Table of Contents

Fall 2007

Short Stories

Bus Stop

Deep Freeze

In the Ditch

Missed Connections

My Bedtime Buddy

On Silent Feet

Out of Service

Ric With No K

The Rorschach Affair

The Years of the Wicked

Under the Blanket of the Sun

Upon A New Road

Reviews

Ammunition

Bad Thoughts

Beating the Babushka

Bloodthirsty

Hidden Depths

Pay Here

Play Dead

Poison Pen

Silence

Who Is Conrad Hirst

Profiles/Features

Bronx Noir

In For Questioning

Together We Write

Profile: Derek Nikitas

Pelecanos Country

Interviews

George Pelecanos

Robert Fate

Rick Mofina

Kevin Wignall

Short Story:

THE YEARS OF THE WICKED

by Karen Pullen

This ward’s like death row, all of us in line for the big compost pile. Can’t stand the waiting. Or the noise. Beep, drip, whoosh. Who knew I’d end up hooked to machines? Sometimes it’s hard to hear the TV. I like “48 Hours” and “Cops”. Bad boys, bad boys…Someday they’ll make a movie about my last case but I’ll never watch it. I’m sliding to eternity too fast. Damn. I’d like to see that movie, find out what I’ve forgotten.

One thing I’ve learned recently, talking helps me remember. See, even us old guys can learn, something Rhianna wouldn’t believe. “You’re a rigid thinker, John,” she’d say. An ex-wife can get bitter and say unkind things. But I don’t play that game. It could get back to our daughter that I’d said something mean about her mother, and I’m already on eggshells with that one. She just turned fifteen, kind of another rigid thinker.

The paint hasn’t dried on my last case. It irks me that the headlines blazed “Serial Killer!” It terrified the citizens of our quiet town, a fine place to live if you’ve got nerves, like I do. In my twenty-nine years on the police force, we never had a single homicide until that one bloody week.

The first death looked like a mugging. Early Sunday morning, Sam Klinkevals – a lawyer known for sucking lifeblood out of the gullible – looked out the back window of his office and saw a body in the alley. Once Sam figured out there was no profit in it for him, he called the cops.

I don’t work Sundays but I’ve always got the scanner on, another thing that drove Rhianna nuts, out of the house, and into the arms of that scrawny accountant. I’d just come back from visiting my Momma’s grave when the static broke and Drum’s shaky voice said “10-54, possible dead body.” I pulled on my uniform and drove to the crime scene.

The body – really dead, not just possible – was a sixtyish male, a little soft around the middle like most of us. He lay face-up, staring at a row of garbage pails. His nose had been relocated and his face was bloody, so he didn’t look like himself, but I knew him. I pulled up his jacket sleeve to show Drum a fading tattoo, a bulldog just like mine. Semper Fi, another Marine. I’d met him the night before. His name was Roman Falco.

I’d been chewing the fat with the bartender, a good buddy of mine, in Nam about the same time as me; he’d been a chopper pilot and I was infantry. That history marks you, gives you a bond. When Falco walked up, we saw the tattoo, and the three of us had a drink together, playing who-did-you-know and where-were-you-at. Hell, we even joked about post-traumatic stress and who had it worst. I won with my story about the time a helicopter flew overhead and set off a flashback, and I locked Rhianna in the bathroom for a day while I stood guard against the hordes of Cong yelling outside our front door. That was the first time Rhianna threatened to leave me, though I didn’t brag about that.

Chief Jerry asked me to find out more about the dead guy. It wasn’t hard. His car keys came from an agency at the airport; I advised them we’d have to impound the car and they wouldn’t get it back for a while. Notebooks and binders in the car told me Falco was traveling through, selling aluminum windows. I found a key to the Town Motor Lodge and went over there to check out his room. Just clothes, a ditty bag, a Ludlum thriller – nothing to suggest a motive for a murder.

Falco’s body went to the morgue. The medical examiner said he’d been killed when a single punch drove his facial bones into his brain. He’d been drunk, blood alcohol content of 0.13, which didn’t help his reflexes.

Two days later we were still investigating the Falco murder when the leech lawyer Sam Klinkevals killed himself. At least that’s what it looked like – he was in his car in his garage, car windows down, garage door shut, engine running until it quit when the car ran out of gas. Sam’s wife found him around noon and called 911. I was on patrol and got there in minutes.

She’d pulled Sam onto the garage floor. He was already stiff, bright pink from the carbon monoxide. He was dressed in his usual black suit, white shirt, striped tie – undertaker clothes, suitable for someone always delivering bad news. He’d been Rhianna’s divorce lawyer, a contributor to a very sorry chapter in my life. His wife went into the house to look for a suicide note but I waited with the body. I didn’t mind. I saw plenty of bodies in Nam. I’m not superstitious about them, though I stood behind so his eyes weren’t aiming at me.

The medical examiner pronounced carbon monoxide poisoning as the cause of death, wrote “suicide” on the death certificate, and that’s where it rested, until the next day, when the mayor was stabbed to death in her garage.

The mayor’s son called the police station in hysterics. I got him to stop snuffling long enough to tell me his mother had been hurt. I paged Chief Jerry, because I knew the mayor was her friend. She was getting her hair done and said she’d be there soon. Oh yeah, Chief Jerry’s female. Built like a shoebox with a bit of a mustache, but still, a female. My buddies kidded me about being replaced by a woman, but I was glad to give it up. Any time a citizen didn’t like my style, I’d hear about it from town hall. She’s better than I was at the personal stuff. She knows the right words.

The mayor’s house was in the historic district, in a colonial full of cats. Her son led me into the garage. He wasn’t fond of me, remembering the times I’d driven him home against his will because I knew his mother didn’t want him associating with riff-raff. Well, now he could associate with anyone he wanted to since his mother lay face down on the garage floor. I felt for a pulse in her neck, then lifted an eyelid to check her pupil.

“She’s dead, isn’t she?” the boy said. His face crumpled and tears spilled out of his eyes. I told him I understood, that my mom had died recently so I knew how hard it was. Momma was eighty-four years old, living on her own, gardening and playing cards right up until she went into the hospital. Maybe she didn’t feel so great, since she was nearly dead by the time the doctors finally figured out what was wrong. That’s water under the bridge, though I wished the boy wasn’t the one to find his mother’s body.

By the time Chief Jerry arrived, I had taped off the garage and started dusting for fingerprints. She looked prettier with her hair streaked blonde, but the moment wasn’t right to mention it. I can be sensitive, contrary to public opinion.

She knelt by the body and touched the mayor’s hand. “She was a good person. Makes you believe in evil.”

I shivered. Momma would have said someone was walking over my grave. “It’s the second homicide this week,” I said.

“I’m going to ask the State Bureau of Investigation for help. We need someone to direct the lab work and talk to the medical examiner. When’s the last time you read an autopsy report, John?”

“Umm, never?” I was trying to decide which of about a thousand greasy fingerprints to lift from the door.

“The SBI can get bank and cell phone records. Background checks. Credit card transactions. We don’t have those resources.” Her voice trembled, and for a second I thought she might cry. She took a few deep breaths and made the call to Raleigh. Females, they’re tough as Marines sometimes.

That afternoon, Drum and I were at our desks when we heard a car pull up. We looked out the plate glass window, like we always did, to see who it was. A dark-haired woman not much older than my daughter got out of a Dodge Intrepid. She opened the car’s back door and took out a briefcase and a red jacket.

Drum whistled. “Well, lookee that.”

“Don’t whistle. Makes us look like pea brains.”

“Nice skirt,” he said. It was leather and showed lots of leg. We watched her slide on the red jacket. A weapon glinted in her shoulder holster.

“She’s armed,” I said. “Bet she’s with the SBI.”

She was. She handed out her card. Stella Lavender, Special Agent, Field Operations Division, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. At first I thought – here’s a dollar, go buy the rest of your skirt. The thought lasted two seconds. She shook everyone’s hand and asked to see our reports, to take with her to the hospital where she was going to talk to the medical examiner. And while she was gone, would we interview everyone who knew the mayor? In other words, get up off our duffs. Furthermore, she was extending the investigation to include the deaths of Sam Klinkevals and Roman Falco. Chief Jerry and I exchanged looks – what had we missed? I shrugged my shoulders and hit the streets.

Around noon, I stopped in the barbershop for a trim. Not much grows up there, but I like it tidy. Besides cutting hair, the barber also dabbled in housing development, and I knew he’d fought with the mayor on zoning and watershed protection – two issues that came up with each new development in Simms Fork. When he finished snipping, I asked him if he planned to attend the mayor’s funeral.

“Oh yeah. I’ll miss her, even though she was a pain in the ass. If she’d had her way, there’d be not a single new house built, ever.” The barber was red-faced from resentful thinking. “But I sure am sorry to hear she’s dead.” He didn’t sound very sincere. He had an airtight alibi; he’d been at the hospital for a colonoscopy. “Clean as a whistle,” he said.

I congratulated him on his shiny colon and was nearly out the door when my cell phone rang. I listened for a minute. “How do you know this? Who are you?” I asked, but heard only a dial tone.

I called Chief Jerry. “Some news. I just got an anonymous call from a female informant. She said Turk Holmes mugged Falco and there’s evidence at his house.” I headed to Turk’s place on Elm Street.

Turk spent his days drinking Old Crow bourbon diluted with Dr. Pepper, what they call bug juice. He liked to wander though I always tried to keep him out of the better neighborhoods. He’d get mellow, fall asleep somewhere, no harm done. He lived with his mother. Mrs. Holmes’ yard was respectable, neatly planted with little pink flowers, and the statuary included several plaster angels. No doubt Mrs. Holmes needed considerable angelic assistance where Turk was concerned.

Turk was alone with a thirty-six-inch TV blaring ESPN. Ten years ago, he’d lettered in football, basketball, and track, but his senior year he dropped out of school, working a day here and there to earn money for his bug juice. He still had an athletic build, but I could smell the alcohol on him, and he looked puffy, with bloodshot eyes. I told him to sit on the couch and stay there. I wasn’t too worried about Turk. He usually did what he was told.

I looked around the small house – four rooms on one floor – and started to rummage in Turk’s bedroom, still papered with football posters and a framed autographed picture of Michael Jordan. Within a minute I found a black leather wallet, stuffed under the mattress. It still held Falco’s license and credit cards. The missing car keys turned up in a dresser drawer, under a pile of T-shirts.

I went back into the living room. “Were you planning to use these credit cards? Assume his identity? You don’t look much like him.”

He slid his jumpy eyes from the TV and tried to focus on the evidence bags. “What you talking about? I never seen that shit before.”

I read him his Miranda rights, and he responded yeah yeah. As liquored up as he was, it was unlikely he understood, so I decided to wait and question him after he’d dried out some. I arrested him for possession of stolen goods. A few months in jail might do him some good. He’d dry out, maybe get religion, think about where he was going.

After I brought Turk to the police station, Chief Jerry asked me to find Ben Lacker and talk to him. A certified loony, Ben marched the streets ten hours a day clutching a beat-up canvas suitcase and reciting Scripture. Though Ben scared the bejesus out of most of the citizens, it escaped me how he could be a suspect. He was harmless as a fruit fly.

Ben was home, eating a nice dinner, fried chicken with mashed potatoes and black-eyed peas. His suitcase stood between his feet, under the table.

“It’s his birthday today, the big four-oh,” his sister said. Edie was a nurse, a freckly redhead in her mid-forties.

“Happy Birthday, Ben.” I leaned down to catch his gaze and he glared back at me, grease from the chicken coating his chin.

“Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein, and he that rollest a stone, it will return upon him.” He spoke in round gloomy tones, not easy when your mouth is full of fried chicken.

“Hey, just being friendly.” I turned to Edie. “Sounds like a retribution theme?”

“Could be. That and salvation are his favorites.”

“Has he been good about his medication lately?”

“Why? Someone complain?”

I noticed the tiny wrinkles etched into her forehead and around her eyes, the skin drooping around her mouth. I didn’t know how she kept doing it, looking out for Ben, checking him into the hospital when his rambling turned delirious, nagging him to take his meds. “No, Edie. Can you just answer the question?”

“He’s been good as gold.” She stood up. “Listen, I’m going to change out of this uniform. Keep him company?”

“Sure,” I said. I wondered if Ben would share his chicken. It smelled good. But I didn’t want to rile him up by asking. I looked around at the combination living-dining room, furnished with two worn recliners, a TV, and a bookcase containing Edie’s nursing books and several hundred romance novels with lurid flowery covers. Rhianna hated romance novels. She once found one in our daughter’s room. I said if that’s the worst you find, you’re lucky, but she called it propaganda for the witless, and threw it into the trashcan.

“Ben, did you know the mayor?” I asked. I felt a bit guilty asking him about the murder – he couldn’t know the risk of telling me anything – but I’d never really talked with him and wasn’t sure how much he understood.

“The years of the wicked shall be shortened,” Ben declared. He put down his fork and wiped his hands on a napkin. “All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.”

Now, that answer almost fit. “You know, I wonder what’s in that suitcase?” I asked. He always clutched it tightly, as if the contents were precious.

“Evil pursueth sinners, but to the righteous good shall be repaid.” He hoisted it onto his lap and unfastened the buckles. It was full of paper, like magazine pages, all folded neatly into little square wads.

“Aha. Paper weighs a lot – is it heavy?”

Ben lifted it high to show me how light it was, then put it back under the table and returned to his dinner.

“Light as a feather. Are they pictures, or special articles you cut out?” I asked.

“Whoso causeth the righteous to go astray in an evil way, he shall fall himself into his own pit; but the upright shall have good things in possession.”

“Good things. Okay. Speaking of good, that chicken looks real good.”

Ben pushed the plate over to me, and I picked out a drumstick. “I don’t get much home cooking any more. This is great,” I said. We crunched companionably until Edie returned. I asked her when Ben usually started walking each day. She wasn’t sure since she left for work at 6:30. I thought about Ben’s speechifying and wondered what had triggered the vengeance theme.

She took Ben into another room to give him a shot. While they were gone, I pulled a few of the paper wads out of the suitcase and unfolded them. They were pictures of things Ben would never have – expensive cars and pretty girls. Pretty girls in expensive cars. Maybe he wasn’t as devout as he seemed.

*****

That evening we met with the SBI Agent, Stella Lavender. Chief Jerry had ordered out for pizza and sodas, but Stella said she’d already eaten and would just drink her water. She wore a black suit with another short skirt. She sat on the table and crossed her legs, and her skirt slid a few inches higher. I think Drum stopped breathing for a while there.

“You all knew the mayor. Tell me what she was like,” Stella said.

We looked at each other to see who would go first. Chief Jerry spoke up. “She was hard-working. She volunteered for everything – the women’s center, the nursing home, church bake sale.”

“A good community citizen,” I said. “On the other hand…” I took a bite of pizza so my mouth would be full and looked at Drum, hoping he’d finish my sentence.

“She could be a bitch,” he said. “Sticking her nose in. Her way or the highway. At least that’s what we saw in the department.”

“She wanted changes?” Stella took a swig from her water bottle.

“She wanted a lower-profile department,” I said. I didn’t mention the time the mayor called me a fascist. It had been a heated moment, not reflecting the best in either of us.

“Meaning…” Stella said.

“Kinder, gentler cops,” I said.

Stella studied me. Her eyes were the green of shallow seas. “I understand there was an arrest today in the Falco killing?”

“Turk Holmes. He had Falco’s wallet and keys hidden at his house,” I said.

“Do you think he killed Falco?”

I was beginning to realize how easy it was to underestimate this young woman. You couldn’t tell what she was thinking, for one thing. She had the same calm, serious expression whether she was sipping water or asking a question you couldn’t answer.

“I don’t know. He could have picked those items up from someone else. I have to wait until he sobers up to interview him,” I said.

Stella tapped her pencil on the table. “Our killer likes garages. Two murders in a garage.”

“Two?” I asked.

“Sam Klinkevals was murdered. Tied up and gassed in the trunk of his car. This morning I took a closer look at the body, and found duct tape residue on his wrists.”

“Don’t know how I missed that,” I said.

“We see the evidence that supports our assumptions,” said Stella.

“No motive, no suspects,” said Drum. “Doesn’t look very promising.”

Stella shook her head. “That’s pessimistic. Let’s put it this way–there’s no obvious suspect, yet. If we do our jobs right, though, we’ll nail him. I have no doubt at all about that.” She finished her water and slid off the table. The meeting was over.

I followed Chief Jerry into her office. “What do you think?” I asked.

“About the murders?”

“Yeah.”

“I think she’ll solve them. I pray she will. No one around here is sleeping very well.”

“She married?”

Chief Jerry frowned. “She’s too young for you, John.”

“Give me a break. I think Drum likes her.”

“Well, I don’t know if she’s married. And her personal life doesn’t have anything to do with the job.”

“Sure, no need to be testy.”

“Sorry,” she said, smiling. She should smile more often – it gives her dimples.

*****

All weekend, Drum and I interviewed a good slice of the townsfolk. We heard gossip, accusations, suspicions. We took notes, compared theories, and reported back to Chief Jerry. She and Stella were working on leads the SBI had uncovered.

On Sunday night, Edie Lacker walked into the police station and heaved Ben’s worn suitcase onto the counter. When Chief Jerry opened the suitcase and saw what was underneath the hundreds of folded-up squares, she had Ben arrested and put into a cell.

The next afternoon, I found Edie going into the jail to visit Ben. She looked pale, more tired than usual, with her hair pulled back by a leopard-print headband. She told me what happened. “Ben was sorting through his pictures, like he does sometimes. I was washing dishes and he came into the kitchen. He was holding this bloody knife and saying something like ‘the wicked shall fall by his own wickedness,’ the kind of stuff I usually ignore, but when it’s your crazy brother with a bloody knife in his hand it takes on a different meaning.”

“How’s he doing?” I asked.

“He doesn’t mind being here right now,” Edie said, “though he’s going to be frustrated tomorrow when he can’t walk around town. The blood on the knife is the mayor’s, you see. Ben stabbed her. I can’t believe it!” She began to cry.

I found her a tissue. “He’s innocent, even if he did it. He doesn’t know what he did.”

She groped through her bag and took out a pill bottle. “He’s never harmed a soul. All these years, no matter how sick he got.”

I stayed with her while she gave Ben his medicine. It was the least I could do, poor kid. He seemed calm enough, though he kept asking for his suitcase.

*****

Stella Lavender spent Tuesday morning holed up with Chief Jerry. It had been nine days since Falco’s killing. Ben had been moved to the hospital psych ward. We’d interviewed Turk Holmes, but he swore he knew nothing about Falco’s murder. Since we didn’t have evidence or a witness to prove otherwise, the judge let his mother bail him out. Drum and I had written up dozens of interviews, none of them containing a crumb of useful information.

Around four o’clock, Stella came out of Chief Jerry’s office, looking wiped out, with dark circles around her eyes. On an impulse, I asked her if she wanted to have a beer with me. Maybe she could relax and update me on the reports from the SBI.

She said that was a good idea, she’d meet me in an hour.

I went home and washed up, changed into one of my sports shirts and some khaki pants. Shaved and brushed my teeth, even. Rhianna would say I was really trying to make an impression. It’s true, I was hoping for a good opinion. Stella made me nervous. She was smart, and smart women tend to see right through my bullshit to whatever’s underneath. I didn’t want pity, not from her.

We each ordered a light draft beer, and sat down in a booth. Stella had on a white jacket with the top two buttons undone. It felt good to be with a woman, even if she did make me nervous. She sat across from me, and I had those sea-green eyes all to myself.

“Any new developments?” I asked.

“One important one. We found a partial shoeprint on Falco’s jacket, on the back. Like he was kicked. Same shoeprint that we found on the mayor’s skirt and in Klinkevals’s garage. Size 10 Nikes.” Her voice took on a sharpness I hadn’t heard before.

“But Turk Holmes had Falco’s wallet. Did he kick Falco?”

“Turk wears size 13. It wasn’t his shoeprint.”

“I’m sure you checked Ben’s shoes,” I said.

“Ben Lacker didn’t kill the mayor. Ben’s prints were on the knife, but not bloody, not positioned the way they’d be if he’d held it to stab her.”

“Where did he get the knife, then?”

“He doesn’t remember or doesn’t know.”

I sipped my beer. “Looks like we’re back to square one.”

“No. I have a suspect. I’m just waiting for a fax that might give me the final piece of the puzzle.”

I nearly choked. “You know?” I couldn’t believe it, that she had solved all three killings. “Who is it?”

“I’ll tell you when I get the fax,” she said. I couldn’t read her expression.

“How did you find out? Mind telling me, so I learn something here?”

“The killings didn’t fit the pattern of a ritualized or sadistic serial killing. These three people were killed for a reason, by someone who knew them. So I looked into their dealings, their problems, their lives, to find someone who might have a grudge. Someone they cheated or misused, maybe long ago.”

“Makes sense to me.” My heart raced. Who was the suspect?

Chief Jerry came in, carrying a manila envelope. She hesitated when she saw me with Stella, but when I waved at her to join us, she slid into the booth next to me and handed Stella the envelope.

“It’s the fax,” Stella said. She pulled out a sheet of paper and studied it intently. She exchanged a nod with Chief Jerry, then drew her Sig and aimed it at my forehead. When she said, “John Norman, you’re under arrest for first-degree murder,” my life began to evaporate like the bubbles in my beer.

She continued with Miranda rights. I didn’t resist – I fully believed Miss Ice-In-Her-Veins would have shot me right between the eyes. What’s more, I didn’t get what she was talking about. I just didn’t know, because my memory has holes like one of Momma’s crocheted snowflakes. Stella seemed to believe her accusations. I didn’t, couldn’t, though a nasty cold whisper was reminding me that I didn’t remember most of Nam either. I had a pain in my chest and tasted metal, like I’d swallowed a lead pipe.

“Drum’s in your apartment right now with a search warrant, picking up your size 10 Nikes,” said Chief Jerry.

I stood up but got dizzy so I sat down again. “I didn’t do it.” I took deep breaths to calm myself. The pain in my chest was getting worse, spreading down my arms.

Stella pushed her beer aside. “I think I know the story, John. You’re a proud man, but that pride was eroded by a series of humiliations. It started when the mayor replaced you as Chief, after you harassed her son.”

“That’s bull,” I said. “I treated him the same as any other punk.”

“The mayor demoted you to patrolman. You drank more than ever, until Rhianna kicked you out and filed for divorce. Her lawyer, Sam Klinkevals, convinced the court to issue you a restraining order.”

“Now he was an evil man,” I remembered his lies, how the court wouldn’t let me see my family.

“So now you’ve lost your status, your wife, your home. You blamed the mayor and Sam Klinkevals.”

“Blaming isn’t murder.” I couldn’t catch my breath. I must have looked bad because Chief Jerry asked me if I was okay. “My chest hurts like a son-of-a-bitch,” I said. She pulled out her cell and called for an ambulance.

“Your mother passed away, and you’re grieving. About all you have left,” Stella went on – not that I could stop her, “is the friendship of a few guys like the bartender over there, other veterans, men who fought for our country and respect each other for it. Then Roman Falco walks into the bar. He was in your Marine platoon in Vietnam.” She tapped the manila envelope. “This fax from Washington contains the details of your general discharge in 1973. You deserted during your tour, and hid out. The only reason you weren’t court-martialed was that there was no point in making an example of you anymore, the war was over. You recognized Falco right away?”

I tasted that sourness that goes with about-to-vomit. “He had this tattoo, a Marine bulldog. He hadn’t changed much. He recognized me. The bartender started blabbing bullshit about my two tours and a Purple Heart for being shot in the back, point man in a recon platoon. Falco just kept swallowing those tequila shots.”

“Yes, and he’d tell someone,” Stella said. “Falco could destroy the only shred of yourself worth respecting. So you stopped him, or punished him.”

“It wasn’t me,” I managed to croak. “You’re wrong.”

“No, it all fits. I wondered when you botched the evidence collection in Sam Klinkevals’s garage. Then, too conveniently, Falco’s wallet turned up the first place you looked. By the way, you didn’t get any anonymous informant call that noon in the barbershop. We checked your cell phone records. You must have set the alarm to go off so you could fake a call.”

She didn’t miss a damn thing. The day after Falco’s death, I’d found his wallet and car keys in my jacket pocket. I didn’t have a fucking clue how they got there. Had I picked them up in the bar? Chief Jerry didn’t need to know I had the wallet and keys, it would only confuse things. “Finding” them in Turk’s house made sense to me.

Adding her two cents, Chief Jerry said, “Edie Lacker says you visited her and Ben, and you were alone with Ben’s suitcase. You planted the knife, right?”

I shook my head, no, but she was right – I’d found the bloody knife in my car after the mayor’s murder. I thought someone was planting evidence on me. I needed to get rid of the knife, and I knew Ben wouldn’t be convicted.

The EMTs arrived and loaded me onto a stretcher. “Good work,” Chief Jerry said to Stella, and gave her a hug. It almost made me throw up, the sight of those two heads pressed together, a dark shiny braid and a bleached blonde helmet. A couple of know-it-all broads hugging over my almost-corpse.

*****

The shrink’s got a chin patch, like a tarantula on his face. It really gets on my nerves. He makes me talk until I remember. Heart-pounding, sweat-dripping flashbacks. Klinkevals’s beady eyes, his cheeks flattened by duct tape, as he writhed in the trunk of his car. The glistening pool of blood under the mayor’s body. Falco’s drunken smirk just before I knocked his lights out. It’s horrible when these memories appear.

What calms me is thinking about Momma. I recall the day she died, right before Falco came to town. She was nothing but skin hanging on bones, and she couldn’t talk. Still, it was like her to keep busy, and she was crocheting a snowflake for the Christmas craft sale at the church. I was reading the newspaper to her, about the weddings and babies, when she put down the hook and thread, rested her knobby hands in her lap, closed her eyes, and passed away.

I held together until the funeral. They say I recited Psalm 34 over Momma’s coffin. That day I’d like to remember but the shrink isn’t interested in respect for the dead. He wants me to open the coffin and hop right in with garages and knives and duct tape. I can’t hold him down and rip off his chin patch like I want to, so I rattle my cuffs.

It makes him jump.

About the Author:
Karen Pullen is a former industrial engineer who runs a bed & breakfast in North Carolina. To occupy her mind while making beds and cooking French toast, she invents tales of revenge, greed, and evil. She is in the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine, and is working on her second mystery novel featuring Stella Lavender, Special Agent of the NC State Bureau of Investigation. Crime Scene Scotland published her story Pen Pals last year.