Showing posts with label steve liskow. Show all posts
Showing posts with label steve liskow. Show all posts

Monday, July 22, 2019

Annie Works the Midnight Shift, fiction by Steve Liskow

Annie walks into Quickie Mart at nine twenty and finds Lainie, her older sister, leaning by the register reading a magazine. She looks even more bored than she does tired.

“You’re early.” Lainie’s voice is tired, too.

“It’s nothing but re-runs on TV,” Annie says. “They aren’t better the second time. Or funnier.”

“Different commercials, though.”

“I suppose.” Annie looks down the three aisles and tries to count the things they sell that show up on TV. Fritos, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Dr. Scholl’s, Right Guard. If the rest of the night is as slow as right now, she can make a list. There must be easier ways to drive yourself crazy.

Lainie points to Annie’s hair. “That gets any higher, you’re gonna get it caught in the ceiling fan.”

Annie looks up at the blades, rotating so slowly she could probably grab onto one and let it carry her around in a circle. Another way to go crazy.

“Something for when Missus Atwood tells us to write what we did on our summer vacation.”

Lainie rolls her eyes. She’s got beautiful eyes, not as happy as before, but still big and blue. She shouldn’t use all that eyeliner, though. Sixteen Magazine says don’t use as much now.

Maybelline, that’s something else they carry that’s on TV.

“Has it been like this all night?” Annie asks.

“A guy stopped about an hour ago for gas,” Lainie tells her. “He wanted to know where the nearest motel was. Think he had Pennsylvania plates.”

Annie looks out at the two Shell pumps, one regular and one premium. “An hour ago?”

“Yeah.” Lainie jerks her thumb at the cartons on the floor behind the counter. “Good thing the new magazines came in this morning, ‘cause I’ve read all the old ones. Except Field and Stream and Playboy. If I thought it’d stay like this, I’d close up and tell you to go on home.”

“I need the money.” Annie’s barely sixteen. Moms and Dads didn’t want her working the ten to six shift, but it pays five percent more, that’s seven and a half cents an hour. She does six nights a week, so that’s eight hours at time and a half.

“Don’t we all.” Lainie had to drop out of school when she got pregnant. Their parents watch her daughter while she works.

“If it’s gonna be so slow, I can restock the magazines,” Annie says.

“Yeah.” Lainie holds up a clipboard and shows her the invoices. “I’ve already counted them and checked them in, so you can switch out the old ones and dump them into the same cartons.”

“OK.” Annie picks up the new Playboy and looks at the model on the cover. “I like the way her hair curls. You think I could do that with mine?”

Lainie rolls her eyes and lights a cigarette. “You’ve got such a small face, it’d disappear you wore your hair down like that. Besides, you’re too young.”

“I’m only three years younger than you,” Annie says. “Besides, nobody looks at these girls’ hair.”

“Yeah, well you shouldn’t be looking at that magazine anyway.” Lainie blows smoke toward the ceiling and watches the fan blades slice it up.

“I heard the articles are good, they do interviews.”

“Where’d you hear that?”

“Some guy at school, I don’t remember who.”

“None of the bozos at school can read,” Lainie says. “The only way they get out of this dump is the Army.”

Annie lets the magazine fall open to the centerfold. “I heard they pay lots of money for these pictures.”

“Well, sure. Strippers can do it every night. But you do it here once, everyone’s seen you so you better get a lot.”

“How much you think they pay?”

Lainie frowns. “You shouldn’t think about stuff like this. Come on, let’s count the register.”

Annie moves behind the counter with her. “If they paid enough, I’d pose for them.”

Lainie’s eyes widen. “Don’t talk like that. Moms and Dads’d never live it down. I screwed up bad enough.”

“If they paid me enough, I’d leave this town and never look back. Maybe there’d be enough to take you with me.”

“Yeah, and if our fairy godmother turns a pumpkin into a Corvette, I get to drive.”

Lainie counts the twenties and passes them over to Annie to re-count.

“Can I have a cigarette?”

“You’re too young for that, too. Moms knew I gave you a cigarette, she’d kick my butt clear to Toledo and back.”

Lainie passes the tens over and takes the twenties back.

Cigarettes, Annie thinks. They’ve got commercials for them on TV, too. Winston, Tareyton, Marlboro. . .

A car rumbles up near the door and stops. The light shines on a red hood and Annie’s glad Lainie’s still here.

Sure enough, Duane Peasey walks in. Tight white tee shirt, greasy jeans, black high top Converse sneakers.

“Hey, honey. Hey kid.” Duane’s eyes might be raisins in a doughy face, and he looks smarter than his buddy, who’s built like a coat hanger and has zits to make raspberries jealous.

“We got names,” Lainie says.

“Yeah, me too.” Duane leans on the counter and Annie can smell his breath, cigarettes and beer. “You play your cards right, you could be screaming it all night long.”

“I’d rather choke on a rusty rake.”

Duane drops his eyes to Annie’s chest, then back up to her face. “How ‘bout you, little one?”

“I’m working.” Annie feels her skin crawl. Duane and a bunch of other guys got Lainie drunk at a party and one of them—maybe Duane himself—is her little girl’s father, but she was passed out so she couldn’t tell who did it. Duane’s supposed to go into the Army in August now that he’s graduated from high school after five years.

“Your loss. Gimme a pack of Camels.”

“Filters or regular?”

“Regular. Guy what smokes filter cigarettes probably squats to pee.” Duane’s laugh reminds Annie of a mule braying.

Annie bends down to get a pack and feels both boys looking at her rear. When she stands again, she can almost smell Duane’s smile.

“You ain’t a bitch like your sister, are you?”

Annie rings up the sale.

“Thirty cents.”

Duane gives her a crumpled dollar bill and she runs it between her fingers to smooth it out.

“You want me to work that hard, the least you could do is give me one of those.” Lainie’s mouth drops open.

Duane taps the pack against his palm a few times before he pulls off the strip and peels back the foil. He slides one into his hand and points it at Annie’s chest. He gives her that same slimy smile and she remembers everyone calls him “Sleazy Peasey.”

“Give me a light.” Duane sticks the cigarette between her lips and a lighter appears in his other hand. He holds the flame under her cigarette. She feels heat in her mouth.

“You gotta suck on it, little girl.” His voice slithers into her ears. “Like you smell fresh apple pie, right outta your mamma’s hot oven.”

Sharp heat claws down Annie’s throat. She leans over the counter, coughing so hard her eyes tear up and her head feels light. The cigarette drops between her hands and she almost burns herself on the flaming tip.

Duane gives that mule-bray laugh again and his buddy does the same. Annie coughs until she thinks she’s going to throw up, fighting for air, her eyes and nose running and her face burning. When she stops, Lainie shoves a few tissues into her hand.

“You two about done here?” she asks.

Duane drops two more crumpled bills on the counter.

“Gonna put in two dollars of reg out there.”

He leads his buddy back outside. Annie blows her nose and wipes her eyes and doesn’t look at Lainie.

“I’ve got half a mind to close up and drag you home by your ear like a four-year-old.” Lainie sounds like she wants to slap her.

“I didn’t want them to think I’m just some stupid kid.” Annie can barely hear her own voice. One drag on that cigarette, her throat feels like she swallowed a blow torch.

“Guess you showed ‘em, didn’t you?” Lainie watches the two guys laugh by the gas pump. “I should go make sure he only pumps two dollars, but I don’t feel like talking to him again.”

When the Mustang roars off into the darkness, Lainie opens the cash register and they count the fives and singles and then the change. She tucks her cigarettes into her purse and gives Annie a look that reminds her of their mother.

“I know you want the money, but some things aren’t worth it. If nobody shows up by midnight, you can close up early. I’ll be up when you get home, and I’ll fill out your card tomorrow like you went all night.”

“You shouldn’t do that.”

“You’re my sister. One of us has to make it out of this dump.”

Lainie strides out the door and up the road. She’s nineteen and walks like she’s twice that. Have a baby and losing your dreams makes you old quick. The Quickie Mart’s only two miles from their house, which is good since neither sister has a driver’s license.

Annie stands behind the counter for twenty minutes before she remembers her transistor radio in her purse. She turns it sideways and finally gets the best signal she can from Cleveland. The Beatles new record comes on, “A Ticket to Ride.” She turns it up and stacks the magazines on the counter.

Life, Time, Newsweek, Sixteen, Woman’s Day, Tiger Beat, TV Guide, Sports Illustrated, Car & Driver, Field & Stream. One at a time, she carries the new issues to the rack next to the anti-acids and pain relievers. She replaces the old ones and counts them before putting them back in the cartons. Playboy stays behind the counter so the little kids don’t see it.

Eleven o’clock, and nobody’s come in yet. A few cars whoosh by the gas pumps, but the most excitement so far is clouds floating across the half moon. Thrillsville. The radio plays Elvis, the Supremes, and Herman’s Hermits. She wonders if they’ll play that new Beatles song again.

She looks at the hair styles in Sixteen. One model has long hair with that fishhook curl at the end Annie’s working on, just brushing the top of her shoulders. The lady on the cover of the new Playboy has the same hairstyle. Annie wonders how old she is. You probably have to be twenty-one to take your clothes off for pictures.

She doesn’t look anywhere near twenty-one. If she looked older and a rich man showed up for gas, could she talk him into taking her with him, leave all this behind?

How can she look older?

Can she make her hair look like that girl on the cover?

She walks down the notions aisle across from the candy and picks up a can of Aqua Net. She shakes it up on the way back to the counter and digs in her purse for her compact.

The door opens and a man comes in, eyes heavy, feet dragging. “You got any No Doz?”

“Second aisle,” Annie tells him. “About halfway down. You want some gas, too?”

“Might as well.” The man’s shirt is all wrinkles and his shoulders stoop.

“Let me have three dollars, the high-test.”

Annie looks out at the big station wagon and makes change for the man’s ten. He leans against the back fender while he pumps, then slams the door and pulls back onto the road. Annie watches until he’s long gone.

The radio plays “Louie, Louie.” All the boys at school say the words are dirty, but nobody can make them out. Probably just a story to sell more records.

Annie finds her comb and leans forward so her hair tumbles around her face, spraying with the Aqua Net until she’s dizzy from the aerosol and her blood rushing to her brain. She straightens up and teases her hair with the comb before looking in her mirror.

She holds up the magazine and looks at the lady, back in her mirror, then back at the magazine. Not bad. Not great, but it makes her look a little older. Like a junior, maybe even a senior.

Not enough. She puts the magazine back and stares at the blacktop outside.

Eleven forty. Another six hours and twenty minutes. That’s three hundred eighty minutes. She’s wondering if she can figure how many seconds that is without using a pencil and paper when she hears her transistor by the register.

It's what’s up front that counts.

Winston, they carry them, too, of course. Duane laughed at her when she choked on his cigarette. She felt like a stupid little kid.

How hard is it to learn to smoke?

Annie turns to the cigarette display behind the cash register. Duane smokes Camels, which Dads calls “coffin nails.” Annie knows filters are milder and studies the colorful packs in their neat little rows. Kools have soothing menthol, so maybe she should try one of them.

Thirty cents a pack. She’s making a dollar thirty-two an hour. She opens the pack with her fingernail and slides a white cylinder out between her fingers. It’s slightly longer than her middle finger, the filter the tan of her mother’s pancakes. She sniffs it and thinks she can smell menthol.

Nobody in sight on the road. She takes a book of matches and twists one free. Close cover before striking. OK. She rubs the head against the flint and nothing happens. She tries again, harder, and the match bends in her fingers. She throws it away, takes another one and pushes harder but still not hard enough. How can people use these things?

One more match, third time’s the charm. She pushes the head against the rough surface with the ball of her thumb and rubs it away from her. The head flares up and she drops everything.

“Damn!” She sucks on her thumb until the sting fades, then pulls it out of her mouth. She can already feel a blister forming. Damn, damn, damn.

There has to be a better way.

She runs her fingers across the cigarettes again, then past the yellow cans of. . . lighter fluid. Of course, a lighter. She digs under the counter and finds the cheapest Zippo in the display. She grabs a can of Ronson fluid and totals her sale on the cash register. Jeez, how can people afford to smoke?

She’s watched Moms and Dads fill their lighters so she knows enough to slide the shell off and moisten the cotton. Drip, drip, drip. The smell fills her head. It’s a little like that Aqua Net, still standing by the cash register. She has to pay for that, too. She puts the Zippo back together, sticks the Kool filter between her lips, and presses her thumb against the wheel on the lighter.

Fire. At last. She holds the end of the cigarette in the flame and takes a deep breath.

A cool nail jams its point into her throat and she’s coughing again. She fights for breath and feels more tears coming to her eyes. It’s not as bad as Duane’s Camel, but it’s not that much fun, either.

She walks outside and drops the cigarette on the ground. Blue-white smoke snakes upwards until she grinds the burning end into the gravel. She’s still coughing.

She finds a box of Luden’s wild cherry cough drops in the aisle next to the pain relievers and returns to the cash register. She’s going to have to work through the night just to pay for all this stuff. She pops a lozenge into her mouth and lets the taste spread across her tongue.

One-fifteen. She sucks another cough drop and wonders if she wants to read Tiger Beat—Paul McCartney is on the cover—or try a crossword puzzle book.

A car pulls in by the gas pumps and two people sit there. She can’t tell whether the car is black or dark blue, but it has a dent in the back fender and the engine needs a tune-up.

Two men walk through the door, both wearing jeans and Ohio State sweatshirts. It’s late at night in June, but they both wear ski masks over their faces, too. The taller one holds a hunting knife in his hand, and the blade looks big as a car bumper.

Annie’s chest turns to ice.

“Open the cash register and nobody gets hurt.”

“We don’t got much here, mister.” She fights to keep her voice steady. “Not enough for you to go to jail for.”

“We’re not going to jail. Just shut up and open up.”

Annie punches the No Sale button and the door clangs open. She reaches for the cash, but the guy comes around the counter and sticks the knife in her face.

“Back up, kid.”

Annie does. The skinny guy scratches his neck and looks around the store while the man with the knife stuffs the bills in his pocket. Two hundred in twenties, a hundred sixty in tens. . .

Annie tells herself it’s a good thing she and Lainie counted it. She’ll be able to tell the police exactly how much they got. The guy shakes his head.

“This is all?”

Annie nods. The knife blade flickers under the lights.

“Pump some gas,” she whispers. “You can fill your tank.”

“Oh, don’t worry, we’re gonna do that anyway.” His raisin eyes look through the red knitted mask. “Maybe I should fill your tank too, you like that?”

Annie feels her throat burning again and her hands turn cold. Her lips move but her voice doesn’t work.

“Whatta you say, kid? Just you and me, right here on the counter.” The guy points the knife at Annie’s tee shirt and she feels three years old, not grown-up at all. She shakes her head and feels her lips trembling.

“P-please,” she whispers. “I’m not. . .”

The skinny guy speaks up. “Don’t do that, D—”

“Shut up.” The man with the knife whirls. “No names, you dope.”

He backs Annie up against the cigarette display and hooks her tee shirt on the point of the knife. He slices through the fabric and goose bumps spring out on her chest and arms. He looks down.

“Hell, not even enough here to grab onto and steer.”

“Don’t do that, man.” The skinny guy speaks up again. “We got the money, let’s get out of here before someone comes.”

“You want us to leave, kid?” Annie feels her eyes cross while the knife hovers under her nose. She presses her lips together and nods.

“Say please.”

Her throat burns and her knees shake. The word struggles up from her lungs.

“Please. P-please leave.”

His eyes stare into hers for hours before he steps back.

“OK. You’re going to be that way about it.” He steps back and his eyes lower. “At least I can grab some smokes, too.”

He pushes her out of the way and takes two cartons of Camels. When he turns back toward the counter, he sees the pack of Kools by the register.

“What’s this? Little girl cigarettes, filters and menthol? You kidding me, kid? You trying to be a big girl?”

He brays like a mule and turns to his buddy. Annie wants to slide through the floor and disappear from the whole wide world until she recognizes his laugh.

Of course! Nobody else calls her “kid,” either. It’s Duane Peasey and his idiot buddy. Annie feels her fear turn to rage. These are the guys that raped her sister, and they were going to. . .

He shows the Kools to his buddy. “Gonna smoke like the big girls. What a joke.”

Annie clenches her teeth.

“You said you were leaving,” she whispers.

“Yeah, I did, didn’t I?” He drops her Kools next to the can of Aqua Net. “Well, one more for the road, OK?”

He takes another carton of Camels and puts it on the other two. He tucks them under his arm and steps back. Annie reaches into her pocket for her brand-new Zippo.

“You want a light before you go?”

“Huh?” Duane turns back and his knife lowers.

Annie yanks the cap off the Aqua Net and sprays it into his face. She pops the cap on the lighter and her thumb finds the little wheel. She holds it under the spray and flicks.

Duane Peasey’s ski mask explodes into bright orange and his shriek fills the whole store. Annie drops the Aqua Net and watches his hands claw at his burning face. Footsteps pound toward the door but she can’t look away. A car engine roars, but she barely hears it between Duane’s screams and the crackle of yarn and flesh.

When he stops screaming and thrashing, Annie steps back. Her nostrils fill with a stench like charred pork and her hands won’t stop shaking, but somehow she manages to dial the Sheriff’s office. The deputies arrive minutes later and find her on all fours, throwing up near the premium gas pump.

Someone calls an ambulance and someone finally thinks to call Lainie, who shows up with her hair in curlers and her nightgown tucked into jeans. Annie falls into her arms and holds on. She hears herself sobbing like a little kid.

“Are you all right?” Lainie asks. “I mean, are you hurt?” Duane’s knife sliced through Annie’s shirt and bra and she’s hanging out for all the deputies to see. They don’t pay her enough to move out of this dump either, and now she’ll never get a second chance.

The scratch on her chest burns.

“I don’t want to work the midnight shift.”


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 www.steveliskow.com.

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.

“Gimme?”

“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 www.steveliskow.com.