A Visitor to the Service - By Brian Law 

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



Almost Home - By Brian Law 

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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


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


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


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


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




Life Before Breakfast - By Brian Law 

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



Last Leaf of Fall - By Brian Law 

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



Saint Teddy - By Brian Law 

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




Passing Elko - By Brian Law 

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


“No, Fresno’s fine.”


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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




The Common Touch - By Brian Law 

Cadet Miller knocked quietly on the door and announced his presence, “Cadet Jonathan Miller reporting as ordered, sirs!”


The two young FBI agents were seated at a table with Miller’s file in front of them. They had just interviewed Cadet Jameson and were ready to perform a perfunctory interview with Cadet Miller and clear the case. Open and shut. Miller clearly was their culprit and they both wanted to be back to Albany by Happy Hour.


“Come in, Cadet,” one of the agents sternly replied as they both looked up as the young man entered, his uniform cap neatly tucked under his right arm. “Take a seat. I’m special agent Argent and this is special agent Wilson. We’re from the Albany office of the FBI. We’re investigating the theft of a transistor radio from one Cadet Jameson.”


Cadet Miller sat in the empty chair and placed his cap on the table. He looked nervously at both of the agents and then said, “I’ll help if I can, agents.”


Agent Wilson began, “Good, Miller, good. Now, Cadet Jameson has indicated that his transistor radio was on the table in his room when he left to go take a shower on Thursday, 12 June at about eight o’clock at night. When he returned about fifteen minutes later, the radio was gone. He told us that you were the only person he saw in the hallway when he exited his room and when he returned from the shower. Do you have anything to say about those statements by Cadet Jameson, Miller?”


Cadet Miller cleared his throat and replied, his voice cracking a bit, “Around eight o’clock in the evening on June 12th? Sorry, agents, I don’t specifically recall being in the hallway or not. Of course, if Cadet Jameson says I was, well, he may very well be correct. Of course, people are coming and going all the time in the dormitory halls. But, seeing me at two separate times in the hallway doesn’t necessarily mean anything, does it, especially since it doesn’t seem like Cadet Jameson knows exactly the time his radio was stolen.”


Agent Argent nodded and wrote something down, and then started to say something when Cadet Miller added, “And, of course, there are any number of non-students in the dormitories at night. Janitors, repairmen, tutors and whatnot. I would say that your focus may have to widen from just looking at me, agents, if you really want to do a professional investigation.”


Agent Wilson interjected, “Let us make that decision, Cadet. Now . . “ 


But before he could finish, Cadet Miller said, “And there’s always the question of why Cadet Jameson would even have a radio in his room. As you must be aware, first year cadets are prohibited from having anything but their uniforms, their grooming supplies, their computers and their books in their rooms. No cell phones, no radios, no tablets, nothing like that.”


The agents looked at each other and one was about to say something when Cadet Miller said, “Then there’s the question of why Cadet Jameson was taking a shower at that time of the evening. Regulations strictly prohibit showers after six thirty on school nights, agents.”


Agent Wilson tried to get the investigation back on track by saying, “Look, Cadet Miller, we’ve come a long way to get your side of the story, so . . . “ but Miller continued.


“Of course, agents, you will find out through your investigation that Cadet Jameson’s father is a politically-connected billionaire and as a result his son gets away with a lot.” Miller paused and then added, “For instance, he has that radio, he has a small television, and he often has female companionship after dark. Some say he meets these females in the showers. It’s not up to me to say for sure. But, you really should look into that aspect, agents. You never know. One of those girls could have taken the radio.”


Agent Wilson looked nervously at the tape recorder that the agents had running on the table top. He was beginning to wonder whether getting this all on tape was such a good idea when Cadet Miller interrupted his thought process by adding, “And you probably will find out anyway, so I guess I can tell you what everybody here knows. Jameson is a White Supremicist, no doubt. Now that may be completely irrelevant to your investigation. As is the fact that he’s running an illegal gambling book among the cadets. Again, that may be irrelevant, but it might bear looking into, especially since I won four hundred dollars from his gambling operation on June 11th, the day before he says I stole his radio, agents.” Again he paused and then continued, “Now, would I really need to steal a little radio if I had just won that kind of money? Or is it maybe that Jameson is upset at me and perhaps wishes to sully my name with these unfounded allegations. You tell me, agents. You’re the experts at ferreting out the truth, right?”


As the two agents fidgeted nervously in their chairs trying to figure how to get Miller back in their sights, Miller went on, “And I’m sure you agents have more important investigations to pursue. Like terrorists, bank robbers, complaining parents at local school board meetings and the like. So, if there’s nothing else I can help you with, I’d like to get back to my studies. I have a History exam in the morning and I haven’t read the chapters yet.” At that, Cadet Miller stood up, placed his cap firmly under his arm and did an about face to the utter surprise and amazement of the two agents.


As Cadet Miller closed the door, Agent Wilson looked at Agent Argent and said, “Jesus, Walt, whatta we do now? This kid Miller’s got us between a rock and a hard place. Can you imagine what Jameson’s father could do to our careers if any of this stuff got out about his son?” He reached over and turned off the tape recorder, removed the cassette and pulled the tape out and threw it in the waste basket.


“But we have to submit a report, Jim!” Agent Wilson replied. As they both thought for a moment, Wilson suggested, “Let’s do a background check on these non-students who are around the dormitory at night. We’ll find some with sketchy backgrounds and suggest that anyone of them could be our culprit. But we’ll have to conclude that we couldn’t find enough proof to point to any one person, including Cadet Miller.


"Sounds like a plan. And you gotta hand it to that Cadet Miller. Quite the straight shooter, if you ask me. Would have been a real mistake to focus on that young kid. Could have ruined his military career," Agent Argent concluded. His partner nodded in return.

Back in his room with the door closed, Cadet Miller put his feet up his desk, leaned back and turned on his newly acquired transistor radio to his favorite channel. As he listened through his earphones, he poured himself two fingers of Irish Whiskey he'd recently won in a poker game in the boiler room with some of the girls from the next college over.


And he checked his watch. The Cadet he was paying two hundred dollars to summarize five chapters of History for him was due in a few minutes. He'd better hide the radio and use some mouthwash.


After all, he had a reputation to protect.




Cold to the Touch - By Brian Law 

“Your Honor, the State calls as its next witness, Vlad Nicolescu,” the prosecutor announced.

The Judge turned to the defense attorney and asked, “Have you stipulated that Mr. Nicolescu is an expert in his field, Mr. Dennis?”

“Yes, your Honor, the defense has so stipulated,” the defendant’s lawyer replied, standing.

“Very well, then, Mr. Nicolescu, please take the stand,” the Judge directed.

The jurors watched with fascination as a pale, thin man rose from the spectator gallery and walked slowly to the witness stand. When asked to place his hand on the Bible by the Bailiff, he shook his head and said something to the Judge. And with that, the Judge just shrugged and waved the witness to the witness box without further ceremony.

The Prosecutor cleared his throat and addressed the witness, “Mr. Nicolescu, why are you here today in this courtroom?”

“I am an expert witness for the Prosecution,” came the hollow response.

“And just what is your expertise, Mr. Nicolescu?” the Prosecutor continued.

“I am an expert at blood extraction.”

“Is there a commonplace name for that, Mr. Nicolescu, one that the jury members might be more familiar with?” the prosecutor asked, glancing over to the twelve jurors.

A thin smile crossed the witness’s face as he turned to the jury and replied, “I am a vampire.” Hearing that, the jurors all abruptly straightened in their seats and paid rapt attention.

Continuing, the prosecutor asked, “And how long have you been a vampire, sir?”

“Ever since being bitten by another vampire in the year sixteen ninety-seven in a forest in what was then known as Bessarabia. I was twelve years old at the time.”

“And what training did you undergo in the ensuing years to acquire the skills needed to become a successful vampire, Mr, Nicolescu?” the prosecutor asked.

“I was taken in by a local group of vampires and ‘homeschooled”, as it were, for about a hundred years, give or take. My training included learning how to shape shift, how to seduce my victims, how to evade capture, personal hygiene, and dozens of other skills,” the witness answered.

“So, sir,” the prosecutor said, looking over at the Defense table, “would it then be safe to say that to become a Vampire one doesn’t simply acquire the needed skill set in a weekend seminar?”

The witness nodded and replied, “Correct. It takes generations of training under watchful eyes to become a true vampire, sir. To suggest otherwise is just false. There are no shortcuts.”

“Thank you, Mr. Nicolescu. Now, at the end of your training, did you receive any sort of certification or official recognition of your achievement?”

“There was a ceremony which took several days. Vampires from all over the world attended. It was a big deal. My name was inscribed on the wall of a cave somewhere in the Carpathian Mountains where it remains to this day with names of all the Vampires throughout history. But, no, no document or certificate,” Nicolescu recounted.

“So, Mr. Nicolescu, you are aware, are you not, that the defendant has been accused of sucking the blood of four people resulting in their deaths and is using the fact that he is a vampire as a defense?” the prosecutor continued. “In essence, the defendant is arguing he became a vampire without his consent and therefore could not help himself.”

“Yes, I am aware of that.”

Continuing the questioning, the prosecutor asked, “And you were asked by the prosecution to examine the defendant to determine the validity of his claim that he is a vampire. Did you so examine the defendant?”

“Yes. I examined the defendant over a period of days in his jail cell a month ago.”

“And what was the result of that examination process, Mr. Nicolescu? Is the defendant a vampire in your expert opinion?” the prosecutor asked.

The witness turned towards the jury and answered in a disembodied voice, “At the time of the murders, the defendant was not a vampire, in my expert opinion.”

“And what led you to that expert conclusion, Mr. Nicolescu?” the prosecutor asked.

“Several things. First, vampires do not typically kill their victims. That is a common misconception. They merely subdue their victims so that they can periodically harvest their blood. In my entire career as a vampire I have only heard of one vampire killing one of his victims, and that was accidental. It just isn’t done!”

Nicolescu looked over at the jury and continued, “Second, the defendant was extremely vague about when he was bitten by a vampire. His story changed often. And when pressed for details about how he felt in the hours and days after he was bitten, the emotions he described were not those of the typical victim of a vampire.”

“And then there was his daily routine after he said he was bitten. He went to work as a landscaper, outside and in broad daylight! Clearly not something a vampire could endure!”

“Finally, and this is probably the most important point, his body temperature at the time of my examination was normal,” Nicolescu explained. “Anyone who knows anything about vampires knows that this is just not possible.”

The prosecutor stood and said, “Thank you, Mr. Nicolescu, for your testimony. Your Honor, I have no more questions for this witness.”

The Judge turned to the defendant’s lawyer and asked, “Mr. Dennis, do you wish to cross-examine?”

As Mr. Dennis prepared to rise, his client leaned over and whispered something into his ear. His lawyer looked surprised and for a moment even a bit stunned. And then the defendant took his hand and put it into his lawyer’s hand and held on for a long moment.

“Mr. Dennis, we’re waiting,” the Judge announced.

“Yes, your Honor. Pardon the delay. I just have one question for Mr. Nicolescu,” the defendant’s lawyer responded. “You, sir, stated that the defendant’s body temperature at the time of your examination was normal. Yet, it is clear that at this moment, the defendant’s body temperature is clearly cold to the touch . . . subnormal. How do you explain this apparent contradiction, sir?”

Nicolescu just shrugged, crossed his legs, clasped his hands in his lap, leaned back in the witness box and replied, “No contradiction, sir. You can’t expect to put a vampire in a jail cell for several days with a healthy human and expect nothing to happen. Really, sir, you can’t be that naive.”



The Page Turner - By Brian Law 

The old woman lifted the cup of tea to her lips with difficulty. She sipped with care and then held the cup in her lap and waited for the next question. She did not try to hide either her disfigured hand or the tattoo on her inner right arm.


“Did you know about the piano player before you were sent to the Camps?” the man asked.


“We all did,” she replied with a smile. “He was the next Chopin. All of Poland knew of his greatness. And at only nine years of age!”


“So, how did it happen that you were not gassed?”


“Ah, yes,” she said, sipping her tea. “Why me? Out of all the others.”


The man waited for her answer. He knew enough not to rush her.


“It was because I mended his coat, you see,” she answered. “I was spared from death when I arrived at the Camp because I was a skilled seamstress. I would not have lasted long, regardless, but I was given his coat which was torn.” She paused and then added, “There was something about my work that intrigued him. He asked to meet me.”


“So, the Nazis knew all along who he was and were catering to his needs. Is that what you are saying?” the man asked.


“Oh, yes, they knew who he was and how great he was. They were not about to murder the greatest pianist since Chopin. He was to be protected and nourished. And I was chosen, out of all the others, to assist him.” She paused, leaned back in her chair, and winced with pain. Then she continued and said, “He wanted to see my right hand, you see. He thought the hand that had done such a marvelous job of stitching his torn coat must be just what he needed.”


“And what was that?” the man asked.


“Why, his music page turner, of course,” she said, the smile returning to her face.


“So, I assume you got better food, were bathed regularly, got better clothing and helped him perform. Is that correct?” he asked.


“Yes, we performed for the Camp command staff often, sometimes for the S.S. guards, and once even for Himmler when he visited. Never for the inmates, never,” she replied. “He said that my hand turning the pages of his music was like an angel from above. It gave him strength and purpose, he told me. . . and then we were liberated.”


“And you stayed together and found yourself in London in the late 1940’s.” the man pointed out.


“Yes, and he became famous and performed worldwide for the next thirty-seven years. And I was with him daily, rehearsing with him, assisting his performances, and providing support at all times. It was marvelous for both of us,” she explained.


“But then something happened. Is that correct?” the man asked, a look of concern coming over him as he glanced down at her right hand.


“Yes. I found out, quite by accident, that I had been chosen from hundreds of young women to be his page turner. And that my two sisters were among those others.”


The man looked at her and asked, “And he knew what would happen to those who weren’t chosen?”


“Yes, he knew, and yet kept looking until he found me.”


The man breathed in deeply and said, “What did you do when you found out?”


The old woman held up her right hand and said in a strong voice, “I went to his liquor cabinet late one night, poured his brandy over this hand and lit it on fire.”


The man said nothing but waited for her to continue.


“And from that point on, his career was over,” she said. “He had become so dependent upon me and my hand for his success that without it he couldn’t perform.”


The man interjected. “So, you robbed him of the one thing that made his life meaningful?”


“As he did to me,” she concluded, resting her disfigured hand in her lap once more.




Power Forward - By Brian Law 

Walt Johnson removed his fourth paper cup of coffee from the hospital’s vending machine, returned to his seat in the waiting room and sat down with the rest of the expectant fathers.


He was bleary eyed as he hunched forward, exhausted from the waiting and worrying. As he sipped from his coffee cup, a man slipped a business card onto the table in front of him, but said nothing. Walt looked at the man and with his interest piqued, picked up the card and read it. The card had the mascot of the local college’s basketball team embossed on it, and a name underneath it . . . Hector Cruz, recruiter.


“What’s this, mister?” Walt asked the man, holding the card up.


“Call me Hector, Walt,” the man replied, smiling. “The hospital called me when your wife went into labor, so I got over as soon as I could so we could talk a bit about your baby’s future.” Then, looking around, he suggested that he and Walt move to a more private area and talk.


“Our baby's future?” Walt wondered, still confused about why a basketball recruiter would be stalking him at a maternity ward at four o’clock in the morning.


“Confused, huh, Walt?” Cruz said, again smiling. “Most of our clients respond that way at first. It’s typical.”


“Clients? I’m not your client,” Walt responded, a tone to his voice. 


“Well, hear me out and you can decide later, Walt. But let me put you in the picture first,” Cruz explained as he corralled Walt to a separate table for just the two of them. He told Walt that the hospital had an arrangement with the local college. Pregnant women within a certain profile were identified and the college was provided with their names and their key data.


Walt nodded and interrupted, “So, because my wife and I were both college athletes, me in basketball and Helen in volleyball, and because the baby is obviously going to be big at birth, they contacted you guys, right?”


“You’re quicker than most, Walt,” Cruz retorted. “And we’d like to establish a relationship with you and your wife, an informal one.” He slid a sealed manila envelope across the table discreetly. 


 “What’s this?” Walt asked.


“Just a friendly gesture, Walt,” Cruz answered. “No strings. Just something to show you and your wife that we’re serious.”


Walt picked up the envelope and peaked inside. It was filled with a neat stack of new one hundred dollar bills with the familiar face of Ben Franklin staring back. “No strings?” Walt asked, his tone changing.


“No strings.”


Just then, someone from the hospital walked over to the table and announced, “Mr. Johnson, you’re the proud father of a new baby boy, sir. Mother and baby are doing very well.”


Walt, ecstatic, jumped up and asked, “How big is he?”


“Oh, my, Mr. Johnson, he’s a big one. He weighed 14 pounds, 2 ounces and was 30 inches long at birth. Biggest baby we’ve seen in years,” the staff member beamed.


Walt looked at Cruz, grinned, and held out his hand. “Be seeing you again, I presume, Mr. Cruz. Informally, of course,” Walt said confidently, pocketing the manila envelope.


As the two men shook hands, Cruz leaned over and whispered in Walt’s ear, “Your boy beat Shaq by two ounces and four inches, Walt. Congrats! See you about a year from now. Can’t wait to meet the boy.” 


Turning to leave, Cruz stopped and over his shoulder asked, “By the way, what are you naming the boy, Walt?”


Walt looked up and replied, “Well, we looked at hundreds of names and were thinking Benjamin, Cruz.” He paused, and taking out the envelope filled with hundred dollar bills and watching Cruz for his reaction added, “But now that we know how big he is, I’m kinda thinking we'll have to look at maybe a thousand more names. Grover comes to mind.”


Cruz, not blinking, nodded and said, "Grover is good, Walt. We can do Grover."