They rested for but an hour beside the pool, Dak anxious to be moving on. Lin suggested daylight might reveal some trace of those who had set the fire, but Dak thought it unlikely.

“This is not the head of the burn.” He pointed out the charred remains of a handful of white thorn trees and unfamiliar scrub. “I doubt they would have been staying here.” He surveyed the horizon ahead of them. “And there is damn little cover here, Lin. If they are close, they could easily spot us.

Lin agreed to the logic of that argument and began preparing to go. While Dak refilled the water bottles Lin collected the largest of the brush pig’s bones, and any that held even a hint of meat. They would crack the bones open for the marrow come dawn, a breakfast Lin really looked forward to.

While the vicinity of the water hole afforded little cover the charred plateau they traversed provided even less. It was beginning to look like they would be caught out in the open by sunrise when they finally stumbled upon a crack in the earth, a jagged crevasse about a stone throw wide and perhaps twice as deep.

As they searched the edge for a way down it suddenly dawned on Lin that they were no longer walking on ash.

“We’ve missed the fire’s head,” she said, weariness and defeat straining her voice.

Dak came up short, and gazed around. “Damn. I’m sorry. I’m so tired I wasn’t paying attention.”

She leaned into him and gave him a squeeze around the middle. “That’s OK. I didn’t notice either. We’ll just have to backtrack and look for it tomorrow.” He only nodded in way of reply and started a very tentative descent. This time the dingos let him take the lead. In fact, they seemed reluctant to follow even after Lin began her climb down.

“The dingos don’t like this,” Lin called down after Dak.

“It’s not that bad,” he shouted back up.

She continued on down. Eventually, after much yipping in consternation, the dingos followed her lead.

They made camp amid a tumble of boulders on the east face of the little canyon. Dak took stock of their water situation and concluded that they could move onward for one more day before reaching the halfway point, at which time they would need to return to the waterhole if no new source was found.

Lin set about cracking open the bones. Each crack of the rock she used echoed eerily up and down the arroyo. Neither she nor Dak liked it, but they had to eat. They scooped out the marrow with sharpened twigs and tossed the remains to the dingos. Komaninu leapt upon them with relish, but Shisha only sniffed, then turned away with a whine, and laid down with her head between her forepaws, shivering.

Lin looked from Shisha to Dak and said, “I don’t think we should stay here too long.”

~

© 2015 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

Some previous excepts (most recent first):
Setting Out
Firestorm
Escape from Hel

 

I come here every May 15th. The weather has finally turned for the better, the trees almost glow with that vibrant young green that seems so magical and alive. Below me the river peeks out through the breaks in the canopy. If I get here early enough I can watch the dawn mirror on its still surface. That’s the way we always liked to see it, back in the days when we came here to be alone together.

Now I come here to be alone, alone.

Sounds funny, but it makes sense to me.

This park was our favorite place to camp, not up here, down in Campsite 3 – the one closest to the trailhead. It’s a seven mile loop, just long enough to make us ravenous for lunch when we got back. We usually had a very light breakfast. You have to be quite breaking bread before sunrise. Other campers frown on being disturbed.

I don’t camp much anymore. Motel 6 is about as close as I come. I don’t do the seven mile loop either. A mile and a half up, and a mile and a half down pretty well does me in. But I still come, every Ides of May, both to revel in the spring and to reminisce on what we had before the cancer took her.

We used to sit here, on this very bench, and the bench it replaced, and talk about anything and everything – the kind of relaxed and easy conversation only people who know the depths of each others souls can have. Important stuff. Talk out hurt feelings, discuss plans for the future. The kids. And downright silly stuff – which was better; “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” or the original “War of the Worlds.” Neither of us liked the remakes much.

I still talk to her. Still cover the same sorts of topics, everything from politics to the latest cat videos on the Internet. She loved cat videos.

Only now she doesn’t talk back.

I get strange looks from the hikers that finally work their way up here when they see me talking to no one. I just smile and nod, fall silent until they pass.

I’m sure someday, maybe not too long from now, she’ll answer back.

~

© 2015 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

 

The I Write Friday Flash badgeThey hid amongst the rocks just outside the mouth of the cave. Dak held a palm-sized stone in his right hand – a small pile of similar stones stacked near his feet. Lin crouched beside him, dividing her attention between the man walking on the charred plains below, and the two fully alert dingos which stood near her side. If either Komaninu or Shisha began to fidget she would soothe them to keep them quiet.

“Can you tell who it is?” Lin asked, straining to see.

Dak shook his head, no. “My eyes aren’t what they used to be.” He considered the figure below. “Judging by his size and bearing, maybe Jacob?”

Lin nodded. “Yeah, kind of reminds me of Jacob.”

So they were lucky. Jacob was not one of Michael’s best trackers.

“I think the wildfire has thrown him off.” Dak said.

They collectively caught their breaths when the man looked up, shielding his eyes from the sun. He mopped his brow, bowed his head, and moved on. As soon as Lin relaxed Shisha let out a little yip.

The man looked up again, but only hurried his pace. He was alone in the wild, and evidently did not relish a run in with a dingo.

Once he was fully out of sight Lin and Dak retreated to the coolness of the cave, followed by the pups, which curled up at their feet.

“We best leave tonight,” Dak said.

Lin wormed into him to make herself more comfortable. “We have water here.”

“We can come back, if need be. We need to find whoever set that fire, Lin. He knows where we are. We don’t know where he is. That gives him the advantage.”

Lin drew in a deep breath and let out a slow sigh.

“Will it ever end, do you think?” she asked him. “The running. The hiding.”

Dak wrapped an arm over her shoulder, cupped her breast, and having no answer said nothing.

~

They climbed to the top of the cliff by the light of the setting moon, Tetu, and waited behind a low rock face for it to fully sink below the horizon. Dak wanted to leave the area in the darkness between moons, figuring that if their position was watched such timing would offer the best concealment.

The top of the plateau had been desolate enough before the wild fire. Now it was like a scene from Hell itself. And like Hell, it was hot, radiating back heat from Kepler’s unforgiving gaze. Dak reminded himself that they would miss this heat in just a few hours, after the full chill of the desert set in.

They decided to strike out in the direction the fire had come from. Dak hoped to find its origin, and from there that Lin, the more experienced of the two when it came to skills of the wilds, might find a trail to follow. Water was their most limiting factor, so they had agreed before setting out that they would only go as far as half the water would take them. If they found no other source of water by then they would head back to the cave to refill and reconsider their options. For now they went on, Dak steering by keeping the Sentinal over his left shoulder.

As usual, the dingos ran before them.

The second moon, Iah, had just cleared the horizon when a warning went up from the dingos. Dak and Lin froze, trying to fix a bearing on the yips. They had taken only a few steps when the yipping stopped.

“What do you think?” Dak asked Lin.

“I don’t know.” Once a dingo got started they usually only stopped yipping after the kill, or when killed.

They hurried forward, but with caution. It was not long before they heard something racing toward them, then heard one little yip of recognition. Shisha paused only a moment, then turned tail and ran back the way she came.

“They’ve found something,” Lin said, quickening her pace and taking the lead.

Shisha came back three more times to ensure they were following. The next time they saw her she was with Koma, chewing on the remnants of their kill, a brush pig.

“I thought you trained them to save the kills for us.” Dak said with a bit of humor in his tone.

As they approached they forgot the pig for something much more important. A few feet beyond the kill was an open pool of water.

© 2015 by Jon M. Strother, all rights reserved.

 

Alun Nikis awoke to the screams of a young woman outside his hovel. He sat up, disoriented for a moment unsure if it had been but a dream. A very real cry of anguish brought him to his feet.

Firelight flickered through the gaps in his door and angry voices carried on the air. He distinguished one above all others, the harsh unforgiving voice of Toltan Miklos. Alarmed, Alun groped for his cape, for the night was chill, and for his stave, for the mood was nasty.

He was enraged at the scene that met him once outside. Toltan, and two of his cronies, were dragging Alyiona Roka across the ground by her hair and wrists, she kicking and screaming the whole way, toward a tree where three other men were stacking fagots round the bole while a lad held a lighted torch nearby. The smell of smoke and oil was heavy in the air. The entire scene was awash in the glow of Alyiona’s home ablaze, just yards away from his own.

“What is this? What is this?” Alun shouted, bringing his stave down sharply across the forearm of Hald Cureil. Hald barked out in pain, releasing his grip on Alyiona’s wrist. With that she twisted round and landed a sharp kick in the meaty part of Petof Kozma’s thigh. Petof retaliated with a swift kick to her side, which took most of the fight out of her.

Alun quickly jabbed the heavy end of his stave into the front of Petof’s knee. There was a sickening snap and Petof fell to the ground, roiling in pain.

The three men near the tree dropped their bundles and started toward Alun, but the way he flourished his stave gave them pause.

Toltan, still gripping Alyiona’s hair,  stood forward to assert his authority. He demanded Alun stand down. By now much of the village had come outdoors, gathered in cowed clutches, whispering behind their hands.

“This woman is a witch,” Toltan asserted, lifting his voice so all could hear. “We cannot abide having a witch among us.”

Alun moved to put the wall of his home behind him, keeping his staff at ready, keenly aware of where all of Toltan’s men stood, or lie.

“Why do you claim this, Toltan? What harm has Alyiona ever done you? Or anyone?” He too raised his voice so that all could hear. “She is a gentle and kind soul.”

“She has cursed my chickens,” Toltan countered. “Nine have died just this week.”

“You’re chickens have the flux,” Alun shouted back. “I told you to burn your coops last month. Did you? No. Now it is spread across the valley.”

“He’s one of them!” Toltan said, turning toward the crowd while pointing an accusing finger toward Alun. “He’s a witch too. A fornicator!”

“As are you,” Alun said, then casting a mischievous grin toward the villagers, “assuming you are the rightful sire of Rita’s spawn?”

This perhaps was too much, for as the crowd laughed, Toltan released Alyiona’s hair and lept toward Alun. Alun was too quick, burying the head of his stave in Toltan’s gut, then with a firm follow thru sending him reeling onto his back.

“Go home, Toltan, and take your jackals with you.” He cast an accusing eye at the henchmen. “This woman is no witch. Her father has died, and you just want to take her holdings. The only real evil in this village is you.”

Merd Guri stepped from the crowd to stand beside Alun, bearing no weapon save his sheer size. Then two women rushed forward and gathered Alyiona up, ushering her away.

Toltan labored to his feet, then sensing the mood of the crowd had turned against him, staggered away. Two of the wood gathers helped Petof up from the ground, his left leg almost useless, and followed in Toltan’s angry wake. As Toltan passed Imre, stil holding the torch, he yanked the brand from the lad and dashed it into the oil soaked wood.

“It’s a shame,” Alun said to Merd as they watched the seven men go, “to lose such a fine tree.”

~
© 2015 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

 

Pepper sat at the bar nursing her drink, butt dancing to the music Kenny and the Breakers were playing up on the stage. The Black Hole had a bad rep, and most anyone could have told her to avoid the place. Nearly all of the clientele had at least seen the back seat of a squad car in the best case, or more likely, served 2 to 5 in the state pen. The patrons were a mix of over the hill thugs, bikers looking for trouble, or folks looking to sell their wares, personal or chemical in nature, with the occasional clueless novice thrown in as a wild card.

Pop Riley regarded the lanky brunette sitting at his bar very much a wild card and figured there would be trouble. When she came in every pair of male eyes turned her way, and conversations stalled until she placed her order. After handing off a bottle of lite beer to her he reached under the counter to feel for the reassurance of his Maverick 88 pump action shotgun.

There were two other wild cards, a scruffy pair of drifters who had come in and taken up residence in the front corner about an hour ago. Both sat with their backs to a wall. They had wisely chosen a table near the door. They too seemed to be expecting trouble. They both openly leered at Pepper, and appeared to be egging each other on to get up and ask her to dance.

They soon lost their chance.

Wally “the Brick” Bargas noisily slid his chair out from his table, rose, and swaggered over to the bar.

“Hey ya, darling,” he said as he sidled onto the stool next to her. “What’s your name?”

Pepper regarded the burly biker with open disdain, then turned her attention back to her beer.

Wally leaned in closer. “You have a name, I assume?”

This time she favored him with a slight smile. “Pepper.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Nice name. I like ‘em hot. Want to dance?”

She shook her head, no, and took another sip from her beer.

Wally raised two fingers to Pop, who immediately placed two new beers on the counter between them.

“I think we should dance,” Wally said, grabbing her wrist. As he pulled her from the stool he also slipped a pill into her beer with the practiced move of an old hand.

The two men in the corner rose and drew as one.

“Police officers! On the floor.”

Pepper suddenly twisted, pulling Wally off balance, and threw him to the ground. She planted a knee firmly in his back as she yanked his forearm up between his shoulder blades. Three men from Wally’s table started to rise, but settled back when they saw one of the undercover cops had them covered.

Behind the bar Pop instinctively glanced to his right to see a gun aimed straight at him. He slowly and carefully drew his empty hand from underneath the counter.

As Pepper cuffed Wally three uniformed officers barged trough the door, weapons drawn.

“Everybody, put your hands where we can see them.” The detective covering the bikers aimed his gun at one of them, center mass. “You. Hands on the table.” The biker reluctantly complied.

The other detective worked his way down the bar and bagged Pepper’s spiked drink as well as Wally’s.

“You, OK, Sharon?” he asked Pepper.

“I’m fine,” she said as he helped her haul Wally to his feet.

“You like spiking ladies drinks, Wally?” the detective said leaning in close. “I’ll bet your DNA will prove most interesting.”

Sharon gave Wally a shove toward the door. “Let’s get this scum bucket downtown.” she said. “Man, I can’t wait to get out of these heels.”

© 2015 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

 

I watched Cliff watch the waitress walk away.

“What?” he asked, feigning innocence.

“Jeeze, Cliff, you couldn’t be more obvious.” I sipped my coffee.

“Like you don’t appreciate a nice posterior?” He sopped up the remains of his egg yolks with his toast, and pointed the dripping mess at me in lieu of a finger. “I see you making eyes at Angie, over at Mable’s.”

I felt myself flush a little.

“Have you asked her out yet?” he asked as he delivered the final morsel to his mouth.

I shook my head, no.

“Why not?”

“I don’t need complications.” The waitress, Helen, came back with a coffee pot.

“You boys need any more coffee?”

We both slid our cups out toward her.

“Complications?” Cliff looked up and winked at Helen. She winked back.

“You know me. When I get close to people, bad things happen.” Seems to me everyone I’ve ever been close to dies. My mother. My sister. Probably my father…

Cliff snorted. “Bullshit. Nothing bad happened to Jen, except you letting her walk away, like a damn fool. Mary and I thought she was the real deal.”

I shook my head as we both started reaching for our wallets. “It just wasn’t going to work. She wanted something steady, someone who could give her a house with a picket fence, kids, a dog.”

“You should give it a try,” he said. It occurred to me I had just described Cliff’s house, his life.

Helen brought the check and we settled up between us, leaving her a nice tip. Helen always treats us well, so we always return the favor.

As we started to rise Cliff said, almost casually, “Did you hear Joe Hennessy died?”

I stopped, still not fully risen from the booth. “No. When?”

“Found him dead in his bed, early last week.”

I finished standing and gazed out the window. My reflection gazed back at me, looking beaten, worn.

“Do you know when the service will be?”

Cliff flinched. “Oh, jeeze, I’m sorry, Max. I should have called you as soon as I heard. They buried him on Monday. Down at Oak Grove. I just assumed you saw it in the paper.”

Not likely. I never check the obits.

“No one contacted you?”

I let out a bitter laugh. Who would contact me? No, my old work mates would just as soon shake hands with the devil. I didn’t exactly leave the force on good terms.

Cliff put a sympathetic hand on my shoulder and gently steered me toward the door.

“Everybody said he was crazy,” I reminisced as we navigated our way around incoming customers, a bus boy, and three children who had decided the floor made an excellent play station. “I guess he was, in a way.” We finally made our way outside and stood taking in the crisp autumn air.

“You know, he was in the Corregidor Death March. That might make you a little crazy,” I went on. Crazy Joe Hennessy – my first partner after I made Detective. I sat through many a tirade about the Japs, as he called them, while on stakeouts. His war experience made him bitter toward all things Japanese. Other than that one sore spot he had a good sense of humor, and he was a damn good detective. I could not have asked for a better mentor.

We worked together for two years before he retired.

After I left the force he called me on several occasions to see how I was holding up. We went out to lunch together occasionally. I lost track of him over the years, after he moved south of town, something I now regretted.

After Cliff pulled away I climbed into my Brougham and sat in quiet contemplation for a while. I roused myself from my reverie when I was starting sweating. Despite the cool weather, the closed car was getting hot. I fired up the engine and powered all four windows down.

I had a vague idea of where Oak Grove was, a small Baptist church south of town. I put the car in gear and headed for I-85. While idling at a light I played it safe and asked the GPS to give me turn-by-turn directions.

It was a pleasant drive, giving me time to be with my thoughts.

Once off the Interstate traffic was virtually nonexistent. I lowered the windows again and followed the directions my digital navigator gave me until I pulled into the nearly empty parking lot of the Oak Grove Baptist Church. There were three other cars in the lot.

It’s a small cemetery, so it was not hard to pick out the newest grave. I was surprised when I saw someone else standing near it. I knew almost immediately who it must be – Ami Motsomoto.

The old newspaper photo flashed though my mind: a busy front porch, several police officers milling about, and stepping out the front door, Joe Hennessy, holding a dark-haired little girl. The girl had her hands twined around Joe’s neck as if holding on for dear life.

The caption read: Corregidor survivor saves Japanese girl.

Technically, the caption was wrong. Her father was originally from Southern California, had spent his youth in an internment camp with his Japanese born parents. Until this case came along he would have just been another damn Jap as far was Joe was concerned.

None of that mattered anymore. There was a girl that needed saving.

She startled when my shadow fell across the grave, looked over to me with a wan smile on her face.

“I missed the funeral,” she explained, gesturing with the bouquet of grocery store flowers she held in her hand.

“I did too.”

She nodded sympathetically. “Did you know him?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“He was a good man,” she said, stooping to lay the flowers where the headstone would eventually stand.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, he was.”

© 2015 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

 

Hand holding a snowman/woman couple holding a heart, labeled 2012I thought I was done with crying

Somewhere in the ninth month it occurred to me
The tears had not come in quite a while
I took solace in that ninth
Having never been certain of what comes after
If reincarnation really is the truth of it
Then nine months should mark her rebirth somewhere in this world
The thought comforts me

Then the tenth month came

While putting up the Christmas tree I found our ornament
She always bought one
A couple
Placed on the tree as one
One union
One perfect match
Now here in my hand was the last of our ornaments
2012
She was too sick to get one for 2013
I was too preoccupied
So here in my hand lies our last special bauble
A snowman and a snow-woman embraced
Entwined side by side
Forever joined
My tears return
Nothing, after all,
Is forever

 

A crowded department store with holiday decorationsPhil Ackerman turned at an audible gasp and a stifled sob from just behind him. He had just pulled the last package of Sparkle Bright off the shelf. The damned doll was a hot item this year, and this was the third store he’d looked in. A little girl of about seven years of age was tearing up as her mother stooped beside her.

“But I wanted to get Sparkly Bright for Ginny,” the little girl whined. Her mother glanced up at Phil with a pained look on her face, offered him a wan smile, and shrugged.

“We’ll find one somewhere else sweetie,” she said none too confidently.

The little girl’s shoulders shook. “But what if there aren’t any more?” Tears began running down her cheeks.

Phil fumbled Sparkle Bright from hand to hand as he faced his cart and then, as if making a sudden decision he turned, squatted down to the little girl’s level, and offered her the doll. Her face lit up in disbelief.

Her mother began to protest, but Phil put the doll into the little girl’s hands and stood back up.

“It’s OK. I hate to see her so disappointed. I’ll find something else.”

“You really don’t have to do this,” the mother said, straightening but looking very relieved.

“No, I insist.” They exchanged season’s greetings and went their own ways.

 

“Well, that one was a near thing,” Helen Dunstin said as they climbed into the minivan.

Her daughter, Katie, tossed Sparkle Bright into the back seat, amongst the fifteen others they had managed to nab at the various stores they had visited.

“Yeah, what a sap,” Katie said with a smirk as she buckled in. “These things are worth a fortune on eBay.”

~

© 2014 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

Photo by Neon Tommy via Flickr Creative Commons attribution and share alike license.

 

Old West Street SceneA low rumble woke the townsfolk of Bristol, Wyoming, sometime around three in the morning. Dogs scampered from yards, tails between legs. Roosters crowed, annoyed at their early wake up call. In the houses up and down Main Street lamp lights slowly came on, low and almost imperceptible at first as the flame took, then building quickly to warm glows that leaked out into the street as the wicks were raised from the base of their lamps. In ones and twos people began to step out of their homes, to look around, to assess the situation. They were comforted at the sight of Sheriff Gabe Morrison when he emerged from the jailhouse, still pulling on his left boot.

“Morning, Gabe,” Makenzie Wilson called from the front porch of the general store. “Guess we had another temblor?”

“Mac,” Sheriff Morrison greeted in reply. “Seems like. All your merchandise still on the shelves?”

Makenzie nodded. “No damage that I noticed. Reckon I’ll get a better sense of things in the daylight.”

Gabe gave Mac a general wave and began walking down the street, checking to see if everything was still copacetic, exchanging pleasantries with those he met, reassuring folks that everything seemed to be fine, go on back to bed. As he passed the saloon Celeste asked if he’d like to come in and relax a spell. He turned down her offer.

By 3:30 the last of the oil lamps went out and the little town of Bristol went back to sleep.

Everything seemed to be normal to Henry Jackson Jefferson when he opened the bank at 9:00am. But when he opened the door to the vault he fell to his knees in shock. The bank had been cleaned out. Splintered floorboards surrounded a gaping hole near the back wall. He was still struggling to his feet when Kerwin Jones, his lead teller, stepped through the front door.

“Kerwin! Quick, run and get Sheriff Morrison. We’ve been robbed!”

Kerwin stood there, mouth agape, trying to comprehend what he’d just been told.

“Get!” Henry shouted, and at that Kerwin turned and dashed for the jailhouse, just two doors down. A few minutes latter he returned panting, all out of breath.

“Sheriff’s not here,” Kerwin said as he tried to catch his wind. “Note on the door says he’s out at the Double Bar. Some cattle missing.”

“Get Deputy Wentworth, then. For crying out loud, son, don’t you have any sense?”

“Can’t find the deputy,” Kerwin explained, trying to forestall Henry’s wrath. “Jail’s locked up tight as a drum. He’s not in the saloon or down at the stable neither. I looked!”

“That can’t be right. Who’s watching the prisoner?” Last he heard there was one man in lock up being held for the US Marshall. “Well then, send the O’Mally boy out to the Double Bar. We need Sheriff Morrison right away.”

While Shawn O’Mally was away a group of men descended into the tunnel to see where it might lead. They did not go far before finding the cause of the previous night’s earthquake. The tunnel had been blown, the smell of black powder still strong from the blast.

Shawn O’Mally returned just before noon, his horse almost spent from the hard ride. He reported that Sheriff Morrison was not at the Double Bar, that no one had called for him, and no one had seen Deputy Wentworth.

It was well after noon before they finally pried open the front door of the jailhouse. It was empty. No sheriff. No deputy. No prisoner. No weapons. No key for the locked cell. It took another good hour for the blacksmith to get it open. Behind the bunk, almost expected by then, they found the other end of the tunnel.

~

The three horsemen pulled up at the crossroads to consider their options.

“Well, Wenny, what do you think?” Gabe Morrison asked of his partner.

“I hear they’ve struck gold up Alaska way,” Wentworth proposed.

“Alaska’s cold,” the third man replied. “I say we try California.”

“Alaska’s safer,” Wentworth countered.

Gabe Morrison considered the options silently for a bit before making a decision. “We got plenty of money that’ll keep you warm, Carl.”

With that the three riders turned their horses and headed north.

~

© 2014 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

Image from the state of Wyoming, A Book of Reliable Information, published 1905, no know copyright restrictions via Flickr Commons.

 

 

A bar with many bottles

Typical Friday night at The Roundabout, bar packed, mostly with guys hoping to get lucky, tables full, mostly with couples who already had. A few loners, some drifting about constantly casting for a nibble, others like me, content to sit and nurse their beer. I vaguely wonder how many of them are married but on the prowl, also like me.

I come here often, ever since I found out Jeffrey was cheating on me. He knows I come, assumes I’m cheating on him. Fine. Let him think what he wants. Actually, I’m hunting. Some day I’ll find the right one.

Joe and the Stringers play from the tight little corner set aside for the band near the back, a mix of blues, jazz, and something I can only characterize as “different.” Just in front of the bandstand another little square is set aside, supposedly the dance floor. Some couples actually dance.

I watch the crowd with feigned disinterest. A guy, maybe just out of college, brushes up against me, then gives me the grand apology, purely an accident, as if he didn’t mean to bump into my boob, all the while looking me up and down assessing my potential. I probe him more subtlety, assessing his. I’ll pass.

“Get lost,” I say, taking another swallow from my bottle. He moves on, still fishing.

Four couples are dancing now, trying to follow the music without much success. Joe is playing an actual danceable tune. They just can’t dance. One lone fellow is out there too. He dances like my dad at a wedding reception after having too much Champagne. I sort of feel for him. I stare too long and he looks up, catching me watching him. I quickly look down and swivel back around to face the bar.

I feel him coming toward me. At last, I think, I may have found the one.

He slides between me and the next barstool, violating any decent sense of personal space. I look at him coolly.

“Would you like to dance?” he asks, all puppy dog enthusiasm.

I shake my head, no, then brush the hair out of my face.

He wiggles his bottom up onto the barstool and signals to Mary for two more of the same, one for him, one for me. Mary pops the tops off two bottles and sets one before each of us. I glance down coyly and blush a bit.

“You come here often?” he asks.

“Yeah, pretty often,” I admit.

He’s taken aback. “I’m surprised I haven’t noticed you before. What’s your name?”

“Marie.”

“Kevin. Kevin Waller.” He extends his hand. I just look at it.

He slowly pulls it back and wraps it around his beer bottle. “So,” he keeps casting, “do you dance?”

I nod. “I’ve been known to.”

“Just not with me?”

I laugh and give him a soulful look of commiseration. “My feet hurt, and nothing personal, I’ve seen you dance.”

Now he blushes.

“You get an A for effort though.”

“Well, I try.”

We sit there in companionable silence for a bit before he goes on, unwilling to give up.

“So, Marie, what do you do for a living?” he asks.

“I’m a research assistant at the university.”

“What kind of research?” he asks with what seems like genuine interest.

I smile and shrug. “For all you know, I’m doing research right now.” His face lights up at my warm smile. In the back of the room Joe shifts from fast-paced to slow dance.

“I’m better at slow dancing,” Kevin tells me, extending a hand. I shrug, what the Hell, and take his hand. I spend the next five minutes trying to protect my feet.

When we get back to the bar I ask him to watch my drink while I use the lady’s room. He nods and watches me walk off. From the corner of my eye I see him slip a little white pill into my beer bottle. I smile to myself.

~

I have a little difficulty getting him up the steps to his apartment. After he drops his keys for the third time I snatch them off the floor and let us in. I don’t want to attract attention out here. I lead him in, close the door, and settle him on the couch. I don’t sit down, and keep on my white cotton gloves.

Switching the bottles was easy. I just waited until his was about at the same level as mine and then laughed at some goofball out on the dance floor. Of course Kevin had to look.

I’ve always had this strange power of suggestion. If I want to make someone leave me alone, I can usually get them to wander off. But to plant a complex suggestion, perhaps a suggestion a person would strongly object to, I need the subject to be compliant. Kevin was now putty in my hands.

I took a photo of Jeffery from my purse and held it in front of Kevin.

“Look at this picture, Kevin. He’s the manager at the QuickWay on Jefferson. You know where that is?”

He nodded, yes.

“This guy’s a real asshole, Kevin. We hate him. Don’t we?”

Nod.

“In three weeks, at 8:15pm, go into QuickWay and shoot the bastard in the head for me. Will you do that, sweetie?”

Another nod.

“Make sure he’s dead.”

I repeat the routine a half dozen times to ensure it takes, then lead him into his bed room, have him strip and crawl into bed, then plant a false memory of him coming home with some blond who looks nothing like me.

I let myself out.

After I caught him cheating Jeff asked me if I wanted a divorce.

Nope.

I want the insurance.

~

© 2014 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved. Photo © 2014 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

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