Shootings (Part Thirteen)

Shootings is a story about two men with completely different goals, and how their actions affect the same group of women. It will unfold here in serial format.

Parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13

As he and Alex inched closer, Greg thought he recognized the man curled up and weeping on the ground. He lifted his camera and looked at the viewfinder’s zoomed image to confirm it was Martin Thandle, the man who had shot the huge inflatable coffee cup outside the new Ground Control. He snapped a picture and quickly lowered his camera, his free hand resting on Alex’s shoulder to stop him and keep him close.

They watched the apparent breakdown of a man whose fortunes had taken an optimistic turn only a few days earlier in the week.

Thandle’s sobbing wound down to a few sniffles, and his breathing returned to a normal rhythm. He wiped his eyes and looked around as if to make sure nobody had seen his collapse. His expression fell as he noticed that most of the faces rushing past were aimed at him.

Then he looked at Greg.

“Hey, you’re the calendar photographer,” he said between sniffles.

Greg opened his mouth to reply, but one of the yellow-vested men watching over Thandle interrupted.

“Sir,” he said to Thandle, “are you okay?”

“I don’t know,” Thandle said. “I’m not going to start acting crazy again, if that’s what you mean.”

The two men visibly relaxed and let Thandle move to a sitting position, but remained close.

“So, are you the calendar photographer?” Thandle said. “I saw your picture on the calendar site’s About page.”

Greg tightened his grip on Alex’s shoulder. “Yes, that was me.”

“What are you doing here?” Thandle said.

“We heard someone yelling, so we came over to see.”

“No, I mean at the race.”

“I’m the official photographer for the calendar moms who are running today. We plan to raise money for a good cause and shamelessly publicize the calendar.”

Thandle pulled a tissue from the front pocket of his shorts and blew his nose into it. “Is Brenda Yeager still part of their group?”

So he had been shouting Brenda’s name, Greg thought. “Yes, but she couldn’t be here today,” he said.

Thandle looked worried. “Why? Is everything okay?”

“Fine, as far as I know. Just a scheduling conflict.”

“It’s probably best she didn’t see me like this,” Thandle said.

“Probably,” Greg said. But I’m pretty sure she’ll hear about it.

Alex still stuck to his hip, Greg walked to within an arm’s reach of Thandle. It made him feel the way he had as a child each time his paranoid schizophrenic uncle visited — glad to see him, but unsure which version of him would be present.

He wondered then if his own recent behavior should set off similar alarm bells. The scandalous video he had uploaded, then deleted. His thoughts of turning against Matt if the video ever surfaced. Was luck the only difference between him and the man now sitting on the ground?

Thandle turned his face from the passing crowd — just a few straggling walkers at that point — to Greg. “Do you think I’m crazy?” he said.

Greg turned to watch the last of the participants make their way down the tree-lined street, then looked ahead to the larger pack as it rounded the first turn. The breeze made the dappled light dance on the shifting mass of humanity.

Greg grinned. “Maybe. But aren’t we all?”

Shootings (Part Twelve)

Shootings is a story about two men with completely different goals, and how their actions affect the same group of women. It will unfold here in serial format.

Parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12

Martin’s back and neck muscles locked into place as the jury’s foreman handed the verdict to the bailiff.

The prosecution’s closing arguments had tried to paint him as a dangerously impulsive man who needed to be punished for what he had done. “We can’t allow people to think it’s okay to open fire on objects on a whim,” Colleen had said.

In any other case, Martin would have agreed.

In his own final statement, Rigoberto had graciously admitted that Martin was impulsive, but that the danger in this case had been an accident, and he had learned his lesson. “My client has never hurt anyone before, and never will again,” he said.

The bailiff handed the verdict to the court clerk, who stood and read it aloud. “Your Honor, on the charge of Assault and Battery, we, the members of the jury, find the defendant, Martin Thandle, not guilty.”

Martin slumped slightly and his head fell back, his eyes shut and his mouth in a closed grin. He heard the chatters and mumbles of the audience, then felt a hand clamp over his shoulder.

“We did it,” Rigoberto said.

“No, you did it,” Martin said and lifted his head to turn and face him. You, Rigoberto “Old Lawyer” Miralda, saved me.

The judge banged his gavel once to silence the crowd. “Madame Foreman, was your verdict unanimous?” he said.

The foreman stood. “Yes, your honor,” she said.

Martin looked over at Colleen Willis, his former high school crush, who worked quickly to clear her papers from the prosecutor’s table and tuck them into a plain manila folder. She opened a worn leather satchel, placed the folder inside, and flapped it shut. She approached the bench.

“Be right back, kid,” Rigoberto said. “I have to go thank the judge and then tell Colleen to kiss my ass,” Rigoberto said.

As he watched them speak with the judge, Martin realized that the one he truly had to thank for his freedom was Brenda Yeager. His brash behavior had slammed her and her son to the asphalt and sent them to the hospital, and yet she forgave him. He definitely needed to ask her why. Yes, that was the only thing that would do.


Greg’s phone vibrated his hip. He slipped it from its holster and read the display. “Raelynn.” Unless he was in a meeting or already on another call, that was one he always answered. He pushed Send.

“Hello, daaahhhlink,” he said. Then, in another voice, “‘Sup?”

“Not much,” Raelynn said. “Just thought you might like to know that Thandle was found not guilty.”

“Really? That’s good. I guess. How did you find out?”

“Janie — you don’t know her — was there. She texted me. You know what that means, right?”

“That you and your friends have an insatiable need for instant gratification?”

She groaned. “Real funny, Greg. You know I meant the verdict. It means that some of the negative vibes around the calendar will go away.”

And it will drop out of the media spotlight and lose all that free publicity. That’s just grand. “That is good news,” Greg said.

At that he thought of Matt and his plans to move back into the newspaper business. He looked back at his computer monitor, where Matt’s resignation letter stared back like a monochromatic portent of doom. Since his conversation with the Mayor the night before, Greg had been avoiding the subject, but he knew he needed to confront his employee.

“You there?” Raelynn said.

“Sorry, babe, but I have to get back to work,” Greg said and they wrapped up their conversation.

He looked through the doorway to the other side of the Systems Group office. Matt sat there, surfing the web on his phone.

“I guess there’s not much else you can do without a login,” Greg said.

Matt looked over at him with a grin on his face. “If this is what the Mayor wants me to do for the next two weeks, I can find ways to kill the time.”

Greg stood and walked over to Matt’s area, then sat on one of the barstools at the workbench. He peered inside an open computer case and pushed down on the video card, pretending to make sure it was seated properly. “You know, I miss this side of the house sometimes. I love the break-and-fix part of the job.”

“It’s not bad,” Matt said. He set down his phone. “But that isn’t why you’re over here, is it? You got my letter of resignation that I sent last night?”

Greg sighed. “Yep. Got it. I’m a little confused, though. When you came on board you said this was the perfect opportunity for you to get back into computers. Journalism wasn’t your bag, you said.”

“I know, I know, but I missed it within a week of quitting. The deadlines, the variety. Just, never doing the same thing twice. It’s worlds apart from these,” Matt said and gestured toward the servers in the racks.

“Point taken. There’s one particular thing I wanted to go over with you.”


“That video we — you — deleted. Are we good on that?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Matt said.

“You know, that test — ”

“No, I mean, I have no recollection of any test video that may or may not have existed,”

Greg finally caught on to what Matt was saying. “So, it’s really…”


“Good. Let’s forget about that and see about creating a restricted login for you so you can at least surf the web on a bigger screen.”


Martin sat in his car in the hospital parking lot. A lightpost, only a few feet from his front bumper, featured a sign made of foam core board. It read “5K Fun Run Parking.” A larger sign above it read, “Susan G. Komen for the Cure.”

This is where her group is supposed to be.

He got out and walked quickly to an open field bordered by vendors under tents. They were giving away wristbands and visors, but selling t-shirts. Centered in the field were long tables filled with plates of muffins, coffee cake, and bananas. Bottled water chilled in cylindrical coolers at each end of every table.

At one end of the field a line of portable restrooms stood like fiberglass soldiers at attention. A line of people — mostly women, most wearing pink, all wearing a bold black number on a large white sheet of paper — waited to use them.

Martin approached one of the food tables and reached for a piece of coffee cake.

“Excuse me, sir,” said a woman to his right.

He looked at her. “Yes?”

“Sorry, hun, those are only for the participants. No number on your chest, no free food. But you can get something to drink at the Starbucks kiosk over there.” She pointed to a temporary bar draped in a green cloth bearing the ubiquitous coffee merchant’s name. At least 15 people waited in line.

“Um, thanks,” Martin said and moved away from the table.

A man’s voice came from a loudspeaker. “Attention, runners and walkers. The race will begin in five minutes. If you are not at the starting line already, please make your way there now.” The trailing half of the group waiting for the restrooms turned away and did just that.

Martin scanned those left in line. Gotta find her. I’ll lose her once they start.. He saw one of the calendar moms — Miss May, maybe? — but not Brenda Yeager. Satisfied that he had looked at every face, he moved on to the starting line.

Several little boys and girls sat on men’s shoulders for a better look at the participants. Some waved. “Hi, mommy!” a few said. A few racers were men, and in many cases entire families and large groups had come to race together.

The faces were too concentrated here, moving too much, for Martin to get a good look at everybody.

“Two minutes to the starting gun,” the announcer said. “Please join your group. And, remember, slower racers please begin at the back of the pack.”

Two minutes? Was her group fast or slow? He had now way of knowing. He cast his eyes about quickly now, anxious and no closer to finding her than when he had parked. There must be at least a thousand people here.

Martin walked over a grass median and squeezed into the pack at the starting line. He worked his way into the middle, figuring he could just jog along slowly and watch for her to pass him.

“Excuse me, sir?” said a person wearing a bright yellow vest, in the same tone of voice as the food table lady. Martin looked away and bent down to do a toe-touch stretch.

A loud airhorn sounded. The runners all around him started moving.

“Sir!” louder now.

Martin straightened up and took off with the rest of the racers. They quickly made their way through the hospital parking lot and onto a narrow residential street flanked by large shade trees.

Someone wearing a bright yellow vest jogged alongside the group, searching. “Sir, you need to register and get a number to participate in the race.”

The runners around him noticed that he was the target of the directive. “Hey, that’s the guy from the news,” one of them said.

“What?” said another.

“The one who shot the big coffee cup.”

The runners parted to leave him all alone within a 10-foot radius, but kept moving at a steady pace. He left their ranks and jogged the opposite direction.

“Brenda Yeager!” he shouted. “I need to speak to Brenda Yeager! Please, she won’t answer my calls!”

“Sir, please stop shouting,” said Yellow Vest, now following him.

He scanned the faces as he ran against and just outside the flow of humanity. “Brenda Yeager! Are you here?” he shouted.


Greg walked near the back of the 5K Fun Run pack with Alex, while Raelynn and her jogging friends ran up ahead. They had just passed over the starting line and walked out of the parking lot of the event’s sponsoring hospital. The shady, unpainted asphalt road reminded him of his smalltown upbringing. His camera hung from his neckstrap and gently bumped against his chest with each step.

“Now, why are we out here, Daddy?” Alex said.

“To raise money to help people get well,” Greg said. “And to remember those who can’t come out and do this themselves.” He didn’t feel like bringing up and trying to explain cancer.

“So doctors can give them medicine?”

“Sort of like that.”

Greg heard a man shouting up ahead, but he couldn’t quite make out the words. Two men wearing yellow vests dashed past the group of walkers, headed for the front of the pack. “We’re coming!” one of them said into a walkie-talkie.


Two more people wearing yellow vests, this time large men, converged and grabbed Martin’s shoulders. They stopped him. “Please, let me go! I have to talk to her!” he shouted frantically and twisted to try to break free. The men pushed down until he fell to his knees.

“Brenda Yeager! Why did you forgive me?”

When he saw the runners looking at him, some with mouths agape, some shaking their heads, he stopped struggling and slumped to the ground. “Why did she forgive me?” he whimpered. “What did I do to deserve it?” Tears welled up and ran down his face. “Why couldn’t he forgive my brother? He didn’t mean to kill her.”

He sobbed openly now and, between breaths, repeated, “He didn’t mean to kill her, but you blamed him. Why did Brenda forgive me?”

These feelings hadn’t come up in years. He had pushed them back to survive, but now the dam inside his mind had broken.

“Can you tell what he’s saying?” one of the men said.

“No, something about killing and forgiving.”



“Daddy, why is that man lying on the ground?” Alex said.

A man lay on the ground in the fetal position, crying and mumbling. The two men who had run past knelt down next to him.

Greg turned on his camera. “I don’t know, son. Just, stay right next to me.”

(to be continued)

Shootings (Part Eleven)

Shootings is a story about two men with completely different goals, and how their actions affect the same group of women. It will unfold here in serial format.

Parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11

The Managing Editor of the Town Times called the Mayor about Matt? And it was important enough for Greg to get a call after hours? This can’t be a good thing, Greg thought.

He tried to tread the unfamiliar water. “What did he have to say?” Greg said.

“He wanted to let me know that Matt was coming back to the newspaper, and to ask if I saw any conflict in having him take the city government beat,” Mayor Lancaster said.

That didn’t seem so bad, but the other shoe was going to drop. Greg just knew it. He cringed and said, “And?”

“I thought I would run it by you, since you were his boss. Did he seem disgruntled or like he would run and tell any secrets?”

Good God, I hope not.

“Umm, no, not really. He always was upbeat around me. And don’t worry, Your Honor, all of your secrets are safe.”

They both laughed.

Greg had another thought. “It will be kind of weird, though, like he’s working for the dark side or something.”

“I guess. I’m pretty sure the old coot was going to put Matt on the city beat no matter what I said. He’s never cared about my permission on anything else.”

Greg pushed the Indiglo button on his alarm clock and watched the blue light fade out slowly. “More of a warning, you mean?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. Let’s just be extra careful. For starters, change any important passwords he might have known.”

There it was. She had called so Greg could immediately revoke Matt’s privileges.

“Will that hurt your group much in his last two weeks?”

“No, ma’am. He hadn’t moved too far outside desktop support, so limiting his access won’t bother us.”

Greg had great respect for the Mayor and never had a problem doing whatever she asked. He frequently told people that if she requested it, he would wash her car.

Whatever she asked, Greg thought. Oh no.

“Your Honor? Do you know if Matt said anything about why he was leaving his job with the City?”

“No, we didn’t discuss that.”

Had Matt decided that Greg’s asking him to delete the video was so unethical that he had to leave? Worse, had he done anything else with it before deleting it? Would it be the center of his triumphant return to journalism?

“Thanks for calling me, Your Honor. If there’s nothing else, I need to tag team with my wife,” Greg said.

“Of course. I don’t want to keep Raeylnn waiting any more than you do.”

“I’ll make sure to tell her you said that. You might need her vote next time around.”

Greg couldn’t talk to Raelynn, who had become his only confidant, and he couldn’t call Matt and talk to him about his motives. Instead, he went through the motions of dinner and Alex’s bedtime preoccupied by dread.


“All rise,” the bailiff said.

Martin stood from his chair at the defendant’s table and, seeing the American flag on a pole near the back wall, barely stopped himself from putting his hand over his heart. She isn’t coming out here to sing the national anthem, genius, he chided himself.

Then he almost laughed. That would make for an interesting final day in court, no matter the verdict. He controlled his smile and stopped himself from taking it further; his imagination and his impulsiveness had landed him in this courtroom, but he was not going to let them get him hauled off to jail.

Always look respectful and respectable, he reminded himself with his late mother’s own words.

His mother. What would she think of all of this? Of his committing violence, accidentally though it was, with a gun, however low it ranked on the lethal scale. His parents had always hounded his brother and him about gun safety. Never aim at anything you don’t intend to kill.

He thought back to the last day he saw her alive.

It was on a frozen mud road bordering a thickly wooded forest in the Mississippi delta. She sat in the passenger’s seat of the shortbed, four-wheel drive pickup, next to his father, while Martin sat in the truck bed with his younger brother, Billy.

The two boys, 12 and 14, huddled tight against the back of the cab to block the cold December wind. Each held his deer hunting rifle by his side. The road was rough, and despite his layered clothing Martin felt his tailbone bang against the metal with every bump.

A larger jolt bounced the boys up, and Billy lost his balance and fell backward. A deafening explosion sounded. Martin opened his eyes to see a hole in the rear windshield and his mother slumped over the dashboard.

His father stared at her for a moment, in shock. Then he leaned over and put his hands on her head. “Oh, God! Shelly. Honey? Can you hear me?”

An inhuman cry came from his father’s mouth, filled the forest, echoed back from the trees on the opposite side of the meadow.

Billy had left his rifle’s bolt closed and its safety off. Somehow while falling and trying to keep control of the gun, he had pulled the trigger. His father never forgave Billy for the accident, and permanently left the boys with their uncle. Billy sunk into depression and committed suicide a week before his 14th birthday. Despite his uncle’s frequent nights out to drink and play snooker, and then obsessively play the game when he happened to be at home, Martin survived his teenage years and went on to college.

Then, on a simple morning work commute, he had done something colossally stupid, bordering on crazy. Although he had not killed anybody, he almost had. Am I crazy? The woman whose life Martin had affected had indirectly forgiven him, and he liked to think that his mother, had she survived, would have forgiven Billy. Instead, he had been convicted by only one man — their own father — with extreme prejudice.

The judge’s gavel brought him back to the present. Now all that mattered was what those 12 people in the jury thought.

(to be continued)

Shootings (Part Ten)

Shootings is a story about two men with completely different goals, and how their actions affect the same group of women. It will unfold here in serial format.

Parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11

Greg needed a restroom break, but he didn’t want to miss anything. He tried to think of something else while the opposing attorneys approached the bench to confer with the judge. His watch showed almost five o’clock. The attorneys turned after only a moment’s conversation and sat at their respective tables, the defender next to his client, the prosecutor all alone.

The judge announced that there would be a recess, and the trial would re-convene the following day. He smacked his gavel and stood.

The bailiff, seemingly caught off guard, coughed and ordered, “All rise.”

They all rose. The judge stepped down from the bench, robe flowing, and exited through a door in the back wall.

Thandle turned to his wizened attorney and they volleyed whispers. The prosecutor stood stoically, eyes straight ahead.

Greg had asked off for that day, but would miss the conclusion. How could he not be there to witness the fate of the man who had singlehandedly — specifically, with his trigger finger — generated more publicity for the Calendar Moms than he could have imagined?

“Loved your work for the calendar, Greg,” said a voice behind him.

He turned to see Millard Halston, and they shook hands. “Thanks, Milly,” Greg said, using a nickname that had stuck since grade school.

“‘Gregarious Productions,’ huh?” Milly said.

“That’s right. I found it catchy. So, is the bank interested this case, or are you here on a personal call?”

“My cousin runs the bail bonds place that put up Thandle’s bail. I have a stake in the business. He told me about the case, and it was more exciting than anything else going on right now. I saw you and got to thinking, we might need to talk again about that small business loan you wanted.”

“That was nearly 10 years ago, Milly, and there are plenty more who denied me. What makes you think I wouldn’t choose one of them?”

“I hoped since I was the first, I might hold a special place in your heart.”

Greg laughed, which reminded him he still needed that restroom. “You know, I really need to run, but it was nice seeing you,” he said.

“You, too,” Milly said. “Don’t forget to call if you’re interested.”

Apparently success, no matter how small, attracted money in a down economy. Greg smiled at that as he left the courtroom.


Greg looked at Alex, who sat on a barstool at the kitchen island, his face resting in his hands. The boy stared down at a plate of chicken, broccoli, and cheese casserole.

“If I eat this, Daddy, can I have two pieces of candy?”

Opening the refrigerator for a soda, Greg said, “No, son, you don’t always get candy just because you ate supper.” He fished a Coke Zero from one of the crisper drawers.

“One piece?”

Greg opened the can and took a swig. “No, son, no candy. You may have some fruit.”

“Daddy, you’re being so rude to me!”

“You keep talking like that and you will go straight to bed after supper.”

“No, Daddy, if I don’t get candy, then I don’t eat supper and I don’t go straight to bed.”

“We’re not arguing about it. I told you what you can have. Ask for candy again and it’s straight to bed.”

Alex brooded a moment. “Fine!” he said and picked up his fork.

Greg poked his head into the master bedroom to wake Raelynn from a nap she had taken to stave off a headache. He had a feeling he had just experienced a sample of what caused it. “Babe, you want to come out and join us for dinner? I re-heated the leftovers from last night.”

She stirred enough to turn over and face him. Her eyes opened slowly. “So he’s actually eating it?”

“Don’t know. He seemed like he was going to, but, man, is he grumpy.”

“Now you see what I’ve been dealing with since I picked him up from school.”

Greg chuckled. “No doubt. Up at work I only have to tell Matt what to do, and he does what I say without any trouble. No backtalk, or at least much more respectful backtalk.”

“Right, but he has more to lose than a Jolly Rancher and a box of Nerds.”

Greg’s phone rang. He pulled it from the holster and looked at the display. Mayor. He answered, “This is Greg.”

“Hello, Greg. This is Susan Lancaster.”

“Well, Your Majesty. How can I help?” The title was something he had jokingly called her since he bobbled the greeting the first time they met.

“It’s about Matt Luker.”

“Ms. Mayor, can you hold on a minute?” Greg muted his phone’s mic and sat on his side of the bed. “You gotta be kidding me. Babe, can you go watch Alex? I need to take this.”

Raelynn looked at him with concern as she sat up and flung off the covers. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know, but Matt’s involved. Ridiculous timing.”

She put her hands on his shoulders. “I’ll take care of Alex. Oh, and you have to tell me about the trial.” She got up and started for the door.

“Thanks, umm… puddin’ face?” Greg said.

Raelynn shook her head as she left the room.


Martin sat in Rigoberto’s office, a place he hoped he could stop seeing soon. The walls were of dark, rich wood, interrupted only by laden bookshelves made of same. He was finished with formality for the day and just wanted to retreat to his home and watch TV, maybe play a little snooker.

Rigoberto walked over to a window and twisted open the wooden blinds. Streetlights outside were just getting warmed up as dusk settled in.

“I’ve decided you shouldn’t take the stand,” Rigoberto said.

Martin was confused. He needed to tell the jury his side of the story. “Why?”

Rigoberto continued staring out the window. “Colleen is desperate now, and she’ll try to shred you to pieces on cross examination.”

Martin shook his head. “She didn’t do so hot with that witness today.”

“She didn’t call her as a hostile witness, so it surprised her. You won’t. Trust me, she will be ready for you.”

“And you’ll prepare me for her. I won’t screw it up. I won’t get the yes-buts.”

Rigoberto turned from the window and ambled over to this desk. He set his hands on the high back of his executive chair, finally looking Martin in the eye. “Even if you control that, she could get you into trouble. Look, that Yeager lady actually helped your case. She got hurt — her kid got hurt — and she didn’t press charges. Then she all but comes out in support of you? That’s gold, kid. And no priors? You’re gonna to walk.”

“I don’t know, Rigo,” Martin said. “What about a plea deal?”

“Plea to what? Vandalism? You been watching too much TV. You shot at what amounts to a freakin’ balloon! They haven’t proven assault and battery, so they’re gonna lose.”

Martin wondered whether Old Lawyer Miralda would feel the same if he were the one on trial. “What does that even mean, anyway… assault and battery?”

“It’s a combination of two crimes: threat of violence and physical violence. In criminal court, though, they’re not really separated.”

“But I did that. Accidentally, but I did it.”

“The charge relies on intent, of which they have no proof. That’s the beauty here.”

So the plan was for Martin to go into court and not say a word. He saw nothing beautiful about the situation.


“Greg,” Mayor Lancaster said, “You know that before Matt took his job with the City, he worked as a reporter for the Town Times.”

Through his discussions with Matt about the video, that had not crossed Greg’s mind. It had been at least a month since he had deleted it. Where was she going with this? His heart started thumping. He was afraid Raelynn might hear it. “Yes, ma’am. I remember.”

“The Times’ Managing Editor called me earlier this evening.”

(to be continued)

Shootings (Part Nine)

Shootings is a story about two men with completely different goals, and how their actions affect the same group of women. It will unfold here in serial format.

Parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

Sitting there watching Brenda walk down the aisle, Greg looked over at the defendant’s table. The accused — Martin Thandle, who was keeping an amazingly straight face — had to wonder exactly what she would say. She hadn’t pressed charges, but the State had. Nothing if not understanding and compassionate, Brenda was there as a witness, not the plaintiff.

Thandle showed a slight chink in his armor as Brenda walked past him. More than what Brenda was going to say, Greg wondered if he might be undergoing litigation had this Thandle guy not come along and pulled his little vandalism stunt. Before she took the stand and began telling her story, Greg’s mind wandered back to the day after he had pulled a stupid stunt of his own.

He waited until the garage door began sliding open slowly and deliberately, then checked to make sure nothing was in there waiting to be crushed. He turned into the driveway and made the final short climb to his car’s protected spot. As the sun gave way to the shady environs of the garage, Greg reached up to his visor and clicked the remote control to close the door behind him.

The laundry room door opened and out ran Alex. “Daddy!” he said through a big smile.

Greg smiled and muttered between clinched teeth, “I just need a minute, kiddo,” but it came out, “just need a ninnit.”

His first order of business was deleting that video from YouTube. The last thing he wanted was to test whether he would throw Matt to the wolves if given the chance. Sometimes, regardless of which option one chose in “fight or flight,” the easy if more cowardly solution was putting someone between oneself and the attacker.

“You don’t have to outrun the bear; you just have to outrun the other guy,” Greg said.

Alex opened the driver’s door and pulled it with both arms. “What, Daddy?” Alex said.

He lifted the boy and hugged him as he got up from his seat. “Oh, nothing. I was just thinking about animals. Where’s your mom?” He set Alex down.

“She’s in the kitchen. She’s helping me with the glue on my school poster.”

Greg stopped in the living room. Raelynn set down a brown bottle of craft glue and wiped her fingers with a paper towel. “You guys keep working on that while I go take care of something I forgot to do at work this afternoon,” he said.

Raelynn looked up at him. “You have to do it right now?”

“Yep, but it shouldn’t take very long, babe,” Greg said.

“Just thought you might like to know how many calendar orders you got after we talked this morning.”

Greg stopped. This might change his plans. Just how much interest was the video generating?

“How many?” he said.

“More than 1,000,” she said.

He almost got dizzy. His eyes widened. “What? How?”

“Apparently during channel 8’s report this morning, while we were watching channel 5, they held up your calendar to show Brenda’s picture.”

“What angle did they use?” Greg said.

“It was pretty much a straight shot.”

“No, I mean –”

“I know, I know. You mean ‘sexy mama gets knocked to the ground at Ground Control’ or ‘fundraising mama has little success passing the cup around,’ right?”

Greg put his head in his hands. “Those are horrible. Been working on those all day, haven’t you?”

“Just a few minutes, actually,” Raelynn said. “They went mostly for the fundraising angle. Zoomed in on the website address on the back, too. I don’t know who started it, but a clip of it ended up all over my friends’ pages on Facebook.”

Greg turned to head down the hall to the guest room that doubled as an office. “That’s great. A little free publicity never hurt anyone. How is little Lawrence, anyway?”

“He’s fine. They released him at about noon.”

Greg logged into the YouTube account he had used to post the court video. He was relieved to see that there were no more comments than the bogus one he had added. Some marketing expert he turned out to be, getting trumped by a traditional newscast. He removed the video and canceled the accounts he had used, and hoped that would be the end of it.

Sitting in that courtroom now, listening to Brenda, he hoped the agony would stop soon for the stranger on trial. He felt sorry for him. Sure, Thandle had done something kind of nutty, but on a certain level Greg could relate; more than once he had fantasized about shooting a hole in one of those inflated advertising behemoths.


“Then my son saw that big cup and just ran out after it. I chased him, because my husband and I always say that standing there yelling at a kid doesn’t do any good. They have to know that you’re going to do something besides just yell. Used to, if you got a good swat on their leg, that was enough. Can’t do that in public nowadays, though. Anyway, I was just about to catch up to him when that cup came down on us. It hit us so fast and hard that we both smacked the asphalt pretty good. We think little Lawrence — that’s my son — hit his head on the fan that keeps the thing inflated.”

Colleen smiled at Brenda and asked, “And where did you and your son spend that evening?”

“At the hospital. They said I was fine, but they needed to keep him just in case he hit his head too hard. Could have a concussion, they said. It was really the kind of bump any kid could have brought on themselves.”

Martin thought he saw Colleen wince a little at that. “What was your state of mind after the cup pinned you and your son to the ground?”

“We were both unconscious at first.”

“So it knocked you out?” Colleen said.

“Just for a little bit. Those baristas were real helpful and got us untangled pretty fast.”

“As you regained consciousness and they worked to free you, were you frightened?”

“A little, but mostly I hid it because Little Lawrence was crying. The last thing you want is to show your kid you’re freaked out.”

Martin winced at that. Rigoberto kicked him under the table.

“So, you were ‘freaked out’ by this?” Colleen said.

“Well, in the sense that it was unusual. I was no more scared than when my mother-in-law’s horse bucked me, or when my dog fell off the back of the boat… with my mother-in-law watching.”

A smattering of laughter spread through the audience.

“Oh, but she didn’t mean for those things to happen, just like I don’t think that man meant to hurt me and little Lawrence.”

Colleen became agitated. “He shot a gun at a large object, Mrs. Yeager. An object that then endangered you and your son. Do you agree that doesn’t qualify as the same thing?”

This definitely did not seem like the same woman Martin had exchanged flirtatious notes with back in English class. He was glad, however, that it also didn’t seem like the same confident litigator who had started this trial.

“I suppose. Say what you want,” Brenda said. “We’re fine now.”

“Were you aware, Mrs. Yeager, that when Mr. Thandle was apprehended by police, they found a calendar in his home turned to a picture of you?”

“Well, the accident was all over the news, and they showed the calendar on there. He probably had bought one to help our cause and looked me up after seeing me on TV.”

“So you spoke to Mr. Thandle prior to the incident?” Colleen said.

“No, I never met him.”

“So you don’t actually know for a fact why he possessed the calendar or why he was looking at your picture?”

“No, of course not.”

“No further questions, your honor,” Colleen said.

It seemed to Martin that the prosecution’s second star witness had not caused the damage Rigoberto had feared. Without a living, breathing, well-trained plaintiff, the case against him was weakened.

Now it was Rigoberto’s turn. Old Lawyer Miralda stood, and was going to shine. Going to poke holes in all the conjecture and hearsay. Going to —

“I have no questions for this witness, your honor,” Rigoberto said.

“What?” Martin heard himself say as he started to get up.

Rigoberto put a hand on Martin’s shoulder and pushed him back into his seat. “Stay with me, kid,” he whispered.

Frustrated and confused, Martin sat quietly. Brenda Yeager stood and stepped down from the witness stand. She seemed even more beautiful, and he held his breath so he would not smell her perfume again.

All the evidence had been presented, and all the witnesses had been called. Martin’s turn at the the stand was the last thing left before the closing statements.

(to be continued)

Shootings (Part Eight)

Shootings is a story about two men with completely different goals, and how their actions affect the same group of women. It will unfold here in serial format.

Parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

Martin the defendant sat in the courtroom, staring straight ahead. “Poker face, but with a pleasant demeanor,” his attorney had instructed him. It wasn’t easy.

The lawyer his family hired, Rigoberto Miralda, had told him many things during their preparation sessions. Some of it was just like on TV, but most of it was not.

“If it’s appropriate, look sympathetic. But, not remorseful,” Rigoberto said.

Seated across from him now, Martin had a hard time taking this man seriously. He had grown up watching “Lawyer Miralda” get falling-down drunk on sailboats in his hometown’s local marina. His toupee had fallen in the water at least twice, so it was good to see he finally had given it up for a shaved head. It gave him the appearance of Ben Kingsley with a dash of Bruce Willis.

“Let’s try this again. Did you, Martin Thandle, purchase a pellet gun the morning of December 13?”

Martin crossed his arms “Yes, but — ”

“No. Don’t do that. Just say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Let’s go to the next question. Did you use it to fire at the giant, inflated coffee cup outside the Ground Control coffee shop?”

“Yes, but — ”

“Stop,” Rigoberto said. “You have a bad case of the ‘yes buts.’ If they ask you something that can be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ then that’s all you say until they ask you something else. Remember, we know you didn’t mean to hurt anybody, and that’s what we want everyone else to believe, too. Don’t volunteer any information.”

Martin fidgeted in the fine but uncomfortable mahogany chair and crossed his arms. “You said this wouldn’t get past the grand jury. That there wasn’t enough evidence. What happened to that?”

“Let’s see, you drove away from the scene, practically announcing your license plate number, and you confessed when they hauled you in. Mainly, though, the prosecuting attorney is considering running for county judge. She can use all the publicity she can get.”

The police had informed him of his rights and he had admitted to shooting the cup, but insisted that he didn’t know it was going to collapse so fast. He thought if they knew it was an accident, it might help. So far, it had not, and he had been charged with assault and battery.

Now he sat helplessly in the courtroom and listened to the prosecution present its case.

Their representative, Colleen Willis, had been one of Martin’s high school classmates. In Advanced Placement English their junior year, they had passed notes back and forth to one another. He never had told her that he had a crush on her.

Like then, she had bobbed brown hair, but the similarity stopped there. Forty now, she possessed a more mature beauty, and she certainly dressed the part. She wore an expensive black pant suit with a burgundy blouse barely peeking out above the top button. Casting directors for legal dramas might be calling her soon. For a moment he wondered what might have been.

Then she went to work.

One witness testified that he saw Martin point “something” out the window of his car, and then drive away while everyone else stayed to watch what happened. The detectives presented records of Martin’s purchase at the sporting goods department. If only he hadn’t used a credit card, they might not have any physical evidence.

Or their first star witness, who took the stand next.

“Please state your name for the members of the jury,” Colleen said.

“Lucy Crowder.”

“Were you working at the sporting goods counter the morning of December 13?”


Colleen looked confused for a moment, but composed herself. “Are you certain of that?”

The woman on the stand laughed nervously. “Oh, well, what I meant was I wasn’t there to work in sporting goods. They moved me to domestics last year. I just went over to help a gentleman who needed to make a purchase.”

“And that was on the morning of December 13?”


“Do you see that gentleman in the courtroom today?”

She nodded, her eyes on Martin. “Yes, I sure do.”

“Please point him out.”

“That feller there,” she said and pointed.

Colleen smiled. “Thank you. Note for the record that the witness indicated the defendant.

“Now, Ms. Crowder. What did you sell to this man?”

“A pellet gun, and pellets.”

Colleen walked past the jury and then over to the defendant’s table. She raised her eyebrows at Martin and… was that a smirk? Apparently she didn’t harbor any romantic feelings for him after all those years.

She turned to the witness. “What did he ask you about this gun?”

“He wanted to know if it would kill varmints.”

Frustration flashing across her face, Colleen said, “Please, Ms. Crowder, exactly what did he ask you? Use his words.”

“He asked if it would penetrate skin, and if it would draw attention.”

“Anything else?”

“Yes, he asked if there was a waiting period or a background check. There isn’t for those.”

Martin felt like ducking down in his chair. Colleen and that lady were making him out to be some kind of criminal. His impulsive actions had never caused him this much grief. High credit card balances, maybe, but nothing like this.

“So you got the feeling he was trying to do harm and to do it secretly?” Colleen said.

Rigoberto bolted from his chair. “Objection! We are not in court to hear about the witness’ feelings.”

“Sustained,” said the judge.

Ms. Crowder continued. “I reckoned he was just trying to get something his niece could shoot in the suburbs without anybody knowing about it. Said she was a tomboy, but we all know what that — ”

“No further questions your honor,” Colleen said.

“Does the defense have questions for this witness?” the judge asked.

“Yes, your honor,” Rigoberto said.

Old Lawyer Miralda calmly pushed his chair back and stood. With his left hand he put his thumb under his chin and his index finger under his bottom lip. He rubbed the stubble there and drew in a long breath through his mouth.

“Ms. Crowder,” Rigoberto said, “did my client — that’s Mr. Thandle — actually tell you he planned to shoot something?”

“No, I guess he didn’t.”

“I know you already told us, but for whom did he tell you he was buying it?”

“For his niece.”

Rigoberto moseyed over to the jury box. Facing the jury, he said, “Is it possible he asked you whether the pellet would penetrate skin because he was concerned it might not be safe for a child?”

“I suppose.”

He turned to face her. “Is it possible, yes or no?”


“Has a family member’s birthday ever slipped your mind, Ms. Crowder?” Rigoberto said.

“Yes, I forget them all the time.”

“So, it’s possible that Mr. Thandle here had forgot his niece’s birthday until the last minute and that’s why he asked about the background check and the waiting period?”

“Yes, that makes sense.”

The prosecutor stood. “Your honor, I object. Can we please put an end to story time?”

“Over ruled,” the judge said.

Rigoberto turned from the witness to the judge and said, “Thank you, Ms. Crowder. No more questions.”

Martin cheered up a bit after that. His words didn’t seem so damning the way Old Lawyer Miralda had spun them. His mood turned dark again, however, when Colleen called the next witness.

“We would like to call Mrs. Brenda Yeager to the stand,” she said.

Everyone turned their heads to watch his alleged victim enter. Two uniformed officers opened the courtroom doors and in walked Ms. July from Martin’s calendar.

She wore a sky blue dress that hung to just below her knees. It had a conservative neckline but hugged her chest and her hips enough to make Martin marvel that she was anybody’s mother. She strode confidently down the aisle, her head and eyes straight forward.

Martin maintained his poker face and slowly turned back around, but almost lost it when she breezed past and he caught wind of her perfume. As she took the stand and was sworn in, he knew that condemnation never smelled so sweet.

(to be continued)

Shootings (Part Seven)

Shootings is a story about two men with completely different goals, and how their actions affect the same group of women. It will unfold here in serial format.

Parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8

Martin slid open the back door and ran for the utility easement between his and the neighbor’s back yards. He could run along the narrow grass strip virtually undetected from the street.

From the corner of his eye he saw a man wearing a crisp white shirt and dark tie round the corner of the house and turn quickly toward him.

“Martin Thandle, we have a warrant to search your home. We have witnesses placing your vehicle at the scene of a crime.” Then, back over his shoulder he yelled, “Renfield, I am pursuing the suspect on foot! He is armed!”

Martin tightened his grip on his uncle’s coveted cue, and led by 20 feet when he reached the easement. He raced through brown weeds to his knees and jumped over gas meters and cable boxes, as fast as his feet would carry him.

His bare feet. In his haste he had not stopped to put on shoes. The feeling of the dry, crunchy weeds took him back to childhood playtime at a friend’s farm, where they never wore shoes while playing in field, pond, and barn. The problem was that the callouses he had developed back then had long since sloughed off to leave only tender flesh.

His feet were getting cold, but they were burning.

Hoping the cop hadn’t seen him, he dashed behind a tall bush and stood still, holding the pool cue with the wide end up, like a baseball bat.

Facing the easement, he shivered in December’s breezy air, working his hands on the tapered shaft, and looked up at the elaborate handle. A long, metallic silver inlay ran from the butt end to about halfway up the handle and then back down. Between each end of the inlay was a tiny golden scorpion, his favorite animal.

Fast footsteps approached.

Martin re-set his grip and peeked over his shoulder through the bushes. He noted the height of the approaching policeman’s head and adjusted the cue’s angle. Hoping he had timed it right, he swung the cue as hard as he could into the easement, about head-high.

The cue smacked the cop’s forehead and broke about three inches above Martin’s hands. The man shouted in agony and spent his next three strides falling into the weeds. His ribs struck a gas meter. He writhed in pain. The weeds and the dark tie flapped against his back in the breeze.

Officer down.

He shook off that violent fantasy — he never had hit anyone, and starting with a cop was about the worst idea he could imagine.

The cops’ feet were moving slower. They stopped.

“I do not have a visual,” the cop said, only a few feet from Martin, and no longer shouting. “He turned into the easement heading south but is not here now.”

A radio speaker crackled to life. “I called for backup and I’m coming to assist on foot,” said a voice from the radio.

Suspect? What am I doing?

Still behind the bush, seeing no good way around the situation, Martin loosened his grip on the cue stick. “I’m here,” he said and stepped into the officer’s view.

“Whoa, whoa. Drop the stick, Mr. Thandle,” the cop said. Martin complied. “Good, now put your hands behind your head.”

“I’m fine now. You don’t have to cuff me. I didn’t mean to hurt them.”


Greg couldn’t believe his left ear, so he switched his mobile phone to his right. “What do you mean the orders are pouring in?” he said.

“I mean I checked our Yahoo! account this morning after you left for work, and we had a notification saying we had received calendar orders,” Raelynn said. “I checked the site and more than 250 orders have come in. What did you say to Deborah in the liquor store?”

He laughed. “Just to tell her friends they would make great Christmas gifts.”

“That’s all? That’s the extent of your marketing?” Raelynn said.

“Hey, I’m not an expert in that arena.”

“Whatever you did, Greg, it worked. If this keeps up, just think how much money we can raise for our cause. Plus your tiny percentage for your work.”

“Speaking of which, I need to get back to my real work. Thanks for the update, hot stuff.”

Greg had left the house that morning without another chance to get online, and YouTube and Yahoo! Mail were blocked at work. So was his site for Gregarious Productions, labeled a security risk because it was a “personal storage and backup site.” Sure, he had the power to disable those filters, but he couldn’t risk generating more Freedom of Information Act suspicion.

His only hope was that nobody who happened upon that video was in any way affiliated with the City, County, or local media. Several members of each would be familiar with that courtroom, and soon enough they would have access to the court video files shot from exactly the same angle. Doom couldn’t possibly be far.

He hoped that his recognition of Jocelyn Swinson could be attributed to the swimsuit more than anything else. If only his brain, drunk on booze and greed, had organized and prioritized that and all other pertinent information so plainly last night. He had to think of some way out.

Matt walked over to Greg’s side of the shop. “Hey, boss. What’s up? You look tired.”

Greg sighed and sat in his desk chair. “I am. Very.”

“You ever hear a song called ‘Whale and Wasp’ by Alice in Chains?”


“That one makes me cry, especially now that Layne Staley’s dead.”

What a weird kid I hired.

Greg had a thought. He should not have had it, but there it was.

“Matt, did you delete that video last night?”

“Yep, during my maintenance window, just like I said I would. You aren’t wanting it back, are you?”

Greg laughed. “No, I’ve seen enough of it. Besides, I don’t think it was subject to FOIA because it was just a test video. The system’s not even officially online yet. We’re both clear.”

Well, not both of us, my dear Matthew.

(to be continued)

EDIT: I re-wrote a couple of lines of the easement scene, because at least two readers told me they didn’t catch that Martin had imagined actually hitting the cop with the cue. Read on.

Shootings (Part Six)

Shootings is a story about two men with completely different goals, and how their actions affect the same group of women. It will unfold here in serial format.

Parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

The sick feeling in the pit of his stomach growing, Martin sat staring at the photo calendar on his wall. Ms. January stared back at him, a parka hood’s furry lining encircling her face. She looked out as if surprised — her eyes wide open and her mouth in an “O” shape — and her bare legs suggested that the large coat was the only thing she wore.

“No, it wasn’t you,” he said to the calendar. He thought he had recognized the woman who had tried to catch her son running across the coffee shop parking lot. Now that the news had shown her picture, he knew why.

He pulled the calendar off the wall and flipped through the pages, shaking his head at each month’s entry through winter, spring, summer — and then came Ms. July. Could it be her? Was she the woman the deflated cup had crushed along with her little boy?

“I never meant to hurt you,” Martin said. “I just wanted that cup to come down. You weren’t supposed to be there. Nobody was supposed to be there.”

He had bought the calendar at a local bookstore. He turned it over and read the fine print on the bottom of the back cover. “Gregarious Productions,” he read aloud. “See us on the Web.”

Martin entered the address in his web browser and, after clicking another link from that page, found that the women in the calendar were running in an upcoming marathon. Maybe he could redeem himself.

But how?

He could turn himself over to the police. It had been an accident, after all, and his friends and family would testify that he’s a good man. There was that matter of his lifelong mistrust of authorities.

Someone knocked on the front door.

Nobody ever knocked — on any of his doors. Who could it be? Had someone taken down his license plate number?

He stood up, then bent at the knees to pop his ankles. He had started that following therapeutic toe lifts prescribed to tone muscle after healing a broken ankle. Then he straightened out both arms until his elbows popped. He couldn’t remember when he had started doing that.

Beginning with his right pinkie finger, he cracked his knuckles at each joint. Folded in, side-to-side, and backwards, each popped with its own distinctive sound and sensation. That, he had started in second grade.

The large knuckle on his right thumb refused to pop on the bend-back motion. He pushed it back down to “reset” it and tried once more.

The knock came again. “This is Detective Renfield with the Smoten Police Department,” said a man’s voice from the other side of the front door.

Martin kept working at that right thumb. Fold down, bend back. It just wouldn’t pop. A bead of sweat traced a crooked line from his hairline to his eyebrow.

The voice came again. “Mr. Thandle, we need to ask you a few questions.”

Damn that thumb. He frantically worked it down, then back. Pop, already. Pop! The sweat hung on his brow, threatening to drop into his eye.

“We know you’re home, Mr. Thandle. We saw you through the window. We have a warrant.”

Finally the thumb popped, and Martin bolted from the living room, through the kitchen, into the addition. The snooker table and shuffleboard table — relics of a bygone Thandle family era — nearly glowed in early morning sunlight pouring in through the large, sliding glass door. Pool cues stood idly by in their wall-mounted rack.

Sweat burning both eyes now, Martin reached out with one hand to open the door, the other to grab a pool cue.


Greg’s alarm beeped, but it sounded a lot like, “get-your-ass-up… get-your-ass-up… get-your-ass-up,” and it hurt. He smacked the snooze bar and went still again until it repeated its taunting mantra. Snooze, taunt, snooze, taunt.

“Well, do what it says, why don’t you?” Raelynn said, her voice coming from somewhere in the folds of the comforter.

Greg grunted and stumbled to the television on a table in the corner. He turned it on and grabbed the remote control, then punched a few buttons. “There, just like you like it,” he said as Matt Lauer’s face lit up the screen, the Today Show logo behind him.

The TV’s light spread from the corner and bathed the bed and Raelynn’s contours in its sporadically blinking glow.

“Thanks,” said her muffled voice.

Greg went about his morning routine in a mental fog. The hot shower felt good on his face, his back. After he toweled off and wrapped himself from the waist down, his shaving gel went on smooth and cool over his chin and cheeks. He started the first pull with his razor when Raelynn, her face obviously no longer buried, called to him from the bedroom.

“Honey, I think you’re going to want to come see this. Like, now.”

The TV’s volume increased. “We go now to Bob Stimmons, live at the scene of the incident. Bob,” said the local anchor woman.

“Thanks, Mia. As you can see I’m here at Ground Control, a local coffee shop. Reports are coming in now that witnesses saw a woman and child running toward an oversized, inflated cup just seconds before it collapsed on them,” the reporter said. “A large tear in the fabric lead investigators to suspect foul play.”

They watched as witnesses recounted their tales.

“So they think somebody made it deflate?” Greg said. “Why the hell would anybody do that?”

“Some real crazies running around out there,” Raelynn said.

Greg mumbled and rubbed his head, which hadn’t yet cleared. “Yeah, out there.” Then, to his wife. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. I need to start my coffee. You want anything?”

“No, I’m good.”

Once outside Raelynn’s view, he ran and plopped down in the recliner and opened his laptop. “I’m not good,” he muttered. “In fact, I’m very, very bad.” He went to YouTube and the browser’s logo spun while the page loaded. “Come on, hurry. Please, please,” Greg said.

“Daddy, what are you doing?” Alex said as he made his way down the hall from his bedroom.

Greg closed his laptop. “Oh, nothing. Just checking something for work before I eat breakfast,” he said.

“But who were you saying, ‘please’ to, Daddy?”

“Just the computer. I’m running a little late today and it wasn’t doing things fast enough.”

On most weekdays Greg welcomed breakfast with Alex as a great start to his day. At that moment, however, he didn’t need the interruption. He needed to take that video offline.

If only he had declared mutiny on Captain Morgan after the first couple of drinks, he might never have committed such a blunder. No, that was too easy. Had it been the need to have his work seen?

“Saying ‘please’ to the computer? Silly Daddy. That computer can’t understand you.”

“Sometimes even I don’t understand me, kiddo.”

(to be continued)

Shootings (Part Five)

Shootings is a story about two men with completely different goals, and how their actions affect the same group of women. It will unfold here in serial format.

Parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

“You know that huge inflatable latte cup at the new Ground Control?” Raelynn said.

Greg wondered if she had wandered off topic. “Yeah.”

“It collapsed on them, and the doctors said Brenda had a concussion from hitting her head. It knocked both of them out, so they’re keeping an eye on Lawrence.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about it before now?”

“I just heard about it a while ago and didn’t figure I needed to worry you at work.”

“Damn. What made it collapse?”

“Nobody knows yet.”

Greg pulled the rum from the brown paper sack. “Glad I picked this up on the way home. Where’s Alex?”

“Outside playing. I just now gave him 10 minutes until he has to start his homework.”

Greg walked over to the back door and opened it slowly to peek through to the backyard. “So much homework in first grade. Seems to be working, though.” Alex’s bright blond hair blew in the wind as he leaped from the top of his swingset slide.

“Hey, kiddo!” Greg shouted. “Remember to bend your knees when you land, just like I showed you. Otherwise you’ll shake your big brain.”

“Daddy!” Alex shrieked as he bolted across the lawn toward the house.

They threw the football around while Alex’s last few minutes of play time ticked down. Then the boy stretched a few minutes’ worth of homework into 20 before eating supper. Greg drew his bath and splashed a few toys in the water with him while he got cleaned up.

“I’m Mr. Hippo and I like to squash people,” Greg voiced.

“No, that’s Mrs. Hippo, Daddy.”

Greg dialed his voice up an octave and added an effeminate lilt. “I’m Mrs. Hippo, and I like to squash people.”

“Except Hippos don’t squash people, Daddy. They’re friendly.”

“I think you’d be surprised,” Greg said.

For bedtime, Alex read aloud a library book called The History of Motocross. It wasn’t Shakespeare, but the words were challenging enough for first grade.

“Great reading, Son,” Greg said.

“Thanks, Dad.”

He tucked Alex in and kissed him on the cheek. “Goodnight, tiny man. I love you.”

“Goodnight. I love you, too, Daddy.”


Greg knocked back a few drinks — heavy on the Captain, easy on the Coke. Lightheaded, he worked to clear the dinner table and put the dirty dishes in the sink. A plate slipped from his hand and clanged into the metal basin.

“Easy on the Captain, mister,” Raelynn said. “I’m tired from working on that bookshelf that you ran over. I’m going to go to bed and read.” She leaned in and kissed his cheek. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, babe.”

Greg put the last of the dishes in the dishwashwer and headed for the living room. Still tipsy from the drinks, he sat down harder than he had hoped on the recliner and opened the laptop on the end table. As the screen flickered back from being asleep, he yanked the chair’s lever. The springs crankily complied and the footrest flipped up under his heels.

“I just hope I beat Matt to it,” he mumbled.

He connected to the City’s network and quickly navigated to the video server’s data folder. “Good, it’s still there.”

The mouse arrow hovered over the video file Matt had shown him earlier that day. Greg clicked it and dragged it to his laptop’s hard drive. The file copy’s progress bar inched slowly to the right. “Gotta get a faster Internet plan,” he said.

While waiting he logged into YouTube and created two anonymous accounts using two of his many Web-based e-mail addresses. When the file finished downloading to his laptop, he opened it in his video editing software and cut out the extraneous footage. He saved it and uploaded it to YouTube, and titled it, “Hot mom caught doing confessed killer in county jail courtroom.”

Greg logged out, then logged back into YouTube as another user. One corner of his mouth pulled up into a half grin.

He added a comment to the video. “OMG! This is my friend’s mom! She’s even in a calendar with a bunch of other cougars,” and finished with a link to the calendar’s site.

Satisfied with his first abuse of power and technology, he closed his laptop. He composed himself and pushed his feet down on the footrest, noisily slamming the recliner back to attention, and then made the short trek to the master bedroom.

He skipped his usual bedtime preparations and quickly undressed before sliding under the covers. Drowsiness from the drinks overtook his mind quickly and he was out for the night.

(to be continued)

Shootings (Part Four)

Shootings is a story about two men with completely different goals, and how their actions affect the same group of women. It will unfold here in serial format.

Parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Greg stopped at the liquor store on the way home from work. He was going to introduce his old friend Captain Morgan and his spiced rum to his own new friend, Coke Zero. Lately Raelynn had been watching her empty calories, and late at night Greg found himself searching desperately for them. The pantry, the refrigerator — anywhere one could stash junk food, she kept clearing out anything he brought home that didn’t fit into her diet. Finally he capitulated after finding a sweet drink his tastebuds could tolerate, nevermind what it might be doing to the rest of his insides.

Inside he saw Deborah Mason, a known Southern Baptist and suspected tee-totaler, in the wine section holding aloft a bottle of Ménage à Trois. On most days he would ignore her and try not to make eye contact, then share the mild scandal with Raelynn over dinner. Instead he decided to play a little game with Deborah. He turned up the wine aisle and headed her direction.

She still hadn’t noticed Greg when he stopped a few steps from her and said, “That’s one I recommend to all our houseguests.”

Deborah nearly dropped the bottle and let out a small yelp. She turned to face him. “Greg, you startled me.”

“Sorry. That really is a good wine, though.”

“I just had to know what was in it,” she said as she returned the bottle to the shelf.

He walked past her and around the endcap to the next aisle — where Captain Morgan waited. He stared down the booze-peddling pirate while talking to Deborah. “Let’s just pretend we’re both Methodists and then this little encounter won’t seem awkward at all,” he said.

She forced a laugh and grabbed a bottle of Reunite. “Don’t be a wiseacre, Greg.”

“It’s what I do in my off time.”

“Funny. I heard you were becoming a bit of a photographer when not working for the City.”

“Oh, you mean our calendar project? Please, spread the word and tell everybody to order them as Christmas gifts.”

Greg tossed the bottle into the passenger’s seat, its top barely poking out of the brown paper bag. On his way home he saw two homeless men sitting at the corner of a building. One of them held a sign that said, “Pay for me to get drunk, too.” He glanced down at the seat next to him and the brown paper bag with the spiced rum bottle inside.

“Sorry, guys, I’m keeping the Captain to myself,” he mumbled.

Greg tried to distract himself by considering the homeless guys’ station in life, but his mind kept taking him back to that prison court room. Why was Jocelyn there? Was he really sure it had been her?

Then his mind bounced back to something he had said to Deborah at the liquor store. About spreading the word about the calendar. The calendar in which Jocelyn Swinson was Ms. February. He also recalled Raelynn’s words when they discussed how to publicize it. “What you need is a sex scandal video,” she had said.

He pulled his mobile phone from its holster and tried to glance at the road every second or two while dialing Matt’s office number.

“Hey, boss, what’s up?” Greg loved the caller ID feature of mobile phones, because it made the beginning of a phone call so much more efficient.

“Matt, did you delete that video yet?”

“No. I was going to do it tonight during my usual maintenance time.”

“Good. Nothing good could come of it. See you at work tomorrow.”

“Okay, boss.”

Greg ended the call. “Still a chance,” he said to the empty car. Then, after another moment, “Nah, that’s stupid.”

As he pulled up his graded driveway, Greg reached up and clicked the garage door remote control clipped onto the visor. The door creaked in protest while rolling along its track. The car leveled off as he slowly entered the garage.

He heard a scraping sound, followed by a loud, wooden crack. He stopped the car and backed up. Wood cracked again. He opened his door and got out.

A traumatized bookcase rested on its side on collapsed cardboard boxes. Black spraypaint coated the shelves and most of the cardboard. Unpainted wood lay bare where it had splintered under the pressure from the car.

Raelynn never warned him about her home improvement projects, and finally it had caught up with her. He backed out and parked in the driveway.

As he walked around the mess, Greg noticed that black overspray had reached the cement floor. The bookshelf was black, but the coverage was uneven, with several spots showing where Raelynn had started spraying. He shook his head while he made his way through the laundry room and into the hallway.

“Stop! Wait! Stay in the laundry room,” shouted Raelynn from somewhere in the house.

He stopped. “What’s going on?” he said.

“You might have black on your shoes.”

When Greg looked down to check his shoes, he saw faint black footprints leading from where he stood, across the living room, fading gradually before they reached the kitchen. “You mean, just like you did?”

“Yes. I’m hoping it will come up if I borrow the Mathis’ carpet cleaner.”

“You might ask them if they have a spare black bookcase to replace the one I just ran over.”

“What?” she said and ran past him toward the garage.

“I couldn’t see it over the hood,” he called after her.

“Great, Greg. I worked hard on that,” she shouted back.

“Sorry. I’ve told you that I can’t see things that are low to the ground when I pull in.”

Raelynn was back inside, now following him to the kitchen. “You’re right. You’re right. I forgot.”

Greg stopped and set his keys and his brown-bagged bottle of spiced rum on the island counter, then opened the refrigerator. “Okay, you backed down way too easy. What’s going on?” Greg said.

“Did you hear about what happened to Brenda Yeager and little Lawrence?”

“Yeager… Yeager,” Greg searched for the name’s significance as he found a canned cola.

“You know, your Ms. July for the calendar?”

“Oh, you mean hot Brenda?” He pulled up the tab on the can, producing a chuff that would make marketers salivate.

“You could call her that.”

Greg wrinkled his brow. “What happened? Something bad? Please not something bad.”

Raelynn opened a cabinet and pulled out a highball glass and handed it to him. “It was bad for her and her son. She’s just a little banged up, but he’s spending at least one night in the hospital.”

“Banged up by what?”

(to be continued)

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