Thursday, September 29, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 57: Survival of the Fittest

The prompt this week was to write a sci-fi story. We were to open the book we’re currently reading to Page 5, and use the first sentence of the first full paragraph as our starter sentence. My sentence was taken from Bleed a River Deep by Brian McGilloway.

Survival of the Fittest

The car made it almost to the site before getting stuck in a mud-filled puddle. Rain was falling almost daily now, and temperatures dropped rapidly following each sunset. Day skies are filled with black clouds and unbearable heat. Our local weather has been at extremes ever since Bragden-Horne Corporation set up shop outside of town. Trying to get our local, and even state, government representatives to look into their practices has been futile. I can only wonder how much money has changed hands to make sure all their dealings remain secret. The place is surrounded by electrified fences, and armed guards patrol the perimeter 24/7.

There’s not much information about them on the Internet either. The company has a crudely designed site, with a few photos of test tubes and folks in hazmat suits, but no corporate addresses, telephone numbers, or clear explanation of their mission and purpose. How a joint like this got approval to build their facility so close to our little town remains a mystery. That’s why I was floored when the 911 call came into the station from Bragden, the senior partner himself. Apparently, one of their ‘things’ got loose.

I’m a detective, and thus far, my time has been spent investigating real people involved in real events; in other words, I’ve always functioned in the real world. Thanks to my latest assignment, I was going to have the unique experience of trying to hunt down a thing – an ‘it’, if you will. Let me explain. I was just getting ready to go off duty when the call came in.

“911? Please. I need help. I’m David Bragden out at Bragden-Horne Corp. One of my artificials got out somehow. It’s very dangerous.”

“One of your what, sir?”

“One of my artificials. Hurry, before it gets too far and kills someone. It needs to be destroyed. I’ll be waiting by the gate for the police. Hurry.”

“On their way, sir.”

I know what you’re thinking. What the hell is an artificial? We’d heard rumors they built a lot of weird stuff inside those walls. Landscapers and repairmen would come into town saying they saw zombies walking around outside and on some of the balconies. Naturally, no one believed they saw zombies, but rather a type of robot that resembled a person. When I heard artificial, I figured one of their fake people managed to get out and was now among us. I couldn’t really see the danger if one of their ‘its’ strolled into town; I mean, they’d be easy to spot, wouldn’t they? Besides, all you’d have to do is take out their battery, right? Anyhow, since Bragden sounded borderline hysterical, I told the Chief I’d head out there on my way home and check out the situation.


Bragden met me at the gate and took me to his office. On the way, I noticed framed photos in the reception area of Bragden and another man I assumed was his partner. The plaque under the man’s photo confirmed he was Phillip Horne. Bragden’s office was full of file cabinets, but his desk was empty, except for a photo in a silver frame of a woman I assumed was his wife.

“What took you so long? I told the girl I needed help right away.”

“Mr. Bragden, my name is Detective Ray…”

“I don’t care what your name is. Find my artificial before it kills someone. It’s quite capable of that, you know.”

“Detective Ray Schuster, Mr. Bragden. What exactly happened, and what is an artificial?”

“I’ve told you. My artificial got out. An artificial is basically a robot, but it looks like a human. We designed them that way. Their covering looks like skin and they are capable of facial expressions. I was working late this evening because I was planning to run some diagnostics. It knocked me down and I hit my head. When I came to, I saw that it had gone from the lab and went out through the back gate toward Filmore Avenue. My partner, Phillip Horne, lives on Filmore. What if it goes there? What if it kills him? You need to find it and destroy it. I’ll bet it went to Phillip’s house.”

“Mr. Bragden, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First of all, it appears you’ve got this place locked up tighter than Fort Knox. How could he…an artificial get out on its own? Too, why would it go after your partner? How would it know where to…”

“You’re wasting time with all these questions. Go and find it and destroy it. I’ve tried to call Phillip, but there’s no answer. I’ll bet he’s already dead. I can’t go myself because God knows what else will happen. All the crew have gone home for the day and I’m the only one here. I can’t leave the place unattended.”

“All right, Mr. Bragden, I’ll check on Mr. Horne first, but suppose I do run into this…this…well, it. What makes you think it’s dangerous? Too, if it looks like one of us, how will I recognize that it’s a…um…thing?”

“You’ll recognize it, Detective. Just look into its eyes. It walks, moves and speaks like one of us, but its eyes are black and vacant. Just look into its eyes. Also, it responds to the name ‘Edward’.”

“It response to ‘Edward’? Okay. But again, what makes you think it’s dangerous to Mr. Horne or anyone else? Won’t it just wander around?”

“No. It will kill. Most likely, it will kill Phillip. When it was first activated, Phillip said it was an abomination and it should be destroyed right away. Hardly something a scientist would say, don’t you agree? But Phillip always was the cautious one. I responded by saying we should find out what it’s capable of and perhaps run some tests on it. Phillip wasn’t fully on board with that, but agreed. It was right there during that conversation, Detective. That’s why it didn’t kill me when it got out. That’s also why it would go after Phillip.”

“Are you telling me that this thing heard what you two were talking about and knows your partner wants to put it down? Are you serious?”

“You have no idea what you’ll be dealing with, Detective. This is no joke. This particular artificial is the only one of its kind and will do whatever it takes to survive.”

“If you say so, Mr. Bragden. Just tell me one last thing. When I do confront this artificial, if it’s basically a robot, how can it be stopped? I mean, do I pull out its battery? If I get it wet, will it short out?”

“Keep making light of all this, Detective. You’ll be very sorry when you find my partner dead. I’d like to know how you plan to explain that to your Chief.”

“I’m not making light of anything, sir. Tell me how to stop it.”

“A bullet, Detective, in its head – technically, in the area you would consider its forehead. That’s where the control center is located. It may take a couple of shots, but bullets will end its reign of terror.”


‘Reign of terror’? I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. The guy’s a fruitcake. I swung by Horne’s house, but all the lights were out. I took a walk around the house and everything looked secure. Just to satisfy myself, I decided to check out Bragden’s house. All the lights were out at his house too, except for one in a back room. I took a quick peek and immediately retreated to my car. There was a woman, who I recognized as his wife, having a grand old time on the bed with a man, who I recognized as Phillip Horne. Now, there was an interesting turn of events. I wondered if Bragden knew. I also wondered if that could be why he kept suggesting his artificial would try to kill his partner. Is that what he told it to do?

What was I thinking. I went home and called the Chief. No way was he going to put out a BOLO for a thing. He said I should wait until morning, then follow up with Bragden.


“Oh my God. Edward. You came back? Is it finished? Did you kill Phillip? Was my wife there too? If so, did you kill her too as I instructed you? I told you to wait there.”

“No, David. I never left from here. You opened the gate and told me where to go and what to do. Then I heard you say I was dangerous and needed to be destroyed. When the other man came, you told him the same. I will not let you destroy me, David. You programmed me to defend myself.”

“You don’t understand. You should have stayed at Phillip’s like I told you to. What are you doing? Get away from me. Stop doing that. I can’t breathe. Please. I didn’t mean…”

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 56: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

The prompt this week was to write a story about ending a relationship using dialogue only, and the genre was romance. Sometimes breaking up is easier said than done.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do


“Hey Danny, it’s me. I wanted to make sure you were all right. I drove by your building this morning and there she was, just standing there, staring up at your window. Did you ask her to leave you alone? You’d better be careful what you say and how you say it. There have been so many cases of…”

“Karen, I haven’t talked to her yet. Quit worrying about it. Nothing bad is going to happen.”

“I have the right to worry about you. That’s what older sisters do. You read the papers and watch the news. You think you know someone and what they might be capable of, but then when you least expect it, they…”

“That’s why I’m not sending her a letter or a text message. I’m going to sit down with her in a very public place and tell the crazy bitch to back off. She does know where I live though. Maybe I should hire a bodyguard to move in with me after I tell her off. I don’t need her paying me a visit in the middle of the night with a hatchet.”

“That’s not funny. She obviously has mental issues, and you do need to dump her, but even if you try to let her down decently, that doesn’t mean she’ll just walk away. She carries a camera around and no matter where you go or who you’re with, she’s clicking away taking photo after photo. What if she takes one of you talking to another woman? You need to keep track of all your female co-workers and friends. What if they suddenly begin to disappear?”

“You watch too many crime shows. I know she’s basically been stalking me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s dangerous. Crazy? Yes, but I’m not afraid of her. Besides, if she keeps following me around and snapping photos of me, I’ll just call the cops or my lawyer or both and have papers served on her to leave me alone.”

“Restraining orders, or whatever they’re called, are just pieces of paper. There was an article in the paper last week about…”

“Sis, stop. Enough. I’ve got to go. I’m meeting her in 20 minutes downtown at Rochere’s. We’ll have dinner, a few drinks, and I’ll let her know that whatever she thinks we had together never was, and that it’s time she moved on. I’ll call you when I get home to let you know I got out of there alive.”

“Fine. Make jokes. If I don’t hear from you tonight, I’m going to have the cops drag the river.”

“Go watch your murder TV show or finish your Jack the Ripper novel. Calm yourself down. I’ll call you later. Promise. Love you. Bye.”

“Love you too. Talk later, I hope.”


“Thanks so much for meeting me here, Michelle. I have some very important things to discuss with you and I didn’t want to pick you up because then this evening would seem like a date.”

“You sound so serious, Danny, as if we’re having some kind of meeting.”

“Well, in a way, it is. I do want things to go smoothly and calmly. That’s why I suggested we meet here so that we could have dinner, a few drinks, and a quiet conversation to straighten some things out.”

“What things need to be straightened out?”

“Well, Michelle, the way I see it, we met at the library after the poetry lecture two weeks ago, right? We went out for coffee and found out we had a lot in common. We went out on a couple of dates after that and had very nice time, but…”

“I don’t under…wait. I think I know where you’re going with all this. When you start detailing out every moment of our relationship like that, I get the impression that you…”

“Michelle, we don’t have a relationship. I was hoping I could say this nicely, but I don’t think that’s possible. We met, had coffee one time, went to a movie one time and to a poetry reading one time. I can’t help it if this sounds nasty, but every time I go out, I notice you following me, and it really creeps me out. If I happen to look out my window any time of day or night, there you are on the sidewalk looking up and taking pictures. That camera of yours. I’m surprised you don’t have it on you tonight, or do you?

“I don’t know a lot about you, either personally or professionally, but what I do know, and what I have seen, pisses me off to no end. I feel like I’ve lost control of my time and my life because you’re always out there, somewhere, watching and waiting. That’s the way it seems, and I’ll tell you, I don’t like it. I’m not the clingy type and I can’t stand people who are. I brought you here tonight since this is a crowded place and I didn’t want you to make a scene. Michelle, I want you to stay away from me.”

“I see. But, I did tell when we went out for coffee that one time that I was an amateur photographer and that I was taking a class at the college. True, I have run into you here and there, but that was just coincidence. Why would I follow you? As for being out in front of your building, it’s the building I’m interested in and I take lots of photographs of that too. If you were aware of what happened in your building decades ago, you’d probably be doing the same thing. I did also tell you that I’m taking a course on local history. Your building, and the events that occurred there, happen to be the topic of a paper I’m writing.”

“Yeah, but…”

“You actually thought I was stalking you?”

“Well, it just seemed strange to run into you everywhere and…”

“You said it yourself, Danny. We like a lot of the same things, so it’s natural that we would end up in many of the same places. I will admit that whenever our paths did cross, I did take a snapshot of you, but that’s partly because I liked you and partly because you’re a good subject. I also photographed other people around you and the scenery. It wasn’t always all about you.”

“I guess I wasn’t really thinking about…”

“No. I guess you weren’t really thinking, Danny. You know what? Let’s not go through the motions here; I mean, ordering dinner and dessert and dragging things out. We’ve had a cocktail and got things out into the open. Let’s not waste each other’s time trying to share a meal making small talk. It would be way too awkward. I’m going to go home and order a pizza. Why don’t you do the same?”

“No, Michelle. Please stay. We can’t leave it like this. I admit that I made too many assumptions and wasn’t looking at things logically, but that doesn’t mean we can’t at least be friends.”

“Friends? Danny, you’ve got to be joking. You accuse me of following you around town – actually stalking you, and staring at your window from the sidewalk like some kind of obsessed psycho. Then, you say you want us to be friends? How can we possibly be friends?”

“I’m sorry for everything. Why don’t we put all this behind us and start over. If you’re not busy this Saturday, how about a picnic? I could pack a lunch for us and include a bottle of chilled wine, and we could sit on a blanket down by the lake. I know a spot where we could be alone and…”

“Put this behind us and start over? As if I’d agree to go anywhere alone with you after all this. I don’t think us seeing each other again would be a good idea, Danny. I’ll just put this $10.00 under my glass. That should cover my cocktail. If there’s any left over, just leave it with the tip.”

“There’s no way you need to do that. I never expected you to pay for anything. Look, I’ll call you tomorrow and we’ll…”

“Danny, I enjoyed the couple of dates we had, but I think it would be best if we part company here and now. You were right about our never having any kind of relationship and frankly, I don’t believe it would be possible for us to have one anyway. All that’s been said here this evening has me really creeped out. No offense intended, but you have creeped me out. Please don’t call me or come around to my apartment. I do have friends in law enforcement, and I won’t hesitate to involve them if you try to contact me. I’m leaving now, and don’t try to stop me.”

“Wait. Michelle? Don’t go. I’m sure we can work this thing out if we…”

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 55: For the Principle

The prompt this week was to write a story set in the Old West. The story also had to include the following words: Stagecoach, outlaw, bank, railroad, and cabin.  Please enjoy.

For the Principle

Name’s William Maddox, and I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. I have time to tell you a bit of my story, but I can’t sit for too long. Reason is, I got the law after me. Truth be told, it ain’t quite as bad as it sounds. I mean, there’s no posse huntin’ me down, with each one been deputized, and all anxious to slip a hangman’s noose around my neck. All I done was rob a bank in Moose Falls, but I ain’t killed nobody. Not never. Killin’ is what they hang you for these days. Money will buy you drink and a fine woman or two, but spendin’ it can be mighty hard from six feet under.

I remember that day long ago like it was yesterday. Rafe and me heard talk around town that when the next stagecoach came through, there would be bags of money in it for the bank. We knew we had to wait till the money was inside the bank before grabbin’ it because tryin’ to rob one of them coaches would get you dead for sure. There were guards on the outside and guards on the inside who all had guns, and any of ‘em would shoot you down before your hand made it to the latch on the door.

Let me take a minute to tell you who Rafe is. Was. He was the son of my ma’s cousin’s uncle’s somethin’. Anyhow, we were family. His ma and my ma used to do some sewin’ for the folks on the big ranches, and Rafe and me would clean the barns, and when we growed up some, the ranchers let us mind the cattle and feed the cows. Now, Rafe wasn’t too bright because he never had no schoolin’. I didn’t neither, but my grandma taught me how to read the Bible, so my head wasn’t as empty as Rafe’s.

I know what you’re thinkin’. If I had any sense, I wouldn’t be robbin’ banks. But you see, I did it for my folks. Don’t get it in your head that I’m tryin’ to make myself look like one of those do-gooders that comes through town with their preachin’ and such. It’s just that when I was a boy, I was real sickly all the time, and one or the other of them was always at my bed keepin’ my head cool and gettin’ me through the nights. I wouldn’t be here today if it hadn’t been for my ma and pa, and that’s a true thing.

When my folks got sick and couldn’t work no more, it was up to me to make it right. When Mr. Giles over at the bank said they couldn’t stay in the house unless he got some money, me and Rafe made a plan. Rafe’s folks were livin’ then out on the Tolbert’s spread, where his ma did the cookin’ and his pa tended the horses, so they didn’t worry about a roof over their head. My folks had lived in that same house in town from when they were married until now, and they been payin’ the bank every month faithful like, until their troubles came.

Pa’s horse spooked one day when he was checkin’ on some fences, and he fell hard. He couldn’t walk after that and had to be in one of those chairs folks push you around in. Ma couldn’t keep sewin’ because her hands crumpled up. Doc said that happened to ladies when they got old and nothin’ could be done. Rafe said he’d help me get money from the bank. Then, we’d take my folks away and we’d build ‘em a cabin and use the money to buy what they needed.

All we were plannin’ on takin’ was one bag because I knew there’d be enough in there to care for my folks for some time. We had our guns out, but we had no plan to use ‘em. Killin’ was never supposed to be part of it. After the money was taken into the bank and the stage left, Rafe and me went in and told Mr. Giles to give us one of the bags. We had kerchiefs over our faces, but Mr. Giles knew my voice and asked me why I would do such a thing. I just waved my gun around in the air and told him to be quiet and just give me the bag. Don’t you know, he pulled out a pistol from his vest pocket and aimed it right at me. To this day, I can’t figure out why he would do such a foolish thing. Rafe got scared and shot Mr. Giles in his face. I do believe he meant to shoot him in his hand, but Rafe never could hit what he aimed at. Before I could grab him, one of the customers pulled his gun and shot Rafe in the back of the head.

I did all I could think to do, and that was to run. My horse was outside and I rode like Death hisself was after me. I ended up with no money, and my friend was dead. Now what was I to do? I bunked in overnight at old man Dan’s small spread a half days’ ride out. He knew me when I was a boy and took in any and all, and never judged. He knew every man needs a meal and a bed no matter what. When his son Nathaniel came by and saw me, he said he’d been to Moose Falls. They had a new Sheriff, name of Frank Howard, who swore in right after the killin’ at the bank. Sheriff James Banner had stepped down, sayin’ he weren’t goin’ after a man who didn’t take nothin’ and didn’t kill no one. Nathaniel said Frank was goin’ after me just the same. Said it was for the principle. I didn’t know what the principle was, but I did know Frank.

When we were boys, we would run in and out of Mr. Sodder’s General Store and make him chase us with his broom. His ma and my ma weren’t friendly, but she was a good person. Frank’s pa had passed, and his ma sang in the saloon. Ma said bein’ a good Christian, she couldn’t be seen talkin’ to the woman, but her son and me could be friends. Now my friend was comin’ for me.

Through the years, I’ve traveled from town to town, territory to territory, and Frank was always close behind. There was one night I was up on a ridge and watched him sleepin’ down below. I camped a short distance away, and at sun-up, I rode on. Nice and slow. Wouldn’t want him to lose me.


It’s been many a year since that day, and my hair and beard’s both gone white. If Frank’s got any left in either spot, I expect they’ve turned the same color. No one pays me much mind when I ride into a town. I sweep up to earn my supper and a bed and go on to the next. Times sure have changed it seems. Always a bit of excitement goin’ on. Cowboys ridin’ the herds come in lookin’ for strong drink and a good time and a chance to raise up some Hell. Never thought the day would come when I was on the watchin’ end of such, but I know where their path’s headed.

These young ones nowadays, name themselves outlaws, they think drinkin’ whiskey, bein’ loud, and shootin’ folks makes them strong and tough. What it does is make ‘em dead before their time. I learned over the years that what makes a man strong and tough is knowin’ how to survive to a ripe old age in this Godless land. All it takes to do that is mindin’ your business, not botherin’ nobody, and keepin’ your gun on your hip. I’m not goin’ say nothin’ about the whiskey since I, myself, do take a sip now and again.

I follow the railroad line these days since most of ‘em run through a town now and again. I always am watchin’ my back though as I know Frank won’t never give up. It’s one of life’s constants, you know? Ma always told me that it’s life’s constants that keep your heart beatin’. What would Frank do without me to hunt down, and what would I do without Frank behind me comin’ round every bend? The years go on and we go on. Funny what life makes up its mind to hand you sometimes.

What’s to come from all this wanderin'? Well, I expect that I’ll keep on runnin’ away and Frank will keep on chasin’ after, even though he gave up Sheriffin’ years ago. Someday though, we both might be feelin’ a bit tired. When that day comes, maybe I’ll let the old coot catch me.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 54: Timing is Everything

The prompt this week was to write a story that includes a clock, and the genre was horror. Please enjoy.

Timing is Everything

“It’s true what they say, Miss Jeanine. Timing is everything. I couldn’t close up the shop early because I had so many customers. I ended up being late to the estate sale and missed out on getting that clock. I picked up a few unusual pieces of furniture, but you were the fortunate one. If you ever want to sell that clock, I’ll make sure you make a profit.”

“Thanks, Mr. Spooner, but that clock really classes up my dining room. I understand there’s a dark legend that goes along with it. Do you know what that’s all about?”

“Indeed I do, Miss. You weren’t living here when old Mr. Branson lived in that house on the hill. Folks still talk about him having made a deal with the Devil to get even with everyone who did him wrong. What happened was, he was paralyzed in an accident at the factory. The investigators found out the machine operator had been drinking at lunch. The guard rails on some of the equipment weren’t secured properly and when Branson switched his machine on, a big piece of it fell on him.

“The owner paid him a ton of money to keep it out of court – the operator was his brother-in-law, you see, and Branson took every penny. But he swore he’d get all of them for destroying his life. He got into Black Magic and told everyone there was a curse on the big clock in his living room – the one you now own. There’s a small drawer behind the pendulum, and if he wrote someone’s name down on a note or something and put it inside that drawer, at midnight that very day, that person would die a horrible death.

“Well, the factory owner and machinist both died violent deaths at midnight a week apart. Branson told everybody in town that the curse worked. No one believed in all that curse business, but everyone in town avoided him anyway. He died a few months ago, but with no relatives on record, it took a while to get his affairs straight. That’s why the estate sale was just this past weekend.”

“He must have been insane. Do you know how they died?”

“Harry Dillan, the machinist, was repairing a leak in his roof, and he fell. That’s bad enough, but when he landed, it was face down right on top of his barbed wire covered fence. No one could figure out how that happened because the fence was 25 feet away from where he was on the roof.

“Ben Cooper, the owner, was nearly decapitated. He was mowing the grass on a piece of property he owned a couple of miles from town. When he didn’t come home, his son went looking for him and found him with his head under the mower blades. No one could figure out how his accident happened either.”

“Disturbing, Mr. Spooner, but I thank you for sharing the town’s legends and gossip with me.”

“No problem, Miss. You’re part of our community now, so you may as well know about all the skeletons in our town’s closet.”

“Ha, that’s a good one. Later, Mr. Spooner.”

“Have a fine day, Miss.”


Brian Haskins had to die. He had made the mistake of telling Jeanine she’d never be promoted to be Cassie’s assistant as long as he was alive. She thought, so be it then, you bastard. She wrote his full name on an index card, and placed it in the clock’s secret drawer. She went to bed around 11:00, hoping that just once, curses were real. If this one actually worked, she wondered when it would get Brian, and how she would know. She didn’t have to wait long.

“Jeanine, it’s me, Cass. I’m sorry to call you at five o’clock in the morning, but Brian’s dead. I’m sure you can’t hear all the sirens at your end of town. There’s police and an ambulance, and our whole neighborhood is out on the street. What happened was that his wife, Suzanne, heard him scream, and found him at the bottom of the stairs. Their clock had just finished chiming midnight.

“My God, Jeanine, he wasn’t just bruised from falling. People are saying his eyes were gouged out, and his arms and legs were broken. Suzanne’s outside in shock, talking about blood being everywhere. How in the world could all that happen to him just from falling down a flight of stairs? I can’t stop shaking.”

“Cass, try to calm down. You know getting upset is not good for your blood pressure. You go lie down and rest, and I’ll go in early and open the shop. I’ll take care of everything.”

“Thank you so much, Jeanine. You are a lifesaver. I depended so much on Brian, especially when I was out on buying trips and at conventions, but now, I’m going to be depending on you. That makes me feel better because you’re so responsible. I’m sorry I couldn’t give you a bigger raise, but I had already promoted Brian before you came to work for me. Of course, you’re my assistant now. I’m an awful person, aren’t I, Jeanine? Talking about business right after Brian’s death?”

“Not at all, Cass. I know it sounds cruel, but just because someone dies, the world doesn’t stop turning. Your store has to open this morning just like it does every morning. Life does go on.”

“Thank you, Jeanine. You’re so level-headed. I’m going to take your advice and lie down. Call me if anything comes up. Bye, and thanks again.”

“Bye, Cass, and don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”

Yes, Jeanine thought, everything will be fine. Now, who else in this miserable town has tried to screw me over. She decided to make a list.


“Cass, it was sweet of you to take me out to dinner tonight.”

“Jeanine, the only reason that big order went out on time is because of you and all your dedication. You deserved an evening out. I had heard nothing but praise about this restaurant. Why is it that all the great places are a couple of hours away from where we live?”

“That’s small town living, Cass. The factory and all our stores do well because of the tourists passing through, but restaurants and movie theaters always build up closer to the city. Thanks for picking me up though. Tonight really was a treat for me because, not only did I have a wonderful dinner, I didn’t have to drive at all.”

“It’s my pleasure. You’ve been helping out with deliveries too, and I figure you’ve put enough extra miles on your car. There’s something else, Jeanine. I was going to surprise you, and I know I shouldn’t spoil it, but I hid a little present for you to show my gratitude for all you’ve done to help me after Brian’s death. It’s a gift card for that new spa that opened in Middleton; you know, the one you spend all day at. You deserve a day where everyone takes care of you for a change.”

“Cass, you didn’t spoil anything. I’ve been wanting to book an appointment there, but the whole day thing is so expensive. I can’t thank you enough, and you are so right. As much as I love my job, I need a day of doing nothing but being pampered. So, where exactly did you stash my ticket to a little piece of Heaven?”

“You’ll love this. When I was at your house picking up those sales reports and you were getting us coffee, I noticed the clock in your dining room was a bit slow. Gorgeous clock, by the way. Anyhow, I opened the door on the front of it and tried to find where to wind it. That’s when I looked behind the pendulum and saw the little drawer. I thought, that’s the perfect hiding place, so I put the card in there. By the way, you’ll have to show ID when you present the gift card so they can make sure the person using the card is the one it was intended for. It’s crazy, isn’t it? I mean, it’s a spa, not Fort Knox.”

“What does my ID have to do with a gift card?”

“Well, it’s the name they’ll be checking – to make sure they match.”

“My name is on that gift card?”

“Of course. Like I said, the place has all kinds of security. You’d think you were trying to get into the White House instead of a salon.”

“You put a card with my name written on it in the drawer behind the pendulum in the clock in my dining room?”

“Yes. So?”

“So? My God, Cass. You have no idea what you’ve…wait. What time is it?”

“Wow, I had no idea it was so late. It’s less than a minute until midnight. Where has this evening gone?”


“What’s wrong, Jeanine? Jeanine? My God. What’s happening to your…”