Art by Tim Foley
by Joan Druett
Wiki shook his head. “No. Absolutely not. Categorically and absolutely no.”
“But you could prevent a vile murder,” George protested.
“By dressing up as a pantomime sailor? You must be joking!”
Wiki Coffin and his friend, Midshipman George Rochester, were perched in the maintop of the great United States frigate Potomac, and the view was tremendous. The frigate was anchored off Batavia, the Dutch trading hub on the northern coast of Java, and the city with its gridlike pattern of canals and streets lay ahead. Sternward of the ship, to the north, the cranes and ropewalks of the ship-outfitting islands were silhouetted against the milky horizon. All around, the great bay was a bustle of ships of all nations, with humbler coastal craft anchored closer to the city. Wiki could see the pinisi schooner that had carried him here. They had arrived just this dawn after a pleasant sail from Sumatra to Java, with sacks of pepper on board, and he could see dots of men unloading them. The crew had been small, the captain amiable, and the food very good, and he would have stayed to help unload, and for the next voyage, too, if he had not spied the frigate as they had tacked inshore.
It had been quite a surprise to find the Potomac here. When Wiki had left Singapore, the frigate had been weighing anchor for South America, so Wiki had not expected to see his friend again for months, if not years. Naturally, no sooner had he disembarked from the pinisi than he had taken a bumboat out to the frigate and climbed the precipitous side. The bo’sun—or whatever rank the top-hatted fellow at the gangway might have claimed—had recognized Wiki without hesitation and pointed him at George, who was striding away from the quarterdeck, having just come off duty. By mutual consent, they had scooted up the mainmast, and here they were, exchanging gossip and news just as if they had left the conversation just the day before. Though, as Wiki remembered it, the last time they had been together on this ship, George had taken him down to the orlop, where the midshipmen lived, in the dank bowels of the frigate. He was relieved to be up the mast in the fresh air, instead, chatting and relaxing one hundred and fifty feet above the sea.
Before he had revealed his strange idea, George had had lots to relate. Triumphant from the conquest of five pirate strongholds—not that Wiki had noticed any evidence of the Potomac’s vengeful foray during the pinisi’s call at the coast—Captain Downes and his crew had grandly progressed along the coast of Sumatra, through the Straits of Sunda, and then along the northern coast of Java, flying the Stars and Stripes every inch of the way. Many a broadside had been fired as an exercise—but also, incidentally, to impress the locals. George had described with great animation the energy of the seamen and marines who had aimed and shot their muskets in perfect time with each other. And now they were here at Batavia, where George had found a letter from his grandfather. READ MORE
Art by Kimberly Cho
by Michael Caleb Tasker
For a while my daughter wanted to be an opera singer. She listened to it all the time. Drove me nuts. And now, when I hear Caruso or Callas or Nilsson, I think of her, and I miss her. God, I miss her.
Annette called me first. A wolf’s bite of a wind had been blowing over the prairie and through town since morning and I went home early. Next door, canola rippled over the Harrison’s farm, catching the last of the sad, silver sun as it went down. The phone rang as I came in the door.
Her voice was warm. Shy, edgy even, but still somehow warm. I sat down to listen to her.
“Can you come over, Johnny? Right away?”
“I don’t think so. No, I don’t think so.” Her voice thinned out, disappeared.
“Sit tight. I’ll be there in twenty minutes.” When I hung up I kept hearing her voice, hearing words she never said. I took an apple from the fridge, rubbed it clean on my shirt, and wondered why she had called me Johnny. No one called me that anymore.
When I got to her house Emil was already there, standing in the doorway, looking worried. He had the roll of crime scene tape in his hand.
“You really gonna need that?” I asked.
He shrugged and frowned at the sky. “Hell of a thing in there, Sheriff. Don’t think I can go back in.”
“Right,” I said. “Well, try to find Neil. Check the Golden Crown.”
“Wouldn’t have thought him the face-the-music type.”
Emil stammered at me, blinked a few times, and looked in that big brown head of his for words, but instead he just shook his head slowly, rubbed a thick knuckled hand over his jaw, and walked down to his car. He sat on the hood. The moon was out now, alone and bright in a starless sky. When the wind blew I could smell the gunpowder, and I didn’t want to go into her house anymore.
I stepped inside. It was warm and bright, like every light in the house was switched on. I expected a good smell, a comforting smell to come from the kitchen, but all I got was that scorched gunpowder. It was very quiet, no yelling, no crying; even when I saw her in the living room, her face was set, rigid and as unmovable as the farmland had once been. Her hair was starting to gray a little, and when she looked up at me, forced a smile at me, I thought it looked good on her. I remembered how blonde she had once been, tall and skinny in that hard way most of her family had.
And I looked at the floor, at Neil, all shot to hell and back. READ MORE