A Valued Opinion - By Brian Law 

“You write much these days, Rog?” Willis asked me as we
both sat on my front porch on that late summer evening.

I laughed, but not enough so that Willis could notice. See,
Willis had Alzheimer’s and his memory was, well, spotty. But
he still could get annoyed when someone called him on it. I
tried hard not to be that someone.

I reached down and picked up the manuscript that was laying
face down on the floor by the cat. It was the best stuff I’d
ever written and I’d given it to Willis a week ago to read.
He’d returned it last night and we’d discussed it. He loved it
and said I should publish it right away. See, Willis had been
in the plumbing business for years but he had read a lot and
he said he knew good stuff when he read it.

“I just finished a little something, Willis, “ I said, holding my
manuscript. “Want to take a look at it and let me know what
you think?”

He reached out, took it, read the title and leaned back in his
chair and started to read. I watched him closely for any
indications that he might have remembered reading it.


After a few minutes, Willis yawned, closed the manuscript,
and asked, “Mind if I borrow this for a few days, Rog? So far,
it looks good. Real good.”

“No, go ahead, Willis. I got other copies. And I appreciate
you taking your time to give me your opinion. I really do,” I
said as he nodded, got up and waved as he headed down the
stairs to his house next door.

“Take your time, Willis,” I yelled to him as he disappeared. I
laughed harder this time since he couldn’t hear me and
shook my head, too. This would be the fifth time he’d taken
that same manuscript to read it . . . this year. Last year he
took it seventeen times and brought it back each time saying
he really liked it and that I should publish it.

When Willis was younger and his mind was strong, he’d read
mostly detective magazines and sometimes car repair
manuals. So he wouldn’t really didn’t know good writing from
trash. And while I said that my manuscript was the best I’d
ever written, it was the only thing I’d ever written. . . and I
knew it wasn't very good at all.

But every once in a while, my neighbor Willis from next door
will see me sitting in my wheelchair on my porch all alone
and he’ll come up and ask me if I’ve written anything lately.

And I’ll give him my manuscript, tell him it’s the best thing
I’ve ever written and wait a few days for his glowing review.

I lived for that.


Convulsions in Rabbits - By Brian Law 

"You know what that says?” the older detective asked his partner. They were
both looking at a bare leg draped out of an open trunk of a car in an
abandoned lot.

“I don’t know Mexican, Rudy. Get one of the uniforms to translate,” came the
gruff reply.

The older detective signaled for Manny Lopez, a rookie who was guarding
the crime scene, to come over. “Manny,” he asked, pointing to the exposed
leg, “What’s that tattoo mean in English?”

Lopez leaned down by the car’s bumper, got close to the leg, and then
looked up, answering, “It says ‘Convulsions in Rabbits’, detective. He put his
hand on the bumper and rose slowly, brushing the dirt off his knees as he

The two detectives looked at each other and then back to Lopez.
“Convulsions?” one repeated. “Is that what you said, Manny?”

“Yes, detective, convulsions. You know, like seizures, spasms, uncontrolled
body movements typically resulting from brain damage or some such,” Lopez

“In frickin’ rabbits?” the other wonders allowed.

“Yes, detective. No doubt. In rabbits,” Manny replied.

“Does that mean anything to you, Manny? I mean, is there some sort of
gang symbolism or religious mumbo jumbo that the tattoo relates to? You
know, in Mexican?” the partner asked, smoking his third cigarette.

Manny Lopez wasn’t about ready to help these ignorant rednecks do their
job. He played dumb. “Never seen it before, detectives. No idea about any
underlying meaning, sirs.”

He, of course, knew exactly what it meant. He’d first seen the tattoo on his
grandfather’s back when he was just a kid in the jungles of Guatemala. It
was late one night when the men in his small family had secretly gathered
together, away from the others, to meet in a cave near their village. Manny
had disobeyed his father and followed the men at a safe distance. And that’s
where he saw his grandfather, his shirt off, the light from a fire reflecting off
the cave’s walls. The other men were raptly listening to the old man as he
explained about the ritual they were about to partake in. And on his back,
Manny saw for the first time the tattoo.

He only heard snippets of what the old man was saying, but enough to
understand that the other men were about to take a drink of something very
powerful, very secret, and very life changing. Manny crept back to the
village, full of excitement and curiosity, and waited for the next day.

“You sure, Manny?” the older detective asked again pointing to the leg. “No
clue about what this means? Not even a guess?”

Manny shook his head and said, “It’s a crude tattoo, detective, typical of
something somebody would get in prison. Maybe if you look into this guy’s
prison record, there might be something there. Just a thought.” Lopez knew
that the tattoo wasn’t done in prison. It was clearly done in Guatemala, the
only place that color of ink was used for tattoos. But let these crackers figure
that out, he thought to himself. Good luck!

Manny woke up in Guatemala the next day and realized that the men in the
cave and his grandfather had returned, but were all still asleep as the
women of the village prepared for the day. He waited until his mother had a
moment between chores when he asked her, “Mother, what is a ‘convulsion
in rabbits’?”

She turned and stared at him in horror. “You must never, ever, ask that,
Manuel!!” Shaking, she returned to her work, but was clearly distracted by
what her son had asked her. And at some point, she stopped her work and
summoned him over to sit with her, which he did.

“Manuel, our ancestors were great people. Builders, thinkers, conquerors.
They built a great civilization. But it was a drug that caused their ultimate
demise,” she began in hushed tones. “Only the vestiges of their greatness
still exist in the jungles today. You understand?”

Manny nodded.

“And that drug is only today returning,” she continued, a tone of dread in her

“But ‘convulsions in rabbits’. What does it mean?” Manny asked innocently.

“Our ancestors tested the drugs on animals, my son, and that was the result
back in our history. Today, those reintroducing the drug know they have the
right concoction when that happens in rabbits. That is what your grandfather
is doing. He’s bringing the drug back for reasons we don’t understand.”

The two detectives dismissed Manny with their thanks. As he went back to
guarding the perimeter of the crime scene, he pondered what would happen
next. He now understood why his grandfather was doing what he was doing.
It was his grandfather’s ultimate goal to destroy the gringo nation up north
with the same drug that had destroyed his ancestor’s culture.

And Officer Manuel Lopez wasn’t too sure that was such a bad idea.


Portal - By Brian Law 

Jesse liked to start drinking early at the little bar next to the bus station. He knew the buses from Amarillo and from across the border in Oklahoma started arriving about eight and that’s when the bar got crowded. And Jesse liked to drink alone, so six o’clock in the morning was when he would usually push a twenty across the bar to the bartender and say, “Let’s go, Jimmy.” 


Today was no exception, except after his second shot of tequila Jesse noticed something new among the array of liquor bottles against the back wall of the bar. He asked the bartender about the new bottle, “What’s that? Por Tal? Is that it? That’s ‘For Such’ in Spanish, I think. Am I right, Jimmy?”


Jimmy moved closer and rested on the bar so that he could see Jesse and that Jesse could still see the new bottle. “That’s what I thought when the salesman came in late yesterday. But he told me that it’s not Spanish. It’s just what it looks like. It’s called ‘Portal’. You know, it’s English,” Jimmy replied. “Seems I got the last available bottle hereabouts.”


Jesse noticed that it was unopened. “Anybody asked about it last night before closing, Jimmy?” he wondered.


“Yeah, lots of folks. But at $125 a shot, no takers.”  Then Jimmy admitted,  “I may have made a little mistake when I paid $900 for that bottle of tequila, Jesse.”


“Yeah, you may have. That’s not like you to do something like that, Jimmy,” Jesse replied frankly. “Nobody who drinks here’s got that kinda dough.”


Jimmy reached over and grabbed the bottle and placed it on the bar in front of them. “Well, see, this salesman says this stuff isn’t just regular tequila. It’s got other stuff in it, stuff they got from the shamans down in Mexico when they blended it,” Jimmy explained. “Guy told me you take a shot of this stuff, and it opens up doors to whole new experiences, Jesse. Whole new experiences.”


A child of the 60’s, Jesse was no stranger to hallucinogenic concoctions. He’d tried a lot of them. A few too many. Some were still with him.


Jimmy continued, “And the guy went on to tell me the reason this stuff is so rare is that the government is using it to treat vets with PTSD and shit like that. Claims it works miracles, Jesse! Miracles!”


Jesse could use a miracle. His life had spiraled down to near rock bottom. Everybody knew it. The next stop for Jesse was oblivion.


“Miracles, huh?” Jesse mused to himself. “Sounds pretty good to me, Jimmy.”


Jimmy leaned in and said in a low voice, “Listen, my friend, you’re a good customer. I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you a shot of this stuff on credit.” As Jimmy patted the bottle of Portal, he added, “Whatta ya say? You can pay me back a little at a time? Say two bucks a week?”


Jesse stared at the bottle. Did it contain his redemption? he wondered. Did he really have anything to lose?


He looked back at Jimmy and countered, “Listen, if this stuff works for me, you can use me as living proof. I’ll be a walking, talking advertisement. You’ll have people lining up for this stuff. You can get $150, no, $200 a shot or more when they see how it’s helped me, Jimmy! But I can’t pay $125. It’s gotta be on the arm, Jimmy.”


Jimmy was startled a bit. Jesse’s brain, soaked in alcohol for decades, shouldn’t have been able to come up with what he’d just proposed. But, there it was. And it made sense to Jimmy.


“Okay, one shot. That’s it. On the arm. But you gotta come back in here when there are people around, Jesse. Won’t do me any good if you still keep showing up at six in the morning,” Jimmy said pointedly as he reached over and opened the bottle of Portal. “We got a deal, Jesse? One drink, and you show up when I got a crowd?”


Jesse nodded and waited as Jimmy poured out a shot of Portal and moved it to Jesse’s waiting hand.


“Go ahead,” Jimmy said, urging Jesse on. “What’s the worst that can happen?”


The tequila went down smoothly, and as Jesse placed the shot glass back down on the bar, both he and Jimmy waited for what would happen next.


Someone else was waiting, too. The Portal salesman, still dressed in black, lurked in one of the bar's dark corners. He'd been waiting there since he'd sold Jimmy the bottle. He'd been waiting for the first customer to drink from the bottle.


Just like he'd waited, one soul at a time, for millenia.




Unwritten - By Brian Law 

“Nobody keeps all the money, Ricky,” Vinnie said, a steely look in his eye. “That’s the rule.” 


Ricky shrugged and thought his comeback was somehow going to make things better. “The rule, huh? I bet it’s unwritten, right? That’s why I didn’t know about it,” he said, trying to make a case for himself.


Vinnie leaned in and pointed a fat finger at Ricky. “Two days, Ricky. You got two days to come up with my ten percent.”


There was a moment of silence, and then Ricky replied, “That’s going to be a problem, Vinnie. I spent it, all of it. So, I’m gonna need more than two days.” Then he got an idea. “Tell you what, Vinnie. Seein’ as how I didn’t know about this little unwritten rule, why don’t I make up this little deficit when I do my next job? You get what I owe you plus ten percent, too. No, wait, I’ll give you twelve percent for your aggravation. Deal?”


Vinnie smiled and leaned back in his chair. He puffed on his cigar for a few moments then swung his chair sideways and pointed his cigar at a picture on the wall. It was an older crocheted work, expertly done. “See that little item on the wall. My sainted Mother made that for me. I hang that up just to remind everybody who’s the Boss, see. Can you read it for me, Ricky?”


“Sure, Vinnie. It says ‘Ignore my unwritten rules at your peril,’” Ricky read aloud, his voice betraying a slight fear.


“Good, Vinnie, good. Now, you want to know my other unwritten rule that applies in our little situation here?” Vinnie asked, swinging his chair back around.


Ricky shrugged again, knowing he probably wasn’t going to like what he was about to hear. “Vinnie, look, I’ll get you your money. But I need some time. And I can guess what your other unwritten rule is. It has somethin’ to do with my well-being if I don’t pay, right?”


Vinnie nodded slowly and said, “That’s a nice way of putting it, Ricky.”


“Well, Vinnie, there’s certain written rules that kinda protect me. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is one that comes to mind. You break that rule and God knows what will happen to you, Vinnie. Ever think about that?” Ricky countered. “I mean, don’t written rules trump unwritten rules? I think I read that somewhere.”


“Who said anything about killing, Ricky? Much worse things can happen. Wonder why there’s no written rule about ‘Thou shall not break every bone in thy neighbor’s body',” Vinnie said, swinging his chair to the side and looking again at his sainted Mother’s crocheted work on the wall. “Maybe that’s another of my unwritten rules, Ricky. Maybe my unwritten rule is that if I don’t get paid, I break every bone in your body.”


After a long silence, Ricky mumbled, “That’s a lot of bones, Vinnie.”


“We’ll take our time to make sure we get to each one, Ricky.”


Ricky relented. “Okay, then I think I can get you your money. Two days. Right here. Say noon.”


Vinnie nodded.


As Ricky got up to leave he stopped and told Vinnie he had a suggestion. “You wanna hear it?”


“Sure, Ricky, go ahead. What’s your suggestion?”


“Well, seems that if you wrote down all your unwritten rules and, you know, gave us each a copy, things would go smoother, Vinnie. Just a suggestion.”


Vinnie asked Ricky to sit down and then said, “You’re the second one to make that suggestion. First one was a fellow named Jonesy. A while back, as I recall.”


“Really? So you did write them down.”


“I did, in a manner of speaking. It was about fifteen years ago and nobody has made the same suggestion since then until you did just a few minutes ago.”


Ricky was getting a sense that maybe he shouldn’t have made the suggestion.


“Wanna know why nobody made the same suggestion for fifteen years, Ricky? I’ll tell ya why. It’s because I wrote my unwritten rules on Jonesy’s backside. Took my time, too. Used a pen knife.”


Ricky turned white as Vinnie reached into his desk drawer, brought out a pen knife, and asked, "You want your own copy, Ricky? We got time. Hell, I'll even autograph it."





A Visitor to the Service - By Brian Law 

The funeral goers filed out of the small chapel into the late afternoon sun. Some milled about and chatted while others went right to their cars. One man stood alone.


The son of the deceased approached the man and said, “I thought I knew all my Dad’s friends, but I can’t remember ever meeting you. I’m Roy, by the way. I’m Jim’s oldest boy.”


The two shook hands and the man began to relate who he was and why he was at Jim Robinson’s funeral. “You wouldn’t know me, Roy. I’m Doctor Paul West. I met your Dad before you were born. We were close for several years and then lost touch. When I heard he’d died, I felt I should come to the service.”


“Well, thanks for coming. You didn’t speak at the funeral, but I have to ask this. Is there anything you want to tell me about my Dad from the few years you knew him?” Roy wondered. His Dad had always been somewhat tight-lipped with his family about his younger days and Roy now had this one and only chance to find out some of his Dad’s missing history. He wasn’t going to let it slip by.


Paul thought for a moment, and then replied, “I was your father’s psychiatrist, Roy.”


“Really! So you really got to know him pretty well, then, right?”


“Yes. He came to me at a dark period in his life and I helped him work through the rough patches. He was one of my first patients, so I have a very vivid memory of our sessions together.”


Roy moved a bit closer and said, “Dad never said much about his life before he met my Mom. But he’s dead now, so you can tell me about what he was like and what trouble he was having when you knew him.”


Paul smiled and replied politely, “Let me think about that, Roy. Why don’t you give me your phone number and I’ll call you if I decide to share anything with you about your Dad.”


Roy’s head turned slightly as he looked at Paul and asked, “Wait! I’ve heard your name. Dr. Paul West. You’re the writer guy. Am I right?”


Paul nodded and replied, “Yes. I’ve written a few books. I doubt if you would have any reason to read any of them. They’re all very clinical in nature. Now, about your phone number?”


Roy was getting excited now. “Paul West! Yeah, now I remember. I heard you interviewed on radio a few years back. You were talking about your latest book. I don’t remember much of the interview but your book was one of a series of your books on the criminal mind. Yeah, Paul West, here at my Dad’s funeral! Wow!” Roy looked around to see if his brothers were nearby, but he didn’t spot them. He’d tell them later. 


Paul checked his watch and asked Roy once again for his phone number. Roy was now really insistent, however, in his pursuit of more information about his Dad’s murky past. “Look, Paul, just give me something, a little tidbit about what my Dad was like back when you knew him.”


Paul held up his hands and shook his head. “Roy, just give me your phone number. I don’t think this is the right time and place to do this, okay?”


They were alone as Roy grabbed Paul by the lapels of his coat and roughly drew him close. “Listen, head shrinker, you’re going to tell me about my Dad, you hear.” He shook Paul several times, almost lifting him off his feet. “Start talking, pal. What was my Dad really like back then?”


Their faces were nose to nose and the veins in Roy’s neck were throbbing as he waited for Paul’s answer. Roy was used to violence as a way of getting what he wanted, and no four-eyed shrink was going to hold out on him. 


“Your father was a murdering son-of-a-bitch, Roy,” Paul answered, his voice calm and clear. “I just came here today to make sure he was really dead and couldn't hurt anyone else.”


Roy let go of Paul and pushed him back a foot or so. The two stared at each other intently for a moment and then Roy laughed dismissively, turned and walked off in a huff.


Paul adjusted his coat a bit, took off his glasses, cleaned them, and started walking towards his car. As he did so, the outline of his new book began to form in his head. . . “The Children of Serial Killers.”



Almost Home - By Brian Law 

He sat quietly with the group around the big table in the back of the cafe where they met for breakfast twice a week. He was retired LAPD just like them. They’d all taken their pensions and had fled the liberal disaster engulfing California for a conservative enclave in northern Idaho. And they all shared the stories of their careers with each other over breakfast twice a week, but with no one else. Some of the details were pretty rough.


He knew he could trust these people with the story he had decided to tell them. He had never told this story to anyone. He wasn’t in the story, but his father, a career cop in upstate New York, was, and it was his father who revealed what happened during a late night interrogation of a burglary suspect.


“So, my Dad has this guy cold, right? He was arrested coming out of an apartment building. He had burglary tools, jewelry, cash, coins, whatever, on him. And this was his third strike. So, he was going away forever unless he could cut a deal,” he told the group around the table. “My Dad was the interrogating officer. Tape recorder running, he asks the perp what he’s got to offer. Now just imagine this really old guy who’s up against dying in prison.”


He paused and then asked half-jokingly, “Any of you guys registered Democrats, by any chance?”


They all shook their heads in unison and as the table erupted in laughter, somebody muttered, “Are you frickin’ kidding?”


So, he continued. “My Dad says the perp tells him a story about when he was younger, much younger, before his first prison stretch. He was working as a part-time chauffeur for rich folks in Manhattan. So, like, when a regular chauffeur got sick or something, he’d fill in. And one Sunday, back in mid-June 1946, he gets a call. A man and wife in Canada need somebody to drive them back to Manhattan. Their regular driver has taken sick. So, his company sends this part-timer up.”


The waitress came around and poured more coffee, and he stopped telling his story until she was finished and had left. With their cups filled, the group urges him on. “So, he gets to the hotel in Canada where the couple was staying and sees that the wife is obviously pregnant. Seems the husband is a bit of an asshole but that comes with the job, and he’s told they have to get back across the border pronto. Which is shorthand for ‘you need to break the speed limit, dumbo’, which he understands completely.”


“So, they set off , speeding like they were in the Indianapolis 500. And they get about ten minutes from the border and the wife begins to pop. And the asshole husband tells him to pull over, which he does. And they both help deliver the baby in the backseat of the limo. But, in Canada. They never made it to the border.”


There was silence around the table. They all knew that there was more, much more to this story. So, they waited.


He smiled as he knew he had them just where he wanted them. They had been telling stories about murderers, rapists, drug dealers, kidnappers, but none of them had ever told a story about how Donald Trump’s mother gave birth to him in the back of a limousine on the wrong side of the border!


“Oh, shit!” came the unanimous response to this revelation. “Trump was born in Canada?”


He shrugged and confessed, “That’s the story this guy told my Dad. And he went on to give details about how they arranged for the newborn to be smuggled into the States and how they got the birth certificate jiggered, and all that. The whole deal.”


One of the group asked, “When was this interrogation, anyway?”




“So the perp was trying to leverage his information about the old man, Trump’s father, into a deal. Donald Trump was still in college at the time and not a national figure yet, right?” one of the group said.


“Exactly, so my father told him he’d get him a sentencing recommendation, which he did. And my father was smart enough to turn off the tape recorder for most of the interrogation. Anyway, the chauffeur died in prison in 1973. But my father had taken detailed notes, which he kept.” 


He paused again and then added, “And which I now have.”


The group looked at each other. One of them, a retired Captain, took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes for a moment, and then unapologetically said, “Well, come on, it’s Canada. It’s not frickin’ Kenya!”


The group burst into laughter, ordered more coffee, and waited for the next story.




Life Before Breakfast - By Brian Law 

She peered at the old worn road marker, turned to him and said, “I think this is it.” There was some uncharacteristic doubt in her voice as she reached over, put her hand on his right forearm and squeezed.


He took a deep breath and turned into the narrow lane that led uphill into the darkness of the surrounding trees. The only light was from their car’s headlights and he quickly felt that they might be making a mistake. But she shook her head and told him to keep going, but to watch for wildlife. 


Since moving from Boston to a small town in the hills of rural North Carolina recently, they had tried to fit in with the locals, but without much success until things changed last Sunday. At church they had met a young couple who seemed friendly and who invited them to their home for a small get together. “It’s just a group of friends who get together each week at a different house,” they were told.  “Just some finger food, some drinks, and great conversation. Oh, and wear your dancing shoes!”


As he inched his way up the lane, he could hear music filtering through the woods from up ahead. She heard it too and as they navigated a turn they both could see the house up ahead, well lit, with the silhouettes of party goers outlined against the window coverings. A half dozen cars were parked nearby and they assumed they were probably the last to arrive.


He stopped well short of the driveway, turned off the headlights, and turned to look at her. “You still want to go in? Last chance to back out,” he said, hoping she’d tell him to turn around and head home.


“Let’s do it,” she urged as she told him to go ahead and park the car with the others. As he did, she kept her gaze fixed on the silhouettes. There was just something about their movements that bothered her  . . . but she let it go as he parked the car and they both got out.


There was a short path to the front steps and as they approached, she stopped him and pointed to a sign next to a stand post. 


They both moved closer and together read the sign. “Put one on and come on in,” it read. In a box on the stand post were two masks, both black molded leather with cloth ties. Pirate masks, she thought.


“OOh,” she said, showing some relief for the first time, “This is starting to look like something I can get into.” She reached in and grabbed hers and put it on, giggling a bit. “Go ahead. This will be fun,” she urged as she handed him the other one.


Following her lead, he removed his glasses and put on the mask. As he did, he stared back at her, and for some mysterious reason, felt urges he’d suppressed for years. “Yeah, okay, let’s go in,” he replied, grasping her hand in his and heading for the front steps. They both bounded up towards the front door, willfully abandoning their previous reluctance.


No one answered the door, but that probably was because the music was loud and it was clear the party was in full swing. Smiling broadly, they went in, stood together just inside the door and were immediately amazed at what they saw before them.


The unclothed group of couples turned their heads as one towards the newcomers, the music softly pulsing in the background. 


The two they had met at Church earlier in the week stood up, shameless in their nakedness, and beckoned, “You’ve brought your sister. Good. Welcome to our community!”


She turned towards her brother, squeezed his hand again, smiled seductively, and then began to unbutton her blouse.



Last Leaf of Fall - By Brian Law 

They walked slowly, hunched against the wind, saying little. It was like this every day at about the same time. It was their daily walk together on the sidewalks near their cottage in the retirement village. The weather was changing now so they met few of their remaining neighbors. Those they saw waved from windows but didn’t venture out. Too cold, too windy.


As they turned and saw their cottage down the street, he remarked, “Have you noticed what’s happening to our little tree in front, Marge?”


She shook her head and muttered, “No, what?”


“It’s got one leaf left. One lonely little leaf. It’s not giving up. Shoulda dropped  weeks ago,” he replied.


“Well, there’s always one last leaf, Jim. That’s how it works, right? Then the darkness of Winter and the bloom of Spring.”


He nodded as they neared their cottage and stopped. He pointed to the tree and said, “But this one’s holding on. See, it hasn’t really changed color yet.”


“You making a statement about climate change? Maybe that some day the leaves won’t fall?” she joked.


“No, no, that’s not it. I was just thinking about all the folks nearby who passed this year. You know, Marge lost Phil, Joe lost Mary, and all the rest.” He paused as they started moving towards their cottage again and then added, “All the leaves have dropped off their trees, but not ours. Might be a sign.”


“Jim, you’re in remission. Your doctors have given you a clean bill of health. You don’t need to go looking around for omens or anything. You’re going to be around for a while,” she said with conviction. “And when that little lonely leaf finally drops, you’ll wake up the next day and go on with your life. Believe me, it’s just a leaf, Jim. A stubborn little leaf, but just a leaf.” 


He breathed in deeply as the two of them climbed the steps to their front door. Reaching for the door knob, he told her, “Of course you’re right. I’m going to be just fine.”


He went in first, followed by her. As she turned to close the front door behind them, she looked out at the tree and its lonely little leaf.


She’d have Freddy, the paperboy, take it down early the next morning when he delivered the morning paper, before Jim got up.


Freddy had been a good boy and had done a nice job putting up the fake leaf weeks ago.



Saint Teddy - By Brian Law 

Phil tapped his cigarette ash into a nearby ashtray on the bar as he eavesdropped on the fellow next to him. The fellow wasn’t talking to anybody in particular, just going on drunkenly about random stuff to himself. 


Then he turned to Phil and seemingly for no good reason asked, “Are you a sinner, friend?” 


“Am I a what?” Phil retorted, narrowing his eyes to slits as he looked at the other fellow for the first time. Phil heard the word ‘sinner’ alright, but he just wanted to put the other fellow on notice that he wasn’t pleased with the term. That was Bar Survival 101 when dealing with fellow drunks. Challenge ‘em to say it again. Most won’t.


“A sinner, you know, a transgressor of God’s laws. A miscreant. An evil doer,” the fellow explained, slightly slurring his words.


“Jeez, who isn’t, pal?” Phil growled as he motioned to the bartender for another drink and lit up a cigarette.


The fellow edged slightly off his bar stool and drunkenly leaned in on Phil and replied, “Well, I’m not. Not anymore. I’m clean as a whistle sin wise, friend.” 


Phil gently shoved the fellow back out of his face, smiling as he did it. Returning to his drink and cigarette, Phil sarcastically remarked, “Well, I’m real happy for you, pal. Now, why don’t you leave me alone. I’m tired, I’ve had a long day, and I don’t feel like talking to anybody. Okay?”


The bartender came over, refilled Phil’s glass on the house, leaned over and said in an uncharacteristically serious voice under his breath, “They call him Saint Teddy on the street, Phil. He’s the real deal. He’s cured people of cancer and shit like that. He’s got a direct line to God, they say.”


Phil glanced over at the drunk he’d just shoved away and then back at the bartender. “Cancer, huh?” he muttered to himself. Phil’s wife and both his parents had gone out that way. Only a miracle would have saved any of them.


“Doesn’t seem right though, God workin’ through a drunk and all,” Phil mused, glancing back at Saint Teddy who was continuing his random rant from the next bar stool over. 


“I seen it myself, Phil, right here in the bar. You remember Tony Ruffo, don’t ya?” the bartender asked.


“Sure, but Tony died just last month. I read his obit in the paper. What’s your point?” Phil replied.


The bartender leaned on the bar and looked Phil right in the eye and said, “That wasn’t the first time Tony died, Phil. He died in here two years before. Keeled over right over there,” the bartender explained, pointing to a spot on the floor. “And Teddy here brought him back to life. And he was dead, all right. I’ve seen enough of ‘em to know, believe me.”


“How many people saw it happen?” Phil asked, still skeptical.


“Just me, Phil. But I swear, Tony died right there and a few minutes later Teddy walks in, kneels down and Tony springs back to life. Swear to God, Phil. A frickin’ miracle.”


Phil sat smoking for a moment, lost in thought. Then, he asked, “You told many people about this?”


The bartender shook his head and added, “No, you’re the first I’ve told about Teddy being able to bring back the dead. And Tony, he never knew what happened. Can you believe it, guy dies, comes back to life and doesn’t remember any of it? And Saint Teddy, forget about it. He doesn’t even know what happened ten minutes ago.”


Somebody called the bartender over and left Phil alone with his thoughts. Phil was having a hard time lately and what he’d just heard might just be the ticket to fixing his problem. He turned to Saint Teddy and asked, “Teddy, I’m Phil, by the way. You got a minute?”


“Sure, Phil. What’s on your mind?” Teddy replied, still obviously under the influence.


Phil slid over closer to Teddy, leaned over, and asked, “When you asked if I was a sinner, you already knew, didn’t you? You knew just what kind of life I've lived, right?”


Teddy smiled and nodded. “I know your sins, Phil. Every last one.” He seemed somehow more focused than before to Phil.


“Well, okay, here’s the deal, Teddy. I hear you have certain abilities. You know, healing powers. So, what I’m wondering is can you heal a guilty conscience?” Phil asked, his eyes focused directly on Teddy’s.


“The murders, they bothering you, Phil?” Teddy asked pointedly.


“Yeah, I can’t sleep. I’m haunted by ghosts, Teddy. I’m at the end of my rope. I’m thinking about doin' myself in.” Phil paused and then added, “But I just heard you cure cancer and even bring back the dead. Clearing my conscience, that can’t be too hard for you, can it, Teddy?”


Teddy, suddenly sober as a judge, put his hand on Phil’s and replied, “It’s not me doing those things, Phil. I’m just the actor. Somebody else writes the script, see.”


“Sure, sure, Teddy, I get it. But . . . and I’m just asking here . . . is there a chance that a really hard core sinner like me can get some help? I’m not asking for too much, am I, Teddy?” Phil implored. “I’d just like to live out my life without these terrible thoughts in my head.”


Saint Teddy moved off his bar stool and stood right next to Phil. He put his hand on Phil’s shoulder and said, “Your heart is evil, Phi. So, there’s no easy way out for you. But . . . there is something that can be done.”


“No, I get it. I’m no Boy Scout, Teddy. So, you said there’s something . . .”


Teddy was now the soberest man in the room as he continued, “When you die, Phil, I will always be there to bring you back to life, time and again, with the same guilty conscience as before. You try to kill yourself, you’ll be brought back to life. You kill me, somebody else will take my place. This is the plan for you, Phil. Your suffering will continue for as long as deemed necessary.”


And with that, Teddy moved back to his bar stool,turned to the bartender and, slurring his words, ordered another drink. “Make it a double, bartender!”


“Coming right up, Teddy. You, Phil, you ready for another?” the bartender asked as he turned out Teddy’s drink.


Phil nodded, his shoulders slumping, his eyes fixed in a sleepless, dead stare.




Passing Elko - By Brian Law 

He was dreaming fitfully when he felt the hand of the trucker on his shoulder shaking him awake and saying, “You asked me to wake you when we passed Elko, pal.” 


Ed opened his eyes for the first time in several hours. The dim glow of the truck’s instrument panel and the back glow of the truck’s headlights were the only light in the darkness that otherwise surrounded the truck as it rolled west down the highway.


The exhaustion he’d felt when the trucker first picked him up was now gone, but the pain remained. He yawned and stretched, grabbed the rolled-up jacket that had until a minute ago been his pillow and sat upright. He patted the inside pocket of his jacket and found the almost empty pack of cigarettes. 


“Mind if I smoke?” he asked the trucker, wincing a bit.


“Nah, be my guest. You still going all the way through to Fresno?” the driver wondered. “I kinda like the company.”


Ed lit up and inhaled. He reached out and opened the dashboard ashtray and put the spent match in. “Fresno? Is that what I told you back there where you picked me up?”


“Yeah, you said Fresno. You don’t remember?”


“No, Fresno’s fine.”


The two said nothing for a while until the trucker saw a sign that said “Rest Stop 5 Miles Ahead”. He turned to Ed and explained, “I gotta stop and check the load, pal. Go ahead and use the facilities if you want. We’ll stop for about fifteen minutes.”


Ed nodded and said, “Thanks, I will. What’s your load, by the way?”


The trucker chuckled and replied, “A load of new caskets for a funeral home in Fresno, believe it or not. Forty-seven of ‘em, from the cheapest to the most expensive.”


Ed continued to smoke quietly for a few moments without speaking and continuing to stare out the windshield. The trucker turned to him and asked, “This bother you, you know, being on the road with these caskets and all? ‘Cause it doesn’t bother me none. I deliver caskets all the time all over the country.”


Ed asked, “You ever lose one, a casket I mean?”


The driver, downshifting, answered, “Lose one, sure. It happens. Lost one outside of Salt Lake City last month. Why?”


Ed turned towards the trucker and opened his shirt, revealing a gunshot wound. “Jesus, pal. You need a doctor!” the driver exclaimed, upshifting.


“I need a casket. You got forty-seven of them. I got money, plenty of money,” Ed said, his voice weak. “Just pull over. Won’t take much time. We’re in the middle of nowhere. I’ll make it worth your while.”


“There’s a place, not far up ahead, just before the rest stop. It’d work. How much money you got?” the driver asked.


“Five thousand.” Ed reached into his jacket and removed a wad of hundreds.

“Okay. We got time. We got two hours of darkness,” the driver replied. “Problem, though. You’re not dead yet.”


“Is that really a problem?” Ed replied, his voice weaker yet.


“Nah. Not really,” the driver replied, checking in his rear view mirror and downshifting as he moved onto the shoulder.