Monday, April 29, 2019

A Heart Within Me, fiction by Ilan Mochari

Yea, and if some god shall wreck me in the wine-dark deep, even so I will endure, with a heart within me patient of affliction.

 —The Odyssey, Chapter V

“I must find a fifty-year-old man,” Flores said in English to the slender, red-haired tourist. “He’s six feet tall, with brown eyes and straight black hair. He was probably with two or three port workers. Have you seen him?”

“I’ve been in the water all morning,” said the tourist, standing barefoot on wet sand beside his yellow kayak, his eyes fixed on his double-bladed paddle. “Maybe someone in the lodge can help you.”

The lodge employees had not seen the fifty-year-old man either. Nor had the village fishermen, the Russians smoking cigars on the golf course, the taxi drivers back at the airport, the churchgoers in Sonsonate, nor any of the others Flores had quizzed in his quest to find Gilberto Calderon, the union leader. Still, Flores persisted. At the equipment rental shop on the main street, he asked to see the owner: a Floridian named Francisco Nevaras, who’d run the place as far back as Flores could remember.

“He’s busy,” yawned the teenaged clerk. The frayed sleeves of his wetsuit dripped a small puddle on the wooden counter by the register.

Flores grinned. “I only need him for one minute,” he said, loud enough so anyone in the shop could hear. Nevaras emerged from a back room, wearing shorts and sandals. Flores posed his question. “Do you have a photo of this man?” replied Nevaras. Flores shook his head. Nevaras walked away.

The port of Acajutla had seemed like the likeliest place to find Calderon; it was, after all, where the Praest longshoremen worked all day—and it was the longshoremen Calderon hoped to unionize. But it wasn’t just a worker’s wharf: There was a strip of high-end restaurants nearby, where the Texaco executives and Praest magnates and wealthy Russians lunched. Perhaps Calderon feted the port workers with appetizers of lemony ceviche and creamy-broth mariscada.

Yet there’d been no trace of Calderon at the restaurant strip or anywhere else. And now it seemed as if Calderon had avoided the coast altogether—that Acajutla was hardly the hotbed of his labor-relations efforts. It was just a port, as it had always been.

Returning to the highway, Flores sped northeast toward San Salvador. Vetiver hedges lined the road on both sides. Soon the hedges gave way to midsized cypress trees with densely clustered leaves of dark green.


“I will find Calderon and kill him,” Flores had promised Oscar Cardoza, a government employee in the Ministry of Public Security & Justice. The clean-shaven Cardoza wore silk ties and bragged about buying $200 shoes for his wife at the new Nine West on Boulevard del Hipodromo. Flores chuckled. He was amused that Cardoza was accepted as a legitimate white-collar professional. They had fled to Los Angeles together in their teens, escaping the civil war. They had survived their gang initiation beatings on the same night in MacArthur Park, each losing multiple teeth. The next day, both got their official chest tattoos, the calligraphic MS and the stenciled 13.

 “Kill Calderon,” Cardoza said, “and we will get you an easy job in the U.S. In Boston. In a restaurant owned by a friend of ARENA. Nichols is his name. His family has millions in Praest stock. We’ll get you a passport. A visa. A Massachusetts driver license. Everything, Lázaro. We’ll move your family to a big house in Escalon, and pay for them to visit you in Boston twice a year. We won’t tax your remittances either.” Cardoza’s shiny shoes were up on his desk, next to his rotary phone.

“Sounds like a job for Fonsito,” said Flores. Alfonso had been their MS-13 clique leader.

“I’ve seen you kill, Lazito. I know you can do this.”

“I don’t want to leave my family.”

“Believe me, Lázaro, I asked about that. But my bosses are scared to leave a trail. The Teamsters know we want Calderon dead. Everyone knows how much money we’d lose if Praest has to deal with a union. When Calderon dies, people are going to notice. If your whole family vanishes, people will ask questions. If it’s just you—no one will suspect. And that’s because you haven’t held a gun since our Los Angeles days.”

Flores rose. “No, thank you,” he said.

“Sit down, Laz,” said Cardoza.

Flores sat. “I have no choice in this?”

“You could agree now, and we’ll have Idalia and Hector and your parents in Escalon next week,” said Cardoza. “Or you could agree after a few nights behind bars in La Esperanza. I’m sorry it has to be this way. But my career is on the line here.”

Cardoza showed him—but did not let him keep—a few photographs of Calderon. “A limo outside will take you to the airport Alamo rental,” said Cardoza. “There’s a Sentra—red, I think—waiting for you. There’s a Glock in the glove compartment too, just like old times. After you kill Calderon, put the gun in the trunk and return the car to the airport. Nichols has people at the airport, and they’ll alert him when the Sentra rolls in. Then you and Nichols will fly to Boston in his private jet.” Cardoza pushed his phone toward Flores and handed him the receiver. “Call Idalia and explain,” he said. “If she protests, I’m happy to speak to her.”


Flores approached the Metropolitan Cathedral. The hand-painted tiles of its façade were the work of Fernando Llort, a favorite of Idalia’s. Of course, Llort had not literally painted the façade; he’d designed it, and over the course of one year a group of hired hands had executed the mural according to his schemes. At the time of the painting, Flores was working one block away in Plaza Barrios, building the city’s first art museum.

Two young men stood near him. Both wore jeans and tucked-in white t-shirts. One was slender with a wispy mustache. He looked about eighteen. The other looked a few years older. He had a full mustache of dark brown. A small belly sagged over his belt buckle, threatening to untuck the t-shirt. It was as if behind the shirt there was not an actual stomach but a sack of beads.

“Gentlemen,” said Flores, “have you seen a fifty-year-old man, with brown eyes and black hair? He’s six feet tall. He might have been with a few port workers.”

The one with the belly laughed. “It may be that we share a quest,” he said. “A missing union leader, is it? And he has dark features?” He laughed again. “You’re not the only explorer in the sea, my friend. We seek Calderon too.”

“Why do you seek him?” Flores asked.

“For money. Why else?” said the belly.

“I wish you luck in your quest,” said Flores. He walked away from the cathedral.

“Hey, Flores—have you heard of Francisco Nevaras?” shouted the skinny one.

Flores stopped and turned around. “No,” he said.

“He owns the equipment rental shop in Acajutla,” said the belly. “He also owns the golf course—that’s where both of us work. And he’s offered $250,000 for Calderon’s head. He has ARENA connections too—how else do you think he’s run that shop for so long? Flores, we are not greedy men. If an accomplished gunman could help us, we would split Francisco’s generous bounty with him.”

“I can help you, but how can you help me?” asked Flores.

“We know where he is,” said the skinny one. 


According to the belly, Calderon had spent the last three nights in the southeast part of El Salvador, at his mother’s house in Usulután. “Ernesto grew up near there,” added the belly, referring to his younger partner.

“Ah, Ernesto,” said Flores, extending his hand. “I’m old enough to be your father. Did your father fight?”

“He died with the guerillas in Las Lajas,” said Ernesto. “He helped blow up the Cuscatlán. You were in Los Angeles, yes?”

“Yes. That’s how I know Cardoza. I was only 13. And what about you?” asked Flores, turning to the belly.

“Call me Toño,” said the belly. “But with respect, Flores, we should tell these stories another time. The longer we delay, the greater the chances Calderon will leave Usulután for another location.”

Flores nodded. He offered his car keys to Ernesto. “You know the way better than I do,” he said.

“We’ll take our own car,” said Toño. “You can follow.”

“Gentlemen, we’re taking my car, and Ernesto is driving,” said Flores. “Otherwise, you’ll have to find another assassin. That shouldn’t be a problem, if there are many explorers in the sea.”


Daylight was fading by the time they approached the bridge. Ernesto tried clicking on the headlights but he started the windshield wipers instead. Toño laughed. “Now you see, Flores, why neither of us trusts ourselves with a gun.”

From the backseat Flores saw a sign for an inn, the Hospedaje Modelo. “How is the food there?” he asked.

“So-so,” said Ernesto. “Do we have time to stop? We still have sixty kilometers to go.”

“I have to piss,” said Flores. “And some coffee would be nice.”

“We should keep driving,” said Toño. “Even a ten-minute delay could be costly.”

“This won’t take long,” said Flores. “It’s better to stop now. When we reach Usulután, we won’t have the chance.”

There were long rectangular windows at the rear of the empty inn lobby. To the left, the lobby opened to a restaurant with a bar counter. Flores ordered coffee and slid his menu over to Toño, who ordered plantains. The mustachioed bartender, dressed in a plain white t-shirt tucked into black jeans, nodded and walked toward the kitchen.

“How did you find me in San Salvador?” asked Flores, after returning from the bathroom.

“There’s a tracking device under your car,” said Toño. “I installed it while you were at the golf course.”

“Well, my friends, we must remove it,” said Flores.

In the gravel parking lot, they were the only three people. Ernesto kept his hands in his empty pockets. Toño lay on his back beneath the Sentra, probing the underside for the tracking device. “Got it,” he said. He slid out slowly, his backside rasping the ground. He dusted himself with his left hand—his right hand engulfed the small black device. “Give it to me,” said Flores.

“First we need to call Nevaras,” said Toño.

“Sure,” sighed Flores.

Toño spoke loudly into his phone: “Yes, we’re with Flores. We’re halfway there, at the river. Our car? It’s still in the city.”


As they drove over the bridge, Flores tossed the black tracking device out the window of the backseat and into the Lempa River. He was wide awake from the coffee, but he wondered if stopping at the inn had been a mistake. The bartender could describe their faces, as could a few patrons.

The bridge was bright, with arcing lampposts on both sides. At nightfall, the markets would be closed. Families would be dining at home. Idalia. Little Hector. His parents. All four under the impression that he, Lázaro, had to move to Boston for business purposes. Only little Hector unaware that the business was killing a good man who’d crossed an evil government. They would want to know about his new deal with Nevaras. But whether he could trust Nevaras or his two henchmen was another matter.

In the dark, they sped toward Sixth Avenue, where Toño and Ernesto said that Calderon’s mother resided. A park with unoccupied white benches flew by on the right. City hall and a church flew by on the left. Lampposts lit the unmarked road. In the rearview, they saw the church’s plain-white façade and three telephone wires suspended directly over city hall.

They drove past a few groups of young men, huddled together on the corner, walking to the center of town. “They don’t have families yet,” said Flores.

“How do you know?” said Ernesto.

“Because they can cruise the streets at night,” said Flores. “You guys will see when you’re older. There are things you do now that you won’t do anymore.”

They reached Sixth Avenue in five minutes, but finding house No. 19 was difficult, since there were no lampposts on the residential street. Moving slowly through the neighborhood, the vehicle seemed heavier, as if burdened by the true motive of their trespass. Ernesto parked and closed his eyes. Flores shut his eyes too, recalling the photographs of Calderon: six feet tall, brown eyes, black hair. In his Glock there were seventeen nine-millimeter bullets.

The sidewalk was gum-stained and narrow. “It feels good to have pavement beneath my feet, after all that driving,” said Ernesto.

“Let’s whisper from now on,” said Toño.

Flores walked behind them. He wondered, once more, if there would be witnesses to their presence: watchful eyes, leering from lighted windows. For all he knew, another set of ARENA operatives was following him, the same way Toño and Ernesto did.

Maybe Toño, while removing the first tracking device, had covertly planted another one beneath.

Ernesto rang the bell at house No. 19. Toño and Lázaro were standing behind him. A stooped, gray-haired woman opened the door. She wore a blouse of faded yellow with a frayed collar. “Are you here to see Gilberto?” she asked. From behind her came the scent of grilled chicken.

“Yes, thank you,” said Ernesto. “We work at the port, in Acajutla.”

“Berto!” she shouted. She invited them inside.

In the living room, Flores saw Calderon for the first time. It was unmistakably the fifty-year-old dark-featured man in the photos. Wearing khakis and a dress shirt, Calderon stood tall beside his slouched mother, as if to justify every inch of his stated six-foot stature. “Hold on, three of the workers are here,” he said into his cell phone, extending a hand to Ernesto, then Toño, then Lázaro. “Good evening, brothers,” whispered Calderon. He held up one finger, indicating that his phone conversation would soon be finished.

Flores blasted Calderon three times in the head. The mother screamed, and Flores silenced her with two quick shots to the chest. She fell beside Calderon, who was face-down and motionless on the reddening carpet. Flores grabbed Calderon’s phone, which had landed inches from his bleeding head, and sprinted to the door. Ernesto and Toño followed.

When they reached the car, Flores insisted on driving. Ernesto handed him the keys.  Toño thanked God when the car started.

They were quiet on their way back to San Salvador. As they crossed the bridge again, Flores tossed Calderon’s phone into the Lempa.


“So what happens now?” said Flores.

“Don’t worry. Francisco’s word is good,” said Toño.

“But what about the corpses?” said Flores. “What will happen to them?”

“My guess is that their neighbors, hearing the gunfire, will call the police,” said Toño. “If not the neighbors, then maybe it will be a group of port workers stopping by to visit. Calderon clearly was expecting a house call.”

“Did you close the door behind you when you left?” said Flores.

“No,” said Ernesto.

“Well, it’ll probably be okay,” said Flores.

“The only thing I’m really worried about is the person Calderon was on the phone with,” said Toño. “He or she might alert authorities. And we can’t rule out that it was an authority, on the phone with him. Someone like your boy Cardoza, politically covering his bases. So he can later say, ‘I was on the phone with Calderon. We were negotiating in good faith.’”

“Can you call Nevaras, and ask him what do to?” said Flores. “Cardoza is expecting me to bring this car to the airport, so I can meet Nichols and fly to Boston.”
Toño pushed a button on his phone and handed it to Flores. “Toño, is it done?” said Nevaras.

“This is Flores.”

“Is it done?”

“Yes. Can you meet us at the airport and explain everything to Nichols?”

“Sure. I’m on my way. I’ll have the money too. And Lázaro?”


“Thank you. I know this wasn’t easy for many reasons.”


In the brightly lit airport parking lot they sat in the car, waiting for Nevaras and Nichols. Unbidden, the smell of Calderon’s house after the shooting returned to Flores. It was blood and smoke and sulfur, mixed with Mother Calderon’s grilled chicken. He wondered how Idalia would react to the news that he had earned one-third of a $250,000 bounty.

Then he saw the headlights. The car was the same limousine that had brought him to the airport, following his meeting with Cardoza. He got out of the Sentra, gently shutting the door. Toño and Ernesto followed. One of the limo’s tinted rear windows rolled down. The first bullet hit him above the groin. He staggered, dropping to one knee. The echo of gunfire filled the lot. It hammered his eardrums, all the more after the second shot, which hit his groin directly. Blood seeped through his pants. Cardoza stepped out of the limo. Weakly, Flores pulled the Glock from his pocket. Cardoza kicked the weapon away. The Glock skittered across the cement, toward Toño’s crumpled, motionless body. A few yards away, Ernesto lay facedown, bloody and gasping. Flores placed his palm on his crotch and tried staunching the flow of blood.

“You shot us,” he said.

“I didn’t want to,” said Cardoza. “But once Nevaras found out, Nichols panicked.”

Flores fell to his side. Would Cardoza—or Nevaras—or someone still pay for Idalia, Hector, and his parents to move to Escalon? Would his family somehow learn what had happened to him? He felt woozy, dry-mouthed. His crotch was hot, leaky, and then cold in an instant. “Church—chicken—money—Idalia,” he stammered, moments before darkness overtook him.

Ilan Mochari's short stories and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in McSweeney’s, Hobart, J Journal, Valparaiso Fiction Review, DASH, and elsewhere. His Pushcart-nominated debut novel, Zinsky the Obscure (Fomite, 2013), earned flattering reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Coming Out In the Wash, fiction by Tia Ja'nae

Ain’t nothing like throwing a crisp pair of dice on Chicago concrete.

Not everybody can have a perfect roll against the bitter winds coming off Lake Michigan, itchy trigger fingers from testosterone fuelled assholes illegally gambling away child support checks, and the occasional set of shaved dice. Good thing a chick like me giving lessons today for all the lames wanting to learn how to do it.

These plump, sweet pieces of acrylic cubes perched in between my fingertips arch their back on my point better than I do on a good piece in the sheets, do you hear me! I think I’ll name them Eddie Kendricks since they are responsible for the bread stacking up on the line becoming my intimate friend.

Eight is the point. Shooting a hundred. Letting it ride down the line.

After two hours of mean rolling on top of ducking the fuzz to get the pot up, I’m finally at the end of the line, which is exactly where I want to be. Time to double up, bring it on home, and send these cats off salty as hell with nothing but lint in their pockets. How I see it, better me than the tax exempt casino sporting their contributions to the kitty.

Catching my second wind now. No need to rush.

Shit talking getting real personal now for the cats running out of the long green, but it ain’t phasing me. Being the only chick out here in the den I’ve heard it all. I’ll be that bitch that’s in over her head taking the rent money. Or the cunt who ain’t got no business in the street with grown ass men copping their utility bill and car note payments. Mostly though, I’m the hoe sending the tricks home broke, baby!

At the end of the day like my granny used to say, you got to pay to play.

I’m smiling like a kid in the candy store when the pit boss gives the green light to place the next round of bets. A couple grand starts spreading out across old piss and rat shit around the field wider than a whore’s legs at a church picnic. Cats out here perpetrating hard, fanning paper like they waiting on the church collection plate knowing damn well it’s the last of their cash before they hit the bricks broke.

Side action got them stretched thin, even if it is doing better than the point. They ain’t slick, though. Every shooter knows that’s where the heavy bread lottery is at right before you lose everything and have to take your number out. I’ll cover the bets just for a little extra padding for what I got coming on the line. Play the field long and strong but side bets pay every time.

Rolled a hard little joe from Kokomo. Letting it all ride. Ten grand strong now.

Cash like that in the air surely will make its way to the fuzz’s nostrils. Can’t stand them bastards stalking our action on the blue light cameras, waiting for a big enough take to shake us down and tax us on our paper. Lookout up the block says the rollers are rotating the perimeter. Time to bring home the bacon.

Last throw of the game. I’m riding it all. One more eight and I’m straight.

It’s so quiet you can hear the roaches taking a leak. My hand parlays in perfect motion, until this bumblefuck betting against the point elbows me in the side, knocking me down. Dice drop out my hand like paperweights, hard against the bottom of the garbage cans. Seven. Crapped out.

All hell breaks loose. Screaming, hollering, pushing, and shoving to stop Elbow and his sidekick from snatch and grabbing our hard-earned paper.

Let the motherfucking cheaters say what they want, but I’m going to shoot this shit again. Hand me the dice, don’t touch nothing on the line, and let’s get on with it I say. If I had of thrown a legitimate seven and crapped out, that’s one thing. Some big corn fed husky, Lenny from Of Mice and Men bastard trying to mow me over looking for George is another.

Everybody seen it too. All the regulars know the deal, and in agreement on a do-over. Elbow and his sidekick got other ideas, running off at the mouth like they are the moral authority on the matter. Both of them got one hell of a nerve copping my dice like they didn’t have to buy them from out my grip first. No ma’am! We do not do that in this alley!

This ain’t my first walk around the park. Cats get in their feelings when chicks like me come down the stretch and school them on what they think is only a man’s game. Comes with the territory. But this ain’t romper room shit out here. Either the transgressor rectifies the situation or the life they save will be their own. Regulars know better. Elbow and his sidekick about to find out the hard way.

Loud talking over the pit boss in a failed attempt to auction off the dice is strike one. Chauvinistic comments on bitches being in their place and beneath them is strike two. Blowing on the dice and inch from my face is the nail in the coffin on strike three. No more compromising; these fools are out the game.

The razor sharp Buck knife resting comfortably cool against my ankle found its way into my hand and carving Elbow up like a Thanksgiving turkey before he knew what to do with it. Talking shit to me without a piece in his hand, yeah okay. Cheating motherfucker will know better next time he gets out of pocket.

The other shooters back up and let me have the killing floor as soon as the sidekick tries to show me what he’s working with. Little fucker got nice hands; the sucker punch he clipped me with from behind ain’t nothing short of nice nastiness. Not dropping me was his flaw though; he underestimated my ability to bounce back and help him clear his throat by cutting his Adam’s apple out as a souvenir.

Snivelling little bitch yelled like a baby getting shots once he felt the cold sharp surface of old faithful slice slivers in his ulna and carve a rough path to his radius bone. It was the least I could do for the shiner he probably left on my face. Oh, well. At least the stray animals will have something to nibble on tonight.

The stench from those two pieces of shit bleeding out and soiling themselves into the bowels of death got all the shooters too uptight and in flight to finish the damn game. Some of them with weaker stomachs are tossing up cookies quicker than the ground can catch them. Punk asses. Talk a good game and bitch up in the clutch.

I can’t believe the minute I suggest we move Elbow and the sidekick to the garbage receptacles and get them out our way that the shooters freak out about murder and haul ass out. Jesus Christ, I ain’t a medical professional certified to make a clinical determination of death or nothing, but as long as the blood is seizing and the bodies are whimpering, they alive right? Am I right?

If the shooters want to act like that, cool; game is done and I’m taking the bread I got coming to me. If they too good to touch blood soaked cold hard cash, that’s their business. I ain’t squeamish in the least. Hope Elbow and his sidekick get a laugh thinking about me going home and doing woman’s work with the Woolite trying to wash their genetic material comes out in the wash.

I swear, we just can’t ever have a nice friendly game without company forgetting their table manners on rotation for the serious players enjoying the hustle. That, or bleeding out all over the money for the forensics team to find after they pay the price to cheat the dice. Back alley games ain’t got no chance of making ESPN Wide World Of Craps with all these non-competitive amateurs on the table.

Wishful thinking tells me to snatch the dice up as a keepsake for my trouble. Those pretty little rubies made me a lot of money today. Be a shame to lose them to the asphalt and grime like that. Problem is, only one of the snake eyes rests in Elbow’s hand; the other one has rolled away to parts unknown.

Jesus Christ, it’s always something, ain’t it?

Elbow better be thankful sirens are blaring in the distance or else I’d cut the son of a bitch up again for breaking up the set before the fuzz get hip! I’m taking the one die though; half a great set is better than having no memento at all.

The crap game is a bitch, but it’ll be all better tomorrow.

Tia Ja’nae is a creative writer and master propagandist. A proud Trekkie, her writing engages, boldly going where few have gone before. Her work has been featured in Shotgun Honey, 365 Worlds, and Flashback Fiction; Her more serious, satirical journalist work has been featured on Humor Outcasts; check out her satire under her pseudonym on, which could be classified by order of your government.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Par for the Corpse, fiction by Steve Liskow

Normally, Sasha can spot Winifred three strokes on each nine and still beat her, but today, everything seems to have gone to hell. Winifred, petite, dark and five strokes ahead after twelve holes, wades through grass that reaches her shins.

“Nothing over here.” She pushes stalks aside with her driver and looks deeper into the trees. If Sasha’s drive did land in here, they may not find it until they both have grandchildren in grad school.

Sasha, tall and blonde, unzips her golf bag and pulls out a new ball. “I’ll drop another one.”

According to the rules, a lost ball means she should go back to the tee and hit her drive again, but four men in carts are practically in their hip pockets, so she’ll call it her third shot to save time. It’s not like they’re in a tournament.

  It’s Thursday, which most doctors take off to play here at the Slippery Ridge Country Club, but these guys play so quickly Freddi wonders if they have cocktails waiting, maybe wives or girlfriends and dinner, too. If she and Sasha hold them up, they’ll stay close and make snarky comments the rest of the round.

“Yeah, OK.” Winifred returns to her own ball, fifteen yards ahead of Sasha’s and in the middle of the fairway. In the two years they’ve played together, she can count the times that’s happened—except for today—on one hand.

The men crowd around the markers on the tee. One leans on his club. When he sees Freddi look back at him, he brings up his arm and seems to study his watch. If he were a little more subtle, he could be in opera. Or ballet.

Sasha faces the green and drops another ball over her shoulder. Her legs look long as Freddi’s driver and their tan makes her white golf shoes resemble an albino Dumpster. When she steps away, Freddi can see her ball nestled in a patch of crabgrass with the texture of a scouring pad. From that lie, no way she can reach the green.

“Par for the course today, is it not?” Sasha pulls out a six iron. It will still leave her a long shot to the green, but from that lie, her best bet is to hack her way back to the fairway. She might do even better with a machete, but she’s only allowed fourteen clubs.

She takes her grip, plants the club behind the ball and takes a slow backswing, careful not to snag her club in that tall grass.

“Fore on the right!”

The voice sounds like it’s right behind them and Sasha’s head jerks up. She tops the ball, which bounces into the fairway only a few yards beyond Freddi’s tee shot. Freddi can already see the cut in it, bigger than the smiles on the faces of the jerks behind them.

“Shi-shoot.” Freddi promised herself she was going to clean up her language. “Going to need a new ball when you get to the green.”

“Those assholes…” Sasha didn’t make any such promise. She glares back at the two carts bearing down on them like chariots in full battle mode.

“You want a mulligan?” Freddi asks. “They distracted you.”

The men come closer, crisp golf shirts and razor-cut hair. Freddi wonders how much money they’ve put on this match. She and Sasha bet a fruit cup. With five holes to go, she’s about half an orchard ahead.

“They’ll just get even more obnoxious if I keep holding them up,” Sasha says. “Let’s let them play through.”

“Might as well.” Freddi pulls her cart up next to her ball. One of the men is about thirty yards beyond her, but on the same line. The carts slow down and one comes to a stop inches from Freddi’s cart. If they weren’t on grass, she’d hear tires screech and smell rubber burn.

“Hi, sorry we hit so close.” The guy’s voice almost drips off Freddi’s face. “We thought you were farther along.”

“We’re just girls.” Sasha’s voice makes Freddi think of a snake waiting for the rodent to get closer. “We’re not big and strong like you.”

“Yeah, there’s that.” The guy in the royal blue shirt eases out of the cart and frowns toward the green. His shoulders are square as a storm door, but his shirt strains across his stomach. Freddi would need a four-wood, but he takes a five-iron. Testosterone adds lots of yardage.

“Would you like to play through?” Sasha asks. The guy’s already taking his stance, but he stops and turns.

“Oh, thanks, we’d appreciate that.” Freddi’s afraid Sasha’s going to flip them off, but she doesn’t.

The guy bends over his ball again and waggles his club so often Freddi knows it must be a ritual he goes through every time he swings. Which one of the pros does that? Whoever it is, it looks stupid. The guy takes a divot the size of a snow shovel and contorts his body while he watches the ball flutter into the sand trap to the left front of the green.

“That is one of the most annoying traps on this course,” Sasha says. Freddi can almost see Sasha’s raised middle finger.

  The guy glares at her before he strides back to his cart and shoves his club into his bag. He and his buddy take off without another word.

“And your mouth is another,” Sasha finishes.

The other cart is on the far side of the fairway, where a man nearly as thin as his
clubs hits a beautiful shot that arches high and settles gently on the green just the way it’s supposed to. Freddi hates him.

The carts pull up between the green and the next tee and all four men get out. Blue shirt hits a decent shot out of the sand and returns to the cart for his putter.

“Jerks,” Sasha says. Her voice barely carries to Freddi.

“You OK?”

“Par for the course today,” Sasha answers.

Freddi waits until the men have replaced the flag, then hits her shot to the front edge of the green. Her putt will be long, but straight uphill.

“No, really. Are you OK?”

Sasha shrugs and fiddles with her clubs. “I’m a little tired,” she admits.

“Not sleeping?”

“Something like that.” Sasha pulls out a nine iron. Her eyes stay focused on the flag on the green. She hits her best shot of the entire round so far, settling on the middle of the green, no more than twenty feet from the flag. She slides the club back into her bag and walks to the green with a decisive strut that suggests she’s just found her rhythm and stroke again. If she has, Freddi’s five-stroke lead could melt like a snowball on the Sahara.

The men hit their drives on the next hole and their carts move down the next fairway.

Sasha’s first putt rolls around the rim twice before staying out. Freddi two-putts, too. They move to the next tee and pull out their drivers while the men hit their second shots toward a green that looks smaller than an emerald in a patch of trees four hundred yards away. On a good day, Sasha can reach it in two. Freddi needs three.

Freddi tees up her ball and hits down the left side of the fairway.

“Are you and Chuck making any headway?” she asks. Sasha and Chuck have been going to a marriage counselor, but Sasha told Freddi two weeks ago that she doesn’t think it’s helping at all. He still misses dinner one or two nights a week and she’s not sure he’s always at the office.

“We’re fine,” Sasha says. She tees up her ball, then changes her mind. She picks up the ball and tee and moves two steps to her right to tee it up again. She stands behind it and sights toward the green, then hits her drive at least forty yards beyond Freddi, and smack in the center of the fairway. If her second shot is as good, she’ll reach the green.

While they pull their carts up to their drives, the men scatter across the green with putters in their hands.

Sasha clears her throat.

“Actually,” she says, “he didn’t come home last night.”

“What?” Freddi almost trips over her own feet. “Did he call or anything?”

Sasha stares straight ahead so Freddi can’t see her face. But she strides more quickly until they reach Freddi’s ball. The men move to the next tee. The fairway runs parallel to the one the women stand on.

“I hope they hit the water on sixteen,” Freddi says. Sasha and Chuck live just across the fence from the sixteenth green. The pond in front of it turns an easy hole into a potential nightmare.

“I wish there were alligators,” Sasha replies.

Freddi’s second shot is well short of the green, but in the fairway where she has a straight shot at the flag. Sasha’s stroke slices off to the right, bounces once and rolls into a sand trap. She stabs her club back into her bag.

“Did you try to call him?” Freddi asks. “Or text him?”
“I only hit his voicemail. He never answered.”

“Not even a text?” Freddi feels her mouth sag open. It’s about two in the afternoon now. Chuck should have been home, had breakfast, and gone off to work hours ago.

“Not even a text.” Sasha shrugs but Freddi can see the anger in her shoulders. “Like I keep saying, par for the course.”

“Shit.” So much for cleaning up her language. “Did you call the police?”

“This morning. They told me they can’t do anything until he’s been missing twenty-four hours.”

“That’s stupid,” Freddi says.

“Tell me about it.” Sasha’s voice feels brittle.

They reach the green and Sasha shuffles through her clubs. She frowns and looks through them again, then looks back at the fourteen holes they’ve played.

“Can I borrow your sand wedge? I can’t find mine.”

Freddi hands it to her. “You haven’t been in a trap today. Were you practicing before we started? Maybe left it by the practice green?”

“I don’t think so. Maybe.”

She takes a few practice swings with the strange club.

“A bit lighter than mine.” She digs her feet into the sand and waggles the club above the ball a few times, then takes an easy swing.

The ball flies out of the trap in a splash of sand and stops about twelve feet short of the flag.

“Nice shot,” Freddi says. “Especially with a strange club.”

“Thank you.” Sasha hands it back and returns to her own bag for her putter. Freddi wishes she’d lost her putter instead of her sand wedge. When the pressure is on, Sasha can roll putts in as if the cup is the size of a bath tub. Sure enough, her putt looks good as soon as she hits it. It disappears into the cup. Freddi takes two putts and her lead drops by one stroke.

On the next hole, Sasha hits her best drive of the day, and Freddi concentrates on keeping her own shot in the fairway. The men pull their carts to the left of the green, near the seventeenth tee, and one of them starts back toward the pond. He has what looks like a ball retriever with an expanding handle in his hand.

“Ha,” Freddi says. “One of them caught the water. My prayer has been answered.”
From where she is, she can’t reach the green. With the flag on the upper left corner, she decides to aim to the right. That way she can hit her third shot past the corner of the pond instead of risking dumping her shot into the water like the guy ahead of them has apparently done.

Sasha watches the men intently. Her own shot is a long way from the green, but she might be able to reach it if the pond didn’t block her direct line.

Through the split rail fence that signifies out of bounds, Freddi sees Sasha and Chuck’s Dutch colonial. The patio facing the green has a table with a big red umbrella above it, and a Weber grille nestles in the corner near the garage.

Blue shirt moves to his right and stops. He stands up straight and says something to the others. They all hustle to the edge of the pond and look where he’s pointing. The skinny guy takes off his shoes and socks and rolls up his pants before he wades into the water, waving his arms to keep his balance. He bends over and disappears from sight.

When he stands again, Freddi can hear his voice halfway down the fairway.

“Holy shit!”

One of the other men extends a golf club for him to grab and they pull him back to
dry land. They toss him a towel and he wipes off his feet while one of the other men dashes back to the cart.

“Something’s going on,” Freddi says. She takes a few steps toward the men, the four-iron forgotten in her hand.

“You think?” Sasha doesn’t move. The man at the golf cart picks up his phone and dials so quickly Freddi knows he must have called 911. He looks around the course and at the houses beyond the fence, then back at the pond, where the other men still squat and stare into the water.

“Um…” Freddi looks at her ball, then at the men. “What do you think we should do?
We can’t very well hit our next shots with those guys right there.”

“They almost hit me half an hour ago,” Sasha points out. But she leaves her cart next to her ball and joins Freddi. The caller tucks his phone back into his pocket and joins his friends. They remind Freddi of little kids who’ve found a dead mouse in a field.

“Let’s see what’s going on.” Freddi slides her club back into her cart and walks toward the men. Sasha speeds up until they’re walking together. The men’s voices carry toward them, but they can’t make out words yet.

When they’re almost at the edge of the pond, the man in the blue shirt holds up his hand.

“I don’t think you want to come over here, ladies.”

“What’s wrong?” Freddi asks. The men look even more like kids, eyes wide and tongues moving across their lips.

“There’s a dead body in the pond.” The man’s bare feet look white and wrinkled and his rolled-up pants legs drip water all around them. “I found it when I was looking for Irv’s ball.”

“You mean a person?” Sasha says. “Not a squirrel or a bird or something? A skunk?”

“It’s a man. His face is all smashed to hell. It’s pretty gross.”

“A man.” Freddi feels her knees weakening.

“Yeah. We called the police. They can trace where we are with the GPS in my phone. I don’t know if they’ll follow the holes to get here or stop on the streets outside. I don’t know the streets around here so I couldn’t give them an address.”
Sasha opens her mouth, then closes it again. The longer grass between the green and the fence is packed down from golf carts, but Freddi sees two parallel grooves leading from the fence. She walks over and sights across it at Sasha’s and Chuck’s grille. She takes a deep breath before rejoining the crowd.

Another foursome has teed off and approaches the women’s carts in the middle of the fairway.

“I don’t think we’re gonna be playing any more golf today,” Blue shirt says. “Why don’t you ladies play through.”

“Actually,” the man with the phone says, “you shouldn’t stay around here. We’ve probably already trampled any prints the police might have found, but you’d just make it worse. Why don’t you just pick up and go on to the next hole.”

Sasha looks at the pond. “I suppose that is a good idea. There are already people coming up behind us.”

“Right, that’s what I’m thinking.”

Sasha starts down the fairway to her cart and Freddi hurries to catch up. They pick up their balls and pull their carts to the left of the fairway, passing the men’s cart and stopping at the seventeenth tee. Freddi sinks to the bench and takes deep breaths until her stomach settles.

Sasha points to the fairway. “You won the last hole. It’s your shot.”

Even with her hands shaking, Freddi manages to balance a ball on the tee. She grips her driver and takes a hard practice swing. That’s better. Holding onto the club steadies her. She forces her eyes to look down the fairway at the red flag fluttering three hundred seventy yards away.

She hits into the rough on the right. Not long, but farther away from that pond and that dead man. Sasha swings and Freddi hears the sharp crack. The ball might still be rising as it sails beyond her own shot, hooking slightly at the end and bounding down the left center of the fairway. It stops almost eighty yards beyond Freddi’s.

Freddi finds her ball in the rough, nowhere near as thick as where Sasha lost hers on the twelfth. She hits into the middle of the fairway where she has an easy shot to the green. She looks back at the sixteenth and sees two uniformed police climb through the split rail fence in Sasha’s and Chuck’s back yard. Blue shirt trots over to them, pointing back at the pond where the other men still huddle together and look into the water. The group behind them has caught up, so now eight men and four carts crowd the site.

Sasha’s second shot hits a few feet short of the green and rolls onto the putting surface. Freddi forces her mind back to the game, but it’s hard. She almost flubs her shot, but it rolls onto the very front of the green. She’s still farther from the hole than Sasha is.

They line up their putts. Freddi’s club feels heavy and clumsy in her hands and she can’t see the path to the hole clearly. She steps back, then addresses the ball again and taps it toward the hole. It’s a foot short. She looks toward Sasha.


“Of course.”

Freddi tucks the ball into her pocket. Sasha squints at the hole. There’s something different in her face now. She steps up to her ball and plants her feet, then lays the head of the putter behind the ball and looks toward the hole.

Freddi can’t stop herself from speaking.

“Is your sand wedge in the water, too?”

Sasha strokes her ball and it rolls gently toward the hole. It slows down gradually and disappears into the cup. They both hear it rattle like bones.

Sasha picks her ball out of the cup and looks at Freddi.

“Please do not talk when I’m putting.”

Steve Liskow’s stories have earned an Edgar nomination, Honorable Mention for the Al Blanchard Award (3 times), and the Black Orchid Novella Award (twice). Those stories appear in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and several anthologies. He has published 14 novels, and The Kids Are All Right was a finalist for the Shamus Award in 2015. He lives in Connecticut. Visit his website at