Johnny Agenda - By Brian Law 

The Deputy, nearly out of breath, rushed into the Sheriff’s Office where his Boss was dozing in his chair, his boots up on his desk, his hat covering his face. “Sheriff, Sheriff, ya gotta come right now! Somethin’s bad gonna happen right soon!”


The Sheriff was used to his high-strung Deputy getting all riled up about little things so he took his time swinging his boots off the desk and sitting up in his chair. “Okay, Deputy, what is it this time? A cow caught on the train tracks?”


“No, Sheriff, no! He’s back, Sheriff. Johnny Agenda is back in town. He’s drinkin’ down at Uncle Bill’s Saloon and sayin’ things, Sheriff. Dangerous things. Ya gotta go down there and put a stop to it, Sheriff,” the Deputy continued.


The Sheriff was no stranger to danger. He’d been at Wyatt Earp’s side in Dodge City and had helped clean up Abilene with Bill Hickok. He’d seen a lot of rough characters in his time. But Johnny Agenda presented a unique kind of risk. A risk that would scare off most men. Some things just can’t be fixed with a shotgun or a brace of pistols. And Johnny Agenda was one of those things.


“Sheriff, you want me to grab a rifle and come with you on this one?” the Deputy asked, hoping the Sheriff would decline the offer.


The Sheriff shook his head. “Remember what Agenda did down in Tascosa, Deputy? He turned that whole town upside down in just a couple of hours of talkin’. And the Sheriff there had five deputies loaded for bear. Didn’t do no good down there, Deputy, and it won’t do no good up here. No, you stay here. I gotta handle this situation my ownself.” He straightened his hat, stuck an unlit cigar in his mouth, and as he headed for his office door and Uncle Bill’s Saloon he asked the Deputy, “How long’s he been shootin’ off his mouth, Deputy? Has he got the whole town up in a lather yet?”


The Deputy, relieved he wasn’t going to be needed, informed the Sheriff, “Maybe so. He’s been at it for the better part of three hours, Sheriff. The Saloon’s packed and there’s an overflow crowd out onto the street. You don’t have much time, Sheriff. It may already be too late.”


The Sheriff stepped out into the midday heat, squinted his eyes, adjusted his hat, and turned toward the sound of the crowd down the street. He knew he couldn’t take on the whole crowd and so there was only one way to grab hold of this situation before it wrecked the town. He had to settle this mano a mano with Agenda. And he had to make sure that the crowd stayed out of it.


As he approached Uncle Bill’s Saloon, some in the crowd spotted him walking tall down the middle of Main Street and told the others. The crowd, angry and nearly out of control after listening to Agenda for several hours, turned their attention to the lawman as he approached. Several started to yell out epithets. Some wanted to run the lawman out of town. But he kept on coming, unafraid.


Agenda’s booming voice could be heard from inside the Saloon. It was his usual blather. The Sheriff had heard it all before. “Your elected officials are all in on it! The elections are all rigged! You’re all being played for suckers and you’re paying for it! Pretty soon they’ll be nothing left for law abiding, God fearing, hard working citizens like you!”


The outer ring of the crowd at first didn’t look like it was going to let the Sheriff through, but then they thought better of beating up on an eighty-two year old man and cleared a path towards the front door.


More lies spewed forth from the man inside as the Sheriff pushed open the door to Uncle Bill’s Saloon and stood there listening. “There’s only one way to take care of the Indian menace and that’s to round ‘em all up and wall ‘em off.”


The crowd inside turned as one and faced the Sheriff. They, too, were reluctant to take on this old legend of the West and so a path was parted from the front door to where Agenda was standing and telling one last lie. “You folks ought to be able to cut down as many trees as you can for farmland. Don’t believe them when they tell you it will lead to disaster later. It’s a hoax, folks!”


The lawman ambled up to where Agenda was standing. The Sheriff said nothing but got close enough so that nobody except Agenda could see what he pulled from inside his coat pocket. He held it out for a few seconds to let Agenda get a good look at it, then put whatever it was back into his pocket and turned and headed for the door and back to his office.


The crowd closed in behind the Sheriff and turned its attention towards Johnny Agenda. They were hungry for more of his rants, but all they got was an empty platform. Agenda had disappeared out the side door and was long gone on his waiting horse.


There was some grumbling and some more epithets, but within a few short minutes the crowd had started to disband and by Noon the street was back to normal and folks were about their Sunday business.


The Sheriff got back to his office without incident where he hung up his gunbelt and resumed his position in his chair with his boots up on his desk for a well-deserved nap, his hat tipped down covering his face. He was fast asleep and dreaming when his Deputy barged in about an hour later wanting to know how he had handled the crowd.


Without moving from his chair, and with his hat still covering his face, the Sheriff reached inside his coat and withdrew what he had shown Johnny Agenda. He threw it onto his desk for his Deputy to see.


The Deputy reached down, picked it up, looked at it and smiled. It was a photograph, one of those new-fangled things from the East that lets someone capture images on paper with something called a camera.


The picture was of Johnny Agenda with a very young girl. Wouldn’t do for that picture to get around to all these law abiding, God fearing, hard working citizens to see. No, siree, wouldn’t do at all.



Fierce - By Brian Law 

The two old men, lifelong friends, sat together at the rear of the small cafe. It was what they did each Thursday morning since they had ‘retired’ from The Family. They talked about old times, old rivalries, old rivalries settled. Today they were talking about their old boss.


“He had an unusual way of telling you what to do, ya know?” Gino related. “It wasn’t like he was the Boss and you was the underling. You know what I mean?”


Vito nodded and sipped some wine.


“He would say things like ‘If I was you, which I am not, I would make sure so-and-so was taken care of.’ Like that, ya know. Never came right out and said, ‘Whack the guy’,” Gino continued. “Classy guy. Kept his hands clean.”


Vito leaned in, his hands together on the table, and nodded, “Yeah, there’s a word that describes a guy like that. Can’t think of it right now. Too much of this,” he said, raising his wine glass. “Anyway, it’ll come to me.”


“And he could run a whole meeting like that,” Gino said. “I was upstate once, doing security for him. The meet was in some old farmhouse in the boonies. Everybody was there. All the old bosses. And he was runnin’ the show. And he’d just sit there and nod or shake his head and everybody knew what it meant. Hardly said a word and things got done just the way he wanted. It was unfrikin’ believable.”


“Yeah, yeah, I know. And I’ve got this word on the tip of my tongue. It describes him to a ‘T’. But . . . I just can’t remember it,” Vito added, frustrated.


“And that look he had. Oh, Jesus. Scary as Hell. Froze me in my tracks a coupla times, ya know. I’d be talking, goin’ on, and then I’d say somethin’ and he’d give me that look. Nobody, and I mean nobody, could scare me like that,” Gino said.


“Yeah, there’s a word for that. I’m tryin’ to think of it,” Vito replied. “Jesus, it’s hard gettin’ old.”


“And him being dead for, what, twelve years now. And I can still remember that look. Christ, the guy was fierce! I’m tellin’ you. The guy was somethin’ else,” Gino continued.


“The word. I almost had it,” Vito said, excitedly. “I’m gonna get it. It’s on the tip of my tongue.”


Gino said nothing for a moment as he stared coldly at his old friend. Then he said, “Ya know, he told me right before he died. He said, ‘Gotta watch that Vito. He talks too much.’”


Vito froze.


“You still think there’s a word, Vito?” Gino asked menacingly.


Vito could feel his heart beating loudly in his chest as he answered carefully, “Word? No, there’s no word, Gino. My mistake.”




Dwight . . . from Testing - By Brian Law 

"General, I have a question,” one of the engineers announced from the back of the room.


“Yes, Jim, go ahead. I remember you from my last visit,” the General replied.


“Sir, our Company’s first contract with the Defense Department was the design and production of the MS-42 model. As I recall, you bought forty thousand of those units back in 2023. How have they worked out, sir?” Jim asked.


“That’s a good question, Jim. Let me remind those of you who weren’t here thirteen years ago that the Defense Department back then decided to use androids to replace cooks, clerical workers, truck drivers, data entry people, warehouse men, and other similar positions. The results were, as many of you know who worked on that project, spectacular. In fact, ninety-four percent of those androids are still functioning. Congratulations, folks, on a job well done,” the General explained. “And, in 2030, we built on that relationship we had with your company to order the MS-75 model, which at the time was the first marriage of androids with artificial intelligence. Your design team provided us with over seventeen thousand of these units which were integrated as instructors in every facet of our training programs.”


“So what brings you here today, General?” a voice from the rear asked. “It’s not often we are blessed with a man of your position visiting our engineering team.”


The General stood silent for a moment and then began, “I’m here to explain a problem that the Defense Department has been wrestling with for several years now. Many of our new recruits, especially the Army and Marine recruits, are, shall we say, quite adverse to inflicting harm on other humans. It seems that generations of video game watching has changed the mind-set of our younger people. They can easily inflict harm in games, but not in real life. And as you can imagine, that presents a real problem for the Defense Department. You can't run a real war with a bunch of pacifists.”


The small group of engineers and technicians began to move nervously in their seats. They sensed where the General was going with this.


“And it would be fairly simple,” the General continued, “for the Defense Department to order a hundred thousand or so androids from your company for the purpose of introducing our new recruits into what it’s really like to inflict harm, or even death, on a very lifelike android. In short, to get them over their namby pamby attitudes towards killing.” He let that statement hang in the air as he watched the reaction of the group. Then he added, “But, we know that you folks would probably have something to say about that. Correct?”


A rail-thin young man rose in the front row and responded. “General, we build androids who are so lifelike, so realistic, so human-like that they actually become our friends. What you are asking us to do is to send our friends to their gruesome deaths, sir!”


Another engineer stood up and continued this line of thinking. “To think that we would allow you to use our androids for bayonet practice, hand-to-hand combat training, target practice, or whatever, is unthinkable, General. Simply unthinkable. For all intents and purposes, these are sentient beings. We won’t do it! No amount of money will make this work, sir!”


The General held up his hand and spoke, “We at the Defense Department know that. And that’s why I’m here today. Let me explain. In all our previous contracts, we specified that the androids you designed were to have likable personalities with personalities that would make them good team members and trustworthy companions. And you did that and did it well. And the result was you created near-human androids with whom you bonded. Completely understandable, as are your objections to your androids being used in combat training. So, we think we have a solution.”


“What’s that, General?” another engineer asked skeptically.


The General cleared his throat and responded, “We want you to design and build androids with extremely unlikable personalities . . . personalities that are repellent. We want androids who are natural-born liars, cheats, bullies, racists, you name it. Really disgusting types. We want you engineers and technicians to hate these androids. We want you to not give a damn about what happens to these androids when you send them to us. Understand?"


The engineers and technicians sat silent for a few moments. Then one spoke up and said, “You mean you want us to produce androids with personalities like Dwight, in Testing?”


The rest of the group broke out in loud laughter and then spontaneous applause. Heads nodded in unison. “Yeah, like Dwight,” they yelled enthusiastically.


The General turned to the President of the Company and quietly asked, “I’d like to meet this Dwight from Testing, Bob. Seems he might just be the solution to our problem.”





Who's Leon - By Brian Law 

It was the typical Sunday family dinner at the Franchetti’s house with the usual assortment of aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters in attendance. And, of course, Grandpa Franchetti. 


Grandpa was the patriarch of the family and always sat in the same seat . . . closest to the bathroom. He was ninety-three, a widower, had all his hair and was still sharp as a tack, his memory faultless. And he had the energy of men thirty years younger. The women of the family doted on him.


The table was filled to capacity with homemade Italian food and several bottles of homemade red wine stood half empty. The conversation was nonstop and the hand gestures more noticeable as the bottles of wine were passed around.


And Grandpa was right in the middle of it all. He watched, listened and at just the right times interjected his comments. They were always intelligent, to the point, and everyone stopped and politely listened to what this wise old man would say. 


And then he said something that stopped the whole dinner party in its tracks. “Who’s Leon?” Grandpa said out of the blue as someone across the table was discussing Leon Franchetti, a family member who was not in attendance. Grandpa said it unapologetically and as soon as he said it, he returned to eating his meal.

But the rest of the family stopped eating. They had all heard about Grandpa’s father, Vito, whom none of them had met, and who had died in the Old Country when Grandpa was twenty years old. The rumor was that Greatgrandpa Vito was a vital, strong, and wise man who also was sharp as a tack, but who near his untimely end would also forget about close family members, and ask, “Who’s So and So?” And shortly thereafter, that person would be dead.


And the rumor was that Greatgrandpa Vito in this strange way predicted the imminent deaths of seven of his close family members. And now it was his son, Grandpa Franchetti, who might have inherited the same ability.


The silence around the table was only broken by the sound of Grandpa continuing to eat his dinner. His eldest daughter, Maria, was the first to speak as she suggested, “Grandpa, why don’t I take you into the other room to watch the ball game, okay? Here, let me help you with your dinner. You can finish it as you sit and watch?”


She helped Grandpa into the other room, got him settled in watching the ball game, and returned to her seat in front of the other silent and ashen-faced family members. No one spoke, but Maria had removed Grandpa from the table because she knew a family conversation needed to begin. But she realized it would be a moment as the meaning of  Grandpa’s raw question continued to sink in . . .


After a few silent moments, Rick’s cell phone rang and he answered it. The rest of the family listened intently for clues of what the call was about, but heard nothing but “un-hus” and “Yes, I understands”. 


At the end of the phone call, Rick took a deep breath and said, “That was Leon’s wife. He’s in the hospital. There’s been a bad accident.”


One of the sisters started to sob at the other end of the table. Her brother put his arm around her shoulders and comforted her and said, “It might just be a crazy coincidence. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions.”


Just then, Maria’s youngest son, Georgie, came into the dining room and went to his mother’s side. He smiled and said,” Mom, Grandpa wants a beer. Is it okay if I get him one?” The rest of them smiled, too. Little Georgie’s presence sort of broke the tense ice of the moment and the rest of the family started to slowly eat their dinners again.


“Of course, Georgie. But put it in a glass, dear,” Maria instructed as she sent him off to the kitchen.


“Oh, and Georgie, be sure to use a coaster!” she yelled after him as he disappeared into the kitchen.


From another room came Grandpa’s voice, loud and strong, and without guile, “Who’s Georgie?”




Dry Run - By Brian Law 

He waited at the bus stop across the street until he saw the sign on the bar change from ‘Closed’ to ‘Open’. Bars were few and far between in this remote part of Oklahoma, which was fine with him. He figured that after he got a snoot full, he could sleep it off in the nearby park and nobody would notice.


He checked the date printed on his driver’s license one last time, pulled up the collar on his high school letterman's jacket against the wind, and loped across the street to the front door. It was seven in the morning and he was sure he would be the first and only customer. He didn’t want a lot of spectators just in case he got a little goofy under the influence.


The place was small and dark, dominated by the bar and a big screen television. He wanted to take in every aspect of this experience, so he stood in the open doorway a bit longer than was necessary. 


“Hey, kid, either come in or don’t, but close the damn door!” the bartender yelled out. 


“Sorry,” he replied as he closed the door behind him and continued to take in the ambience of the dusky little bar. “Where do you want me to sit, sir?”


“How about over here by me, kid. That way I won’t have to work so hard.”


He nodded and moved to the barstool closest to the television. Sitting down, he put his arms on the bar with his hands together, a bit anxious about just how this rite of passage was supposed to go down. “So, sir,” he asked, “How does this work? It’s my first time. I just turned twenty-one.”


The bartender smiled and leaned on the bar; his bar rag slung over his shoulder. “A virgin, huh? Well, the first rule is I gotta see your driver’s license. So, plop it down on the bar and let’s just see if you’re really legal.”


He pulled out his wallet, extracted his Arkansas driver’s license, and laid it on the bar. Picking up the license, the bartender turned his back and moved to where he had better lighting. Without turning back to the kid, he asked, “Okay, what’s your name and birth date, son?”


He looked at the back of the bartender’s head and replied proudly, “I’m James Worthy and I was born twenty-one years ago today, sir. Two thousand and two, April first.”


Turning back to the kid, the bartender handed the license to him and asked, “Okay, but what time of day were you born? You know, what did it say on your birth certificate, kid?”


“Uh, let’s see. I was born at 1:28, sir.”


“Morning or afternoon, kid?”


“Afternoon, sir. But why does that make any difference? Didn’t I just turn twenty-one at midnight?” 


The bartender shook his head and informed the kid that a local ordinance in this part of Oklahoma prevented serving alcohol to someone until exactly twenty-one years had passed since birth. “So, kid, you’re about six hours too early. I can get you a coke, but no booze. Not until 1:28 this afternoon. It’s the law, kid,” the bartender solemnly told him.


He looked at the bartender, then turned and looked around at the empty bar and asked, “Who’s gonna know, sir? We’re alone here. How about just one beer?”


“You might be a plant from those nutbags at the Alcohol Commission, trying to pull my license,” the bartender responded. “I can’t take the chance. No way, kid. Come back in about six hours when you’re legal.”


“You know, sir, come to think of it, it was 1:28 in the morning. Yep, I was born early in the morning. So, can I have that drink now?” he said, nervously.


“You’re a crappy liar, kid. And besides, I got you on video,” the bartender explained, pointing to a security camera over the television. 


“Well, is there any other place close where I can get a drink where they don’t have that stupid ordinance, sir?” he pleaded.


“Not close enough, kid. By the time you’d get there, I could be serving you your first beer,” the bartender replied. “I think you’re gonna have to stay right here for a while until you get a little older, son.”


He checked his watch and realized his big day was ruined. If everything had gone as planned, he should have been well into his second boilermaker by now. But the idiot ordinance and this stickler-for-details old bartender had conspired to make it all a big disaster. The story he had planned to tell his buddies back in Arkansas about getting drunk for the first time way out in no-wheres-ville Oklahoma had turned into a nightmare of rejection and humiliation. He swung around on the barstool, his shoulders slumped and headed for the front door, his eyes downcast.


He half expected the bartender to take pity on him and call him back, but that didn’t happen. All he heard was the clinking of glass and the television in the background as the bartender went about his business. The only good thing about it was that there were no witnesses to his defeat other than the bartender.


He reached for the doorknob and slowly opened the front door of the bar. Instead of a desolate, windswept street, there in front of him were a cluster of his Arkansas buddies, tightly packed and grinning like a bunch of fools.


“April Fools, Jimmy!” they all yelled in unison.


It took him a moment to figure out just what was going on. And then he started grinning, too, and as he turned  the bartender strode out from behind the bar with a big mug of draft beer in his hand.


“Here ya go, kid. First of many today!” the bartender said as he handed him the overflowing mug. “No hard feelings, I hope.”


Now, as he stood there surrounded by his buddies and with a big mug of cold beer in his hand, he couldn’t help but wonder what his friends had in store for him in that other area of life he knew little or nothing about.


And that's when out of the corner of his eye he saw the woman in the tight red dress standing over by the television.

She looked like she knew what she was doing.


"No, no hard feelings, sir," Jimmy said as he raised the mug of beer to his mouth, his eyes firmly on the woman in the red dress.




A Range of Emotions - By Brian Law 

Rory looked at the business card again and then up at the man across from him at the large desk. “So, this is the place, right?”


The man smiled and replied, “Yes, Mr. Avery, you’re in the right place.” He turned his chair a bit and started to type into a computer as he continued, “Now, we don’t usually take walk-ins. But your situation is unique, so we’ve decided to make an exception. Just so you understand, sir.”


Rory nodded enthusiastically. He’d been fretting for weeks about his situation but was frustrated. He had no experience getting even with those who had falsely accused him. But what had been done to him by people he had trusted could not go unanswered. And that was what brought him to the man’s office this morning. He glanced at the card again and mouthed the words embossed on it, “Revenge, Inc.” Looking up again, he said, “Okay, so where do we go from here?”


The man behind the desk stopped typing, stood up and moved over to a white board where he picked up a magic marker and wrote three short phrases in longhand:


                    Take Your Time


                    Let Your Emotions Settle


                   Learn About Your Adversaries


“Let’s take this first item, Mr. Avery. You’ve come here not only out of frustration at what’s been done to you, but also in great anger. And you want retribution against your enemies. It drives you crazy to think they’ve got away with lying about you. Does that reasonably describe where you are at, Mr. Avery?” the man asked.


Rory’s face betrayed his frustration and anger as he nodded and said under his breath, “In spades!”


“Fine. So, the first thing you have to do is realize that we will not help you in your search for revenge until that frustration and anger have cooled. Revenge, Mr. Avery, is a process best planned and executed with cold rationality. If you want instant gratification, go to the Mafia, sir.” The man looked at Rory and asked, “So, are you willing to cool down, Mr. Avery? Because if you aren’t, this meeting is over.”


Rory breathed out, sat very still for a moment, and then reluctantly replied, “Okay. I understand. . . but it won’t be easy.”


The man then pointed to the second phrase and continued, “We’re going to put you in touch with some experts who will guide you in settling your emotions, Mr. Avery. I think you will be surprised how quickly our methods will turn that frustration and anger of yours into something much more productive.”


Rory was already a bit calmer than when he entered a few minutes before. So he asked the question that was at the top of his mind, “So, I’m guessing that you guys employ a lot of people for all kinds of situations. What I need is a couple of guys, you know, some muscle, who can beat the crap out of a few people. Can you make that happen?”


The man smiled, sat down at his computer again and explained, “That’s not how we work, Mr. Avery. We don’t actually get involved in physical revenge. We leave that up to you. What we do is advise you on forming a comprehensive plan. We probe your enemies for their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. We train you in certain special skills you will need. And that takes time.”


“How much time are we talking about?” Rory wondered as he began to understand that what he wanted was going to be a longer process than he had anticipated. “Weeks?”


“Years, Mr. Avery, years. We wait and we plan. And the plan we develop will be exquisite, comprehensive, and one that can never, ever be traced back to you. . . or us.” Then he added, “The plan will take care of everyone, sir. Even some of whom you are not currently aware of.”


Rory sat back in his chair. Years he thought to himself. “Years, huh? Why so long?” he asked the man.


“Think about it, Mr. Avery. Your enemies will have lost any fear of retaliation from you by that time. They will have moved on with their lives. Made lots of money, had children, grandchildren, got very comfortable, very secure. They will have let their defenses down. In short, Mr. Avery, they will have a lot more to lose years from now.” The man stood up, leaned across the table, and added, “Our plan will include the obliteration of everything they’ve come to love and hold dear. Believe us, Mr. Avery, when we tell you that the wait will be ever so delicious.”


“Jesus!” Rory exclaimed. “Your plan might target the grand kids, too?”


“Great grandchildren, too, sir. Nothing is off the table. Are you beginning to understand how we work, Mr. Avery? Wait, plan, act in cold ruthlessness and leave no trace. That’s how it’s done, sir.” 


Rory stared at the floor as he digested what he’d just heard. 


The man let Rory sit for a moment, then told him, “Don’t worry, Mr. Avery. Your plan won’t include any physical violence to anyone. Your revenge will be fulfilled by watching your enemy’s carefully crafted lives crumble.” He watched Rory for a few more moments and then asked, “So, are you in, sir?”


Rory smiled as best he could and said, “Yeah, I’m in. So, you help me settle down. I get that. Makes sense. But you said something about getting me trained in specific skills. What skills are we talking about, anyway?”


Handing Rory a list, the man explained, “We’ve learned from long experience what kind of skills someone in your situation will need. As you can see, you’ll be learning a lot of new things.”


“Yeah,” Rory said as he read over the list. “Let’s see, Identity theft, Computer hacking, Creating Deep Fake videos. Wow, that’s a lot of stuff.” Then, continuing down the list, Rory stopped and asked, “B & E. What’s that?”


“Breaking and Entering, Mr. Avery.” The man smiled and continued, “But learning these skills is worth it, sir. Would you care to hear about some of our most recent successes?”




The man pulled a file folder from his desk, opened it, and started to read. “Let’s see, here’s one where a client posted a deep fake video on a grandchild’s social media. Showed the girl in blackface using the “N-word” repeatedly on a video clip. Ruined the kid’s chance of getting into a good college.”


“I like it. You got more.”


“Here’s one where a client recently posted some child porn on an enemy’s computer. Worked like a charm. Ruined the enemy’s life.”




"And the ever popular social media posts showing one of your enemies sitting by an endangered species he or she has just shot."


"Good one."


“But, Mr. Avery, before we proceed, we need to see a list of your enemies. You see, we have to cross-reference your list with our client list, past and present.”


“You mean . . .”


“That’s right, sir. Someone may have, in the past, hired us to target you. And we wouldn’t want to double-dip, as it were. Not good for business. You understand, don’t you, sir?”


Rory said he understood as he reached into his suit pocket and withdrew a yellow sheet of paper. He handed it to the man who typed the seven names into his computer. They both waited.


A nearby printer could be heard printing out a short line.


The man retrieved the printed message and returned to his chair. He read and reread the short message and then looked over at Rory and said, “Well, none of your current enemies have ever been our clients, sir. So, I think we can proceed. I’ll get the contracts for you to look over, sir.”


As the man got up from his chair, he handed Rory the sheet he’d retrieved from the printer. Rory, left alone at the desk and waiting for the man to return, looked down at what had been printed out.


“Subject Avery targeted by his son, R. Avery, Jr., nine years ago. Son not a client. Free lancer used.”


Rory dropped the printout and stared blankly ahead. As he did, he reached across the desk, retrieved the yellow sheet of paper, and added a name to the bottom.


But he was going to need those emotion control experts and soon.




Alligator Problems - By Brian Law 

The blood stain on the carpet of his motel room was really the only tell-tale remnant of what had happened. That and the dead alligator in the bathtub. He turned up the air conditioner, switched off the bedside lamp, and headed out into the heat of the Florida day. If he played his cards right, he could be across the Georgia line and headed north before the maid came in and started screaming.


It had all started innocently enough yesterday afternoon. He’d come down from Atlanta in his pickup to meet a young girl. Not for what you’re thinking, though. He’d come down to see if she was really as good as her parents said she was. Good at beer tasting. His company was looking for somebody with a fool-proof palate to test their new beers before they went to market. They sent him because the girl was only fifteen. Everybody else had their panties in a bunch over this. He didn’t see the problem. 


Her Daddy and Momma lived in a shanty outside of town near the glades. They were both drunks and told him he could use the girl’s tasting skills if the company kept them supplied with beer. He didn’t see the problem with this either. So they introduced him to the girl. Her name was Wanda and she looked like fifteen going on thirty. 


He and Wanda sat on the porch and talked a bit while his recorder was turned on. He told her what he wanted her to do . . . take a sip of beer, spit it out and tell him how it tasted. But, he warned, don’t swallow, Wanda. That would be illegal in Florida. She nodded and he handed her a chilled beer sample from his ice chest. She sipped it, spat it out, leaned back and with her eyes closed, described what she was tasting. He’d heard rumors about palates like Wanda’s, but now he was in the presence of one. She was truly a wonder, this Wanda.


He gave Wanda five more chilled samples and recorded each of her experiences. And each time he got more excited. At some point her Daddy stumbled out in his t-shirt and underwear and announced, “Time to feed the gator! Let’s go!” He didn’t see the problem with that. He told Wanda he’d be back in a jiffy. He took the recorder with him.


They called the gator ‘Greenie’ and had it chained up to a tree. Dad handed him a piece of meat and told him, “Hold it right above his nose.” He didn’t have a problem with that. He should have, though. The gator took the meat and two of his fingers before he could jump back. Daddy said something like, “Too close”, both laughing and belching at the same time. 


Just then, Wanda shows up with a shotgun wondering what the yelling is all about. She sees him jumpin’ around and bleeding and her Dad laughing and belching and Greenie doing whatever he’s doing. She moved the barrel of that thing like she knew what she was doing and told him, “Wrap that hand of yours up.” And to her Daddy she said, “Put Greenie in his pickup.”


He didn’t have a problem with any of this except he didn’t know why the gator had to be in the truck. Wanda looked at him like he was stupid and said, “Cause your fingers are in his gut! We’re gonna get ‘em out and put ‘em back on. So, go get that cooler of beer and let’s get goin’.”


Wanda drove and drank beer. He leaned against the passenger door and shut his eyes. His hand hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. They got back to the motel after dark with Greenie’s eyes blazing with anger as they pulled into the parking lot. But they didn't blaze for long because Wanda quickly removed the lost fingers from Greenie’s gut as soon as she got him in the bathtub.


“This is gonna hurt a bit,” Wanda warned as she poured cold beer over his fingers and then sewed ‘em back on. When she was done, she went to a nearby bar and scored some pain killers and some antibiotics and told him to get some sleep.


“I’ll set your phone alarm for tomorrow morning. Best you get moving back to Atlanta as soon as you get up,” she told him as he took the pills. Then she patted him on his head and said, “See you next time.”


That Wanda, what a wonder! When he got back to Atlanta and played his recordings for his bosses, they asked him if he’d be willing to go back down to Florida for another session with Wanda and her Daddy and her Momma.


He told them he’d have a little problem with that.



Don't Open the Safe! - By Brian Law 

The two men approached the counter at the nursing home and one of them said to the clerk, “We called this morning. We’re here to interview Mr. Castle.” Both men showed their detective badges to the clerk and waited.


The clerk who was no stranger to the police glanced at the badges and half heartedly joked, “Robbery-Homicide, huh? What’s our Mr. Castle gone and done now.” The detectives responded by looking at their watches with an air of irritation.


“I’ll have one of our attendants take you to him right away,” the clerk explained as he motioned for a large man dressed in white to come to the counter. “Bailey, these men are police officers who want to interview Mr. Castle. The schedule has him in the Game Room right now. Please escort these gentlemen there and help them with anything they need.”


He then turned and addressed the detectives. “Mr. Castle is eighty-nine years old and in the late stages of dementia. Some days are better than others. You may get lucky.” And with that he returned to his duties and the detectives left with Bailey.


The Game Room was really just a euphemism for a place they dropped off the wheelchair-ridden clients between breakfast and lunch. It was a large room empty of furniture except for one small table used by the staff to sort the medications out for the clients. Bailey escorted the two detectives to a client near the north corner of the room. As they approached, it was clear the man was asleep, his head lolled to one side, his legs covered with a blanket and a shawl over his shoulders. His head was uncovered, nearly bald, and streaked with the odd gray hair. He couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds.


“Mr. Castle, Mr. Castle,” Bailey said softly as he bent down and shook the old man’s shoulders gently. “Mr. Castle, you have visitors.”


The old man woke, moved his head upright and appeared a bit disoriented as one of the detectives knelt down next to him and said, “Good morning, sir. We’re here to talk to you about something that happened fifteen years ago. Do you understand that?”


Castle’s grizzled old right hand emerged from under the blanket and with a great deal of effort wiped a bit of spittle from the side of his mouth. “Cops, right?” he rattled. 


“Yes, we’re from L.A., Mr. Castle,” the other detective said as both men revealed their badges. “We’re working on a cold case and your name came up recently. Do you follow what I’m telling you, sir?”


Castle nodded and replied, his voice a bit stronger now, “Sure. You’re here about the safe.”


Both detectives looked at each other with some surprise and then at Bailey, who just shrugged and said something about good days and bad days. “Yes, Mr. Castle, we’re here about the safe. We need to get into it, sir. But our experts haven’t been able to open it.” one of the detectives asked.


“No shit,” Castle said matter-of-factly.


“Is that because you’re the only one who knows how to open it, Mr. Castle?”


Castle nodded, his eyes glistening with a newfound clarity.


“Now, Mr. Castle, we have information that there’s something in that safe that will help us solve the case. And our information suggests that you were the last person to have access to that safe. It’s not been opened since you last opened it. So, whatever is in there, you either put it there or know what it is.” The detective paused and then continued, a slight edge to his voice, “So why don’t we start by you telling us what was last in that safe. Okay? Then we’ll go from there.”


Castle shook his head in denial. “Not gonna happen,” he said. “That safe stays closed and what’s in there is my little secret.” Bailey stood behind Mr. Castle with his arms folded and a look on his face that betrayed nothing.


One of the detectives took Bailey aside to a nearby corner and asked him, “Is this typical of this guy? You got any suggestions on how to deal with him?”


Bailey just shrugged and said that Mr. Castle could be a handful at times.


The detective confided in Bailey that he should go for a quick smoke because they were going to lean on old man Castle a bit. Bailey said he understood, reached for his smokes, turned, and walked for the nearest hallway.


Bailey had just finished his cigarette in the hallway when the two L.A. detectives came over to him and told him they were through with Castle. “We got nothing. We probably won’t be back, so he’s all yours,” one of the detectives told Bailey. Then, handing him a card, he said that if Castle tells him anything about the safe to let him know. Bailey agreed, thanked them, and returned to the room where Mr. Castle was seated in his wheelchair.


“So, some excitement, huh, Mr. Castle,” Bailey said as he arranged the blanket and shawl around Castle and prepared to wheel him back to his room.


“They’ll never get the combination out of me, no siree, Bailey,” old Mr. Castle said, his voice tiring a bit. Then, patting Bailey’s hand he added, “It’s my little girl’s birthday. Got it memorized right up here,” Castle confided, pointing to his head.


“Oh, Linda. I talk to her sometimes when she comes to visit you. She’s a Pisces, right? I’m good at getting peoples’ signs right, Mr. Castle,” Bailey said as he wheeled the old man towards the hallway.


Castle coughed and then chuckled, “Nice try, Bailey. Nope, she’s not a Pisces. She’s a Leo. Born the same year Nixon was impeached.” And with that, Castle closed his eyes and nodded off.


Or pretended to. In fact, old man Castle was really Jim Castle, an L.A. Robbery-Homicide detective who retired twenty-five years earlier and was living with his wife of sixty years in Bakersfield when he was asked if he would go undercover for a few weeks in a nursing home. L.A. needed help nabbing a big time safe and loft man named Bailey Watson.


He jumped at the chance. 


And now he could just hear the gears in Bailey Watson’s brain moving around. Watson now had two of the three combination numbers. The third number was one of the thirty one days in August. Now all he needed from the old fart he was pushing around was the address where the safe was located.


When Bailey was out for his cigarette break, Jim had told the detectives he’d string Bailey Watson along until Friday, then give him the address. 


They’d be waiting. With bells on.




The 25th Word - By Brian Law 

The quiet in the room was broken by a very slight knocking on the door. The man in the room preferred absolute silence and his underlings knew well what happened when that silence was broken without a very good reason. After a few moments, the slight knocking resumed, this time just a bit louder.


“Enter!” boomed the voice of the man behind the large desk. The soundproofing in the room allowed just enough of that command to register on the other side of the doorway. The doorknob turned ever so slightly, and Grimsby entered tentatively, a well-worn file clutched close to his vest.


“What is it, Grimsby?” the voice growled as Grimsby judiciously closed the door quietly behind him and turned to face the large desk. 


“I think I’ve broken the code used in the FireFly Telegram, sir,” Grimsby announced nervously after clearing his throat. 


The man behind the desk put down his pen, leaned back in his large chair, and asked, “You’d better remind me. Just what is this FireFly Telegram, Grimsby?”


“Ah, yes, well, sir, it’s a file I’ve been working on for eight years, long before you were made the head of this division three years ago, sir.” 


“Sit down, then, Grimsby,” the man said, extending his hand towards a chair. “And let’s start by asking why it has taken eight years to clear this FireFly thing up, anyway?”


“Well, eight years ago, I had been offered an early retirement package by your predecessor, sir. I declined the offer, and the next day I was presented with the FireFly telegram and told that it was to be my sole job to decode it until I actually retired. But, that I had to do it “old school”, sir. Couldn’t use the division’s computers. I could use the division’s library, but I could not confide in any one else in the division. I was told I had to do all the work by hand in a windowless room in the basement. No phone, no computer, nothing but me, my pencil and paper, and the telegram, sir.” Grimsby paused, and then added, “It was my punishment, sir, for not taking early retirement.”


The man behind the desk nodded, and then asked, “So, you found yourself alone in a highly secure location. Did they give you any details about the source of the telegram? Who sent it? To whom was it sent? Anything at all?”


“Virtually nothing, sir.  I was just handed a copy of the telegram and told to decipher it, period. It consisted of twenty-five separate numerical groups, with a numerical date of 2/07/2014. I worked in that little room for three years until I finally broke that code.”


“Three years? My God, Grimsby, what took you so long?”


“Well, sir, each time I thought I had it decoded, it just came out as what looked like gibberish. Until I figured out that it wasn’t gibberish, sir. It was Afrikaans!”


“Really? So five years ago, I arrive and take over the division. But I was never told about any of this. The only reason I know about you is because I read your file, just like I read everyone’s file who works here.” The man stopped for a moment, pondered something, and then asked, “So, now you presumably had a telegram with twenty-five words in the Afrikaans language. What was your next move?”


Grimsby shifted a bit in his chair and replied, “I had to learn the language, sir. At least enough to determine if the telegram made sense when it was translated into English. That, sir, took me the better part of a year and a half.”


“And did it make sense when translated into English, Grimsby?”


“No. The telegram was double-coded. I broke the first code that resulted in the Afrikaans text. But then I had to decode what that was trying to tell me. It took me over three more years to figure out how they were doing it. Turns out, the key to  deciphering the Afrikaans text was the Volksblad edition of the date of the telegram. Volksblad is an Afrikaans language newspaper in South Africa.”


The man was getting excited. “Good work, Grimsby. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to encrypt this little telegram. Clearly they wanted no one to know what they were talking about. So, what did the telegram say? This is just fascinating!”


Grimsby fidgeted momentarily as he collected his thoughts. “Well, it was very painstaking work, sir. I won’t go into how I determined the decoding process except to say that I went through many versions until it became obvious that this telegram was from one scientist to another. The sender was telling the recipient of a huge breakthrough in his research. Obviously, some super secret project given the complicated method they used to communicate.”


The head of the division muttered to himself, “A secret project? Hmm, there were rumors a few years back about secret labs in that part of the world.” Then, catching himself, he said, “Anyway, you got my complete attention, Grimsby. But you’ve only used up seven and a half years to this point. Why did it take you six more months to decode the entire message?”


“Well, sir,” Grimsby replied, “It was the last word that had me mystified. The twenty-fifth word. I just couldn’t find a translation from Afrikaans to English for it. What I figured I had stumbled upon was a new word in Afrikaans, you know, that this scientist or these scientists had just made up to describe what they were doing. They knew what it meant, but none of the rest of us knew, at least not until this morning. That’s when I figured it out!”


“A new word. How did you do it, Grimsby?”


“I was reading the New York Times this morning with my coffee and got interested in some medical article. And that’s where I saw the term. It’s three words in English. But those South African scientists put it into a single word! One word, but what it says explained everything, sir!”


“Grimsby, what did the word mean?” His boss was now on his feet, leaning over his desk, his eyes ablaze with anticipation.


“It means ‘gain-of-function’, sir!”



Overdraft - By Brian Law 

Jake smiled, closed his eyes, and tossed his dart.


“Oh, my God!” someone yelled. “That’s seven bull’s eyes in a row! Without looking!” The crowd in the little bar went wild, some high fiving each other frantically and others slapping Jake on the back. Too bad some had bet against Jake on that last throw. Too bad for them, but great for Jake. The bartender was holding over fifty-seven dollars of his newly won money.


Jake opened his eyes, acknowledged the crowd’s adulation, and said in a loud voice, “Just lucky, I guess”. Tonight’s fifty-seven dollars was only a small part of his recent winnings. The crowd had seen his incredible prowess at darts tonight, but only he knew the true extent of his fortune this entire week. He couldn’t lose, not at the ponies, poker, or at the crap tables. Everything was coming up winners for Jake. There would be an end to this run of luck . . . he knew that for sure. But for the time being, he was going to ride this train to the end of the line.


“You want an escort to your car, Jake,” the bartender asked as he handed Jake a paper bag full of money. “You know, just in case.”


“Nah, I’m good. I know these people. They’re my friends,” Jake replied. 


“Suit yourself, hero,” the bartender said as he shrugged and went back to listening to the music on the radio. He hoped that ‘dart boy’ got home in one piece. He’d been really good for business tonight.


Jake went to the front door, yelled goodnight to everyone and then stepped out into the early hours of a cold, dark October morning. It took a moment to remember where he’d parked his car, but as he turned up the collar of his coat and headed towards it, he felt a tapping on his shoulder.


He figured the bartender had arranged for an escort anyway and he turned to tell whoever it was that he didn’t need a bodyguard .  . . he could take care of himself. But what he saw made him stop cold on the sidewalk and just stare at the figure alongside him in the dim light.


“Don’t be afraid, Jake. I’m not here to hurt you,” the stranger said in an other-worldly voice. Even in the faint light, Jake could see that the person was dressed immaculately in a tuxedo, topped with a Borsalino hat, and carrying a cane.


Jake smiled bravely and replied, “I’m not worried, friend. You seem to know me, but I don’t ever recall meeting you. We’ve met before?”


“No, Jake, I’m not from around here. Here, let me give you one of my business cards. Then we can go to your car and have a little conversation about your recent run of luck,” the tuxedoed man explained, handing Jake an elaborate back-lit little card that read “Jerome-Regional Luck Manager-Region 7”.


“Oh, and Jake, I’d like that card back. We don’t like to advertise our existence,” the man added.


Jake nodded, read the fancy little card several times, turned it over, and then handed it back. “Regional Luck Manager, huh?” Jake said with a faint hint of disdain in his voice. “Are you some sort of collection agency or something?”


“No, Jake, nothing like that. Let’s go to your car and get out of this weather, okay? I promise this won’t take long. You’ll be home in your warm bed before you know it. I just have to make sure you have all the facts about your recent run of good fortune,” the stranger offered. Then, extending his cane towards Jake’s car and taking Jake’s arm in his, he said, “Shall we?”


As Jake was being led towards his car, he was intrigued by what was happening. This stranger seemed to know about his recent lucky streak. He thought he’d been pretty close to the vest about it, telling no one. But if this guy knew that much, he might know where Jake had hidden his newfound fortune. This might just be some elaborate ruse to lure Jake into an ambush.


“It’s not an ambush, Jake,” the stranger remarked out of the blue as they walked together. “We’re not trying to rob you, or anything. Your money is safe in your hiding place . . . in the garage. Again, I’ll explain in the car.”


Jesus, Jake thought, this guy is reading my thoughts. I’d better watch my step. 


As they closed the car’s doors and Jake turned on the engine and the heater, the fancy-dressed man turned to him and said, “Jake, you’ve had quite a run lately. And that’s over as of right now.”


“Wait,” Jake said, interrupting him. “You’re telling me my luck’s run out. Is that what this is about? That somehow you and your little agency have the power to do that? C’mon, who do you think you’re talking to?”


The man handed Jake a large coin. “Okay, Jake. Maybe this will convince you. Go ahead, toss it, and call it, heads, or tails.”


Jake nodded, tossed the coin in the air, and called ‘Heads’. It came up ‘Tails’. Jake tossed it again and again and again, losing every time. He stopped at twenty tosses and in dismay handed the coin back to the stranger.


“Just to convince you absolutely, Jake, I have a deck of cards in my hands. You’ll notice that all the cards are face cards except one that is a ‘six’.  I’m going to shuffle the deck and ask you to pull out one card. If you pull a face card, I will leave the van and you’ll never see me again and your luck will continue. But  . . .” the man explained as Jake immediately reached out and pulled out a card. It was a ‘six’.


The stranger reshuffled the deck and each time Jake pulled out the lone ‘six’. 


“Are you a believer now, Jake?” the man asked coldly.


Jake nodded, defeated. “Why me? Aren’t there a lot of other winners out there? Why pick on me?” he whined.


“Alright, let me explain what’s going on here, Jake,” the man in the tuxedo said. “We, and I mean the agency I work for, allocate luck at the moment of conception. It’s a way that problems in past lives can be smoothed over in new lives. But, I won’t go into details here except to say that there was a little bit of a mistake made in your case, Jake. And we just found out about it. Follow me so far?”


Jake turned a bit and said, “So, what you’re telling me is that I got more luck than I was supposed to be allocated, right? Basically, I’ve overdrawn my account.”


“Yes,” the man replied. “First time it has ever happened. So, we’ve got to right the ship, so to speak. And that means you’ve got to go on a very prolonged losing streak, Jake. You can keep all the money in your garage, but if you continue to gamble, and we know you will because you can’t help it, you’ll lose it all and more. This is just our way of fixing our little mistake. Balancing the scales, so to speak. No hard feelings, I hope.”


“Wow, of all the billions and billions of people ever born, I’m the only one, huh? What are the odds of that?” Jake said aloud to himself, making some calculations in his head.


“Very, very long odds, Jake. As are the odds of you ever winning another bet. So, you have a choice. Give up gambling or go down swinging.”


“But,” Jake interjected, “There’s still a chance I could win a bet. Is that what you’re telling me?”


The man nodded and replied, “A very, very, infinitesimally small chance, Jake. Yes, you could win a bet because we know there’s a fundamental flaw in our system which we haven’t figured out yet how to fix. Your losing streak is really just a band aid until our IT guys apply a fix. Could take a while.”


Jake said he understood completely and there were no hard feelings. He and the man in the tuxedo shook hands and the nattily-dressed fellow left the car and walked away into the dark, cold morning.


Jake watched as the man disappeared around the corner. He wanted to wait until he thought the man couldn't read his mind anymore. He waited ten minutes, trying to keep his mind blank throughout.


Finally, Jake started to think. He knew he’d definitely lose if he gambled. No question about that. His stash of six thousand and change in the garage could disappear pretty fast if he didn’t watch out. So he needed to put his money somewhere that wasn’t technically gambling. Someplace where he could win without really betting.


He leaned back and then it came to him. He’d call his brother-in-law, the stockbroker. All he ever heard at dinner at his sister’s was how everyone was making a killing on Wall Street these days.


Jake didn’t know much about stocks and such, so he figured he’d just show up this morning at his brother-in-law’s office with a bag of cash and have him spread it evenly across the Dow Jones Industrial Average.


Hey, it wasn’t gambling. It was investing.


And you can’t lose, he’d always heard from his brother-in-law. He checked his watch, saw the date was October 28 and decided to get a little breakfast before heading home to his stash in the garage.


Jake was pretty proud of himself. After all, he was twenty-seven years old, it was 1929, and it was about time he started making money like the rest of the squares out there.