The Gift by Shirley McCann

“This is the last payment you’ll get from me!”


Charlotte Owens slammed the heavy padded envelope onto the scarred wooden desk in the musty warehouse and folded her arms across her chest. While she tried to appear calm, her heart beat a rhythm of fear.


Tammy leaned forward, her sparkling white teeth flashing against sinister dark eyes. Shaking her head, she scooped up the thick envelope and thumbed through the stack of bills. “I figure your secret is worth at least another hundred grand.”


“You’re crazy!” Charlotte shouted. “I don’t have that kind of money.”


“You’ll figure something out. I doubt your new fiancé would be too happy to discover that his bride-to-be is a former jailbird. What do you think that kind of scandal would do to his campaign?” She set Charlotte with a steely glare. “I want five thousand dollars by the end of the week or loverboy finds out the truth about his girlfriend’s secret past.”


“Only five thousand?” Charlotte mocked.


Tammy sneered. “Consider it the first of many installments,” she said, as she headed for the door. “Meet me at Jenny’s Restaurant for lunch on Friday,” she shouted over her shoulder.   “And bring the cash in a wrapped box so it won’t draw suspicion.” She turned and smiled sweetly. “What could be more natural than bringing a gift to an old friend?”


If Tammy really thought she was stupid enough to fall for that, she had another thing coming. She’d bring the gift, all right. But it wouldn’t be what she expected.


She’d met Tammy Wilson two years ago while serving a prison term for theft. Once she saw the newspaper article announcing Charlotte’s upcoming engagement, Tammy had managed to track her down.


Charlotte was aware that her future husband would not enjoy the bad publicity if word got out about her prison record. She’d met Scott Aldrich at a political fundraiser where she had gone to pick pockets. Scott, a senatorial hopeful, had flirted with her from the start. After a whirlwind courtship, he had shocked her by asking for her hand in marriage. Charlotte’s life had finally taken a turn for the better, and she had no intention of letting Tammy ruin it.


She also knew that paying out these enormous blackmail sums would not make Tammy go away. Skeletons had a way of resurfacing. The only way Charlotte was going to get rid of the problem was to eliminate the source.


She had thought her days of deceit were behind her, but now she realized she would have to resort to her criminal past one   final time before laying it to rest.


On her way home, Charlotte stopped at a shopping mall and purchased a blonde wig, a black leather mini-skirt and a tight knit sweater. A pair of black fishnet stockings and long black gloves topped of the unusual ensemble.


On Friday morning, Charlotte stuffed the items into the shopping bag, along with a vial of poison and a large decorative bow, and walked to a gas station minutes from the restaurant. In the restroom, she changed into the outlandish outfit, tied the bow around the empty wig box, and stuffed her street clothes into her large handbag. Then she walked to the restaurant.


“What are you trying to pull?” Tammy’s expression revealed surprise when Charlotte accepted the chair across from her in the dimly lit establishment.


Charlotte sat down and placed the bag at Tammy’s feet. “Do you think I want to be seen with you in a public place?   Unlike you, I’ve managed to turn my life around. I don’t plan to let anything tarnish that image.”


Tammy relaxed and sipped from a glass of wine. “So you’re in disguise,” she whispered. “I can live with that. As long as you brought the cash.”


Charlotte pretended to peruse the menu, praying for the moment when she could slip the poison into Tammy’s drink.


The opportunity presented itself when Tammy turned to flag down a waiter for more wine. While she wasn’t looking, Charlotte emptied the vial of poison into her glass.


Minutes later, Tammy clutched her throat, her expression registering shock.   Gasping for breath, she slammed her chair back, flailing her arms.


Charlotte grinned, then immediately feigned concern as she summoned assistance. “Someone help! Please!” she screamed, knowing that any attempt to revive her former prison roommate would be futile.


When a crowd of concerned patrons rushed to offer aid, Charlotte slipped away.


At the same gas station, she exchanged outfits, stuffed the black ensemble and wig into her purse, and walked home.


Two hours later, Charlotte opened her door to a man displaying a badge.


“Charlotte Owens?”


“I’m Charlotte Owens,” she responded, warily. “Can I help you?”


“Miss Owens, I’m Detective Larson. You’re wanted for questioning in the death of Tammy Wilson. You’ll need to come with me.”


Charlotte’s pulse raced but she kept her cool. There was no way they could place her at the scene. She’d gone to extreme measures to insure her anonymity.


“There’s been some mistake, Detective,” she responded calmly. “I don’t know anyone by that name.”


The officer didn’t flinch as he produced a sheet of official documentation.   “We also have a warrant to search the premises for a black leather mini-skirt and matching accessories.”


Charlotte’s hand gripped the door as she felt the blood drain from her face.   “How did you know?”


“It was the gift, Ma’am.”


Charlotte pulled her eyebrows together, wondering how an empty box could possibly offer any information. “The gift?”


“When we removed the gift box from the shopping bag, we found a credit card receipt. A trip to the department store confirmed that this afternoon you purchased an ensemble matching the one the restaurant diners said Miss Wilson’s lunch date was wearing.”


Officer Larsen smiled. “I’ll admit we haven’t figured out the motive yet, but we’re working on it. In the meantime, if we find that outfit, as I suspect we will, this case can be delivered to the jury all wrapped up.”

The End

Special Delivery

Malcolm tossed the hefty bookend, and the shirt and slacks he’d worn to work into a trashbag, and then buried the bag beneath

Malcolm tossed the hefty bookend, and the shirt and slacks he’d worn to work into a trashbag, and then buried the bag beneath the garbage already souring the inside of his trashcan. He’d missed the Tuesday morning pick up.


Lightning streaked across the starless night sky as he wheeled the smelly, rubber trashcan to the curb outside his home. He was relieved the trash would be collected in three days, on Friday morning.


He hadn’t meant to kill his boss.

Earlier that day as he greeted his boss’s secretary, she’d informed him that Mr. Cohen wished to see him.


“’Morning, Charlotte,” he’d sung like every morning as he strode pass her desk, on the way to his cubicle. “How’s the old man?” he’d always ask, trying to gauge Albert Cohen’s mood for the day. Lately, the choices had been cranky and crankier. He guessed the stress of owning the accounting firm was finally wearing on his aging boss, but that the man was still too stubborn to retire.

“His usual self,” Charlotte had replied with a wink before adding that Cohen was expecting him in his office.


He’d worked for the man for nearly twenty years, long enough to witness Cohen’s hair thin and whiten, and his eyeglasses to thicken to triple bifocals. Cohen was growing increasingly forgetful, too, and was relying more and more on Charlotte to take care of certain tasks for him, including reminding him to pick up his dry cleaning.


Malcolm once felt an inkling of pity for the man. Cohen had never married or fathered any kids. He seemed alone in the world—just him and his money. But bearing the brunt of his boss’s cold, callous ways over the years caused Malcolm to feel mostly hatred for Cohen, these days.


Still, he hadn’t meant to kill him. Rip him off–yes. Kill him–no.


“I appreciate all your hard work, lately,” Cohen told Malcolm, that morning, as Malcolm sat nervously in the uncomfortable armchair in front of Cohen’s desk.
Malcolm forced a smile. “It was nothing, really, sir,” he boasted, trying to keep his voice steady.

“You’ve been with me since…” Cohen paused. He squinted and pursed his lips, struggling to sift through his memories. “Your late twenties, right?”


Malcolm nodded yes.
“All those years, and I never saw you for the thief you are,” his boss then stated in a cool tone that knotted Malcolm’s stomach and made his heart pound. Albert walked to the other side of his desk. “That was a fine try, son, you setting up that bogus company out of a post office box.” He planted a condescending pat on Malcolm’s shoulder. “I hope you enjoyed my money while you could. I want every penny of it back, and expect to receive it as a special delivery from you, tomorrow. Then, I’m turning you in to the police.” He sneered. “Now, get out of my office.”

Malcolm had spent the rest of the day in shock. He’d been embezzling money for seven months, and most of the money had already been spent on more expensive suits, shoes, a new computer, a laptop, and a plasma television. While the money totaled far less than a million bucks, he would have to rob a bank in order to repay the few thousands he’d stolen. He tried desperately to see Cohen, again, to try to work something out with the man, but his requests were refused. As a last resort, he drove to Cohen’s home, later that night.
“Go away,” he’d yelled through his front door after learning it was Malcolm ringing his doorbell.

“I’ve figured out a way for you to cash in, also,” Malcolm stressed. “Please, let me in to explain.” After his plea had been met with silence for a few seconds, he turned to leave. Then, the door clicked open.

“Make it fast,” Cohen snapped, as Malcolm entered.

“All you’d have to do is take over the fake company–”

“And rip off myself?!”

“I set up the phony company as an agency that helps your firm perform audits, and I billed you for imaginary work performed. I decided to go low-tech by using the post office box. Keep what I created, and you could end up with tax-free dollars in your pockets.”

Cohen narrowed his eyes at Malcolm. “Are you suggesting tax evasion?”

“I suppose.”

“Well, I like the sound of it.” Cohen scratched at his chin stubble, pondering. “But I still wouldn’t need you,” he blurted. “I’ll take it from here while you rot in prison.”

“But, sir–”

“Good night.” Cohen turned to open his door.


Malcolm grabbed a stone owl from a nearby bookshelf then aimed for his boss’s head.


Albert collapsed, unconscious, from the blow.


The reality of what he’d done sank into Malcolm’s brain as suddenly as the act he’d committed. He dashed from the house, jumped into his car, and then sped away.


He’d returned home and discarded the incriminating evidence.


He paced his living room floor, now, only stopping to plop down on the sofa to click through local ten ‘o clock news casts for mention of the murder. None came. Exhaustion soon claimed him, and he fell asleep on the couch.


He jolted awake to distant ringing. Dazed, at first, his head quickly cleared. Morning sunlight spilling into the living room stung his eyes. He staggered to his bedroom to shut off the clock radio’s alarm. He showered, dressed, and then left for work, performing the tasks but feeling disembodied.


His stomach churned as he approached Charlotte’s desk. He fed her his usual morning greeting along with a weak smile and a nod.


“What’s this?” she asked, and he paused. “Not going to ask about Mr. Cohen?”


Her words nailed his feet to the carpet. He paled.


Charlotte frowned. “You okay?”


“Just fine,” he mumbled, and then slinked away.


The morning inched by. Malcolm stayed hidden in his cubicle, picking up on snippets of his co-workers’ conversations. From what he could discern, Charlotte grew concerned about Cohen after failing to get in touch with him, and she’d gone to his home. By noon, she still hadn’t returned.


Malcolm spent his lunch hour parked in one of the downtown mall’s garages, sobbing at the thought of Charlotte discovering Cohen. The urge to hit the highway and keep driving soared through him. But his sudden disappearance would cause him to be spotlighted as a suspect. After the hour winded down, he turned his sedan’s ignition and headed back.


An unnatural silence fell over the entire office, and remained even as Malcolm and his colleagues shuffled out of the building at five p.m.


At home, he collapsed into bed after failing to force himself to eat dinner and to scan the local news.


His alarm woke him in the morning. He trudged through the motions of his morning hygiene, and then drove to work.


Charlotte was missing from her desk for the third time in the ten years she’d worked for Cohen. The faint rosy scent of her perfume lingered in the air, but she was absent.


Malcolm rushed pass the vacant desk. When he arrived at his cubicle, the large, brown envelope on his desk caught his eye. It was labeled Special Delivery, the bold, red letters written in Charlotte’s handwriting, and had a brief note taped to it. Malcolm peeled off the note. ‘Mr. Cohen had instructed me to deliver one of these packages to you and a similiar one to the police, by today,’ it read.

The note shook in Malcolm’s trembling hand. His knees weakened to putty, and he flopped down into his chair.


He tore open the envelope’s sealed top, and then tipped the envelope forward. Eight by ten photographs of him arriving and departing from the post office box, and a private investigator’s business card slid onto his desk.


He knew it wouldn’t be long before the cops busted in to arrest him. As he sat waiting, he remembered it was only Thursday morning. His garbage hadn’t been collected, yet, either.

The End

Sticky Fingers by Connie Ferdon

Darrin Lester stood outside Parker’s Clothiers on Sunset Blvd, eyeing the Italian leather jackets displayed in the front window. While they looked good on the mannequins, Darrin knew they would be debonair on him.   He glanced down at his three-year old imitation leather jacket. It paled in comparison. At twenty-one, now was as good as a time as any to become more dashing. This bore some checking out.

Entering the store, he brushed past several suited salesmen and headed straight for the huge leather jacket display. Darrin picked out two jackets, holding them up for inspection. Hmmm. Chocolate brown or black? He laid the two across the rack and selected two more. Waist or pant length? What a hard decision, he thought. They all reflected good style, taste, and most importantly, money. He would definitely turn a few female heads wearing one of these. He spun a couple of the price tags around and nearly choked.


“May I help you, sir?” A salesman buzzed over and hovered at Darrin’s elbow.

“Uhhh…no. I…I…I was just looking.” Darrin slipped the jackets back on the rack. He wasn’t sure who was more dejected, him or the salesman.


Darrin moved over to another rack and pretended to be interested in the clothing as the salesman turned on his heels to seek out a buying customer. Darrin dared a glance at the leather jackets that were way out of his price range. He just had to have one and he decided that he wasn’t leaving the store empty handed.


Darrin pondered the situation only for a moment. The answer was simple. If he couldn’t afford one, he would just steal one. So what if the jackets had magnetic strips that would set off the sensor alarm at the shop’s exit. A plan formed in his mind. A grin spread across his face. He edged back to the jacket rack. All the salesmen were busy. There weren’t any customers nearby.


Darrin snatched up a jacket and darted into the nearest changing room. He methodically searched the garment, removing each and every one of the sticky magnetic strips. He easily peeled them from their hiding places, in the sleeves, collar, waistband and the pockets. Satisfied, after flicking the last of the impeding strips onto the floor, Darrin stuffed the jacket under his coat and boldly exited the changing stall, heading for the front door with it’s sensor alarm. Piece of cake, he thought, stepping through to freedom.


A loud, piercing alarm sounded, freezing Darrin in his tracks.   A fatherly looking security guard appeared out of nowhere. He nabbed Darrin by the nape of his coat, dragging him back into the store.


“Hold on there, son. Let’s see what set off the alarm.”

Didn’t I get all those strips? How could I have missed one? Darrin stood mute while the guard frisked him. He gave Darrin a disappointed look as he unzipped the bulky coat, extracting the stolen jacket.


“Now, son, did you really think you’d get away with stealing? Those magnetic strips are a dead give away.” The guard searched the jacket. “What the …?” He searched the jacket again. He looked hard at Darrin. “There aren’t any strips on this.”


Darrin couldn’t believe it.   If he removed all the strips like the guard confirmed, why had the alarm gone off? It didn’t make sense. Darrin thought quickly.


“The salesclerk removed the strips. Maybe your sensor’s busted.”

The guard leaned into Darrin’s face. “Were you stealing the jacket, son?”

Darrin was at a loss for words. He couldn’t explain his reason for stealing. He didn’t know himself. He only knew that he just had to have a jacket. And if the only way to get it by stealing, so be it, but he couldn’t tell the guard the truth.


“No, sir,” he lied.   “I was buying the jacket for my brother. He’s in the mall and I didn’t want him to see what I bought.”


The guard shook his head. “Got a receipt?”

Darrin shrugged his shoulders. “Guess I lost it.”

“Okay, we’re gonna try an experiment.” The guard set the jacket on a display table and walked through the alarm. He turned around and beckoned to Darrin.


“Walk through the alarm, son.”

Not knowing what else to do, Darrin obeyed. Several people were watching his humiliation. This was not the type of attention he was looking for, he thought as the alarm went off again.


The guard pulled Darrin back into the store. He scratched his head a moment. He looked Darrin up and down, taking in his obvious worn clothing.


“Did you try to steal something else?”

“No!” Darrin was stumped too. Then he wondered if one of the strips got stuck to the inside of his coat.


As if reading Darrin’s mind, the guard gave new orders. “Okay, son.   We can do this the long, hard way.   Take off your coat and go through the sensor again.”


Darrin did as he was told, and again the alarm went off.

“See. It must be broken.” Darrin was beginning to believe that he just might be able to get away with the theft until the guard gave another order.


“Let me see your shoes, son.”

“My shoes?” It sounded like a harmless request. Feeling confident, Darrin complied. He slipped them off, handing the Reeboks to the guard.   He turned the footwear over.   Stuck to the bottom of each shoe were two magnetic strips. Darrin’s mouth dropped open.


“Now I’ve heard of sticky fingers, but never sticky shoes. Sorry, son, but you’re under arrest for shop lifting.”

The End

Stiff Competition by Courts Mroch

I wasn’t about to let Hettie Ann Wimbly steal yet another blue ribbon from me in the annual Kings County Fair pie baking competition. For months I’d perfected my blueberry pie recipe until it was melt-in-your-mouth perfect. There was no way Hettie Ann was claiming what should rightfully be mine this year.


But Hettie Ann went and spoiled my moment of triumph by going and getting herself killed the day of the judging. Murder was something I hadn’t even considered when it came to making sure I’d take first. But someone else sure had. And they hadn’t hesitated using the longstanding rivalry between Hettie Ann and myself to cover their tracks.


“Now you listen to me, Chad Riley,” I said, chastising the young man I’d known since birth.


“It’s Officer Riley now, Miss Cora,” he corrected.


“Oh,” I scoffed. “Is that what we’ve come to?”


“I’m investigating a murder and would like to keep a level of professionalism,” he blushed, looking properly humbled.


“Well, then how’s about you start by uncuffing this poor old lady?”


His blush deepened and he obliged my request, I guess because he figured he could outrun me if I tried to escape. I was an old woman, after all.


“Besides, you must have some doubt it wasn’t me. Otherwise you’d already have me behind bars instead of sitting here in the fair’s security tent.”


“As a matter of fact, one of my deputies is verifying your alibi right now.”


At eleven fifteen that morning (the time Hettie Ann was murdered) I was across town at the cleaners picking up the dress I planned to wear when I claimed my blue ribbon later this afternoon. I changed and came back to the fair to learn of Hettie Ann’s demise by immediately being shuffled off to the security tent.


Officer Riley’s radio went off. It was the deputy reporting what I already knew: my alibi was airtight. The cleaner’s was a fifteen-minute drive from the fair grounds. There’s no way I could’ve killed Hettie Ann.


“You’re free to go, Miss Cora.”


I stood but didn’t leave.


“Other than me and Hettie Ann’s forty year rivalry, and the fact I vowed she wouldn’t take first again this year, why am I a suspect?”


“You were the last person Wilbur Smitty saw with Hettie Ann this morning.”


Wilbur was on the judging committee. He was the one we checked our pies in with. Hettie Ann and I had arrived at the same time to present our masterpieces. We both pretended not to drool over the coveted first place prize –the Golden Rolling Pin—displayed in the middle of the table. Then we exchanged our usual unpleasantries, looked over each other’s creations –hers a lemon meringue—and set them with the other half dozen entries thus far submitted, among them two tough contenders: an apple pie with the most beautiful lattice crust I’d ever seen and a mouth-watering key lime creation. Then I took my leave.


About a half hour later is when a concessionaire found Hettie Ann dead in the ladies room, her head smashed in by a rolling pin. Not just any rolling pin either, but the Golden Rolling Pin.


“I wasn’t the only one who had a bone to pick with her, you know.”


“I know,” Chad nodded.


“And my prints weren’t on the murder weapon.”


“None were.”


So who killed Hettie Ann? Maybe there was an overlooked clue at the scene of the crime. I headed to the ladies room. En route, I had to pass by the judging table.


“If you’re coming to verify the rumors,” Wilbur Smitty said when he saw me approaching, “they’re true. The pie contest has been postponed indefinitely.”


Darn that Hettie Ann for ruining my day entirely! I frowned as I stared at my would-be blue ribbon winning blueberry pie, but something else about the table caught my eye. Something was different. Something was missing –besides the Golden Rolling Pin, that is. I couldn’t figure it out at first, then it hit me.


“Wilbur, do you have your check-in sheets handy?”


“Sure. Why?”


“They’ll show who killed Hettie Ann. Come on!”


“Good job, Miss Cora,” Officer Riley said after we showed him the check-in sheets and he arrested the real killer.


The thing missing from the table was a pie. Specifically, the apple pie with the fancy lattice crust. It had belonged to Missy Jamison. She had checked in her pie shortly before Hettie Ann and myself. On her way home she remembered something she meant to ask Wilbur, so she turned back around.


Hettie Ann and I were the last registered contestants to submit their work. After we left Wilbur felt free to leave the table and get some lemonade. Missy came back to find Wilbur gone –and Hettie Ann destroying her crust.


At first Missy wasn’t going to say anything. She watched Hettie Ann head to the ladies room, then she quietly removed her pie and threw it out. But watching all that work go in the trash triggered something in her. She grabbed the nearest available weapon, the Golden Rolling Pin, and went to give Hettie Ann a piece of her mind.


With all the misfortune, it was only fitting they cancelled the pie baking competition entirely. No blue ribbon for me again this year, thanks to Hettie Ann, who once more lived up to her reputation of being stiff competition.

The End

Survival by John M. Floyd

Ross and McLane stood together on the grassy ridge, looking down at the coastline.


“If he left this morning,” McLane said, “he should be back by now.”


“He’ll be back,” Ross said.


“I don’t know. He told Susan there might be pirates about.” McLane was leaning on a crutch he had made from a tree limb, and gazing at the spot where the beach disappeared around a peninsula a mile to the west.   They knew which way was west, at least, from the sun. That was about all they knew.


“Let’s just hope he finds the boat.”


McLane nodded. “Or more survivors. Right?”


“Wrong. We don’t need more survivors. There’s barely enough food for the four of us. What we need is the boat.” All

of them had seen it, just before dark last night–an empty rubber lifeboat, drifting in somewhere beyond the peninsula.


“What if he finds it,” McLane asked, “and leaves us here?”


“I don’t think that’s a problem.” Ross turned to glance at Susan McLane, who was standing fifty yards away. She also was looking west, her hands on her hips and the sea wind rippling her hair.


“What do you mean?”


“I mean I saw your pretty wife leave the campfire last night, while Antonio was out in the jungle somewhere. She stayed gone quite a while.”


McLane’s face reddened. “You’re a fool, Ross. I may be old, but Susan’s too smart to fall for Antonio, or for you either. Which has also crossed your mind, hasn’t it?”


Ross made no reply.


Watching him, McLane adjusted his crutch and said, “When did he leave, exactly?   And what was he wearing?”




“Antonio. When did he leave?”


Ross frowned. “I told you, he left at sunup. In that red shirt of his, and jeans.”


“You’re certain of that?”


“What’s that supposed to mean?”


“Maybe he didn’t leave at all,” McLane said. “Maybe you just told me and Susan that, so we wouldn’t be suspicious.”


“Suspicious of what?” Suddenly Ross blinked. “You think I killed him?”


“You said yourself, there’s barely enough food. One less mouth wouldn’t hurt. And if I were next, you’d have Susan all to yourself.”


Ross glared at him. “Well, maybe that’s–”


“There he is!” Susan shouted. She was down in a crouch, one hand shading her eyes, the other pointing west.


Both men turned to look. Sure enough, a yellow lifeboat had rounded the peninsula and was coming this way.   Inside it, paddling with what looked like a long piece of driftwood, was a man in a red shirt. Susan waved; Antonio waved back.


All of them watched until the boat disappeared beneath the brow of the ridge.   The same thought was in all their minds: they were saved. Or at least they had a chance now. They knew their directions, and if they could find and pack enough water and food and row east, they would eventually hit the mainland.


Susan ran up to the men and said, breathless and grinning, “It’ll take him a while to get up here. Come on, I want to show you both something.”


They followed her to a spot further inland, near where she was before.   Here, the ridge ended in a sheer cliff.


“Look down there,” she told them.


Carefully the two men walked to the edge and peered over. A hundred feet below, dark rocks covered the valley floor.


“What is it?” McLane asked.


Suddenly, without warning, Susan McLane snatched her husband’s crutch away and shoved him over the cliff.


For a moment Ross stood there stunned, gaping at her. Then, very slowly, his face changed. He broke out a smile.


“I knew it,” he said. “Now all we have to do is get rid of Antonio and take the boat. Right?”


Susan’s face was flushed. “You don’t think he’ll suspect anything, do you?”


“Why should he?” Ross stepped cautiously to the edge and looked down again. “We’ll just say–”


The heavy crutch caught him just behind the right ear. It didn’t knock him cold, but it was enough. A second later he toppled over the edge.


Susan stared down at them both a moment, breathing hard. With a loud laugh she threw the crutch after them and turned away. Antonio was already walking toward her along the top of the ridge.


“It’s done,” she cried, running to him. “Now we can–”


She stopped. The man in the red shirt wasn’t Antonio at all. He was older and leaner, with a world-weary face and tattered trousers.   As he approached he pulled a short, ugly pistol from his waistband.


Susan backed away, tripped on a rock, and sat down hard.


The man stopped five feet away.


“Are you a pirate?” she whispered, her eyes wide.


“You’ve been watching too much TV.” He waved the gun. “Stand up.”


She stood up. “Who are you, then?”


“I’m with the cruise line. Assistant head of security. Three of us, two crewmen and I, washed ashore a few miles away. We thought we were the only ones who made it, till your friend showed up.”


“Why do you have his shirt on?”


“Because I didn’t have one, and he was unconscious when I left.   Dehydration. He’ll be fine.” The man studied her a moment. “He told us there were four of you.”


“The other two aren’t here.”


“I know. I saw them leave.”


Susan swallowed. “Oh.”   She looked about, ran a hand through her hair, then faced him again. “Does this mean I’m under arrest?”


“You will be. I’m sure the search planes are out, and we found flares in the lifeboat. Someone should get to us soon.”


She looked him up and down, thoughtfully. “I don’t suppose there’s anything I could do to . . . change your mind about this?”


“You could try to push me over the cliff too, but I wouldn’t advise it.”


Her face darkened. “In case you’re wondering,” she said,

“Antonio was in on it, too.”


“I’m sure he’ll be glad you told me.” He stepped back and

motioned with the pistol. “Let’s go, Ms. . . .”


“McLane. Susan McLane. And you don’t need the gun.” She raised her chin. “I’m a corporate executive, believe it or not.”


“Oh, I believe it,” he said.


He kept the gun on her all the way to the beach.

The End

The Big Bust-Out by Leon Barnes

A nearly empty pitcher of beer sweated on the table in front of us, and we were worried. Not about the beer, but about our buddy Doug.


“He’s in jail,” I said.


“You said that,” Bart replied. “Three times. How long has he been there?”


“Just got the call on my cell, right before you got here.”

“How did he get put in jail?”


“The cops arrested him and took him there.”


“I think I could figure that one out. What I mean is what’d he do to get there.”


“He got arrested.”


“How much beer did you have before I got here?”


“Not much.”


“How much is not much?”


“That much.” I pointed at the pitcher.


Our waitress appeared, poured the rest of the beer into our glasses and asked if we were ready for another pitcher. Normally, we were more than ready, but this time we waved her off. She asked why Doug wasn’t with us. Doug and I are good tippers, Doug even more so. Bart The Frugal isn’t. Doug’s also what women call a “hottie.” Bart and I aren’t, although Bart claims he’s a “warmie.” I told the waitress Doug was incarcerated, and she laughed, saying, “Sure he is,” as she walked away.

“Let’s try this again,” Bart said after she departed. “The cops must have had a reason to take him to jail. Can we agree on that?”


I swallowed some beer, said, “Yep.”


Bart rubbed his hands together. “Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. What reason did they give?”


“The cops.   What reason did the cops give for arresting Doug?”


“He doesn’t know.”


“He doesn’t know! How come? He’s not stupid.”


“I don’t know, he was a PE major.” Doug can bench-press four hundred pounds.

“Doug was a math major, and he’s not stupid.”


“I know that. It was a joke.”


“This is no time for jokes.” Bart The Joke Raconteur saying no time for jokes. “So, one more time. Why did he get arrested?”


“He doesn’t know.”


Bart threw up his hands.

“I’m serious,” I said. “He doesn’t know. All they said was he’s a ‘person of interest.’”


“He’s in Houston’s jail or Harris County?




“Bellaire, West University Place?”




“So where?”




“Skykomish? Jesus, where is that?”


“Little town in Washington State, named after local

Indians, in the Cascade Mountains. Used to be a thriving timber town.”


“What’s he doing up there? That’s almost three thousand miles from here.”


“Thought you knew. He went on one of his mountain-man communions with nature. You know how he is, gets out there alone wearing camouflage in the wilderness, turns into The Commando, grunts and sweats and gets all stinky, thinks he smells good. He just left yesterday. Where’ve you been?”


“Playing golf.” Bart’s the Greg Maddux of golf, never hits the ball long, places it neatly.   Doug is Randy Johnson, puts it in orbit.   I’m Clifford Prickett. Never heard of him? Well, that’s how I play.


Bart wiped the top of his head, where there’s no hair, and said, “I got to cut back on my golf game.” He even plays video golf. “Jesus, we’ve got to do something.”


“Okay. Let’s go bust him out.”




The Skykomish Tavern was the larger of only two bars in the town of Skykomish, unless you counted the three restaurants that also served booze. The crystalline Skykomish river ran through the middle of town, and the Cascade Mountain Range, parked at the back door, scattered giant Douglas Fir trees down to the town’s perimeter, all of it screaming for a photo opportunity.

The town’s mayor, who was also the owner of the tavern, leaned against the cash register behind the bar. Lined up at the bar in front of him were three regulars, Mark, Luke, and John, chugging Rainier Beer from cans.

They called themselves The Three Apostles, of course.   All three were hulking lumberjacks, out-of-work due to the obdurate presence of the endangered spotted owl.   On the backbar beside the cash register was a box of Spotted Owl Helper.

Between the beer cans in front of them sat the local newspaper that was issued only when the publisher, also the mayor, decided there was news. The headline said, “Sasquatch Peeping Tom Apprehended.”


Mark, with a beard to his chest, said, “Wouldn’t mind peeping on her myself.”


Luke, also with a beard to his chest, said, “You probably did.”


John, with a beard only to the bottom of his neck, which wasn’t too far from his chin, said, “Seeing as you look like Sasquatch, too, don’t know why you ain’t in jail along with that other fellow.”


“So do you,” Mark retorted. “And you, too, Luke. And I ain’t in jail ‘cause I didn’t do no peeping.”


“Who said you did?” Luke countered.


“You did.”


“No, I didn’t.”


The mayor said, “Jill identified the fellow the Chief’s got in there now, so quit arguing. You start another ruckus in here, I’ll ban you for life.”

Jill was the town’s only woman of marriageable age still not married. In her late-thirties and possessed of heart-thumping looks, she was the subject of the local’s betting pool on the date she would move to Seattle to find a husband.


Luke said to the mayor-publisher-reporter-bar-owner, “How come you call this fellow Sasquatch?”


“’Cause he looks like it.”


“No, he don’t. I mean he’s big, but he’s not all hairy all over. Not even a beard. Not like this.” Luke stroked a beard that had enough hair to stuff a pillow.


“I’ll have you know the legend describes Sasquatch as being hairy all over or hairless or somewhere in between. So I’m utterly justified in my reporting.”


“Don’t get your pants on fire,” John said, “Luke’s just asking a question.” The Three Apostles stuck together. “You sure you not just trying to drum up tourism?”


“I beg your pardon. I call each story as I see it. My ethics wouldn’t allow me to do otherwise.”


“Ethics?” Mark piped in. “Since when ethics got anything to do with what you do?”


“Careful,” John said, “or he’ll throw you out on your ethics.”


All three laughed. They sounded like large dogs.


“Very funny,” the mayor said. “We’ll just see what happens when the circuit judge gets here. And since I’m the mayor, I believe I’ll see what the Chief is ―”

The Chief walked in before the mayor could finish. He was a former, no-nonsense Seattle cop, retired at forty-eight, now heading up a one-man police force, elected on the slogan, “Don’t Trifle With Skykomish. Or Me.” He walked to the coffee machine and poured a cup.


Luke said, “When you gonna get yourself a coffee maker?”


The Chief sipped his coffee, looked at Luke with cool eyes and didn’t answer.


The mayor said, “What’s that fellow doing?”


The Chief put his cool eyes on the mayor and said, “What fellow?”


“The one you got in jail. Who else?”


“Why do you want to know?”


“Do you know who you’re talking to?”

“It’s ‘to whom,’” the Chief said and sipped more coffee.

The mayor stalked from around the bar and stomped up to the Chief, leaned in close, and said, “I’m you’re boss.”


“Well, boss, lean at me any more and you might fall down and hurt yourself.” You truly didn’t trifle with the Chief.

The mayor straightened, back up three steps, and said, “I demand a report.”


“Talk to his lawyer.” And with that the Chief finished his coffee, gave The Three Apostles a cool look, and walked out.


The mayor harumphed, then walked out, too.


Behind him, The Three Apostles reached over the bar and helped themselves to more Rainier, all three mumbling, “Ain’t no such thing as a hairless Sasquatch.”




“Plane ticket cost a fortune.” Bart The Frugal. “Couldn’t even use my frequent flyer miles.”


“We had to get here in a hurry,” I said.


“I realize that. Doug’s going to owe me a case of beer. Two cases.”


We were sitting in an airport rental car, parked in front of the Skykomish Tourist Bureau, a shack by the side of the highway tucked between two giant Douglas Fir trees. The highway was a two-lane blacktop that curved like an innerspring east from Seattle through the mountains to Skykomish and beyond. Actually, it bypassed the town by a hundred yards. You had to turn onto a narrow road to drive over to it.


“Talk about culture shock,” Bart said. “Roads in Houston are straight as a plumb line. And flat. Only thing close to a mountain is a freeway overpass.”


“Don’t forget speed bumps,” I said as I studied a letter-size map of Skykomish, looking for the jail. I pointed it out to Bart, and he drove in that direction. We were in a Ford Escort. Cheapest rate. Bart rented it.


He asked, “You ready?”


“No way we’re going to get away with impersonating lawyers,” I answered.


“We’re not.”


“Then why are we doing it?”
“We aren’t. I am.”


“I look more like a lawyer than you.”


“No, you don’t.”


“So who am I supposed to be? The janitor?”
“His brother.”


“I don’t look like his brother.”


“Half-brother, then.”


“I don’t half look like him.”


I glanced at the front page of the newspaper I’d grabbed at the tourist shack, then read the Sasquatch story aloud to Bart.

“Peeping Tom?” Bart said when I finished. “Doug? A Peeping Tom? Never in a million years. Women peep on him!”

We parked in front of the jail and sat there a moment, pretending we knew what we were doing.


A man stomped along the sidewalk in front of us, looked our way, came up to Bart’s window and said, “If you gentlemen are looking for a place to wet your whistle, try my fine establishment.” He whipped out a card, handed it to Bart, and said, “This is good for one free drink!”

“There are two of us.” Bart The Frugal never let up.


“Ha, ha,” the man said, “a real jokester,” and stomped away.


“Wonder if they have scotch,” Bart said.


“It’s a tavern. Only beer and wine in taverns in this state.”


“How do you know that?”


“I’m full of useless information.”


“All right, let’s get serious.”


I put on a serious face.


“As far as who you’re supposed to be,” he continued, “you’ll be his step-brother demanding his release, just like a real brother. Any other objections?”


“None. Only that we should go with Plan B and be done with it.”


“Yeah, I know, bust him out. Come on, let’s get a look at this so-called Chief-of-Police.”


We got out, put money in the only meter in town, walked across the sidewalk, stepped through the door, and instantaneously I knew from the looks of this Chief that I wouldn’t be demanding anything.


“One of you supposed to be Sasquatch’s lawyer?” he asked before we could speak. He was leaning back in his chair with his feet on the desk and looked as if he never moved from that position.

“I am,” Bart said and gave him a card he’d printed on his computer in Houston.


The Chief didn’t stand or in any way show a friendly greeting, only moved his eyes back to Bart after he glanced at the card. “You don’t look like a lawyer,” he said. “And who’s this supposed to be?” His eyes on me. “A janitor?”


My knees turned into Krispy Kremes.


Bart said, “He’s the step-brother.”


The Chief’s eyes went to Bart. “The step-brother, huh? Well, Sasquatch is staying right where he is until the circuit judge gets here.   And what’s his name?”


“I don’t know the judge’s name.”


“No. Sasquatch.”


Bart shrugged, said, “Bigfoot?”


“Don’t test my patience. What is the name of this fellow I have in my jail back there, the one you say you represent? That clear enough for you?”


“Clifford Prickett,” Bart lied. “So, when does he get here?”




“The judge.”


“When he gets here.”


“Do you have a more definitive time than that?”



Something sounded unconstitutional about all this, but we decided not to tread there. Bart, showing he at least watched Law And Order, said, “My client is an outstanding citizen with roots in ―”

“Save it. I’ve heard it all before. He stays right here. You don’t like it, bust him out.”


I nearly collapsed.


Bart said, “We’d never think of such a thing.”




During the week, as this was, the mayor’s tavern closed at one in the morning. It’s lights were the last in town to go off.   The Three Apostles stood on the sidewalk outside the tavern and leaned against one another. Their wives had left a phone message with the night bartender for him to tell them not to come home until daylight, or their beards would be set on fire while they were passed out.


“What do we do now?” Mark wanted to know.


Luke answered, “We go to my shack up the side of the mountain.”


“Great idea,” Mark said, missing an attempt to slap him on the back.

John was a leaning pillar of salt, too full of Rainier to speak.

Mark and Luke positioned John between them, clasped their hands under his armpits, and stumbled along the sidewalk toward the edge of town.


“Sssh,” Mark hissed, “we don’t want to wake anybody up.   They’ll call our wives.”

“Hate it when somebody does that,” Luke said.


“Call our wives?”


“No. Sssh.   Wife does it to me all the time.”


“Don’t blame her.”


“What’s that supposed to mean?”




“No, what you said.”


“What’d I say?”


They left the main street’s string of stores and stumbled in the opposite direction of the jail.


“Mayor’s house is right up here, on the bank of the river.” Luke said.


“I know that.” Mark retorted.


“I know you know that.”


“So why’d you say it?”


“Just making conversation.”




“I said I hate it when ―”


“Look, the mayor’s still up.”


Luke looked. A light was on in the living room. The theme song to a CSI rerun peeled through the window. Luke pointed at the silhouette of a person’s head resting against an armchair. “That the mayor in there?” he asked.


“Who else would it be? Hear he watches TV all night.”


“Tell he’s not married.” Luke pulled on John’s shoulder and took a step, saying, “Let’s go on up here to Jill’s house. Maybe she’s got a light on.”




“Told you I don’t ―”


Mark held up a hand. “Just hold it a minute,” he said. “Now what’s he doing?”


“John’s just standing here. That was me pulling on him.”


“Not him. The mayor.”


“He’s not doing nothing.”


“That’s just it. Nothing. People move when they watch TV.”




A half mile away, behind the jailhouse, every move Bart and I made seemed to clang like church bells. Nighttime in the mountains amplified sounds, as I’d been told by folks who were avid campers. Such as Doug. He slept on the ground when he went on these sojourns. I couldn’t tolerate the mere thought of sleeping on anything other than a mattress. Serta, Beautyrest, Posturepedic, didn’t matter to me, as long as it was a mattress.

I was grinning wildly, despite the fact that we were about to commit a crime. We were dressed in black, from shoes to ski masks. The masks were my idea. I got it from watching a lot of heist movies. I also had a coil of thick, hemp rope in my hand. One end trailed out the rental car’s window around to the back where it was tied to the frame. We were waiting for what we considered the right time to sneak up to the cell’s window.

“What if Doug’s asleep and won’t wake up?” I asked.


“I brought a water pistol to squirt him.”


“You really thought of that?”
“Be prepared, that’s my motto.”


“What if there’s glass behind the bars?”


“Jesus, would you quit being so negative?”


“Thought your motto was ―”


“All right, all right, let’s go see.”


Four vertical bars, six inches apart, blocked a narrow window from entry or escape. No glass. The bottom of the window was parallel with our eyebrows. We stood on tip-toes, and Bart whispered, “Doug?”


Doug’s face suddenly appeared. “About time you ninjas got out of the car,” he bellowed.

“Jesus,” Bart said, “would you keep your voice down. What if ―”


“I’m the only one in this stinking place. Chief went home long ago. Now get me out of here.”


I said, “The Chief asked Bart your name. You didn’t have ID on you, I take it.”


“ID’s at my campsite.”


“It’s a good thing. All we got to do is get you out of here, and nobody will know who you were.   Wait a minute, did he fingerprint you?”




“That’s strange.”


“This is a strange place. And yeah, I agree, he should have fingerprinted me. But you know, I don’t think he thinks I did it.”


“Peep?” Bart asked.


“What are you, Tweety Bird? Of course I mean peep. When he finally let me know why he was holding me, I told him I didn’t do it, told him to take me up to my campsite and I’d show him my plane ticket that’d prove I wasn’t here when it happened, and the darnedest thing is he looked like he believed me.”


“Did he take you?” I asked.


“I’m still here, aren’t I?   He just nodded and walked away, came back and gave me a phone to call you, and I haven’t seen him since. Heard him out in the office a few times. Even heard you guys come in. But he hasn’t been here much. Now give me the rope.”


I handed it to him. He wrapped it around the bars and said, “All right, back the car to the wall, then gun it straight out.”


That’s exactly what we did. Bart backed the car to the wall, I got in the passenger’s seat, we looked at one another, and Bart gunned it. The car reached the rope’s terminus and came to a dead halt, rope taut, tires spinning. We nearly went through the windshield.

And the bars didn’t move.




But the mayor was moving. From behind one tree to the next in the shadows outside of Jill’s house.   He wore a gorilla costume. The face was cut out and replaced with a rubber mask of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The temperature was forty degrees, but he sweated a waterfall behind the mask.

He glided from one tree to the next, each tree closer to Jill’s bedroom window. Only thirty feet away now. Then twenty.   Then ten. He positioned himself behind an ancient cedar, one so old that its diameter could hide a real gorilla, and stood there as still as the tree, and waited.


The light was on in her bedroom. As he knew it would be. She never closed the blinds. Heck, most people in Skykomish didn’t have blinds. They liked to bring the outdoors indoors. Even waved at people when they walked by. Jill’s bedroom, though, faced the river. No one walked by from that direction, which enabled him to sneak to her house from his undetected, along the river bank, blending in with the shadows and overhanging tree limbs. Her house was only a hundred yards from his anyway. If it weren’t for all the trees, he’d use binoculars.


The river rippled over countless river rocks, the sound a bedroom lullaby. But not to the mayor. Made him want to use the bathroom. He held back and thought other thoughts.

Those other thoughts centered on whether Jill would appear clothed or partially clothed or unclothed. Didn’t matter which to the mayor. If she were clothed, she always unclothed before getting under the covers.

He waited some more and sweated some more. Every three minutes he peeked one eye around the edge of the tree to see if she’d appeared. Not yet. He peeked again. And again. Darn, where was she?


He couldn’t hold it any longer. He had to relieve himself. Quite a chore, considering the costume. He unzipped it from the bottom of his neck to his pelvis, then dug around through the layers of hair and padding. He wondered if the hair were real hair, and if so, what kind of hair.   Surely it wasn’t gorilla hair.   Synthetic probably, although it seemed suddenly to develop a gorilla stink. A horrible stink. Must be dog hair, all smelly with his sweat. Anybody who’d use dog hair deserved to be cold-cocked.

And on that thought, the lights went out. Not in Jill’s bedroom. In the mayor’s head.




“It’s a mannequin head!” Luke hollered.

“Sssh,” Mark shushed.


“How many times I gotta tell you ―”


John managed to interrupt with, “Did you say mannequin head?”


“It’s what the mayor’s got in that chair,” Luke answered.   “A dummy head.”


“He’s a dummy, all right.” John was resuscitating himself.


Mark said, “Now what would the mayor be doing with a dummy head in his chair?”


“Wants people thinking he’s there when he ain’t.”

“So what’s he doing he doesn’t want nobody knowing what he’s doing?”


A lone bird, perched in a tree high above them, peeped.   The Three Apostles turned their heads upward, then slowly lowered them toward one another, their faces alight with Sherlockian deduction.


Luke said, “Let’s scoot on up to Jill’s house. See what we can see.”


“I’m no peeper,” Mark protested.


“I don’t mean let’s peep on her.”


“So what do you mean?”


“I mean let’s see if the mayor’s peeping on her.”


“That’s what you better mean.”


John, almost sober, started walking and said over his shoulder, “You two peepers follow me.” John could get drunk or sober as abruptly as a cliff preposition.


They stepped into the street and within minutes they were in front of Jill’s house. Around the back was a light barely visible from the street.


Luke said, “I think I see somebody back there.” Pointing in that direction.


“I think you’re right,” Mark said.


John headed that way, saying, “Let’s find out.”


They found Jill, fully clothed to their disappointment, standing beside a tree. She was rigid, staring down at something on the other side of the tree.


They announced their arrival as if their arrival behind a single woman’s house in the dead of night was a commonplace occurrence.


John asked, “What’s wrong.”


If she considered their arrival an uncommon occurrence, she didn’t show it. Living in the mountains will do that to you. She said, “I was in my bedroom, fellows, and I smelled this horrible smell coming through the window. Then I heard a thump. So I came outside and just now found this.” She pointed to the other side of the tree.


They took a look and found a prostrate gorilla.


Mark said, “It’s breathing.”


“Must be alive,” Luke said.


“That’s what breathing means,” John said. He bent down and rolled the gorilla onto its back.


“Holy moly,” Mark and Luke said.


Jill said, “This is terrible.”


“Terrible?” John repeated.


“Yes, terrible. This is how I identified him when I saw him at the general store.”




“He looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger.”




“Got any more ideas?” Bart asked.


“Maybe Doug has one.”


We got out and trudged back to the cell window. Bart stood on tip-toes again and whispered, “Got any suggestions?”


Doug answered, “Yeah. Next time rent a Hummer.”


“There’s a downhill slope over here,” I said. “We’ll be going at it from an angle, but maybe pulling the bars from the side will work better, and maybe the momentum of going downhill will give us the added speed we need.”


“Speed, smeed,” Bart said. “Weight and horsepower are what we need.”


“You have a better idea?” I was miffed. I’d wanted to rent a Continental Town Car. But, no, not Bart The Frugal.

Doug The Commando said, “Do it.”


“Wait a minute,” I said. “There’s a pile of rocks over here. Let’s put as many of the big ones as we can in the trunk for more weight.”


“Glad someone’s thinking,” Doug said.


“I would have thought of it.” Now Bart was miffed.


Putting the rocks in the trunk made me wish I were the one in jail. Doug would have lifted a rock under each arm, whereas it took both of us to lift only one rock, but at last we filled the trunk.


Doug peered through the cell window the entire time. He said, “This is just horse crap. You guys have to work out more.”


“Lot of good it’s doing you,” Bart remarked. “Way you work out, you ought to be able to knock the wall down.”


“Already tried,” he replied.


“Or bend the bars.”


“Tried that, too. Bars are too short.”


Doug The Commando assuming he could bend them otherwise.

I said, “Well, if this doesn’t do it, maybe somebody will come to save the day, like Mighty Mouse.”




Mark said, “That’s not Schwarzenegger. That’s a mask!”


“Either that or an alien gorilla,” Luke offered.


John, now sober, said, “That ain’t no Schwarzenegger, ain’t no alien nothing, and that ain’t no Sasquatch. That’s a mask.”


“I already said that,” Mark said.


Jill said, “Of course it’s a mask. I meant the fellow in jail looks like Schwarzenegger. This is someone else.”


John said. “So let’s see who it is.”


No one moved.


“Well,” John said, “who’s going to look?”


Jill rolled her eyes and said, “I will.”


All four huddled in close. Jill bent down and slipped a finger under the edge of the mask and lifted it, all four bending lower to get a better look.


“Well I’ll be,” John said.


“I knew it all along,” Mark said.


“No, you didn’t,” Luke said.


“Did too.”


“Did not.”


“Did too.”


Jill cut them off. “We need to get the Chief over here so he can let that man out of jail.”


“Chief’s in bed,” John said. “I don’t want to trifle with the Chief when he’s in bed.”


“Somebody’s got to trifle with him,” Jill said. “And if you three men won’t, I will.” Her emphasis on “men” stirred The Three Apostles into action.


“Let’s haul his royal rear end over to the Chief’s house,” Luke said, and all three bent to the task.


Jill stopped them with, “No, the Chief needs to find him here.   If you three think you can handle guard duty, I’ll go get him. Can you do that?”


They nodded. Sheepishly.   Or as sheepishly as men the size of mutant wolfs can nod.


She stalked off muttering, “What else weird could happen around here.”




We began our descent downhill with the accelerator floored and our seat belts buckled. As we neared the end of the rope, we braced ourselves for the jolt and subsequent breakthrough, but when we reached the end, the rope twanged and once again jerked us to a dead standstill, tires spinning. Only this time, the frame bent.


“Notice any Hummers around town,” I offered.


“Funny,” Bart said, sitting behind the wheel, holding onto it, and tapping it with one finger.


“How about we just ram the thing into the wall.”


“We’d have to leave it. You want to walk back to Seattle? And the Chief would trace it to us. Then we’d be sitting in there with Doug.” Bart The Joke Raconteur had seriously lost his sense of humor.


“I was joking,” I said. “But there is one other option.”


“And, pray tell, what is that?”


“Doug said when he called me that his rental, a pickup, is impounded behind the tavern. We could steal it and use it.”


“And add grand-theft auto? I pass on that.”


“We’re in deep enough already, so what the heck, why not?”


“No way.”

We stopped talking, listened to the engine tick, considered and discarded other options, including dynamite, when we heard Doug exclaim, “Who or what the heck is that!” His arm pointed out the window toward the trees on Bart’s side of the car.


We looked.




Jill said to the Chief, “You’re not going to believe this.”


The Chief stood in the doorway of his house. He wore red-and-black-checkered flannel pajamas, something Jill found endearing. He said, “Oh, don’t be surprised if I do.”


“You have to release that fellow you have in jail. It was someone else peeping on me. The Three Apostles are guarding him at my house this very minute.”


“The mayor, huh?”


Jill stammered, then regained her voice. This Chief was beginning to impress her. “How in the world did you know?” she asked.


“Little things. I’ve been waiting for him to trip up, and I figured with this fellow in jail, he’d get over-confident, and this would be the time. Peepers are compulsive. Compulsion hits them, their brains short-circuit and the only thing they think about is peeping. And once they start, the time between each peep-job shortens.”


Jill shook her head. “But this fellow I identified looks so much like the face I saw all those other times.”


“Mayor wore a mask, didn’t he?”


“How did you know that, too?”


“Those weren’t razor burns he had on his face after each time he was seen peeping.”


Yes, this Chief impressed her, all right. No wonder no one trifled with him. And he was kind of cute, too.
He said, “Wait in the living room while I get dressed and I’ll go get him.”


Jill asked, smiling, “How old are you?”




Bart and I sat in the car, transfixed, and watched whomever or whatever it was move from one tree to the next. One thing for certain, it wasn’t Mighty Mouse. It was huge, its stride long and slow, its body covered with hair, and its eyes, Lord have mercy, its eyes. They were human. And intelligent!


It stepped closer, not ten feet from our car, and walked around us toward Doug’s cell window. A horrible stink permeated the interior of the car, sort of like Doug

smelled when he communed with nature. Then it stopped and looked at us and raised an arm the size of a railroad tie and pointed a finger at us, as if to admonish us to stay put.

We stayed.


It walked up to Doug’s window, thumped a finger against a bar, and then pulled out one bar, followed by the remaining three.

We couldn’t see Doug’s face, but we knew his eyes had to be as wide as ours.


The thing reached inside the window all the way to its elbow, turned its head first one way then the other, as if it were looking for the Chief, then as casually as pulling its arm through water, pulled the wall down, turned around and walked back the way it came, and along the way stopped beside our car, and I’m telling you the truth, it smiled at us, before disappearing into the forest.




“I’m fifty,” the Chief told Jill after he changed clothes and they were in the Chief’s car on their way to pick up the gorilla mayor.


Jill smiled wider, said, “You’re not as old as I thought you were.”


The Three Apostles stood like sentinels around the still prostrate mayor. The Chief parked at the side of the road in front of Jill’s house and signaled for them to haul the mayor up to the car. They did. The mayor didn’t wake up the entire time. He was snoring away.


“Pile him in the back seat fellows,” the Chief instructed.


They did that, too.

The Chief said, “Which one of you cold-cocked him?”


The Three Apostles looked at Jill.


Jill declared, “It wasn’t me, though I wish I had.”


The Chief considered that, but could think of no place to go with it. He said to the Three Apostles, “Seeing as our mayor here kept the budget under lock and key, and seeing as we’ll be getting a new mayor not so inclined, our town council will finally see their way clear to budgeting for deputies. And seeing as I’m the one who hires deputies, I’m offering you fellows the jobs. So what do you say?”


They nodded together, with vigor.

“Just one thing,” the Chief added. “You’ll have to shave those beards.”



Doug came through the hole in the wall like a cannonball and jumped into the back seat. “Let’s get out of here,” he yelled.


Bart was already twisting the ignition. He gunned the accelerator and we sped around the jailhouse onto the main street and turned toward the road that would take us to the highway. We turned again and there was the highway, right in front of us. Also right in front of us was the Chief’s car, with the Chief sitting in the driver’s seat, just sitting there grinning at us.

Bart braked to a stop. We got out and walked up to his window as if we were on a midnight stroll.   Bart said, “Evening, Chief.”


He responded with, “It’s morning. And what are you fellows doing out, so to speak?” A comely, semi-young woman sat in the passenger’s seat, grinning, too. The Chief pointed a thumb at the back seat and said, “Meet Sasquatch.”


We looked in the back seat at a snoring gorilla with a familiar face.


Bart said, “Looks like a natural born politician.”


“He does, doesn’t he?“ the Chief said looking back at him, then to Bart he said, “I trust you fellows are of the character who’ll pay for whatever damage you did to my jail busting out, aren’t you?”


Bart surprised us by pulling out a checkbook and saying, “I’ll write you a check.”


“That’ll do for now. By the way,” he said, looking at Doug, “did you know you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger?”




The Chief didn’t let us off quite so easily. Trust is a good thing, but the Chief’s trust went only so far. He had Bart and me show him every piece of ID we had on us. I learned the comely, semi-young woman’s name was Jill, and I kept hoping she would turn her eyes on me, but she had eyes only for the Chief, who kept addressing Doug as Clifford. We didn’t correct him. We traded the Escort for Doug’s rental and promised the Chief we would have the rental company pick it up. Bart, not wanting to trifle with the Chief, begrudgingly paid the impound fee, too.   We drove up to Doug’s campsite, only two miles away, and gathered his precious communal gear, including a shotgun he’d never shot. All of this took less than two hours.

It was still nighttime when we passed Skykomish again, that time of night before dawn when night is at its darkest. We slowed down and looked at the town and its picturesque setting one last time. The town’s buildings were peacefully clumped together in the shadows of the Cascades.   The river glistened in the moonlight.


Slowly we rolled by, but before we got back up to speed, Bart hit the brakes. In front of us, caught in the headlights, standing at the side of the road only a few feet from the forest’s edge, was a human figure. A huge one. Covered in hair. Except for its face. Green eyes glittered at us over hairless cheekbones and a surprisingly delicate nose, and all of that below a hairless forehead. The hair on its body bunched up around the shoulders next to a thick beard and long hair on top of the head, but the body hair stopped at its wrists and ankles, like a coat. It smiled at us, then disappeared into the trees. It was a man. Had to have been. An abnormally big one, sure, but a man, nevertheless.


Or was it?

The End

The Bogeyman by Laird Long

He spotted his mark strutting down the street – headed for the pool hall. To Denton, they didn’t have names. They were ‘marks’. Targets. Picked for him by his clients. The hot sun blasted everything in sight, right or wrong. There were no shadows on the barren boulevard. Denton snapped on a pair of shades and slowed the big, grey, late-70’s Chevrolet to a crawl. He parked the car and got out. He was huge. His eyes and mouth were soft, the rest: hard. His hands were gigantic and square, the fingers slightly bent – the hard, callused hands of a dedicated iron lifter. He turned the corner and went into the pool hall.


The place was a cool oasis after the street furnace. There were ten tables in the hall, five large, five small. Denton spotted his mark in the back, wielding a pool cue like a sword. His friends laughed. They had to, he was bigger than them. They called him Chad. Chad had a smart mouth and a vicious temper. He was something that didn’t want to be controlled, told what to do. Denton sat down at the six stool bar to watch. A three hundred pound tub of guts in a dirty grey T-shirt ambled out of the back of the bar.


“What’d ya have?” Fatso asked.


“Ice water,” Denton replied. He didn’t turn his head from the game. Fatso was a chunk of humanity he had seen many, many times before, and he wasn’t worth the neck strain.


Fatso snorted, wiped the bar, and started to trot away.


“And a BLT.”

Fatso nodded, one chin disappearing and two reappearing with every bounce of his head.


The pool hall was dank and dingy, like a hooker in the shower. It was old-style. A blue layer of smoke hung under the powerful fluorescent lights – smog over a green velvet landscape. Some punks played video games in a little room off to the side. A couple of geezers were shooting stick in slow-motion; killing time ‘til the killing time. They glanced nervously at loud-mouthed Chad and his buddies. They glanced friendly-like at the mountain called Denton.


One of the geezers accidentally jabbed Chad with the butt-end of his cue on the recoil from a shot. Chad spun around, grabbed the stick from the startled old-timer, and stuffed the tip into the geezer’s apologetic mouth. He blew green chalk out of his nose and choked. Chad and his entourage laughed. Fatso stormed out of the kitchen. He held a dirty knife in his ham-hand. The sight of Denton’s massive body gave him an unusual dollop of courage.


“Hey, quit foolin’ around or I’ll throw you out!” he roared.


Chad pulled the cue out of the geezer’s mouth. The old guy stumbled backwards, shoved his teeth back in his mouth, and chugged Denton’s glass of water. Chad eyed Denton coldly. Denton’s face was as smooth and impassive as a tombstone. Chad scowled at Fatso, threw him the finger. He spat on the floor and turned back to the game, a look of contempt plastered on his bitter face for all to see.


“Asshole,” Fatso muttered. He wiped his greasy hands on his greasy sweatpants. He wiped his nose with the back of his hand. “One BLT, comin’ right up.”


Denton nodded.


The pool game broke apart after an hour of profane yelling and taunting. Chad had taken a couple of hundred bucks off his buddies. They headed for the door, laughing and shouting, trying to be as obnoxious as possible, and succeeding. When they walked by Denton, however, they shut their mouths. To them, Denton was as big and quiet and inscrutable as a church, and they didn’t dare say anything – the repercussions were unknown, but most certainly bad. They tried to look ahead, and tough, but they stole quick, nervous glances at the big man as they passed. Denton coldly watched them drift by, and out the door. He crunched a final piece of ice in his mouth and slammed the chipped beer glass down on the scarred wood.


Fatso eyed him closely. He silently snapped his sausage fingers as his torpid brain clicked with an idea he had been turning over like a hog on a spit. “Say, you don’t want a -”

“Job? Got one.” Denton pushed open the door, stepped out, and sucked the clean air of reality into his lungs. His mark was two blocks away – tracking south. Denton glanced at his watch. Six o’clock – supper time.


Denton walked over to his car and got in. The shocks groaned with pleasure. He turned the key. Thunder. Chad’s head twitched, and he picked up the pace. Denton pulled a U-turn and slowly rolled down the street like an approaching tide. The gun-metal car flashed hot and bright in the sun. Denton knew the route and he knew the spot. It was an empty grass lot between two run-down warehouses. There wasn’t a soul around. The car radio played a slow, sloppy love song, and the tinny sound filled the street. Denton’s massive body almost swallowed the steering wheel. His huge shoulders were cinder blocks from which tree-trunk arms dangled. His head was a square chunk of granite. There was no compromise in that body.


Chad stepped off the cracked, sun-baked sidewalk and sauntered onto the grassy lot between the two old warehouses. He walked with his thumbs hooked in his pockets, a swagger rolling off his hips. He stopped dead when the big, grey car roared to the curb. The tires skidded hard in the gutter gravel, and five hundred and fifty cubic inches of engine growled angrily as it died. The driver-side door flew open and Denton exploded into the street. The hot sun bit into him and bounced away. He danced around the angry car with football agility and raced towards his mark. He was a rock-hard earthquake of a man tearing up the ground.


The cockiness drained from Chad’s face in a limp trickle. He stared bug-eyed at the huge man hurtling towards him and he let out a bleak whimper. He spun around and ran. Too late. Denton smashed into him, bulldozing him six feet in the air. Chad bounced off the stony wall and banged down face-first into the deep, green grass. At the bottom of the cool grass – garbage. He stumbled to his feet and Denton went to work.


“Been a bad boy,” Denton said. He casually and precisely took him apart with his hands. Twelve inch fists slammed into Chad’s face and body over and over, sounding like pilings being hammered into the ground at a construction site – a reclamation project. Lefts, rights, hooks, uppercuts, elbows, knees, forearms. Chad crumpled to the ground – a broken and bloody barely-breathing pile of meat spit out of a wrecking machine.




A phone rang in the ‘burbs. In the cozy kitchen of a two-storey bungalow. Something smelled good.


“Hello,” a soft voice came back over the wire. A woman’s voice. An anxious voice. A voice sick with worry and love.


Denton balanced the pay phone receiver between his thick ear and his big shoulder. He looked down at a bloody knuckle and wiped it with a tissue. It came clean. He stuffed the bloody rag into his pocket, next to ten neatly folded one-hundred dollar bills. “Done,” he said.


Silence. The kind of silence that follows the waking from a nightmare.


“Oh,” the voice said finally. Relief spilled over the wire. “I, um, I hope he’s finally learned his lesson.”


“I taught him a thing or two,” Denton replied, smiling, squinting his eyes at the sun.


“Y-yes, thank you. If we can straighten him out before he gets into high school, it might help-” Pause. “Um, but the law, you know – as parents we can’t do any-”


“Yeah. I know all about the law.” Denton looked at his watch – ten minutes until he went on duty. He disconnected.

The End

The Good Samaritan by Shirley McCann

“I’m not kidding, Ralph. I’m tired of being the other woman. I think it’s time to break the news to Alice.”


Ralph spewed his coffee across the counter.   He’d met Crystal Manning when he stopped in at The Coral Café for a cup of coffee during one of his wife’s many out-of-town business trips. Over the past several months, their relationship had blossomed into more than just the casual cup of coffee. While he enjoyed the time he spent with Crystal, Ralph had no intention of eliminating his main source of financial support. His career as a mediocre private investigator was nothing compared to the income his wife contributed to their marriage.


“You know I can’t do that, Crystal,” he told her for the umpteenth time. “Alice has all the money. I’d be left with nothing.”


Crystal sighed and wiped the counter with a wet rag as a customer walked up to pay his bill.


Ralph’s heart thumped a hopeful tune when the man helped himself to one of Ralph’s business cards that Crystal allowed him to display near the cash register. He hadn’t had a new client in ages. When the man left, Ralph removed a black leather case from his shirt pocket and added another card to the plastic container.


Crystal shook her head. “Why don’t you just fill it up?”


“I already explained it to you,” Ralph answered.   “If I keep it filled, it looks like no one is interested enough to take one. But if I keep only one or two in the holder, it makes me look popular, so more people will want my card.”


Crystal rolled her eyes. “Yeah, well, I don’t see anyone knocking down your door.”   Sighing, she crossed the room and placed the “closed sign” in the window before turning the lock. “I’m tired of being the other woman,” she told Ralph again.   “Alice has to be told now. And if you won’t do it, then I guess it’s up to me.”


Ralph gulped the remainder of his coffee. He knew he’d have to do something, or Crystal would do exactly as she said. Ralph had no doubt that his wife would leave in a flash, taking her five-figure income with her.


Following Crystal behind the counter, he watched with interest while she emptied the cash register, counted out the daily receipts, then deposited the daily total into the small safe beneath the counter. A smile curled his mouth as a plan to do away with his mistress formed in his mind.


The next night, Ralph phoned the diner to tell Crystal he’d be later than planned. “Alice is back in town,” he told her. “I’m going to tell her all about us tonight. I’ll pick you up after work.”


It was a lie, of course. Alice had left on another business trip earlier in the day.   The only thing he’d be telling his wife tonight was how much he loved and missed her.


Four hours later, he arrived at the diner.   Crystal was hanging the closed sign in the window. Her eyes brightened when she saw him.


“Come in and tell me how it went tonight,” she said, ushering him inside. She pulled the shade and locked the door. “You did tell her, didn’t you?”


“Of course I told her,” he lied again.   Seating himself at the counter, he watched while Crystal counted out the day’s receipts. Realizing he may not set foot in the diner for awhile, he took his leather case from his shirt pocket and stuffed several more cards in the card holder, then slipped the case back in his pocket.


Removing the piece of rope he’d concealed around his waist, Ralph eased behind the counter.


“So how did she take it?” Crystal inquired.   She stuffed the money into a bank bag, then reached down and opened the safe. Ralph was right beside her, planting butterfly kisses against her earlobe.   In one swift movement, he wrapped the rope around her neck and pulled.


Mindful of fingerprints, Ralph carefully bent over Crystal’s lifeless body and retrieved the bag from the safe.


The next morning he was awakened to a knock on his door. “Are you Ralph Sims, the private investigator?”


“That’s right,” he responded warily.


“Mr. Sims, we’re detectives Williams and Donnelly.”   Both men produced badges of confirmation. “We’re investigating the murder of a young woman named Crystal Manning from the Coral Cafe.”


Realizing they must have discovered his business cards on the counter at the diner, Ralph pasted on a look of professionalism and led the men inside. “I’m always happy to help out the police,” he said as if this sort of thing happened to him all the time.


He indicated the sofa in the living room, then occupied a rocker across from them, his hands laced together, his face pensive.   “Do you have any leads?” he asked, taking charge of the investigation. “Murder weapon, fingerprints?”


The detectives exchanged puzzled glances.   “There’s been some mistake,” Detective Donnelly said. “You’ve already provided all the help we need.”


Ralph raised his eyebrows. “Excuse me?”


“When you murdered Ms. Manning, you dropped your business card case with several of your business cards, beside the body.”


Ralph refused to be ambushed. “Gentleman, surely you noticed that the café displayed my business cards on their counter. Those cards you found were probably just extras Crystal kept around to refill the holder.”


A cynical grin appeared on detective Donnelly’s face. “If that were true, we would have found the victim’s fingerprints on the leather case,” he explained. “And we only found yours, Mr. Sims.”


Officer Williams produced an official document.   “We have a warrant to search the premises. If we find the missing bank bag, we’ve also found our killer.”


Donnelly flashed Ralph a questioning gaze. “Why don’t you save us a lot of time, Mr. Sims.   After all, we wouldn’t have come this far without your help.”

The End

The Man Who Loved Frank Sinatra by James C Clar

Born William Bruno, he was going by the name Eddie Bertani these days. Eddie, né William, was also probably the biggest Frank Sinatra fan on the planet. More than a fan, actually, Eddie was a genuine expert on ‘Ole Blue Eyes’. At forty-seven, he had been studying the legendary singer’s life and music for over thirty-five years. His knowledge was encyclopedic. Back when he was twelve or thirteen years old, when other kids his age were listening to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, Eddie was rattling the windows with “Sinatra at the Sands” and “The Man and His Music.” He’d read everything that had been written about Sinatra. He even contributed a few articles himself to a number of different fan publications. There was a period of time when, back in upstate New York where he came from, Eddie actually hosted a local radio program featuring his hero’s music. “Damn,” Eddie thought as he made his way down Kalakaua Avenue into the heart of Waikiki, “that was a lifetime ago.”



Passing the partially restored natatorium and war memorial on his left, Eddie’s view of the ocean was somewhat obscured by the hoards of tourists mixed with local people cooking out and frolicking at Kapiolani Beach Center. Even though it was nearly 6:00 P.M. he was glad for the shade of the iron wood trees that grew along this stretch of the broad avenue. The trade winds had disappeared over the last few days and it was uncommonly muggy. He sang “Summer Wind” quietly to himself as he walked.



The noise and congestion grew even worse as he reached Kuhio Beach Park. But that was fine. It was part of the appeal, after all, and it made it easier for Eddie to pass unnoticed. The sensory overload of Waikiki was part of what had drawn him here in the first place. It was a variation on the “hide in plain” sight scenario. Tonight, Eddie was heading for the Hilton Hawaiian Village, about a twenty or twenty-five minute walk from his condo at the Colony Surf near the base of Diamond Head. Eddie lived well, but not ostentatiously. That would have been a huge mistake. Blending in, that was the key. And it had worked for him now for just over a decade.


Just beyond the Moana Surfrider Hotel, Eddie cut through the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center to save a little time. A few moments later he emerged on Lewers Street and headed toward the ocean and Kalia Road. At the venerable Halekulani he turned right. He always got a kick out of the helicopters perched atop the squat concrete structure of Battery Randolph and the US Army Museum at the corner of Saratoga. In the back of his mind he half-expected them to lift off one day and soar over the palm trees into the Hawaiian sunset. He came to the Hale Koa Hotel and then, a little further on, the walkway that lead to the grounds of the Hilton Hawaiian Village. The sidewalk was strewn with pink and yellow petals from the shower trees that grew in profusion here. There was a scent of plumeria in the air.



Walking past the tour desks and the duty free shop, Eddie felt a surge of excitement and anticipation. Tonight was the opening of the “Sinatra in Hawaii” exhibit near the Hilton’s Tapa Bar. He couldn’t wait. Truth-be-told, it was probably no big deal … it would most likely be a few photos, some memorabilia, a couple of displays that wouldn’t appeal to anyone other than real aficionados like him. Nevertheless, when he read about it on one of the Sinatra newsgroups to which he subscribed on the Internet, he knew that he’d have to walk up and take a look. And there it was, just up ahead arrayed around the statue of the legendary Hawaiian musician, Alfred Apaka. How cool was that?



As he drew nearer, Eddie couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was all here; material and photos dealing with From Here to Eternity (of course!), None But the Brave, and even a half-dozen stills from Mr. S’s guest starring role on Magnum, P.I. in 1986. He pulled out his digital camera and started snapping away. Eddie was so preoccupied that he let down the guard, the habitual wariness, which he had spent just over ten years developing. He looked up to see a well-built man of, maybe, fifty-eight or so, staring at him. At first Eddie took him for a security guard but the jeans and the tacky Aloha shirt ruled that out … no way they’d allow that here at the Hilton.



Taking his time, playing it cool, Eddie put his Nikon back in its case and looked up. “Can I help you, pal?”



“I’ve spent a long time tracking you down, Billy,” the stranger declared. “My name is Marty Crane. Detective Marty Crane, although I’m retired now.”



It took every ounce of Eddie’s nerve for him not to bolt. Instead, he stood his ground. “I’m sorry, you’re mistaken. “I’m Eddie Bertani. You must be confusing me with someone else.”


Marty Crane laughed. It wasn’t a malicious or sadistic laugh, but a laugh of genuine amusement. “There’s no confusion, Billy. I know who you are. There’s no point denying it. You and your two friends, Sam Paine and Johnny Milano, pulled off one of the richest armored car heists in history back in 1996. 2.5 million dollars. Damn! I’ve never been able to figure out how three such rank amateurs got away with it.”



Eddie shifted his weight and sighed with the kind of resignation that can only come from years on the lam. The guy was right, there was no point dissembling. It was almost a relief. He looked the retired policeman straight in the eyes. “Shit. I think we got away with it precisely because we were amateurs. We had no idea the risks we were taking. We didn’t have enough common sense to be scared. We just did it without really being concerned or worried about what we were doing. It was all very Zen. We took the whole ‘Rat Pack’ thing a little too far but, believe me, there was nothing Ocean’s Eleven about it! I’m just glad no one got hurt. None of us wanted that.”



“Sam and Johnny are both dead, Billy. You knew that, right?”



“Yeah, I heard on the grapevine that Sam had a heart attack and Johnny got cancer. I never even tried to find out what happened to their share of the money. I figured that would have been a real bonehead move. Besides, I’ve had enough trouble with my cut. Do you realize that it’s cost me almost $250,000 just to launder that damn money? Sometimes I think that if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t. Well, that’s not quite true. I’ve had a good run. But I always knew that this day would come. Tell me, how did you find me?”



A Japanese family and a young American couple wandered over and started looking at the Sinatra display. Marty Crane moved closer to Eddie. He was pleased that Bertani made no effort to back away.



“Listen, Billy, let’s sit down and have a drink. That way we can talk a bit more privately.”




The two men took a seat at a table just to the left of the Tapa Bar itself. A small combo was playing a blend of contemporary and traditional Hawaiian music on a stage just behind them. A waitress came by and took their drink order. The music was just loud enough so that they could talk without being overheard.


“Well,” Crane began, “as I told you, I’m a former investigator with the New York State Police. After I retired I became bored. I got interested in what we used to call ‘cold cases’. There was something about the robbery you guys committed that grabbed me. I kept going over the case notes and the reports. You might say that I got you guys ‘Under My Skin’. I managed to track Paine and Milano without too much difficulty. To be honest, Billy, they weren’t nearly as smart or as discreet as you’ve been. They spent money like drunken sailors. I’m only surprised that they weren’t caught long before I found them. In the end, though, it didn’t matter. They both died before I was able to blow the whistle.”



“That,” Eddie interjected, “is the reason why, after we split up, I vowed never to have anything to do with those guys again. They always were loose canons. If they went down I didn’t want to go down with them. I loved those two fools, but that’s what they were, fools.”



“Hey, let’s be frank here. You’ve done very well. I can’t believe you’ve lasted this long. I have to hand it to you. But you made one big mistake. You asked me how I found you. Well, you’ve changed just about every aspect of your life, your appearance, your habits, even what you eat. But what’s the one thing that hasn’t changed?”



“Son of a bitch,” Eddie sputtered after a few seconds of thought; it was like the proverbial light bulb had gone off in his head. “You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s how you found me?”



Marty Crane eased back in his chair as their waitress set two glasses of wine down on the table. “Your interest in Frank Sinatra was all over the background notes and profiles in the case materials. Let me ask you something, where are you living here these days?”



Eddie hesitated while he considered making up some bullshit lie. Realizing that the truth couldn’t possibly cause him any more trouble than he already had, he responded, “Down at the Colony Surf near Sans Souci Beach. Why?”



“Isn’t that where Sinatra and Lana Turner shacked up? I should’ve thought of that. In any case, do you see what I mean, Billy? This was your one weak point, your Achilles’ heel.”



Eddie shook his head. It really was funny when you thought about it.



“Anyhow,” Crane continued, “I started subscribing to online newsgroups, email lists, newsletters as well as hanging out in Sinatra chat rooms. Every time there was a fan convention or an exhibit or the meeting of a major Sinatra fan club, I’d find a way to make the scene. You have no idea how many miles I’ve traveled, how many cities I’ve visited in the last three years. I knew that, one of these days, I’d run into you. I was in San Francisco last week and heard about this little show. I thought, what the hell, I’ve always wanted to see Hawaii. Here I am, and here you are. We’re just two ‘Strangers in the Night’.”



The two men were silent for a good five minutes. Eddie finally spoke. “Under other circumstances I’d congratulate you on your ingenuity. Right now, though, I’d really like to know what it is that you want. If it’s money you’re after, I’ll go to jail before I let you blackmail me. And if you are going to take me in, let’s get it the hell over with. I’m all for playing nice-nice, sipping wine and listening to some slack key guitar, but enough is enough. Let’s go.”



As Eddie pushed back his chair and started to get up, Marty Crane held up his hands in a “take it easy” gesture. “Relax, Billy,” he said quietly, a twinkle in his eye. “I don’t want your money. I have a good pension, I’ve invested wisely and I don’t have any family commitments any more. Thirty years as a cop made sure of that. As far as turning you in is concerned, well, I have no intention of doing that.”



Eddie sat back down. This time, there was a slight edge in his voice as he spoke. “Again, I’m asking you, what the hell do you want?”



“In the first place, I’ve tracked you down just to prove that I could do it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to prove anything to you. It’s really more that I wanted to prove to myself that I still have what it takes. Beyond that, I also wanted to thank you.”



“To thank me,” Eddie replied incredulously. He was beginning to think that the older man sitting across from him was a nutcase. “What are you thanking me for? Now you’ve completely lost me.”



This time, it was Marty Crane who stood up. He took out his wallet and tossed a twenty dollar bill down on the table. “I wanted to thank you for turning me on to Frank Sinatra. You’ve opened up a whole new world to me, Billy. I was never much of a fan before, but now, it’s an addiction. The gift of music, my friend, you of all people should know what a wonderful thing that is.”



With that Detective Marty Crane turned on his heel and began to walk away. Speechless, Eddie Bertani watched as the retired policeman passed the Sinatra display on the left and the entrance to the restrooms on the right. Just before being swallowed up in the crowd, Crane paused to look over his shoulder. He winked and, shooting Eddie the classic gunfighter’s salute, disappeared down the hallway. Eddie never saw him again. As Eddie rose to leave, he noticed that the band had taken a break. They had been replaced by recorded music being played through their speakers. Improbably, but utterly appropriately, he heard Frank singing “Tender Trap.” It was the one with the Count Basie Orchestra; the one where Francis Albert really nails that high note in the last bar.

The End

The Case of the Returned Cypher by Roger W. Harrington

Groom came to my chambers early on the day after I had delivered my paper to the Royal Society on posthumous lividity. The paper had been received well, but I was not, somehow, gratified with my performance. As a result, Groom found me in indifferent humour.


“You must turn your mind to other things,” Groom advised.


“Indeed,” I remarked.


I pulled aside the curtain to my window. It was a miserable day. Rain pelted heavily against the window, leaving grimy trails, and I wondered why Groom had even ventured out to see me. But then, he was a loyal friend, and our Saturday meetings were something I knew he enjoyed.


“Forgive me, Edwin, but I am hardly myself today.”


“It is the weather, nothing more,” my companion offered brightly. “Come, we can play a game of chess and you can regain your spirits by thrashing me soundly.”


I smiled at that. Groom had little knowledge of the intricate strategies of chess, but he would work, stubbornly, at his game; a game that never improved. I was of a mind to indulge him when we heard steps on the stairs and then a gentle knock on the door. At a glance from Groom I nodded and he moved to the door and opened it.


“Professor Renfrew?” A young woman enquired.


Groom shook his head, but ushered her into the room. “Professor Renfrew,” he announced, indicating my person.


The young lady seemed confused. She soon recovered, however, and turned to me with an eager look on her face. She was finely dressed, certainly a lady of breeding, and held herself well. “Professor Renfrew, you must help me,” she declared. “The Wilmington Mace has been stolen.” At that moment, she pulled a scrap of paper from her purse and thrust it towards me. “This is a message from the thieves.”


“Groom, if you would please seat the lady by the fire with a glass of our best sherry.   She has come a long way. In the meantime, I will peruse this note.”

So saying I walked over to the window with the note in my hand.


“But you don’t know my name,” the lady protested as Groom led her to the fireside chair.


“You are Emaline Barrington, of the Brantford Barringtons; daughter of Sir Arthur Barrington, keeper of the Wilmington Mace.”


As Groom handed her a sherry, the lady looked up at me in astonishment.

“The condition of your clothing in this inclement weather, the distance you have travelled and the urgency in your face tells me all,” I told her. “Please allow me a few moments to look over this communication.”


She settled back in her chair and took a tentative sip from her glass.


I began to scan the letter:

“It don’t matter wot you think. Sums are not set as a test on Erasmus. We have the mace. We asked around among the gentry, but nobody wanted it. No one came esteemed. It don’t nod. Somebody should have come. But we know you want it. So decipher the message. Bring five hundred pound and the mace will be yours again.


Them wot knows.”


“Fascinating,” I murmured. “Edwin, you should see this, and pour me a brandy if you will.” I handed the note to him.


After he had handed me my brandy and perused the note, he shook his head. “I can make nothing of it, Renfrew,” he professed.


“Trust me, Edwin, it is the work of a highly formidable foe; perhaps one of the most cunning thieves in all of England. Miss Barrington, might I ask you if you have spoken to anyone else concerning this letter?”


“My father, my brother James and a Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” she responded.


“Mr. Holmes?”


“An amateur detective who lives on Baker Street,” Edwin provided. “Apparently, he is somewhat of a recluse, but he has solved a number of important cases with his unusual methods and the help of his friend, a Doctor Watson.”


“Of course, I should have known. I have heard of the man, but the name escaped me for a moment. Can you tell me what Mr. Holmes imparted to you Miss Barrington?”


“I regret to say, Doctor Renfrew, that he was most abrupt. He mentioned something about an obvious palindrome in the letter, but he went on to say that the case provided little interest for him.”


“Tell me about your father, Miss Barrington. Is he in good health?”


“Never better, Doctor Renfrew. He recently made a great deal on the stock-market; enough, I understand, to improve anyone’s health.”


“And your brother, James?”


“If I might be indiscreet enough to say, with your solemn pledge of absolute secrecy, James has not been able, of late, to hold his excesses within the bounds of his allowance. I have spoken to him about this matter and he has promised to reform his ways. Given his penitence, I have advanced him certain sums, recently, to cover his debts.”


“I thank you for your candid responses, Miss Barrington. I must tell you, further, that there is not a moment to lose.   We must visit this Mr. Holmes on Baker Street, to confirm my findings and then devise with him our subsequent course of action in this matter. Groom, I think a cab would be in order.”


Without questioning me, Groom hurried to the door and down the stairs to hail a cab.


“We are in some haste,” I told the cab-driver. “An extra shilling if you get us to Baker Street quickly.”


We arrived in record time and I gave the cabbie what I had promised over his usual remuneration.


A Mrs. Hudson greeted us at the door and protested that Mr. Sherlock Holmes was practising his violin and could not be disturbed. I assured her that I would knock at his door myself as our mission was one of extreme urgency. She demurred and we hurried up the stairs.


We found Holmes, in mid-arpeggio, with his companion, Doctor Watson, listening.   There was a deep frown on his face when he lowered his violin and saw Miss Barrington.


“Madam, I have informed you,” he explained to her sharply, “that I have no interest in your case.”


“Perhaps, Mr. Holmes, you have been a little too precipitant,” I observed.


“And who might you be?”


“Bartholomew Renfrew at your service, Mr. Holmes. I have heard much about you.”


He stared at me for a moment and then a broad smile creased his face. “The Parkington diamonds!” He enthused, “and the Telford Bell.”


I nodded.


“My God, man! I’ve been dying to meet you.” He turned to his companion. “Watson, this is Renfrew, the man I was telling you about only last week.”


He laid his bow down and reached his hand towards me. I held his thin, elongated fingers in my palm. “Renfrew!” He repeated.


“About Miss Barrington’s letter,” I said, “I believe it deserves a second look.”


“Really?”   He enquired. “Then, sir, we will surely give it a second look.” He put his violin back in its case and took the paper from me. After a moment, he looked up. “I see nothing here that I did not see before,” he remarked.


“If I might suggest,” I told him, “the first palindrome might be a clue to a second reversed expression.”


He perused the paper once more and then slapped his knee soundly. “By gosh, Renfrew, I think you have it!” He passed the paper to his companion, Doctor Watson.   “See here, Watson. See what I have missed.”


Watson searched the paper, but could find nothing. He handed it back to Holmes.


“But it’s elementary, my dear Watson. Elementary!”


“I would appreciate, Holmes, if you would not use such a demeaning expression to define your superior knowledge. It gives me the feeling that I am of little use to you in your work.”


Holmes studied his companion carefully. Finally, he spoke. “You know, Watson; you are my dearest of friends. I could lose my right arm and still be confident in what I do with you by my side. I don’t know what to say about this matter. I do know it has been your view that my cases should be recorded for posterity. I want to tell you that, from now on, you have the right to record what you please of my work in the field of investigation. I want to assure you, as well, that I will never use that phrase again.   You are my friend, my confidante and my fellow traveller in life. There is no possible way that I would venture to break that bond by careless words or any other means.”


I fully believe that Doctor Watson was near to tears on hearing this admission from his companion.


“Shank!”   Holmes exclaimed to me.


“None other,” I concurred.


“A redoubtable foe.”




“We must prepare for this meeting,” Holmes said. “I am sure that my friend, Inspector Lestrade, will be most interested in assisting us in this matter. Let us consider. The meeting has been proposed at the Noble dock; am I right, professor Renfrew?”


“Absolutely,” I responded.


“No chance to get Shank on the dock. He’ll be concealed somewhere in the background. There’ll be a boat, no doubt, to carry the ransom. They have to bring the mace to get the money; probably a force of men to guarantee their control of both the mace and the ransom.   I think we should let Lestrade know that he should come both by land and by sea.”




The mace was recovered and the thieves gained no ransom. There was no hope of gathering Shank into the broad net that Lestrade had spread. The man had disappeared as if he had never existed and none of his men was bold enough to give him up. Holmes regretted the fact, but assured me that either he or I might yet beard the scoundrel.


Later, in my chambers, Groom confronted me. “Tell me, Renfrew, what was it you saw in the note?” He demanded.


“I am sure you saw the first palindrome, “Sums are not set as a test on Erasmus”.


“Yes, that was evident to me, but the other clue.”


“Not as difficult as you might imagine, Edwin. You must take the sentences ‘No one came esteemed. It don’t nod.’ and reverse them, as you would a palindrome. You will find they read: ‘Don’t nod. Tide meet see mace noon.”


“Most ingenious. And the Noble docks?”


“Clearly, the reference to ‘gentry’ was a clue to the location.”


“Remarkable, Renfrew! But why should the thieves send a coded message? It doesn’t make sense.”


“It does if you widen the view of those who are culpable in this matter. You may recall that I questioned Miss Barrington on the health of her father and that she provided me with full information on his situation and that of her brother.”




“You might bring to mind, also, that she informed us that she had shared the letter with her brother and her father; a situation that Shank would surely have anticipated. I am guessing further that he would have known she would have taken the paper to a detective.”


Slowly, it came to my companion. “A person in the family, in desperate need of funds, who might give the thieves the opportunity to steal the Wilmington Mace for a price,” he offered.


“Exactly, my friend! However, it was clearly Shank’s intent to cut James out of the profits for the venture.   Hence, the returned cipher.   Believe me, I have sent a letter to Sir Arthur informing him of the situation.”


Edwin shook his head in wonder.


“I think you might pour us a celebratory libation,” I suggested.


As he moved to the cabinet, Edwin spoke over his shoulder. “You know, Renfrew, there might be something in what Holmes said to Doctor Watson. I mean, it might be a creditable venture for me to record your own cases.” He poured us a drink each and returned with the glasses in his hand. I took the glass he offered.


“No, Edwin, I think not. I have a feeling that what I have done will be nothing in the face of the contribution that men will make for this country in the future. I want no part in the diminishing of such sacrifice.”

The End