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 Rebecca Ranghorn Mystery Series Naked Frame (Icy Hollow - coming in March. 2011) (Book 3 - coming in June 2011)

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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.

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

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) .Recycle Man Classical Revenge Writer’s Block Road Rage to Nowhere Kory Mantra Man Down.

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

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

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

And the next day. Then he asked me if he could stuff it. So. as though she wasn’t absolutely sure it was dead.” Luci walked over to where a stuffed squirrel was sitting. “Did Casey do this one too?” “Yes. And I plan to keep it that way. “Just kidding.” She hung the guitar back on the wall. he dug up Fluffy and performed his first taxidermy. twist and polish—“ “—gross. so I can continue to charge $250 a set. and a few from Spain. Why is it so expensive?” “Because it’s hand-made. what’s so special about your strings?” “If I told you that. When he was 12 years old. he did. She looked more closely.” “That’s okay. I didn’t see any harm.” Luci walked to the back wall. That’s why your name sounded familiar. You can order a set on the web for $80. Wasn’t that just a couple of weeks ago?” “Yes. “It’s so life-like. The police think the accelerator got stuck. But he couldn’t stand to lose his best friend. I get orders from all over the world through my website. So. I don’t get much walk-in traffic here. How much is it?” “$4. I think I read about it in the paper. These are professional musicians. But it’s a secret process. so that night he did a little research on the internet. don’t you have anything cheaper?” “Yes. Amy Strings are only available from me.“Most classical guitar strings are nylon these days. and began to strum it. I’ve lost track of how many little animals he’s killed and stuffed. I’ve heard enough.” “It is real. he’s getting really good at it.” “Whoa.” “Oh. “What’s this? It looks so real.” “So.” Amy wondered how Luci knew her son’s name. Or a composite material made from synthetic fibers. Most of these guitars were built by a wonderful old luthier who lives down in LaGrange. The online sales are what keep me going. It was frozen in place. My 20-year-old son is an amateur taxidermist. But he’s really improved over the years. So. she was startled by a cat that was sitting on the counter. picked up a guitar.” Then she pulled back. so we buried it in the back yard. “Does your husband help you run the store?” “My husband was killed in a car accident. Then they clean and strip them.” “People actually pay $250 for a set of guitar strings?” “Sure. including the strings. “Yes. Then she laughed. They have to remove them from the animal’s body while they’re still warm. what do you think of that guitar?” “It’s amazing. I’d have to kill you. Looked like some kind of furry alien. he raced up our driveway. So.” “Well. Luci bent down and looked directly into the squirrel’s eyes. In all honesty.” “Well.” Luci carefully handed the guitar back to Amy.” “What’s a luthier?” “A person who makes stringed instruments.” Luci got up and walked toward the cheap instruments. But when he came back. But they’re not hand-made. plowed through the backyard fence and went over the fifty-foot cliff—right into Lake Erie. I’m so sorry. It kept running into the store every time a customer came in. stone-faced. “Wait. he drove the Mustang down to the 7-Eleven to get more. 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.000 instruments. his dog died.500. There on the back wall I’ve got a couple of Japanese guitars. “How do they make guitar strings out of intestines?” “It’s quite a process. playing $5. On her way.” said Amy. or that maybe Carl .” “All I know is. when Carl realized we were running out of beer.” Luci’s face contorted. he would shoo it out with a stick. “That’s way too steep for me. we were having our annual Christmas party with twenty of his old college buddies and their wives. he killed this poor little cat?” “Not on purpose. It was a mess. But you can still buy catgut strings. But one day he accidentally whacked it on the head and killed it.

“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.” “Kinda makes me want to share something else with you. My car’s sitting out front. he wasn’t even in the car when it went into the lake. I told him. maybe he survived somehow. It’s the mold. But it’s been two weeks. I’m glad I could help you get it off your chest. you set the whole thing up? Ran his car off the cliff? Was he even in the car?” “No.” “But I really want to show you. ‘Carl. And what would you do with my body?” . he didn’t believe me. empty parking lot. “We’re clinging to that hope. thought Amy.” “Too bad they put you on desk duty and took away your gun. It looked like he was about to attack the mayor. “Smells funny back here.” “That’s right. “I didn’t know who you were when you first came in. you’re not gonna get away with it! Do you know who I am?” Amy raised the pistol and pointed it at Luci.” “That’s why. Carl’s buddies had moved their cars to the street to give him a clear path down the driveway. But Luci’s eyes were drawn to the round table in the middle of the room. that’s okay. huh?” “Why did you kill Carl? I was in love with him. Because he was having an affair with you.” “So. depressing the accelerator. It would have come in handy right about now. you’re alive! Why didn’t you call me. She reached into the workbench drawer for the pistol and then began to walk toward Luci. and rushed outside to see what was happening. and he thought he was stepping on the brake.” “Oh. “Like how I make my $250 guitar strings. I would kill him. “Carl. Now I know for sure that you’re The One. “He tossed several big blocks of ice into the Mustang and drove it back to the house. Apparently. Then she turned to Amy. I haven’t opened up to anybody about the accident until now. One of the guys made it out the door just in time to see the Mustang going over the cliff.” Amy opened another door and led Luci inside a large room with no windows. I was visiting with some of the women. “What have you done? You killed him! And then you let that freak Casey stuff him! Well. If the car had veered off to one side or the other…but it didn’t.” “I was just doing my job. And the ice blocks just floated away. and didn’t even know he was gone.was drunk. There was a small lamp sitting on a work bench.” “Well.” Luci reluctantly followed her around the counter and through the door. I’ve got to take care of that soon.” Luci sobbed.’ But he’d do it anyway—especially when he’d been drinking. Brilliant. “Casey got out of the car and moved the ice blocks to the driver’s side of the floorboard.” “Like what?” Amy grinned. But you get used to it after a few minutes. Then he threw his body into the back of the van.” “Well.” “I read that the top was down on the car. I was so proud of Casey. “Carl!” Luci ran toward the table.” said Luci. so… I can’t believe I’m discussing this with a total stranger. Casey called him while he was at the 7-Eleven and told him our van had stalled in a nearby dark. you’re 40 years old—you don’t look cool anymore. Everybody inside the house heard the screeching tires and the roaring engine. no matter what you’re driving.” “Yeah.” “So. “Carl?” Luci screamed. “It was a daring plan. Casey hit him over the head with a pipe wrench and killed him. Come on. When Carl came to help. huh?” “What are you going to do with me? Surely you’re not going to kill me—I’m a cop. But now I do. Why would he put the top down in twenty degree weather?” “Because he thought it made him look cool. leaving no evidence of foul play. A dim light bulb suspended above the table barely illuminated four men playing poker. You’re the bumbling police detective who shot the Mayor’s brother-in-law in the arm. And I had warned him after his last fling that if he ever did it again. Honey?” Thank you.

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

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

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

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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.” He sighed. “I was on a farm that day. The people said they had a high-jumping pig. They claimed it was destined to break the Guinness World Record of 27.5 inches. That stinky animal couldn’t even clear a cinder block.” “I’ve never heard of a jumping pig.” “I wish I hadn’t. Just give me a hamburger, fries and a coke.” “Coming right up.” Helen turned to walk away. “Oh, one other thing, if you don’t mind,” said Malcolm. Helen turned back around, smiling. “Onion rings?” “Uh, no thanks. I just wanted to ask you about that man over there—Ned.” “Yes? What about him?” “I heard him telling that man with a beard that his car was sun-powered.” “Yeah. Isn’t that something? He finally got it working.” “He did it himself?” “Yep. He loves to invent stuff.” “Is that what he does for a living?” “No. He’s a farmer. But he used to work for an aircraft company. Until they shut down. Then he took over his daddy’s farm.” “Interesting. Thanks.” Helen walked away. Malcolm’s mouth began to water—but not for the burger and fries. What a story, he thought: Farmer outsmarts young high-tech whipper-snappers, building the first practical solar-powered automobile—in the form of a ’57 Chevy! A young waitress delivered the food to Ned’s table, and the three men began to gobble it down. By the time Malcolm had reached them, they were half finished. “I apologize for interrupting your lunch, but I just had to ask about your car.” Ned smiled as he continued to chew. “She’s a beauty, ain’t she?” “Yes. And I overheard you say that the car is sun-powered.” “That’s right,” said Ned. The two young men both nodded in agreement as they stuffed their faces. “So, does it use any batteries?” “Sure—for nighttime driving.” “Of course. Because there’s no sunlight.” “Yeah. I can’t be driving around in the dark. Might hit a cow. Besides, it’s illegal.” “You mean you only have batteries so you can run your headlights?” “And taillights. One battery. That’s all.” “You’re kidding me,” said Malcolm. “Nope. Just the one six-volter.” “Wow. That’s amazing.” Malcolm suddenly realized that he wasn’t writing anything down. But how could he possibly forget any of this? “Mind if I take a closer look?” “No problem.” Ned sucked down the rest of his shake, took a few bills out of his wallet and dropped them on the table. “Come on.” He stood up and proudly led Malcolm out to his masterpiece. “Check this out,” said Ned, popping the hood. Malcolm could not keep his jaw from dropping. There was nothing under the hood except a six-volt battery, strapped down with a bungee cord. Ned closed the hood and walked around to the side of the car. “Back here is where the action is.” He opened the back seat door. Malcolm was confused. “What is this?” “This is where the power is applied.” Malcolm took a closer look. The floor board where the passengers’ feet normally rest had been cut out to make room for what appeared to be bicycle gears, chains and pedals. “I thought you said this car was completely solar powered?” “Solar powered? Heck, no. I said it was son-powered. That’s what I call it—my son-powered car.”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mother???!!!!!!!” THE END . But she wondered what he looked like. She knew she wasn’t supposed to speak. She quickly checked below the earlobe—and found the other mole. but she couldn’t help herself. “Lucas?” The governor jumped back in horror. 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.Creamy sensed that he was about to attack. She could handle whatever he threw at her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I love the name of the place."I'd rather have a burger with fries and a diet Coke." 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. Nude Café. It's French. Gabby said. Café Nue." As they went down the staircase." "They have that too. It means—" "—I know what it means. . you know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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