Recent Changes

Yesterday

  1. page home edited ... "Blue Moon." Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, New York, NY. "Darkness Visibl…
    ...
    "Blue Moon." Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, New York, NY.
    "Darkness Visible." Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, New York, NY.
    "Raising Bigfoot." Tough: at http://www.toughcrime.com/?zx=cca06536615054ce
    "Happy Families." Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, New York, NY. September/October, 2017.
    "Iron Chef." Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, New York, NY. November, 2016
    (view changes)
    7:56 am
  2. page home edited ... {AHM1107cover.jpg} {alfred_hitchcocks_mystery_200601-02.jpg} {AAHM_dec_2012.jpg} {AHMMAY201…
    ...
    {AHM1107cover.jpg} {alfred_hitchcocks_mystery_200601-02.jpg} {AAHM_dec_2012.jpg} {AHMMAY2012Cover.jpg}
    PUBLICATIONS
    ...
    York, NY.
    "Darkness

    "Darkness
    Visible." Alfred
    ...
    York, NY.
    "Happy

    "Happy
    Families." Alfred
    ...
    York, NY. September/October, 2017.
    "Iron Chef." Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, New York, NY. November, 2016
    "Miss West's First Case." Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, New York, NY. September, 2016
    (view changes)
    7:49 am
  3. page Dark Side of the Moon edited ... Eve Fisher John Franklin came to Laskin, South Dakota, researching landscapes and myths. That…
    ...
    Eve Fisher
    John Franklin came to Laskin, South Dakota, researching landscapes and myths. That sounded a little funny to everyone, so it drew quite a crowd for his talk at the library:
    ...
    powerpoint slide.
    “I’ve

    “I’ve
    found every
    ...
    or another.”
    He

    He
    clicked on
    ...
    his body?”
    “Yes.”
    “Did they prove conclusively that it was his?”
    ...
    was him.”
    “I’m

    “I’m
    very relieved
    ...
    rebuilt since.”
    “There

    “There
    was a
    ...
    said shortly.
    “And

    “And
    there’s a
    ...
    the person.”
    The

    The
    next few
    ...
    crop circles.
    “That’s

    “That’s
    my land!”
    ...
    said proudly.
    “Yes. Mr. Pederson’s farm, with crop circles. Caused by what? Strange vortexes of wind?”
    ...
    Hegdahl commented.
    “I saw that. All I can say is they were apparently very dedicated to what was a lot of hard work over a vast section of England.” Everyone laughed. “Wind? Aliens? Natural phenomenon?”
    ...
    the pot.”
    “That was when Ken Olson pulled up stakes and quit,” Joe replied.
    ...
    from God.”
    “Or

    “Or
    maybe the
    ...
    them away.”
    Everyone

    Everyone
    groaned.
    “I think we’re getting away from the topic,” Franklin interjected. “How many of you feel comfortable on the Flats? Raise your hands.” Most people did so. “Does that include at night?” Some hands went down. “I ask because when I’ve asked directions to Huron, nobody sends me over 14. Everyone’s sent me the long way. Why not the Flats?” All the hands were down. “There are places that make us uncomfortable. The question is, why? And is it place, or is it time?” Franklin chatted on for a few more minutes, and then wrapped up his talk to applause.
    #
    ...
    and cookies.
    “Well,

    “Well,
    that’s another
    ...
    end. Amen.”
    “So are you saying Jonas Heirigs killed people because he was stressed out by modern times?”
    ...
    Don’t you?”
    “Well,

    “Well,
    of course he was.”
    “Exactly.

    “Exactly.
    But, if
    ...
    someone –”
    Matt

    Matt
    stumped up
    ...
    dog out.”
    “Of course.” Harold searched for a closing, and finally came up with “A very interesting talk.”
    “Thank you.”
    #
    Two days later, Franklin was eating peach pie at the Laskin Café when Sheriff Hanson came in and sat down across
    from him.
    “Thought you might want to know, someone burned down what’s left of the Heirigs farmhouse last night. I’m not surprised, after that talk you gave about his DNA being left everywhere.”
    ...
    burning it.”
    “Ah,

    “Ah,
    it’s not
    ...
    of nowhere…”
    “On

    “On
    the Flats...”
    “Oh, you can’t blame the Flats for everything. Lyle’s place is on the Flats, too.”
    “On the other side, correct?”
    ...
    in aliens.”
    “What happened to Heirigs’ wife?”
    ...
    to know.”
    “By the way, last night you mentioned DNA, but no dental records. Why?”
    “Because,” Hanson’s mouth twisted, “the explosion took his head off.”
    ...
    “Is there any way I can read them?”
    “Why?”
    ...
    the place.”
    “What the hell is your degree in, anyway?”
    “I have a Masters in History of Mythology and a Doctorate in Philosophy. My dissertation was on the symbiotic effects of place upon the human psyche as evidenced in alien abduction histories.”
    ...
    help you.”
    #
    Linda Thompson wore gloves as she handed over the battered tin box to him. He looked from her hands to her face. She said defiantly, “I heard your talk about DNA. I’m not taking any chances.”
    ...
    am I.”
    “You

    “You
    can use
    ...
    bailiff’s desk.”
    “Mind if I photograph the papers?”
    “Not at all.”
    ...
    of insanity:
    #
    “soul-killing witches that deform the body…”
    ...
    “I took a look at the top one and put it back.”
    “Does it make any sense to you? ‘Black tongues black tails black hairy breath of black stabbing, black dark whistle…’”
    ...
    was easier.”
    “Did he ever claim to have met the devil? Or be abducted by aliens?”
    ...
    he died.”
    “Mm. Well, it doesn’t really matter.” He picked up one sheet and looked it over again. “This is just gibberish. ‘Ululate rougous polipous, yith ygg ythogtha tulushugggua…’” He paused. “Wait a second, that’s not gibberish. That’s Lovecraft.”
    ...
    Linda said.
    “You’ve read him?”
    “Way too much when I was a teenager.” She shivered slightly. “‘The Whisperer in Darkness.’”
    ...
    “Of course not. But he thought he was in contact with something. Just like Lyle Pederson. Only Pederson is looking for, believes in, their beneficence. While Heirigs looked for, fed off of, malevolence. Which leads to the question, is it the mind or the place, and which feeds off the other? And what is feeding what?” An apprehensive silence came from Linda. “Never mind. I’m told that I have a disturbed imagination.” He smiled, but she didn’t smile back.
    #
    ...
    Hanson asked.
    “I’d like to go out and look at what’s left of the farmhouse.”
    ...
    for… emanations?”
    “No.

    “No.
    I already
    ...
    his laptop.
    “Red Dome,” Hanson said. Under Franklin’s steady gaze, Hanson added, embarrassed, “It used to be called Injun Head until some folks got up in arms about it.”
    ...
    to them.
    “No.

    “No.
    Just brush.”
    “You

    “You
    know anyone
    ...
    with me?”
    “Tom Olson. He’s a rock climber. Grew up not far from there, but on the other side of the Vermillion Hills.”
    “How do I get in touch with him?”
    ...
    introduce you.”
    #
    ...
    blackened rubble.
    “You’d need to a few men to dig that out,” Hanson said with a tone of relief.
    ...
    Franklin replied.
    “You mean Injun Head?” Tom asked.
    ...
    Franklin explained.
    Tom and Hanson glanced at each other, and the three started hiking.
    ...
    use rope.”
    “I

    “I
    assume you’ve
    ...
    Franklin asked.
    “Only

    “Only
    once.”
    “What

    “What
    happened?”
    Tom winced. “Storm came up. Out of nowhere. Me and Pete, my little brother, we had to scramble to get out. He twisted his ankle, and I damn near lost him on the end of the rope. That was a hell of a storm… Worst time of my life.” He shook his head. “I can’t believe I’m back out here again.”
    ...
    Hanson said.
    “Just keep an eye out for clouds. They come up quick out here.”
    The formation loomed above them, the massive boulders, slick, stained deep dark red, streaked as if with black oil.
    “We go up over here if you want to go down into the canyon,” Tom said.
    “No,” Franklin replied. He pointed to the eye sockets. “Look at the ground.”
    ...
    branch there.”
    Tom

    Tom
    swallowed hard
    ...
    black silence.
    “God

    “God
    in heaven,
    ...
    Tom asked.
    Hanson

    Hanson
    looked down
    ...
    human, but…
    “I

    “I
    believe that
    ...
    Franklin said.
    Hanson

    Hanson
    had rolled
    ...
    can’t be.”
    Franklin soaked his kerchief with water from his canteen and handed it to Hanson. “For his face.”
    Hanson wiped the face. Under the dirt, smoke, and grime, he recognized a scarred Jonas Heirigs. “Jesus.” He began looking down the body. The whole right side had been terribly injured. “The explosion must have done it,” he said. “Back when he blew up his place. There’s burns, but they’re healed. Sort of.” He looked up at Franklin and asked, “How did you know it was Jonas?”
    ...
    Old Ones.”
    “What

    “What
    the hell
    ...
    Hanson asked.
    “H.

    “H.
    P. Lovecraft.
    ...
    “Close enough.”
    #
    ...
    my vacation.”
    “So…

    “So…
    are you
    ...
    Linda asked.
    Franklin,

    Franklin,
    Hanson, and
    ...
    through it.
    “Probably

    “Probably
    not.”
    There had been a tunnel, darkly claustrophobic. “I’m not going down there without lights,” Tom had said, and no one had contradicted him. So far no further mention had been made of it.
    ...
    the property?”
    “It’ll

    “It’ll
    rot. Probably
    ...
    you interested?”
    Franklin

    Franklin
    took a
    ...
    buy it.”
    “Not me,” Tom said.
    “Nor me,” Linda added.
    Tom looked at the Davison boys across the way, talking intently over their beer. “They’re up to something.”
    “Well,” said Hanson, “since they’re the ones who burned the Heirigs place to the ground, they’ll probably try to blow it up this time. Like the way they blew up TJ’s pig farm a while back.”
    ...
    it up.”
    After

    After
    a pause,
    ...
    the Davisons.
    THE END
    (view changes)
    7:47 am
  4. page Dark Side of the Moon edited THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON By Eve Fisher John Franklin came to Laskin, South Dakota, researching…
    THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON
    By
    Eve Fisher
    John Franklin came to Laskin, South Dakota, researching landscapes and myths. That sounded a little funny to everyone, so it drew quite a crowd for his talk at the library:
    “There are places on this earth that set you dreaming. The little stand of cottonwoods around a pool, cupped by rolling hills of grass, the perfect shelter, the perfect place to rest and look into the waters for as long as your soul can take it. The tumble of stones that beg your eye to make it into a pattern, a place of meaning, of importance. The tangle of briars and rocks, dark under a red dome, looking like eye sockets from a distance and no more friendly close up. The flatland that goes on too long for safety of body or mind…” He paused and brought up a new powerpoint slide.
    “I’ve found every kind here. There’s Dark Hollow.” Everyone nodded. “Some people have told me it’s a dangerous place to be, others that its dangers stem from the heart and mind and soul. Now that’s very interesting, because that is exactly what the journey of the hero says about almost all landscapes. Everything depends on the purity of the person who journeys through it. Dark Hollow is a testing ground, apparently, and everyone here knows it, in one way or another.”
    He clicked on the next slide and everyone gasped at the shattered farmhouse. “This, of course, is the Heirigs farm, where mass murderer Jonas Heirigs tortured, killed, and buried at least five people. And when his murders were finally discovered, he anticipated his arrest by blowing up his place, himself in it.” He glanced over at Sheriff Hanson. “Did they ever find his body?”
    “Yes.”
    “Did they prove conclusively that it was his?”
    “The DNA said yes. It was him.”
    “I’m very relieved to hear that.” Nervous laughter rippled through the seats. “Now that happened two years ago. And I took these photos just last week. It’s good farmland, but I notice that nobody has cleaned it up or rebuilt since.”
    “There was a lot of digging,” Hanson said shortly.
    “And there’s a sense of evil, too. Correct?” People shifted in their chairs. “Did anyone claim it as their inheritance?” Hanson shook his head. “Who here would be willing – if the land is available – to take and use the Heirigs property on the condition that they rebuild the house and live out there?” More shifting. Franklin nodded. “Wise. Humans leave their footprints on everything they touch – they’ve proved that, by the way. We leave our DNA everywhere we go, on everything we touch. And that DNA, I’m told, changes as we change, even if we never see or touch that thing or place again. So there’s bound to be something left of Jonas Heirigs on the Heirigs property. Still. Unless it gets burned to the ground. That may be –” He clicked on the next slide, and up came an engraving of a woman being burned at the stake – “why they burned witches and other heretics. So that nothing would be left. An ignorant, reprehensible practice. But wiser than they knew as far as taking care of any traces of the person.”
    The next few powerpoints were all engravings of witches. Then came a picture of crop circles.
    “That’s my land!” Lyle Pederson said proudly.
    “Yes. Mr. Pederson’s farm, with crop circles. Caused by what? Strange vortexes of wind?”
    “There was a British special, showed a couple of guys claiming they did it with a board and some rope,” Joe Hegdahl commented.
    “I saw that. All I can say is they were apparently very dedicated to what was a lot of hard work over a vast section of England.” Everyone laughed. “Wind? Aliens? Natural phenomenon?”
    “The Flats are a funny place,” Matt Stark said. “Wind howls through like a freight train with nothing to stop it. Strange things happen. Everybody remembers ten years back, a tornado dropped out of a clear sky and whipped through the Flats like a knife through butter. No other clouds, no storms, just God’s finger coming out of nowhere to stir the pot.”
    “That was when Ken Olson pulled up stakes and quit,” Joe replied.
    “Well, the tornado dumped his barn on top of his silo,” Harold Stark spoke up. “He took it as a sign from God.”
    “Or maybe the aliens just didn’t like him,” Lyle said. “I mean, they fly over all the time, I see the lights. But they fly over, and go to Ken Olson’s place. Maybe he tried to drive them away.”
    Everyone groaned.
    “I think we’re getting away from the topic,” Franklin interjected. “How many of you feel comfortable on the Flats? Raise your hands.” Most people did so. “Does that include at night?” Some hands went down. “I ask because when I’ve asked directions to Huron, nobody sends me over 14. Everyone’s sent me the long way. Why not the Flats?” All the hands were down. “There are places that make us uncomfortable. The question is, why? And is it place, or is it time?” Franklin chatted on for a few more minutes, and then wrapped up his talk to applause.
    #
    “What did you mean about the time?” Harold Stark asked over the standard coffee and cookies.
    “Well, that’s another aspect of my research,” Franklin said. “I’m curious about how the impact of current events on the human psyche plays out in our sense of place. In other words, in times of extreme stress and change, do feelings of foreboding about places increase? For example, historically speaking, the worst time to be a witch wasn't in the so-called Dark Ages, or even the Middle Ages. The worst time to be a witch was from fourteen hundred to a little after seventeen hundred, i.e., during the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the first Scientific Revolution. It’s as if all that new knowledge, new ideas, new applications, new procedures, new stuff, scared everyone so much that it turned the whole world dark in a way it hadn’t been before. The dark side of the moon. The next thing they knew, they were killing people just to prove that everything was the way it always had been, world without end. Amen.”
    “So are you saying Jonas Heirigs killed people because he was stressed out by modern times?”
    “No. I think it was because he was evil. Don’t you?”
    “Well, of course he was.”
    “Exactly. But, if you heard of someone –”
    Matt stumped up to them and said, “Harold. Come on. I gotta get home and let my dog out.”
    “Of course.” Harold searched for a closing, and finally came up with “A very interesting talk.”
    “Thank you.”
    #
    Two days later, Franklin was eating peach pie at the Laskin Café when Sheriff Hanson came in and sat down across
    from him.
    “Thought you might want to know, someone burned down what’s left of the Heirigs farmhouse last night. I’m not surprised, after that talk you gave about his DNA being left everywhere.”
    “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that about burning it.”
    “Ah, it’s not really your fault. Sooner or later…” Hanson waved at Ella, who brought him a cup of coffee. “A piece of that pie, too. No, it was bound to happen. I figure it was the Davison boys. They like to burn things down or blow them up.” He shook his head. “I’ve caught them a few times, but this time I’m not even going to try to nail them. I’m just as happy to see the old wreck gone. Too many bad memories. Too much bad stuff. What he did to that poor girl, Valerie… That was the worst. Some people wondered why his wife didn’t turn him in. If she was in on it. Maybe she was. Or maybe she was just scared. Out there all alone with that monster in the middle of nowhere…”
    “On the Flats...”
    “Oh, you can’t blame the Flats for everything. Lyle’s place is on the Flats, too.”
    “On the other side, correct?”
    “Yep. His farm butts up against Dark Hollow. And Lyle’s all right. He’s just a crackpot who believes in aliens.”
    “What happened to Heirigs’ wife?”
    “You don’t want to know.”
    “By the way, last night you mentioned DNA, but no dental records. Why?”
    “Because,” Hanson’s mouth twisted, “the explosion took his head off.”
    Franklin nodded. “Did he leave any explanation behind?”
    “There were some papers in a metal box. Bunch of gobbledy-gook if you ask me.”
    “Is there any way I can read them?”
    “Why?”
    “Because. There might be something about the place. I’d like to know, if the place worked on him, or him on the place.”
    “What the hell is your degree in, anyway?”
    “I have a Masters in History of Mythology and a Doctorate in Philosophy. My dissertation was on the symbiotic effects of place upon the human psyche as evidenced in alien abduction histories.”
    Hanson sat and blinked for a moment. Then he said, “The Clerk of Court has them in the archives. Nobody else wanted them. Linda Thompson. She’ll help you.”
    #
    Linda Thompson wore gloves as she handed over the battered tin box to him. He looked from her hands to her face. She said defiantly, “I heard your talk about DNA. I’m not taking any chances.”
    He nodded and pulled out a pair of latex gloves. “Neither am I.”
    “You can use the bailiff’s desk.”
    “Mind if I photograph the papers?”
    “Not at all.”
    The box held only half a dozen scraps of paper, all of them odd bits, torn from here or there, some lined, some not, all covered in penciled scribbles and symbols. He photographed, reading as he went. The words reeked of insanity:
    #
    “soul-killing witches that deform the body…”
    “tentacled cold-membered dark, bubbling black stabbing tails…”
    “the pestilence walks in darkness; the destruction wastes at noon; there is no refuge from the burning, the branding, the black fire…”
    “If ever there were Witches, Men & Women in Covenant with the Devil, HERE ARE MULTITUDES!”
    #
    He raised his head and asked, “Have you read any of these?”
    “I took a look at the top one and put it back.”
    “Does it make any sense to you? ‘Black tongues black tails black hairy breath of black stabbing, black dark whistle…’”
    “Of course it doesn’t make sense. He was crazy.” Franklin nodded. “But… it’s always hard to believe that someone is that crazy, you know? He talked to his co-workers down at the meat-packing plant about the devil and aliens and dark angels and death… but they just ignored it. Everyone did. It was easier.”
    “Did he ever claim to have met the devil? Or be abducted by aliens?”
    “Not that I know of. But then, I never talked to him. I never even saw him. I just heard about him. He never came to town in all the time that I’ve been here. And there was no trial, because he died.”
    “Mm. Well, it doesn’t really matter.” He picked up one sheet and looked it over again. “This is just gibberish. ‘Ululate rougous polipous, yith ygg ythogtha tulushugggua…’” He paused. “Wait a second, that’s not gibberish. That’s Lovecraft.”
    “You’re right,” Linda said.
    “You’ve read him?”
    “Way too much when I was a teenager.” She shivered slightly. “‘The Whisperer in Darkness.’”
    “Ah, yes. The Old Ones. The Ancient Ones. Alien dieties.” He picked up a scrap of paper - “Black dark whistle…’ Ythogtha. Barking mad. Do you think he saw one?”
    “There’s no such thing,” Linda said, a little too strongly.
    “Of course not. But he thought he was in contact with something. Just like Lyle Pederson. Only Pederson is looking for, believes in, their beneficence. While Heirigs looked for, fed off of, malevolence. Which leads to the question, is it the mind or the place, and which feeds off the other? And what is feeding what?” An apprehensive silence came from Linda. “Never mind. I’m told that I have a disturbed imagination.” He smiled, but she didn’t smile back.
    #
    “You want to what?” Sheriff Hanson asked.
    “I’d like to go out and look at what’s left of the farmhouse.”
    “Why? Looking for… emanations?”
    “No. I already know it’s going to be bad. I want to see if there’s a tunnel. A crack. Something. Something hidden, that no one’s seen.” Franklin pulled out his laptop, and brought up a map. “Look. Here’s the Flats. Pederson’s place is over on the west side, with the rock formation that makes Dark Hollow running along the south side. Heirigs’ was on the east side of the Flats, with another outcropping of rock – do you see? The Flats is actually a filled in fissure between two major rock formations that split eons ago… Both places emanate a disturbance. Dark Hollow, relatively benign –” Hanson’s nod was brief. “And this…” He pulled up a picture on his laptop.
    “Red Dome,” Hanson said. Under Franklin’s steady gaze, Hanson added, embarrassed, “It used to be called Injun Head until some folks got up in arms about it.”
    Franklin nodded, but didn’t ask why it had been called a head when it looked just like a skull, even down to the eye sockets of dark brush. “Are those caves?” he asked, pointing to them.
    “No. Just brush.”
    “You know anyone who knows that area, what’s there? Who’d be willing to go with me?”
    “Tom Olson. He’s a rock climber. Grew up not far from there, but on the other side of the Vermillion Hills.”
    “How do I get in touch with him?”
    “Come with me to the Norseman’s tonight, I’ll introduce you.”
    #
    Two days later, Franklin, Tom Olson, and Sheriff Hanson gathered at the Heirigs’ farm. The grass crackled black underfoot, the road was dust. The shattered ruins of the house were now black ash, floating darkly in the sunshine with every puff of wind. The trees leaned in, burned clean of leaves. What had been the small basement was now a pit of charcoal and blackened rubble.
    “You’d need to a few men to dig that out,” Hanson said with a tone of relief.
    “It’ll be easier to find what I’m looking for over at the Red Dome rock formation,” Franklin replied.
    “You mean Injun Head?” Tom asked.
    “I mean the place that looks like a skull,” Franklin explained.
    Tom and Hanson glanced at each other, and the three started hiking.
    “There’s what’s almost a slot canyon in the back side of it,” Tom said after a while. He was wearing a harness, rope and other climbing equipment. “Really weird, for this part of the country. You can either go down the lip of the thing using rope, or you can slide down and then walk it up to a certain point. But only so far. If you want to get to the true heart of it, you’ve got to use rope.”
    “I assume you’ve done it?” Franklin asked.
    “Only once.”
    “What happened?”
    Tom winced. “Storm came up. Out of nowhere. Me and Pete, my little brother, we had to scramble to get out. He twisted his ankle, and I damn near lost him on the end of the rope. That was a hell of a storm… Worst time of my life.” He shook his head. “I can’t believe I’m back out here again.”
    “Clear today,” Hanson said.
    “Just keep an eye out for clouds. They come up quick out here.”
    The formation loomed above them, the massive boulders, slick, stained deep dark red, streaked as if with black oil.
    “We go up over here if you want to go down into the canyon,” Tom said.
    “No,” Franklin replied. He pointed to the eye sockets. “Look at the ground.”
    “Holy shit,” Sheriff Hanson muttered. The dirt, dried to dust, showed signs of something heavy being dragged towards and into the brush. Hanson undid his holster clasp, put his hand on his gun, and whispered, “Tom, yank on that big branch there.”
    Tom swallowed hard and reached. As he pulled, the brush exploded out in a rain of thorns, and everyone jumped back, and back again as a bellow roared out at them, echoed around them. Something heaved out and everyone stumbled back, Tom slipping, Franklin helping him back up – something blackened and twisted, something that lurched because it could not walk, wallowed because it had melted into itself… The three men scrambled further back, horrified, as they watched it heave its collapsed and sagging matter towards them… And the worst of all is that somehow it was screaming. Agonized screams reverberated off the stained red rocks, so deafening, so maddening, that Hanson only realized he’d fired his gun when the thing collapsed in black silence.
    “God in heaven, what the hell was it?” Tom asked.
    Hanson looked down at his gun, then went over to it and looked, gingerly, as if not knowing where to begin. It was human, but…
    “I believe that it’s Jonas Heirigs,” Franklin said.
    Hanson had rolled the body over, and was looking sick. “It can’t be.”
    Franklin soaked his kerchief with water from his canteen and handed it to Hanson. “For his face.”
    Hanson wiped the face. Under the dirt, smoke, and grime, he recognized a scarred Jonas Heirigs. “Jesus.” He began looking down the body. The whole right side had been terribly injured. “The explosion must have done it,” he said. “Back when he blew up his place. There’s burns, but they’re healed. Sort of.” He looked up at Franklin and asked, “How did you know it was Jonas?”
    “Because I knew his brother, Gunnar. He was one of my colleagues. He was Jonas’ twin brother, which is why the body you found and tested for DNA matched Jonas’. But it wasn’t his. I know he sent Gunnar a letter, asked him to come out and help him. Then Jason killed him, set the explosion, and hid out here. With the Old Ones.”
    “What the hell are the Old Ones?” Hanson asked.
    “H. P. Lovecraft. ‘At the Mountains of Madness.’” Franklin looked around at the dark slick rocks. “Close enough.”
    #
    “I knew that Gunnar went off to help his brother,” Franklin explained later at the Norseman’s Bar. “They’d been estranged, and Gunnar had told me he’d been worried about his brother’s mental health for a while. But I didn’t know what happened next until I came out here. We were overseas, doing research in Ardeal, Romania. He left, I kept working. I didn’t know where his brother lived. The only reason I came out here at all was because Gunnar had told me about Dark Hollow, Crow Woman and Dark That Rides, and I thought I’d look into it on my vacation.”
    “So… are you going to research the Heirigs formation now?” Linda asked.
    Franklin, Hanson, and Tom Olson exchanged swift glances. Heirigs’ strangely mutilated body; the bunker carved into the rock, loaded with canned goods; everything filthy and cobwebbed except where that damaged flesh had dragged itself to feed and sleep; the manic scrawls over the walls; the filth everywhere; the dark ominous crack in the back with the wind whistling through it.
    “Probably not.”
    There had been a tunnel, darkly claustrophobic. “I’m not going down there without lights,” Tom had said, and no one had contradicted him. So far no further mention had been made of it.
    Franklin turned to Sheriff Hanson, “What will happen to the property?”
    “It’ll rot. Probably go up for auction. Back taxes, if nothing else. Why, you interested?”
    Franklin took a sip of his beer. “No. But… You know, in 146 BC the Romans conquered the Carthage for the last time. Legend has it that after they sold every inhabitant into slavery, they tore the city down to the ground, and then sowed the ground with salt, so that nothing would ever grow there again. I don’t think that would be a bad idea for the Heirigs place.” Hanson looked puzzled, apprehensive... “Unless you know someone who’d want to buy it.”
    “Not me,” Tom said.
    “Nor me,” Linda added.
    Tom looked at the Davison boys across the way, talking intently over their beer. “They’re up to something.”
    “Well,” said Hanson, “since they’re the ones who burned the Heirigs place to the ground, they’ll probably try to blow it up this time. Like the way they blew up TJ’s pig farm a while back.”
    “Mm. I don’t like that,” Franklin said. Everyone looked at him. “Better to fill it in with cement, don’t you think? The bunker. The tunnel. Maybe even that basement. Let the dark stay put. I don’t think I’d –” He gestured with his hands, outward, “blow it up.”
    After a pause, Sheriff Hanson said, “I’m sure they’ll be able to find a cement mixer somewhere.” He got up and walked over to the Davisons.
    THE END

    (view changes)
    7:46 am
  5. page Great Expectations edited ... By Eve Fisher ... marry him. The The one who ... ever saw. It It was happy …
    ...
    By
    Eve Fisher
    ...
    marry him.
    The

    The
    one who
    ...
    ever saw.
    It

    It
    was happy
    ...
    of surgery.
    Sandra

    Sandra
    raced over
    ...
    little R&R.”
    “And

    “And
    why not
    ...
    to Mexico?”
    “I

    “I
    don’t know.”
    “You

    “You
    never know.
    ...
    know anything.”
    To

    To
    be fair,
    ...
    their father.
    Every

    Every
    visit, Sandra
    ...
    the day.
    Later, on their way out to the parking lot, Jim grumbled about Mitch showing off, waving his credit card around, and started down old family quarrels, until Mitch finally said, “I wasn’t going to let Rose pay for dinner.”
    “I’d have paid her back.”
    ...
    say it.
    #
    ...
    a beer.
    “Oh,” Rose sighed, sitting on the couch. “Everything looks lovely. Thank you so much for all you’ve done.”
    “Oh, please,” Sandra said, waving her hand. “We’re happy to do it.”
    “You don’t mind the changes?” Mitch asked.
    ...
    be perfect.”
    The

    The
    emotion evaporated:
    ...
    Ralph’s bed.
    Rose called Sandra to tell her the good news. Sandra managed to say, “Lovely,” and then called Jim to tell him the terrible news. But Jim didn’t care.
    “She needs to be here. You know that -”
    “I do not.”
    ...
    baby girl.”
    Sandra

    Sandra
    hung up.
    ...
    tearful smile.
    #
    ...
    with worry.
    “The

    “The
    least she
    ...
    of him.”
    “Now,

    “Now,
    Sandra, she
    ...
    scares her.”
    “What

    “What
    does?”
    “Illness.

    “Illness.
    Death. Not
    ...
    to crack.”
    “Crack

    “Crack
    being the
    ...
    rather meth.”
    “Oh,

    “Oh,
    I hope not.”
    “Well,

    “Well,
    she’s hooked
    ...
    own sister?”
    Rose

    Rose
    sighed. “It’s
    ...
    help her.”
    “You think?”
    Rose patted Sandra’s arm. “I know. She’s done everything wrong since she was born.”
    ...
    Joely –”
    “I

    “I
    know,” Rose
    ...
    a future.”
    Later that night, when Sandra made her nightly call to Jim, he said, “She’s right.”
    ...
    her money?”
    “Rose?”
    “No, Joely.”
    ...
    with Squeegees.”
    “You

    “You
    mean when
    ...
    thousand dollars.”
    “Well,

    “Well,
    it is
    ...
    about it.”
    “People aren’t going to know about it because we’re talking on the telephone. And I’ll tell you what’s embarrassing. That she embezzled so little. Linda Thompson, you remember her. The Clerk of Courts?”
    “I know who Linda is. I dated her once before, she got hooked up with Gary.”
    ...
    “I’ll bet Joely had something to say about that.”
    “Yeah. She said thanks for the advice - Oh, no. Rose is calling. Let me call you back. What is it, Rose?”
    ...
    his breathing…”
    Sandra

    Sandra
    called the
    ...
    the house.
    “I

    “I
    don’t think
    ...
    car –”
    But

    But
    the ambulance
    ...
    long haul.
    #
    ...
    see her.
    “Where

    “Where
    the hell
    ...
    Sandra asked.
    Joely

    Joely
    shrugged. Sandra
    ...
    mouth shut.
    “Thank you,” Rose told Grant. “I’ll never forget this.”
    ...
    and left.
    Rose

    Rose
    turned to
    ...
    he dies.”
    “Dies?”
    “His

    “Dies?”
    “His
    heart’s almost
    ...
    stalked off.
    “Well,

    “Well,
    I hope
    ...
    Dad’s room.”
    Days

    Days
    later, and
    ...
    and wailed.
    “Don’t

    “Don’t
    cry, honey,”
    ...
    was… angel.”
    “Oh, Daddy.”
    ...
    ever saw.”
    Later,

    Later,
    Ralph managed
    ...
    to do…”
    “I know, Dad.”
    “And be nice… to Rose. The house.”
    “Don’t worry,” Sandra said. “We’ll take care of Rose.”
    “Good.”
    Ralph

    Ralph
    slipped away.
    ...
    he died.
    #
    ...
    cooking, baking.
    “It

    “It
    gives her
    ...
    pleased her.
    “And

    “And
    it gives
    ...
    his divorce.
    “Or what’s being dropped off at the door,” Joely made a face.
    ...
    at her.
    “Speaking of getting anything, when’s the will being read?”
    “You greedy –”
    ...
    he added.
    #
    The will had been drawn up by Ulf Vegard, the cheapest attorney in town, and the reading caused an uproar. The easiest part was that Rose had the right to live in the house, rent-free, for the rest of her life, after which, the house went to the kids, to be sold and the proceeds split equally among all. Everyone had always known that that was Rose’s portion. But the rest of the estate was left unequally: forty percent to Jim, who was also executor, thirty percent to Sandra, and fifteen percent each to Joely and Mitch. Along with an excruciating paragraph explaining why. Rose reached for Joely’s and Mitch’s hands. Joely shook her off and started shouting at Jim.
    ...
    this up!”
    “There’s

    “There’s
    not a
    ...
    of this.”
    “Don’t hand me that!” Joely snapped back. “Dad got a bundle in that settlement over Mom’s death!”
    ...
    got spent.”
    “Bullshit.

    “Bullshit.
    Dad squeezed
    ...
    bank statements.”
    “It’s

    “It’s
    none of
    ...
    snapped back.
    “None of my business? I got screwed out of an equal share, and by God, I’m going to make sure I’m not screwed out of whatever my fifteen percent should be. I want to know how much money there is.”
    “So you can go and spend it all on booze and drugs!” Sandra attacked.
    “Will you all shut up?” Mitch screamed. Everyone stopped and looked at him. “This is unfair to both of us, and both of you know it.”
    ...
    added defiantly.
    “Was he disappointed in Rose?” Joely asked. “She didn’t get anything.” She looked around and said, “Where is Rose?”
    ...
    said shortly.
    “And no one ran after her. Well, so much for Rose. She doesn’t get anything –”
    ...
    Jim said.
    Joely snorted. “How long before you screw her out of that, too?”
    “Now, Joely,” Mitch tried, but Jim was huffing.
    “I’m offended that you’d even think I’d do such a thing.”
    ...
    the office.
    “Rose

    “Rose
    gets the
    ...
    Jim’s eyes.
    “Of

    “Of
    course she
    ...
    Sandra said.
    “To

    “To
    live in,” Jim agreed.
    #
    ...
    both whispering.
    “What do you think we should do?”
    “We’ll never be able to break the will.”
    “But where’s the money? Dad got a ton of money. It’s got to be somewhere.”
    “I don’t know about that. I’ve seen the bank statements.”
    ...
    manage that?”
    “Jim doesn’t worry about me the way he worries about you.”
    “Hmpf.”
    ...
    “Nope.”
    “Then cash. Hidden somewhere. Dad didn’t like banks.”
    ...
    whole property?”
    “Why

    “Why
    not?”
    “I’m leaving tomorrow,” Mitch reminded her.
    “Good.”
    #
    ...
    you yesterday.”
    “Well, it was a very trying day. For everyone. Where’s Joely?”
    ...
    Jim added.
    “I’m sure that’s what he hoped for. I’m not sure that’s what happened.”
    “But you know how disappointed –”
    ...
    All right?”
    “All

    “All
    right,” Jim said.
    #
    But at two o’clock that afternoon, Sandra got a call at work from a sobbing Rose: “Sandra, the house… I’m at the house… someone’s… everything’s been… it’s all torn up… someone’s robbed us!”
    Sandra called Jim on his cell phone as she drove over. “Where the hell are you?”
    “I went fishing. Met up with Bjorn Nelson, we’re having a late lunch at the Norseman’s. Why?”
    ...
    here now.”
    Sandra

    Sandra
    screeched into
    ...
    the other.
    “Oh, Sandra!” Rose cried out. She raced into Sandra’s arms and burst into tears. “Thank God you’re here! Who? Who could have done this? Who would…”
    ...
    of tea.”
    “But

    “But
    who could
    ...
    things up.
    Jim

    Jim
    arrived, and
    ...
    knowing look.
    “You stay here, Rose,” Sandra said, “while Jim and I straighten things up. Then we can see if anything’s missing.”
    ...
    feel sick.”
    “Of

    “Of
    course.”
    Sandra

    Sandra
    tidied up
    ...
    the house.
    “It’s

    “It’s
    gone,” Jim said.
    “All

    “All
    of it?”
    ...
    afternoon light.
    “Every

    “Every
    bit of
    ...
    moved it…”
    “Pfft. She took it,” Sandra said. “Her stuff and her car is gone. The question is, do we call the police?”
    ...
    with him.”
    “Only

    “Only
    fifteen percent.”
    “He

    “He
    doesn’t deserve
    ...
    Jim snapped.
    “Yes,

    “Yes,
    but if
    ...
    of it.”
    #
    ...
    Grant Tripp.
    “We

    “We
    need you
    ...
    thousand dollars.”
    Rose

    Rose
    gasped, and
    ...
    “Who from?”
    “From

    “From
    us. Dad’s
    ...
    in banks.”
    “Mm.

    “Mm.
    Where was it?”
    “In

    “In
    an old
    ...
    some others.”
    “How

    “How
    did she
    ...
    was there?”
    “She

    “She
    tore the
    ...
    been here.”
    Grant

    Grant
    turned and
    ...
    Grant asked.
    They all shook their heads. Grant wrote down everything, and then asked, “Do you have any proof that this money existed?”
    “What do you mean?”
    ...
    “We both saw it! Isn’t that enough?”
    Grant turned to Rose and asked, “Did you see it?”
    ...
    I’m sorry.”
    Grant

    Grant
    nodded. “I’ll
    ...
    you know.”
    #
    Everyone in town knew about the missing hoard within the week. Jim and Sandra were frantic. Mitch swore he had no idea where Joely was, and while Jim wasn’t sure, Sandra believed him. Grant said they’d put out a bulletin looking for her, but had no guarantees. “And since it’s cash, she could do anything, be anywhere.”
    ...
    with discontent.
    The

    The
    truth was,
    ...
    was Rose’s.
    A

    A
    few months
    ...
    the house.
    “But that’s what the will said. Isn’t that legal enough?”
    “Oh, this is just to make sure that everything is in writing.”
    ...
    “I’m not signing this.” She looked at them. “I never thought you loved me, but I thought you liked me.”
    “We do –”
    ...
    about me.”
    “Rose –”
    “I was his wife, and you’re treating me like a housekeeper. A servant. Who gets to stay out of the goodness of your heart!”
    ...
    “I’d like you to leave now. I need to think about this. Decide what to do.”
    “Rose, it’s just a piece of paper,” Sandra said.
    ...
    of paper.”
    She stared at them until they left.
    #
    ...
    the lawsuit.
    “But what about the house?”
    “Let her have it. You don’t know what it’s like, Jim. Even if we got it, I don’t think anyone would buy it. And if they did, they’d buy it to put Rose back in it.” Sandra started sobbing. “It’s awful. I can’t take it anymore. I just can’t take it!”
    ...
    the house.
    Sandra

    Sandra
    moved to Sioux Falls.
    Jim

    Jim
    and Sandra
    ...
    other again.
    #
    ...
    Rose’s door.
    “Why, Officer Tripp. Please, come in. What can I do for you?”
    ...
    the rally.”
    “What a job that must be.”
    “I ran into Joely.”
    ...
    “That would be great.” He watched as she made the coffee, poured it out, set bars on a plate. “Thank you.”
    “Now. Tell me about Joely. You say she’s not so good. Is she…?”
    ...
    he waited.
    Rose set down her cup and said calmly, “I took it. I left the five thousand on top of some toilet paper in the box. I burned the rest, later.”
    “You burned it? Why in God’s name did you do that?”
    ...
    the box.”
    “And found two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”
    Rose nodded. “For ten years, I bought whatever was on sale and cooked it. We almost never went out to eat. We never went on vacation but to the lake, camping. I cooked there, too. And he had all that money.”
    ...
    “It was for him. Maybe for the kids. It certainly wasn’t for me. He never even bought me a new dress.” Her mouth trembled. “Maria was his beloved wife. I was his housekeeper. I got nothing. Not even his true love…” Somehow she stopped the trembling. “As soon as he died, they ripped everything apart. He left me the house to live in, and it said in the will that they’d get it when I died. But I knew that wouldn’t be enough for them. And I was right. They wanted me to sign that paper, handing it over to them while I was alive. How did I know if they wouldn’t kick me out? And they wanted to come through and pick, pick, pick whatever they wanted in it. Take what they wanted and leave me the leftovers –”
    “You could have taken the money and done anything you wanted.”
    ...
    believe you.”
    “Not

    “Not
    with Joely
    ...
    you -”
    “They

    “They
    say you
    ...
    it twice.”
    THE END
    (view changes)
    7:45 am
  6. page Great Expectations edited GREAT EXPECTATIONS By Eve Fisher Ralph Alesund was one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet. He w…
    GREAT EXPECTATIONS
    By
    Eve Fisher
    Ralph Alesund was one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet. He worked at the Laskin grocery store for almost forty years, beginning with stocking shelves as a teenager. It was shortly after he made manager that his wife’s botched surgery required him to retire early. Between the settlement, Ralph’s renowned thrift, and their oldest daughter Sandra being an RN, Marie was cared for at home. After her death, Ralph stay retired, spending all his time in his garden, where he grew every vegetable, fruit, or flower that would survive a South Dakota winter. Handsome, caring, obviously lonely and a good dancer, any number of widows tried to marry him.
    The one who got him was Rose Skien, probably because she wasn’t all that eager to remarry. Her first husband, Ragnar, had been a farmer up by Sinai, one of those wild young men that people say need the love of a good woman. He got one, but he didn’t change. Thirty-five years later, he was driving drunk the night he was killed. Rose handled it, as she had her whole marriage, with dignity and grace. She moved to town, got an apartment and worked at the Laskin pharmacy, where she met Ralph. They married on her 62nd birthday, the sweetest old lovebirds you ever saw.
    It was happy endings for all – even Ralph’s children approved of their marriage – until Ralph was rushed to the hospital with a massive heart attack. He nearly died twice, before he got there and once in the middle of surgery.
    Sandra raced over to help – of course Ralph was airlifted to Sioux Falls – and then got her younger siblings Jim and Mitch down from Aberdeen and the Twin Cities to rearrange everything before Dad came home: a bedroom on the ground floor, a ramp (Jim cursing like a trooper as he hammered away), a complete revamp of the kitchen supplies (“Rose is wonderful, but she’s going to have to change the way she cooks”). Only Joely escaped the forced labor of love, but then Joely was hard to find. Mitch was the only one Joely stayed in touch with, and the last time he’d seen her she’d been headed to Mexico for “a little business, a little R&R.”
    “And why not Colorado, now that they’ve legalized marijuana?” Sandra asked. “Why does she have to go all the way to Mexico?”
    “I don’t know.”
    “You never know. You never know anything.”
    To be fair, Sandra was just as happy not to have to deal with Joely. Without her, they managed to complete Sandra’s to-do list in record time, in between runs to Sioux Falls to see their father.
    Every visit, Sandra filled Ralph in on all they’d accomplished. Jim would say, “And it didn’t cost near what it would have if we’d hired it.” Ralph would smile and nod, and ask for a few moments alone with Jim or Sandra. Mitch and Rose would sit in the waiting room and talk about Mitch’s life in Minneapolis with Dave. Then they’d all go downstairs to the cafeteria, where the siblings took turns buying dinner. One night Jim pulled out a hundred dollar bill, saying, “They’re bound to have change,” but they didn’t. Sandra only had a five and no checks. Rose was digging around in her purse when Mitch pulled out a credit card and saved the day.
    Later, on their way out to the parking lot, Jim grumbled about Mitch showing off, waving his credit card around, and started down old family quarrels, until Mitch finally said, “I wasn’t going to let Rose pay for dinner.”
    “I’d have paid her back.”
    No, you wouldn’t, Mitch thought, but he didn’t say it.
    #
    Ralph came home from the hospital looking white and flabby, shaken and shaky, leaning on his walker with Rose at his side, navigating. Sandra herded them like a mother hen up the ramp and inside to where Mitch had arranged flowers and light refreshments. Jim brought up the rear, carrying everything from a bag of clothing to a shoebox of old photos. Sandra set her father down in an arm chair while Jim dumped the lot and popped open a beer.
    “Oh,” Rose sighed, sitting on the couch. “Everything looks lovely. Thank you so much for all you’ve done.”
    “Oh, please,” Sandra said, waving her hand. “We’re happy to do it.”
    “You don’t mind the changes?” Mitch asked.
    “Anything that will help your father is fine with me,” Rose said. Sandra felt a new level of affection for Rose run through her. “If only Joely were here, everything would be perfect.”
    The emotion evaporated: Rose was wonderful, but she was still an idiot where that girl was concerned. And Mitch. But Jim and Mitch had to go home, Sandra back to work, while Rose was there, 24/7, endlessly cheerful and practical. She cooked dishes that were tasty and heart-friendly. She played endless games of gin. She listened to all his old war stories. And somehow she found Joely, who came running into the house one afternoon and flung herself sobbing on Ralph’s bed.
    Rose called Sandra to tell her the good news. Sandra managed to say, “Lovely,” and then called Jim to tell him the terrible news. But Jim didn’t care.
    “She needs to be here. You know that -”
    “I do not.”
    “As well as I do. Joely’s always been Dad’s baby girl.”
    Sandra hung up. She could see it in her mind: Ralph and Joely gazing at each other adoringly while Rose looked on with her tearful smile.
    #
    Joely never apologized, never explained, and never changed, Sandra thought. She was out partying the night after she came back, leaving Ralph sick with worry.
    “The least she could do is recognize Daddy’s a very sick man,” Sandra snarled. “She could stay home and help take care of him.”
    “Now, Sandra, she doesn’t know anything about medicine,” Rose said. “And it scares her.”
    “What does?”
    “Illness. Death. Not that your father’s dying –” Sandra and Rose both crossed themselves. “But Joely’s always been the youngest, and so pretty. And now she’s… well, it’s starting to crack.”
    “Crack being the operative word,” Sandra said. “Or rather meth.”
    “Oh, I hope not.”
    “Well, she’s hooked on something. I see it all the time at the hospital. You think I can’t recognize it in my own sister?”
    Rose sighed. “It’s so hard. And she does make it almost impossible to help her.”
    “You think?”
    Rose patted Sandra’s arm. “I know. She’s done everything wrong since she was born.”
    “It’s not that – it’s that she looks exactly like Mom. That’s why Dad is nuts about her.” Sandra glanced at Rose, who’d stiffened. “I’m sorry. Dad loves you. We all know that. It’s just, ever since Mom died, Joely –”
    “I know,” Rose interrupted. “Let it go. It’s punishing you, not her. After all, you’re the one with a future.”
    Later that night, when Sandra made her nightly call to Jim, he said, “She’s right.”
    “Maybe. Do you think Dad gives her money?”
    “Rose?”
    “No, Joely.”
    “God, I hope not. He got pretty fed up over that thing with Squeegees.”
    “You mean when she embezzled,” Sandra snapped. “Why can’t you just say it? You’re as bad as Dad. She embezzled three thousand dollars.”
    “Well, it is pretty embarrassing. And I don’t really want people knowing about it.”
    “People aren’t going to know about it because we’re talking on the telephone. And I’ll tell you what’s embarrassing. That she embezzled so little. Linda Thompson, you remember her. The Clerk of Courts?”
    “I know who Linda is. I dated her once before, she got hooked up with Gary.”
    “Well, the day of the trial, Joely smart-mouthed Linda, and she ripped Joely a new one. Told her that only an idiot embezzles that little. ‘If you’re going to do something that damned stupid, do us all a favor, make it a million, get away, and never come back.’”
    “I’ll bet Joely had something to say about that.”
    “Yeah. She said thanks for the advice - Oh, no. Rose is calling. Let me call you back. What is it, Rose?”
    “Sandra? I think we need to take your Dad back to the hospital. He feels clammy. And his breathing…”
    Sandra called the ambulance and raced over to the house.
    “I don’t think we can wait for the ambulance,” Rose said. “If you’ll help me get him out to the car –”
    But the ambulance was there, and moments later, Ralph was on his way. Rose rode with him while Sandra stayed behind and gathered clothing, toiletries, papers, pictures. She knew it was going to be a long haul.
    #
    Everyone was at the hospital in Sioux Falls by the next day except Joely, who was dropped off three days later by Laskin Police Officer Grant Tripp, who looked about as happy to deliver her as Sandra was to see her.
    “Where the hell have you been?” Sandra asked.
    Joely shrugged. Sandra might have slapped her, but Rose came out of Ralph’s room, so stern that even Joely kept her mouth shut.
    “Thank you,” Rose told Grant. “I’ll never forget this.”
    “I’m happy I could help,” Grant said, and left.
    Rose turned to Joely and sniffed. “I have a room with a shower here. 126. Go there, clean up, and then come and see your Daddy before he dies.”
    “Dies?”
    “His heart’s almost worn out, and you’re wearing it out faster.” Rose stalked off.
    “Well, I hope you’re happy,” Sandra said. “You’ve managed to tick off your biggest supporter in this family.” Joely sat down and started sobbing into her hands. It seemed sincere, even to Sandra. But all she said was, “Do what Rose said. Get cleaned up, and come to Dad’s room.”
    Days later, and everyone knew it was the end. Joely flung herself on Ralph’s bed in ICU and wailed.
    “Don’t cry, honey,” Ralph gasped. “A good life. Your mother. She was… angel.”
    “Oh, Daddy.”
    “You look… just like her. I loved her… so much. She was… the prettiest thing… I ever saw.”
    Later, Ralph managed to glance at Jim. “You know… what to do…”
    “I know, Dad.”
    “And be nice… to Rose. The house.”
    “Don’t worry,” Sandra said. “We’ll take care of Rose.”
    “Good.”
    Ralph slipped away. His breathing got steadily worse. A few hours later, he died.
    #
    After that came the chaos of funeral arrangements, telephone calls, obituaries, visitors, the will. Rose let Sandra and Jim handle almost everything. She gave Jim the master bedroom – “I can’t sleep there alone” – and took what had been the boys’ room. Joely was in the girls’ room, and Mitch was at the local motel. When Rose wasn’t “resting and remembering”, she was in the kitchen, crying, cooking, baking.
    “It gives her something to do,” Mitch explained to Sandra, who was in the irritable stage of grief where nothing pleased her.
    “And it gives us a lot better food than we’d get by going out,” added Jim, who appreciated home cooking more than ever since his divorce.
    “Or what’s being dropped off at the door,” Joely made a face.
    “You should be grateful you’re getting anything at all!” Sandra snapped at her.
    “Speaking of getting anything, when’s the will being read?”
    “You greedy –”
    “Sandra.” Jim’s voice sounded so much like his father’s that Sandra went quiet, and then burst into tears. “After the funeral,” he added.
    #
    The will had been drawn up by Ulf Vegard, the cheapest attorney in town, and the reading caused an uproar. The easiest part was that Rose had the right to live in the house, rent-free, for the rest of her life, after which, the house went to the kids, to be sold and the proceeds split equally among all. Everyone had always known that that was Rose’s portion. But the rest of the estate was left unequally: forty percent to Jim, who was also executor, thirty percent to Sandra, and fifteen percent each to Joely and Mitch. Along with an excruciating paragraph explaining why. Rose reached for Joely’s and Mitch’s hands. Joely shook her off and started shouting at Jim.
    “You set this up!”
    “There’s not a lot,” Jim said. “We’re none of us going to get rich off of this.”
    “Don’t hand me that!” Joely snapped back. “Dad got a bundle in that settlement over Mom’s death!”
    “That was fifteen years ago. It all got spent.”
    “Bullshit. Dad squeezed every nickel. That money is somewhere. I want to see the bank statements.”
    “It’s none of your damned business!” Jim snapped back.
    “None of my business? I got screwed out of an equal share, and by God, I’m going to make sure I’m not screwed out of whatever my fifteen percent should be. I want to know how much money there is.”
    “So you can go and spend it all on booze and drugs!” Sandra attacked.
    “Will you all shut up?” Mitch screamed. Everyone stopped and looked at him. “This is unfair to both of us, and both of you know it.”
    Sandra jumped in. “Dad was old-fashioned. You know that. And he was disappointed in you and Joely,” she added defiantly.
    “Was he disappointed in Rose?” Joely asked. “She didn’t get anything.” She looked around and said, “Where is Rose?”
    “She left,” Ulf said shortly.
    “And no one ran after her. Well, so much for Rose. She doesn’t get anything –”
    “She gets the house,” Jim said.
    Joely snorted. “How long before you screw her out of that, too?”
    “Now, Joely,” Mitch tried, but Jim was huffing.
    “I’m offended that you’d even think I’d do such a thing.”
    “Well, she’s what? Ten years married to Dad, so she’s seventy-two? If there really isn’t that much money, the house is a major asset. What if she lives another twenty years? That’s twenty years without a dime in your pocket. What if she gets sick? What if everything goes to taking care of her?” Sandra looked over at Jim. “See? You tight-wad son of a bitch.” Joely grabbed her purse and stormed out of the office.
    “Rose gets the house,” Mitch said, pleadingly. He’d seen the look running through Jim’s eyes.
    “Of course she gets the house,” Sandra said.
    “To live in,” Jim agreed.
    #
    Very late that night Mitch and Joely stood outside in the yard, Joely smoking, both drinking, both whispering.
    “What do you think we should do?”
    “We’ll never be able to break the will.”
    “But where’s the money? Dad got a ton of money. It’s got to be somewhere.”
    “I don’t know about that. I’ve seen the bank statements.”
    “How’d you manage that?”
    “Jim doesn’t worry about me the way he worries about you.”
    “Hmpf.”
    “Dad had ten thousand in a CD, about a thousand in a checking account. A mutual fund account of about fifty thousand. So we each – uh, let’s see…”
    “You and me, we’ll end up with a little over nine thousand. There has to be more than that. He got a million from the insurance company. Where is it?”
    “He’s been living off it for the last fifteen years.”
    “That and his pension. And Social Security. Dad was tight, he didn’t go anywhere, he didn’t do anything… There’s got to be a chunk left.”
    “Maybe.”
    “Maybe there’s another account.”
    “Nope.”
    “Then cash. Hidden somewhere. Dad didn’t like banks.”
    “Well, if he did, I don’t know where it would be. Under his bed? In one of the endless boxes marked photos? Out in the potting shed? It’s ridiculous. What are you going to do, search the whole property?”
    “Why not?”
    “I’m leaving tomorrow,” Mitch reminded her.
    “Good.”
    #
    Rose got up late the next morning, looking so groggy that Jim actually apologized: “I’m sorry everything exploded in front of you yesterday.”
    “Well, it was a very trying day. For everyone. Where’s Joely?”
    “She’s still asleep. Sandra’s at work. Mitch left for home.” Rose nodded. “You know that Dad only meant the best for us all,” Jim added.
    “I’m sure that’s what he hoped for. I’m not sure that’s what happened.”
    “But you know how disappointed –”
    Rose held up her hand. “When I married your father, I determined to love each of you impartially. I swore to never get in the middle, and I don’t think I have. Your Dad…” she blinked back tears, “I can’t talk about this now. I’m going to go for a drive while it’s still cool. And then I have a PEO luncheon. When I get back, I do not want to talk about this anymore. At least not for a while. All right?”
    “All right,” Jim said.
    #
    But at two o’clock that afternoon, Sandra got a call at work from a sobbing Rose: “Sandra, the house… I’m at the house… someone’s… everything’s been… it’s all torn up… someone’s robbed us!”
    Sandra called Jim on his cell phone as she drove over. “Where the hell are you?”
    “I went fishing. Met up with Bjorn Nelson, we’re having a late lunch at the Norseman’s. Why?”
    “Something’s wrong at the house. Rose called. Get over here now.”
    Sandra screeched into the driveway and ran inside. Rose was standing, dazed, in the middle of a mess that Sandra could never have imagined. Drawers open and emptied; closets wide open; papers and clothes and contents of all kinds strewn from one end of the house to the other.
    “Oh, Sandra!” Rose cried out. She raced into Sandra’s arms and burst into tears. “Thank God you’re here! Who? Who could have done this? Who would…”
    Sandra looked around over Rose’s shaking body. Joely, she thought. “There, there. Everything’s going to be okay. We’ll get this straightened up in no time. I’ve called Jim, he’s on his way.” She glanced in the kitchen which was, thankfully, largely untouched. She took Rose into the kitchen. “You sit here, and I’ll make you a cup of tea.”
    “But who could have… in broad daylight!” Rose moaned, and continued to moan as she drank her tea, nibbled a cookie, and watched Sandra begin to pick things up.
    Jim arrived, and the two siblings exchanged a knowing look.
    “You stay here, Rose,” Sandra said, “while Jim and I straighten things up. Then we can see if anything’s missing.”
    “Do you mind if I lie down?” Rose asked. “I… I just feel sick.”
    “Of course.”
    Sandra tidied up Rose’s room, got her tucked into bed, and then came back out and helped Jim frantically work through the rest of the house.
    “It’s gone,” Jim said.
    “All of it?” Sandra asked. They both looked grey in the afternoon light.
    “Every bit of it. Unless she moved it…”
    “Pfft. She took it,” Sandra said. “Her stuff and her car is gone. The question is, do we call the police?”
    Jim ground his teeth. “If we do that, word’ll get out. We’ll have to tell Rose and Mitch about the money. We’ll have to split it with him.”
    “Only fifteen percent.”
    “He doesn’t deserve any of it!” Jim snapped.
    “Yes, but if we don’t, Joely will have gotten away with it. With all of it.”
    #
    Late that afternoon two frustrated siblings and a puzzled Rose sat in the living room with Grant Tripp.
    “We need you to help us find Joely,” Jim said. “Actually, we need to file charges against her for theft. She’s stolen two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”
    Rose gasped, and Grant pulled out his notebook. “Who from?”
    “From us. Dad’s money. It’s what was left over from the settlement over Mom’s death. Dad was… frugal. And he didn’t believe in banks.”
    “Mm. Where was it?”
    “In an old shoebox marked ‘pictures’. In the closet. Under some others.”
    “How did she know it was there?”
    “She tore the place apart,” Sandra said. “Rose came home and found the place looking like vandals had been here.”
    Grant turned and looked at Rose, who nodded. “I’m sorry to hear that. Did she take anything else?” Grant asked.
    They all shook their heads. Grant wrote down everything, and then asked, “Do you have any proof that this money existed?”
    “What do you mean?”
    “Well, it’s only your word that you had that much money lying around in cash –”
    “Dad didn’t trust banks,” Jim reiterated.
    “Are you going to investigate or not?” Sandra asked.
    “I’ll talk it over with Detective Jonasson, see what he says. It would help if you had something, a photograph or –”
    “We both saw it! Isn’t that enough?”
    Grant turned to Rose and asked, “Did you see it?”
    “Ralph never told me about it,” Rose replied. “I knew about what he had in the bank, but this… It must have been extremely private. Between the kids and him. I’m sorry.”
    Grant nodded. “I’ll talk to Jonasson. I’ll let you know.”
    #
    Everyone in town knew about the missing hoard within the week. Jim and Sandra were frantic. Mitch swore he had no idea where Joely was, and while Jim wasn’t sure, Sandra believed him. Grant said they’d put out a bulletin looking for her, but had no guarantees. “And since it’s cash, she could do anything, be anywhere.”
    Cash. The thought of that cash woke Jim up in the middle of the night. Mitch got so fed up with Jim’s relentless questioning that he demanded his $9,000.00 inheritance, threatening a lawsuit if he didn’t get it. Jim, cursing, wrote him a check. Then he wrote himself a check for $24,000, Sandra a check for $18,000.00, and went home to Aberdeen, where he slouched around his apartment, angry and sullen and drinking too much. Sandra was much the same way, lying awake nights, flushed with discontent.
    The truth was, Jim and Sandra had long had higher expectations than a low five-figure inheritance. They had both planned better things once they got their hundred thousand plus. And each had, privately, gone into anticipatory debt. And now it was gone: Joely would never come back, and even if she did, she wouldn’t have a cent left. Rose’s quiet acceptance only aggravated things. They had lost everything, and the only thing left of value was the house, which was Rose’s.
    A few months later, Jim came down from Aberdeen, and he and Sandra asked Rose to sign a contract that spelled out her life interest in the house.
    “But that’s what the will said. Isn’t that legal enough?”
    “Oh, this is just to make sure that everything is in writing.”
    Rose read the document. “This is all about protecting you. It says that I will not sell the house, that I will return it to you, that I will not leave it to anyone else. Where does this protect me? Where is the clause saying you won’t sell the house out from under me?”
    “We would never do that to you!”
    “And I wouldn’t do it to you. But you want it in writing.”
    “Rose, this is just a precaution –”
    “And what about this clause reviewing the contract after ten years?”
    “It’s for your sake as well as ours. You might want to move to an apartment, or need special care –”
    “I’m not signing this.” She looked at them. “I never thought you loved me, but I thought you liked me.”
    “We do –”
    “I thought you cared a little about me.”
    “Rose –”
    “I was his wife, and you’re treating me like a housekeeper. A servant. Who gets to stay out of the goodness of your heart!”
    “Please, Rose,” Sandra pleaded. “It’s not like that.”
    “No, it’s not. This is your only asset now, isn’t it? And you want to cash it in.”
    “It doesn’t say that,” Jim said. “You get to live here. We just –”
    “I’d like you to leave now. I need to think about this. Decide what to do.”
    “Rose, it’s just a piece of paper,” Sandra said.
    “Yes. That’s the point. All these years and it’s all come down to just a piece of paper.”
    She stared at them until they left.
    #
    Rose refusing to sign was one thing: Jim and Sandra left certain that they’d talk her into it eventually. But then Rose took them to court for the house, and that got every tongue in Laskin wagging. Mitch, from Minneapolis, backed Rose. Up in Aberdeen, Jim helped pay Vegard’s fee. But it was Sandra who faced the town, every day, knowing that people were accusing her behind her back of wanting to boot a seventy-three year old woman out of her home so that she could sell it and pocket the money. Sandra, former cheerleader, homecoming queen, RN, who had nursed her dying mother and been so sweet when her father remarried, had always been on the winning side of the court of public opinion. Her first experience with a negative verdict wore her to a shadow. She literally could not stand it. Within a month she called Jim and told him he was on his own. She was backing out of the lawsuit.
    “But what about the house?”
    “Let her have it. You don’t know what it’s like, Jim. Even if we got it, I don’t think anyone would buy it. And if they did, they’d buy it to put Rose back in it.” Sandra started sobbing. “It’s awful. I can’t take it anymore. I just can’t take it!”
    Rose got the house.
    Sandra moved to Sioux Falls.
    Jim and Sandra and Mitch never spoke to each other again.
    #
    It was a little over a year later when Grant Tripp knocked at Rose’s door.
    “Why, Officer Tripp. Please, come in. What can I do for you?”
    “Well, Mrs. Alesund, I just got back from Sturgis. I was working as a deputy at the rally.”
    “What a job that must be.”
    “I ran into Joely.”
    “Oh, my.” Rose sat down. “How is she?”
    “Not so good. She’s –”
    “Wait. Would you like a cup of coffee?”
    “That would be great.” He watched as she made the coffee, poured it out, set bars on a plate. “Thank you.”
    “Now. Tell me about Joely. You say she’s not so good. Is she…?”
    Grant nodded. “She looked kind of rough. But that’s her choice. I talked to her about what had happened the day she left. She admitted she tore the house up, looking for the money, and she said she found some in a shoebox. But only five thousand. In hundreds. She said that was all there was. She still couldn’t believe it. I’m not sure I believe her, except… I know there was more money than that, because God knows how desperate Jim and Sandra were to get it back. So, I can’t help but wonder what you know.” His voice trailed off and he waited.
    Rose set down her cup and said calmly, “I took it. I left the five thousand on top of some toilet paper in the box. I burned the rest, later.”
    “You burned it? Why in God’s name did you do that?”
    “Because… Ralph and I were married for ten years. We split every bill. We were careful with every penny. I thought it was because we were both poor. Did you know that my first husband, Ragnar, made the farm over to his brother back when he realized we’d never have children? That was another deal no one ever told me about. I thought I’d get a share of the farm, but no. I was left with nothing but the prospect of Ragnar’s Social Security. I had to get a job. And then I met Ralph. I thought he was poor, but I didn’t care. He was such a wonderful man. We were in love. We were happy. That’s what I thought. And then I found out that he had all that money. Jim kept coming up with hundred dollar bills, and considering what a tight-wad he is I couldn’t help but wonder where he got them. So I watched. Every visit, Jim got out this box labeled ‘pictures’ and Ralph gave him a hundred bucks. So, when we got back home, before the second heart attack, I looked in the box.”
    “And found two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”
    Rose nodded. “For ten years, I bought whatever was on sale and cooked it. We almost never went out to eat. We never went on vacation but to the lake, camping. I cooked there, too. And he had all that money.”
    “It was for a rainy day, wasn’t it?”
    “It was for him. Maybe for the kids. It certainly wasn’t for me. He never even bought me a new dress.” Her mouth trembled. “Maria was his beloved wife. I was his housekeeper. I got nothing. Not even his true love…” Somehow she stopped the trembling. “As soon as he died, they ripped everything apart. He left me the house to live in, and it said in the will that they’d get it when I died. But I knew that wouldn’t be enough for them. And I was right. They wanted me to sign that paper, handing it over to them while I was alive. How did I know if they wouldn’t kick me out? And they wanted to come through and pick, pick, pick whatever they wanted in it. Take what they wanted and leave me the leftovers –”
    “You could have taken the money and done anything you wanted.”
    “They would have found out and come after me. You know Jim and Sandra. This way, no one got it. No one knows. You could tell them… but I’m not sure they’ll believe you.”
    “Not with Joely to blame,” Grant said. He thought about Sandra and Jim’s frustrated faces. He wasn’t sure if it was cruel or not. “He must have really hurt you -”
    “They say you can’t miss what you don’t have. They’re wrong. I know,” she gave a strangled sob. “I’ve missed it twice.”
    THE END

    (view changes)
    7:44 am
  7. page Miss West's First Case edited MISS WEST’S FIRST CASE By Eve Fisher January 6, 1947, and I hadn’t seen my boss, Ron Conroy, si…
    MISS WEST’S FIRST CASE
    By
    Eve Fisher
    January 6, 1947, and I hadn’t seen my boss, Ron Conroy, since January first, when he’d sneaked out of my flat at dawn holding his shoes and socks. “The least he could have done,” I sobbed, “was kiss me good-bye and lie that he’d see me later…” Johann Dreher, best friend and coworker, handed me a handkerchief and waited until I’d blown my nose and mopped up a bit. “Men are cowards, they really are. Give me a cigarette. He wasn’t at work Monday. Ethel said he was over in the Russian sector. He hasn’t been in the office all week. The only thing I’ve heard from him is this.” I handed him the memo. “He’s sending me to the Meidling Sanatorium. They need a bookkeeper. The bastard. The absolute bastard.”
    Johann blew a smoke ring leisurely at the ceiling, and commented, “It’s an assignment.”
    “It’s a temporary job. At a TB sanatorium.”
    “The Meidling is not so bad. I spend a lot of time there these days.”
    “Your ‘cousin’ Alexis?”
    He smiled. “A distant cousin. Yes.”
    “Socializing, while I’ll be stuck in a stuffy back room over a pile of books.”
    “Really, I am ashamed of you, Alice. Was it not you who told me that he who controls the books controls the world? There are things going on at the Meidling. You may be able to find out more than I, with your ‘nothing but books.’” He ordered us another round.
    “What sort of things? What are you working on there?”
    He shrugged. “Many things. Money, that washes around the Meidling like water. And people. They come and they go, and many of them have no business to be there. Very interesting. Very mixed. Vienna society in a nutshell, but everyone is coughing. Dying. Very fin de siècle. Wait until you see Mademoiselle d’Antin’s Sunday brunch. Marvelous champagne cocktails. You’ll have to buy yourself a new cocktail frock. Wine colored, please. No lace. No more lace!”
    “She’ll never invite me. I’m a bookkeeper.”
    “Who is an Elliot of Minto.”
    “Distantly.”
    “Your father is an Honourable, is he not? That is sufficient. You will be invited. They are all snobs, there, here, at the office.” A pang shot through me – was that the real reason Ron had pursued me? “Mademoiselle invites everyone, even the orderlies. You will not believe them – rough characters, my dear – more suitable for the penitentiary
    than for the Meidling. And Mrs. Pugh holds Thursday afternoon teas. Gossip and parading the young Paula, her niece, who is the loveliest thing one ever saw outside a fairy tale. She is waiting desperately for her Prince Charming to come and set her free from the castle and the dragon. The soft-scented, wide-lapped, lizard-lipped, fringe-topped, Devon dragon Mrs. Pugh.” I choked on my drink, laughing. “That’s better.”
    “Ron’s just trying to get rid of me,” I said, after I calmed down. “He thinks this is the easiest way out.”
    “Perhaps.” Johann reached over and grabbed my chin. “Stop crying. Listen to me. You want our American ally to want you, to desire you, to love you? Prove your independence. That’s what they really worship, all of them. So. Take this assignment –”
    “I have no choice but to take it.”
    “Take this assignment and do it well. Do the books. And look. I tell you, there is something going on at the Meidling. My nose knows. We will help each other. Discreetly. You will discover something, be something. You will earn Mr. Conroy’s respect. And perhaps his desire, it will come back to you. And if it does not – you will have done something worthwhile.”
    #
    So I went to work at the Meidling. Some parts of it were lovely. My office had a large window and two doors, one leading to the CFO’s office (Herr Laurens Hoffner), the other to the front office, where Sissy and Kristen typed, talked and smoked endless cigarettes. The Director, Willy Tressler, had his own office, his own assistant and his own secretary across the way, far from any actual work.
    Some parts were worse: My embezzling predecessor, Herr Weber, had left nothing but wreckage behind. I don’t know if you have ever tried to recreate accounts from miscellaneous scraps of paper, receipts, cheque counter-foils, etc., but it is miserable work. CFO Hoffner was deeply apologetic.
    “I know it will be a job of infinite difficulty, but we must get things back in order as soon as possible. The Meidling is one of the finest sanatoriums in Europe, and we must, how do you say? Make a restoration. Become fiscally sound again. Return to our standards.”
    And left me to do a job more suited to an archaeologist than a bookkeeper.
    I had so many questions: The orderlies and nurses were on a flat salary, while the administration – Hoffner smiled blandly when I mentioned that their salaries appeared to be on an upwardly sliding scale.
    “He who works with his mind earns more than he who works with his hands. This is true everywhere, nein?”
    “Of course. By the way, Herr Hoffner, what’s this about plumbing?”
    “Huh?”
    “Here, this list under Dr. Groen’s name, and Dr. Braun’s. And a few others. Listed under expenses, bonuses. P-L-M-B, P-L-M-B, over and over again. Twenty-four of them in the last two weeks. Are they fixing the pipes as well?” I stopped, because Hoffner was laughing himself sick. “Not plumbing. So, may I ask what it is?”
    “It is plombage, not plumbing. It is a surgical procedure for tuberculosis, to collapse the lung. It rests it. Many times it stops the disease altogether.”
    “You must be joking.” He wasn’t. “Well, we learn something every day. Thank you.” I looked over the list. “There seem to be quite a lot of these procedures...”
    “My dear Miss West, that is the decision of the surgeon. And our doctors, they are the finest in Europe. One does not ask the finest surgeon in Europe what he is or is not doing. He does it, and is paid for his services.”
    “Sounds more like a stud than a surgeon,” I muttered.
    “What did you say?”
    “Sounds like a stunningly good idea.” I smiled. He smiled. And I returned to the books.
    #
    Of course, my name spread throughout the Meidling as the girl who did not know plumbing from surgery… But Johann was right, and I received invitations to everything. I officially made my debut at Marguerite d’Antin’s Sunday brunch, which was heavy on drink and redolent of sex. She talked constantly about her fiancé, Robert, while her hands went up and down an orderly. Any orderly.
    “My grandmamma always told me that consumption made people randy,” I told Johann a couple of nights later. “Now I’ve proof.”
    “Never mind d’Antin. How is the plumbing coming along?”
    “Much too much of it. You have never seen so many leaky pipes. Almost everyone has apparently gotten a plumber, from Mademoiselle to the divine Paula. By the way, is her father the Victorian chaplain who roams the halls of Meidling?”
    “One and the same. He is the soldier, home from the wars.”
    “Mm. He’s the dead spit of Coventry Patmore in papa’s copy of ‘The Angel in the House’.”
    “Really? Well, he has had more than one angel – I hear he has been married more than once.”
    “So was Patmore.”
    “Ah, the Victorians. Prunes, prisms, and prurience. And Paula. I cannot believe that she needed a plumber.”
    “The books say she did. Almost every patient has had a plumbing incident, at least on paper. Including indigent patients, which is interesting, because who gives expensive surgery to the poor?”
    “A religious benefactor fulfilling his charitable duty?”
    “To Schmidt, Jones and Martin?”
    “Three men went into a hotel…” Johann paused. “I see. Good girl, Alice. Keep on the hunt. I must go. I will be out of town for a few days, but I will be attending Alexis’ Theosophy Society meeting on Tuesday. I will see you there.”
    “Must I?”
    “Consider it educational.”
    #
    “’Whatever reality things possess must be looked for in them before or after they have passed like a flash through the material world; but we cannot cognise any such existence directly, so long as we have sense-instruments which bring only material existence into the field of our consciousness.’”
    Alexis Engelhardt, reading from “The Secret Doctrine.” Only the coffee was keeping me awake. Attendance was… eclectic. A few doctors, a number of administrators, a scattering of women, including Paula Charthouse (chaperoned by Mrs. Pugh) and a couple of nurses. I came because of Johann, who wasn’t there. I’d seen him coming in the Meidling, but he’d turned aside, answering someone, and then disappeared down a hallway. It was a shame: I was wearing a claret-colored cocktail frock, silk, probably from a dyed parachute, but it looked lovely, and no lace.
    Alexis’ lungs lasted ten minutes. He coughed his way down from the podium and Herr Jungfeld rose to drone on about the Universe as the periodical manifestation of the unknown Absolute Essence.
    Drs. Groen, Braun, Muller and others arrived late, in time for coffee. Mrs. Pugh latched onto Dr. Groen, and I joined Alexis and Paula Charthouse, asking after her health.
    Paula smiled weakly. “The illusion of my material existence is being an infernal nuisance tonight.”
    “Perhaps you should go back to your room and lie down.”
    “Oh, I am so sick of being in my room, of lying down, of being ill… What I want is to be well, to live, to be strong and active and lovely. Like you.”
    I glanced around quickly to see who she was talking about.
    “The lovely Miss West is certainly an addition to our circle,” Alexis said. “But take courage, little Paula. You will get well. You are better than you were. And you are altogether lovely.”
    She looked at him with large blue eyes in a heart-shaped face in a halo of blonde hair – no wonder all the men were crazy about her. Although it was a bit of a waste on Alexis.
    “Ah, Miss West!” Dr. Groen said. “Have you learned any new medical terms lately?” He turned to Mrs. Pugh and said, “You have heard about how Miss West decided that I must be a plumber, not a surgeon.”
    Mrs. Pugh eyed me from head to foot with a reptilian smile. “That is a lovely frock; I hadn’t realized the pay here was sufficient for clerical staff to afford silk.”
    “I receive a small allowance from my family back in Roxburghshire,” I replied. Play that card shamelessly. “Scotland.”
    “Ah, yes. The seat of the Earl of Minto. I saw that you are related. Distantly, of course. I always check DeBrett’s. There are so many poseurs in Vienna, especially since the war has ended. Welcome, Miss West, to the Meidling.” Then she turned to Paula, “We must leave now. It is late. You need to rest.”
    “The poor child –” Dr. Groen said, watching them leave. “A long struggle with the disease. But we are winning. Someday she will have a normal life.”
    “I believe she would prefer a Cinderella’s life with Prince Charming.”
    “Very true. Who will it be? You, Alexis?” Alexis blushed. “No.”
    “It won’t be a patient,” I said. “She has been in sanatoriums all her life. Whoever will be her Prince Charming will not spit blood.” The gentlemen winced at my crudeness. “It will be someone distinguished, chivalrous, strong, true – after all, there is no more certain way of winning a woman’s heart than to save her life.” I gave Dr. Groen the admiring look that always charmed Uncle Minto. “All women are romantics at heart.”
    The doctor bowed, and left smiling.
    “You are discerning,” Alexis said. “He wants to marry die schöne Paula with all his heart. But first she must be cured.”
    “Why wait that long?” I asked. “I would think it better to let her have some fun before she dies.”
    #
    I’d already made a list of names and dates of “plmb” procedures, and I began to cross-check them against the actual patient files. But when Herr Hoffner, who had so far been cooperative and even complimentary, found me looking through Paula Charthouse’s file, he snatched it out of my hands.
    “What are you doing with this?”
    “I’m double checking the procedures listed against her actual file. To make sure the billing is accurate. And the receipts.”
    “Why would you question that?”
    “Because. I’m an accountant, and that’s what accountants do. We double-check, especially when it’s a matter of significant bonuses based on expensive procedures –”
    “I have told you that our surgeons are the best in Europe. All of these procedures were approved, completed, done. I must ask that you cease this waste of time and energy and return to the job for which you were hired. Or is this a matter of personal animosity towards Drs. Groen, Braun and others?”
    “Not at all, I am just trying to be thorough –”
    “And I appreciate your dedication. However, patient files are none of your business. They are private. Is that understood?”
    “Yes.”
    #
    Early that evening, after everyone had gone, I sat in the midst of my archaeological digs and considered. The bookkeeper had vanished. Certain records had been destroyed, but others had been left intact – such as the plumbing list. But what if there had been no embezzlement? What if it was just that, the war over, the Nazis gone, money had to be accounted for? Money stolen, money wasted, money pocketed, money from and for bribes, or dead people, or… But why account for it at all?
    Because there were going to be major reviews coming of every major institution in Vienna, which would include an audit.
    So a new set of books, carefully prepared and vetted by an outside accountant – an English accountant, supplied by the Americans – would be very useful.
    After the Anschluss, the Nazis had put their own personnel at the head of those organizations they didn’t simply shut down and loot. But Tressler and Hoffner had been at the Meidling for decades. Why had the Meidling been spared? I’d heard the Nazis were scared out of their uniforms by contagion. And it undoubtedly helped that almost every patient was wealthy enough to pay for their health and safety, in some cases (such as Mademoiselle d’Antin) despite the fact that they were not pure Aryan stock.
    And not every resident was or had been a patient. Sissy had gossiped that the Meidling isolation ward saw some interesting “patients” during the war, from Jewish bankers to ladies from the best brothel in Vienna. And of course Mrs. Pugh, that good Devon widow, had ridden out the war comfortably and safely at the Meidling thanks to her consumptive niece. What would she have done if Paula had suddenly been cured? Or married Dr. Groen? And why was he taking so long with his courtship? Of course, it might be… what about the doctors?
    I went over the plombage records again and again. Why hadn’t I noticed before that Dr. Braun’s receipts only began in 1939, Dr. Groen’s in 1940? After the Anschluss…
    I leaned back in my chair and heard the church bells chime seven. Much past time to go home. Everyone else was gone. I gathered my belongings, and went into the front office. On my right were the locked file cabinets, with patient and personnel records. I knew a few things about locks, and was about to apply them when a rough voice growled,
    “Was machst du hier?”
    It was one of the giant orderlies.
    “Ich war spӓt arbeiten,” I stammered out. “Ich gehe nun in meine wohnung.”
    “Du bist –”
    “Nicht ‘du’ mich,” I snapped. “Verwenden ‘Sie’ wenn -”
    “Working?” I jumped a mile as another orderly, shorter, thinner, older, came from behind the other. “So late? Alone?”
    “I am the bookkeeper. I was just leaving.”
    The new one was standing between me and the door. His mouth twisted. “What every mädel says when she meets a lover. Nicht wahr?”
    I drew back my shoulders and said, “I am going home now.” And walked, heart pounding, past the first one. The second one reached for my arm and turned me. “Let go of me!”
    “I say, what’s going on here?” A tall man, with silver temples, silver moustache, lean British face, and a clerical collar: Paula’s father, the Reverend James Charthouse. He looked at the two orderlies. “What in blazes do you think you’re doing? Get your hands off of her! Get out of here!”
    The two men jumped away from me, and the second said, “We were only wondering, what she was doing, so late in such a confidential –”
    “Nonsense! Who are you? What are your names? I’m going to report you!”
    The two men took off running; my rescuer watched them go, jaw clenched. He turned back to me and said, “Don’t worry. I know who they are. I’ll report them first thing to the personnel manager. Are you all right?”
    “Yes. Just a little shaken.”
    “I’m sorry, I haven’t introduced myself –”
    “I know who you are,” I said. “I’m Alice West, the bookkeeper.”
    “I know. I’ve heard of you from my daughter. I was visiting her, that’s why I’m still here.”
    “Of course.”
    “You look shaken. Allow me take you to dinner. A good meal and a drink, that’s what you need.”
    Well, you don’t turn down a knight, do you? Although I could almost hear Johann saying, “Charming man. But a very convenient rescue…” But it was a free meal…
    #
    Over dinner, I told him a version of the story of my life, which included the Austrian chap I fell for, but it didn’t work out. He told me a great deal about Paula, and of his first wife, who died in childbirth, and his second, who died in an air raid. He also asked how I came to be at the Meidling.
    “Through a coordinating agency, a minor branch of the USACA. They sent me over to do the books.”
    “And how are they?”
    “That’s confidential.”
    “Well, all I can say is thank God you’re here. Word is there are going to be reviews coming of every institution in Vienna, finances, personnel, the whole ball of wax. I was rather hoping you were the forerunner.”
    “If I were, it would be terribly indiscreet for me to tell you.”
    “Well, it may be indiscreet, but Groen and half the surgeons are Nazis. Braun came with the Anschluss. Assigned by Nazi headquarters.”
    “Has anyone notified the Regional Courts?”
    “Oh, yes. First thing I did when I came here. But Nazis or not, surgeons are surgeons. I was told the Meidling was lucky to have them. Hah!”
    “Mm. Speaking of surgeons, did your daughter ever have a plombage treatment?” He looked blankly at me. “Surgery for her tuberculosis.”
    “No. Thank God we were spared that. Why?”
    “Because, it appears that a number of patients were listed – wrongly – as having surgical procedures. Now I need to go back and ascertain if they were also charged for those procedures.” I looked at him over my wine. “Would you care to help me?” A sudden surge of eagerness took years from his face. “My supervisor –”
    “Hoffner or the Americans?”
    I ignored that – “feels that I am wasting valuable time, but it might be important…”
    “I am entirely at your service.”
    I took a sip of wine, a bite of veal. Delicious. Charthouse was watching me, interested, curious, attracted... That was delicious, too.
    #
    The next day I had lunch with Alexis, which made an interesting contrast. We discussed Mozart, Trollope, Tolstoy, the new Dior collection – there was a little black cocktail dress that Alexis highly recommended, now that he thought I was a Minto with money – and, of course, the sanatorium.
    “Everyone is talking about the incident last night. How you were threatened! How the brave English pastor came to your rescue! By the way, have no fear. The two have been fired, thrown out of the Meidling forever. I understand they have been causing problems with the female staff all along, but this incident with you… The final straw.”
    “Do you know who they were?”
    Alexis smiled cattily. “I am sure Mademoiselle d’Antin would know.”
    I shook my head. “For shame.” He snickered. “Tell me, whatever happened to your cousin?” Alexis shifted in his chair. “Wasn’t he being treated here as well?”
    “Oh, no. He merely came to visit. Did you know him?”
    “I met him at a d’Antin Sunday. He told me about the Theosophy lectures.”
    “Really?” A hesitation. “He attended a couple of them, but he was, sadly, called away a while ago. Back to Strasbourg, where he is working on a fat goose, I have no doubt.”
    “Perhaps he’ll come and visit again.”
    “I doubt it. If I ever leave here alive, I will never return. Why should he?”
    I thought to tell him that I knew my proverbs as well as anyone – but I could hear Johann’s voice saying, “Totally untrustworthy, my dear.”
    God, I missed him.
    #
    Sissy told me the names of the two orderlies: Franz Weber and Heinrich Pollard.
    My chaplain told me that a significant number of patients, including Paula, had not had surgery, nor been billed for it. And yet money had been passed, from somewhere, to somewhere, at least on paper, for a procedure that had not been done…
    He also asked me out to dinner again. I accepted, but for a later date. Never seem too eager.
    #
    From the bastard: “You still work here. Regular reports are expected. RC.”
    From Ethel Toplady: “Nothing from JD. Boss furious. Keep it up.”
    From Johann: nothing.
    #
    That night I went over to Johann’s flat after work and let myself in with the spare key. His flat was smaller than mine, one room with a gas ring in the corner, but far more luxurious, real Turkish carpets, rich drapes, plummy furniture. I locked the door behind me and searched the place as thoroughly as I knew how. As far as I could tell, nothing was missing. Wherever he had gone, he had taken nothing except the clothes on his back. The plants were almost dead, so I watered them.
    I gathered everything with even a scrap of writing on it and took it home, where I sat down with a glass of wine and read. Nothing too embarrassing. Nothing indiscreet. Nothing political. But, tucked in his address book, under “W” for West, a sheet of doodles:
    “Schmidt, Jones and Martin went into a…”
    [doodled: a transport van, a knife, a swastika, a hammer and sickle.]
    And then “Borders? Boarders?”
    Separate line: “Scots wha’ hae?”
    “W” for West, indeed. Oh, where the hell was he?
    #
    The anonymous note left on my desk said:
    “Who do you think you’re fooling? You’re nothing but a slut and a trollop. Everyone knows you’re raking in the money, on your backside and on your back. You deserve whatever you get.”
    The handwriting did look familiar, but whose?
    #
    “It is very simple. ” Mademoiselle d’Antin told me over an afternoon champagne cocktail. Actually, quite a few of them. “They are all mad. Theosophy. Bah! Madame Blavatsky, that woman with the face of a cow. If they had anything else worth the doing, they would do it. Now they are all studying Russian to read Madame in the original. Little Alexis, he is leading it all. Him and that doctor with the nose of a renard. Now that Germany has lost, they are all fascinated with Russia.”
    “Why not with Britain? Or America?”
    “The Americans are savages,” she said, and I nodded sympathetically, thinking of Ron. “The British… ah, well. If they were all like our Pére Charthouse. He is very attractive. C’est sa bouche. If it were not for Robert, even I… But do not pity me. I have my fiancé. And I have my distractions… It would be better if they were here longer, but… they come and they go and there is no time to train them properly.”
    “Where do they go?”
    She leaned in to me. “Who knows. Pft. Poor Alexis. He is an invert. Like Proust. He looks very like him, does he not? Even worse, he is a Communist. No one knows that. His cousin was an invert as well. I do not think he was a Communist.”
    She passed out, spilling her drink on the carpet.
    #
    Thursday afternoon, Mrs. Pugh’s High Tea: Dr. Braun, eating his weight in cream cakes; Dr. Groen, hovering over Paula; Herr Hoffner, pontificating; Mlle. d’Antin, looking desperately for something alcoholic; Mrs. Pugh, talking to me.
    “She has always borne her treatments bravely.”
    “I am sure she has. I don’t know what she would have done all these years, if it were not for your support.”
    That satisfied smile. “I have always done my duty. And I love my niece.”
    “I’m sure you do. You are aware that Dr. Groen is in love with her? Has he always been?”
    “Many men have been enamored of my niece. And many women have been attracted to my brother-in-law. He was married, you know, to my sister.”
    “I assumed that, since Paula is your niece.”
    “She… Louise… died young.”
    “In childbirth? Or afterwards?”
    “In childbirth. A great tragedy.” It burst out, like pus from a wound: “He married her best friend. Very precipitately. Shortly thereafter, she died as well. Drowned in the Irish Sea.”
    “How tragic. What was her name?”
    “Beryl. And then there was Violet. She died in the air raid.” Mrs. Pugh was trembling. “There was another… All his wives die young.”
    “It sounds very sad.” And sinister. I had to look into this. I’d had dinner with him the night before. Ethel would pull his dossier for me. But Mrs. Pugh – was she trying to warn me or traduce him?
    #
    I was writing up my weekly report that Sunday afternoon when Ron walked in.
    “Where have you been lately?” he asked.
    “At work.”
    “I saw you at the Gasthaus Kopp the other night with that priest. What was that about?”
    “Nostalgia. ‘Give me just a country cottage, Where the soot of ages falls, And to crown a perfect morning, look! An English vicar calls!’ Besides, a priest can be a perfect mine of information. Access to everything.”
    “So have you gotten anything out of this paragon?”
    “Access to patients and religious instruction. In fact, as a licensed Eucharistic lay minister, I will be able to go around with him on Sundays and meet them all.”
    Actually, that wasn’t a bad idea. And suddenly it all fell into place: Schmidt, Jones, and Martin; denazification; the four zones; the orderlies… it all made sense, except Alexis. But I didn’t give a damn about him. I wanted to find Johann.
    “Alice!”
    I jumped. “What?”
    Ron was glaring at me. “I asked what the hell do you know about religious instruction?”
    “My father is rector at St. Cuthbert’s in Hawick.”
    “Does he do confessions? Charthouse, I mean, not your father.”
    “I have no idea.”
    “No, you wouldn’t. Hardly your style, is it?”
    I tossed him my report and left.
    #
    I didn’t like being told that Charthouse wasn’t my type, style, whatever. Especially because he was, more than Ron would ever be, in background, upbringing, class. So he was older than I. What Ron would never understand – even if I told him, which I would never do – was that with that Victorian looking pastor came a whole childhood of playing on wet lawns under scudding skies, reading Charlotte Yonge in dark rooms smelling of old books and pipes, singing hymns in a church redolent of candles, damp, and human bodies. Quiet, peaceful, safe. And so dull and stifling that I practically rejoiced when war broke out. How was I to know what I’d see, hear, do? I could never go back.
    But Charthouse had a husky voice, gentle hands, and a passion that would surprise only those who believe that Englishmen are their illusion. Being with him was like balm in Gilead.
    Of course, there were those wives.
    What was I going to do with him?
    Oh, the hell with it. I could figure that out after I found Johann.
    #
    “Schmidt, Jones, and Martin,” I said.
    “What was that?” Herr Hoffner asked.
    “It’s an old joke,” I said. “Schmidt, Jones, and Martin? Three men went into a hotel – ” I told the clean version, with the puzzle.
    “I have heard that before. Very clever.”
    “By the way, isn’t there anything we can do about the orderlies?”
    “What do you mean?”
    “The turnover. It’s atrocious. And most of them have no medical background whatsoever –”
    “Miss West, we have just gone through the worst war in the history –”
    “I’m well aware there’s been a war. That’s what I mean. There are people lined up five deep to get any job at all, many of them trained medical personnel, who would be happy to begin as an orderly at the Meidling. Instead, you’re hiring common toughs who come and go at the drop of a hat.”
    “If there is a problem, take it up with Herr Bouman. He is in charge of personnel. I have heard no complaints.”
    “You mean you haven’t heard how the patients have to keep everything under lock and key? All the petty thefts? The incidents with female staff?”
    “If this is true…” He glared at Sissy who was snorting. “Obviously we must beef up security.”
    “You need to hire people who are qualified for the job,” I said.
    But then, if I was right, they were exactly qualified, just in the wrong place…
    #
    “I received a new housekeeper,” Charthouse said.
    “Received?”
    “She said she was sent by the – what was the coordinating agency you mentioned?”
    Damn Ron, was what I thought. Putting a spy into Charthouse’s house was fairly low. What I said was, “Were you looking for a housekeeper?”
    “Well, of course. Everyone is.”
    “Then they finally found one. Lovely for you. Two questions.”
    “Yes?”
    “First of all, What do you know about Theosophy?”
    “I don’t think much of it, I’m afraid. And even less of the little group here.”
    “They seem to take it quite seriously: I heard they’re planning to read Blavatsky in the original Russian.”
    “Hah! She wrote most of her indigestible prose in English.”
    Well, that opened up another train of thought.
    “And your second question?” he asked, almost in my ear.
    He did have a sweet mouth… “I was wondering if you could use a Eucharistic lay minister? Myself? I am licensed, at least I was, in Scotland. My father is a parish priest –”
    “Yes, I remember you telling me.” The expression on his face was very strange.
    “And I thought, as this place is not exactly humming with C of E help…” I waited. “What do you think? I really would love to help out.”
    “Might I ask why?”
    “Does it matter?”
    “No,” he said, and his eyes glowed like sapphires.
    #
    Sunday morning. The isolation ward was as locked and shuttered and barred as an insane asylum, but with more comfortable rooms. At least the walls were painted white, and the beds were soft. It had taken some persuading to get my chaplain to let me accompany him here. To the terrible sound of tubercular coughing, he laid his hands upon them and prayed – “to drive away all sickness of body and spirit” – anointed them – “and restore you to wholeness and strength” – and, when they could receive it, gave them Communion.
    The rite, repeated from body to body, soul to soul, was hypnotic, comforting, peaceful. Josef Ahlers; David Hendricks; Kristin Hetzel; name after name, room after room.
    Then we came to the indigents: Karl Schmidt was a large German who played mute and looked like he actually needed a bloodletting. Amon Martin wasn’t even there. Aaron Jones was unconscious, drugged to keep down his pain. He was also Johann, or rather what was left of him. I nearly cried as Charthouse put his hands on his wasted head and he never even moved.
    “I need to leave, now,” I whispered out in the hallway.
    “But there are three more patients.”
    “Of course.” I didn’t dare arouse any suspicion at this point.
    “If you need to go and get a breath of fresh air…”
    His eyes were sympathetic above his mask. He thought I couldn’t handle the ward, the sick, the dying, and I instantly wanted to impress him with my toughness – but Johann’s welfare had to come first.
    “Just for a moment.”
    He nodded, and I left. I glanced down the hallway. Sister was up at the other end, and the nurse’s station was empty, so I used her telephone and dialed the emergency number.
    “Yes?” Ron growled.
    “Johann is here, in the isolation ward, near death. Send help. Now.”
    I hung up, my heart pounding, thinking: I’d found Johann. He was alive. I had found him. He was alive.
    Charthouse came out of the last room and saw me standing by the nurse’s station.
    “Feeling better?” he asked.
    “Much.”
    “Shall we wash our hands and go to dinner?”
    “In a few minutes.” I had no intention of going anywhere until I was sure that Johann would be safe. “I must ask you something. When I first came to work here, Mademoiselle d’Antin said that you had been married twice.”
    “Ah, a great tragedy, that poor young woman. I feel so sorry for her.”
    “And you agreed. On the other hand, your sister-in-law took pains to inform me that you have been married four times. Could you please tell me how many times you’ve been married?”
    He blushed like fire. “Must we really speak of this now?”
    “It’s vital that I know. After all that has happened between us…”
    He began a long, stammering explanation that was interrupted when Dr. Groen burst in through the doors of the isolation ward, calling to Sister to help him move one of the patients at once.
    “Quick,” I hissed at Charthouse. “Stop him. Distract him. Anything. NOW.”
    Bless him, he turned on his heel immediately and went over to Groen. “I say, is there anything wrong? Is there anything I can do? I’ve got a bit of medical training, you know.”
    “Nothing,” Dr. Groen snapped. “This is an emergency.” I had maneuvered myself in front of Johann’s room. “You must move! Now!”
    “But what kind of emergency? I was just in there,” Charthouse continued.
    Groen lunged at and past me, with enough violence so that I could make it look as if he had knocked me down. Charthouse grabbed him, turned him, and hit him hard in the jaw – a punch straight out of Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Groen slammed into the wall as the police swarmed in, Ron bringing up the rear.
    “Johann’s in there,” I told Ron as a couple of officers got control of Groen and Charthouse helped me to my feet. “He’s almost dead.”
    “Are you all right?” Charthouse asked me.
    “Don’t worry, we’ll get him out of here at once,” Ron said. “The AKH should be safe. I’ll put a guard on him.”
    “Are you all right?” Charthouse repeated.
    “I’m fine. How about you?”
    “Perfectly well.” His blue eyes bored into mine. “Johann? Is he your Austrian chap?”
    “No. We work together, and we’re friends, but that’s all. Why are you smiling?”
    “Because.”
    #
    Johann was close to dying for a couple of days, and he was weak as water for almost a month. I was the one who explained to Ron that Dr. Groen (at least) had been using the sanatorium as an employer of ex-Nazis (such as the orderlies) and the isolation ward as a place to hide them - and from which to transport them - when and if the denazification sections caught up with them.
    “Also handy get rid of people who were a problem. Like Johann.”
    “I knew you could do it,” Johann breathed.
    “Mm. Did you know anything about this?” Ron asked Johann.
    Johann shook his head. “I had a suspicion. But I was looking into the Communists. Alexis. And his friends. They…” he ran out of breath and looked at me, so I took over.
    “They’ve been using the Theosophical Society meetings to transmit information to one another and the Russians. And using the impenetrable works of Madame Blavatsky as a code –”
    “Which I’d almost broken,” Johann gasped his boast. “But then Alexis found out. Told Groen. Something or other.” Johann gave a weak smile. “He performed an unhygienic plombage on me. With a knife.”
    “In other words, he stabbed Johann,” I continued, “and put him in the isolation ward. Drugged, starved, and left to become just another tubercular corpse.”
    “But all is well. Thanks to Alice.” Johann kissed my hand and went back to sleep.
    “Another damn thing to investigate,” Ron growled, but quietly, so as not to disturb Johann.
    Dr. Groen and Dr. Braun were put into custody, half the orderlies were arrested, and the other half vanished like rats off a ship. Alexis and many others were taken in custody and interrogated at length. Three Russian agents were quickly liquidated. Chief Inspector Shchapov was furious.
    Of course anyone who had attended the society meetings was questioned. Even Mrs. Pugh, who disdainfully described the Theosophical Society as “Absolute rubbish. The only reason I attended was to be civil.” She held her own until Dr. Groen’s name was brought up, and then went into hysterics before she admitted that she’d been bribing him to be her personal physician throughout the war.
    “I believe she’s telling the truth,” I told Ron. “But don’t worry. I’ll keep an eye on her.”
    “You’re not needed at the sanatorium any more.”
    “I know that. She’s going to be my sister-in-law.”
    “What?”
    “James and I are going to be married.”
    “James?”
    “James Charthouse. The chaplain.”
    “You’ve got to be kidding.”
    “Not at all.”
    “You do know he’s been married before.”
    “Four times. Three deaths, one divorce. Ethel ran a background check on him for me. I’ve already updated his dossier.”
    “Marry - Why?”
    “Because. He amuses me. He knows when to do what he’s told. And he is rather attractive.”
    “That’s ridiculous! Insane!” he bellowed. He grabbed me by the arms and asked, “What do you want? A raise? A promotion? A ring?”
    “Respect, a raise, and a rise might be nice. James at least provides respect.”
    “He might kill you. My God, I could kill you.”
    “But it would be the perfect cover. As a chaplain’s wife, I could go anywhere, do anything, ask all sorts of questions – it’s ideal. I thought you’d be pleased.”
    “If you think I won’t call your bluff…”
    And that’s how I got my first case.
    THE END

    (view changes)
    7:42 am
  8. page Iron Chef edited IRON CHEF By Eve Fisher In Laskin, South Dakota, the Davisons have always been the equivalent o…
    IRON CHEF
    By
    Eve Fisher
    In Laskin, South Dakota, the Davisons have always been the equivalent of the Sopranos, just not so organized. It’s simply assumed that a Davison will start criminal activity early and stick with it unless, like John Davison, they have a knack for marrying money. Randy Davison, nephew of Siv, grandson of Dave, great-grandson of Ole, didn’t have much of a chance.
    Not that Randy wanted one. In junior high, he was a thin, twisting otter on lit basketball courts and through dark basement windows, landing feet first almost every time. His education ended his freshman year of high school, when his cousin introduced him to meth. By the time he was eighteen, his good looks were melting away in skin sores and lost teeth, and his vocabulary was pretty much variations in F Major. His mother wept as he was handcuffed after being sentenced to prison, but Randy’s response was, “What’s your problem, Mom? I finally did something you told me to do – I’m going to the pen.”
    Siv Davison backhanded him. “Dumbass.”
    “You’re not gonna do something about that?” Randy shouted at the sheriff. “He hit me, and I’m all cuffed up. I can’t even defend myself!”
    “Get him outta here, will you?” Siv said, and for once Sheriff Hanson was happy to comply with a Davison request.
    Randy went into prison bragging, because he believed it proved he was tough, in the same way that knowing how to make a band-aid from toilet paper and tape proved he had street smarts. But what had worked before, sort of, in high school and the mean streets of Sioux Falls, didn’t work so well in the pen.
    Ole Davison, Randy’s lifer uncle, took time out at rec to talk to him: “Look, punk. Just shut up and behave. You’re giving us all a bad name. Stick with Elgar, he’ll cover you. I told him to. But you keep on the way you’re going – you’re not gonna survive.”
    Randy didn’t say anything back – he had some sense – but he shrugged and walked off.
    “Well, you tried, Ole,” said a buddy.
    Ole nodded. “He’s going to have to learn the hard way.”
    The hard way was a savage group assault that required hospitalization. When Randy returned to the tier, pale, limping, and very quiet, he slipped under Elgar’s wing and stayed there. But Elgar was released a year later, and Randy, on his own, went back to attitude. And dreams. Soon he’d be up for parole, and he’d talk his mother into taking him home with her. A little R&R, right? And he’d stay with her, because she’d be happy to have him, she’d be missing her little boy. Before you knew it, he’d be back in business. And he’d never, ever, ever come back.
    But his mother didn’t come for him. She finally remarried, and her new husband, who was not a Davison, wanted nothing to do with Randy. Nor was he paroled. Instead, a CO loaded him into a van and took him on a long silent drive to the Spirit Mound Work Farm, a jumble of buildings in the middle of nowhere.
    “Here you go,” the CO said, and left.
    Randy took one look around – or rather, took one good whiff – and said, “I ain’t gonna stay here.”
    “Son, you’ve been transferred here,” Leif Anderson, the manager, replied. “You can’t just leave when you want.”
    “That’s not what my lawyer says,” Randy bluffed. “My Mom, she’ll come get me. She’ll get me out.”
    “Give her a call.”
    Anderson took him inside the kitchen, where a heavy-set woman was cleaning up after lunch with the help of two inmates. Only the inmates paid any attention as Randy demanded, asked, pleaded, and begged his mom to get him out and back home. Finally he slammed the phone down – “see if I f---ing care” – kicked the door open, and slammed it hard behind him.
    It might have been the strong sunlight or the ammonia smell of pigs and geese that made Randy’s eyes water as he stood looking at those miles of corn. The barns looked small under a hard blue sky. A handful of young men were standing by the nearest barn, having a pop. Something made them all howl.
    “What the hell are you laughing at?” he yelled.
    “Just you,” one of them yelled back. It was Trent Fourche, a distant cousin. He peeled himself off the barn wall and walked over. “When’d you get here, Randy?”
    “Right now.”
    “Anybody show you around yet?”
    “Nope. I ain’t staying long anyway. My Mom, she’s working on it to get me out.”
    “Aw, did you call your mommy to come get you?”
    Randy leaped on him, and the two fell into a wrestling/punching match. More guys came out and watched until Yardley Davison, another cousin, came out and literally tore them apart.
    “You settled down now?” Yardley asked, shaking Randy like a rag doll until Randy gasped,
    “Yes.”
    “Good. Come on. I’ll show you around.”
    #
    Randy was given a bedroom in the old farmhouse, a pair of blue jeans, a white t-shirt, a set of coveralls and tennis shoes, and set to work. He didn’t like any of it. The bedroom was tiny and hot, and he had to share it with a guy named Provo, who was twice his size and snored. The work coveralls reminded him of the jumpsuits at the pen, and he had to wear the same crusty, filthy pair to work all week.
    The geese scared him: there were hundreds of them, and they weren’t afraid of him at all. They ran right at him, hard yellow beaks open and hissing, ready to bite. He couldn’t hit or kick them either – Elgar had warned him the boss would have his hide if he did. Instead, he jumped back, ducking behind the other guys as they spread their arms wide and walked towards the birds, flapping their arms and hissing back at them. It actually worked: the geese waddled quickly away from them.
    “You gotta show ‘em who’s boss,” Cal said. He was a big black guy from Mississippi, who’d spent summers on a farm. “You run, they’ll run after you. They catch you, they’ll bite your fingers right off.”
    “No, they won’t,” Randy said defiantly.
    The hogs were worse, huge, with tusks and small savage eyes. The hog pens stank, the lagoons were worse, and:
    “You slip and fall in, not much gonna come out,” said Rosti, the head hog man and Anderson’s right-hand man.
    “Yeah,” Yardley confirmed. “They eat anything. Even people.”
    “No, they don’t,” Randy protested. Barely.
    “Oh yeah? Watch this.” Yardley picked up a dead squirrel and slung it into the pen, to the gobbling delight of the hogs.
    And the other inmates just ticked him off. They were always telling him what to do, laughing at him when he screwed up, disrespecting him. One night he heard them talking about him, in the old shed they called the clubhouse:
    “What was he busted for, anyway?” Cal asked.
    “Drugs. Meth,” Yardley replied.
    “He do anything else?” someone else asked.
    “He’s not much good at anything else.”
    “He wasn’t bad at B&E,” Trent added. “He’s kind of like a weasel; he can slide into most any kind of window.”
    “Mm. On his own, or someone tell him what to do?”
    Yardley snorted. “He’s no hunting dog; he’s gotta have a handler.”
    Another voice: “Can’t imagine anyone wanting to handle him.”
    And everyone laughed.
    God, he was sick of people talking about him, laughing at him. It wasn’t fair. He’d never lived on a farm, damn it. How was he supposed to know how to handle animals? And why should he? He wasn’t going to make a career out of this, that was for damn sure. As soon as he could, he was heading out to Sioux Falls or Omaha or even Chicago, and never set foot on a farm again.
    “It ain’t fair,” he whined to the cook, Donna Anderson, late one morning as he scrubbed pots and she worked on lunch. After failing at hogs and geese, he was now on what seemed eternal KP duty. “I’m a city boy.”
    “You’re from Laskin. That’s no city.”
    “It’s the county seat. It’s more of a city than this damn place.”
    “Just about anywhere’s more of a city than here. We’ve got to get lunch going. Come over here and stir this until it browns.”
    He walked over to the stove. “Where’s Lynn and Mercer?”
    “Mercer came up sick this morning. And Lynn’s off getting groceries with Mr. Anderson. Taking their damn sweet time about it, too.”
    “He got to go to town? How come I didn’t get to go?”
    “Because I need some help.”
    “That ain’t fair.”
    “Nothing’s fair. Let me know when that roux’s brown, and don’t let it burn. Keep stirring, it keeps the lumps out.”
    After a while, he asked, “How did you know I’m from Laskin?”
    “Never met a Davison that wasn’t.”
    “This stuff’s brown.”
    “There’s hot stock in that pan behind you. Pour it in slowly and keep stirring.”
    He did. She watched him, and when he was done, said, “Good job. You’ve done this before, haven’t you?”
    He shrugged. “I used to help my grandmother some times.”
    After lunch, over dishes, he asked, “Why do you stay here?”
    “Somebody’s got to get lunch.”
    “I mean here. Working.”
    “My family’s here.” He’d heard that she was Anderson’s daughter-in-law. And that her husband had died young. “Besides, where else would I go?”
    “Somewhere big. Somewhere there’s something to do.”
    “Takes money to do things. They don’t give anything away free in a city.”
    “Yeah, well, someday I’m gonna make a ton of money and have everything I want.”
    “I buy a lottery ticket every week myself. You know, you want to make a lot of money, you could do worse than learn to cook. Chefs, they make a lot of money.”
    “Then how come you’re here?”
    “I’m a cook. There’s a difference. You take those men chefs, Emeril and Wolfgang Puck, they make a mint. Watch the Food Channel once in a while, you’ll see.”
    There was a kick at the door, and “Donna!”
    She went over and let in Anderson, carrying a huge box of groceries. “Where are the boys?” she asked.
    “Back in town.” Anderson slung the box on the table. He looked tired and angry. He turned to Randy and said, “There’s a whole lot more out in the truck. Go get ‘em.” To Donna, he said, “I gotta go make a bunch of phone calls. Those stupid –” He stopped, and glared at Randy, who hadn’t moved. “You gonna get those groceries or what?”
    Outside, word spread that something had happened, and five guys showed up to volunteer to help take the groceries inside. Randy heard “in what fit of stupidity I do not know -” broken off as they marched in. Anderson looked at the guys, shook his head and went into his office.
    #
    Lynn and Wes had been arrested. Anderson had given them permission to go to the local café for a burger and fries while he went to do some business (rumors flew of alcohol and/or sex). The two young men ordered their meal, bolted it, and then headed out the back door. Barely two hours later they were under arrest for breaking and entering into the home of Mrs. Pug Pervald, a ninety-two year old widow who would have been an easy target, except her son was home from Mankato for a visit. By the weekend everything was confirmed, Lynn and Wes had been arraigned, and were back at the pen for parole violation, pending their trial.
    “What the hell were they thinking?” Provo wondered.
    “They were thinking they were gonna get some cash and a car and head out of state,” Cal said.
    “Just what you’d expect from that pair of dumb-asses.” Yardley commented.
    Trent nodded. “Yeah. Well, they blew it for us, didn’t they?”
    “What’d they blow?” Randy asked.
    There was a pause. “Us going to town,” Trent finally said. “Anderson won’t take us anymore.”
    “Oh, he’ll take us when he needs help hauling. But we won’t be let out of his sight.” Cal sighed. “No more burgers and fries.”
    “Worse, no more lap dances at the Kit-Kat,” Trent groaned.
    “When the hell did you get to go to the Kit-Kat?”
    “The time Anderson delivered all those geese down to Sioux Falls.”
    “Oh, God. A lap dance. It’s been so long.” Cal gyrated.
    “Marcy. Blonde and tight and sweet with it,” Trent said, his eyes closed. “She got me busted, but damn, it was almost worth it.”
    Trent went graphic as the guys all whooped and hollered, including Randy. But his was just mimicking: he didn’t have any memories of lap dances and strippers. The only sex he’d ever had was with girls his own age, teenagers, only two, who had had to be coaxed and didn’t do much except let him do it. At the time, it had been enough.
    “Southern women,” Cal assured everyone. “They’re hot. Hot as firecrackers.” As Cal gave details, Randy considered moving south when he got out.
    #
    All that talk about sex made Randy realize how long it was going to be until he got any. His life was being stolen away from him, so the next few days he snarled at everyone, tried to shove Yardley and Trent around (who shoved him back), and finally one day mouthed off to Rosti. Rosti grabbed him, dragged him to the nearest hog pen fence, slammed him into it and repeated the slamming until Randy felt his back was about to break.
    Rosti stopped and looked into his eyes. “Now. You got anything else you wanna say to me?”
    “N-n-n-no.”
    “Good. Then listen. You do what I say, and when I don’t say nothing, you don’t say nothing to me. Got it?” Randy nodded. Rosti shook Randy until his teeth rattled, punched him hard in the face, and then threw him to Yardley, who’d followed. “Get him out of my sight.”
    “Man, you are some kind of idiot,” Yardley said, dragging Randy away. “You don’t piss off Rosti, no matter what.”
    Randy wanted to say something smart and obscene, but his face and his back hurt, and he knew that if he opened his mouth, all he’d do was cry. So he didn’t say anything and went back to the kitchen. Donna looked at Randy’s face and handed him a bag of ice. “Put that on it. It’ll help some.”
    “Nothing’s going to help.”
    “If you say so.” She dug down into a pocket and handed him a couple of aspirin. “But these might. So what happened?”
    “Everybody hates me.”
    “Mm. You like anyone but yourself?”
    “I don’t like those sons of bitches.”
    She poured coffee for them both. “Well... Rosti can do anything he wants. Stay out of his way. And try being polite to the guys.”
    “I don’t care.”
    “Yes, you do. You just don’t want to admit it.”
    Her voice was soft, and he started to cry. “It’s… my life… It’s… everything…”
    “I know,” she said, patting his shoulder. “I know.”
    By the end of the month, Randy was working in the kitchen full-time. He liked it, especially now that Nathan and Jonah, both slightly mental and very slow, did all the scrubbing and cleaning, leaving Randy to do the prep. It got him away from those damned geese and hogs. It got him away from Rosti. He got to watch TV, even if all they watched was the Food Channel, the Weather Channel, and soap operas. And Donna was a damn good cook, generous with leftovers and extras: barbecue, chips, cookies. Plus she showed him how to cook things, or watched as he tried something he saw on TV.
    “It’s not bad,” he told the guys back behind one of the barns one night as they smoked and ate a huge bag of chips that Randy had stolen.
    “Get anything else besides chips?” Elgar asked.
    “What do you want?”
    “Depends on what she’s got,” Cal said. “There’s always something in the back room.”
    The back room was a locked storage room, and Randy shook his head. “I’m not breaking any locks. I ain’t stealing nothing.”
    “Who the hell asked you to?” Yardley was offended.
    “I don’t want to go back to the pen.”
    “Thought you hated it here,” Trent said.
    “Not as much as the pen.”
    “No one’s asking you to do anything other than pass us some cookies. Jeez, you’re a paranoid sumbitch.”
    Cal pulled a joint out of his pocket, lit it, and passed it to Randy. Instantly he knew there was something specific they wanted.
    “Yeah, well,” he inhaled deeply, “I gotta look out for myself.” But, as he exhaled, he felt vaguely guilty. These were his friends. You had to go along to get along. He knew there could be a lot more dope in his future now that he had something to trade. “Besides, she’s teaching me to cook. Yeah, listen. I’m gonna be on Iron Chef some day, and when you guys’re down at the Kit-Kat getting your laps rubbed, you’ll be paying for it. But I’ll be getting it for runzas and pound cake.” He gyrated with abandon, and everybody laughed, this time with him.
    That night he went to bed, stoned and happy, music bouncing in his head, something he’d heard at the Cinco de Mayo festival in Sioux Falls. One rhythm, he could only remember a couple of notes, but he played it over and over in his mind until it got down to his feet. Late, after everyone else was asleep, his feet danced in the night.
    #
    He walked into the kitchen the next morning and found himself backed up against the wall by the stove, next to the skillet where sausage sizzled.
    “What the hell were you thinking? You think I don’t keep tabs on the food? You think I don’t know you took that bag of chips? You got five bucks to pay me for them?”
    Randy shook his head at all of it, and tried to sidle away from the grease spattering him. Her blue eyes were suddenly hard and cold.
    “What the hell made you think you got the right to take anything you want and walk out of here with it? You think I don’t know when I’m being played? You can go back to slopping hogs any day for all of me if you’re gonna steal from me. They can throw you to the hogs.” He shrunk back even further into the corner. “Are you listening? You hear me?”
    “Yes! I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. I just… I just wanted… I needed something to share with the guys. They’re jealous of me working here. They’re always making fun of me! And I got nothing, nothing at all! You don’t understand! I’ll never do it again. I swear to God.”
    “Yeah. Right. Well, we’ll see.” Her face and voice softened slightly. “Don’t do it again.”
    He nodded. He would, of course, if he got half a chance – but not today. She opened the storeroom with the key on the large key ring she kept in her pocket, and told him what to get: “Bisquick and syrup. And a bowl full of potatoes.”
    He lingered in the storeroom, looking over everything: shelves of food, cooking equipment, towels, paper stuff. Bins. Boxes. In the back corner an old green safe – and he stopped. It was the kind they showed in old movies, with a tumbler lock.
    “Hey, Randy! Come on! We’ve got breakfast to get!”
    He came out and started peeling potatoes as she mixed pancake batter.
    Anderson stuck his head in and said, “I’m heading to town right after breakfast. You got a list?”
    “Right here.”
    “Mm. What you making there, son?” Anderson asked.
    “Potato bake,” Randy replied. He turned to Donna and said, “Maybe we should put some hot pepper in it, zing it up a little bit?”
    “I think there’s enough zing for right now,” she said. But she smiled. Anderson smiled. Nathan was always smiling. Randy smiled. There was a safe, and he knew where it was. Everything was okay.
    #
    Anderson lived in the new farmhouse; the prisoners lived in the old farmhouse where Rosti had the master bedroom downstairs; Donna lived in an apartment above the kitchen/dining hall. She took Tuesdays and Wednesdays for her weekend, which meant cold sandwiches and soup, or a casserole “now that I can trust you to put it in,” as she told Randy. Sundays were visiting days, but almost no one ever came. Sunday afternoon was the best meal of the week, with roast meat and fixings. Randy was in the storeroom, eyeing the safe, as he had all week long, and wondering what was in it.
    “What’s taking you so long?” Donna asked. Randy flinched, even though he really hadn’t done anything. She looked at him, at the safe beside him, and laughed. “You found the safe. That belonged to Leif’s grandfather. Back when this was a ranch. He kept the payroll there, and whatever else he thought was valuable.”
    “What’s in it now?”
    “Nothing,” Donna said. “It’s just too heavy to move.” She reached over and opened the safe by just turning the handle. “Someone disabled the lock years ago. See? Nothing there.”
    Randy was disappointed. “That’s a shame.”
    #
    By now Randy had learned a lot about cooking. He really enjoyed it: the process, the end result, the praise when it was good, just the fact that he actually was good at something, something that might work out in the long run. He might have a future after all.
    He sort of expounded to the guys on one of the quiet Sunday nights in the shed.
    “You know, I was kinda thinking. We should be doing something with our lives, instead of being out here, slopping hogs. Or just chasing drugs all the damn time.”
    “Sure. Easy to say,” Yardley snorted.
    “Besides, you ain’t slopping hogs, you’re in the kitchen,” Cal said.
    “Iron Chef.” Everyone laughed – it had become his tagline – but kindly. “Yeah. And there’s nothing in that kitchen but cheap food.” They had been nudging him about the storeroom, off and on.
    “You don’t know,” Trent objected. “Think I should tell him?” The other guys all nodded. “Listen, there’s a safe in that storage room. Back in the back. Can’t see it.”
    “I know that. There’s nothing in it.” The guys were staring at him. “She showed me. Opened it right up. The lock doesn’t even work anymore.”
    “When did she show it to you?”
    “The week after Lynn and Mercer were busted.”
    “And you believed her?” Trent crowed. “That was to get you off the track. They keep the money there. Her and Anderson, they take a cut from all the money they get from the state to run this place. And from the suppliers. All the food and everything. They stash it there. Lynn and Mercer were supposed to be helping us. They were supposed to follow Anderson, not go and B&E some old woman.”
    “Why would they follow Anderson?”
    “To check out what bank he’s using. He was taking the money from the safe to the bank. That’s why it was empty when she showed it to you. The money was in the bank. But there’s been more since. We get hold of that, we can go anywhere. Do anything. And it’s our money. They’re getting it off of what the state pays them for us. Their cut. It should be ours.”
    Randy was stunned. It was so obvious, he couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen it earlier. “So what do we do?” he asked.
    “Well, first off, we need the keys to the storeroom,” Yardley said.
    “That way we can get a duplicate made,” Trent added.
    “Well, why haven’t you? Why didn’t Lynn get the keys?”
    “She didn’t like him,” Cal said. “Not the way she does you.”
    “Ain’t that the truth,” Provo grumbled.
    “She’s nice to me, that’s all,” Randy protested.
    “She ain’t nice,” Yardley said. “She’s a bitch. She treated Lynn like shit.”
    “Yeah. But Anderson put Lynn in the kitchen, and she didn’t like him. Didn’t want him. But you,” Trent drawled, looking Randy over like a prime cut. “She picked you out all by herself.”
    “Huh?”
    “Hey, them older women, they like a little hot pepper in their diet,” Cal insinuated.
    “That’s right,” Yardley added. “They get to a certain age, they get all itchy.”
    “Yeah, they’re just like old guys. They want someone young to spice ‘em up. Make ‘em feel sexy again.”
    “Good looking kid like you – just make sure she doesn’t squeeze you to death,” Trent leered, and everybody laughed.
    “Come on,” Randy said in disbelief. “She’s old enough to be my mother.”
    “Yeah, well, she’s got the keys to the kingdom,” Cal said, “in more ways than one. Dude, if she wanted me, I’d be all over her.”
    #
    Randy had always thought of himself as a ladies’ man, mainly because he always wanted to get laid. His lack of success had never interfered with his self-image. Nonetheless, this was a new idea: someone wanting him, Donna wanting him. It was something to chew on, especially with the guys continuing to tell him how lucky he was, how lonely she must be, how hot she’d be once she got going, what he could get out of her…
    Sunday afternoon, raining hard, super quiet. Anderson had gone to town, Rosti was snoring like a hog in the TV room, where the guys who weren’t taking long naps were watching the game. Cal nudged Randy and nodded towards the window. Outside, he could see Donna driving up with a big sheet cake.
    “Somebody’s birthday?” Cal asked.
    “I don’t know,” Randy said, but his heart was pounding. He had a birthday this week. Did she know that? He almost thought he might have mentioned it.
    After a while, Cal said, “Wonder whose it is.”
    Randy shrugged. But a little while later, during a tricky play, he got up and wandered outside. He looked in the window: Donna was fussing with the dinner roast. She had nice hands, he’d give her that. Red-blonde hair, blue eyes, wide mouth, high cheekbones, not bad from the neck up. An older woman, still holding her own. But she had a cook’s body, heavy and thick, that stretched out her white jacket at the seams every time she bent over. Probably been a long time since she’d had anybody hit on her. If he loved up on her, she’d probably let him do anything he wanted, with her or the storeroom, and there’d be a lot more food and maybe even some cigarettes and meds for him. But damn, it’d be like doing his mom. Still… Maybe. She smelled pretty good, a mix of fresh bread, soap, and perfume. Might work.
    He stepped inside and came over to her.
    “You need any help?” he asked.
    “You startled me. No, I’m doing fine. Go back and –”
    “No, I mean it. I’d like to help. I’d like to do anything I can to help you.” Donna closed the oven door on the roast and stood up. “I just wanna say, I’m really, really grateful, for everything you do for me. Have done. The way you feed me, you take care of me. You are such a cool lady. I don’t know what I’d have done without you.” He drifted, her backing up, him following, to the corner by the storeroom. “You stepped in and helped me when no one else gave a damn. Got me working here instead of out with the hogs. I appreciate it. I really do. You are so special. And you are so pretty. Did you know that? You got some of the prettiest blue eyes in the world. You should put on some more make-up, make yourself up more. Not that you’re not beautiful just the way you are. You are. You’re a mature, beautiful woman, a real woman.” His body taut, his hands started moving. “The kind of woman I’ve always wanted. You and me, we could be –”
    And she shoved him away with all her strength.
    He landed against the table, his manufactured desire curdling into fear, ready to leap into anger, but she raced past him, towards the window. He turned, and saw the back barn leap into flames.
    “Jesus!” Two guys came running from the barn, and then the rest poured out of the old farmhouse. “Oh, thank God - ” Donna began, but all eleven of them looked at the barn, jumped up and down, whooping, and then they started running towards the new house, Anderson’s house.
    Donna looked over at Randy. “So that’s what this is all about.”
    “No! I had no idea! Honest to God!” She pulled out her cell phone, and his whole stomach flipped. “Who are you calling?”
    “Yeah, this is Donna Anderson out at the Spirit Mound Work Farm. We’ve got one of the barns on fire, I think it’s arson, and there’s a bunch of prisoners trying to make a break for it. Need the fire department, sheriff, everyone ASAP. Yes.” She put the phone back in her pocket and said, “You gonna go with them or stay here?”
    Randy gulped. He couldn’t make up his mind. If the guys took off, if the guys got caught, if he was stuck, if he went with them…
    “Oh, for God’s sake,” she said. “For once, make up your own mind.”
    Randy looked out, at the van they must have hotwired, skidding in the yard as someone did a 180 in the mud. Rosti came lunging out of the farmhouse after them, stumbling. They had set this up; they had told him nothing about it; they had set him up; they were going to leave him behind. He leaped for the door and lunged out, screaming, “You sorry sons of bitches! I hope they catch every damn one of you and you all rot in prison!”
    There was a pop-pop-pop – someone had found a gun and fired it, poorly. Then the van was gone, it was all quiet except for his heartbeat, and even the fire was dying down under the falling rain.
    #
    They were all caught and sent back to the penitentiary. Even Nathan and Jonah, who had gone along just because they were told to. Even Randy, despite the fact that Donna had said, “I don’t think he had a damn thing to do with it.”
    But Anderson was fed up with prison workers: “You can’t trust ‘em, no matter what. And if I have to hire guards to keep ‘em in line, then it’s just not cost effective. I’m sticking to kids and Mexicans from here on out.”
    “Listen,” Donna told Randy, as they waited for the prison van, “what you tried on me? Don’t ever try that again. It’s just going to get you killed. I was about to knock you across the room before I saw that fire.” He winced, and she tsked. “You’ve got to start thinking for yourself. Pay attention. There’s still hope, but you keep on the way you’ve been going, you’ll never do anything, you’ll just be a bum, spend your life in prison and on the streets…”
    The prison van pulled up, and his heart started racing.
    “I wasn’t going to join them.”
    “I know. They know that. Listen. Try to keep on cooking. You’ve got some talent there. You could be a contender. You could be somebody.”
    “Iron Chef!”
    Donna sort of nodded, with a frustrated smile, as the two COs stepped out of the van and came to take him away.
    THE END

    (view changes)
    7:41 am

Sunday, October 2

  1. page My Cover Stories! edited {AHM1107cover.jpg} {AHM_JulyAug2016.jpg} {alfred_hitchcocks_mystery_200601-02.jpg} {AHMMAY201…
    {AHM1107cover.jpg} {AHM_JulyAug2016.jpg} {alfred_hitchcocks_mystery_200601-02.jpg} {AHMMAY2012Cover.jpg}
    {AAHM_dec_2012.jpg} {AHM-JANFEB-2016.jpg}
    (view changes)
    3:27 pm
  2. 3:27 pm

More