SLICE: Rotund on the Boardwalk

The Midwest is an unremarkable place. This is what it’s known for, it is what the people I know know it for. Everything monochromatic, slow, grey when its cold, yellow when it’s hot. Violent crime spikes in the summer, drunks linger cozy and warm in dim bars in the winter. Suicides on the outskirts, murders on hot asphalt. The Midwest doesn’t know itself. I don’t know the Midwest, yet here I am.

Rotund on the Boardwalk is smack in the middle of one of the blandest states the Midwest has to offer. It boasts curvy women with small waists. Most of them shine in the lights, their chests glitter. They wear body jewelry and move their hips ooze suggestion with every step. They perform magnificent feats on golden poles for the eyes of men whose fat pockets have perched them within society’s upper echelons, men who wear business suits with loosened ties and order brandy from the bar.

As is usually the case, I feel at peace with the nature of my business here. I have always pointed my eyes skyward, I spin around cities and make money the easiest hard way possible. I suspend lives and I sit stone faced in confessionals. I utter hail Mary’s to the sky in the back of seedy strip joints. I pray to the sirens of sweat and cheap perfume with a mind as blank as they eyes of women who sell bodies for change. I know these women, and they think they know me. Women like these, the kind that gyrate beneath red lights think a man is the sum of the length in his pants. What they don’t know is that it’s only the tip of the iceberg for a man with a dark streak.

I have a picture in my pocket showing the girl when she worked for a titty joint in Harlem. In the picture she is awash in strobe lights and her exact features are hazy. Back then she was only a stripper by twilight, I was told. During the day she balanced bookkeeping work for an arms dealer with earning straight A’s in Columbia’s Philosophy program.

She is from a project in New York though I was told it would be difficult to glean such origins in her speech, from her mannerisms. She is sweet also, I was told. The kind of sweet that makes the job hard and morals taut–a fact that only those with morals present to awake from lapse should consider.

I eye the waitress that approaches me. She is blindingly blonde and busty with teeth that would have benefited from correction in her early years, correction that would be useless now because she has accepted the imperfection and made every other effort to compensate for it with favorable results. She bends over to take my order, hands me a cigar with “Rotund on the Boardwalk” stenciled in pink lettering on the shell.

When she returns with my whiskey sour I ask her when Astrid is coming on. She looks to the stage and smiles, and Astrid appears on stage amidst a crescendo of whoops and hollers. “She’s the main attraction!” The waitress yells over the pulsating beat of generic techno.

I watch Astrid writhe fully clothed in a pair of loose fitting jeans and a flowing cerulean tunic. She is smaller than the other girls, her hair a long silky curtain about her face. She hasn’t opened her eyes once, a testament to her desire to be elsewhere, a symptom of the dire straits that have landed her before a sea of middle aged men with wedding bands and five o’clock shadows.

She has not let her distaste for her current profession stifle the quality of her performance, however. She is good. She removes her tunic in a movement that is so fluid I barely notice, it is there, then it is not. She tosses it into the audience.

The waitress, who lingers, leans to my ear. “She gives away her costumes every night. She makes enough to do that.” A man in back catches her jeans and presses the crotch of them to his nose. The pole’s finish matches the metallic gold of the paint on her nipples. Her bottoms are a webbing of rhinestones that catch the light and cast colored refractions across the faces of those that border the stage.

“Another whiskey,” I tell the waitress, my eyes cemented to Astrid. I am intrigued by something I cannot place. I have seen more strippers than most people see cubicle walls. My line of work places me in clubs across the country in front of the most exaggerated beauties to ever exist outside a pin-up, but there’s something about Astrid that mars my cool, that makes me drink fast and think slow.

Once her set is over a homely girl in what looks like a one piece swim suit rakes the dollar bills scattered across the stage into a pile and places them in a Crown Royal bag that Astrid holds. I wait, knowing she will soon make the rounds offering lap dances and hopefully, more.

“The buffet has just been laid out,” the waitress says as she places my fifth whiskey sour before me. I look over my shoulder at the spread. It is nearly two a.m., and there’s breakfast smoking on a red velvet table cloth. This place has got me off kilter. “I’ll decide in a moment,” I say.

“Where are you from?” Astrid sits at my table, crosses her legs slowly so that I can take in her new ensemble. She is draped in diamonds. “Not rhinestones. Diamonds.” She corrects me after I comment on her dress, a dress that falls to the floor with a matching headdress. A man lingers in my peripheral and Astrid dismisses him with a wave of her hand, not missing a beat.

“Glasgow,” I say.

“Glasgow. This is a long way from Glasgow,” she smiles.

“This is a long way from anywhere, it feels like.” I watch her take a sip of my drink, her lips leave a red half moon on the rim that I do not avoid when I drink.

“What do you do?” She asks.

“I work for politicians,” I answer. Something flickers across her face, and I am thankful I was given a wealth of intelligence on her. She is smart, observant. “A dance, you going to offer me a dance?” I ask quickly before any thoughts fully take shape in her brain.

“Sure, if you are capable,” she says.

“Capable of what?”

“The price. I’m steep,” she doesn’t smile.

“I figured you would be,” I reply. She takes my hand and leads me through heavy velvet curtains to the back room where it smells of cigar smoke and expensive perfume. We are the only ones here save for a bouncer in a well tailored suit. He stands sentry in the corner, a cigar in his hand.

“Have a seat,” she says. I watch her peel away her dress.

Someone else came to see her before me. Someone that works the Midwest. I work the east coast mostly, I’ve been out west before. I do big cities. I do big politicians. The other man, his name was something Polish I remember, he chickened out because she was too charming, he said.

“No touching, ” she says as she straddles me. She is charming, yes, but to resist the charm is to excel in your craft.

“I don’t plan on touching you at all,” I say. She looks taken aback for a second but recovers nicely. Music begins, something that sounds middle eastern. She doesn’t hump me, her movements are too fluid for that label. She glides against me, rubs her breasts on my face, arches a leg over my shoulder, bends back to the floor in a show of acrobatics that would shame an Olympic gymnast. She smells like the oil street vendors sell. I like the oils street vendors sell. I am as surprised by the erection as she is, and I try to ignore it. I feel my façade slip, some shred of my image shatters and I am disoriented for the slightest of moments.

“That happens,” she says.

“I’m sure,” I reply, my countenance sliding back into place. “Do you offer other things?” I ask.

“Like what?” She hooks her index fingers in my belt hoops.


“I’m a human being, so yes, to some I offer and sometimes receive companionship,” she says.

“You know what I mean.”

“Are you too cool to ask directly for what you want? Or are you playing at something? Don’t touch my breasts, remember the rules?”

“Of course,” I drop my hands to my sides, real embarrassment slides around my defenses. I hadn’t realized I’d even made the move to do so.

“What are you asking me?”

“Do you call?”

“I’m a call girl, yes. For the right price.”


“Very. And I don’t do anything weird. I am an escort only.”

“What’s weird? What do you constitute as weird?”

“I don’t fuck.”

“Fucking isn’t weird.”

“Fucking for money is weird. Almost as weird as humping a fully clothed lap for money.”

“Is this your normal lap dance conversation?”

“No, but I don’t think you are my normal lap dance customer. You want something extra, something most don’t know about. You know who I am, and you came here especially to see me,” she says.

I keep my cool. That’s what I do, it’s who I am, why I was called from my normal circuit to this small town where brain and wit are supposed to be dull and malleable in my hand.

“Yeah, I’ve heard of you. Is that a surprise?” I ask.

“Yes and no. I’ve only worked at Rotund On The Boardwalk for three months. Only been in Ohio for four. I don’t talk to anyone but the girls here and barely them. No one knows me. You’re from out of town.”

“Can I light this back here?” I ask the bodyguard who gives a stiff nod. Subject change is the desire and it works.

“You’re on the clock, I’m not dancing on you while you smoke. Not burning myself.” She dismounts, sits beside me on the loveseat.

“Money is no object to me,” I say.

“It never is for patrons here. Why do you need an escort? You don’t seem the type.”

“What type needs to pay for a beautiful woman on their arm?”

“The kind that lack magnetism. Looks are never a part of it, strangely. I’ve accompanied men even more handsome than you. But they lack substance, the thing that draws in women that look like me.”

“High on yourself?”

“Realistic. You interested or not? Now that you know there’s no fucking involved.”

“I’m interested. I do have some demands of a non-sexual nature.”


“Will you cross state lines?”

“For the right price and first class travel,” she answers.

“Of course. I have a shindig to attend in Madison. You know Madison, Wisconsin?”

“I don’t know the Midwest. I have a grandmother in Columbus that I don’t speak to. The Midwest is a mystery to me. It’s so even keeled here it’s unpleasant,” she says.

“I want you to accompany me to Madison. All expenses paid. Separate hotel rooms. A beautiful dress draped across the bed in the suite when you enter it. Jewelry on a velvet pillow on the dresser.”

“A knife in the back when my guard is down?”

“No, I assure you.” I wait for a smile that will prove her ignorance. When it comes I relax.

I await the end of her shift in the back of a black stretch limousine. I smoke a Cuban cigar and listen to Chopin. I calm my breaths and prepare for more banter. A bouncer is right behind her when she emerges from the club. She is dressed like the college student she once was, leggings, knee high brown leather boots, a cashmere sweater and a colorful scarf around her neck. She hugs the bouncer goodbye.

“So you smoke cigars, the good ones,” she says once she is settled across from me. She looks different, her face has a fresh scrubbed look that I wasn’t prepared for, and something goes loose inside me. I think of my purpose here and I accept it while I loathe the man who has sent me to this purpose, to this test I am on the brink of failing.

“I like cigars. You like them?” I hold the case out to her and she runs her hands along them.

“I prefer joints.” She produces one from behind her ear, tightly rolled. I light it for her and she smokes and gazes out of the window. “You sure you don’t mind running by my apartment first?”

“I’m surprised you are allowing me to see where you live,” I answer.

“You won’t know exactly. Plus I plan to have your driver park way down the road from the actual location. Is that understood?” She asks the driver who nods.

“Why do you do this?” I ask.

“Do what?”

“Any of it. Stripping, an escort who doesn’t fuck?”

“Why else? For the money.”

“No, there’s another reason. I can tell. A girl like you has other means of making money.”

“Do you know this or are you assuming?”

“How would I know?”

“Sometimes people know things. It’s the whole reason they ask the question, because they know the answer.”

We drive for a while before I am made to wait for her again. I watch her walk up the street and disappear around a corner. I pull a case from beneath my seat and check my supplies. I breathe in and out. I stare at my fists, at the scars across the knuckles.

I take pains to remain nondescript. No visible tattoos, a simple hairstyle. Unremarkable clothing. An unassuming demeanor. Cardboard character, direct eye contact. There’s a laundry list of ways to suppress suspicion and remain forgettable. I feel like I’m becoming more memorable by the moment with this woman, however, and I take a deep breath as I recall her staring at my fists with interest.

“I brought you a sandwich. I made it earlier before work. I don’t want it go to waste while I’m gone.” She hands it to me before she slides back into the car. She brings her scent back with her, stronger since she’s walked into her home. It fills the car. “Eat it or I’ll be offended.”

She takes a tentative bite of her own, watches me eat mine. She slides her boots off and sits Indian style. She has removed her wig to reveal a short pixie hair cut that suits her well. She talks about inane things, and makes note that it is in fact meaningless chatter that she uses to soothe her dates.

“It’s making me nervous,” I tell her. “You speak with more substance than anyone I’ve been around in a while yet you call it meaningless. I fear what you talk about with those you’re close to.”

“I’m not close to anyone so I don’t know what I would talk about other than this really. I think this empty chatter is becoming my conversation.”

She presents a passport at the airport. I ask to see it after we board the plane and read the stamps. She is well traveled. She looks considerably younger in her passport photograph. She’s been to Glasgow. We speak of a café downtown where I reveal to her I lost my virginity in the kitchen, among dirty dishes and the incessant buzz of flies. She says she likes the turkey sandwich they serve there.

I try to veer her conversation away from the things I already know of her because I don’t trust myself to present a blank face while she speaks, but I fail and eventually she begins to speak of her time in New York. “You won’t believe this, but I worked for an arms dealer in New York. You don’t look surprised.”

“Nothing surprises me,” I say as I pass her the glass of wine the flight attendant brings.

“Am I boring you?”

“No, of course not.”

“Well, I worked for this arms dealer. He was the son of this crazy Nigerian mobster and this quiet Jewish woman from Manhattan. They were still married, and it was the weirdest thing to see them together.”

“Did they know he was an arms dealer?”

“Yes, he came upon the job through his father‘s contacts. He was the quintessential a rich kid. I mean his dad was really rich. I knew the father was, or had been a mobster because he told me so but you couldn’t tell from looking the man. He looked like a librarian. Anyway, I speak on their wealth because he by no means needed the money that dealing arms provided, but he was one of those rich kids who liked to taste the wild side. Know what I mean?”

“Yes, I know.”

“Well I kept his books. He made so much money. He didn’t pay me much but I liked the excitement. Get this, his mother knew a dean at Columbia, and since her son and I were friends she got my tuition waived. Had she not I wouldn’t have been able to go there.”

“Were you poor growing up?”

“Yes, very. But it wasn’t so bad. My parents were great. My mom was an artist, my father was the super for the building where we lived. They died in a car accident when I was sixteen.”

“I’m sorry,” I say. I call for another glass of wine. I think of being mean. I think of being cold. That’s me usually, it’s the way to operate. Be mean and cold and aloof. Stop any designs of relating to anyone. See the skin and the bone and look no deeper. It’s so easy, typically. I don’t answer questions about myself, it keeps the distance intact.

“What about you? What was your life like?”

“ I don’t like talking about myself,” I say.

“Why, because it might give you some personality if you do? That was mean I’m just kidding. You have plenty of personality. I see you stuffing it down at every turn. What a life to lead, hiding yourself.”

“We can’t all be exhibitionists, can we?” I say.

“I suppose we can’t,” she says dreamily, sipping her wine.

“Why do you use your real name to strip?” I ask, then I regret it.

“What, is Astrid not a good stripper name?”

“I’ve heard better,” I say as I look at her head on, another mistake. She smiles.

“Well, I’ve always used my real name. I never understood the whole mentality that strippers have, that they’re creating this alter ego with these comical names. I mean, I guess I do understand but it just isn’t for me. I’m Astrid Martin. I strip. Me. Not some sultry other side of me. It’s me the whole time.”

“You close your eyes the entire time.”

“I like it that way. I dance better when I’m not watching people watch me.”

“Do you like stripping?”

“Do you like your job?” She asks quickly.

“I love it,” I say. “I’m good at it, and it fulfills something within me. I haven’t been challenged by it before. Things change everyday I guess.” We enter a patch of rough air and she grabs my wrist, smiles at me when I flinch away from her touch.

“Sorry,” she says, “I think I’m getting on your nerves.”

“Not at all, you just caught me by surprise. And, I’m really not the best with planes.”


“No, when you grabbed me I was using a trick I taught myself to help deal with flying.”

“What’s the trick?”

I hesitate for a moment. “I picture a beautiful woman in my bed, naked from the waist up, simple cotton panties on. I imagine that she’s waiting for my flight to touch down, and I imagine that she has no doubt that I’ll land safely.”

“Does that work?”

“It used to,” and it did, before she became my standard, my image of beauty. She has invaded me. Knocked things asunder. It isn’t her beauty. Beauty is common and boring even. As the Polish man said, she is charming. She burrows beneath the skin and her voice reminds me of a time when women were coy prizes to be won, if ever a time existed outside a black and white film.

I will evade her charms, however. I’ve never had to do it before. I am cold inside. I was a blank page when I stepped off the plane and thought only of my next assignment in Los Angeles as the limo driver took me to Rotund on the Boardwalk. This was to be a blip on the course of my life, of my career. Go to Ohio, find the girl. Bring her to Madison. Meet him in Madison.

The plane makes a rough landing and Astrid shrieks. A few people turn to her and give her pleasant smiles. They too are moths to her inferno. “Sorry,” she says again. I pull her bags from the baggage claim. She walks behind me, mentions the chill in the air and the smell of frying food on the breeze. We stop at a sandwich shop that is down the road from the hotel. She orders for me before I can protest. I eat my turkey on rye, the best I have ever tasted, and she picks at her chef’s salad.

“You’re like me,” she says after she convinces me to walk to the hotel rather than call a car. “Your cell phone never rings.”

“This is true, it’s by design.”

“Right back at you,” she says. “So you never told me what you do exactly, or was that on purpose?”

“It was on purpose. I’m nothing but a retired boxer who now sates his thirst for violence in more lucrative ways.” I smile to show it is a joke.

“That sounds scary.”

“It’s life,” I say.

“Is that what’s the matter with your hands, what caused the scars?”

“Yes and no. I bare knuckle boxed so I doubt they’ll ever lose that knobby, swollen look. The scar tissue is from something else entirely.”

We walk in silence the rest of the way to the hotel. The front desk is of the same seamless piece of marble as the floor. The receptionist is tall and pale with green eyes that she uses to appraise both of us openly. We’re in Madison after all. I hand her a key, a charming touch in a world where most hotels use key cards. She tucks the key in her bra and I follow her into the elevator.

“I don’t like elevators,” she says. “They make me want to climb the walls.” I picture this and laugh. I haven’t laughed in so long the sound is strange to my ears. She smiles at me. “How old are you? I only ask because you’re one of those people where you can’t tell. You could be in your early thirties. You could be in your early forties or anywhere in between”

“Thirty was a long time ago, I’ll say that,” I answer. I walk behind her and drop her bags at the door to her room.

“Will you come in, keep me company? Make sure no one’s hiding in the shadows.”

“There aren’t any shadows. It’s midday,” I say.

“There are always shadows,” she says. “Just stay while I unpack.”

I sit in a chair by the door. She picks up the dress and holds it against her. She runs her hand along the diamond choker sitting on a white velvet cloth on the dresser. “You weren’t kidding?” She says, turning to me. I had been kidding, but sometime between the limo ride and the plane trip I determined that she was deserving of the gesture, and I made it happen.

I tense when she pulls off her sweater, then her jeans. She drops the dress over her head and then presents her back to me so that I can zip her up. I do so with my hands shaking so badly she laughs and squeezes them in her own.

“When I worked for the arms dealer,” she says holding the choker out to me. “We dated for a short time.”

“What happened?” I ask, clasping the necklace.

“I dumped him–and quit after he made a sale I didn’t appreciate.”

“What was it about the sale?”

“Well, honestly it was silly of me to react the way I did. He was an arms dealer so I should’ve known his morals were screwed and I honestly had no room to judge since I was working for him,” she says. Her look is far away as she smooths the dress over her hips. “There‘s genocide occurring in Darfur, you heard about it?”

“Yes,” I say. I watch her revolve in front of the full length mirror. She takes my hands and places them on her breasts.

“Stop shaking. The lap dance is over and you can touch my breasts.”

“I thought you said no weird stuff.”

“What’s weird about this? You’re paying enough. We can touch. Anyway, the Janjaweed, ever heard of them?”

“The Arab’s who claim supremacy in Sudan. The side with the government support, right?” I say. Of their own volition my hands fall to her waist. I squeeze it and release a flow of breath that I feel like I’ve held for years.

“Exactly. Well the Janjaweed have key members of course. One of them had a liaison in New York. He contacted the arms dealer for weapons. Because of the sum offered the arms dealer complied.” She pulls the dress over her head and walks to the closet, hangs it up.

She keeps the necklace on, sits on the bed and unzips her bag. She wears only a glittering G-string and the diamond choker. She removes tiny pieces of clothing from her bag and stacks them gingerly. “The Janjaweed are committing genocide on a large scale. The arms dealer sold a billion dollars worth of AK-47s to the agents of a genocide. I couldn’t be a part of that. Things have only escalated in the years since it began and he helped urge it along for money.”

“You fancy yourself an activist?”

“By no means. I wear diamonds and we know how they‘re mined,” she places her fingers on the choker. “I love diamonds, a girls best friend, all that. No I’m no activist. I have a shred of compassion for the matters of the world but I’m fully a product of a capitalist civilization, only vaguely concerned with the inner workings of societies I will never fully understand. However I couldn’t actively participate in such a thing. That was too close for comfort.”

“I can imagine.”

“Do I have time for a nap?” She asks, lying back on the bed.

“Yes, I’ll call your room in a bit to wake you.”

I enter my room, release a breath. I take off my shirt, drop my pants to get comfortable. I avoid my reflection in the mirror on the wall. There is a ritual to this, one I follow without fail with hopes that going through the motions will bring me back to the task at hand and erase the doubts eating away at my resolve.

I open my bag and remove my supplies, set them at ready on the bed. I spread plastic sheeting across the floor. I cover the windows in thick black cloth that shuts out the light. Expensive hotel rooms are soundproof. I place a chair in the center of the room, a coil of rope on the seat.

I do one thousand push-ups in the center of the room. I am dripping sweat onto the plastic by the time my arms are too weak to continue. I finally glance in the mirror, look at the scar across my chest, hold my knuckles to the reflection and look at the scars there. I set my other supplies on the dresser, the case that contains them closed until the exact moment its contents are needed. I set up the camera and tripod in the corner of the room.

She doesn’t wait for my call. Her voice on the line is still tinged with sleep. She invites me over for a drink and a bath. I dress and knock on her door. She is dressed in a typical skimpy stripper ensemble that still manages to do the trick in a unique way. “I made your drink already. The bath water is ready,” she says.

I take a sip of my whiskey sour. I shake my head at how perfect it tastes.

“You coming?” she says from the bathroom. I enter and she is naked, the bubbling water obscures any details. She is sipping a glass of something amber and she lifts a foot from the water to point a manicured toe at me. “Disrobe.”

“No weird stuff,” I say smiling.

She smiles back and says in a sober voice, “expressions of happiness look strange on your face.”

“Some might say you’re a little too observant for your own good,” I say. I remove my pants and underwear first, because I feel some need to not appear shy. I slide into the water and pick my drink up from the floor, take a sip. “You make these well,” I say.

“I do a lot of things well. So tell me about yourself, Lyndon.”

“I never told you my name,” I say.

“There are ways to find things out. I’m sure you know that. That’s not important. Tell me about yourself. You work for politicians. What does that mean exactly?”

“I do things for them. Specific things that others do not have the stomach for.”

“Is that so?” she shifts in the bathtub, she drifts over to me and sits on my lap. I feel her against me and I will away any reaction because she will then have the upper hand. I am but a man. She has taught me that I am but a man. “The arms dealer. He’s running for office.” The words sound dull in the bathroom, and her eyes meet mine head on. “You know him?”

“What’s his name?”

“Onyale Farook. Running for State Represenative or something. Something big but not very. Maybe that’s not the title of the position he‘s going for, I‘m not sure, but it’s something that will allow him to sneak his way up into higher office eventually.”

“I don’t know him,” I say. She leans against me, lies her head on my chest and her breath tickles my skin.

“You’ve got a lot of scars. A lot. The ones on your knuckles are the worst. I wouldn’t have known that you had this under your clothes. You seem simpler when you’re dressed. Like a person who never toes the line.”

“Who says I toe the line?”

“It’s clear now that you have. Simple people don’t have scars like this.” She kisses me and I stiffen. I moan against her lips and shudder beneath her. My life flashes before my eyes, which is strange because I’m not dying. The horror of it all. The silent nights. The prayers I used to say back when I thought my constant sinning was only temporary. I remember something someone said to me. Someone called me heartless. A few people said even worse things.

“Your heart is beating so fast,” she says against my lips.

Someone once said that I was immovable as they placed bills in my pocket, back before I required wire transfers. I once, a long time ago, became aroused by the pained whimpers that escaped a victim’s mouth.

“Where are we going tonight?”

“Dinner,” I say, pulling away from her. “With some important people.”

“Should we be getting ready? It’s nearly seven.”

“We should,” I lift my hands from the water and palm her neck. It is small, delicate. I touch a birthmark on her right breast. I sigh. I run my hand through her hair and it stands straight up. Something stings behind my eyes.

“Are you about to cry?”

“No, something in my eyes.”

“What? An eyelash, let me see.” She leans forward and pulls each lid down, looks close. I grab her neck and kiss her, I tear at her lips and she is limp in my arms, pliant. She allows it. I’m hard again and she touches it, gives it a mere three strokes and I come. I feel ashamed instantly. I feel the line has been crossed and I feel sick. I rise from the water and leave the bathroom.

“Knock on my door when you‘re ready,” I say before I leave the room.

In my room I sit on the bed. I hold my head in my hands. There’s nowhere to go from here. She jacked me off because I’m paying her. She doesn’t have any feelings beyond that. I can use that knowledge to get through this. She’s a glorified hooker. She strips. I don’t respect strippers. I don’t even particularly like them. I can’t like them for all that I’ve done to them. I have to maintain that they deserve the things I do. I have to tell myself that the powerful men who hire me have reason to want them dead.

One can’t eat their own bullshit, however.

I leave the room, take the elevator to the top floor. I knock. “What’s the problem?” He asks. He is smoking a cigar, the room is full of men, the type of men that are constantly holding dark secrets over each other’s heads while committing atrocities that certain classes of people can’t fathom or stomach. There is a projector set up. The image it casts shows my bed, the plastic on the floor. My bag of supplies.

“There’s been a change of plans.”

“I doubt it. I haven’t changed them,” he says with a smile. “Kill the bitch while we watch. These men have paid good money to see such a thing. Two birds with one stone. I plan to be a Senator one day. How can I do that with her walking around knowing everything I’ve done?”

It’s easy to massacre the unsuspecting, and that’s the only truth. Men with their hands on guns are hard to beat to the kill. Men with any idea of the intent of their unexpected guest will always get the jump.

I blow Farook’s brains across a Monet reproduction on the wall. The other men do not reach but scramble for cover, and before they find it I open them up as well and then there is the silence that I relish. I talk to myself for a moment in the room. I look at the carnage and a calm that I have not known since Astrid descends upon me. I unplug the projector and take it with me.

In my room I repack the bag. I pull up the plastic and fold it up. I am not above what I was asked to do, but I am, however, above doing it to Astrid. She isn’t someone to disembowel for the camera. She is someone to take to dinner. To wine and dine. Someone who I’ll return to Ohio with a heavy heart in my chest.

“You in there?” Her voice drifts through the door after her knock. I open it and she’s standing there with a wad of bills in her hand. She stuffs them in the pocket of my button up. “With no money between us we are a new couple enjoying the wonders of the charming Midwestern town of Madison,” she says with a smile.



SLICE: A Return to Honesty

I wrote this in 2011, happened to read it today and didn’t hate it too much. Thought I’d post it so eyes other than mine might experience it. Enjoy.


Joining the force was a thing done on a whim. Not much thought about it at all. Walking down the sidewalk below the precinct it occurred to him that he needed a change. He climbed the steps and strolled confidently though the metal detectors.

The desk sergeant was as old as his mother would’ve been. She flashed him a warm smile as she handed him a booklet that outlined the steps one needed to take to join the next police academy class. She chatted with him a bit. She told him that her son was preparing to go into the next class. He’d nodded politely as she spoke and then walked three blocks back to his apartment.

He sat on his fire escape with his laptop and read about both general and specified details of the law enforcement career on the internet.

A few months later he stood in a breezy gymnasium dressed in a pair of Toledo PD issued shorts and T-shirt, his heart racing. He was impressed by the dexterity he was forced to awaken from reserve. This academy was no joke. He was panting, nearly threw up where he stood after the obstacle course. The written test had been a walk in the park compared to this.

At home that night with ice on his knee caps he thought of his day. A whim. A cop. He thought about how he’d harbored convictions once, and how they’d long ago been sapped by the realities of life and the truth of his nature. Now he was a leaf on the breeze, appearing to twist this way and that.

The next morning he was paired with a girl with fire in her eyes. The type of girl who’d dreamed about being a cop for as long as she’d been alive, a girl who had things to prove and not enough time to do it in.

“I’m Pam,” she said holding out her hand, which he took and shook with his eyes on hers.

“Pam Stark. You’re Grier, right?” She knew him.

“I’m Grier,” he answered.

“I hear you did this on a whim.”

“I did. Does that cheapen it all for you?”

“Maybe,” she said. They went through weight distribution exercises aimed at preparing women for combat with men. This particular exercise required closer contact than he felt comfortable with. He wished he’d been paired with one of the stocky masculine women as Pam’s smooth, pliant flesh, heavy breasts and striking beauty were a distraction and he wanted to do well.

At the end of their exercises she handed him a water bottle and sat beside him. “You don’t act like this was a spur of the moment thing.”

“Just because I never thought through becoming a cop doesn’t mean I’m going to do it half-assed. There isn’t much in life I don’t give my all.”

“I totally read that in you,” she said with a sober expression.

The next day they gravitated toward one another when it came time to pair up. She was more subdued than the previous day, disclosed to him that she was having the type of cramping that Ibuprofen couldn’t touch. He took it easy on her and held her gently when it was time to grapple. She’d packed her lunch and shared her sandwich with him as she told him about her childhood, a period she wasn’t too far removed from as she was a mere twenty-three years old. She spoke with her hands, threw her head back when she laughed. Told him she felt better than she had that morning.

After class they went to an ice cream shop a couple of miles out of town so she could enjoy the motorcycle ride. She‘d never ridden on one before and removed her helmet once they hit a long stretch of road. She held him tightly and laughed into the wind.

He ordered a strawberry shake, she got sherbet. She laughed and talked while he nodded and enjoyed her enthusiasm. He felt cracked open. Raw enough to heal. He hadn’t expected Pam.

They graduated on a bright sunny August morning. They sat together during the ceremony, he taking in her delicious scent and she sneaking glances at him in the small spaces of time between speeches. He met her mother, her little brother and a boyfriend named Rob that looked him up and down as they shook hands.

At Pam’s insistence Grier joined the Stark family for a celebratory dinner at a local bistro. He felt uncomfortable the entire time. Relief came every so often when he would catch Pam casting him a brazen glance, glances that he returned. During the times she was engaged in conversation with Rob he simply guzzled his beer while hoping for a sharp intoxication that never came.

At home that night he reflected on his new profession as he stared at his uniform lying across his bed. He nearly laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. His genuine desire to show up and do well perplexed him slightly.

He lit a cigar when it got late and climbed on his bike. He cruised down to the waterfront and threw breadcrumbs in the water to the few remaining ducks. A group of boys passed him and hassled him for a cigarette, and then, for his bike. He responded with a flash of his knife, cocking it just right so that they could all catch sight of the moonlight glinting off the razor sharp blade.

He climbed back on his bike when the breeze became more aggressive, drove home with the radio on and another cigar in his mouth. At home in bed he thought only of Pam.

Three days later he dressed for his first shift. His uniform was pristine, his haircut immaculate and his face was clean shaven and youthful looking. He felt good, calm, ready.

He saw Pam talking to a female officer outside the women’s locker room not long after he arrived at the precinct. His plan was not to linger with her, to simply nod and wave as he passed by on his way to meet his senior officer, but she grabbed his arm.

“Isn’t this exciting Wally?” She had taken to calling him by his first name sometime during their sensitivity training. He liked the way she said it so much that when he was alone he would sometimes imagine the sound of her voice and the look of her lips when she said it.

“It’s exciting,” he said. He was standing stock still so that she wouldn’t have any excuse to remove her hand from his shoulder.

“Pam you ready to go?” a woman asked. She was older, seasoned. She eyed Pam in an exasperated way as if put off by her enthusiasm.

Grier cleared his throat, “take good care of her Officer O’Grady,” he said.

“Hopefully she’ll be okay to take care of herself, that’s the whole point after all,” the woman replied. Pam shrugged her shoulders at him and watched him over her shoulder as she walked away. Grier watched her too, worry settling in his stomach in response to the nervousness he detected in her.

His senior officer was a salt and pepper haired man named Dime Spencer who propped his hand on his sidearm as he talked. In the cruiser he told Grier things he said he wished his training officer had told him on his first days. Grier listened intently and took a liking to the man despite himself. He was acquiring a lot of acquaintances, a bit of unease nagged at him.

They answered a domestic disturbance call after lunch. Officer Spencer stood back when Grier became entangled with the boyfriend of the victim. The man was at least two times his size, hefty, belligerent. His girlfriend squealed from behind Spencer when Grier maneuvered the man to the concrete and stuck a knee is his neck.

“I know a natural when I see one, and you my boy are a natural,” Spencer said once they were back in the cruiser with the boyfriend bleeding in the backseat, subdued and panting hard. Grier pondered this statement, he wasn’t exactly a natural. He met the perpetrator’s eyes in the rearview mirror. The man looked away quickly.

He filled out the proper paperwork at the station and walked the perp to a holding cell. He stood outside after and smoked a cigarette with a few other rookies who were jealous of his first day action. He walked the station hallways and looked for Pam and when he didn’t see her or her training officer anxiety crept into his stomach.

While he sat on his bike after his shift and combed the faces coming and going from the precinct, he recalled the time Pam had popped up at his house unexpectedly, a time when he’d almost laid himself bare before her. He remembered it clearly because it was one of only times in his life that he’d been shaken, nervous.

He’d been in his backyard running a pedal operated knife sharpener, an array of sharp things like the ax in his hands scattered on the lawn around him. He performed the task of sharpening his knives, blades and axes with a reverence most reserved for meditation or religious rights. He reveled in the sight of the blade sparking against the flint, he relished the smell of metal against metal and ended each sharpening by testing the blade against his fingertips. As a result his fingertips were webbed with scars.

He’d been slouched in his seat with the ax blade held up to the sky, the sun glinting off the razor sharp edge. He’d felt breathless at the sight and then just beyond it he’d made out her form approaching, outlined by the sunlight.

“What are you doing Wally?” She’d asked, dropping her purse on the patio table and sitting on the grass beside a mace-like weapon he’d picked up overseas.

“What’s it look like,” he’d answered, voice steady.

“Okay well you’re sharpening stuff. But I’ve never seen so many—weapons. What do you use all of these for?”

“This and that,” he said looking down at her, using his hand to shade his eyes from the sun.

“Way to be mysterious.”

“Not being mysterious,” he’d stood and picked up a few of the knives, the ones whose blades were still stained. He walked them into the garage and dropped them into the wooden box where he stored them. He turned to face her, as she was on his heels.

“You look, different somehow.”

“Unkempt?” he’d asked.

“Feral,” she’d said with a small bark of a laugh. “Tell me about yourself, Wally, tell me things I don‘t know yet.”

“What’s to know?” He’d advanced on her, wrapped an arm around her waist and pressed her against the wall of the garage. “You know everything you need to. You already run from me, if I tell you anymore…”

“There’s nothing that you could tell me Wally that would make me treat you any differently. You can trust me,” she’d said, looking up at him.

He’d wanted to tell her anything, everything, all of it, but in the end he just swiped a tendril of hair behind her ear before she managed to peel herself out of his embrace. “Do you know that, Wally? That you can trust me?”

“I’m certain that I can trust you. There‘s nothing to tell, and ever if there were Rob is the D.A.’s son,” he’d said conspiratorially.

“Wally, as if I would ever tell Rob anything you told me in confidence.”

“I know you wouldn’t tell. Luckily there‘s nothing to tell in the first place.”

“Suit yourself. Tough mysterious Wallace Grier.”

“Thanks, that’s what I was going for, tough and mysterious,” he’d said, a smile just beyond his reach.

“Finally,” he said to himself once he saw her emerge from the precinct alone. He’d planned to just assure himself that she was okay and leave, but he found that he couldn’t move. He needed more than just to see her. He got that raw feeling again when their eyes met from across the parking lot. A smile spread across her face and she bounded over to him.

“I looked for you everywhere. Some people are going to a bar downtown. Will you go with me?”

He fixed his mouth to decline the invitation but she wasn’t having it.

“Come on Wally, I know you don’t ‘do bars’ but it’s me going with you. Come on,” she said. He hadn’t the self-control to pass up time with her and with only a little more urging, he agreed. While she protested his lack of a helmet from behind the one he‘d insisted she wear, he smoked a cigarette and navigated the thick evening traffic.

When he pulled up he regretted his decision instantly. The place was clearly a cop bar, and while he was now a cop himself it still felt strange sitting in a bar with tens of them with loud music playing, alcohol flowing.

The place was crawling with rookies and eventually they all migrated together and drank as one. Beer for beer at first, then mixed drink for mixed drink, and finally shot for shot. Pam was clumsy on her feet when she pulled on his arm and made her second ludicrous request of him that night. She asked him to dance.

The dance floor was illuminated by hanging multicolored lanterns and the music had become more mellow as the night wore on. She laid her head on his shoulder while he sipped from his beer. He was an okay dancer, an actual natural since he hadn‘t danced a day in his life. She clung to him, and when her nearness overwhelmed him he pulled away from her. “You still with Rob?” He asked her.

She nodded, looking up at him wide eyed. He pulled her close again, drained his beer.

They danced a bit longer. He refused to continue after a pop song came on that was so ubiquitous it pulled nearly the entire population of the bar to the dance floor. The tightly packed area pressed everyone in too close to him. He felt like he was suffocating. He grabbed Pam’s arm and pulled her out into the bar’s quiet courtyard. It was decorated in a generic smattering of colored lanterns, fire pits and pastel streamers that would fit any upcoming summer celebrations. The music from inside was a dull and palatable beat. He lit up a cigarette but didn‘t take a drag.

“It’s so peaceful out here,” she said. “I bet you love it.”

“I do,” he replied, not at all surprised at how perceptive she was when it came to him. Not perceptive enough, he figured.

She leaned against him, her head on his chest. He looked down at her, she returned his gaze. He flicked away his burning cigarette and kissed her. She moaned and linked her arms around his neck. He‘d never felt her lips before, and it was without a doubt better than he‘d even imagined.

“So this is what this comes to, an affair?” he asked a little later as they walked back to his bike. The wind was warm, smelled like damp earth.

“It is whatever it turns out to be,” Pam said. They returned to the precinct parking lot for her car. One moment he was leaning over talking to her through her window and the next he was yanking her pants to her ankles and burying his face between her legs. That was as far as he let it go, anymore and what was proving to be an acute crush would mutate into the sharp ache of obsession.


Time passed and the excitement of rookie-dom was ushered out by routine and the constant stress of the job. He’d been permanently partnered with Spencer who’d taken a liking to him and requested him when his own partner opted for early retirement.

A heat wave hit and crime frothed in the streets. Spencer did more than touch his sidearm for reassurance, they’d both been forced to pull it out more times than Grier could count. Pam had said, in one of the few moments they could steal to talk, that she’d had calmer patrols and was happy for it.

Pam. There’d been little time to continue what they’d started. They were exhausted most days. Worked opposite shifts. Opposite days. When they were able to steal a moment or two they talked mostly. Sex never came up and the short-lived affair fizzled. He longed for her however and had designs to make his desires known when he saw her next, but when Grier got word that she’d gotten engaged to Rob and was going into overdrive planning her wedding, he figured there was no reason to do so.

“Things are tough on the force,” Spencer said to him one day as Grier spotted the older man’s bench press. “Relationships get hard to maintain.”

“We never had a relationship, not the kind people thought we did,” Grier said.

“I never thought anything of it but that you two seemed very at ease, comfortable around each other. I’d often see you two in the cafeteria, talking.”

“I love talking to her. We don’t hang outside of work as much anymore. Yesterday, though, she stopped by. We had a few beers and she was off before the sun could even begin to set.”

“She’s trying to do the right thing I imagine. You, stop focusing on it. She’ll come around if she’s meant for you. In the meantime we have quite a few long days ahead of us. The department trimmed a lot of fat after that corruption thing at the downtown precinct. You ready for this? It can get dicey.”

“Yeah, and have you noticed how hot the days have been? I fried an egg on my engine block yesterday just to see.”

“You eat the egg?”

“Of course,” Grier answered, “Pam dared me.”


“Drop your weapon!” Grier yelled. He tried to keep his eye on the man, plot the trajectory of his bullet if he made the shot.

“Listen to him! Drop your weapon,” Pam’s voice boomed over her bullhorn. She was covered by her open cruiser door and her partner had gone around back to block the exit.

A bullet had struck Spencer in the arm seconds after they arrived creating a flesh wound that bled while he held his gun trained on the suspect.

“I’m going to shoot him, Spence, he’s already hit you. I have reason,” Grier said.
“You don’t know what it is to kill someone, Grier. You don’t get it yet,” Spencer replied.
“Maybe not, but–” Grier’s words were cut short by the pop of the man’s gun, the sound of a bullet hitting the windshield of Pam’s cruiser.

Pam wilted and slid to the ground just as another shot rang out. It too hit nothing of note but was getting closer to its intended target. The bullet from Grier’s gun, however, hit its target the first time, squarely between the eyes. Grier advanced to check the damage. He nudged the body with his boot and then dropped to his haunches, put a gloved middle and index finger to the man’s neck.

“He’s dead,” he said over his shoulder.

“Make the calls guys,” Spencer said to the other officers as they pulled up and stepped out of their cruisers.

The rest of the day droned on with little fanfare. He filled out a ridiculous amount of paperwork and recounted the day’s events to a constant flow of superiors. Through it all, above all else, he was agitated because he hadn’t had a chance to speak to Pam. Things became hectic once the body hit the ground. She might have even been avoiding him.

He searched the station before he left and asked her partner her whereabouts, but he had no clue. He was defeated when he climbed onto his bike. He had to see her.


A hot bath and a cigar had become his way to unwind since joining the force. Even today on one of the most stressful days he’d had, it was doing the trick. He relished the silence that was broken only by the crackle of the bubbles in his bath being eaten by the air.

The knock didn’t come until the water had cooled considerably. He took his time climbing from the tub and drying off through two more rounds of knocks. He made his way to the door and pulled it open.

“You make a habit of answering the door in your towel?” She asked.

“And you seem to make a habit of showing up to people’s houses unannounced,” he said. She looked hurt for a moment but she stepped through the threshold anyway. He felt slightly irritated that she hadn’t tried to find him at the station to let him know that she was okay.

She peeled away her khaki rain coat. She was dressed up, heels, tight red dress, diamonds draped across her considerable cleavage.

“What’s with the get-up?” He asked as he lit a cigarette and took a seat on the couch.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. She sat beside him and her scent wafted up to his nose with a ferocity that was almost strange. He turned and looked her in the eye, and then she kissed him full on. He resisted for a second. She couldn’t just do him this way, when she wanted him she’d be with him, when she didn’t she ignored him, rang her wedding planner’s phone off the hook. He resisted and reared back in his seat only to have her mount him.

“Stop it Pam, not while you‘re still with him,” he said. He held his cigarette away, trying not to burn her. He forced his other arm to remain on the arm of the couch, but soon, against his better judgment he returned her kiss with a vigor born of an entire year of longing. Her body began to shake against his, as if she were crying.

“What the fuck is up with you, Pam?” He asked, pushing her away and holding her by the shoulders. She stared at him with her eyes wide, her dark hair tussled, her lips swollen and flush from the force of their kiss.

“Wallace Grier, you saved my life,” she leaned in to kiss him again. He barely jumped when his cigarette burned down to his fingers. He tore his lips from hers and finally embraced her, his ear pressed against her breasts, which were warm and soft and radiated with her scent. Her heartbeat was fast and strong in his ear.

“I didn’t save your life, I‘m a cop, you‘re a cop. I had your back,” he said softly. He leaned into her touch as she held the back of his head, kissed his hair.

“You saved my life Wally. No matter how you try to downplay it,” she said pulling away from him and fixing her big brown eyes to his own. She slid her dress from her shoulders. He lit another cigarette to take his mind off the magnificent sight before him. It was almost too much to handle. He stared through the window at the ink black sky for a beat, calmed himself.

“You’re getting married in a week,” he said.
“No, I’m not,” she said. “I tried to ignore it, but I haven‘t felt the same about Rob since I met you, Wally.”

“It was all my fault, huh?” He laid back in his seat, gripped the back of her neck and took in the sight of her sitting on his lap, her expression more open than it had ever been. He wanted to remember this moment in case something went south after tonight and he never had the opportunity again.

“It was all your fault, Wally, your fault that I’m sitting here half dressed waiting for the right moment to ask you to make love to me.”

“Make love to you?”

“Yes. Make love to me.”

He stubbed out his cigarette and stood, gathered her in his arms and did as he was told.


“I left my rehearsal dinner to come be with you,” she said. He heard her voice through her chest, his ear again pressed against her breasts. “I couldn’t sit there celebrating marrying a man that I don’t love.”

“You love me?” He asked looking up at her.

She ran a hand through his hair, smiled at him. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

He flashed her a quick smile and sat up in bed to light his cigarette before he walked into the bathroom to pee. He left the door open and watched her as he did so. She stretched and tousled her hair, checked her cell phone and then rolled over onto her stomach, watched him as he shook and flushed.

“You have a lot of scars,” She said.

“Don’t we all?” he asked with a smirk.

Once he was beneath the covers again she sighed, laid her head on his chest. “I choked yesterday. I just couldn‘t shoot that asshole, even after he shot at me all I could do is cower like a, like a civilian. I don’t like being a cop as much as I thought I would. Half the time I’m scared shitless and the other half I’m doing paperwork, and then as I’m doing the paperwork I realize how much I like it because I’m not scared shitless anymore. I don‘t know if I can do this, Wally. I don‘t know if I‘ll ever have the nerve to actually shoot someone. Some cop I turned out to be.”

“You’re a good cop, Pam, and it’s okay to be scared. That was the first time you’d been in a situation like that. Lucky for you, I have a trick for you to use when in that situation.”

“A trick, huh? Lay it on me.”

“The trick is simple, the trick is logical.”

“Go on,” she said.

“The trick is to know with every fiber of your being that the person aiming his firearm, jabbing his knife, readying his fists, is going to kill you if you don’t stop him. If you don’t kill him first.”

“Well of course I know that.”

“Do you? Do you really know it deep inside? It’s easy to assume we all realize the stark fragility of our existence, but we don’t. We can be rubbed out just, that,” his fingers performed an emphatic snap, and Pam looked up at him with an unreadable expression on her face. “We’re cops, we often find ourselves in situations where a person is actively trying to kill us. It’s us or them, and I’ve always known it will never be me.”

“So this trick works for you?” She asked.

“I’ve stopped having to use tricks by now.”
“What do you mean?”

“I can’t explain it,” he said.

“You can’t or you won’t?”

“Take your pick.” He sat up in bed, put his feet on the floor, thought of Des Moines. He looked at her over his shoulder when she sighed.

“Tell me a secret,” she said.

He felt reckless. “I am absolutely obsessed with you,” he said, nary a smile on his lips.


Things only got more violent and volatile on the streets as the summer progressed. Grier got shot at enough that some evenings he felt shaken. Spencer increasingly voiced his desire for early retirement.

Pam had applied for and gotten a desk job and Grier was all too happy to see her safe in the precinct when he returned after a stressful day of patrol.

At night he regaled her with stories of the dangers he’d encountered, and while she often spoke of being disappointed with herself for becoming a desk jockey, she assured him that she felt more comfortable being merely around the action than directly involved. She expressed interest in getting a job in the evidence cage as the current officer was retiring in a few months. He made a mental note to do what he could to make that happen.

On many evenings she shared his baths and his cigars with him, her legs on either side of him as she lounged in the suds, or their bodies pressed together in the steam and candlelight.

They made love often and each time their bodies were so in sync that they seemed to move as one being, one hot pulsing thing. As the days passed his attraction to her blossomed and he began to get hard at the mere sight of her, be they in the station or spending the night together at one of their homes.

The boiler room in the basement of the station had once been used as the base for a cold case squad who had, surprisingly enough, solved all but two of the cold cases in existence and been disbanded. The room was now unused but remained furnished with a single brown suede couch that had seen its share of asses. Most importantly, it had a door that locked from the inside. They would steal moments to fuck there, his hands covering her mouth to stopper her moans as he stroked her against a wall or she rode him on the worn couch.

Before long he told her he loved her. He cooked for her many evenings and after he learned she was an accomplished cellist he urged her to play when they were alone. He would forego his bath ritual to watch her manipulate the instrument between her legs, her face a serene mask of concentration behind amidst the haze of his cigar smoke. He often wondered at his luck.

“How are you and Pam getting along?” Spencer asked one day as they made their way, sirens blaring, to a call on the docks.

“Fine. Perfect.”

“That good, huh?”

“Never had anything like it.”

“Well, me and the misses have “it”, I like to think.”

“How do I know if we have “it”, though?”

“Simple. Does she annoy you more than she makes you want to rip her clothes off?”

“That’s good, but it’s early yet for you two. When you look up one day far into the future and realize that she is really a pleasure to be around, that’s when you know.”

“Sounds cheesy,” Grier said. Everyone had their own definition of what love was, he supposed. He’d loved Pam from the moment he saw her. Everything else just fell into place.

The radio crackled to life, the dispatcher called their car.

“Yeah Macy, where is it?” Grier asked when Macy redirected them to a domestic disturbance call close-by.

“678 Grant,” she called back.

“What the fuck, repeat that address Macy,” Grier said.

“678 Grant. Get it on the GPS?” She asked.

“Got it,” Grier said, his throat tight.

“What’s the matter kid?” Spencer asked, slowing down the car to take a turn that would get them on the right path.

“That’s Pam’s place. She‘s off today.”

“Well let‘s haul ass.” Spencer smacked on the sirens, the lights. They blew through traffic lights, Grier clenched and unclenched his fists, thinking.

“You take the back, I’ll take the front,” Spencer barked when they pulled up and laid eyes on the scene. Pam’s car was parked crookedly at the curb, the driver’s side door hanging open. A woman with a dog came up to them.

“I called you all here. This guy grabbed her as soon as she stepped out of the car. Hit her in the face and she fell to the ground. She was screaming so loud–I called you guys soon as I could. I yelled out to him but he was so mad, I was scared to do anymore. He dragged her up the front steps to the porch, hit her again,” the woman shook her head, a look in her eye that turned Grier’s stomach. “He hit her hard, officer. No man should hit a women the way—”

Grier couldn’t stand still there a moment longer. He sprinted up to the front door and nudged it open, his gun poised.

“I said take the back!” Spencer whispered behind him.

“Don’t try to get me out the way,” Grier called over his shoulder as he inspected the house that he’d come to know so well. Not in the kitchen. Silence. The house smelled of her and with frantic, nearly clumsy steps he descended into the basement. There was a curse, and a gunshot lit up the moist dark space.

“Grier, you alright son!” Spencer called out. He was fine, the bullet hit the brick column behind him. He went down the rest of the way, spun around to take cover behind the brick column, nearly tripping over Pam’s rarely used barbell set.

“Don’t come down Spence this fucker’s firing wild,” he said after a few more shots rang out.

“I hurt her bad,” yelled out a voice marred by hysterical sobs. “I’m not going to jail, man, I‘m not going there!”

“Fuck, fuck!” Grier chanted, disoriented for a moment at the implication of the man’s words. Words spoken in a strained but familiar voice. It couldn’t be. “Rob, is that you you stupid fuck!” Grier yelled.

“Fuck you!” was the response. Rob. He recognized the voice. In the time that he’d known Pam he’d shared stiff conversation with the man on a few occasions before nearly getting into a physical altercation with him at a barbecue. They didn’t like one another much.

“Rob, is she breathing?” Grier called out, trying to get a feel for Rob’s proximity.

A light clicked on, Spencer yelled down “get your bearing’s Grier. We gonna get her out of here.”

“Both of you shut the fuck up! I’m running shit here!” A bullet hit the wall above Grier’s head, in the direction of the basement entrance where Spencer stood.

The shot gave Grier an idea of Rob’s position, however. The bullet came from behind him on his right. There was couch over there, a card table, a small television area. Bookshelf. Grier visualized it all. “Rob, where is Pam?”

“Beside me. We’re sitting down for a minute taking a breather. If she rests she’ll wake up.”

“What did you do to her, Rob?”

“I didn’t mean to, man, I love her and I didn’t mean to! But I’ve been calling her and calling her and she won’t answer, and the times I could catch up with her she wouldn’t listen to me! She’d tell me to leave her alone. This is her fault. She up and left me and then I found out she was with you! This is her fucking fault!”

His voice was drowned out by the sound of sirens and then a voice boomed over a bullhorn, imploring Rob to help things end peacefully. “Rob, is Pam, is she alive?”

“I don’t know,” he wailed. Grier didn’t like the anguish he heard in the man’s voice. He sounded as if she were dead.

“Is she dead Rob?”

“I hit her really hard and she passed out. And, I can’t feel the breath coming out her nose. I can’t feel her pulse.”

When he sprang from his hiding place and trained his gun on Rob’s shuddering form he was stunned into inaction. He became a proverbial deer in the headlights. Rob had beaten her to a pulp. She was a battered form crumpled on the couch, still and lifeless. Her beautiful eyes were swollen shut, her torn lips slightly parted, blood running down her chin, smeared across her mangled nose. No sooner had Grier cocked the hammer on his gun than he was grabbed from behind, restrained.

“He’s dropped his gun, Grier, you can’t shoot him. He’s unarmed!” Spencer yelled. Grier snatched free, held up his gun again and tried to take aim at Rob who now stood with his hands up, crying hysterically.

“I won’t let you do this to yourself!” Spencer yelled, grabbing him more roughly this time which caused the gun to fly from his hands and clatter to the floor. Though he felt imbued with a frightening amount of rage his mind was as clear as it had ever been, as it always was.

Once he realized he was no match for the group of cops that had come in to help Spencer restrain him, he went limp. They both watched as two officers cuffed Rob and another two checked the basement further to ensure that there were no other elements at play.

“Where are the fucking paramedics!” He screamed as soon as Rob was escorted from the basement. As if on cue two men came down the stairs with a gurney and shoulder bags that they wasted no time rummaging through as they shouted commands to one another.

He stood by steady on his feet as they worked on Pam, who despite their ministrations remained unresponsive. They shined lights into the whites of her eyes. They searched in vain for a pulse. It was not long before she was pronounced dead.

As the medic spoke the words a ringing unlike anything Grier had ever experienced filled his ears. He didn’t know he’d collapsed until Spencer caught him, dragged him from the basement into the too bright summer sun that shone on a world still damp from a quick episode of rain.

People spoke to him, but he heard only the ringing. His eyes were fixed on the car that held Rob captive, the lights on its roof revolving crazily. Only one thought took prominence through the shroud of his grief; and that was that before anything else, before all else, Rob would feel the strike of consequence tailored by the darkest reaches of his mind.


He sat in a too hot bath after Pam’s funeral with a cigar smoking between his trigger finger and his thumb. His many thoughts were clear yet conflicted. He’d slid a stop at the bar in between the cemetery and home. He was feeling the miserable drone of his old self creeping upon him.

He’d begun to doubt the very existence of whim. He’d joined the force on supposed whim, yet as a result his life had been irrevocably changed and then smashed to pieces he was too blind with anger to pick up.

No matter how much he tried to shove it from his mind, memories of the morning of Pam’s death met him at every turn, traipsed through any attempt he made at reverie.

They’d awoken in bed, the sun shining hard and ridiculous through the window so that they laughed about it for a moment. She’d thrust open the curtains, not a cloud in sight. She’d returned to bed bathed in a golden glow. He’d made love to her so hard his groin hurt when they finished.

He’d gotten that familiar feeling of recklessness she seemed to solicit in him and told her more than he’d meant to about life before whim dropped him on the 3rd Precinct. Her face had gone dark, then light again, dark. She’d averted her gaze from his as he’d uttered the last few details, the more recent things.

“I’ve got to think,” she’d said.

“About what?” He’d tried to keep the urgency from his voice. He’d never had less control over his emotions than at that moment. He’d wanted to leap on top of her, force her to be okay with all he’d told her.

“Wally, what do you mean about what? Everything you just told me!”
“You love me?”
“Why are you asking me that right now?”

“We’ve said it a million times in these months you can’t say it now?” He’d been a mess by then, snot and tears and sweat.
“Wally, stop! You–just dropped a fucking bomb on me! A bomb Wally!”

He’d watched her snatch on her clothes and grab her purse. At the door she began to cry, and when he leaned in for a kiss her lips barely touched his before she was gone.

He’d dressed for work with a blank mind. He’d told Spencer that things were great between them because for him, they were. He’d been confident that she would come back to him, that she would accept him. She’d been killed before he could be sure that he had not lost her, and that fact alone made him feel as if he were on the precipice of madness.

A knock on the door, he planned to ignore it until he heard Spencer’s voice calling his name. He got out of the bath and dried off, pulled on a pair of sweatpants.

“Man, I didn’t think you were gonna answer,” Spencer said, stepping through the threshold.

“I wasn’t going to, until I heard it was you.”

“I feel honored.”

Grier lit a cigarette and backed into the room, narrowly missing a collision with his coffee table. He imagined himself falling through the frosted plate glass, pictured shards of it piercing his body.

“You on something, Grier?” Spencer asked.

“I’m on nothing but booze and grief. I feel gutted. Ruined.” He was glad that he’d cried so much that he had no tears left to pair with the raw rasp of his voice.

“Calm down Grier.”

“I’m calm don’t I look it?”

“No, you look crazy. Should I call someone? Is there someone I can call?”

“Call Pam,” Grier said. He sat on the couch, took a long drag from his cigarette.


“I’m not going crazy, I know she’s dead. But understand, I am itching to do something. I’m not sure what it is yet.”

“Is it something bad, something illegal?”

“What is the law, Spence?”

“I don’t know how you mean.”

“A set of rules one can choose to follow lest he suffer the consequences of his dissent, such as confinement, fees, capital punishment. You don‘t fear any of those things, laws are rendered impotent. What’s more, no one‘s a criminal unless they get caught. Laws are again rendered ineffective because they can be successfully disobeyed and avoided by a skilled “criminal” so to speak.

“Spencer, I’m sure you understand, sure you see how a person can commit all sorts of crimes, do a wealth of heinous things and so long as they are never caught, they can walk through the world as pure as new snow. But it all comes full circle in the end, doesn‘t it? You always get what you deserve.”

“Relax, Grier. Maybe a doctor? You have a doctor I can call?”

“A few.” Grier went into his bedroom, slid on a pair of jeans, stared at a t-shirt Pam had brought him after attending a concert. It was a band he’d never heard of, but she’d played the music for him one night and he’d actually enjoyed it.

He couldn’t make the concert because of work, but she’d called him during and of course brought him the shirt. He ripped the shirt from his hanger and held it to his nose. She’d often slept in it and therefore he’d never washed it. He pulled it on.

He imagined it would be easy to get to Rob’s holding cell. He was a cop after all, and Rob, a cop killer. He slid his blade into the waistband of his jeans.

“Thanks for stopping by,” Grier said when he returned to the living room. He held the door open and thrust a hand out.

“Grier, think of your life, if your shit with her was so deep then don’t fuck her memory by doing something that would make her unhappy.”

“She can’t be unhappy, Spencer. She can’t be disappointed, she can’t be a thing because she’s dead.”


“Thank you for stopping by Spencer.”

“Revenge is for the stupid, the impulsive. Violent revenge, at any rate. Uphold the oath you made as a cop and let the courts take care of this. That’s what Pam would say, wouldn’t she? That girl was as good and pure as they came, and you don’t find that everyday. Honor her memory. Do the right thing, for her.” Spencer didn’t say anymore, and he closed the door behind him when he left.

She’d died wondering if he was the one. She’d died trying to decide whether she loved him enough to accept his past. Grier felt weak, his stomach dropped. He backed away from the door, fell against a bookshelf.

Honor her memory. She would want him to do the right thing. With Pam there had been no grey areas about things like this. She was no saint, but to him she had been perfect. To prove to her even in her death the gravity of his growth–for which she was largely responsible–he would do the one thing he never thought he would; forego the satisfaction of a swift act of revenge.


“So, you mean to tell me, all they‘re charging him with is manslaughter?” Grier asked Spencer as they sat at a hero stand on a breezy afternoon, sandwiches in hand.

“His father‘s the D.A., Grier, they made some claim about him being mentally unstable. His father’s friends in the D’A’s office were all too happy to accept that and recommended him for minimal jail time and psychiatric help. They say he just sits in his cell and mutters to himself.”

“Yeah his dad probably suggested that ploy. He’s crazy now huh? Didn’t he seem pretty sane to you when he was shooting at us in the basement? He offered a pretty sane explanation of why he went off the deep end too, if I remember correctly. What a piece of lying shit! Him and his fucking father.” He suddenly couldn’t control the sound of his voice. People around them began to stare and he stared back until they averted their gazes.

“Even if fortune decided to shine on me and Pam’s family and he does get some jail time he’ll probably get seven years. Ten max. Serve three for good behavior.”

“Grier–I wasn’t even going to tell you–”

“Why wouldn’t you have told me? It’s something I should know.”

“Because all this is based off of gossip! Things I’ve heard around the station. Things could go totally different at trial.”

“You think there’s going to be a trial? This has plea bargain written all over it,” Grier tried to calm his breathing. “So they’re just going to charge that he‘s emotionally unstable? Psychotic? Bullshit. Here’s what happened, and it’s a simple fucking saga about a completely sane asshole.”

“A simple saga, huh?” Spencer asked, his mouth full.

“Yes and it goes like this, a piece of shit gets mad when the best thing he knows he ever will have, did have, walks out of his life. He is weak minded, and can’t handle the anguish the realization brings. He attacks his ex in a frenzy and kills her. The end.”

“Yeah, but that’s not all as simple as it sounds,” Spencer said.

“No, it’s not. You’re right. It just sounds it. Especially when you consider my role in it all. She left their engagement dinner to be with me. I feel responsible, Spencer. So I feel torn apart, guilty, scared of what my world will end up being without her. It was all my fault in so many ways that I think of a new way everyday. Somehow, though, I take comfort in the fact that I‘m honoring Pam by not giving in to my anger. I wanted to kill him Spencer.”

“I know, son. But you can’t do that, it‘s wrong and it won‘t make you any less miserable.”

“Well I spend every moment of my life these days trying to convince myself of just that,” Grier said with a wry smile.


He took a deep breath and replayed the voicemail while he soaked in his bath.

The message began with a sniffle followed by a long sigh. “To answer your question, of course I love you Wally. I’ll love you forever. We need to relax together and talk this out, that’s what we’ll do. Maybe I’ll even break out the cello, you’ve made me fall in love with it again. We’ll have some wine and relax. Gonna run by home and grab that dress I was talking about, you know the one I said you’d like? Maybe later on this evening we could have dinner at that fancy place we went to that one time. Their steaks were so good. Remember you ordered two?” There was a pause, he heard movement as she navigated traffic, cursed under her breath. “See you in a bit, babe we‘ll talk some more. We’ll figure this all out.”

He took a long hard drag off his cigar and flung his phone across the room. It smashed, the battery slid out into the hallway. He’d not looked at his phone since she died. Preoccupation had knocked him flat. He’d worked his shifts in a haze through which he could only really feel regret, pain, sadness. He was lost.

While wallowing in grief strong enough to make him useless, passionless, she’d called him about a half hour before Macy had sent them to her home. If only he’d heard the voicemail earlier, it was the one thing that would have granted some sort of closure to a situation he didn’t think he’d ever fully recover from.

He climbed from his bath, wrapped a towel around his waist. He felt weak suddenly. Light headed. He leaned against the sink and stared at himself in the mirror. His eyes were bloodshot and had been since she died; he slept little these days.

He dressed and called his travel agent who arranged a red eye flight to Des Moines.


It was pure coincidence that he had the following two days off from work. A prime coincidence. He landed in Des Moines and visited Lassiter Bank. It sat in a field in the middle of nowhere and sand and sunlight had bleached the building to a blinding white.

He accessed his safety deposit box there and took its contents to his condominium downtown. He hadn’t seen the place since he’d left Des Moines two years previous. He turned to stare at his computer. It was covered in a thin layer of dust. There was a ledger on the desk beside it. Grier leafed through the pages, recalled everything as his eyes combed his nearly unintelligible scrawl.

He picked up his telephone; a land line that had undoubtedly rang much during his whimsical foray into law enforcement. He called a number he found in his cell phone contacts list and ten minutes later she arrived in a trench coat, her hair tucked under a hat. She arrived in a limousine that Grier had to pay to leave.

“Hello Wallace. Long time no see.” She removed her hat and tossed her hair around. Her walk spoke her familiarity with her surroundings. She inspected the place as if to rememorize it. She hummed to herself as she opened the refrigerator absently. “Completely empty,” she said to him. “So you did disappear, just like they said. This place looks deserted. What you been doing with yourself?”

“Living,” he said lighting a cigar and sitting beside her, thinking to himself that nothing had been whim at all.

“Quite well still, I see,” she said.

“I wouldn’t say that.”

“Last I head from you, you said you were leaving town for a bit. It’s been two years, Wallace. A bit isn’t two years.”

“Sorry sis. Life has a way…”

“You had to have left for a reason. You had it good here.”

“I needed a change.”

“Did you get it? The change I mean?”

“Yes,” he collapsed into himself for a second, nearly dissolved into tears. “Mia, yes, I found a change.”

“So where’ve you been, why’d you leave? I’m curious.”

He didn’t answer her. Didn’t think.

“Well you don’t have to tell me. I’m just glad to see you. Wish you would’ve gave me the keys to this place when you left. I could have used a place to stay.”
“You can always use a place to stay,” he replied.

“Speaking of-my room- I assume it’s in it’s former state?”

“As always,” he replied.

“Thanks Wallace. You’re the best brother in the world, I ever tell you that?”

“Yeah, last time you were here, needing a place to stay,” he said. When she was gone he opened the case, let his eyes drag across the assortment of shined, sharp, gleaming knives. He stared off into the distance, into the case, off into the distance again at the large man made pond just beyond his window.

Mia went grocery shopping and cooked Italian sausage and peppers, a meal his mother used to make for them whenever she was feeling good enough to get out of bed. They ate and talked. She asked him once more about his reasons for leaving Des Moines so abruptly two July’s ago, and he successfully skirted the issue.

After dinner, he sat for a few hours with the case across his knees, deep in thought. He’d changed. He felt something. Guilt. Fear? A rush of moral clarity? He wasn’t sure.

He lit cigar after cigar. He listened to the voicemail over and over because it told him everything he‘d ever needed to know. Pam had loved him inside and out. Loved his darkness. Loved his ever increasing light. He closed the case, went to his sister’s room and peaked in on her and found her in the state he’d predicted. She’d been high when she arrived, and was now knocked out cold from its effects.

Outside he loaded the case into the trunk of his rental and climbed into the car, entered his Toledo address into the GPS. Mia’s immovable vices had left her dead to the world and therefore she served as the perfect alibi. That was all anyone ever needed to commit any act they wished.


If change was the path he should continue at this point, there was nothing pushing him to that end.

He kept his mind blank as he waited perched on the marble work wall that partitioned the sunken living room from the foyer. He heard a car pull up, the sound of men’s voices nearing the house. He wrapped his hand around the handle of the bill hook machete hanging at his waist as they tarried and talked in hushed tones right outside the door.

He took a slow glance around the moonlit house. It was beautiful, Grier had to admit. Power and corruption afforded people the most lavish of surroundings, after all. He knew that as well as anyone.

How fortunate, Grier thought, that Rob had been arraigned on involuntary manslaughter charges, bailed out of jail and allowed to hole up in his father’s lavish estate on the outskirts of town until trial or plea bargain. Apparently the lawmakers, politicians and big wigs of the city thought a house furnished with Tiffany lamps and Persian rugs and adorned with chandeliers over marble counter tops was the perfect prison for a man who’d beaten a woman to death.

Grier fought off a smile as the crystal doorknob on the front door turned. A long time ago he might have enjoyed what he was about to do, but tonight wasn’t about enjoyment. Tonight was about balancing the scales and doling out just desserts. It was about being weak and giving in to the things over which he possessed little control.

The first man through the door was not Rob, but that mattered little. He came in alone, shut the door behind him. He remained completely oblivious to Grier’s presence, was caught completely by surprise when the blade of his bill hook machete hooked through his neck, separating it into two unequal parts.

Grier used the machete to drag the man into the depths of the house as he made pained groans that were marred by his ruined voice box. He waited in a hallway as the front door opened and closed and he heard two pairs of footsteps enter the house. “Eccleston?” A voice called out. It wasn’t Rob’s. The lights flipped on and Grier backed deeper into the house while maintaining sight of the two men who had their backs to him. Both wore wrinkled business suits, both of a tall lanky build.

He pulled a simple blade from its holster and waited for them to turn around. Grier recognized the face of D.A. Fisher and of course, Robert Fisher. D.A. Fisher loosened his tie and cast Rob a weary glance before he opened his mouth to say something. His words were interrupted, however, by the blade that flew from Grier’s hand and slid itself straight through his eye socket. There was a single spurt of blood spray, and he fell to the floor like a rag doll.

“Ack,” Rob said, his response an almost comical show of pure bewilderment. Grier appeared in the foyer moments after, took a single lunging step and sliced a superficial line across Rob’s face, enough to surprise and disorient him. Rob fell against a lamp and dropped awkwardly to the floor, his eyes wide.

Grier snatched his mask off, “get your bearings, you need to see this coming,” he said.

“You!” Rob hissed. “What in the fuck? What have you done?”

“I haven’t done it yet,” Grier said. In the next moment, Grier removed an ivory-handled Bowie knife from his ankle holster. Sharpened and shined to a brilliant sheen, it was formidable in his hand, as precise as a surgeon‘s scalpel. There was an intricacy to what Grier did, and this tool would execute the most delicate tasks with surgeon-like precision.

He sliced Rob’s eyes, they burst like tomatoes, oozed onto his cheeks as Rob barked a scream and scooped at the ocular ruin coating his face, trying frantically to return them to their proper holes. Grier gave him a quick stab to the temporal lobe to take care of his memory and calm his pained squirming.

He straddled Rob’s limp body, jabbed and turned the blade inside each of his ears, slicing the both shells to ribbons in the process. Just for the beauty of the image, the art of the destruction, well earned and well deserved, he entered the kitchen, picked up the ax he’d propped against a wall there and gave it one swing around his head before bringing it down just so, at the crown of Rob’s head. Rob’s leg gave a single spasm.

Grier wiped a smear of blood from his head which he’d shaved so bald not an ounce of stubble could be felt. He lit a cigar, leaned against a wall and smoked it to the butt.

He admired his handiwork for a beat before he recollected his weapons, yanking them gingerly from wherever they were lodged, placing them in his holsters and checking the pulses of his victims as he went.

He de-axed Rob last. He removed the leather glove from his left hand to reveal the rubber glove beneath. Checked Rob’s pulse. Faint, but steady. He combed the room, tossed his ax in his hand thoughtfully. He dialed 911 on the house’s landline and sat the receiver on an end table. He exited the way he’d entered; through the back window they’d left cracked to let fresh air into the house.

His mind wandered as he drove back to Des Moines, the windows down, the radio off. Earlier, on his way back to Toledo he’d considered scrapping the whole idea. If it were true Pam had changed him, then he should still be more inclined to do the right thing. The right thing didn’t involve living outside the law.

He lit a cigar and spat out the window. Checked his mirrors.

He’d nearly balked at performing the admittedly heinous acts because he’d wanted to prove something to Pam, however, his reservations were no match for the deep certainty that had sliced through his gut when he’d listened to her message.

He was now certain that Pam Stark had loved him when she died. Loved him in spite of much. She would want him to follow his heart, including the dark parts about which she’d no doubt had an inkling.

After all, he hadn’t killed anyone. That, he’d never done outside of police work.

He showered when he got back to the condo. Dressed in comfortable clothes. Took a call from Spencer.

“Hey man, still in Des Moines?” Spencer asked.

“Yeah, getting ready to catch a flight back though. If I remember correctly we have a shift tomorrow afternoon.”

“Yes, yes we do. Um, have you talked to anyone from the precinct?”

He lit a cigar. “No, why?”

“You didn’t hear what happened here?”
“Spencer who would I hear it from? I’m in Des Moines. Out with it. What happened?”

“Rob, D.A. Fisher, Judge Sherman Eccleston. They were all butchered yesterday. They‘ve all survived, if that‘s what they call surviving. Judge Eccleston is paralyzed and in a coma. D.A. Fisher‘s a vegetable. And Rob…”

“Yeah? What happened to him?”

“Fucked up. Brain dead like his dad but in a little better shape. Could wake up, probably won‘t. Whoever did this did a number on him. The whole town’s in an uproar.”

“Weird. The judge from Rob’s case was in the same place as Rob and his father?”

“Yes, Grier, it‘s a big scandal of course–the likes of which this town hasn‘t seen in a long while.”

“Strange for them all to be in one place like that. The legal system is seeming a little fucked. So, to what do I owe this call? I could care less if those bastards got butchered.”

“I know you’re not exactly saddened by the news–I just wanted to ask you–Grier, did you have anything to do with it?”

“Spencer what the fuck kind of question is that?”

“An honest one. I’m your partner. I’ve watched you shoot to kill on duty without batting an eyelash from the time you were a rookie until last week when we were on that bust.”

“Your point?”

“It would be nothing for you to have done this. I wouldn’t be surprised after what Rob did to Pam only to face those weak charges. This was a crime of passion, the amount of damage done to these men. So I‘m asking you, Grier. Did you have anything to do with this?”

“How are you asking me this, Spencer? As a friend? As a law enforcement officer?”

“As a friend who is a law enforcement officer. Just, tell me you didn’t do this. Didn’t have this done.”

“Honestly, Spencer, do you think I would risk paying someone to attack people that I have all kinds of motive to harm? They’d tell on me the five minutes after I proposed the idea to them. Or for that matter, do you think I’m capable of performing such, carnage? Since you’ve known me, I’ve never been reckless with my police work.

“I shoot when absolutely necessary, no I don’t get emotional about it, and yes I feel no remorse afterward. That’s my job. I’m no–criminal.” He took a deep pull from his cigar. “Besides. I couldn’t have done it. I’ve been in Des Moines for the last three days. Want to see the boarding passes and tickets I’ll show you tomorrow.”

“If you say you didn‘t do it I guess I‘ll have to take that as Gospel. They don‘t have any leads yet, all speculation. Trust I won‘t be the last one to ask you those questions,” Spencer said. They were silent for a moment.

“Anyway, see you tomorrow man, have a safe trip back. Remember it’s supposed to be an unseasonably warm day tomorrow. Stretch those hamstrings. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to be doing a whole lot of running.”

They ended the call and he knocked on Mia’s bedroom door. It took a few moments for her to answer and when she did she looked disheveled, her eyes were watery and red. “Hey Wallace.”

“Mia. I’m heading back to Toledo.”

“What for?” She rubbed her eyes, stepped through the threshold and followed him to the kitchen. “I thought you were finished there? Why’d you come back only to leave so soon?”

“To give you these,” he said, lying his keys on the table. She looked at them, then up at him again, her expression blank.

“Are you serious?”

“Yes. I don’t think I’m coming back,”

“You’ve traveled the world Grier and the place that captures your heart is some small Ohio town?”

“I guess so,” he said. “Would you drop me at the airport? Also, I was thinking, if you wanted I could pay for my rental for you for a few days more.”

“Shit Grier, yeah! What’s gotten into you?”

“What a cliché thing to say,” he said with the smallest of smiles. He handed her a credit card. “I got a credit card for you, rented the car with it, hope you don’t mind.”

“What? Grier, what are you up to?”

“Can’t I do something nice for you? You use it as much as you like, I’ll foot the bill,” he said. She gave him a long lingering glance, slid the card into her pocket.

They didn’t talk much on the way to the airport, but it was a comfortable, pleasant ride.

They hugged in front of the airport drop-off and she asked him again if he was sure about the rental, the condo, the card. He was sure.

“Grier, I always wondered, and you’ve always seemed to mysterious about it. What exactly do you do?”

Grier looked up at the sky, watched a plane take off and fade into the distance, thought of the ledger, and of course the case, which was stashed back at Yates Bank. He thought of Des Moines, and of Pam. He took a deep breath. “I’m a cop.”