Monday, September 25, 2017

The Uninhabited, fiction by Michael Bracken

As I rounded the corner of the one-room stone cabin and stopped, Melita Blanco rose naked from the hot spring twenty feet beyond, the cold breeze blowing through the canyon causing her pale olive skin to dimple and her nipples to tighten. Silver-threaded black hair hung wetly to her shoulders, dripping water that slid down her once-familiar curves to catch in the thick black triangle at the juncture of her thighs. When she bent over, I thought she was reaching for the towel atop a pile of her clothing. She wasn’t. As she straightened, Melita gripped a semi-automatic pistol in both hands and pointed it at me. Beautiful as she was standing there in all her naked glory, I could not tear my gaze away from the business end of the pistol. She asked, “Why are you here?”

“I’m looking for John.”

“He isn’t here,” she said. “You have a warrant?”

I shook my head. “I have a client.”

Melita’s eyes narrowed and her head tilted a few degrees to the left, the way she looked when she didn’t understand something.

I told her I had grown weary of internal politics that promoted bad officers over good, so after twenty years on the force I retired to open my own private investigations firm. “Two weeks ago Carter Preston walked into my office.”

She took the news in stride. “What does he want?”

“His diamonds.”

“Your client’s a fool.”

“A fool with a bank account big enough to get me to come to this godforsaken place.” Sixteenth-century Spanish explorers had named the Big Bend area of Texas el despoblado--the uninhabited. That Melita had disappeared into one of the area’s many canyons only a few weeks before her husband’s release from Huntsville had complicated my search. I asked, “Why the gun?”

“There’s a spot a mile down river where it’s easy to cross, so people do. Sometimes they wander into this canyon by mistake. This”--she waved the pistol--“encourages them to keep moving.”

“You can put it down,” I said. “I’m not armed.”

She motioned with the pistol’s muzzle.

I took off my jacket and dropped it to the ground. Then I raised my shirt and turned slowly.

“Pants, too.”

After I lifted each of my pant legs to prove that I did not wear an ankle holster, Melita lowered her weapon. Not bothering with her underthings, she dressed while I tucked in my shirt and retrieved my jacket. As she put the pistol in the waistband of her jeans, she asked, “How’d you find me?”

“I remembered something you’d once said,” I told her, “about going back to your family’s roots if you ever wanted to get away.”

One night, when our relationship was still young and exciting, we had shared family histories. Melita’s traced their arrival in what became the state of Texas back to an eighteenth-century Spanish land grant that stretched across the Rio Grande not far from the modern border of Big Bend National Park. Land of no value to anyone else--despite efforts to sell it to the Texas Legislature when they established Texas Canyons State Park in 1933 and again in 1944 when the federal government acquired the state park to create the national park--the family had retained possession down through the generations.

My family history is less impressive. I am a first generation Texan, born to parents who moved to the state during an oil boom and who couldn’t leave when the boom went bust. All I inherited was a name that had probably been changed by an overworked clerk several generations earlier when a great-great-grandfather new to America presented a surname long on consonants but short on vowels.

Melita directed me into the cabin, where I saw the unmade bed and dirty dishes on the table containing the remains of a meal for two.

“You said John wasn’t here.”

“He left before you arrived.”

“Where’d he go?”

“Over the border.”

“He coming back?”

“He damn well better.”

“Then we’ll wait.” I pulled back one of the chairs, sat, and folded my arms across my chest.

I had been on the job almost nine years when John Keitel and Ernie Galvan walked into Preston’s Diamond Superstore one evening just before closing and tried to leave with several thousand dollars in cash and five million dollars worth of uncut diamonds. Armed with a .38 and a concealed carry permit, Carter Preston shot Galvan twice in the chest while Keitel ran.

Galvan died at the scene. Keitel was arrested less than forty-eight hours later. Charged with robbery and with aggravated robbery, his defense had been perfunctory, emphasizing only that neither he nor Galvan had been armed. Convicted of the lesser charge, Keitel served ten years in Huntsville. Though most of the cash had been found in his apartment, the diamonds had never been recovered.

I had no involvement in any part of the investigation at the time and only knew of the robbery, arrest, and conviction through news reports and random station chatter. Melita never spoke of her husband during our time together--she didn’t wear a ring, hadn’t taken Keitel’s name, and gave no indication she was married until she used her marriage to justify ending our relationship--but Preston had filled in a few gaps in my knowledge when he hired me. I had pieced the rest together on my own, including my unexpected connection to a crime more than ten years in the past.

Melita cleared the table, piled the dishes in the sink, and then settled onto the chair opposite mine. She looked me over.

I was sweating. The walk from my truck over uneven terrain had taken more than an hour. Had I been on horseback or driven an ATV, I might have cut the travel time significantly. I also would have telegraphed my arrival long before I walked around the corner of the cabin, and I would not have caught Melita in the altogether. I said, “You still look good.”

“And I’m still married.”

“There was a time when that didn’t matter.”

“A woman has needs,” she said. “With John in Huntsville, my needs weren’t being met.”

“So you picked up a cop?”

“I didn’t know what you were when I met you.”

“You knew soon enough,” I said, “and you strung me along for another two years.”

“You never complained.”

I never did. “Did you always know you were returning to your husband? Is that why you didn’t tell me you were married?”

“If I had told you I was married,” she said, “and if I’d told you why my husband wasn’t around, what would have happened?”

“Exactly what did happen,” I said, “only sooner. A cop banging a felon’s wife doesn’t look good.”

”You aren’t a cop now.”

“Your husband could walk through that door any minute,” I said.

“He could,” she agreed, “but he isn’t due back until tomorrow.”

We stared at one another across the table. I don’t know what Melita was thinking, but I was remembering all those nights we’d spent together. I reached across the table and took her hand. She didn’t resist when I stood, pulled her from her seat, and covered her lips with mine. Soon enough we were in the bed with our clothes strewn around the room.

Our sex was hard and fast and left us breathless.

“God, I missed you,” Melita said when we finished. Then she added, “I should have shot you when I first saw you.”


Early the next morning, I heard a motorcycle approaching from a distance, so I climbed from the bed and dressed. Melita remained where she was and watched from under the covers as I sat again at the table.

The motorcycle engine sputtered to silence outside and a moment later John Keitel slammed into the cabin. “They’re offering thirty cents on the dollar, that’s--”

“--a million five,” I said, finishing his sentence.

Keitel turned when he heard my voice. “Who the fuck are you?”

I told him my name, told him I was a private investigator, and told him I’d been hired to find him. I didn’t tell him I was the guy who warmed his wife’s bed for several years while he was in Huntsville and had warmed it again the previous night when he was across the border.

“Who wants to find me?”

“Carter Preston.”

“I should have killed that s.o.b. as soon as I got out.”

“He wants his diamonds back,” I said. “I’m pretty sure you have them.”

From the bed, Melita said, “We do.”

I glanced at her. There was something I didn’t understand. “Why does Preston want the diamonds? He’s already collected from the insurance company.”

“That was the arrangement,” Keitel explained. “We were to keep the cash and return the diamonds to Preston after the insurance company paid off. He wasn’t supposed to shoot Ernie. He wasn’t supposed to shoot anybody. That wasn’t part of the deal.”

Keitel continued. If what he said was true, Preston planned to cut the diamonds and work them into his stock, selling the stolen jewels as earrings, engagement rings, and tennis bracelets.

“Ernie and I expected to earn a quarter mill each for one evening’s work.”

“And Preston would net four-and-a-half million.”

Melita said, “He still could if he gets the diamonds back.”

Ignoring her, I asked Keitel, “How did you hook up with Preston?”

Keitel cut his eyes toward his wife and the pieces began to fall into place. Before I could complete the puzzle in my mind, the door slammed open again and Carter Preston burst into the stone cabin, his fist wrapped around a .38, the gun blazing.

Two slugs caught Keitel in the chest, dropping him where he stood, and Preston swung the .38 in my direction. I don’t know if he would have shot me or not, but he didn’t have the opportunity. As soon as the door slammed open, Melita rolled from the bed, retrieved her semi-automatic pistol from the jumble of clothing on the floor, and came up with it gripped in both hands.


He turned at the sound of Melita’s voice, and I saw the look in his eyes when he recognized her. “What are you doing here?”

A single shot dropped Preston.

Melita kept the pistol in both hands.

I said, “This is where I walked in, isn’t it?”

She didn’t laugh. Instead she nodded at Preston’s body and asked, “How did he find us?”

“I told him I was coming here,” I said. “He must not have trusted me to returned with his diamonds.”

I looked at the two dead men and the business end of the pistol still aimed at me. When you sleep with someone, you sleep with everyone they’ve ever slept with, and you’re likely to suffer the same mistakes. Like falling in love. I said, “You used all of us.”

“One way or another,” Melita said as she eased across the room and retrieved Preston’s .38, “but I never expected to see you again. If you play this right, you might walk away.”

Preston’s retainer wasn’t near enough money to cover the world of grief I was in, and he wasn’t alive to pay my final invoice. “So, what’s my play?”

“You don’t try to stop me, I don’t shoot you.”

Melita made me move to the far side of the cabin, and she was careful to keep both guns within easy reach even when she needed her hands to dress.

She retrieved the uncut diamonds, which had been hidden beneath a loose floorboard, tossed them and a few of her things into a backpack, and took a key ring from Keitel’s pocket. I followed her to the doorway and watched her straddle her dead husband’s motorcycle and bring it to life. She pointed the motorcycle toward the border and I continued watching until she disappeared from sight.

Melita Blanco’s heart was el despoblado--the uninhabited. Despite making at least three men fall for her, she had loved none of us.

I walked back to my truck, drove until I had cellphone reception, and parked on the side of the road wondering how long I should wait before phoning the sheriff.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review of Nolan Knight’s The Neon Lights Are Veins by James Pate

Nolan Knight
The Neon Lights are Veins
Publisher: 280 Steps
Review by James Pate

I’ve always been drawn to stories about misfits and rebels, individuals existing on the outer fringe who radically take their lives into their own hands, for good or ill. Struggling artists, street-level visionaries, punks, insomniacs, wanderers, the obsessed and the damned.

Nolan Knight’s The Neon Lights Are Veins (280 Steps) is a Californian crime novel teeming with misfits. There’s the protagonist, Alvi Drake, whose legendary days as a skateboarder are behind him, and who is tormented by a painful family history involving a conniving, crazed mother and a recently deceased wife. There’s Mongo, a transvestite dreaming of fame and adoration in a city where she knows the odds are against her. And there’s Faye, a recent arrival to Los Angeles who is struggling against the myriad social forces pushing her toward a life of prostitution. There are others too, in this social orbit – most of the them living in a crumbling apartment building called the Hotel Lafayette -- and taken together, they made me think of Andy Warhol’s Superstars of the late 60s and early 70s, whose drug and sex fueled lives created a micro counterculture. Knight clearly has sympathy for these characters. Neon is one of those noir novels where the so-called deviants are actually the good guys. Even the fetishists are treated with good humor, presented not as sickos but as people with unusual sexual appetites. Knight has a Rabelaisian interest in the diversity of human nature.

The bad guys are the ones after money and power and control. Ray Satin is the ringleader of a group of very violent men who make small fortunes through drugs and pimping. Satin is vicious – his weapon of choice is the screwdriver, which he uses on both men and women, strangers and relatives – and he views other people as rungs on the ladder toward greater wealth. He is a dangerous combination of psychopath and narcissist. As he tells his men early in the book, “Money, power and monopoly—that’s the goal, gentleman—in that order.” When we meet him, he has started to make inroads with the police and City Hall, a move he hopes will pay off with a near total control of the Los Angeles underworld.

There are two factors at work against his grand designs, however: his nephew Rocco, and Alvi Drake. The nephew is sickened by the cruelty of his uncle’s world, even though he participates in that world by helping his uncle literally bury the bodies. He dreams of a more everyday life. While on the campus of UCLA, he imagines himself as just another student. Knight writes, “He reclined the seat and shut his eyes, envisioning dorm room summer nights, intellectualism sandwiched by beer pong and togas. All those great things the movies had promised.” Rocco is trapped in a Tarantino movie but wants to be in a Linklater one. As the story progresses, Rocco’s desire for escape starts to run counter his uncle’s desire for underworld dominance. Alvi Drake, in contrast, is an outsider to Satin’s world. He is looking for a missing ex-girlfriend named Gabby. His quest takes him into a grim, treacherous network where no one but his most immediate friends can be trusted.

Part three of the novel is titled “The Underground Web,” and, like the best of Californian noir, the novel reveals the shadows and back room deals that dwell beneath the sunshine, beaches, and mellow vibes. Knight’s Los Angeles is a double-sided coin: a haven for rebels like Alvi and Mongo, but also a Gothic terrain of nihilistic power grabs.

The last third of the novel is a fragmented, explosive showdown between these two spheres. It’s not giving too much away to say that things do not always go well for the more sympathetic characters. Knight’s novel is strikingly bleak in places, and the more familiar plotline of the good guys handily winning certainly does not apply here. But this pessimism is one of the best elements of the novel, giving it an unexpectedly tragic dimension.

For all of the book’s fatalism, though, Neon is not a depressing work. The narrative has an amphetamine-like intensity. And Knight’s language sings with a streetwise poeticism reminiscent of Hurbert Selby Jr., Lou Reed, and Richard Price. When Alvi walks into a barbershop, he heads “past the candy cane spiral, into the lair of man. Ricky Nelson crooned. Smut rags and nickel pulps cluttered the magazine rack; Lawrence Tierney and Killer Kowalski sneered from mint green walls.” Rocco strolls the through the grounds of UCLA and thinks it is “the Monica Vitti of college campuses: lean, tan, Romanesque—hypnotic to the human eyes.” In The Neon Lights Are Veins, the language is constantly surprising, bouncing around on the balls of its feet.

The publishing history of Knight’s book is an odd one, to say the least. 280 Steps, a Norwegian crime press founded in 2013, published Neon this past winter. A few months later, 280 Steps suddenly ceased to exist. The last time I checked, there were only seven copies of Knight’s novel left to buy online. I hope the book gets re-issued shortly by another press. It’s a fierce, bold work, and deserves a wide readership.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Raising Bigfoot, fiction by Eve Fisher

I was playing three-handed euchre at the Norseman’s Bar with Sam Hegdahl and Carl Jacobson one Tuesday night when Lyle Pederson came in all excited, calling out, “Boys! Got a surprise for you out at my place!”

“More lights in the sky?” Carl asked.

“You betcha. We’re gonna see a lot of crop circles come summer.” Lyle believes in UFOs. He sees a lot of them. He swears they land on his property. He’s made a shrine to them, a bunch of boards set up in a circle around an old baler, like one of them stone things over in England. “You come out in July, you’re gonna see something, all right.”

All I saw last July was a whole lot of wheat flattened down to the ground,” Carl said.

Well, it might have been a circle, if we could have seen it from the air,” I pointed out.

Looked to me a whole lot more like tracks than a circle,” Sam commented. “Government tanks, heading to a UN concentration camp.”

Lyle shook his head. “No, they don’t have nothing like that around here. Harold’s right. You gotta see them from the air. That’s why they make them crop circles, so they can see where to land, right, Randolph?”
Randolph nodded, but he didn’t seem that enthusiastic. Randolph’s one of those young drifters, show up every now and then, and he showed up at Lyle’s. Lyle let him stay on, help around the place.

But they don’t land,” Lyle continued. “I don’t know why. They fly over all right, and I see the lights, but they go over, to Jeb Olson’s place.”

Nobody at the Olson place for ten years,” Sam pointed out.

That’s my point,” Lyle replied. “Nobody goes there, so they could hide them pretty well, over there.”

Well, somebody had to be the goat, so I asked, “What are they hiding, Lyle?”

Lyle leaned over and whispered, “Bigfoot.” Well, he had my attention. “The whole place stinks of Bigfoot.”

You’ll believe anything, won’t you, Lyle?” Sam asked.

Now, Sam, you gotta think this thing through. You’ve seen those shows on TV, hunting Bigfoot? I watched them, learned all about it. Big, hairy ape-like things. And stink, Lord, they stink. You betcha. Now I know they say they’ve been around forever, like some kind of prehistoric man, but that don’t make sense, because there’d be more of them. But what come to me was, what if they’re being bred? You know, by aliens. And you hear about all those alien abductions, that strange stuff they do to folks, well, what if they’re breeding them with humans?”

Well, I was polite, but everyone else laughed themselves silly.

What do you think, Randolph?” Sam asked when he finally got his breath back.

Randolph shrugged. “Who knows? Besides, funny things happen out at the Flats.”

Yeah, and most of them happen ‘cause of liquor and hormones,” Vi said, delivering our beers.

Yeah, well, night before last Louise Sanborn saw them, too,” Lyle put in.

What, Bigfoot?” Vi asked.

No, the aliens,” Lyle explained. “She come out to stargaze, and she saw them. So did Randolph.”

We all looked at Randolph, who admitted, “We saw something.”

Louise says they whooshed right past and went over the horizon,” Lyle added.

So did they kidnap her or what?” Vi asked, glaring. She and Louise are not friends. Some of it has been Randolph, which is ridiculous. Vi’s married, Louise is a deputy sheriff, and he’s way too young for either of them.

Nah,” Lyle said. “But Larry Jensen’s shed was broken into that same night. Took every chemical he had and an old tub.”

The least they could have done was take Louise, too,” Vi said, and walked off.

Yeah, well, listen,” Lyle said, “I want you guys to come out to my place say Friday, Saturday night, and see what me and Randolph have been up to.”

We said sure, and Lyle went away, which was the idea. But he came back. Every night. Circles. Aliens. Bigfoot. By Saturday we recognized that he was going to come back until we went, so Sam and I climbed into Carl’s pick-up and off we went.

Lyle lives way out on the Flats, where the wind howls through like a freight train with nothing to stop it. The Flats make good farmland, but they’re different. Strange things happen out there. Ten years back, a tornado dropped out of a clear sky and whipped through the Flats like a knife through butter, and then vanished. And that was during the day; at night it can scare the crap out of you. Even Sam kept muttering something about “crazy” that sounded right to me.

And then out of the northwest came a blindingly bright light that zoomed in as fast as one of those Star Wars things, and as it came faster and brighter the car swerved and I ducked. When I came back up, the light was gone, the car had stopped, and Carl was gasping.

Wh-wh-what was that?” I asked.

How the hell would I know?” Carl quavered.

Maybe it was aliens,” Sam offered. He knows that deep down Carl and I both believe in aliens, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, Bigfoot, and Bat Boy, especially late at night out in the middle of nowhere, though we don’t care to admit it in public. All Sam believes in is government conspiracy.

You want me to turn this car around and head home?” Carl asked, hands white knuckled on the steering wheel.

Yes,” I said firmly.
Look, let’s just go on to Lyle’s and get this over with,” Sam said. “Maybe he’ll have a drink for us. I’m freezing.”

That got Carl moving.

Lyle was out front when we pulled up dancing around, waving his arms and asking, “Did you see it? Did you see it?”

If you mean that laser beam that went overhead, you betcha, we saw it,” Sam said. “You’re looking awful pleased about this, Lyle.”

Lyle kicked the snow, and I’d bet he was blushing. “It was me.”

What do you mean, it was you?”

Come and take a look.”

We followed Lyle around back. Between the shed and the shrine something bulked in the dark.

What the hell is that?” Sam asked.

It’s my beacon,” Lyle said. He went over and did something and suddenly the same bright light shot out and blinded all of us. He did something else and the light arced into the sky, drowning the stars.

What the hell is that?” Sam repeated.

It’s my beacon,” Lyle repeated. “I was thinking, you know, they’re out there, all right, and they keep coming by, and they signal, and they leave messages, but nobody ever signals back. So I figured, I will. I’ll let ‘em know that we’re looking for them. So I got this baby.” He slapped the metal.

Where did you get it?”

Special ordered it from Minneapolis. Randolph helped me get it all hooked up yesterday. Tested it last night. Ain’t it great?”

He made a blinding circle around the farmyard. “For God’s sake, Lyle,” Sam barked, “turn it off before we get black helicopters buzzing us.”

How much did it cost?” I asked, blinking.

Oh, it set me back some, I can tell you that. You betcha.”

We spent an hour at Lyle’s, looking at everything from the spotlight to his shed. Not that there was anything to see in Lyle’s shed but what you could find on any farm, and if you want an inventory of the contents, just come on up. Lyle loves company. He’ll fix you coffee, fix you sandwiches, want you to spend the night. That’s what he did with us, talking a mile a minute the whole time. When he mentioned the Bigfoot footprints out in the field, I was happy to go, because I figured even Lyle couldn’t keep talking if his face froze shut.

It was a moonlit night so God only knows how Carl slipped. He hit an icy patch – maybe frozen Bigfoot prints – and, being no light-weight, slid pretty far. We had quite a time wrestling him back up to the house. It didn’t help that he’d sprained his ankle, and he was bellowing like a bull elephant with a toothache. It was enough to shake the snow off the trees, especially when we dragged him by his collar up the hill to the main house.

We were met half way by Randolph, looking pretty disheveled and mighty peeved for a hired man with nothing else to do. But he fetched a sled and we rolled Carl onto it and finally got him indoors.
Exhausted, Carl and I sat in Lyle’s warm and musty den while Sam helped Lyle in the kitchen. Randolph had disappeared back into his little cabin out back.

How you doing?” I asked Carl.

Fine,” he said, pulling away at Lyle’s whiskey like it was water.

You gonna be able to drive home?”

Doubt it.”

You gonna let one of us drive you home?”

Le’s spen’ the night here. Lyle won’t mind.” Then he passed out.

Lyle and Sam came in with sandwiches and coffee. “You know,” Lyle said, “I been thinking. I want them to know they’re welcome any time, but I don’t know if they know how to read Morse code or should I do a binary system?”

What are you talking about?” Sam asked.

The aliens. Communicating with them. With the beacon.”

Sam inhaled a sandwich and picked up another. “The only people that’s gonna be reading your messages is the NSA, the UN and the Chinese. They’ll pick you up on satellite and watch your every move.”

They’re welcome, too,” Lyle said simply.

We spent the night at Lyle’s, Carl on the couch and Sam and I bunked down in Lyle’s spare bedroom, but it didn’t work out too well. It wasn’t the cold – I’ve camped in worse – but Carl and Lyle both snored like two trains in a whistling contest.

I been thinking,” Sam said.

Socks in their mouths?” I asked.

What if there is something going on at the Olson place?”

I thought you didn’t believe in Bigfoot?”

I don’t,” Sam snapped. “But there’s something funny going on out here. I’ve had my eye on Randolph a long time. What’s he doing out here, young fella like that?”

He’s getting free room and board.”

Yeah, but that’s not enough to hold a young buck. He wants money, he wants a car, he wants –”

Randolph says he’s ‘not into material things,’” I quoted.

Now you see, that right there is suspicious.” Sam sat up in bed. “That’s not normal. Something’s wrong with that boy. Or he’s out here working for somebody. I’m thinking maybe the UN. Come out here, scouting things out. Lyle’s talk about all that stink out there at the Olson place. All those chemicals stolen from Larry Jensen. You put it all together, and what have you got? Think about it.” All I could think about was how thin Lyle’s walls were. “You got a secret chemical weapons plant, that’s what you’ve got.”

In South Dakota?”

Why not? It’s the perfect place. Out in the middle of nowhere, bunch of farmers, you can get away with anything. Why do you think they picked Randolph to scout? Nice Scandinavian boy, looks just like everybody else. I drove by the Olson place yesterday. To see if there was anything going on.”


Nothing. All boarded up and rotting. But what else would you expect? Anything going on at the Olson place, why, they’d do it at night, when nobody was around, wouldn’t they?” I got up and looked out the window. “Only makes sense. I’ll tell you what, Harold, get your coat on. Let’s go check the Olson place ourselves.”
Shut up.”

Don’t tell me to shut up!”

Shut up,” I repeated. “Someone’s coming out of Randolph’s cabin.”

Sam leaped up beside me. It was Louise Sanborn.

So that’s what Randolph was doing before we showed up,” I said.

And since we’ve been here,” Sam added. “Where’s she going?”

Probably parked down the road a piece.”

She’s no dummy. Didn’t want Lyle to spot her.” Then the cabin door opened again and Randolph came out, all bundled up. But instead of heading after Louise, he headed out towards the footprint field. “I knew it. See? He’s in on it.”

Oh, my God.”

There’s a chemical weapons plant, maybe a whole secret UN industrial complex over there. Come on. If we follow him we might could crack this whole thing wide open tonight.”

I was about to protest when Lyle suddenly pounded on our door.

Come on, boys!” he sang out. “It’s Bigfoot time!”

What are you talking about?” I asked.

The Bigfoot! Come on! Quick!”

Well, what you do with a crazy person is humor them, and I had two to deal with, so outside we went. The moon on the snow made it nearly bright as day.

What time is it?” I asked.

Feeding time,” Lyle said over his shoulder.

Feeding time?”

The Bigfoot. They come out to feed every night. You’ll finally get to see them.”

Where’s Randolph?” Sam asked.

Oh, he’s up ahead,” Lyle said. “He rousts them out for me.” Sam nudged me so hard I almost fell down. “Shh!” Lyle hissed, and put out an arm to stop us. We stood there, three Popsicles in the snow. And then… there it was.

Have you ever seen that Bigfoot footage they show every once in a while on those documentaries? Bigfoot loping along, kind of looking back over his shoulder? Well, there it was in front of us. Big, hairy thing, taller than Randolph (I knew what Sam was thinking). It wasn’t Randolph. No, this thing was huge, and it was hairy. It stepped out from the shelter belt, kind of gingerly, stepped out. It reached down and picked something up off the ground. Then its head swiveled towards us. I tried to become invisible. Then it leaped back into the shadows of the shelterbelt, and it was gone.

My God,” I gasped.

Amen,” Lyle said.

Where’s Randolph?” Sam asked. Told you I knew what he was thinking.

Right here,” Randolph said behind us, making me nearly jump out of my shoes. “I’m heading back, Lyle.” Lyle nodded, and Randolph trudged off.

Bait, huh?” Sam asked.

Honey on suet,” Lyle said. “They’re a lot like bears.”

Sam started walking over towards the shelterbelt.

Where are you going?” I called out.

I want to see its footprints!” Sam called back.

It’s gonna stink,” Lyle warned, as we followed him. He was right. Kind of a mixture of cat box and skunk and something else, sharp and nasty.

What is that?” I asked, gagging.

Bigfoot,” Lyle said proudly.

Sam was glaring like an angry lighthouse. “There’s something going on over there, and I’m gonna find out what it is.”

It’s just Jeb Olson’s old place,” Lyle said.

Or a UN industrial complex.”

Why don’t we just go back to the house and get some sleep?” I suggested.

Go ahead,” Sam said. “But I’m going over that hill.”

I’m coming, too,” Lyle said. He whispered to me, “I got to make sure he don’t spook them too much.”

So the three of us stepped into the darkness of the trees. A shelterbelt isn’t that wide a place, unless it’s a winter’s night and you’ve already seen a Bigfoot moving through it. We plowed through the deep snow, thick branches, dark shadows, and thickening smell until we reached the small rise before the Olson farm. Sam reached out one hand and waved us behind him. Then he reached deep into his parka and pulled out a handgun. Well, I’d always known Sam was an ex-Marine, and he’d claimed to never go anywhere without a gun. I’d just never taken him seriously. This was going to come back to haunt me the next time we quarreled over euchre at the Norseman’s.

At the top of the rise, Sam laid down in the snow and waved at us to do the same. Down below us was what was left of the Olson farmhouse and outbuildings after the tornado. But there were lights in the farmhouse, cold blue ones, like they were using fluorescents or maybe alien technology.

See?” Sam hissed.

Someone came out of the farmhouse. His back-lit silhouette wasn’t tall and hairy, but neither was it tiny and bulb-headed. The short, stocky man walked across the yard and opened one of the outbuildings. The reek that came out of there nearly knocked us down, as far away as we were. It was sharper than a goose farm on a muggy August day.

Come on,” Sam hissed. For a minute I feared he was calling on us to storm the place like commandos, but he was just sliding back down the hill.

Half an hour later, back at Lyle’s, Sam and Lyle were in the kitchen, sipping whiskey, and I was in the den, listening to Carl snore while I called my sister Matt from my cell phone. She was spending the week in Deadwood, doing everything a sixty-eight year old woman should not be doing, and wasn’t happy about being interrupted. But what Matt doesn’t know about the criminal element isn’t worth knowing. I got her to listen to the story – she laughed her head off at the Bigfoot – and when I was done she said, “Better get Bob Hanson on it right away.” He’s the local sheriff.

So you think –­”

I don’t think it’s aliens or Bigfoot or the UN, no,” Matt said. “Only don’t tell the boys that. It’d break their hearts.”

Great. So what do I tell them?”

How about not telling them a damn thing? I’m fixing to win a jackpot here, Harold. Later.”

She hung up, and I went back in the kitchen.

Have some coffee,” Lyle said.

No, thanks,” I replied. “I’d like to try to get some sleep.”
Sam and I went back out to Lyle’s the next night, the night after, and the night after that. We hiked out in the snow, through the shelterbelt, up the hill, and laid out at the top of the rise and saw nothing but the blue lights. One night two people came out of the farmhouse. One night none. The third night, three. No Bigfoot any night.

The fourth night was wicked cold. The air was so clear that you could see every star. No wind, thank God. It was so quiet I could hear Sam’s wheezing and Lyle’s creaking joints. And then they came. Out of the sky. A sound like giant beaters, everywhere. Lights that came out of nowhere. A fierce wind, nearly knocking me down. Something huge and black swooshed over us and I hit the snow. Sam did the same, but he rolled as he hit, pulling out his gun and getting it up and ready. More huge black things went over, and then they were gone, over us, over the shelterbelt and the rise and towards the Olson place.

Black helicopters,” Sam said grimly, as he came back up on his feet. “I told you the government was in on this. Come on, Harold. I wouldn’t miss this for all the gold in Fort Knox.”

Everything had exploded at the Olson place: dozens of people were running around. Half of them were all in black with big black guns, rounding up the other half. Between stench and smoke, my eyes were stinging so bad I didn’t know for sure what I was seeing. The noise was something else, too.

When the smoke cleared – and I’m not kidding about that – the men in black were tossing the rest into black vans that took off in a wave of snow. The helicopters were looming. Up on a little knoll, standing with a couple of the men in black, was Louise Sanborn.

What the heck is she doing here?” Sam hissed.

Well,” I said, “She is a cop.”

Everything secure?” Louise yelled at a man in black.

Yeah!” he yelled back. “Clean up crews will come tomorrow! What was the tip-off?”

Farmer up the road noticed the smell!”

Five minutes later, everyone was gone, including Louise, leaving Lyle, Sam and me in sudden, dark, reeking silence. I creaked my way from crouching to standing when Randolph’s voice came out from behind some brush.

Wow. What a show!” Randolph walked over to us. “Can you believe it? They even brought helicopters! Man, I’d never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.”

Sam grunted. “Let’s get out of here before these fumes kill us.”
We plowed our way back up the hill, where we stopped and took big, deep breaths of fresh, cold air.

Now you tell me the truth, Randolph,” Sam pleaded. “Those were UN forces in those black helicopters, weren’t they?”

FBI,” Randolph said.


FBI,” Randolph repeated. “That’s what Louise told me. Or was it CBI? One of those.”

What the hell is the FBI doing way out here?” Sam asked.

Drug bust. That was the biggest meth lab in South Dakota. Ever.” Randolph looked coaxingly at us, while Sam’s face stayed blank. “Meth. Speed. Methamphetamine. Even you guys have got to have heard of them. It was a lab. A meth lab!”

So, you a cop, too?” Sam asked.

God, no,” Randolph protested. “Nobody’d want me in law enforcement.”

So it wasn’t a chemical weapons plant?”


And they weren’t rounding up people to take them to one of those UN concentration camps?”

Sam, where do you read this stuff, anyway?” Randolph asked.

It’s all over the place,” Sam snapped. “Everybody knows about it.”

No, it wasn’t the UN. It was a drug bust.”

Sam marched off, cussing a blue streak. Beside me, Lyle was crying.
That drug bust was the biggest thing to hit our area in years. People are still talking about it. Sam still doesn’t buy it. He says the whole drug thing was nothing but a cover story the government put out to hide what was really going on. It didn’t help that Randolph drifted off a couple of days later, to parts unknown. Sam said that was proof Randolph was part of it. You can’t change Sam’s mind.

Lyle was heartbroken. He’d welcomed those Bigfoot. He lived for UFOs. To find out it was just a bunch of drug dealers put him in a tailspin. Surprisingly, it was Sam who finally cheered him up.

You know, Lyle,” Sam said over euchre one night, “I been thinking. I’ll bet aliens really were raising Bigfoot out there, but then the drug dealers showed up and the Bigfoot got spooked.”

Lyle looked up from his cards. “So?”

So, the aliens decided that the drug lab had to be shut down. They’re good aliens, right?”

Lyle sat up straight. “Oh, yeah. You betcha.”

So they got a hold of the FBI and turned in the drug lab –”

How’d they do that?” Carl asked maliciously.

They can tap into any telephones they want,” I offered.

That’s right!” Lyle eagerly agreed. “They can. They just don’t interfere with us, because that would violate the Prime Directive.”

But this time they had to interfere,” Sam explained, “because the drug lab was bothering their Bigfoot. So the aliens called the FBI, and then they herded up all their Bigfoot and hid them to keep them safe.”

You think they’ll come back?” Lyle pleaded.

Bound to,” Sam assured him.

That’s great.” Lyle beamed as he got up and paid his bill. “I’m going home right now and put out some suet for them, you betcha. Let them know I’m still here, still waiting. I just wish Randolph was here. This’d make his day!”

There was a moment’s silence after Lyle left.

That was a kind thing you did,” I said to Sam.

I’m just glad he bought it.”

Of course he did,” Carl growled. “Now deal.”

Monday, September 11, 2017

Weatherman, fiction by Greg Barth

Blaine fidgeted with the zipper pull on the cuff of his leather jacket, flicking it back and forth with his finger. "Thing is, man, Jessie's gonna have another baby."

There was a long pause before Vinton spoke. “You mean, you and Jessie are gonna have another baby,” he said. “That’s what you mean.”

They were in the dry-goods storage room in back of Vinton’s convenience store. The gas station had been built in the late ‘60s. Now days, most goods were shipped in weekly from a warehouse, so there wasn’t much to keep on site.

Vinton had put a couple of desks and tables back there and used the room to manage his various businesses. It was dark and smelled like cardboard, dust, and rat poison; but it served well as a private meeting room.

Vinton was on one side of the desk, sitting on a tattered office chair, leaned back, playing with a red rubber band with his fingers.

Blaine sat on a metal folding chair on the other side, facing him.

Yeah, of course. We’re both having the baby. But she’s the one that up and got pregnant. That shit’s on the girl, you know? She’s the one responsible for the—” he raised his hands on either side of his head, making quotation marks with his fingers “—narrow waterway and the lily-pad at the end. Just ‘cause I pitch one upstream don’t mean she’s gotta catch it. Fucking dodge-ball on her part’s all it is. Barrier shit, man.”

Vinton closed his eyes. Shook his head. He didn’t bother countering the error of Blaine’s logic. He took a deep breath. “So how can I help you?”

While not tall, Vinton was a large man. He stood just over five foot, but he was big around the middle. He walked with an exaggerated lurch due to a bad hip joint and a worse knee. His gray hair was receding and slicked back. A double-chin spread out over his neck under his pale, frog-like face. He wore an oversized Hawaiian shirt with the top buttons loose, his grey chest hair pushing through the top.

Shit, man, I just need more work,” Blaine said. “Something that pays more. I got a bunch of 
debts. Jessie keeps wanting to get furniture and shit. And she’s always buying these clothes. I don’t know what she does with them all. Then she’s got the credit card. And they’re cutting our hours back at the plant too. I just can’t get ahead, man. You know how them fuckin’ credit cards work? You gotta pay that shit, man.”

Blaine was a young man, mid-twenties at best. He was tall and skinny. His dark hair waved over his collar and the tops of his ears like he had been putting off a haircut. He had a thin black soul patch affixed to his lower lip.

Jessie still hooking on the corners?” Vinton said.

Fuck, man. What the fuck? Why you gotta ask that shit for? Jesus, man.”

Cause I gotta know,” Vinton said. “I bring you on. She gets picked up. I gotta know what we’re dealing with. Risk management is what it is.”

No, man. No. Fuck no. She ain’t doing that shit no more. Goddamn.”

Vinton closed his eyes. Frowned. “What did you have in mind, Blaine? More collection work? ‘Cause if it’s that, I gotta tell you, I don’t have a lotta cash out on the streets these days. Nobody can pay no matter how hard you hit ‘em, so I’ve been putting money in other stuff. Stuff that pays.”

It’s that fuckin’ Reagan,” Blaine said.

I know it. ‘Course Carter wasn’t shit either. But that Reagan son of a bitch, worst president ever.”

What’s makin’ money these days?”

Drugs. You know drugs are always good. Drugs and pussy. People always want those no matter what the economy looks like. In fact, the economy goes down, those go up. Those are sound investments.”

Yeah, I don’t know nothin’ about making anything with those.”

Vinton frowned again. “I don’t know that I’ve got anything for you then.”

Blaine’s face fell. “Come on, man. I can do anything. Anything. Just give me a chance.”

Vinton’s forehead scrunched. Creases formed above his nose. He leaned forward. “Okay. There is one thing I been thinking about having done. I’m not even sure I want to do it. You know? Just something I’ve had on my mind.” He paused and thought for a second. Nodded. 

“Yeah, I mean, I might want to do it, if I could find the right guy and all. Thing is, I hesitate to even put it out there. It might be up your alley, I think, but I don’t know. You’ve never done a job like this before.”

Blaine sat up. “What is it? I could do it. I’m good at learnin’ shit.”

Hang on, I’m thinkin’ about it.” Vinton put a finger out and bounced it up and down in the air as he thought out loud, flicking the rubber band. “It pays good. But it’s a real shitty job. 
And it’s a one-time thing, I think. I mean, you do good, it could turn into more, but that’s uncertain. It’s not steady work.”

I’d like to have something regular, you know? But this thing sounds kinda good to start with.”

It’d be the biggest job I’ve ever given you. You couldn’t fuck it up. You couldn’t.”

You know I can do it, man.”

I’d be putting a lot of faith in you just telling you this. Once I say it, I can’t take the words back.”

Come on Mister Vinton, sir. You know you can trust me. Whatever it is, I want to do it.”
Vinton took a deep breath. He bit the inside of his jaw as he studied the man in front of him. 
He nodded. Blaine was clearly eager. “All right. You know Jake Carbone?”

Man that owns the pool hall,” Blaine said. “Yeah, I know him.”

Vinton leaned over his desk toward Blaine. “I want him gone,” he said in a low voice.

Gone where? I’ll get him there for you.”

Vinton smiled. “Gone to the place nobody comes back from.”

Where’s…?” Blaine’s eyes widened. “Oh, you mean…?”

Gone, Blaine. Gone for good. And you gotta be careful. It don’t have to happen today or tomorrow. You pick the time. No witnesses, you understand? You do this. I’ll pay you when the job’s done.”

Blaine’s jaw went slack. He sat there stunned by the weight of the job. “How…how much does something like that pay?

Vinton quoted a figure. “You do this one right, who knows. This shit’s not steady, but I’ve got people who ask for help now and again. This kinda help.”

Why do you want…gone?”

You don’t need to know the details. In fact, the less you know the better. Just know there’s a damned good reason for it. This is a guilt-free job, you ask me. Much worse hassling some poor shlub to repay his loan.”

Yeah…yeah,” Blaine said. Then once more with confidence, “Yeah. I can do this. I can.”

Good,” Vinton said. He opened a file cabinet drawer next to his desk. He pulled out a box of Brown Mule gloves and handed them over to Blaine. “Here. Get a couple and put them on.”
Blaine pulled two gloves from the box and put them on his hands.

Now come with me,” Vinton said. He got up. One hand on his hip, he half limped, half hobbled to the other end of the storage room.

Blaine got up and followed.

Vinton fished a key ring from his pocket and selected a key. He unlocked a set of file drawers and opened the top drawer. “Now, get that pistol there.”

Blaine reached a hand inside the drawer. He saw an old army Colt automatic and reached for it.

Not that one. The .38. The Smith.”


Yeah. That one.”

Blaine took out the pistol. It was a revolver with a short barrel. The walnut grip was busted and black, electrical tape was wrapped around it.

Where’d you get this?”

Don’t matter,” Vinton said. “Thing is, it can’t be tied back to you or me. That’s the important part.”

I see prints on it. Like on the sides.”

Yeah, they can corrode onto a pistol. But they ain’t mine and they ain’t yours. So don’t worry about ‘em. Now, once you do it. You throw that away. Like immediately throw it away. If they catch it on you, then fingerprints and tracing serial numbers and that kind of police shit don’t matter. It’s yours if they catch you with it. And you’re guilty.”

Got it. Throw it away. Yeah.”

Once you know he’s gone. Drop it.”


Yeah, right here.” Vinton fished out a clear sandwich bag containing .38 caliber bullets and handed them to Blaine.

Shit man. Now I’m a fucking hitman. Ain’t that some shit?”

Yeah, you’re gonna be, anyway.” Vinton patted the young man on the back. “Get it done. You make me proud of my decision, got it? Get it done fast, and maybe I’ll throw in a few extra bills. Get Jessie something nice. And something for the baby.”


When Jake Carbone locked up the pool hall and got in his Charger, Blaine was watching from his own car on the other side of the street.

It was late December and damned cold, but Blaine didn’t have enough gas to keep the engine running while waiting on Jake. He started the car and turned up the heat.

He let Jake get halfway down the block before he turned on his headlights and followed. It was late and the streets were nearly empty. It was hard not to be conspicuous while following; but with the lack of traffic, Blaine was comfortable staying well behind the Charger. The Charger had distinct taillights also, which made it easy to follow on the dark streets.

Carbone parallel park outside a massage joint. Blaine made a right turn at the corner before he got up to that block. He made a two-point turnaround on the street and drove back up to the corner. He turned his headlights off. He looked down the street and saw Jake opening the door for a small woman with a faux fur coat. She got in the car and Jake shut the door. 

He walked around the front of the car and got in on the driver’s side. The car pulled away from the curb.

Blaine put the car in gear and followed at a distance.

It was not a long drive. The Charger pulled in at a self-service carwash and parked in one of the wash bays.

Blaine parked at a VHS rental store next to the carwash. He read the movie posters on the dusty front glass. Three on a Meathook. Ghost Town. The Model Killer. He turned his lights off and left the engine running. He checked his gas gauge. An eighth of a tank. This was his chance.

He got out of the car and looked around. This was a shitty part of town. The only thing open was a liquor store two blocks up that was bathed in red neon. Further up was a strip club with its own shade of neon—a blend of pink and purple, a color that you’d need the big box of crayons to figure out the name of.

Blaine zipped his leather jacket up as high as it would go. He turned his collar up. He started across the lot to the carwash. He remembered the gloves and fished them out of his jeans pocket. He put them on his hands. The thin brown cloth helped hold in some heat, and his fingers warmed inside them. He wore a knit cap that was rolled up on the sides and front.
Blaine put his right hand in his jacket pocket and put his fingers around the pistol grip. His cheeks stung from the cold wind; his breath made white puffs of steam in the dry air. He crept up to the car wash bay and stopped at the corner. He pulled his knit cap down over his face. It had holes cut for his eyes and mouth like a balaclava mask.

He peered around the corner. He could see Jake in the driver’s seat from behind. He looked relaxed. Blaine could not see the woman. Getting’ a knobjob, looks like, he thought to himself.

He crept up to the back of the car. The car was moving slightly in a rhythmic manner. Blaine walked up along the driver’s side until he was next to the window. There was a thick coat of ice on the pavement inside the carwash. He had to step carefully to keep from slipping. His feet crunched in the ice, but music playing inside the car, something by Billy Joel, masked the sound.

Jake was inside. The back of his chair was reclined. Jake’s eyes were closed, his mouth open.

Blaine could see the back of the woman’s head bobbing up and down. Her dirty blonde hair pooled across Jake’s lap, all teased up on top. His hands were pressed against the back of her head.

Blaine leveled the pistol at Jake’s head. The muzzle bumped the window glass, and Jake opened his eyes.

Blaine squeezed the trigger. The sound of the shot was deafening inside the carwash bay. Blaine’s ears rang from the shock. The window glass shattered and rained down the inside of the car.

There was a leaking red spot on the side of Jake’s cheek. His eyes were open wide. His 
mouth was open as though gasping for air.

Blaine leveled the pistol and fired another shot into the side of Jake’s head.

The woman inside the car jerked away. She pressed herself against the passenger door. She drew in a long breath and screamed at the top of her lungs. One of her hands was clawing for the door handle. Her shirt was open and her breasts were exposed.

Blaine leaned through the busted window. He pushed the pistol forward. He felt something warm and wet on his hand. He looked down. Jake’s cock was still standing straight up, but a stream of warm piss was flowing from the tip.

Blaine moved his hand out of the stream.

The woman continued to scream and pressed herself as far away as she could.

Blaine shot her just above the waistline. A thought flashed through his mind, She’s the one responsible for the ovaries.

The woman screamed louder. She pressed her hands tight against her belly.

Blaine raised the pistol higher and shot her in the sternum. Her screaming stopped, but she still made a high-pitched mewling sound. She looked at Blaine. He saw the look of squinted anguish in her eyes.

He put a bullet through her chest, and she stopped making any sound at all.
Blaine stepped back. He pushed the mask up over his face.

He looked down at the pistol in his trembling hand. He put the pistol back in his jacket pocket.

He took another step back and slipped in the ice. He caught himself with one hand against the block wall.

Oh god,” he said. “Oh god, oh god. Mm. Oh sweet heaven.”


You did good, son,” Vinton said. He handed Blaine and envelope full of bills. “There’s a few extra in there for you.”

It wasn’t so bad,” Blaine said. “Think I’ve got a knack for it.”

It’s not pleasant work. But sometimes it’s gotta be done, you know?”

So when do I go again?”

What do you mean?”

I’m ready for the next.”

Vinton shook his head. “You mean the next job like Jake?”

Yeah. Let’s do it.”

Now hold on. This kind of work, I mean, it’s steady for somebody that’s got the stomach for it, but this ain’t an everyday thing. These jobs are few and far between. You’ve got good money now. This on top of what you get from the plant, you should be flush for a while. Just enjoy.”

But you mentioned you might be able to hire me out to some others that need help.”

And I will. You seem to take to it. But I don’t have anything lined up for you today. Just relax. Go buy something nice for Jessie. They got pink cassette players down at Jays. She might like one of those.”

She’s got a stereo already.”

Get her a Monchichi doll, or one of them Pound Puppies. You know. For the baby.”

Blaine nodded. “All right. Got it. But I done good, yeah?”

You did great. First time out or not, you did great.”


Where you going, hon?” Jessie said. She was lying on the couch with an ashtray on top of her chest. She tapped her cigarette on the rim.

Blaine was zipping up his jacket. He had his black knit hat on. “I gotta get out for a bit. Something I got to do.”

Can you afford to pick up some Pizza Hut on your way back?”

Yeah. No problem.”

Grab some Chardonnay too. No wait. Sauv Blanc.”

That kind tastes like cat piss,” he said.

So Chardonnay, then.”

Might not be good for the baby, you drinking so much.”

Jessie took a long draw on her Virginia Slim. “First trimester. She don’t even have a stomach yet.”

Yeah. Good point. I’ll pick it up. Still, that don’t mean you gotta knock back the whole bottle.”

Some chocolate too.”

Okay. That’s it. The damned pizza alone will be a hassle. Now I gotta make two stops.”

Get two bottles. Love you, babe,” Jessie said.


It was so damned cold out. Blaine lowered his head to the wind, his arms shivering. He was in a sketchy part of town. The kind of place where people would be out alone and in the shadows.

He walked the sidewalk. Few people were out this time of night. There were a handful of streetwalkers on a corner. He saw one off to herself. She was wearing shorts, stockings, and a heavy winter coat. She had short dark hair that stuck out in every direction. She wore thick makeup and dark eyeliner. Blaine could see that her face was weathered and lined under the makeup. Her belly was rolled and round under her tight shirt.

He approached her.

Fucking cold,” Blaine said. “Your legs. Gotta be cold.”

She smiled at him. “Hey there,” she said.

Hi,” he said back. “Wanna go someplace warm with me?”

Hell yeah. I can get us a good deal on a room at the motel across the street.”

You know what? Nah, let’s go back to my car. It’s warm.”

Works for me.” She locked her elbow around his and leaned into him. “Lead the way.”

They walked a block down the street, making small talk. They came to the mouth of an alley, and Blaine said, “Right here.”

They turned down the alley. It was dark, but the lot on the other end was well lit.
Blaine pointed down the length of the alley to a car parked on the other side. “That’s me right there.”

Halfway down the alley he stopped walking and pulled her up short.

What is it?” she said.

Blaine was breathing heavy. The air felt thick in his lungs. His heart pounded inside his chest.

You okay, sweetie,” the woman said.

Yeah. Mm. Just a second,” Blaine said. He pushed her away from him and turned his back to her.

You sure?”

He turned back to face her. He had the pistol in his hand.

She gasped. “No,” she said.

He pointed the pistol at her belly and fired. She fell to the ground, her hands clasping her stomach. “Oh,” she said. “Why did you do that?”

Blaine stood over the woman and shot her in the face.


Sonya was getting all worked up. The way Brad was kissing her and his hands on her breasts under her shirt—she hated to put out on first date, but she was losing control fast.

He had the best hands. His kisses were soft. She loved the feel of his hot breath on her neck.
They were in the back seat of his car. He drove old Ford with a bench seat in back. They were parked out behind the abandoned bleach plant. A light snow was falling outside the car.
Sonya couldn’t fight it, so she decided to give in, to relax and enjoy. The next thing she knew, Brad’s hand was inside her pants, tracing the warm slickness between her curls with his fingertip.

Bra-ad,” she said.

He pulled away. “Yeah?”

I’m not that kind of girl.”

I know you’re not,” he said. “But tonight is special.”

But…you won’t want to…you know, see me again…if I…”

He leaned back in and kissed her. He worked his fingers in her pants. “I never want to see anybody else ever again.”

She relaxed. Might as well enjoy.

A crunching sound outside.

She leaned up. “What was that?”

Nothing. A raccoon or something.”

No, Brad. I hear something.” She looked out the window. It was too dark out to see anything.

That sound again. Crunch, crunch, crunch…like footsteps.

Somebody’s walking out there.”

It don’t matter,” he said. “Just some hobo.”

We should go, Brad. Please. I’m scared.”

Oh, baby. Just a few more minutes, okay? I’ll protect you.”

Crunch, crunch, crunch

A tall shadow took form by the window.

Oh my god, Brad. Somebody’s out there!”

He looked over his shoulder. “Where?”

Right there. Right there!” She pointed at the window behind him.

There was a white flash of light. The window exploded. Something splashed on her face. 

There was a deafening roar. Her eyes adjusted to the flash. Brad was slumped in the seat, his head on her chest. There was blood in his hair.


She looked out the window. She saw a pistol pointed at her. She screamed.

The bright flash of light again, and then everything went black.


How’s Jessie doing?” Vinton asked. He had his reading glasses on, a newspaper spread open on the desk in front of him.

Being a bitch. She thinks I’m cheating on her,” Blaine said. He shook his head and chuckled.

Hey, now. That’s the mother of your child you’re talking about there.”
We’ll get through it. Just I’ve got some other stuff going on. Keeps me away sometimes. I go out at night. She don’t like it.”

Might explain why you look so much different.”

What do you mean?”

You look tired. Kind of haggard. Like you ain’t been sleeping good.”

Oh, yeah. No, it’s just this other shit.”

Well I hope you’re up for what I want to talk to you about.”

I’m good, man. Never better. And Jessie, Jessie’s gonna be good too.”

You ready for another job then? Nothing local, but I got a friend who could use some help up the road a piece. You know. A job like Carbone.”

Yeah, man. I’m good to go. Plant’s still cutting hours. I could get a few days.”

Good. Hey, you know, funniest thing. That job you did for me? Old Jake? Yeah, well that’ll never come back on us. That gun you tossed? Somebody grabbed it, see. They grabbed it, and they are using it all over the place. Our thing looks like part of some sick psycho killing spree. Like that Zodiac guy. Pretty cool, huh? Fucking bastard’s out there shooting up people at night going all crazy, and it’s covering up our thing.” Vinton laughed.

Huh. Yeah,” Blaine said. “Some bad crazies out there, man.” He grinned.