Category Archives: Fiction

Short stories by Edward M Wolfe

The Cereal Saga

Excerpted from: Ascending Bastard: An Autobiography

The Cereal Saga

The first place we lived where I actually knew the name of our street, was Kearn Street. I was six or seven when we moved there.  Prior to this, we lived not far away where I have a few scattered memories of coming home from school and watching Speed Racer on channel 52, which was a UHF channel. My older sister Linda once fell backwards in a kitchen chair, hit her arm on an electrical plug and got shocked. My little sister was caught eating dog food out of the bowl on the kitchen floor. A pro-wrestler who was bald with a mustache lived across the street and had a huge flag pole.

It seems strange to me that I have these few random memories, but then I have one prolonged memory of a time when my parents went on vacation to Tijuana and my sister and I stayed with our next-door neighbors while they were away.

The first morning we were there, we had cereal for breakfast. For whatever reason, I did not eat all of my cereal. I may not have been hungry, or maybe I didn’t like it that much since it wasn’t what I normally had. All I know is that not finishing my cereal was not an option. The lady (and mother of the children there) told me I had to finish it and that if I didn’t, I would end up having it for lunch.

Maybe I didn’t take her seriously. I was excused from the table and allowed to go play. Later when we were called into the kitchen for lunch, my sister and the two girls who lived there were presented with sandwiches and milk. I was given my bowl of cereal from that morning, which had been stored in the fridge. If I hadn’t the appetite for it that morning, there was far less chance of me wanting to eat it now. Now it was a multi-colored, gooey mass floating in milk. I don’t think anyone would be able to eat it unless they were starving to death.

But the mother wasn’t kidding. This was my lunch. She was being true to her word. I would be allowed nothing else until I had finished my breakfast. I did not eat the “cereal.” I sat there staring at the goop while the others ate their sandwiches. I was only 5 years old, so I did not argue or put up a fight. I barely knew this woman and was intimidated by her. She had a very no-nonsense attitude toward me and was insistent that I was going to finish my cereal or I would eat nothing at all.

After the other kids finished eating, once again, we were all excused from the table, and the dreaded bowl was put back into the refrigerator. Later, when the husband had come home and dinner had been made, we were called into the kitchen again. Everyone had a plate of cooked food placed before them on the table and I was given my bowl of cereal.

I cried. I pleaded. I told them it was too yucky. I could not eat it. I told them I was starving and needed food. The lady (with the backing of her husband) told me if I was hungry then I should finish my breakfast, and if I was still hungry after that, I could have some dinner. I could not understand why they were making such a big deal over the cereal and I hated them. I wanted to go home. I didn’t care that my house was empty and there was no one there to take care of me. I just wanted to be away from these people and have something to eat.

Once again, I failed to eat the cereal and there was no form of punishment. We were excused from the table and allowed to play until it was bed time. I watched the girls play while I held my aching stomach. The following morning, there were four bowls of cereal on the table when we came to the kitchen for breakfast. Three of them were fresh, and one came from the fridge. She just wasn’t going to let up on this. Again, I sat at the table and cried with my head and stomach hurting from hunger and feeling despair that there was no way out of this situation other than eating this bowl of thick, colored milk. The cereal was not even recognizable as cereal anymore. I knew now that I would have no food until my parents came back from Tijuana. I had no idea when that would be. I had to eat this disgusting cereal or starve. I chose to starve.

Lunch time was a repeat of the previous day. The other kids were presented with a lunch of Chef-Boyardee Spaghettios and I was given that god-damned bowl of cereal from the fridge. I hated that lady now with a passion, and I was really hungry. More than I’d ever been before. I was desperate to eat, but the thought of trying to consume what was in that bowl made my stomach clench and made me feel like I would vomit, if only there had been in anything in my stomach to actually throw up.

The other kids finished eating and were excused. I was sitting there by myself. This time I was told that I could not be excused from the table until I had eaten the cereal. She told me this had gone on long enough and I was going to eat it. I guess she knew she couldn’t starve me and might have been thinking of how she was going to explain to my parents that I had not eaten the entire time they were away.

Stuck in an impossible situation, I finally began thinking of an alternative way out.  I had always done what I was told and never defied authority, but there was no way I could comply in this situation. I had to be bad to get out of this predicament. The lady did not stay in the kitchen with me the whole time, so I was alone for a while. There was a window next to the kitchen table with no screen. I saw an opportunity. I opened the window and dumped the contents of the bowl onto the back patio. I closed the window and set my bowl back on the table in front of me. I wondered what would happen if they saw the mess I had made on the back patio. Would these strangers spank me? If so, would they use a belt or a yard stick? Now that I was finally freed from the cereal I should’ve felt relief, but I was terrified of getting caught at cheating my way out of it.

When the lady came back into the kitchen I told her I had eaten the cereal and asked if I could be excused. She asked me if I wanted another bowl since it had been so long since I had eaten. The last thing I wanted was to start this whole wretched cycle over again, so I declined. As hungry as I was, I resolved to wait until lunch time to eat anything.

As we played through the hours between breakfast and lunch, I waited every second to be called before her, or even worse, before her husband to explain why there was a milky mess splattered on the patio below the kitchen window, but it never happened. I was allowed to eat lunch, and then dinner without incident. I wonder now, if they had found the mess, would they have scraped it back into the bowl and insisted that I eat it?

I also wonder how people can be that way. How could someone starve a child over what amounted to just a few cents worth of food? How could someone be that way with a child that is not even their own? I’m not saying what they did was viciously abusive – god knows children have suffered far worse at the hands of adults. The daily news always has some fresh horror story that will break your heart and baffle your mind. But even still – what if I hadn’t dumped the cereal out, and hadn’t eaten it? What shape would I have been in when my parents returned? By dumping the cereal and getting myself out of that situation, I also gave the people babysitting me a way out of the trouble they were potentially getting themselves into. But of course, I didn’t think of that then.

Thinking about it now, I also wonder if my parents would have done anything at all – even if they knew the full circumstances. Probably not. Wanting to be good neighbors and be accepted, and being grateful for the favor of babysitting, they probably would have gone along with the lady and assured her that she was right and that they would have done the same thing. Then they would have assured her that I would be punished as soon as we got home for wasting food and misbehaving.

Book Review: Cantal’s Revenge

Cantal's RevengeCantal’s Revenge by John Zanetti

Brilliant sci-fi author and master world-builder John Zanetti has published a new novel, and it’s the kind that will take you so far into the future that the culture is completely unrecognizable, and yet it will become utterly real to you the longer you stay there.

Cantalina Frieze is a mostly ordinary girl with modest ambitions. She wants to be an historian like her father. She’s intelligent, capable and attractive, and wants to be a good daughter and citizen. Circumstances beyond her control throw her life off-course and put her on a path with adventures beyond anything she would’ve imagined, or even believed possible.

Warring factions fight for control of the country and from the beginning, Cantalina is caught up in the conflict. From her involuntary involvement in the fighting, she goes on to become a pivotal player who at times is reminiscent of Joan of Arc, but without the religious aspect. Before all is said and done, the fate of her town, her country, and the future, hinges on this beautiful and brave unwitting heroine.

Amazon describes the book as 316 Kindle pages, but that would be if the pages were 8.5 x 11. In standard paperback size, it’s closer to 500 pages.

Serious sci-fi with a taste of steam-punk. Recommended to readers of all ages.

Lose yourself in a distant time and place where there are only faint traces of the world we live in now.

Cantal’s Revenge by John Zanetti

Book Review: My Big TOE by Thomas Campbell

My Big [Theory of Everything]
My Big [Theory of Everything]
This could’ve been great if Campbell had just been able to say what he wanted to say. But instead of doing that, he decided that he knew the landscape of every potential reader’s mind and proceeded to terraform those minds, then landscape them, then construct a proper nursery where his ideas would have a chance to take root and grow.

I have never read a book where an author talks so much about what he’s going to tell you, and does so little actual telling.

If you decide to read this, I recommend starting on chapter 2. The introduction, and preface are 12% of the book. That’s the first time he tells you about what he’s going to tell you. After the very fascinating background story that begins in chapter two, he goes off track again until about the 60% mark.

I just kept skipping pages, looking for when he was going to get to his actual Theory of Everything. Finally, I saw a sentence where he said, “Now let’s get back to the theory.” And then he proceeded to ramble off-track again until he said the same thing again. Then he rambled more and more and I kept skipping pages until I saw at the end of a paragraph that he said, Now you’ve been properly primed and initiated, or something to that effect, “So let us begin!” And then there was a few more pages where he builds up to what he’s about to finally tell you about his theory and then…. here it comes…. almost there… getting really, really close now…. any sentence now…. and….

…And it’s over. That’s the end of the first book.

If you’re looking for a theory of everything that explains life in the physical and non-physical realms, and is scientifically sound, I do not recommend this book.

Save your money, time, and aggravation and consider reading Our Ultimate Reality – Life, The Universe, & the Destiny of Mankind. (You can find a free PDF online. The paperback is a whopping $33.)

You’ll come to essentially the same conclusion as you would if you read all three of Campbell’s books, but without beating every square inch of every acre surrounding the bush.

Campbell needs to try reading his own book to discover what a tedious and unsatisfying experience it is. He needs to redo it, starting from where his background story ended, and pick it up from there, making it a personal story of his experiences, and inserting what he learned along the way, how he learned it, and how he confirmed that what he learned was valid and scientific.

I would only recommend that you read this if you’re a scientist and you want to learn of Campbell’s theory not in directly spoken language, but with everything reduced to an abstract model with acronyms you’ll need to memorize to make sense of anything the further and further you find yourself out on a thinning semantic branch.

If you’re interested in Campbell’s theory, his video lectures on YouTube are far more interesting than this book, and they include Q&A from the audience so he’s frequently willing and able step outside of his own thought process and address things real people want to hear about.

Let’s Get Some TVs

I wrote this shortly after the Rodney King riots, so the references are specific to that incident,  but the general principle still applies today.

(Sung to the tune of Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” (I want my MTV)

Now look at those Honkies, that’s the way they screw us
They knock the shit out of our Rodney King
That ain’t justice – that’s the way they screw us
Let’s get some TVs and some shit for free

Now that ain’t justice – that’s the way they screw us
Lemme tell ya – them cops sure dumb
They beat a nigga with a camcorder runnin’
The beat a nigga with Billy clubs

(Chorus)
We gotta steal some microwave ovens
We gotta do it for justice & peace
I need some help with this refrigerator
I need one o’ them color TVs

See the Honky stopped at Florence and Normandie
Hey Honky! Cut that girlie hair!
That mofo Honky got his own big semi
He’s makin’ money, G and that ain’t fair.

We gotta steal some microwave ovens
We gotta do it for justice & peace
I need some help with this refrigerator
I need one o’ them color TVs

I oughtta throw a brick at his head
I oughtta kick that Honky to the curb
Look at that white boy, looks like he’s given us the finger
Oh man, he’s gonna get hurt
And he’s up there, what’s that? Helicopter noises?
We gonna see ourselves on color TV!

We gotta steal some microwave ovens
We gotta do it for justice & peace
I need some help with this refrigerator
I need one o’ them color TVs

That ain’t justice, that’s the way they screw us
Let’s get some TV’s and some stuff for free
No, that ain’t justice – that’s they way they screw us
Let’s get some TVs and some stuff for free
Gettin’ us some TVs and stuff for free

Ed Wolfe
1992
[Apologies to Mark Knopfler)

Book Review: The Gardener Who Could See

Every once in a while, you come across a book that is so different that it stands apart from all the books that are so much the same. Sometimes such books become bestsellers, and sometimes, sadly, they live unnoticed and largely unknown; gathering dust on a library shelf until one lucky day, a reader picks it up and gets a huge unexpected surprise.

I just read one of those books. It was just recently self-published by an author that I like. He writes really well with a nice, clean style and no beating around the bush. No info dumps and no long passages about the terrain, shrubbery or weather. Like I like.

I hate spoilers, so I’ll never provide any. I’ll just say this: the story takes place 1,000 years in the future. The main character, Thurii, is a misfit. He isn’t like anyone else, and couldn’t be if he tried. He violates customs, regulations, laws, and all accepted rules of civilized behavior. He’s not trying to be a rebel, and he doesn’t like the fact that he’s been a lifelong problem for the parents he loves. He just doesn’t perceive the world the way everyone else does.

Thurii is a freak with a secret that no one knows. They all know he’s different and doesn’t behave, but what they don’t know is that he can see. Everyone else is blind.

That alone didn’t seem like it was going to make for an interesting book, but knowing that the writer is really good, I decided I had to have more of his stuff to read, so I bought this book. As it turned out, I fell in love with it. The world created by John Zanetti in which everyone is blind was so fully believable that you can’t help but get immersed in the story. In addition to this physical peculiarity, there is also a fully different culture, belief system, environment, etc. The story really transports you to a time, place, and culture that you’ve never been to before.

All writers are creators of worlds, but the thing is, we’ve been to them before – even if we haven’t been to a specific place, we’ve been to one very much like it. In a sci-fi, you end up on another planet that is similar to other planets you’ve been to. In fantasy, you encounter new races, but they’re very much like other races. In other fiction, you may see Earth in a different time or a different way, but it’s very much like ways it’s been portrayed before.

In The Gardener Who Could See, I felt like I had experienced something completely new for the first time in a long time. Incredibly detailed and original. It’s a book that will stick with you and leave a mark. The only book I can remotely compare it to – at least in the sense of it’s differentness is The Canticle of Leibowitz. But it’s nothing at all like that book. There’s really not anything like it to where I could say, “If you liked “such and such,” you’ll like this.

I can only say that if you’d like to enjoy something uniquely original and engrossing, then give it a try.

If I had to categorize it, I’d call it a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi, romance. If you like any of those three genres, you just may love this book. But try not to think in terms of reducing something down to a genre. Some books defy genre, and this is one of those.

gardener

Interview with Jim from In The End


In The End mediumCharacter Name:

Jim Ecklund

Book Name:
In The End

Tell me a little about yourself and the world you live in:

There’s not really much to say about me. I’m alive. A lot of people aren’t. And some who are, shouldn’t be. The world I’m living in may be the same as the one I’ve always lived in, or that might all be gone. We don’t know yet. We’re kind of stuck up here in the mountains above Denver – which is definitely gone now.

Lets jump right in, what’s your most closely guarded secret?

I guess I don’t really hate people as much as I say I do. That’s the only secret I feel comfortable revealing. I don’t like to think about the bigger one.

Tell us about your single most important memory. What was it and how does it affect you now?

I remember being tied down on my foster parent’s bed and being whipped. Mercilessly. In my mind, I just kept screaming silently, “I hate you!” over and over.  Here’s a parenting tip for anyone reading this. If you want to make your children hate you and wish you were dead – just beat the shit out of them and treat them like they mean nothing to you. Works every time. The way it affected me is that it gave me a bit of an anger issue with people. And I don’t have any tolerance now for bullshit or evil.

What type of person are you? Are you a hero or do you shy away from conflict?

Inside I feel like a loner. I’d rather avoid people, which would enable me to avoid conflict, but I’m kinda stuck with a small group right now. And sometimes I get forced into situations that compel me to do things that I guess you might call heroic. Like rescuing people and shit.

Do you have any hobbies, any special talents?

Staying alive. Thinking ahead. Watching out for danger. Making sure no harm ever comes to Angela.

What sets you out from the crowd? Like your talents, would I be able to spot you if I passed you by?

You’d probably notice me because I have a knack for saying completely inappropriate things, often at the worst times. But that’s just the way my sense of humor works. I’m not trying to shock anyone. Just trying to keep myself entertained. And I’m probably warped, if you wanna know the truth.

What’s an ideal day for you?

That would be when we don’t encounter any strangers and everyone is safe from dawn to dusk.

Do you have any one close? Any friends or family of interest?

Not really. I would say that Angela is someone I really care about, but I don’t know if she’d say the same about me. In fact, it’s better if she doesn’t feel anything for me.

What about your most prized possession?

I never really had much in the way of possessions, and what little I did have is back at the dorm. All we really brought with us for what was supposed to just be a vacation is our clothing and some electronics that are useless now. Like our cell phones and Angie’s
iPad. We still keep them with us though. There’s always a chance that we’ll find a place with electricity.

Back to your story, what initially spurred your actions? Everything had to start somewhere, so where’s your beginning?

Like I said, we were just going on vacation. But I guess you’d say that our group formed when Angela saw Terry stuck on the ski lift. We went over to rescue his dumb ass, and we’ve stuck together since then.

Where do you think your future will lead?

I hope it leads to home. Not for me. I don’t have a home aside from the dorm, but for Angie. Her family is important to her. I know she misses a lot of people, and her friends, and everything. I hope we make it back.

Where can we find more about you?

The first part of what we’ve experienced, you know, like when the nuke went off in Denver and what we did afterwards when there was no electricity, and no cops, or anything, all of that is in the book, In The End. The stuff that happened after that is being written right now. It’s called In The End 2: An American Apocalypse

Shit. I just heard gunshots out back by the pool. I gotta go!


In The End is available on Amazon for a mere 99 cents.

The interview questions come from Jessica Walsh’s blog.

CreateSpace and KDP for Beginners

createspace-or-lulu This is a response to a question asked on LinkedIn.

To the question, “Should I use CreateSpace or Lulu?” I would recommend CreateSpace, which is an Amazon company. I’d also like to provide some clarity in response to other people’s comments.

Michael responded that you should use Amazon Kindle so you won’t have to spend money for self-publishing. Just to be abundantly clear, a Kindle is a device. For your ebook to be available to owners of Kindles, you publish in Amazon’s “Kindle Direct Publishing.” This is KDP.

As Robin pointed out, when publishing with KDP, there is an option to enroll in a program called KDP Select. This is where you agree to make your book exclusive to KDP in exchange for your book being free to Amazon Prime members, and for it to be available in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, as well as the ability to either make your book free for five days out of every ninety days, or to have Countdown Promotions in which you schedule a discounted price that gradually returns to full price over the course of a few days.

You can publish your ebook with Amazon’s KDP, and your paperback with Amazon’s CreateSpace. It’s not an either/or situation. It’s best to do both. Neither one costs you anything, although there are services available for sale, if for example, you don’t have a cover, or you’d like to hire one of their editors, and so on. (If you purchase any of their publishing services, there is no contract.)

If you start with CreateSpace to publish your paperback, at the end of the process you’ll have the option to automatically have your files transferred over to KDP. This enables you to use your completed paperback as the source material for your ebook. If you don’t have your book in an ebook format and don’t know how to convert it, this is a great way to get your book on Amazon.com.

Jessica said that she used Nook Publishing. What that means is that she directly published her ebook to Barnes & Noble.

You can simulataneously have your ebook published on Amazon’s KDP as well as on B&N. Again, this is not an either/or proposition. You can also publish your ebook at the same time to Apple’s iBook store. You can publish to Kobo as well, and anywhere else you want or can think of.

The only exception is if you enroll your book in the KDP Select program. When you agree to be exclusive to KDP, then you are agreeing to not publish to B&N, Apple, Kobo, and so on, for the enrollment period, which is 90 days. (Enrollment automatically renews at the end of 90 days unless you uncheck a box, thus opting out of auto-reenrollment.)

Alyssa and Lora mentioned Smashwords. They are an aggregator. They take your manuscript and convert it into multiple formats, then distribute to the retailers that you choose.

This is a great option for those who do not wish to be exclusive to Amazon via the KDP Select program. You can start with a Microsoft Word copy of your manuscript, upload it to Smashwords, and within a few weeks, your ebook will appear on:

B&N.com
iBooks
Kobo
OverDrive (ebooks for libraries)
FlipKart (India’s online bookseller)
Baker & Taylor (library service)
Page Foundry (online retailer, including apps for Cricket Wireless and Asus)

For complete information on Smashword’s distribution, visit this page: http://www.smashwords.com/distribution

If you publish via Smashwords, you will still need to manually publish to KDP if you want your ebook on Amazon.com (unless you’ve sold more than $2,000 worth, in which case, you can ask Smashwords to upload to KDP for you) and you’ll still want to publish your paperback via CreateSpace.

To get your book in the greatest number of retailers with the least amount of effort and the least amount of study of various publishing systems, you can start with doing your ebook on Smashwords, then do your paperback on CreateSpace, and when finished at CreateSpace, choose the option to have your book included at KDP, and remember to not enroll in KDP Select. (If you enroll in KDP Select and Amazon finds your book at other retailers, which they will, then you will be removed from the Select program, and you may be denied the ability to use it with other titles that have never even been enrolled yet – basically losing your KDP Select privileges entirely.)

There are opposing opinions on whether one should go exclusive with Amazon, or whether they should have their books in every retail outlet possible. There are compelling reasons for each opinion.

My advice is to do both – over a period of time. As a new author, the first thing you need is exposure and recognition. You need to build a fanbase. Nothing compares to Amazon’s ability to get your book into the hands of readers via the KDP Select five free days.

With KDP Select you can choose a day or days on which your book is free to Kindle owners. The benefit of giving your book away is that potentially thousands of people who never heard of you will be reading your book. The greater the number of people who download your book, the greater the odds that you’ll also end up with some book reviews too. If you have more than one title, readers who love your free book may come back and buy another. If you have only one title, readers who love your book may tell their friends it’s a “must read” and they’ll go to get it and buy it, because the free period has ended.

After being in the Select program for at least 90 days, or perhaps a year – whatever you decide on to gain exposure, then you can stop re-enrolling in Select and publish to other retailers. Presumably, after having established yourself to some degree and generated some word-of-mouth advertising, people will begin to find your book at other retailers, having been advised by their friends that your book is worth reading.

The alternative is to publish everywhere in the beginning and try to promote your book on every platform simultaneously. Theoretically, this should work. If you’re advertising that your book is available on Amazon and iBooks, you should be able to get buyers in both places and build a global following on both Kindles and iPads, for example. The reality though, is that without Amazon’s help in making your book visible to readers, it’s very difficult to get the ball rolling.

You can however, have your book for sale at Amazon.com and have it free at iBooks. Free always gets attention. Changing your book from free to having a price on iBooks is not as instantaneous as it is at Amazon though, and once the price is back at iBooks, you may return to relative invisibility. This is why I recommend that you attempt to build your fan base by taking advantage of KDP Select first, then expand out to other retailers over time.

I obviously did not write this is a promotional piece, but now that it’s written, of course I’m going to tell you that if you liked the non-fiction you just read, you might enjoy my fiction even more. My apocalyptic novel, “In The End” is available at all major retailers, and my metaphysical-suspense-romance, “Reaching Kendra” (also published as “Kendra’s Spirit”) is available on Amazon.com

My author page at Amazon

I Didn’t Kill Her!

 

IDKH-COVER_THUMBNAIL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Didn’t Kill Her

Edward M Wolfe

 

The sound of a chainsaw yanked me from my slumber and when I opened my eyes, I saw a pretty, nude blonde lying next to me with a knife sticking out of her chest and blood running down her sides, pooling in the shallow depth of her abdomen.

Surely I was still dreaming. No one wakes up like this. I closed my eyes and squeezed them shut really hard, then I opened them again. She was still there. So was the blood, and the knife. What the fuck?

I scrambled up and looked around. Where the fuck was I? How did I get here? The house was empty and looked vacant. There was no furniture and nothing hanging from the walls. Just trash scattered around the carpet. Empty beer cans, snack food wrappers and cigarette butts that had been crushed into the carpet. The place smelled like bug spray and urine.

I looked down at myself and saw that I was still dressed, but my hands were stained with blood. That made no sense at all. I would never kill anyone. And if I did, it would be in self-defense. The girl lying on the floor did not look anything remotely like a threat to anyone. She was naked and unarmed. She looked far more like a victim of a crime than a perpetrator of one. Even though I had no memories of how I got here, and I did not recognize this girl from anywhere, I was certain that I didn’t kill her.

I tried to recall where I was last night but I couldn’t remember a thing. I had a better chance of remembering the weird dream I’d been having before I woke, and it was all but evaporated now.  I needed to look at the girl, even though the thought of doing so filled me with fear and revulsion, but first, I had to get the blood off my hands.  I could imagine someone saying, “We caught him red-handed.” Great. My sense of humor was intact. Maybe I really was crazy. This was no time for joking around.

I went into the kitchen and turned on the faucet. Some rust-colored drops of water sputtered into the sink as the faucet gave a final exhalation. No water. Despite my foggy and rattled brain, I still had enough mental processing left to think of checking the toilet tank. I found the bathroom, and lifted the lid off the tank. I briskly scrubbed my hands in the rusty water, urgently trying to get the blood off of them. I got most of it. It had caked around my cuticles and under my fingernails, but that would have to do for now.

I went back to the living room for the task I dreaded. I needed to really look at this girl and see if I recognized her from sometime before last night, which I had no memory of. When I walked back into the living room, it seemed as if her arm was in a different position than it was when I left. Could she possibly be alive? I bent down and started to reach two fingers toward her carotid artery, but stopped myself, remembering that fingerprints could be left on skin.

I know it looked like I was the one who killed her, but I was still certain that I hadn’t, despite having no memory of the night before. And if I wasn’t the killer, I wasn’t going to provide evidence to the contrary – beyond that which already existed. I placed my hand in front of her nose instead of feeling for a pulse.  While I waited to feel even the tiniest breath, I looked at her chest for any sign that she was breathing. I had the strangest feeling as I looked at her. On one hand, she was very beautiful, but on the other, she was a bloody corpse. She presented a horrible mixture of beauty and violence. I don’t know how anyone could do that to another person. I know I couldn’t.

I felt nothing on my hand, and I saw no movement of her chest. I was pretty sure she was dead. Either someone was in here with me and moved her arm, or I had just imagined that it was in a different position. To be sure, I decided I better check the rest of the house. The real killer could still be here. I started walking down the hall when I heard a car screech to a halt out outside.

Shit! That was probably the cops. What the fuck was I still doing here? I should’ve run away as soon as I woke up. What difference did it make if the house was empty or not? I had no reason to be here at all. Well, I guess I could have looked for clues about what had happened last night, but I don’t even know what I’d look for.

I ran into the first bedroom on the right and went to the window. I unlocked it and pushed it up. I kicked out the screen and crawled through. Now, where to? I didn’t even know where the fuck I was. So, first thing – get far away. Anywhere would do.

I ran across the backyard and hoisted myself up and over the brick wall and into the next backyard. There was a sliding glass door in front of a covered patio but the blinds were closed, as were the ones in front of a small kitchen window. I ran around to the side of the house and reached a wooden fence with a metal latch. I stopped and waited, listening. No one was pursuing me. I lifted the latch, opened the gate and walked alongside the driveway all casual as if I was just heading out for a stroll.

I had to think. How could I have ended up at that house? At the sidewalk, I turned right, still completely unaware of what part of town I was even in. I hoped to get a clue when I reached a corner with a street sign. What was the last thing I could recall? I remembered being at work yesterday. I left work, went home. Wait a second. Yesterday? How did I know if I only lost one day? Maybe today wasn’t even Saturday? I instantly patted my right, back pocket, knowing it would be empty. It was. Where the fuck was my cell phone?

Oh shit. What if it was in the house with the girl? The cops will surely think I was the killer – and a stupid one at that. My other pocket was empty too. No wallet. This was just getting better and better. No keys in my right, front pocket, and no cash or coins in the other front pocket. I realized my car could be parked right out in front of the vacant house; another thing advertising that I’m the primary suspect. Could my life be any more fucked?

 

***

 

I passed several street corners without learning where I was, but when I finally hit a boulevard intersection I got partially oriented. As far as I could tell, I was in North Hollywood somewhere. I went south on Lankershim until I came to the Metro. I could take it to within a few blocks of my apartment – if I had any money. I resigned myself to walking the seven miles to where I lived. I was hot, thirsty and hungry. My body was fatigued as if I’d already walked miles, and my mind felt stunned, as if I’d been whacked in the head with a two-by-four.

I told myself to try to think rationally as I walked, blindly stepping into traffic at the next intersection.

“Yo! White boy! You fi’n ta get yo’sef keelt!”

I stepped backwards suddenly as a city bus whooshed by inches from my face. I tripped when I ran into the curb behind me and fell, landing on my ass. The old black man laughed as I added ass pain to my growing list of miseries.

“Yo mama nevah learnt you to look befo’ crossin da street? Dayum!” he said, hooting with laughter. When he regained his composure, he extended an old wrinkled brown hand to help me up.

“Thanks,” I said. “I was lost in thought.”

“Dey be yo’ last thoughts if’n you don’t watch yo’sef!”

“Thank you,” I said, not knowing what else to say. I certainly couldn’t explain my predicament.

I stood there numbly looking at the traffic, willing the pain in my tailbone to subside. Walking was going to be a lot more painful now. Seven fucking miles of pain until I could take some aspirin, lie down, and try to figure out what was going on.

“Jeet today?”

“Excuse me?” I asked, turning to look at the man.

“Here, take dis,” he said, reaching into his inner jacket pocket and handing me a Twix.

At the sight of the candy bar, my stomach kicked into gear and growled ferociously. I didn’t know when I’d last eaten. I gladly took the candy from the stranger and tore into the wrapper with my teeth. It was warm and the chocolate clung to the inside of the wrapper. After eating the twin bars, I licked the chocolate off the paper, then walked over to the wire-basket trashcan next to the streetlight post.

“Now I knows you din’t eat today.”

“Thank you very much, sir. If I had any money, I’d pay you, but I—“

“You jis pay it fo’ward when you can,” he said, dismissing my explanation.

The light turned green and I thanked him for the fourth time in two minutes before complying with the sign that now said WALK. When I reached the other side, my mind went back on autopilot as far as navigating the obstacles on the sidewalk. I weaved in and out around pedestrians, newspaper vending boxes, and the occasional street beggar partially blocking the way with their outstretched legs, sitting on the sidewalk holding their cardboard signs with God Bless written on them.

I put the sugar from the candy bar to work, forcing myself to think back to the last thing I recalled. I had left work and gone home. I checked my email, watched the news on TV for a while, and then when I got hungry, I decided to eat out somewhere. I drove to a nearby bar that makes great burgers. But I didn’t eat. Someone bought me a beer and I think we talked for a while. I remember that I didn’t want a beer, but I was being polite and trying to get out of the conversation with the overly friendly guy who seemed really intent on talking to me and buying me drinks. Not in a gay way – just an obliging, clueless way, like someone who wants a friend and doesn’t realize they’re imposing.

That’s the last thing I remember. How is that possible? I crossed another intersection and strained to recall more of what happened in the bar. The fact that there was nothing at all in my mind to be discovered made me wonder if the guy had spiked my drink. It made perfect sense. He was determined to talk to me despite my short answers and the fact that I kept returning my gaze to the menu rather than engage him in conversation. I could imagine him putting something in my beer, then when I got groggy, he could’ve walked me out as if he was helping a friend who was too drunk to drive. Then he could’ve driven me to the house in North Hollywood. Then what? He went out, found a girl, brought her back, stripped her and killed her, then laid her out on the floor next to me?

What the fuck sense did that make? Whoever the guy was, I had never seen him before. I’d never seen the girl before either. Maybe the guy just needed someone to be a patsy and I was dumb enough to sit there accepting his drinks instead of doing what I wanted to do, which was just eat, and see if any attractive females showed up while I was eating.

A horn honked, which is not unusual, so I ignored it. Then it honked again, right beside me from a car that was moving at the same rate of speed that I was walking. I looked over and saw the driving leaning over so he could see me through the passenger window.

“Need a lift?”

It was the guy from the bar! Considering what he’d apparently done to me, he was the last person I should be accepting a ride from.

“Sure,” I said, walking over to his car and getting in.

 

***

 

I know it seems stupid that I got in a car with the person who was most likely responsible for the hell I found myself in, but he was also the only person in the world who might be able to shed light on what was happening to my life, and why.

He pulled forward as soon as I had gotten in, before I’d even shut the door. The car behind us was honking its horn and the light in front of us was green. I blurted out everything on my mind without thinking of what I was going to say.

“Who are you? What did you do to me? Why did you kill that girl? Are you fucking insane? What the hell is going on?”

“Slow down, Tommy boy! One thing at a time. You sure woke up full of questions, didn’t you?”

“I woke up next to a dead girl! And the last thing I remember was drinking beer with you, so this is all your doing. What the fuck is wrong with you? Why are you doing this?”

“Listen, Tommy. If we’re—“

“Stop calling me Tommy!”

“Okay, Tom. Listen up. To have a conversation, you’re gonna have to slow down. First things first. What’s the first thing you’d like to know before you go to prison for murder?”

We stopped at a red light and I couldn’t decide if I should get out and run, reach over and strangle him, or try to engage in a conversation that might result in some answers. I also wanted to ask him where we were going, but that seemed like the least important matter at the time.

“I didn’t kill her!”

“Sure you didn’t. But you can save it for the judge. I already know what you’re guilty of. And I know you’re going to be punished. Justice is being served, as we speak.”

My head was spinning again. Nothing made sense. He agreed that I didn’t kill her, but he was certain that I’d go to prison for her murder.

“Why are you framing me for this? I don’t even know you!”

“You may not know me, Tommy boy–sorry, Tom, but you know of me.”

He got in the left hand turn lane and tapped the turn signal control down. The air conditioner was on, but I could clearly hear every tick as the left arrow blinked on the instrument panel.

“How do I know of you?” I managed to ask a sane question when I felt like I was losing my mind completely. As far as I knew, that Twix bar was the first thing I’d eaten in twenty-four hours and my blood-sugar was as fucked up as my life was now.

“Lisa told you about me.”

“Lisa? Who’s Lisa? Is that the girl at the house?”

“Yes, Lisa is the girl you killed – for all intents and purposes.”

“I don’t know her. I never met her before in my life. You’ve got the wrong fucking guy.”

“Oh no. I have the right guy. I made sure of it. This is the culmination of years of planning, so you can be sure I didn’t go to all of that effort to setup the wrong guy.”

“Why? Why are you setting me up? I swear I don’t know you or Lisa. You have to have the wrong guy.”

The signal presented a green arrow and he pulled through the intersection, staying in the left hand lane and once again getting into the turn lane. We were making a gradual U-turn, erasing the progress I’d made walking.

“I’m motivated by the oldest reason there is. Revenge.”

“But I didn’t do anything to you!”

“But you did, Tom. You ruined my life. You took away everything I cherished. And now, in keeping with the law of ‘an eye for an eye’ I’m ruining your life, and taking everything you love away from you.”

“I’ve told you that I don’t know either of you, so rather than repeating myself, how about you just tell me what you think I did?”

“Does the screen name moanalisa86 ring any bells?”

“No. I’ve never heard of it.”

“Yes, you have, Tom. You heard of it, saw it, and wrote a response to a request for advice that was posted by someone using it.”

“Okay, then. I don’t recall it.”

“I believe you. As I said, it’s been years, so that makes sense. Allow me to refresh your memory.”

“Please do.”

When we reached the street that I had walked down to get to Lankershim, he pulled over to the curb in front of a house. He was apparently taking me back to where I woke up a short time ago – but not yet.

“Lisa posted to Yahoo Answers about her relationship in 2009. She complained about her boyfriend, saying she suspected he was insane, and possibly violent. She said she wanted to leave him, but literally scared for her life to do so. She said she was in a bind and didn’t know what to do. She asked for help. Are you starting to remember any of this?”

“No. Not at all.”

“Well, you should. It was your advice that she took.”

“What did I advise?”

“You said, and this is verbatim, ‘You are definitely with a classic psychopath. The sooner you leave the better. He will not change, you cannot appease him, and sooner or later, you won’t even think of asking for help. Your life will be over. Get out now, while you can. Tell everyone you know when you leave him, why you’re leaving him. The more you get the word out, the less he’ll be able to do anything to you. Be safe, and good luck!’ Does that refresh your memory?”

“No. Maybe, vaguely. I used to write a lot of responses on Yahoo Answers. I don’t remember all of them.”

“Yes, you did answer a lot, and your answers were frequently chosen as the best. You had a very high ranking. But I’m surprised you don’t remember advising Lisa, since it was such a serious departure from the standard idiotic questions that most people could’ve answered themselves by just using Google, or were we still using AltaVista then?”

“It may have been a serious issue for her – it was her life – but to me, it would’ve just been words on the screen for a few minutes. That’s not something I would’ve committed to memory. It was too insignificant.”

“That’s rich. The ruining of my life was insignificant to you.”

“You’re the guy she wanted to leave?”

“I’m the guy she did leave. Because of you.”

“How do you know it was because of me? I’m sure plenty of other people told her to do the same thing. It’s common sense. You think you’re living with a psycho, get the fuck out. How can you pin this solely on me?”

“You’re right. Seventeen other people also advised her to leave me. But she chose your response as the Best Answer, and she quoted you when she broke up with me. She said she’d been told that I was a classic psychopath, that I wouldn’t change, I couldn’t be appeased, etc. Later, I logged in to her account and saw the email from Yahoo with a link to her question. I read your advice, and I vowed that I’d get revenge. It’s been a long time coming, but now it’s here. Today is the day of retribution.”

“I was right. You are a psychopath. You’ll never get away with this. Especially now that you’ve just confessed to me that you killed her and framed me for it. The police will know that I don’t have any connection to her. But you certainly do. You have motive. I don’t. How do you think you’re going to convince the cops that I had any reason to kill someone that I don’t even know? Someone that I posted to on Yahoo years ago. The police aren’t that stupid, you know.”

He reached into his inner suit jacket pocket and pulled out something that looked like a wallet. He let it fall open, revealing his identification as a Los Angeles County police detective, and his badge.

 

***

 

I woke up in the backseat of his car, my hands and feet bound with zip-ties. The last thing I remembered was him reaching into his pocket to put his wallet away and then his hand came back out with a black thing with silver tips on the end. His hand flew toward my neck before I realized what was happening.

I struggled into a sitting position and looked out the window. We were back at the house with the dead girl. The guy got out of his car and walked over to some cops standing next to a cop car. Crime scene tape was strung around the yard and driveway.

This was really happening.

The driver’s side window was down about two inches. I leaned forward and turned my head to the side, straining to hear what he was telling the other cops.

“What brings you here, Detective Ladd?”

“Oh, I was just in the neighborhood.”

The three of them laughed briefly. I never understood how cops could make jokes at a crime scene. I guess they get used to dead people.

“Did they put you on this?”

“No. Actually, I was driving nearby when I spotted what looked like an attempted burglary. Guy was going from window to window at a house, so I came up behind him and asked what he thought he was doing.”

“You shoulda waited till he broke a window or somethin’. You probably can’t get him on Attempted B&E now.”

“I got better. Listen to this. First thing the guy says to me is he got high on Ketamine last night, killed a blonde girl, and now he’s just really thirsty. Says he’s just looking for some water. He’s not looking to steal anything.”

“Oh. Well if that’s all, you shoulda let him go.” Again, they all laughed as they broached the subject of murder as they stood on the lawn, with a fresh corpse inside the house.

“I’m thinking I’ll take him in as a 5150, just in case he’s violent, bein’ that he’s talkin’ that way. And then I notice he’s got what could be blood around his fingernails. I made the connection with the homicide here just a few blocks away and thought you guys might wanna take him and verify if that’s blood, and see if his prints match the ones on the knife used on the vic.”

“How’d you know she was knifed?”

“Uh… I guess it was radio chatter. I don’t recall. But anyway, I got this guy in the backseat. If it turns out I just delivered a gift-wrapped perp, tell the FOS he owes me a case of Heineken.”

“Will do. Let’s see what you got.”

“One more thing. When I asked the guy to repeat what he’d said about killing someone, that’s when he lost his marbles and started saying he didn’t kill anyone. He said I was the killer. Then he started ranting about how I was framing him, and some shit about Yahoo and the internet, and I just lost track. Definitely a 5150, whether or not he did the girl. When he went totally nutso, I had to Taze him.”

They came over to the car and let me out, but only to transfer me to the back of a squad car. I was burning with the desire to tell them what was really going on and how the detective was the real killer, but he’d already primed them to think I was crazy if I started talking about that, so I just kept it inside. I knew from watching cop shows that it doesn’t accomplish anything to protest your innocence to arresting officers anyway. They don’t care. And why should they? It’s not their job to determine guilt or innocence.

That’s left up to the judge and jury. So anything you say to the cops is a waste of time and breath. As it turns out, everything I said to anybody about this case was wasted effort. My court-appointed attorney couldn’t find any reference to any of the things I told him about. He said he couldn’t find Lisa’s question, or my answer. I’m not sure if he even bothered looking. He also said there was no record of a moanalisa86 anywhere online. And he couldn’t find anything in The Wayback Machine.

My prints were on the knife. Lisa’s blood was on and under my fingernails. My saliva was found on her left breast. And hair matching mine was on the carpet near her body. It was not only an open and shut case, but the prosecutor made me sound like the most vile of killers, suggesting that I had sucked on one of her breasts while stabbing the other. If I had been in the jury, I would’ve voted to hang me too.

I guess you could say I got lucky though. Since Ketamine was found in my system, along with alcohol, my public defender argued that I had blacked out and didn’t know what I had done, so he negotiated with the District Attorney and got me a deal for a reduced charge of 2nd Degree Murder, meaning I hadn’t pre-meditated the killing of the poor girl.

Now I’m doing fifteen to life for a crime I didn’t commit.  My only crime was offering advice to a stranger on the internet. I posted a single paragraph to help a total stranger. And now, life as I once knew it is over.

My cellmate is petitioning for the inmates to get internet access like they have in some other states. Every prisoner in here is looking forward to the day they can get online.

Except for me.

All I can think about now is my mother’s advice when I was a kid. She said, don’t talk to strangers.

 

###

 

###

 

The CEO

The CEO

by Edward M Wolfe

fireThe sirens had long since faded out and were never heard again. The only sound on the street came from the rustling of windblown debris, like the page from a newspaper that skittered to a stop against the CEO’s legs. He bent down and picked it up, reading the headline at the top of the page. It was about the plummeting stock market. Old news. He turned a little to the side and spread his fingers, letting the paper fly away. He turned further, looking behind him at the skyline in the distance. New York was his town. It was his playing field. He practically owned it. Dollars ruled, and he had billions. His money was securely stored in banks in multiple countries, but it couldn’t help him now.

Looking at the skyscraper he owned, his mind drifted to thoughts of his empire and the power he wielded. With just a few words, he could change lives – for better, or worse. And he did, depending on how he felt at any given moment. There were times when he fired a person just for the rush he got from knowing that he turned someone’s little world upside down – because he could. It served as a reminder of the power he had. Less frequently, when he was in a good mood, he would surprise someone by giving them a bonus.

He had never lost his taste for the finer things in life, and he enjoyed indulging in luxuries, but he had to admit, it got boring after a while. Being the boss and making decisions wasn’t really work. It was more of a game, with the employees as pawns. Other business owners he dealt with were players on his side, and some were competitors. Most of them were weaker, smaller players, and winning all the time was another thing that got boring. There was something to be said for having a challenge; having to expend some effort to achieve something worthwhile. He’d had everything handed to him his entire life and never had to literally work for anything.

Up ahead, he saw two men standing next to a metal barrel with flames flickering around the top of it. They were roasting something that smelled like some kind of meat he didn’t recognize. The men were filthy and wore shabby clothes that looked like they’d been withdrawn from a landfill. As he got closer, he saw that they were holding sticks over the fire inside the barrel. Definitely cooking something, using the trashcan like a barbecue. It was hard to believe the depths to which people could sink. Filthy and stinking and eating roasted garbage. The sight of it made him sick with disgust, and yet, the closer he got, the more his mouth watered at the smell of flame-broiled meat. What was it they were cooking?

They watched him approach and appraised his clothing. He wore a custom-tailored Armani suit, Italian loafers, and a Rolex worth more than their annual salaries combined. They smiled as he stepped up and cleared his throat.

“Excuse me, gentlemen. Could you possibly spare some food? I haven’t eaten for a few days. I have money.”

“Your money’s no good. You should know that. What have you got to trade?”

The CEO reached into the pockets of his grimy pants and pulled out his keyring with the Jaguar fob. He looked at his keys with sadness, then dropped them on the ground. They were useless. His homes and his cars were gone. He opened his tattered suit coat and reached into the breast pocket. He withdrew his lambskin wallet and thumbed through its contents. Black and platinum credit cards and several crisp hundred dollar bills. Worthless. He shook out the cards and money. The cards scattered around his feet. The wind snatched the bills and carried them down the street. He offered them the empty wallet. They shook their heads.

“I don’t have anything,” he cried out, on the verge of tears, his stomach aching for food.

“Is that watch made of real gold?

The CEO drew back his frayed sleeve, exposing his watch. He slipped it off with his other hand.

“Yes. Yes, it is!” he said, holding it out to them.

The man closest to him looked at the other man who nodded.

“Okay. One squirrel for the watch. And half a bottle of water.” He handed over the stick with the charred meat skewered on the end of it and reached down for something by his feet. He came up with a plastic bottle half-filled with cloudy water and handed it over.

The CEO took them both, grateful for the chance to eat and drink, but at the same time, he worried about where his next meal would come from now that he’d traded away the only thing of value that he still owned. He had no practical skills, or anything with which to bargain in this post-nuclear world.

Even though he ate slowly, his meal only lasted a moment. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve, then drank the last of the water. He was about to toss the empty bottle into the burning trash barrel, but one of the men held up his hand, signaling him to stop. He realized that the bottle was a resource, so he screwed the cap onto it and stuffed it into his coat pocket, smiling. He was learning.

“Do you want to help us look for squirrels? We’ll split whatever we find.”

“Yes. I do. Thank you!”

It was turning out to be a great day. He’d eaten, and acquired a bottle, and he had made two friends who could teach him things. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d been so happy.

The Dregs – a dystopian short story

The Dregs

Edward M Wolfe

April 19th, 2042.

Acting on a credible, anonymous tip, the officers kicked in the door of the small cottage. A standard poodle barked and rushed them. Officer Karnes aimed and fired. The first shot missed and he fired again as the dog squatted to leap at him. The second shot sent the dog sailing backwards. It hit the ground and toppled over, coming to rest on its side, whining and panting as its blood pooled in the white carpet.

“Freeze!” yelled the other officer, pointing his gun at an old woman who emerged from a doorway, holding one hand over her heart.

“What are you doing? Why did you shoot my baby?”

“Put your hands against the wall,” he commanded.

“But I don’t—“

“Now!”

Both officers rushed into the hall. One of them slammed the lady against the wall, kicked her legs apart and frisked her, while the other checked the room she had come out of. It was a bathroom, and it was empty. He then moved down the short hall to another door. He put his ear against it and listened.

“This is the police. Come out with your hands up, or I’m coming in, shooting.” He took a few steps away from the door, placing his back against the hallway wall and aiming his gun at the door.

Karnes cuffed the lady then swept  one foot at the back of her calves while pushing her backwards with a hand on her chest. She landed on her back and cried out in pain.

“Shut it, scumbag. Don’t make me stomp on your face.” He pulled his gun out of its holster and pointed it at the door that Wilson was still aiming at. Karnes nodded and Wilson raised a foot and slammed it against the door next to the doorknob. The thin, hollow door crashed open and both officers rushed in.

A black cat lying on the bedcover hissed at them. Wilson shot it and rushed over to the master bath door. He stopped and slowly peeked his head around the doorjamb. It was empty.

“Clear!” he called out.

“I’m gonna check the kitchen. Drag the bitch into the living room and find out where she’s hiding it.” Karnes left the room and stepped around the woman who was breathing rapidly and stifling sobs, arching her back to keep from pressing down on her cuffed hands.

Her legs were sticking out into the hall and rather than step over them, Karnes kicked them out of his way. Wilson came out and grabbed the lady by her feet and dragged her down the hall into the living room. He let go of her when her face was adjacent to her dead dog.

“Where is it?”

“Oh, my dear Pooksie! What have they done to you?” The woman broke out in fresh sobs as she stared at the dead brown eyes of her beloved pet staring back at her.

“I’m not fucking around, scumbag. Where are you hiding it?”

“What are you talking about? I have no idea what’s going on. Why did you kill Pooksie?”

“We know you’re holding, so the sooner you cooperate, the better things will go for you in court. Don’t make it worse for yourself by acting stupid and playing innocent.”

He walked over to a shelf beside the couch and swept an array of collectible glass figurines to the floor. The small animals fell to the carpet with a series of thumps. It was less dramatic than he had hoped for so he pulled the shelf forward, causing everything to slide to the carpet and causing the shelf to crash into the coffee table, shattering the glass top. That was better.

“Where is it?!” he demanded to know.

The sound of crashing objects from the kitchen echoed into the living room. Wilson was ransacking the cabinets.

“Got it!” he yelled.

“You’re lucky. I was just starting to get pissed off. The D.A. will be informed of your failure to cooperate. You’re going down, bitch.”

Wilson entered the living room hefting a zip-lock baggie with a granular, dark brown substance. It was damp and left residue on the baggie as he shifted it around.

“Dregs. Probably half a pound. Recently used. She’s probably high on it right now.”

Karnes looked down at her in disgust and saw the guilt in her eyes as she looked away.

“I hope it was worth the rest of your life. Enjoy it while it lasts.”

***

Later, under questioning, the elderly perp talked. The cops offered her a good word with the D.A. and a reduced sentence for cooperation if she’d reveal her source. At 64, she didn’t want to spend her remaining time in prison and agreed to tell them where she’d got the dregs. What she revealed was better than they had expected. They usually had to work their way up a distribution chain until they reached a big dealer. But Phyllis was well-connected, getting her fix from a major dealer with whom she’d played Bridge for years.

The next morning found Karnes and Wilson participating in a multi-agency raid. It would’ve just been a D.E.A. team, but since the two Vice detectives provided the intel, the feds reluctantly permitted them to accompany the raid team. But they wouldn’t be first-in. The feds reserved the right to any action coming through the door.

The sun crept up over the horizon as men in black took up positions all around a beige two-story house. The loudest sound around came from birds in nearby trees. The suspect’s house sat at the end of a cul-de-sac. The other end of the street was blocked off with police sawhorses with crime scene tape strung between them. Two officers stood with their backs to the suspect’s house, watching for any neighbors who might emerge to see what was going on.

Four agents approached the front door carrying a battering ram. The lead agent spoke into his lapel mic.

“Snipers, sit rep?”

“Sniper One. All clear. In position.”

“Roger, One.”

“Sniper Two. Woman walking her dog past the end of the street… Okay, we’re clear. In position.”

“Roger, Two.” He glanced around at the agents he could see, then spoke into his mic again. “We’re a Go. On three. One… Two… Three”

The battering ram smashed through the front door. Glass shattered as other agents fired tear gas grenades through the front windows. One sniper peered through his scope at the upper level windows. The other perused the perimeter for anyone trying to escape.

The battering ram agents withdrew, trotting backwards, and other agents with gas masks rushed in, yelling, “D.E.A. Nobody move!” and “Freeze, motherfuckers!” Agents spread throughout the house. Within a minute, they declared the downstairs clear. The lead agent, Gelkins, pointed at two agents and motioned for them to follow him up the stairs.

A door near the second-floor landing creaked open and one of the agents fired past Gelkins.

“Hold your fire!” he yelled, running up the stairs and taking a position beside the partially opened door. The two agents on the stairs came a little further up and aimed their guns at the door.

“Come out with your hands up!” Gelkins ordered.

Adrenaline raced through the three men as the door creaked again and slowly began to open. An elderly man in a dark blue robe carefully edged the door back with one foot, holding his hands high above his head. His hair was sticking out in every direction and his eyes were wide with fear behind lenses that make them look much larger than they were.

“Face on the floor, asshole!” Gelkins screamed from three feet away. “Slowly!”

The man bent down to his knees, then lowered his hands to the carpet to lower himself in a reverse push-up. Gelkins gestured with his gun. The two agents on the stairs rushed up and secured the prisoner. One pressed the man’s head into the carpet while the other patted down his backside and then cuffed him.

Karnes and Wilson saw the perp coming down the stairs with the agents behind him.

“How did you know?” the old man asked.

“Your good friend Phyllis sang like a bird, shithead. Your career is over,” Karnes spat.

“You didn’t hurt her, did you?” he asked, wincing in fear of the tactics that might’ve been employed to compel his lifelong friend to turn him in.

“Only as much as necessary. Where’s your stash, you old puke?”

“In the basement. You’ll find everything in the basement.”

“Very smart! I guess you still have some brain cells left.” Turning to the nearest D.E.A. agents, Karnes ordered, as if he were in charge of the scene, “Get this piece of shit out of here.”

A voice came through one of the agents’ radios.

“Jackpot! He’s got a whole fucking java-lab down here, along with a nursery, grinders, antique percolators, and everything else.”

“I’ll never understand you fucking dregs,” Wilson said, watching as the man was escorted out his front door.

***

Walter Brown was booked on charges of cultivation, trafficking, and possession of over fifty pounds of coffee. Phyllis Kant was charged with possession with intent to distribute. Her attorney argued that half a pound was nowhere near sufficient to distribute. The average coffee drinker could easily drink that much in less than a month. In addition, she had cooperated and was promised leniency. They wouldn’t have gotten Brown if it wasn’t for her. The D.A. agreed to simple possession and a term a reduced sentence of six months in light of her assistance which led to the apprehension of a major trafficker.

Brown’s trial commenced a few days later. He and his attorney sat in his cell facing the wall screen. Two metal folding chairs were brought in for the proceedings. The wall lit up and the face of the bailiff appeared.

“Please rise. The Honorable Jacob Jackson presiding.”

Brown and his attorney stood.

“Defendant Walter Brown and attorney Sheldon Knight are visibly present, Your Honor.”

“Court is in session,” the judge intoned.

“You may be seated.” The bailiff stepped out of the camera view and re-positioned it to aim at the judge’s bench, then rattled off the formal list of charges against Brown.

“How do you plead?” the judge inquired, looking over his old-fashioned, half-framed glasses at the video monitor.

“Your Honor,” the attorney spoke up, remaining in his seat. “Sheldon Knight, representing. My client pleads Guilty with an Explanation.”

The judge sighed and turned to face another monitor. “Will the State hear an explanation and consider a sentence less than life in prison?”

A small picture appeared in the corner of the wall display, featuring the District Attorney Janet Callaway. “The State will hear the explanation.”

“You may proceed,” the judge said, looking into the camera perched above his desk display.

“Thank you, Your Honor.” Sheldon looked down at the papers in his lap, then back up at the camera. “My client is from an era when coffee was in common usage and sold in every establishment. He grew up in a household where coffee was served every morning with breakfast. It was—“

“Mr. Knight. The court is aware of what life was like before the Anti-Stimulant Act of 2039. Your client admits his guilt. If there are no extenuating circumstances beyond the accused’s childhood when the laws were different, then we can proceed with sentencing.”

“I understand, Your Honor, and I apologize. I just want to speak to my client’s motivations in breaking the law. To his way of seeing it, he wasn’t doing any harm, and there were no victims who suffered as a result of his actions.”

Janet Callaway interrupted. “Society is the victim here, Counselor. Mr. Brown cannot take it upon himself to decide which laws benefit the people. The people themselves have already decided that.”

“You’re correct, Ms. Callaway. I just want to point out that my client is 67 years old and has a clean record. His only crime, in all his life was to ingest a stimulant that he had ingested his entire life with no harm to any other being besides himself. I ask that the court consider my client’s intention – that being, to do that which he had always done without running afoul of the law. Granted, he failed to change his daily routine when the laws changed, and he continued—“

“Mr. Knight, your client did not only continue to drink coffee in blatant disregard for this nation’s laws, presumably for the last three years, but he also took it upon himself to enable others to do the same. He engendered a spirit of anarchy and rebellion, thumbing his nose at authority, and the People. The State is showing plenty of leniency already in only seeking a life sentence.”

“We appreciate that, Ms. Callaway, and don’t deny his guilt and his debt to society for what he’s done, and which, he’s prepared to pay. I thought it might help to show that my client was a law-abiding citizen his entire life. He, himself never changed in his nature or intentions, and unfortunately, neither did his habits and routines change. One day he was a pillar of the community, and then the next, he was an outlaw – but only because the laws changed and made coffee an illegal substance. My client is the same law-abiding citizen he was four years ago, but for the criminalization of coffee, coffee grounds, and caffeine.”

“Are you finished, Mr. Knight?” the D.A. asked, not at all impressed by the defense attorney’s proffer of an explanation for his client’s guilt.

“Yes, Ms. Callaway. My client asks the State and the Court for mercy in its wisdom in handing down his sentence.”

“Does the State have anything to add, Ms. Callaway?”

“The State rests and asks the Court to not be swayed by the defendant’s explanation. We still seek life imprisonment.” The picture within a picture at the corner of the screen winked out and the judge’s face filled the entire wall display, then zoomed out to show the United States flag hanging behind him.

“In the matter of the People versus Walter Brown, the Court accepts the guilty plea but does not feel the Explanation provides any mitigating circumstances or considerable reason to sentence the defendant to less than the minimum sentence that the State has leniently requested.

“All through this nation’s history substances have gone from legal to illegal, and vice versa. There was a time when families enjoyed beverages that included such vile substances as cocaine. And they did so in family restaurants and other places where respectable people gathered for meals – not in dark alleys and seedy motels, as they do today. People ingested morphine to ease their pain. Marijuana was grown and used in many ways in competition with the cotton industry, as well as ingested to alter one’s consciousness. The fact is, Mr. Brown, society decides what is okay to consume, and what is not. The people make the laws by way of their representatives and their votes. When the people have spoken, the people must also obey. To state that there are no victims to the crimes you’ve committed is to say that the voice of the nation as a whole is irrelevant to you. That you can decide what is right and wrong, despite what hundreds of millions of your countrymen have decreed to be wrong.

“Our society has determined that no substance shall be ingested that accelerates the natural functioning of the central nervous system. Stimulants are illegal in this country in all of their manifestations – regardless of how you were raised. The laws have been passed. And you’ve admitted your guilt in violating them. The Court hereby sentences you to remain in custody for the remainder of your natural life.”

The judge banged his gavel one time then set it down.

“Court is adjourned.”

The screen in Brown’s cell wall turned black. Knight grabbed his papers and put them in his briefcase, then stood and grabbed his folding chair with his free hand.

“I’m sorry, Walter. I did my best.” He looked at his client, chagrined. “If there’s anything I can do for you…”

“I appreciate it, Sheldon. I just don’t know how I’m going to make it in here. I’ve never been in jail before. I’m so stressed, I feel like I’m going to have a heart-attack.”

“I’ll ask the guard to bring you some heroin. It’ll help you relax, Walter.”

###