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“Vinny” by Patricia Robertson

Vinny

by Patricia Robertson

 

“Vinny, you did it.” Those were the last words that he remembered from the Don, the head of the Bellini family. He had managed to pull off the greatest robbery in mafia history by robbing the Citibank vaults electronically. Now all he could see was a chainlink fence surrounding the maximum security prison at Rikers Island. And when he squinted into the sunlight, he could see the barbed wire on top of the forty foot fence. On most days, all he could think about was how to escape. When he was feeling down, he thought about stealing a bright orange extension cord to make a noose.

© 2014 Patricia Robertson

 

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“The Tale of Two Nights” by Team Granzow

The Tale of Two Nights

by Team Granzow: Desiree Granzow and Brandon Granzow

 

Present Day:

“Everyone get down in the water.” Ariana’s friends squirmed their bodies low into the hot tub and kept their eyes open, squinting to avoid chlorine. The camera flashed. “Now it looks like you were all flushed,” Ariana said chuckling. The night was young and they were already engaging in her shenanigans.

Earlier that week she had persuaded everyone to go out at the Chain-Link Fence, a popular night club in town rumored to be owned by the head of the family. The head of thee family, the one that can make a person disappear overnight. Her friends had been nervous, they had heard stories from other girlfriends that it wasn’t safe. Ariana had a way of getting what she wanted and persuaded them to join her. They had dressed up, done some lines together and jumped in the taxi. When they arrived at the club the line had already wrapped around the block. The music was pulsating through the street. Ariana had walked up to the front of the line leading her pack. She had flashed a seductive smile toward the bouncer while leaning toward him to ensure he could take a peak at her perky, sumptuous breasts. He leaned in as she put her arm to the back of his neck whispering in his ear, a smirk appeared on his face as he lowered the ropes and let them enter the club.

The club was dimly lit and crowded that night. There were private booths lined around the upstairs with a view down to the large dance floor filling the center of the club. She had scouted the swarms of men looking for their female conquests. She spotted a group of younger guys with drinks in hand, no bottle service, and decided they couldn’t afford her girls. She saw an older group, dressed to the nines but sipping too slowly on their drinks. There were a handful of groups similar to hers and some dangerously eager prowlers.

Then she had spotted her target: in the back corner sat a gorgeous man who looked unsure of his evening, and behind him sat a group of handsome men performing the same search as herself. She waved to the girls to follow her and streamlined toward the corner. She had coyly walked past the first man and went to the group behind him. She began giggling and addressing one of the men as Aaron. She started rambling to him about missing his sister and how wonderful it was to see him when he interrupted to tell her she must be mistaken. Ariana feigned confusion and after a moment simply stated, “That’s too bad… I was hoping we could have some fun together tonight.” The Aaron character had then said his name was Trevor and asked the girls to join them. This plan worked every time. The liquor started flowing and the girls had settled in with their new men. Ariana kept eyeing the man sitting in front of their table. She remembered she could not stop staring at his bold features and the undeniable muscles under his suit. He was the type of guy that could fill her desires and she found herself getting lost in one of her adult daydreams. She would take his shirt off while he lifted her on the bathroom counter all while she would squirm in excitement and revel at his strength. She had snapped out of the daydream and turned back to her friends.

Ariana had not stopped thinking about that night for the past three days. She checked her phone to see if her work had contacted her today as she was on call, no messages. She got back in the hot tub with her Pomtini and yelled her usual mantra, “Cheers to Today.”

Three Days Earlier:

It was like any other Saturday night, prime for drinking followed by his normal debauchery. Michael’s Saturday customs always began with dinner at Tutto’s – the top Italian restaurant in town. However, this particular evening had him wrapped in fear and anxiety.

It all started at 6:00 A.M when his cell phone irritatingly vibrated the loose change he had scattered on the bed table the night before. Being in a deep slumber, the noise triggered an awful dream where his third grade teacher scratched her fingernails across an infinite chalkboard. His REM sleep surrendered; he found his phone, it was Marco. Thankfully it was only a text; Michael’s vocals may not be functional after last night’s two packs of cigarettes. His mother always told him that his lungs don’t deserve a sauna of smoke 24 hours a day. Michael knew she was probably right and would consistently inform her, as most smokers do, that he would be quitting soon.

Marco’s text was brief – “After Tutto’s we have plans.” This did not seem odd to Michael except the earliness of the text. He didn’t respond and rolled over to return to sleep, forgetting a woman lay next to him. His silk sheets barely covering her backside, her hourglass shape still outlined perfectly. Suddenly, flashes of last night’s sultry finale put a smile on his face. Of course Michael had no clue what her name was, and judging by his productive one hour flirting session last night she likely didn’t know his either.

Michael’s phone vibrated again. This woke the nameless female near his side. She turned to him with a curious face.

“What time is?”

“Six,” he said rubbing his eyes aggressively.

“Do you normally get calls this early on a Saturday?”

“Sorry, it’s work. You can go back to bed if you like.”

She sat up holding the sheets to cover her naked body. “No, I should leave.” She got out of bed with no choice but to search hastily for her clothes completely exposed.

“Well, should I call you sometime…um?”

“Kara. No, we both know what this was,” she said very casually.

“Okay, well my name is Michael if you see me around sometime.”

“Sure… where’s your bathroom?”

“Upstairs to your left.”

Kara made her way upstairs with her pile of clothes in hand. Michael laid back down grabbing his companion’s pillow to cover his eyes from the rising sun beaming through his window. Remembering his second text, he blindly reached over to his bed table feeling for this phone.

It was Marco again. “Bring a long extension cord.”

Michael, puzzled by this replied, “For what?” He finally got the motivation to get out of bed, but instantly became nauseated. He quickly sat down trying to prevent the next step of his hang over. Michael’s cure for this was lighting up another cigarette.

Kara made her way back down. She looked surprisingly good. More awake, Michael could appreciate her impressive looks. He liked Slavic women, the tall, slender type with piercing blue eyes. Kara was the epitome of this.

“You smoke in bed?” she asked.   Michael took a long drag.

“Yeah, so?” he retorted.

“See, this is already strike two for you,” she said comically. “I’m going to leave.” Michael put his cigarette out.

“Wait, what was strike one?”

Kara was already halfway out the door, “Who has a bathroom only upstairs?” She closed the door behind her.

Michael smirked and finally got out of bed to make some breakfast. While frying up his eggs he received a response from Marco – “You’ll find out tonight, just bring it.”

One hour before his dinner plans at Tutto’s he was still searching for an extension cord. His apartment did not have a shed or garage, so he figured it must be in a closet somewhere. He finally found an orange extension cord coiled up on a hook in his utility closet. His thoughts wandered into dark territory; it reminded him of a hang-man’s noose. Why bring an extension cord he thought? Marco was not one to be so succinct in his messages. He usually tired everyone with his bloated instructions and stories.

Michael’s line of work gave him good reason to be suspicious. He wasn’t a made-man yet, so his protection was not guaranteed. His mind raced thinking of anything to warrant his early departure from this world. He concluded he was overreacting; he grabbed his keys and money clip and headed out the door. The orange extension cord hung around his shoulder contrasting his onyx suit.

Tutto’s was busier than normal, but he and his crew always had a table ready for them at any time. Marco, Russi and Donny were already seated with their glasses full of Chianti.

“Hey, he finally arrives,” Marco bellowed.

“Sorry gentleman, had a few stops on my way,” Michael explained. He immediately reached for the bottle of Chianti sitting on their table, but Marco grabbed his hand swiftly.

“Not yet,” Marco said quietly. “Get a cocktail or something, but no wine.” Marco took his hand away and waved the server over. Michael ordered a Manhattan with very specific instructions and reminded the server not to screw it up.

Dinner went on as usual. The typical shop talk with consistent rounds of drinks at the snap of a finger. The guys shared a large platter of baked ziti, Tutto’s most popular entrée. Without their request the server brought out calamari, meat balls, eggplant and tiramisu to finish. Then espresso was served to complete their eating marathon. The table was now silent as they all tried to manage their fullness. Donny’s eyes closed for a moment, but Marco broke their food coma.

“So, change of plans tonight,” he whispered. “We’re going to the Chain-Link Fence.”

This surprised Michael. He had only been their once to perform a task for the boss. Michael, technically savvy, was asked to install cameras throughout the whole club. The boss suspected some of his staff were ripping him off. Michael doubted the boss’s paranoia; no one would dare steal from him. Michael, of course, did as he was ordered.

“All of you’s go to the restroom, comb your hair and clean up,” Marco continued. “Michael, leave your car here, you ride with me.”

Michael’s anxiety built; this did not add up. Why did they need to go to the Chain-Link Fence where the boss was certainly awaiting their arrival? He had heard stories of guys in other crews just disappearing with no explanation, usually after an unplanned visit with the boss. Michael knew he dare not ask for details.

“Should I bring my extension cord too?” he said with a slightly annoyed tone.

Marco looked at Donny and Russi, “Sure, I think we’re going to need it.”

Michael kept thinking about the noose image he had earlier. He tried to fight his anxiety, convincing himself how ridiculous he was being. Though, the boss could be very barbarous when needed. He had a bust Caligula in his office, which represented his ferocious nature. One of his tactics was to make his future victims feel relaxed and unsuspecting followed by a shot to the head or knife to the throat.

Michael and Marco arrived at the club. The valet handed Marco his ticket and they entered through a side door while a line of eager patrons waited to enter in the front. They made their way down a stale green hallway; the lights above blinding them until their eyes adjusted. Marco stopped at an adjacent hallway; he pointed to the right.

“Go through that door at the end of the hallway. It will take you right into the club. Grab a table and I’ll meet you out there,” Marco instructed. “Oh, give me the extension cord.”

Michael handed him the cord and made his way into the club. He opened the hallway doors to an explosion of music and people. The dance floor was a crowded orgy of dancers, many with their hands busy on each other.   The club lights beamed every color available coupled with a disco ball above. Michael found an empty table and ordered a drink. Several minutes later a group of attractive women walked past him and joined the table behind him. Michael knew that any other night he would have tried to stop one of them for a drink, but tonight his anxiety had taken him hostage. He sat impatiently sipping his Manhattan. Where the hell is Marco he thought?

Ariana excused herself for the restroom. She stood and walked toward Michael teetering herself and then stumbled in a controlled fashion into the side of his body, chest forward of course. “I am so sorry, I am such a clumsy girl sometimes,” she said staring at his dark and intense eyes. He seemed more startled than she expected but then smiled back at her. “Again, I am sorry, thank you for catching me,” she said as she braced her arms against his legs and steadied herself back onto her heels. She reached down to adjust her shirt, pulling it back to the appropriate cleavage area and then letting her hands slide down the length of her body to hang to her sides. He seemed distracted but Ariana persisted, “My name is Heather,” she said.

“Peter,” he replied. His face decompressing. “Actually, it’s Michael,” he said. He wasn’t sure why he had given a fake name. She seemed harmless and besides she was insanely hot. She laughed.

“Fake name, huh? Are you a spy or something?” she asked while she touched his arm again.

“No, definitely not. I am not sure why I said that. Heather, can I be frank with you?”

“Sure,” she replied.

“You are beautiful. I am sure you hear that all the time, but you really are,” he told her while diligently maintaining eye contact. He wanted to stare at her body, seduce her immediately, but this was the worst timing. “I would really like to talk with you, but I am here with some friends and not to sound too direct, but could I have your number. I think you are beautiful and would like to call you sometime, however, tonight is not good,” he stated. Ariana looked at him for a minute. This was not what she expected from him. She never gave her number out, that would mean seeing a guy beyond that night. She was not a relationship person, too much emotional drama. She could not ignore the extreme desire she had to touch him again nor the turmoil in her head associated with giving him her number.

“Mr. Michael, how about you meet me back here in three days and we will talk then,” she proposed.

“I think I can handle that,” he said. Ariana excused herself to the restroom sweeping her long black hair up for Michael to see the curve of her waistline expose itself above her skirt.

Michael saw Marco and the boss winding through the crowd toward him, his heart raced. Michael froze to this seat. They arrived and Marco signaled Michael to stand up. The boss reached out his hand and Michael shook it trying to appear confident.

“Hello, sir, good to see you again.” The boss examined him with a small smile.

“Nice suit, where did you steal that from,” said the boss. Michael adjusted his jacket and smiled back.

“I don’t remember, probably some schmuck.” The boss laughed and waved Michael to follow him to the back. They made their way to the back hallways again. Michael remembered this section of the club since he installed several cameras in this area. Their short walk ended at the back door of the club. Donny opened it from the outside revealing a black Lincoln Town Car idling.

“Let’s go for a drive,” said the boss. Michael and Marco got into the back seats and the boss sat in the front. He tapped the driver’s shoulder, they were off.

No one spoke with each other except for a few directions to the driver on where to turn. They continued for almost an hour until the area was mostly forest. Sweat dripped down Michael’s forehead. This was the end and he was trapped. If he jumped out of the car and ran they would shoot him down within seconds. His mind became cloudy. Then he felt like he was out of his body; his own specter looking in the car from above.

He finally regained his awareness and pictured Ariana. This brought him back to sanity. He really liked her and would do anything to see her one last time. Then he remembered his phone. He found it in his jacket pocket and pulled up the only photo he took of Ariana just moments ago. It was only the back of her, but it was better than nothing. Moments that now feel like a century ago.

They finally reach their destination – a lone cabin surrounded by forest. Michael noticed faint light coming from the inside. A second car pulled up behind them, it’s Donny and Russi. They all made their way to the cabin porch. Marco maneuvered Michael to the front door.

“Open it,” said Marco. Michael knew his fate; better to die with dignity than with fear. He opened the cabin door without hesitation, which slowly revealed all the walls lined with candles. Down the center was a statue of Mary on a pedestal. In front of Mary lied a small, ornate carpet with a single kneeler. Michael was speechless. Tears ran down his cheek, which he quickly concealed. He was being made! This was his ceremony.

Michael walked to the kneeler and bent to his knees. The rest of them stood before him. Donny unraveled the extension cord and connected one end to a CD player in the corner. Donny took the other end outside and connected it to his car. Donny returned and hit play. Italian opera played quietly though the tiny speakers.

“There’s no power out here,” Donny shrugged. They all laughed. Michael realized the extension cord was just a way to mess with him. It worked.

Marco handed Michael a pocket knife. “Cut your right hand,” he said using a slicing motion. Michael acquiesced and sliced his palm from end to end.

Marco continued, “Do you swear on the blood that runs through these veins that you will uphold the honor and the sacrifice of your new Family?”

“I will,” answered Michael.

“Do you understand that as a made-man you must follow the rules of war set by our Sicilian founders?”

“I will.”

“Let this day be a reminder of your dedication to your Family. You will have protection, but also will be a protector. You will honor others, but also will be honored. You will fight with your brothers, because they will always fight for you. Do you accept all that I have stated to you tonight?”

“I do.”

“Then stand up and greet us as your Family.” Michael stood and shook hands with everyone leaving traces of his blood on each of them. Marco pulled five wine glasses out of a bag with a bottle of a Chianti. The all said salute together and downed their wine.

Present day:

Ariana could not believe it had already been three days. She could not stop thinking about Michael and their planned meeting. She knew nothing about this man and yet he already had a hold on her thoughts. She suspected it was the mystery that had kept her interest. She was sure after tonight she would get this out of her system.

“Girls, let’s get out of the hot tub. We have to go back to the Chain-Link Fence tonight, remember?” she said.

“So you can meet up with that weird guy you fell on a few days ago and hook up with him,” her friend teased.

“Basically,” she replied. “To be honest, I am kind of nervous though and I need you guys there for moral support.”

“Ariana, or should I say Heather, since when have you needed moral support…what morals would you be referring to?” her other friend joked.

Ariana glared at her friend. “I work hard to play hard, besides relationships are overrated when I can’t even tell a guy what my job is, right?”

“Why can’t you just tell a guy you work for the FBI?” her friend asked.

“It is too risky. It is bad enough that you girls know. Besides, it is not like I am an agent, they only hired me because of my looks. They don’t even give me the good details about the stings. What would I call myself, a hot FBI extra?” she said. She laughed, took a shot and did a line. She still had a hard time believing that she worked for the FBI. She knew that she technically did not qualify for all of their rigorous employment standards, but for her position that did not seem to matter. She only knew that the job was easy and she was paid well for her time. She was not scared of the Chain-Link Fence because she was sure that undercover agents were frequent patrons. She had even wondered if Michael may be one? That would have explained his behavior the other night.

“This party train leaves in 20 minutes,” she said.

Ariana wore her hair loose and tousled with its natural waves. She donned a red silk dress, just long enough to synch over the natural curves of her body and show the outline of her figure. They arrived at the club early enough to get their own booth upstairs. She would let Michael find her tonight.

The girls were excited about the upcoming wedding of one of their friends and were having an intense discussion of the Bachelorette party plans, when a bottle of the most expensive champagne was brought to their booth.

“Compliments of the house,” the server said. “I am also to inform you that the presence of the striking lady in red is requested by the gentleman over there,” he said as he pointed to Michael. Michael smiled and nodded his head at Ariana. She was impressed and found herself getting nervous. He appeared more confident tonight and was sitting with a group of people. She smiled at him and turned to her friends.

“Do you guys see him down there, don’t all look at once. I am going home with him tonight, just wanted you ladies to see his face in case I wind up in a ditch,” she joked. “Wish me luck,” she said as she practically jumped from the booth.

“Thanks for the Champagne you slut,” they yelled after her.

Ariana approached Michael. She could feel her palms getting sweaty and her heart racing. This was not normal. She was irritated with herself for feeling this way. Then Michael greeted her and all of her thoughts melted away to intense desire. She sat next to him on the couch, already acutely aware that this would be more than a one night stand. She turned to him and suddenly felt his warm lips gently glide across hers in the most sensuous kiss she had ever experienced.

“Michael, that is a bit forward, don’t you think,” she said backing away. Ariana suddenly thought she had misjudged him. This was not the image of him that she had created for the past three days.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “The past three days have been very eventful for me; however, I have been plagued by the thought that I did not kiss the extremely beautiful girl that I met the other night. I just decided to risk the consequences,” he said with a charming smile.

Ariana was overwhelmed. This was clearly going to be more than a one night stand. She picked up her drink, held it up to his and said, “cheers to today and to consequences.” As they were drinking her cell phone chimed indicating that she needed to call headquarters. She would make them wait. “Oh, and one last thing, my name is not Heather. It is Ariana. I work as a consultant. What do you do?” she asked him.

“I am a contractor,” he replied. Michael and Ariana both smiled at each other. They knew this was going to be the beginning of something special.

© 2014 Desiree Granzow and Brandon Granzow

 

 

“The Last of the Marigold Days” by Diana Kirk

The Last of the Marigold Days

by Diana Kirk

 

I could hear the sound of a thousand butterfly wings in my ears as I ran in the late morning sunlight to catch my mother’s hand before I woke. The butterfly’s flutter had been coming for weeks now since the medicine had dripped into my chest and entered my blood. The doctors said this would happen in my ears but they didn’t mention the dreams where she carried a basket of purple and pink hydrangias on her back while walking with her sister Ceci from the fields, down the slick and foggy mountain side. I think they are preparing me for the journey while the medicine is trying to stop it. Today, my mother would come for Dia de Los Muertos and I would talk to her about my dreams.

Sunrise was creeping above the mountains as I slowly opened my eyes. The warm light entered my room through lace curtains, hitting my aching bones on mi abuela’s bed. Squinting into this new day, I can see the church through the window from memory. A yellow spot on the dark mountain’s shadow, the same hillside where the flower fields grow gladiolas, marigolds, hydrangia, roses and orchids. The church would be busy right now, even while in morning shadow. People there like my neighbors Telma and Flora, two sisters I’d known since they were born would be cutting grass, sweeping stairs while their husbands ran long orange extension cords back and forth to the cemetery for the twinkling lights.

I had overslept because of the dreams and the drip drips. They were stronger each day, both of them, keeping me rooted in this bed for longer and longer. The dreams brought laughter from my cousin Ignacio as he chased me through the rows of blue flower heads, smoke mixed with morning dew in my nostrils and the faint taste of cinnamon and chocolate left on my tongue from the atole my Aunt Ceci always made for us. It was all becoming more real each night.

I sat up and grabbed the plastic bucket on the ground to empty the tamales and blood from a stomach that no longer worked. It had become my morning ritual for the past few days.

But today I needed to get out of this bed. There was much preparation for the visitors and I so wanted to see them again. Today, with God’s help, I would do all that I set out to do and welcome them back home this evening

The floor felt even colder than my feet, like my fingers and now my chest. A chill had crept up my arm just yesterday and stolen the last bit of heat I had left. I needed a fire in the kitchen to warm me while I washed the sprouts and cabbage in yesterday’s water that Telma and Flora always fetched for me. They kept me in kindling and wood too. Their gift to an old woman.

As I chopped the brussel sprouts in quarters, I look at the pickled radishes on the table for my cousin Ignacio, dulces for my sweet baby Juliet, jamon for Carlos and a spicy sausage for my mother. They would be happy this year with what I prepared for them in the Fiambre. I had done my best in hopes they would come and maybe stay for awhile until it was my time.

Ignacio would be the first to arrive. He always was, my cousin. He used to come barreling into the house in clean clothes he washed just that morning with a fresh shaved face and his fingernails clear. He would smell my caldo simmering on the stove and spin me around the room before picking up a guitar and playing a song while I finished chopping chicken and garlic. He always entertained me and others. That was his gift but God always has a plan.

Looking down at the table now and remembering them, I realized I had forgotten pozole for my quiet Aunt Ceci. The ingredients were blurring together but I was sure I could make her some after I just sat for a moment. I needed to rest my head and then I’d make the stew and gather the flowers from the garden.

Aunt Ceci would probably not like it that I made her a special dish today. She never liked anybody making a fuss over her. Too much attention just caused her husband to rage and we’d see the bruises the next day. But now she was free of him and free to eat as much pozole as she wanted. God had heard her prayers and rewarded her with his love.

The chopping motion was beginning to make me dizzy. The up and down, my eyes on the slivers of cabbage falling to the sides with each stroke. My mother used to chop so fast I would worry she’d cut off a finger. I’d watch her hands peeling potatoes at this very table with a small sharp knife she always kept in her basket or apron. She’d make spiraled rings from the peels we’d soak in beet juice, then decorate the pathway from the chained link fence to the door. Ignacio would always help me with the decorating. He’d take the flower petals and drop them around the pink potato peels. I wish he was still here. I don’t want more blood and tamales but everytime I move, there’s more.

In the old Autumns of my memories, the field above the church would turn bright oranges and yellows from the marigolds. Their smell would be faint on the village, reminding us the days were growing shorter. I loved helping with those harvests the most as the sound of the flower heads popping off their bushes across the fields reminded me the rains were gone. Soon the fields would lie fallow and my mother and I could cook together in this same kitchen.

Now using the cold brick walls of my abuela’s house, I scooted my way to the garden and into the fresh air of a marigold day. Time had slipped. It was later than I thought. The sun already descending into a pink hood. I would need to hurry before they arrived.

I bent over to pop pop pop the flower heads, filling my bucket with their glowing faces. I will spread them out from the chain link fence to my door, as Ignacio had always done. Then I will put out the pozole, the frambia, the dulces and the spicy sausage for my mother. I’ll wait until the moon shines bright then I’ll light the candles. It’ll be so beautiful.

I know my mother will come last. As the head of the family, they will part for her so she can be the first to taste of my food. My cousin Ignacio, my Aunt Ceci, my baby Juliet and now my son Carlos this year. He will be there now. Maybe they’ll just take me with them tonight. It would be easier.

I closed my eyes to sit down in the garden dreaming of my Mother’s eyes when she tasted my offering. Her smile would be contagious and baby Juliet would giggle her baby self all plump and happy. Her eyelashes would frame her sparkling eyes that God had chosen to be his favored.

The sitting and standing and popping of flower heads brought more blood vomit I left in the garden with my eyes still shut to the dreams. I just needed a little more rest and then really, I could get up again. My chest feels so tight and the air just isn’t getting in my lungs enough. I’ll rest.

The mountain shadow was coming quick, too short of a day to get ready before Day of the Dead began. My white shirt blouse I wore at Carlos’ funeral was in my closet. I’d needed to change before tonight. I wanted to look my best when he returned. But first, a rest. I’ll just lay down next to the flowers and listen to the butterflies some more. Soon I won’t be alone. Soon they’ll come and we’ll talk about the dreams.

Her hand is warm and rough, a mass of muscles and bones holding tightly to my tiny fingers as we slipped down the zig zag path that led to the church. Her fingers were dyed green from the stems she cut all morning in the dark before the heads opened up to the sun. A color that never truly left her hands throughout the harvest season. She smelled of leaves and smoke, her navy blue skirt with the red and yellow birds embroidered in neat rows collected droplets of water like my eyelashes as we descended through the cloud.

“Reyna, look, can you see?”

“No Mama, what?”

“It’s the lights, at the cemetery, they’ve lit the candles for you and layed the marigolds out. There’s food too Reyna. Your favorites…tamales, they’re all for you. Go, run ahead. Just follow the light my sweet Reyna.”

©  2014 Diana Kirk

“Who Speaks for Me?” by Bob Ferguson

Who Speaks For Me?

by Bob Ferguson

 

It was a simple contraption. Bare wires jammed into the receptacle end of an orange extension cord could be attached to a cyclone fence, then all he had to do was plug it in, grab on and Zaaap! He’d be gone instantly. It was a “do it yourself” electric chair.

For twenty years he had screamed his innocence at them. His frustrated yelling and odd, ha, ha, haaaaaaa, laughing at their bumbling errors made them treat him like a deranged pervert. As a Husky alum, he found the minimally educated guards to be cruel and inept. But, the worst part was living as a convicted child molester among vicious psychopaths who assaulted him daily.

Life had ended for James Albright in a courtroom filled with hubris, confessions coerced from his two young daughters, and bizarre accusations from his mentally ill wife. He did not blame them. She was too ill and they were too young. It was the new DA who promised to get “tough on crime.” Overnight, James went from being the respected head of his family to a pariah on society.

The metal fence was a perfect conductor of electricity. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” He attached the wires and plugged in the cord. Filled with fear, joy, and relief, he tightly squinted his eyes, reached out, and grabbed the next life.

Daily Journal of James Albright

7/5/13 Smuggled the cord from the shop today. It will work.
7/6/13 Assaulted twice today. Living is worse than dying.
7/7/13 For the last time I have cried out about my innocence.
7/8/13 The one sin God can’t forgive is suicide. He will understand. It is they who take my life.
7/9/13 TODAY IS THE DAY. HELLO LORD!

Columbian Newspaper Article July 11, 2013

“Just days before his exoneration became eminent, James Albright committed suicide by electrocution on a jail fence. Twenty years ago he was convicted and sent to prison for child sex abuse. His two children have recanted their statements and have accused the prosecutor, Art Buris and detective Debbie Stevens of coercing confessions from them when they were only 5 and 6 years old. It is also alleged that Buris and Stevens withheld evidence from the defense attorney to advance their own careers. Sources say that Clark County was preparing to pay $5 million dollars to Albright who said from his jail cell ‘What good is money? That prosecutor and detective have already taken my life.’ Buris and Stevens are now retired and immune from any prosecution or penalties. They declined to be interviewed for this article.”

At the end of the day, the sun sets on the Bastards and Saints alike. Even God has difficulty discerning between them.

The End

***

Authors Note: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity between a current Clark County, case and those of the nearly 2,000 other cases of exoneration across the nation is purely intentional.

I have obtained the security camera video from Clark County Jail under the Freedom of Information Act. I hope you find it disturbing.

***

© 2014 Bob Ferguson

“Selfless” by Twila Nesky

Selfless

by Twila Nesky

 

The thunder echoing down the canyons of Eve’s brain faded, and several voices, speaking rapidly, with urgency, seeped into her consciousness. A lingering rumble in the distance, made eavesdropping difficult, but she was finally able to catch a man’s voice saying, “We’ve got prolonged electrical shock with probable head trauma, broken ribs, wrist, and toes from muscle contractions.

Heavens! What was going on? She wondered, but she didn’t want to interrupt. Obviously, they were trying to help someone who was seriously injured. Her problems could wait.

There was a pause, the rumbling died, a rush of wind, then static, and another voice said, “E.R. this is Trauma Unit One. We’re headed in on I-84. We’ll be there in three.”

Oh, we’re in an ambulance, Eve realized. Good. That was a relief. If they were on their way to the hospital, then her problems could definitely wait until they had taken care of that poor broken up person. She was a patient woman, or as the serpent would have said, she was “selflesss.”

He was a smooth talker that serpent. Though they had been friends for ages, she knew she should never listen to him. She stayed friends with him mostly because it pissed Adam off so much. And today, the serpent had tricked her once again.

“I just want to eat the mosquitoessss,” he’d hissed, “to save your pretty skin.”

“Be my guest,” she’d said, “eat all the mosquitoes you like.”

“But, I need you to carry me up the tree,” he’d said.

Tree! I suppose that should have been a red flag. She thought. No doubt, that’s when she should have ended the conversation. Instead, all she’d said was “You’re a serpent! Climb it yourself.”

“Well, I would,” he’d simpered, “but I still need you to plug me in, don’t I?”

True. Ever since he’d taken up residence in their extension cord, he’d become even more dependent on Eve to do any task that required hands.

The ambulance came to a full stop and one of the voices said, “Here we are. This is us.”

Eve tried to get a look at the injured person before the gurney bumped down onto the pavement. But she couldn’t open her eyes. Why hadn’t she realized this until now? She could hear people running, and the sensation of gliding. She couldn’t understand how or why she was moving. Her eyes would not open and now she was unable to communicate with her limbs. Should she be worried? The gliding stopped and she was enveloped in a chaos of sounds from a crowded emergency room filled with equipment, beeps and buzzes, hisses and moans, and more voices. A man’s soft tenor joined the chorus, filling in details for the E.R. team.

A 911 caller said a woman had fallen out of a tree and appeared to be dancing along the top of a chain link fence. EMTs discovered the patient hanging from a tree her left arm and upper torso wrapped several times in a frayed electrical cord. She was unconscious and hanging just low enough for her bare feet to touch the top of the chain link fence. From the extreme, rigid posture of the woman’s fingers, face, and toes the EMTs saw that she was in fact, conducting electricity between the cord and the fence.

 

Were they talking about her? No, they couldn’t be. They were talking about someone who was seriously injured, and she felt nothing. Absolutely nothing. That was wrong wasn’t it? She should feel something.

“I need an IV tray over here.”

“Okay”

“And check her extremities for burns and breaks.”

“Right.”

Eve heard motion around her and felt slight butterfly kisses of touch on her hands, her feet, knees, abdomen, then there was a horrible searing roar, and the blackness thickened and threatened to take her away. Maybe they were talking about her.

“She’s got distal pulses,” another voice slid into her ears from a thousand miles away, and Eve began another hand-over-hand climb back from oblivion.

“We need a four by four. Can we get a four by four over here?”

Another voice joined Eve’s crowded airspace “Get a monitor in here too.”

They thought she was unconscious, but she knew she wasn’t. She again tried to command her body to do something. She focused all her energy on her mouth, telling it to say, I’m here. I’m all right, but nothing happened because she had no lips, no vocal cords, no breath, no words, just thoughts. Adam was going to kill that goddamned serpent this time. If he could find him, that is. She hadn’t told him the serpent had moved into the extension cord.

“What’s her pressure?”

“120 systolic”

Right, that’s it. Page neuro—we’re on our way. This woman needs a full CT scan, STAT.”

When Eve had asked the stupid creature why he wanted to live an old beaten up extension cord that Adam had thrown in the trash, all he had said was “Orange is my best color. Don’t you think?”

“Oh, yes, you are definitely an Autumn,” she had joked back and then stashed the serpent in the electrical cord where Adam wouldn’t find it and throw it away again.

“Plug me into this” and “plug me into that,” he pleaded with her all the time. He wanted to be plugged into everything at least once. And, to be fair, when she plugged him in he would help her with the chores. He would help her vacuum, or he would help her weed whack, and once he had even helped her use her sewing machine out on the patio where there was no electricity. So she hadn’t suspected anything when he asked her to plug him into the bug zapper.

The bug zapper was hanging from a branch on a tree—a tree that Adam repeatedly told her to ignore. He was so adamant about keeping her away from his precious tree, that he had built a fence around it—the idiot. Didn’t he realize that the fence and his warning to stay away just made the tree more attractive? He might as well have been asking her to please, please, please climb the tree.

She wouldn’t have been half as motivated to pick the lock on the gate, take off her shoes, grab the serpent, and climb the tree if Adam weren’t such a forbidding jerk about it. Still she might have been able to resist if the serpent hadn’t been so adept at pushing her buttons.

“I want to eat mosquitoessss. Please carry me up the tree and plug me into the zapper, please!”

“Adam said to stay away from the tree.”

“And you listen to him because?”

“I don’t listen to him.”

“Good! Then let’s get going.”

“Maybe I just don’t feel like going near the tree.”

“Afraid of what Adam will say?”

“No.”

“Yes, you are. Face it. He’s the head of the family and you obey his every word.”

She was such a dope. She knew he was manipulating her, and yet she let him.

Eve still couldn’t feel anything, but what the voices around her were saying about her condition, broken and burned, slowly sank in and terrified her. She told herself to yell, to scream, to kick, anything, but no—nothing. She was nothing, and no one could hear her—no one except the serpent.

“Relax,” it said, “stop struggling.”

But after today, she would never trust that son of a bitch. Never again! She fought harder to open her eyes, to open her mouth, to make a sound, to yell for help.

The serpent sighed, so bored with her relentless will to live, and bit her.

ZAP!

She gasped—as instantly she felt every corpuscle and muscle fiber squinting shut to block the poison. Too late.

“She’s seizing!”

“Dilantin’s in!

“Seizing. Seizing. Can’t get her stabilized. Help me here!”

The blackness came to take Eve away to nice, safe oblivion. She loved the blackness. Perhaps she would stay here a while.

“Miss? Miss? Can you hear me miss?”

No, thought Eve. I cannot.

Once she had begun to climb the tree, she couldn’t help but notice how happy it made her. Maybe that’s why she tolerated the serpent. She needed him to goad her into doing things she really wanted to do. As her fingers and toes scrabbled for purchase on the rough old bark, she felt happier and lighter than she had in a long time.

“This is nice,” said the serpent.

“Uh-huh,” grunted Eve, reaching and climbing, pulling against gravity, dragging them both up the fat old tree.

“You know I love you, Eve. Don’t you?”

“Uh-huh.” She sounded distracted, but happy too.

“Eve?”

“What?”

“Let’s dance!”

© 2014 Twila Nesky

“Untitled” by Sean Proctor

Untitled

by Sean Proctor

 

It was happening again. Isaac’s held his breath and put his eye to the peephole. John, his elderly neighbor, was struggling to open the chain link gate. Again. How could this keep happening? Isaac turned from the peephole, put his back to the door and gulped for the air he restricted while diving into the peephole.  It always took John several tries to open the gate, one of the few perks of being hounded by a neighbor with Alzheimer’s. Sometimes he’d forget what he was doing before he could even open the “newfangled latching mechanism” on Isaac’s gate. It was always new. Everytime. For the past two years.

When Isaac first bought the little house he thought he had it all figured out. Save your money. Find a quiet neighborhood. Become the local Boo Radley. He had endured the apartments of his twenties like an iron maiden of humanity closing on him. He was past it now. No more snooping landlords dropping by to “fix” the heating. No more children knocking on his door and running down the halls. No more neighbor’s posturing in the parking lot while fixing their cars. He had worked hard, saved his money and was finally able to get out. He was finally free, his trials were over. But then there was John. Over and over again, there was John.

Isaac’s anxiety intensified as he heard John finally figure out the gate. In his more dramatic moments he compared himself to Anne Frank but would instantly reprimand himself for such hyperbole. John wasn’t a Nazi, just an outstanding citizen who continued to serve god and country with his little neighborhood patrols. John got the abandoned cars moved. John made sure everyone knew about any shady character. John got the burned out street lights fixed that shined into Isaac’s window and kept him up at nights. Most of all, John was the block ambassador, welcoming new neighbors to the block. Again and again in Isaac’s case. Isaac knew he had little hope of avoiding him. He paged through the mental Cliff Notes of John’s previous visits. They usually came in five parts.

Part 1, introductions (mostly painless)

“Hey there, welcome to the neighborhood. The name’s John. I live over in the blue house there with my wife, Shelly. What’s your name? (Firm handshake) Isaac? Nice to meet you, Isaac.

Part 2- Sizing up.(mostly awkward)

“So what do you do Isaac? Computers? (Isaac just says computers, it’s easier that way) Don’t like computers myself. Me, I’m retired. Airforce. Flew Huey’s and the like. Now my son’s are having all the fun. (This is when John would squint his eyes and silently measure Isaac up to his son’s. Slowly the 33 year old Isaac would get filed somewhere between Snot Nosed Kid and Ungrateful Punk.)

Part 3- The old neighbors (cautionary sermon).

“Yeah, they old people who lived here never quite fit in. Put up this awful chain link fence, never mowed their lawn, had too many cars, etc etc etc… Nobody liked them much.”

Part 4- Goodbyes. (The glimmer of an end)

“Welp, it was nice meeting you Isaac. Welcome to the neighborhood.”

Part 5- Post script (The final jab)

“You should think of cutting your lawn soon.”

Sometimes John’s dementia would work out to Isaac’s advantage. He would walk by the house and assume no one was home because there wasn’t a car in the driveway, always forgetting that Isaac took the bus every time the hard drive was wiped clean. But that wasn’t going to happen this time. John had been on one of his “constitutionals” when Isaac was walking home from the bus stop. From down the street Isaac saw he had been spotted and now the odds were low that John would forget he saw Isaac by the time he reached the front door. But it wasn’t out of the question.

Isaac took a deep breath and turned to the peephole again. John had finished struggling to close the gate and was now shuffling up the walk. Isaac’s panic spiked as he remembered the orange electrical cord stretched across his front walk that John was currently making his way to. Isaac had been meaning to put it away but ignoring it also helped to dull his anxiety about the mower. He had been cutting the grass earlier in the week, an attempt to keep John at bay, when he ran over a rock and the electric mower sputtered to a stop. This set off a chain of events in Isaac that ended with him, as he often did, doing nothing to fix the situation. He knew what part he needed but couldn’t find it in the infinite expansion of the hardware store. When he felt he had been in the store long enough that the false smile of customer service would soon be electrifying the hairs on the back of his neck he grabbed a clawhammer and bought it. He could use a second one anyway.

All of this flashed in Isaac’s mind and how all this could have been avoided if he wasn’t such a freak. As John got closer to the cord Isaac shamed himself into action. He took a deep breath, grasped the doorknob and stopped. John’s squinted eyes traced the orange cord’s path and Isaac silently celebrated the victory. John was safe and Isaac had bought a few more precious moments to prepare if John didn’t forget that he saw Isaac.

The lawnmower! In a flash of genius Isaac whipped out his phone and checked his google search history from the past week. Isaac knew there was going to be a conversation about the lawnmower and if he could sound like he knew what he was doing, shit, what was the name of that part?  And what was the size of that allen wrench he needed? Just mentioning these things by name might raise John’s esteem of Isaac to the level of College Ass; a step up that could do wonders for their relationship. Well, wonders until the next time John stopped by to introduce himself. Again.

Isaac was congratulating himself on this hypothetical success with John when he heard a thud outside. He turned to the door and almost gave himself a black eye slamming his face against the peephole. There was John, sprawled out on the sidewalk, his face painted with blood, stumbling like a deer that had been hit by a truck. Shit. John saw the cord alright but he had little success navigating it. A man who once recklessly flew Huey’s through clouds of Agent Orange in Vietnam had been cut down by an orange extension cord stretched six inches high across his path.

Isaac pressed his eye deeper into the peephole as John had untangled himself and stormed his way up the front steps. The only thing that kept Isaac standing now was the paralyzing fear of John hearing him move. Stiff as a corpse Isaac felt John’s knocks banging through the door in and straight into his heart.

“Come out here! It’s your neighbor! I saw you just get home so I know you’re in there! I just tripped over your eyesore of an extension cord you can’t be bothered to put away! Come out here before I go and get my boys and we knock your door in!” John punctuated his last four words with thunder peels from his fist. Then he stopped and that’s when the change happened. John took a step back from the door as confusion sculpted itself into his face. He scratched his chin as he of did to think but was distracted when he felt a warm wetness. Looking at his hand he saw the blood and stared at it as if it he was thinking “Is this art?”

John turned and sat down on the front step. An old muffled fight song trumpeted from his front pocket as he fought to find his phone. He looked at it like it as if it had been planted on him then finally flipped it open. “Hello? Yes, this is John. Honey, is that you? Honey, I’m… I’m at the rental property but someone has painted it. We what? We sold it? No, I… I remember. No, I’m okay. Yes, I’m coming home now. No, nothing is wrong it’s just I… I think I must have fallen down. No, I’m okay. I’m bleeding but… I must have stopped at the rental house for help and blacked out. Yes! I remember we don’t own it! No, I’m fine. I can get home myself. No, don’t send David over. Wait. David’s home? But… it’s not September yet, is it? His deployments over? Then is Donnie is home too? Honey, why are you crying? Yes, I… I remember now. I’m sorry. I’m… I’m coming home now. I’m coming home.”

Isaac relaxed a bit but still didn’t dare move. John stood up and wiped the blood from under his nose. He looked back at the house and Isaac felt the shame that all of this could have been avoided had he summoned the strength to be a normal person. He knew he needed help and Isaac resolved to get better.

However, this clarity lasted only moments as John tripped on the cord for the second time that day, cracking his skull open on the pavement and sending Isaac back into the spiraling black abyss.

© 2014 Sean Proctor

“Untitled” by Jason W. LaPier

Untitled

by Jason W. LaPier
The lights in the garage were off, but the morning sun came through the windows, smearing through waves of dust to dimly illuminate the space. Emilio’s Mustang, white, gleaming. Shelves of neatly stacked paint cans. The rack of long-handled lawn and garden tools, each meticulously cleaned before being hung. Golf clubs. Fishing poles. Hunting shotguns.

In the middle of it all, Emilio hovered above. As if someone had taken a snapshot as he began his ascent to Heaven, his hands spread, his head bowing, tilted slightly to one side to say a last goodbye to his favorite Earthly possessions. Though his pale face was not serene; it was bunched and angry, cheeks bulging into squinting eyes, neck stretched long and reddened by the orange extension cord that snaked around it twice before slithering up into the rafter. Dancing among the motor oil, paint fumes, and cleaning chemicals was the distant but unmistakable smell of excrement.

“Why haven’t you cut him down yet?”

At the sound of her voice, the three living men in the garage flinched and turned to face her. They were all in their tracksuits, bright, gaudy blues, contrasting with Emilio’s understated pinstripe pajamas.

“Angela.” Chance stepped in front of her, his broad shoulders blocking her view. He rubbed his bristly gray hair with a thick hand. “I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have to see him like this.”

He shifted, and though he didn’t touch her or step closer, he had a way of using the weight of his physical presence to push others away. She could see in his body language that he didn’t want her there. His hands went out to the sides in a non-aggressive, sympathetic gesture, but she felt it as the spreading of wings, the cornered animal making itself bigger to drive off a threat.

“Joey called me,” she said, because she knew Chance hadn’t known.

“I thought she should know,” Joey said apologetically from the other side of the garage.

Chance turned to direct a heavy frown at his young associate. The glare caused Joey to fidget, and he pointed up at Emilio. “You want me and Buck to get him down?”

Joey’s twin was stalking around the garage, looking up and down, hand on his chin like he was playing detective. “Has to be a hit,” he said with a short, decisive nod.

Chance turned away from the boys, once again spreading those hands in front of her. “Angela, you should go. Let us take care of this. I’ll have Joey call you.”

She stepped to the side. “What did you say?”

“Definitely a hit.”

“Clam it, Buck,” Chance grunted.

“A hit?” Angela shook her head. “You think this is a hit? Where’s the gunshot?”

Buck blinked and pointed vaguely. “There’s no gunshot. He was just hung.”

“That’s not a hit. That’s suicide.”

“A hanging can be a hit. Joey, remember two years ago over in Mills End? Remember Lefty?”

“Lefty Mason,” Joey murmured. “Southside Crew hung him in his own garden shed.”

“Hey, what’d they hang ol’ Lefty with?”

Joey cocked his head in thought. “I don’t know. It was a garden shed. Maybe an extension cord?”

“Well did anyone look for a note?” Angela said.

“A note?”

“A suicide note.”

They all looked around dumbly for a moment, as if a note might appear suddenly and bite one of them on the hand. She didn’t want to believe someone would do this to Emilio. It was too much work, too elaborate. It was easier to believe he took the time to do it to himself. He could have been depressed. He should have been depressed.

She stepped closer to the twins before Chance could start flapping those wings at her. She tugged a flask from inside her jacket and unscrewed the top. “Who was with him last?” She took a swig, savoring the burn of the gin on her throat. “Last night.”

“Well,” Joey said sheepishly. “Buck dropped off Candy at about eight o’clock.”

“Yep,” Buck said. “She didn’t stay though. Called me for a ride home at ten.”

“And who found him here in the morning?”

“I did,” Chance grunted. “Ten AM.”

She took another hit. “So he was alone from ten last night until ten this morning?”

“Ain’t you supposed to be in AA?” Buck said.

Joey slapped his twin on the shoulder. “Don’t be a dick, Buck.”

“He sent the girl home at ten,” Angela said, thinking out loud. “I still think this could be suicide.”

“But there ain’t no note,” Buck said.

She glared at him, screwing the top back on her flask. “Selfish to commit suicide, even more selfish to not leave a note. Sounds like Emilio to me.”

Buck’s hands fell to his sides and he frowned. “You know, he was like a father to me and Joey.”

Joey slapped his twin’s shoulder again.

“I want to talk to the girl,” Angela said, tucking the flask back into her jacket.

“Angela, you should really let us handle this,” Chance said. “It’s our responsibility.”

She ignored him and pointed at Buck. “Text me her address. I want to talk to her now.”

 

#

 

It was a tiny apartment, the kind where the kitchen, living room, and dining room were all one room. The couch as pink as the dishes stacked in the doorless cabinets, the carpet worn and patchy, dust-gray shades covering the single, small window. The place smelled like sugary candles and stale cigarettes. The girl stepped aside to let Angela in and a shimmer of silver blurred toward her, stopping short just inches away. The German Shepherd widened his stance, bared his teeth, and rumbled a low growl.

“Justice!” the girl said, bending down to clap her hands in front of him. “Stop it! Go lay down.”

The dog blinked and looked from the girl to Angela and back, then straightened up nonchalantly. Ignoring them, he began sniffing around the carpet in lazy circles.

“I’m sorry,” the girl said. “He’s very protective.” She stuck out a hand. “You’re Angela, right? Joey told me-” the upbeat note caught in her throat and she sobbed suddenly, redacting the offered hand to cover her mouth.

“Let’s sit down.” Angela took a step toward the couch, then opted for one of the two chairs at the small, round table. “What’s your name?”

“It’s Candy,” the girl said quietly, sliding into the other chair and dabbing at her eyes with the sleeves of a long, black night shirt.

“What’s your real name?”

She looked at Angela, blinking tears away and clearing her throat. “Candy. Short for Candice.”

“I’m sorry, I just thought…” Angela trailed off.

“It’s okay.”

“What did Joey tell you.”

Candice fought with a sob, shuttered it back. “Emilio’s dead.”

“What else?”

“He said he thinks it was a heart attack.”

“Anything else?”

She sniffed and cocked her head, dark roots showing at the base of her white-blond hair. “No. Well. He said to be careful who I talk to.”

Angela sighed and leaned back in her chair. “Candice. You might have been the last person to see Emilio.”

“Oh, God,” she said, and began crying openly.

The German Shepherd came around and nosed her gently in the leg, but she kept her face in her hands, making a muted squeaking sound. The dog gave up and moved on to Angela, dropping his head into her lap and peering up at her with arched eyebrows. She ran her fingers through the soft fur on his head and scratched him behind his ears.

“Oh, he likes you,” Candice said, momentarily breaking from her suffering.

The tip of the dog’s tail wiggled. “Yeah, I guess he does,” Angela said. “Maybe I should get a dog like this. I bet he’s a good guard dog.”

“Oh, yeah,” the girl said. “Nobody fucks with me when Justice is around.”

Angela’s hands moved down the dog’s neck and kneaded into his thick shoulder fur. “We had a dog just like this when I was a kid.”

She took her hands away as a memory overtook her. She must have been eleven years old. The dog had been in the family since the day she was born. Her parents had gotten him as a puppy when her mother was pregnant. Named him Kevin, but Angela renamed him Chewie as soon as she was old enough to talk. That dog never left her side, they spent every single day together. Then one day there was something wrong with him. He was always so loving, so gentle, but something had changed. Her father said he just went screwy in the brain, that it happened sometimes with dogs.

There was an incident, and Chewie bit one of her father’s friends. He wasn’t Chewie in that moment, he was something else. Chewie was gentle, always licking and nosing everyone, but this dog was an animal, eyes bulging, baring teeth and locking onto the man’s forearm. Blood streaming onto the carpet. The man clamoring and cursing. Her father punching the dog to get him to release his grip.

The dog had to be put down after that. Her father put a leash on Chewie and dragged him into the back yard. She wanted to go, but her mother held her back. She heard the pop, like it was nothing more than a branch breaking. The sound was so innocent, she thought maybe he hadn’t done it, maybe Chewie was coming back. But her father came back into the house alone and set down a black-as-night pistol onto the table and then went to the liquor cabinet.

It wasn’t until several years later, when she was a teenager – after her parents split – that she realized when a dog has to be put down, most people take it to the vet. Get a shot, watch the dog drift into breathless sleep. Until that realization, she thought that shooting an old dog with a Glock 17 was the normal way to deal with it.

“I’m sorry I didn’t offer you anything,” Candice said. “I only have soda. Do you want some?”

Angela felt the flask in her left hand, the fingers of her right working open the screw top. She must have pulled it out without thinking, and froze for a second, caught in the act. Then she opened it and took a hit. “I’m good, thank you. You want some gin?”

“I don’t drink.”

“Yeah me neither. Four years sober.” She took another pull and closed the flask. “Listen, Candice-”

“Call me Candy. I hate Candice.”

“I want you to tell me about last night.”

The girl shifted uncomfortably. “About … last night?”

“I don’t mean that. I mean – Emilio. I want you tell me how he was acting. What was his mood?”

“He was happy,” she said, and looked down at her hands. “When I got there. Later he was upset.”

“Was that when you went home?”

“Yes. He – he got a phone call.”

“From who?”

“I don’t know. But he was upset. He was yelling. I – I’m sorry, but I don’t like to be around when he gets like that.” She lifted her head, a fleeting moment of defiance. “So I called Buck. I went outside to wait for him, and then I came home.”

 

#

 

She found his cellphone on the kitchen table back at the house. The call history ended at 6:22PM, when he had called Buck, presumably to arrange for Candy to come over. She looked around for a suicide note while she was at it, but the place was uncluttered, as usual, and if there was a note, it would have jumped out.

She fell to the couch, sinking into the fat cushion. She could hear the faint murmur of men barking at each other in the garage. The flask came out of her jacket and she let the taste and the burn close her mind for a moment. To be nothing – nothing but heat and flame. What it would be like, to be fire. She squeezed her eyes tight, but nothing would come. No tears, not even a tickle of wetness.

She opened her eyes and found the flask light. Not empty, but she might as well top it off from Emilio’s reserves. He wouldn’t need it. When she stood, the keys she’d left on her lap slid onto the floor. When she bent down for them, she saw another phone, just under the couch.

It was a prepay, cheap and clunky in design. It took her several minutes of trial and error to find anything in its abbreviated menus. Then she began to piece something together.

Text message received, 9:32AM: getting everything set up. expect call tonight.
Text message received, 1:19PM: last chance. we good?
Text message sent, 1:28PM: were good
Call received, 9:58PM, lasted 18 minutes.
Missed call, 10:19PM.
Text message received, 10:32PM: where r u? call back?
Missed call, 10:46PM.
Missed call, 11:27PM.
Missed call, 12:14AM.
Text message received, 12:19AM: call me back

The texts and calls were all to the same number, and it was the only number in the phone’s history.

She went to the liquor cabinet. She selected a bottle of Hendrick’s, topped off her flask, and screwed the top back on. Then she sent a text.

still there?

She stood in the silence of the house. She had nothing, no idea what to do. She should be letting Chance handle things. He’d been around forever, and this was the kind of shit he knew how to deal with. But for some reason, she couldn’t leave it be.

The phone chimed.

we need to meet. safe to call?

She breathed out long, slow. Her finger danced around the top of the bottle she’d just poured from. She pulled it back. Hit the call button on the phone.

“Jesus, where the fuck you been?” The voice was a man’s, but not one she recognized. When she didn’t answer, he said, “Hey, you there?”

She made her voice low, quiet, distant. “Yeah.”

“Everything got all fucked up. We need to regroup. You still wanna do this?”

“Yeah.”

“Alright. We’ll talk more in person.” There was a shuffling in the background. “Go to the Southeast Shore Marina. Come to the drydock. Look for a sloop called Trermuda Biangle. Forty-five minutes. Okay?”

“Yeah.”

She hung up and stood there numbly for a moment. Was that voice familiar at all? She couldn’t grasp anything. She never paid attention to the people around her, around Emilio.

She opened the cabinet below the liquor shelf. Inside was a wooden box, in the same place it had always been, at least for twenty years. She opened the box. The Glock 17 was still there. She had not looked at it in a long time. When she was a girl, she saw her father put it there. He never used it again, and when no one was around, she would pull out the box and open it. She would sit cross-legged on the floor and cry for Chewie.

She took the gun and a clip out of the felt lined-box. She slid the clip into place and checked the safety. She tucked the piece between her stomach and waistband and headed for the garage.

Joey slipped out of the narrowly-opened door in the kitchen as she approached. He closed it behind him and stood in front of it. “You don’t want to go in there right now, Ang. Dr. Pisco is examining the body.”

“For what? On the off-chance he didn’t die of strangulation?”

“Ang…”

“I’m sorry, Joey.” She stared him in the face, and his eyes met hers with an unchallenging softness. “Look, I need your help with something.”

“Um, okay. Of course.” He reached a hand toward her, stopping just short of touching her. “What do you need?”

“I need you to come with me somewhere. I need to meet with someone, and I might need … backup.”

“What? Who?”

“No questions, Joey. I need you to do this.”

“Okay, Ang. Whatever you say.” He frowned and looked at the door to the garage. “You want to talk to Chance about it?”

“No,” she said, too quickly, so quickly she surprised herself. “I mean, I just want to leave him out of it, just for now. We’ll come to him later if we need to.”

“Well, I gotta tell him something.”

She sighed, then tried to cut it off, tried to hide her anxiety, her impatience. Joey was right, he would need an excuse to leave with her. “Tell him I’m inconsolable. Tell him I’m going to pieces out here. Tell him you need to get me home. Tell him you’re worried about me.”

“I am worried about you, Ang.”

“Then tell him. And hurry up. We need to move.”

 

#

 

She lay in the grass on the hill just above the marina and scanned the drydock with binoculars. She couldn’t see any of the boat names, but there were only a couple of sailboats. In front of one, a black man in a brown suit jacket that looked too hot for summer paced back and forth.

She texted on the prepaid, almost there

Through the binoculars, she saw the man reach into his pocket and look at his phone.

“Okay, down there, just on the other side of that chain-link fence,” she said. She pulled down the binoculars to see Joey squinting into the distance. “Here, get a good look.”

He took the binoculars, then groaned. “What the fuck. Angela, that’s one of Roberto’s guys.”

“What’s his name?”

“Shit, I can’t remember.” Joey put down the binoculars and his eyes turned up in thought. “Jackie or Jackson or something. Why are you meeting with this guy?”

Roberto was a name she’d heard before, but she didn’t know what it meant, who he was. She never paid any attention to the organized crime political landscape. She avoided it as much as she could, and drank away any of it she accidentally learned.

“You just keep an eye on my sweet ass, Joey.” She allowed herself a faint smile, which she quickly dispatched. “Don’t get close unless you have to.”

She went down the other side of the hill and circled back around to one of the marina’s entrances. When she came through the gate of the drydock, she strolled around the middle aimlessly for a few minutes, sparing an occasional glance at Jackie-or-Jackson. He continued to pace, checking his phone and watching the entrance, paying no mind to the blonde woman who looked lost among the big-boy boats.

When she sidled up behind him, she surprised herself at how easy it was. The Glock poked into his kidney. “Don’t move. Breathe slow.”

He sighed and dared a glance over his shoulder. “You robbin’ me, Blondie? Gonna be disappointed if you is.”

“Call me Angela. Turn around slowly.” She kept the gun low but held steady. They were shielded from view of most of the world by the barnacle-coated hull of a sailboat.

“Alright, shit.” He turned, not quite raising his hands, but showing his empty palms. He looked her up and down. “Yeah, I know I know you from somewhere.”

She felt pressed to move things along. “You’re name is Jackie, or Jackson, or something?”

“Jackie Robinson.”

She laughed in genuine amusement, surprising herself. “You must have disappointed parents.”

He ignored her; instead realization creased across his face and he looked around, turning his eyes but not his head. “Where’s Emilio?”

“He’s dead, Jackie.”

His jaw went slack. “Aw, shit. Aw, man.”

“What kind of deal were you two cooking up?”

“Look, Blondie, I don’t know you-”

“I told you, my name is Angela. You made a deal with Emilio, now you deal with me. Got it?”

He stared at her long and hard, his dark eyebrows bending inward, his eyelids narrowing, then widening. “Shit. I know who you are. You a little Emilio-ette.”

“Good,” she said, cringing. “So talk. Make it fast, I don’t like standing around out here any more than you do.”

“Yeah, okay. It’s about treaty negotiations.” He put up his hands and made talking-puppet gestures with them. “Roberto and Emilio. Turf disputes. The three month truce expires next week and talks are set up. Emilio wants – wanted – the lower half of Chinatown back. But he needed leverage.”

“And you were going to help him?” She lowered her gun to see if the show of trust would get him talking faster.

“Yeah. See, one of Emilio’s guys shot my boy Randall in the back last Winter. Fucked him up real good, put him in a wheelchair, know what I’m sayin? So we were going to take care of this guy. Make it all dramatic, send a message. The kind of hit that Emilio would have to come back on.”

She chewed it over in her mind, wishing she didn’t have to sort out these political games. “So when Roberto and Emilio come to the table to renegotiate their truce, Emilio gets to play the outrage card because one of his guys just got whacked?”

“Exactly. My boy Randall gets payback – that we can’t get now cuz of the truce – and Emilio gets Chinatown back.”

“So I’m supposed to believe he would sell out one of his own like that?” She acted the part with indignity, but the truth was that she wouldn’t put it past Emilio.

“You know him better than I do,” Jackie said levelly. “Knew him, I mean. Besides, this guy-” he started, hesitating. “Our target; he’d had been a pain in Emilio’s ass for a while now. It’s what ya’ll white people call ‘win-win’.”

She knew she had to ask who the target was, but she didn’t want another name, another player. Someone else she was supposed to know and didn’t. She switched the gun to her left hand and pulled out the flask with her right. “Drink, Jackie?”

“Yo wait a sec, how did he die?” he said, stepping close to her. “How did Emilio die?”

“We found him in the garage this morning, swinging from the rafters.” She shoved the pistol into her waistband to free up both hands so she could get the top of the flask unscrewed.

“Oh, shit. This is bad.” Jackie’s long fingers went to his open mouth and he started pacing.

“Hey, don’t plan on going anywhere,” she said, aiming the flask at him. “I want some answers.”

“What I said before. Making the hit dramatic.”

“To send a message.” She brought the gin to her mouth, then paused, pulled it back down. “Oh, don’t tell me-”

“Randall’s idea. Everyone remembers that Lefty Mason hit a couple years ago. An old school hanging.”

“Who was the target, Jackie?” She grabbed at his jacket lapel with her free hand. “Which one of Emilio’s guys shot your friend in the back?” Again, she knew she’d heard these conversations when they happened months ago, but her willful ignorance clouded her memory.

“Oh, shit, oh, shit. Someone found out. If Emilio was hanging, someone found out what we were planning.”

Jackie Robertson’s head kicked to one side and the hull of the boat went red. After a delay, his body slumped awkwardly, his jacket sliding away from her hand, and her mind registered the high-pitched pop that had preceded it all.

She turned to see Chance, a silencer at the end of his pistol, still wearing his gaudy blue tracksuit, fifty yards distant.

He slow-jogged up to the body and leaned over it, then seemed to be satisfied with his work. “I always hated that prick,” he grunted. He turned to her, the gun not trained on her, but at the ready. “I told you to leave this alone, Angela.”

“You killed Emilio.” The flask in her hand trembled impotently. She stared at his gun, unable to to bring herself to pull her own from her waist. “You hung him with an extension cord in his own garage.”

“He was going to sell me out.” He kicked at the corpse. “To this asshole. They were going to hang me. All for turf.”

“Chance,” she whispered.

“Well now I get to take over,” he said, pointing his gun at his own chest. He turned it outward, waving it around at nothing in particular. “Now I get to go to war with all those motherfuckers. Roberto and all his bitches.”

There was a shadow that caused them both to turn, too late for Chance as the butt of Joey’s pistol came down on the back of his head. Chance’s gun dangled from his fingertips, then clattered to the concrete. He dropped to one knee, then to the other, then to all fours.

“Thanks, Joey,” Angela said. She heard her voice quiver, felt the flask of gin slip from her fingers, hitting the ground with a slap. She turned to him, her eyes finally tearing. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me, Ang.” He put his hand on her shoulder and steadied her, but only for a moment. She looked into his eyes and saw the fear in them. She felt the Earth stop its rotation and restart in the opposite direction. Now he was steadying himself against her. “You’re the head of this family now,” he said.

“I thought maybe when he died, all of this would be over,” she said. “That I could just go my own way.”

“Your dad wasn’t a saint, Ang. But he was our boss.” Joey pulled his hand away and stood up straight and nodded at her, honoring her. He gestured at the barely-conscious Chance. “So, whachu wanna do with him?”

“I guess I’ll start with what my father would have done,” she said quietly. “Don’t expect me to make a habit of it.”

She raised the old Glock 17 and put down the disloyal man.

© 2014 Jason W. LaPier