Boise Time - By Brian Law 

He sat up in bed, half awake, picked-up his t-shirt, smelled it, shrugged and put it on. The early morning sun was just peaking over the eastern hills of Boise, his newly adopted town, and it was chilly outside. He still hadn’t got used to that, moving from Santa Monica and all just a few months before with his mom and his brother. Running his fingers through his hair, he slowly arose and walked to the bathroom to pee. The clock on his dresser showed it was 5:05. Jesus! 

Padding downstairs, trying to be quiet, he walked through the kitchen and then through a door that led down to the basement. The eerie glow of many computer screens was all that illuminated the space, and the only sound he heard was the rapid clickety-clack of his brother’s typing on a computer keyboard. 

“Any pizza left from last night?” he asked his brother. 

“Yeah. It’s still in the box over there,” his brother indicated with a casual toss of his head, continuing without interruption his typing on the keyboard. 

Grabbing the last cold slice of pizza from the box, he moved behind his brother and looked at the computer screen as he ate. “Any specials today?” he asked, his mouth half-full of pizza. 

“He’s offering a thousand for any officer above colonel today,” was his brother’s answer. 

“Nice. How about equipment specials?” he wondered. 

“Same as always. Heavy artillery, rocket launchers, and comms centers are all five hundred each,” his brother replied matter-of-factly. 

He moved into the seat next to his brother and logged-in to the same program his brother was using. “Okay, I’m live. What am I seeing?” he asked. 

“Got a phone convo going between Moscow and some muckety-muck near the front. I’ve designated it as Red 1. See it?” his brother said. 

“Yep. I’m listening in. Guy in Ukraine is asking for clearance to attack. Want to earn a thou, bro?” he suggested. 

“Read my mind. I’ve armed the drone and am moving to within range as we speak.” 

Just then their mother appeared at the top of the stairs and yelled down, “Hey, you two, breakfast in ten minutes. You got to get cleaned up and ready for school! You know what happens if you’re late again for home room.” 

“Okay, mom. Be up in a jiff,” his brother yelled back. He turned, put his finger on a red button, and looked at his brother. “We good?” 

“Yeah. I’ll stay on the line and let you know what happens.” 

His brother pushed the red button and as he listened over the phone, his brother counted down. “Three, two, one!” 

“Okay. Phone went dead,” he said, smiling. He looked up at the clock on the wall that showed Ukrainian time. “Ruined somebody’s dinner I’d say,” he chuckled. 

“Whatever,” his brother replied as he shut down his computer and headed for the stairs and breakfast. 

End

Required Reading - By Brian Law 

He held the small painting, inspecting it closely under the dim light of the garage. “Who the hell is this guy  . . . Monet  . . . anyway?” he asked gruffly. “Never heard of him.” 

“It’s pronounced ‘Monay’, Gregory. He’s French and I’m told that it could be of value. Let’s say ten dollars, shall we?” the little thief ventured, looking around nervously. 

“Two bucks,” he countered. He’d lost money before on art, even on paintings that weren't blurry. 

The little thief just shrugged and took the money. He was in a hurry and had to see a man about something else. Something that made his jitters go away for a while. 

Ten minutes passed, and someone rapped on the fence’s door. He knew who it had to be and let him in. He hadn’t had time to put the little blurry painting away yet, and the man who walked in just stared at it and said nothing. 

“You just going to stand there and stare or are you here about the clock?” Gregory growled at the man as he covered the little painting and slipped it into a drawer. 

“The clock, oh, yes, the clock,” the man said, quickly recovering. “Yes, I’ve come for the clock. I have the money.” 

The fence reached down and retrieved the item he’d wrapped in cloth earlier. Setting it down on the counter and removing the cloth, he told the man, “Thirty-five bucks, as we agreed.” 

“Yes, of course. Here’s your money,” the man replied, handing over the bank notes and taking the clock into his soft, well-manicured hands. He knew full well that the clock was worth hundreds in New York and even more in London. Gregory was an idiot when it came to the real value of some things, he thought to himself. It was nineteen hundred and two, for God’s sake,  and even an oaf like Gregory should be more aware, he mused as he said, “And thank you, Gregory, for contacting me first. But I must say, you drive a hard bargain.” 

“Anything else on your mind?” Gregory wondered aloud, remembering the man’s earlier interest at the little painting now resting in the drawer near the fence’s left knee, and also knowing that the man still held a large wad of bank notes inside his left jacket pocket. 

The man pretended to look around the garage and then asked, “Any recent acquisitions? Sculptures, paintings, things of that sort, Gregory?” 

“Maybe,” the fence replied, playing his cards close to his vest. “Anything in particular?” 

“Well, I’m redecorating my home and I’m looking for a nice blue-green painting to match the curtains and the rug. Nothing too expensive, you know, and smallish. Discrete,” the man explained. “If you run across something like that, I’d be interested, Gregory.” 

Gregory reached down and opened the drawer and as he did, he carefully watched the man’s face. The fence had played poker since the Gold Rush when he was just a kid and he knew what to look for. Sure enough, there it was. The man couldn’t hide his excitement. The artery on his neck was bulging behind his starched collar! 

“Well, I just came into possession of this little painting,” Gregory said as he held it in his hands just a few inches above the desktop. “It’s by some Frenchie. Blue-green, like you wanted.” He continued to watch the man’s artery swell as he added, “But it didn’t come cheap. No, it didn’t come cheap. I had to pay through the nose for this hazy little daubing.” 

Realizing that the bidding had begun, the man leaned in for a closer look. “Monet? Hmmmm.” 

“I heard it was pronounced ‘Monay’, but that’s all I know. If you’re interested, you can have it for three hundred bucks. Firm,” Gregory announced, knowing exactly how the dandy little man would react. 

“Well, it’s certainly the right color. And I like the pond and water lily setting. But that’s too much, Gregory. Perhaps when you acquire something else, you could contact me. I’m still at my Nob Hill address,” the man replied, full-well knowing that he would return again in a few days and restart the bidding for this little treasure at a lower price. 

“I will keep you in mind, sir.” 

And with that, the dandy left the shop knowing in his heart that he was just a few dollars away from owning one of the most precious works of art the world had ever known. One thing bothered him, though, was that the idiot, the one they called ‘The Saint’, would be handling the little treasure with his rough, stupid hands for the time being. 

Gregory St. Germaine smiled as he gently wrapped the little painting in clean cloth and took it into a special place he had  for very special things. Locking it away, he sat down and poured himself a glass of well-earned Chateau d-Yquem sauterne. As he relaxed, he reached over for the large book he’d been reading in French before his customers had arrived. 

It was the only copy known to be in America and he turned to page forty-one, a page he had visited many times before. There was the blurry little painting in all its glory. 

‘The Saint’ wept, his hardened heart softened by the indescribable beauty he beheld. 

End

Without Regard - By Brian Law 

He was surprised and responded, “Well, I’m in that age zone now where things can happen, sometimes fast, sometimes slow.” Faster was better, he thought to himself, but didn’t say it aloud. “So, maybe you might want to look for a younger man for the job, Vince.” 

The big man behind the desk smiled, got up and looked out the window onto the streets of Chicago below, his hands clasped behind his back. “It’s precisely because of your age, Jimmy, and also because you’ve been out of the game for years now that I want you for this job. Nobody knows you anymore and they certainly won’t expect it coming from somebody your age. Even the cops wouldn’t look in your direction.” 

Jimmy nodded his head and replied, “Well, that’s probably true, Vince. So, let’s just say I’m interested, even though it could be tricky, especially at my age. What’s the client offering?” 

Turning back to face his old friend, Vince leaned on his desk with both hands and said with a grin, “How about that Degas you tried to buy at that auction some years back, Jimmy? Interested?” 

Somebody knew the way to Jimmy’s heart. He’d started collecting art soon after he became a hired killer. And the loss of the Degas to a higher bidder years ago still stuck in his craw. He knew it had been stolen recently and felt the loss just as deeply as if it had been taken from his own collection. But now it was being offered as payment for a very dangerous and difficult job. Probably his last. 

“Yeah, I’m interested. I’d have to see the painting first, though, Vince. You know how it is.” 

Nodding, Vince reached down for a briefcase near his desk, placed it on his desk, opened it and turned it towards his friend. “Here, Jimmy, have a look.” 

Jimmy looked down at the open briefcase and the painting he longed to own for years. “Can I pick it up, Vince?” 

“Sure, Jimmy. Take a close look at it. Take your time.” 

He’d never used appraisers. He knew what he was looking for and he saw it immediately. This was the real thing, and he had it in his hands at last. He hadn’t been this excited in years and he knew he was close to possessing the Degas all to himself. There was just the little matter of the job. 

Gently replacing the painting in the briefcase, Jimmy took his seat and waited as Vince closed the briefcase, replaced it on the floor next to him, and then sat down himself. “So,” Vince asked, “You in?” 

“Give me the details and I'll let you know, Vince.” 

Vince laid out the pertinent facts that Jimmy would need to make up his mind, except the identity of the client. The job was risky, very risky and required split-second timing. Also, Jimmy would have to leave the country for a year or so after the hit until things died down. But he’d get the Degas before he left. No question about that. 

“That’s about it, Jimmy. What’s your decision, old friend?” 

“Vince, I know you and how you work. You’ve looked at my medical records, right?” 

Vince just shrugged but said nothing. 

“So, you know that if I leave the country for a year or so, I don’t come back. I’ll be lucky to live six months, tops, in my condition. But you know this, Vince.” 

“We know this, Jimmy.” 

Jimmy chuckled to himself as he looked at his old friend with admiration. “But you’d let this old, sick man do one last job and then spend the last six months of his life in ecstasy, holding that Degas in his arms as he fell asleep each night. Am I close, Vince?” 

“Something like that, Jimmy.” 

“And then on that one morning I don’t wake up, somebody would come in, gently remove the painting from my death grip, and that would be that.” 

“We wouldn’t want it to get into the wrong hands now, would we, Jimmy?” 

“No, Vince, we wouldn’t.” 

“So?” 

“I’m in, old friend. And I prefer to spend my last six months in Chile, if that’s okay with you.” 

“It’s already arranged, Jimmy. Valparaiso, close to the beach.” 

End

The Last Thing To Go - By Brian Law 

He glanced at the mirror in the hallway for just a moment as he walked past it. Not enough for anyone to notice, but enough to assure himself again. His jaw was firm, his crow’s feet gone, his nose perfect, his hairline normal, his hair without streaks of grey, and his eyelids didn’t droop anymore. He looked near fifty, maybe even younger. And the pain was almost gone. 

The important thing was for him to still look like himself,  just a younger version. A version that had disappeared over the last twenty-five years but that had now been resurrected by that wonderful little doctor in Guadalajara. He knew it wouldn’t last for very long, but it would last long enough for his purposes. He took another quick look in the mirror as the matron came out to meet them. 

“Good morning, Ms. Walcott. Your mother is in the sunroom. She’s had her breakfast and knows you will be visiting,” the matron said to them, shaking Mildred Walcott’s hand while stealing a quick look at him. He could tell she liked what she saw. “And I see you’ve brought a visitor along with you today,” the matron added. 

Beaming, Mildred gripped his right arm in her arms and holding him tightly, introduced him to the matron. “Oh, yes, this is John, my fiancée, Matron. I wanted to introduce him to Mother today. Is she up to it?” Mildred asked. 

John could tell the matron was surprised that Mildred had arrived with a man on her arm. Mildred Walcott, the classic homely spinster, was now sporting quite a catch, the matron must be thinking. Good looking, tall, probably a little old for Mildred, but well-mannered in any case.  Matron was happy for Mildred but not quite sure what it all meant. “I think your Mother will be fine, but don’t take too long, dear. She tires easily since her last stroke. But she definitely understands what’s being said,” Matron explained. “She can't speak, of course, so watch her eyes. They will tell you everything.” 

John knew exactly what Matron was thinking as the three of them moved towards the sunroom and Mother Walcott. He knew she was confused as to why a man like him would attach himself to a woman like Mildred. That’s what everyone thought . . . homely little Mildred, who wasn’t rich, had suddenly hit the relationship Jackpot? It didn’t make much sense to anybody. 

Matron chatted to Mildred about her Mother’s condition as they found their way through the large building and up the stairs to the sunroom. From time to time, Matron’s gaze would stray towards John and her medically trained eyes would catch that John moved like a much older man than his face suggested. She wondered if he’d been in an accident or was ill. He moved much more like some of her patients in their eighties than a man just past fifty. 

As they arrived at the right floor, John squeezed Mildred’s arm and reminded her how excited he was to meet her Mother for the first time. She squeezed right back and he could tell she was more excited than at any time since they’d met a few months before. She was a disappointment to her Mother, being unmarried and childless, and she knew it. It was her most fervent wish that before her Mother died, she could present her with what Mother wished for most. A husband and, maybe, even grandchildren. She wouldn’t tell her Mother she was pregnant just yet. Not until after the wedding. 

John was excited, too, but for a decidedly different reason. He knew Mildred’s Mother only too well. Years ago, they’d been lovers, had planned on a life together, and then, Poof, it was over. She left him for another without an explanation, an apology, or an argument. What would Mother think when John showed up looking decades younger on the arm of her only daughter! 

He knew precisely what Mother Walcott would think. She’d be confused, at first, then angry and would want to warn Mildred! Tell her it was all a ruse! A cynical, evil plot to get even! 

But, of course, Mother could do none of these things. Trapped in a wheelchair, voiceless, with only her eyes to betray her inner emotions. Yes, John was excited alright as he and Mildred entered the sunroom and approached the wheelchair facing the garden window. 

“Mother Walcott, you have some visitors this morning,” Matron whispered into the old lady’s ear as she grasped the handles on her wheelchair and turned it around. 

As Matron and Mildred smiled and said pleasantries to Mother, only John could really interpret the fierce confusion and anger that was showing in Mother Walcott’s eyes. 

My God, he thought to himself, this is better than he could have ever imagined. 

"Mother Walcott," he said lovingly, patting her crippled arm that gripped her wheelchair so tightly, "How lovely to meet you after all this time." 

End

Down Under - By Brian Law 

The letter was postmarked Bunbury, W.A. He knew who sent it. There was only one person he knew of who lived in Western Australia. 

“Dear Mr. Wallace, 

Thank you for your interest in my husband’s most recent novel, The Sleazy Mouthpiece, and please pardon the delay in the dispatch of this reply. But I am sure you will understand when I tell you that my husband was involved in an accident and we have all been very busy since then. He was struck while crossing the Coalfields Road just south of where we live in Allanson around the same time your letter arrived. They are saying it looks like it may have been a hit and run. No suspects at this time. My husband is in hospital with severe injuries in Critical Care. 

Your letter is typical of numerous similar letters we have received since the publication of The Sleazy Mouthpiece in America. Like you, other American readers have recited much the same experience with their legal systems as the main character in the novel. Attached is a list of the names and addresses of our American readership who have contacted us. I’m sure they won’t mind me giving you this information. You might find commonality if you contact some of them. 

Pray for my husband, Mr. Wallace. And, if you could find it in your heart to help, we would appreciate anything you could spare through our ‘GoFundMe’ page. Details are attached. 

Yours very sincerely, 

Edith Wordswill” 

Weeks back, when he first ran across this little e-book titled The Sleazy Mouthpiece, he checked out the author, Albert Wordswill. Turned out Albert was an Australian who currently lived in the Outback in a caravan with his wife, three dogs, and a pet crocodile. He had been a member of the New South Wales Bar Association (Barrister) but was no longer so associated. He’d published two other legal novels, Wrongful Representation and Fixed on Appeal, neither of which sat well with the Australian legal establishment, hence his current Outback address and reduced circumstances. 

Nothing piqued Wallace’s interest like a book that purported to expose the slimy underbelly of the legal profession. He’d been roughly handled himself by that profession and he loved reading anything that smelled like the truth. And whether the stories came from Canada or South America or Australia, he knew that lawyers were the same all over. And that’s why he wrote to Albert Wordswill weeks back. He wanted to tell him how much he loved his book and how close to his own horrible experience with the Missouri legal system it really came. It was as if the main character and he were the same person. 

Rereading the letter, he quickly decided to contribute to Albert’s ‘GoFundMe’ page and to contact a few of the folks on the list that Edith Wordswill had provided. The list was not a long one and some on it lived in nearby states. He did a quick internet check, got a few phone numbers, and settled back in to make the calls. 

“Hello,” the voice answered, obviously tired. 

“Yes, I’m trying to reach Mr. Terry Jenson. Is he home?” Wallace asked. 

“I’m sorry. I guess you haven’t heard. Terry died a few days ago. Hit and run. Were you a friend?” 

Confused, Wallace sputtered something inane and hung up. 

And so it went with the next three calls. Four names, four deaths, four hit and runs. Coincidence went out the window after the second call. 

By the fifth call, Wallace had changed his approach. 

“Hello,” came a voice, again haggard and weary. 

“I just heard that John just passed away. I knew him from college and I wanted to pass on my condolences,” he said, lying. “I understand it was a hit and run. Is that correct?” 

The answer was immediate and irate. “How did you get that information? That was never released by the police or the family? And John never went to college! Who is this, anyway? I have your phone number now and you better have a good reason for having this information when the police contact you!” 

Wallace hung up immediately and sat back, stunned. What was going on? Were the police investigating these hit and runs as being connected? Did they know about Wordswill’s book and the hit and run in Australia? Was he now in the middle of a vast murder conspiracy? Was he next? 

He had to get away! 

Meanwhile, back in Australia, Edith and Albert were relaxing on their porch, well out of the harsh Outback sun. Both were enjoying a fine Australian petite Syrah thanks to Wallace’s very generous contribution to their ‘GoFundMe’ page. 

Edith turned to Albert, a wry smile on her face, and said,“Your relatives in America tell me that Wallace got five deep into the list I sent him before he gave up and stopped making calls. Your Uncle John took his last call, and apparently it was a special treat. He tried to pass himself off as a college friend of the deceased, but your Uncle handled it perfectly.” 

Albert laughed and replied, “My guess is that our Missouri friend is now so scared he’ll crawl into a hole somewhere and not come out for a very, very long time, my dear.” Pausing to take a sip of his wine, Albert added, “And he certainly won’t be contacting us again, will he?” 

Edith got up, stretched, and looked out over their vast land holdings. “I love it here, Albert, far away from the city and your law practice. I wish we could stay here longer than just a few weeks every year.” 

“One day, my dear, one day. But before that day comes, you have to continue to write the novels and I have to continue to be a Barrister,” Albert added. “And with so little time to enjoy ourselves, toying with people like Wallace in Missouri is our only real outlet.” 

“And we do so love doing it, too, don’t we, Albert?” Edith said lovingly, moving close to him and kissing him on the top of his head. 

End

The Short Shovel - By Brian Law 

He thought it odd, especially since everybody in town knew about Jonas’ bad back. Why would a man of Jonas’ size and stature own such a short shovel?  But there it was, leaning right up against the back wall of old dead Jonas’ tool shed along with his other regular sized tools. It didn’t make much sense. 

“How much you asking for that short little shovel in the shed, Madge?” he asked the woman who was running the estate sale. 

She laughed and asked him if he had midgets working for him this year. Madge had a strange sense of humor, but she didn’t mean anything by it. Then she told him he could have it for two bucks. He held up a dollar, which she accepted and then told her son, Will, to get the little shovel from the back of the tool shed for the man. 

Will wasn’t too bright so it took him a while, but he eventually reappeared with the little shovel and handed it to the man. As he did, he said, “Another fellow wants this little shovel real bad, Mr. Allison. Told me he’ll meet you out front if you want to sell it for a profit.” Will pointed out the other fellow who was standing over by the big tree alongside the driveway. 

“Thanks, Will. You going to mow my lawn this week like we talked about?” 

Will nodded and smiled and wiped his nose with his arm. Not too bright, Allison thought, but a good kid just the same as he turned and walked towards the other man. 

The other man was even taller than Jonas’ used to be, which didn’t make any sense, either. Allison held the little shovel in front of him as he said to the other fellow, “Will tells me you’re interested in buying this little shovel.” 

“Yes. The boy told me you got it for a dollar. I’ll give you twenty dollars for it.” 

  

“You got midgets working for you this year?” he joked holding up the little shovel. He didn’t know this other fellow so he figured a little humor couldn’t hurt. Then, seeing the other fellow’s reaction, he quickly added, “Don’t mind me, Mister. I don’t mean nothing by it.” 

“Well, you want to sell it or not?” he heard the other fellow say. 

“Well, see, this here little shovel just happens to be a part of this town’s history, Mister. I’ve lived here all my life, as did my parents and grandparents before me, so I know a little about where stuff comes from around here. This shovel dates way back . . . to the Witch Trials.” Allison knew almost nothing about the town’s history, but since the other fellow was offering big money for this little shovel, he figured he might as well puff up its value with a harmless lie. 

“So, you have an eye for such things, do you?” the other fellow replied. “I’ll tell you what. Rather than us standing here haggling over the perceived value of this item, let’s just assume that your historical assumption is correct and then you tell me what you think is a fair price that we can both agree upon.” 

Allison was surprised by this and realized he needed a bit more time , so he lied some more and added, “Well, I guess then you know how they really used this little shovel during the Witch Trials. There were several of these as the story goes, but this is the only one I’ve ever seen anywhere in these parts. Last one makes it pretty valuable.” 

“Again, let’s just assume that you’re correct about the historical significance of this object. Give me a dollar figure and we can go from there,” the other fellow said, not showing any emotion or concern. 

“Well, let’s say three hundred bucks.” 

“Fine. Are hundreds okay with you?” the other fellow asked, reaching into his inside jacket pocket. 

“Hundreds are fine,” Allison answered already sorry he hadn’t ask for more, a lot more. 

The money and the little short shovel were exchanged as they shook hands. The other fellow then turned and walked towards the curb while Allison just stood by the big tree holding his money. 

After a short wait, a sleek, long, black limousine pulled up and stopped next to the other man, its side rear window open. From within its darkened interior, a gnarled hand reached out, grasped the little shovel and then the limousine sped away. 

The other fellow continued to stand by the curb as if waiting for a ride. “Hey, Mister,” Allison yelled at him. “Can I ask you something?” 

The other fellow turned, motioned for him to come over to the curb, and then indicated he didn’t have much time. “You have a question?” the other fellow asked as they stood together at the curb. 

“Yeah. How high would you have gone, anyway? Just wondering?” he asked the other fellow. “Would you have paid a lot more than three bills?” 

“For the last existing short shovel from the Witch Trial era, as you so aptly described it?” he replied, a strange smile on his face. “Oh, yes, my employer had authorized me to go much higher.” 

Another limo pulled up and as the other man opened its rear door and slid into its dim interior, Allison peered in and ventured, “Just like that, huh? You folks would spend that kind of money just on my word alone?” 

Reaching over to close the limousine’s door, the other man looked at Allison coldly and replied, “He was paying for your lie, Mr. Allison. You cannot imagine the delight that he and those in his immediate circle experience when they hold that little short shovel that embodies the pronouncements of an accomplished liar such as yourself. It is the closest thing to holding your soul, sir. It is indescribable!” 

Allison straightened up as the limo’s door closed and it and the other man slowly pulled away from the curb. Allison looked down at the three one hundred dollar bills in his hand and felt good about himself for the first time in weeks. 

Like the other man had just said, he was accomplished. That was really something! 

End

The Left-Handed Catcher's Mitt - By Brian Law 

“What about this old thing?” she asked her brother as she held it up from across the room. 

The two of them, brother and sister, had been asked by the lawyer to go through Granny’s things. They were the youngest of her relatives and the one’s still physically capable of doing the job. 

Her brother looked up from what he was doing and replied, “Oh, that’s a baseball catcher’s mitt. Throw it over here. Let me take a close look at it. I might want to keep that.” 

Granny had been a bit of a hoarder. Nothing too serious, but there was a lot of stuff to go through. She had been a bit of a drinker, too. And a bit of a family gossip. But at ninety-six when she died suddenly at home, the rest of the family forgot her shortcomings and quickly came together to settle her affairs. And part of that was to pack-up her house, which her granddaughter and grandson were now doing. They were told that they could keep whatever they wanted in exchange for taking care of Granny’s things. And they had each agreed that either of them could keep whatever each wanted, no arguments. 

They decided right off to do it systematically. Put all the clothes in one area, all the crockery in another, and on and on. And if something was found that defied description, they both agreed in advance to discuss it first. And that’s why her brother was now fiddling with the catcher’s mitt his sister had found locked away in a chest. 

He had the mitt on his right hand, and was punching into it with his left hand. She smiled as she continued to sift through the other stuff in the chest. He was about the least athletic one in the family, she thought to herself, but he was about as avid a baseball fan as anyone she knew. “It’s a left-handed catcher’s mitt, Dedre,” he said, getting up and walking over towards her. “And you know that there are no left-handed catchers playing baseball? None. And in my memory, and that goes back for over fifty odd years, there never has been one.” 

She nodded absentmindedly as he got closer and as she continued to look at what remained in the chest. “Oh, that’s interesting,” she remarked as he stood right next to her, still pounding the thing in his right hand with his left hand. 

“Which is odd. It’s a Rawlings product. See, here’s the tag sewn on the inside. But why make a mitt that nobody was going to wear, ever?” he asked, a very serious tone in his voice, as he removed the mitt and made a closer inspection of it. 

“Maybe we should call Rawlings and ask,” she suggested. “Might be that it’s valuable. And maybe that’s why Granny had it locked away.” 

“Well, I’m going to keep this. We agreed, right? No arguments?” he said abruptly, clutching the mitt and turning away as he walked back across the room. 

She said nothing for a few moments as she continued kneeling over the open chest. She had found something else along with the mitt, something she hadn't told her brother. She knew very little about baseball but she recognized the autograph on the baseball she was now holding in her hand outside of his view. 

“That’s fine,” she replied to her brother. “We had an agreement.” 

He smiled to himself, consumed by his new-found possession and wondering just how much it might be worth. He thought he might have gotten an argument from his sister about keeping the catcher’s mitt, but she seemed very adult about the whole thing. 

“I’ll just keep this little baseball that was in the mitt, Bob,” she muttered from across the room. 

“Whatever, Dedre. We had an agreement,” her brother countered, a self-satisfied look on his face. 

Looking down again at the ball she now held in hand, she just wanted to make absolutely sure about the name. Yes, there is was, ‘Honus Wagner’, she said to herself, as she slipped it into her apron pocket. 

End

The Black Spoon - By Brian Law 

“And what, dear Uncle, do you require in return?” the Nephew asked, glancing impatiently at his phone. 

His Uncle reached over for his pipe, tapped it twice on the ashtray, and then sitting back in his rocking chair, replied, “Merely that you keep me company, my dear boy. That’s all. Just visit with me a bit each day and check on me at night before I retire. Not too much to ask for a rent-free cottage and a small monthly allowance now, is it?” 

With no prospects of a job, no car and with no savings, the Nephew was in no shape to negotiate with the old man. But the thought of being stuck out here ‘in the sticks’ with no car and no friends was a bitter pill. “I don’t suppose I have a choice, do I, Uncle?” he replied with no enthusiasm. 

“No,” the Uncle replied, loading his pipe slowly, “I don’t suppose you do, Nephew.” Striking up a match, the old man puffed away on his pipe as he stared stoically at his young visitor for a moment, and then added, “But we can find interesting things to do together, I'm sure.” 

“Things to do, Uncle? Out here? Like what, for instance?’ the Nephew asked. 

“Well, for one, we can go through my spoon collection. You know, clean-up the documentation, organize it, shine it up a bit. How does that sound, Nephew?” the old man said, watching him closely. “In fact, we can start right now if you don’t have anything important to do, Nephew?” 

Trapped, he thought to himself. This is what he feared that his life would come to. Tied to a dreary old man and all of that old man’s dreary stuff. Jesus, a spoon collection. “No, Uncle, I’d love to help you with your spoon collection,” he replied, again with no enthusiasm. 

The old man smiled and gripping his pipe in one hand  slowly pushed himself up and out of his rocking chair and went over to the nearby sideboard. Opening one of its drawers, he extracted something wrapped in blue velvet cloth and returned to his rocking chair. 

Sitting down with an effort, the old man sat still for a moment with the wrapped object in his lap as he caught his breath. Then, putting his pipe in his mouth, he opened the velvet cloth to reveal a black wooden box. 

“What’s that, Uncle? One of your spoons?” the Nephew wondered. 

“Not just one of my spoons, Nephew. The most important spoon!” the Uncle explained, his voice clear. “And one day it will be yours . . .  after I pass.” 

The Nephew showed no emotion as the old man carefully opened the wooden box and beckoned him with his hand. “Here, come closer.” 

Leaning down, the young man saw what was lying in the wooden box. It was just an old silver spoon, blackened by age, probably a tablespoon by the look of it. Nothing special, the Nephew thought. “What’s so important about this one, Uncle?” he ventured. 

“Ah, silver spoons were used by royalty centuries ago to foil attempts at poisoning them, Nephew. In the presence of silver, Sulphur and arsenic and many other compounds would turn the spoon black,” the Uncle explained. 

The Nephew was now getting interested. “So, this spoon was a poison tester for some King? Is that what you’re telling me, Uncle?” 

“Yes, Nephew. And its provenance is flawless!” 

“What King?” the Nephew asked breathlessly. 

“Here, look at the stem,” the old man said, handing his Nephew a magnifying glass. 

Taking the magnifying glass in hand, the young man held the spoon in one hand and peered at the writing on the stem. “It’s in French, with a royal crest and a date, Uncle! This must be priceless!” 

The Uncle took the spoon back from his Nephew and replied, “Yes, it’s very valuable. I was lucky to come across it years ago, Nephew.” 

The Nephew’s head was now swimming with visions of imminent wealth, visions which until now had just been fantasies. “You must keep this spoon safe, Uncle! Are you sure it’s safe?” 

“Way out here, Nephew? Oh, yes, it’s safe. Here, put it back in the sideboard, if you will. I’m feeling a bit tired and wish to retire,” the old man replied. “We’ll do more with my spoon collection tomorrow night, if that meets with your approval.” 

Beaming, the Nephew took the velvet wrapped box and replaced it in its drawer and quickly returned to sit next to his Uncle. “Yes, I look forward to that, dear Uncle,” he said earnestly. “Now, let me help you to your bed.” 

The two slowly moved together from the rocking chair towards the small rear bedroom, each lost in his own thoughts. The Nephew was thinking about that little red Porsche roadster he’s always wanted. On the other hand, the old man was reflecting on how much money he was saving by not having to pay for an expensive retirement home. 

He was lucky to have a gullible young Nephew who could be fooled so easily by a common pewter spoon and some black paint. 

And tomorrow night, who knows, maybe he’d pull out his counterfeit set of sixteenth century Apostle Spoons to show to the Nephew. And, just for added measure, he’d let it slip that he hadn’t long to live. 

That should keep the Nephew around for at least a year or so longer. After that, who knew? 

There was always the widow on the farm next door. She was a wily one, he thought, but desperate. Maybe he could arrange for her to ‘discover’ some hidden cash buried near his garden. Just a taste, but enough to keep her interested and in his service. 

End

The Court Reporter - By Brian Law 

She glanced at the wall clock as the witness droned on trying to answer the district attorney’s questions, or evade them, or whatever. Twenty minutes or so, she figured, and this witness would be done and she’d be down the street with the girls, partying. It was her retirement party and it had been planned for weeks. Everybody was going to be there. Was this assistant district attorney ever going to get to the point with this guy? 

She’d been a court reporter for almost thirty years, ever since she got divorced in 1956. Mostly she did trial work and depositions. Her retirement plan was still a work in progress. She was moving on and maybe getting into interior decorating or pottery or something like that. She wasn’t sure, just anything except what she was doing right now. 

She smiled to herself as she continued to type. Did anybody really understand that court reporters could do their jobs and still have a completely different line of thought going at the same time? A separate little voice working in the background. She didn’t think so. The girls always joked about this, usually after their second cocktail. 

The current criminal case was a manslaughter trial. The witness was a jailhouse snitch who had overheard the Defendant make certain incriminating statements. Bored and restless, she continued to type the questions and answered testimony word for word: 

"D.A. Jones: “Did the Defendant ever tell you about any other criminal acts that he had committed, Mr. Webster?” 

Webster: “Yes sir, he did.” 

D.A, Jones: “And can you tell this court what the Defendant revealed to you in that regard, Mr. Webster?” 

Webster: “He, the Defendant, said he raped a young woman back in 1956 near the Bayside Beach pier early in the morning. June sometime, I think he said.” " 

She froze and stopped typing as the District Attorney continued. Quickly recovering, she interrupted him and asked, “Can the witness please repeat his last answer?” 

The judge so instructed the Defendant and everything got back on track except for the little voice in the back of her head that was screaming, He was the one who raped me! as she caught a quick look at the Defendant who was staring back at her with an evil half grin on his face. And he knows I know. 

She looked at the clock. Maybe another fifteen minutes of testimony. Just enough, she thought to herself, just enough. She put away the little voice and focused completely on the task at hand. And fifteen minutes later, it was over. The judge indicated that the proceedings would recess now and reconvene at ten o’clock Monday morning. 

As the jurors, the Defendant, the lawyers, and the rest filed out of the courtroom, she busied herself packing up for the last time. She knew from experience that the case against the Defendant was rock solid. He’d get the maximum sentence and would be out of her reach. And he’d never be charged with a purported rape decades ago on a lonely beach that had gone unreported. 

But she also knew a few other things. She knew that the Defendant would have to appeal. Otherwise, he’d die in prison and he knew it. And she knew that even a rookie appellate attorney would pick up on the egregious stenographic errors in the transcript. The intentional ones she made during the last few minutes of testimony. And that alone would get the Defendant a new trial. 

And he’d get out on bail pending the new proceedings. 

Her true purpose in retirement was now very, very clear. And it had nothing to do with interior decorating or pottery or whatever. 

End

The Spanish Door - By Brian Law 

"As you both are probably aware," the real estate agent explained to the prospective buyers, "this home was once owned by the famous painter, Ramon Cruz." 

Neither of them had heard of Cruz, but they reacted as if they had and feigned being impressed. Encouraged by this, the agent then went into great detail about how the artist had imprinted the home’s interior with his distinctive style. 

“Here, for instance, is the actual Spanish Door which Cruz used in his 1956 masterpiece, ‘El Jardin Oscuro’,” she pointed out. 

The pair, intrigued by the intricacy of the door’s design, stopped in front of it and one of them asked, “Where does it lead?” 

A bit embarrassed, the agent admitted, “Well, it’s not a real door. It’s a ‘trick of the eye’ painting, a ‘trompe l’oeil’ work. And anyway, there’s no doorknob. It’s just one of many quirky things about this house.” She ended with a nervous laugh and then indicated that the couple should follow her into the living room. As they did, both of them couldn’t help but glance back at the door and wonder. 

While they listened to the agent as they toured the rest of the house, the couple’s thoughts were continually drawn back to that Spanish Door. And as they walked down one of the many long hallways in the home, they both noticed something that the agent hadn’t. There was a small, unlit alcove in a wall. And laying in there was a doorknob. 

As his wife kept the agent preoccupied with a few questions, the husband surreptitiously pocketed the doorknob. He kept his hand on it as they moved onward with the tour and he was surprised at how cold it felt, almost as if it had been outside all night. 

“Well, I suppose you two want to take some time by yourselves to go back and revisit some parts of the home,” the agent said at the end of the tour. “I’ll be out front by my car when you’re ready to head back to the office. Take your time. It’s a big place.” 

As the two of them headed back towards the front door, she tugged on his arm and whispered, “What does ‘El Jardin Oscuro’ mean?” 

“It means ‘The Dark Garden’,” he replied as he opened the door for her. 

He could hear her gasp slightly as he spoke those words and as he closed the door behind them, she grabbed his arm and demanded, “Why didn’t you tell me when you first knew?” She trembled and her eyes filled with tears as she waited for his answer. 

“I had to wait until we were alone. You understand now, don’t you?” he replied, holding her closely and speaking softly into her ear. “If I had told you while the agent was still with us, I wasn’t sure how you’d react.” 

They had lost their young daughter last year to illness and a psychic had told them she had gone to ‘a dark garden’ and nothing else. And now here they were in a house with a strange door perhaps leading to ‘The Dark Garden’. The coincidence was almost too overwhelming for them. 

“Should we call the psychic?” she asked. 

“I think it’s clear we should open the door right now,” he said, retrieving the doorknob from his pocket. “Are you ready?” 

“Yes.” 

They both breathed in deeply and then walked slowly out of the alcove and down the steps to the waiting door. 

They looked at each other for a long moment and then, as she held his hand in hers, he slid the doorknob gently into the door with his other hand and turned the knob. The door opened itself slowly. and as he let go of the doorknob, they stepped back, waited and watched. 

Minutes passed as they stared with wonderment at the scene behind the door. Finally, gathering their thoughts, they closed the door and astonished by what they had witnessed, headed for the front of the home. 

“Well, have you decided?” the agent asked them as they approached her at the curb. 

“We’ll take it,” they both said in unison. 

“Oh, that’s great. Let’s head back to the office and I’ll get an offer together.” 

They looked at each other and then he responded to the agent by saying, “We’d like to stay with the home for a while. We’ll be here when you get the offer ready for signing. Will that be alright?” 

“Sure thing. I’ll see you two in about an hour. There’s some snacks in the refrigerator. See you soon.” 

As the agent departed, the couple turned back towards the home, clasped hands and walked silently together. It would be their first hour with their daughter since her illness and they had so much they wanted to share with her. 

End

Heart