Monday, July 12, 2021

Out to Pasture, fiction by Margaret Karmazin

Edward Michelson’s body lies in the mud in Dan Thorpe’s field where Black Angus cattle roam at their pleasure. Three of the cows have come to see what is going on, leaving their heavy footprints in the muck, one stepping on Edward’s ankle and bending it awkwardly. His denim jacket and plaid lumberjack shirt are soaked, making it difficult to see what is blood or mud.

Lieutenant Char Perez and Sergeant Maurice Booker stand in the morning rain, looking down at the body. The county medical examiner, Robin Sloan, and one of her assistants have retrieved a wallet and I.D. from the victim’s jeans pocket, and Char’s gloved finger now taps the driver’s license. “Just turned thirty-five,” she says to Booker. “What a place to be murdered.”

“One place is as good as another,” he says. “And a bullet is better than some ways of going. What else is in the wallet?” 

Char passes it to him, and he checks the rest of its contents. “A permit to carry a concealed weapon, not unusual in these parts, social security card - dumb of him to carry that, three credit cards - Visa, Lowes, and Home Depot, a CVS card, looks like a house key and two condoms.” He counts the money. “Seventy-nine dollars.” He slips the wallet back into its plastic bag and hands it to a uniformed officer.

“I’m not fond of those cows over there,” says Char, eyeing the fifteen or so Black Angus across the field, huddled under trees by the fence. “Are they temperamental? That one over there is looking at me funny.”

Booker, dressed meticulously as usual in a tailormade suit and raincoat, says, “They don’t have horns.” 

“Yeah, but they could stampede.”

“You’re such a city chick,” he says.

“Like you’re country,” Char retorts. 

Booker, tall with dark brown skin, his hair trimmed close to his head and a diamond stud in his left ear is anything but rural looking. “I still don’t like that particular cow,” she says.

“Three bullets,” says Robin crouched over the body and undoubtedly, thinks Char, immaculate inside her PPE suit, as usual not a chemically treated hair out of place. Not even human, Char often comments bitterly to Booker.

“Are you jealous?” he’ll say, and she never replies to that.  

Can she be? Can a haphazard-looking bisexual with occasional bouts of depression be jealous of a sleekly together hetero woman with a perfect husband in state politics and two perfect kids in private school? Do they even have anything in common to remotely rile Char up? Maybe it’s just Robin’s smooth, blond, shoulder-length bob. Char’s own thick, coarse hair has a mind of its own and most of the time appears as if she has just returned from a weekend of drugs, booze, and sex, which never actually happens, so the look is deceptive. Good thing for those rubber thingies to cram it all into a ponytail. “Just got your hair done, boss?” one of the bad boy cops might occasionally tease, and she secretly wants to demote him but pretends it doesn’t bother her. One thing about her tall, handsome and meticulous sergeant – he never fails to show respect.

“Three bullets?” says Char. 

The body has been turned over before Char and Booker traipsed across the field. It’s now on its back, faded green eyes staring up at the gray morning sky. “He was originally face down,” says Robin. “One in the back, upper left, the other two in the front, side of the neck and directly into the heart.”

“What kind of ammo?” says Char.

“We’ll have to get them out, but from the size of the holes, I’d say .22. Pretty close range.”

“A woman’s choice,” Char mumbles, and Booker looks up.

“I don’t know about that,” he says. “I’d go more for a .38 in that area.”

“Who would use a .22 nowadays anyway?” says Char. “Not a choice that comes to mind when you want to take somebody out. A light choice, though not going to knock anyone over backwards when they fire, is it?”

“And for your convenience,” adds Robin, “there’s the gun over there. Or a gun. I’m just assuming. That’s your job anyway.” She stands up and signals to her crew that she is finished and for them to take the body to her examination room.

“The gun? How unusual,” says Char. “I mean for the perp to leave it at the scene.” 

With gloved hands, she picks it up. “I see it was dropped on the way back out of the field. Like the perp shot Michelson here, then turned and as he or she walked to the road, just flipped it over their shoulder.”

“Let’s look at those footprints to see if we can tell if it’s a he or she,” says Booker, who snaps several photos with his phone. “They’re mushy by now, and the grass covers a lot.”

“The damned rain isn’t helping,” says Char.

Booker checks out the gun. “Pretty sure it’s a Smith & Wesson K-22. They started making them again after World War II, but don’t make them now. Stopped in the nineties.”  He opens the barrel. “Three bullets still in here. Not very responsible, leaving something like that in a field. Some kid could come along.”

Char is thinking. “This is making me think the perp was a nervous wreck, not used to violence. So worked up that they don’t think about the risk to others, just want to get rid of the weapon.”

“This isn’t a gun you’d buy on the street,” says Booker. “It was probably in some old guy’s collection.”

Char thinks a moment and says, “Hand the gun over and let’s go talk to whatshisname over there and let the team finish here.”

By the fence next to the road stands a frightened-looking young man. As Char and Booker approach, she asks Booker, “Who do we have here, then?”

Booker consults his pad. “Jesse Villan, age nineteen. Working part-time as a farmworker while attending college.”

“That’s an unusual last name, like “villain.” Maybe it fits, and we have our perp?” Char jokes.

“Sounds French,” says Booker. “Canadian, maybe.”

Jesse Villan is tall and lanky. His gorgeous blue eyes peer through the dark brown hair that hangs over them, which he keeps brushing away. Char often wonders why people put up with hair in their faces. “Let’s hear what happened,” she says to the young man.

He is shaking and crosses his arms to steady himself. “I got here at six AM since Dan had to drive his mother up to Binghamton for some kind of medical thing and went out to check on Marilyn, one of the cows that was acting funny yesterday. We had the vet out, and something was embedded in her leg. So she took it out and told me to check on Marilyn first thing this morning to see if she’s okay. I’m almost out there and it’s raining like a bitch, but I kept going and saw this lump on the ground and I thought, what the hell? I went over, and it’s this mud-smeared body, and holy shit!” He stops because he looks like he’s about to cry.

“Just take your time,” Char says. “Seeing a dead body is upsetting. Don’t worry, just give us the details.”

The rain suddenly stops, and the sun peeks out behind some clouds. The cows slowly leave the trees by the fence and wander toward the south end of the field. The team has moved the body to its truck and set up tape around the scene. Whether this will keep the cows away is anyone’s guess but they’re taking samples and footprint casts. 

“Well,” Jesse continues, “I-I got closer to look, and then I saw the blood and he wasn’t moving, so I called 911.”

“You did good, Jesse. Now I need to ask you, do you personally know Edward Michelson?”

His face blanches. “Ed? That’s Ed? Yeah, I know him. Oh my god. Why is Ed out there in the field?”

“Well,” says Booker, “that’s what we want to know too.”

“Tell us everything you know about Ed,” says Char.

Jesse puts his hands into his pockets, probably still trying to steady them. “He’s an old friend of my boss, Dan. They knew each other from school.”

“Dan Thorpe, according to our information, is forty years old, and Ed was thirty-five. School friends?”

“Um, yeah, I don’t know,” says Jesse. “You’d have to ask him.”

They take down Jesse’s contact info for himself and Dan Thorpe’s cell number and return to the station to sort things out. 

Dan Thorpe answers two hours later while driving back from Binghamton. Hopefully, hands-off, thinks Char, as she decides it’s not a good idea to tell him what has happened while he’s driving. “We need to talk to you as soon as you get home,” she tells him. By the time they arrive at his farm again, he has taken his mother to her apartment and heard what happened from a very rattled, and at times, incoherent Jesse. 

“I can’t believe it,” are his first words when Char and Booker walk into his kitchen. The floor is muddy in spite of the mudroom at the back, and a rifle lies across the table along with boxes of ammo. It seems obvious that Dan has no woman living in the place by the looks of it and he is not nervous about exposing his weapon to the police.

“Hunting?” says Booker, eyebrows raised. He moves to inspect the gun, but Dan does not appear concerned.

“I was just cleaning my rifles, getting them ready. Right now, it’s bow season though. I was planning on doing some of that with Ed, but now. . .”  His face clouds up.

“You mind if I sit down?” says Char. “We’d like to ask you some questions.”

Dan pulls out a chair and joins her. He slides the gun and paraphernalia over, away from Char. Booker remains standing and leans against the counter.

How well did you know Ed?” Dan looks to her like a confirmed bachelor and not one who appeals to her, though he’s not bad-looking. But there is something about him — a set to his jawline and a steely expression in his eyes that she has seen before in hardcore right-wing men. The kind of men who generally don’t like people like her or Booker. 

“I’ve known him since school,” he says.

“There’s a five-year age difference between you,” says Char. 

Booker, meantime, has wandered into the next room.

“I was in the same class with his brother Mike. We were best friends.”


“Mike joined the Marines. He died in Iraq. I got to be better friends with Ed through that paintball place. We still play occasionally. . . well, not now.”

“War games,” says Char. “You’re good at shooting then?”

He sets his square jaw tighter. “A lot of people around here are ‘good at shooting.’ A lot of people hunt, so what? That doesn’t mean I’d have any interest in killing Ed. You can check that gun there and any other gun in the house if you want, be my guest.”

“So you and Ed were regular buddies then?”

“Maybe more in the past than now,” Dan admits. “I don’t have as much time anymore for socializing, not with running the farm and helping my mom. She’s seventy-two and had colon cancer. Supposedly they got it all, but you know how that is.”

“She doesn’t live with you?”

He shakes his head. “No, stubborn old coot. This used to be her and my father’s farm, but she was sick of it, and when he died, she said she was getting the hell out. She lives in an apartment in town.”

Booker stands in the doorway to what Char assumes is the dining room. “So, who would want Ed Michelson dead then?” he says. He wears a certain expression that she has seen on him before when dealing with someone he feels is racist. Dan Thorpe has said nothing that would lead one to think he’s a bigot, but Booker can smell one from thirty feet.

“I don’t know,” says Dan, not looking at Booker. 

Booker, not taking any shit, moves his six-foot-three body closer to Thorpe and says in a tougher tone, “Think about it. You knew Ed Michelson well, then you probably know who his friends are. Give us some names.”

Thorpe rears up a bit and says, “Well, sometimes he stopped in McGreevy’s after work, so he probably knew people there, and he had two women in his life.”

Booker’s pen is poised over his notebook. “Names?”

“Kelly Page. She was an old school friend of his.”

“And?” said almost threateningly.

“Sierra Torres. He lived with her a while back.”

Turns out Thorpe has their numbers, two for Kelly, which Booker writes down.

“Where were you last night?” asks Char. “The medical examiner says Ed was shot between eleven and two AM. Right in your field. If you weren’t the shooter, wouldn’t you have heard the shot?”

 “People shoot around here all the time,” Dan says. “I’ve occasionally heard shots in the night all my life. Best not to go out and investigate. Could be people jacking deer, and that’s the game warden’s problem, not mine. But I wasn’t here. I stayed overnight at Mom’s so we could get an early start-up to Binghamton. Her procedure was at seven AM, so we had to be at the hospital by six.”

“Do you know how to contact Ed’s family?” asks Char.

“His dad left his mother years ago, and he never knew where he went. His mother lives in Clearwater, Florida. I think she remarried. I don’t know her last name. I told you about his brother.”

They thank him and leave. “We need to get word to his mother,” Char says. She calls Linda Styles, her best “uniform” to handle that.

It doesn’t take long for Booker to check out Dan’s visit to Binghamton General, and he and his mother were indeed there, though of course, they couldn’t confirm what she was there for.

“Let’s do Kelly Page next,” suggests Char. The number she calls first is apparently a work number, the office for the local PennySaver, a weekly rural classified.

“She’s out on rounds,” the woman who answers says. She gives Char Kelly’s cell, which she already has. “What is ‘out on rounds’?” Char asks.

“Selling and renewing ads,” is the answer.

So Kelly can be anywhere in the country right now, Char figures, but calling the second number, it turns out that Kelly is only fifteen minutes away in the town of Hawago. “How about we get lunch there,” suggests Char.

Booker grunts an affirmative while writing something on his pad.

Kelly tells them to meet her outside Kruger’s, a grocery store in a little mall with a CVS, liquor store, and beer outlet. They spot her leaning against her red Toyota Rav4, a tall woman with long, streaked blond hair and navy slacks, a white top and a gray blazer. She is attractive and gives off an aura of almost military-like command. 

Char and Booker introduce themselves, and Kelly nods her hello. Char watches her face while Booker tells her about Ed. Kelly bends forward, hands on her thighs, and shakes her head. “No, no,” she says, her voice cracking. When she stands back up, her eyes are wet. “Not Ed. Oh, God. What happened? Tell me what happened.” She seems genuinely upset, but Char does not trust anyone in the universe other than Booker. She has watched too many liars.

“What was your and Ed’s relationship?” she asks. 

“Friends,” Kelly answers, her voice shaky. “We’re old friends. From high school.”

“Did you ever go out?” asks Booker.

She wipes at an eye. “Well, not romantically.”

“You weren’t interested in Ed romantically?” persists Booker.

She hesitates and flips a piece of hair that has fallen in front of one eye. “Not anymore. Maybe in high school, a bit, but I got over that real fast.”

“Why?” says Char.

“Oh, there just wasn’t anything happening,” Kelly says. “We weren’t like that. More like brother and sister.”

“You were in the same class at school, right?”

She nods. 

“Where were you last night between eleven and two AM?”

“Home. My neighbor was over and left around tennish, and I still had some work to do, but what really happened was that I drank another glass of wine and was out like a light.”

“Another glass?” Char says.

Kelly takes on an embarrassed look, but Char feels it’s put on.  

“Yeah,” Kelly says, “sometimes I have two glasses when I should keep it to one. Doesn’t always make for good sleeping because you wake up a few hours later, but amazingly, I didn’t.”

“What does your job consist of, by the way?”

“I sell ads for the PennySaver and two newspapers.”

“Are you dating anyone?”

An expression of pain flashes over Kelly’s face, gone in a microsecond. “Not now,” she says.

“Have you ever been married?” persists Char.

 “No, not yet.” Kelly makes an effort to laugh off the question.

“Okay,” says Char. “If we need you, you’ll hear from us. Oh wait, do you own a gun? Maybe have a permit?”

“I do have a permit to carry, yes,” says Kelly, “but I never ended up buying a gun.”

“Why those questions about marriage?” Booker asks as he and Char dig into their orders in the diner. Some people stare at them a little longer than usual. They’re in rural redneck territory, and these people rarely see many black men sitting cozily with a white woman. Though should anyone object, Booker, a solid mass of muscle with a black belt in karate and jiu-jitsu could make mincemeat of them in a few seconds. Char secretly would enjoy seeing that. Of course, he is somewhat happily married, so if anyone tries to start anything, he’d probably just show them pics on his phone of his wife and kid.

“I don’t know,” she says. “Just wanted to make sure Kelly Page wasn’t in love with the vic. Maybe a triangle kind of thing?”

Booker grunts as he digs into his burger with tomato, lettuce, and mayo. He doesn’t get the fries like Char but then sneaks a couple off her plate. “Just as long as they’re not the crispy ones,” she says. “You don’t want to ruin your healthy eating streak.”

“Let’s go see this Sierra chick,” she says when they’re done. “Sexy name. Lived with the vic for a couple of years, so she might know him better than anyone.” 

Sierra Torres works for a realtor and, fortunately is in the office when they arrive and not out showing properties. She is twenty-seven, short and compact, with wavy brown hair to her shoulders and flashing dark eyes, someone who knows she is sexy and how to play it. 

“I’ll bet she was a majorette in high school,” Char whispers to Booker, who responds with, “Not a cheerleader?”

“No, not preppie,” says Char. 

Sierra motions to two chairs in front of her desk, where clients usually sit and the cops sit down.

“I know why you’re here,” she says immediately. Dan called and told me about Ed.” She shakes her head. “I can’t believe it. He wasn’t the kind of person to get into trouble or anything. And it was a day after his birthday. How awful is that?”

We noticed that. Just turned thirty-five,” says Char.

“By ‘get into trouble,’ what do you mean?” asks Booker.

“You know, like hanging out with the wrong kind of people.”

“Are there many of those around here? Seems like a quiet rural area.”

Sierra smirks while sharpening a pencil. “Don’t let it fool you,” she says. “Where are you guys from, Scranton?”

Neither Char or Booker answer that. “We heard that Ed hung out at McGreevy’s occasionally?” says Char. “Any wrong kind of people there?”

“There are,” she says, “but smart locals avoid them.”

“Was Ed smart?”

“That’s debatable,” she said. “He had a little run-in once with the son of the owner, Zack Meade. The owner isn’t anyone named McGreevy – that was like fifty years ago. I don’t know for sure what it was over. That was after we stopped living together, me and Ed. But Zack left town. I heard he lives in Alaska now and has a good job in the oil industry. I think he even got married.”

“Why did you stop living together?”

She shrugs. “Oh, differences in style, I guess. Ed wasn’t into things I like. He didn’t care about sprucing up the place or going interesting places. He never wanted to take a trip anywhere good, just to drive up to his cousin’s cabin in New York State. I wanted to go to the islands or take a cruise. He didn’t like to read, and we never agreed on what to watch on TV. Also, he’s almost eight years older. You know, differences in what we like, music, movies, that kind of stuff. Besides, there was Dan.”

Char sat up straighter. “What about Dan?” she says.

A look flits across Sierra’s face like she might have said something she shouldn’t have. “Well, I mean he kind of has a thing for me. Even though he’s way older than me. It’s almost creepy.”

She’s getting herself in deeper, Char thinks, glances at Booker, and sees he is thinking the same thing. “So, what you’re saying is that Dan wasn’t happy when you and Ed were together. And maybe that put a strain on his relationship with Ed?”

“Well, no big deal. I’m not implying that Dan would hurt Ed or anything. I told Dan, Ed or no Ed, that I am not interested in anything other than friendship. So, he wouldn’t have any reason to be pissed at Ed. Besides, Ed and I broke up over two years ago.”

“Where were you last night between eleven PM and two AM?”

“What? You think I shot him?”

“How do you know that’s how he was killed?”

She rolled her eyes. “Well, Dan told me, duh.” She paused. “Actually, I had a friend over last night.” She smirked a little.

“You mean a man? He stayed over?”

She smiled.

“We’ll need his name and number,” says Booker.  

“Interesting about Dan having a thing for Sierra. Puts a new light on things,” Char says to Booker once they’re in the car.

“She asked me out,” he says.

“Who, Sierra? When?”

“While I was getting the number. You walked away.”

“What is she, a nympho?” says Char with distaste. 

Booker smiles, which never cracks his face. He is a close-to-the-chest person. “I’m irresistible, what can I say?”

Except to your wife, Char thinks. The woman is hardly ever home since their one kid, a boy, won a scholarship to a fancy private school. Supposedly, she represents some cosmetic firm but Char doesn’t know if she actually brings home any money to speak of. She feels that Ailene Booker doesn’t fully appreciate what she has, but of course Char never expresses this to her sergeant. Maybe he’s okay with everything though she suspects not.

“You know,” she says, “I forgot to ask Sierra something. I’ll be right back.” And she gets out of the car before Booker has a chance to respond. 

“Excuse me,” she says, “one more thing,” enjoying her Columbo moment. 

Sierra’s phone is next to her ear and she looks up with annoyance but ends the call. 

“Ed’s friend Kelly Page. What was the deal there?”

Sierra loses the annoyed look and takes on an avid expression. “Oh, she’s eternally in love, or was I should say, with Ed. She was like a fly buzzing around his head. I could’ve gotten jealous but I never did. I just felt sorry for her.”

 “So you’re saying that Kelly definitely had a romantic interest in her old schoolmate? And yet they never were a couple?”

“Well, I think he took her to their senior prom. But I know for a fact that he was never in love with her. She was like a sister or cousin to him.”

“Thanks, you’ve been helpful,” says Char and returns to the car.

Back at the station, she and Booker pay a visit to CSI. Cory Lightfoot has been promoted from Scranton and now runs the new department in Montbleu. They find him excited about the weapon.

“My uncle used to have one of these,” he says, nodding at the pistol laid out in parts on his worktable. He gave it to my aunt, told her it was a weapon she’d be able to use, lightweight and not a hard recoil, but she said the aim was off and could never hit a target. She did keep it in her nightstand, though, probably not loaded. Anyway, this is a Smith & Wesson K-22. Nothing like it registered in this area now, but that doesn’t mean anything. My guess is it never was registered. The user probably had it handed down from a relative. Dropping it in the field afterwards like that is very Cosa Nostra, isn’t it? It was wiped clean.”

“Well?” says Char.

“It was definitely the murder weapon. Assuming it was murder. I mean, maybe the vic was attacking the perp and they had to defend themselves.” But he laughed, figuring this was not likely. 

“I’m going to ask a few of the farmers if they knew of anyone who owned an old .22 like that,” says Char.

“But,” counters Booker, “why farmers? Could’ve been someone from Hawago or any of the towns around here, including Montbleu.”

“You’re right,” says Char. To Cory, she says, “How’re things going on the footprints?”

“Red Wing men’s size nine and a half from the 1990s most likely. A distinctive chunk missing from the tread on the right foot.”

“Men’s,” says Char.

“But a small size for a man,” Cory points out. “A woman, even one with size eight feet could wear heavy socks and manage with those. The fact that they’re roughly twenty-five years old would lead one to think-“

She breaks in. “That the boots had belonged some someone’s father or other relative, and the perp kept them.”

“Correct. So it sounds like maybe the person is a relative – son or daughter or grandchild or married to such, of an old farmer who has probably since died and left this stuff in the house.”

“Well,” says Booker, “that might apply to Dan Thorpe. He grew up on his farm and runs it himself now. Probably some old stuff in there. Did you notice if he has small feet, Lieutenant? Sierra’s stayover friend checked out, by the way. Unless they were both in on it.” 

“We’ll keep him on ice then,” says Char. “I did notice that Sierra’s feet are quite small, like the rest of her. So she’s not the wearer.”

She and Booker find Dan in one of his barns talking to the visiting vet about some of his cattle who were just diagnosed with IBR. “We need to bring them into the barn right now,” says the vet, a large, middle-aged woman wearing heavy boots of her own, about size nine, Char estimates. She glances at Dan’s feet and sees that they are large, possibly even a twelve.  He is wearing what looks like relatively new L.L. Bean clodhoppers.

She motions to Dan, who reluctantly excuses himself to the vet and walks over. “Just a couple of questions,” says Char. “Won’t take a minute. Does Kelly Page spend time at your house? Did she ever take or borrow any clothing from you?”

He looks at her like she is nuts. “Clothing?”

“Boots, for example.”

He impatiently shakes his head and glances back at the vet. “Look, we have a problem here, and I have to-“

“We understand,” says Booker, moving closer. “Just answer the question.”

“No, Kelly Page never took or borrowed any boots from this house.”

“That you know of,” says Char. 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I think I might run into Kelly like once a year if that. She was Ed’s friend, not mine. There aren’t any old boots in my house anyway, except for two pairs of mine, and as far as I know, they’re in the mudroom. Go look.”

They thank him, do just that and things are exactly as he said. Two older pairs, size twelve. “Of course, there could be more somewhere else,” says Booker, “but what’s the point?  We can see he keeps the place pretty empty, so it’s doubtful he has a bunch of old crap stored away. A hoarder he is not.”

“One more thing,” says Char. She motions to Dan, who once again has to leave the vet. It looks like Jesse, the farmhand, is starting to bring a few cows into the barn for her to start the procedure on their eyes.

“What?” says Dan with clear annoyance.

“I heard that you maybe have a thing for Sierra Torres. Is that true?”

His face reddens, but Char is not sure if it’s from embarrassment or anger. “That little whore? She likes to imagine every man for miles around has the hots for her when in reality, they’re more likely wary of her. She’s known for playing mind games and using men for whatever she can get. I warned Ed about her a long time ago, but he had to find out for himself before he believed me!”

“You’re saying Ed dumped her and not the other way around then?”

“Well, I don’t know who said or did what, but it ended. “I’m not really interested in other people’s private lives.”

“So you’ve never had a relationship with her?”

“Hell no,” says Dan. “I like women more my own age if I see any at all. Frankly, I’m too busy. I don’t really have time for a relationship. Takes all my time and energy to run this farm.”

Somehow, Char believes him. “You called her though. To tell her about Ed.”

Now Dan looked pissed. “Well, I felt she had a right to know. That’s the only reason.”

“I think we should visit Kelly Page’s place,” Char says to Booker once they’ve left. “She owns a condo in Montbleu, not far from the courthouse. We can also check in the station and see if Cody has anything new.”

“Or Robin while we’re in town,” says Booker, referring to the medical examiner and knowing he’ll get an earful from Char.

“Mmmmmm,” mumbles Char, but she ends up following her sergeant to see the hated medical examiner. “What’s up, anything?” she barks at her nemesis.

Robin looks up from the body she is working on, an obese man of about sixty, and nods toward another table, where Ed Michelson lies under a sheet. Smoothly, she sets down the tool she is holding and walks to Ed’s table where she pulls back the covering.

 “He didn’t put up any fight, no bruises on him, nothing notable under his nails. I imagine he was surprised when the perp drew his/her gun. Unless he was forced at gunpoint to move that far into the field and then he might have tried to disarm the perp unless it was a larger male than himself. No sign of that though. What were they doing in the field? Late at night in a pasture with cows around. It didn’t start raining till morning but still. Apparently, no one was afraid of the cattle, leading one to suspect that both parties grew up familiar with them and farms in general. I’d say the vic did not expect the attack. The attacker shot two times from about five feet away, Ed spun around, they shot him once again in the back and he fell face down and expired.”

“Okay, then,” says Char gruffly, “thanks.”

Once outside, Booker says to her, “Tell me again why you hate her so much. You sure don’t hide it.”

“I guess she’s everything I’m not,” says Char. She doesn’t like this too personal talk, even if it’s with Booker.

“And you’re everything she’s not,” Booker retorts. “Ever think of that?”

They were getting on dangerous ground.

“Just saying,” Booker continues, “and then I’ll drop it. Some people prefer your type to hers, okay?”

Char nods and is secretly smiling for the rest of the day.

Kelly Page agrees to speak to them in her home on the outskirts of Montbleu after work. They sit in her living room to talk, and as usual, Booker performs his ruse of “needing” the bathroom. The place has two bedrooms and one and a half baths. They already checked the floor plans online. When he returns, he comments on the old rusty windmill head he saw displayed on the kitchen wall. “Couldn’t help but notice,” he says. “I like old stuff.”

Kelly brightens. “Oh, that! Thank you. That was my uncle’s. He kept up my grandparents’ farm after they died. I have a lot of his stuff.”

Char perks up but tries not to show it. “Really?” she says. “I like old stuff myself. Can we see some of it?”

“Sure,” says Kelly, who stands up and motions for them to follow. As they walk through the apartment, she points out various things–a repainted milk can full of dried grasses, a black cat clock with a swinging tail, sawed off pitchforks arranged on the wall by the dining table, and a low metal bucket on a balcony off the kitchen filled with chrysanthemums.

“Nice,” says Char. “Do you still have some of the old farm clothing? Like your grandma’s aprons or something? I always remember my grandma making her pies and wearing embroidered aprons.”

Booker shoots her a look like maybe she is getting too close for Kelly’s comfort, but she bites. “Yeah, well, not so much from Grandma since my aunts took that stuff, but they didn’t want much from Grandpa, so I got some of that. Enough to remember him and those old times.”

“Farm equipment and clothes?”

“Yeah, basically.” Kelly suddenly takes on a wary look.

Char stands up, looking innocently satisfied. “Well, I think we’re done here,” she says. “You ready, Booker?”

In the car, she says, “She has largish feet, did you notice? I’d say size nine.”

“But why would she shoot him?” 

“I’m thinking it has to do with unrequited love,” Char says.

“But how would she get him into the field?”

“We need the boots before we figure that out,” she says.

A friendly magistrate gets them their search warrant, and they return to Kelly’s place that evening. She innocently opens the door, and her face falls when she sees them.

Booker holds up the warrant. “What are you looking for?” Kelly says, her manner almost cocky, but when they find the boots in her guest room closet, she loses the attitude. 

Char nods at Linda Styles, the uniform accompanying them, and Linda cuffs Kelly as Char reads her rights. 

“What I want to know is why.” Char tells Kelly back at the station.

Kelly hangs her head for a long moment but then grows defiant. “He lied to me,” she says, her eyes flashing. “We made a pact the summer after our senior year. Dan let us and some friends drink up in that field. The cows were mostly in the next field over, just two in that one for some reason, I can’t remember. They were milk cows then. The other kids had gone home; it was almost morning and we’d been partying all night. Ed and I, we made a deal that by age thirty-five, if neither of us were married, we’d marry each other.”

“And Ed turned thirty-five this birthday,” says Char.

Kelly is quiet for a moment as if she is off in some other world, but then snaps back.  “Yeah. I said to him, let’s go to Dan’s field for old time’s sake, and I took the gun–it was my grandpa’s–but Ed didn’t know I had it, of course. We had a couple of six-packs in a cooler, and we drank some and then I brought up the pact we’d made seventeen years ago.”

“It didn’t go as you’d hoped.”

“Well, I had my suspicions that it wouldn’t; why else would I bring the gun?”

“What happened then?”

“He said no, what do you think? He said he didn’t love me, not that way. He said nothing had changed, he thought of me as a sister. A freakin’ sister. You understand, I did everything to make myself hot for him. I lost weight; I can bench press a hundred pounds! My measurements are thirty-six, twenty-five, thirty-six. I am buff! Look at my hair!” She flips it with her fingers. “Halfway down my back, thick and blond! I’ve been told I could model! I can make a man beg for mercy in bed. I’m a gourmet cook; I know how to change the oil in my freakin’ car! I am everything a man should want! But what does that bastard do? He rejects me, like I’m nothing but a clump of cow shit in that godforsaken field!”

She drops her head in her hands.

“He asked for it,” she says between sobs. “After all those years, he asked for it.” 

“You want to get something to eat?” Booker says once they’ve handed Kelly over and finished the paperwork.

His wife must be away again. “A drink,” Char says. “I need a drink first. And then, I need French fries. Nothing else, just those two things.”

“You feel sorry for her,” he says as they climb into his car. They’ll come back for her car later.  

“Yeah,” she says softly, looking out the window. It’s raining again. “Life is lonely.”

He glances at her and turns on the engine.

Margaret Karmazin’s credits include stories published in literary and SF magazines, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Mobius, Confrontation, Pennsylvania Review, The Speculative Edge, Aphelion and Another Realm. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review and Mobius were nominated for Pushcart awards. She has stories included in several anthologies, published a YA novel, REPLACING FIONA, a children’s book, FLICK-FLICK & DREAMER and a collection of short stories, RISK.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Give or Take A Quarter Inch, fiction by Joseph Walker

            Ryan Vargas had been home for ten minutes when his phone buzzed with an incoming text.    Tina, no doubt, with an explanation of why she wasn’t there.    When a man gets home after three weeks on the road, he has a right to assume his wife will welcome him.    It’s nice to feel you’ve been missed.    Ryan took a deliberately long swig from the soda he’d opened before picking up the phone to see what her excuse was.

            The message was from Tina’s number, but it wasn’t text.    It was a picture of Ryan’s wife in a chair.    There was a strip of wide silver tape across her mouth and more wound around her arms and legs, holding her firmly in place.    Her hair was unkempt, and her wide eyes had a pleading expression as she stared into the camera.   

            Ryan put his drink down.    He was very aware of the sound of his pulse in his ears.    He brought his hand up to the phone, but new messages began scrolling up the screen before he could begin typing.

            3CY3YOUNG3.    WE’RE WATCHING YOU.

            3CY3YOUNG3” was the password for the security system installed just last year.    With the password and Tina’s cell phone, whoever this was had access to every camera in the house.    Ryan forced himself not to look at the one mounted over the fridge that covered the entire kitchen.


            COME ALONE.    CALL NOBODY.

            Glen Oak Park was just a few blocks away.    Ryan had donated the funds for its professional-grade baseball fields, where he played host to Little League tournaments played under banners with his name.    He had money, plenty of money.    He could pay a ransom.    But the message didn’t say anything about a ransom, and twenty minutes wasn’t enough time to gather any cash.    He stared at the screen, uncertain, and after a few seconds, a new text appeared.

            YOU’RE NOT MOVING, RYAN.

            He moved.


            There were four baseball fields in different parts of the sprawling Glen Oak Park, all, thanks to Ryan, fully equipped with ample bleachers, real dugouts, and banks of lighting for night games.    At the bottom of the long, wooded slope on the park’s north end, the lower diamond was the most remote from the park entrance.    There’d be a game there almost any weekend day and many nights during the week, but now, on a crisp Tuesday morning a month into the new school year, only one other car was in the parking lot.    It was a dark blue Honda sedan, the rear end starting to go to rust.    Ryan got out of his SUV and started toward the field.    As he passed the sedan, he used his phone to snap a picture of the license plate.

            A row of tall pines divided the parking lot from the field.    He followed a paved path through the trees and came out behind the bleachers on the first-base side.    A man sat on the edge of the dugout roof across the field, swinging a bat idly back and forth in front of his legs as though practicing golf swings.    He was wearing track pants and a sleeveless black t-shirt, with a red baseball cap pushed far back on his head and a disheveled beard.    His arms were thick with muscle and densely covered with tattoos, a web of symbols and words Ryan found incomprehensible.    The man watched him coming across the diamond, his expression blank, the bat a metronome in front of him.

            Ryan stopped ten feet away.    “Where’s my wife?”

            She’s safe,” the man said.    Up close he looked a little older than Ryan had thought at first.    Close to his own age.    He held up a cell phone.    “She’s with a buddy of mine.    As long he gets the calls he’s expecting from me, and I say the things he’s expecting me to say, she’ll be fine.”

            I want to talk to her,” Ryan said.

            You know what they say about folks in hell and ice water.    What you want isn’t part of the game right now.”    The man’s voice was deep, with just a trace of some kind of accent.    Something southern, maybe, but barely there.

            Ryan crossed his arms.    Absurdly he wished he had a prop, like the bat the man was swinging.    Something to do with his hands.    “Then let’s talk about what you want.    How much?”

            We’ll get to what I want,” the man said.    He tilted his head back, inviting scrutiny of his face.    “You remember me?”

            Surprised, Ryan looked more closely.    “No.    Should I?”

            I’ll give you a hint.    My name’s Mickey Loch.”

            Ryan’s mouth went dry.    He’d never been through a kidnapping before, but he was dead sure kidnappers didn’t generally go around announcing their identity.    “Why would you tell me that?”

            Thought it might spark something.    I’d be surprised if you did remember, though.    It was nineteen years ago.    1997.    Your second Cy Young year.”

            That’s ancient history.    What does this have to do with my wife?”

            I told you we’ll get to it.”    Loch pointed into the dugout with the bat.    “You want to sit down?”

            No,” Ryan snapped.    “I want you to tell me whatever the hell it is you brought me here to tell me.”

            Man’s in a hurry, I guess,” Loch said.    “Okay, we’ll start the Wayback Machine.    It was about this time of year, a game in Oakland that didn’t mean a damn thing.    You boys had already locked up your division, and Oakland was just trying to avoid losing a hundred games.”    Loch hopped down from his perch, put the bat on his shoulder, and swiveled into a batting stance.    “Maybe you remember me better like this.”

            Ryan frowned.    “I don’t remember a Loch on the A’s.”

            I was only with them for one game,” Loch said.    “That game.    Phil Jacobs was on bereavement leave and Hector Ruiz was nursing a sprained thumb.    They just needed somebody who could stand in left field and look semiprofessional.”

            And I suppose I was pitching.”

            You were.    I don’t know why.    You should have been resting up for the playoffs.”

            I was trying to get to twenty-five wins.    I had a bonus clause.”    He hadn’t made it, but there was a big bonus for the Cy Young, plus playoff pay.    1997 was a good year.    A bought-my-parents-a-house year.

            Loch grunted.    “Shoulda guessed.    Anyway.    I came up to bat three times that day.    Three at bats, three strikeouts, nine pitches total.    My career in the majors.”

            Am I supposed to apologize?”

            Loch kept going as though Ryan hadn’t spoken.    “Next day, I was on my way back to Triple-A.    And the day after that, I was out on a run and landed in a pothole wrong.    Broke my left leg in three places, shredded my ACL.    X-ray looked like a damn jigsaw puzzle.”

            Tough break.    Are we getting to where my wife is anytime soon?”

            Faster than Ryan would have thought possible, Loch darted forward, grabbed him by the front of his shirt, and shoved backward, at the same time sweeping his leg sideways to cut Ryan’s feet out from under him.    Ryan’s back slammed into the ground.    Before he could move, Loch was standing over him, holding the fat end of the bat forcefully against his throat.

            I been waiting to tell you this story for nineteen years,” Loch said.    “You mind shutting up for a minute and letting me do it?”

            Unable to catch his breath, Ryan nodded.    Loch stepped back, lifting the bat.    Ryan, wheezing, rolled to his side and managed to sit up.    He didn’t try to stand.

            Team cut me, of course,” Loch said when Ryan was breathing more easily.    “First, though, they sent me to a doc who gave me pain meds.    They were handing that shit out like candy back then.    Cut forward six months and I’m unemployed, still limping, and hooked.    Couldn’t pay my dealer, so he told me I could work it off making some deliveries.”    Loch got into a batting stance again and took a couple of casual half-speed swings, staring out over the field.    “I fell in with disreputable characters, is how my lawyer said it.    Word of advice, Mr. Vargas.    If you ever commit a felony, don’t do it in Arizona.    The guards are mean as snakes, and they don’t believe wasting AC on criminals.”

            I’ll keep that in mind,” Ryan said.    It took him two breaths to say it.

            Now, Oregon, they got some nice jails,” Loch said.    “But I guess I’m digressing.”    He crouched down to look Ryan in the eye.    “Bottom line is, I want my fourth at bat.”

            Ryan looked from Loch to the pitcher’s mound.    “Here?    Now?    You’re kidding.”

            You saw the picture I sent,” Loch said.    “Seem like I’m kidding?”

            You kidnapped my wife so I’d, what?    Lob one over the plate so you can say you went yard against a Hall of Famer?    You’re insane.”

            Maybe.    But I don’t want any damn lob.    I want you to try to get me out.”    Loch straightened and walked toward the dugout.    “Doesn’t mean anything if you’re not trying.”

            It doesn’t mean anything either way,” Ryan said.    “For the love of God, man, I’m forty-five years old.    I haven’t thrown a pitch in ten years.”

            That ain’t exactly true.”    Loch stepped down into the dugout.    He bent over and came up with a duffel bag and tossed it up onto the grass.    “I was at that old-timers’ game in Cooperstown back in July.    You threw two scoreless innings, and you can still break 90 when you put your mind to it.”

            Come on.    That was against a bunch of other relics.”

            Think I look like a spring chicken?”    Loch bent again for a three-gallon bucket filled with baseballs.    “So we’ve both lost a few steps.    Just makes it a fair contest.    I was in Indianapolis a couple of nights ago, too, where you did that appearance at a minor league game.    Watched you working with the pitchers.    I’d say you’ve still got something.”

            I’m a scout,” Ryan said.    “That’s what they pay me to do now.    Just how long have you been following me around?”

            Long enough,” Loch said.    He came up out of the dugout with the bucket.    “On your feet, Vargas.    One at bat.    A real one.    After that, I make a phone call, and this is all over.”

            Ryan pushed himself to his feet.    “I’m not really dressed for this.”

            Loch nudged the duffel bag with his toe.    “Tina picked out a few things from your closet.”

            Ryan felt the anger he’d been holding down surge.    “Don’t say her name.”

            Whatever, chief.”    Loch bent over and unzipped the duffel.    He pulled out a batting helmet and put it on, tossing aside his cap.    “Get yourself ready.    I’ll wait out at the mound.”    He picked up the bucket and carried it out onto the field, along with the bat he’d been holding since Ryan arrived.

            Ryan knelt by the duffel bag.    He recognized it now, a relic from his playing days.    It had been sitting on a shelf in his closet for years, untouched.    Inside he found cleats and a cap, and some of his workout clothes.    His second-best glove was in the bottom of the bag.    His best glove was in a glass case in Cooperstown.    He pushed his left hand into the glove.

            There was a gun inside.

            The tiny .22 Tina bought last year, at the same time the security system was installed, after she saw a strange man lurking around the yard and got nervous about Ryan’s weeks-long scouting trips.    It occurred to Ryan to wonder if the strange man had been Loch.    Had he been planning this for more than a year?

            Ryan felt the cool metal of the small gun with the tips of his fingers, imagining the scene.    Loch getting into the house somehow, forcing Tina with a gun or a knife to get this bag together, telling her it was stuff Ryan would be using.    Tina somehow finding a way to slip the gun in.

            But what could he do with it?    Loch had said his buddy was expecting phone calls at specific times.    If Ryan shot him and he couldn’t call, what would happen to Tina?    Even if he just held Loch at gunpoint while he called, what code word would or wouldn’t be said?

            Let’s go, Vargas,” Loch yelled.    “Sooner this is over, sooner everybody gets to go home.”

            Coming,” Ryan said.    He tipped the glove so that the gun fell into the bottom of the bag.    As quickly as he could, he changed his shoes and traded his jeans and button-down shirt for a loose pair of shorts and a t-shirt.    He shoved the clothes he had been wearing into the bag on top of the gun.    Pulling a cap on, he picked up the bag and walked onto the field.

            Loch was standing just to the third-base side of the mound.    The bucket was between his feet, and the bat rested in the grass.    He was tossing a rosin bag from hand to hand.    As Ryan got close, he lobbed it to him.    Ryan dropped the duffel in the grass and caught it.

            Forty warm-up pitches sound fair?” Loch asked.

            It’s your carnival,” Ryan said.    “You tell me.”

            I want this real,” Loch said.    “No excuses.    I don’t want you thinking later that your arm was stiff, and I don’t want you hanging one over the plate in slo-mo.    I want the best you can give me.”

            Fine,” Ryan said.    “Forty’s fine.”

            Loch nodded.    “Go to it,” he said.    “I’ll feed you.”

            Ryan climbed the mound.    He kicked at the rubber, stretched his arms over his head, and bounced the rosin bag in his hand before dropping it to the back of the mound.    “You bat left or right?”

            Right,” Loch said.

            Ryan nodded.    Loch reached into the bucket and underhanded a ball to him.

            Ryan toed the rubber and fell automatically into the stance he’d learned from his father four decades ago and had refined by the best pitching coaches in the world.    Time slowed down.    He felt as he always did with the ball in his hand, at home.   

            He lifted his left leg, still able to bring the knee nearly to his chest, and swung it down as his arm came whipping around at three-quarter speed.    The ball split the plate in two but was chin level as it crossed.

            High and slow,” Loch said.    “You can do better than that.”

            Gotta wake the arm up,” Ryan said.    He held up the glove.    “Gimme another.    This would be a lot easier with a catcher.”

            I’ll try to arrange more accomplices next time.”    Loch lobbed the next ball.

            Twelve pitches in, Ryan could feel the blood stirring, the muscles growing loose and warm.    Twenty pitches in, he started to work on location.    For the twenty-fifth, he kicked into gear, unleashing a full-speed fastball that tore right down the pipe and, hitting the chain-link barrier between the plate and the stands, wedged itself into one of the squares and stuck there instead of bouncing back toward the infield.

            Loch whistled.    “That broke 90, sure,” he said.

            Gimme another,” Ryan said.

            Loch tossed it.    “Lemme ask you something, Vargas,” he said.    “You ever watch the Hartman at bat?”

            I’ve seen it a few times,” Ryan said.    It was the first clip they showed at his Hall of Fame ceremony, the clip they would show on SportsCenter when he died.    Game seven, bottom of the ninth, two-out, bases jammed and his team, the Tigers, clinging to a one-run lead.    Sal Rodgers brought Ryan out of the bullpen on two days rest to face Jace Hartman, who’d won the Triple Crown that year.    It was the only relief appearance Ryan made in his entire career.    His shoulder was on fire before he threw the first pitch, and fifty thousand rabid Pirates fans were howling for his blood.    It took eleven pitches, but he struck Hartman out.

            Thinking about it now, he threw the cutter Hartman had missed for strike three and held out his glove for another.

            Loch tossed it.    “That second pitch,” he said.    “The one Hartman fouled straight back.    You remember?”

            Ryan grunted.    He remembered.    The crack cutting right through the crowd noise, the momentary sense of an abyss of despair before he realized where the ball was heading.   

            He stepped off the rubber and stretched his arms, feeling the fine sheen of sweat he’d built up.

            I figure he missed that one by about a quarter inch,” Loch said.    “Bat’s a quarter inch higher, that’s maybe a grand slam.    No parade in Detroit, no third Cy Young.    One-fourth of one inch.    You ever think about that?”

            No,” Ryan lied.    He got back on the mound and threw.    The ball skipped off the dirt two feet in front of the plate.

            Yeah,” Loch said.    “I guess not.”

            Ryan held out his glove.    “Gimme another.    Shouldn’t you be warming up?”

            Spent most of the morning at a batting cage,” Loch said.    He tossed the ball.    “Two more pitches, and it’s go time, chief.”

            Ryan turned his back to the plate and looked out across the field, rubbing the ball between his palms.    The fence seemed a lot further off in the old days.    He turned back toward the plate and uncorked a beauty of a slider.

            One more pitch—a fastball he deliberately put high and inside—and Loch nodded.    “Okay,” he said.    “Batter up.    Just remember, Vargas.    You’re not going to like what happens if I think you’re teeing it up for me.”    He picked up the bat and walked toward the plate.    “And if you’re thinking about beaning me, remember I’m due to make a call soon.”   

            For the first time, watching Loch walk away, Ryan noticed the minuscule catch in his stride, the whisper of a limp favoring his left leg.    The ghost of one bad step, one moment of looking the wrong way.    Off by a quarter inch, maybe.

            He shook his head.    He wasn’t here to feel sorry for the man.

            Loch got to the plate.    He kicked aside the balls that had rebounded into the box, turned his shoulder toward Ryan, and screwed his back foot into the dirt.    His stance was compact.    Coiled.    Ryan felt a distant tickle of memory.    Maybe he did remember Mickey Loch.

            He peered over the top of the glove for a second, picturing Vic Kelly, his longtime catcher, holding out a target.    He dropped his hands to his waist, spun into his delivery, and gave Loch the best fastball he’d thrown in years, sizzling in just over the inside corner. Loch tensed as it came, lifted his left foot a fraction of an inch, but couldn’t pull the trigger.

            Strike one,” Ryan said.    Loch stepped out of the box, looked like he was going to argue for a second, then nodded.    Ryan got two more balls from the bucket, dropping one just behind the mound.    He felt good.    Loose.    The way he had always felt on the good days.    The ball was itching in his hand, begging to be thrown.

            Ryan had always been a fast worker.    Keeps the batter off balance.    The Vic Kelly in Ryan’s mind shifted slightly to the outside, dropped two fingers between his thighs.    Ryan nodded to nobody, went into his windup, and produced a curveball that broke three laws of physics on its way to the backstop.    This time Loch swung, but he didn’t come within a foot of the ball.    He stepped back from the plate, cursing.

            Ryan didn’t say strike two out loud.    He turned and picked up the third ball, and rubbed it up and got set.    If Loch had said anything about Tina at this moment, it would have taken Ryan a beat to remember what he was talking about.    He was entirely absorbed in the feeling he’d had all those thousands of times, the feeling he’d almost forgotten, the sense that he was ten feet tall and bulletproof.    He was gonna strike his man out.

            The phantom Kelly held down a single finger.    Back to the heat.    Ryan nodded again, dropped his hands, and sent the ball screaming in.

            He didn’t see Loch swing.    He didn’t have to.    The sound was enough, the solid, sharp concussion of wood meeting leather.    Ryan let the momentum of his delivery carry him around to face the outfield, already knowing what he would see: the ball hurtling toward the wall in center-right, a solid line drive, fast and straight.    The apparition outfielders weren’t even trying to catch it, just head it off.    The ball bounced once, hit the wall halfway up, and spun back onto the grass.

            In the silence, he heard Loch’s footsteps clearly.    The man came and stood beside him, and they looked out together at where the ball had landed.

            Double?” Loch said.

            Probably,” Ryan said.    He didn’t look at Loch.    “I don’t know how fast you were before you caught that pothole.”

            Fast enough,” Loch said.    He took off the batting helmet and dropped it and the bat in the grass.    He walked over to where he had tossed his hat,    picked it up, put it back on, and walked back to the mound.    Ryan was still staring out at the wall, his hands on his hips.

            Loch pulled a keycard from his pocket and held it out.    “Residence Inn,” he said.    “Room 327.”

            Ryan finally broke his gaze from the wall.    He looked at Loch and slowly took the card.    “327,” he said.    “What about your buddy waiting with her?”

            Isn’t one,” Loch said.    “Oddly enough, I don’t actually know anybody willing to commit a felony, so I could get my lifetime average to .250.”

            But she’s all right?”

            I imagine she’s pissed,” Loch said.    “Scared.    But yeah, otherwise fine.”    He crossed his arms.    “For what it’s worth, Vargas, I didn’t say anything to her about the woman in Indianapolis.    The one who shared your taste in bourbon.”

            Ryan clenched his jaw.    “You want me to thank you?    Or, what, not call the cops?”

            Loch shrugged.    “Doesn’t matter.    I’m already wanted in five states.    Car I came in was stolen this morning.    An hour from now, I’ll be in a different one and across a state line.”

            So that’s it,” Ryan said.    “This really is all you wanted.”

            It’s all I’ve wanted for nineteen years,” Loch said.    “Guess I’ll find something different to want now.”    He turned to face Ryan fully.    “I don’t suppose you’d shake my hand.”


            All right.    Goodbye, Vargas.”    He turned away.    Instead of heading straight for the parking lot, he trudged out to center field, where he picked up the ball he had hit and stuck it in his pocket.    Ryan watched him every step of the way.    He might have been imagining it, but Loch’s limp seemed a little more pronounced as he turned toward the right-field line and eventually disappeared through the pines.

Joseph S. Walker teaches college literature in Indiana.  His short fiction has appeared in AlfredHitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly,  and a number of other magazines andanthologies.  He has been nominated forthe Edgar Award and the Derringer Award, and has won the Bill Crider Prize forShort Fiction and the Al Blanchard Award. Follow him on Twitter @JSWalkerAuthor and visit his website at