Fall Guy by Rafe McGregor

The mission was simple: book in at the ski resort, find Brooks, shoot him.  Then get on the next bus to Turin, and take the first flight back to Dublin.  He should have been dead by Thursday at the latest.  But he wasn’t.  Creek had held back because there were too many players on the field.  He didn’t know who they were.  Mafia, spooks, undercover cops, other assassins? Whatever they were, they’d had plenty of opportunities to pick Creek up.  He’d even left the Beretta in a sealed plastic bag in the toilet cistern on Wednesday.  He couldn’t think of anywhere more obvious.  When he returned in the evening he could tell someone had been in the room.  But the Beretta was still there.  And two days later he was still on the slopes.  So the spooks also wanted Brooks dead.

Creek was surprised he’d been given the mission.  There’d been rumours of a purge for a few weeks now.  The word was, everyone who’d been in the security forces prior to the 1994 elections was being retired.  Police, Defence Force, Intelligence Agency, Secret Service – no one would escape this time.  And Creek was old school.  Only by a year or so, but that wouldn’t make any difference.  So when he’d received his third summons from the Director General’s office, he’d assumed they were letting him go.  But it was another job, a favour for the Americans this time.  It seemed the new government needed reliable killers just as much as the old.

Creek realised he hadn’t paid enough attention to the turn ahead.

The orange plastic safety netting loomed rapidly.  He twisted into a parallel left turn, kicked up a flurry of snow, then hopped to his right, braking sharply.  The deceleration was just enough to allow him to take the turn without ploughing through the netting into the trees beyond.  Creek heaved a sigh of relief – straightened up – and found himself a metre away from a skier who’d stopped to take in the view.  There was nothing he could do except save himself, so he crouched low and hit the man with his right shoulder.  He heard a grunt, veered wildly, corrected himself, and skidded to a halt.

When he turned back to look, the man was gone.

Creek left the run, skiing down to the pine trees.  A couple of metres into the wood, he saw the man lying on the snow.  He must have bumped him off the slope.  He’d only fallen a couple of metres down the bank, but Creek scissored his skis forward to give him a hand.  The man was lying on his back, motionless.  Creek wondered if he’d hit his head on one of the trees – then he saw who it was.  First Sergeant Arnold T. Brooks, US 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment D.  A veteran Delta Force Operator and a serial killer who’d notched up twenty-eight women in thirteen countries.  And those were only the ones the CIA knew about.  Creek stepped out of his skis, dropped his poles, and stamped his way through the last few metres of powdery snow.

Brooks groaned, and started to push himself up into a sitting position.

Creek glanced up to the slope to make sure no one was there.  Then he moved in behind Brooks, pulled his head back, and slit his throat with an Eickorn combat knife.  Twenty-three years of covert operations and three wars didn’t make the skin any tougher.  Creek kept himself clear as the blood spurted out over the snow, and dropped the twitching body.  The blood steamed in the cold air as flakes of snow began to fall.

Creek hurled the Eickorn further into the trees and returned to his skis.  He had just enough time to get back to the Sporthotel, pick up his rucksack, and ski down to Cesara for the last bus at five.  By the time they found Brooks, he’d be halfway to Turin.  By the time they found he was missing, he’d be back at Alexandra House.  Creek bent down to turn his skis around and heard someone on the slope above skidding to a halt.

Quickly, he picked up the poles and slotted his boots back into the skis.  He heard a couple of men speaking Italian on the slope – no, they’d come down the bank into the wood – they were heading his way.  The man in the lead and Creek saw each other at the same time.  It was one of the spooks.  Creek pointed his skis down slope, off-piste through the wood, and pushed himself forward.  He saw the man draw a pistol.  Creek crouched low, and winced in anticipation.


The shot rang out behind and Creek heard the bullet thump into a tree trunk.  Crack, Crack!  More shots.  He ducked even lower, weaved in between the trees, and careered wildly down the mountain.  More shots – shouts – then shots again.  Creek threw himself around a tree – was caught by a branch – regained his balance – and hurtled down towards the bottom of the valley.

Three minutes later.

Creek slowed and stopped, heart pounding and chest heaving.  He listened for a full ten seconds.  Nothing.  The snow was falling thick and fast.  It would cover his tracks.  He swivelled to his left, so he was facing north, and moved off abreast of the river flowing far below.  The spooks had been following him.  It was the only way they could’ve found him so soon. And they weren’t cops either.  Cops identified themselves before they started shooting.  They wanted Brooks and Creek dead.  Two deaths: nice, neat, no questions asked.

Change of plan.

No going back to the hotel now.  Creek had everything he needed on him: wallet, passports, compass, binoculars, map.  He would stay off-piste until he passed below the Sporthotel– which should be coming up on the left shortly.  Then he’d join the blue run down to Cesara Torinese.  Once he was on that he knew it would take no more than twenty minutes to reach the bus stop.  He checked his watch: sixteen twenty, plenty of time.

Sixteen thirty-one.

Creek still hadn’t seen the Sporthotel, or found the blue run, but there was a helicopter circling overhead.  Somehow he didn’t think it was mountain rescue.  He took out the binoculars and read the markings through the snow: Arma dei Carabinieri, Italy’s paramilitary police.  They must’ve been on standby.

Did they have orders to shoot on sight?

The snowfall showed no signs of abating and Creek knew he was safe in the trees, but he was running out of time.  He slid forward to the edge of the wood and turned the binoculars down the valley to the town below.

It was a trade-off now.

He could keep skiing north until he found a run to take him down to the town.  But if he didn’t find one in the next five minutes he’d miss the bus and be caught by the police. Alternately he could take a bearing on the road winding along next to the river below, and head straight for it.  He’d have to ditch the skis because the ground was too uneven.  It was less than three kilometres away, so he should reach it in time if he didn’t twist and ankle or worse en route.  But if he did fall – well, then it would be just the same as if he’d missed the bus. Creek ditched his skis and poles and set off at a jog.

Sixteen forty-four.

Creek was puffing and panting, fighting his way through the thick blanket of snow on the ground, but he was making good time.  The slope was steep, and gravity was doing most of the work.  He just had to keep his balance, and keep watching where he put his feet.  Less than a kilometre to go: nearly there.

Sixteen forty-nine.

Creek could see the river now, about fifty metres ahead.  He forced himself on – stumbled – couldn’t regain his footing, and tumbled head over heels.  He went over once, twice – couldn’t pull out of the fall – and pitched headlong.  He bounced off a tree, hit the ground heavily, and rolled down slope on his side.  He spun around and around until – thump – he stopped suddenly.  The impact winded him and he felt pain shoot through his right thigh.  He kept still and forced himself to breath deeply.  Then he looked down: he’d rolled into a fallen tree, and the jagged edge of a cracked branch had impaled his right quadricep.

Creek froze.

He heard a voice – voices.  Three men were walking up from the river.  Wearing Alpine camouflage and balaclavas; carrying rifles.  Then a fourth.  They were fanned out across to the south, walking up to Sagna Longa and the Sporthotel.  Creek kept still as the heavy flakes fell on his face and covered his body.  More voices – to the north this time.  Another four cops sweeping up the slope to Sagna Longa.  He shuddered at the pain, but forced himself to hold still.  At least the wood sticking in his wound kept it from bleeding heavily.

Two deaths: nice, neat, no questions asked.  Brooks, an operator discovered to have a penchant for torturing young women to death, no longer any use to Delta Force.  Creek, an officer who knew too many secrets and had been around too long, no good to the South African Secret Service.  No good alive.  Welcome to the purge.

Sixteen fifty-nine.

When the men were out of earshot Creek tightened his abdominal muscles to keep his lower body still, and pulled off his jacket, sweatshirt, and thermal vest.  He put the sweatshirt and jacket back on and tore the vest into three strips.  He folded one of the strips into a small, thick square.  Then he clenched his jaw tight and used his left hand to shove his leg off the spike.  The blood gushed out and he clamped the makeshift bandage over it.  He tied the other two strips tight around his thigh.  Then he pushed himself to his feet, and put a little weight on the leg.  It hurt like hell, but it would work.

Change of plan.

He dismissed the alternate escape route he’d been given.  Everything from the Secret Service was part of the trap.  Time to take the quickest route out of Italy on his own.  He took out the map and compass.  Claviere, on the border, was about six kilometres west-north-west; Montgenèvre, the closest French settlement, was a further two kilometres.

He dropped John Creek’s passport in the snow and set off for Montgenèvre.

The End

David’s Treasure by Kerry Petrichek

David had the ornate medallion in his hands, finally.  At last, Aunt Clara, the woman he had pretended to care so much about, had died.   She kept it around her neck on a gold chain while she was alive, but willed it to him and now he wore it.  He ran one hand through his dirty blond hair and opened the ancient roll-top desk with the other.

The appraiser would be there any minute to ensure him of its value.  The medallion’s original box, the old tin from the ship’s captain, would be in the desk’s hidden compartment.  He reached inside, opened a drawer and removed its fake bottom.


David had thought killing Aunt Clara for a long time.  His plan was to make sure she left the jewelry to him in her will, then get rid of her.  He contemplated many ways to do it, giving her too much medication, pushing her down the stairs or suffocating her with her pillow.  He hadn’t even decided on a plan, but, as luck would have it, he didn’t have to, because a few weeks ago, Aunt Clara did him the great service of dying on her own, peacefully in her sleep.


David had wanted Aunt Clara’s medallion ever since he was a child. She had told him on several occasions how she had come to own the piece – solid gold and encrusted with diamonds, emeralds and rubies. But it was a year ago that he devised his plan to obtain it for himself.  He would become her favorite relative, visiting her every week and listening to her as she told long, detailed stories of her past.  Just as he had hoped, he had won her heart and her medallion, and now, he could sell it and be rich.


It had only been a few weeks since he had sat across from her in her living room, he on a worn plaid sofa, and she on her rocking chair that squeaked every time it leaned back.  This time she told him again the story of how she got the remarkable piece of jewelry.  She rested her hands on the white cotton apron. Her gray hair swayed, brushing her shoulders at she rocked.


“My father, Stephen, was a very poor man, a fisherman who barely made enough money to feed his family.”  She said, stopping for a moment and looking at the floor, but then her eyes brightened and turned back toward David, continued.  “One day, early in the morning, on his way to the docks, Stephen saw a sign hanging on a wooden post which read of an expedition at sea and a treasure hunter who was looking for young men to work as ship hands.  Money would be paid for their services.”


“How much money?” David always asked this question when she got to this part of the tale.  He never tired of the answer.


“Well, not very much was offered at first,” She smiled at David, “But we ended up with a fortune!”


David leaned in closer to his Aunt.  He had no use for tales of ships and expeditions, but money and treasure intrigued him.


“When Stephen got to the dock, she said, “He saw many men waiting in line, hoping to gain a position on the ship.  The excursion would be one no man could turn down. Not only would it be an adventure, but also money for their families.  At the front of the line was the tall gray haired man that would choose the crew.  He wore a black overcoat and jewelry – diamond and ruby rings on his fingers and a large earring in his ear.”


David watched the medallion sway back and forth on Aunt Clara’s chest as she told the story in lively animation.  “The caption walked slowly through the line of men, stopping in front of each one and looking them over.  Most were passed over, but a lucky few where offered a job.  Stephen held his breath when the man reached him.  ‘Let me see your hands,’ the man said.   Stephen put his lunch pail on the dock, and obeyed, holding out his hands – rough, worn and revealing.


“’You have strong, hard-working hands,’ the man said, ‘You will come with me.’


“My father soon learned that the ship’s captain was a very wealthy man who collected artifacts from ancient cultures.  His vessel would take them to a small island in the northern Pacific to meet another collector owning relics such as pottery and jewelry from the early Mayan civilization.  The captain hoped to acquire the pieces and bring them back to the United States.


“My mother cried when my father left.  But he would only be gone for a month.  He told her so, when he left.  It was a windy morning when she and I, only six-years-old at the time, waved goodbye to him beside the biggest boat I had ever seen.  My coat flapped wildly as it was pulled by the wind.  My father’s wavy hair floated behind him as we hugged.  Sadness hung over my mother, but I felt the excitement in the pink sky and the salty scent of the sea.”


At this point in the story, David grew restless and bored.  He was annoyed with the endless details of Aunt Clara’s tale, but he hid his impatience.  “Go on,” he said.


Her voice became softer, “Three weeks later, though, the gray haired man who had taken my father to sea came to our door.  I stood beside my mother as he told of a violent storm and though the crew had managed to save the flailing ship, several men, including my father did not survive.


“He said that my father was a good man and he was sorry for our loss.  Then, he reached in his pocket and pulled out and old, worn tin.  He opened it to reveal the beautiful medallion. He explained to my mother that he had purchased it during an earlier trip to South America, and now wanted her to have it.  I saw its gems sparkling in her hand.  He then took out his earring and gave it to her, along with a box filled with other pieces of beautiful jewelry.  He said he knew the gifts were no consolation, but they were of great value, and if sold, would keep my mother and me in financial comfort.


“My mother thanked him through her tears, and after he left, she took the gold piece and hung it around her neck.  She decided to keep it always, as a reminder of my father.  She did sell the other jewelry though, which provided us with our basic needs – food, shelter, oh, and the dress.”


Aunt Clara sat up straight in her chair and he eyes widened as she spoke.  “My mother had always wanted a brand new dress and now she was able to buy one.  It long dark blue gown of thick, heavy brocade.”  Aunt Clara stopped talking for a moment and smiled.  “She loved that dress and although she had few occasions to wear it, she took it out of her closet often, just to look at it.”


David groaned.  He leaned heavily on the back of the sofa.  Listening to Aunt Clara babble on about a dress was excruciating. “Lovely,” he said flatly.


“Yes,” Aunt Clara continued, “Sometimes we would play dress-up together.  She would put on the dress. I would wear one of her dresses too and she would turn the radio on, and we would dance wildly around the kitchen to the sounds of one big band or another.  Those were some of my fondest memories.  Come, David, I’ll show you.”


David sighed heavily as he followed Aunt Clara into the bedroom.  She had shown him the dress already at least a dozen times, every time she told him the story, but he feigned interest and allowed her to show it to him again.  She pulled the dress from the back of her closet clutched its bodice and spun around.


“Isn’t it gorgeous?” she asked holding it up for him to see. “Sometimes,” she winked at David as though she were sharing a secret, “I put the dress on, turn up the radio and dance around in it, just like my mother used to.”


David faked a deep hearty laugh.  “And I’m sure you look stunning in it.” He said before turning away from her and rolling his eyes.   David looked at his watch and announced, “Well, it is getting late.  I’d better be getting home.”


Aunt Clara hugged him tightly and he promised to return the following Wednesday.  But, that was the last time he had seen her alive.  She died two days later.


When David heard she had passed away, he was elated.  He waited impatiently for the reading of the will and was overjoyed when the attorney announced that Aunt Clara had left him her entire estate.  She did so, according to will, because she knew that David would cherish the things that were important to her and take good care of them.


David went through the house the following day.  He found the medallion, which Aunt Clara had been wearing when she died, lying on the top of her dresser.  He gently lifted its chain over his head and let it fall to his chest.  He searched the house for other items of value, but found nothing, except worthless clothes, chipped china and old furniture.  David paid Aunt Clara’s close friend and neighbor to box everything up and get rid of it.  He had almost forgotten about the old tin that had originally held the medallion and would greatly increase its value.   Aunt Clara had shown him the hidden compartment in the desk where she stored it for safe keeping.  Luckily, the furniture had not been removed from the house yet, so he could still retrieve it.


He reached inside the desk and pulled out the aged container.  He caressed it with his fingers, before carefully opening it.  To his surprise he found a letter inside written to him from Aunt Clara.


Dearest David, it read. If you are reading this letter, then most likely, I have passed on.  I really want you to have my father’s medallion, but am worried that it may get stolen or broken before you have the opportunity to receive it.  That is why I don’t wear the original around my neck.  I had a copy made so that I could enjoy it, but hid the real one in a very safe place.  I sewed it in the hem of my mother’s blue gown, the one I told you about.  You know where I keep it, in the back of my closet.   Enjoy it, David.  I know how much it meant to you.


David’s eyes darted across the room to the closet.  It stood open and empty.  Leaning against the desk to steady himself. He dialed Aunt Clara’s neighbor’s number on his cell phone.


He shouted into the phone.  “Where are the clothes?  Where are Aunt Clara’s clothes!  I need them right away!  I need to get them back!”


“David, calm down,” the neighbor answered.  “What’s wrong?  Why do you need them?”


“I just do!” he exclaimed.


“I’m sorry, David, but I got rid of them like you asked me to.  They were in pretty bad shape.  I had to throw most of them away, except for a blue vintage gown.  It was preserved quite well.”


David sighed with relief, “Thank goodness,” he said, “I had almost forgotten about the dress, but just remembered how important it was to my Aunt Clara.  I’d like to have it for sentimental reasons.”


“David, are you serious?  You want the dress back?”


“Yes, is that a problem?” he answered.


The neighbor hesitated for a moment.  “Well, yes, I mean, don’t you remember?  I asked you if it was okay.  You told me you didn’t care.  You told me to do whatever I wanted.  Don’t you remember, David?”


“What?  What? Remember what?!” David shouted.


“That was your Aunt’s favorite dress,” the neighbor answered, “I’m surprised you don’t remember.  We buried her in that dress.”


He hadn’t remembered.  He hadn’t paid attention at the funeral.  David’s legs grew weak.  Unable to steady himself, he fell to his knees on the floor, and the phone fell from his hand.   He tried to breathe, but his lungs tightened and his chest ached.


Just then, he heard a knock at the door.  The appraiser had arrived.

The End

Cow Path Road by Carlos Navarro

Though the pain had not hit him yet, Mad Dog could tell he was badly hurt.  The steering wheel had crushed him against the driver’s seat, and blood oozed from his mouth with each labored breath.  On the floorboard under the passenger’s seat lay Bronto, muttering curses, his thin body grotesquely twisted, like an unstrung puppet, unable to move.


Mad Dog took stock of the situation.  The sun was sinking behind the cliffs and the temperature dropping fast below freezing.  But Mad Dog did not despair.  The old man in the Chevy they had passed a few miles back should be coming up the road soon.  He would see the wreck and stop, as the law required, and call for help.  Surely he would have a cell phone, and if by chance he didn’t, he would drive back to town and alert the rescue squad.  The “Jesus Saves” sticker Mad Dog had seen on his rear bumper was especially reassuring.


So he sat still and waited, listening through Bronto’s muttering and the moaning of the wind for the sound of the Chevy.


At one time, the only way by motor vehicle between Hebron and Rock City was across the mountain on Cow Path Road, so named because the engineers who laid out the road had conveniently followed the paths trodden by generations of cows from the dairy farms that had once served the two towns.


Between Hebron and Rock City the distance on the modern four-lane highway along the foot of the mountain was considerably longer than by way of Cow Path Road.   But the half hour or so saved by taking the winding, now crumbling, desolate road wasn’t worth the trouble and risks involved, unless one happened to be in big hurry, as were the two young drifters that late Friday afternoon.


Mad Dog and Bronto, as they had nicknamed each other, had been high school classmates.  At age 16, after a long history of suspensions for unruly behavior, they had dropped out of school and embarked on an aimless cross-country journey, working odd jobs to survive and, when no jobs were to be had, as was often the case, panhandling or shoplifting—skills at which they had become consummate experts.


The rickety old van they drove, a gift from Bronto’s grandpa, had been their only home for the past two years, its side compartments stuffed with clothing, mostly unwashed and, strewn on the floor amid empty soda cans, fast-food wrappers and other assorted trash, their sleeping gear.   Every couple of weeks, if they could afford it, they would pull up at a truck stop for a hot shower.


“It don’t get no better than this!” Mad Dog would exult, and Bronto, smiling blissfully, would nod in agreement.


At Hebron they had lucked out on a job with a fly-by-night contractor who specialized in conning elderly folks into making needless repairs in their homes.  Attired in an official-looking uniform, a hardhat, a photo ID pinned on his lapel and bearing a clipboard, the conman would introduce himself as an inspector for a nonexistent “Municipal Services” agency and inform the homeowners that their waterline might be leaking.


Once inside the house, he would find things that needed fixing—the water heater, the furnace exhaust, loose insulation—and propose to make the necessary repairs at a reduced price.  If they accepted, as most did, he would phone Mad Dog and Bronto, who would promptly show up wearing “Municipal Services” T-shirts and toting official-looking tool boxes.   After an hour or so of audibly tinkering around but repairing nothing, the conman would hand the elderly homeowner his bill, to be paid for at once, in cash, keeping 50 percent of it for himself and paying his two assistants the rest for a job well done.


“Old folks, they are easier to deal with,” the conman explained.  “For most, their home is all they got, but because they can’t get around to check, they’re afraid there are a lot things, particularly in the basement and attic, that need fixing.  And because their minds are slipping, they tend to be leery of checkbooks and credit cards, so they prefer to pay in cash, no questions asked.”


The conman here would pause a moment to give Mad Dog and Bronto time to marvel at his cleverness.


“What I do may sound illegal, but it isn’t.  I never tell them I’m working for the city.  “Municipal Services” is just a name I thought up. And in most states, if I charge less than $30,000 for a job, I don’t need to have a contractor’s license.  I consulted all this with a lawyer friend of mine before going into business.”


“Yeah, but you neglect to consider that a relative of one of them old folks you dupe might figure that you stole his inheritance and break your legs, or put a bullet through your head,”  Mad Dog thought, but kept it to himself.  As long as he and Bronto were getting paid, he didn’t give a damn how the conman made his money.  In the two weeks that they had worked for him, they had earned over $2,500, more than they had ever seen in their young lives, and now they were itching to spend it.


For his part, the conman, in accordance with his game plan, had already considered what Mad Dog was thinking and had prudently taken the highway along the foot of the mountain to Interstate 81 and on to another town with a sizeable old-folk population.


Mad Dog and Bronto knew that they also would have to high-tail it soon, as  once the scams were discovered, they would be regarded as accomplices.  But they had planned to leave, anyway, Hebron being one of those dry, tight-assed towns with more churches than gas stations—not the kind of place for fun-loving young studs like themselves to spend their leisure time and money.


By contrast, Rock City on the other side of the mountain was a wide-open town, teeming with bars, gaming joints and police-protected whorehouses offering everything from pricy teen-aged chicks to toothless bargain-rate hags that specialized in oral sex—or so a waggish truck driver had told them.


So the same Friday afternoon that the conman left town, the two young studs filled their gas tank and took off for Rock City by way of Cow Path Road, to save time.


“If we hurry, we can make it in time to take a hot shower and join the party,” Mad Dog said.


“And get laid real good,” Bronto grinned, humping lasciviously. .


But no sooner had they turned into the old road than they came up behind a blue Chevy sedan moving at a turtle pace.  Mad Dog leaned hard on the horn.


“Pass him, Man, pass him,” prodded Bronto.


“Can’t, damn it!  There ain’t no room. This fuckin’ road is too goddam narrow and there’s nothing but a gully on either side.  Shit!”


“Shit is right, man.  That asshole is holding us up.  At this pace, it’ll be midnight before we get to Rock City.”


The “asshole” driving the Chevy was a shrunken old man with both hands on the wheel and peering through it at the road ahead.  Mad Dog and Bronto could barely make out the back of his head.


“One of them religious old farts from Hebron,” sniggered Mad Dog, noting the “Jesus Saves” sticker on the rear bumper of the Chevy.    “What in the hell is he doing on this God-forsaken road? There ain’t supposed to be no farms or nothing else between here and Rock City.  Shit!”


“Probably got confused and took a wrong turn,” surmised Bronto.


“Old farts, they do shit like that all the time.  My grandpa got his license taken away for forgetting where he was going.  Caused a bunch of accidents. That’s why he gave me the van.”


Again leaning on his horn, Mad Dog accelerated until the van was bumper to bumper with the Chevy. “Maybe if I tailgate him a little he’ll pick up speed.”


“Yeah, if he sees you so close on his ass, he’s bound to drive faster.”


But the old man didn’t drive faster.  Through the rear window of the Chevy, Mad Dog and Bronto could make him out, head stiff, peering back at them in the rearview mirror.


“Old farts, why do they have to live so long?”  mused Mad Dog aloud.


“Yeah,” Bronto put in, “When they get to be a certain age and can’t work and fuck and enjoy life no more, they should call it quits and die.  A pain in the ass, a burden, that’s all they are.”


They drove on like that for several miles, Mad Dog tailgating the Chevy, honking his horn now and again, Bronto cursing, and the old man in the Chevy stubbornly refusing to speed up.


Finally, they came to a spot of level ground on the side of the road and the old man pulled over to let Mad Dog and Bronto pass.


“Fuck you, you old fart!” they bellowed in unison as they passed the old man, punctuating their curses with jabbing one-finger salutes.   “Fuck you!”


The old man didn’t so much as cast a glance their way.  He just sat there behind the wheel, like a mannequin, staring straight ahead. Mad Dog gunned the van and darted up the road.  By his reckoning, they were at least a half hour behind schedule.


Years ago there had been a speed-limit and warning signs posted on the more dangerous curves, but these had long been removed for firewood or had rotted out.  So Mad Dog drove on, unaware of the risks ahead, the tires of the van squealing, with Bronto egging him to go even faster, the anticipated delights of the wild weekend awaiting them in Rock City heightened by the thrill of the ride.


Then it happened.  Mad Dog had taken his eye off the road for a moment to say something to Bronto, when the road suddenly dipped and curved 180 degrees.  Unable to make the turn, the van careened off the road, flipped over once, twice, and crashed against a boulder in the bottom of the gully.  Like a mortally wounded animal, the van rumbled on for a moment, then was silent.


So Mad Dog sat still and waited, listening through Bronto’s mutterings and the moaning of the wind for the sound of the Chevy bearing the religious old man who, surely, would call for help and save them.


At length, the Chevy came up the road and stopped.  Taking his time, the driver got out and gazed down at the wreck.  Mad Dog looked up at him.  The guy was a lot bigger and stronger than he had appeared sitting behind the wheel.  . . Yes, now he remembered. This was the elderly man he had noticed talking with a crippled old woman that the conman had duped last week, probably a neighbor or friend of hers, Mad Dog had thought at the time.


From a rack in the Chevy, the elderly man took an antique double-barrel 12-gauge shotgun, the kind that could blow the head off a bull and, glancing around, making sure no one was watching, he sure-footedly descended the gully to inspect the wreck.


First he peered into the passenger’s side and saw Bronto lying unconscious on the floorboard.  Then he went to driver’s side where Mad Dog was crushed against the seat, gasping and coughing up blood.


“Please help us, Mister,” Mad Dog, now in great pain, pleaded.

“Please!  My buddy and me, we’re hurt real bad!”


He tried to lock eyes with the elderly man, to elicit compassion, but the old man just looked past him, saying nothing, as if he didn’t exist.


Then of a sudden it dawned on him. The man with the shotgun had set up the accident.  He must have sized them up and sensed they would be in a hurry to leave Hebron and be heading for Rock City on Cow Path Road to get there by sundown.  So he had driven on ahead and deliberately slowed them down, figuring that once they passed him they would drive on at reckless speed to make up for lost time.  He must have known that old road like the back of his hand and picked the place where he would pull over to let them pass, and even predicted where they would crash.


Mad Dog’s pleading here gave way to a wail, and the wail to a protracted shriek that pierced the cold mountain air.  But the old man wasn’t listening.  He calmly returned to his Chevy, put the shotgun back on its rack—he wouldn’t be needing it after all—and slowly drove away.

The End

Clock Work by Rafe McGregor

“You will use the name John Daniel,” said the tall, clean-cut blonde from behind her desk.  “Put your bag down.  Sit.”


Her visitor nodded once, and did both.


“What have you been told?” she asked.


“Yesterday I was called to the director general’s office.  His secretary instructed me to take the twenty-fifteen South African Airways flight to Heathrow and report to you, here, as soon as possible.”


“That’s it?”




“Good.  You’ll be needing these.”  She stood, took a black leather wallet out of a drawer, and picked up a briefcase Daniel hadn’t noticed.  She brought both around to him.  “You’re a South African born British subject working as a security manager for Exall, Guest, and Cotterall, an auditing firm in Canary Wharf.  You live in Putney.  The cover won’t hold, but you won’t need it to.”


Daniel checked the wallet.  There was a debit card, two credit cards, a full UK driver’s licence with his photo on it, and a hundred pounds in cash.  There were also two train tickets with today’s date on them, one for the Underground, and one to Oxford.  He stood up and pocketed the wallet.


She continued, “Be very careful with the briefcase.  Make sure you’re alone when you open it.  All the information is there.  The combination has been set to your code.  You’re booked into Linton Lodge in Oxford.  It’s a Best Western about a mile from the city centre.  You have a meeting with an access agent at seven o’clock tonight.  Any questions?”


“Not if it’s all in there.”  Daniel indicated the briefcase.


“It is.  Everything you’ll need for the job.  And remember, this is from the director general himself.”


“Then I’ll get started.”  Daniel slung his sports bag over his shoulder, and picked up the briefcase.  He was surprised when she wished him good luck.  Daniel had grown out of the habit of smiling since the scar, so he just nodded again and left.




The door opened with a plastic key, which was unfortunate from a security point of view.  Daniel put the briefcase and the bag on the bed.  He checked the wardrobe wasn’t fixed, then shifted it until a few inches blocked the door.  He returned to the briefcase, laid it on the desk, and caught his reflection in the mirror.  He looked as tired as he felt.  He glanced at his watch: quarter past twelve.  No wonder, he’d been in Johannesburg sixteen hours ago, and Pretoria three before that.


He manipulated the combinations on the briefcase, clicked the switches, and opened it.  Inside the top half he found a pistol and a hand grenade.  They were held in place in the foam rubber lining with plastic ties.  Below: a handgun cleaning kit; a mission briefing consisting of five loose sheets of A4 paper; ten A5-size colour photographs; an Oxford A-Z; a bus ticket and timetable for the Airline Company bus from Oxford to Gatwick; and an airplane ticket for a Lufthansa flight from Gatwick to Berlin, leaving at midnight tomorrow.


A murder kit complete with instructions.


The mission brief was divided into five sections: Agent Cover, Target Information, Target Confirmation, Target Execution, and Agent Extraction.


The target was a thirty-four year old South African citizen named Siyabonga Mchunu.  Daniel recognised the name immediately.  ColonelMchunu had been adjutant to Lieutenant General Mthimkulu, the Chief of the South African Army.  Last year he’d been investigated for fraud before deciding to leave the country in a hurry with a large amount of Department of Defence money that didn’t belong to him.  Daniel remembered communiqués placing him first in Abu Dhabi and then Switzerland.  The ID photo clipped to the second page was unnecessary, as were the A5 photographs; he hadn’t altered his appearance.


Daniel had two questions: why were the Secret Service using an intelligence officer instead of an agent, and why did they want Mchunudead?  If the Secret Service had to hunt down everyone who defrauded the government, they’d need a full time death squad and plenty of dissembling diplomats for the subsequent denials.  His second question was answered in the last paragraph of the second page.


The president’s granddaughter had recently suffered a nervous breakdown.  This was common knowledge.  During psychotherapy she’d told her therapist that Mchunu had raped her five years ago.  She’d kept quiet about it because her grandfather had been up for re-election at the time and she’d wanted to avoid any scandal.  She still didn’t want anyone to know, but the therapist had taken the news straight to the president.  Absconding with hundreds of thousand of Rand was one thing, but raping the president’s granddaughter was guaranteed to reduce one’s life expectancy.  Drastically.  Daniel thought it was probably the reason Mchunu had taken the money and run.  Not that he cared. He was just there to do a job.


But he still wondered why he’d been selected for it.  Despite the misconception propagated by the mass media, intelligence officers didn’t go about breaking and entering, stealing secret documents, or killing people.  They recruited intelligence agents to do that for them, and thus remained once-removed from the actual dirty work.  Perhaps there was a shortage of suitable agents for the job, although Daniel found that unlikely with something like three million expatriate South Africans in Britain.  Maybe there wasn’t one who could be trusted to keep his mouth shut if he was caught.  That was more like it.


The access agent’s name was Lily.  Daniel didn’t remember her from his tour with the Economic Reconnaissance Office in South Africa House.  She must be new.  Her profession was listed as prostitute, which was unusual.  Access agents were routinely of high social standing, people who assisted intelligence officers to recruit suitable and useful agents.  Daniel was to meet her in The Turf at seven tonight.  She would find him.  He looked at the mirror again, saw the thick, white scar that ran from his left eye, down the side of his cheek, almost to his mouth.


Ja, she probably would.




Daniel woke at five.  He dressed quickly, left the hotel, and walked into Jericho, a small suburb of Victorian terraced houses immediately to the north-west of the city centre.  The target execution was scheduled for the corner of Cranham Terrace and Jericho Street, outside a pub called the Harcourt Arms.  The pub was right on the corner, at the end of a terrace row.  Opposite the entrance, across the narrow street, a beech tree grew out of the pavement.  Daniel committed the terrain to memory, but was careful to keep moving so as not to draw attention to himself.


Thirty minutes later, he found The Turf, hidden away in an ancient alley off New College Lane.  The pub was a long, low building with a raised section serving food at the far end.  It was busy, but not full.  Most of the clientele looked like students.  Wealthy students. Daniel ordered a pint of Hoegaarden blonde beer and took a stool along the wall.  He wasn’t a great reader, but regretted not bringing a book to the pub.  It seemed quite a normal thing to do in England, particularly here in a university town, and he had no idea how long Lily was going to be.


Howzit, do you mind if I join you?”  The woman stood very close to him, almost touching.


“No, please do.”  She was short and slim, with skin the colour of milky coffee, long curly black hair, and bright red lips.  She could have been anything from fifteen to thirty.  She smoothed her short skirt over her thighs as she sat.  “Would you like a drink?” Daniel asked.


“No, thanks, I doubt you’re gonna make it worth my while.”  Her accent was South African.  Daniel guessed Cape Town.  “My name’s Lily, by the way.”  She held out her hand.


Daniel took it.  “John.  I’m afraid you’re right about me not making it worth your while.  Is this your regular place?”


Ja, I pick up tourists or students here.”


“The manager doesn’t mind?”


She smiled at him.  “My customers don’t complain, John.  I’m good for business, not bad.  In a few minutes I’m going to move on and mingle, cos that’s what I usually do.”


“Okay, do you have a message for me?”


Ja, the message is that you have confirmation.”


“That’s all?”


“That’s it.”

“Is he expecting to meet you?”


“No, he’s expecting a man.”




“Lovey, that’s very sweet of you, but neither of us has time to chat, do we?”  She smiled at him again, squeezed his forearm gently as she rose, and moved off to a table with three young men.


Daniel finished his pint without hurrying.  When he left, Lily was still at the table with the three men, a glass of white wine in front of her.




The pistol was an HS95, a Croatian imitation of the famous Swiss SIG Sauer nine millimetre.  Daniel removed it from the briefcase, leaving a handgun-shaped space in the foam rubber.  It reminded him of the old toy he’d had as a child where you had to put the right block into the right hole.  Except that this was a little more obvious.  He slid the magazine from the pistol’s grip.  He removed the bullets, placing each on the desk top, and counted sixteen.  He checked the chamber: empty.  He opened the cleaning kit, and began disassembling the pistol.  He wasn’t happy about having to use a weapon he hadn’t actually fired, but he had no choice.


There was no choice in any of it.  Every detail of the murder had been pre-planned and prearranged, even down to the specifics.  The briefcase contained everything he needed: information, instructions, and tools for both the assassination and the escape.  It was like those colouring-in books from junior primary.  What were they called…colour by numbers?  Ja, colour by number.  All Daniel had to do was turn up in the right place at the right time, and follow instructions.  He was purely a tool, no more and no less than the pistol provided.


Murder by numbers.


He finished field-stripping the pistol, cleaned the separate parts, and checked the firing pin.  Then he re-assembled it, using an oiled cloth to prevent leaving fingerprints.  He replaced the empty magazine, and dry fired double-action: click.  Perfect.  Next, he loaded the magazine, slid it back into place, cocked a round into the chamber, and eased the hammer down.  He flicked the safety catch on, wiped the outside of the pistol with a clean cloth, and put it back in the briefcase.


The hand grenade was an HG85, British Army standard issue.  It was an incendiary model, which meant that the forty-nine millimetre aluminium case was filled with thermite instead of steel balls.  The thermite would burn for forty seconds at around four thousand degrees Fahrenheit.  It would ignite everything it came into contact with, including metal.  The detonator was fitted with the standard four second fuse.  Daniel removed the extra safety clip and returned the grenade to the briefcase.


The plane ticket was in his own name.  John Daniel would cease to exist once he left the Linton Lodge tomorrow morning.  He checked the bus timetable and ran through the plan in his head.  Mchunu was meeting him opposite the Harcourt Arms at eight tomorrow night.  He would pull up next to the tree in his black Citroen C5.  He would be alone.  Daniel would shoot him as he exited the car, push him back in, and administer the coup de grace.  Then he would throw in both pistol and grenade, and flee on foot to Gloucester Green bus station.  Busses left at eight-thirty and nine o’clock.  The flight left at midnight.  It was as simple as that.  The straightforward plans tended to work the best: there was less that could go wrong.


Like clockwork.


Daniel opened his window and burned each A4 page and each A5 photo, transferring the remains from the ashtray to the toilet when he was finished.  He’d already found a skip to dump the briefcase and sports bag when he checked out.  He switched on the TV as he undressed, thinking about morality.  It hadn’t even occurred to him not to kill Mchunu.  Had he left his morals behind when he’d joined the Secret Service, or had it been before that, in his previous life?  He couldn’t remember.




At a quarter to eight Daniel was in the small, Victorian cemetery of St Sepulchre’s, at the other end of Cranham Terrace.  There were no benches, so he sat on the raised stone of John Wilson, a porter who’d died a hundred and fifty four years ago.  He’d been aged seventy. Daniel wondered if he would live that long himself.


He was wearing a reversible weatherproof parka, with the black inner lining on the outside.  In the poacher’s pocket – unzipped – was the hand grenade.  Daniel’s passport and plane ticket were in the inaccessible pockets on the other side.  His hands were snug inside a pair of tight-fitting dark blue police marksman’s gloves.  He wore stretch denims and brown hiking boots.  The denims held his wallet and bus ticket.  The pistol, safety catch off, was tucked into his belt, just to the right of the buckle, concealed by the jacket.


He glanced at his watch, stood up slowly, and walked out into Walton Street.


Two minutes past eight: Daniel was standing in the doorway of 4 Cranham Terrace, facing the bright blue door.  He was nestled in shadow, out of the light from the Harcourt Arms.  The beech tree – across the road – was fifteen metres away.  The street was quiet, except for the occasional car or pedestrian.  Two women strode past him without a glance.  They went into the pub, two doors down.  Daniel waited.


A car slowed, and stopped next to the tree: a black Citroen.


Daniel took the pistol from his trousers, and cocked the hammer back.  The car door opened.  Daniel took a deep breath and walked into the road.  He kept the pistol low, gripping it lightly with both hands.  A tall black man climbed out the car.  Daniel stopped five metres away.  He slid into a side-on stance and raised the pistol.  He looked over the front sight and squeezed the trigger once.




Mchunu was facing Daniel.  Both men reached inside their jackets as Daniel dived behind the Citroen.  His pistol clattered uselessly on the road.  He landed heavily, using his left arm to break his fall as his right removed the grenade from his pocket.  He crouched against the corner of the car and twisted the pin out.  Mchunu’s first shot cracked over the boot.


One second.


Daniel scrabbled round to the passenger side of the car, keeping low.  The second shot lodged in the boot.


Two seconds.


Daniel heard Mchunu move and saw the muzzle-flash of the third shot.  His heart thundered a relentless tattoo.  He crouched even lower and backed around the bonnet, keeping his head down.


Three seconds.


Mchunu stepped from the rear of the car onto the pavement.  He saw Daniel.  Daniel lobbed the grenade high.  Mchunu fired.  Daniel threw himself under the engine block.


Four seconds.


The grenade detonated into the night, and the thermite illuminated the entire street.  Daniel waited a single second, then leapt to his feet.  The tree and the Citroen were both burning.  So were two cars parked outside the pub, and a garage door at the end of the terrace. As Daniel jumped back he smelled the burning flesh.  He heard the sizzling and crackling of Mchunu’s torso as his body flamed.  There was nothing where his head had been.


Daniel turned and sprinted down Hart Street.


Right, into Cardigan Street, then left into Albert.  He bumped into a couple on the corner, kept moving.


He crossed Clarendon Street, crossed Wellington, sprinted past the new synagogue and the Lebanese restaurant.


Richmond Road, then hard right into Worcester Place.


Daniel slowed, and stopped outside a wooden door set into the high wall on his right.  He checked up and down the street, saw no one, and opened the door.  He stepped inside a small, overgrown garden behind another row of terraces.  He took off his gloves, threw them away, and reversed his parka.  He stood in the cold for a full minute before putting the beige jacket back on.  He fought to breathe through his nose and stomach, gradually slowing his heart rate.  Composed, he walked casually out into Worcester Place, careful not to touch the door with his fingers.


Twenty-three minutes past eight: Daniel was standing in Bay 7, under the long bus shelter at Gloucester Green.  There were ten buses in the dozen bays, but the eight-thirty to Gatwick hadn’t arrived yet.  Daniel noticed movement to his left and turned to see two policemen walking through the crowd.  One had a Heckler & Koch submachine gun, the other appeared unarmed.  They were in Bay 3.  He looked to his right, and saw another two in Bay 11.  Also one armed, one not.


Daniel stayed where he was.


The policemen on the left were moving quicker.  They were looking at everyone in the crowd.  He checked the right again: they had reached Bay 10.  They both stopped, and the unarmed one spoke to a man in a leather jacket.


Twenty-four minutes past eight: the Airline Company bus pulled up.  Daniel was fourth in the queue.  As the doors opened, the two policemen came up from the left.  They stood at the entrance to the bus.  Everyone in the queue was staring at them.  Daniel was careful to do the same.


No one moved.


The first passenger climbed on, then the second.  As the third followed, the unarmed policeman put his hand out in front of Daniel.


“Hold it.”


The armed policeman walked in front of him to Bay 8.


“Thank you,” said his colleague as he followed.


Daniel stepped onto the bus.

The End

A Border Wall 75 by Paul Ainsworth

The East German government erected the Berlin Wall in August 1961.  Early in 1976 East German Border Troops began to erect a new type of Wall in Berlin, the so-called ‘Border Wall 75’. This concrete Wall was 11.81 ft high and painted white.


The Cold War concrete cage tormented his gaze in 1961, and thereafter.  Wolfgang gazed at the Berlin Wall’s texture in that winter of 1961, listened to its colourless void; its labels engulfed his nostrils, and he quantified its divisive physical and psychological arsenal.  The bitter Berlin winter’s whiteness assaulted his body, but his heightened perception abolished the blizzard.  Berlin Wall bricks obstructed his mind; he imagined cement pouring into his ears and hardening the sparkle in his eyes.  The wind eased, sparkling snowflakes fluttered in a gentle breeze and studied the Berlin Wall.  The Cold War distanced itself from the embarrassment of Wolfgang kissing the Berlin Wall that first winter, and ignored his inappropriate attire.


Wolfgang Bauer would never see his Heidi again, unless he took forthright action, unless he advanced on the Berlin Wall, unless he conquered the unyielding dissection he’d kissed in Heidi’s name.  He craved freedom to dwell with his Heidi of more than the sun, the moon, and the Berlin Wall.  Heidi had gone to work one morning in August 1961 as usual, the East German authorities had built a wall deep inside their lives, and they hadn’t seen each other since the Berlin Wall separated their mouths in the summer.


Wolfgang wiped the Wall’s grit from his lips and thought about his Heidi across humanity’s political Cold War divide, thought about their first kiss in the falling snow the previous winter, and humourless political policies crushed his mind.


Another year had passed without his Heidi, another year of waiting, fearing and hoping for any news that might reunite him with his lost lover.  He waited for snowfall, he had to wait until January; he anticipated the annual kiss.  As the year before, he was dressed in the shorts and t-shirt he’d been wearing for their last kiss at their front door that August.  The snow pummelled his t-shirt, the Berlin Wall battered his rigid mind and he kissed a concrete slab in a panic.  The Cold War ignored the solidifying kiss that year and the rigid kiss the following year, but the next Wall-kiss the following winter amused border guards, border guards of concrete lives, to Wolfgang’s mind.  Wolfgang’s desperate t-shirt, lacking in unyielding insulation, tortured his skin and he laughed at the profuse snowfall.  He could invade the world’s political solidity; he could storm the rigid Berlin Wall, he could bribe The Kremlin, or every Berliner could hack through the durable concrete using unyielding pickaxes.


Another despondent spring blossom, another aching summer of high concrete, another autumn of machine gun posts and the onset of another winter kiss.  A border guard barked out an order forbidding the kiss during this winter snowfall, and Wolfgang sunk to his rigid knees when the guard ordered him away, threatening gunfire.


Wolfgang endured another aching spring of concrete blossom, another summer of hot, glistening machine guns and another autumn of morose barbed wire. Winter and snow came to Berlin’s streets once again and Wolfgang, dressed in his immaculately pressed shorts and t-shirt for another ceremonial visit to the Berlin Wall, stared at his mind in the bedroom mirror, thinking Heidi might be feet away across the concrete divide this winter.  The concrete aged his mind, and humourless building blocks solidified a hard, unaccommodating and bleak obstacle.  Wolfgang approached Berlin’s barrier in his imagination and Heidi was sitting on top of it, her face wrapped in strands of barbed wire, smiling at him.  Frustration, aggression, love, panic, bricks, beauty, courtship, politics, flowers, war, desire, landmines, kiss, machine guns, guards, romance, barbed-wire-souls, lovers; concrete and barbed wire floated through the bedroom mirror and engulfed Wolfgang’s sleeping tablets overdose.


Wolfgang opened his painless eyes.  Heidi was hovering above him on the bedroom ceiling, her soft, gentle face, bare breasts, supple eyes and hair overwhelmed his lips.  A paramedic thumped his chest, pain engulfed him, Heidi’s image briefly transformed into concrete, and then evaporated.  Wolfgang spent six days in hospital and concrete thought in that Berlin winter of 1967.


Another textured winter’s snow beckoned.  Wolfgang defied his predicament’s solidity and his missing Heidi to unyielding world politics.  He was in his bedroom staring through the window at the Berlin Wall in the distance through binoculars, angry at the obstacle for almost taking his life and sanity.  He transcended the Berlin Wall concrete, but a machine gun spat flash-fire into his eyes and after a short delay, the sound of its discharge penetrated his ears, destroying his pleasure.  Wolfgang was witnessing a Berliner die in the Cold War trenches.  A woman lay dead in the Berlin Wall’s no-mans-land, and he could see her suitcase and a dead spaniel lying next to her through his binoculars.  A concrete corpse and a concrete canine overwhelmed his frustration and solid apathy.  He rushed from his apartment on urgent business in his rigid no-mans-land imagination.  The guards readied to fire on him, but aimed guns slowly lowered from focused faces as Wolfgang carefully picked up the dead dog and carried it away from the Berlin Wall, leaving the human corpse undisturbed. Words sprayed into his concrete mind – a pathetic rescue for a pathetic wall a pathetic rescue for a pathetic wall.  Wolfgang waited for the snow that hard winter.


The snow fell in February of 1969.  Wolfgang, wearing his ceremonial t-shirt and shorts, approached the Berlin Wall for another white catatonic visit.  He approached the concrete and guns with determination in his solidified heart.  This time he would breach the barrier, this time he would conquer and soften the Berlin Wall, this time he would embrace his beloved Heidi’s suppleness.  A Berlin Wall guard ordered him to stop walking towards no-mans-land.  The guard yelled another order to stop, but Wolfgang soared into no-mans-land.  An East German officer then warned Wolfgang that his life was in danger, but Wolfgang reached the Berlin Wall, and removed a grappling iron and rope from under his t-shirt.  He threw the grappling iron higher than high in his mind up the Berlin Wall.  The grappling iron gripped the top of Berlin’s barrier and Wolfgang began climbing, higher than high in his mind for Heidi.  The East German officer ordered the guard to open fire.  Wolfgang listened to the Berlin Wall soften; he could hear the obstacle howl in pain as he floated over it.  Heidi appeared on a sparrow’s flexing wing, beautiful and contented, as it took flight from the gunfire.  He stared at the softening Berlin Wall with laboured breath and kissed it.  He retrospectively gazed into Heidi’s eyes, the bird in flight touching her personality.  Heidi’s enlarging image left the bird and smiled at him as he was sliding down the Berlin Wall.  The Wall became blurry and pliable in his psyche.  The day Wolfgang met Heidi in a Berlin shoe shop engulfed his wits, as he looked down at his blood dripping onto his shoes.  The last time he’d seen Heidi became short moments ago in his mindset, and he kissed the Berlin Wall’s pliant base.  Heidi gently called his name, overwhelming his supple ears and loosening his vocal chords.  The East German border guards clearly heard him roar the word Heidi.  With his breaths numbered, Wolfgang spat his phlegm and blood onto the yielding Berlin Wall.  The border guards stared in fascination at the Cold War’s spectacle, as Wolfgang’s breathing became shallower.  He placed one bloodied hand on his t-shirt and the other bloodied hand on his shorts, and died.  Wolfgang’s corpse lay undisturbed that day, and snow covered his body.  The heavy snowfall softened the Berlin Wall, high winds and swirling snow toyed with it, and barbed wire turned sparkling soft-white.


On that day in 1969, an East German border guard shot Wolfgang dead when he attempted to cross from West Berlin into East Berlin to find Heidi.  The West Germans buried Wolfgang in a graveyard near the Berlin Wall, where Heidi visited his grave for the first time at the beginning of November 1976, after the East Germans granted her a one-hour visa to enter the west.  She listened to the solid headstone, gazed at her white barrier despair, and gripped the soft November snow covering his grave.  Ugly off-white-wall, despair, communism, lost love, democracy, romance, cold, soldiers, politics, death, life, armies, time, Berlin, bastards, flowers, a plaque; frantic grief poured into her mind.  Solid hatred engulfed her Berlin Wall eyes; rigid bitterness for politics engulfed her nostrils, inflexible revulsion for the villainous white of the Berlin Wall filled her frustration and then she returned her gaze to Wolfgang’s supple grave.  She cried and her warm tears splashed holes into the snow, her reddened eyes drowning in a catatonic ocean of white.  She sank to her knees, wiped away her tears and smiled at the burial plot.  In that winter of 1976, she placed flowers at Wolfgang’s headstone and a plaque next to them that read:

White Walls Eventually Soften.

The End.

Bitter Honey by Kris Swank

Knossos, Krete, 15th Century B.C.


“Make way for the Priestess Kitane!”


My lady moved down the hallway looking, as ever, regal and stately. The crowd parted respectfully before her, but closed ranks again so quickly that I had to elbow my own way through them down the long row of narrow storerooms.


In addition to her duties as a priestess, Kitane also serves as a temple magistrate. Earlier in the day, she’d been sitting in judgment on a claim of unlawful enslavement. But before the case could be decided, four people disappeared into the labyrinthine temple. The guards were called out. An extensive search was made. And now rather late in the day, Kitane had been ushered here.


“We found them,” a guardsman pointed into one of the little storerooms.


I struggled to the front of the crowd and peered inside. The room was just wide enough for a man to cross in two strides, though it ran six or more paces deep. Shelves on the walls were piled with beehives and wax, while the floor was crowded with shoulder-high pithoi, clay jars for the storage of grain and wine and oil. One large pithos at the center of the room commanded everyone’s attention. It was fairly ordinary except for the dark, sticky streams of honey which had spilled down its sides and run onto the floor…well, that and the pair of feet protruding from the jar’s mouth. The feet, it turned out, were attached to the body of a wicked and now very dead boy.


The strange old Achaean who’d brought his dispute to the temple that morning was standing there, stunned and silent.


“Keep those people back,” Kitane ordered, then she turned to the old man. “What are you doing here, Polyidus?”


“I found him like this just a few moments before the guards arrived…the bees led me here,” he added enigmatically.


Kitane sighed heavily.




Earlier that morning, among the crowds assembled in the public court for the first day of the harvest rites, old Polyidus, an Achaean Greek, had begged at the temple gates for asylum. He claimed to be a free man, illegally enslaved by a cruel merchant. Shortly thereafter, this same merchant, a Minoan named Klymenos, arrived with his two teenaged sons. And when they tried to take Polyidus away by force, a brawl ensued. The guards at the gates apprehended the troublemakers and brought them all inside the temple to await judgment in one of the audience chambers upstairs.


The Priestess Kitane was called upon to hear the case. As her scribe, I was summoned that afternoon to make a true and accurate record of the hearing, and inscribe her wise pronouncements. As I arrived outside the chamber, Kitane was approaching from the other direction.


“Tati, good you’re here. I need you to…” she broke off, interrupted by the noise of an argument within.


She is marvelous, my Lady Kitane. With an authority that belied her twenty years, she entered the room as proud and fearsome as a goddess. The yellow fabric of her linen gown clung to the curve of her breast, and a layered overskirt of blue and red tightly cinched her wasp-thin waist. Silver chains were entwined in her curling black hair. Her mere presence cowed the squabbling men into silence.


Kitane crossed the red-painted room and settled imperiously on a cushioned stool. She tucked a stray tendril of hair behind her ear and scrutinized the men before her with a withering glare that could melt bronze.


I sat at her feet, a writing table across my knees, and looked up at the men standing there. Polyidus was a gaunt, gray-haired man in a torn and dirty Greek chiton. His large, round eyes constantly scanned the room, and he startled nervously at any unexpected noise.


At his side was Klymenos, the wealthy – and fat – Minoan merchant who claimed to be the legal master of Polyidus. Klymenos thought himself quite elegant, though I knew he was only the bastard son of an Achaean sailor who’d shrewdly used his wealth to gain favor in Knossos.


Klymenos must have brought his sons to the temple for the harvest rites. Much of an age with me, the boys and I were dressed alike in nothing but knee-length cloths kilted about our waists. Their long black hair, like mine, was knotted at the nape of the neck. But that’s where the similarities ended. The brothers had calloused hands and uncouth manners, but their days aboard their father’s ship had given them the sun-bronzed, muscular shoulders of young gods.


The younger boy looked suitably awed by his surroundings. He stood marveling at a light-well that pierced the ceiling to let in the dying sun. With his finger, he traced the lines of a sculpted pedestal supporting a stone lamp. Turning to examine the fresco of a partridge in a garden, the boy was tripped by his older brother. The boys began to quarrel, but were silenced by a stern glance from their father.


The older boy impudently sat himself down upon a bench running along the wall. His kilt parted slightly, and I caught a glint of metal strapped to his thigh. I know I should have told the priestess, for weapons are forbidden to all in the temple but the guards. But the boy pulled his kilt closed again so quickly, slapping its beaded tassel on the stone bench, that I couldn’t be certain what I saw. And since no one else seemed to have noticed it, I didn’t speak. I might have saved two lives if I had.


Kitane turned her honey-colored face toward the elderly man, “Your name, Achaean, and your reason for claiming asylum in the Labyrinth of Knossos.”


“My name is Polyidus, Lady, a free-born citizen of Argos.” He nervously twitched his arms. “I’ve been unlawfully forced into slavery by this man. Won’t the High Priestess grant me sanctuary?”


“Today she prays for the harvest and cannot be disturbed. I’ve been given authority to consider your plea,” the priestess replied.


The merchant puffed out his round, ruddy cheeks, “Bulls’ balls! This man is my slave, legally captured aboard a pirate vessel on the open seas. As you know, the law is quite clear: anyone captured pirating forfeits their freedom, and…”


“As you know, Klymenos of Amnisos,” Kitane interrupted, “anyone who seeks asylum in the Labyrinth of Knossos has the right to be heard.” She pursed her lips and peered at the old man, “You don’t look like much of a pirate.”


“A month ago,” Polyidus explained, “I was sailing home to the Greek mainland, when our ship was attacked by a Minoan merchantman. They killed the crew, seized the cargo, and decided to sell the Achaean passengers into slavery. That man – Klymenos – was in command. When he discovered who I was, he claimed me as his property.”


Kitane raised an eyebrow, “Who are you?”


“You’ve heard, no doubt, of the famous seer, Polyidus of Argos…no? Ah,” the old man deflated. “Well, I can see the future, speak five languages, recite the histories. This man wanted me to tutor his sons.”


Klymenos wagged a fleshy finger, “They were pirates, I tell you.”


“It was a passenger vessel,” Polyidus countered.


“Those are his sons?” Kitane looked toward the youths.


Polyidus nodded, “The whelp dozing on the bench, there, is Glaukon. The younger one is his brother, Blauphon.”


“Were they with their father during the raid?”


“They were there.”


“And you’ve been tutoring them this past month?” she asked.


Polyidus spread his hands apart and began to answer, but stopped as still as the wooden columns when a pretty serving girl entered the room bearing a bowl of fruit and jug of wine. Her delicate feet padded softly on the white gypsum floor. Little budding breasts pressed against her undyed woolen shift as she set the food down on a table.


“Thank you, Adara. It grows late, child, would you light the lamps?”


The girl circled the chamber, inspecting each of the stone pedestals. She wrinkled her little nose, “Lady, they need wax.”


“All of them? Whoever’s in charge of…!” Kitane paused to regain her composure. “Adara, would you please call for more beeswax? And bring some light in here right away. Gentlemen, refreshments?”


No one answered. They were watching the sweet-faced girl glide from the room.


The priestess cleared her throat. “Tutoring, Polyidus? How goes the tutoring?”


“Uh, well,” he bobbed his head. “I’ve tried. Young Blauphon is alright, but that Glaukon is irredeemable.”


“How dare you speak that way of my son! I won’t tolerate such disrespect!” Klymenos lunged at the Achaean.


Kitane stood to intervene, but was flung backward as Klymenos wrapped his thick hands around Polyidus’ throat. As they struggled, the table was knocked over, sending purple figs and grapes rolling into the corners. The clay jug landed with a loud crack, spattering dark red wine on Kitane’s skirt. The guards ran up to stop the fight, while I helped my mistress to rise.


“Restrain yourself, Klymenos, or I will!” she ordered.


“You wouldn’t dare!”


“Wouldn’t I?” she glared.


Polyidus sought to ease the tension by bringing the conversation back to the case at hand. “There were other passengers who survived the attack, Lady, some of them Minoans. I’m certain they would verify my tale.”


“Give their names to my scribe, Tati. All of you wait here while we see if these witnesses can be found. I’m going,” she gestured at her stained attire, “to change.”


Kitane left the room, and I soon followed with the passengers’ names. It took me some time to find a pageboy and give him instructions before I went back to the audience chamber. Upon my return, I encountered the priestess just turning down the hallway herself. We rounded the doorway together but found no guards at the watch, no Klymenos and no sons. Only old Polyidus sat along the stone bench, quietly munching a fig.


“Where are they?” Kitane demanded.


The Achaean swallowed and quickly got to his feet. “Um…it seems young Glaukon slipped off after that pretty serving girl of yours. And when Klymenos discovered the boy had gone, he and Blauphon went in pursuit.”


“They cannot wander the sacred precincts alone. Wait, who’s guarding you, Polyidus?”


“No one. The guards ran after Klymenos.”


A crooked smile played across Kitane’s lips. “You did not take the opportunity to flee?”


The old man straightened, “I do not fear the truth.”


Shadows in the chamber began to lengthen as the sun receded from the light-well above.


“And that girl’s not back yet with the lamp!” Kitane grumbled. “Come, we’ll search for them ourselves. But Polyidus, don’t wander off. Enough people are already at large in the temple.” She motioned for us to follow.




The priestess stepped confidently into the hallway and led us through a twisting series of passages and interconnecting rooms all painted in vivid primary colors and swirling, geometric designs. We passed the usual array of priests and acolytes, servants and scribes engaged in their daily routines, but there was no trace of Klymenos or his troublesome sons.


“How did you end up so far from home, Polyidus?” Kitane inquired as we walked.


“Through my visions, the gods have led me around the world,” he replied. “And many’s the king who wished me to interpret his dreams…oh, you wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen: the most breathtaking gardens you could ever imagine, a giant crocodile who could swallow a man whole. In Aegyptos, there’s a spotted camel with a neck as tall as your beautiful temple.”


Kitane laughed and leaned against a balustrade.


“It’s true,” he grinned through his scraggly beard. “I saw one with my own eyes. The Aegyptian Queen kept a collection of strange beasts…but none so dangerous as Klymenos.”


“He is cunning and shrewd,” Kitane’s smiled faded.


“And cruel,” Polyidus added as we resumed our search. “His slaves and men all go in fear of his whip. And those boys…well they were woven on the same loom, weren’t they? At least Glaukon was. He likes to flaunt his authority over anyone weaker than himself, or anyone who can’t fight back. He enjoys beating the slaves. Well, slaves are used to a bit of beating, aren’t they? But Glaukon really relishes it.”


Polyidus paused and shook his gray head. “There was this little slave boy on Klymenos’ ship. Young Blauphon was kind to him. They played games together when there was time. But Glaukon took a strong dislike to the boy and terrorized him at every opportunity. One day, Glaukon flew into a rage over some gear the boy neglected to clean. He beat the child…and then violated him, right on deck in front of the crew. What could any of us do? Klymenos gave his sons free rein. That night, the poor little slave threw himself overboard.  I must confess, that’s the only time in my life I thought I could kill someone – the gods forgive me saying so.”


We walked on in silence for a few moments, then Kitane asked, “And what of the younger boy, Blauphon?”


“More of the same. Sullen one moment, wrestling with his brother the next. But Blauphon has the makings of a learned man. He showed a remarkable knack for languages and the histories. The Labyrinth fascinated him. He longed to see the temple’s thousand rooms, and the forest of columns supporting its roofs. When we arrived here, he asked me if the son of a merchant could become a priest.”


“It’s not impossible,” Kitane said. “Though he’s a little old to be starting the training.”


“Away from his father, Blauphon might become his own man,” Polyidus mused.


We finally reached the great central courtyard, a large space at the very heart of the temple. Open to the sky, it allows fresh air to circulate throughout the complex, and serves as a popular meeting place. The court was busy with officials and priests chatting amiably together as servants and slaves hurried by.


Polyidus took in the scene, then squinted at something in the shadows.


“What are those? Bees?” he exclaimed, then he ran off across the limestone pavement.


“Bees? Polyidus, stop!” Kitane called, but he plunged through a dark doorway and was gone.


We rushed after the wiry Achaean, but the passage was empty. We began to search through the winding corridors of the western wing, when someone came running up behind us.


“Oh Lady, there you are!” It was the sweet-faced serving girl, Adara. “Here’s your light.”


She held a small terra cotta lamp in one hand, and shielded its flame with the other.


“Where have you been? And why is your gown torn, child?” Kitane fingered the girl’s dress.


Adara hesitated, “It caught on something.”




“I’m sorry it took me so long, but I had to go all the way to the east wing for the beeswax.”


“But there’s wax right here in the storerooms.”


Kitane led us around one last corner where, unexpectedly, a group of people was gathered. A guardsman noticed the priestess and ushered her through the crowd.


“Make way for the Priestess Kitane.”


He stopped and pointed to a dim storeroom off the corridor, “We found them.”


And that’s how we came to be staring at Glaukon’s feet sticking up from a giant jar of honey – for Glaukon it turned out to be. Polyidus was there, too, standing near the doorway.


“Keep those people back,” Kitane ordered, then turned to the old man. “What are you doing here, Polyidus? You were not to leave my sight.”


“I am sorry, dear lady,” he rubbed his forehead. “I found him like this just a few moments before the guards arrived. The bees led me here…uh, wherever this is.”


“These are food stores, and I don’t see any bees.” She turned and called, “Adara, bring that light in here.”


The serving girl walked nervously into the room, took one look at the dead body in the pithos, screamed and dropped the lamp.




Kitane stood over Glaukon’s honey-drenched corpse where the guards had laid it out on the floor. Her hands were stretched out palms downward, as she intoned a prayer. When she finished, she raised a fist to her forehead then knelt beside the boy and paused.




“What is it?” Polyidus leaned forward.


Kitane motioned him back. “This is normally where I’d place honey in his mouth.”


“Whatever for?”


“Nourishment for the journey,” she explained, “and an offering for the gods.”


“Which gods?” he looked quite interested.


“All of them. Honey is a fit offering for all the gods.”


“I think he’s already got some.”


Kitane shot him an angry look, and Polyidus lowered his eyes. Then the priestess gently cupped Glaukon’s head in the palm of her hand, and made the ritual motion of putting honey in his mouth anyway. But again she stopped.


“There’s a large bump on the back of his head, and the skin’s grazed.” She examined the back of the boy’s skull, then scanned the storeroom, “Polyidus, you are a seer? Can you see who did this? Who defiled the temple with this sacrilege?”


He shook his head.


“Glaukon!” suddenly Klymenos was there, pushing his bulk through the crowd.


“Keep him back!” the priestess ordered. “I’m not done here.”


“Great Mother, what’s happened? What’s he doing here? I’ll see you executed for this, slave!”


“M-me? What for?” Polyidus stammered.


“For killing my son! You hated him!”


“It wasn’t me!” Polyidus pleaded, turning large, round eyes to the priestess. “I was with you the whole time.”


Kitane furrowed her brow. “No, not every moment. You were left alone in the audience chamber for some time. And later, when you ran off after those mysterious bees of yours, we found you standing in this very room.”


“By the gods, Polyidus, I’ll kill you myself!” Klymenos screamed.


“Klymenos,” the priestess interrupted, “where’s your other son, Blauphon? I thought he was with you.”


A young temple page peeked over the back of the crowd, “Lady, come quickly.”




Kitane ran after the pageboy. Watching her bare feet slap against the smooth gypsum tiles, she hopped over a tacky splotch on the floor. The swarm of spectators raced behind her. We all arrived at a small chamber where a guardsman towered over the motionless body of Blauphon, lying prone on the floor and bleeding from a wound to his right side. Klymenos threw himself to the ground.


“No! Not you too!” he screamed. “Who’s doing this to my family?” He clutched his son to his breast a few moments, then pulled back and looked down on Blauphon’s face. “He’s alive! The gods be praised!”


The priestess looked around the room, “Who found this boy?”


“I did, Lady,” the guard replied. “I heard him cry for help. And I found this.” He showed the priestess a small bronze dagger. It was exquisitely engraved down the length of its blade with delicate spirals, now partly obscured by a smear of wine-dark blood.


I sucked in a sharp breath. It was the same size and shape as the object I’d seen Glaukon hiding beneath his kilt.


Kitane knelt next to Blauphon to examine his wound.


“Adara,” she called. “Fetch the herbs and some cloth …quickly!”


The serving girl flew from the room.


“Father?” the boy’s eyes fluttered open. “What happened? We were searching for Glaukon and I lost you. I looked everywhere, but this place is a maze!


“What happened, son?”


“I saw someone running into this room. He hid behind that curtain. I thought it was Glaukon up to his pranks again. But whoever it was, he jumped out and stabbed me!”


“This curtain?” Kitane stood and walked to a doorway hung with an old woolen drape.


The priestess inspected the curtain and the floor beneath, then peered into the alcove behind. Something had piqued her interest, though all I could see was a gray, dusty floor no one had bothered to sweep in a long time. I made a note to find the cleaning woman responsible for this area and reprimand her.


“Who was it?” demanded Klymenos.


“I…I’m not sure,” Blauphon hesitated. “He just stabbed me and ran out of the room.”


Adara returned out of breath. She handed Kitane a clay bowl full of odd leafy sprigs. The dried blossoms were a dull purple, the leaves greenish-gray.


The exhausted girl stumbled against me. Instinctively, I reached out to steady her. The scent of rose petals clung to her hair. She gazed up at me with a desperate vulnerability that startled me. I quickly dropped my arm from about her shoulder and returned my eyes to the injured youth upon the floor.


Kitane knelt beside Blauphon again. Tearing a few leaves from the strange plant, she crushed them in the palm of her honey-soaked hand, then pressed the compound into his wound. He flinched, but his father held him down. The priestess wrapped a strip of cloth about the boy’s ribs. Then, as she’d done over the body of his elder brother, Kitane held her hands above Blauphon, this time reciting an incantation for healing.


“Fate has not cut the thread of your life just yet,” she stood up. “You were lucky the knife hit a rib and didn’t go deeper.”


“What did you put in his wound?” Polyidus asked. “I’ve never seen that plant.”


Diktamos – dittany of Krete,” Kitane explained. “It’s a remedy for wounds and snake bites, also stomach ailments and the pains of childbirth.”


“Remarkable!” he exclaimed.


Klymenos hoisted himself from the floor where he’d been cradling Blauphon and poked his fat forefinger into Polyidus’ chest. “Hold this man! He murdered my son and tried to kill the other one! He thought I’d set him free if there were no sons to tutor. Never!”


The Achaean’s large eyes bulged.


Kitane moved between the two men. “Polyidus didn’t murder Glaukon or attack Blauphon.”


“Even you admit you lost him in the Labyrinth.”


“Klymenos, tossing a body into a jar full of honey is a messy task,” she showed him her sticky hands. “There was honey on the sides of the pithos and on the floor. The killer would have some on him. You may examine Polyidus, but I don’t believe you’ll find anything.”


Klymenos scowled as he searched the Achaean’s clothing and hands.


The priestess turned to her serving girl. “Come here.”


Adara moved cautiously toward her mistress. Kitane grabbed the girl’s chin in the palm of her hand.


“You know something of this, child,” Kitane said.


“Wait!” Klymenos pointed at the serving girl. “There’s honey on her dress…you bitch! What did you do to my son?”


“Don’t be a fool Klymenos,” Kitane snapped, “How could such a slight girl lift Glaukon into that big pithos?”


“Then where did that honey come from?” he countered.


“From the same room, I believe, but for a different reason.” Kitane turned, speaking gently to the girl, “You went to that storeroom to find beeswax for the lamps, didn’t you? Glaukon followed you there, and… your dress was torn.”


Adara looked down, “He pawed at me like a lion on its prey. I tried to get free but he had a knife to my throat! Then I prayed to Britomartis – the Virgin Goddess who protects maidens from the likes of that boy. She gave me strength to fight back, and we fell against a jar. Honey spilled out. He slipped and cracked his head on the floor…I killed him! I was so frightened, I ran.”


“Shh, shh child,” the priestess soothed. “That bump on his head wasn’t enough to kill, only to stun or make him sleep. The skull was bruised, but not broken.”


“But he’s dead!”


“Did you put him in that pithos?” Kitane asked. “No, your surprise at seeing him there was genuine. Someone else did that. But you should have told me the truth sooner. You won’t ever try to deceive me again, eh?”


“No, Lady, I promise.”


“Then who put him in the jar?” Polyidus asked.


Kitane peered at the merchant, cocking her head sideways. “Klymenos of Amnisos, you have honey on your kilt.”


“What?” he looked down at his clothing and flushed. “Outrageous! My sons are dearer to me than my own life. I would never harm them!”


Kitane considered this for a moment, then replied, “No, I don’t think you would. Some honey must have rubbed off as you held Blauphon just now.”


“But Blauphon wasn’t in that storeroom,” Klymenos looked at his young son lying on the floor, then noticed a smear of honey on the boy’s kilt. “Hold on! You got that on him when you tended his wound!”


“I touched his ribs, not his kilt,” Kitane replied. “You’ll also find some honey on the soles of his feet. Didn’t anyone else notice the sticky spots on the floor leading from the stores to this room?” She turned to the boy. “Blauphon, when you became separated from your father, I believe you did find Glaukon.”


“You mean it was Glaukon who attacked me from behind that curtain?” the youth exclaimed.


Kitane shook her head. “No one has gone behind that curtain in a long time. There’s a smooth layer of dust covering the entire floor, and no footprints.”


“But I was stabbed with a dagger!” the boy stumbled to his feet.


“This dagger?” Kitane took the bronze blade from the guard.




“Klymenos, do you know this dagger?”


“It was Glaukon’s favorite. He was never without it.”


She raised an eyebrow, “Yes, I see. Even in the sacred precincts of the temple it seems he could not be parted from it. What hand did he wield it in?”


“His right, as most men do,” the merchant replied.


Kitane lifted the dagger, “So a man facing Blauphon and attacking with his right hand, would have struck where?” She thrust the dagger at Klymenos, stopping just short of his left breast.


“But Blauphon’s wound is on his right side.” Polyidus pointed.


The priestess agreed, “As it would be if he reached down and stabbed himself. Blauphon, it was you who murdered your brother.”


“No!” Blauphon’s face twisted in agony. “Glaukon ruined everything! He told me he was going after that girl to…you didn’t know him. You didn’t know how he preyed on people. But I knew what he’d do to her…I saved her!”


Kitane frowned, “Adara escaped from your brother when he slipped and fell. He was no longer a threat to her. No, you must have found him asleep on the storeroom floor, and thought it a rare opportunity for revenge. First, you stole his beloved dagger, then you threw him – alive – into that pithos full of honey. You drowned your own brother.”


Blauphon stammered, hot tears streaming down his cheeks, “It was…it wasn’t like that. I didn’t think about killing him…I just wanted some peace.”


“Great nymphs, it was Blauphon!” Polyidus exclaimed. “But why stab himself?”


Kitane shrugged, “To place suspicion elsewhere? He’d be desperate to convince everyone he was far away when his brother was killed. But Blauphon got some honey on himself when he put Glaukon in that jar.”


Klymenos cried out, “But why? Your brother may have been a little rough with you…”


“A little rough?” Blauphon stared at his father in disbelief. “He was a monster. He tormented me! If he saw something I loved, he’d destroy it. He strangled a kitten I had for a pet…and he raped my friend, you remember Father, that poor little slave boy? He threw himself overboard just to escape Glaukon. And now today, I told Glaukon I wanted to live at Knossos and study with the priests, but he decided to ruin that for me, too. If he’d raped that girl, we’d have all been expelled from the temple!”


“No, Blauphon,” the priestess declared, “you caused that yourself when you committed murder here.”


“What will happen to me?” the boy said weakly.


Kitane held up her hands, “This has now gone well beyond my authority to judge. The High Priestess will decide tomorrow, when she’s rested from her communion with the Goddess.”




I sat in a small, shady garden the next day, scratching my stylus across several long, narrow sheets of dried palm leaves, recounting the facts of this tragic case. Kitane rested beneath an olive tree, serenely playing with a curling tendril of her black hair.


“Tati, are you still writing?” she chided me. “How many leaves have you filled this time?”


Before I could protest, Polyidus himself appeared. Someone had given him clean clothes and a place to wash. The change took years off his face.


“Polyidus of Argos, I have news for you,” Kitane said.


“Good or bad?”


“You’re free to go. We found two Minoans who were also passengers on your ship. Both confirm you are no pirate, and therefore Klymenos had no right to claim you as a slave.”


“Wonderful! Thank you!” he laughed and clapped his hands together. “I can go? Yes, well, then I’m off to the harbor at Amnisos where I’ll take ship for Argos.”


“You may find that difficult at this time of year. The seas are nearly closed.”


“I must try. I long to return home – it’s been far too long. Who knows, perhaps some bees will lead me there,” his eyes twinkled.


“Yes, about your bees,” Kitane said. “It’s a curious thing that no one saw them but you.”


“I am a seer, Lady, and bees are the messengers of the gods,” Polyidus smirked. Then suddenly becoming grave, he added, “What will happen now to poor Blauphon?”


“The temple can only be cleansed of this murder by the exile or death of the guilty,” she replied. “The High Priestess will announce her ruling later today.”


“It’s just that last night I had a dream. I saw Blauphon in the highest room of the temple…and he jumped from the window.”


She gasped, “To his death?”


“He did not fall. He lighted on the back of a white horse with wings and they flew away.”


Kitane was puzzled, “What an odd vision. In your travels, Polyidus, have you seen such a creature?”


“I have not. But the meaning of the dream is clear – Blauphon’s fate lies elsewhere.”


“Then he won’t pay for his crime? He’ll go free?”


The old man shook his head, “Blauphon will never be free of this tragedy. No, he’ll carry it with him like a scar, and Glaukon will continue to torment that boy for the rest of his life.”


Kitane thought on this for a moment then rose to her feet. “Please excuse me, sagacious Polyidus of Argos. I must attend to Glaukon’s burial…hmm. Strange.”


“What is?” he asked.


“Our people used to inter the dead in large terra cotta pithoi before burial.”


“Then you may as well use the honey jar where Glaukon was drowned,” Polyidus suggested.


“Why do you say that?”


“Because it might sweeten his passage to the other side – a gift for whatever god judges the souls of wicked Minoan boys. Isn’t that also your custom?”


Kitane furrowed her brow.


“Yes,” Polyidus nodded, “you told me yesterday, ‘Honey is a fit offering for all the gods.’”




I transcribed his final words onto one last leaf, thus concluding my account of these events. May the Great Mother Potnia bless me with long life and many healthy children if I have rendered them accurate and true.


Tati, scribe of Knossos




A Cold Killing by Mel Goldberg

        On a bright cold Monday morning, instead of having breakfast at a nice restaurant, Detective Aaron Guerevich and his fiancée Ann Berendt clanked down the metal stairs into the cold shadows of the Rogers Park police station cell block.  They had come to Chicago, where Guerevich grew up, to spend a week and celebrate the New Year’s holiday.   Today they were visiting a man accused of murdering his uncle.


Guerevich spoke through the bars, squinting into the gray cell, lit by a single recessed light.  “Hello, Jaime.”


“Who are you?”  Jaime remained seated on his bed.  His dark skin and his close-cut black hair a complement to his smooth Mestizo face, split by a bushy mustache that extended past the corners of his mouth and drooped to his chin.


“I’m an old friend of your uncle Roberto.  You were only five years old when I last saw you.  This is my fiancée, Ann Berendt.”


Ann smiled, wrinkling her eyes and automatically raising a hand to flip errant strands of hair behind her ear.  “We’re here to help you if we can.  Aaron saw the article about the murder in the Chicago Tribune yesterday.


“Really?”  Sarcasm gave an edge to Jaime’s voice.  “How well did you know Tio Roberto?”  He stood up from his bed, a thin mattress on top of a hip-high cinderblock rectangle, and walked toward the steel door.


“I met him a long time ago, when I was a teenager.  I remember him as a kind and honorable gentleman.  It’s a shame what happened.”


Jaime looked down and shook his head.  “Yes, it is.”  He looked up at Guerevich, his voice resolute.  “I had nothing to do with his death.”  He put his hands on the bars.  Moisture glistened in his eyes.  He was lost in his orange jumpsuit.  “I told the police that I was at my home when Tio Roberto was killed.”


“Was anyone with you?”


“Yes, but I can’t tell who without getting her in a lot of trouble.”

Guerevich took out his small notepad and scribbling hastily.  He looked up.  “But you could be facing life in prison.  Or worse.  Surely, she’ll come forward.”


“She will if I ask her.  But I can’t do that to her.  There has to be  some other way.”

“Have you told your lawyer?” asked Ann.


“That fucking idiot.  Sorry.  When I refused to tell him her name, he wouldn’t handle the case and said no other lawyer would.   My public defender told me to plead some lesser charge.”


Ann shook her head.  “And go to jail for years?  At least talk to us.”

“Why?  What can you do?”


Ann reached out and touched his hand.  “Maybe nothing.  But we’d like to try.”


“At least you’re honest.”


Guerevich requested District Commander David Boggs that Jaime be brought to a conference room.  Arriving first, they sat at the white plastic folding table scarred with cigarette burns and drink stains.  Jaime, his leg chains clanking and scraping on the concrete floor, shuffled in accompanied by a guard.  A chain around his waist attached to his wrists limited his arm movement.


Once in the room, he clanked into a metal chair and bent down to scratch his chin.  “Do you have any change?”


Ann looked at his despondent face.  “Change?”


“Yes.  You can get me a cup of coffee and a candy bar from the machine.  The guard will free my left arm so I can eat and drink in the room.”


Ann bought coffee and candy bars.  Once they were seated, the guard partially closed the door and stood outside.  Jaime Gutierrez squinted at Guerevich and asked the first question.  “I really don’t remember you.  How did you meet my Tio Roberto?”


Guerevich set his note pad on the table.  “I was about sixteen.  My father helped him get a job at a small factory in Phoenix.”


“The one that manufactured nuts and bolts?”


“Yes.  But Roberto was too intelligent to spend his life running a machine.  After a year or so on the job, he devised a way to modify the machines and make them run faster without reducing quality.”


Jaime nodded.  “Tio Roberto told me about that.”


“My father patented the process and and when Roberto became a citizen, he bought the patent for one dollar.  After he moved here, he often went through Arizona on his way to Mexico.  Once he stayed at our house and you were with him.”


“Tio Roberto always called your father the friend who changed his life.  He purchased a small manufacturing company here, and did very well.  But why are you helping me?”  He sipped his coffee with his free left hand.


“My father believed it’s necessary for people to do what they can to help others.  But you need to tell me about your uncle’s death.  Start at the beginning.”


Ann reached in her large purse and took out a yellow legal pad.  Then she looked at Jaime.  “I’m ready.  First, tell me why your friend can’t come forward.”


“She and her husband are getting divorced, and if anyone knew about us, it would put her in a very difficult position.”


Ann scribbled the information on her pad.  She looked up at Jaime.  “Why were you raised by your uncle?”


“Seventeen years ago, my parents and my two sisters were killed in Mexico on the narrow road from Guadalajara to Tepic.  I didn’t go with them because of summer school.  Tio Roberto took me in.”  Jaime paused and looked at Ann.  “There is no way I could shoot him.  Why should I?  He gave me everything I ever wanted.  He helped me become a businessman. I own four McDonald’s franchises.  Do you think I could have done that without his help?”  Tears began to seep from Jaime’s eyes and run down his face, getting lost in his bushy mustache.  He instinctively reached up with his right hand to wipe them away, but the chain prevented his hand from reaching his face.  “Damn.”  He threw his hand into his lap as the chain banged against the metal leg of the chair.


Ann handed him a tissue and he wiped his face with his left hand.


Guerevich moved his chair closer to Jaime.  “Where was he killed?”


“In his home, a large house overlooking the lake on North Sheridan Road. just south of Evanston.”


“We need the address in case we want to see it,” said Ann.


“5703 North Sheridan.”


“Exactly when did it happen?” She continued to write.


“December 12.  The news called it the coldest night of the month.  The temperature dropped to three below.  That’s one reason my friend and I stayed home.”


“Any witnesses to the shooting?”


“A neighbor, Charles Andreesen.   He told the police he heard three shots and rushed to the house. Claimed he recognized me and saw me run out the back door.”


Ann wrote the name on her notepad.  “We need to talk to Andreesen.”


“I hope you get more from him than the police did.  I don’t know why he said he saw me.  That’s why they arrested me.  No bail because I have family in Mexico.   My stupid lawyer didn’t even fight the request for remand.”


Guerevich grimaced.  He had run into overworked assistant DAs before, rushing complete one case before rushing to their next one.  “Is there anything else you can tell me?”


“Tio Roberto always kept a lot of money in his house.  In the freezer.  We often joked about his cold cash.”


Ann poised her pen on her pad.  “How much did he keep?”


“Sometimes as much as $100,000.  In a box labeled Queso de Mexico.  When the police searched the house after the murder, there was no box and no cash in the freezer.  Or anywhere else in the house.  I told the police but they didn’t believe me.”


Guerevich wanted to hug the young man, or at least shake his hand before he returned to his cell, but he knew police regulations.  No physical contact between visitors and inmates.


When they started up the stairs, it was noon.  Ann grabbed Guerevich by the arm at the top.  “What the hell do you think you’ll be able to do?” she half whispered.  “We’re not in Scottsdale.  We’re in Chicago.  I thought we would give him some moral support, and now I feel we’re back at work.”


“You know I can’t walk away.  I have a chance here to do a mitzvah.”


She slumped her shoulders in resignation.  “I know.  Judaism teaches us that performing good deeds, mitzvot, helps us come closer to God and to holiness.”


He smiled at Ann, put his arm around her shoulder, and squeezed her to him.  “Too bad more people don’t feel that way.”


She put her arms around his waist and hugged him.  “It’s one of the reasons I love you.”


After a quick kiss, they went outside into the cold afternoon.  “I’m hungry.  All I had this morning was a bagel and coffee.”


He flagged down a taxi.  When they told the driver what they wanted, he took them to Ada’s, a kosher style deli.


Seated in the warm back seat, Ann playfully punched Guerevich in the shoulder.  “Well, now I know how we’re going to spend our New Year’s holidays.  I just wish it would snow.  I’ve never really been in snow.”


“Never?  What about when you lived in Tahoe?”

“Never spent a winter there.”


In the restaurant, they ordered and Guerevich sipped his coffee in silence.

When their food arrived, Ann spread spicy mustard on her pastrami sandwich.  “I wonder if Jaime has access to his uncle’s estate?”


Guerevich took a bite of his cheese omelet, put his fork down and sipped his coffee again.  “Not now.  But he must have money of his own from his McDonalds franchises.”


“Maybe.  But why would Andreesen lie about seeing him?”


“That’s something we’ll have to find out from him.”


They ate the rest of their meal in thoughtful silence.


Guerevich finished the last bite of his toast.  “Do you have any contacts in forensics here in Chicago?”


“You may be in luck.  An old friend, Stan Miller, got a job here in Chicago after he left Tahoe.  We’ve kept in touch.  Maybe I can turn on the charm and get him to do a few favors for me – I mean us.”


“Very funny.  Just don’t turn on too much charm.”


Ann smiled.  “Well, he sent me a card last year with a picture of his wife and two kids.  He’s gained about thirty pounds and he wasn’t thin when I dated him.  Believe me, you have nothing to worry about.”


After their late lunch, they made calls to set things in motion for the next day.  Then they took a bus downtown Chicago to see the displays on State Street.  From his childhood, Guerevich remembered the mechanized presentations in the windows of Marshall Fields and Sears.  Crowds stood outside watching articulated elves and santas moving their arms mechanically and laughing as they worked at their benches.  Trains whizzed around make-believe towns and train stations.


As night arrived, snow started to fall, large flakes whirling and spinning in the glow of street lights, landing gently on hats and coats, giving a red-cheeked Currier and Ives look to shoppers along Michigan Avenue.


Guerevich suggested they walk back to The Drake hotel, but Ann complained that her nose and ears might freeze and fall off so they taxied back.   After dinner they spent the evening discussing their strategy for the next day.  Ann would meet Stanley Miller, and Guerevich would ask Commander Boggs to grant permission to interview Andreesen.


She snuggled next to him in bed.  “You think he’ll agree?”


“I think so.  This isn’t a TV crime show with a dramatic dispute between departments.  We don’t work on commission.   My guess is they’re overworked and they’ll welcome legitimate assistance.”


Guerevich was right and David Boggs agreed.  “Normally, I wouldn’t do this, but you’re an ex-Chicago cop and you had a good rep here.  Besides, he may just tell you something to you that he wouldn’t say to one of our guys.  Just don’t do anything to mess us up.”


Ann left for the crime lab, and Guerevich took the Sheridan Road bus to Andreesen’s.  The temperature had fallen to the low 20s and the midday sun was a small cold fire in the sky.


Seconds after Guerevich rang the bell, Andreeson, wearing a sweater over a flannel shirt and wrinkled chinos, opened the door.  Several inches shorter than Guerevich, he had a halo of white hair around his head and his stomach hid his belt buckle.


“Mr. Andreesen?  I’m Aaron Guerevich from Phoenix.  I’m doing a follow-up investigation on the death of Roberto Gutierrez.  May I come in?”


Andreeson spoke with a strong Norwegian accent.  “Well, I tell the Chicago cops everyting ten times already.  I don’t like to tell story again.”


Guerevich looked into the warm house.  “It’s been a long time since I lived in freezing weather, and I’m not used to it.”


“I guess it don’t matter.  Come in.  One more time don’t make no real difference.”

Guerevich followed Andreesen into the living room.  He looked at Guerevich and smiled. “Dis weather too cold for you?  I hear blood tins out in hot climate like Phoenix.  Where I come from, blood run very thick.  Sit down.  I make some coffee.”


“I grew up in Chicago, but I guess I’ve become a warm weather person.”   As he sat in a new overstuffed chair, Guerevich noticed a matching chair and sofa and he smelled the cat-urine odor from solvent based adhesive of new cut-pile carpet, thick enough to show footprints.


He waited until Andreesen returned and sipped his coffee before asking the first question.  “I don’t want to take up too much of your time.  Exactly where you when you heard the shots?”


“Outside the house.”  Andreesen set the cup in the saucer he held in his hand and pointed to his eyes.  “I go to my garage to get my second pair of glasses from my car.  Earpiece of my good pair lost a screw, and I have to hold them on my face.  As I left garage — my garage, it’s not attached to house — I hear the shots.  Three.  I rush over to house of Mr. Gutierrez, and find front door open.  I run inside and see his nephew.  I see him clearly like I see you.  He look at me. Then he turn and run out through back door.  That damn kid got everything handed to him on silver plate, and he do this.  Ach, kids today.”


“He’s 33.  Did you see him often?”


“Well, I see him for years.  Always hanging around, wanting more.  The old man buy him four McDonalds, but that ain’t enough.  He want two more.  Said he couldn’t make decent money unless he own five or six.”


Guerevich wrote in his note pad.  “I understand.  Then what happened?”


“When I run in, I see the old man on the floor and call 9-1-1, but of course, was too late, even though it only took couple minutes to get there.”


“You say you were outside?  And you had retrieved your glasses from your car?”


“Yah.  That’s right.”


“And you had your glasses on when you ran to the house?”


“Yes.  Without glasses, I don’t see much of anything other than what’s in front of my face.”


“And you’re sure it was Jaime.  No doubt.”


“Soon as I go into house, I see him.  And he see me.”


“Was he still holding the gun?

“Don’t remember seeing no gun.  Young people today don’t want to work hard.  Don’t want to take no responsibility.”


“What about about the money Mr. Gutierrez kept in his house?  Jaime said his uncle kept quite a large amount in the freezer.”


Andreeson pursed his lips and squinted, looking at the.  “Don’t know nothing about no box of money in freezer.”


Guerevich smiled.  “Well, that’s all I have to ask.  I’m sure the police have the full report.  Thanks for your time.”


“No problem.  It’s a shame.  Mr. Gutierrez was good man. He work hard for what he had.  Not like nephew of his.   Greed does strange things to people.”


“Yes, it certainly does.”


Guerevich took the Outer Drive/Sheridan Road Bus back to the hotel. As it passed Foster Avenue, Guerevich looked toward the lake, remembering the huge white Edgewater Beach Hotel that stood for years where the outer drive once ended.


Back at the hotel, a message from Ann said to meet her for lunch at the Artists’ Cafe across from the Art Institute.


A five minute taxi ride brought him to the cafe. He crossed the wide sidewalk and tried to see Ann through the window, but the steamed glass kept him from looking in.  He opened the door and saw her sitting at a table, a notebook open in front of her.


She looked up and smiled as he approached.  “Hello, sweetie.  Want some coffee?”


“As long as it’s hot.”  He sat across from her.  “My parents were smart to move to Phoenix.   It’s hard to believe people live like this – it takes ten minutes to bundle up before you go outside, and then you can hardly move for all the clothes.”


“Don’t be a big baby.  You don’t hear me complaining, do you?”


“Well, I’ve read that women have an extra layer of fat to protect them.  It’s genetic.”  He grinned.


“Then maybe I’ll just stay here genetics and all and you can go back to Phoenix by yourself.  Stanley looked good.  He joined an exercise club and lost almost fifty pounds.”


“Stanley, huh. Very amusing.  What’d you find out?”


“He was very helpful.  He just didn’t want his wife to know I visited.  I guess our relationship sort of slipped his mind and he didn’t bore her with details.”


“Thanks.  That’s more information than I need.”


“We did some research.   Jaime’s clean.  He has his own money.  Small investments and income from his four McDonalds.  He’s not rich, but he’s not hurting for cash.”


“So he didn’t have a motive.   Except, he’d stand to inherit the house and his uncle’s business, which could be worth a few million.”


“But he said he had a good relationship with his uncle.  The old man was helping him financially.   Roberto gave him the seed money for the McDonalds’ franchises and there are no records to indicate Jaime ever paid him back.”


“That’s the kind of man I remember, but that could be a motive.  Did you find out anything about Andreesen?”


“There we have a different story.  Trans-Union Credit reported Andreesen had money problems until recently.  Four months behind on his house payment, a collection agency after him for back payments on his car, and in default on his credit cards.  You think he was desperate enough to kill Roberto for the money?”


“Maybe.  He struck me as the kind of man who might take advantage of a situation, but not a killer.”


“Maybe there was a break-in, and the killer fled just as he said.  And he helped himself to the money.  Over the last few weeks, Andreesen made several cash deposits to his checking account, but none large enough to raise red flags at the bank.  Somehow he found enough money to pay his bills.”


“What if he searched out the money before he called 9-1-1.  If he waited ten or fifteen minutes, he could have combed the house before he called.”


“He says he called immediately.”


“The call came in to 9-1-1 at 8:46.  That means the shots had to occur just after 8:45 to give Andreesen time to hear them and react, rush into the house, see Jaime or whoever was there, and call.  Too bad no one else heard the shots.”


“I have to save you again.  I did some checking, because I’d been thinking the same thing.  You know, two great minds and all that.”


“That’s why I love you.  That’s why we’re meant to be together.”


“Sure, sure.  Anyway, there’s a Sheridan bus that goes by the house about 8:35 if it’s on time.  I had Stanley contact the Chicago Transit Authority.  Fortunately, the driver was on shift today, and because of light passenger traffic, he was running seven minutes early.  He heard the shots just before 8:30.  Stanley said that cold weather condenses sound and it travels faster.”


“But why didn’t the driver report it?”


“He said he thought they were backfires.  He did say that three in a row is very unusual. Usually just one or two.  He read about the murder in the newspaper, but when the police made an arrest, he didn’t pay any more attention.”


“So Andreesen had time — more than fifteen minutes — to search the place, take the money, and stash it somewhere.”


“Why would he blame Jaime?”


“Didn’t like him.  He thought Jaime was a lazy kid after his uncle’s money.  He really doesn’t understand the closeness of family ties in Mexican tradition.  He said it himself when I talked to him.  ‘Greed does strange things to people.’  But the timing and deposits aren’t enough.  We need something else.”


“But what?  Remember, we’re just visitors.  We really can’t go barging around, uprooting a case that Chicago PD thinks is pretty well closed.”


“I know.  Well, let’s head back to the hotel and sleep on it.  Maybe something will come to us.”


Guerevich turned the room thermostat down to 65 and they went to bed.  Just before dawn, something woke him up.   He rose quietly to watch the sun rise over what he always thought of as his city.  He wiped the fogged pane with a tissue.  As he was about to throw it in the trash, his jaw dropped and he stared at the wet lump of paper in his hand.  “How could I be so stupid.”  He ran back to the bed and shook Ann’s shoulder.  “Ann, wake up.  The answer to the problem is here in front of us.”


Ann squinted in his direction and rolled to one elbow.  “What do you mean?”


“Come here.”


She got out of bed and walked toward him.


He smiled at her nude body still slow from sleep.  Taking her hand, he led her to the window.  “Look out at the city.  What do you see?  Nothing, because the windows are steamed up. That’s because it’s warm inside and cold outside.”




“So, if Andreesen ran into the warm house from a sub-zero night, the first thing that would happen is his glasses would fog up.  And he admitted he’s almost blind without them. There’s no way he could have seen Jaime or anyone else in that house.  I don’t know if he shot Roberto.  That’s a Chicago PD problem.  But he did take the money.  We need to talk with Captain Boggs.”


The next morning, the District Attorney appeared before judge Walford, who ordered Jaime released on his own recognizance and issued a bench warrant for the arrest of Charles Andreesen.


Two days later, on a brilliantly clear January third night, Aaron Guerevich and Ann Berendt taxied to The Hancock Center.   After looking up at the skyscraper’s distinctive X-bracing exterior, the spine that supports the building during high winds and has made it an architectural icon, they rode the elevator to The Signature Room on the 95th Floor to dine and look out over the city.   They drank champagne, danced, and kissed as they silently celebrated a belated new year and watched the city lights twinkle like diamonds.