he yelled when he jumped off the cliff. it had not been because of a hypnotic suggestion. infecting Gwen’s computer system and hypnotizing her to follow his post-hypnotic suggestion. “Yeah. Life would never be the same without Gwen. So. “Did someone have an accident?” she said. “Majesty. If he could just take it back.” Artie began to walk faster—toward the broken railing. and got out. And it was fully functional. It was a complex. and will always be the Royal Highness of Intellectitude. The cop and the witness looked at each other. No passengers. “Sir?” How had he let it come to this? It was just a game. Within moments.” The witness stared at the blonde.” His software had worked flawlessly. It looked exactly like Gwen. puzzled at her reaction. A beautiful young blonde.” The blonde’s eyes glazed over.” “I’m very sorry. We’ve got one witness over there. It’s not safe over there. “Even though I won the final game. or its connection to the deaths of two valuable scientists. He was not aware that the android she had been working on for years had finally been perfected.” said the blonde. would you mind answering a few questions? Sir?” Artie walked away from the cop. Artie spoke under his breath. my dear Guinevere. “Uh. Sir. but she was just too fast. a beautiful blonde drove up in a sports car. he could be happy to let her reign as his queen for the rest of his life. Gwen had immediately been aware that Artie’s virus had infected her computer system.” The officer saw Artie’s face go blank.” “What was it? What did he yell?” “Majesty. How long would it take for Artie to realize he was playing sex games with an android? She would laugh her butt off watching him through a cabin window. There would be no public comment regarding the code. The other officer tried to grab her arm as she raced by.” as he flew over the edge and fell to his death.” Artie’s heart sunk. “You okay. Said it was a pink Rolls Royce. I love you…Your Majesty. The only way she could hope to defeat him was to bounce the virus back to his computer without him realizing it. Suddenly. A woman drove her car over the side. Sir. The cop said. please. a government computer expert managed to decrypt Artie’s hypnotic virus code and analyze it. I need you to come back over here. Through the broken railing. screaming “Majesty!” ********** Weeks later. She leaped off the edge. Over the cliff.

and so she was not affected by Artie’s suggestion of the sexual rendezvous at the cabin. he followed his own post-hypnotic suggestion. But right after that. Blindly follow their lead without question. Gwen had avoided the hypnosis at first. And so. The Keyword: Majesty. He didn’t know about her android. His post-hypnotic suggestion had been planted in her mind as well. his virus got her. Go along with whatever your spouse wants. Perhaps there had still been a problem with the calibration of the eyes. Something had caused it to malfunction and drive the car off the side of the mountain.Gwen knew she was pushing the envelope of safety when she allowed the android to drive her Rolls Royce up to the cabin. The Suggestion: Do whatever your spouse suggests. When he inadvertently said the post-hypnotic keyword. both geniuses were killed by the same post-hypnotic suggestion. THE END . Artie reached the roadblock and thought Gwen had driven off the cliff and was dead. And he didn’t realize he had been hypnotized by his own virus program.

and a kick-ass attitude. Her sanity hanging by a thread.Naked Frame a four-chapter excerpt Rebecca Ranghorn is wanted for murder. But she's not the killer." she barked. just knock. and tries to buy the video that is about to send him in prison. after hours. and I'll come out and let you in. At least she doesn't think so. So. Rebecca Ranghorn stared at her noisy wall clock. . It ticked on. and—" "—it's okay. "Becca. ready to quick-draw her pistol like a Wild West gunfighter. Like opium. Her bullet. Big Bill Smotherburn. But my secretary has already gone home." "Okay. 5:43 p. Gabby. The four aspirin had done nothing for her headache. I'll wait. But I could meet you someplace at around 7:00. She commanded the clock to be silent. Rebecca has passed out. Local businessman. long brown hair pulled back tight. "Rebecca Ranghorn Investigations. Rebecca was an imposing figure: a lean." Maybe Gabby had something stronger for a headache. I had a flat tire. she jumped up from her chair. Rebecca was no druggy.Monday. drops by Rebecca's office unannounced. why don't we just meet for dinner? I've got an errand to run in a few minutes.m." "I really need to talk to you privately. But right now she couldn't think of anything over-the-counter that would do the trick. if you don't mind. six-foot frame. and her head nearly exploded. and blow the damn thing to kingdom come. The dead man in her office has a bullet in his head. and Big Bill is sprawled out across the floor with half his face blown off. I can be there in fifteen minutes." She sat down. Each tick felt like a little hammer pounding at the back of her skull. But within minutes. I'm so sorry. steely eyes. Her desk phone rang. warm pistol in hand. "But instead of you coming here. CHAPTER 1 .

and placed his hands on the sides of hers." "Take it easy. She later came to understand that P. You never knew when some guy you had investigated would come looking for payback. come on. silence. nobody would hear her. But tonight would probably end like most other nights. Particularly in a mostly vacant strip mall." He showed her how to grip it. a person can change in fifteen years. Maybe he had a cheating wife. and I'll pull my gun and blow your damn balls off. And Rebecca had learned to ignore the slight stench of mildew in her office. then again. her dad had asked her to join him for a walk around the property. Soaking for an hour. "My name is Rebecca." She faked a pouty face. But why wouldn't he tell her what this was about? They'd had no contact whatsoever since high school. Collapsing into bed. and didn't even know if she could." In truth. But. Randy Ranghorn had taught his daughter well. Most women would be skittish about hanging around an empty office after hours. Snooping. Give me your gun. Surely he hadn't killed somebody. She caught cheaters. Okay." "Then shut up and listen. It was a chilly Thanksgiving day on her grandfather's old farm. She sat back down at her desk. all over Dallas. They agreed it would help work off the turkey and dressing. and placed it on top of her desk. Rebel. Ah.She got up. Rebecca no longer worked murder cases. She took it out of the case and aimed at an imaginary criminal. Rebecca always wondered why her dad carried a weapon to family get-togethers. But after a few seconds she realized the silence might be even worse than the ticking. when she was partnering with her dad. and snatched the battery out of the wall clock. I can do it by myself. and exhaled slowly. Reading a romance novel in the soft light of a dozen scented candles. Rebel. Rebecca was excited to see her old buddy. Daddy. nodding to an old galvanized trash can lid that had been wired onto the side of a bale of hay. usually gave the wife all the leverage she needed in divorce court. The husbands hated Rebecca for it." He pulled the revolver out of its holster. A little movie. An occasional toe to the faucet handle. releasing an influx of heat when needed. "What if I'm left-handed?" "Are you left-handed?" "No. and tried to relax her headache away—imagining a steamy hot bubble bath. Someday she would take that bubble bath. Five minutes under the showerhead. "Now. We'll do it together. "Now. She wanted to be tough—like her daddy. picked up the handcrafted wooden case." "Aw. Good thing Rebecca was a stone-cold bluffer. She had no idea what he'd been up to for the past fifteen years." . took a deep breath. That was her thing.'s were always in danger. She unlocked the bottom desk drawer. But Rebecca wouldn't scream." But she loved it when he called her Rebel. But those targets weren't breathing. now take aim. She'd reach under her suit jacket for the blue steel pistol snuggled inside her shoulder holster. do what I tell you. I've got half a mind to jam my fist right down your throat. Was that why he didn't want to meet in public? Was he running from the cops? Didn't sound like the Gabby she knew. She was ten years old. She leaned back in her rickety office chair. take the weapon in your right hand like this. starring the husband and the other woman. He pointed the gun toward the target. If she screamed for help. she had never shot anyone. —— "How about a little target practice?" he said." "Not the first time. It was riddled with holes. "Think you could hit the bull's eye?" "Sure.I. "Bitch. Rebecca loved remembering her first time." "Try it. "I can do it myself. But the rent was cheap. Her dad's old Smith and Wesson Model 27 revolver held such strong memories. Not since college. Gathering evidence—usually with her video camera. and sometimes threatened her. After the football game." She stuck her tongue out at him. Too tired to even turn off the lamp. She was impressive at the shooting range.

She still wore that bracelet every day.. That he always had her back." He poured a few ounces into each cup. Rebecca. You're not gonna shoot me. Her door swung open. this is the office of Rebecca Ranghorn. When the gun fired. "So. The drug dealer had caught him by surprise. "Careful. She pointed the revolver at him. now. It gave her the feeling that her dad was there with her." "Well. I mean cow patties. Private Investigator. She heard a noise from the reception area. and aimed the gun at his head.. But the good memories were always followed by the bad: that horrible night when she found him in a pool of blood. Rebecca was surprised—not so much by the way it felt. .anymore. "I'm here to celebrate with you. on the floor of that abandoned old house." "I don't have a favorite brand. He loves me. His gun was still holstered. Damn coward. She cocked the gun. Rebecca cleaned it regularly." He picked up one of the cups. They were from her coffee bar in the reception area." "Yuck." She squeezed the trigger. just by bumping into it." "You mean hamburgers?" "No. For her next birthday. "Yes. "You son of a bitch." He looked around as though he were actually interested. "What do you want from me?" He set two cups on her desk. Wouldn't be the first time. "Wanna bet?" She released the safety." She hesitated. 350 lbs. and we both know it. it groaned in protest.. At 6-foot-3. She liked feeling tough. Rebecca had no idea whether she could ever shoot an animal or a bad guy." He walked over to the metal chair sitting in front of her desk. "I don't tell my clients what to do. frame and all. it's the truth. "What a dump."Got it. "Really? What are we celebrating? The fact that you're headed for prison?" "I'll be happy to tell you as soon as you join me." "Grandpa wouldn't be mean to me. Carly Cinaway. She was surprised at how much she liked the way it felt. Three shots to the back. he gave her a silver charm bracelet. The sheer power of the weapon excited her. he could knock down a door. you do." "I don't know what you're talking about. we're going to be eating cow patties for dinner." He chuckled. I didn't make it this far in life without being a pretty good judge of character. and Big Bill Smotherburn stepped into her office. Yeah. How did you get in here?" He seemed no more threatened by her gun than if she were holding a lollypop. But she was instantly addicted to that magnificent feeling of power." "Are you sure? Because if you accidentally shoot one of grandpa's cows." Her head was still throbbing." He held up his cup and nodded to hers. But her dad's old revolver was for more than just memories." He grinned." He pulled out a flask and unscrewed the lid. Your favorite brand. "Wendy?" No reply." He reached into his suit coat pocket. "Well. "I want you to get your client to back off. turning sideways to clear the doorway. as a backup weapon. "What the hell are you doing?" "It's tequila. I don't drink. "Mind if I have a seat?" "Mind if I blow your damn head off?" "Now. and kept it loaded. "Look. let's not chance it." As he eased himself down onto the chair. —— It was a wonderful memory of her dad and his gun. One of the charms was a pistol. Perhaps her young secretary had forgotten something and come back for it.

" "She's seventeen!" "She told me she was 21. Her mind said No. Rebecca began to feel very drowsy. "You're not seriously trying to bribe me?" "Of course not. And it's just not you. Imagine how hot you'd look driving around town. "Look.Rebecca knew she shouldn't." he said. Her whole body went limp and her torso fell forward. "But don't you think for one minute that Mrs. Make sure there's fifty thousand in there." He shrugged. "Put that thing down. your cute little ass would already be in the morgue. "I don't do business that way." He pointed to the envelope. But she could not raise her arm." "Carly told you about the video." "Wasn't that foolish of her? She even admitted she didn't have a copy yet. How do you sleep at night?" "We were two consenting adults having a little fun. Rebecca. "What can you do? Girls lie to get what they want. "You're disgusting. and took a sip." Rebecca slammed her empty coffee cup down on the desk." "If you're so sure about that. everybody's happy. "I apologize. Better than sex. "My dear. the truth is she wanted a job. it had been a long time. my offer is for the original and all copies. pulled out a thick envelope. Rebecca." He held up his hands. I can't get it out of my mind—you and her young daughter. "You did put something in my drink. I have some very expensive lawyers." "She's a high school student. And. All she's going to do is humiliate her daughter in open court. Picture yourself in a brand new shiny convertible. I'm a practical man." He drank half of the tequila in his cup. PLEASE. onto the desk." "Can I help it if women throw themselves at me?" He laughed. fat index finger at her. I'd like to make a purchase. By handling it this way. she was afraid she was becoming an alcoholic. "Excellent. Cinaway is going to win this thing. "Go ahead." Rebecca picked up the cup with her left hand." "What's your point?" He carefully and slowly reached into his coat pocket." "What about her daughter?" "I'll take care of her myself. The last thing she heard was a gunshot. It was a great automobile—in its time. Although. But not anymore. . "That old beat-up Lincoln sitting out front is a piece of shit. It's not my fault she lied. huh?" She gulped it down." She tried to point the gun at him. How was I to know?" "You're a dirty stinking pig. It was so good. Count it. "You first. Obviously. She couldn't find the strength to even open her eyes. why are you here offering me fifty thousand dollars?" "Look. I think that's more than a fair price for an amateur movie. It could be drugged." He grinned." "Hey! That was my dad's car. if I had wanted you dead. Once I have all the copies. as though it were a magic wand." He wagged his long. And for what? Nothing. It didn't taste funny. But her pounding headache said YES. I'll give you another fifty thousand—for your client." "You think I've come here to poison you?" He laughed. But she could still hear him talking. besides. and dropped it on her desk.

But she didn't remember drinking.. "Becca. Or maybe it was accidental." Rebecca racked her brain. all she had was a Gideon Bible. Becca.CHAPTER 2 ." "Well.. No. But it was still warm. bent forward. But now the police are never going to believe me—since I left the scene of the crime.Monday. The door opened. There's no way in hell I killed that bastard. I wiped off everything I touched. It's me. Gabby. She sniffed her right hand. but couldn't see it. Right before she went under.." "The police don't have the gun or the cups.and then.a gunshot. by the time I got there. No way. Somebody was coming into her bedroom. Rebecca needed a weapon. and went for the door knob.. How long had she been asleep? She hadn't felt this bad since the last time she downed a full bottle of tequila. and grabbed himself. "Are you sure you want to go out dressed like that?" Rebecca looked down. Maybe I should turn myself in. you'd probably be in jail right now—for murder. She was in a motel room. "Bill Smotherburn is dead?" "Yeah. "Dammit.. "Where are my clothes? What did you do to me. She rolled to her side. "Whoa!" He backpedaled into the door. I was holding it when Big Bill broke into my office. 10:09 p.. You're going to be fine. If it wasn't for me. and ran blindly at the intruder with all her might. She remembered how she began to feel drowsy. Rebecca's eyes were still blurry. Her head was spinning. And the coffee cup. She glanced over at her alarm clock. I didn't do anything to you. Rebecca slammed into him at full speed. Her vision had cleared just enough for her to see she was wearing only a bra and panties. grabbed his wrists. He yelped. It smelled like gunpowder. and a lamp came on. she heard Big Bill say something. wait. She pushed him hard to the floor. opened the night table drawer. he was sprawled out across the floor with half his face blown off. "Take it easy. And don't worry. Sweetie.. stop! Please.offering her a drink." "How are you going to explain it to the police—if you don't even know what happened?" "And how am I going to explain why I ran?" She frowned. and reached for her pistol—but found a book instead. What were you thinking?" "Well. Rebecca tried to force her eyes open." "My fingerprints are all over the gun. Maybe if I had been on time for my appointment. maybe not smoking. leaped out of bed. We've got them. you were passed out across your desk—with a gun in your hand. "I can't believe this.m. But instead of a gun." "Murder?" "I'm sure you had a good reason for killing him." "No.and then going completely under. A book? She wasn't at home.. and plowed a knee deep into his crotch." "I'm sorry. My dad's old revolver. you pervert?" She kicked him in the ribs with her bare foot. And I grabbed your backpack too. She threw off the covers. what was I supposed to do? Call the police? Let them see you there with a smoking gun in your hand?" "It was smoking?" "Well.. I didn't kill him. "Then why am I here? And why did you take my clothes off?" She kicked him again—harder." Now she remembered Big Bill breaking into her office and trying to bribe her." She pulled the blanket off the bed and wrapped it around herself." "Gabby?" "Yeah.. She remembered getting drowsy. "But you couldn't have killed him if you weren't there." "I do remember having the gun." Rebecca let it all sink in for a moment. When I got there." "Why did you undress me?" . I rescued you." The man flipped the wall switch. He struggled to catch his breath. "Stop it.

and all that stuff. That's the kind of talk that earned you the nickname." "The drama club thing is what started it. "Where are my clothes?" "They're hung nicely and neatly in the closet over there." He hesitated.. But she did not chime in. One shot. And what if I really was gay? Would you still want to be my friend?" "Of course I would." She let the blanket fall off her shoulders and drop to the floor as she walked to the closet and began to get dressed. "I guess you know they're going to throw you in jail." Rebecca grabbed her shoulder holster from the closet shelf and strapped it on. And I needed pizzazz." She believed him. "It's a women's clothing store. But I was a gentleman." ." "Of course." She put the revolver back into the bag. Aiding and abetting. you know." "Bingo. She located her dad's revolver at the bottom of the bag and took it out to examine it." "What do you mean?" "I owed him money. set it on the bed. Rebecca never knew for sure." Poor Gabby. "I'm your driver. "The whole high school was wrong about me." "I know." "It's a boutique. He denied it." "Oh." she said too quickly. believe me. and the fact that you own a women's boutique. I'm in just as much trouble as you are. and opened it. Gabby Girl. Where do you work?" She zipped her pants. Nobody wants to buy original designs by Gabby Garnersdale." "I know. everybody in Dallas probably thinks you're gay. "I've got to get out of here and do some nosing around. "But now. but I couldn't understand why everybody didn't want that job.. she thought." She checked her pistol and put it back in the holster." "Boutique?" "Ever heard of Gabby G'Blee?" She slipped into her blouse and began to button it. The cops would have seen you coming from a mile away driving that battleship." Rebecca picked up her backpack from the closet floor."I thought you'd sleep better. Maybe more." "Oh." "True. "Does it bother you at all that I'm watching you put your clothes on?" Gabby got up from the floor and started brushing off his clothes with his hands. But none of that is going to matter once we catch the real killer. "Damn. "Well. tampering with a crime scene. There was no inappropriate touching.. Honey." "The old Lincoln." She took her pants off the hanger. with that name. My own original designs. But you were the only one designing costumes.." "No. I remembered how you always hated to sleep in your clothes." "You're kidding. They make it look so easy on TV. right? It's just as well. right. The beautiful fabrics against the magnificent form of the human body." "Yeah. "I have my own business. kids assumed Gabby was gay. At least you don't have to deal with that stuff anymore. too—for helping me. It's been fired. Gabby. In high school. But I don't want to get you into any more trouble than you're already in." "What?" "You're right. that's great." "Well." She slipped into her shoes. Right?" "Yes. "Why should it? You've watched me get dressed a hundred times. "Just because I'm not super macho." Rebecca stepped into her pants and pulled them up. It's a boring name. "But now I don't care.. My car's still at my office." He waited. You've been out cold for four hours.. But even as his best friend. "I'm not gay. what happened to Gabby Garnersdale?" "I had it legally changed to G'Blee. "I wasn't the only boy in drama club." "Wow.

huh?" "Let me lay it out for you. We can't go prancing around Dallas as Rebecca Ranghorn and Gabby G'Blee." Rebecca hoped he was kidding. Gabby." "I've got a fine little outfit that's going to be fabulous on you. They were going to evict me. I couldn't let that happen. "Not really.. Wiley. I've got lots of possibilities for me too. This is life and death.I did help you get out of it. Even I won't recognize you when I'm done." "What about you? What are you going to wear?" "Well." . He laughed. he told me it was just enough to cover the interest. "But. and he thought he could buy his way out of it. But I don't care. three years in a row." "Gabby. They know Big Bill's a son-of-a-bitch. Just like in high school when we used to map out your new basketball moves. That's how you won Most Valuable Player. Gabby. what were you thinking? Borrowing money from a loan shark?" "I didn't know he was a loan shark. Becca. Did you sign a contract?" "No. And all of them are male." Rebecca sighed. Gabby.." "You got that right. Gabby. No envelope. For him to show up at my office right before you got there. Becca. Whoever framed us is not going to like it when we start snooping around. you had a motive to kill him. I was three months behind on my lease. I'm all in." Rebecca almost smiled." "This ain't basketball." "That's for sure. I was going to be paying him for the rest of my life. Honey." "And every time I made a payment. I was going to lose my shop. and throws a few insults." "Why was he trying to bribe you?" "One of my clients was about to file charges against him. Did anybody else know about your loan?" "His son. knew about it. the first question is whether I should go male or female. Your loan has been paid in full—assuming Big Bill kept no records." "I understand. I guess."Big Bill? You borrowed money from Big Bill Smotherburn? Are you crazy? How much?" "Twenty thousand. but believe me—there was no money on your desk. I thought maybe you would have some way to help me get out of the mess I was in. It'll give you a completely different look. He waves his big fat finger in my face. And they know about my hot temper." "So. And I'll let your hair down. we've got to go incognito. I'm sorry. Big time. He laughs at us. then verbally abusive. We panic and run. I can imagine what the police are going to think after they talk to Wiley. does it?" "Is that why you were coming to see me?" "Yeah." "Well." "Oh." "We're screwed. The three of us meet in my office to discuss the loan. you may end up in prison. My best friend from high school owes Big Bill Smotherburn thousands of dollars. Big Bill tried to bribe me with it. He said a handshake deal was good enough for him. He's the one who hooked me up with Big Bill. Big Bill is being unreasonable." "Well. Becca." "This is too coincidental." "Not a good combo." "What did you do with the money that was on my desk?" "What money?" "There was an envelope with fifty-thousand dollars in it. I don't know what happened to it. I lose it and shoot the bastard. Of course. "We've been framed." "Doesn't look good." "Good." "But we'll figure this thing out together.

Occasionally. This particular john had requested lights out. Newbies thought they could outperform the senior members of their profession through sheer physicality. If your brain thinks you're turned on. by giving them even more than they asked for. she turned off the light and walked out of the bathroom into the darkness." He looked down at the receipt. But instead of the expected disappoint or insults. innocent daughter standing there. and the automatic door closer pulled it shut. That's when she found out mommy wasn't healing sick people. convulsive ecstasy. wondering how the hell he got in. you want to turn tricks like your mother? Make a lot of money? Fine. Eventually they would learn that sex is more mental than physical. Her heart skipped a beat. She did her best work in the dark. knowing the little imperfections of her maturity could not be seen. there was a knock at the door. and some nurses have to work at night. Have a normal life while you still can. Sweetie." The man's voice came from across the room. disgusting things with sweaty old men who can't get sex without buying it. offering escort services brought in plenty of business.CHAPTER 3 . Seasoned practitioners." He walked away. She was a magician of sorts—a wizard.Monday.m. gently massaging his brain with her words. A simple online ad. No pimp to slap her around and take most of her earnings. then Baby. sorry. She released the door handle. Until the repo man comes after your car. such as herself. But her baby girl turned sixteen last year and got a driver's license. "Room Service. I pray to God your life never sucks as bad as mine. But this rarely happened. An ear to the door had provided all the gory details. She had successfully hidden her true profession for years. holding a tray of food. be good for Daddy. That was fine with her. So. "Well. And one night she followed her mom to work. A couple of minutes later. "But not now. There was no denying what she had just done. There was a knock at the door. It was armed and ready to go.oops. Hers was a solo operation. it says here. Mommy's a nurse. When she looked through the peephole and saw her sweet. and I will see you in the morning. And if the john messed with miss piggy. she didn't notice that the door did not completely close. the little porker would squeal loud enough for the entire floor to hear. she said. And once the orgasm became inevitable. Wait until you have a dud for a husband who can't ever seem to make enough money to support his family. there were probing questions about money. Her only regret about her work was its effect on her daughter. could cast a sexual spell upon a man. just as her magic began to envelope him. as soon as the first john left. The woman was a bit mature for this line of work. Turning and walking into the bathroom. The young whores didn't have a clue." —— She inspected her motion-activated piggy bank. a man would stop her. "So." Poking her head out the door. There were visions of cash and shopping sprees and new cars. And she could handle two to three customers per night. She was screwing sick bastards.. slowly but surely leading him into mind-blowing. for heaven's sake. "Who's there?" "Who do you think?" She stood frozen in place. "Wait until you're about to be evicted from your home. All I ask is that you wait a while—until you're older. But nobody had ever complained. "I didn't order anything. having been frightened by the power of the spell. She made sure of that. "Hello. You're sixteen years old. The cash went into the bank before any work was done. he was beyond the point of no return. And how to get into the biz. Two-hundred bucks for an hour's work. —— That night. her heart dropped. Then you can be a hooker like your mother. It was a young man in a uniform. Then you can do nasty. practicing dark arts not easily mastered. .. Her customers always walked away happy. 10:21 p. you're turned on. She was also smarter about money.

began to materialize as her eyes adjusted to the dark room. He was wearing a black trench coat and a hat. A sliver of hallway light peeking in below the door provided the only illumination." "Okay. and she felt something weird. wondering what he had in mind. He placed his hands on her shoulders. But. "Don't stop. and he'd be asleep for the rest of his time. You've got my undivided attention for the next six hours. she said. it wasn't a condom she was smelling. Holding the five bills at an angle. "Sure. She had not felt anything like this in years. How strange. His hands could easily go around her neck. She never trusted a john's rubbers." She got up on the bed reluctantly." He reached into his coat pocket and took out some gadget." He pushed a button. with your back to me. Nobody ever gave her any sexual pleasure. and the chair he was sitting in. what are you doing?" "Take it easy." His body. He spun the dial to the maximum setting. She lay sprawled across the bed." She grabbed her breasts and held on tight for another wild ride. Why was he wearing gloves? A chill ran up her spine at the thought of how vulnerable she was. "You seem tense." He pulled her head back to himself and massaged it. I'm done with you. she heard an aerosol can spraying. "Damn. He turned it up higher. Tossing and turning. Just as she had begun to relax. She had discounted her hourly rate. "Hey. John Doe. The tingling intensified."It's me. she was able to catch enough light to confirm their denomination. lights and dials. Her nose caught the familiar scent of latex. "What is that thing?" He turned it up another notch. "You're going to enjoy this. expecting to hear the usual snide comments about the bank. "Ready to get down to business?" he said. It was a small silver box with buttons. She bounced to the center of the bed and turned around. he lowered the setting on his remote. The john stood up. and up her neck to the back of her head. He walked around the bed to where she was standing. It was latex gloves. as agreed." He tossed some bills onto the center of the bed. "No. There were two clicks. turning up the dial. The back of her head felt cold and numb. "Feel good?" Stretching out on her back. Gradually. Get out of—" She felt a tingle between her legs. "Maybe this will help. "Let's go again." She couldn't believe those words had come out of her mouth. "Who are you? And where can I buy one of those things?" Her voice sounded more sultry than she could ever fake. She pulled away. and spray stuff on my head. You paid me to have sex with you—not to let you get all weird. He adjusted a dial. "I don't like this." he said. please." Thirty minutes of sex with her. It was as though she was under one of her own sexual spells. "How's this?" He increased the intensity more rapidly than before. spent. ." he said. "Tell me how this feels. "Here's your money." He began to massage her shoulders. no. she thought. "Sit on the bed. She thought she had made it clear that he must use her condoms." He was to be her only john for the entire night. she moaned in ecstasy. She folded the bills and stuffed them into the piggy bank." "Don't you want to get comfortable first?" "Not yet. "Five-hundred. She reached over and picked up the money." he said. No john had ever turned her on.

"No. stop!" She grabbed her chest. Convulse. "I can't breathe!" . An elephant foot crushed her ribcage down against her heart. Stop!" It was like twelve orgasms coming all at once. that's too much. "Stop. Her body began to quiver." she gasped. "Please. Her body bounced around on the bed like a ragdoll in an earthquake.

But apparently even that's not young enough. You and I both had motives to kill him. Ever been there?" "No." "It's three blocks from my shop. After two of his waitresses were discovered by a Hollywood agent." "He must have followed him into my reception area. Those waitresses make a fortune in tips. She's 29. But that sounds pretty far-fetched. I mean—I wasn't sure." "Yeah. But eventually we're going to be right where he wants us: in jail. I was too freaked out by the whole thing." "What kind of flat? Did you have a nail in your tire or what?" "No." Neither of them spoke for several minutes. "Very nice. I can understand why somebody would want to kill Big Bill. My baby. I didn't even think about it. He was 60." "Because you figured I shot him. let's go down there and nose around." "No." Gabby stopped for a traffic signal." "Big Bill drank the drug too.Monday. They must have bugged my office." "But I didn't call the police. there it is. She's a trophy wife." "I believe the killer knew everything. 10:47 p.m. But they had sex with him willingly. Gabby. Kimberly. and just happen to leave before I got there. and waited for just the right moment." "Some do it just for the money. Rebecca and Gabby jumped into his Honda Civic and he drove out of the motel parking lot." "You were in trouble too. The killer miscalculated that part. Next. And he had three times your body mass." "Maybe they got lucky. After you do our makeovers." "That was my second thought. Otherwise. Big Bill might not have suspected he was going to shoot him." "Okay. Maybe they had no idea I was coming." "Then you walk in. "It was to hold me up. they wouldn't have known the precise time to kill Big Bill and get out of there before you arrived. and then shoot Big Bill with my gun— with it still in my hand. "It could have been his wife. would come any business partners who stood to gain. I see what you mean. Becca.yeah. since you owed him thousands of dollars." "Or." . I'd put her at the top of my list. He's out there screwing teenagers. Unless we can catch him before the police catch us. "Well.. To make me late." "Maybe. But why frame us for it?" "The bigger question is how they framed us." "As though somebody stabbed it with a knife?" "Oh." "Could have been one of those teenage girls. my God. Some girls will do anything to be famous. It was leaking on the side." "So. "Which would have made him slow to react when the killer came in and pointed my gun at him. I just knew you were in big trouble." said Gabby. I had a flat tire." "Oh. Although. That gave him all day to convince Big Bill to pay me a visit. "if he knew the killer. I realize this is your line of work." "Good." "And to give the killer enough time to wait for the drug to work." "Are you sure they left? Did you check my closet?" "No. see the dead body and call the police. He heard me talking to you on the phone this morning. he might have just been drowsy. Rebecca said." "I don't know. and first thing you know—you'll be a star. his cup was still half full.CHAPTER 4 . Why were you late for our meeting?" "I told you when I called." said Rebecca. My first thought was to get you out of there before the cops showed up." said Gabby.. The bold neon letters were spread diagonally across the entire width of the storefront: Gabby G'Blee Boutique. the word got out: get a job at Big Bill's Café Nue." "I wonder if there was a prenup?" "If not. "So. What do you think?" It was smaller than Rebecca had imagined.

Gabby's Originals hung all over the walls. I guess when something like that happens." "Don't say that to the cops." "Oh." "Nope." "Yeah. Right now she longed for those days— when the only laws she was breaking were in the school handbook." "I'm sorry. Right. "Melanie. but illegal climbing of stairs. "It's not much." He walked across the work room. But lately." "That's right." "Hey. Couldn't make the rent. They walked through a work room. "Oh. Whatever it takes. it's not that bad. which is adults only—since the accident. But don't worry." said Gabby." "Somebody got hurt?" "No. business has really been picking up." ." "Whoa. We need something your best friend wouldn't recognize you in. They're used to it. You can get that much for a frigging dress?" "Not a dress. It brought back high school memories. I guess." Gabby drove around to the alley. He took it off the wall and held it up in front of her." He began to attack the stairs. A Gabby G'Blee Original. wonderful. they won't bother us." "And spilled it on one of your dresses?" "The very thought of it makes me cringe. past several large tables and industrial grade sewing machines." "Which is why this will be perfect. low-cut dress. I've heard of Gabby G'Blee.." "What was the value?" "The sales price was ten-thousand dollars." "I've only sold two at that price.. Gabby. and she followed him into the back of the building. "You sleep up here?" "Yeah. "Really?" "Oh. I'd do anything to keep my shop. let's see. "Can you see these lights from the front of the store?" "Worried about the police getting suspicious? That won't be a problem." She followed him to a pink." "You always were. He flipped on the lights and locked the door behind them. Now try it on. Mattison fussing at them for their enthusiastic." "That's sad. "Do you have a best friend?" She hesitated. She's dead. But one of my dresses did. So I guess you're right. The IRS doesn't understand the value of my creations. to the doorway of his office. Don't you have any friends or family that are still breathing?" "Just you. She could almost hear Mrs. I just didn't know it was you. no. I'll be like five friends." "So." "Oh. Unsalvageable. I'm always here at night. Honey. but—" "—at least it doesn't have a bloody corpse in it. you just write it off your taxes." Gabby led her to the back stairs." Rebecca noticed the pillow and blanket on his couch. It was completely destroyed. "We need to go up to the third floor. "Try it on. But some girl pulled a bottle of grape soda out of her backpack. I don't really do pink. I don't allow food or drinks in my shop. Girl. So. they won't let me write it off. this would be marvelous on you."It's bigger than it looks. And they know my car. what the hell." "Well. two at a time." "Oh." "Oh." "Well. I think I'm finally becoming known." "Is there a dressing room?" He put his hands on his hips and cocked his head to the side. Rebecca followed suit. They got out of the car. Most of my designs go for under a thousand. I keep the high-priced stuff on the second floor. I had to give up my apartment." "Then you must be loaded.

particularly when it's so damn perfect." She spun around. In fact.the ponytail has got to go." He hesitated. "Here's what you need. Sort of. Good job.... "So. As well as the food. Becca. I really thought we had something. I love their chateaubriand with pommes de terre truffée and the Cabernet Sauvignon.She stripped down to panties and bra.I wanted to be the strong one in the relationship. "Oh." He grinned. I always seem to scare them off. How about you?" "Have I ever been married? No. You look like Paul Revere." "Are you kidding? How many times did you throw your smelly basketball shoes at me?" Rebecca laughed. "You always did have lovely legs." "Why? Because everybody else thought so? I told you I wasn't." "You've got a selection of bras in your office?" "I like bras." "Do you have a girlfriend?" "No. And you said you believed me.. Probably from all that weight lifting and basketball. "A little over the top?" "Yeah.if you're not gay.. I know how that looks." "Will you quit looking at me?" "It's just that I admire the human form. And because I was a tall basketball player who liked to get physical on the court. "Okay.." "Stop it!" She covered herself with her hands. Let it down. Alright." "So. Hang on. "Well. Let's go to Café Nue and do some investigating. "Sure. I didn't say that. right?" "I can't believe you remembered. And." He grinned and shrugged." "Ever been married?" "No. I've had a few boyfriends.." He positioned the wig on his head. "Is that for you?" "Yep. You still wear a 10B." "Then why didn't you ever try to kiss me?" "Because. "Okay. But it didn't work out." "I knew you weren't. "Quit looking at me that way. "Oh. It's exquisite." "I did. Honey." Rebecca frowned at him." "Now. But I've been busy. I'll try to restrain myself." "You like to go there because of the sexy young waitresses. "All those times in high school when I let you watch me get dressed—I thought you were gay. You wear it up most of the time. my. I moved here to Dallas to be closer to a guy I was dating. Rebecca reluctantly unhooked her bra and took it off." "Good. This is all I need.. your butt is still nice and firm. I never even turned you on?" He smiled. and turned her back to him." "That bra won't work." He gave her body the once over with smiling eyes." "I'm sorry." "Okay." . then why didn't you ever make a move on me? Was I not pretty enough?" "Not pretty enough?" "I had zits all over my face." "I was going for hippie." He scurried into his office and came back with a bra in hand. if you weren't gay. "Here you go. don't you?" "Yeah. some of the kids thought I was gay too. Nobody will recognize you. And that was never going to happen with you." "It's no big deal. you're going to be the one with the ponytail." Rebecca took the brush. They're on the first floor. we'll grab you a pair of shoes on the way out. You always had perky breasts." He went into his office and came back with a brush and a wig. He handed her the brush.

" End of Excerpt You can purchase the NAKED FRAME ebook at: Amazon Barnes & Noble KoboBooks Sony eBookstore Smashwords Apple iBookstore The paperback is also available online. Gabby said. It means—" "—I know what it means. "I love the name of the place. Café Nue. you know. . Nude Café. It's French." "They have that too."I'd rather have a burger with fries and a diet Coke." As they went down the staircase.

” Navy threw it on the desk.” Navy turned and stormed toward the door. “Now give me my money.” He took a deep breath. you shouldn’t have promised it. And he could take Kayla out for an expensive dinner tonight.” “No. “Sure. It's a shock to the whole community when a young man drops dead across town after eating one of her famous cakes.” “I don’t have it right now. It would save him a trip to McDonalds.m.” Navy’s headache began to pound. five thousand is a lot of money. And I’m gonna get my money one way or another—even if I have to beat it out of you. Customers drive from miles away to visit the little shop for a taste of her original creations. no. “Look. That was the deal. The newly appointed police chief promises to solve the case quickly. I didn’t know when you’d come.. And Ginger wants to help him---until he accuses one of her employees of murder. It was only 7:15 a. The money would not solve all his problems.” “If you couldn’t pay it. I don’t keep that much cash on hand. She rejects the crime scenario laid out by the young police chief and secretly determines to solve the crime herself. His eyes grew unnaturally large as his hands morphed into fists. Look. But at least he wouldn’t lose his car.Sweet Ginger Poison a four-chapter excerpt Virginia "Ginger" Lightley is the owner of Coreyville Coffee Cakes. “I’ll have the money for you at ten. but his brain cells were already screaming for caffeine. beginning to grit his teeth. “Whoa. . Settle down.” “You better not be lying to me. I’ll have to go to the bank. Come back at ten. Chapter 1 “Here it is. How about a cup of coffee for the road?” Navy stopped at the door and looked back.” he said. a popular bakery in East Texas.

” He took a bite. and that maybe he would be interested in an older woman like her. “Be careful—it might be hot. “Thanks.” “I’m not a boy. Right there in the kitchen. He hated the place. But the summer after his freshman year he overheard his mother talking to the family lawyer. He stood for a moment as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. Big money. colorful butterflies and shady trees. somebody might notice if a regular size cake went missing. She was sort of sexy—in a cafeteria-lady-with-a-hairnet kind of way. He rang the bell. She had paid him to do well in high school. This volunteer work would convince the crazy old woman to give him more money so he could rebuild his life. Now he’d have the money to pay off the loan. There was only one today.” She ran to the sink. . She handed him the empty tray. boats. He had been disappointed that it wasn’t more. It was really just a place you go to die. “Sure. “Very good. How fortunate that the overhead light was burned out. hookers. It was a little creepy though. Coreyville Country Home was two miles north of town. The alley was pitch black. “Hope you like it. Not that his mother had ever shared much of it with him. but he was still starving. He made his way around to the driver’s side and got in. But things were looking up. Sunrise would come at any moment. He stuffed the rest of it in his mouth and mumbled. What was the point of a college degree anyway? Navy would never have to work. The old man had been doing it for a couple of years.” She eyed him as though he was still wealthy. Gradually the black Corvette began to materialize in the faint moonlight.” Navy grabbed the Styrofoam cup. He turned on his headlights. as they called them. he had a stroke. unless he got a good education. There was a trust fund waiting for him to turn twenty-one.” She went to get one and brought it back to him. he turned twenty-one and took possession of his two million dollars. “Good.” She smiled. It was a Sweet Ginger Cake—his favorite.” He walked out. I understand. and drugs. All he had left was the Corvette. His father had set it up before he was born. Delicious. Not until he paid off the bank. You’re a growing boy.” Navy began to choke.” He set down the tray and took the tart. gambling. he had no problem getting admission to The University of Texas. He wished the cakes were normal size rather than personal sized. Taking over the delivery job. Navy held his breath as he pulled onto the road. He looked around. Then he reached for one of the small coffee cakes on the tray that was sitting in the passenger seat. “I’ll get you some water. After flunking out of college and goofing off for a couple more years. They’re for the residents. “See you at ten. He started the engine and carefully eased up on the clutch. They rushed him to the hospital. He’d never amount to anything. and one of the cooks let him in. smiling. Why not. You need cream or sugar?” “No. No witnesses. On the other hand. That was nearly four years ago. she always said. Navy Newcomb was born into money. So. And even that wasn’t really his. before the sports cars. And sooner or later his mother would start to believe that he had changed.” “Look. A week later he was back at the nursing home—as a resident.” Her smile broadened. “Before you go—you wanna taste one of my cherry tarts?” He wasn’t absolutely sure she was talking about food. of course not. The powerful automobile crept slowly through the alley. he drove around back to the kitchen entrance and got out with the tray. The name implied a peaceful setting with fresh air. She took the tray from Navy and began to move the little cakes from the tray to the counter. his sophomore year was all about partying. And it did have all those things—much like a cemetery.“Here you go. “You ate some of them didn’t you?” “No. After graduating near the top of his class. Navy took a sip of his coffee. Then one morning as he was dropping off a tray of coffee cakes. And it was the only thing that made him feel cool. When he arrived at the nursing home. He unwrapped it and wolfed it down in ten seconds.

The cook ran out to help him. He would run back inside. He stood up and staggered toward the building. a pile of receipts and other paperwork. Where is it? Navy gasped for air. Then a Dallas map. It felt like there was a golf ball stuck in his throat. He ran to his car and opened the passenger door. Finally the glove box was empty. Navy fumbled through the contents of the glove box. He yanked out the owner’s manual and flung it on the floorboard. but Navy was gone. Then he popped the glove box. He passed out just before his face hit the pavement.His throat continued to tighten. They had nurses. The cook returned with a glass of water. . They could help him. Everything began to swirl.

and weighed around 190 pounds—every ounce of it muscle. . Coreyville Coffee Cakes would not have been a success without Addie. And there it was. it was nearly impossible for them to walk away without making a purchase. alongside her dear friend and hard worker. But from then on. It wasn’t fair. Addie slowly leaned over the counter and peered directly into the boy’s eyes with such intensity that Ginger half expected the kid to burst into flames.m. Once inside. Some of the other children started laughing. The four-story red brick building and its east and west parking lots covered two city blocks. The chilly January breeze was stronger than usual this morning. Ginger was escorting her class through the lunch line when one of the boys looked up at Addie and made an ugly remark about the chicken fried steak. That’s what she did to Billy Jones. Nowadays Ginger had several employees. And that’s how Addie became a legend. Ginger was the proud owner and creator of recipes. A variety of attractive old shops occupied the outer square. allowing her to test six recipes at once. They were too sweet— especially the ones with icing. After throwing away several nine-inch round failures. “I’m not kidding.Chapter 2 Ginger Lightley walked out her front door at precisely 7:30 a. Sometimes she missed the old days. between the boy’s shoes. He could still pretend that it was a surprise. had never cared much for cakes. Lacey Greendale. as his 30th birthday approached. Ginger had a hard time believing that they were the same age. you’re gonna wet your pants. Finally. She named it Sweet Ginger Cake. Addie told Ginger later that she felt bad about what happened. She started with a basic coffee cake recipe and then tried to improve on it. He wet his pants and started crying—right in front of the whole class. The most popular destination was Coreyville Coffee Cakes. She ordered a special mini-loaf pan that was actually a set of six 4½-inch by 2½-inch individual pans connected by rods. Don’t even look at her. It worked out great. “Don’t say anything to her. Ginger considered intervening to save the boy. It seemed even more intoxicating than usual. God rest his soul. She was black. after eighteen tries. Ginger opened the door.” His buddies began to laugh. She just laughed it off as a nice compliment. she had made up her mind to create a cake he’d love.” The other boys suddenly quit laughing. Addie had eight siblings. Lester. Ginger almost felt like a drug dealer. But what if he hated it—in front of all their friends? She decided to let him sample it early. Addie had just started working in the cafeteria at the elementary school where Ginger was teaching second grade. Then she saw the puddle which was beginning to form on the floor. The old city hall sat in the middle of the inner square. and bake dozens of cakes. She would never forget the day they met. Ginger wondered if the parents had lost track of some of their ages. That afternoon Ginger overheard a boy warning his friends. She enjoyed the four-block stroll to her little bakery on town square. So. Her only job was to create a new recipe each month. ‘Cause if she gives you the evil eye. really. but the little brat had been driving her up the wall all morning. All they had to do was get people into the shop. One time Ginger demanded to see Addie’s birth certificate. But the boy was insistent. She looked more like a pro basketball player than a 61-year-old cake baker. Addie Barneswaller..m. There was nothing quite like that first whiff in the morning. Ginger’s husband. the children knew better than to smart off to the big scary cafeteria lady. That was twenty-nine years ago—right before the bakery opened. She flipped up the collar of her wool coat and pulled the knit cap down over her ears. Addie and her new assistant. Ginger had a masterpiece. had already baked dozens of the little cakes. when she used to fire up the ovens at 6:00 a. But then. That was a lot of kids for her parents to keep up with. By the time the shop opened at 7:30. anticipating the glorious aroma of freshly baked coffee cakes and perked coffee. she came up with the idea of mini-cakes. The fear spread like a virus throughout the school. she hesitated. mix the ingredients. The first week of school. six-foot-two. How could Lester resist a cake with that name? She wanted it to be a surprise.

The residents loved them. How’s it going?” Addie was busy removing freshly baked cakes from their pans. Ginger walked into the kitchen. She closed the door behind her.” “Good. Addie. The cafeteria would cut them into slices to serve with lunch.” “Please—call me ‘Ginger. That’s how she created all of her original recipes. the cakes were still perfectly good. “Good morning. “Oh. Of course not. of course. If the guy’s a smoker.” Lacey was embarrassed. but she couldn’t bring herself to reduce the price further. I’ll dock his pay. Lightley. “How many three-day-olds went out today?” She thought for a moment.” Ginger walked around behind the counter and leaned in close to Cheryl. And then your kids will have to live in all that smoke. Ginger looked up at her and pointed to her own mouth. And. Ma’am. Ginger. the cake was perfect. Lacey opened the back door and walked into the kitchen. Her only tools were a keen sense of taste and smell. I’ve got everything under control. Surely you don’t want that. Obviously. “Good morning. He appeared to be trying to determine each and every ingredient. But do you really want to get involved with a smoker? First thing you know. but very naïve. “Sorry. Addie had smudges of flour all over her. Ginger had never known anybody who could.” “Morning. “How did you do it?” And that was how it all started. She couldn’t tell at first. She was a sweet young lady. Ginger walked over to the reduced price rack. Danny’s running late. Navy Newcomb had already come by to pick up the three-day-old cakes for the nursing home. She gave a twenty-five percent discount on day-old cakes. at the same time.She held her breath as he took that first bite. To her. who towered over her. most of the customers were on the way to work. “Good morning. “About twenty. Danny was her twenty-one year old son. I can manage until he gets here. Ginger never had any formal training as a baker. Lacey Greendale was a beautiful five-foot-ten twenty-one year old with blue eyes and long dark hair. Cheryl.” She walked over and put her arm around Lacey.” Ginger released her and smiled at her. It’s going fine. checks. It looked like the work of a powder puff in the hands of a color-blind Avon lady. She was proud of Lacey. And you could break her heart by just looking at her with disappointed eyes. She stopped and turned around. be so frantic yet cheerful. There was already a line at the counter. At the time they opened. no.” Ginger shook her head.” he replied. and credit cards. you’ll marry him and start having kids. But don’t worry. Ginger. men?” “Well—“ “—I know.” As usual. “Well?” “Amazing. I know you can handle it. Even after three days. and a fifty-percent discount on two-day olds. I’m sorry. so you’d better go out front and help Cheryl until he gets here.” Ginger would have offered to pitch in.” “Where’s Lacey?” “She went out for a smoke break. But what about boys? I mean. Mrs. She was beginning to take her little speeches to heart.” . But she was still nervous about what he’d think. “Okay. “Where’s Danny?” Cheryl blushed. Second one this morning.’” “Yes. he doesn’t even smell it on you. Her ivory skin was silky smooth. but she knew that would only make Cheryl feel more guilty about Danny being late. Cheryl Iper was hurriedly accepting cash. Cheryl was doing her best to get them in and out as quickly as possible.” “No. “He overslept. Ginger nearly giggled when she noticed the perfectly round white circle on each of Addie’s dark cheeks. so she just gave them away to the Coreyville Country Home. while spouting one-liners so fast that you’d never guess she was a native East Texan. She just kept experimenting until she got it right. “Reason Five to stop smoking?” Lacey cover her mouth with her hand. “Good morning.” “That’s fine. I’m sorry. don’t worry about me.

” Ginger shook her head. The whole town knew it. “The recipe book.” “No.” Ginger knew that Navy Newcomb had blown his trust fund. “What’s wrong with her?” “I don’t know. I always check.” “I’ll talk to her later.Lacey seemed slightly annoyed. and that he was flat broke. you think Lacey took it?” “Had to be her. “Uh-oh. Are you absolutely sure that it couldn’t have been somebody else?” “Like who?” Then Addie’s expression changed in a flash. She’s been acting kinda funny this morning. He waited here in the kitchen while I went out front to make sure Lacey had picked up all the three-day-olds. “What?” “Navy. After she walked out. But she didn’t think he would stoop this low. Ginger turned to Addie.” “Why are you going easy on her? Nobody else who’s ever worked here has stolen it.” “Was it there this morning when you came in?” “Yes. It was definitely sitting right there. And if he did steal it.” “It’s worth thousands of dollars. But now I wish I’d never started leaving it out like that.” “Are you sure. So. “I guess I shouldn’t have tempted her. who would he sell it to? . but she ignored me and went out anyway. It was either him or Lacey. I had to do it myself. I asked her to check out front for me before she took her break. And don’t you think they were tempted?” “I guess so. “Yes. Ma’am. It’s gone.” “He could have.” “Where was Lacey?” “She went out back for a smoke break right when he came in. Navy could have grabbed the recipe book while he was in here alone. Addie?” “Yes.” “So. I can’t believe she would steal from me.” Ginger was surprised by her attitude.” “What is it?” Please don’t let it be a roach.” Addie noticed something on the counter. One of them stole it.” “So. Lacey usually did whatever she was told with a smile.

She and the reverend had their morning coffee together at that table every day—except on Sundays. He’s a little early this morning. Ginger. right now you’re a cup-getting-cold kind of guy. Sir?” He looked at Ginger and smiled broadly. I mean—I’ve got it down to three possibilities. After all. The Coreyville Courier. Ginger’s husband. and so did she. do you?” “Sure I do. On any given Sunday. I guess it just depends on how you look at it. I’d like to bounce something off you. “Brother Bideman is here. I’m 63 years old. listening to Elijah’s sermon. That’s the way it was meant to be. you do. trying to come to terms with the fact that either Lacey or Navy had stolen her recipe book. “Not at all. and—“ “—you’re not thinking about retiring. But Ginger still got to see him. Lester. She would not allow herself to fall in love again.” Ginger shook her head. of course. She always loved watching him—even when he was doing something as mundane as drinking coffee. She picked up two ceramic coffee cups and filled them. “Ginger.” “Well. Elijah took his coffee black.” “Yes. It’s been a wonderful place to live all these years. “Why. Inspiring. I’m the world’s greatest procrastinator. Many folks figured it was about time the two admitted they were in love. Let it be a surprise. yes. “Well. Coreyville Coffee Cakes was closed on the Sabbath.” She went out to the dining area and spotted him sitting at their usual table. But…” “What?” “Well.” Ginger couldn’t bear the thought. There were whisperings around town that Ginger and the good reverend were much more than just friends.” “What’s the subject?” “Uh…I’d rather not say. He was scanning the front page of the local newspaper. if you don’t mind. I mean. “Would you like some coffee to go with that cake. But not anytime soon.” “No. Lester had been her one true love. Ginger watched him as she sipped from hers.” Ginger was still in deep thought. “No.” Elijah looked down at this coffee cup. The Saturday edition was so thin and lightweight that paperboys had to worry about it blowing right out of a customer’s yard. His dimples alone could make a woman dizzy.” He picked it up and took a sip. “I’m close.Chapter 3 Lacey stuck her head in the kitchen and said. Ginger placed the two cups on the small table and sat down across from him. of course.” “It’s about the parsonage. He knew his breakfast partner would be arriving at any moment. But Ginger was not in love with Elijah. The Sweet Ginger Cake sitting in front of him had not been touched.” He folded the newspaper and set it on the back edge of the table. “Oh. That’s the important thing. “Got your sermon all ready to go?” Elijah was notorious for waiting until the last minute. There could never be another.” “You don’t even know. And I appreciate the church providing it for me. Elijah Bideman was the pastor of Corey Acres Baptist Church.” “Thanks.” “But I do it. A salesman could only wish to have such a smile. “I don’t know how you do it. sure. I would. All the locals knew better than to take the table in the back corner. against the wall. It’s not that. she could be found in her favorite pew.” . and Elijah’s wife had left him four years ago.” “That’s right. Ma’am.” “I guess it really doesn’t matter that you’re the world’s worst procrastinator. I’ll retire someday. And your sermons are always great. I’m a cup-half-full kind of guy. I always get it done. had died two years earlier.” “Sure. go ahead.” She smiled.

” “No. “Speak of the devil…” “Our new chief of police?” “Yep. “What do you think about our new mayor?” “I think he’s…awfully young.” “Probably not.’” “I’m sure he’ll do a fine job.” She took his hands and turned them over to the palms.” “Well. Ginger had been on the church committee that recommended the house to be purchased by the church and used as a parsonage. a pastor would stay a few years and then move on. It needs to be torn down. that’s it. “I guess I might as well get used to it. Not since he graduated from that Ivy League business school.” “Or rich enough.” “Okay. Kipford Houston Kassle had recently been elected mayor of Coreyville. Then where am I going to live? In a retirement home?” “I don’t know.” “So.” “Really? Why? Because of his brand new MBA? Or because of his wealthy family? I can’t think of any other qualifications. I’m not going to beg church members to build my house.” . Promise you won’t say anything to anybody. She had never considered what would happen if a pastor retired from the church. The house is no good.’” “Oh.” “I suppose.” “John Wilson’s old place?” “Yes. But I know I can do this. what are you thinking?” “Well. maybe if you had help from some of the men.” “Twenty-seven. The parsonage belongs to the church.” Thirty-two years ago. no. I remember that.” “He’s bright. at no charge. I’m sure they’d be glad to do it. They were as smooth as a newborn baby. Have you ever even used a hammer?” “Not lately.” “But I need my own place. yeah. Excuse me.” He looked into her eyes. Now he’s “’K. I don’t see what harm it would—” “—Ginger. The headline read. Usually. I’ve managed to save a little money over the years. But I’d buy the land now. The kids used to call him ‘Kippy. Ginger pointed to the newspaper. “Well. And I found a spot just outside of town.” They sipped their coffee in silence for a few seconds.“Good.” Ginger sighed. And you know that Daniel Foenapper was not the most qualified candidate.’ or simply ‘Mayor Kassle. Then I’d save up for materials and build my own house.” “You wouldn’t have to beg.” “But I hope you change your mind. But the first thing he did was to get his good buddy appointed as chief of police.” “I know. When I retire I’ll have to move out.” “No.” “I won’t.” “With your own hands? You’re not a carpenter. Elijah looked to see who it was.” The bell on the front door jingled as someone walked in. But I need a home of my own. “I’m thankful for what the church has done—giving me a place to live. I believe. he doesn’t like that anymore. “Promise me you won’t tell anybody about this.” She could see the hope in his eyes.” “Thank you. King of the Kassle. he was smart enough to earn a master’s degree and to get himself elected.” “Well. Houston Kassle. fine.” “But that house is eaten up with termites.” “Well. “You’re hands would be bleeding in less than an hour.

She got up and walked over to Daniel Foenapper, who was now standing in line. Daniel was only fivefoot-nine, but his thin frame made him look taller. He was quite impressive in his new uniform. “Good morning, Chief.” He seemed surprised, yet pleased that she had addressed him in the proper manner. “Good morning, Mrs. Lightley.” His voice cracked, sounding exactly like it did in junior high. No, please call me ‘Ginger.’ She thought it, but couldn’t bring herself to say it. “Drop by anytime, Chief. It’s ‘on the house.’” “No, Ma’am. I couldn’t do that—accept gifts, that is. It wouldn’t be right. I’ll pay—just like everybody else.” Okay. Maybe he’s not so bad, she thought. “Suit yourself. But do come by often.” He grinned. “I will. Your cakes are delicious.” “Thanks. Well, have a nice day.” Ginger stepped away, and was about to go back to Elijah when she heard the phone behind the counter begin to ring. She saw Lacey answer it. Ginger waited to see if the call was for her. Lacey talked for a few seconds and then took the phone away from her ear and began to survey the dining area. She looked at Ginger and pointed to the chief. Ginger went back over to where he was standing. “Looks like we have a phone call for you, Chief.” “Really?” Daniel looked down at his police radio. He had forgotten to turn it on. Ginger led him to the phone and Lacey handed it to him. “This is Chief Foenapper…yeah, I forgot to turn it on. Sorry about that…I see…okay, I’m on my way.” He hung up the phone. Ginger deliberately blocked his path. “Something wrong?” “Yes. It’s Navy Newcomb.” “What kind of trouble did he get into this time?” “Did you send him out to the nursing home?” “Yes. Well, no—I didn’t send him. He’s been volunteering—taking cakes out there every morning.” “That’s it? He just picks up some cakes and delivers them to the nursing home?” “Yes. The three-day-old cakes.” He seemed disappointed. “They’re still good. They’re perfectly good. I don’t give them stale cakes.” “I see.” “So, what did Navy do? You understand that he’s not an employee. He just volunteers.” “I understand.” He tried to walk around Ginger, but she blocked him again. “So, what’s the problem?” “The problem is that Navy Newcomb…is dead.”

Chapter 4 Ginger stood there watching as Chief Foenapper rushed out of Coreyville Coffee Cakes, jumped into his car, turned on his flashing light, and sped away. When she turned around, Elijah was walking toward her. “What’s going on?” “Navy Newcomb is dead.” “What happened?” “Daniel—I mean the chief—wouldn’t tell me. All I know is that he took my cakes out to the nursing home and now he’s dead. I want to go out there.” “I’ll drive you.” “Thanks.” She walked over to Cheryl Iper, at the cash register. “I’ll be back in a little while.” Ginger walked away before Cheryl had a chance to ask any questions. Elijah had parked halfway down the block. In the early morning hours, Ginger’s customers took up more than her store's share of parallel parking slots. But most of the other shops were not open that early anyway. Elijah’s old Ford sedan was roomy and comfortable. Pastors of small congregations learn how to live on meager salaries. One of the ways Elijah stretched his income was to buy his cars at auctions. This particular one had been a police cruiser in its previous life. There was no way to know how many times the engine had been revved up for a high-speed chase. Or how many perps had ridden handcuffed in the back seat. None of that mattered to Elijah. After a thorough cleaning and a new paint job, he considered the vehicle ‘born again.’ They got in and Elijah backed out and drove toward the nursing home. “I hope this isn’t my fault,” said Ginger, more to herself than to Elijah. “What do you mean? How could it be your fault?” “I think Navy stole my recipe book this morning.” Elijah looked puzzled. “What if somebody knew he was going to steal it? They might have tried to take it away from him. Maybe they fought, and—” “—just how much is this recipe book worth?” “Some other bakery might be willing to pay thousands for it. I don’t know. We get business from all over the area.” People travelling down Interstate 20 often made a detour through Coreyville just to get some of Ginger’s famous cakes. “Okay. I can understand how valuable the book is. But I can’t believe people would kill for it.” “I hope you’re right.” When they arrived at Coreyville Country Home, Ginger asked Elijah to drive around to the back. They saw the chief talking to Justice of the Peace Harvey ‘Boot’ Hornamer. Two paramedics were loading a body into the ambulance in no particular hurry. Ginger and Elijah got out of the car and walked up behind the chief just in time to hear the end of the conversation. At 77, Boot was a product of his long-term habits. Sixty years of chewing tobacco had created a permanent protrusion in his left cheek. And these days, it never went away—whether the wad of chew was there or not. His love of the sun had turned his arms more leathery than his cowhide belt. The excruciating pain in his feet and back was exasperated by the cowboy boots. But he just wouldn’t be ‘Boot’ without them. “So, I’m gonna order an autopsy.” Boot turned to the side and spit. The bullet stream of tobacco juice nailed a bullfrog right between the eyes. “Okay,” said the young chief. Boot walked over to his pickup and climbed in. “Chief?” said Ginger. He turned around. “Y’all don’t have any idea what killed him?” “I can’t discuss the case.” “Why?” Elijah jumped in. “So, you think it was murder?”

“I didn’t say that.” “Well, what are you saying?” Ginger was getting annoyed. “I’m not saying anything.” Ginger noticed a woman standing near the back door of the building. Judging by the white outfit and apron, she figured the woman to be a cook. Perhaps she had seen or heard something. She would talk to her after she finished with the chief. “Have you contacted his family?” said Elijah. “I’m about to drive out to his mother’s house,” said the chief. “What about his girlfriend?” said Ginger. “I’ll go talk to her,” said Elijah. “Thanks.” The chief walked to his car, got in, and drove away. Two deputies watched as a tow truck drove away with Navy’s Corvette. Then they got into their car and left. Ginger looked over at the building. The cook had apparently gone back inside. “I’ll bet somebody in there saw what happened.” She began walking up the sidewalk, toward the kitchen door. Elijah followed her. Ginger knocked. One of the cooks opened the door. It was the woman Ginger had seen standing outside. “Yes?” “Could we come in for a minute? I’d like to ask you a few questions.” The woman hesitated. “I’m Ginger Lightley.” She smiled and held out her hand. The woman’s apprehension was suddenly gone. “Oh, Mrs. Lightley. I’m so happy to meet you.” She shook Ginger’s hand. “Your cakes are amazing. I’m a big fan.” Ginger knew that people loved her coffee cakes, but she didn’t know she had fans. The woman became even more excited. “Oh, would you mind tasting one of my cherry tarts. It’s my own recipe.” She rushed to the stove to get one. Ginger looked at Elijah and shrugged. Then she saw her coffee cakes sitting on the counter. One of her trays was sitting beside them. The woman came back with a tart and handed it to Ginger. Ginger took a sniff and nodded. Then she bit off a small portion and chewed it carefully as she analyzed it with her tongue. She was like a professional wine taster—except for the spitting. “I love the delicate flakiness. The cherries are almost too sweet—but they’re not. Ooh. And there’s a magnificent aftertaste. How did you do that?” The woman grinned. “It’s a secret.” “Well, of course it is,” said Ginger. “And don’t you tell a soul.” “I won’t. Thanks, Ma’am.” “You’re very welcome.” She handed Elijah what was left of the tart. “Try it. You’ll love it.” Without waiting for Elijah’s verdict, Ginger turned back to the woman. “Are those the coffee cakes Navy delivered this morning?” “Yes, Ma’am.” “Were you the one who let him in?” “Yes. And he seemed fine. Then I got him to taste one of my cherry tarts and he started choking.” Ginger glanced back at Elijah, who had just put the last bite of the tart into his mouth. He stopped chewing, and seemed to be wondering whether he should spit it out. But he was not choking. “So, do you think the tart made him sick?” “No,” said the woman. “I mean—I hope not. Oh, God. What do you think?” “I doubt it.” She looked back at Elijah, who had finished his tart. “I feel fine,” he said. “Maybe it was the way he ate it,” said the woman. “He stuffed it in his mouth all at once.” “That could be it,” said Ginger. “So, he started choking and then he just passed out?”

I think. “There was one other thing.” “Did you hear anything the justice of the peace and the chief were saying?” said Ginger. “Yes.” Ginger looked at Elijah. We appreciate it.” “So. And they had lettering across the front of them. It was a pair of panties.” “Did he have anything in his hands when he got back out of the car?” “No. She said he was already dead. Although she thought he had finally settled down. But by the time I got back he had gone out the door.” “Did you see it?” “Yes. And I got one of our nurses to come out. “Okay. But he didn’t want to say for sure since Navy had been choking right before that. Navy was known to be a swinging bachelor. I ran to get him a glass of water. The glove compartment was open and everything had been pulled out and thrown on the floorboard.” “Then you called 9-1-1?” “Yes. I guess he couldn’t find whatever he was looking for. But before I could get to him. they questioned you. “Wonder why the deputies thought it was funny?” “Probably because they were that kind that lace up on the sides. They were joking around about it until the chief yelled at them.“No.” “What?” said Ginger.” Ginger and Elijah walked to the door and started to step out. I ran out to meet him. “When the deputies were searching his car they found something under the front seat. You know—kinda sexy.” said Elijah. then. While I was waiting for the ambulance I went over and looked in the car. I don’t know whether it’s important or not though.” Ginger was not at all surprised. but I couldn’t feel anything.” Ginger suddenly felt ill. he fell down. “That’s about it. Then he got out and started walking back toward the building. She knew who the panties belonged to. He didn’t seem to have any other questions.” “Did they say anything else?” said Ginger. So. “What do you think he was doing in his car? Was he looking for something?” “He must have been. He was in his car doing something. The justice of the peace said that he thinks Navy’s head hitting the sidewalk is what killed him. I went out to see if he was okay. His head was bleeding. “Yes. Ma’am. End of Excerpt You can purchase the NAKED FRAME ebook at: Amazon Barnes & Noble KoboBooks Sony eBookstore Smashwords Apple iBookstore . Thanks. I checked his pulse. “Oh.” said the woman. So.” “What did it say?” “Unlace Me.” Elijah said.

only to be targeted by a cocky young hit man. .The Greg Tenorly Suspense Series BICYCLE SHOP MURDER A man teams up with a mysterious woman to solve a murder in his small town.

but none of the patients are alive. .HIDEAWAY HOSPITAL MURDERS A woman discovers a secret hospital ward buried underneath a doctor’s home.

. the husband begins a desperate search to find her.ILLUSION OF LUCK After a delusional mystery writer kidnaps a bride on her wedding night.

FLY THE RAIN A wild all-girl rock band has a killer sound…and a killer lead singer. The Greg Tenorly Suspense Series is available from these fine retailers: Amazon Barnes & Noble KoboBooks Sony eBookstore Smashwords Apple iBookstore .

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