Born and raised in Corpus Christi, Kailey Hamauei currently resides in Germany. More about Kailey at the end of this section.
Off Ocean Drive in the old neighborhoods the homes have all been through the cycle: growth, stability, decline, and revitalization. Some have been through the cycle more than once. Most are pier and beam, many with original wood exteriors, some covered with asbestos siding so old it’s crumbling off in toxic chunks, and some with vinyl slapped on top of the asbestos.
Taita’s house had that kind of shitty 1940’s white aluminum siding that was slightly dented or bent every couple of feet or so. A healthy green and manicured hedge lined the front lawn and wrapped around the sides. The long, deeply cracked driveway led straight back to the detached garage where a small rose garden—with red, pink, and cream blooms—that Taita tended in her spare time. Her workshop was next to that, where she made lavish gowns with beads and Swarovski crystals for the annual Buc Days parade.
The gutters and trim were brown, the front door a flat white with thick gold address numbers made of wood. No one really used the front door much because the back was always unlocked, unless of course, nobody was home. Growing up in the post-slasher-flick era, and being an imaginative, if paranoid child, I often sweated with the anxiety of my grandparents being murdered in that house. Thankfully, living across the street helped me assuage those fears by simply looking out the window, or walking over.
Between the garage and workshop was a narrow passage paved with heavy stone slabs opening to the large alleyway where we spent the majority of our summer breaks. A grape vine had woven itself all along the chain link fence to the alleyway, producing small green bunches of pure cheek-puckering evil we would only eat on dares. Two large fig trees grew there as well. One stretched along the back of the garage and the other past the fence more toward the back lot of Mrs. Chakur’s house. In the late summer the figs grew rapidly from hard green bulbs into fleshy black orbs that eventually dropped to the ground due to their own corpulence. It was then that Taita would ask us to gather them for her, as well as to pick dozens of the most tender leaves from the grape vine and bring them inside for washing and preparing. On the small kitchen table her hands, blue veined and wrinkled with soft olive skin, made quick work of trimming the stems and veins from the leaves, boiling them in salt, and then rolling them up like small cigars filled with rice and ground beef to make warak arish.
The figs we would rinse with cold water and eat fresh. Or if we begged her, Taita would indulge us and grind them up with chopped walnut and bake maamoul cookies.
“Ya Allah, habibti albee!” she would chide me as my brother and cousins and I ate one after the other the moment the cookies were cooled enough to eat.
When it came time to clean up the kitchen and to do the dishes, they boys took off back outdoors as usual, but I would linger to help tidy. I savored the moments where it was only the two of us. It did not take long to sweep the worn linoleum floor or to do what few dishes fit in the small sink space. I felt sorry that Taita would do these things alone and even as a child, I feared the strain would tire her heart.
When we relaxed after, we spent our time on the couches in the living room. The furniture consisted of very oddly colored pieces strewn about the edges of the room. The sofa was a thirty year old relic, possibly older, with clawed feet, lime green and patterned upholstery and dingy yellow-gold pillows. There were a few armchairs as well, equally as odd with green and orange fabric, but it would be unlucky to get stuck sitting in them as they were not very comfortable. Taita sat in one of the two burgundy-colored leather recliners in the room. The other sat empty. This recliner had been Jiddo’s. The headrest was still worn—it had never been replaced—from where he continually had rested his balding, white-haired head evening after evening until he took his last breath and died while napping in it on a chilly day in November. The space between the recliners was where the paramedics attempted to revive him, around five feet from where my brother and I hid watching underneath the dining room table.
“Ya Allah!” Taita had cried. But not in the same voice I had ever heard her say it in before.
I thought of this every time I passed the spot. It was a hard image for a child to shake. Even years after, late at night and when I was sure Taita wouldn’t see me, I would curl into his chair and cry for him against the coolness of the leather; overwhelmed with the memories of my five-year-old self. After periods like this, days later when Taita would fall asleep in her chair while watching her novellas, sometimes still wearing her pink apron, the mortality and frailty of her would grip me. I would fix my eyes hard upon her ribs to ensure it was still rising and falling. Sometimes I resorted to even placing two fingers lightly to her wrist as she slept, like my mother had shown me if I couldn’t be sure.
As an adult, the whole house is much smaller than the one that lives in my memories.
The kitchen does not seem like it could have fit all of us grandchildren at once. There is nothing cooking on the stove or in the oven. There are no soft maamoul or twist cookies or sugar dusted kourambiedes tucked away into the dining room cabinet. The house has long since become my father’s rental property. Tenants come and go every few months, and now, what was once a home is abused and defaced as rental properties tend to be. The trees in the front have been cut down to nothing, black rot clearly visible from the splintered nub that was once a proud trunk. The hedges are dead as well, which brings to light even more imperfections in that aluminum siding. The front door is painted a loud and tacky red.
The last time I was permitted to see inside, the carpet had become so frayed that it had pulled away from the edges of the floor in places. The linoleum portions of the floor more worn than ever. Places that once were coated in cream colored paint now held a dinge that no amount of taking to it with a wash cloth could scrub away. New memories had been made in this place. New memories of strangers; and an influx of tenants who did not know about the place on the floor that used to be between two recliners. Or the place in the hall where Taita’s heart finally shuddered weakly in her chest.
But in the alley, away from the touch of the renters and the neighbors is still the grape vine, still flourishing more wildly than ever, and the two fig trees. It was a cutting from this vine that we now have in our own backyard. One which still grows and has now spread along the entirety of the back fence, reminding me of all those scorching summers all those years ago.
The pale amber liquid swirled around in Sam’s highball glass, the dark color of the whiskey diluted by the melting ice cubes. A cacophony of conversations and laughter passed by him; the men in tuxedos and women in glittering evening wear drifted back and forth between the dance floor and the bar. Glasses, gleaming golden and filled to the brim with champagne, clinked together in toasts he could not hear over the music. Occasionally someone would clap him on the back or stop to exchange some quick banter, but with the exception of moving to get another drink, he had stood all evening fixed to his position near the bar.
He drained the last of his drink in one swallow. The back of his throat seized up and burned a little in protest but he relished the feeling. Cate had not finished her drink yet. In fact, she had probably only taken maybe two sips from what he could see. She looked older now than she had, not so much in features, but in the distinguished and deliberate way she carried herself. From where he stood and because of the dim lighting he could not tell how the details of her face had changed through the years, but he knew there had to be changes. His own face had changed a little more than he liked to admit. He had to shave every day now to keep his face smooth. There was a large crease that appeared between his eyebrows now when he moved them and that lingered even when he didn’t. He couldn’t remember having that as a teenager. He also couldn’t remember the little lines around his eyes or when they had appeared.
He wondered if the red of her hair simply looked muted because of the lighting, or if it had lost its fire and begun to tame with age. He wondered if the kid had red hair too.
copyright Kailey Hamauei
read the rest of this story in Corpus Christi Writers 2018
Born in Corpus Christi and raised somewhere between her grandmother’s Arabic kitchen, the public library, and the Padre Island National Seashore, Kailey Morgan Hamauei is currently pursuing her passion in animation. She has pursued other creative work. Her passion is storytelling in any medium.
Karen has been writing as long as she could hold a pen. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Gnashing Teeth Publishing. More about Karen at the the end of this section
My husband wears his red-brown skin like a badge of honor. It wasn’t always so. He tells me stories of being young and of difference, being teased and hit for that difference. He tells me of finally feeling the first hints of acceptance when he got his “Indian Roll Card.” He carries this worn square of paper proudly. His name and a number. He is Recognized. He is not Native American; there were no Americans when his great-great-grandfather stood against an invading force. He is not Native. He is now bound by a government he resents. He is Miami. He is Myaamia.
She is white-passing. She will not let her skin dictate who she is. She of half of me and all of him. She is wild and more free than I ever was. She doesn’t know the ancient stories: she feels them in her bones. At 2 days old we could see it in her eyes. She was Wise Woman. She was Ancient Mystery and Healing. She was Before.
I am white. Or maybe white. Adopted into white. No one knows. White appearing. I have no voice in the matter. In any matter. I sit in tears watching my family ignored, treated as if they don’t exist, treated like reservation trash. I must stay silent. When I try to write of my love for them, for their humanity, I am being problematic. I am too white to have words for the dissonance I live in.
Spanish for God
Spanish for days
If God is the masculine
And days are the feminine
Is God diametrically
opposite of days
Does time flow
As blood across El Mundo
The masculine Earth
Awash is lluvia
A feminine insertion
Of water into soil
God is Earth
Time is flowing water
I stand grounded
In the masculine
Yet cannot grow
Without the feminine
Without the rain to
Wash away the sins
Without the days
To tick tick away
Dios is plural
God is one
Full of many gods
We are Dias
Days without end
We are Dios
Love without end
We are Eterna
flowers push hard against earth,
brown sandy loam gives way to
a impetuous green, stroked all
night by moonlight before fracturing
into pink and white and petals, splayed
open, inviting insects to dive in, butts
in the calm Spring breeze, partaking
of the nectar, satisfying their buzz
the slideshow sky is a lesson in
cloud physics, cumulonimbus reposing
in naked delight across the stratosphere,
unashamed of it’s virga, it’s streak
exposed for the world to see
my husband ambles around our
small acre, imagining where to place
the much-talked-about fire pit which
never materializes; there is salt water
coating our windows, forcing us outside
to see the eruption in our yard, the
stickers and stinging nettle reaching out,
cleaving onto our soles, our pant legs,
their hope for reproduction depending
not only on the wind, but on our wandering
my daughter is studious in her bedroom,
her online classes keeping her engaged
beyond the four walls of our home, a
hope for the continuation of our version
of normal continuing beyond this Spring,
our ancient imperatives echoing inside of us,
the innate knowledge of Spring as a bringer
of futures, where Death is not welcome
Karen has been writing as long as she could hold a pen. Her works can be seen in several literary magazines and websites including Nowhere Poetry & Flash Fiction, Tuck Magazine, Pif Magazine, Unlikely Stories, Tuck Magazine, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. She founded the Aransas County Poetry Society and hosts a monthly Open Mic in Rockport, Texas. She has a Kindle edition book of poetry, Stumbling to Breathe. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Gnashing Teeth Publishing.
Kenneth Bennight is a husband, father, lawyer, former Marine, and the author of the hard-boiled Nacho Perez stories. More about Kenneth at the end of this section.
Wheel Colony XJB776, Interstellar Space
The blue chick’s bright mane was no yellower than a jonquil and her clothes no skimpier than a clumsy pickpocket’s purse. She stood at the bar, her stripes pulsing to the beat of the music. I let out a deep breath. Middle aged, I’d all but lost my stripes, except when mad—or scared. She’d never give me a second look.
Stale ale and THC-product smoke wafted to me. Flashing signs lit the room. The bar sat on an outside bulkhead, and a four-meter diameter porthole showed the galaxy spinning around us. Pedants insist we’re doing the spinning. Whatever. I never tired of gawking. Every deck along the 100-kilometer circumference of the wheel was lined with portholes, but schmucks like me don’t live next to outside bulkheads.
I polished off my ale and signaled for another. It came quickly, and I flipped the bartender 500 People’s Credits. A year ago, 50 PCreds would have been ample. The damned Council would destroy the Wheel.
I cringed at the thought. The Council knew everything, but they couldn’t read minds. Well, if they could, they’d keep it secret. But if they couldn’t, wouldn’t they keep you guessing? I squeezed my eyes, shook my head, and took another quaff.
Three unmodifieds drank at the bar, a rare sight. No stripes, hair instead of manes, and limited, fixed colors. Merchants or diplomats, maybe. The Council won’t let unmodified people live here, and I hear modifieds aren’t welcome on other wheels. So the Council keeps us modifieds in and mostly keeps unmodifieds out. The better for the Council to keep control.
I was halfway into the second ale when Blue Chick sidled over. What did she want? Not likely my charm.
“Ezekiel Soorling, private investigator?”
I nodded and hoisted my ale in salute. “Zeke will do. How may I help you?” Maybe she’d be a paying client. One of those would be nice.
She bit her top lip. “Umm, let’s move closer to a speaker.”
The People’s Security Force had cameras here like everywhere, but the raucous music and cross talk likely drowned out listening devices. Still, she wanted to move, and she might pay.
At the table she picked, the pounding music pierced my ears. I sat down, and she snuggled beside me, grasped my hand, and whispered. I could hardly hear, never mind the PSF.
“Zeke, I need you to find something. Someone stole my Callaghflorian-crystal brooch.”
Her mane tickled my nose. I rubbed a finger over it and whispered back. “You can get a nice brooch printed on the black market easier than find this one. If somebody took it, the Council knows and allowed it.” Her perfume drew me closer.
She ran a hand over my thinning mane. “The cameras are showing us together, and we need to give the PSF a reason. You better kiss me.”
Who was I to argue? I kissed, and she kissed back. An altogether satisfactory exchange—at least from my perspective. I think my stripes even flickered. Being grateful for the cameras was new.
“I said Callaghflorian crystals. We don’t have the right minerals to print them.”
“If you upset what the Council’s got going, they may sanction you.”
She blew in my ear. “They and I both know who did it. It was the PO in my quarters group.”
I jerked my head back. “You want me to go after a political officer?”
She kissed my cheek. “Aren’t you man enough, Zeke?”
“Do you see “man enough” as a synonym for stupid?”
She smiled and held up a People’s Credit chip. “Run this through your scanner.”
I did. Five-hundred thousand PCreds. I opened my mouth, but no words came out.
She plucked the chip back from my fingers. “If you take the job, the chip’s yours—right now. When you get the brooch, there’ll be a second just like it.” I got another kiss on the cheek.
The kisses were great. A million PCreds was great. Being pushed out an evacuation tube, not great. I chugged the rest of my ale.
She waggled the five-hundred thousand PCred chip.
My landlord’s angry face appeared. My other creditors were none too happy either, so I took the chip and a deep breath. “What’s the name of this PO?
“Rusfornan Perforus. My quarters group is in the Tango Sector, Third Deck, where 25th Avenue crosses Prime Meridian.” She handed me a piece of paper. “Here’s a picture of the brooch.”
I took the paper. I’d never seen actual Callaghflorian crystals, and she probably hadn’t either. “This looks nothing like pictures I’ve seen.”
She tapped my left hand, which still held the PCred chip, and winked. When she got up, I grabbed her forearm. “What’s your name?”
“I know yours.” She blew me a kiss and was gone.
Synonym for stupid seemed apt.
* * *
The next afternoon, I headed to the Kilo Sector dog track. The crowd billowed through the concourse. I climbed to the mezzanine, looking for an area devoid of people. There it was, and there would be Wilfah.
Back downstairs, I smelled Wilfah not much sooner than I saw her. So her hygiene was better than most days. Her skin was so pale and so tight, it was hard to tell her head from a skull. The rest of her was covered in a long-unwashed robe of swirling purple, green, and blue, a visual warning of her redolence.
“Excuse me. I’m hoping for a tip on the fifth.”
Wilfah turned the page of her racing form without looking up. “What a damn shame. My crystal ball needs a new crankshaft.”
Mission accomplished. I headed to the track lounge and fired up a stogie. You could do that in the Kilo Sector. Mostly—if you were lucky. I was. When done, I discarded the stub in a public trash can—and slapped a gummed note underneath the inside rim. A nasty place. Wilfah’s idea. Surprise.
The next morning, I was back. Another smoke. Again, I mashed out the stub, dumped it, and retrieved a reply.
A political officer? Are you shitting me?
But the note was folded over. Inside, it gave an address and time. Good old Wilfah always came through. Except when she didn’t.
* * *
I ambled down the street a block from the meeting address, the same bar where I’d met Blue Chick.
I’d never have agreed to something this dangerous if I didn’t need the money. And I wouldn’t need the money if I’d chosen a real career. Why didn’t my momma tell me to be an accountant or something? I sighed. In her defense, she did. I just didn’t listen. So why didn’t she make me listen? I shook my head. The suffering our mothers saddle us with.
As I neared the bar, my thoughts turned to the PSF cameras. Here’s hoping Wilfah had control of them. It was both our heads if she didn’t.
In I walked. There she was—staring gape-mouthed at the porthole. Her smell reached all the way to the door, and the tables around her were empty.
“Wilfah, can I buy you another ale?”
She spun to face me but glowered instead of speaking. Bad sign. I ordered two anyway and pulled up a chair. She slurped down her ale, slammed the glass down on the table, and glowered again.
“I don’t care for being set up. Even if you’re indifferent to your life, I’m not. To my life, I mean. I am supremely indifferent to yours.” Wilfah sometimes talked as high as she smelled.
I spread my hands, palms up. “Wilfah, you’ve told me you’re so good that even the PSF can’t track you.”
“You’ve hacked communications before. What’s the difference?”
“Not for political officers.”
“Is their stuff better protected?”
“Not so’s to matter.”
I held up the PCred chip. “Fifty-thousand PCreds.”
Wilfah narrowed her eyes and pressed her lips into a fine line. “Let’s revisit the split.”
I made a rude gesture, and she returned the sentiment. But she’d do what I asked. Her creditors were rougher than mine.
* * *
Wilfah signaled a meeting at the same place. She came in and ordered an ale. I gagged. Others switched to tables farther from us. I struggled to speak.
“Did Perforus take it?”
Wilfah slurped some ale. “Yep.”
“I’ll need your help getting it.”
“He gave it to his girlfriend.”
“Great. We can steal it from her?”
“She doesn’t have it.”
I slammed my fist on the table and felt my stripes glimmer. “Out with it, dammit.” I caught a glimpse of Blue Chick watching us from across the room. She pinched her nose and waved. She’d smelled better.
Wilfah shrugged. “She wore it to the market, and it was stolen.”
“Naturally. Home of the lightest fingers on the wheel. So Perforus isn’t attracted to her smarts.”
“Who’s to say? She isn’t much to look at.”
Wilfah would know.
* * *
My Delta Sector clothes had ordinary pockets outside, holding only decoy stuff, and secured pockets inside, holding only the barest essentials, my P.I. license and a small-denomination PCred chip.
A simulated shower had just passed the central plaza, leaving the plants damp and the air cool and with a hint of moisture.
I sipped coffee and searched for King Klepto, the best of Delta Sector’s many finger-smiths. A provocatively dressed, young woman brushed by me, stripes fading in and out. At the same instant, a faint shadow appeared in my peripheral vision.
“King, long time no see,” I said. The woman scurried away and King Klepto stepped into view. His red wasn’t as bright as when we’d last met.
“Zeke, what brings you to my sector?”
“A favor.” I handed him a picture of the brooch. “This was lifted here, and I’ll pay to get it back.” I pointed at him. “I’ll even pay you for a lead.”
King studied the picture and nodded. “How much—in each case.”
We cut a deal, and I turned to go.
King grabbed my forearm and held out my license. “A gesture of good faith.”
“The chip?” I asked.
“Not that much good faith.”
It’s hell being a schmuck.
* * *
King set up a meeting two days later.
He scowled. “This is too hot to touch.”
“Come on, dammit. You can’t be afraid of your underlings.”
King shook his head. “This wasn’t Delta Sector people.”
“BS. You wouldn’t tolerate encroachers.”
He stared me dead in the eye. “It was the Family.”
That took a minute to penetrate. “The Family? They took time out from protection rackets and drug trade? I thought the Council allocated big stuff to them, leaving small stuff for people like you.”
King laughed. “Whether the Council controls the Family, or the Family controls the Council, who knows?” He chewed his lower lip. “Check out Rustovian’s Antique Jewelry.” He gave me an address.
He pointed at me. “One more thing, Zeke. I’m not forgetting you didn’t warn me this was heavy.” He walked away, stripes faintly visible.
He’d forget—if there was money in it. I checked my pocket. He’d helped himself to payment for the information.
* * *
That evening, I found Blue Chick at the porthole bar perched on a stool and smooching with a nose-ringed, purple and blue squirt, his stripes flashing, the type who couldn’t hold his own in a dodge-ball game.
I grabbed the nose ring, pulled him halfway to the door and pushed him the rest. “Go tell your mommy your nose hurts.”
When I turned back, Blue Chick was facing the bar taking a drink. She looked over her shoulder at me. “His mommy is a sector warden.”
“Then he’ll tell her.”
I grabbed her upper arm and steered her to a table in the back. “Tell me about the brooch. You’re paying too much and now you’ve got me tangled up with the Family.” My stripes gave a few beats.
Her face clouded, making it hard to read. But her stripes flashed. After a pause, she sighed.
She dangled a PCred chip at me. “Does another 250,000 help?”
It did. I’m such a schmuck.
* * *
Wilfah harvested the antique shop’s communication data. On paper of all things! Some was nonsensical, mostly just numbers and punctuation. Code. I settled in to break it, a bottle of genuine Kentucky bourbon to keep me company. Kentucky was a street in Charlie Sector.
The next morning, pounding on my door awakened me. I staggered to answer while jackhammers whacked away in my head. I peered out to find the plumber. Oh yeah, a clogged drain. I tripped on the nearly empty whiskey bottle and tried not to throw up.
He glanced down while brushing past the papers with the unbroken code. “My kid’s reading that in school.”
“That book.” He pointed at the papers.
I rushed to grab them and nearly blew out my stomach. “What book?” I croaked.
He pointed closer. “Right at the top. It says Huckleberry Finn.”
“That’s a book?”
“Yeah, you can actually still get paperback copies. Can you believe that?”
“Huckleberry Finn’s a book?”
“Damned lot of good it’s doing you.”
The plumber done, hair of the dog settled my stomach. Off I went to the library.
“Excuse me, I’m looking for Huckleberry Finn.”
The librarian lifted a pointed face to me, turned it to the computer catalog, and turned it back to me with raised eyebrows.
She let out a long breath. “Do you have a preference for an edition?”
I showed her my paper.
She compared it to the catalog and pointed to an entry. “This seems to be what you want.”
I sat down and bored into the task. Taking the numbers to be references to page, line, and word didn’t yield anything intelligible. Neither did line, word, and page. But word, page, and line seemed promising. I shuffled through the pages to see how much text needed decrypting. Then I looked around. Did you know libraries don’t serve beverages?
Hours later, I had the solution. The brooch had a secret compartment with a chip, which was somehow related to the Family. I even learned the brooch was in the antique shop inside a book, naturally a copy of Huckleberry Finn.
Time to get the book. Now, burgling, I do. But connected people, people who might dump me out an air lock? What kind of schmuck would burgle them? A pattern of schmuckitude was emerging.
* * *
At three a.m., the shop was dark. I disabled the alarm—I hoped—and jimmied the lock. Nothing happened when I pushed the door—that I could tell. I crept down the central aisle to the counter.
Something moved to my right. I froze. Sweat seeped down my forehead, burning my eyes. Nothing. I waited. Still nothing. One foot forward. It sounded again. Damn. I was dead. Rustling and then squeaking. Rats. I was panicking over rats.
I found the counter opening, then a door to the back room. Through it and to the right brought me to a book case. I risked a small light to find Huckleberry Finn. I almost missed its faded cover, sitting as it did at the top left, well above my head.
I got it down. A recess cut out of the center of the pages held the brooch. Light in my mouth, I fiddled with the brooch until I found a latch. Inside was a chip outlining a plan for the Family to seize control of the Council. Holy shit.
The room light flashed on. Two grinning slabs of beef pointed lasers at me.
“Hand it over, pal.”
I considered my options and handed over the chip.
The one who’d spoken turned to the other. “Now what?”
As they leveled their weapons, I dropped behind a table and considered a break for the door. The room erupted in dazzling lasers, and I curled into a fetal ball. My body throbbed with the rapid pulsing of my own stripes. Why were they such bad shots? I could have killed me by now. The Mach Two carousel ride lasted several seconds and involved too many shots to have come from just the two guys. When it ended, I was still alive, not even singed. I wiggled my toes. They worked.
“You can get up, Zeke.” Blue Chick’s voice.
I staggered to my feet and held my hands up.
“Drop your hands, idiot.” From her tone, she didn’t need me anymore. Her nose was buried in a chip reader, and two men looked over her shoulder. A third seemed to be calling in a status report.
He paused and looked up at her. “So?”
She smiled and waved the reader. “Yeah, we’ve got it.”
The man making the report smiled and continued.
The beef slabs were on the deck and barbecued. Blue Chick and her buddies had done the cooking.
I felt lonesome. “What’s going on?”
Blue Chick looked up. “We’re busy.”
“The hell you say. I work hard to find this place, and then you’re here, too. What did you need me for?” My stripes still pulsed faintly.
“We didn’t know the chip was here until you found out. It would have been too high-profile, too heavy handed for us to investigate directly. You were a low-key tool.”
It sucks when a hot chick calls you a tool. “Tool for who?”
She dropped her head and slumped her shoulders.” Do you need a color-coded map? For the Council, nimrod.”
“Wow. So the Family’s done?”
She snorted. “The Family and Council overlap.” She gestured toward the charred bodies. “This is just a sibling quarrel.”
The pile of barbecue didn’t resemble sibling quarrels I’d seen.
Hopefulness buoyed me. “Where’s the rest of my money?”
She closed her eyes and shook her head. “Zeke, you’re such a schmuck.”
Jake banked his F-16 left at Las Vegas and headed north toward Salt Lake City. At 45,000 feet, the deep blue sky floated on a bed of white cumulus clouds.
“Red Rover to Miramar Control. Commencing second leg. Over.”
“Miramar Control to Red Rover. Roger that. Out.”
Moments later, the radio squawked again. “Damn, Jake. Can you see that?” Karl, Jake’s wingman, was to the right and a plane length behind.
“On my nose. The damn thing’s on my nose.”
“What are you talking about?”
Jake dropped just enough airspeed to let Karl pass. A pulsating, diaphanous sphere flew just off Karl’s nose.
Jake gasped. “What the hell?”
Karl banked right. The sphere’s relative location remained steady. Karl slowed, and the sphere did likewise, synchronized to Karl’s maneuvers.
“Remember in Die Hard when Bruce Willis says ‘Yippee ki yay?’” Karl called.
“Yippee ki yay.”
Karl hit the afterburners and passed Mach 1. The sphere maintained perfect relative position. After a moment, Karl dropped his speed to resume position relative to Jake. The sphere remained on Karl’s nose.
The clouds broke, revealing snow-capped mountains below. The sphere left station, descending.
“I’ll show the bastard.” Karl locked his targeting radar on the sphere.
“Karl, don’t do anything stupid.”
“This has got to be the ChiComs, and they got no business here. Launch-button cover cleared.”
At that instant, almost faster than Karl’s eyes could register, the sphere shot upwards. Before he could bring his craft around to follow, the sphere disappeared into the heavens.
“Well, it didn’t like that,” Karl said.
“You dumb SOB, that wasn’t Chicoms. You going to put in your report that you nearly shot down a UFO?”
“I didn’t nearly do anything. That sucker could’ve outrun a missile.”
Yarnak slammed open the hatch to Lensur’s chamber. “What did you do to the flyer, youngling?”
Lensur jolted awake. He poked his eye stalk out of his sleeping gear.
Yarnak could see Lensur’s eye stalk try to focus. The confused look on his face betrayed jumbling thoughts, probably none coherent.
“What do you mean?”
“What do you think I mean? And it’s high time you were up anyway. It’s been four periods since light.”
Lensur twitched. “That late? Really? It feels earlier.”
“It’s not. The flyer. What did you do?”
Lensur swung four of his appendages to the deck and rubbed his carapace. “I don’t know. Nothing, really.”
“Nothing really? The transmission is cracked, the torque converter’s on its last legs. The fuel supply is nearly exhausted. And you did nothing? You think I’ll believe that?”
The youngling waved the two appendages not on the deck. “Maybe they were about to go anyway.”
“Herbigrazer cud. The flyer was overhauled only two cycles ago. It should be good for 100 cycles. And even then, you don’t see that kind of damage.”
Yarnak’s eye stalk throbbed and pointed directly at him. Lensur squirmed but remained silent. Yarnak snorted. What could the worthless one say?
“You know the flyer belongs to the company? Even though I’ll pay for this, I’ll still get an unfavorable data note. All because of a youngling with no self-control.” Yarnak’s eye stalk turned red and his top two appendages bounced.
The youngling squirmed again.
“You were trying to impress a female, weren’t you?”
“No, First Parent. We just went for ride, you know. Nothing much.”
“Where did you go?”
Lensur shuffled his appendages and squeezed his eye stalk. “It was just this planet, you know. Nothing special.”
“No, I don’t know. Which planet?”
He retrieved the designation from the implanted chip. “You know, in the MWG78650 System, Sector ZBXG.”
Yarnak accessed his own memory chip, and his top appendages spread out and his eye stalk rose vertically to its maximum height. “There? You went there knowing it’s forbidden?” He pounded his top two appendages on his carapace. “You went to the third planet, didn’t you? You stubborn, insolent, disobedient, unreliable excuse for . . ..” His voice trailed off as switched to pounding against the bulkhead.
He paused and breathed deeply. Continuing in a softer voice, he said “I saw reports the authorities know of an intrusion, and they’re trying to trace who it was. When I take the flyer in for repairs and refueling, it’ll be flagged. I’ll have to account for the fuel usage.”
He slumped against the bulkhead for several moments. Then he stood erect, eye stalk elevated.
“How did you do the damage?”
“They were going to shoot at me.”
“Who? Why?” Yarnak asked.
“I was just surfing their craft’s bow wave. Automated control. No risk.”
“Except the risk they’ll be scared and shoot.”
“It’s not my fault they’re primitive.”
“It’s your fault you went.”
Lensur raised his appendages. “You know, it’s not like we took a captive or probed anybody. It was just a little harmless sightseeing. No big deal.”
The throbbing in Yarnak’s eyestalk intensified, and the stalk itself flashed colors like a parthwah in rut.
More squirming by Lensur.
“Alright, tell me the name of the female. Her parents need to be warned before the authorities come for her.
Lensur’s eye stalk pulled back. “Can’t we just tell them I was alone. They don’t need to know anything else.”
“They’re not stupid, youngling, and they’ll talk to your friends. What’s her name?”
Everything on Lensur drooped. “Rishura.”
Yarnak took long deep breath and held it before exhaling. “Rishura? My boss’s daughter, Rishura? Duchess Rishura? Rishura who’s betrothed to the crown prince? That Rishura?”
Lensur’s appendages waggled affirmatively.
Yarnak clasped his top two appendages together, his eye stalk wilting. “You’ve disgraced me at work. You’ve disgraced me in society. You’ve committed a prison offense. And now you’re telling me you dragged into your criminal scheme a member of the nobility who is also my boss’s daughter, one who is betrothed to royalty? You could not possibly have made this worse.”
Lensur’s eye stalk moved in a circle. “Well, Rishura discovered she’s carrying my hatchlings. So I guess she’ll lay them in prison.”
Where the hell was the damn center stripe? Thad Will peered ahead. The wipers and the full-blast defroster kept only a patch of the windshield clear from freezing rain. His headlights barely penetrated the blur. He kept his speed around 40 miles per hour, his knuckles aching from his tight grip on the wheel. When was the last time South Texas had weather like this? His eyelids felt heavy.
He blinked and rubbed his eyes. No sleep in almost two days. Getting a room in Cotulla would have been good. If he could afford it. But Eagle Ford work had slowed and threatened to disappear. He couldn’t spend money on motels with Justin needing braces and the dining room set about to be repossessed.
His eyes closed, his body relaxed, he almost slid into sleep, and the car started to drift. Adrenalin hit. His eyes popped back open, and he jerked the car straight. Damn it all. He repeatedly slapped his cheek.
He hadn’t seen another car since leaving Cotulla, shortly before he’d passed a sign warning that the next gas station was 94 miles down the road. FM 624 cuts east-west across the South Texas brush. He’d heard it called the world’s longest hunting lease. Traffic was seldom heavy, and only an idiot would travel it on a night like this.
Headlights reflected in his rear-view mirror. Who else was out in this mess? A few seconds later, he realized the lights were approaching fast. Jeez. Whoever this schmuck was, he was blasting along, ice be damned.
Moments later a new Ford Mustang swung wide around him and careened back, nearly clipping his front end. It swerved and slid down the road for as far as he could see. A nutso with a death wish. Will held his speed down.
Ten minutes later, he saw headlights ahead and to the side of the road. Maybe there’s a curve. He studied the lights as he drew nearer. Something wasn’t right.
Just a hundred yards short of the lights, he caught sight of a bridge. Ice. Shit. He thumped his brakes just before he crossed onto it and slid almost to the guard rail before regaining control.
Beyond the bridge, the Mustang lay spun around and upside down against the fence. He pulled over, turned on his flashers, and took a flashlight from his glove box. His feet crunched on the icy grass, which brushed against his ankles above his low-quarter shoes. Moisture wicked up his socks, leaving his feet wet and nearly numb.
The spider-web cracks in the window glass kept him from seeing inside. He wrestled open the driver’s door, which cut an arced swath in the icy grass. A fruity, pungent alcohol smell slapped him in the face.
A sprawled body, feet to the front and head to the rear. The latter lay at an odd angle. No pulse. This fool had been driving like a madman without a seatbelt. A broken bottle of Jose Cuervo lay next to the driver.
He shone the light around to look for a passenger. No one. He was about to return to his car and call in the accident when he glimpsed something mostly obscured by the driver’s body. He kneeled in the grass, and shone the light inside. Please God, don’t let it be a child.
It was a duffel bag, the zipper slightly open – with a bundle of money sticking out. He pulled, but the driver’s body held it down. When the bag finally came free, the driver’s torso partly followed the bag out the door. Ice trickled down the back of Will’s neck. His wet hair lay plastered against his head. He shook himself, caught his breath, and unzipped the bag all the way.
The bag was full of bundled hundred-dollar bills. His jaw dropped. Were they real? He glanced at the slumped body. Who was this guy? A drug dealer. Had to be.
He pulled out his cellphone to call the police but then stopped. Rain and melting ice soaked his clothes. He climbed to his feet and looked up and down the highway. Nobody had passed and still no cars in sight. He stuffed the body back in the car and closed the door as best he could, but the latch wouldn’t catch. He locked the bag in his trunk and headed down the highway, setting the car’s heater on high.
The right thing was to turn the money in. But if he did, they’d know he’d been at the accident and didn’t report it immediately, and they’d know he’d tampered with a crime scene. Shit. He shook his head. I should go back. He took his foot off the accelerator. Then he thought of his debts. He needed that money. He sped back up.
He kept wrestling with the dilemma. He pulled over, shut off the engine, and turned on his flashers. The money wasn’t his. He couldn’t keep it. He leaned his head against the steering wheel and squeezed his eyes shut.
It had to be drug money. He took a deep breath. The druggies play for high stakes. Might even be cartel. What if they found him? Then I’m dead. It wasn’t worth it. He should go back.
He reached for the ignition. But they weren’t going to find him. Nobody saw anything. For all the druggies knew, the driver could have stashed the money somewhere else before he crashed.
He had to clear his mind. He slumped and focused on breathing regularly.
Tap, tap, tap.
He awoke, shivering. Flashing lights showed in the rearview mirror, and a patrolman stood at his window. He turned the key so he could lower his window. The rain and ice had let up.
“Is everything all right, sir?” The patrolman was tall and haggard, and his right hand rested on the butt of his pistol. He gave no sign the cold bothered him. The name tag on his chest read Corcoran.
“Yes, officer. Everything’s fine. I just got a little sleepy, so I pulled over to doze. The cold’s got me awake now.” Will shifted in his seat and ran his fingers through his hair.
Corcoran moved his flashlight beam around the interior of Will’s car. “Show me your license and insurance.”
Will pulled his license out of his wallet, handed it over, and fumbled in his glove box until he came up with the insurance card. Thank God he’d kept up the payments.
Corcoran took the papers and went back to his patrol car. When he came back, he returned the papers. “Where’re you headed?”
Corcoran looked him and his car over again. “You’re soaked. Did you have some trouble back there?”
Will’s mind raced.
“Uh, no, not really.” He gulped. “The car, uh, well, it felt funny, and I thought maybe, uh, maybe I had a flat.” The last words came more quickly than the previous ones, and he continued almost glibly. “I got out to check it, but the tire was fine.” He offered Corcoran his most innocent smile.
“Pretty wet for just that.”
Will shrugged. “I guess it took me a bit.”
“I see.” Corcoran raised his eyebrows and glared at Will as if he didn’t see at all.
Will struggled not to wither. “May I leave now?”
Corcoran nodded. “Be careful, sir. It’s a messy night. My radio said there’s a bad wreck back nearer Cotulla.”
Will bit his lower lip. “I hope the driver’s OK.”
Corcoran looked into his eyes. “I didn’t say there was just one car or just one person in it.”
“I guess I just assumed.” Inspiration hit. “Were more people involved?”
“The officer on the scene said someone had been there. You know anything about that?”
Wills shook his head repeatedly. “No, sir. I don’t, no. Not about that.” Despite the cold, perspiration formed on Will’s upper lip.
Corcoran stared but waved him on.
Will made a point of signaling to return to the traffic lane and headed east.
That settled that. He couldn’t go back. They’d found the wreck, and they had a record of his whereabouts. He kept driving.
He slammed the steering wheel and grinned. Hell, he’d spend the money. Pay off bills, buy a new car, a new TV. Megan wanted to remodel the kitchen. He could just deposit the cash and start writing checks.
But what if the IRS audited him? No way could he explain the deposit. He shook his head. A lot of shit to think about. He’d ask Harry. Hypothetical, like. Harry worked for H&R Block during tax season. He’d know.
Another thought came to mind. He’d seen enough movies to know the druggies put GPS trackers in with their money. Less than two hours after his encounter with the patrolman, he pulled into the lot of the Stripes truck stop in Orange Grove, the only place open in the wee hours of a Sunday morning. He parked under a flood light at the back of the empty lot, retrieved the duffel from the trunk, and got back in the car to open it. The bundles all seemed to be the same size, and the bills were all Franklins, one-hundred dollars. He counted one bundle out. One hundred Franklins. Ten grand in a bundle. He found seventy-five bundles. Seven hundred fifty grand. A life-changing sum.
In the bottom sure enough his fingers found the tracker. He pulled it out and held it to the light. Were they already on his trail? Was he already a dead man? He looked around. Nothing, nobody. He had to get rid of it fast. He took several deep breaths. Don’t be paranoid.
A big rig pulled into the lot. The driver left the engine idling and went inside the store. Inspiration hit Will. He could stick the gizmo on the truck. But it didn’t look waterproof. He looked at the sky. If he didn’t keep it dry, he might as well throw it in a dumpster.
He returned the bag with the money to his trunk, keeping the GPS, and followed the driver inside. Rancid oil from the popcorn machine permeated the room. Microwaveable sandwiches and burritos lay at one end of the store and the counter lay at the other. In between were rows of candy, cookies, chips, toiletries, and cans of oil and radiator coolant.
The truck driver headed to the restroom. Will laid a Coke and a chocolate candy bar on the counter and, after they were scanned, slid his credit card through the reader. Coke and chocolate would both give him much needed caffeine.
“You need a bag for that?” the clerk asked.
Back at his car, he put the gizmo in the Stripes’ plastic bag and used duct tape from his trunk to secure the bag to the locking bar on the back of the idling big-rig’s trailer. Then he waited. The driver returned to his rig, pulled out of the Stripes, and headed north toward Mathis. Hallelujah.
Will headed east to Corpus. When he got home in the wee hours of the morning, he stuffed the bag in the back of a closet and crawled into bed next to Megan. He lay awake for an hour, maybe two.
The next morning, over coffee, he brooded. He considered depositing some of the cash at an ATM and remembered to call Harry.
Harry chuckled. “You win the lottery, pal? You know they’re going to report that anyway.”
Will ground his teeth. “No, nothing like that. You know, a friend and I at work had a bet about how to do this.”
“A bet with a friend is an old one, buddy, You must have knocked over a drug dealer.”
“Up yours.” Will hung up the phone.
Will Googled large cash deposits and found a bewildering array of rules requiring currency transaction reports and cash-transaction records, some for transactions as low as $3,000. Screw that. He’d keep the cash.
He wasn’t due back in Cotulla until Wednesday. On Monday, he paid off the dining room set and prepaid the orthodontist for Justin’s braces. That evening, after Justin was in bed, he called Megan over to the table and laid out the receipts and the bag with the money.
Her weary eyes turned quizzical as she flipped through the receipts. “What’s this?”
“I paid for Justin’s braces and paid off the balance on the furniture.”
She poked in the bag and gasped.
“Where did you get this?” She paused and looked into his eyes. “Thad, what have you done?” Her voice was soft and higher pitched than normal.
He told her about the wrecked car and the duffel bag. He left out the highway patrolman and the GPS tracker.
Megan ran a hand through her hair. “You’ve got to give it back. It’s not ours.”
“Well . . . .” He explained about Officer Corcoran.
She shook her head. “You’ve made a mess.”
He took her hand. “Only if you look at it that way. Look at it as a gift.”
Tuesday morning, Will read the neighborhood crime blotter and looked up at Megan.
“Did you read about these burglaries? Somebody might steal the money.”
Megan tilted her head and looked at him sideways. “Irony’s not your long suit, is it?”
He waved her off. He needed to spread the risk of losing the money, keep some of it somewhere else. He stuffed $400,000 into his attic crawl space. He took the unspent remainder in the original duffel bag to the rented storage space where they stored stuff they should have gotten rid of.
* * *
Monday afternoon after Will’s early Sunday morning trek through Orange Grove, Laurencio Contreras sat in the Stripes parking lot. The sun was out, and the temperature had risen to the mid-60s. Texas weather.
El Jefe had been pissed when the GPS took the wrong path. Laurencio caught up with the driver at a Victoria truck stop, and when he was done with him, Laurencio believed the guy knew nothing. But Laurencio had to find the cash fast if he wanted to stay on el Jefe’s good side. He didn’t want to see el Jefe’s bad side.
He’d traced the GPS’s movements. It had stopped three times before Victoria. The bag must have been taken at the first stop, where the mule had wrecked. The pinche borracho.
Laurencio didn’t understand the second stop on an isolated stretch of road, but the Stripes had to be where the GPS got on the truck. He surveyed the lot and spotted surveillance cameras.
Inside the store, his nose wrinkled at the rancid-oil smell. He browsed the merchandise and picked up a Big Red and an Almond Joy. Just below another surveillance camera, a picture of the manager hung on the wall, conveniently labeled with a name, Buddy Jaramillo. But someone other than Buddy stood behind the register.
When Laurencio stepped up to the counter, he set down his purchases and pointed at the picture. “I think I went to school with that vato. Is he here today?”
“Naw, he’s off.”
“Live nearby?” Laurencio added a Snickers bar to his purchase.
“Yeah, last house on the left on West Josephine.”
At the last house on West Josephine, a boy practiced dribbling and tried to make baskets in a hoop without a net. A scraggly mesquite grew at the corner of the driveway. Laurencio turned his car to face back the way he’d come and called out.
“Oye. are you Buddy’s boy?”
The boy got control of his ball and held it as his side. “Yes, sir.” He brushed aside his dark hair from his forehead.
“Is your daddy home?”
“He went to the grocery store, but he’ll be back soon.”
“I’ll wait for him.” Laurencio stepped out of the car but left his engine running. He held the candy bar out. “Would you like this?”
“Sure.” The boy approached, and Laurencio grabbed him, one hand over the boy’s mouth. The boy struggled and tried to scream, but Laurencio stuffed him in the back seat.
“When I let go of your mouth, you make noise, I twist your head until your neck snaps. You got me?” The boy nodded, tears gushing down his cheeks. Slowly, Laurencio released the boy’s mouth. The boy sobbed but made no other noise. Laurencio gagged him and used two zip ties, one to bind his hands and another his feet.
He drove back down FM 624 until he found several rows of large, round hay bales lying near the road. He cut the fence, dumped the boy between rows, and left him among piles of dried cow manure.
When Laurencio got back to the house, a large man stood in the front yard shouting, “Jesse. Jesse. Get back home, boy.” The man matched the picture of Buddy Jaramillo.
Laurencio turned his car back around again, got out, and lifted his shirt tail to reveal a gun. “You want to see your boy again? Do what I say. Comprende?”
Buddy’s eyes raced back and forth between the gun and Laurencio’s face. “What have you done to my boy? Where is he?”
Laurencio touched his gun. “Get in the driver’s seat. We’re going to the Stripes. Show me video from two nights ago. Then, you see your boy.”
Almost as many tears ran down Buddy’s face as had his son’s. “You didn’t have to take my boy for this.”
“Just do it.”
At the Stripes, Buddy waited until the clerk finished with a customer and then beckoned.
“We’re going to be in the office. Leave us undisturbed.”
The clerk nodded.
In the small office in the back of the Stripes, Buddy and Laurencio pulled up the video. Running through it was excruciating, even at twice the normal speed. The later the hour, the longer between customers. After a long period of inactivity, a car pulled in and parked under a light. Laurencio recognized the duffel the driver took from the trunk. When the driver went into the store, Laurencio had Buddy load the interior video. When he saw the credit card transaction, Laurencio’s grin turned cold, and he had Buddy pull up the buyer’s name and credit card number.
Armed with a name, Laurencio called el Jefe. Then he turned to Buddy and pointed.
“That way up 624, in some hay bales.” He grabbed Buddy’s forearm, boring his eyes into Buddy’s. “You say anything about this to anyone, I know where you live. Anything. Claro?”
“Sí, claro.” Buddy gulped air. “I got you.”
When Laurencio returned to his car and reached for the ignition, el Jefe called with an address to match the name. Laurencio headed for Corpus. He found Will’s house and spent the night in his car down the block where he had a good view. Cars littered the curb, so Laurencio’s didn’t stand out. He chuckled when Will left Tuesday morning with the duffel. Pinche gringo. Mueres pronto.
* * *
The Sunday afternoon after his early-morning encounter with Thad Will, Earl Corcoran propped up his feet on the coffee table and took a puff on his cigar. Marisol never would have let him put his feet on the table—or smoke a cigar in the house. But when he’d gotten home, all he found was a spite letter calling him a low-life. She’d packed up the kids and headed for her parents. At the beginning of his week off. Bitch.
He shook his head. Dwelling on Marisol’s letter wasn’t a good idea. His mind turned to the squirrel last night on 624. Will had been at the wreck. His nervousness, his being soaked, and his comments about the wreck. All that clinched it. Will had to be the one.
He chugged the rest of his beer. A week without family. Hell. He might as well stake the bastard out.
Tuesday morning, Corcoran watched Will leave the house with a duffel bag. A blue-shirted Hispanic male in a car down the street followed Will. Corcoran followed them both.
Will traveled down South Padre Island Drive until he pulled into a sun-and-salt-bleached storage facility. It consisted of five wings of storage rooms all running perpendicular to a once-white office in the front. Will entered a code and went through an automatic gate. Blue Shirt’s car squeezed through and paused by a nearby storage unit. Corcoran grimaced, taking Blue Shirt’s pause as an effort to lull Will.
Corcoran ran through the office, holding out his badge to a sleepy clerk, who had incense burning. From the back door, Corcoran looked down one of the rows. Someone with a pickup was loading a mattress and box springs. Will’s car came into view as it passed to the right along a cross drive. Corcoran turned to the right just as he caught a glimpse of Blue Shirt’s car.
When Corcoran got to the next opening, he saw Will traveling away from him down the row. Will stopped, unlocked a unit, and took the duffel from his car. Blue Shirt whipped around a corner and skidded toward Will. He hopped out of his car and popped off a round in Will’s direction.
“Give me the bag, pendejo, and maybe I’ll let you live.” Will tossed the duffel into view.
Corcoran aimed his Glock at Blue Shirt and called out, “DPS. Drop your weapon.”
Blue Shirt wheeled and fired at the new target. Corcoran flinched when he felt the whoosh of the slug flying by his ear. Corcoran aimed center of mass and let off two rounds, but Blue Shirt was moving. The shots missed.
Will scuttled around the next corner and peeked back at the fight. Blue Shirt took aim and fired at Corcoran. At the same instant, Corcoran fired back.
Corcoran grabbed his side. Damn. Pain spread across his upper body. Blue Shirt’s round had probably broken a rib, but Blue Shirt had dropped from view. At least I got the bastard.
He approached where he’d last seen Blue Shirt. Not there. The opened storage unit. Corcoran stepped toward it, but a round slammed into his back. Corcoran staggered and fell to his knees. Blue Shirt had hidden behind Will’s car.
Blue Shirt staggered to where he had a clear line of fire at Corcoran and fired three rounds, all of which connected. Corcoran got off two rounds and stayed conscious long enough to see Blue Shirt collapse in a pool of blood.
* * *
Will winced at the sirens. He looked longingly at the duffel, but fear paralyzed him. The first officer arrived in moments and others soon followed. Two dead men and a bag full of money greeted them. Will needed a story. Fast.
“I was just checking my storage unit, you know, to see if it was OK. I hadn’t been here in a while. Then these two guys started shooting at each other. I nearly got hit, but I hid around the corner. I don’t know what it was about.”
Will wasn’t sure the cops believed him, but they let him go after a few hours. The evening news gave him hope.
Off-duty DPS Officer Earl Corcoran was killed today in a gunfight with known drug trafficker Laurencio Contreras, who also died in the encounter. Police recovered a large sum of money at the scene, money that will be forfeited as presumed proceeds of the drug trade. A police spokesman said this was a major blow against a cartel run by a man known as El Jefe.
The story didn’t say how much money was in the bag. The bad guys would think the cops had it all. Will thought of the $400,000 in his attic. Only Megan and he knew.
* * *
Buddy Jaramillo’s jerked up straight in his chair. The slain drug trafficker shown on TV was the guy who kidnapped Jesse and watched the security tapes. Then the reporter mentioned a Thad Wills. That was the name on the credit card receipt. Buddy reached for the phone and called the sheriff.
copyright Kenneth Bennight
read more great writing like this in Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology
Kenneth Bennight was a husband, father, lawyer, former Marine, and native Texan, and the grandfather of the cutest little boy on the face of the Earth. Kenneth grew up in Corpus Christi and graduated from Ray High School. He resided in San Antonio, Texas, and is the author of the hard-boiled Nacho Perez stories, Nacho Perez, Private Eye and The Truth Shall Make You Dead. Those stories and others are available on Amazon.
Ken Diercouff is retired from laboratory work. He lives with his wife, Monica, in Corpus Christi. He has lived here for eight years. He enjoys reading, barbequing and fishing. He and his wife visit their children and grandchildren across the country as they can.
A little too much salt. Surely too sweet. This wasn’t the best margarita I’ve ever had, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Why do they have to mess with the best drink in the world? But no complaints today. How could anyone diminish a day spent floating and in this iconic sulfur pool, the toasty rays piercing the very thin autumn air of Colorado. They tingled my peachy, office-white skin. After another methodical stir, I killed the drink. One more? Sheila and I used to share a float, not a care in the world, having a few too many of these. It was a green turtle float built for two. We would huddle together, staring off in the horizon, mountain peaks etching the tapestry. Her head rested softly on my shoulder.
Kerstin is both model and designer. From concept to final make-up, she controls the artistic path. Her husband, Hermann, provides the highest level of technical photographic expertise. More about Kerstin at the end of this section.
Maya was a marionette.
She danced on a string.
The puppeteer controlled everything
She felt grotesque.
Maya is a warrior.
She is who she wants
When she wants..
Kerstin is both model and designer. From concept to final make-up, she controls the artistic path. Her husband, Hermann, provides the highest level of technical photographic expertise. With the COVID lockdown in 2020, they developed mayathara Photoart. She found a protected space in which to live ideas and dreams. There are no restrictions or limits. "I can be what or who I like to be. In addition to the classic bodypainting I like to use materials from nature such as Earth, mud, leaves, twigs, etc. and integrate them into my work. I use my body as my canvas and sculpture to turn my ideas into reality. And that is exactly the moment when my husband and photography come into play."
Kimberly Ward lives in Austin, Texas
Current conditions at the farm house ...checking pipes and heating unit (unit was encased - caked like an ice cube) but powered on and working like a charm.
100,000+ in Austin without power - powerlines arcing or snapping under the weight of the ice.
Covered in ice, 40 foot trees reduced to 1/3 their size out here - 100 year+ oaks are snapping like straws. Can actually hear it happening all around.
Fruit trees (shown) were already budding.
The official buzz phrase, an "icing event."
Should move the boat from under the giant 50 'cottonwood - limbs arcing dangerously low - not gonna happen...js
Back fields are crunchy underfoot....looks like snow, yet it's ice..
71° in 48 hours or so....
Nature throwing temps around like Powerball numbers this week.
Born, raised and educated in Corpus Christi, Kristi was privileged to have her first poem published when she was 15. Currently, she is living on a trawler in League City. More about Kristi at the end of this section.
I am home in this
The constant wakes
That touch the right things inside
The movement that never stops
The passersby - fish and everything
This is what I understand, where I watch, mind afloat
Of all that matters -
The wind, the rain, the
Demanding tides that mean so very much
And currents that do not mark time
As time marks them.
I am home in this.
Tried picking up the sunshine on the floor as if it were trash but I am trying hard to raise the limit of who I am, no longer holding to the pith or marrow inside - or to the comfort of whom I’ve already been.
I think my past - this old box, has too many corners, darkened with experience, deepened with time, and the face you see on the surface has almost forgotten the question, ‘why?’, often turning away from a future where the head is cocked with wonder, enlightenment, and panache.
So, this strange new path - is it worth it? Could I be mistaken and the doubt too real? (The questions and answers are the essence of existing old me – hard parts I’m trying to set free.)
Now I am grasping intangible limits, pushing, seeking – raging against the comforting warmth of this tired soul. The sunshine on the floor cannot be picked up, but it brings only relief to know that possibility lies in that simple small square of light -not trash, after all.
I am cast in this insanity, the ass on the hill, hands crossed over chest and sometimes hips now wondering about the boy sitting under the tree, singing – he’s probably me. The tree is an oak, one just large enough to accommodate a singer of songs and all the young in the world inside the old and aging.
His importance in this insanity cannot be described except with goose pimples and a wild imagination of the possibilities, some already taken, some passed into the void the wise might call, ‘regret’ and others might laugh, might say, 'he’s too old' when this young boy never ages, never dies.
The completeness of the boy is intriguing, not knowing his future
never regretting his past. He is free and singing, the naked imp I treasure. His future seeks me out, no matter how it turns, no matter how it ends. And that child, inside, sings, sits under the tall oak that’s wide, but not old, allowing this insanity to subside.
Waves and waves of the past link me to an ocean of memory:
The firsts of firsts -
Becoming a woman at thirteen during Christmas when family from all over came, my mother hurriedly explaining the facts of womanhood quickly, before the Parker House rolls burned; her apron dirty with flour and cigarette smoke.
And for the next five years,
hoping my breasts would expand like all the girls at school - and like my sister’s - not knowing that the looking back , the wishing would be laughable, at best.
The first attempts at makeup - a horrendous failure, but a defining moment when I said, ‘no thanks’ and still don’t put grease on my face, the base of which was discovered to come from leftover frying oil at fast food places.
The first time betrayed by a friend,
the firsts of everything in that experience of learning about the measure of life,
the details discovered one by one, and always remembered even now, even as more layers build a life, quickly becoming that still life past and path I’ve designed myself
somewhere and somehow along the way.
Ere I seem malapert,a gnashbag, or even a sciolist, I contend that the puissant scoundrels of this country, led by a growing number of cumbergrounds, have truly made this pestilent malison cause most to see that our nation is saddled with picaroons, fopdoodles, leasing-mongers, dalcops and a gowpen-o' mummers.
The rest of us are thole with wanion, even the sluberdegullions and the roiderbanks. I have, however, not developed lethophobia - yet.
Today is the day you forgot there were dark chocolate-covered almonds in your shirt pocket when you went out to dig in the dirt - where you contemplated the death of a very good friend and started to cry, but because you are a half mile from your neighbor, it occurs to you that screaming is okay.. and you do it, fists raised to the clouds and you realize that younger, they were dying by suicide or by overdose or car crashes and now it is by heart failure and cancer and all that crap you give a wide amount of space to in your aging thoughts because at the end of the day your back will be sore from digging new holes for new life - in the form of flowers to spring up and, while the light is dimming, you finally smell that chocolate in your pocket and wipe the melted mess out with a paper towel and the day has ended, and somehow you are happier with it than you thought you would be, understanding the difference between what was and what is, finally, and after all.
Yesterday... was just a bad day. whacked myself a good one (very large bump and bruise on my forehead - the old rake joke - step on the tines and WHACK! There was a twig intertwined with the tines, so I stepped on that. Same effect ("I'm not a COMPLETE backbirth")). Almost as bad as the time I dropped a post setter on my head. The garbage disposal started leaking... then I found some gopher holes where I just planted roses ("carefree beauty" that has a patent and certification from the department of agriculture... whatever happened to just plain plants?). The chickens that are free-roaming destroyed my potted tomato plants. Then this fraud - fighting it at a time when Mike and I should have been sleeping (we wake up fucking early, even in my retirement). Dead tired. Today? Went to bank and got new debit cards and had to write a novel to Visa on the events that took place last night and this morning with the fraud. Now starts the long process of changing all those autopays over from the old card number. Making chicken stock (HEB has 10lbs of chicken halves for 5 bucks). Delivered eggs to the Mennonites down the road, went grocery shopping where, unbeknownst to me, my debit card had just been canceled (see previous post). Just made salsa with old pico, using a boat motor on it. And new pico with fresh ingredients. It IS a better day. So far.
copyright Kristi Sprinkle
woke up today in clarity's
sense of sheer happiness
weary of nothing
quiet eyes 360 degrees around this path
seeing what's been done and undone
wizard behind the curtain
hands crossed, perplexed
at the powerlessness
because i see everything i am
and all the people i know
settled and unsettling
pushing this world, pulling it
- life/death and threats of both
and it all comes together
perhaps i'm crazy
but all the good and bad
suddenly doesn't matter
because here we are
more than those words on a wall
and yes, the glass is half full
finally held in hands
that were strong
visible briefly Is
A lone metal chair Inside a grove of California trees
Just under a turnpike
(Noticed from a higher road on our way elsewhere)
It sits facing railroad tracks that, from
The chair’s eyes, run north and south and disappear in both directions
And I wonder whether a young soul
Or an old soul sits there
copyright Kristi Sprinkle
Born, raised and educated in Corpus Christi, Kristi was privileged to have her first poem published when she was 15. This was the beginning of her love affair with reading and writing, specifically poetry -both spoken word and poetry meant to help people privately express the inexpressible. In high school, she and one other woman created a poetry collection called ‘Open All Night’ - a legacy at her high school that lasted many years. As an adult, she managed the first computer magazine tailored for the Austin computer environment just as the Internet made an appearance. Working for the Texas School for the Blind in Austin, she became the unofficial historian and put together two museums to celebrate the incredible history of the school. While working in tech at the school, she also co-wrote and edited a superintendent’s book, celebrating 50 years serving the professional blind community. Currently, she is living on a trawler in League City, with plans to travel the Intercoastal Waterway in the next few years, so she can get back some of her Corpus roots- being on and near water - and fishing!
The old chain smoker sits on his small porch
Across the water from us, his chair set back against
The sole window, next to an old broom turned
Upside down – and one that hardly ever seems to move.
I know there are others that watch our home from
The many units in the building that overlook
Our docks in the marina, but his gaze is unnerving as I try
To think what he thinks about our comings and goings.
I count the days he wears his old shirts, sometimes
Three, four times before he changes them.
I am sure he lives alone, his gait and the slowness
He takes in smoking are not the actions of a man
Called inside his home by any other voice.
People walk past him, but he never interacts, perhaps
Because he just doesn’t want to, perhaps he is that
Kind of old man.
And now I wonder if he wonders what we are thinking
About his comings and goings,
But really, I don’t think he does at all.
Kristopher Lee Cisneros wrote and directed a short film which won Best of Fest at the South Texas Underground Film Festival. He is currently working on a novel and a pilot script. More about Kristopher at the end of this section.
she made me feel special
she made me believe that I was the only one
she did her job well
she was a pro
my life was in a downward spiral
my job was taking me nowhere but to the grave
my apartment was infested with rats, and they were starving
my car died on the side of the expressway, it’s still there
i looked out my window, searching
i drank lots of beer
i ate sardines, the rats were envious
i left that apartment and walked down the street
night had fallen
i found a patch of neon light in the dark
one light was in the shape of a woman
a man in a cowboy hat asked me, “You looking for love young fellow”
“Ain’t we all,” I answered
“In here we have all the love a fellow can handle,” he said
he sold me, so I walked in
it was a dark place with nothing but lonely men
judging by their looks it was no wonder they were lonely
the working girls were probably sickened by us, but they put on a good act
i sat in the corner by the end of the stage
she came out from behind the curtain like a dream
her hair was long and flowed like a golden stream on a summer day
her eyes were like stars in a distant galaxy
she moved with such grace
it was La Bayadere or Swan Lake with a strip pole
the world around me vanished
she was pure magic
her eyes fell upon me
we connected like the earth and moon
our souls left our bodies and danced together all the way up to heaven
she was meant for me
she was the snake charmer, and I was under her spell
what did crappy jobs, bills, and shoes with hole in them mean to me now
what was politics, nuclear war, poverty, and bad breath anyhow
at that moment there was no past and no future, just her and I
she blew me a kiss
which pierced my heart
she winked at me and flashed the most beautiful smile in all of creation
then she skipped back behind the curtain
the fairytale was over
i didn’t want to see anymore, I got up and walked out
the traffic jams, aches and pains, and the rats waited for me
i walked the cold dark night for hours
i came up to a bridge and looked down
below the traffic zoomed past in an explosion of color like a Chinese New Year
i thought of ending it all
this world with its rats, was not my size anymore
just as I had climbed over, she popped into my mind
her magic still worked me
the kindness shown to a down and out loser, her gift
i decided to live
that beautiful stripper had saved my life
she made a nobody feel like a somebody
she made me feel special.
he was my passenger
that was the first time I had met the man
his name was Alejandro Garcia he told me
he had worked for all of his life he told me
I sensed anger and regret in his tone
“my life had been spent in the grind.” he told
“I picked cotton under the brutal Texas sun
when I was only seven.” he told me
“My dear dumb father put me there.” he told me
“That was the first day of the end of my
life.” he told me
the light changed from a spring green to a
fiery red, we stopped moving
i faced the night ahead of me, only the
darkness beyond my windshield
on the radio Chopin played
mr. Garcia went on speaking, louder
“My dear dumb father sentenced me to a life of
hard labor.” he told me
“I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write
beautiful stories.” he told me
“Instead, I went from the fields into the
factories and worked some more.” he told me
“From the factories to the suburbs. I married,
had kids, house payments, car notes, and
insurance policies.” he told me
the light changed and we continued down the
fog rolled in off the Gulf of Mexico
we were enveloped in it
the world disappeared
i felt that we were no longer driving along
on hard pavement, but that we soared across
mr. Garcia didn’t take notice of the world
beyond the windshield
he continued to lament
he cried, he laughed, he yelled, and then
we were caught in the snares of another red
“I wanted to be a writer.” he told me
“My wife never supported that dream. She
wanted security. She wanted the suburbs.”
he told me
“The kids got older, so did I. They moved
on, so did the world.” he told me
“After 40 years of work, I was put out.” he
“At last I had the time to write. I had
earned it.” he told me
“And then it happened. Just as I sat down
and typed two words my heart stopped.” he
he told me
“I fell to the floor. All I could see was
the ceiling fan spinning around and
around” he told me
i pulled into the cemetery grounds and down
the winding path towards the funeral home
i reversed the hearse towards the garage
i set the car in park and sat there
outside the wind blew bitterly
the fog was being blown away and things
were becoming clear
“Don’t let the same thing happen to you my
boy.” he told me
“Time blows past like the winds, and before
you know it’s into the cooler for you.” he
i nodded and got out of the hearse
opened the backdoor, pulled mr. Garcia out
i logged him in and then rolled him into the
“What were the two words you wrote?”, i asked
“Why me?” he told me
i shut the door on him
i parked the hearse and walked back to my car,
got in and drove home
the world beyond my windshield was still dark,
but it didn’t bother me
i made it back to my apartment
i surfed Youtube videos for an hour
then i set my phone down and went to my
opened up my Word document and typed two words
i waited for my heart to stop
i wrote some more
i wrote a poem
i dedicated to the man i had met that night
i called the poem WHY ME
Kristopher Lee Cisneros is a recreation director and mortuary science worker finishing up his studies in Mortuary Science from Amarillo College. He also wrote and directed a short film which won Best of Fest at the South Texas Underground Film Festival. The film also screened at the San Antonio Horrific Film Festival and the Victoria Film Festival. Kristopher wrote two poems for the Marina Arts District which placed first and second in their Spoken Word competition. He is currently working on a novel and a pilot script.
Sister Lou Ella is a former teacher and librarian. She is a certified spiritual director as well as a poet and writer. Her poems have appeared in numerous magazines such as America, First Things, Emmanuel, Third Wednesday, and new verse news as well as in four anthologies: The Night’s Magician: Poems about the Moon, edited by Philip Kolin and Sue Brannnan Walker, Down to the Dark River edited by Philip Kolin, Secrets edited by Sue Brannan Walker and After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events edited by Tom Lombardo. She was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2017. Her first book of poetry entitled she: robed and wordless was published in 2015. (Press 53.)
rowing words into poems
like a boat on water
the page wakens
after a poetry reading
i was asked today where my poems come from
Read the rest in Corpus Christi Writers 2019
Lizz Fraga Cosgrove has a BA in English from UT Austin. Her adventures this lifetime include being a teacher, a paralegal, an event decorator, a writer, a wife, a mother, a caregiver but most importantly a Light Seeker.
I’m running late again…
My morning writing, that attempted to become my afternoon writing,
has manifested itself into my evening writing.
I don’t ever desire to be late…
I don’t ever take pride in being late…
But I do take ownership of the relationship I have with Late.
Late and I are very familiar, comfortable companions – sometimes I follow her around, sometimes she follows me - but no matter who is trailing whom, we always seem to be no more than an arm’s length from one another.
Sometimes Late is my enemy – on my wedding day she showed up, uninvited, in the form of me trying to get myself, the bride, and my four young daughters, the bridesmaids, dressed and to the ceremony on time.
Sometimes Late is my best friend – the day of my mother’s funeral she showed up as a mourning dove who had somehow made her way into my home, into my mother’s bedroom and perched herself on the headboard of my mother’s bed – the bed in which she took her last breath…
She forced me to forget about the schedule to be met that day and allowed me to stare into her eyes and remember how much my mother loved feeding the birds in our yard – those days when time didn’t matter and Late was always welcome.
Somehow when you know the time is limited…
when you know each day is a gift…
when you pray for every hour to feel like an eternity…
You also pray for Death to be best friends with Late.
Read more great writing like this in Corpus Christi Writers 2019
Lucas Diercouff was born in Denver, Colorado. He was a Combat Medic with the U.S. Army with tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. Shortly after, he attended New York Film Academy in Burbank, CA where he received a BFA in Filmmaking. He is a member of the Veterans in Media and Entertainment and alumni of the WGF's Veteran Writing Project. His first short film 'Strawberry Barbara' screened at LA Shorts Fest and he has been involved in film productions ever since. His writing has been recognized in the UK Film Festival, BlueCat, and ISA's Emerging Screenwriters competitions. While his focus has largely been screenwriting, he is eyeing a novel and making Texas his home for the foreseeable future.
HARVEY TATE REPORTING: “This footage can give you…the heebie-jeebies! The Gulf of Mexico has RECEDED approximately one hundred feet from the shore! As you can see from this home video, it happened almost instantly. Like a drain pulled from a bathtub! What COULD have possibly caused this? What does this mean for the WORLD? When we receive more information we will pass that along. Wait. Are you kidding me? Is that a surfer?”
Read the rest in Corpus Christi Writers 2019
Nikki Ikonomopoulos works as an artist, web/graphic designer and writer throughout the South Texas Coastal Bend. Her love of nature shows through the multiple roles she takes on in life. As an artist she works in many mediums including painting, drawing, sculpture, mosaic and more. Her art works including murals, portraits, ink drawings and online store can be viewed at www.alphaomegaart.com. Nikki also operates online resource guides local to South Texas which can be viewed at www.coastalbendattractions.com. After the impacts from Hurricane Harvey she launched a FREE booklet published bi-annually which can be viewed online at www.portaransaswildlife.com or picked up in one of several locations through out the South Texas Coastal Bend. Some of the profits from that book are donated to benefit local organizations that help protect wildlife. As a creative soul she loves the natural beauty that inspires life.
Whispering wind screaming so loud, calling your promises throughout the deaf crowd.
Listen close & hear the sound, your feet will plant firmly into the ground.
Read the rest in Corpus Christi Writers 2019
Lisa Mason is the author of Summer of Love as well as other work
On July 4, 1980, my neighbors and I decided to throw a big bash for Independence Day. We each had a nice one-bedroom penthouse apartment atop a lovely building in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. We each had a good view of the City. There was a wide hall separating our apartments. We each opened our doors and invited party guests to roam between our apartments.
Probably two hundred people showed up. I sequestered Sita, my Siamese girl-cat at the time, in my bedroom with a big sign—“Cat Inside! Do Not Open!” People respected that.
Otherwise, people cleaned out my kitchen of food and booze. My father (of all people) advised me to keep bottles of whiskey, vodka, and gin to serve guests. I’ve never drunk hard booze—still don’t now, I drink my Zevia tonic straight up—but I followed his advice. The party guests cleaned me out, as well as the cookies and the cheeses.
I didn’t mind. It was a fantastic party. No one stole my art books, but I saw one man seated cross-legged on the floor poring over my big hardcover, American Indian Art. When he was done looking, he carefully put the book back on my bookshelf.
I had another book placed on my coffee table, a book I was really excited about—The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav and illustrated by Tom Robinson. The book combined Eastern philosophy and quantum physics and was written with so much wit and clarity, it was a big bestseller.
Around midnight in walked a tall, lanky, red-haired man who was invited by a friend of a friend. He’d traveled across town from the San Francisco neighborhood of North Beach. The friend of a friend called him from my neighbor’s apartment, imploring him to come.
He was Tom Robinson, the illustrator of The Dancing Wu Li Masters. Quantum physics and synchronicity in real life!
We had our first date a week later, on July 11, and married on July 7—not in the same year!
Shortly after July 11, 1980, I moved to an apartment on Telegraph Hill in the North Beach neighborhood with a view of the Bay Bridge (“Viewtiful,” as the late, great Herb Caen used to write). Gary Zukav lived in an apartment a block up Montgomery Street. I met Gary at the Puccini Café later that week. My parents were appalled at how much the apartment’s rent was—then, I believe, $500, now $3,000—but I could walk five blocks to my law book publisher downtown.
Tom had an enormous art studio on Broadway, two blocks away from the apartment. So we could easily walk there, too.
When my publisher moved to the East Bay, we moved with it so I could walk to the office again. I only lived five years in North Beach and I was working a full-time job and working on my writing at night and on weekends. Sadly, I didn’t get to fully engage in the community but gladly I wrote the story “Arachne” there, which sold to Ellen Datlow for OMNI Magazine while I lived in North Beach and was published while I lived in my spacious new East Bay residence.
So it will be 41 years since we first met. Happy Anniversary, Tom