He’d been in the war for Christ’s sake, bombed the hell out of islands in the Pacific. Ridiculous to be so nervous. He didn’t used to be. He’d enjoyed his wife’s friends and they’d seem to like joking around with him. This was different. There was no safety boundary of wives and husbands. There was no more wife. Radiation and chemo had bombed the hell out of her. So now it was just him with no ring to hide behind. He’d tried flying solo but the days were long. Even that yappy dog his daughter had given him didn’t break the silence enough, not in the right way. Noise doesn’t equal companionship. He doted on the little dog and it was helpful for meeting neighbors but nothing was the same as someone wanting to know how you slept the night before, what you thought about the movie, when was your doctor’s appointment. He’d thought he’d never marry again because no one could be his sweet Peg, but Peg had told him, “You’re the marrying kind. Besides, she and I will have a good laugh about you in heaven.”
He ironed his shirt and pants, pants should have a crease. Both white, at least he looked the hero. He’d invited her over to his house. She lived in a tiny apartment. He couldn’t stand tiny apartments. He’d always cooked a great steak, knew just how long for every taste. He hoped she didn’t like it well-done. Might as well eat shoe-leather, he’d always said. He reminded himself to be open-minded, people can like their steak different ways. He knew red wine was fashionable with steak but it was too strong for him nowadays. He needed his wits about him. When the knock came he was ready.
She cleaned up nice. He’d met her at the gym so didn’t know. She didn’t seem nervous at all. Her husband’s been dead five years so she must’ve had lots of practice.
She’d ordered her steak medium-rare. She laughed when he’d smiled.
“Glad you approve,” she said.
Story by Wanda Harding
This picture started it all. We had pretty much given up ever finding him even though the reward money had gone through the roof; even though we’d squeezed every low life we could promising them the world if they’d drop a dime; even though we’d put every agent we had on the damn case for months and shot the department budget to hell and back. Then, out of the blue, this picture arrives in the mail–anonymously, of course. Who wants their entire family killed on account of a photograph? We assumed he’d change his name and appearance but weren’t sure how. Now we knew. We could see the old Jimmy in those eyes, the cant of the head, the half smile. On the back of the picture a typed label: “Artie – Santa Barbara.” After that it didn’t take a genius to find him. The West Coast bureau had the bungalow under surveillance within 48 hours. Over the course of his bloody career Jimmy-The-Juice had gunned down a number of agents. We all decided it would be wet and off the books. We voted on who would have the honor and Riley got the nod. He’d lost a brother ten years ago trying to arrest this scum. Left a wife and three kids. Everyone knew with Riley there would be no arrest, just some hot lead and cement boots. When the day finally came, Riley insisted he go in alone. I heard he dressed up like a priest and rang the bell. Jimmy answered and was busy crossing himself when he got a quick trip to eternity. After he was dumped at sea, we compared the fingerprints. Oops! It wasn’t Jimmy at all; it was some two-bit hood named Artie Buckman. Where the hell did Jimmy go?
Story by Will Conway
Bert, Bert, Bert! Man, you look so good, it hurts. And still a brandy cocked in your hand. Some things never change, right? But I have to tell you, drink or no drink, you look great, you really do. I heard from Ray that Suzie died. Well, I’m sorry about that. The woman was a saint. She’d need to have been one, to put up with you for so long, right? But I am sorry; I know your love was the real thing. Anyway, now I’ve found you again, why don’t we meet up? Like old times, only with bodies forty years older – pacemakers, toupees and hearing aids. I’ll gladly turn up mine to hear your stories again. Repeat them like you used to, I don’t care, it’d just be good to see you. Promise you’ll tell me the one about how you lost your virginity in Bartstow, and then lost it again (‘properly this time’ – your words not mine) in Santa Cruz. What was her name, again? Maria Perez, am I right? Was she as pretty and hot as you told it back then? You can be honest now. My third wife left me – not that you ever met her (or my second, come to that) – not for the after life, no drama or tragedy here – just had enough of me, and the four walls that held us. Pushed the door open. Didn’t look back. If you were here, I’d clink your glass with mine, and toast her memory.
Story by Alan McCormick