I do it because I can – flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig

Ah, the first flash fiction challenge for the new year from Chuck. Our assignment: to pick a random pic from Flicker and use it as inspiration for a short story of 1,000 words. I have to admit I went slightly over the 1,000 but just a smidge:

Untitled by Greg Pths https://www.flickr.com/photos/greg-pths/24075149811
Untitled by Greg Pths https://www.flickr.com/photos/greg-pths/24075149811

 

I do it because I can

She looked almost alive, swathed in veils and satin in her simple coffin. Like a princess. Ironic, since her killer left her on the side of the road, naked, bruised and obscenely posed for all to see. With a note clutched in her hand that read; “I do it because I can.”

Her grandmother told me in broken English that it was a custom from her home country – to send the loved one dressed in their best, to Heaven. After what had happened, I wondered how the woman still believed in Heaven. Eyes closed, prayer beads rattling between nervous fingers, her lips moved in silent prayer. Her silver hair glistened in the flickering candlight making her as much of a spectre as her dead granddaughter.

I sat in the back row and watched as mourners came and went. Some cried at the coffin, others crossed themselves defensively, lest the same thing happen to their child. Still others sat in the chairs and stared straight ahead. I waited for the killer to arrive. I knew that he would. That he would want to see his handiwork and the devastating effect it had on the world.

My partner sat in our unmarked, just outside the church – smoking and watching. We exchanged texts throughout the afternoon. Mostly to amuse ourselves and in the end for nothing at all because the killer never came to pay his respects.

As the last vestige of sunlight refracted through the stain glassed windows I rose. Tomorrow was another day for catching killers. Awkwardly, I knelt in the aisle, crossed myself and went outside.

After pushing through the ancient door of the church, I stood on the stoop and looked around, trying to adjust to the gray light that shrouded my world. The engine on the unmarked turned over and I squinted at my partner, who cranked a hand to get me moving.

I plunked into the passenger seat and closed the door against the cold. “So?”
My partner, Joan waved a gloved hand. “So nothing.”
I sighed at the tired little church as we pulled away from the curb. Joan smacked my arm with the back of her hand. “Cheer up, it’s beer o’clock.”

I nodded and stared straight ahead, wondering what made the human race so cold and uncaring. But soon, I was perched comfortably on a bar stool and doing shots and beers with Joan and the hard edges of life were softened.

Joan nibbled on a pretzel thoughtfully. “He’ll probably show at the funeral.” She turned bright green eyes on me. “Where he can watch from a distance.”

I nodded, then drained the rest of my beer. “Probably.” I tossed a few bills on the bar and stood. “Let’s go.”

She dropped me at my house, where lights in the window told me Cassie was home. “You want me to come in?”

I frowned at her. “For what?”

“I could make dinner. You two could stand to eat something besides pizza.”

I smiled at her. She was a good woman, a good person. She cared. We both cared. But I had to pretend I didn’t see that extra caring in her eyes – since my wife left last year that look in Joan’s eyes was too much of an invitation. I couldn’t take advantage and I didn’t want to.

“Maybe another time.”

I stood on the sidewalk and watched as her brake lights disappeared into the fog, then turned slowly toward the house. It was probably the fog or the street light reflected in the wet pavement but I saw a flash. When I turned toward it, it disappeared. Could’ve been the beer and whiskey too.

Cassie opened the door and frowned at me – her golden curls backlit and crowned her head like a halo. I smiled – she was my angel. “You gonna stand in the rain all night?”

I hurried up the walk then gave her shoulders a squeeze before going inside. “Daddy’s home.”

The house smelled like coffee and spaghetti. And the table was set and waiting for me. Cassie pulled off my coat and nudged me into a chair. I sipped my coffee and the warmth spread through my body, taking the chill out of my tired bones. “Looks good.”

Cassie smiled proudly. “Made it myself.”

I stared at the plate of spaghetti and meatballs. “Oh-oh.”

She smacked me with a napkin and said, “Eat, you old bear.”

Afterwards, I helped her with the clean up and dishes. “How was your day?”

She told me about school and a boy she liked and wondered out loud if I’d pop for a pretty dress she wanted for an upcoming dance at school. “You think it’ll make him love you?”

She blushed. “Oh Dad, you’re such doof.” She frowned. “How was your day?”

I told her about my unsuccessful stake out and she nodded in sympathy. My daughter was an old soul who understood my need to seek justice in the world and sympathized. She snapped her fingers. “Oh, I almost forgot.” She pulled an envelope out of her pocket and handed it to me. “This came for you.”

I frowned at the unaddressed envelope then tore it open. Inside was a note: “I do it because I can.”

My heart dropped to my toes. “How did you get this?”

Cassie recoiled at my reaction. “It was taped to the door when I came home.”

I went to the window and looked out, then I went to the front door and threw it open. And I felt him out there in the fog, watching and waiting. I withdrew my gun, then said to her, “Lock the door behind me and call Joan. Tell her to get over her now!”

Then, I stepped into the fog, gun raised, flashlight poised. I stepped off the porch, scanning the yard, the bushes, then went around back. The gate was open and my breath caught in my throat.

I burst into the yard but it was empty. Hands trembling, I ran the flashlight beam across the yard and along the house. Then I saw them – footprints in the sodden grass, leading to the back of the house. Panting, I followed them to my patio door which was locked. I pounded on the door. “Cassie! Cassie!”

Then she screamed. “Daddy!”

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Monkey Racing

They called it monkey racing. And it was probably fun for those of us who weren’t the monkeys. You’ve got to give Fat Bobby and his backyard bullies credit though – with an intricate network of clothesline, bungee cords, and duct tape, harnesses, and reins were made, the littlest kids were corralled and a game was born.

Fat Bobby hitched me up in his bungee cord contraption and found just the right sized willow whip to keep me in line. Attaching my tether to a beat up red wagon he fished out of the dumpster, he said, “We better win, Monkey.”

I gently pulled at the hair trapped in the harness, trying to free it. “My name is Scotti, you big creep.”

Fat Bobby lashed my back with the willow branch whip and growled. “Did I give you permission to talk, Monkey?”

I clamped my teeth so I wouldn’t cry. If Fat Bobby saw me cry it would be worse for me. And I couldn’t take worse.

Bobby’s three friends – Lowell the troll, Jerk-face Jerry, and Mozer – lined up their monkey wagons at the starting line. I looked at my fellow monkeys, who cried openly and whined. No matter who won or lost, those poor monkeys would have their dinners taken that night, without a peep of protest from any of them. And if they got to sleep through the night without a round of toilet head, they’d be lucky.

I scanned the yard for my new friend Zelda but she wasn’t around. My heart fell — they probably shipped her off to another home. After she knocked Fat Bobby on his ass, they’d been promising payback and I figured they got it. And besides, God just didn’t like me enough to let me keep a friend.

With two fingers, Topher blew a shrill whistle through his gap-toothed mouth. Fat Bobby lashed my head with the willow branch. “Go monkey! Go!”

I bent and pulled, each step an agony of pain and sweat. The sun burned through my scalp and the harness pulled my hair out by the roots. The finish line was only ten feet away, marked with a couple of beat-up trash cans and a sneering crowd, but it might as well been a hundred feet because I could only move the wagon an inch at time. For cripes sakes I was dragging a whale in a wagon and my little kid muscles weren’t up to the task.

Bobby snapped his willow whip, leaving a fresh welt on my arm. “Go monkey, go!”

I pulled and grunted. “You ever hear of cruelty?”

I got another lash for my backtalk. But the other monkeys were worse off — they all cried like big babies and wasted time begging to be freed. Didn’t they know that once a bully’s got you, you belong to them forever?

I screamed. I grunted. I pulled. Inch by inch. The sweat stung my eyes and swiped with my arm. I muttered, “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you. Some day Bobby, you’ll get yours.”

And then a miracle happened. The bungee cord snapped. I shot a backward glance to Bobby — he was too busy lapping up the cheers from his pals to notice. I pulled and the other bungee snapped. One more good yank and I was free.

I ran. I ran as fast as I could. Hoping I could get under the house before they caught me. I heard their big nasty feet pounding behind me. And my breath hard. And my pounding heart. I ran harder. The house was only a few feet away. If I dropped and rolled I could get under the house where they couldn’t get to me.

Bobby grunted and yelled, “Come back here, monkey. Oh you’re gonna pay you little runt. You just wait.”

But Bobby was a fat whale and he couldn’t run worth a shit. I could hear his panting and big clown feet stumbling. Three feet from the house, I had to make my move. I dropped and rolled and got under the house. But before my next breath a big beefy hand got hold of my foot.

“I gotcha monkey!”

I saw Bobby’s sweaty pink face scowling at me under the house. I kicked and screamed, “Let go of me!” But I couldn’t kick him loose and I felt myself being pulled from safety. “Stop, you’re hurting me!”

I threw out my arms for anything to hold onto and came up with handfuls of dirt and dog poop. I kicked harder but he grasped my ankle tighter and it felt like he’d crush it into dust. He had me and he wouldn’t let go and I felt him pulling me out, while I choked on dirt and cobwebs along the way.

He had me by the hair and up against the back of the house, while his pals crowded around, leering and lusting for blood.

Red-faced and greasy with sweat Bobby yelled in my face. “Okay monkey, I tried to warn you. But did you listen?”

I glared at him and braced for the blow.
He smiled back at his pals. “Did she listen?”

“No!” the bad boys answered him.

“And what do we do to monkeys who don’t listen?”

“Punish them!” They chanted and stomped their feet.

Bobby turned his nasty mug back to me and cocked back his arm. “You’re one dead monkey.”

As his fist shot toward my face, I went limp — Bobby stumbled and smashed his fist into the wall. He screeched like a little girl and fell back, releasing my hair and landing me on my butt.

Bobby howled. “Son of a bitch!” His buddies gathered round. “She broke my fucking hand!”

On all fours, I scooted away as fast as I could— while they were distracted with their fallen hero. When I got around the other side of the house I jumped to my feet and ran. I was free. I knew it wasn’t for long but for that moment I still had my face and my arms and legs and I ran. And ran. And ran. And then I ran straight into the house mother.

She grabbed me by the wrist and looked down her pointy nose at me. “What are you doing, Scotti?”

I looked up with wide eyes. “Nothing.”

“So all the noise in the back, got nothing to do with you?”

I shook my head slowly. “No, ma’am.”

She sniffed the air. “You been under the house again? You smell like dog shit.”

I shook my head again. “No, ma’am.”

She dug her fingers into my arms and shook me. “You no what we do to lying little girls round here, don’t you?”

Tears fell and streaked my dirty and poop-stained face. “But Bobby started it. He…”

She grabbed my face with her hand and squeezed. “And now you’re gonna sass me?”

“No, ma’am…but…” She squeezed my face so hard, I struggled to breath. “No, ma’am.”

She let go of my face and wiped her hand on her dress. “And see now my hands stink as bad as you.” I looked up at her with pleading eyes, but said nothing. She narrowed her mean blue eyes at me and said, “You know what comes next now, don’t you?”

My shoulders slumped and I nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

I followed her inside the house and to the basement door. I stopped and looked up at her hoping she’d changed her mind but she pointed to the door and I opened it.

As she shoved me into the cubby she said, “Maybe if you go hungry tonight it’ll make you think about the consequences of your actions.” She locked the cubby door and I heard the keys jangle as she put them back in her pocket. “You think Miss Scotti, you think long and hard about what you done.”

I sat on the cold concrete floor and covered my face.

“Oh you big cry baby, cut it out.”

I raised my head and turned toward the voice. “Zelda?”

Zelda scooted next to me and put her arm around my shoulder. “Hey roomie, I was wondering when you’d finally show up.”

Writer Chick

copyright 2015

Sneak Peek – New Novel

sneak peekHey there.  This is just a quick note.  I have posted the first chapter of my new novel, which I hope to publish in December, here on the blog.  For obvious reasons, the page is password protected.  However, if you’d like to take a sneak peek you can go to my Facebook page to get the login information for the page.

Hope you enjoy it.

Have a great day!

Writer Chick

UPDATE:

Friday, I will be posting Chapter Two of the new book here on the blog.  For those of you interested in reading, go to my facebook page to see the details of how to access the chapter.  Have a good one!

WC

UPDATE:

Chapter Three is now posted to the page.  If you need the password check my Facebook page (see above) for it.  As always, I’d be thrilled to hear your comments and thoughts.

Cheers!

WC

Everything – Theme Friday

I don’t want to give up everything for love
And I did…
my books and music
my home and friends

And I don’t want anyone to be my everything
because I lost myself that way
and I’m still missing pieces
I’m different now
and different isn’t always good

And I don’t want a life where everything is on the line
Winning big, always the promise
Losing all, always the outcome

I want my everything to be
EveryThing.
Every word
Every smile
Every person
Every friend
to be its own separate, glorious thing
radiating its own energy
sparkling its own ideas and adventures

No more everything that becomes a nothing
no more surrender to have what isn’t mine
no more relinquish to be who I am not
No more gambles on promises that cannot be kept
are never meant
that lets you off on the dark corner of confusion
Fending once again for yourself
whom you’ve lost
because you gave up
Everything.

Copyright 2010

Is everything copacetic with Christine?

How’s everything with Clancy?

Detour – Theme Friday

The sign up ahead on the road heading south cautions, detour.

From three scattered lanes our vehicular alter egos squeeze into one obedient column. We crawl up the single mountain lane – second-gearing behind behemoth 18-wheelers, cursing in hydraulic hisses.

Skimming sheer rock-face of crude red design while shunning the100 foot drop into endless canyon just to the left.

Swallowing the adrenaline that churns fear and impatience, we wind with the curves that forecast unknown treachery.

And the vastness of nature reveals our insignificance – humbles our arrogance in the mumble of prayers that implore God’s hands to nudge us toward safety.

The sharp autumn sun becomes slate shadow, forbidding illumination in our progression and artificial light is a ghostly guide.

When the mountain relents and the road opens again, a communal breath at last escapes. And we break apart like dominoes poorly placed. Now strangers in singular journey, on the same road, but heading in different directions.

copyright 2010

Where has the detour led Christine?
What detour has Clancy encountered?

Once Upon a Time – Theme Friday

Once upon a time a thousand hurts clung to me.
My cloak of pain stooped low my shoulders and endured the weight of velvet yards

In a dream of deep-filled space I floated

And the moonlight sparkled my hurts in magnificent refraction
Revealing the beauty of jealousy, confusion, fear, and sorrow.

Exquisite the dream that showed me the breadth and depth of each with such clarity.

So I could know the five senses of each and watch them shimmer to dissipation of particulate light. Scattering to the stars to find a home.

One by one I set them free until the cape was no more and iridescent wings fluttered in emergence. And the stars grew nearer and fluttering wings sounded around me…

I knew again my own heartbeat and heard the silence of my own thoughts.

And.

I was free.

Copyright 2010

Christine’s and Clancy’s once upon a time…

Dented Can – Theme Friday

I used to laugh at the losers hovering outside the dollar store begging for change. “Get a job,” I muttered and never saw the person.

I used to complain when the shopping cart bridgade made early morning raids on the recyle bins—rummaging for dented cans and plastic bottles.

I used to think it could never happen to me – I was too smart, too talented and too connected.

I used to blow money on things I didn’t need or even want. But because I could – I deserved them – I could always get more money next week…

I used to throw away food because it didn’t look good, wasn’t the right color or cooked the way I liked it.

I used to go out with friends for drinks, cover charges and food we didn’t eat so some guy might ask for my phone number.

I used to be rude because I didn’t need help – I could take care of myself and I wasn’t a slacker or a moocher.

And then
it all fell to shit
I had nothing and no one
Pride stopped deciding
what work I would do
what food I would eat
who mattered…

It was the worst thing that ever happened to me and and yet somehow the best.

copyright 2010

Christine is kicking her can

Clancy’s can is rolling

Comfort Food – Theme Friday

The Comfort Food Café, stood in blistering sun, in need of a paint job and a new sign. But inside, oh my, what delights awaited the weary traveler who wandered off the interstate in search of sustenance. Like me.

It was the hottest day of the year and the blacktop on the interstate gave off wavy steam, as I imagined my tires melting and becoming one with it. The old chevy’s air conditioning crapped out years before and I never thought to fix it until days like today. Of course that took money—a commodity I rarely possessed for any length of time. In fact, I and my humble belongings were moving to Florida, lured by the offer of a lucrative job.

My goofy mutt Beau stood on his hind legs and leaned over the seat, panting in my ear. “Yes Beau, you’re thirsty. I hear you.” Beau barked once and wagged the stub of his tail. “I’ll bet you could use a Big Mac too, eh?” Which set him off to hopping around the back seat and giving his chewie what for.

The standard highway sign read ‘food and gas’ and we took the exit that would lead us, I hoped to some version of civilization. Coming to a stop at the bottom of the ramp I instantly knew that Beau was out of luck. Apparently Comfort, Texas had yet to be invaded by the fast food giant. I eyed my pooch in the rear-view mirror. “Maybe we should drive a little further?” But Beau already had his head out the rear window, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, the stub signaling his vast approval of Comfort.

I had nothing to lose and I was pretty certain I could at least find an iced tea and a hot dog at the gas station. We drove through open country, occasionally passing an abandoned factory or feed store, but the signs pointed us forward, assuring us that we should keep going. Eventually, I began to see small houses, mom and pop businesses on either side of the road and finally a gas station—although it was an unknown brand. When I pulled the chevy under the canopy an old fashioned clangy bell sounded and I could swear Gomer Pyle loped out to greet me.

“Afternoon, ma’am,” he said real slow and started to clean my windshield. “Fillerup?”

“Sure,” I said and looked around. “You have anything to eat around here?”

“We got a soda pop machine and a chip rack,” he said now moving to the rear windshield.

“Anyplace nearby I could get some lunch?” I asked, fascinated by his efficiency with a squeegie.

He looked up and grinned, exposing crooked but very white teeth. “Sure over to the Comfort Food Café.” He even pointed—a little startling since the place was right next door. It’s dull brown exterior seemed to make it appear and disappear at will.

“Ah,” I said. “How much do I owe you?”

“Don’t worry ‘bout it—we’ll settle up after you eat.” Gomer was smiling at Beau and my pooch acted like he knew Gomer all his life. “Nice dawg. Whacha call ‘em?”

“Beau,” I said mystified by their sudden love affair.

“Well, you can take ol’ Beau in the café with you. Marly don’t mind.”

And so off we went to an old diner in the middle of nowhere to eat God knows what.

Unlike the exterior, inside the café everything was lively. Country music wailed from the jukebox, waitresses shuffled between customers, and fry cooks moved to syncopated sizzle of cooking food. Nothing had smelled better to me in my life.

“Have a seat, hon,” a young waitress said and swooped by with arms loaded with plates.

Beau and I took a load off in a booth in the back and in a nanosecond, Marge appeared, pad and pencil at the ready. “What’ll you have, hon?”

I looked for a menu but there was none. “What have you got?”

“Whatever you want, hon. You like comfort food?” she asked.

“Sure, who doesn’t?”

“That whatever comfort food you like we’ve got,” she wasn’t kidding.

“Well…ah…” I had no experience with so much choice in a diner.

“Okay,” Marge said, “I’ll make it easy for you. We’ve got pie, cookies, cake, ice cream, pudding, grilled cheese, tuna melts, mac’n’cheese, hotdogs, hamburgers, chili fries, pizza, peanut butter ‘n’ jelly, tomato soup, chips, popcorn, rice crispie treats, mashed potatoes and gravy, baloney sandwiches, fudge, milkshakes, coke, sweet tea, waffles and white toast. We ain’t got no salads, no lean meats, no diet plates, no veggies other than the taters, no milk, no juice and nothing healthy.”

I got the idea that Marge had given that spiel many times to many a tourist much to their surprise, shock and delight. A free pass to eating bad. I ordered before she changed her mind or I woke up.

Soon my table was knee-deep in grilled cheese, chili fries, chips, homemade pudding, a chili dog and several types of cookies – oh and fudge. And Beau and I ate til we were ready to bust. Whatever we couldn’t eat, Marge wrapped up for the road. “I have to say Marge that was the best meal I ever had.”

“Well good hon, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I suspect you needed it, huh?”

Suddenly Marge looked a lot like Mother Theresa to me—wise and with eyes that could see through to your soul. I nodded. “Yeah, I guess I did.”

She patted me on the back and leaned down. “It’ll pass, hon. You wait and see. It’ll pass.”

I felt tears rising and turned my head. “Sure,” I said staring at the old cigar store indian standing in the corner, “things always do.” I dug for money in my jeans pockets.

Marge shook her head. “Keep it, hon, your bill’s been paid.”

“What?” I stood up as though that would help me identify my benefactor.

Marge pushed my doggie bag into my hands. “You have a safe trip now, you hear? I come back and see us if you’re ever back this way.” And I’m not sure how but Beau and I were outside and walking back to the chevy.

Gomer was nowhere to be found and I owed him for a tank of gas. I left a twenty on the counter inside and we climbed back into the chevy. Suddenly Gomer was at my window handing me a twenty. “You have a good trip you hear?”

“But what about the gas?” I asked.

“My pleasure ma’am. You and Beau take care, you hear?” And again Gomer went to the paralell uinverse from whence he came.

Beau and I went off to Florida but it didn’t work out and we headed back to California. But try as I might, I never again could find the Comfort Food Café and the magical people who lived there.

copyright 2010

What food is comforting Christine?
What comfort is Clancy getting from food?

Hotel – Theme Friday

Hotel. An old postcard in sepia tones. Polished mahogany banisters and burgundy floral carpet that turns footsteps to whispers.

A place of bell hops
High tea luncheons
Ladies in gloves and hats with veils
and Elevator men

Room service with linen napkins and polished silver.

Tinted plate glass windows adorned with gold etched letters and Italian marble fountains out front. Grand, wide steps leading to arched doorways. Architecture that loves itself proudly.

A place for round table writers –
gin and tonic for Scott and Zelda
champaign cocktails for Mrs P

Where time stops upon entry and harbors elegance for those who are privileged to know it.

copyright 2010

Where did Christine check in?
How much luggage does Clancy Jane have?

Cigarette – Theme Friday

Samantha stared at the pulsing cursor on her screen as it mocked and dared her to decide. Her desk overflowed with books depicting, murder, mayhem, and body disposal. And true accounts of atrocities most people would rather not know, but upon which she thrived. Samantha Smith wrote murder mysteries—the ultimate human puzzles.

Sam crushed out a cigarette in the full ashtray and pondered how much damage cigarette lighter could do to a victim.  While Sam deliberated, her villain paced and screamed from the electronic page. “Hey! What the fuck am I gonna do? Torture her with the lighter in my car or do I get a Zippo? A real man’s weapon?”

“Snap out of it girl before you climb inside that monitor?” a voice from the real world asked.

Sam felt her heart brake as her body did an involuntary jump. “Oh Jesus, Erica, how many times have I told you not to sneak up on me?” Sam wagged a finger at Erica Markum—friend and aggravator alike.

Erica snickered and her dark eyes danced. “I didn’t sneak up on you, darling. I simply walked in. Is it my fault that you’re so absorbed in whatever murder you’re plotting that you’ve gone deaf?”

“All right,” Sam smiled and easily forgave the intrusion. “Honestly, I could use a distraction.” The sound of her villain’s voice reduced to a mere nagging whisper in the back of her mind. Sam lit another cigarette and scanned her desk for the cup of coffee she’d brought into her office hours before. “Are we having lunch or something? Did I forget again?”

Erica shook her head and thumbed through one of Sam’s reference books. “Mmmm, The Poison Cookbook. That should make for some interesting recipes.”

“Then what are you doing here?”

“Just dropped in to say, hello.” Erica smiled seductively.

Sam took the book away from Erica and put it aside. She admired Erica’s long, red fingernails and pictured her at home in a novel about murder and deceit. She’d make a perfect murderess – beautiful, intelligent and manipulative. Sam let the idea percolate in her head. A definite possibility for her next female villain. Sam smiled in that writer way as the wheels turned. Click, click, and click.

Erica tensed. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Like what?” Sam asked.

“Like you’re wondering if I have a gun in my garter belt,” Erica chided.

“Am I, darling? I’m sorry. Really, I was just thinking about my story. You know how preoccupied I can get.”

Erica fidgeted with the clasp on her designer handbag. “Don’t lie to me, I know you were thinking something.”

Sam laughed. “You’re right. I was thinking . . . I was thinking what a good villain you would make.” Erica frowned. “Don’t get upset, I don’t mean literally . . . I mean for one of my stories, you know?” Erica’s frown became a grimace. Sam hurried to explain. “As a model, I mean. That you would make a good model for one of my villains . . . in a story. Oh come on, it’s a compliment really.”

Erica smiled without joy. “Oh,” she laughed. “Yes, I see. Well, thank you.”

Sam clutched a little at Erica’s reaction—she was still pissed, that was obvious. Better to change the subject. She made a big deal of routing around her desk. “Do you have a cigarette? I can’t find mine anywhere.”

Erica frowned. “You can’t find them because you smoked all of them”

“Do you have a cigarette?” Sam asked again and wondered why she and Erica were friends.

Erica dug through her bag. “So tell me, what kind of killer would I be?”

Sam shrugged. “I don’t know. Probably clever.” She leaned back in her old desk chair and envisioned Erica as murderess. “I think with panache.”

Erica’s grin was sudden and genuine. “Oooh, with panache. Really? You think?”

Sam nodded and grinned. “Yes, definitely. And your crime would be clever and unexpected. Your victim would trust you and would be utterly shocked when you finally attacked.”

Erica smiled again but it was a little creepy and Sam a shiver. “How intriguing. Why would I kill? Would I have a reason, or would it just be for kicks?”

But Sam was enjoying the game. “Good question. No, you wouldn’t do it for kicks. You’d have a reason. Jealousy probably.”

Erica looked angry suddenly and shook her head. “I would not!”

“Oh please, Erica, you know how jealous you are. Don’t you remember last summer? You thought I was having an affair with Jim? It took us weeks to convince you that you were being paranoid.”

Erica’s face clouded and she nodded. “Of course, I remember.” She pulled a pack of cigarettes from her bag and offered a smoke to Sam.

Sam snatched the smoke, lit it and took a deep drag. “Thank God!” She coughed. “Jesus, these are strong! What are they?”

“Poison, darling,” Erica smiled. “Pure poison.”

“Please, don’t start with the lectures again. I get enough of that crap from my mother. Besides, you smoke too.”

“Yes,” Erica nodded, “but in moderation. It’s not an addiction for me.”

Sam felt dizzy and put the cigarette in the ashtray. “I don’t feel right.”

Erica stroked Sam’s hair and patted her on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, darling, it won’t last long. I read it right here in your lovely book.  It says the pain passes quickly.”

Sam’s heart raced and she couldn’t focus. “What book? What do you mean?”

“I warned you about Jim. You think because I’m beautiful that I must be stupid?” Erica  waved a photograph of Sam and Jim in an intimate pose, in Sam’s face. “I know what you did.” Tears welled in Erica’s eyes but she ignored them. “Well darling, it’s all over now.”

Sam realized she’d be dead in minutes. The room faded out of focus. And she couldn’t voice the questions and defenses raging in her mind. Just before Sam’s equilibrium deserted her, she lunged for Erica but instead fell to the floor.

Erica leaned down and checked Sam for a pulse, then smiled. “Bye, bye, darling.”

Erica snubbed the burning cigarette out in the ashtray and put the butt in her pocket. “Musn’t leave evidence, must we?” Erica asked as Sam’s dead eyes stared up at her.  “I must say darling, you were right I am a clever murderess. Do you think Jim will agree?  Erica shrugged her lovely shoulders. “I guess the experts are right—smoking is hazardous to your health.”

What’s Christine smoking?

Is Clancy Jane on the back porch having a smoke?