Toti O’Brien – Fiction 

INCANTATION                                                                       


     She doesn’t remember when she first noticed it. Retrospectively, the last few months melt in a kind of blur. The weather might be responsible—summer temperatures unusually lasting, bleeding into fall, have dimmed her awareness of the passing season. The afternoon darkness seems incongruous, unreal.
     She has missed Halloween. That night she has worked late. Then she has played the piano and lost track of time, finally crumpling on the couch with a book. Meanwhile, unusual outside animation has peered through. There must be a very lively party near by—lots of guests arriving, departing. Quite surprising on a weekday, yet not a problem. She has barely registered.
     Only the morning after her brains have connected the dots. “It’s November already,” she has sighed. Right! So yesterday was Halloween! She has missed it for the first time in her life.
     *
     She must have spotted the thing around Halloween. Nothing strange—the house is full of spiders. They are harmless and she enjoys them. They are elegant, too. She loves the fluid motion of their nimble legs—fingers on a keyboard. In the shower she can leisurely watch a few, intent at their dance. She doesn’t bother removing them.
     But this one, perched high in a corner, looks huge. Weirdly shaped, segmented… isn’t it normal? She remembers something from her school days. Abdomen, cephalothorax—spiders’ bodies articulate in the center. Why didn’t she observe the phenomenon before? This specimen must be bigger. Much bigger.
     She has chanced upon a mega-spider, enormous. A vague sense of alarm trickles down her spine. “Should I worry? Is it poisonous?” Soon her apprehension dissolves. It must be innocuous, she is sure. Only, an extra-large size.
     *
     It is growing. Day by day, shower by shower. At least, sometimes it looks larger. Is her observation reliable? She can’t tell. Today she is quite certain, and the shiver resumes down her back. “Will it keep swelling?” Then, confusingly, it seems to have shrunken…
     There is another spider in view. She checks and compares. This new one is average. An oblong shape, indistinct—no waistline, no upper and lower body are discernable. This one perfectly represents the category. It is pale—a grey shade—while the giant is pitch black.
      Once or twice she has seen it capture its prey. Strange behaviors… she didn’t recall having studied them. First the prey (a little fly? a small bug, inconspicuous like a speckle of dust) is stilled in place, paralyzed among the spires of a quasi-invisible web. The big guy comes near and does something with its legs. Something frantic, or so it looks because of many limbs juggling—fingers racing on keys for a rapturous grand finale.
     The predator paws its prey, nimbly, skillfully… like a potter at the wheel, a cook expertly stuffing some bird, a very quick knitter. A magician playing a trick of cards under the audience’s hypnotized gaze. The whole scene has a trance-like quality, suspended as it is in space and time—both precipitous and infinitely slow. She is charmed. A bit scared as well. With no reason, truly.
     *
     Then she sees the prey has also grown bigger. Wrapped it in a tight cocoon, now it looks like a detached segment of the spider itself, which is coming closer. Will it gulp the morsel? Will it glue it to itself, then gradually absorb it?  She doesn’t see it happen. Not because she doesn’t want to but, please, she needs to get dressed and go. Learning about spiders’ feeding habits isn’t today’s plan. Or tomorrow’s. It is totally irrelevant. She is wasting her time.
     Later, though, she can’t avoid noticing the creature has swollen, like the snake gulping an elephant in one of her children books. Did it swallow its booty altogether? Without breaking it down? It must have.
     Then it is back to normal. Approximately. Back to normal, she thinks.
     She is witnessing the prey-catching, prey-petting more often. Maybe a kind of lent ended and a feasting season begun. She is dazzled by the motions: the creature seems to have more limbs than it should. Is she counting sixteen? Paired like for a double-stringed guitar. Are the spiders two? How comes she didn’t guess? Joined, attached. Perhaps making love. Wouldn’t it be something? She should get her glasses. A step stool.
    Hell, no. She needs to get dressed and hurry. She is late.
    *
     It is one spider only. It has shrunk to size once again. She can count the legs—they are eight. Their fast motion gives an illusion of quantity—an optical lure. When they fumble the unfortunate captive they have a dizzying effect on her nerves. There is a slight obscenity in what looks like erotic foreplay, preluding to the incumbent annexation. To the mysterious merging she has never managed to watch.
     But of course, the beast doesn’t know a curious eye daily violates its privacy. It safely inhabits its own universe, surrounded by the magic circle it has wrought—a small galaxy, satellites gravitating towards the center, following the unavoidable laws of attraction.
     She has noticed it frequently bends at the waistline, hanging loosely at the bottom of its master web. Doubled over, it draws a letter V in the air, coarsely traced in black. V for victory—its favorite pose. It looks ominous.
     *
     Not only is the spider too big (will the anomalous growth ever stop? should she worry?) There is also no reason why it should hang in her shower. True, she never cared for an insect-free bathroom—but proportions do matter. This thing is so conspicuous it becomes intrusive. Sharing quarters is now inconvenient. Embarrassing.
     Obviously she should dispose of the thing. What is she waiting for? She must kill the spider. This particular one, taking itself for the master of the place, uncaring of limits. Indecent, to say the word. “I will kill it”, she murmurs while she grabs her towel. Then another though tickles her: she should get a stool and her glasses. She should look at the monster, once, really close. How ridicolous. Get dressed. You are late.
          “I must kill it,” she repeats each morning. But she vaguely senses it isn’t time yet. Instead, she would like to… can’t she avow its ugliness enthralls her? Are all things bad so charming, you can’t help another good look before getting rid of them? Are monsters so attractive you cannot let them go? She must kill the spider. Today.
      A chill goes down her back when she draws the curtain, fumbles nervously with the faucet, gasps for the comfort of hot running water. Is the cold—isn’t it?—making her shiver. Winter has finally arrived. Cold, cold, cold! She mutters. Foam is lathering on her skin like a shawl of snow. Looking down at her goose-bumped limbs, she wraps herself in her own arms, oblivious of all.
     Cold has come at last—a long delayed spell, a sentence postponed.

 

🍃

 

Toti O’Brien’s work has most recently appeared in Masque & Spectacle, Feminine Inquiry, Indiana Voices, and Italian Americana.

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Tiana Lavrova – Fiction

Rolflandian Ideonomisis   

“It is a sign of exceptional Thanatopsis to choose exceptional experimentation in sniffing and snuffing more or less implicit psy-Dolan Cantorian dogma… however, be aware, that you will be implicitly hereticized — and metronomically diagonalized in snuffing out by a terra firma diaphragmitis Lichten-apos.”

I.

“What is the universalizable — consider a Austro-Moldovian universalizable law, of the sum total of Maltesian “Functionality” — a biological, full-blooded, e.g., “Anglo-Saxon, and/or Germanic,” granted person — swiping-dry, any geo-political and/or botanical-pediatrism pre-packaged “mobiuses” within any n “personsified” conception? Independence, as more, antithetical — upper bound set(s) of what you might least value restrictively under the set V of “noetical diversion” objects?”

II.

“Flexing (or not) “artificial lines” on continua encoded “mark-offs” for mental disorders: transfinite innatist genuses ― cathartic, neo-Plutonian, embryonic-Nebuchadnezzar token-type states. Describe the former and latter state’s continua similarities per flexing Cambrian poca-oscillating line on calculating these rationale (then, compose liberetti ― give Kyrgyzstan-kryptonian nodal, Brentwood transactions) innatist, tachycardic genuses. Then, hand-paint their mercenary in frozen fish marmalade.” 

 

🍃

    

Tiana Lavrova, better known as Timaeus Lavrov, is an avant-garde writer from British Columbia, Canada with an interest in digital parts-to-whole philosophical musical instruments; open-source philosophical treatments, and absolutist self-reliant living. Their interests also include unspeakable languages, ideonomical calculators, and Gaian thought-crime-free zones.

Paul Beckman – Fiction

Cloud Wars

 

 

 

“Look at that big one at 2 o’clock. Is that a tricycle or what?”

Suni, lying on her back in the grass next to Henry agreed with him on the shape of the cloud. She’d rather be making out than playing cloud games.

“Look, Henry,” Suni pointed, “those two clouds are kissing. Don’t they appear to be having fun?”

“It’s like they’re next to each other,” Henry said. “See, now the tricycle is turning into a bicycle.”

“Will you look at that,” Suni said. “The kissing clouds have a third one in the mix—a ménage a tois. Boy they’re so lucky, aren’t they, Henry?”

Henry thought Suni talked about hugging and kissing too often and told her so. Most fifteen-year-old girls in his class were the same.

Suni rolled on top of Henry. “I don’t believe it,” she said, “those two clouds above us look like us lying here. See? See?”

Henry didn’t see and Suni stayed squished atop Henry hoping he’d get the hint and look at her and their faces would be close and she’d kiss him if he didn’t kiss her first.

Henry shifted his eyes without turning his head. He sat up and pointed—rolling her off him. “A dog, a perfect poodle dog right there. I’m going to write that down in my cloud book” he said, pulling out a small blue spiral notebook.

“Holy Moley will you look at that! I’m blushing. The clouds that look like us lying here are moving and one cloud is lying on top of the other. They’re making out right in front of us. Put that in your book, Henry.”

A drop of water fell on his face as the clouds overhead darkened. Henry stood. Suni stayed where she was and enjoyed the big raindrops beginning to splash her.

“Let’s run to the car,” Henry said, reaching for Suni’s hand to pull her up. She resisted and tried to pull him down. She wanted to taste the water on his face and neck. She wanted Henry to put his hand on her breast and his tongue in her month and she wanted to make him forget writing in his dumb cloud book.

Finally Suni stood. Henry refused to stand under a tree and huddle close to her. He only wanted to run to the car. So finally they did that and Henry drove Suni home and turned down her offer of hot chocolate and towels for drying each other off.

That night Henry texted Suni: “Clouds are my favorite things and you didn’t take them serious. I still like you but I don’t think we should date anymore. Henry.” #clouds don’t really kiss.”

 🍃

 

Paul Beckman is an award winning author with over 300 published stories to his credit, on line, in print, and via audio. He hosts the FBomb NY flash fiction reading series at KGB.

Kyle Hemmings – Fiction

Old World, New Day

It’s a  new world, one sans my longtime roommate, Munch. He’s always overdosing on insidious poisons from his past, and I wonder what fine morning I will wake up to find him frozen for good in a fetal curl. All the rooms of the apartment are empty. Munch, the ex-engineer who once worked for S & E, who developed a new plastic that sent the company’s stock soaring into space, who after failing rehab after rehab was salvaged by moi, rescued from underground shelters and a confederacy of stray cats, has vaporized into an emptiness too vast to locate him. 

 

I always tell him there’s hope, the kind of hope Frank Sinatra and Doris Day once sang about, that some night, chancing a walk without raincoat, he will feel the droppings of some sweet melon moon. He can only believe in pain and the luxury of its aftermath.

  

We are both bonded by the stigma of being lovable losers. It’s a kind of friendship with strong roots and sickly leaves.

  

“Love never lasts,” he once told me, “the better half of each couple on a moon colony have deserted for lack of proper space shoes. The other half are resigned to their personal craters. Either on earth or moon, you are doomed to masturbate into oblivion.”

  

Calling Munch’s name a thousand times, whisking through each room again and again, just to justify that I have done more than my share to save the both of us, so that I can feel lighter on my feet in my guilt-free shoes, I find Munch’s old tape recorder conspicuously situated on a wicker chair in his bedroom. Hesitant to turn it on, suspecting it might contain Munch’s long good-bye without the noticeable twitches and facial blushes, I finally hit RUN. 

 

“Charley, I know this is awkward and as the French say, pueril, I’ve decided to say good-bye this way without all the melodramatic hard-on soliloquies that in the end come to nothing. A misfire. You see, Charley, I’ve gone mad without a lover and I was even madder when with him. At first, I couldn’t stand to be apart, that some force of nature, either rain or sun, had destined us to idle in cafes, to pander to each other’s self-sinking indulgences, to fondle each other in ravaged hotel rooms without discount. I truly believed it. Then, Master Bot (my personal sobriquet for him) began to grow tired and twisted, justifying everything by trying a new shape for his needs. After loving one another with root and gut-instinct, Master Bot would burn my fingernails just to hear me scream, just to confirm that I was alive and well in the vortex of pain. I let him do it because I loved him or maybe I felt I deserved pain, that I had no right to protest what’s inevitable.

 

 He said I reminded him so much of the small animals in his childhood, ones in captivity, and the matchsticks, he added, were something he never outgrew. He burned down, he admitted, so many paper houses that could not shelter his flimsy lovers.” 

 

And so Charley, I’m a wreck. Well, when haven’t I been? I want to die, but not sure how or when, or that maybe the whole thing is superfluous because I’ve been dying all along. It only takes a quick of the hand, but I want to have a drink first and remember the good times if there were any. And I want to thank you, above all, Charley, for sheltering me from a storm that soon raged too wildly, broke into every sanctum. Perhaps, we’ll see each other again, veil ami, perhaps not. Take care of yourself. You are as precious as moon children, although I no longer believe in the moon.”

 

I have to find Munch before he turns to nothing and isn’t discovered for months.

 

I rush along city blocks, noticing the squirrels bungee-jumping from branch to branch, that is, without all the cords, witnessing the rose-chested Grosbeaks perched on trees as if they could be an oracle. Tell me, I want to ask them Where is Munch? If I don’t save him, I will surely die from self-neglect. Their answer in a song is both obvious and cryptic. I can’t understand their language and the meaning of their octaves, but they give me hope. Sometimes it’s good to be alive.

  

I search Munch’s usual haunts, the late-night diners and the bars on the outer circumference of town. In one bar, The Golden E-gal, I strike it rich without matchsticks. The barmaid, a middle-aged woman with large brown eyes, the daughter of holocaust survivors, tells me that Munch is upstairs in a private room and that he doesn’t wish to be disturbed. I tell her it’s an emergency. She understands. She can guess the secret-terrors behind Munch’s eyes. She understands his voice-imprisoned-within-another-voice.  

Sitting next to a far window with streaks, Munch is staring toward a wall. A half full mug of beer sits before him. I sit down across from him. The table is small, round and nicked to shit.

 

He speaks without looking at me.

 

“So you found me, Charley. You’re a good hunter. But I’m not much of a find. No reward for you boy-o.” 

He brings one hand up to wipe his lips. I gently grasp his hand, inspecting the missing fingernails, the cinched nail beds, their purplish color.

 

 “Does it hurt, Ernest? Do they hurt?” 

He smiles as if to himself. He still doesn’t look at me. 

 

“Everything hurts, Charley. It hurts everyday. I’ve been condemned to hurt.”

  

I guide his hand to the table. I stroke the back of his wrist.

  

“They’ll grow back, Ernest. In time, everything will grow back.”

 

“Will they, Charley?” he says with a slight twist of lips, a twinkle in his eyes.

 

🍃

 

 

Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has been published in Elimae, Smokelong Quarterly, This Zine Will Change Your Life, Blaze Vox, Matchbook, and elsewhere. His latest collections of poetry/prose is Future Wars from Another New Calligraphy and Split Brain on Amazon Kindle. He loves 50s Sci-Fi movies,  manga comics, and pre-punk garage bands of the 60s.

Gary Hoffman – Fiction

Don’t Mess with J.R. Bunting

 

We weren’t really expecting anything exciting to happen. We were just a bunch of mostly veteran reporters sent to cover a story in south Florida that looked like it was going to be much less than interesting. Of course, our job was to make it interesting for the folks back home. A story about a good murder would have been something to make us want to write it. Four of us had gathered in the Blue Heron Lounge of the Victory Hotel in Miami. Now, the Victory wasn’t known for being the hotel with the most five star ratings, or any star rating we knew about, but it was cheap, and all our editors liked that.

 
We were all there because Jolene Harding was running for mayor of Miami. This in itself was not remarkable, except Jolene was an openly professed, gay, twenty-two year old transvestite. Her name had been Joel, but she changed it for political purposes–at least that’s what her press releases said. She was supposed to show up at the Victory for a press conference, but none of us were real sure why she chose this venue.

 
We were all pretty quiet and busy concentrating on our drinks, when somehow Buzz Lucas got on the subject of the guy his daughter was living with. “The guy’s a jerk,” Buzz proclaimed. “He doesn’t even read newspapers.” He took a long slug of his drink. “Hell, for all I know, he can’t even read. The dud will probably be a bum for the rest of his life. Won’t earn a dime!”

 
“You mean he won’t become rich like all us journalists?” Leo Mantis said.

 
“Hey, maybe I missed out on something,” Walt Burbis said. “You mean you guys got rich doing this, and I didn’t even know about it?” He laughed and took a pull on his bottle of beer.

 
“Well, some people have done pretty damned well putting words on paper,” Buzz said.

 
“Name one,” Walt challenged.
Buzz got a serious look on his face. He stared right in Walt’s eyes. “J. R. Bunting.”

 
“Looks like he’s got you there,” Leo said. “J.R. found how to work the system, somehow.”

 
“J.R. was a genius,” I told them. “He was very good at many more things than just writing.”

 
“You talk like you know him,” Walt said.

 
“Oh, I know him alright. Have known him since he was twenty-six years old and had just gotten out of the slammer.”

 
“The slammer? J.R. did time?” Buzz asked.

 
“Oh, yeah.”

 
“What’d he do?” Leo wanted to know.

 
“Well, he was just a kid, sixteen, if I remember the story right. He was growin’ up in Butte, Montana, and his parents didn’t seem to care about him. Kind of let him grow up like a tumbleweed driftin’ around town. There was a little ole store there that was open late at night. J.R. and a couple of his buddies decided the old lady who worked the store evenings would be a easy target, so they went in to steal some beer. J.R. went back to the cooler to grab a couple of six-packs while the other two stayed up front to divert the attention of the old lady. Well, she caught on real quick and tried to stop them. When she came out from behind the counter, one of the guys pushed her and she fell. She hit her head on the corner of the counter and died.”

 
“Holly crap!” Leo said.

 
“Yeah, holly crap,” I continued.

 

“Everything was caught on a surveillance tape. The kid who pushed her got thirty years. J.R. and the other guy got ten each for just being there. J.R. spent two years in a juvenile facility and was then sent to Montana State Prison. Being a young guy, he had to do a lot of fighting to keep the older men away from him. Cost him time he could have gotten off for good behavior. So, he spent the whole ten years locked up.”

 
“Boy, never heard that story about him,” Walt said.

 
“Well, it ain’t somethin’ he advertised, but I never heard him deny it, either.”

 
“So he gets out, becomes a major journalist and starts racking up the big bucks? Never even finished high school?” Buzz said. “Maybe there’s hope for my girl’s boy friend yet.”

 
“Oh, he finished high school alright,” I said. “In prison. He also picked up some pointers on a few illegal things along the way. Guess that’s just part of being there. But, he got a degree in journalism by correspondence through University of Missouri.”

 
“That’s one of the best in the country,” Leo said.

 
“Damned straight! J.R. never wanted to settle for anything less than the best. Course that also got him in trouble later on,” I said. “So, anyway, I was knocking around the country at the time trying to land some sort of a writing job that would pay me enough money to live. I ran into J.R. at a bar in Omaha, Nebraska, one night. Course his name wasn’t J.R. then. It was Randy Osgood.”

 
“Randy Osgood? Where’d J.R. Bunting come from?” Walt asked.

 
“That’s another part of the story. So he tells me he’s working as a reporter in Omaha and thinks his editor might be willing to take on another reporter, if the guy can write. He tells me to bring in some of my clips the next morning, and he’d introduce me to his editor. Well, he was good to his word as he always was. He made the introduction and left me alone with the editor to sell myself. I got the job. ‘Bout six months later, J.R. asked for a raise. The editor in Omaha laughed at him, and that pissed ole J.R. off. He started lookin’ for a better job the next day.”
“One of the people he contacted was Sid Roanstein. Sid was managing editor and the owner of the Trib in Chicago. After a week or so of haggling, J.R. got a new job and a small raise. He said the raise wasn’t worth moving, but he was mad enough at the guy in Omaha to do it anyway. But, that was J.R.—once he got his mind set on something, he did it.”

 
“We up to the place where he changed his name, yet?” Leo said.

 
“Not yet,” I told Leo. “I think we need another round before we go on with the rest of this story.”

 
Everyone agreed with a fresh drink, so we waited while the waitress brought us more booze. “Okay,” Walt said. “Let’s get to this. I’m learnin’ things I never heard of before.”

 
I smiled at him. “Of course you never heard most of this before. It was a little before your time. How old are you, Walt?” I asked him.

 
“Twenty-four.”

 
“Well, much of this happened before you were even born. Where was I now?”

 
“J.R. had just moved to Chicago,” Buzz said.

 
“Oh, yeah. As soon as J.R. gets to Chicago, he gets introduced to this show girl, Lily Branovich. Lily was a looker. She had tits big enough she probably couldn’t see her feet if she was standing up straight. Ole J.R. falls head over heels for her. They were seen together in some nightspot every night after she got off work from her show. So life became very good for J.R. and Lily. He was doing well at the Trib, and Lily was photographed more than at any other time in her life. People at the paper started calling J.R. Judge Roy Bean and Lily was his Jersey Lily.”

 

“Lily had one major flaw in her character though. She not only liked all the attention she was getting, she especially liked the attention from men. It didn’t take too long before she was steppin’ out on J.R.. ‘Course, J.R. didn’t know anything about it, at first. Everyone else in Chicago seemed to, though.”

 

“While all this was going on, J.R. was developing another idea for a column he thought would be good for him and the paper. He talked to Sid about it, and he was willing to give it a shot.”

 
“That’s when J.R. got into the letters to the lovelorn business?” Leo asked.

 
“Yep. J.R. thought it would sell, but Sid wanted him to change his name. He wasn’t sure a man writing such a column would be taken seriously. Sid wanted him to take a name that could be taken as a woman’s name. J.R. always thought the Judge Roy Bean thing was funny, so he came up with the same initials, J. R. The bunting part came from baby’s clothing. He thought women would be drawn to that. Sid also agreed to give J.R. a few extra bucks per column, if it did well. J.R. was so convinced it would do well and he would have extra money, he slipped off and married Lily one night.”

 
“Well, it sure as hell did well,” Buzz said.
“Thing was, Sid didn’t really bother to tell J.R. how well it was doing. Sid was getting inquiries from other papers wanting to carry the column. He saw the chance to make a great deal of money, so he called J.R. into his office and offered him a good raise to keep writing the column. There was a catch though, but all J.R. saw was the money. The catch was Sid wanted to copyright the J.R. Bunting name. That meant he could control who got the column and what price they paid. J.R. signed the papers.
“J.R. got the first hint of what he’d done when he was traveling around the country covering other stories. Other journalists all over were talking about his column and what a splash it was making. It was also about this time that he began to hear rumors about what Lily was doing. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when he heard that Sid was running around with Lily.”

 
“Wow! A double whammy!” Leo said.

 
“Yeah, and no one was going to get away with doing that to J.R. Bunting,” I said.

 

“He knew he’d get back at Sid and Lily, but he just wasn’t sure how. But, J.R. was patient about this situation. He waited until the right time came. He did hire a private investigator to follow Lily. What was found just made him more determined. It seemed Lily was now spending most of her free time with Sid.”

 
“A few months later, Lily’s mother got real sick, and Lily wanted to visit her. At the same time, Sid concocted a scenario to get J.R. out of his life once and for all. He would have Lily all to himself, and he figured he could find some flunky to continue writing the column. He gave J.R. a story to work on, told him he wanted it the next day, but that he couldn’t work on it at the office because a cleaning crew was coming in to wax the floors that night. J.R. thought the whole thing sounded fishy, but he went along with it. That night, J.R. went out on the town. He posed for pictures with local politicians and anyone else who was half-way notable. He got into a scuffle with bouncers at Club 29 when they wanted him to leave when the club was closing. J.R. insisted they call the police to straighten things out. They did.”

 
“The following morning, Sid was found stabbed to death in J.R.’s apartment. Of course, there was a big stink about it, and several local politicians called for hearings as to what had happened. After all, Sid was a prominent citizen in Chicago. J.R. was immediately ruled out because he had hundreds of witnesses, as well as the police themselves, who could place him somewhere else.”

 
“How the hell did J.R. get away with that?” Buzz asked.

 
“Well, like I said, J.R. had a perfect alibi. During the hearings, many things were brought out, including Sid’s relationship with Lily. It was theorized that Sid had come to J.R.’s apartment to kill J.R. so he could have Lily all to himself. A police captain testified his theory about Sid’s death. He figured Sid came into the apartment carrying a knife, which was found with a couple of Sid’s fingerprints on it, to kill J.R., but tripped over the edge of a rug, fell, and stabbed himself. The only unanswered question was why Sid also had a gun in his coat pocket. The captain said he thought it was a backup for Sid. He really wanted to use the knife because it wouldn’t make any noise.”

 
“So did J.R. have anything to do with it?” Leo asked.

 
Buzz slapped him on the arm. “Sure he did! Hell, he’s J.R.!”

 
“So what really happened?” Walt asked.

 
“First, two weeks later, J.R. marched into the new owner’s office and showed them a paper Sid had signed a few weeks before giving all rights to the column back to him. The new owners were Sid’s sons, Barnaby and Ernest. They really didn’t have a clue as to what was going on, but since it was J.R. wanting to change something, they had it looked into. The signature on the document was taken to a handwriting expert and was guaranteed as being authentic.”

 
“How did J.R. do that?” Leo asked.

 
I smiled at him. “One of the skills he learned at Montana State Prison University. He could take anyone’s signature, and after three or four tries, have it down pat.”

 
“So he got the rights to his column back?” Buzz asked.

 
“Yep, free and clear.”

 
“What happened to Lily?” Walt asked.

 
“She stayed around for a time while the divorce was going on. She was pretty much shunned and left Chicago draggin’ her good-looking little butt behind her,” I said.

 
All of them were sitting silent, looking at the table that was anything but well taken care of. Buzz sloshed his ice cubes around in his glass. Leo was turning his glass on his coaster.

 
“So how did J.R. do it?” Walt finally asked.

 
I cleared my throat. “More training from Montana. I ran into J.R. one time in a bar in the Village in New York. He had quite a few drinks under his belt, and he started talking. He said they used to spend their time in jail thinking of ways to kill people and get away with it. Like I said, he got suspicious when Sid told him he would have to work at home that night. Before he left his apartment, he turned the light on in his home office and just left the door open a crack. All the other lights in the place were out. He left a tape recorder running with sounds of a typewriter coming from it. He then strung a piece of black wire across the hallway, right at the edge of the rug, so if someone came in, they would trip on it. He took a butcher knife and froze the handle in a pan of water. He could then set the block of ice on the floor with the blade pointing up. He figured Sid would come in, trip on the wire, and fall on the knife. He also figured Sid wouldn’t die immediately. He would probably grab for the knife and leave his fingerprints on it somewhere. By the time J.R. got home, the ice was melted. He took down the wire, scuffed up the rug, and called the police.”

 
There was again silence around the table as the men digested the story.

 
“So he got away with murder?” Leo said.

 
“God, what a story this is gonna make,” Walt said.

 
“What story?” I asked him.
“You mean you’re gonna keep this under your hat, and you want us to do the same?”
I took a drink of my Scotch. “I’ve kept it a secret for over twenty years. You try and turn on a colleague like that, and I have enough connections to see you never work in journalism again.”

 
“You serious?” Walt asked.

 
“Wouldn’t test the theory, if I were you,” Buzz said with a smirk across his face.
Another journalist stuck his head in the door of the lounge. “Hey she’s here!”
“Well, gentlemen, looks like it’s time to go to work,” I said.
We all were draining our glasses when we heard two shots fired in the lobby.

“Sounds like we might have a murder story after all,” Leo said.

 

🍃

 

Gary R. Hoffman has published over three hundred short stories, non-fiction articles, poetry, and essays in various publications. He has placed over one-hundred and fifty items in contests. He taught school for twenty-five years and lived on the road in a motor home for fourteen years. He now resides in Okeechobee, Florida.