Thursday, February 26, 2009

"A Sheep In Wolf's Clothing" by Cormac Brown

“Hey, ‘Spinner,’ come sit on my lap!”


If Delia had a dollar for every time that she heard that…well, she wouldn’t be a millionaire. She would, however, be able to afford dinner at the most expensive restaurant back home in Enid, Oklahoma.

“Come on over here ‘Spinner,’ the man chimes again and he pats his lap. That is, what could be almost considered a lap. Some people talk about double-chins, he has a quadruple stomach.

She does her best to stifle a shudder and she moves past him. Irritated as she is, she lets his remarks and smooching noises slide, because she doesn’t want to attract the unwanted attention that would come with putting him in his place. She is under the radar and she wants to stay that way.

Delia has on the standard off-duty uniform for a place like this; her hair is up in a ponytail, very little or no make-up, sweat pants, a tight t-shirt, and usually a sweatshirt, though in her case, a hoodie on over that. She could easily be going to a health club instead of here, including the oversized gym bag, and that bag is crucial.

She knows the required walk for this joint, too, which is Marilyn Monroe on a treadmill set to 8 MPH. This way the men will notice her for the wrong reasons and so will all the women. All the better to get over on people and to get out when it counts.

Another man makes a “spinner” comment, and she recalls that the first time she ever heard that remark, she believed it to be a term of endearment. That is, until she saw the look in the eyes of the degenerate that said it. As much as she’s dying to know just exactly what that means, she won’t look it up on her computer. If these economic times weren’t as difficult as they were, she would never, ever, be in a place like this…doing what she is about to do.

As a matter of fact, she grew up in a house where dancing was strictly forbidden and wearing anything more than a little lipstick meant that you were a harlot that deserved to be lashed at with a belt. Since then, both of her parents had passed on, and while she would never miss her father with his propensity to punish her for everything that she did, no matter how minute…she really missed her mom.

Delia figured that despite her designs, her mother would be right there next to Saint Peter to welcome Delia right through the Pearly Gates. Just as you had to break a few eggs to make an omelet, maybe it was okay to commit a small sin in order vanquish the many greater sins of others.


Lamont Hubble likes to keep his office neat, but his business is messy by nature and things get away from him. Right now he is trying locate a medical form in a sea of papers. The music that constantly plays in the background here usually doesn’t bother him, but today is the exception.

“I can’t find it, Bianca,” he mutters into the telephone. Between the music and the phone bouncing around in the crook of his neck as he searches for the form, Bianca can’t hear him.

“I said I can’t find it! What do you mean, you can’t hear me? I said it in English, I-can’t-find-it! No, I didn’t take it out of the room…none of the dancers are stupid enough to come in here. I’d shit-can them away. No, Bianca…honey, I’m sure of it, I have security cameras and all the employees know that. That’s why they stay the hell out.”

Lamont puts a cigarette in his mouth, and it struggles to stay there as he searches through the piles of paper.

“The point is that she told the hospital to bill the club…why don’t I pay it? Hey there, missy, this place puts a roof over your head, food in your mouth, as well as a new pair of shoes and a new purse every single week. They are independent contractors! If I had to pay every time one of my dancers twisted an ankle or ruptured an implant, you’d be living out of a car, and it wouldn’t be your Mercedes anymore, because that would be repossessed!”

Lamont clicks a mouse, types in a password and a program opens up on his computer. He clicks an arrow and the footage of his office for the last twenty-four hours appears on the screen. He clicks the fast-forward and the footage speeds up. As he keeps one eye on the footage, he tries to light the cigarette in his mouth, but his lighter is out of butane.

“Bianca, please, I sure as hell don’t tell you how to shop, so don’t tell me how to run my business,” he grumbles. He madly thumbs his lighter in vain and if he’d calm down, he would remember that there are matches in his top drawer.

“Yes, honey, I am a Christian, but I am a businessman too,” Lamont whines. His cigarette falls out of his mouth as he notices something on the screen. “Bianca? I gotta go…no, really, I gotta go,” and he hangs up the phone.

The footage almost goes to the end, but there is a flicker. He cues it back and he sees that the office door has opened up and somebody has come in. Lamont tilts his head and peers under his desk. There is a beautiful petite woman down there, and while she looks like she could be one of his club’s strippers, he knows that he’s never seen her before.

Lamont leans back in his chair and tugs his zipper. “Hey, baby, as long as you are down there…”

It’s Delia.

She leans forward and Lamont pulls his zipper down, but the smile on his face vanishes like that of a lap dancer when a trick runs out of bills, because she points a .45 right at his crotch. His pallor turns from tanning machine rustic brown to pale goth.

“Whoa, whoa, there’s no need to take it like that! I thought someone sent you as a present. I didn’t mean anything untoward.”

“Move back slowly and don’t get any ideas about kicking me,” Delia says firmly, “unless you want to find out just how fast I can put all eleven bullets into you.”

Lamont notices how steady her gun hand is and he’s worried. If there is something that he’s learned through all the years of having various businesses in both the marginal parts of town and shady dealings in the good parts of town, a shaky gun hand is bad because that means they might shoot you accidentally, and a steady hand usually means that they have no problems shooting you.

So he gets up slowly. She motions to a sizable poster of a sizably-enhanced woman.

“Open the safe and don’t pretend that you don’t know the combination, because I know that you own this place. Oh, and if you think I won’t kill you just because you refuse to open it? I can just shoot you and nobody will hear it over the music. Then I’ll rob the dancers instead.”

Lamont swallows hard as he runs through the combination. He knows that he could knock her out with just one little tap; he’s just picking out the right moment in his head.

“You shouldn’t tense and flex like that. Your body language says that you’re doing math in your head, and that’s bad. You may have ten inches in height and 100 lbs. over me, but the trigger on my gun is very sensitive, you understand? It might even be worse than a hair-trigger. So what that really adds up to is I might just sneeze and empty half of the clip into you before I even realize it.”

Delia presses the .45 into the middle of Lamont’s spine and he shivers. He opens the safe and-

“All right, step back from there slowly; I don’t want you pulling out any weapons you might have stashed.”

Lamont backs up slowly and-


“Oh, God!” Lamont yips.

“Whew, must be my allergies.”

Delia faked a sneeze to keep him in line. She surveys his office; she sees something suitable for her purposes and motions for Lamont to get down. He gets down on his knees and she shakes her head.

“No, that’s not going to work. All the way down, flat on the carpet.”

Lamont blinks hard and stifles a snivel. He hyperventilates.

“Close your eyes and you will get a big, big, surprise,” Delia says in a way that is so sultry that she even surprises herself.

Lamont’s eyes squeeze so tight that he looks like a constipated prospector who has spent all of his life in the sun. Delia tucks her .45 in her left arm and puts gloves on. She quietly grabs one of Lamont’s bowling trophies and he cries out at the sound of her rapidly approaching high heels. She hits him on the head, hard.

After a few seconds, he lets out a groan and she hits him again. He’s out cold, though she gives him a swift kick between the legs to make sure.

She pulls the oversized gym bag out from under the desk and makes her way to the safe. Well, one thing she has to say about Lamont; unlike most strip club owners, he keeps his money bundled in five neat stacks. Of the fourteen jobs that she has pulled, this looks like it is going to be her biggest haul ever.


Delia tries desperately to not look like the cat that swallowed the canary and her walk is more subdued, though that is more in an effort to counter balance the money.

“Sweet spinner, come talk to me, I have plenty o’ money and nothin’ but time,” coos the man with almost no lap.

She stops, she sneers and she is on the verge of giving him a piece of her mind. Then the bigger picture gives her a mental kick in the rear and she walks on.

“My name is Baron,” says the man lacking a lap. He almost falls off the bar stool with his poor effort to pour the sugar on.

Delia allows herself a smile as she finally gets outside. Her eyes adjust to the setting sun and then a partial eclipse happens right before her eyes! It’s one of the club’s bouncers, a muscle-head that is so large that his neck is almost as big as both of her thighs put together.

“You, new girl, you have to go on.”

Delia looks over her shoulder in hope that this poster child for too many steroids is talking to someone else, but she knows better.

“I don’t work here-”

“-And I don’t care. Madison called in sick, so that means that you have to replace her.”

He grunts and grabs Delia’s right arm…the arm carrying the money. Before she knows it, he has almost dragged her past the length of the bar. She knows it would be futile to dig her heels in, so she gives him a couple of light kicks in the back of his legs, to get his attention.

“For the last time, I-don’t-work-here!”

“Madison’s spot has to be filled…look, me and you are going to talk to Mister Hubble about this.”

The bouncer resumes yanking her along, Delia unzips the bag and pulls out her .45. She mulls whether she should shoot him in the back when the dancer that is onstage screams.

Unlike in the movies, the music doesn’t stop with a scratched record…only because the DJ has ducked under his turntables. Baron and a few other people flee for the front door, and he almost trips over one of them.

The bouncer’s head follows the dancer’s eyes and he realizes he’s facing down the barrel of Delia’s gun. Because they are right by a speaker, she has to shout, “I told you that I don’t work here!” The bouncer’s eyes go wide; he lets go and puts his hands up.

The very thing that Delia doesn’t want, happens. From under the bar, the bartender pulls a revolver out. Before he can take aim and before she can even think about it, her survival instinct kicks in and she shoots him twice. The bartender swoons, and as he enters his death throes he squeezes his trigger. The bullet narrowly misses Delia and hits the stripper onstage, killing her instantly.

The bouncer tries to rush Delia and she puts three slugs into him, knocking the giant back on his ass.


Baron gasps and wheezes as he reaches the parking lot. He panics because he can’t find his truck, as there are a dozen more vehicles that weren’t here when he came in.


“Get back and sit down!” Delia yells to stem the tide of fleeing people. She herds the crowd back with her gun and they trip over themselves. “I said, get back!” and she fires one in the ceiling to send the stampede back towards the stage.


Baron finally locates his truck and he opens the door. He tries to unlock his shotgun from its rack, but he feels like an elephant is standing on his chest and he wonders if he is about to have a coronary. He hears the clacking of heels and he nearly breaks his key trying to get the rack’s lock open.

With her eyes so full of tears, Delia can barely see where she’s going. In the thirteen other strip club robberies that she has pulled, she has never hurt anyone but the owners, and she’s never shot a human being in all of her life. All of her rationales have gone out of the window, “the small sin that vanquishes the greater sins of others.” “The Robin Hood.” She is just a common murderer now.

She worries that maybe she might have made someone else an orphan just like herself. She knows that this time around, the police will double their efforts to hunt her down…maybe the FBI will get involved, too. She worries that after this, she won’t be able to see her momma in Heaven.

She contemplates turning the gun on herself…then her flight instinct kicks in and she kicks her heels off and puts them in the bag.

No one has come out of the club by the time she reaches her car and she has yet to see a police car. Her car is a convertible, the on extravagance that she has allowed herself in life. She panics as she starts it and floods the engine. Delia pounds the steering wheel in frustration and her tears pour forth.

She sobs for a few moments, wipes the tears from her mascara-streaked face and starts her car. She doesn’t notice the still-panting Baron sneaking up on her with his shotgun in hand. She pulls away before he can raise it. He follows her out into the street and he takes aim.

Delia catches a glimpse of something in her rearview mirror and then the shotgun roars. She flinches as the pellets strike the back of the convertible’s top, shattering its small glass window and ripping over a dozen holes in its fabric. Baron racks another shell in his shotgun and is about to take aim, when something more pressing needs his attention…a semi.

The sleep-deprived driver of the truck has just woke up from the shotgun’s report. He is in full panic. The truck’s brakes are locked up and the truck is skidding. He wonders just where he is and just what the hell is this man doing, standing in the middle of the road?

For some odd reason, Baron’s adrenaline does not kick in and his life does not flash before his very eyes. Instead, he has just enough time to wonder just where the fuck did this truck come from? Baron’s bulk actually bucks the truck’s left front tire up four inches in the air as it bounces off of him. The next two sets of wheels rock as they go over the human speed bump that was formerly known as “Baron.”

The sun has almost set on Delia as she turns the corner. She winces and lowers the top on the convertible.


As the sun sets over the horizon in outer Fayetteville, Marco Turner’s mind is still stuck on where he can get his first meal of the day. Tall for his thirteen years, panhandling has been getting him nowhere because he is past the “cute stage.” He doesn’t want to steal and he definitely doesn’t want to go home tonight. Right around this time, his Uncle Gene goes from his “Mr. Hyde” stage to “Mr. Hyde on a drunken psychotic episode” stage.

A car has been following him for about a quarter of a block now, and he knows from extremely close calls not to get into cars with so-called “friends,” much less strangers. He considers doubling back to shake whomever it is when the car pulls up. Even though the top of the convertible is already retracted, the driver rolls the passenger window down. He sees that it is a woman, weakened and pale as a ghost.

“Hi,” Delia says, barely above a whisper. She turns her engine off.

Marco looks back. He believes her to be some kind of bait and that a bunch of guys are lurking near by, waiting to beat the shit out of him. He scans the street.

“Look…you have no reason to be afraid of me. I’m not going to hurt you or anything. I just want to help someone out?”

“No thank you, Miss, “ Marco says and goes back the way he came. “Wait!” Delia pleads and the genuine pain in her voice, gets Marco’s attention. He returns.

“I don’t have…much time,” she sighs and holds up the bag. She pulls the gun out and Marco freezes with fear. Delia throws the gun in the backseat, but Marco is still justifiably wary.

“Please…take this,” she mumbles and offers up the bag. Even as dark as it is, Marco can recognize the familiar green and white of the paper he so seldom sees. He scans the street one more time and he reluctantly takes it from her hands.

Delia smiles, then her eyes flutter and she slumps into her steering wheel. With her head and back now exposed, Marco can see that she is wounded. The driver’s seat is soaked with blood that looks almost purple in this limited light.

Marco zips the bag up and he makes one final scan of the street. He goes around to the driver’s side and he gently pushes her back toward the seat. He sees that she has a cell phone in her cup holder. Marco reaches in, dials the phone, wipes his fingerprints off of it with his shirt, and puts the phone in Delia’s lap.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

Marco gently touches Delia’s cheek and walks away.

“Hello? What’s your emergency?”

BIO: "Cormac Brown" is my pen name. I'm an up-and-slumming writer in the city of Saint Francis and I'm following in the footsteps of Hammett...minus the TB and working for the Pinkerton Agency. Some of my stories have appeared in Flashing In The Gutters, Powder Burn Flash, Six Sentences, and A Twist Of Noir. My story "Tit-For-Tat," appeared in the premiere issue of Astonishing Adventures Magazine and I have two stories coming up in the next two issues of that magazine.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

"Taking Care Of Our Own" by Jan Christensen

I watched my husband put the American flag into the flag holder screwed to the front of our military quarters. A lump formed in my throat as I thought of the men killed in our country's wars, some of whom I had known. The ones from Vietnam. The first few notes of "Taps" sounded in my head, and I quickly turned away and stared at the woods across the street.

The day had dawned clear, warm and bright. Perfect for Memorial Day, 1980. Yesterday I made potato salad. I ticked off the list in my mind--hamburger meat, buns and all the fixings--enough for the five couples we'd invited, plus their children. Three of the other women were bringing dessert, and another macaroni salad. Millie hadn't volunteered, as usual. I shrugged and went back inside to check for dust.

I told myself not to care if I missed a speck, but for some reason I did. Maybe because my mother had been such an indifferent housekeeper. I remembered writing my name in the dust of the coffee table once.

One of the kittens dashed in front of me, and I scooped him up in my hands, and cooed at him, "You need to be careful, little one. Where's your mama?" I stroked his silky fur, feeling him purr under my fingers.

Brittany came downstairs and greeted me and the kitten. "Let me have him," she said, holding out her slim hands. I gave him to her and got in a hug at the same time. Fifteen-year-old Brittany no longer welcomed hugs as she used to, so I took them when I could. Smiling, I watched my daughter pet the kitten. I looked at Brittany's face with its clear blue eyes, slightly upturned nose, generous mouth and sun-brightened blonde hair, and felt the usual surge of love at the sight of her.

Roger came inside smelling of heat and springtime, reminding me that I wanted to open the windows for a while, at least until it got too hot.

"You sure there's enough charcoal?" I asked as we opened the two windows in the living room.

He nodded. I wondered what he was thinking about. The friends he'd lost in the war? The upcoming get-together? I was never quite sure. He'd come back from Vietnam seven years ago quieter, almost morose. It was no use asking him what he was thinking. "Nothing," was his stock reply.

I looked at him now, his still-lean body bending to open the window in the dining area, his brown hair streaked with a few gray strands. Little crinkles made wings at the corners of his eyes, not from smiling and laughing, but from squinting into the sun. Clean-shaven, at my request. I hated facial hair, and he loved me enough to forgo it. I still loved him after seventeen years of marriage. Loved his steadiness, his fidelity, his adoration of our daughter and most of all, his love for me.

With a start, I realized I was standing in the middle of the room, staring at my husband in a daze. I shook my head to clear it and saw that Brittany had stepped outside the back door with the kitten still in her hands, the mother cat snaking herself around Brittany's ankles.

We've so much to be thankful for. The war's over, although horribly. Roger has only two years until retirement, and we will return to civilian life. We'll buy a little house, and I'll look for a job. If it hadn't been for that damned, violent, asinine war, our life would have been perfect.

* * * * *

The kids were inside with the hi-fi going, the younger ones running outside occasionally to talk to their mothers. I sat with the other women at the picnic table munching on my hamburger, half listening to them, half listening to the men who were crouched down eating in a corner of the yard. They'd learned to squat like that in 'Nam. And they were talking about 'Nam, as usual.

"Did I tell you about the time the slicky boys tried to steal my carton of Camels?" Roger asked. Mike and Harry nodded, but the other three shook their heads. "It was pretty funny," Roger said. "I was walking along the street in Saigon, and it had just stopped raining, sun out bright. I had the carton under my arm when I heard a motorbike coming up alongside of me, and slowing down. The shadow of the motorbike appeared in front of me, two figures on it, one with his arm out, ready to grab my cigarettes. I swung the carton out of the way, and the guy falls off the bike, making the driver lose control. They fell down into a mud puddle."

The men laughed, picturing it--the narrow street, the crowds of people walking around, the smell of fish and rice.

"Well," Roger continued. "He's madder'n hell. Especially since everyone's laughing at him. Of course, I'm laughing the hardest. So he gets up, all muddy, and pulls a knife. He takes a step or two towards me. I shake my head at him and pull my forty-five slowly out of its holster, feeling like John Wayne, and just stare at him, smiling. Everything got real quiet on that street."

I always shiver at this point in the story. What if Roger had killed him? Could he have lived with that? Somewhere in the pit of my stomach, I think maybe he could. He has no patience for injustice. But it would have changed our relationship forever. I'm even against the death penalty.

The other men smiled and laughed. Even the women had been listening. This was a happier story that most out of 'Nam. "So, what happened then, Roger?" Millie asked.

"I shot him," Roger said.

Everyone laughed, the women who hadn't heard the story before, uneasily.

"Roger," I said, shaking my head at him. "Don't tease like that."

Roger shrugged, grinned at me and took a slug of beer from the can. "No, he backed off, swore at me, then got on the muddy motorbike with his friend and drove off. Everyone in the crowd clapped."

Mike laughed loudest, put his plate down and began to clap. The others joined him. When everyone quieted down, Mike told his story about the old man and the helicopter.

Around seven, Brittany poked her head out the door. "We're going to the movies, okay, Mom?" she asked.

I smiled and nodded. "Watch out for the little ones," I reminded her. The theater was within walking distance for the kids.

After they left, the women began clearing up the paper plates and putting the food away. I started another pot of coffee. The men continued to drink beer outside while the wives went in and had their coffee. I hoped the guys wouldn't get too loud, especially Jeremy. The quietest one sober, he became the noisiest one drunk.

At ten-thirty I began to look at my watch. Where were the kids? At ten of eleven I stood up nervously.

"Where are those children?" I asked. The other wives glanced at their watches, ohhed and ahhed.

Millie stood up, too, and looked out the window. "There they are. They're just standing outside. But I only see eight of them, I think."

"Who's missing?" Jeremy's wife asked. The rest of them came over to the window.

"Brittany!" I exclaimed. The other children stood milling around in front, looking towards the road. I dashed out of the house, the other women behind her. "Where's Brittany?"

The kids shrugged, and none of them would meet my eye.

Millie waddled over to her son, Patrick, and shook him with her meaty hands. "Where's Brittany?" she demanded.

He mumbled something I couldn't hear.

"Speak up," Millie demanded.

"I said a guy wanted to walk her home."

"What guy?" I asked.

"A G.I.," Patrick said, still avoiding my eyes. "She's seen him before. Don't know why they're not here yet."

"Oh, no," I moaned.

One of the other wives went to get the men.

Roger organized a search. Millie tried to persuade me to wait inside, but I insisted on going with my husband. The men grabbed flashlights from our quarters and from their cars. Roger and I took the path towards the theater. It snaked through the woods. Woods where Brittany and I had picked blueberries, had seen a lady's slipper. Don't think, I told myself. Just put one foot in front of the other, and go.

We heard a whimpering beside the path, and stopped. I almost bumped into Roger. He aimed his light into the bushes, and there sat Brittany, huddled on the ground. Her blouse was torn, but she had on her jeans shorts, shoes and socks. I knelt down beside her. "What happened?" I whispered. "Are you all right?"

"Oh, Mom," she wailed.

I took her in my arms and held her while she sobbed. Finally, I got her to stand, and with both Roger and me supporting her, we walked back down the path towards our quarters. The flag hung there forlornly, forgotten.

When we got inside, I saw the blood trickling down her leg. Repressing a gasp, I closed my eyes a moment, then mentally shook myself. Just her menses, I hoped. I prayed. After settling on the couch with a blanket, a towel between her legs, she began to shiver uncontrollably.

I wanted to take her to the emergency center, but Roger shook his head, not saying a word. He made her some hot tea and waited patiently for her to calm down. At one point, he went outside and brought in the flag, rolled carefully around its pole, and stashed it in the hall closet.

The other men and their wives and kids came back. Roger met them at the door, talked quietly to them and sent them home.

At last, Brittany stopped crying enough so we could question her.

"Tell us what happened," I said gently.

She began to cry again, but softly. She wouldn't look at us.

"We know about the G.I.," I said. "What was his name?"

She told us, and after gulping a couple of times, she blurted out, "He . . . he was drunk. He raped me."

I expected fireworks from Roger, but he remained standing next to the couch, his hands clenched whitely, his face a blank mask.

"We need to call the M.P.'s," I said.

"No, oh no," Brittany said. She took my hand and grasped it convulsively.

I nodded vigorously. "You need medical help, too." My God, I thought, she might be pregnant. I felt faint. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to push her away, push away the problem she'd caused. No, I told myself. It wasn't her fault. What was the matter with me? It was his fault. Despair washed through me. I felt it come up from my heart, into my throat. I had to swallow. Hard. I made myself take full, even breaths so I wouldn't cry. I mustn't cry.

"What should we do?" I asked Roger, looking up at him standing so still by the couch.

"Take her upstairs. Clean her up. If she'd not badly hurt, put her to bed. She could walk. She'll be all right."

"Roger," I whispered. "We need to report this."

What if she's pregnant? I wanted to scream. What if he did something to injure her permanently?

"No," Roger and Brittany said together. I watched them look at each other with understanding. They wanted it kept secret. I did, too, of course, but I also wanted the authorities involved. We couldn't let a rapist go free. But it was two against one, and I knew further argument would be useless.

Numb, I helped my little girl to her feet and had her lean on me as we climbed the stairs. In the bathroom, she asked me to leave. "I'll take care of it," she said, her voice flat.

"Use a pad, not a tampon," I said. "Less chance of infection." I felt so inadequate, thinking about what my own mother would have done. She'd have been sloppy with emotion, embarrassing me. My hand reached out involuntarily towards my daughter.

She turned away from me and headed for the bathroom. I swallowed my tears as I left her to cope by herself. She's only fifteen, I thought helplessly.

The shower ran for a long time. When she finally came out, she looked pale as moonlight. I started to take her arm, but she pulled away. In her room, she climbed into bed. I helped adjust the sheet and blanket for her, then turned off the overhead light and put on the small lamp on her desk. I pulled her desk chair up next to the bed. "I'll stay here until you fall asleep," I promised.

She only nodded. It didn't take too long for her eyes to close. She'd start awake, then drift off again. Finally, sure she slept, I left to go find Roger.

He was gone. I looked everywhere, even outside, but he had left. Hands shaking, I began to wash up and wipe down the kitchen counters. I was fluffing the cushions on the couch when I thought of the gun.

Trembling, I went upstairs to our bedroom and opened the closet door. On tiptoe, I reached for the shoebox in the far corner. It felt too light in my hands. Empty. I opened the lid and saw one bullet rattling around inside. The gun and the rest of the bullets were gone.

I sat down on the bed with a thump, and the shoebox fell from my nerveless fingers, empty of its untraceable contents. The gun he had pointed at the slicky boy, the gun he had smuggled out of 'Nam in the hi-fi speaker. The gun we never talked about.

Maybe he got rid of it before now, I thought desperately. I shook my head. Why would he? My heart thudded in my chest, getting louder and louder. I pressed my hand against it, willing it to slow down.

I don't know how long I sat there with the shoebox, but finally I got up stiffly to put it back on the shelf. I looked in on Brittany. She slept soundly. I checked to see if her windows were locked, then went to every room and made sure all windows and doors were secure. I filled mama cat's water and food dishes and stood watching her nurse her babies for awhile, envying her.

Back in my bedroom, I removed my shoes and socks and lay down on top of the covers. I was sure I wouldn't be able to sleep, until sunlight streaming into the room woke me with a start. I'd been dreaming of the woods, picking blueberries with Brittany when something began to chase us. Don't think about it, I told myself as I swung my feet off the bed and put my head in my hands.

Then I remembered and looked up and over my shoulder. No Roger. I stumbled out of bed and rushed to Brittany's room.

I turned off the light on her desk, then stood beside her bed, waiting. She came awake slowly.

When she saw me, I could see her remembering. Her eyes flashed from bright sunshine to dull cloudiness. She turned her face away.

I touched her shoulder lightly. "How are you?"

"Okay," she mumbled.

"Need to check," I said and stood away from the bed.

Her eyes questioned me for a moment, then she understood. On shaky legs she went to the bathroom. When she came back, she said, "It's all right. Not much blood at all." She swallowed hard. "I'll be okay, Mom. Where's Dad?"

I shrugged. "I don't know."

She gave me a sharp glance, then looked away.

"Let's see about breakfast," I said. "Let me clean up first."

Brittany nodded. "I'll meet you downstairs."

We'd each managed a piece of toast when the front door opened, and Roger came in. I searched his face for some sign of what he'd done, but he looked almost the same, except he seemed to blink a bit more than normal. No sign of a gun.

"It's all taken care of," he said.

"What do you mean?" I asked quickly.

He didn't answer. He looked at Brittany and smiled a smile that did not light up his eyes. He made a gun with his fingers, cocked it, and pulled the trigger.

She stared at him a moment. The dullness in her eyes lightened a bit, then grew to the brightness of hope. "Oh, Daddy," she said as she rushed into his arms.

I stared at him over her shoulders, feeling something shift in my chest, harden there. At first, I didn't know what it was. Then I knew it was unaccustomed anger. Red, hot rage. How could he?

He watched my face over our daughter's shoulders, and his eyes pleaded with me. I wanted to turn away but kept staring at him. Staring at the two I love most in the world. I felt the rage begin to fade, replaced by an icy center near my heart. What if he's caught? my mind screamed. He won't be, something inside told me.

Then the ice dissolved leaving me feeling nothing. Numb, at last I turned away from them. "I'll make some more coffee," I said, wondering if I'd ever feel anything again, wondering if I ever wanted to. The army slogan flashed through my mind. "We take care of our own." And Roger was an army man through and through.

BIO: Jan Christensen has had over fifty short stories published, including pieces in Mysterical-E, Hardluck Stories and Long Story Short.

New Format

Beginning shortly, I will now post all submissions as I receive them. This just means you no longer have to wait a month to read new stories. No more monthly .pdf web zine. This is a good thing.

Same submission criteria:

Contributions should be 2,000 words or more and previously unpublished. All stories must have a hardboiled or noir kick to them. E-mail submissions on a Microsoft Word file or text file to