Art by Shutterstock
by Edith Maxwell
It was a Tuesday morning when everything changed for Ruth Skinner.
As she walked past the massive Baker Boyer Bank building on Walla Walla’s busy main street, a young lady cried out near the end of the block. A man in a natty suit and bowler clapped a hand over her mouth. His hand on her arm in an iron grasp, he dragged her around the corner. A black touring car slowed. Its female driver gaped but didn’t stop.
Ruth set her mouth and hurried to the side street, but it was empty. Peering into the alley behind the building, she saw the man shaking the woman by the shoulders of her fitted red suit.
“Don’t you ever show your tawdry self in there again,” he snarled. He slapped her face with such force it whipped her head toward where Ruth stood. The woman’s cardinal-colored cloche nearly flew off.
As the man closed his hands around her throat and squeezed, her terrified gaze fixed on Ruth. The woman’s eyes widened as her face darkened.
Ruth raised her Winchester .22 rifle. She cocked it and took aim.
“That’s not real nice, sir,” she called out. “You’d better let her go.”
The man loosened his grip and stared at Ruth. “Who the hell are you to tell me what to do?”
A deep voice sounded from over Ruth’s shoulder. “Just do as the little lady says, Baker.”
Ruth didn’t lower the rifle until the man dropped his hands. The accosted woman stumbled away down the alley in the other direction. A stocky man in uniform stepped next to Ruth.
“Sheriff Bertrand LaRue, ma’am.” He touched his hat.
“I’m Miss Ruth Skinner.”
Down the alley, the man he’d called Baker was disappearing into a rear door to the bank.
“It’s a dangerous business to be taking the law into your own hands, you know,” the sheriff said. “This is nineteen twenty, not frontier days.”
“That fella purt’ near killed her.” She gestured with her chin. “Who is he?”
The sheriff pulled a face. “The errant younger brother of one of the bank’s owners.”
“Does he always attack ladies like that?”
“I’m afraid he has a temper on him. He doesn’t hesitate to exert it on those weaker than he.”
“Why don’t you do something about the coward, Sheriff?”
“My hands are tied.”
Ruth stared up at him. “I suggest you untie them.”
A young woman in a red suit sat alone in the Cascades Cafe that afternoon, nearly trembling, nursing a cup of coffee. Dorothy Henderson surreptitiously sketched the flyaway blonde curls, the brown eyes about to brim over, the way the upper lip naturally folded over the lower, giving its owner a pensive look. Dot had driven by a young woman being attacked that morning. Was this she? Dot wasn’t sure. READ MORE
Art by Shutterstock
by Larry Light
For an introverted tech geek, he was good at tender talk.
“Don’t worry, darling. We’ll sort it out. Listen, I can’t talk now. Love you.” Max Winters hung up his desk phone. The little red light winked out. “Sorry. My wife. Cleaning lady hasn’t shown up.”
“Not a problem,” Sean said, wearing a tiger smile. The company’s CEO was a man who had no problems, and if he did, he squelched them. Pronto. Sean squinted at Max with an inspector’s intensity.
“I’m sorry. I had to see what she wanted.” As Sean’s smile fled, Max realized he should’ve gotten off the call as soon as the man appeared. He’d kept Sean waiting for twenty seconds. When Becca phoned, as she did often when he was at work, Max always found time to talk to her, no matter how busy he was. He never let her go to voicemail—even when his boss hovered outside his cubicle.
Sean looked around Max’s workspace, as if taking inventory. There could be nothing to find fault with. Max kept a very tidy desk. It held only a few neat stacks of papers and a framed picture of Rebecca. The bank of computers blinked to the side.
“Marriage is important, Winters.”
“I’ll second that emotion,” Max said. He hoped a flippant Smokey Robinson reference would set the right tone. Sean liked Smokey, and no one else. Max’s policy was to avoid displeasing Sean.
“I’ve never met your wife. She never comes to any company social activities.”
“Rebecca is a bit of a recluse. She’ll come to the next event. I promise.”
Something moved behind Sean’s eyes. “Did you enjoy the Saint Paddy’s Day party last week?”
That was the only answer. Every year Sean rented a ballroom in a local catering hall, and laid on the corned beef, the cabbage, and the green beer. Irish step dancers and bagpipers performed. Attendance was compulsory.
“In fact, Winters, I hear you had a particularly good time.”
Max’s heart slammed in his chest. Now he knew where this was headed. He said nothing.
The atmosphere of Sean’s disapproval thickened in the cubicle. He spoke in a low, deliberate voice.
“Single employees can date, Winters. That’s allowed.” He leaned in. “But married employees can’t fool around. Ever. We can’t tolerate it at this company. Understand?”
“I’m not fooling around,” Max blurted.
Sean replied as though biting each word. “Don’t. Contradict. Me. Ever.”
Max’s breath caught in his chest. The boss didn’t want to hear any arguments, justifications, or excuses.
Sean gave an exasperated sigh, like an old-fashioned locomotive expelling steam. “Scandal is not good for business. Especially our business. Don’t forget it, Winters. Ever. Or you’re gone.” READ MORE