Category: Free Blog Fiction (Page 2 of 9)

Crime du Jour, Day 10: Drug Manufacturing and Cultivation

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

Please note, I don’t actually smoke weed myself. I’m a writer, and my job is to convincingly lie about these things.

Crime du Jour #10: Drug Manufacturing and Cultivation

FROSTY TRIM

Recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado. You can grow it at home for personal use. Six plants per resident over 21 in the house, with as many as three plants flowering at a time, a max of twelve plants unless you meet certain requirements. Let’s keep it simple and say twelve plants total, with six plants flowering at a time. The plants have to be in an enclosed area, concealed from view, locked up, and inaccessible to minors. You can’t sell to anyone, either marijuana or marijuana products.

Raising pot plants indoors goes beyond an art. It’s witchcraft. Grow lights, grow times, nutrient cycles, handling mold, ventilation, to use or not use a pesticide on your precious plants, not tracking pollutants in or out of your grow area, harvesting, trimming, drying, curing, and making other products. All of it’s fussy,  complicated, and temperamental, so you’re always learning something new.  It’s not like growing snap peas in the back yard in summer. Do you know your top ten hygrometers?  I know mine.

I put in my time and learned my craft.  The kids call me the Pot Witch, because I’m old, crotchety, have a wart on my chin, and my product is like magic.

Newbies expect it to be easy.

Being high is easy.  All the steps before that are a pain in the ass.

You have to love the process for what it is. And I do.

Sometimes when I’m in my grow room, my soul sings just from the feeling of the cycle of life ebbing and flowing around me.  There’s a place in my heart where the plants and I blend into each other, where I’m forgiven all my little sins and my plants reconcile themselves with becoming ash and dreams.  Everyone’s got a little bit of the mystic in them. I save my mysticism for my plants.  My craft.  No matter what strain I grow (although I usually stay with Lamb’s Bread or Granddaddy Purple, to stick with my strengths), people always feel like they’re guided toward insight. I’ve had more than one friend break down in tears as their inner defenses come down.

But I once ended up in a bad place because of what I’d shared.

I was vaping a little dab of weed concentrate—or shatter—with an old, old friend of mine, someone I’d known for a hundred years between the two of us. (Yes, I’m that old, if not older.)  The shatter was my own, made from frosty trim, the sweetly-furred leaves that surround the buds when they’re ripe. If you don’t trim the buds when you dry and cure them, it makes for a less-than-optimal smoke, but if you do trim them, you end up with less flower.  I compromise by doing a very clean trim, drying and curing the trimmings, then running them through a vacuum tube-butane setup that looks like something out of a mad scientist’s lab.

That night, the talk between my friend and I was getting free and loose, our tongues coming undone.

Then, out of nowhere, that old, old friend of mine said something unforgiveable.

And then he said something even more unforgiveable.

I gritted my teeth.

He asked me why I was being so quiet, then laughed and said something that topped both previous times combined.

Did I go all Montresor from Edgar Allan Poe on his ass? No.

But did I refuse to show him my shatter set-up when he asked?

Also no.

A man who could say what he had said, was obviously a man to know his own mind. “So this is the butane intake?” he asked, without waiting for an answer.  “And here’s where the oil collects? I know a great way to get a few last ounces out of it. You put in a couple of wadded-up coffee filters at each end, then overstuff the cylinder before you start running the butane through it.  You should try it.”

“Do you have your own rig?”

“No, it was a buddy of mine’s.  Hey, why is there tape all over the light switches?”

I told him that it was because I had a cat who liked to play with them.

He said, “How about letting me have a run at your setup?”

I did have a plastic tub full of frosty trim that was just waiting to be processed into beautiful, honey-clear shatter, about two dozen plants’ worth. But I pressed one hand to my heart and said, “I would never practice my craft while I was this high. Besides, I’m out of trim.”

He laughed and said he felt perfectly clear-headed, he would do it for me. We could go out and buy some good buds, not crap any homegrower could grow at home.

I said I was going to bed.

He said, “You’re just worried that I’ll steal your trade secrets.”

I said, “Tell you what: you bring a batch of shatter and we’ll try them both. Whoever wins has to show off their setup to the loser.”

He bared his teeth.  “Ha! ha! ha! An excellent test.  We’ll have a good laugh over this for years.”

I said, “Just be careful. Nobody makes good shatter when they’re high.”

He left that night with a smile upon his lips.

I wondered what would happen to him.

A spark, a single spark, was all it would take to light any leaking butane on fire.

I sat down with a second dab and a meditative state of mind, wondering if I had done the right thing.

My plants said it was out of my hands now, that the man he truly was would emerge from this test. Would he be a humble man, willing to admit he had much to learn? Would he forget about the whole thing?

Or would he be a dead man with his house on fire?

Eventually, the plants said, we would all have to find out.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

Crime du Jour, Day 9: Cyberbullying

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

Crime du Jour #9: Cyberbullying

THE CASE OF THE LILAC PURPLE GALAXY S9 PHONE

It was 4:15 in the morning when I got on the light rail to DIA. I arrived at DIA at 4:52. My flight was for 6:45. I was half asleep. I had limited myself to carry-on luggage and had my plane ticket printed out and ready.  I don’t trust phone tickets, because once I had a battery die mid-check-in.  Now I never go anywhere without a power bank, but that’s beside the point: I had a printed ticket.

I pulled all my junk out and put it into the tubs, went through security, put everything back into my carry-on and pockets, then stumbled toward the nearest coffee shop.

Soon, coffee-with-cream in hand, I found my gate and sat down to wait.

Where I discovered that I could not unlock my phone.

I had a Lilac Purple Galaxy S9 phone at the time. It had a clear silicone case, the flexible kind with bumper corners, and cute cartoon kittens on the back.

Now, I’m not the most tech-savvy person out there; however, I do tend to forget my passwords on a regular basis, so I wasn’t completely at a loss.  I knew how to do a hard-reset on the phone, no big deal on an Android where you can reload contacts from Google, but losing data is always a pain. I pulled out my laptop and logged into my Google account, then used the “find my device” feature to reset the password from my laptop.  It’s cool. You can force a phone to ring, track down its location, or even erase your phone remotely.  I just reset the password, though.  Then I put away my laptop and unlocked the phone.

My inbox looked like I’d gotten spammed with about a thousand messages.

I rubbed my eyes, turned off the phone (which locks it), then half-jolted awake and unlocked it again, because now I was paranoid.  It unlocked.  I turned it off again, then pulled out the print novel I’d brought along in case my phone battery and backup failed, and started reading, using the printed plane ticket as a bookmark.

I read until it was time to line up. Then I read while the flight attendants checked everyone in. They scanned my paper ticket without comment.  Most people just held out their phone screens.

I checked the ticket eight or nine times for my seat number as I walked down the ramp from the gate, then again as I got onto the plane.

As I made my way down the aisle, I saw a kid, a teenaged girl, on her phone. It caught my eye for some reason, maybe only that I was stuck in place while people laboriously slid their rollerbags into the overhead compartments.  She had long, honey-brown hair with a painstaking zig-zag part, green eyes, and dark-brown eyebrows.  She was wearing a black hoodie and a v-necked, polka-dotted, black-and-white shirt.  She had her knees up on the seat behind her, and I thought, What a shithead.  She was giggling to herself, looking positively maniacal as both thumbs flew over the digital keyboard at the bottom of her phone screen.

She glanced at me, then went back to her phone.

I made my way back to the seat, sliding my bag under the seat in front of me and buckling myself in, then pulling out my phone to see what was up with my Gmail account.

I logged in.

The emails weren’t for me. In fact the phone was set up completely differently than mine. The icon for Facebook was missing.  So were the ones for JoAnn’s, Wells Fargo, and my Kindle reader.  The icons all looked like they were for games.

I looked up the email addressee, and there she was, caught by selfie: green eyes, honey-brown hair, dark eyebrows, that zig-zag part. She was even wearing the same shirt.

And I thought, Wasn’t there a gangly teenager in front of me in line at security? Was it the same girl? It must have been.

I looked myself up on Facebook.

I was not entirely surprised to note that I had been posting some rather nasty things.  Criminally nasty. You should kill yourself, self-abort you fucking—I’ll stop there. You get the point.

Had she grabbed my phone by accident or on purpose?  The model and case were the same. I had ordered my case on Amazon, so maybe that wasn’t too much of a stretch. But how had we even reset our devices to the same PIN?  Childishly, I had reset mine to 6969. Okay, she must have, too.

But at the same time?

In an infinite universe, nothing is too much of a coincidence, I guess.

So…

One of the options on Google’s “find my device” feature is that you can put a recovery message on the lock screen, something like, “If you find this phone, please call XXX-XXXX.”  Or whatever.

I typed, “Surprise, I can see you! Guess who can unlock phones too?” as the recovery message and reset the phone.

Two minutes later came a yelp from the front of the plane.

The girl went from row to row, saying, “Have you seen my phone?  Have you seen my phone?” after the seatbelt light went off.  I shook my head like everyone else.

Later, I went to the bathroom and there it was, my phone, with the word PLEASE written in lipgloss on the mirror. Miraculously, no one had taken it.

I switched phones back.

But only after I’d changed the PIN again, and forwarded a few of the girl’s more hateful memes to her mother.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

Crime du Jour, Day 8: Criminal Contempt of Court

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

Crime du Jour #8: Criminal Contempt of Court

A SCANDAL WAITING TO HAPPEN

Chari Hyde had always been something special, even if most people didn’t appreciate it. She was a green-eyed brunette who looked good in a red lip and a tailored business suit.

She might purr like a sex kitten, but she drew the line at sexual contact.

“I clean up after scandals,” she told her boss. “I don’t want to be your scandal waiting to happen.”

Her boss, John Carter Wright, was a famed real estate mogul in Boston.

And a murderer.

It had been decades ago, literally before she was born, in 1989. (Chari had been born to well-off parents in Connecticut.) A college student, one Leslie Vensel, had been raped and murdered in nearby Somerville, off Union Square. The case remained unsolved.

But not undiscovered. The evidence was in a pile of old records Wright wanted scanned in. There was a copy of the police report, the autopsy, the untested DNA kit report. And Wright’s witness report: he had been at a party nearby.  Clipped inside the back cover were some handwritten notes indicating that money had been requested and paid out. A lot of money.

To a pair of men mentioned elsewhere in the file as being other witnesses at the party.

As far as Chari could tell, Wright had literally forgotten all about it.

Wright had a bad reputation with women.  He had had Chari put several rape allegations to bed.  She scanned the contents of the folder in and boxed the hardcopy up with the other documents going into storage.

What did it make her, that she didn’t report anything to the police? An accessory after the fact? There was no statute of limitations on murder.

On the one hand, it could be like writing her own retirement check.

On the other hand, Wright had raped and murdered a woman.

Yet considered it so unimportant that he’s left the paperwork in a pile of old tax returns.

A year passed. Wright’s records were, unsurprisingly, hacked.  And the dirt that was dug up was sold to the Boston Globe for a front-page exclusive.

The headline read:

REAL ESTATE MOGUL JOHN CARTER WRIGHT ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH FAMOUS COLD CASE

Then it read:

REAL ESTATE MOGUL JOHN CARTER WRIGHT RELEASED ON $7 MILLION BAIL

“Hey boss, can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Sure, doll. What’s up?”

“You know me, John Carter. It’s never just one thing. Here, have some espresso.”

Chari led him through the business of the morning. Wright was a man with vision, even if that vision, like his office, was more than a little rococo.  He sat in an overstuffed armchair and sipped his quadruple espresso as she leaned against the table, dressed in red.

“Anything else?”

“I’m sorry to have to bring this up, but I do.  It’s the Vensel murder case.”

“You know there’s nothing to that, baby.”

“I know, John Carter,” she purred.  “But I’ve been subpoena’d.”

“You?”

“Maybe they think I know more about your business than you do.”

He chuckled.

She said, “What should I do, boss? They want me in court during your trial next month.  Should I go? I don’t want to be your scandal waiting to happen.”

They locked eyes.

“It would be criminal contempt of court if I didn’t,” she said. “I could go to prison.”

Chari could see his eyes flicker as he calculated: how the paper could possibly have obtained his records, what else she could do to him.

He said, “Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.”

She put her hand on his chest.  “Let’s,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to be more than your secretary.  I was just waiting until the time was right.”

He smiled and, behind his drooping eyelids, ran a few more numbers.

The next day’s headlines:

REAL ESTATE MOGUL JOHN CARTER WRIGHT BARBITUATE SUICIDE AFTER SEXY SECRETARY SUBPOENA’D

“HE OFFERED TO MARRY ME,” VIXEN SOBS “BUT NOW IT’S TOO LATE”

LOVE CHILD INHERITANCE DRAMA ENSUES

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

Crime du Jour, Day 7: Computer Crimes

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

Crime du Jour #7: Computer Crimes

A MOMENT OF SILENCE

Ramsey County, Minnesota – Investigator Frank Murphy – December 7, 2025

This report is for internal use only, and is marked “confidential.” For use at the authorization of Private Eyes, Inc., only.

I was assigned the Murtinger case on November 3rd and began investigations at that time. The incident occurred a few days previously, on Halloween.

The incident occurred in Maplewood, which isn’t so much a suburb of St. Paul as it is a geographical Tetris block. The house had been built in 1965 but retrofitted as one of the earliest “smart” houses in the 2010s.  See Attachment A for floor plan and image files.  The house is one story with a walk-out basement accessible by ramp.  The resident, Edie Murtinger, is disabled and uses a motorized wheelchair. Although she is able to stand at times, she mainly uses a series of powered lifts to move between chair, bed, and bathroom facilities.

When interviewed, she commented, “My house gave me a sense of control.”

But, for several hours on Halloween, that control was taken from her.

Mrs. Murtinger started passing out Halloween candy at five thirty.  The weather was good: not too windy, temps above freezing, no precip. She passed out full-sized candy bars and dried fruit, and was unsurprisingly a popular stop for local children and teens. Her adult daughter, Darnell, was to arrive at six thirty but was trapped on the 94 bridge during a multiple fatality accident.  Normally, a handler would have overridden the self-driving car systems and rerouted traffic, but the system had gone down due to a cyberattack, which both caused and compounded the tragedy.

At seven fifteen, the house started to go on the fritz. The lights blinked on and off, loud shrieking noises played over the house speakers (part of a Halloween “mood music” file playing on the computer), and Mrs. Murtinger’s phone started prank-calling numbers in the area. She attempted to report an issue to the company that managed her “smart” home services; however, the call was rerouted and left with voice mail on the subscription line for The New Yorker.

Abruptly, Mrs. Murtinger’s motorized wheelchair, wirelessly connected to the house system, began to malfunction.  It pulled her away from her front door, which slammed shut behind her, and rolled her into several walls. Attachment B contains the documentation of the damage to the walls, which, because of the age of the house, was not extensive.  However, the movement was enough to eventually throw Mrs. Murtinger onto the kitchen floor near the back door.  See Attachment B for image file MurtingerNov3-0013.jpg. After she had fallen, the house went dark and silent.

From her position on the floor, Mrs. Murtinger was unable to see the front door; however, she heard it open and multiple people enter, calling “Trick or treat!” and laughing harshly.

The alleged assailants passed through the house, quickly looting valuables from Mrs. Murtinger’s wall safe in the bedroom, which, according to Mrs. Murtinger, was opened immediately, as if the safe were already unlocked.  See Attachment C for a list of items Mrs. Murtinger listed as missing or damaged. Of especial note was the destruction of all in-house computer systems and backups. Recordings were obtained via a second computer system nearby, which had illegally piggybacked offMrs. Murtinger’s wireless signal. See Attachment F for more details.

The alleged assailants then entered the kitchen and began mocking and threatening Mrs. Murtinger. She did not recognize any of the three individuals, whom she described as being young Caucasian men with dark hair. She particularly characterized them as “hipster neckbeards.” See Attachment C for the arrest reports of the alleged assailants. The alleged ringleader is the one in the fedora, William A. Benysek, who had previously been charged with six counts of gross misdemeanor computer crime (never convicted).

Mrs. Murtinger stated all three of her alleged assailants spat on her, with Mr. Benysek proceeding to beat her with a steel snow shovel that had been left inside the back mudroom off the kitchen.  See Attachment A for the floorplan and Attachment B for a video camera recording of the attack. Because the camera was outside the back door, no images are available; however, the sounds during the attack are relatively clear.

Mrs. Murtinger did not suffer serious injuries from the attack itself, but did suffer several broken ribs and multiple contusions, including a concussion, from the fall beforehand.  See Attachment C for further details and images. Mrs. Murtinger says the alleged assailants left the house at approximately seven-thirty. At seven forty-two, she was able to press an emergency call button on the arm of her motorized wheelchair. She was not, however, able to leverage herself back into the chair, which was still upright.

Emergency services reached the house at eight-oh-three p.m. Mrs. Murtinger was taken to HealthEast Urgent Care. The alleged assailants arrived soon afterward, claiming that their vehicle had called them “murderers” and driven them into a light pole on Interstate 494 just before Exit 60. Coincidentally, the three men were placed in a room near Mrs. Murtinger’s, and were quickly identified.

Mrs. Murtinger says that her “smart” house has not behaved satisfactorily since then. Off-site backups were installed along with new hardware, but Mrs. Murtinger says, “Jeeves just isn’t the same.”

When asked who “Jeeves” is, Mrs. Murtinger blushes and says, “That’s the name of my computer. The one who runs my house.”

See Attachment D for information on the fictional butler “Jeeves,” created by author P.G. Wodehouse, and notably played on the ITV network program in the UK by actor Stephen Fry.

See Attachment E for a poem that Mrs. Murtinger wrote after the “death” of Jeeves, and Attachment F for possible connections to the near-complete Maplewood Internet outage on November 30th, which several of our own PEI software developers have referred to as “a moment of silence.”

THE END

The detective in this story, Frank Malloy, is from the Company Justice series.  You can find the first book, Mindsight, here.

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

 

 

 

Crime du Jour, Day 6: Child Abuse

Please note: I avoided graphic depictions of child abuse!

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #6: Child Abuse

HOW MISS NANKERVIS FOUND A MOUSE

 

The townhouse on Cheyne Row was the sort of house that one did not suspect of large rats, it having a distinguished Chelsea address. However, since the first of October it had been plagued with scratching and skittering noises behind the upstairs wainscoting, and Miss Angelique Nankervis was beginning to suspect the house of infestation.

Miss Nankervis, a young woman of wealth and character if not an entirely impeccable history (having been raised in Jamaica), first noted the noise on October first, the same day that her neighbors across the street, near the famed historian and philosopher Thomas Carlyle’s house, had some difficulty.

The difficulty involved a certain amount of womanish screaming of the name Aldrich, and a discreet amount of bustling by the servants from house to house. Miss Nankervis rang, and her man soon appeared. Mr. Parnell was new, and unused to her unusual ways, her unusual height, and her unusual appearance.  She had only just begun to set aside her veil in his presence, and reveal the burned, scarred features of her albino face. He seemed not to react adversely, but the real test would be one of his continued discretion.

“Mr. Parnell, whatever is the matter across the street?”

“Number three, miss, belonging to Mr. Woodbridge Thurston and his wife,” Parnell said.  “One ought not to listen to gossip, but it seems as though the Thurstons have lost a son.”

Miss Nankervis frowned at him. Parnell often stooped to euphemize.  “The son has died? Or has he been mislaid?”

Parnell coughed into his hand. “Mislaid, miss. His name is Aldrich.”

“Let me know if you hear any further gossip on the matter. Or the son is returned.”

“Yes, miss.”

By the time the rats had come to Miss Nankervis’s attention, several days had passed, and it was the sixth of October.  Miss Nankervis rang again.  “Mr. Parnell, have you heard the rats?”

“Yes, miss. But I didn’t like to say.”

“Mr. Parnell, I require that those about me present me with every sort of curious, inconvenient, or otherwise memorable occurrence.  Do I make myself clear? Now: the rats in the walls?”

“I have set out traps, but I have not caught a single rat. They’re clever ones.”

“Are you using poison?”

“Only just begun, miss.”

“Remove the poison from the traps at once, and replace it with good bread and cheese,” she said. “No crusts or mold. Perhaps a dish of fresh milk.”

“Miss?”

“At once, Mr. Parnell.  I will brook no delay.”

Soon the household gained an additional member: a cat. It quickly became evident that the cat was too lazy to make an effective hunter, and, in fact, it would howl if not fed.

Mr. Parnell inquired whether Miss Nankervis should like to get rid of the cat, named “Dundee,” and obtain another, but she only said that Dundee would be sure to give perfect satisfaction, as long as Mr. Parnell baited the traps with good bread and fresh cheese, and was patient.

To which Mr. Parnell could only say, “Yes, miss.”

The next few days found the cat pacing about the townhouse, searching every nook and cranny for something to eat, for he was forbidden any food which he did not himself find.

On the afternoon of the eighth, the cook, Mrs. Iriye, came to report. “The cat’s not been fed, Miss Angelique, but it ain’t pleased with being treated like a common mouser, no indeed! It soils everything in my kitchen, just to spite.”

“I am sorry, Mrs. Iriye, but I ask that you be patient for a little longer.”

Mrs. Iriye patted her hand. “Never fear, I have faith in your little ways.”

Miss Nankervis smiled at her friend.  “And Mr. Parnell?”

“Putting out that good bread, you can see that it breaks his heart. But he ain’t poisoned it, or otherwise disobeyed.”

“Good. A day or two should see an end to this mystery, and to Mr. Parnell’s upset.”

On the next day, the ninth, Mr. Parnell reported that Dundee was nowhere to be found. Miss Nankervis told him not to put anything out in the mouse-traps until instructed otherwise.

That night, the house was awakened by the sound of Dundee yowling piteously.  Miss Nankervis waited until Mr. Parnell came to her door and knocked softly.

“Yes?”

“You said to tell you if anything unusual happened, miss. And it has.  The cat’s screaming for food, as I’m sure you can hear.”

“And?”

“…And he’s nowhere to be seen.”

Miss Nankervis had already wrapped herself in a black dressing-gown. “Then let us find him.”

The cat was soon tracked to a second-story wall that closely butted against the neighbor’s. The exterior walls of the townhouse were of brick, but within them were plaster and lath walls decorated with paper and wainscoting.

Miss Nankervis knocked upon the wall.  A distinctly hollow sound emerged.

“I thought there might be something secret about this room,” she cried happily.  “Quickly, everyone—search for a hidden panel!”

The panel was soon found, behind a waist-high bookcase that revealed a purring cat and a small boy named Aldrich, who had been moving about with a broken leg and several other grievous injuries that caused him to drag one foot, thus causing the mysterious scratching. He had—rather miraculously—come in via the roof.

Aldrich soon found himself en route to Jamaica, in the care of Mrs. Iriye’s nephew, Brantly James, along with Dundee, who had grown quite attached to the boy, in contrast to the poor boy’s parents, who had not.

Mr. Parnell helped spread rumors that the Thurstons had invested in a great deal of money in a Singaporean house of ill repute, and the couple soon found itself disliked both by the wealthy and their servants, a difficult state to survive on Cheyne Row. Indeed, the glee with which Mr. Parnell carried out his instructions firmly ensured him a place in that unusual household, for years to come.

THE END

The characters in this story are from a series of historical crime capers about Smoke the Orphan and her mistress, Miss Nankervis. You can find the first one, How Smoke Got Out of the Chimneys, here.

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

 

 

 

Crime du Jour, Day 5: Burglary

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #5: Burglary

A COUPLE OF AMATEURS

“It is a very bad idea,” I said, using a wiper-blade insert and a standard curved hook lockpick, because the padlock on the chain-link gate was a standard brand that was criminally easy to open and I didn’t need anything more complicated, “to break into the basement of a drug dealer who collects Nazi-era Reichsmarks and keeps them in his safe, just to piss him off.”

“We’re not just going to piss him off,” Clyde said. “We’re going to really piss him off.”

Clyde was my friend Martin’s son-in-law, the kind of guy who wears a monogrammed bowling league jacket to a burglary. He was now the kind of guy who was wearing it inside-out.

“I did mention that he sells drugs,” I said, sticking the lock in my pocket for disposal later. “But I forgot to add that it implies he has guns, to protect his drugs.”

“We won’t steal any drugs,” Clyde said, looking sly.

Even when Martin whispers, his voice sounds like it comes out of a root cellar. They call his type of voice a “basso profundo.”

Martin said, “Clyde, don’t swipe any drugs. Not even accidentally. Al, we’re destroying the man. You can’t just frame someone like that for doing what he does anyway. You have to take away the one thing he wasn’t ready to lose.”

“It’s still a bad idea. Especially with the three of us.”

“We need to do it now, before the cops arrive.”

Clyde led us through the junkyard and to a row of basement windows with corrugated window wells covered with steel mesh covers. The covers were held shut with a safety latch, a simple pin held in by spring tension. There was even a wire handle on the pin. I pushed the handle down with a screwdriver and popped the mesh cover open, then stepped into the well and crouched down. The window was latched but not locked, and in a few seconds I had it open. I climbed out, and Martin took my place. Martin is about six feet, five inches tall, and has the physique of a short man who has been stretched to fit. Today’s adventure was all his plan. He slid through the narrow space like a cat oozing through a mousehole. I closed the window, wiped for prints, and latched the screen cover again. Then Clyde and I walked around to the back door, whose camera I had already disabled over the Internet.

“Al,” Clyde said, “What are you gonna do with your share of the money?”

“First, never ask that question. Second, never ask that question while you’re on the job.”

The back door opened. We descended musty-smelling cement stairs, then walked past a steel door surrounded by a skunky aroma, a sealed grow room. You can never quite cover up the smell of fresh weed. Martin led us between stacks of rubber storage tubs to another steel door. This was another simple lock, not the worst model on the market, with at least two spool pins out of the six inside the lock. I had it open in a few seconds.

Inside the office, the floor was dull gray with several faded throw rugs. To one side sat the kind of old couch college students pick up off the curb. A grimy, ancient computer sat on a built-in plywood shelf desk in the opposite corner. There were no windows in the office area, and only a bare bulb with a pull string for light.

The safe was under one side of the shelf desk. I sat down in front of it.

“Don’t you need tools? A stethoscope or something?” Clyde asked.

“Only if you’re an amateur.” I generally bring at least a drill, just in case. But the safe was exactly as Martin had described, a nice old classic model. It must have been a wall safe at some point, as evidenced by the wood-grain contact paper that had been applied to the door, but was now bolted to the cement floor. I provided some tension to the handle and began turning the dial. I found the first number easily, turned the dial three hundred and sixty degrees in the reverse direction, then started hunting around for the second digit.

“Did you get it?” Clyde asked.

I ignored him. In a few seconds, I had the second, third, and fourth digits and had opened the safe. Inside was a metal door with a simple key lock.

“Another door!” Clyde said.

It wasn’t locked. I pulled it open with my fingernails.

Inside, there were two shelves and another safe, bolted inside the first one. The two shelves were empty. Martin gave me a look. I shrugged.

“Sheesh, this guy was paranoid,” Clyde said.  “A safe within a safe within a safe.”

That safe, too, was unlocked. And empty.

Clyde made a disgusted noise. “Nothing there. Come on. At least we can take some of the drugs. Let’s check that first room. It should take you about two seconds to open that door, am I right?”

Martin said, “Either someone else has been here already, or he’s smarter than I thought. Let’s go.”

Clyde crossed his arms over his chest. “We can’t leave here with nothing!”

I took the padlock out of my pocket and handed it to him. “There you go, Clyde. Now you have something to remember our adventure by. And hey, at least the man who shot your wife is going to prison.”

“I mean something valuable!”

Martin said, “No drugs, Clyde.”

“It’s just weed, that doesn’t count.”

I didn’t tell either of them that it wasn’t just weed or that the smell of weed wouldn’t cover up the smell of the drug dealer’s other dead victims forever. I just wiped for prints and, later, made a hefty donation to the charity listed on Joan’s obituary, because she’d been my friend once, too.

Rule number one of working with amateurs: always case the joint.

THE END

 

Note: This crime du jour is dedicated to the YouTuber “The Lockpicking Lawyer.” Highly recommend!

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

Crime du Jour, Day 4: Bribery

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #4: Bribery

MONA LISA SMILE

 

It started innocently enough. Caroline Byam, MD, an oncologist, worked for a multi-specialty physician practice, Grossman Associates, an affiliate of Freedom Health, in Massachusetts.  She was one of the new breed of doctors, the kind who stop to double-check drug interactions on their smart phones mid-visit. Caroline had charmingly crooked teeth, deep-set eyes, and a tendency to pull out most of the hair on her eyebrows, like Mona Lisa.  You couldn’t have called her pretty, though, and she didn’t have the right kind of smile. She had a boyfriend but she had never had much luck with men. They walked all over her.

One off-Saturday, she came in with a handful of other doctors to meet with some pharmaceutical reps.  They were hustling a new brand of fentanyl, a transdermal skin patch of synthetic opioid more addictive than heroin, as being a reasonably safe alternative to the current patch dominating the market.

Caroline’s supervisor advised the doctors to consider using the new patch, Moradine Transdermal, instead of the front-runner brand-name one.  Top prescribers would be considered to speak at a conference in Hawaii the following December, no vacation time necessary, all expenses paid. A bonus might be in the offering.

Caroline told herself she would try switching a couple of prescriptions. Cautiously. Some of these pharmaceutical reps were pushy, borderline unethical. But she would give the new drug a fair shot. The studies the reps had presented did look legit.

She prescribed the patch for several of her patients, and they responded well. Soon she had stopped proscribing the original patch altogether.

Until the day one of them, Fred Sweetser, started hallucinating while he was in her exam room.

“Almira,” he said, taking her hand gently in his, “you’ve come back.”

“I’m sorry?” she asked. “My name is Caroline.”

Almira was an unusual name; it had been her grandmother’s middle name, back in Pennsylvania.

“You have her smile,” Mr. Sweetser insisted.

She smiled at him. Mr. Sweetser was an old man, about eighty, and his prognosis wasn’t good.  He had recently lost almost twenty-five pounds and had had to be brought into her office in a wheelchair. But he was stubborn, not ready to relinquish himself to either hospital or hospice care. He lived in an assisted living facility nearby.

“Thank you,” she said. “Do I remind you of your wife?”

Mr. Sweetser smiled broadly, still holding her hand. He rubbed his silky, bony, almost printless thumb over the backs of her knuckles. “Did you think I wouldn’t recognize you? Even after all this time?”

She checked his chart: he was listed as widowed, his records linked to a Liz Sweetser, a former patient of Freedom Health (deceased).  “Almira” could be anyone. A daughter, a former mistress.

“Are you in any pain, Mr. Sweetser?”

“Not as much as I used to be.”

One of the rarer side effects of the transdermal patch was auditory and visual hallucinations, but she wasn’t sure whether Mr. Sweetser’s delusion could be considered as such. He might only have dementia.  Or simply be deluding himself over a fond memory and a faint resemblance.

“Have you had enough to drink today?”

He waved a hand casually.  “I’ll wait until I get back to the old folks’ home.  I don’t like to wet myself in front of pretty girls.”

“Are you feeling nauseated?”

He lowered his voice. “I’ve been constipated. The nurses are all trying to shove go-juice down my throat. You know, the stuff with prunes. And it gives me gas.”

She would lower the dose on the Moradine patch, she decided.  Mr. Sweetser had lost a good deal of weight. She scrawled a note that the patches should be lowered to 50 mcg/hr, but to contact her if Mr. Sweetser experienced any pain.

“But, Almira,” Mr. Sweetser said, “All of that isn’t important. I want you to tell Caroline that there is trouble coming.”

“I’m sorry?” Caroline asked.

Mr. Sweetser tapped his temple with his free hand. His watery blue eyes were distant, looking straight through her.  “Caroline is being bribed to prescribe certain drugs to her patients. You know I’ve always had the sight. If she doesn’t stop now, then some of her patients will die.”

Caroline’s heart seemed to stop beating. Her ears roared and she swayed on her wheeled stool.

Mr. Sweetser’s hand tightened on hers.  “I’m sorry. I’m not saying this just to hurt you. Tell her not to go to that conference. The one in Hawaii. That’s where they really pull her in, get her to start dealing to rich kids with too much time on their hands.” Mr. Sweetser brought her hand to his dry lips and kissed it.  “And that that boyfriend of hers. It’s either kick him out of the house now, or arrange for him to OD on some of those patches later. He’s a barnacle, and you got to scrape those off from time to time. Like you did me.”

He grimaced.

“She’s not a bad girl, Almira.  She’s like you.  A good heart but no angel. I’m sorry I did you wrong, Almira, but I wouldn’t lie to you now. Promise me, Almira. For old time’s sake.”

“I—I promise,” Caroline said.

Forewarned had been forearmed. Caroline avoided the opioid scandals that crashed Grossman Associates in 2018, established a reputation for integrity, and been hired on to a much better position elsewhere. Her boyfriend had screamed when his rich doctor girlfriend scraped him off her life like the barnacle he was, but she only smiled: he had no idea of the fate he’d avoided.

On Caroline’s next visit, her mother denied ever having heard about a “Fred Sweetser.” The visit after that, though, one whole photo album was missing from her shelves.

Since then, people stop to look at her wherever she goes.  It’s that half-satisfied, half-ironic look of hers. She’s not pretty, but she has the right kind of smile.

That Mona Lisa smile.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

Crime du Jour, Day 3: Arson

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #3: Arson

THE FIRE ON ATTLEBORO PLACE

 

Someone rings the doorbell downstairs. It’s three o’clock in the morning, and there’s an empty spot on the bed beside me, and no light on in the bathroom.  I get up and go downstairs. My wife Judy’s shoes and purse and a clay-colored jacket of hers are all missing. I answer the door and it’s a blonde heavyset man in his fifties. He’s wearing a t-shirt with a fire department logo and Carhartt pants.  He smells like smoke, and my guts just fill up with lead.

“Are you Isaac Eudy, Jr.? Are you the owner of 267 Attleboro Place in Mooresville?”

I own several rental properties in that area, so I say, “Yes, sir.”

“I’m Investigator Herlocker with the Mooresville Fire Marshall’s Office. There is an active fire at 267 Attleboro Place.”

I sigh. I have always had a feeling about that place, that sooner or later it would be trouble.

The investigator asks, “Is your wife at home?”

I say, “I didn’t see her when I got up a second ago, and her purse and shoes are missing.”

“If you will come with me, sir, I need you to identify whether or not we have found your wife.”

On the way from Charlotte to Mooresville, for nearly fifty minutes I try to reach my Judy, but she doesn’t pick up the phone.

My renter’s name is Oscar Van Pelt, he’s about thirty-five years old, and I’d have to say a real spoiled shit.  He’s in the right neighborhood for his personality, though. Trump owns a golf club out there, if that gives you a picture.  The house has a swimming pool and it backs out onto Lake Norman.  Insurance-wise, that house is worth about four times the value of where I live in Charlotte. That house has marble countertops, an open-plan kitchen, gray walls inside and out, and lots of windows.  I bought it because I could get eighty-five hundred a month for rent.  Oscar Van Pelt is in the film industry of North Carolina, although he is not from here.  His contract is for one year.

When we get to the house, it is surrounded by so many fire trucks that we cannot find a place to park. About half the house is completely gutted. It is a loss. The investigator takes me to a van belonging to the North Carolina OCME, which is the medical examiner, and they have her in a black bag, which looks too thin. That bag is thinner than a zip-up garment bag for a clean suit.

Seeing her shakes me up. I cannot believe it is Judy. She isn’t wearing her wedding ring, although you can’t tell to look at her, she’s so burned up. The tech in the van has to run a probe along her finger, to show me that the ring is missing.

“That her?” Herlocker asks.

I go, “I can’t tell.”

“Look again,” he says.

I say, “I think that just might be her jacket, but—”

“Any identifying marks?” he says.

“Other than her teeth? No, she didn’t have any moles or nothin’. You better call her dentist.” I give Herlocker Judy’s dentist information, and he says he’ll be in touch.

I call my insurance agent.  Then I call Judy’s mom. “What was she doing over there?” she asks. I tell Judy’s mom that nobody’s sure if it’s Judy yet. “Oh, it’s her,” she says. “I had a feeling in my gut earlier, like when she used to sneak out of the house when she was thirteen. That girl was always trouble.”

It’s Judy, all right. She was strangled, before she was burned.

I didn’t recognize my own wife.

They found two gallon-sized jugs of liquid paraffin in my basement, and paraffin and empty jugs of the same brand all over the basement of 267 Attleboro Place.  They found some of my fingerprints on the utility room door in the basement.  Judy’s fingerprints were all over the tub in the master bath, and her cell phone was tracked going to the Attleboro place at 11 p.m.

I turned in early that night.  I thought Judy had too.  We were both in bed by nine.  Judy snores, so I sleep with earplugs in.  I made her supper that night.  We ate together. I made her oven-baked fried chicken and glazed carrots. You just throw it all into the oven, and it takes care of itself. They said she had chocolate-covered strawberries in her stomach, when they cut her open.

You get into middle age, you stop worrying about your wife cheating on you. Or you cheating on your wife, for that matter. I think she was mad I was taking her for granted. Or else she was just plain bored. The police went over her phone records and text messages. She had called or texted Van Pelt about a thousand times.

And I didn’t know it, or even suspect.

Van Pelt got out of the burning house with minor burns and smoke inhalation. He had to be dragged out of the master bedroom. He said he had never seen my wife before in his life, although Judy’s vagina said otherwise. And then he said, he had no idea how she had gotten into his basement, with or without fourteen jugs of liquid paraffin.

At the trial, it came out that the 911 call had come in at two-fifty a.m.

When it was my turn to get questioned up there on the stand, I interrupted the prosecutor:  “I just have one question for you, sir.”

He was one of those kids who still think they know everything. “Yes, Mr. Eudy?”

“Just how did Investigator Herlocker get to my place in Charlotte by three a.m., if the call was at two-fifty? Because 3 a.m. was the time that I started trying to call Judy, non-stop, as my phone records will show.”

And that was when the case fell apart.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

 

Crime du Jour, Day 2: Aiding and Abetting / Accessory

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #2: Aiding and Abetting / Accessory

THE GHOSTS OF MIRAMONT CASTLE

This was before ghost tours or ghost hunters were a thing, back in the bad old days when kids used to throw rocks at widows’ windows, because all women with dead husbands were “witches.”  It was 1981 and I was fifteen, can you believe it?  Part of me remembers that day like it was yesterday.  The rest of me is like, don’t bring this stuff up, Shannon, you sound like your grandma yelling at kids to get off your lawn.  But that summer I worked as a tour guide for Miramont Castle, in Manitou Springs, Colorado.  Miramont means “place with a view of the mountains.” I lived nearby, I think that was a deciding factor in getting that job.  Did you know that manitou is an Algonquin word that means spirit or life force? The town got its name in 1935, having previously been called Fountain Village. It used to be a place where tuberculosis patients were dumped to try to “get better.”  Tuberculosis was a bitch, man, like the AIDS of its day. It took George Orwell who wrote 1984, Franz Kafka who wrote The Metamorphosis, Jane Austin who wrote all those cute romance books, even Vivian Leigh from Gone with the Wind, as late as 1964.  If you look above the castle, you can see a couple of their tiny, one-person houses. Tuberculosis huts, they were called. The guy who built the castle was a Catholic priest, Father Jean Baptiste Francolon. He built it for his mom.  Her room is still there. They’ve recovered a lot of her furniture and stuff to recreate the ambiance.  The whole castle was a sanitorium run by the Sisters of Mercy for a while, then it was boarding house for rich people, then a vacation house for Catholic clergy, and then I think it stood empty for a while, before getting sold and turned into a museum.

Miramont Castle is haunted.  Like, it was haunted even before anyone died there. Father Francolon and his mom left in 1900, only a few years after the place was completed. Nobody knows why they left, although I’ve heard some nasty rumors. When the Sisters of Mercy moved in full-time, in 1907 because before then they only used it in the summers, the hauntings really ramped up. There was a place under some stairs in the basement that was supposed to be where the nuns buried aborted babies and secret miscarriages.  We didn’t tell the tourists that, though.  That stairwell was like ice. If you wanted to see under the stairs, you had to duck under the railing and slither down against the wall, but we rarely bothered. On top of stairs was cold enough. No matter how hot it was outside, you could always take a Coke from the cooler and sit on the stairs to cool off. The only thing was, you had to sing a lullaby to the babies before you left. My friends and I would sit there and talk about whatever, I mean, just the worst stuff, in the dead of summer in August, no air moving anywhere, and we were just filthy. Most of it was rumors, but still. Then we would stop and sing “Rock-a-bye Baby” or “Hush Little Baby” or “Frère Jacques” or “Row Row Row Your Boat” or even “Danny Boy” before we left. That’s how the grownups knew breaktime was over, we were singing a lullaby.

So, one day we had just started singing “Frère Jacques” when a private tour came through, led by the lead tour guide, a guy in his thirties named Bryan Wilcox. It was three people and Bryan. The three people were priests, which was unusual. There was one with a square head, like, if you’ve ever seen a photo of Senator John McCain’s head from the side, but even more so. He was fifty or so. The second priest was younger and looked like a cousin of mine, strawberry-blond hair and a goatee, only my cousin was like ten at the time, and boy howdy when my cousin grew up and I saw him at a wedding I had to take a step back, because he looked just like this priest.

The third priest was a bad dude.

As soon as the third priest started walking down the stairs it was like the air got sucked out of our lungs. We all stopped singing at the same moment. Just to look at the guy you started reminding yourself of all the rules in a horror movie. Don’t go down into the basement alone. Don’t split up. Don’t hang out with the creepy priest.

We all scooted to the side to let them go past, but Bryan Wilcox gave us this dirty look, so we got up and ran up the stairs. Then we stopped around the corner.

To listen.

After a while, the other two girls tiptoed away, but I stayed to hear the whole thing, until Bryan Wilcox said, “There should be a shovel around here somewhere,” and I remembered that there were a bunch of shovels outside near the tea shop entrance, and I ran and got them and coughed and Bryan Wilcox came up the stairs and looked at me and looked at the shovels and said “Thanks,” and then came the sounds of digging and I ran back up to the tea shop and Nancy, who is my uncle’s wife’s sister, took one look at my face and said, “We’re closed for the rest of the day, darling, have some tea before you go home,” and she gave me Earl Gray tea and set out fancy leftover tea things, cucumber sandwiches and scones and clotted cream and raspberry jam, and I’ve always wondered.

How much she knew.

We didn’t stop taking our breaks there on the stairs, though. Noplace else in the castle was ever cold as those stairs.

 

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

Crime du Jour, Day 1: Aggravated Assault

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #1: Aggravated Assault

SEWING CLUB

She’s sixteen years old and the kind of dame to die for, a brunette with wide eyes whose color disappears into shadows and mystery.  Call her Lila.

She says, “I have a problem.”

Me, I’m seventeen, already balding, the kind of good teeth that have never seen braces.  I’m not handsome, just forgettable. Mattie, my best friend but who goes to a different school, says that when I get older at least I’ll look like Joe Pantoliano from The Matrix.  I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not; the guy plays a real backstabbing son of a bitch.

“What’s the problem?”

“I need to have someone taught a lesson.” Lila slides me a manila envelope marked McCall’s Patterns 1989-1991.  I pop it open.  Inside is a Nintendo game cartridge, sparkling gold. I purse my lips.  “Is that—?”

She nods, and I believe her. A 1990 Nintendo World Championship Gold Edition cartridge. The last one sold on Ebay for over $25 grand.

“Who?” I say.

Lila names the name, and somehow I’m not surprised:  Ms. Clapper, Ms. Eunice Ann Clapper.  She’s a psychology teacher at our high school, old, been around forever.  She even used to go to school here.  I won’t get into details, but I’m not against the idea of teaching her a lesson. Three kids from her class have committed suicide this year.  Two more last summer, after having a class with her. Evil isn’t the word for what she does.

I nod and push the envelope back toward Lila.

“Don’t you want it?”

“After,” I say.

“You trust me?”

I shake my head and she gives that smile, the one to die for.

I’m in Clapper’s classroom. Low ceiling, acoustical tiles, fluorescent lights. Black pressboard tables with one or two seats at them—mostly two.  Whiteboards, synchronized clock, a poster of Freud smoking a cigar, another poster of a shrugging cartoon character that reads Trust Me, I’m A Psychologist.

“Hello, Dylan,” Clapper says, looking up from her laptop on a neatly-ordered desk.

“Hello, Ms. Clapper,” I say. We make small talk for a minute. Then I say, “Gotten any death threats lately?”

She snorts. “When do I not?”

I slid a manila envelope across her desk to her. Butterick Classics Fast & Easy Women’s.  She goes still.

I say, “What size?”

She chokes out, “Where did you get that? We haven’t had Home Ec classes in years.”

I tell her to open the envelope and she does.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words and maybe that’s so. This one’s worth over $25 grand.

“What size?” I say. “I’m guessing you’re a twelve or a fourteen petite, these days.”

“I used to be a size four,” she says. Stumbling over the words.

“Hey, you want to be a size four, you can be a size four.” I shrug. “But I wouldn’t call you a size four.” I wave at the picture. “Not yet, anyway.”

She screws up her eyes and her mouth goes bitter. “S-sixteen,” she stutters. “I’m a size sixteen.”

“I can see you in size sixteen–if you don’t think you can fit into something smaller, that is.  I’ll get the pattern sewn up,” I say.

“When?”

“Hey, rush job like this, it’s gotta be soon.” I slide the photograph back into the envelope. “They scan all these patterns and put them online now, you know? Good patterns like this, they shouldn’t get lost.  Sometimes the size you want is hard to find.  You can get custom fabric printed up, too.”

She tells me to do something anatomically impossible.

I chuckle.  “You older people these days, you think you were the last ones to practice arts and crafts.  Home Ec class is still around.  It’s just online these days.”

I leave. It’s a satisfying moment.

We all knew those kids.

Size zero is disappeared without a trace.

Size two is “accidental death—brutal.”

Size four is making it look like suicide, or forcing people to actually kill themselves.

Size six is accidental strangulation—you know, sex stuff.

Size eight is overdose.

Size ten is “accidental death—not brutal.”

Size twelve is losing a limb, or an eye.

Size fourteen is facial scarring.

Size sixteen is aggravated assault.

I could keep going, but you get the point.

If you look up the 1973 yearbook, you can see Clapper’s photo in the clubs & groups section.

Head of the Sewing Club.

Lila says, “She says she didn’t know who hit her.”

I shrug. “She shouldn’t.”

“Good job.” She slides the manila envelope over to me.

I check the contents and nod.

She hesitates, almost like she wants to throw in a little extra.  I say, “Anytime you need a size sixty-nine…” and she grimaces. The mask is back on. I shrug. “Good luck with sewing club.”

“It’s called Stitch’n’Bitch now, loser,” she says, flicking her fingers toward the envelope. “Have fun with your toy.”

That night Matty, in a bad mood from how sore her hands are, comes over.  I tell her next time to wear gloves. She says she did wear gloves. I say, padded ones. She rolls her eyes.

Then I plug in the cartridge and we play.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

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