Monday, July 16, 2007

The Ghost Mirror by Jamieson Wolf

In the Beginning…

Mr. Lavender looked down at the body that rested at his feet with some trepidation.

The body was that of a young boy, no more than twelve years old. There was a small wound at the back of his head that, even now, oozed blood onto the white tiled floor underneath him. They boy was clothed in shorts and a t-shirt that had been ripped to shreds.

Mr. Lavender made a tut-tut sound and moved around, so he could see the body from another angle. It always helped to get a different perspective on things. He spared a momentary glance at his companion who was standing by the doorway.

The room around them was white, almost blinding. Its cleanliness was in sharp contrast to the rest of the house. All the other rooms were filled with cobwebs and shadow, inches of dust on table tops. Only the bathroom was sparkly white.

Mr. Lavender shuddered slightly at the cleanliness of the bathroom. He preferred the grimier rooms; the ones filled with stacks of old books and papers that littered the floor. He could spend days poring over the papers; stacks of obituaries, old newspapers that detailed events past. Old things were filled with mystery. With magic.

“You found him like this?” Mr. Lavender asked his companion.

The companion, a thin man with dark, greasy hair and a pale face, nodded. “He was here this morning.” The man’s voice was gruff compared to Mr. Lavender’s soft toned voice. “I didn’t touch anything.” The companion was so pale that it looked as if he were going to fade into the whiteness of the walls.

“As well you shouldn’t.” Mr. Lavender said. He moved around the boy again so that he could see the boys’ eyes. They were still open. “Tut, tut.” He whispered. “What are we going to do with you, my little popinjay?” He regarded the boy almost sadly, though his mouth did curve into a small smile. “Well, needs must.” He said simply.

He crouched down closer to the boy. Carefully, he laid the boys’ body on its back, so that his eyes stared skyward. Mr. Lavender opened the boys’ mouth slightly, as if the boy were forming a sound of surprise.

Gently he prodded the boys’ chest with the tips of his fingers. “I am made from more than blood,” Mr. Lavender whispered. “I am filled with spirit strong.”

In response to his words, the air around them became thick, as if time stood still. He watched as
whiteness, a soft mist, started to crawl out of the boys’ mouth.

“I am made from more than flesh,” Mr. Lavender continued. “I am filled with bloods pure song.”

The rest of the incantation made the air thicker still. The companion watched as the mist leaving the boys quickened and started to take shape. He watched as Mr. Lavender bend close to the boy and breathed in through his mouth. The mist, slowly at first as if resisting, started to flow into Mr. Lavender’s open mouth.

When the mist was no more, and Mr. Lavender had closed his mouth, the air around them became whole once more.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

By Lindy S. Hudis

The plane touched down at the Santa Barbara airport around ten a.m. During the short flight from LAX, John Peterson contemplated the weekend ahead. He had not seen his younger siblings in ten years, and was looking forward to seeing them and their families. He was also very concerned, because he had bad news to break to all of them. Very bad news, and everybody’s life would be affected. He was nervous as to what the family’s reaction would be. John was a fifty-year-old, extremely successful entertainment lawyer in Beverly Hills. His clients included rich and powerful movie stars, producers, and studio heads - they were the reason for his phenomenal success. He was the kind of man who silenced rooms when he entered them, and would tell another man’s children to be quiet.

Sitting next to John was Joyce Peterson, his wife, age forty-seven. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, and being the daughter of a prominent L.A. heart surgeon, was used to the good life. Her one and only dream was to marry a rich doctor or lawyer, have children, and be a good wife.

Then there was Joe. Joe was the twenty-three year old son of John and Joyce. To say that Joe was good-looking would be the understatement of the year. Joe was beautiful. He looked like a work of art, a Greek god. He had long, blond hair that hung just below his shoulders, and fantastic azure eyes, the color of the California sky itself. His body, although on the thin side, was cut and lean, with pronounced chest, biceps, and a washboard stomach. The facial structure, with its defined jaw and cheekbones, was captivating in its exquisite, masculine beauty. He could easily be a beautiful woman on testosterone.

He, like his mother, was born and raised into wealth in L.A., but his goal was not to become a doctor or a lawyer. He had just graduated from New York University Film School. Although his looks were better suited for being in front of the camera, his dream was to become a movie director. Having inherited his father’s magisterial personality, he simply answered, “Because I don’t like being told what to do.” whenever he was asked why he was not an actor. Through his father’s many industry connections, Joe was not at a loss for employment. He chose, however, to start at the bottom, doing Production Assistant work to get his foot in the door. His father told him it builds character, and advised him to “work for it” rather than have it handed to him. Because he was also very charming, he was meeting and networking with all the right people. The only direction Joe was going was up.

As the plane landed, the family unbuckled their seatbelts, even though the steward had instructed the passengers not to. When the plane came to a complete stop, the family was the first ones off. Joe passed by three flight attendants who gazed at him, with a look on their faces that Joe saw all the time. He smiled and bid them good-bye.

The three hiked through the jet-way into the busy airport, carrying their weekend luggage with them. They took the escalator to the lower level where the car rental stations were. While John was making arrangements for the family to rent at nice, slow sedan, Joe stepped outside. It was a hot Spring morning; a light, cool breeze offered relief from the sweltering heat.

The famous California sunshine shone brightly, reflecting off Joe’s equally golden hair. He squinted his sapphire eyes to look at it, and decided that he was determined to enjoy the insipid family reunion that his father was forcing him to attend. He did not have much in common with his simpleton cousins. Some of them he had not seen in ten years, although his father’s brother, Uncle Stephen, kept in touch with them by phone. It was, of course, just a weekend.

It was now Friday morning, they would be back home by Monday, and not much happens over weekends anyway. He decided that he would just smile and say hello to the many relatives that will be in attendance. At least, he had his own room, hopefully with cable television and an ocean view. Maybe getting away for the weekend on a mini-vacation would do him good, and he could relax a little. An older lady and a pretty, teenage girl walked by, both turning and smiling at him. He smiled back.

At only twenty-three, he was very aware of the amazing power he had over women, and as he got older, it would only get more intense. Females started throwing themselves at him when he was fifteen, and the feeling was more than mutual. He loved women, and would never use his power for cruel or destructive purposes, like many attractive, rich men do. That was not his style. Quite a few of his Beverly Hills buddies teased him for that. “Take the goods and run”, the guys said, and kidded him for being so sensitive.

Joe was not like the other guys, being a romantic, he honestly believed that there was the love of his life out there somewhere. He was determined to find her, but he wanted to win his Oscar first. The sliding glass doors of the airport flew open and John and Joyce hurried out. Joyce was carrying the keys to the Lincoln Continental that would take them to their final destination, the elegant Hotel Del Moor, overlooking the mighty Pacific Ocean. The three climbed inside the automobile, secured their luggage, and took off, with John driving, Joyce up front, and Joe in the back.

The family cruised north along the Pacific Coast Highway, with it’s incredible, palm-tree lined vision of the long, sandy beach that stretched all along the length of the Golden State. While Joyce and John were heatedly discussing who would be there, what to do, and so on, Joe gazed out the window, lost in thought. The enormous ocean and the endless sky met over the horizon, both equally wondrous and awe inspiring. Joe rested his head against the plush back of the seat and just stared at the blueness of the sea, and the swaying palm trees.

He thought about his life and how lucky he was. Being the adored only child of a wealthy L.A. lawyer and a loving mother, not to mention his genetic good fortune, he was thankful the world was at his feet.

He thought about the day ahead, meeting people less fortunate than he. Relatives from the mid-west - middle-class people from small towns, people utterly foreign to him. Needless to say, the weekend would be an adventure. As the car sped along, Joe started to drift off, eyelids getting heavy and, with the gentle motion of the back seat’s softness, he slowly fell asleep.

His father slamming the car door awoke Joe with a start. He rubbed his eyes and looked out the window. It was around noon. The drive had taken much longer than John expected, he was quite agitated. Joe stretched his gorgeous body, grabbed his duffle bag, and stepped out of the car. The intense heat did nothing to cheer his father up, that with the usual tribulations of hotel check-in. The mild breeze slightly shook the towering palm trees, and Joe caught a strong whiff of the salty ocean air.

The hotel itself was splendid, in all of its stately allure. It was a giant, pink structure, with a grand waterfall in the center of its circular driveway. It was surrounded with pink rose bushes and ‘Birds of Paradise’ flowers. Behind the main building was a row of small bungalows, slightly resembling little Polynesian huts, which were mostly occupied by honeymooning guests. Adjacent to the huts was a small bar, with a Polynesian motif as well, and a sparkling, kidney-shaped pool and Jacuzzi - beyond that was the Pacific Ocean itself with the hotel’s private beach. Joe took one look at the wonderful place and decided that this was not going to be such a bad weekend after all.

After glancing around the grounds, Joe followed his parents inside. Once his eyes adjusted to being indoors, he looked around at the impressive, though not stuffy, interior. It was not Beverly Hills, what he was used to, and the Hotel Del Moor could never give the Regent Beverly Wilshire a run for its money, but for a hotel on the beach of a small, coastal town, forty-five minutes north of Santa Barbara, it was very pleasing.

The cheery lobby was bright, due to most of the walls being all glass, and the inside as well as the outside was pink and delicate. His mother, a snob of sorts, gave the quaint place her seal of approval, much to the relief of Joe and John, for they would have never heard the end of it if she didn’t. While John was busy with checking in and Joyce ran through the lobby in a frenzy searching for the ladies’ room, Joe found himself staring into the ocean again. Maybe when he got rich, on his own of course, he would purchase a house in Malibu, because he just now realized how the ocean soothed him.

“Joe!” The rigid voice of his father broke his trance. “Can you come here for a minute, please?” Joe went quickly to where his upset-looking father was standing. Even though he was his son, when John Peterson called his name, he came running.

“There seems to be a mix up in the reservations.” John explained to him. “They over-booked the rooms and there are none left. Now you can do one of two things. You can stay in a room with your mother and me, or you can take one of the honeymoon huts that are available. Which do you prefer?”

Joe hardly relished the thought of sharing a room with his mom and dad, so he chose the latter. He would be closer to the ocean anyway, and the solitude would be a welcome change. John handed his son the keys to Bungalow Three and eyed him suspiciously.

“Are you all right, son? You’re awfully quiet.” he asked.

“Just tired, Dad.” Joe answered, and he was.

“Well go get some rest. We have to go to that introductory dinner tonight, so go take a nap, and meet us in Suite 326 at four-thirty. Got it?” John commanded and handed Joe a manila envelope. He then followed Joyce upstairs and disappeared.

Joe stood alone in the lobby, holding his bag, the keys to the hut, and the envelope. He must have looked bewildered, because after about three seconds a young lady appeared and asked if he needed help. He smiled, knowing what she was thinking and feeling quite humble he asked politely how to get to Bungalow Three.

“Oh, are you on your honeymoon?” she asked, her big eyes shining.

“No, I’m here for the family reunion and they ran out of space. They put me out here.” Joe explained. Her sigh of relief was almost comical.

“Come on, I’m on my break so I’ll show you personally.” the girl grinned cozily. She gestured with her arm and walked out into the little walkway, Joe followed. The sea breeze was light and airy, the young lady’s skirt flitted in the wind, something Joe could not help noticing. She led him like a lamb down a little concrete path, with rose bushes on either side, and down a narrow pathway. The delightful aroma was a mixture of ambrosial flowers, salty ocean air, and her buttered scent. Seagulls circled overhead, dodging the immense, swaying palm trees.

“Some people get lost on their way to the bungalows.” she said, turning to him and smiling. Joe just nodded and kept walking behind her. They finally arrived at bungalow three, the one right in the middle. To Joe’s delight, he discovered that each bungalow had its own little private patio, and was literally about fifteen feet from the water. He took the key, opened the door, and stepped inside. The young girl kept smiling at him, unmoving. Joe was polite, but wanted to be alone. He had not slept the night before and really needed that nap.

“I’m Cindy, I work in the Velvet Room as a waitress.” she smiled at him, still not leaving. Joe looked back at her, used to this kind of behaviour from women, yet trying not to get annoyed. She was just admiring the view.

“I’m Joe Peterson, I’ll be in the Velvet Room this evening. I’m with the Peterson Family Reunion, and we are having a big, family dinner there.” he told her, and held out his hand. She shook it with enthusiasm.

“So, I guess I’ll see you later?” Cindy asked. Her eyes were deep and shadowy in their hopefulness.

“Maybe.” Joe smiled politely, and began to close the door. She finally took the hint and her smile dropped a notch.

“Well, have a nice day.” she said, then turned and sauntered away. The little bungalow was cozy, but it was definitely intended for honeymooners. The room was complete with a champagne-stocked mini-refrigerator and a heart-shaped hot tub in the corner. Great, he thought, and I’m here alone.

Joe flopped onto the queen-sized bed, and opened the manila envelope that his father had given him. It was an itinerary of sorts, charting out all of the organized activities of the upcoming three days - stating what, when, and where all of the events were to take place. Joe leafed through it for a few minutes, then tossed it aside, wondering what the big deal was. Why not just have a family dinner and be done with it?

He lay back on the bed, took his address book out of his duffle bag, and removed a lone joint that he carefully had hidden in the secret pocket of his little book. As he lit up and took a deep drag, he wondered if only one joint would get him through the weekend ahead, and hoped that some of his long-lost cousins had some grass on them. He thought about how his parents would kill him if they found out he smoked pot and laughed at the thought of his father confiscating it and smoking it himself. He had been high around them many times, and to the best of his knowledge, they never suspected a thing.

He took another long drag and stared at the ceiling, slowly beginning to feel its clouded effects. His mind began to become sticky and slow, and he escaped into a sweet, stoned haze.

* * * *

Shauna Peterson sat in the sun-filled lobby of the Hotel Del Moor with her brother Michael. They were both waiting for their father, Stephen Peterson, to check them in and tell them their room numbers. Shauna had kept her eye on the pool and hot tub for the past ten minutes, ignoring all else around her, especially her older brother’s constant comments about how “cheesy” the hotel was.

She just wanted to unpack her bathing suit and hit the beach and the sunshine. Where they came from, a modest town in upstate New York called Boonville, it was still freezing. The plane trip across the country was a grueling seven and a half hours, and the need to unwind was incredible.

Shauna pondered on the upcoming weekend. All her father talked about the whole trip so far was his rich brother, her Uncle John, her Aunt Joyce, and her cousin Joe. He babbled on and on about how they lived in Beverly Hills, the richest part of Los Angeles, and her Uncle John knew all these famous people. Shauna was impressed and looked forward to seeing them. Some she had kept in touch with, but had not seen in a long time. Unlike Michael, who hated rich people, and had no qualms about voicing it.

Michael was twenty-four years old, twenty years younger than his father, and four years older than his sister. Shauna had never set foot outside of Boonville in her life, so this was indeed an adventure. She was on Spring Break from the small junior college she was attending.

Michael could see in her eyes that she had the sweet, naive optimism that came with youth, and she believed that she could have a life like this one day. Michael knew better. He had worked in the same rubber stamp company for six years, and knew that a privileged life, like that of his spoiled cousin Joe he’d heard so much about, was not for them. He also was wise to the fact that this whole trip was being paid for with the last of his father’s credit.

Shauna had no such concerns, for Stephen was handing them the keys to Room 328, and she knew that it was only a matter of minutes before she was basking in the California sunshine, of which she was a virgin to. She jumped up and down excitedly and grabbed the keys out of her father’s hands, while Michael rolled his eyes. Stephen shot him a look. He was determined not to let his bitter son spoil a vacation that he looked forward to for ten years. He looked at his smiling daughter, all energy and zeal, and it reminded him of himself at age twenty.

“I’m going to be in Room 405, and you guys are in Room 328, on the west side of the building, overlooking the ocean.” he told his kids. Shauna squealed with delight. An ocean view! She had never seen the ocean before, now from her window, she could look at it all weekend long.

Michael just looked at him blankly, and could care less. As long as there was a bed to sleep in, he was happy. He was counting the minutes before he could go home. “Thank you, Daddy.” Shauna kissed her father on the cheek, and ran to the elevator. Michael looked at his father.

“I guess I’m going to get unpacked.” he said with a sigh, and started after his sister.

Stephen grabbed him by the arm. “Try to be nice. I haven’t seen my brother in ten years, and this trip means a lot to me. Please be civil, okay?” Stephen asked him.

“Yeah, sure, Dad.” Michael just shrugged. He followed Shauna to the third floor. Civil to a bunch of rich bitches. Yeah, right!

The two of them stepped into the elevator together, and after the doors had closed, Michael stared at his sister. “So, it looks like we are sharing a room together. Dad can’t afford three rooms. Dad can’t afford this whole trip.” he grumbled.

“Oh, well.” Shauna glared at him, wondering what he was getting at.

“If we were Uncle John’s kids we’d all have separate suites, I bet that’s what little cousin Joe has.” he sneered.

She ignored him, determined not to let him spoil the mood. He kept pushing her buttons, something he was very good at. “Too bad I’m not Robert. I bet you’d rather be sharing a room in a fancy hotel on the ocean with him.” Michael jeered. She felt her throat tighten. Why did Michael have to mention that name?

The elevator arrived at the third floor, and the two stepped out, searching the long hall for Room 328. Shauna walked briskly ahead of her brother, who sauntered behind. She finally found their room, unlocked the door, and stepped in. Her jaw dropped. Her father wasn’t kidding about the ocean view. The room also had a television, mini-bar, and beautiful balcony overlooking the golden beach. Even if it wasn’t a suite, it was good enough for her.

She set her bag on one of the beds and ran to the balcony, where she pushed open the sliding glass door and stepped outside. She stood transfixed, staring at the white sand and the blue ocean, and decided it was the most fantastic sight she had ever laid eyes on. As much as she hated to admit it, her brother was right. She would much rather be here with Robert than Michael. This weekend, though, she was going to put Robert, school, and other worries out of her mind. This was her first vacation, and she was going to make it memorable.

She felt the cool ocean breeze flow through her long hair. She closed her eyes and just listened to the sound of the waves hitting the sand. She wished, like she had all her life, that she was rich, just like her cousin Joe she had heard so much about. Rich people could come to places like this all the time; they could even own places like this. It must be really nice.

She turned and ran back into the room, jerking open her tattered overnight bag, and pulling out her simple, one-piece swimsuit. She went into the bathroom to change. Michael was sprawled on the bed, smoking a cigarette and flipping through the channels on the T.V. with the remote control. He scoffed at his silly sister, acting all impressed with these foolish people, this stupid hotel, and her ludicrous fantasies about getting out of Boonville and being “somebody”. These people were nothing but fat, lazy assholes, and not one of them was going to give Shauna the time of day.

Shauna emerged from the bathroom, wearing her worn-looking swimsuit, and Michael started laughing at her. “What are you going to do when all your rich relatives are at the pool in their designer bathing suits and won’t talk to you because you are wearing that piece of shit?” he scoffed. Michael got off on making her feel two-inches-tall - he always had. Shauna grabbed a towel and walked out the door. “Go to hell, Michael.” she called over her shoulder.

Michael just snickered and went back to the television. This whole weekend was going to be bullshit, and he wished he could stay in the room the whole time.The first thing that struck Shauna when she stepped outside onto the beach was amazement. She could hardly breathe, and all she could do was run along the sand. She felt it between her toes for the first time. She ventured out towards the blue water and felt the waves crashing around her calves. She dove headfirst into the Pacific, got a mouthful of salt water, then ran along the wet sand. Her only company on the private beach was a flock of seagulls searching for their lunch. She felt alive, removed from reality, almost like living in a wonderful dream.

Finally, she collapsed on her towel and got lost in her happy thoughts. She though about her beautiful mother, Linda, who passed away mysteriously about a year ago. Her death devastated her and her father. The family was trying to cope with the loss and the grief. Her mother would have loved to be here and see her family.

Her father was simply lost and hurting with out his wife. Her mind drifted to Robert. Four months ago he was known as Mr. Kimberlin, her psychology instructor at H.G. Hill Junior College in Boonville. Robert was ten years her senior and married, but that didn’t stop her from falling in love with him at first sight. He was different from all the college boys that she had dated, who were all horny and confused.

Robert was nice to her, nicer than any boy had ever been. She lost her virginity to him two short months ago. Since then, she fantasized that they would run away together, leaving his wife behind to spend his life with her. He told her that he was in love with her too, but gave her strict instructions to keep their love affair a secret, until his divorce. She wished that she could share this moment with the love of her life, but she would just have to tell him about it. Only Michael knew of the affair, after seeing the two of them together in Robert’s car.

Michael knew who he was immediately. Boonville being a very small town, he told her that she was living in a dream world, that sleeping with a married man was a no-win situation and to snap back into reality. Michael had an incredible way of ruining her joy. Perhaps he was jealous, for as far as she knew, Michael had never had a girlfriend, or even been in love.

She stretched out and felt the delicious sunshine devour her, and told herself that there were going to be no worries this weekend-just relaxation, dreams, and fun. What else was there?

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Women of Camp Sobingo by Marilyn Celeste Morris

The Women of Camp Sobingo

By Marilyn Celeste Morris


Trudy Cavanaugh strode from the mahogany paneled boardroom, leaving in her wake seven men looking at each other in astonishment. She bolted into the ladies’ room at the end of the hall, pushed open a stall door, and leaned over the toilet, allowing the bile to flow freely from her agitated stomach. Damn! she thought. When will I ever get used to confronting people without vomiting? Straightening, she flushed the toilet and emerged from the stall, going directly to the vanity area where she ran water and pumped the soap dispenser vigorously. Glancing at herself in the mirror, she grimaced at her appearance. She hoped she didn’t look as sick as she felt. Cupping her hands under the flow of cold water, she sipped water and rinsed her mouth of the foul taste. That would have to do until she could get her handbag where she carried a small bottle of mints. Opening the ladies’ room door, she nodded at her secretary, who handed Trudy her handbag and her full-length mink coat, then motioned to the man who was leaning over the desk.

Her attorney pursued her through the offices of Cavanaugh Enterprises toward the elevators. Leo Powell knew he didn’t have to hurry; even the powerful and wealthy Cavanaugh woman had to wait for the elevator to crawl slowly from the ground floor to the twenty-fifth.

So, she’s done it again. He grinned to himself as he walked behind the rapidly retreating figure. She outwitted those old farts on the board and headed this business in the right direction. If Trudy had been merely a figurehead chairman, she would have allowed the members to watch the company die, along with many other publications in this year of change.

Instead, Trudy held her ground and bullied the old men—those paunchy, balding, impotent, old men in their pinstriped suits—into turning the focus of the business around toward the ladies’ market.

Not the traditional ladies’ market, though. With the emergence of women into positions of authority and power in the business world, Trudy had recognized their need for publications aimed at their work-world. No recipes for her. No fashion commentaries or movie-star profiles, but articles related to work experience, how to juggle appointments with babysitters…that’s what Trudy Cavanaugh wanted.

That's what she’ll get, Leo knew. He slowed his pace and stood silently beside his employer by the elevator.

"Leo,” she said without turning to him. "What were those old geezers doing when I left?"

“Babbling amongst themselves. Having strokes and heart attacks.”

She chuckled. “Good. I want a meeting with the editors of all our publications tomorrow morning. I want to tell them all personally before the Board has a chance to do any more damage.”

The elevator arrived, and they stepped inside as the brass doors closed silently and firmly. They rode in silence to the garage floor where Trudy’s limousine waited.

Leo assisted her into the back seat, telling the driver, “We’ll go to Mrs. Cavanaugh’s home, now.”
Trudy settled herself against the car’s soft leather, pulling off her kid gloves and shrugging off her mink coat.

Leo pulled his cigarette lighter from his coat pocket and held it as she put a cigarette to her lips.
“Thank you.” She inhaled deeply and stretched her long legs straight out, flexing her tense leg muscles.

Leo wisely withheld his questions as Trudy was seemingly absorbed in looking out the window at the changing autumn scenery.

Glancing out the window every so often, he studied her.

I know her like a book, he thought. In fact, Leo had been offered a great deal of money to write a book about the Cavanaughs, all of them, with Trudy as the focal point, but he had declined. Leo was above all else, loyal to the family, but what a book he could write. The Cavanaughs were newsmakers, and this lovely member of the family was the most sensational of them all.
He found himself appraising her: tall, rather an angular woman, with strong features, and a certain boyish stride. Her hair was blond with sun-streaks, unaided by hairdressers, as far as Leo could determine, and he knew well how her emerald-green eyes could turn from warm to stone cold. A line or wrinkle there, he admitted, but the woman was approaching fifty, and the strain of simply being a Cavanaugh was enough to age her.

He shook his head.

Trudy had said something.

“I’m sorry. What did you say?”

“I said I want to give a party.” She ground out her cigarette and turned her luminous eyes on him. They were not warm.

“I’ll get your social secretary—” He put his hand on the telephone.

“No.” She put her hand over his, stopping him. “No, Leo. I want do this one myself, but I need your help. Give me your legal pad and a pen, would you?”

He pulled them from his briefcase, and she began writing in her illegible scrawl.

“I want you to find these people— ”

“Is this what I think it is?” His eyebrows knitted in a frown. “Your friends from Korea?”
She continued scribbling. “We promised twenty years ago that we’d all meet again, and it’s time, or it will be, soon.”

She tore off the page, handing it to him. “Do what you can, will you?”

It wasn’t a request. It was an order.

Leo looked at the list in dismay. It contained about twenty names, ranks, and a few last-known addresses. He looked up at her, but Trudy was looking out the window again.

“I’ll find them. When do you want them?”

“I’ve wanted them for a long time, Leo.” Her chin trembled and tears welled in her emerald eyes.

Leo had never, in all the years he had been around the family, seen Trudy Cavanaugh cry. Never. Not when she and Philip returned from Korea, his body mutilated then his soul, nor when Philip died. Not even when the Old Man died—but now—now, the woman was about to cry.

The driver slowed as he turned to question his employer with his eyes. They were nearing the turnoff to the cemetery.

Trudy nodded, slowly, as she bit her lip to control the tears that had spilled over onto her cheeks. Yes, she would stop at the cemetery as was her usual custom after haggling with the Cavanaugh Enterprises board members over one issue or another. She needed to get in touch with her roots, where she came from, more than where she was headed, and her roots lay with her late father-in-law, who had chosen Trudy over his own son, to assume the chairmanship shortly before he died.

Leo helped her into her coat before she stepped out of the car in front of the Cavanaugh Mausoleum.

She approached the stone edifice with legs that felt like rubber. Entering, she paused at the casket that contained the body of her father-in-law. “Colin,” she murmured. “You would have been proud of me today. I turned the company upside down. And yes, I threw up later.” She allowed herself a somewhat crooked grin as she stroked the top of the casket. She could almost imagine Colin guffawing loudly, his eyes sparking with a mischievous glint. She was silent for a few moments then turned to her husband’s casket a few feet away.

“Philip,” she whispered softly as she knelt to touch his casket. “I’m keeping the pact we all made when we were in Korea. We will all meet again as we promised. Maggie and Jake, BT and Doc, Nell and Evan…and…and…” She could not finish before she was swept away by great sobs. A moment passed while she composed herself. “I miss you.”

Wiping her eyes, she straightened and walked briskly to her waiting car.

“Let’s go home, Leo,” she said.

* * * *

Now clear-eyed, Trudy allowed Leo to assist her from the limousine, saying, “Come into the study. We’ll have a drink before we go over those new Ellis contracts.”

Leo followed her from the car into the great hallway and into the massive oak paneled study. At the sideboard, she poured a drink and sat in a dark green wingback chair.

I feel like a fool, crying in front of Leo like that. It must be hormones, she thought.
They’re running full steam, getting in their last gasps, but Alex doesn’t think I’m too old. The feeling of warmth spread to her breasts as she remembered last evening with Alex. No, there was nothing wrong with my hormones, she assured herself.

She turned her thoughts to her upcoming reunion. She wondered how her “old” friends had fared in these twenty-five years since they had all been Army wives in a military compound so far from home.

Maggie would only be more plump, more brassy, if possible. And Nell. Nell would be even more of a comfort, an island of sanity in a crazy world.

And Leah?

She swallowed her drink

Leah should be here, she thought.

But Leah was dead.

Leah died in Korea, a voice taunted.

She stood and mixed another drink, something she rarely did.

The voice nagged at her. Leah didn’t just die. She killed herself.

Her legs became unsteady beneath her, and she sank into the chair. Colin’s chair. Her breath came in ragged gasps.

She was crying, dammit.

“I really don’t know why I’m crying, Leo,” she sobbed. “Except, after all these years, I miss those people. They were special.”

She motioned for his handkerchief. She blew her nose and started to hand the handkerchief back. “Thanks. I’ll get this back to you later. I’m sorry you had to see me cry.” She laughed self-consciously. “And if word ever gets out that Trudy Cavanaugh cried, I’ll know who to blame…”

“I’ll find them for you, Trudy. I’ll bring them all back.” Leo patted her shoulder awkwardly.
No, you can’t bring them all back, Trudy thought. Not Colin, Philip, or Leah.
Or the past. Never the past.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ladies of Class by Marjorie Owen

Ladies of Class
By Marjorie Owen


Laura Clayton’s last day on earth was as ordinary as any other, right up to the few moments before she came to her messy end.

The only unusual thing about it was that she awoke to brilliant sunshine dancing on the bedroom window. March had been a spiteful month, not only coming like a lion but roaring its way through with no let up in the constant rain and lashing gales. It seemed to have no intention of going out like a lamb, but on this Saturday, the 31st, it finally relented.

“I don’t believe it!” Laura said aloud, scrambling into a housecoat and hurrying to look out at the phenomenon. But it was true and everything in the garden, which yesterday had looked dreary and sullen, was nodding and smiling and perking up in the unaccustomed brightness and warmth.

Laura was a happy person and being a countrywoman at heart was never too affected by changes in the weather, but she loved her garden. As always, her eyes after the first quick look around, came to rest on the flowering cherry tree, thinking how much the buds would be enjoying the sun and picturing in imagination its glory when in full bloom. When her husband died five years previously, all Laura’s friends expected she would sell the house with its large garden and move into something smaller. She fobbed them off with vague promises to consider it.

To her son Alec she said, “they’d think I was mad if I told them I couldn’t bear to leave my lovely cherry tree, but that is the truth. I think it’d miss me if I went away.” Alec wasn’t too sure if he understood his mother either, but his young wife said it made sense to her so being outnumbered by his women folk he wisely held his tongue.

Laura, bathed and dressed, went to the kitchen, picking two letters off the mat as she went. Looking at the handwriting with pleasure, she left them unopened until she was sitting down to her coffee, toast and marmalade.

One letter from Alec was short but the other, although reasonably brief, caused her to exclaim with surprise and needed another reading to grasp it. She was just coming to the end of it for the second time when the sound of the side gate closing dragged her thoughts away. A glance at the kitchen clock showed her it was later than she’d thought and here was Milly to prove it.

Milly Patcham, born a cockney and still with the dialect to prove it, opened the kitchen door and bustled in talking as usual. She always began the conversation half way down the path and Laura never knew what the beginning of the sentence was - in fact, sometimes it took her quite a while to guess what the topic of conversation might be. Thirty years of Milly’s ministrations had given both women a respect and affection for the other and allowing for a difference in upbringing they could honestly look on each other as friends.

“-said to ‘im ‘e ought to look after ‘er better. No business to be luggin’ them ‘eavy bags about and so I told ‘er too.”

“Whom are we talking about this time?”, Laura asked in a resigned tone.

“Bert the milkman, acourse. Yer know ‘is wife’s due any day. Two misses she’s ‘ad already and she didn’t ought to be takin’ any chances. Saw ‘er in the supermarket yesterday. You’ve been lucky this time, I said, don’t push yer luck. If yer doesn’t watch out, you’ll be ‘avin one o’ those mongrels!”

“Mongols, not mongrels,” Laura corrected her patiently. “What a cheerful thing to say to the poor girl. Anyway, I saw her myself a day or two back and she looks perfectly well to me.”

“That’s as may be, madam dear. But you read some funny things in the papers. Never ‘eard about all this when I was young - must be all to do with this population explosion I shouldn’t wonder.”

Laura smothered a laugh and stored this new ‘Millyism’ in her memory to tell Alec.

“Sit down and have a cup of coffee before you start work and forget all the gloom and misery. I’ve had a piece of good news in the post this morning - well, two in fact - but the most important is that Alec’s coming tomorrow.”

“Oh that’ll be nice, madam dear. Is ‘e bringing the wife and baby? ‘Ow long are they staying?”

“Only Alec and just a flying visit. He’s going abroad on Monday for the firm, starting early, so thought he’d break his journey here and stay the night.”

“Bet you’re pleased about that. It’ll be like old times to ‘ave Alec all to yourself, won’t it?”

“Milly! You’ll make me feel guilty saying things like that,” Laura protested. “I love my daughter-in-law dearly as you well know. But yes, I’ve got to admit it’ll be lovely to have him on his own. Anyway, I’ve got a little problem I want to discuss.”

Milly’s eyes lit up with avid curiosity and Laura could have kicked herself. Milly was a treasure beyond price and as loyal as they came but she was an inveterate gossip. If anyone had accused her of being a mischief-maker she would have been scandalized but there was no doubt about it - her unruly tongue had caused more than one bit of bother in the town. Everyone knew Milly and Milly knew everyone.

Wisely, Laura made no comment but said briskly, “come on, drink up. We’ve got work to do - blankets and sheets to get out for Alec’s bed. I’d like his room ready before I go out. I’ve a full day ahead and dinner with the vicar tonight so there won’t be much time.”

That got Milly moving and for the next couple of hours the two women worked companionably together until Laura glanced at her watch.

“I’ll have to be off. Hairdressing appointment. Will you finish up by yourself?”

“Acourse madam dear. Now, does yer want me to leave anything for yer lunch?”

“No thanks. I’ll probably get a bite at that new cafĂ© in the High Street. Then I’ll finish the shopping - get a bottle of Scotch for Alec, too. Pity I don’t like it or there would have been some in the house.”

Hurriedly she changed her skirt and top, threw on a raincoat and went down into the white-painted hall.

“'Ang on a tick! It’s turned cloudy. Yer needs an ‘ead scarf, ‘specially if you’re going to the ‘airdressers. I put one in the ‘all drawer the other day.”

She rummaged about while Laura waited impatiently. In her haste she pulled the whole drawer out, scattering the contents on the carpet - amongst them a small dog collar.

“Oh blast!” She said, quickly trying to shuffle it out of sight but Laura had seen and the tears came into her eyes. She picked the little collar up, stroked it affectionately, sighed and put it back in the drawer.

“It’s no good. I’ll have to get another dog. When old Sammy died I swore never again but I do miss him about the place.”

“Now madam dear! You know you said you wouldn’t and when young Alec was ‘ere ‘e told me not to encourage you if you started talkin’ about one. You nearly break yer ‘eart and make yerself ill when they die. Don’t do it.”

Laura snuffled and blew her nose. Looking at Milly’s anxious face, she gave a watery smile. “I’m an old fool, aren’t I? But as a matter of fact, I’ve already broken the news to Alec that I’m thinking of having another. So far he’s made no comment but I expect I’ll get round him. Goodness! Look at the time. I must fly. I’ll see you on Monday.”

Milly wasn’t to know it was the last time she’d ever see the woman whom she’d learned to love and respect.

Later on, when it became vitally important to work out Laura’s subsequent movements it was the easiest job imaginable. Practically every minute could be accounted for - she was so well known. More to the point, there was barely a minute when she was alone. Even taking a neighbour in while she was dressing for her dinner with the vicar, in order to complete plans for the next W.I. sale of work.

Laura lived in the oldest and nicest part of the town; the heart of what had been a village when she came to it as a bride more than forty years ago. But the tentacles of progress had stretched out greedily, snapping up farms, meadows and woods; spawning streets of Council houses, a factory estate and a shopping complex; swamping the charm and character Burshill once possessed. Her house was in one of four roads surrounding the original village green - now a more formalized park, with a covered-in swimming pool, children’s playground and made-up paths. But most of the trees had been left and cricket was still played in summer. The neighbouring houses had maintained their standards and although Laura was saddened by all the changes she still loved her house - and her cherry tree.

The Vicarage, to which she was headed for her dinner engagement, was diagonally opposite on the further side of the green, standing beside the parish church, half empty these days. The Reverend George Amberley and his wife, Julia, were old friends and the five minute walk across the grass was a two-way passage in constant use from both houses. This evening, mindful of her long skirt and high-heeled shoes, Laura kept to the paths; her W.I. companion walking with her as far as the Vicarage gates, where she said goodbye.

Julia Amberley opened the door before she knocked and greeted her affectionately. George’s melancholy face peered out from a door to the right of the hall.

“Hullo!” Laura said cheerfully at the sight of his woebegone visaged. “And what’s the matter with you this time?”

Julia laughed. “How well you know my dear old hypochondriac. But he really had got something to worry about tonight - a bit of bronchitis rattling around and he’s afraid it’ll keep him out of the pulpit tomorrow. As if it would! I’d be expected to produce a death certificate if George didn’t turn up on the dot.”

George gave the two smiling women a reproachful look. “It’s nothing to joke about, my dear. I ought to be in bed resting for my big day. You know the Bishop’s coming for the evening service. I don’t want to be croaking away in his presence.”

“Good thing Laura knows you, otherwise she’d be feeling most unwelcome. If you want to go to bed, go. We shan’t miss you.”

With a martyred air George refused. “I wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing when we have a guest in the house.”

“Come now,” Laura rallied him. “I’m one of your oldest friends and I shan’t mind in the least. You know how beastly your attacks of bronchitis can get. I’d hate to have it on my conscience if your voice deserted you for the all-important service tomorrow. Please go to bed, to oblige me.”

George was finally persuaded and took himself off upstairs. By doing so he helped to forge the last link in poor Laura’s destiny. For this he’d never forgive himself.

After the two women had eaten and Julia nipped up to peep at the invalid - “Sleeping like a baby,” she reported - they settled down by the fire, heavy curtains drawn against the chill March night, for a comfortable gossip.

“I hope we’ll see you in church tomorrow evening. Help to swell the congregation a bit and impress the Bishop.”

Laura was apologetic. “I’m afraid not. Alec’s coming on a flying visit.” She explained the circumstances, adding, “So you see I’d like to spend the evening with him. We’ll have a lot to talk about.” She said nothing about the special topic she wanted his advice on. This led to a cosy chat about their respective families and time passed quickly. At ten o’clock Laura said she’d be on her way knowing her friend would want to attend to George’s needs for the night. When Julia opened the door to let her out, she uttered an exclamation. “Good grief! Look at that!”

To their equal surprise, a dense fog surrounded them, thick and impenetrable as a London pea-souper. Totally unexpected.

“Must have been all that glorious sun we’ve had today,” Laura commented. The lunchtime cloud had soon gone away.

“You can’t go home in this. It’s horrible. Oh, why on earth did George have to get his rotten bronchitis tonight. He’d have escorted you back.”

“Stop clucking. It’s only a five-minute walk away, for goodness sake. I’m a big girl now and not likely to get lost.”

Julia wasn’t happy about it but Laura insisted; she went off with a cheery “Goodnight,” and was immediately swallowed up in the fog. She kept to the paths which were as familiar to her as her own garden, but she found the silence more eerie than she would have imagined. Even distant traffic noises were hushed and she felt completely isolated in a strange world. She pushed doggedly on and without any trouble found herself turning onto the path, lined with tall trees, which would lead her out almost opposite her own house.

Suddenly, surprisingly, a figure stepped out from behind one of the great horse-chestnuts and stood in front of her. Laura wasn’t of a nervous disposition but she was startled. Then, coming face to face with the apparition, she recognized it.

“Oh, it’s you!” said Laura.

Dance On His Grave by Sylvia Dickey Smith

by Sylvia Dickey Smith

Thirty years ago

The Stud, as he called himself, slammed down the phone, sure Mama’d get the message. “Bitch,” he swore. Damn woman put hair appointments before even God. You’d think those underdrawers she wore on her head at night would keep that hair in place a little longer, but he guessed they didn’t, not to her satisfaction anyway. It seemed like she went to that damned beauty parlor every other day. Didn’t do her no good, still uglier than dirt.

Goosebumps popped out all over him. He yanked on a pair of blue jeans from the pile of dirty clothes in the corner, and then pulled a T-shirt over his head.

The girls would just have to go with him, that’s all there was to it.

He marched to the roll-away bed and shook Emma and Jewell, both curled under the blanket in tight balls. “Get up, kids. Grandma ain’t coming.” He jerked the covers off the bed.

“Do we have to?” Emma whined, red hair poking straight up. Emma always whined, drove him nuts.

The Stud slung the covers to the floor and grabbed Emma by the arm. “Yeah, you have to,” he whined, mocking her. “Come on. Get up, get out of here.” He shoved her toward the door.

“Go?” Jewell sprang straight up in the bed. “Where we going? Can I take Teddy?”

“No, just get the hell out of bed. Hurry up! We’re gonna go for a ride.”

Jewell crawled across the bed, her eyes stretched wide. “To feed the horses?”

“No, dammit, not to feed the horses, that’s all you girls think about!” This kid was his for sure, always ready to go anywhere and do anything. All Emma ever did was whine. Crazy Nancy still tried to convince him Emma was his.

He shoved the girls out the door, anticipation running a foot race in his chest.

The other men were such pussies. Not him. He liked the doing. He wondered if God got turned on when He killed people. The Stud sure had.

He boosted the girls into the pickup, and then shoved on the faded green carpet he and his buddies had rolled up and stashed in the truck bed the night before. Satisfied, he secured the can of gasoline and slid behind the wheel.

The beat-up Ford truck rumbled down the dusty road jarring his insides like a damn cement mixer. Just watch, one of these days he was gonna be county commissioner and get these shit-ass roads fixed.

When The Stud reached the Levine Cut-off he made a hasty right turn, cringing as the oyster-shell driveway crunched under the weight of the vehicle.

So much for being quiet. Hell, he might as well blow the damn horn and let all the neighbors know he was coming.

Gravel shot out from underneath the tires when he threw on the brakes and swung the truck into a quick u-turn, tossing Emma and Jewell to the floor like a sack of unwanted puppies.

He jerked the truck door open and turned sideways, swinging his legs out. Smoke curled into his eyes as he took one last, quick, puff from his Camel and pitched it to the ground.

Shit! His hands still shook.

Reaching behind the seat, he pulled out a burlap bag and threw it at the girls. “Here,” he yelled. “Get down under this and stay down!” Then, bounding out, he pulled and tugged on the carpet until, finally, he got it on his shoulder.

Staggering under the weight, now carried by one instead of three, he grabbed the side of the truck and held on until he got his balance.

Slow, careful, he freed one hand, collected the gas can, and stumbled up to the house.

Not as easy as he’d thought, humiliated at the effort.

Up one step, two, three.

Wheezing by the time he reached the front door, he kicked it open and flopped the carpet, and its contents, to the floor.

Soak it good. Leave no evidence, he’d been warned, as if he didn’t have the sense God gave a goat.

The fumes stung his eyes, burned the back of his throat while he dowsed the carpet. By the time he’d soaked the floor and splashed the walls with the fuel he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t half see.


He snatched matches from his pocket, struck one and tossed it behind him as he ran, but before he even reached the front door, hell raged in the room. The roar deafened him. Flames lapped at his feet.

He pounded out the door and down the gravel path, head tucked low, rocketing away from what he’d heard the preacher call perdition.

He just called it hell.

The hot smoky air made his lungs feel like an incinerator. He smelled singed hair and touched his head, scared his own burned.

When he reached the truck, he hurled the gas can into the bed of the pickup; it banged against the back wall.

Only then did he see two tiny feet attached to two blue-mottled legs.

Emma stood beside the empty gas can, eyes locked on him, red hair sticking out.

“Dammit to hell,” he bellowed, “where’s the other one?” There she was, head poked out the passenger window, staring at him, pig-tails waving in the breeze.

“Damn kids. I told you to stay down. If you don’t stay down I’m gonna burn you up, just like I did her!”

FOOLS RUSH IN by Sunny Frazier

By Sunny Frazier


John Ballew lifted his eyes and looked around the room. Faded green curtains danced in slow-motion away from the window. A spider on the sill hung precariously on the strands of a web. Time slowed to a dusty crawl. The young man licked his lips with great effort and relished the sensation on his tongue against the dryness.

"How you doing, Johnny Blue?"

Ballew tracked his eyes to a figure in one corner of the room. A face grinned down at him showing large, yellowed teeth. Another face, this one hidden in a mass of black hair, appeared next to it.

"How much did you give him?"

"Enough to make him think he's on his way to heaven."

Ballew could make out the voices, but the words themselves made no sense. It really didn't matter. Sound drifted through the thick air and bobbed up and down in the currents, like the green curtain. He let his eyes go back to the window.

"Do ya wanna go to heaven, Johnny Blue?"

The Faces wanted something from him, but Ballew couldn't understand what that something was. He wanted the Faces to either join him in this soft-focus world or leave. Again, he licked his lips, but his tongue had gone dry. His eyes were dry too, and he was aware of the weight of his eyelids. If he closed his eyes completely, the Faces would go away.

"Seein' any angels yet?"

His eyelids were so heavy, they pulled his head down. He felt his neck lose muscle and bone as his head swelled and increased in weight. His chin descended toward his breastbone, but the neck stretched and held.

One arm hung loosely across his body. He didn't know where his other arm was and he was too tired to look for it. He followed the muted colors of a snake tattoo that slithered up his inner forearm. Between the fork of the snake's tongue, Ballew saw the needle. The plunger was down and it was empty.

It was the last thing John Ballew saw.

* * * * *

The primer gray Ford LTD turned down a dusty road and pulled up sharply in front of a mobile home half-hidden in a nectarine orchard. Without waiting for the dust to settle, two men got out. The driver reached back into the car and furiously pressed on the horn.

"Damn CI's," fumed the bearded man as he gave up the horn and stood waiting in the driveway. "I told him eleven o'clock at the Texaco station on McCall and 186."

"Probably out partying last night." His partner scratched the stubble of a new beard.

The driver walked to the front door of the trailer and took the steps two at a time. "Johnny Blue, get your ass out of bed. We've got work to do."

He started to knock on the door, but it swung open at his touch. He was immediately aware of a stench emanating from the doorway and the sound of buzzing flies.

"Whew, what died?" asked his partner, coming up behind him.

"Let's hope it's not Blue."

They drew their .45's and slowly entered the trailer.

With the air conditioner off and the summer sun beating down on the metal roof, the mobile home was easily ninety degrees inside. The air was dense with smell of decay. Flies concentrated on an object hanging on the opposite wall.

"What the hell. . . ?

Impaled on the wall, above a cluttered dining room table, was the carcass of a large rat. Written above the vermin, presumably in its own blood, was the word "Blue."

"Wolfman," the partner said, as he put a hand on the other narc's shoulder, "You are in some deep shit this time."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Darkness Cornered

He jiggled his keys in the lock, got the familiar 'click,' and pushed the door open with care. It was late, moon-shadow falling over the dark front room, and he didn't want to wake her. The old door hinges squealed; where was that damn WD-40 anyway? Waiting, he listened, half in and half out the door. Nothing. He eased the door shut, wondering if she had heard his entry. The steel deadbolt sank into the doorjamb, locking out the world, and he let out a relieved sigh.

He faced the darkened room and stepped forward to the kitchen counter, his lithe and muscular form moving fluid through the night. No noise. She was likely to be sleeping. A light moon-glow played on the counter, retracing the edges of the windowpane in negative colors. He pointed the muzzle of his gun at the floor and popped out the magazine, then pulled the bolt to be sure there was nothing in the chamber. The empty circle outlining the rear edge of the barrel shone in the wan light. He placed the gun on the counter and took off his belt, setting it next to his pistol as he always did. Sliding onto one of the barstools, he pulled the mail over in front of him. Junk mail, junk mail, grocery coupon book, junk mail.... He made a pile of the junk on the floor, knowing she would round him for it in the morning, but also knowing she'd be glad he was safe.

What's this? He noted the edge of a small manila sticking out from the bottom of the stack.
Addressed to him. Lear King. His brow furrowed in suspicion and frustration. They were after them again, harassing him about her even when he'd said enough. Lear shot an anxious glance toward his girlfriend's bedroom door. He wouldn't let them take her. Not unless she wanted to go, truly wanted to go, and even then he'd fight them over it. No experiments. No needles. No testing. She deserved better.

Lear pushed the mail away and pulled his gun cleaning kit out of the drawer near the wall. The open drawer cast an oblong, squarish shadow on the blue and yellow flowered wallpaper. Dawn was due in an hour, but the moon was still up, the silver crescent shining through the slats of the blind. Lear screwed the eye tip onto the rod, threaded a swab, and set it on the counter. In his world of dark, she was the light, and be damned if they thought they could take her from him.
He disassembled his gun with experienced hands, laying the parts out in front of him and removing the cap from the cleaning solution. The thought of those ... dogs.... Their audacity angered and frightened him. Dipping the swab in, Lear tapped the rod on the edge of the bottle and picked up the barrel of his Walther. The rod shoved the swab down the barrel, the cleaning solution's pungent odor reaching his nose. Somehow, he found the smell of gunpowder, gun cleaning solution, and oil comforting. Lear leaned on the counter, scrubbing the inner parts of his gun to remove the gunk and grime. Black residue colored the cotton swatch grey, and he dropped it on the counter, reaching for another. The door at the end of the hall opened, and a blonde, barefoot woman wearing a green negligee padded down the hall. She threw her arms around his neck, giving him a peck on the cheek.

"You're late. Was there any trouble?"

"Naw. Two traffic citations, that's all. Crazy drivers." He paused, then added, "I went to the range after I got off."

Kai watched him as he finished and began putting his gun back together. So many times she'd seen this ritual; to make sure he got everything back in right, he cocked the pistol, slide snapping forward, and dry-fired into the wall. He set it on the table and wiped his hands on a towel. Kai smiled, thinking his little quirks and attention to detail amusing.

"Did you sleep alright?" Lear asked, turning to face her. He ran a gentle finger down the side of her face.

"I would've slept better if you were there to cuddle with," she retorted with a saucy smile. God, he loved her so much. He smiled, embarrassed, looking down at his feet, then back at her face. Her long, wavy, blonde hair was beautiful in the way it cascaded over her shoulders, and her hazel eyes were brilliant.

"I love you, Kai."

She smiled, and taking his hand she led him into their bedroom.