Story Excerpts

Art by
Ally Hodges

Night Flight to Bali

by Jane K. Cleland

Sabrina Ellison sat alone in the front pew of the First Congregational Church, her mother’s church. She wore a black long-sleeved sheath that fell to just below her knees and low heels.

Sabrina tucked her shoulder-length brown hair behind her ears and focused on the altar. She wasn’t sorry Eve was dead, she couldn’t lie about that, not when the truth was she was relieved. With her mother gone, her own life could begin. She glanced over her right shoulder. Sam Rollins was there, leaning against a stone column, watching her. He nodded, one quick up-and-down motion. You’re doing great, the gesture said. Stay strong. It’s almost over. She smiled, letting him know his message was received, and appreciated. Sabrina had nearly sunk under the weight of her mother’s disapproval. Without Sam, she’d be adrift.

Under different circumstances Sam would be by her side, but not now, not with her parents’ old friend, her dad’s drinking buddy, Senator Patrick O’Connell, in the room. The senator, closer to eighty than seventy, was as devout a Catholic as Sam’s wife, Marjorie.

Marjorie refused to consider a divorce and Sam refused to push it, not wanting to risk the scandal. At St. Vincent’s Hospice, where Marjorie worked as a social worker, the nuns who ran the place still wore habits, and divorce was a surefire way to derail your career. At first, when Sam told her about Marjorie’s refusal to even discuss the topic, Sabrina couldn’t believe it, not in this day and age.

Sabrina had found a newsletter article about Marjorie on the St. Vincent’s Hospice’s website. Marjorie was thirty, two years older and much prettier than she was, with creamy skin, delicate features, and big brown eyes. The article spoke about her commitment to her patients and her kindness. Sabrina had loathed her on sight. Sam, a poet and part-time English teacher, depended on Marjorie’s earnings and benefits. He wouldn’t let Sabrina help him, though, which was one way she knew their love was real, no matter what her mother said. Not that Sabrina could help him much, since a barista’s pay wasn’t much above minimum wage. But he loved her for offering to help—he told her so. That was when they made out wills, leaving all their worldly possessions to one another. Sam warned her that it was hard to disinherit a wife, but it didn’t matter, not really, since he had so little to bequeath. It was the gesture of devotion that had sustained Sabrina through many lonely nights. If they could sell the painting for real money, maybe as much as eight or even ten million dollars, Sam could leave Marjorie, and they’d be able to live the dream. Sabrina sighed loudly enough that a woman sitting in the pew behind her, one of Eve’s church friends, heard her and patted her shoulder. READ MORE



Art by Tim Foley

Electric Boogaloo

by John Shepphird

My grandfather’s gun betrayed me.

I’d brought the pistol with me—the vintage Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless .32—the same model John Dillinger carried because it’s small enough to conceal. I got off a few shots, but the meek .32 caliber failed to penetrate the Land Rover’s windshield. The truck hit me, broke two ribs, but that was nothing compared to being caught below the SUV’s undercarriage. My jacket snagged in the rear axle and the pavement skinned me alive. I was dragged a half a block before a pothole freed me and the Land Rover sped away.

That’s when I blacked out.

The surgeon used tweezers to pick gravel out of the back of my skull. The doctor said he’d done the procedure before, on a young motorcyclist who didn’t wear a helmet. That patient didn’t survive.

The hospital kept me until they were certain the oozing scab on the back of my head wouldn’t get infected, so I had a lot of time to think about Polina. I tried to save her that night but realize now she didn’t want to be saved.

Detective Nunez of the Torrance Police Department came to my hospital room. He was a wiry guy who reminded me of a bull terrier—stubby hair with a perpetual frown. He asked me about my grandfather’s gun. They’d found it in the gutter. I explained I was a private eye.

“Have a license to carry?” Detective Nunez asked.

“No, and I don’t regularly work with a gun,” I said, “but I had it with me that night.” I explained who Richard Blanton was. “I was tailing him. He must have made me.”

“Made you?”

“Realized I was following.”

“Hit-and-run is a serious offense.”

“If I don’t make it out of here it’s going to be murder,” I said, and told him where he could find Blanton, both his office and where he lived.

“So what came first,” the detective asked, “the chicken or the egg?”

“What’s that mean?”

“How do I know he wasn’t defending himself?”

“Why don’t you ask him?”

“I’ll look into it,” Nunez said.

I had nothing to hide but felt like I needed a lawyer.

Like a lot of my cases, this one came through Oscar. About a month before we’d met at Gulliver’s in the Marina—his favorite place, I suspect, because the bartenders tend to pour heavy handed. Oscar defends insurance companies against fraud. That’s where I come in—Jack O’Shea, Deception Specialist.

“This case is sensitive,” Oscar explained, sipping his whiskey. “It involves a kid with health issues. If a settlement can’t be reached and it goes to a jury trial . . .” Oscar shook his head, “Let’s just say this could easily get out of hand.” READ MORE

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