By Paul Svendsen

Larry admired himself in the mirror, sucking in his gut, looked at his right three-quarter image and then his left. He pulled the sleeve of his loose-fitting linen shirt into the palm of his hand and wiped a smudge off the glass, where he had just popped a blackhead. Alison would wrinkle her nose in disgust if she could see him now. But she’s not here and will never see the blob on the mirror. He exhaled a sigh of contentment.

Leaning forward, he puckered his lips and mouthed to his reflection, “You’re still a heartbreaker, you dog, you.”

He ran his tongue around his lips and reached for his lip balm. He smoothed and adjusted his toupee, centered the sun medallion around his neck, opened his shirt one more button and fluffed his chest hair in the vee of the gold chain. His smile was still dazzling, especially for a forty-six year old. When the doorbell rang, he reluctantly left the mirror.

Opening his mouth, he gave the breath spray a surreptitious squeeze before going over to the huge slider. After straightening the shade and adjusting his eyes to the sunlight, Larry saw Susan’s smiling face. He slid the door open.

“ Didn’t you hear me coming up the stairs?” she said, her eyes, teeth and lips glistening. “I tried to make as much noise as I could. I haven’t seen you for so long.”

She threw herself into Larry’s waiting arms.

“ I didn’t hear you. I was absorbed in something else, ” he said, smoothing his toupee, which her embrace had dislodged.

“ Just as long as it wasn’t someone else.” She smiled prettily. “Miss me?”

“ Sure I missed you. How long has it been?”

“ Two weeks,” said Susan, with mock sadness.

A true California girl, Susan had gorgeous, long, blonde hair, long eyelashes, lightly tanned skin and long, French-manicured fingernails. Her carefully applied lip gloss, made her lips appear large and full. She had practiced a pouting look for long hours in front of her mirror and her mouth looked ready to be kissed..

No one but she could have worn strappy sandals as high-heeled as hers without teetering and losing their balance. She walked up the outside stairs with the skill of a dancer, sure-footed and elegant. Her shoes set off her well-defined legs, perfectly.

“ When did Alison leave?” Susan wrapped a hand around Larry’s bicep, giving it a playful squeeze, as he ushered her inside.

“ About two hours ago. We’re safe. Come here.” He got a whiff of her lemony perfume.

“Let’s go out to eat and then we can come back and play house. OK?” she asked. “And besides, I want to ride in your new car. Is it the white and silver Mercedes I saw downstairs?”

“ That’s right. Do you like it?”

“ Do I like it? What do you think?”

“ I’ll put the top down. I want to see that blonde hair flowing in the wind.”

“ But it’s raining,” said Susan.

“ So it is. Put that lower lip away,” Larry said, kissing her. “I’ll take you to this new restaurant I’ve discovered. They do halibut on a bed of lentils, just right for you, ‘a bed of ….’”

“ Unhand me, you brute! Let’s go. I’ll race you to the car.”

After they were settled, Susan said, “How long will Alison be gone?”

“ About a week and a half, I think. She bought a shipment of some brass candelabras, which she thinks will look great with those Persian rugs she bought last month. All the stores want them.”

“ That gives us plenty of time, doesn’t it? D’you want me to stay with you? I wouldn’t want you to be lonely.” She gave his leg a teasing squeeze.

He flashed her his brilliant, winning smile.

“ That would be great, but not now, tomorrow. I have to finish up some work today. Somebody just bought one of my domain addresses”

“ OK. Whatever. You better put the windshield wipers on high. It’s really pouring. I feel all damp.”

“ Yeah, it’s been raining non-stop for almost two weeks. People down the road have already had mudslide warnings.”

“ The weather’s boring. Let’s talk about you and me. I’ll cook tomorrow. What d’you like best?”

“ You know what I like best,” he murmured.

“Not that, silly. I mean, to eat. Keep your eyes on the road.”

They pulled up in front of “Jakes Place.” Larry had hoped to sit outside on the deck, under one of the bright umbrellas, but it was raining. The sky had misted over with angry rain clouds and the visibility was almost zero.

“ I don’t see any cars in the lot, but I’m sure it’s open,” said Larry. “Let’s go inside.”

When they were seated, the waiter approached, ready with his “I’ll be your server….” speech and handed them the menu and a wine list.

“ Have whatever you want, but let’s make it quick. I’m anxious to get back to the house. Aren’t you,” said Larry, his eyelids at half-mast.

“ Oh yeah, sure. How about some wine?”

Larry said to the waiter, who was hovering near the table, “Bring us a bottle of your best Pinot Noir.”

“ You didn’t say please,” said Susan.

“ He doesn’t need a please. Just wants a good tip. Am I going to get mine soon?”

“ Maybe. It depends on the service,” said Susan, never taking her eyes off the menu, but smiling. She looked up at him, slowly.

The waiter brought their food. They ate hurriedly and left.

Wordlessly, they drove home and ran up the stairs. Larry fumbled for the key, almost dropped it and slid the door open. He took a moment to slide into the player a CD of Ravel’s Bolero. They ripped their clothes off, plunged onto the sofa, threw the pillows on the floor and fell on each other.

Afterward, Susan zipped up her dress and sighed. She said, “I wish we could be together all the time.”

“ Me too,” said Larry.

There had been a lot of young girls before Susan and there would probably be others. She was funny, pretty and good in bed, but not too smart.

The next few days passed by in a blur of sex and food. Susan was a fair cook and she certainly knew how to dole out erotic treats.

Monday came and Larry said, “Alison’s coming home this afternoon. You’ll have to move all your things out. If she finds out I’ve been having too much fun, there’ll be hell to pay. There was last time.”

“ What do you mean, ‘last time?’”

“ Uh…I mean she had a bad cold and was crabby.”

“ Oh…All right.” Susan sounded dispirited. “Will you drive me to my place? When can I see you again?”

“ Soon,” Larry said, not smiling. “Very soon.”

An hour and a half before Larry was to pick Alison up at the airport, he stepped outside on the deck for a cigarette. She wouldn’t let him smoke in the house.


Maxine Faber, his new next-door neighbor was out on her deck, watering some plants. Large binoculars on a leather strap hung around her neck. No longer young, although she did not seem aware of it, she wore a brief halter-top, which exposed the rolls of flab around her midriff, and orange short-shorts, which showed too much of her freckled thighs. Her skin was deeply tanned and leathery and her hair, sun-bleached, although she did help it out every once in a while with “A Bottle of Brilliance.”

“ Ahoy,” she shouted, waving.

She favored nautical terms and her house was alive with brass decorative anchors, corks, plastic octopi and netting. She was from the Midwest and had grown up far from water. She thought of California as exotic.

“ Alison will be home soon, won’t she?”

“ Yes,” Larry said, uneasily.

“ Hope you’ve made her something nice for dinner.”

“ Hm…that’s an idea.”

“ Who was that girl you’ve had staying with you?”

Larry was momentarily taken aback. He thought quickly.

“ Oh that was my niece. She’s coming back in a few days. Wants to surprise Alison. Don’t say anything when you see her.”

“ Oh I won’t breathe a word, don’t worry. Pretty girl, though.”

“ Nice that it’s stopped raining and the sun is out,” said Larry, changing the subject.

“ What do the sea gulls say?”

“ I don’t know about the sea gulls, but the news says it’s gonna rain some more.

Say, do you know your gutters are leaking? I saw water pouring down the side on the first floor. You should take a look at it. Or Ralph can. He’s good with stuff like that. You and Alison should come over sometime. We could barbeque some ribs and drink some beers.”

“ Excuse me,” said Larry. “The phone is ringing. Nice talking to you.”

The phone wasn’t ringing and it wasn’t nice talking to Maxine. Damn the gutters. Her remark about fixing something nice for Alison’s dinner certainly was interesting. The only thing he could cook was chili. Alison would be tired from her flight and would enjoy having something ready that she didn’t have to prepare herself.

Larry went to the pantry, took out a can of tomatoes, one of red kidney beans and an onion from the rolling vegetable cart. He peeled it, cut it in slices and put it in the pan to sauté with lots of olive oil. Then he took a two-pound slab of ground beef out of the refrigerator, unwrapped it, broke it into chunks and put it into the pan to brown.

The process of cooking relaxed him and he thought, she’ll be hungry, no famished, after a long plane trip and she’ll appreciate this. She says I don’t do enough for her.

Lots of chili powder and a big dollop of peanut butter came next. It was the secret ingredient and would enhance the flavor and his relationships, tremendously. His mouth watered in anticipation.

He put the stove on warm so the chili would be ready to eat when he and Alison came home. Four o’clock rolled around. Time to leave for the airport. Larry changed his shirt, brushed his teeth and combed his hair. When he opened the driver’s door of his Mercedes, the delicious lemony scent of Susan spelled trouble. He put the top down. Thank God it had stopped raining. The smell would quickly dissipate.

Larry set off in a buoyant mood. Everything would work out. He whistled a tune as he drove. The regional airport was close by and he was sure he wouldn’t have to wait long for Alison’s flight.

He parked the Mercedes in the parking lot and went inside The monitor said Alison’s plane, flight 309 from Chicago was on time and would arrive at 4:40 so he walked over to the espresso bar and ordered a latte. As he took careful sips, he thought, better enjoy my freedom while it lasts.

Alison appeared on the escalator from nowhere and waved. She had only a small bag on wheels. Her smile was broad, her body, stringy and tall. Although not unattractive, she hardly exuded sex appeal. She was “all business.” Her purse, expensive blue leather, the color matching her business suit, was thrown carelessly over her arm.

“ Larry darling. Did you miss me? I’m so frazzled. I need a stiff drink.”

“ How was your trip? I bet you’re tired and hungry,” said Larry. “I fixed dinner. Chili, your favorite.”

“ Anything would taste good. I’m ravenous. You know how these flights are. Even in business class, they don’t feed you. I sat next to a fat man, who was about to open one of those little bags of peanuts. I snatched it away from him and got the flight attendant to come over. When I told her the sad story of my peanut allergy, she acted like she had heard this tale every day. I was quite offended. Anyway, she gave him some pretzels. What was your week like? Were you lonely? Every time I called, you didn’t pick up. Did you get my messages?”

“ I’ve been really busy this week. Been run off my feet. I sold one of my domain names for big bucks.” He smiled half-heartedly, asking for approval. “Talked to those new people next door. They want us to come over for a barbeque. I don’t want to go,” said Larry.

“ Good. Neither do I.”

It took them less than a half hour to drive home. The rain started again, slowly at first, then began pelting down. Larry pulled over and put the top up.

After they drove along for a while, Alison said, “What’s that funny smell? Lemons?”

“ Oh that.” Larry fingered his medallion. “I had the car washed yesterday and they asked me if I wanted a scent. They sprayed something called Wonder Whiff inside. I chose Lemon Breeze.”

“ I thought you said it’d been raining all week,” said Alison.

“ It had, but the car’s new and had some mud splashes down the side.”

They arrived home. Larry opened the trunk from inside and ran around to get Alison’s bag. She opened the car door, unfurled her umbrella and ran up the stairs. Larry followed her.

Alison flopped down on the sofa, the same sofa that Larry and Susan had had sex on a few hours earlier.

“ It’s so good to be home! It was a grueling time but I made a lot of money. Signed a contract with three stores.”

“ Do you want to eat now?,” asked Larry.

“ In a minute. Let me go to the bathroom. I’ll be back in a minute.”

While she was gone, he remembered her Epipen. He scrabbled through her purse, found the kit and slipped it in his pants pocket.

Alison opened the bathroom door and came down the hall.

“ That smells good. Let’s eat. I’m starved.”

“ I’ve already set the table. Do you want something to drink,” said Larry.

“ I’ll have a gin and tonic.”

Larry ladled out two servings of steaming chili and carried the bowls to the table.

“ It looks wonderful. You’ve been busy today.”

Alison picked up her spoon.

Larry watched her, expectantly.

“ Aren’t you going to eat, too?,” she said.

“ Yes, of course. I just wanted to see how you liked it.”

“ Well, I’ll tell you.”

Alison held a full spoonful up to her mouth and swallowed it.

She dropped the spoon.

“ What did you put in this? My mouth is on fire.”

She put her right hand up to her face and clutched her throat with her left hand.

“ Give me my purse! My Epipen. Where is it?”

“ Your what?” Larry smiled.

Her face became red and her voice became a mere croak A nasty rash had appeared on her arms and around her mouth.

“ Help! Call 911!

She appeared not to be able to catch her breath. Her arms flailed and she made gagging sounds.

Larry got up from the table in disgust. He knew he wouldn’t be able to tolerate Alison’s death agony. He got up from the table to smoke a forbidden cigarette, indoors. He put a CD of the 1812 overture by Tchaikovsky on, skipped to the ending where the cannons come in and turned the volume up on high. He slid the balcony door open, walked out and sat down at the covered bistro table. This was his usual smoking place in all weathers, but not tonight. Tonight, he was free.

The rain was unrelenting, pouring down in sheets. The gutters! I’ll bet they’re leaking and damaging the foundation, he said to himself. He looked over the railing and craned his neck, but couldn’t see anything. Then he got the idea of lying down and looking under the lowest horizontal bar of the protective rail. He slid open the door,-all was silent in the kitchen, thank God-lay down, flat, his feet protruding into the living room, stuck his head under-there was barely enough room-and wriggled forward until he could see the gutter. It was leaking. Water was cascading over the side right onto the ground beside the house.

He tried to pull himself out, but was stuck! Wriggling backward had no effect. His arms, unable to grasp onto anything, were useless. His toes had nothing to grip onto. He stayed there for a while until Maxine saw him through her side window. She opened her back door a crack and shouted out.

“ Do you need help? Is Alison home?”

“ I’ll be all right.” He shouted back, as best as he could. “Thanks. I’ll wriggle out, somehow.”

Ten minutes later he was still there, in the same position, exhausted from trying to free himself.

Maxine looked out the window again, shouted, “I’m coming over. Where’s


“ No don’t,” Larry yelled.

Just then, a siren sounded. A loudspeaker voice said something undistinguishable. Larry got only the word, “Evacuation.”

Maxine screeched, “You’ve got to get out of there. A mudslide is threatening.”

“ I can’t move. I’m stuck.”

“ I’ll call 911. Hold tight!”

After she called 911, there were more sirens and Larry saw the reflection of red signal lights in the ocean. Out of view was traffic noise. The loudspeaker commands sounded important but were unintelligible.

Larry lay on the floor of the deck. He could do little else.

In a few minutes, he heard a truck approaching. The sirens and flashing lights drew closer. An ambulance pulled up on the concrete pad next to the garage. Three men in rain gear jumped out of the back and ran up the stairs.

“ I’ll see to him, guys. Take a look inside the house and see if there’s anyone else that needs help.”.

“ OK, Joe.”

They went inside. Within thirty seconds, Mike Gargan called out, “There’s a dead woman on the floor. She’s face down in something that looks like chili. Or it could be puke.”

“ You know anything about that, sir?” asked the EMS technician, as he was trying to free Larry. “What’s that thing on the ground? Looks like a ball-point pen. Did you lose a pen, sir?”

The walkie-talkie crackled and they heard, “You’d better get out of there, now. There’s a mudslide coming!”

Before anyone could even think to move, a wall of mud came racing down the hill, engulfing the EMS truck, Larry and Alison’s house and the Fabers’ house, as well. Seconds afterward, there was nothing to be seen, just a sea of ooze. .

The next morning, Karen Quilter speaking for KMOS news held up her microphone to Maxine Faber, a Ticon resident, who was in a terrible state. Her face was streaked with mud and her clothes a wreck.

“ Tell us about last night, Maxine.”

“ Oh, it was terrible. We lost everything, all our clothes, our house, our car. We rushed outside when the last warning sounded and ran as fast as our legs could carry us. And then it was all over. We looked back and everything was gone, just gone….” She dissolved in tears.

“ We’ve still got each other,” chimed in Ralph Faber, who was standing by her side, his eyes wet.

“ When you saw that mud coming down, what was going through your mind,” said Karen Quilter, her hand aching from holding the mike up.

“ I didn’t see it coming down. I told you. My poor neighbors, Larry and Alison Hardy. They didn’t get out in time. And those poor 911 people,” she said, through a veil of tears.

“ Ralphie, I’m starved. Aren’t you?”

“ Here, Honey. These salted peanuts were in my pocket. They’ll be better than nothing.”


Paul Svendsen is a psychotherapist in private practice and has just had two books accepted for publication, Vice Versa, a psychological thriller and The Bursar's Girls, a mystery They will probably appear in print around October, 2006 and March, 2007. In addition to novels, Paul has written many short stories, most on murderous subjects. He lives in Reno, NV with his writer wife, Frannie and two longhaired dachshunds.

Return to Fall 2006 Table of Contents

© 2006 SPINETINGLER Magazine - All rights reserved

Baby Love
If It Bleeds
Behind You!
No Help For The Dying
A Kind of Puritan
A Thankless Child
A Certain Malice