Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Chill Waters by Joan Hall Hovey

Book Cover Image of Chill Waters by Joan Hall Hovey

Joan Hall Hovey
It’s like a lion at the door;
And when the door begins to crack,
It’s like a stick across your back;
And when your back begins to smart,
It’s like a penknife in your heart;
And when your heart begins to bleed
You’re dead, and dead, and dead, indeed.

Anonymous; Nursery Rhyme

He stood near the ancient gnarled apple tree that for years now had produced only sour, wizened apples, waiting for her. The hot thick air hummed with the chirping of crickets. Behind him, an occasional fat June bug bumped against the screen door, drawn by the night-light. Now and then a car passed by, seeming only to emphasize his sense of aloneness. Not much traffic on Elder Avenue since they built the thruway.

Three houses down, Nealey’s old black lab set to barking excitedly at something – a raccoon scavenging in a garbage can, most likely, but it could just as well be shadows. The mutt had a game leg and was as deaf as his mother’s turquoise plastic crucifix that hung on the wall above the TV. The old man oughta have him done away with, put the damn thing out of its misery. Maybe I’ll do it for him one of these days, he thought, a grin playing at one corner of his cruel mouth. As he retrieved the pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket, he heard Nealey’s door open, heard the old man’s low, gravelly voice call the dog inside.

He gazed up at the starry sky, grin fading as he envisioned Marie and that hotshot kid in the fruity white blazer slow dancing under these very stars. Bodies molded together, the kid’s hands moving over her, groping… his breath hot in her ear…

With a muttered curse, he shook his head as if to banish the image, checked an impulse to crush the pack of cigarettes in his hand. Instead, he struck a match against the tree, but his hand was unsteady and it took a few tries before he managed to get it lit. Leaning his back against the tree he closed his eyes. The rough bark of the tree stabbed like jagged stone through his thin nylon jacket. He sucked smoke into his lungs, exhaled slowly, trying to calm himself.

He wasn’t usually a heavy smoker, but four hours later, when he finally heard the car drive up, a small mound of butts had accumulated beside him on the ground. With slow deliberation, he mashed this latest one out too, and rose to his feet. Although stiff from sitting, at the same time a power born of rage surged through his veins like electricity.

Music drifted through the open, car window – a soppy Manilow ballad about a girl named Mandy. Above the music, her laugh floated to him, high and lilting as wind chimes. Mocking him. The flirtatious note in her laugh made his throat tighten, his hands curl into fists at his sides. But it was the maddeningly long silence that followed, while the music went on playing, that made him want to fly at them, yank them both out of the car and beat that scummy kid with her until he had to crawl home through his own blood. He wanted to do it. He saw himself doing it. It took all his will to remain where he was.

At last she got out of the car. He could see the pale flair of her skirt through the leaves.

“Night, Ricky. I had a really nice time.”

“Yeah, me too. Okay if I call you tomorrow?”


“You wanna go to a movie? Christine’s playing at the Capital.”

“Sounds great.”

The car door closed with a solid thunk. The kid’s old man was a dentist; the car was a graduation present.

As Marie turned away and started up the path toward him, the kid gunned the motor and drove off, taillights glowing like twin rockets, swiftly disappearing into the night.

Now the only sounds were the crickets and the soft click of her shoes on the cement walk. Yet she looked to be almost floating toward him, her white, strapless dress blue in the moonlight.

When she left the house tonight, her black glossy hair had been swept up into a satiny swirl, a few wispy curls trailing down past her ears; now it was messed up. The muscle in his jaw ticked as he moved deeper into the shadows.

Her pearl drop earrings swayed lightly above her bare shoulders as she walked. He knew how smooth those shoulders would feel beneath his hands because he’d touched them before. He had touched her. Had tasted the warm, throbbing hollow of her traitorous throat, crushed her mouth beneath his own, sometimes to silence her crying. Even now, he could taste her salty tears on his tongue.

As she drew nearer to where he stood in the clot of darkness, she touched her fingertips to her mouth, a small secret smile on her lips like the goddamn Mona Lisa. Face all soft and dreamy – all of it for someone else – never for him.

He waited until she was directly parallel to him, then stepped out of the shadows. He enjoyed hearing her gasp of shock, in seeing her hand leap to her breast in fright, the smile vanish as she stumbled on the walkway, nearly falling.

“Damn you! You scared me half to death. What’s wrong with you? Why are you always sneaking around? Always watching me. Can’t I have one normal…”

His hand clamped hard and sudden over her mouth, cutting off her words. It made him feel good to see those lovely eyes widen with shock, then fear. Fear that turned swiftly to terror, then to pleading. But it was too late for that. Too late. The beast had risen up in him.
“It’s midnight, Cinderella,” he whispered.

Purchase Chill Waters and other books by Joan Hall Hovey at
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Hear Joan Hall Hovey read an excerpt from Chill Waters complete with sound effects/music.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

That Ghoul Ava by Todd Brown

“Because you’re broke, that’s why.” Morgan glanced at my “I Hate Cats” coffee mug like it was filled with pureed crap. Well excuse the hell out of me for not having anything better than instant. As it was, I’d splurged and bought the kind with Flavor Crystals, so she should be grateful.

“She’s right you know,” Lisa chimed in. Super, my roomy and only friend was taking sides with Morgan-the-psychic-bitch and current pain in my ass. I shot a nasty glance Lisa’s way, but she pretended not to notice.

“Okay,” I nodded, “I’m broke. Does that mean I have to hunt down some crazy vampire with an improper taste for human blood?” Those last few words, I tried to imitate the snooty way Morgan had spoken when describing this little problem that seemed to be a danger to the entire supernatural population of Portland.

“You are the newest to the ranks,” Morgan shrugged, “and thus, in your probationary period.” She folded her hands on my table and leaned forward like a banker about to tell you that he was foreclosing on your house. “And you aren’t starting off on a very good foot.”

That last remark was undoubtedly the result of Belinda being a big-mouthed tattletale. You see, Morgan is the Psychic of Portland. Not the kind you call and pay by the minute so they can lie to you about generalities that they pluck from things you unwittingly reveal to them; and not the kind with a neon sign hanging in her window. Morgan is a true psychic that can sense every supernatural being in her district. As for Belinda, she is a slutty little vampire that uses her jailbait looks to entice her victims. We don’t get along.

“So...what am I supposed to do?” I asked.

“Do I really need to explain it to you?” Morgan huffed and pushed the coffee cup away with obvious, and in my opinion, rather rude disgust.

Obviously, I thought. “Please, just so I am clear,” is what I said with my outside voice.

“Find this crazy vampire and eliminate it.”

“You mean kill it?” Who the hell does she think I am, Buffy?

“That seems the most preferable choice.” There was that I’m-talking-to-an-idiot voice again.

“Wouldn’t you be better off sending somebody who knew what they were doing?” I asked. “And besides, you’re the all-powerful, all-knowing psychic. Why don’t you just use your locating ability, or whatever it is you do, and stake the bad guy in the middle of the day?”

I’d felt the sun on my skin once. It wasn’t something I would be doing again...ever. At least not by choice. It was like grabbing a pan of fish sticks from the oven without using a mitt. That meant I would be going after a vampire…at night. That didn’t seem like any fun at all.

“This vampire did not turn in my district,” Morgan said like that explained everything. The blank look on my face made it pretty clear that I still wasn’t getting it. “I do not have its signature imprinted in my mind. I do not have any idea where it came from, so I cannot contact whomever runs its home district and ask for an imprint exchange.”

“Uh-huh.” She might as well be explaining the Theory of Relativity for all the sense that made to me.

“So psychics receive some sort of mental fingerprint whenever somebody flips the supernatural switch in their...territory?” Lisa piped up from the kitchen where she pretended to be doing the dishes. Lisa Jenkins is my best friend and a completely normal human. Err...mortal; whatever we’re supposed to call regular, warm-blooded, non-monsters…that is Lisa Jenkins.

Lisa is seventeen and recently liberated from her pedophile boyfriend by way of my digestive system. After giving birth to a baby and forced to abandon it in a garbage can a few weeks earlier, she was now my roomie. Oh yeah, and the baby is fine and being adopted by a wealthy family from Wilsonville.

“Perhaps you should be who I talk to when come.” Morgan turned her gaze to the petite blonde in the kitchen. Geez, just a few weeks and already the baby weight was almost gone; of course, our being broke and barely able to buy groceries might have something to do with it.
“Excuse me,” I snapped. “Sitting right here.”

[caption id="attachment_103" align="alignleft" width="246" caption="Todd Brown"]Image of Todd Brown[/caption]“To answer your question,” Morgan continued to ignore me, “while somewhat crude in your understandings…” she paused long enough to flick her eyes at me, then back to Lisa, “…that is basically the idea. Supernatural beings give off a very distinct vibration when they first turn or change. The psychic responsible for that area feels it instantly. From that day forward, the psychic can tap into that vibration and locate the being.”

“What lets you exchange information with other psychics?” Lisa blurted. “You said that another psychic could…transfer information to you.”

“That is beyond your ability to really and truly understand,” Morgan sniffed. I didn’t believe her. I just think Little-Miss-Snooty-Britches enjoys feeling superior.

“What about if something turns and there is the district? Or what if the psychic dies—”

“Enough!” Morgan barked.

Ooo, somebody is menstrual. Wait…did Supernaturals menstruate?

“I am not here to answer questions.” Morgan quickly recovered her composure. “I have offered you a job that will pay nicely. Will you take it or not?”

I glanced into the kitchen as Lisa opened an almost empty cupboard and considered which flavor of Top Ramen would be dinner. I sighed and looked back at Morgan who wasn’t even trying to hide her smirk.
“Do I really have a choice?” I asked.


“I am serious, Lisa,” I scolded. “I don’t want you our here when that fanged tramp shows up.” I popped Cinderella’s Night Songs CD into my stereo. “I still don’t know exactly what vampires can do for real. All I’ve ever read was Anne Rice and seen that Keanu Reeves movie.”

Mmmm, Keanu Reeves. He couldn’t act his way out of a grade school Thanksgiving program if they cast him as Plymouth Rock and covered him in a gray paper mache lump that had the words written at the side. Still…there was something about him that really did it for me.
“But I’ve never met a vampire.” Lisa was on the verge of that whine that all teenaged girls learn early and have honed to perfection in their twenties to wrap boyfriends and husbands up in knots. “It would be so cool!”

She still didn’t remember that night in the grocery store and I was afraid that telling her how close she’d come to death—not for the first time that night—make cause her to decide that being my friend was too risky and not rewarding enough. The time would likely come when I would have to tell her myself…just not today.

“Until I can get a handle on what sorts of powers they have, you will stay someplace safe.” Not that the bedroom was Fort Knox, but at least it was something. “And I want you holding that cross until I come in and tell you that it is okay to come out.”

“Party pooper,” she whispered, knowing darn well that my hearing could pick up her grumblings if she were outside and two doors down.

“I don’t—”

A knock on the door interrupted my attempt at a reprimand. I shifted my focus to the door and heard the static hiss that I’d learned only recently was the sound of a vampire. The good thing was that I’d know whenever I heard that particular sound that a vampire was near. The bad thing was that I wouldn’t know who it was or if they wanted to gouge my shining black eyes out.

“Ava,” an irate voice whispered, sounding for all the world like a child who’d been forced to visit some smelly and embarrassing relative who pinched your cheeks way too hard.

I opened the door, not bothering to don my sunglass. A human would freak if they saw my all-black eyes staring at them from a primer-gray face, but the vampire at my door didn’t even blink. We stood there, staring at one another for a handful of seconds. I heard my bedroom door click shut and stepped aside.

Belinda was the first—and only, up to this point—vampire I’d met. She had her impossibly blonde hair twisted up into a dozen pencil-thin braids and was wearing a tight, black tee-shirt that revealed her too-perfect midriff. She finished the look with a pair of bun-squeezing white shorts. I felt a tingle in my toes and fingertips. I swallowed, refusing to let her goad me into anger with her obvious display of such a truly amazing body. Having talons sprout from my fingers wouldn’t be terrible, but I was wearing my brand new Nikes and didn’t want my toe-talons punching through.

“Well?” Belinda crossed her arms under her tiny breasts. She was bra-less…what a slut.

“Well, what?” I shook my head slightly.

“Are you going to stand there staring, or are you going to invite me in?”

I saw something flicker in her babydoll-blue eyes. It was probably in response to the obvious look on mine. She had to be invited in! Myth number one confirmed. I stepped back and said with as little of a smirk as possible.
“Please, come in.”

Belinda stepped past me, looking around the living room like she was entering the city dump. She paused, and I caught a flash of her fangs.

“Still have your little human friend,” she said, emphasizing the word “friend” in a very unpleasant way. “I suppose Morgan has her reasons.”

“Look,” I struggled to keep my fingers and toes from going switchblade, “we’ve got to work to—”

“We?” Belinda interrupted. “No, little ghoul, we don’t have a thing to do. You have a job. I’m only here to instruct you on what you need to do your job right.”

“Why can’t Morgan do it?” I asked. “I don’t really want you in my house.”

Belinda’s eyes went black—sorta like mine—and she hissed like she was being scalded. In a flash, she was back out my door and on my beat-up doormat with the plastic daisy that was missing three of its nine petals.

“Bitch!” Belinda snarled, barring her teeth.

“What?” I was stunned.

“You did that on purpose!”

“I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”

Dammit, I thought as my razor-sharp toenails tore through my socks and shoes. I was still so new to this whole supernatural thing. Seeing Belinda all fangy with her eyes like that and…

“Hey! You’ve got ears like Spock!” I couldn’t help but point.

TODD'S LINKS: (The Amazon link for Ava) (My Amazon Author page) (My Blog)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Hester's Daughters by Elayne Clift

An excerpt from HESTER’S DAUGHTERS
(A contemporary, feminist retelling of The Scarlet Letter)
By Elayne Clift
 Book Cover Image for Hester's Daughters by Elayne Clift
 My mother, Hester Adele Prinsky, burst into the world at precisely 12:06 p.m. on October 29th, 1929, just as the stock market crashed. That day marked the start of the Great Depression, and became known as Black Tuesday, a metaphor she would come to reflect upon several times as her life unfolded.

Her birth was not easy. My grandmother, Emma, labored for two nights and a day until she was nearly dead from exhaustion and the hard work of delivering her stubborn daughter. She did it alone, too, but for the uncertain aid of a young midwife new to her trade who was less encouraging than she might have been.

Some members of the family called Emma a weak woman, but she had a survivor’s strength. She had, after all, lived through the worst thing a mother can be called upon to bear -- the deaths of three of her four children -- and hadn’t she tolerated a tyrannical husband longer than many other women could have done? Who knows what she might have made of herself under different circumstances.

Hester’s father Henry, my grandfather, frightened at the thought of losing the woman who tended his every need, waited impatiently in a corner deli for news of the birth. Pacing the black and white tile floor in front of greasy booths that had emptied by ten o’clock, he spewed invectives.

“Another mouth to feed! Who needs it? Qvetching women, squalling kids! Pheh! Shoulda never married her in the first place. Not like she was a raving beauty or something.”

So disappointed was he when word came at last that he had a daughter, and that mother and child were safe, he cursed both his wife and baby even as the man slicing corned beef behind the glass counter offered him a “Mazel Tov!”

“Mazel Tov, Schmazel tov! Who needs it? Just another damned weight on my back. Useless woman, spreading her legs always at the wrong time!” But what else could

be expected from a man whose own father had begun each day with a prayer on his lips thanking God he was not born a woman?

Years later, Henry liked to say that his third-born daughter was a devil so powerful that she could make the bottom fall out of Wall Street. But Emma, stroking her little girl’s head, said, “Pay no attention to him, Sheina punim! Why, you’re so special there’s a street named after you. It’s called Hester Street. It’s in New York, where many Jews, even some of our lansmen, came to live after the troubles in Russia. What’s more,” she added, “a great book was written about a woman named Hester. She had courage and dignity. I hope you grow up half as brave as that Hester,” Emma told her young daughter. “I would be very proud of you!”

“Ach, from your mouth to God’s ear,” Henry scowled, waving his hand as if to swat a fly from his nose.

Hester, moved by what her mother said, promised to be as special as the woman whose name she bore, the woman upon whose breast The Scarlet Letter had been emblazoned.

Emma and Henry were immigrants, her father from a shtetl near Kiev, her mother from Odessa in the Ukraine. Each had made their way to New England by way of Ellis Island, and in Henry’s case, Philadelphia. He was a tailor and furrier whose older brother Sidney had preceded him, first to Philly, then to Boston. Sidney had worked initially delivering for a laundry. Then he moved up to being a presser. Somehow he’d managed to save enough money to move to the suburbs of Boston where, with a friend, he bought a dry cleaning business. Eventually he’d become comfortably middle-class.
Henry, on the other hand, a closet Communist, made a meager living sewing men’s suits, hemming women’s skirts, and mending their minks and fox-pelt collars. Emma, who’d attended school only through sixth grade, had been a bright young woman with dreams, if not fully developed ambitions.
“Oh,” she told her sisters, “I do so long to be out in the world! I want to get on a train and go to Chicago, maybe even farther! Don’t you ever just want to go somewhere, anywhere? Is it only me who wants to be somebody?”

Instead, because the longings of girls were considered frivolous and irresponsible when she was young, she became a lonely homemaker, and ultimately an eternally grieving mother. For by the time Hester was five she had become Emma’s and Henry’s only child, her two older sisters having succumbed to a sudden, terrible influenza outbreak that rolled swiftly through their school pulling children under like a riptide.

Some years after Emma nearly went mad with grief at the loss of her two daughters, she bore a son named Paul. “At last I have something to live for,” she whispered to Sidney’s wife, out of Hester’s hearing. “At last, I’ve made Henry happy. Who doesn’t want a son? It’s a mitzvah!”

Paul grew to be a lively boy, full of mischief, and Emma’s devotion to him knew no bounds. She played with him for hours, sat by his bed without respite when he was sick, knit him tweed sweaters and argyle socks, held him in her lap till he was nearly out of short pants, and nearly always yielded to his demands. No one minded because he was the only one who could make Emma laugh or dance.
As his bar mitzvah approached, he teased his mother mercilessly. “Come, my shaina mamela,” he said, lifting Emma from her chair, his dark eyes forming crescent moons of mirth. “Dance with me, my sweet Mama, now that I’m a man!” And Emma twirled around the living room with her beloved son, daintily holding the corner of her apron as if it were a satin gown, and her sturdy, lace-up shoes Cinderella’s own glass slippers.

When Paul perished in the Korean War at the age of seventeen, Emma’s heart stopped beating too. Although she existed for another seventeen years, her soul was dead. Her face became frail and tragic so that it seemed she would crumble if anyone touched her sallow, sunken cheeks. She sat by her window in Newton for hours, a shell of a woman, looking out upon a vacant world, sitting shiva into eternity.

It pained Hester deeply that her presence wasn’t enough to rescue Emma from her tomb of despair. She began to fear that she might end her days like her sad, distracted mother, for she had intuited that such a life of service to husband and children was a kind of passive suicide. Still, when Henry said she must stay home after high school to work and care for her mother she acquiesced. There seemed no viable alternative.

Then something happened that changed everything, something so huge and dramatic, something so unimaginable in Hester’s world that the question of her remaining at home was rendered mute.

Hester had become pregnant.

Henry, enraged nearly to the point of physical violence, threw Hester out of the house, shouting, “Slut! Shiksa!” Shaking clenched fists at her, he screamed, “There are no whores in my house, under my roof! As far as I’m concerned, you are dead!” In one furious motion he tore his coat sleeve from its seam while Emma, clutching her breast as if she were having a fatal heart attack, begged hysterically, “Stop! Stop! Henry, you’re killing me!”

Ten years later, Hester became pregnant again. I am the child of that pregnancy.

My name is Pearl. I was named in memory of my uncle Paul. Hester chose my name because I was a love child and because she thought of me as the proverbial pearl of great price. The biblical reference seemed especially apt under the circumstances. Like my own daughter, Aviva, I grew up with an absent father, but I came to love him deeply before he died.

Aviva is my beloved “cafĂ© au lait.” Her African father, Elson, was an extraordinary man who left this world far too young, before he’d had a chance to truly make his mark on the world. Aviva has only vague memories of him because he died when she was very small, but her memories, like mine, are warm, happy ones.

Aviva is like Hester, and like Emma might have been had she been born in a different time and milieu. I hope I am like them too, especially Hester. She is so strongly spirited that some might say she is prideful. The way I see it, that’s a worthwhile legacy and a true gift.

Elayne Clift, a Vermont Humanities Council Scholar, is a writer, journalist and lecturer whose work has appeared internationally. Her creative work includes poetry, short fiction, memoir and creative non-fiction. This is her first novel.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Methuselah Man by Will Dresser

[caption id="attachment_94" align="alignright" width="213" caption="The Methuselah Man"]Book Cover image for The Methuselah Man by Will Dreser[/caption]"GOD, I NEVER KNEW A MAN WHO WANTED SO MUCH TO BE DEAD…or deserved it more.”

Joe Rosenfeld gazed down into the shallow hole at the plain, unmarked, lead container, slightly larger than a cigar box. A thick marine layer hung tight to the ground, swirling a puff of foggy cloud as Rosenfeld tossed a shovelful of wet dirt into the hole and handed the shovel back to the groundskeeper. The funeral service — if one could call it that — was small, only three people: Dr. Joe Rosenfeld, his secretary Liz Charles, and Jefferson the groundskeeper.

"That’s it?” said Liz Charles. “An entire lifetime comes down to a dozen words or so, one sentence?”

"What am I going to tell God He doesn’t already know?” said Rosenfeld.

"I don’t know, but damn, that’s it?”

"Look around, Liz. Do you see throngs of people wailing? Have the masses gathered for a tearful farewell? Is there a wife overcome with grief at the loss of her dear husband? Children, grandchildren, their eyes reddened by the loss of the family patriarch? A business friend, a best buddy? No. There’s you, me, and the groundskeeper. And Jefferson there is on the clock.”

The groundskeeper remained silent.

"God, that’s sad,” she said.

"You know, for the first time since we met Jared Kennan Cain, I’m starting to think maybe he was right. Maybe God can abandon some people. I always used to think no one was beyond His reach; that even the smallest sparrow couldn’t pass without His taking notice. Now I don’t know. Is it all just a fairytale, self-delusion, a nice bedtime story to scare away the dark?” Rosenfeld looked down at the grave and asked the groundskeeper, “Do you believe in God, Jefferson?”

"Jus’ Jeff, sir. Do I believe in God? In this business? Yes, sir!” chuckled the groundskeeper quietly. “If I didn’t, I guess I’d be little more than a garbage man,” he said, hesitating a moment before giving a more considered answer. “Yes, sir, I believe there’s a good and righteous God.”
"Well, tonight when you get home,” said Rosenfeld, watching the fog swirl around the hole, “light a candle, or a novena, or whatever you do, and thank Him for making you imperfect.”

The groundskeeper didn’t really understand the suggestion, but acknowledged it.

"Yes, sir. Imperfect. We sure are that! Only made one perfect one.”

Rosenfeld lifted his eyes from the hole in the ground with an ironic smile but let the statement pass. “Jeff, you can wait till we’re gone to finish this.”
"Yes, sir. But what about a headstone, sir? I don’t have any instructions about a headstone or ground plate.”

"There won’t be one. Also,” Rosenfeld looked around the grounds, “are there other places available where this could be buried? Some remote out of the way spot?”

"Yes, sir,” said the groundskeeper beginning to point. “There’s a couple plots over….”

"No, that’s okay. I don’t want to know,” said Rosenfeld, pushing the groundskeeper’s hand down. “After we’re gone I want you to put this someplace else. You can put it anywhere you want. I just want to be able to say honestly that I don’t know where these remains are buried. Understand?”

Jefferson nodded.

"And if anyone should come around asking about this, you don’t know anything about it, right? You don’t know where the exact site is, you don’t know who’s buried here, you don’t know anything. Okay?”

"Well, on that one, sir, I’d have kind of a tough time. We keep good track of where we lay folks; got to, it’s the law.” Jefferson fidgeted where he stood, uneasy that he was being drawn into something that could only get him in trouble.

"Okay, okay, I understand,” said Rosenfeld. “I’m not asking you to break the law, Jeff. I just want to make sure those remains never see the light of day again, wherever you decide to put them.”

Jefferson wore a worried expression as he looked down at the hole.

"Look, Jeff, most likely no one will come nosing around anyway,” said Rosenfeld, taking a different tack, trying to find some compromise language that would put Jefferson at ease and still get him to comply with the request. “But if they do, try to take your own sweet time about finding the place, all right?”

"Yes, sir, I ‘spose I could do that,” said Jefferson, sticking his hands in his pockets, nervously stretching the coveralls. “Memory’s not all it once was,” he seemed to be rehearsing what he’d say if asked. “And with an unmarked grave this small, it could take a little time to get the exact spot.”

"Good,” said Rosenfeld. “I have every confidence in you, Jeff. And here’s a little something for your trouble.” Rosenfeld extended two folded fifty-dollar bills.

Jefferson looked at the money. A hundred bucks! he thought. They really don’t want this guy found! He smiled and stuck the money in his coveralls. “Yes, sir, don’t worry about a thing, sir. I’ll take care of everything as soon as you and the lady are gone.”

[caption id="attachment_95" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Will Dresser"]Image of Author Will Dresser[/caption]Rosenfeld and Liz Charles took one last look at the grave, gave the groundskeeper a smile and a good-natured pat on the arm, then turned and walked back to their car.

Rosenfeld said “I’m glad that’s over” then went quiet. After a moment he said, “Liz, when we get to the office, we need to do a little cleaning up. I want you to take Cain’s file home with you tonight.”

"Then what?” she asked, shifting in her seat to look at him, curious at the instruction.

"Get rid of it.”

Rosenfeld’s eyes stayed glued to the road ahead in an effort to avoid eye contact with her.

"Get rid of it?” Liz was surprised by her boss’s order. In fifteen years she had never been asked to do anything like this.

Rosenfeld was adamant. “Yes, get rid of it. Don’t hide it. Don’t throw it away. Don’t shred it,” he said. “Just take it home and burn it!”

"Joe, are you sure you really want me to do that?”

She asked this half-heartedly. She already knew he was serious. And the truth was if he hadn’t come up with the idea himself, she might have given him a suggestion along those same lines.

"Yes, absolutely!” said Joe, who then added a softer explanation. “I already started a dummy file; before we left for Vegas. I pulled the intake form and a couple of pages from the real file. That will now be the official version.”
Liz gave him a quizzical look.

Rosenfeld became somewhat defensive and annoyed — as much at himself and the circumstances as anything Liz might have said or done — so he feigned irritation at having to explain what to him was obvious.
"The Feds already know he was a client,” he argued out the car window to no one in particular, “so I have to have some record of treating him or they’ll pile all kinds of legal BS on me for tampering with — or worst case destroying — evidence.”
That thought made Liz bristle.

"I can’t believe they can just come in and demand to see your records. What happened to Doctor-Patient Privilege?”

"Damn PATRIOT Act!” thought Rosenfeld, his irritation churning inside over the misguided clarion call for heightened security, especially when it came at the expense of certain liberties and expectations of privacy. “National Security,” he fairly spat the words under his breath as they reached the car, “…trumps everything these days.” Rosenfeld opened the door for her, babbling as Liz climbed in, “In a post-nine-eleven-world, blah, blah, blah,” he said.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said Liz, doing less than Rosenfeld to hide her anger. “It’s just a lot of trial-by-fear if you ask me! No patriot came up with that act!”

Rosenfeld had to smile at her passion. “I know, but for now it’s the environment we live in,” he said, as if surrendering, “so let’s at least keep up appearances. Besides, as far as the dummy file is concerned, if I ever did go to court, I’d have a much easier time discussing the dummy notes than the real ones.”

"You sure got that right! No one in their right mind would believe the truth.”

Rosenfeld said, “On the other hand, I think we’ve already established that the people who’d want that file aren’t necessarily in their right minds. Anyway, let’s just hope it never gets that far, that the Feds just drop the whole thing. I mean, the guy’s dead! Isn’t that enough for them?” He shook his head and tried to refocus on trying to go about their business as usual. “Who’s on my schedule for today?”

"I cleared your morning appointments. I thought you might like to ease back into it.” Liz studied Joe’s face and watched it tense up at each name. “You’ve got Betty Murphy at one, Jill Edwards at two, and Jo Haggerty at three. I left four o’clock open in case you’re exhausted by then.” Liz could see him struggling with it. “If you want I can call and cancel them all.”

Rosenfeld took a deep breath as if to brace himself against an onslaught of reality.

"No, let’s keep things at least looking normal.”

Liz laughed. “Normal! Nice word for a shrink!”

Rosenfeld gave her a cynical smile. “Yeah, well, don’t worry,” he teased, “it’s no term I’d ever apply to you!” Rosenfeld had to laugh. She could see right through him.

Their fifteen-year relationship was, to say the least, atypical. It was strictly platonic; there was never anything physical between them. Their feelings were familial, not sexual, and had been like this since day one. In front of the clients, they were consummate professionals, always on their best behavior, tended to communicate in full sentences. But when it was just the two of them, they seemed to slip easily into characters out of the screwball-comedies of the 1930s and ‘40s; if Joe threw out a line from a Spencer Tracy movie, Liz would be right on top of it with her best Hepburn; if Joe gave her Bogey and asked if she knew how to whistle, Liz was right there with a pretty good Bacall and the perfect response, “Just put your lips together and blow.”

She was priceless! And almost always right!

Liz fluttered back a coquettish smile. “Hey, sweetie, I keep your life interesting, so don’t knock it!”

Liz Charles was, by all standards, a very attractive and engaging young woman. Blonde hair, blue eyes, a thin nose set against soft lush lips, and a thirty-six year-old body that wouldn’t quit — generally draped in a wardrobe of dubious business acumen that tended to advance that notion. She routinely wore thick black mascara that ovaled her eyes then flared to a point where someday she would have — from a lifetime of smiling — shallow crows’ feet — but not yet! Her eyelids were always painted blue, a soft blue. But the combination of that soft blue and heavy black outline, which would have screamed whore on the average woman, appeared on Liz Charles more like the understated elegance of an ancient Egyptian queen, the royal consort to a pharaoh. She was, all things considered, probably the perfect synthesis of both.
And where competent secretaries were concerned, Rosenfeld didn’t know what he’d do without her!

Joe Rosenfeld turned left out of the Hills of Eternity Jewish Cemetery, aiming the Prius south on El Camino Real for the thirty-minute drive from Colma to their Menlo Park office. It would have been faster to take 280 or 101, even at this time of day, but he wasn’t in any particular hurry just now. In fact, after the last five days, he just wanted the whole world to slow down again. And a quiet drive back would go a long way toward meeting that objective.

"Can you believe it’s been less than four weeks since this all started?” He glanced over at her and half whispered, “How’s your shoulder?”

Liz Charles stretched and twisted her right shoulder, testing it. “It’s fine,” she said, massaging it with her left hand. “Unbelievably fine, actually.” And after giving it some due consideration, she gave her final judgment. “Better than new, I think.”
Rosenfeld took in the answer absently, his thoughts already drifting back to early November and the first time he set eyes on Jared Kennan Cain.

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