Ferdinand the Turtle: Meeting Bob

December 11, 2012

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This story originally ran on May 8, 2009. It’s much different than most of my other stories – because nobody dies.

It was a beautiful spring day, but Ferdinand the Turtle was in a grumpy mood.  The kids at school were making fun of him again.  All the other turtles had normal names such as Bill, Tom, and Ann.  Ferdinand had a long name, and it sounded funny.  The other kids made fun of him and told him that his name was too big for such a small turtle.  Ferdinand felt sad and left the playground.

Ferdinand walked by the old warehouse.  The workers were unloading a truck.  There seemed to be some excitement with one of the crates.  Suddenly, something popped out of the box and came racing across the grass toward Ferdinand.  Ferdinand was amazed at the sight.  It was an animal, but it was not like any animal he had every seen on Turtle Island.  This animal was covered in fur and had a big, bushy tail.  The animal seemed to be a bit stunned, so Ferdinand talked to it.

“Hello?  Hello?  Are you OK?”

The furry animal scratched his head and looked toward Ferdinand.

“I’m OK, I gue – whoa!  What the heck are you?  You’re the funniest looking animal I’ve ever seen.”

“Hrumph,” said Ferdinand.  “I could say the same thing about you.  At least I don’t have a big tail like you.”

“That’s very true,” admitted the mysterious stranger, “but you do have that thing on your back.  What is that?”

“It’s my shell,” replied Ferdinand.  “I can pull my body inside my shell when it rains.”

“Oh, I see.  That’s pretty clever.  I should introduce myself.  I’m Bob the Squirrel.”

“Hello, Bob,” said Ferdinand.  “I am Ferdinand the Turtle.”

“Well, Ferdinand, I somehow got myself packed up in one of those crates and my legs are stiff.  I need to take a walk.  Maybe you could show me around town.”

Ferdinand agreed, and they started walking toward main street.  Ferdinand saw a rock on the groud and gave it a kick with his foot.

“Ferdinand,” gasped Bob.  “What are you doing?”

“I’m kicking the little rock down the street.  It’s fun.  You should try it.”

“That’s not a rock, Ferdinand.  That’s an acorn.”

“A what?”

“An acorn is a type of nut,” explained Bob.  “You can eat it.  Acorns are yummy for your tummy.  Try one.”

Ferdinand didn’t think he would like an acorn, but he decided to try it anyway.  He bit into the acorn and it tasted awful.  He spit the acorn onto the street.

Bob furrowed his brow.  “Pehaps,” he speculated “it is an acquired taste.”

“Ugh,” replied Ferdinand.  “If it’s an acquired taste, I have no plans to acquire it.”

What’s in the Chili?

October 26, 2012

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This story originally ran on October 29, 2010.  This story is part of a trio of holiday stories  – you may also like Friends for Thanksgiving and Mrs. Claus and the Christmas Mistress.  All of them are “a bit” disturbing.

I threw another log into the bonfire and watched as the flames engulfed it.  The fire was off to a roaring start – just where it needed to be at this time of night.  The trick-or-treating was winding down, and the neighborhood kids would soon be gathering in my yard for the annual Halloween party.

The party was a neighborhood tradition, dating back nearly twenty years.  I was widowed at a young age, and from that point forward, made my work the focal point of my life.  I was a sixth grade teacher, and had won many awards for my work with the kids.  The Halloween party was a fun extension of my job.

I looked around the back yard to make sure everything was set up.  The lighting was at just the right level – sufficient to allow some visibility, but low enough to add spookiness to the occasion.

Pitchers of hot chocolate sat on the wooden picnic tables, as well as the main attraction for the evening – my world-famous chili.  My chili had a very distinctive taste that always made people clamor for more.

A few minutes later, Jeremy Dempsey led the first group of kids into the backyard.

“Hey, Mr. Raven.  Is the chili ready?”

“Yep, Jeremy, grab a bowl.”

“What’s in it, anyway?  My dad says it’s deer meat.”

I laughed.  “Oh, I couldn’t possible tell you my secret.  Isn’t it good enough to know that it’s delicious?”

The boy thought about pursuing the topic further, but then raced off to join his friends.

As the crowd was eating their chili, we began the tradition of telling scary tales.  I had the younger kids start out with the predictably tame stories and gradually built up to the older kids – some of whom did a pretty good job of scaring some of the youngsters.

When Steven Harper finished, it was my turn.

“Tonight I shall tell you a scary story … but a story that is very true.  Just two houses down,” I pointed toward the allegedly haunted house for effect “is the house where Old Man Harris once lived.”

“Harris was a grumpy old man of the worst kind.  If your baseball went into his yard, you wouldn’t get it back – and the cranky old man would pop out of the house and scream at you.”  Some of the older kids nodded their heads in agreement – they had experienced this firsthand.

“During the past decade, eight children have disappeared from this neighborhood – all on Halloween.  The cops always suspected Old Man Harris, but they could never find any evidence, so the elderly killing machine walked free.”  At this, the kids began to murmur amongst themselves – they knew of the abductions and knew that Harris was the Maple Street Marauder.

“Last year, twelve year old Sarah Miller disappeared on Halloween and hasn’t been heard from since.  Her friends told the police that Sarah was going to walk by the haunted Harris house on her way home – in spite of their protests.  Once again, the police could find no evidence that Harris committed any crime, and he walked free.  But this time, he would not escape justice.  Sarah’s father demanded revenge and shot Harris in the head as he walked to his mailbox.”

The kids all knew this story, so it didn’t scare them – although it made them a bit uncomfortable – setting them up for the finish.

“What you don’t know, though, is that Harris isn’t finished.  He made a deal with the devil to deliver a dozen souls.  Even though Harris is dead, the deal is not done.  His ghost must still kill four children as sacrifices to Satan.  This is the first Halloween since his death … and the next installment is due tonight.  I urge you to take every precaution and avoid the Harris house on this haunted night.”

I knew that my warning would only serve to embolden some of the older kids, who were now sure to pass by the Harris house after they left the party.  Unlike past years, I wouldn’t be able to stalk and kill them.  With Harris rotting under ground, I no longer had my scapegoat.

Perhaps the worst crime of all was that my famous chili would surely lose its special kick next year.  Tonight’s batch contained the last few morsels of Sarah Miller.

A Vision In Austria

September 22, 2012

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This story originally ran on October 1, 2011.  It was an enjoyable story to write.  I hope you enjoy reading it. 


April 28, 1888. 1:30 AM.
Gretchen blew out the candle, slipped beneath the quilt, and tried to go to sleep. She was exhausted from the work of tending to the party guests, but sleep would not come.

Instead, the vision kept returning. An infant being born into this household. The infant growing into a boy, and then into a man. The man assuming great power and bringing death upon millions. Her vision was quite clear. The man was pure evil.

Below her small attic room was the master bedroom, where master Alois and mistress Klara were sleeping. The mistress was with child.

Gretchen slept fitfully, unable to accept the message within the vision. The vision would recur many times, leaving horrible nightmares in its wake. Gretchen often awoke drenched in sweat.

May 24, 1888
Gretchen carried the tea to her mistress, remarking that this was a new variety from the market. Klara replied that it was sweeter than the ordinary tea. Gretchen was deeply disturbed by her own actions. She did not want to poison her mistress, but the visions were becoming stronger, the nightmares were becoming worse, and the message was crystal clear – the baby within Klara’s womb was pure evil and must not be allowed to live. She was being asked to intercede.

July 13, 1888
The house was in mourning after the miscarriage. Alois and Klara grieved the loss of their unborn child. Many had attended the funeral at the church in Ranshofen. The relatives had stayed for several days before returning to their own homes, leaving Alois and Klara alone.

During this time, Gretchen was the steady presence that Alois and Klara needed. She cooked, cleaned, and went to the market just as she always had. But she also comforted Klara, slowly bringing her out of the period of darkness until the briefest glimpses of happiness began to appear on occasion once again.

Two days after the funeral, Gretchen announced that they were out of the new variety of tea, and that the shopkeeper had not been able to get any more in stock. That afternoon, she discreetly discarded the arsenic. No longer would she be forced to poison her mistress.

July 30, 1888
The mistress had left at dawn to visit relatives in the Gmunden distict. Gretchen was cleaning the master bedroom when he came to her.

“You have been a great friend to Klara during this dark time. I owe you a great debt, Fräulein Gretchen” he began. “and I am a man who repays his debts.”

Alois looked into her eyes, and Gretchen knew how the debt would be repaid. She was filled with nervous excitement as he moved toward her. This was the moment she had longed for so many times over the years.

Gretchen fell back onto the bed, filled with desire and welcoming the advance of her master. He pulled up the skirt of her dirndl and within a moment was inside her. Gretchen gasped with pleasure as Herr Hitler’s seed was planted inside her.

A Man Short

September 8, 2012

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This story originally ran on November 12, 2010

When coach Brad Green began the season with twenty players on his roster, he was not overly concerned.  He had been football coach at Mountain View High for two decades now, and dealing with the challenges of building a football team from the small student body was old hat.  There were never many bench warmers on the Mountain View teams – players were rotated into the game to allow every player to have a handful of plays off during the course of the game.

When four of his players were suspended from school for a fight on school grounds, coach Green was a bit more concerned.  During their one week suspension, they could not participate in any extra-curricular activities – even football.  Coach Green was looking at a matchup against Central Valley with sixteen players.

The latest blow came on Friday, when a nasty bout of the flu knocked four more players out of commission.  With just twelve players traveling to the game, the coach wondered if it was even necessary to take a bus.

Bad news comes in threes, they say, and the third event struck just before game time.  As the Tigers were practicing, two wide receivers collided on a passing route.  Ken Jarrett and Kevin Matthews were both tough kids, and it was a very bad sign when they didn’t get up after the play.  Green had seen the injuries many times before – Jarrett had a broken leg and Matthews had fractured his arm.  With ten players on the team, the coach was wondering whether to just forfeit the game and take his kids home.

“Are they going to be OK, coach?”

Green looked up into the face of Amy Marx, one of the cheerleaders.

“Afraid not, Amy.  Neither of those guys will be able to play.”

“Geez.  You’ve lost a lot of players this week.  Aren’t you a man short now?”

“Yep, we’re down to ten,” replied Coach Green.  “Could make for some big plays for the opposition.”

“I’ll suit up, coach!”

“Not going to happen.”

“What have you go to lose?  Split me out as a receiver and have me play defensive back.  It has to be better than playing with ten players, right?”

“Are you sure?”

“I have four older brothers.  I can hold my own with the big boys.”

Fifteen minutes later, Amy was lined up at cornerback for the Tigers.   Central Valley picked on her immediately.  The receiver caught the ball, faked her out of her shoes, and raced up the sideline for a touchdown.  The game was not half a minute old and they were down 7-0.

The Central Valley kicker boomed the kickoff out of the end zone for a touchback.  The Tigers huddled up at the twenty yard line.

“OK, first play goes to Amy,” announced quarterback Matt Ford.  “Don’t worry, Marx, we’ll pick you up.”  The QB gave her a slap on the rear to drive home the point – and then flushed with embarrassment when he realized what he had done.

“Sorry, Amy.  Didn’t mean to do that – just reflex.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she replied.  “I’m just one of the guys tonight.”

Amy caught the pass for a split second before a smashing hit from the Central Valley defender separated her from the ball.  She lay on the field for a moment, catching her breath.

“Oh, look.  Barbie’s hurt.  Did you break a nail, honey?”  He laughed and turned back toward his teammates.  Amy immediately jumped up and gave him a hard shove in the back.

The referee’s whistle tweeted to announce a penalty.  “Unsportsmanlike conduct, number eighty four on the offense.  Half the distance to the goal line.  Second down.”

Amy cursed herself for making another dumb play.  Two running plays and a short pass completion made up some of the yardage, but the Tigers faced a 4th down and 8 from their own 22 yard line.  Coach Green decided to give her another shot – having the longtime soccer player line up at punter.  She caught the ball and gave it a powerful kick.  The ball traveled forty eight yards in the air and picked up another ten with a friendly bounce before rolling out of bounds at the Central Valley twenty yard line.

Amy felt a surge of confidence as she lined up on the defensive side of the ball.  Once again, the QB threw the ball in her direction, testing her after the earlier TD.  This time, Amy jumped the route and deflected the ball.  Linebacker Jeff Miller snagged the ball in mid-air and raced into the end zone for the tying score.

By halftime, nearly everyone in the stadium had forgotten that there was a girl playing for Mountain View.  Amy felt the game slow down a bit for her.  On the offensive side of the ball she had made three short catches and had done a serviceable job of blocking for the running game.  On the defensive side of the ball, she was the leading tackler – not because she was the best player, but because Central Valley continued to pick on her.  Amy enjoyed delivering the blows and bringing down the ball carrier to stop a drive.

The game continued to be tight in the second half, and with forty two seconds left in the game, Central Valley was clinging to a 31-28 lead.  The Tigers had the ball, but faced a long field – eighty yards away from pay dirt.  Matt Ford huddled up the troops.

“OK, Barbie Doll’s going deep on this one.”  Amy smiled at the joking reference to the defender’s comment earlier in the game.  She split out wide to the right and waited for the snap.

Amy caught the ball at the thirty five yard line.  The defender stood just a few steps down the field, ready to make the tackle.  She faked right before cutting to the left, leaving the defender in her wake.  She turned on the afterburners and displayed the raw speed that had won her the 1A 100 meter dash title the previous spring.  Nobody touched her until she was in the end zone – and then it was her entire team piling on top of her to celebrate the touchdown.

With gallons of adrenaline pulsing through her veins, Amy sailed the kickoff out of the end zone.  Central Valley still had time on the clock, but the fight had gone out of them.  Four incomplete passes later, and the game was over – Amy Marx had led the Tigers to a most improbable win.

Weird Neighbors

August 28, 2012

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This is based loosely on the experience of Baseball Prospectus writer/podcaster/managing partner Kevin Goldstein.  He became fascinated with his weird neighbors, who were constantly throwing out mattresses on trash day – until they were evicted today.  Nobody ever saw mattresses coming in, but they always saw them on the curb waiting for the garbage truck.

If you’re a baseball fan and you haven’t checked out the Baseball Prospectus site, take a moment to visit.  it’s a great site.  And if you enjoy your baseball information with a heavy dose of pop culture, sarcasm, and non-baseball related content, be sure to check out the Up and In podcast, which often weighs in at a hefty 2+ hours.


“Another mattress!” Kevin exclaimed.

“How many mattresses is that?” Jason asked, half an internet away in Brooklyn.

“It has to be like ten?  They’ve put one out for the trash almost weekly for the past three months.  What are they doing that causes them to throw away that many mattresses?”

“It could be a brothel,” replied Jason helpfully.  “You know, the average life span of a mattress is probably based on an average of eight hours of use per night, with the assumption that most of the time will be spent sleeping.  If they’ve got a happening brothel, they might be keeping those beds active 24 hours per day.  All that rolling around and groping is probably pretty hard on the springs.”

“I think I’d notice the traffic if there was a brothel next door.”

“Maybe there’s underground parking with direct access to the inside.  Valet parking, maybe – guys with the funny little hats.”

“It’s DeKalb, Jason.  There’s not an underground parking deck with valet parking.”

“Maybe left over from the underground railroad.”

“It’s probably something mundane.  They’re probably a distributor for some knockoff mattress company, and it’s cheaper to just dump the defective mattresses on the curb.”

“That’s probably it,” Jason agreed.  “They’re probably selling Snerta and Stealy mattresses on the internet.  Wonder if they can use one of those fixed rate boxes from the postal service?”

Kevin rolled his eyes, but it was lost on Jason and the listeners.  Time to shift the conversation back to baseball.



The stocky man turned his head and yelled int the back room.  “Hey, Chas.  Come listen to this.”

The old man grumbled, but pulled back the lever on the recliner and slowly stood up.  “This had better be good, Harris,” he said and he ambled toward the front room.

Harris was busy doing something with the newfangled computer.  As Chas sat down, Harris hit a button and the computer began to talk.

At the end of the segment, Harris hit a button to stop the audio.

“Do you think it’s him?”

“Certainly sounds like him.  He always did go through mattresses as often as some people change underwear.  That massive bulk coupled with the insomnia – that man could demolish a new mattress in a few days.”

“What next?” asked Harris.

“We’re off to DeKalb.  Grab an umbrella and your Glock.”


Sneak Peek At My Book

July 27, 2012

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Many of your know that I’ve been working on a serial killer novel for a while now (and it’s very far from finished).  Until this point, I’ve shared the writing with almost nobody.  However, today I’ll tease you with the prologue for my novel, Casting Stones.


Prologue: Practice

When she regained consciousness this time, she was blinded by the early morning sun spilling in through the open door. She quickly closed her eyes to block out the light. Her brain slowly processed the information. The door was open.

She scrambled to her feet, her sneakers struggling to find purchase on the straw-covered floor. When she felt her foot finally touch down on the grass, she knew that freedom was within her grasp. Run like the wind, she told herself. She was quickly twenty yards away from the barn, then fifty yards … racing toward her freedom.

Her heart sank when she saw him angling toward her from the left. She forced herself to channel her adrenaline and pushed forward with a burst of speed. She was still twenty yards ahead of him when she reached the fence. The woven wire buckled slightly under her weight as she scrambled over the fence. As her feet hit the ground, she felt his arm encircle her chest. He pulled her roughly back over the fence, and the barbed wire that topped the fence sliced into her.

He straddled her as he yanked the knife from the sheath. She felt the blade prick her skin as he sliced open her dress. She saw droplets of blood on the knife as he held it to her throat with his right hand while groping her breast with his free hand. His sweat dropped onto her face as she struggled for her freedom. No! No! This can’t be happening to me.

His left hand released her breast and moved under her dress. She felt him yank down her panties, and she was filled with disgust as he entered her.

The blade cut into her neck with each movement, but she fought through the pain. She would not submit to this monster – ever. Her attacker responded to her struggles angrily, slapping her roughly across the face. He moved his face within inches of hers and snarled. He sounded more like an animal than a man.

She smashed her head into his and heard him grunt from the force of the impact. She wrenched the knife from his hands and plunged it blindly into his body. He howled as the blade punctured his flesh. She left him on the ground, grasping for the handle of the knife.

As she raced for her freedom a second time, he struggled to his feet and pulled the gun from his waist band. A single shot brought the exercise to a halt.

He hefted her body back toward the burial trench. He threw her next to the others and covered her corpse with fresh, black earth.

Another failure. Once again unable to restrain and kill with the knife. Forced once again to use the impersonal weapon to prevent an escape. He needed more practice. He would spend a few days recovering from his wounds and would then troll the highway again, seeking another hitchhiker – a disposable victim to serve as his sparring partner. The game would soon begin, and Je’Mien needed to hone his skills.

Home Away From Home

July 6, 2012

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First brand new short story in a while – enjoy!

Damon Brinker sighed with relief as the bus bounced its way into the station. The driving slammed on the brakes and sent passengers flying into the seat in from of them. That’s par for the course, he thought. A fifteen hundred mile journey on a run-down bus with barely functional air conditioning and a driver with erratic skills and a surly attitude to boot.

Damon waited for the crush of people to exit the bus before stepping down to the street. He grabbed his bags and headed into the dimly lit terminal.

He got his first good news of the day when he saw a man holding up sign with his name on it. Damon quickened his pace, happy to be leaving the station.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, I’m Damon.” Damon said extending his hand.

“Not your fault.” the man said with a smile, grasping Damon’s hand. “The bus is never on time.”

Twenty minutes later the pickup truck pulled into a driveway. The house was well-maintained, but of a modest size. Beyond the house, Damon could make out the majestic peaks in the fading light. He smiled at the thought of two weeks of hiking in the mountains.

“Beautiful, aren’t they?” The voice came from a woman who had materialized while Damon had been gazing at the mountains. He noticed the pickup backing out of the driveway.

Tami showed him to his room, which had a window with a view of the mountains. Once again, Damon was captivated by the natural beauty. After a few minutes of mountain gazing, he sat down on the bed and pulled out his cell phone. No signal.

As he was unpacking, there was a knock on the door.

“I got a bath ready for you. Figured you’d want one after the bus ride.”

Yes, a bath was exactly what Damon wanted. The unpacking could wait. He knew that he was saving a lot of money by arranging for a host family via the internet, but the level of hospitality could be hit and miss. It looked like his roll of the dice had turned out well.

He opened the door and walked toward the bathroom. A towel and robe were laid out, and a Tami had drawn a warm bubble bath. He quickly shed his clothes and slid down into the tub. The warm, sudsy water washed away the dirty feeling of too much time on a crowded bus. By the time Damon stepped out of water, his skin was starting to get a bit wrinkled. He dried off, put on the robe, and cinched the belt.

When he re-entered his room, he saw his hostess lying on the bed, wearing nothing but a revealing nightie. For a moment, he thought that he had wandered into the wrong room by mistake.

And then he knew he hadn’t.

“Troy’s at his weekly poker tournament. He won’t be back for hours. We have plenty of time to play.”

Damon was tempted, but knew that this was a mistake. As he stood motionless, Tami slid out of the bed and approached him. She unfastened the robe and let it fall to the floor. She stood on her tip toes to give Damon a kiss, and the decision was made. This one night, Damon was choosing to ignore his moral compass.


Hours later, Tami kissed him one last time and disappeared down the hall. Thirty seconds later, Damon succumbed to pleasure-induced exhaustion and fell asleep.


The next morning, Damon, Tami, and Troy made small talk as Tami prepared breakfast. Troy chattered on about his luck at cards, unaware that he had been cuckolded. Damon and Tami shared secret glances, and Damon looked forward to next week, when Troy would once again leave the house for his weekly poker game.

Tami bent a bit lower than necessary as she set a cup of coffee in front of him. He enjoyed the viewed and wondered if Troy had other nighttime engagements. He smiled and took a gulp of coffee.

Damon suddenly felt hands closing around his throat as he struggled to breathe. He was being choked by Troy, who was perhaps not unaware of last night’s events. He glanced hopefully toward Tami and noticed that she had grabbed a pistol – but it was pointed right at him.


Troy threw a final shovelful of dirt over the grave and wiped his brow with a handkerchief. The new victim was arriving tonight. This was such an enjoyable game.


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The Horse

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Note: While attending a writer’s workshop in April, one of the exercises was to write about a horse.  No further direction was given – we could write about any horse.  Here’s the very short story I hammered out in the 15 minutes we were given to complete the exercise.

The rider dismounted and went to attend to errands in the marketplace.  The horse remained behind, as always.  She never ventured into the retail areas; instead always remaining in the corral with the other mounts.

She was not a young mare, and her once glossy red coat was now a bit of a dull pink.  Her owner seemed oblivious to the toll that time had taken on her.  Though her journeys were short, they were frequent, and the mare was growing progressively weaker with each ride.  She glanced across the corral at a stallion whould would have greatly excited her in days past, but there was no hint of the burning sexual fire – not even an ember.  She now preferred quiet solitidude to frolics with stallions.  She noticed that the stallion took no interest in her, either.  This constant fatigue were her natural state these days.

Her heart sank at the sound of approaching footsteps.  The rider mounted, the music began, and the carousel jerked to life, lunching the mare into another pointless journey that would end in the same spot it began.

A Bad Trade

May 19, 2012

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Note: this story was originally published on February 11, 2011.  It’s a favorite of mine, so I’m re-running it today.

As the metal door clanged shut, Dan Bell glanced up at his attorney.  She was looking a bit rough around the edges today – in stark contrast to the well groomed and carefully made-up woman he had grown to love.

“The guard is checking in a couple of new lawyers.  We have a few minutes before he comes back.  Let’s do it.”

Dan needed no further encouragement, and in a moment he stood stark naked in the middle of the attorney conference room.  Katie helped him put on the bra and Dan slipped her flower print dress over his head.  Katie dressed herself in the prison garb while Dan finished getting dressed.

“Put on some foundation to cover that bit of stubble,” she instructed.  Katie transferred the shoulder length blonde wig from her head to Dan’s and applied quickly applied a coat of lipstick.  She removed the light layer of makeup from her own face and sat down in the chair that faced the door.  Dan was slipping his feet into her shoes and fastening the clasp of a necklace when she saw the guard glance through the window.

They sat in the room for another fifteen minutes, making small talk to kill some time.  At 10:05, Dan began to put papers back into the brief case and prepared to leave.

“Just remember, Dan, the jig is going to be up at shower time tomorrow morning.  Make sure you catch that flight and get out of the country.”

She could sense the uncertainly in her brother as he readied himself for the escape.

“Don’t worry, Dan.  You look convincing enough.  Sure, you look like me on a bad day – but that’s how I looked when I came in.”

Dan smiled and tried to steady his nerves.

“Thank you, Katie.  And I’m so sorry.”

Katie smiled and nodded.  She had told Dan that the cancer would kill her within a year.  Better for her to spend her final year in prison than for him to spend the next fifty years there.

Dan signaled the guard and was soon walking toward the door to the outside world.  When he got to Katie’s Honda Civic, he tossed her purse and briefcase onto the passenger seat and glanced over his shoulder.  Nobody was chasing him yet.  He struggled to keep his emotions in check as he exited the prison parking lot at the posted speed limit.

Fifteen minutes later, Dan flopped down on the bed of a motel near the prison.  He breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Phase one was complete.  Phase two – exiting the country while passing himself off as his twin sister – would be a bit more difficult.  He stood in front of the mirror.  He definitely didn’t look like Katie at her best, but did he look like Katie at her worst?  Perhaps.

Dan was itching to change into some more comfortable clothes. He tossed the big suitcase onto the bed and opened it.

“Son of a …”

The long flowery dress he was wearing was the most conservative thing Katie had packed.  The suitcase was packed with frilly blouses, short skirts, and even a couple of bikinis.  Dan laughed when he saw an open box of condoms and a started birth control pill.  Then he realized that the TSA would expect to find those items in a woman’s suitcase – bonus points to Katie for her attention to detail.  He glanced inside the garment bag in hopes that there might be a pant suit inside – but it held only dresses.

Dan knew that Katie must be taking some perverse pleasure in his predicament.  Let her have her laugh – he was a free man again.  He considered a quick shopping trip, but decided to wait.

After ordering room service, Dan sat on the bed and inspected his travel itinerary.  The flight to Brazil was going to be mind-numbingly long.  He pawed through the overnight bag to see if Katie had packed anything to read.  He rolled his eyes when he pulled out three Danielle Steele novels.  Katie might be going a bit far with this cloak and dagger stuff.  He could always pick up a couple of books at one of the stores in the airport.

Dan’s eyes found a sheaf of computer printouts in the bag.  “Tips from drag queens.”  As he glanced through the pages, he found himself nodding at many of the tips – they would definitely make it easier for him to pass as a woman.

After wolfing down the room service burger and fries, Dan glanced at his watch – or rather, Katie’s watch.   It was noon – still several hours to kill before heading to the airport.  He decided to try a few of the drag queen tips.  After a nice, relaxing bubble bath, he gave himself a close shave.  As he glanced as his handiwork, he thought it would be a shame to hide his gorgeous legs in the long dress.  It took a moment for him to find what he was looking for – a short black dress in the garment bag.  If he was going to put on a show, why not make it a good one?

The woman who left room 406 later that afternoon was much more attractive than the one who had entered several hours later.  Dan had spent a considerable chunk of time perfecting his makeup, and was reasonably confident that it would allow him to blend into a crowd.  His fingernails and toenails were painted a bright pink, and a bit of Katie’s perfume even made him smell nice.  He hefted the bags into the Civic and headed to the airport.

Dan had no difficulty using Katie’s identification to check in, and was soon in the secured portion of the airport.  He spotted a steak restaurant and made a beeline for it.  It had been a long time since he had enjoyed a real steak.  As he waited for his meal to arrive, he reached into the bag for a book before remembering that it contained only romance novels.  He made a mental note to pick up something different before boarding the plane.

Out of curiosity, he began to read a few pages of the book.  It was definitely not his cup of tea.  As he glanced up from the book, he noticed a guy a few tables over staring at him.  The guy turned a bright red when Dan glanced his way.  Dan smiled to himself – if guys were checking him out, then he was doing a good job of passing himself off as Katie.

At 7:30, the jumbo jet roared down the runway.  Dan was relieved that the flight was on time.  It would touch down just after 6 AM eastern time and give him about two hours to clear customs before Katie secret was discovered at shower time in the prison.  That should be enough time, but it was too close for comfort.  What would have happened if the flight had been delayed?  He wondered if Katie did this intentionally, just to make him sweat – but came to the conclusion that she was just making sure he had plenty of time to make the flight.  Relax, Dan, you have plenty of time.

When the plane touched down in São Paulo, Dan made his way through customs and claimed his bags.  As he jumped into a taxi, he glanced down at his watch – ten minutes to spare.  He set the watch ahead three hours to reflect the local time.  He had the taxi drop him off at nondescript hotel that was happy to rent him a room for cash – the paper trail would stop at the airport.  After ducking out for a quick lunch, he returned to his room, collapsed onto the bed, and tried to sleep off the jet lag.

He slept like a baby until the next morning.  When he awoke, he realized that he would need to go shopping before touching base with his friend that evening.  He was certainly not going to show up for his meeting with Frank in drag. As he pondered his clothing options for the shopping trip, he decided to do a full Katie, just for kicks.  What the hell – it was just a few hours.  He strutted out of the hotel in a short pink dress and matching heels.

He returned to the hotel later that afternoon with three shopping bags full of clothes.  There were a few blouses and a pair of women’s shoes – since it would seem unusual for a woman to not buy any clothes for herself – but also an array of men’s attire.  A few minutes from now, he could dump all of Katie’s stuff, and walk out of the hotel as Dan once again.

He was lost in his thoughts when he entered the room and it took him a moment to notice the man sitting in the chair.

“Senhorita Bell?” the man asked.

“Sim,” he responded uncertainly.

“Senhor Silva wants to know if you have the package.”

“Package?  Silva?  I think you have the wrong person.”

The man laughed before raising the gun and pulling the trigger.  “Senhor Silva does not make mistakes.”

Many miles to the north, Katie Bell was enjoying a long nap in her brother’s luxurious bed.  Hours after the prison switch, Katie’s partner had gotten the judge to sign the papers granting a new trial for Dan and ordering his immediate release.  At 3:45 PM, Katie had walked through the gates of the prison to her freedom.  Free from prison, and free from the long arm of António Silva.

The Race is On

February 20, 2012

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DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 14:  Tony Stewart...

This story originally ran on January 8, 2010.  As NASCAR season begins once again, I’ve opted to re-run it.  Enjoy.

The radio crackled to life as her spotter’s voice filled the car. “Debris on the track. Stay high and prepare for caution.”

A moment later, the crew chief’s voice came over the radio. “Yellow is out. Come in to the pits.”

“Two and fuel?” asked Sarah.

“You got it. Left sides and a splash of fuel.”

A moment later, caution was out on the racetrack and Sarah Churchill eased the #14 car into her stall on pit road. The tire changers quickly replaced the worn left side tires while the the fuel was topped off. Sarah charged out of her stall seconds later and found herself jockeying for position as she raced off pit road.

The pit strategy had paid off in the short term. Most of the field had opted to change all four tires, allowing Sarah to improve her position from fifteenth to fifth. Two of the cars ahead of her had made a quick splash and dash – just fuel, no new rubber. James Jackson had chosen a pit strategy identical to Sarah’s and had simply beaten her off pit road.

The other car ahead of her had chosen to stay on the track during the caution and had inherited the lead. It was no surprise that this driver was Ron Barth. The legendary driver was the last of a dying breed who threw caution to the wind and raced for wins rather than racing for championship points. Sarah thought that Barth was probably a lap or two short on fuel, but wasn’t taking this for granted. Many times in the course of his career, Barth had picked up wins while his opponents patiently waited for his tank to run dry. Barth was the king of fuel conservation.

Behind Sarah was a mixed bag – most of the drivers had changed all four tires, but a handful had chosen to change two. This was the classic choice between track position and tire wear. Sarah was confident that her fresh left tires would allow her to run down the drivers who had taken fuel only, but she had to hold off the drivers in her rear view mirror who were sporting four new tires on their cars.

The green flag waved, and Ron Barth timed it perfectly, jumping out to sizable lead over the second place car. The car in front of Sarah missed a gear during the restart, and Sarah flew past him and into fourth place.

James Jackson was riding the bumper of Gordon Jeffries, trying to find a way around the #24 car. Jeffries was having none of it, blocking Jackson’s every move. Gordon Jeffires could run three wide when he was the only car on the track. Their cat and mouse game slowed their racing speed and allow Sarah to creep on them. They were intently focused on their duel and seemed oblivious to her presence.

Jackson made another move for the lead, trying to get past Jeffries at the top of the track. As Jeffries went high to block, Sarah drove her Chevy down to the bottom of the track. By the time Jeffries noticed, it was too late to block her – Sarah was into the lead. Jeffries took out his frustration on Jackson, banging fenders with the defending champ. Jackson made a great save to avoid making contact with the wall.

Sarah’s car kissed the bottom of the track as she tried to put distance between her car and those of Jeffries and Jackson. All that stood between her and her first big win was the legendary Ron Barth – the man who taught her everything she knew about racing. Her mentor – and more importantly, her father.

Sarah knew that she couldn’t yet out-race her father on the track. She needed to force him to run out of fuel. First, she needed to catch him. Sarah set her mind to catching him, and began driving an aggressive style that bordered on dangerous. She drove deep into the corners before easing up on the throttle. This allowed her to maintain a lot of speed through the corner, but also greatly increased the risk of a crash.

The strategy paid off, and six laps later, Sarah was on the bumper of Ron Barth. Sarah’s aggressive driving had put significant distance between herself and the rest of the pack. It was a two driver race at this point.

The safe route for Ron Barth would have been to ease off, hand over the lead, and go home in second place. He was running dangerously low on fuel and his worn tires were inferior to Sarah’s. The riverboat gambler refused to yield, however. He aggressively blocked Sarah as she tried to maneuver past him.

As the white flag waved for the final lap, Ron had a one car length lead over Sarah. As he rounded the final turn, his engine hiccuped as his car’s fuel pressure dropped precipitously. Sarah raced past him to pick up her first win at the highest level of auto racing.

Sarah smiled at the irony of beating her father on this, Father’s Day. He would be so proud.

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