short story

Flash Fiction: “Germ”

Submitted for your consideration.

Germ

By the end of winter, feeding everyone was a challenge. All the berries, roots and nuts they’d saved from the summer were long gone and the snow covered anything fresh that might have survived the cold. True, the men and boys hunted nearly every day. Occasionally, they’d bring back a deer to feast upon, but mostly it was rabbits and squirrels.

Just enough to keep them alive.

“Magpie?” her mother said, looking up from the stew she was building over the cook fire. Her brother had snared a rabbit today. “Could you look in the bins and see if there’s any more rice?”

“Yes, Mama.”

Magpie set aside the beadwork she’d been working on and went to the stack of rawhide food containers, though she didn’t think there would be much to find. They’d done everything but scrape the bottoms for a week now.

“Sometimes they like to hide down in the seams.”

Magpie glanced up at her mother. How did she do that?

“Yes, Mama,” she said.

She quickly set aside the container that held what was left of their dried meat and looked through the others for the remains of the rice.

“It is growing warmer every day,” her father said behind her. He was sitting with her older brother beside the fire, warming themselves after a long day trudging through the snow in a fruitless hunt. It was her younger brother who’d snared the rabbit. “The snow is beginning to melt.”

Her brother agreed. “The creeks are running fresh with snowmelt, the willow budding. Soon, the grass will show green again.”

Magpie found the rice container and untied the bindings. The people of her village had spent many days in late summer and early fall gathering the tiny grains from the edges of the lakes around their summer camp. Everyone helped, from the oldest grandfather to the youngest toddler, either with the gathering of the seeds, husking them, or spreading the seeds in the sun to dry. Yet, as hard as everyone worked, there never seemed to be enough.

They always ended up hungry.

She pulled the flaps open and peered inside the container. As she’d expected, it was empty. But she remembered what her mother had said and tipped the container until the fire light fell on the seams at each of the four sides. Sure enough, little grains of rice hid there in the seams.

She tried using her finger to scoop them out and loosened a few, but most seemed to dig further into the seam.

“Something fresh would make this soup so much better.” Her mother said.

“Soon enough. Soon enough,” her father told her. “With the next moon. Earlier if the snow keeps melting.”

Magpie turned the container over and tapped it on the packed earth of the lodge floor. A few of the grains came loose. She hit it again, harder, but only dislodged a few more.

“Are you having trouble, Magpie?” he mother asked.

“No, Mama,” she said. “I’ve got it.”

She slipped the small knife from its sheath at her waist and used the tip of the blade to pry the seeds from the seams of the container. Within a few moments she’d dislodged all the remaining grains of rice.

Magpie returned her knife to its sheath and began to pick the tiny grains of rice from the packed earth floor.

One of the seeds caught her attention. It was different. She separated it from the others and held it up into the light to examine it closer. It looked like the seed had split down the middle and a little white finger grown out of it. The end of the finger had just a touch of green.

It looked like the sprouts that appeared everywhere when the snow went away.

The wispy shadow of an idea began to form in her mind.

“Magpie?” her mother said. “What are you doing?”

“I’m coming,” she said. But before returning to her mother, she set the strange kernel aside, safe from the soup.

The End

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short story

Once There Was a Village

Another in my continuing efforts at creating short form fiction, though I think this is more prose poem than flash fiction. What do you think?

****

Once There Was A Village

Once there was a village here, where weeds now grow among the willow. It was on this bench of bottom land above the river bar and beside an unnamed creek laughing down from the hills. Right here, where the shadows of ancient hemlock and cedar shelter from the southern storm.

Once there was a village here, just a handful of homes, really. Here, children laughed and sang and played games of life and death underfoot. Over there, a nervous boy first felt the thrill of a pretty girl’s smile. Here, a mother held her newborn son, guided his mouth to her breast, and marveled at his perfect eyelashes. And there, a man and woman helped each other grow old and honored and now smile as death draws near.

Once there was a village here where people lived and loved.

Now there’s only weed and rocks, broken beer bottles and tangles of cast-off fishing line, the leavings of sportsmen who drive their pickups on to the bar, seeking the elusive salmon. Once there was a village here, but they neither know, nor care.

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short story, writing

Flash Fiction: “Wild Cows on Road.”

A piece of flash fiction I’ve been working on. This is inspired by an actual Highway Department sign north of my hometown. Submitted for your approval.

“Caution: Wild Cows on Road”

Do pay attention gentle citizen, for they will not watch for you, especially in the lonely hours of the morning after the waterholes have closed. Then they gather to dance along the shoulders of the highway and stumble across asphalt in twos and fours. Giggling off decorum, they disregard your mundane mores in favor of song.

Just drive on citizen. Be pleased your children sleep. Pretend you don’t see the antics.

Some will even flash udders at passing motorists in hopes of a beaded necklace or handful of alfalfa.

Look away, good citizen. Look away. We don’t want to encourage them.

And no, their mothers would not approve, but the cowboys certainly do.

Soon enough, the morning sun will find them with heads hung low over the nearest stream, swearing never again.

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Untitled Scene

Lately, it seems I’ve been writing stand-along scenes, more than actual stories with beginning middles and ends. Don’t know what that is about. But who am I to question the muse? Maybe they will lead to bigger and better things later on. Anyway, this (the following) is one of those scenes.

To call her a gun was a disservice. So was calling her a pistol or even a sidearm, as most did. She was so much more than that. So much more than a weapon, a tool. Her full name was Beretta semi-automatic pistol, model 92FS, type M9A1. She was chambered for 9mm, held a 15-shot clip, and was a beautiful two-and-a-half pounds of blue steel. Absolutely dependable. She had been his faithful companion for most of his adult life. Other friends had moved or faded away. She had always remained, a constant presence at his side.

Sometimes, late at night, when the ghosts again moved freely through the darkness, he found himself thinking about her as he sat alone in his apartment. How would it feel as her lips brushed his temple? Would the pain ease as they touched the sensitive skin under his chin? As they pressed against his own lips?

Sometimes he longed for that kiss and the ecstasy it promised.

Sometimes, as he sat there in his little apartment, it was all he could do to keep from finding out.

Derek caressed away a final speck of dust and thought again about her kiss, just as he had most nights lately. How long would it be before he finally gave in to her seduction?

His cell phone chirped, breaking the mood.

He laid the Beretta on his lap and reached for the phone. It was going to be work. He was on call tonight. Besides, no one else ever called.

He answered in the middle of the second ring. “Shaw.” With his other hand he muted the television’s laugh track.

The dispatcher sounded almost apologetic. “We have a shooting at 14032 West 9th, one down. Detectives have been requested.”

He noted the address on a scrap of paper. “Okay. Got it. On my way.”

Derek shut down his phone and the television and got to his feet. He had work to do. He slipped the Beretta back into the holster on his belt and headed to the front closet to get dressed for the rainy night. He felt a little electric trill of excitement. A homicide. Someone’s life had been cut short, countless others damaged because of it. And he was excited.

What was wrong with him?

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The Fish

Warning: there is some graphic violence and language in this story. If it might offend you, please do not read. That being said:

THE FISH

My parents were arguing. From my bed upstairs, I couldn’t hear what they were arguing about, just the unmistakable rhythm of a argument: rapid exchanges, talking over each other, both trying hard to convince the other and neither succeeding. There was no violence, no screaming, no broken dishes, but I hated it just the same. I rolled over and pulled the pillow over my head trying to block out the sounds. I’d always hated my parent’s arguments. They made me feel awkward and helpless, like it was somehow my fault. Like I should be able to say something that would solve the problem. But I could never think of anything to say. When my parents argued, I could hardly think at all. I had lots of friends whose parents were divorced; I could not imagine only seeing my Dad on the weekends. I liked seeing him every day.

I don’t know how long I laid there in the dark, listening, but trying not to hear, it seemed like hours. Finally, I could stand it no more. I got out of bed, pulled on jeans, a tee shirt and some sneakers, then crawled out my window, edged out over the roof and dropped down onto the dew-dampened lawn. The grass was thick and lush with early summer’s growth and I didn’t make a sound as I landed. I reminded myself I was supposed to mow it tomorrow, wiped the dew from my hands onto the thighs of my jeans, and started walking toward the railroad tracks.

I could not even guess how many times I had made to trip over to the tracks, both with my friends and alone. It might have been millions. It was definitely enough that darkness didn’t slow me down. Over the back fence into Mrs. Graham’s yard (careful not to land in her precious roses), then out through her side yard. Cross the street, wander down two blocks to the drainage ditch. On maps it was called Robinson creek but it was dry unless it rained; we just called it the ditch. A dirt path led down the slope to the gravel creek bed. From there it was a straight shot down to the train yard. All in all, the walk took maybe ten minutes and I had plenty of time to think of life in a broken home. The thoughts weren’t appealing.

I climbed up the slope just short of the little bridge that allowed trains to cross the ditch and stood on the edge of what we called the yard. It was actually a tiny forgotten siding with two old boxcars slowly rotting to one side of the single track and an equally broken down three-walled building like a giant lean-to on the other. My father said he couldn’t remember the last time the siding had actually been used and I’d only seen a handful of trains run through. Certainly none of them had ever stopped.

It was a magical place, full of the smells of creosote, old diesel, and gently rotting wood. There were ancient bolts and pieces of rusted machinery amid the gravel around the tracks. Shards of thick antique glass scattered beneath and around the lean-to. Jerry Hamblin had even found an Indian head penny out here one day. I’d seen it. The first milkweed were knee high and red thistle and rough grass had found purchase in the gravel. It was warm and far enough away from the houses to be very dark, lit only by a sliver of moon. It was perfect.

I took a step and a rabbit scurried away into the weeds to my left. I tried to follow it down through the grass at the edge of the siding, but I didn’t have much luck. Night was its protector. An owl hooted, then again, then a third time and stopped. Crickets chirped everywhere and nowhere. I turned and started up toward the boxcars.

Something startled me.

I dropped to my belly on the gravel, my first thoughts being of cops. I was trespassing, though I couldn’t imagine anyone worrying about that now. We–me and my friends, all the kids in the neighborhood–came out here all the time. Why worry about it now? Besides, we didn’t hurt anything. We just hung out.

Now I heard voices, several voices, and one of them seemed to be upset, crying. Footsteps sounded in the gravel. A light came on beyond the boxcars, but it looked weird, kind of too yellowish and flickering to be electric, but not red enough to be fire. Besides, I didn’t smell smoke. Maybe some teenagers had come out here to drink and make out with their girl friends. We had found a few used rubbers in the building.

The crickets had stopped chirping.

I told myself I should just turn around and go home, but my curiosity held me tight. I could still hear the voices. It definitely sounded like a couple of guys and one girl. If they were making out . . . I’d never seen a girl naked, not in real life. I wasn’t counting my little sister. I’d never seen a girl naked who had tits and everything. That decided it. The possibility of seeing a girl naked, especially a high school girl with real tits was just too much to walk away from, dangerous or not.

I pushed myself to my hands and knees and slowly crawled up to the nearest boxcar, trying to move cat quiet. I was curious, but I had no illusions about what would happen if I were caught. If I was making out with my girl friend and caught some punk kid spying on us, I would beat the crap out of him. I expected nothing less would happen to me. If I were caught.

I safely reached the boxcar and peered under it, but the angle was wrong, I could only see the unsteady yellow wash of light on the gravel. But now I thought I could hear something else. A girl cried softly. Were they arguing, like my parents? Or maybe she didn’t want to be here? Maybe this wasn’t a make out session; maybe I didn’t want to see. But again I was trapped by curiosity. Something was happening here and I had to see what it was. I had to know.

I dropped onto my belly and crawled forward until my face was right behind one of the rusted-out boxcar wheels. There were cobwebs everywhere down there and I had to wipe a curtain of them away from my face, then fight the heebie-jeebie feeling that spiders were crawling around in my hair.
What I saw in the old building made me forget all about spiders.

The yellow, flickering light of a lantern filled the front of the building, while leaving the back in black shadow. Three men stood with their backs toward me, silhouetted by the light. I couldn’t make out any details. Besides, my eyes were glued to woman. She was naked alright. She was also hanging by her wrists from a beam in the ceiling.

“Oh shit,” I whispered under my breath. This was something I definitely did not want to see. Yet my legs would not move and my eyes never left the woman.

“Please . . . ,” I heard her say. “Please don’t hurt me.”

“Why not?” One of the men said. His voice was deep and dark and just sounded evil. “After what you did to me? Why shouldn’t I?”

She didn’t answer, but I could hear her muffled sobs.

“What did you think I’d do? Just let you fuck around behind my back with a goddamn bartender? You’re my wife. I’m the only one you fuck around with.”

She whimpered. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“A goddamn bartender.”

I wondered where the bartender was. I wondered if I wanted to know.

He turned and said something to the other men, who started walking toward me, their shoes crunching on the gravel.

I ducked behind the wheel of the boxcar and held my breath. But they weren’t coming for me. A few seconds later, two car doors slammed and I realized he’d sent them to the car, which must be parked close by. I slowly edged back around the wheel. The man and his wife were just there, not talking. I could hear her ragged breathing.

“Don’t leave me like this,” she finally said. “Please. I swear. I’ll never look at another man.”

“The damage has been done, babe. A goddamn bartender. Everyone’s laughing at me behind my back. I can’t have that. I can’t do business unless I have everyone’s respect. So now I have to get their respect back.”

“Please,” her voice took on an even more frantic tone. “Please, Eddy. I’ll leave town. I’ll disappear. You’ll never see me again.”

He walked slowly toward her.

“Oh God, Eddy. Please, no . . .”

He moved suddenly and she screamed. Oh God, she screamed. It was the most awful sound I’d ever heard. It made me close my eyes and cover my ears. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It made me wish I was home safe in bed. I almost scrambled out of there and ran. But I didn’t. I probably wouldn’t have made it home.

When the screaming stopped, I opened my eyes again.

Eddie had moved away from his wife and was standing by the lantern, wiping his hands on a cloth. His wife still hung from her wrists, but now a gash had been made from her tits down to her crotch and all her guts were hanging down over her legs. I couldn’t move; I couldn’t think; I barely breathed.

Footsteps sounded in the gravel, coming from the left. His buddies coming back. “We’d better get out of here. Someone could have heard the–Jesus Christ!”

Eddy snuffed out the lantern. The sudden darkness was thick and heavy. “I’m finished here.”

“Jesus Christ, Eddie, you gutted her like a fish.”

“No one fucks with me.”

They walked off to the left, gravel crunching in the new darkness. Doors slammed and a second later an engine started up. I didn’t breathe until the car had moved far enough away that I could no longer hear the engine or its tires on the gravel. I moved farther under the boxcar, but I couldn’t leave. They might be trying to trap me. As soon as I moved, they’d race in and do to me what they’d done to Eddie’s wife. I didn’t dare flee.

So I waited.

I don’t know how long I waited there: an hour, maybe two, spent trying not to think about what was hanging in the building only a few feet from me, trying not to notice the smells that now filled my nose, smells that had nothing to do with trains, or antique glass, or young kids like me. I thought about my parents and thought about my little sister, so irritating and also probably the cutest thing on the planet. I thought about all my friends. I also thought about the dead woman. She had parents too, maybe a little sister, and friends just like me. And as much as they might have loved her, none had been able to save her life. They were sleeping somewhere still loving her and she was dead.

Dawn was just a faint glow on the horizon when I finally managed to crawl out from under the boxcar. I could see no sign of Eddie and his friends. They were gone.

I started home, walking first, then walking faster, then running. I nearly dived into the ditch and ran halfway up its length stopping only to puke my guts out. I walked the rest of the way home, climbed up to my room, undressed and went to bed. My parents had been asleep for hours. They had no idea I’d ever left and I never told them. Apparently they’d found a solution to their argument.

Two days later, a kid I didn’t know found the body. The police came out and did their thing, their investigation, then disappeared with the body. It was the talk of the neighborhood. The next night, when Dad told me at dinner that he didn’t want me to hang out at the old siding anymore, I innocently asked why. He gravely told me that a young woman had been killed there the other day. Dangerous people sometimes hung out around railroad lines. He and my mother would just feel better if I stayed away. I said I would. They were my parents; I didn’t want them to worry.

I never told them what I had seen. I never told anyone what I saw that night. And I’ve never gone back to that siding.

#

The hardest lesson life teaches us all is this: life goes on with or without us. Children grow up and have kids of their own. Parents become grandparents, then grow old and die. People are born; people die. Life goes on. I grew up, fell in love and had two daughters. My parents never divorced, never even contemplated divorce, and grew old together. My little sister turned from cute to beautiful and started her own family. The railroad tore down the old building at the siding shortly after the murder and carted away the two rotting boxcars. The murder of the young woman at the siding grew cold then was put away in the police archives to gather dust, even as her body turned to dust out in Pioneer Cemetery. Life goes on. Life goes on.

#

I stepped out of the men’s room and crossed the nearly empty tavern to my seat at the bar. Two old men were perched at the counter this afternoon plus the bartender and all three sets of eyes were glued to the television screen behind the bar.

“What’s going on?” I asked as I took my seat and another swig of beer.

“Oh, one of our local thugs just got himself killed,” Sam, the guy running the bar, said. “Good riddance, I say.”

“Looks like a pro,” The old guy just to my left said. “One shot from a high powered rifle; right through the head, just like Kennedy.”

This remark caused the old guys at the bar to nod solemnly. Sam rolled his eyes for my benefit. Apparently, the JFK conspiracy was a regular topic of conversation among the regulars.

“Who was the hood?” I asked.

“Eddie ‘the Fish’ Capelli,” Sam make a gesture of spitting on the floor. He didn’t really spit; he’d just made the sound and motion. “He was into anything and everything. Drugs, prostitution . . . if it was illegal or hurt people, he was close by.”

“The Fish was never convicted of anything.”

“Well, you and I both know how much that don’t mean shit.”

All the old men laughed.

“How’d he get the nickname ‘the Fish?'” I asked. “It seems kind of odd.”

The old men consulted each other, but no one seemed to know.

Sam shook his head. “Who knows these things? Maybe he had a skin condition. I’m tired of talking about it.” He turned to me. “You said your Dad was at General Hospital?”

I nodded. “He’s responding well, according to the doctors. He should make a full recovery. But I think I’m going to give up red meat.” I smiled and touched my chest over my heart.

The consensus at the bar was that everyone could be taking better care of their hearts. Of course everyone continued drinking their beer. It was probably too late for them anyway.

“You’re in pretty good shape though,” the man on the far left said. “You said you’re in the military, didn’t you?”

I smiled and ran a hand over the stubble on my head. “That’s me.”

“Then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.”

“Except war,” one of the old men said.

I laughed. “I let my wife worry about that. She’s better at it than I am.”

They all thought that was very funny.

One of the old men turned to me. “What do you do in the service of our country?”

“Oh, you know.” I smiled, finished my beer, and got off the stool. “I kill bad guys.”

They were still laughing as I walked out of the tavern.

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short story

The Finer Things (conclusion)

A couple of hours later, Jake pulled into the parking lot of the Travel Lodge motel on 185th Street and switched his engine and lights off. He was a little early, but he’d rather be early than late. Punctuality was critically important in any business. It was all about keeping your word.

He checked his watch in the light from one of the motel’s parking lot floods. It was ten minutes to 8:00. He leaned back in his seat and tried to relax.

He occupied himself by contemplating the eighteenth century maple wardrobe he’d found this afternoon at a little antique store on the Pacific Coast Highway. It would be the crowning touch to his bed room, and, at $2500 dollars, was a relative steal. He had asked the owner to hold it for him, but the owner could only promise twenty-four hours. At that price, it promised to go fairly quickly and he could only be asked to turn away so many cash carrying customers on the promise of a future sale.

Still, he felt that familiar feeling of satisfaction as he imagined it standing on the west wall of his bedroom.

Just before 8:00, two black BMW’s pulled into the parking lot and parked beside each other directly below Diane Cordova’s motel room.

Jake banished the image of the wardrobe from his mind, sat up in his seat, and pulled out his cell phone.

Two large black men in suits and ties climbed out of the first BMW. The driver paused to scan the parking lot. His eyes found Jake’s Jaguar and paused there. He nodded, just a quick gesture no one else would even notice, then joined his partner on the stairs to the second floor.

Jake dialed a number on his cell phone and pushed the button to send it.

Diane Cordova answered on the second ring.

“This is Jake Bremer,” he told her. “I’m on my way up to your room. Let me in.”

“Okay. Did you find out something.”

“We’ll talk in a minute,” he told her, then disconnected.

A few seconds later, the two men arrived at her motel door. One of them knocked. Miss Cordova quickly opened the door. Her surprise was immediate and complete. Within seconds, the two men had overpowered her, led her, barefoot and wearing only a tee shirt and athletic shorts, down the stairs, and placed her in the back seat of the BMW. One climbed in beside her, while the driver started the car and quickly drove away.

The entire operation had taken less than a minute.

As far a Jake could tell, he was the only person who had noticed anything.

The second BMW started, pulled out of its parking space and swung over to pull up beside Jake’s Jaguar, driver’s door to driver’s door.

Jake lowered his window.

The large man who had greeted him at Club Paradise sat behind the wheel. He nodded. “Mr. Bremer.”

Jake returned the nod.

He pulled a thick envelope from his inside jacket pocket and handed it to Jake. “Five grand. As promised.”

Jake slipped it into his own inside pocket without bothering to count the bills. It would all be there.

Without another word, the other man closed his window and drove out of the parking lot and disappeared into the night.

Jake switched on his own engine and drove out of the parking lot.

He felt a moment of regret. The lovely Ms. Cordova would probably be dead within twenty-four hours, as would her larcenous little brother. However, they had gotten themselves into the situation, hadn’t they? And Mr. Marcus Williams wasn’t the type to give up. They were as good as dead the minute Donny had walked away with that package of cocaine.

It had been just a matter of time.

Jake had just sped things up a bit.

Besides, when you like the finer things in life, it cost a lot of money to acquire them.

Someone had to pay for it.

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The Finer Things (part two)

The first call Jake made was to his partner, Lou, who was better connected to the more blue collar aspects of the criminal underworld.

“You busy?” he asked when the other man answered the intercom.

“Naw. I’m just sitting around doing crossword puzzles.”

“Hilarious. What can you tell me about a person named Marcus Williams?”

Lou hesitated a beat, maybe two. “He’s a bad dude, one of the biggest players in the drug trade in this city.”

“A killer?”

“Not for fun, but I don’t think he’d hesitate if it were a matter of business,” Lou said. “But he wouldn’t do it himself. He’s too smart for that. He’d have one of his people do it.”

Jake nodded. People in Williams’ chosen career didn’t make it to the top by being nice or stupid.

“What are the odds I’d be able to talk to him?”

Lou thought about it for a minute. “As good as anyone’s, I guess. Maybe a little better. You two probably use the same tailor.”

It took a couple of hours and several phone calls to contacts within the local police department, the state police, and federal agencies to nail down the best place, time, and manner to approach the legendary Mr. Williams. Naturally, given Marcus Williams’ reputation, every single contact wanted to know what Jake was up to. He had to do some fancy verbal tap dancing in order to get past their suspicion, but that was one of his better skills. Eventually, he got the information he wanted. Once he had that information, he had Marcia hold his calls and spent the next hour formulating a plan.

Just after 3:00 that afternoon, Jake pulled his Jaguar into the nearly empty parking lot of Club Paradise, an upscale strip club on the 1300 block of Wilshire Boulevard, and parked beside the handful of cars already there. In addition to his XJ, there were two high end BMW’s, both black, a Mercedes 560 SL in red, of course, and an absolutely cherry ’62 Ferrari 250 GTO.

“Very nice,” he said to himself as he climbed out of his car and smoothed out his suit jacket. “Business must be good.”

He walked up to the front door, pulled it open and stepped into an air conditioned cave. As he stood there for a moment, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the sudden gloom, a very large man separated himself from the shadowy bulk of the bar to Jake’s right and approached him. For such a large man, he moved with surprising grace.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the man said in a rich baritone. “We don’t open until five o’clock.”

“I’m not here for the show,” he said and handed the man one of his business cards. “I would like to speak to Mr. Williams.”

The man took his card and tilted it to catch enough light to read the printing. Now that his eyes were used to the low light, Jake could see more detail about his greeter. It was impressive. He had to be nearly six and a half feet tall and three hundred pounds, very little of it fat. In fact, he seemed to have been carved out of dark marble.

“A private eye, huh?”

Jake winced. He hated that term. It made him feel like he was in a bad film noir from the thirties. “I’m a private investigator, yes.”

The man, Jake wondered whether he was a retired professional football player, or maybe a player who hadn’t made it into the pros, tried to return the card. “Mr. Williams is a very busy man. Maybe if you call his office and make an appointment.”

Jake ignored the card. “I think he might be willing to spare me a few minutes. Tell him it has to do with his Donny Cordova problem.”

That seemed to get his attention. Jake was pleased. If the man had decided to throw him out, there would have been nothing physically, short of putting a bullet in his head, Jake would have been able to do to stop him.

He’d left his pistol in the Jag’s glove box. It had seemed prudent.

“Wait right here,” the man said and disappeared into the back of the building.

Jake did as he was told.

A couple of minutes later, the man returned. “Follow me.”

Jake followed him back further into the recesses of the nightclub, up a short flight of carpeted stairs and into a modest room that must serve as a VIP lounge during business hours. It held a long, comfortable looking sofa, two armchairs, and a coffee table. Directly across from the sofa was a window overlooking the club’s main stage.

Jake realized anyone in the room would have been able to watch him from the moment he walked through the door.

A middle-aged black man in shirt sleeves and a tie looked up from a stack of paperwork he had spread across the coffee table. “Mr. Bremer is it?”

“Yes, thank you for seeing me.”

Marcus Williams nodded, set his pen down on the table and leaned back on the sofa. “Have a seat.” He waved at one of the armchairs.

Jake sat in the indicated chair.

“Now how can you help me with Donny Cordova?”

Jake nodded. “I have been retained to negotiate a settlement that you and Mr. Cordova can both be happy with.”

Marcus smiled. “You’re working for Donny Cordova? He hired you?”

“Not directly.”

“Ah,” Williams nodded. “So tell me, what is he offering?”

Jake took a deep breath. “Mr. Cordova made a mistake. He acted on impulse, a bad impulse, but quickly realized his error. He would like to return the property he mistakenly took from you, and the cash value for any missing portion of that property. In exchange, all he asks is that you call off your people and let him walk away.”

A smile slowly grew across Williams mouth. “That’s it?”

Jake nodded. “You’re no worse than you were before Cordova made his mistake and neither is he. It will be like it never happened.”

“But it did happen, didn’t it?”

Jake nodded.

Williams sighed. “You’re putting me in an awkward position, Mr. Bremer.”

“How’s that?”

“I have nothing personally against Mr. Cordova. Hell, I wouldn’t recognize him if I met him on the street. But I have a business to run. A business in an extremely competitive industry.”

“I understand that.”

“I’m not sure you do,” Williams said. “Mr. Cordova is an entry level employee. I have hundreds just like him and the only way I can make sure they do their jobs properly is to punish them when they don’t. Now what would happen to my business if I start forgiving my employees when they screw up?”

Jake honestly couldn’t care less about the man’s dirty business.

“Doesn’t he deserve some consideration for attempting to make this right?”

“Possibly. In a perfect world. But we’re talking shades of gray here and the people like Cordova don’t understand gray. Their world is black and white. Pain or pleasure. That’s all they understand. These are desperate people, Mr. Bremer, or they wouldn’t be doing this job.”

Jake nodded. Williams had a point. The fact that Cordova even considered stealing product from someone like Williams proved he wasn’t thinking clearly, rationally.

It had been worth a try.

He pushed himself to his feet. “Thank you for seeing me. I had to try to convince you. I owed it to my client.”

“Of course,” Williams nodded. “What will you tell your client?”

“To tell Donny Cordova his best bet is to run like hell. Maybe he’ll get lucky.”

Williams smiled. “Indeed. Good advice.”

“Thank you again.” Jake started toward the door.

“Mr. Bremer?”

Jake stopped and turned back to Williams. “Yes?”

“You haven’t heard my counteroffer.”

Standard