Fernando E. Iriarte Rivera is currently a student at Full Sail university enrolled in the creative writing bachelors program. Iriarte aspires to entertain people through his writing while also improving his craft. A tough road lies ahead of him, but if people come out with a smile then it's worth it.
An Odd Escort
A cold wind blew through the night’s sky. In a farm house footsteps echoed. A young man, named Zac, goes to the kitchen.
“Where did I put that bottle?” Zac said as he limped.
He searches through the cabinets. Cold sweat runs down his forehead.
“There it is! This should help with the pain.”
Zac takes two pills and leans on the kitchen cabinet. A feint footsteps is heard is the distance. Zac walks up the kitchen window and looks around.
“Must be hearing things. My ribs!” Zac groaned in pain. “Come on, could these pills please kick in. I swear that bear barely got the swipe in.”
Zac sits down on the dinner table, lifts his shirt and looks at the bandages.
“Still a bit red, but at least it’s not as bad as earlier. Last time I go hunting alone.”
He hears footsteps just outside the farm. A cold chill runs down Zac’s spine. He stands up and walks to his living room.
“Didn’t think I’d be using this so soon,” Zac said as he picked up the rifle lying on the sofa.
He creeps towards the front door. Looking around for any signs of life. He hears footsteps all around him.
“Who’s there? Come on now, it’s too late and too dam cold for trouble now, you hear!” said Zac.
Zac saw a silhouette resembling a dog in the distance. It creeped towards him.
“What the? A wolf? No, the ears aint right. Can’t be a fox it’s too big for that,” Zac said as he pointed his rifle at the figure.
“I haven’t even growled, and you’re already pointing a gun,” said the creature.
“What? How are you? Just what are you?” said Zac.
“An escort, given the situation at hand,” the creature said as he fades into mist.
“Where did you go?” Zac screams as he looks around. “My ribs!”
“Easy there. No need to push yourself too hard,” the creature says as he appears behind Zac.
“You son of a…What!? But the rifle is loaded,” said Zac.
“Such instruments tend to work in the land of the living” the creature said.
“What are talking about?” said Zac.
“You drew your last breath three hours ago. Look around, young man, is this really your home,” the creature said.
As Zac looked around he realized the farm house had disappeared, his riffle turned to ash. The wind had ceased blowing and the grass had become sand. As he looked down the bandages he had where on the ground.
“The pain, it’s gone,” Zac said.
“Naturally once the truth settles in, all earthly ties fade. Now then let’s get a move on shall we,” the creature said.
“Just what are you?” said Zac.
“Just a jackal doing his job. Don’t worry from the looks of it your heart is quite light,” said the creature.
“My heart? What does that mean?” said Zac.
“You’ll know once we get to the scales, young man,” said the creature.
Oliver was raised on fairytales, mythology, and tall tales told at family gatherings.
He studied creative writing at University of Memphis where he completed honors thesis.
After graduation, he had the privilege of working as an editorial assistant at the university’s literary journal, The Pinch.
Two of his stories have received honorable mention from the Writer’s of the Future.
His fiction has been published in the literary journals: ’Built From Human Parts’ and ’Down in the Dirt,’ and ‘Literary Yard.’
IN THE AGORA
Georgia came to a dead halt when a short video clip appeared in the upper right corner of her vision and began playing. Her tour group walked ahead without her down what appeared to be the cobblestone road of a rural town, comprising tall, white-washed buildings, their crisscrossed timber frames exposed and roofs composed of orange, beaver-tail shaped tiles. The group was so eager to watch as key events in the history of inter-war Germany unfolded around them, they didn't notice their guide had fallen behind.
Karl, a security guard at Georgia's university, had sent the looped video to her via the Heads-Up-Display of her internal computer’s ocular implant. In the video a handsome young couple kissed. The young man—Georgia’s ex, James—held the limp wrist of the girl he was kissing so the camera could zoom in on the glittering ring she wore on her third finger. The girl looked not unlike Georgia, had the same straw-colored hair and fair skin. Though Georgia was much taller, something she had thought was important to James, who was self-conscious of his great height.
Also, Georgia had bigger boobs.
How long had it been? Not even a year, ten months since Georgia and James split. And now he was marrying someone else after all she had done for him. Throughout the five years she and Johnny had been together, through undergrad and master’s degrees, he’d made only a handful of awkward, passing mentions of marriage. And then only because Georgia had hinted at it.
The cliche held up: one girl puts in the effort, and the other reaps the benefit.
An ellipsis appeared under the video, followed by a text message from Karl: “I just came across this in The Agora. Are you okay? I had no idea. ”
Georgia shook her head. “Neither did I,” she murmured. Her computer implant transcribed her reply into text that appeared on her HUD below Karl’s two earlier messages.
And I’m not okay, she thought.
Meanwhile, one of the particularly gung-ho tourists pointed to something in the distance of the rural German town through which they were sauntering. He waved to the others, said, “This way!” in Swiss German and took off in the direction he’d pointed. He only ran a few paces before he smacked into the wall of the Virtual Reality room and fell flat on his ass, his eyes widening as he clutched his bleeding nose. The section of the hologram street he’d tried to run down flickered and glitched with static. The rest of the tourists quickly surrounded him, some swearing in German, others in French, and still others in Italian as they helped him to his feet.
The commotion was enough to pull Georgia from her stupor. Even now her chest heaved and her eyes watered. The tour group pulled Mr. Gung-Ho to his feet and then they all glared at her, muttering in a smorgasbord of languages.
Do you know how long we’ve waited for this? How much we’ve paid? How many ridiculous, freaking screening processes we went through?
Even with the captions on her HUD, color-coded to let her know who was speaking, Georgia struggled to keep straight who said what, trying to force her brain to keep up with the rapid-fire text clouding her eyes as much as her tears. Finally, she stomped her foot and shouted in English, “I’m sorry-- I thought I made myself clear in orientation. The room’s tread is programmed to follow only the guide’s movement. When I stop, you stop. ”
The tour group exchanged glances, awed that a student, doctoral or not, had the gall to speak to them this way. Sure enough, they let her have it and a fresh barrage of text filled her HUD. They threatened to pull their funding from her school’s program, should anything like this happen again. They were aware what the history department heads called them. They weren’t run-of-the-mill patrons—they were the big spenders: Whales.
It took her long enough to settle them so they could resume the tour. Even then, the video—though she’d deleted it with a double blink—continued to play in her mind’s eye. Hell, she was a zombie for the rest of the tour. She only vaguely pointed out a young Adolf Hitler as he cut through a dirty, steam-belching alley with a canvas under his arm; it was one of the few times the tour group asked her to pause the simulation. They gathered near the young Hitler to see which shit painting he held and to observe closely his downcast eyes. They asked her, not kindly, to rewind that part again and again, so they could watch the young fuhrer-to-be disappear into the foggy alley.
“Into the mists of history,” the schmuck with the busted nose, Mr. Gung-ho, said thickly. Georgia ground her teeth as the other tourists laughed.
An hour later, the tour ended, and she shook each patron’s hand as the group exited the VR room, though she couldn’t bring herself to meet their eyes. She followed them through the lab’s hallway, past her living quarters behind the door on the right, and the door which read “Lab Personnel Only” to the left. They gathered their hats, scarves and coats before they filed out into the chill Swiss autumn.
Gung-ho paused at the door to the left and without turning away from it, called to the other tourists, asking them to wait.
“What,” he said, looking sidelong at Georgia, “is in there?”
“I’m sorry,” she said, “tourists—patrons— aren’t allowed in there. ”
“That’s fine,” he said, slowly, “but you didn’t answer my question. ”
He tilted his head back and looked down his now crooked nose at her, smiling without showing his teeth. “What I asked you was, ‘what’s in there?’ Can you tell me that?”
Georgia swallowed and shook her head. “That’s where I do the mapping. I’m sorry, sir—that’s all I can tell you. ”
“That’s too bad,” he said, his broad smile slackening into a grimace. “I suppose I should have expected as much. ”
He extended his hand and, when she took it, drew her in close. He gripped her hand too tightly and whispered, “I only meant to give you an opportunity to redeem yourself. ” His warm, stale breath made her eyes water. “I’m afraid you’ll lose your candidacy for certain now, sweetie. ” He clapped her on the shoulder, as if they were old friends, then clomped down the steps outside toward the half-moon of tourists awaiting him. He waved with the rest of them over his shoulder as they made their way toward their transport.
Georgia leaned against the open door with arms crossed high over chest. Shivering, she watched the vehicle the tour group boarded fly across the anachronistic gravel drive toward the barrier of mountains guarding the lab.
What’s behind door number two, she thought. Oh, just a mini-collider. A more advanced version of the Large Hadron Collider invented during the previous century. Though, the mini-collider had the added feature of being able to create and stretch open wormholes to past times. No big deal.
Thankfully it’d been the Swiss, famous for their foresight and, frankly, wherewithal, who’d pioneered time-travel. They guarded their secret steadfastly lest other foreign powers should discover it and try something unwise. It made sense for doctoral candidates studying history to be the ones to map famous past events as a part of their schooling: they were already familiar with the events they were documenting, so they had a good sense of where they ought to be and when to capture the best footage. They documented more reliably, and thus, got a better understanding of the events they’d studied for so long. Then the university could turn around and use the footage to generate revenue by taking current and potential patrons on guided tours of famous historical events. It was a win-win: the students received an unprecedented, world-class education, the university made obscene amounts of money to fund the program, and their patron’s finally got to witness Colette revenge herself on her husband through her sexual conquests of his own lovers.
Good God—was she going to lose her shot at a PhD because of a stupid message about her ex? The university was protective of its money, and if these folks were serious about reporting her…
She couldn’t think about that right now. She needed a drink.
After the tour group disappeared into the Alps, Georgia went back inside to the fridge to grab some alcohol, a water bottle she’d snuck in, refilled with vodka. Once she was back in her living quarters, Karl called her over the video Communication-link on her HUD. A transparent image of him from the shoulders up, a moving portrait, appeared in the middle of her vision when she accepted the call. Karl looked penitent, the way Hitler had about the painting earlier. Now that she thought about it-- and maybe it was because she had Nazi’s on the brain-- Karl was comically Aryan: blonde hair, shaved on the sides, long on top; clear blue eyes; the whole bit.
“I should’ve known better than to message you during a tour, Georgie,” The Aryan began. “Can you forgive me?”
“I’ll consider it,” she said, lying, and then— “Geez, Karl.
“I thought you knew already,” he said. “I wanted you to know I’m here for you. Wanna grab a drink at Doc’s and talk? Or we don’t have to talk about it. We can talk about whatever. ”
“Karl,” she said, “You know the policy. You’re supposed to be keeping an eye on me to make sure I don’t—I dunno— go back in time and screw Alexander the Great or something. Not take me out for a pint and try to screw me yourself. ”
They were both silent for a moment. Karl knew the policy--still, he tried this kind of thing every other month since he was first assigned to guard the lab.
“I’m sorry,” she said and shrugged. “I gotta go. ”
After she hung up the Comm-link, she returned to the VR room and started it again. She logged into The Agora—the popular new social media site— and skinned it like the same bar where Karl had offered to take her. The clinical grey tile covering the ceiling and walls faded, replaced by hand-hammered bronze panels and old steel fans, spinning lazily. Wood wainscoting crept halfway up the walls. Blue rivulets of smoke rose from ashtrays with no cigarettes.
Doc’s, the bar the VR room now mimicked, had been a mainstay for Georgia since she’d first moved to Switzerland. It was an American style honky-tonk that played country tunes from two centuries prior that made her ache for a time other than her own.
“Add library,” she said. “And rain. A thunderstorm. ” A small hologram bookcase appeared next to her and the smell of old paper and ink and leather filled the VR room. The gentle marching rhythm of rain on tin rattled from surround-sound speakers somewhere above her. Now and then a gash of lightning lit the hologram windows followed by a crack and then a low rumbling. The smell of books, the wood and brass bar and the sound of thunder gave the VR room a comforting, womb-like tranquility.
She approached the bookcase and ran her finger along the spine of The Time Machine. Funnily enough for a time traveller of sorts, she’d never read it.
Then she saw Karl’s hologram in the corner of her eye, milling around The Agora with beer in hand. It appeared he had gotten a similar idea and logged on to The Agora in the VR room on his side of campus. When she saw him she went immediately into private mode.
The site allowed various levels of anonymity. You could scramble your face, mute your voice, or be altogether invisible to other people using the site-- so long as they weren’t in the same VR room as you.
It was crappy of her to hide, but recently talking to Karl only made her more acutely aware of how alone she was. Even though she knew he couldn’t see her, she felt guilty and walked to the other side of the Agora to avoid having to watch him sulk. She wondered if he had skinned his VR room like Doc’s too.
She liked to sit by herself in a room full of people. She used to go to real bars filled with real people to read real books alone. Her friends who were online walked around her. The ones who were mutual friends on the site talked over one another while those who weren't passed blindly through each other like ghosts—in either case oblivious of one another.
Halfway through a slug of her drink, she saw him—James-- and nearly spit vodka all over herself. Of course she’d forgotten to unfriend him. He was standing by himself talking animatedly to no one.
No one she saw, anyway.
She hesitated for a moment, and then when she remembered she was in private mode, walked over to him. She stood right where the person he was talking with ought to be. Their mutual friends walked around him, eyeing him. James didn’t notice. He must have hidden everyone but the person he was talking to, forgetting to go into private mode himself. Though he had apparently remembered to mute his audio function so only the person he was talking to could hear him.
Georgia couldn’t help herself. She parked herself right in front of him and hid everyone else on The Agora, pretending it was her, and her alone, to whom he was speaking. She took another gulp of vodka. The plastic bottle crunched loudly as she squeezed the cold, burning liquid into her mouth, the sound underscoring how eerily forlorn The Agora was empty. All she heard now were the ambient noises of the virtual bar: fans, thunder, rain, and the hologram jukebox faintly playing Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone. ”
The irony struck her immediately. Georgia, who had been with James through his graduate years and his battle with alcoholism, was now getting secretly plastered in front of him. His alcohol addiction was a part of why he’d left her. At least that was Georgia’s theory. She’d been there when he was at his lowest and he couldn’t stand that she’d seen it. His pride wouldn’t let him forget. He’d broken up with her and then moved on to a girl who looked enough like her. Georgia 2. 0.
So, he still wanted to be with her, just without the baggage he’d brought into their relationship.
She recognized the look on his face: that crooked, knowing smile. It was the same look he’d given her when they were dating—when they were in love.
Their eyes met. And even though she knew she was invisible to him, she still got that feeling of making unexpected eye contact with someone— of being simultaneously the invader and the invaded, of sharing a brief glimpse into another’s inner world, and realizing the other person had dreams and dreads as rich as her own. She surmised it must be his new fiancee he was talking with.
She watched him mouth words of adoration, and she pretended it was her to whom he was whispering his love. She made out the words baby, dear, darling. Ever-alternating endearments once attached to her.
How could you be with someone so long, learn so much about them, and only a year after you break up, no longer know who they are?
Georgia remembered the first day their relationship really began. It was the last day of the undergrad class they took together, which the university only offered at a satellite campus far out of the way for Georgia. She knew if one of them didn’t act, it was unlikely they would see each other again. After an initial goodbye, she struggled within herself as she stood in the courtyard outside the history building, watching him disappear into the blue night created by the campus lamps. A moment of agonizing dread at the idea of following him was suddenly replaced by a deep palpable warmth and calm starting at her shoulders. It felt as though a supernatural being—ghost or god—was urging her forward and next thing she knew she was trotting after him, waving for him to wait. That moment, that benediction of sorts gave her an unshakeable certainty about the future of her and James’s relationship: they would change each other's lives.
Then back in the VR room in the present, Georgia realized that James had begun to unbutton his shirt slowly, deliberately.
This was wrong. She shouldn’t be here. She shouldn’t see this. Wait—no one should see this.
She un-hid her friends. Her and James’s mutual friends were watching him. They gathered, laughing, and pointing at him, as they whispered to one another.
Georgia had to do something. No matter what had and hadn’t happened between them, she couldn’t just stand idly by while James made sweet cyber-love to his fiancee in public.
Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and went into public mode. She tried to ignore the people watching, giving cries of delight at her sudden appearance, then stepped over to his side. With her hands cupped over her mouth, she whispered a private message in his ear.
“Everyone can see you,” she said. Her voice sounded halting and quavery, and for a moment she wasn’t sure if it was because the site was struggling to support so many users at once, or because of her own emotions.
James paused, his hand on the button halfway down his shirt. He peered around frantically for the source of this message, no doubt recognizing her voice.
“Georgia?” he whispered, surprised, almost accusatory.
Horror spread across his face at the sight of everyone he must have just un-hidden, his and Georgia's mutual friends gawking at him as they held their hands to to their mouths.
James reddened and then, without a word, vanished.
Georgia stood, rooted next to where James had been only moments ago. She took a solid minute before she moved again to find a hologram of Karl’s face inches from her own. She cried out and stumbled backward, only just catching herself. Apparently, he’d been among the onlookers during James’s striptease.
“Georgie,” he began, then hesitated. “Are you all right?”
She drew herself up to her full height, so they stood eye-to-eye, pivoted on her heel and stalked away. “I’m fine,” she muttered.
Karl scrambled after her. “Hey, wait up! Are you sure you’re okay? You can talk to me. ”
“I said, I’m fine!” She logged off of the Agora and the cozy bar faded around her, returning the VR room to its usual drab grey state.
She was alone again.
Karl tried calling her over the Comm-link a few more times and each time she winked at the red ‘reject’ button floating across her HUD.
She paced the VR room. Everyone had seen it, had seen not only James taking off his clothes, but her watching him do so. To their knowledge, he was just an idiot who’d forgotten to check his social media settings properly before doing the cyber nasty. But Georgia? She was a sad creep—a pervert.
An idea occurred to her, though its source was more likely vodka than reason: She could use the mini-collider to go back and prevent all this from ever happening. She would probably get kicked out of the program after the disastrous tour earlier anyway, right? So why not? Even tipsy the idea sounded questionable.
Georgia strode towards the door marked “Lab personnel only” but stopped short. She walked with clumsy, shuffling steps back to the front door of the lab and tapped out the emergency lockdown code after a few tries. The keys had gone funny on her and floated around erratically, trying to flee her fingers. Karl was always on call, so as soon as she went into the wormhole lab after hours, he’d be notified of a breach and, if there was a problem, sent to handle it.
But she could change things and make it back to the moment right after she left, before Karl could do anything, right? It was difficult to tell. So far as she knew, no one had ever intentionally tampered with the past and changed the flow of time.
Also, to avoid potential time paradoxes, the university had strict policies about going back to any time during which the lab worker in residency had lived. You’d risk running into yourself, potentially messing up your own timeline and who knew what else.
Georgia entered the wormhole lab and within a few seconds she received another call from Karl. This time she answered.
“Where are you? I got a notification that someone was in the wormhole lab. ”
“That’d be me, dummy. Who else do you think knows how to get in here, Karl?"
“Well, Georgia, I guess I’d just hoped you were smarter than that. ”
The bite in his words surprised her. It must have surprised him too because he raised his eyebrows after he said it.
“I have to go back,” she said. “You saw what happened. ”
She waited, and for a moment he said nothing. Finally, he sighed as he closed his eyes and massaged his temples.
“It’s not worth it, Georgia,” he said. He sounded neither frantic nor worried now, just tired. “We’ve never sent a person back and animal testing is prohibited—anything might happen. And, besides, even if you made it through safely— you’d lose your candidacy, Georgia. ”
“Yeah, well, thanks to that little stunt you pulled earlier I may have lost that already,” Her lip curled in an uncharacteristic grimace. “So here goes nothing,” she said, her speech slurring now. She threw her arms up around her head in frustration and let them fall with a clap against her sides.
“You’re drunk, Georgia. Please don’t—”
Georgia hung up before he finished.
She surveyed the wormhole lab. It looked like a smaller version of the VR room, except for the archway at the back and the drone she used to map historical events on a pedestal in the room’s center.
The drone, which was roughly the same size and shape as a volleyball, came equipped with a cloaking device and a pair of three-hundred-sixty degree cameras, one on top and bottom. It could hover silently up to ten feet above the ground without making a sound so it could document events covertly. She was pretty sure it used magnets to stay aloft. She had used the drone many times to document events ranging from the Battle of Shiloh to Martin Luther King Jr. ’s “I Have a Dream” speech. And as anxious as she had been piloting a silent, cloaked volleyball-sized drone, she could only imagine how much more nerve-wracking it would be to navigate the past unnoticed with all six feet of her. . . and drunk to boot.
She donned a personal cloaking device, which they had ready on a rack in the corner for the guard in case a lab worker ever tried to do exactly what she was attempting. The cloaking device looked like a hazmat suit made of one of those shiny NASA blankets. Once she zipped up the suit, she pressed the button on her left wrist and became a shimmering, translucent outline of herself—virtually invisible.
She approached the archway and turned it on. Then she looked up the space-time coordinates for the middle of the VR room precisely an hour before the present and plugged them in. Veins of electricity skipped momentarily around the archway’s inner rim and a clear, blue, liquid-like substance stretched across its interior. The substance waved back and forth before her, beckoning to her like a silent, turbulent sea.
She took a deep breath and plunged through the archway.
She had expected time travel to feel like being jerked through an intestine-like tunnel of looped space time, like in the movies. But in reality it felt as if— well, it was more like simply stepping through a doorway. One moment she was on one side of the archway in the present, and the next, though she experienced a slight resistance as she passed through the liquid-like substance, she was on the other side, in the past.
She stood in the dead center of the VR room precisely one hour earlier. She turned back around to look at the wormhole from the other side only to find it had disappeared. At first she panicked, but then she cycled through the sensors on her HUD and an outline of the shimmering wormhole reappeared.
Okay, so she mustn't forget to use that sensor so she could find the wormhole again. She also had to make sure her drunk-ass past self didn’t accidentally pass through it.
Good Lord, she hadn’t even considered that.
The next moment Past-Georgia entered the VR room, already stumbling badly. Present-Georgia raised her eyebrows, then remembered that she had taken a nice long hit of the vodka before ever logging into The Agora.
It was strange to watch herself and know what she was thinking at that exact moment, know what happened next. It didn’t feel like observing other past events. She felt more like she was telepathic and clairvoyant at the same time.
As soon as Past-Georgia skinned the room like Doc’s and logged into the Agora, Georgia scoured the room for James. Thankfully, she remembered, not without embarrassment, that she had taken plenty of time to brood after she’d first logged in. She'd have a nice long window of time to find and talk to James before he began undressing, while her past self wallowed and drank.
Scouring the room, she spotted James and crept towards him as stealthily as she could in the awkward, bulky suit. She passed through the holograms of her friends without recognizing who they were or what they were doing. The buzz of conversation in The Agora became a low rumbling static to her. Her eyes never broke from James-as she approached him. He seemed farther away than he was, as if she was walking toward him from out of a cave, James waiting for her at its maw.
Suddenly she was standing in front of him again as his mouth formed silent words of love to Georgia 2. 0. Again? Georgia couldn’t decide if it felt like days or seconds since she’d stood here last. Maybe she’d never moved.
Maybe she’d been standing here daydreaming the whole thing about him taking off his clothes—not an unlikely scenario for a daydream— and then about going back in time to stop him. Perhaps she’d drunk more than she’d thought.
Georgia’s sudden, uncomfortable awareness of her heart palpitating within her assured her this was real. She fidgeted, checked to make sure Past-Georgia was occupied; she was only now creeping to the other side of the crowded VR room to avoid Karl.
Satisfied that she was safe for now, Georgia pressed the button on the wrist of her cloaking device and became visible again. When she tried to sync her HUD to the Agora so she could send James a private message, it wouldn't connect. And then it occurred to her she had to sign into the Agora. How would the site handle that? Two people trying to sign into the room under the same user name and at the same address?
Georgia double-checked to make sure Past-Georgia was still preoccupied. Past-Georgia was just staring blankly into space with tears in her eyes.
Yep, still wallowing.
Georgia logged into The Agora from her HUD and a message appeared asking whether she was sure she wanted to log out and in again. She winked at the floating green “yes” button and the VR room flickered.
Georgia checked on Past-Georgia, hoping she hadn’t noticed. Past-Georgia frowned and then mouthed “logged out?” She must have been sent an error message. She tossed back the water bottle and finished it in her frustration.
By luck or providence, Past-Georgia, in her drunken state, didn’t put two and two together that the VR room should have turned off if no one was logged in, and left, presumably to grab water bottle number two.
It was the first event Georgia had altered and suddenly a faint glimmer of the new memory this created welled up to the top of her mind, not fully formed.
Georgia returned her gaze to James again, relieved to find he hadn’t begun to unbutton his shirt yet. Without moving, she sent him a private message, simply saying:
James flinched and then frowned. He stared at --no, through-- Georgia at his fiancee and said, soundlessly, “Just a second. ”
James turned his back to her and looked in all directions. Georgia went into public mode. He shrugged and when he turned back to face his fiancee he jumped again. She imagined what he was seeing right now. He’d realized he was in public mode and had un-hidden his friends to find her. Then, when unable to spot Georgia, he turned back to his fiancee, and found instead Georgia and his fiancee’s holograms phasing in and out of one another.
Georgia almost laughed at the way he flushed. Perhaps he was looking at the girl of his dreams in away. They must look like an ancient Indian goddess, two heads four arms and legs, staring at their own body, as each girl strove fruitlessly to see the other.
James mouthed silently to someone within Georgia, “I need to take care of something, baby. ”
Georgia’s insides twisted within her.
“Hey,” James said, now audible, his eye's trained on Georgia's. The pitch of his voice went up in the middle of the word— that feigned excitement he reserved for people who made him uncomfortable.
Her heart sank further; she knew in that moment they were strangers.
“Hey,” she said and her voice choked in spite of herself. “I noticed you were on here and I hadn’t seen you in a while so I thought I’d say ‘Hello. ’” Georgia stared at her feet and continued, “I guess I figured you would have unfriended or blocked me by now. I’m glad you didn’t. ” Now she was blushing.
“Yeah, no, of course not,” he said, “So, how’ve you been? And, uh, what’s with the getup?”
Oh, right. She was Miss NASA in her space blanket-suit-thing.
“Shoot, I forgot all about this,” she said. “I’m just working. ” James raised his eyebrows as if this was a surprise-- as if impressed. “Yeah?” he said. “Still working on your doctorate?”
“It’s my last year,” she said and attempted a smile. From the look on his face, it must have been the most pitiful, heart-breaking smile she’d ever made.
“Congrats,” he said, nodding, thin lipped. The obvious effort he had to put into pretending to be interested nearly brought tears to her eyes.
Thanks,” she said, “And you? I—I heard you were engaged. ”
“Yep. ” he said, stiffly, “I am. A girl named Cassie I met through work. ”
“Well congratulations to both of you,” she said, surprised at herself for meaning it. “Be sure to tell her I said she’s a lucky girl to have you. ” Georgia squinted and shook her head. It had just come out.
James smiled sadly.
“Thanks,” he said, “I'll let her know what a catch I am. ” Then he grinned, broadly, for real. He tossed back his head and laughed.
Georgia laughed, too, hoping to draw attention away from the tears in her eyes and the way her breath caught in little dry sobs.
“Well, anyway,” she said, “It was nice seeing you and all. Guess I’ll see you around?”
“Yeah,” he said, in what she knew to be a lie. “Catch you later. ”
He gave her another of those horrible, thin-lipped looks and waved at her. She waved back as he disappeared into private mode.
Georgia broke down sobbing after he left, fully aware that everyone could still see her on the Agora, that she had only made a fool of herself again, even if she had protected James from something worse. Her friend’s holograms frowned at her, whispering to one another, some of them taking a step forward as if to comfort her only to back off at the last moment. Georgia hid them and went into private mode.
She had to leave, return to the present.
That’s when she heard the sliding doors to the VR room open. Past-Georgia looked awful, like she’d finished another water bottle full of vodka. She wiped her mouth, as she entered the room. She struggled to keep her head steady, cocking it as she surveyed the VR room’s now all but empty bar. Her eyes widened when they fell on Present-Georgia.
“Hey,” she said, and advanced, zig-zagging into the room. “What’s goin on here, huh?”
Present-Georgia, using the sensor on her HUD, watched as the wormhole swirled ominously between them. She bolted forward, as if running to meet and embrace her past-self in the middle of the VR room and engaged her cloaking device. Past-Georgia shied at the sight of another version of herself running towards her, only to disappear like a specter. She lost her balance and fell backward. Before Past-Georgia could stand again, Georgia had jumped through the wormhole.
Back in the present, Georgia fell to the floor in a heap. She heard Karl pounding on the locked door to the lab. “Georgia!” he shouted, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Georgia clambered to her hands and knees, in the same position she’d last seen Past-Georgia.
“Let me in,” Karl called from behind the lab’s locked door. She heard him slam his fist into the wall, and then after a pause, swear loudly. Probably at the thought of having to begin the arduous process of unlocking the lab’s many lockdown security measures.
She had to go back, not to what was now maybe two hours earlier, a memory which was already gradually fading, replaced by a memory scarcely better, but to the start of her and James’s relationship. She had to go back to that night of their last class together and make it so they never dated to begin with.
Before she could contemplate the effect of changing an event years old, she set the coordinates on the archway for the courtyard outside her first college’s history building, five minutes before the end of class when she and Jameswould walk out together.
Karl was still swearing and typing away furiously on the security door’s keypad just outside the wormhole lab. It would be another five minutes at least before he could get to the eye and fingerprint verification, and then another minute for each of those to process before he could enter the lab. She would take care of everything in that time. She had to.
While she waited for the wormhole to get up and running again in the archway of the mini-collider, she checked her cloaking device and made sure the coordinates were correct. Once the liquid-like surface of the wormhole reappeared with jolts of electricity leaping across it, she stepped through.
Georgia found herself outside the old history building of her university back in the United States. A warm, pleasant spring breeze blew softly and the crepe myrtle’s fresh blossoms rained from the trees branches, jumping whenever the wind picked up. She had set the coordinates on the mini-colliders for the middle of one of the courtyard’s raised flower beds so she wouldn’t have to worry about a student accidentally walking or hover-boarding through the wormhole. Also, it was at this flowerbed she knew her past-self would linger before running after James.
Georgia crouched in the bushes, grateful for the breeze: anyone who saw the bushes move when she climbed out of the flower bed would assume it was only the wind.
She heard Karl faintly through the wormhole behind her, still trying to enter the lab. It sounded as if only a thin wall, rather than miles and years separated them.
Her heart leapt in her chest at the sound of her own laughter coming from the history building’s doorway. But when she saw herself and James walk out side-by-side, their every step synchronized, her past-self flushing with that odd mixture of fear and giddiness at her thoughts of their future together—something in Georgia changed. She no longer felt the nausea she’d experienced back in the VR room when she saw James talking with his new fiancee.
Now Georgia saw only James and herself, their relationship's history stretched out before her like a timeline on a high school history project. Yes, there were battles, perhaps more frequent than either of them wished, but between them were long stretches of growth and prosperity: Their first kiss, their first comical, fumbling attempts at love-making, and before both of these-- and now Georgia realized most pivotal of all--the first time they embraced one another. It was startling to realize the most potent, the most distinct moment of her relationship with James should have been so innocuous and occurred so early.
If Georgia didn’t stop her, in a few moments her past-self would fight through her doubts about approaching James and run after him. She’d tell him how silly it felt saying so, but she was grateful to have had the time to get to know him during this class- and, she knew it was stupid, but would he mind if she gave him a hug? He’d grin and say that was all right.
She remembered feeling small in his arms, remembered that beautiful, alchemical smell of cologne and cigarettes that she would come to associate with him—even hate eventually.
For all the pain their relationship had caused, Georgia knew she wouldn’t be who she was today without it, knew she was better for knowing him. She wasn’t sure, but she thought, hoped, he was better for having known her.
She wouldn’t interfere then. She’d go back through the portal and accept whatever chastisement she had to face from Karl and the university.
Past-Georgia and James were standing in the middle of the courtyard together now, bidding one another their initial farewell, then Past-Georgia would hesitate and run after him.
After a moment, James departed. But Past-Georgia made no sign of movement. A little longer and she still didn’t call out or pursue him. Georgia panicked. But then it occurred to her: the sensation she’d experienced that day, palpable as the touch of a friend…
Before she took a step she heard a commotion behind her, coming from the wormhole. Karl finally got into the room and was on his way. She saw his wavering image growing clearer as it drew closer and then he emerged, cloaked, but still visible to her through her heat sensor.
He grabbed hold of her tightly at the elbows and pulled her close.
“We gotta go,” he whispered through clenched teeth, “Do you have any idea how much trouble you’ll be in if the University finds out about this?” Georgia struggled to pull away, but he held fast to her.
“Let… go!” she said grunting with the effort to free herself. The surrounding bushes rustled with their movement.
“Quit struggling,” he said, “Someone will notice!”
Georgia went limp.
“Good,” Karl said, “Now, let’s go. ” He turned to walk back through the wormhole and when she didn’t make a move to follow he wheeled to face her again.
“No,” she said, calmly, full of conviction.
“What?” he said.
She explained to him what was about to happen, what had happened. Explained that if he didn’t let her go to her past self and urge her after James, space-time might be dramatically altered and, in fact, she might never meet Karl in the new timeline created by her not intervening. Karl stiffened, shook his head, and finally said, “All right. Then, go. ”
She knew Karl liked her from the start, knew how hard it must be for him to have to witness the beginning of the greatest relationship in her life up to now, to have to watch her make sure her past self and James fell in love.
Georgia said, “Thank you, Karl,” and stepped out of the flowerbed.
Next thing she knew, she was approaching her past self from behind. She felt like some kind of spirit as she slowly, gently placed her hands on her past self’s shoulders and squeezed. Past-Georgia stood up straighter and then as a particularly strong gust of wind blew, Georgia leaned in and said, “Go. ” She didn’t hang around to watch what happened next. She knew all about it already, had lived it and the memory was enough for her. She returned to where Karl stood waiting for her in the raised flower bed and followed him through the wormhole.
A few days later, Georgia agreed to grab a drink with Karl. Both alterations of the past had taken effect, so she had dated James for their five years, and she’d helped save him from doing his public striptease—though she still had to live with their last awkward conversation together.
Karl was kind enough not to tell the head of department what had happened, to destroy all evidence; and because he couldn’t stand not being able to at least try to date Georgia, he quit his job as the lab’s guard. He’d find another job soon enough, he assured her.
As for the University’s patrons complaining about her— she now knew that what would be, would be.
They sat at a corner booth at Doc’s, the real one, and laughed and talked over drinks. At one point, Karl excused himself to go to the restroom and Georgia sipped her vodka tonic and observed the bar’s exuberant crowd. One girl a few tables over was talking so loudly that the other customers had gone quiet and turned to stare at her. Georgia laughed at first but then she saw that the girl was James’s fiancee.
James himself sat on the other side of the table, holding up a hand to the waiter trying to refill his fiancee’s wine glass. She became belligerent and pouted, but rather than show any signs of anger James paid their tab and left a wad of bills on the tab. He wrapped one arm around his future wife’s shoulder, guiding her and holding her steady as they walked out together. She ceased struggling and leaned her head on his chest. He had to bend over slightly to kiss the side of her head.
Karl returned shortly after James and his fiancee disappeared through the bar’s door into the evening. He looked at Georgia and grinned as he asked:
“Why are you smiling?”
Patrick Robert's background in police work has added fuel to the collection of stories in It's Criminal. I have written many fiction crime stories and The Crew is his favorite.
She cuddled up in the wood bed of the Santa Fe boxcar, the splinters
digging into her skin and ripping an already worn pair of bib
overalls; a twenty-something vagrant on the run from the feds. She
figured on blending in with the hobos in the camps until she could get
to California and a stash of money waiting in a Grey Hound Bus depot.
The moonlight glanced across the open door of the Santa Fe, where
Martina Lovett was saying Hail Mary's, and dancing in and out of
slumber. She was a giving soul who took a wrong turn in her early
years; years that meant orphanages and juvenile hall, until her
eighteenth birthday, a day to remember for the slight built and busty
She had hooked up with a sorry ass crew from California, whose
reputation was liquor stores, and going in hot. It was obvious with
Martina's education in the Catholic orphanage that she would become
the brains of the outfit. With some small-time success, the crew
decided to rob a bank. But going in hot cost a bank guard a bullet in
the chest. The crew got better at it, a consequence of sleepless
nights on planning their next heist.
She drifted in and out of sleep, just dreaming about Jackie and the
crew; dangerous little fucks, with an appetite for suspense. She
prayed the old telephone number was operative, and fell back asleep,
cradled in the splinters of the wood bed. Tomorrow Martina would
search out the day camps for a break from the Santa Fe and make the
phone calls. A downpour seeped in and dribbling down the cheeks of the
homeless bank robber.
The hobo camp was cold and damp, set under an overpass near the train
tracks outside Denver, Colorado. There was a lumberjack size man,
squeezing the neck and life from a chicken and hurling it like a big
leaguer, breaking the neck and boiling it in a kettle of water.
Martina approached the man with her last ten dollars, tucked in a torn
sole of her shoe that mama would have cursed, if she had a mama. The
dark stranger smelled worse than she did, standing there with a stupid
look on his face, but she learned in the hobo camps to pick out the
biggest and make friends right away. He accepted the gratuity and led
her to his small and humble abandoned boxcar.
“Stop gawking so much, Fred, if you want to fuck me, that's fine, but
let’s do it and get it over with.”
Martina was hedging her bets, and praying her forward behavior would
throw him off; it worked, so they slept in each other arms for the
rest of the night. It was something else she had learned, that if
you're going to have to give some head, give it to the toughest man in
She was using him up; a jar of jam, right down to the jelly spread,
she was smothering him with kindness and cigarettes she stole in town.
The boxcar was starting to look like an apartment in the avenues.
Martina was getting big ideas from the hobo. She wanted to rob a bank
in town and use Fred for a frontman, dressed uglier than he already
was, some real Freddy Kruger shit. She'd, telephoned the old crew in
California with no success; hell, she thought, they were probably
Her duffle bag held clothes she needed for work with marks or tricks,
and the lady was good at it. Martina needed a thousand dollars for
weapons and another 500 for a car; an older model with a solid engine.
When she dressed for the dinner house in town, it stirred Fred’s
imagination, so she gave him a hand job, kissed him, and put him to
bed. She was on a mission.
The club was dimly lit with candlelight and soaked in champagne, a
setting befitting upper crust business types. The twenty-four-year-old
walked in the eatery like she owned the place and sat down at the bar;
a player's move that only a pro can make. Bathing along the river
banks had cleansed her body but not her mind. Martina was hell-bent on
getting filthy with an admirer whose eyes were glued to her size 40
bust line. In less time than a barrage of gunfire, she had his bank
statement, Rolex, and 2500 dollars in cash.
“Wake up, sleepy head, we’re leaving this dump.”
Martina was going to clean him up for the bank job next week, so she
got them a room at the Holiday Inn in Denver, a king size.
She was getting used to the hand jobs and keeping Freddy in check;
it’s all the big oaf wanted. He would do anything she said, and more,
if she asked. He looked like Freddy Kruger, all 6 foot 7 inches of
him, looming, and towering over the rest, holding a 12 Gauge Browning
shotgun he filled the bank with his foul disposition. It was enough to
scare the living daylights out of the bank executive and tellers, so
they scrambled in the corners of Chase. Martina pointed a 9mm pistol
in the direction of the executive while he opened the safe. The man
got cute, so she fired over his head. He pissed himself and turned the
dial on the safe.
“You said you could count, honey, so count the damned take.” She drove
like a Sunday school outing, as cool as a cucumber and just as smooth,
never looking back or even thinking of what could go wrong. Martina
finally got it right, it was her fifth job, and Freddy was the Key;
the looming menace. He answered her question.
“Seventy-five thousand, baby, and I'm still counting.”
He would have liked being in charge, but the little shit from the
Southside of nowhere, thrilled him. This wasn't Freddy's first rodeo,
and he sure the fuck wasn't a lumberjack; he was reserved muscle for a
crew out of Chicago. He was also hiding out in the hobo camps, and on
the run for his life after gunplay in the Midwest.
Freddy Boy Jones was a huge man, the size of a Texas lineman, also
raised in an orphanage by nuns. He favored working in close with the
infamous handle grip 12 gauge, a shotgun that blasts pellets 6 to 12
feet in all directions, a weapon used to scare its adversary. Freddy’s
parents abandoned him before his tenth birthday, so he did what every
boy at the orphanage did; learn to fight. He ran the schoolyard,
neighborhood, and his own crew out of Chicago before his twenty-fifth
She started looking at the man in a different way, he was talking more
and making sense, maybe a late bloomer, or just quiet and reserved.
“Do you want to drive for a while?”
She pulled to the side of the highway and got out of the rental job.
The false identification cost them plenty, but mandatory when you’re
on the run. Freddy got behind the wheel of the rental job, kissed her
for luck and drove west.
It was Wednesday when they arrived in Los Angles, 78 degrees along the
coast, so the couple walked along the sands of Hermosa Beach and
checked into a bungalow. He signed for both of them, while she waited
in the lounge, listening to the afternoon news channels talking
weather and better weather to come. But things would take a turn on
the road, like an out of control race car, bent on crashing into
something. Martina couldn't wait to telephone her crew again, just to
see if anything had changed, and it had changed. Jackie answered the
“Don't you trust me, Freddy? Wasn’t it my idea to clean up and get the
hell out of the dump we were in? We need to see this man.”
Martina was making sense, she liked the hunk of meat, and forgave his
easy manner. She was used to Jackie, and his hands-on behavior with
ladies, a man’s man with a flair for danger. But making contact with
Jackie meant one thing; her money and key to the bus depot locker.
That was more important than getting back with a man she knew was a
womanizer; always sported more than one lady on his arms. When they
met at the Greyhound the out of shape wise guy couldn’t believe his
eyes. He saw the size of the man standing beside Martina and smiling
like he owned tomorrow; something out of a hero’s magazine.
He approached them. “How are you, baby, and who the fuck is this?"
Jackie was packing weight, a 45-browning handgun, gilded to his side,
so the size of the man he was facing, meant nothing to the former
mobster. He handed Martina the bag of money from a heist in Oklahoma
where only one of the crew got away. It amounted to fifty thousand
dollars, one thing Jackie wasn't was a cheat or rip off artist. He
almost demanded, with his flair for the unsuspected, a meet in the
coffee house to talk over a business proposal. Freddy hadn’t spoken
yet, having been instructed to play it safe and stay cool under the
collar. He listened to the wise guy.
“It child's play, maybe a quarter of a million for a bank job in
Frisco, an inside job, the kind every little criminal dreams about.”
Jackie looked at Freddy, while he placed his piece on the table in
front of him.
"Do I make you nervous, big guy?"
Freddy picked up the pistol, removed the bullets and gave Jackie the
finger with his other hand; a pissing contest. “I don't scare easy,
pal, and brandishing a weapon without using it isn't smart."
The two rough-around-the-edges bad guys, shook hands on a deal that
included Martina. She also agreed on limiting herself to driving the
“If you two idiots are through dancing, I'm hungry.”
It was obvious she chose Freddy, especially after he manned up. But
her ex ol' man, Jackie Valentine wasn't anyone to fool with. She knew
it was just a matter of time before she ended up with one of them, or
The drive north proved as interesting a trip as expected for the
criminals. Martina’s brown hair rested on Jackie’s shoulder as he
smoked a cigarette in the backseat of the sedan. Freddy drove with the
confidence of a wheelman, while Martina slept. The quiet was
maddening, and each player gave a glimpse into the past. Freddy would
retire his squeeze but didn't know how long he and Martina would last.
Jackie couldn't wait to get back in the mud. He secretly missed his ex
but figured on making his play for her after the bank job.
Martina couldn't help but remember his touch; the feel of a starving
animal eating a morsel of food. Taking and giving nothing in return,
it’s how she felt around Jackie Valentine. She closed her eyes, asleep
and listened subconsciously to the sound of the wheels grinding in her
head. The choice would be simple, the last man standing.
She met Jackie in Golden Gate Park, a setting of trees and shrubs
sculptured and well kept for the city that speaks high society. Her
name was Betty Ann, a real looker with a degree in business, and a
sense of fair play. But she loved his bad boy image and couldn't take
her hands away; a naughty little hypocrite who cursed but didn't say
cuss words. She gave Jackie the specs on the job in the financial
district. She'd been with the bank for six years and opened on
Fridays, the biggest day of the week for deposits. Jackie began
schooling the young lady on getting into the safe deposit boxes. She’d
noticed at least five boxes with crazy amounts of cash and jewelry.
She drove back to Nob Hill after meeting with her boyfriend, Jackie
The crew kept going over the specs at the Bank of America in the
financial district. It was estimated that a half a million could be
stolen from deposit boxes and cash, nothing would get in the way of a
smooth operation; a driver, and two men going in hot. No one slept the
night before the bank job. Martina had purchased a muscle car for the
getaway, something with enough horsepower to get out of Dodge.
Martina pulled to the curb and parked the Camaro, lit a smoke, and
bided her time; knowing well that in ten minutes, all hell could break
loose. She could feel the nun’s ruler across her hands. Her hands were
trembling, so she lit another Pall Mall. The criminals were already
inside the bank and brandishing weapons.
Jackie let one fly in the direction of a teller, ceiling high, just
for scare tactics. The two men let themselves into the safety deposit
boxes. They held Betty at gunpoint, her, and another teller. The
security guard was tied up, tight as a grip on a child when the window
is down. Ten minutes and counting; time became a factor in the play
that spoke dividends about curtain calls.
Martina screeched from the curb, while they fumbled like school kids
in the backseat; a clean getaway with as many goods as the fucking
Vatican; close to a million in jewels and cash. The split would be
even because she'd earned her keep. There was a cop car following
close behind, so Martina put on the breaks and turned the wheel at the
same time, a turnaround, enough to get a shot off. The men in the
backseat were firing their weapons at the police unit, until it rolled
over on its hood, and crashed broadside into a fireplug. The crew
changed cars in Golden Gate Park, where out of shape cops on horseback
suck in too much coffee and not enough donuts. It went as smooth as
possible, but Martina prayed she wouldn't get a manslaughter beef. The
last thing she saw in her rear-view mirror was havoc from the getaway.
“I think we left a dead cop back there.”
But the boys were adding up dollars in the new Ford Ranger as they
drove south as fast as the limit would take them. It was a federal
beef, and outwitting the feds is what they did best.
It was uncanny the way the two guys were getting along. They liked
working together and didn't suck in one another's oxygen. Daylight
hadn’t even passed, and Jackie was talking about putting his squeeze
inside another bank for future references.
It had been years since Freddy had a solid partner to work with. His
expertise was muscle jobs, so he mentioned it to Jackie. The men
agreed to look into Las Vegas money and poker runs, where Freddy did
his last job.
The turn off at the junction leading to highway 215 was a few miles
ahead. Vegas bound, where money never sleeps, and every creep in the
hood was waiting for a shot at the big time.
She was offered a piece of the pie, and in for the thrill of a
lifetime. Martina figured she did a better job than she thought, after
leaving a dead cop on the highway. The newspapers were calling it a
hit and run job, but with no descriptions. The crew was as hot as
cakes on the griddle, and it was everyman for himself, especially when
Freddy caught the two playing footsy in the back seat of the Ranger.
He didn't say a word and chocked it up to old times. He was bigger
than his size suggested, and knew well her unsavory reputation. He
would be happy with scores, now that he'd found a good crew. Freddy
drove while they slept most the day, until they hit Vegas square in
There hadn't been a crew like this since his Chicago years, and Freddy
was loving it, sporting Dan Post boots and Stetson hats, a man’s, man,
again, including a hooker from the parlor downstairs from their suite.
He’d given up on Martina and was happy to play the field. He felt good
about himself and thanked her for that. She did bring him out of his
shell, and away from the broken-necked chickens he hurled like
baseballs. Besides, the mobster and Martina was a match made in
heaven; she still believed in Hail Mary's.
The poker run meant getting on the inside, so Martina would be turning
tricks, again, but without a rip off. Someone had done their homework,
like grade school, the smartest kid is the one holding an apple, and
Martina was sitting on a Houston Texas billionaire. He would be
playing Texas Hold‘em on the poker run on Tuesday. She met him in the
lounge of the old Sahara Hotel, where old money speaks the loudest.
The crew would play this one close to the vest. But muscle was
imperative, so Freddy came up to bat swinging for the fences, hell, he
could bunt a ball and muscle it over left field.
It was an invitational and understood that a million dollars buys a
player into the game. It meant Freddy was getting inside that
transport; the vehicle used for the poker run. He devised a plan and
set up, where the billionaire used a facility in the lounge area of
the Casino. When it was time to go, Freddy would follow them in. He
kept an eye on Martina and the mark, lounging like big cats on the
Sahara Desert. The gentleman stood up, kissed Martina on the cheek and
motioned to his bodyguard that he'd be going to the men's room. The
giant of a man followed both men into the bathroom. Freddy attacked
the bodyguard and broke four bones in his body. The billionaire came
out of the stall with a surprised look on his face. Freddy responded.
“Sorry mister, he didn't like my hat, and I love everything about Texas.”
Freddy Boy was in, a simple statement about Texas to the oilman and he
was inside the transport and taking the bodyguard’s place. That left
Jackie, and his marksmanship, before they see daylight on Wednesday;
he'd be using his 45 Browning. The crew went over the game plan.
Gunplay was inevitable; Freddy would be packing a 9mm Glock. The idea
was to put the muscle on the billionaire and play him for his
briefcase. Martina had already witnessed the man exchange dollars in
one briefcase with a million in it. There were the other two players
It was game day, and the nation's playground, Vegas, would witness one
of the better heist jobs that had been conceived. The transport would
include two Asians, one of them a bodyguard. So, three players were
geared up for the ride of their sorry ass lives; according to the crew
and their sleepless nights. They dressed for the part; Freddy in a
flat liner day suit, modest but assuming, while Martina wore a Prada
gown and necklace. Jackie would hit the driver of the transport when
the timing was right.
The players and their bodyguards, including Martina, sat at their
appropriate stations at the poker table. It was a beautiful setting
for a transport casino on wheels. The owner and maître d’ gave some
insights on the casino and play began. Martina was allowed to sit at
the table, but the bodyguards positioned themselves against the walls.
The buy-in was a million dollars, so the take would be at least three
million, and counting; a billionaire always stands a head above the
rest, and his briefcase was holding five million and change.
Jackie followed close behind, allowing traffic to compensate his
search for the proper opening. He was waiting for the phone call from
Martina, the only one who could slip off to the ladies’ room without
being noticed. She was sitting by the oilman's side with a hand on his
leg, and every now and then, he'd pass her a black chip. The black
chips were a thousand dollars each. Martina laughed under her breath
at the ludicrous tip, especially when the crew was figuring on three
Freddy stood there with his back to the wall inside the transport and
held his breath. It had been a while since his last job, and he
thought he recognized one of the bodyguards, but probably not. He was
nervous. So, he lit a smoke and made small talk with the two
bodyguards. The third player was a businessman also from Houston,
Texas. He'd been losing big the last three hours and called for a
break in the action. It was good timing, and Martina excused herself
for the powder room.
Jackie got his phone call, stayed close behind the transport, and
watched the driver pull into a parking lot. He got out of the
automobile, held his weapon high in the air with both hands, and got
the drop on the driver, taking a piss in front of the transport.
Jackie knocked him unconscious, tied him up.
Jackie was in a good position to open the two-way door inside the
casino, so he did; came in blasting anything that moved and put three
shots in a bodyguard brandishing his weapon. By then, Freddy had
placed a piece in the ribs of the second bodyguard, and Martina held
three players at gunpoint. The crew had done their homework and left
the transport on foot; no one had ever hit a transport casino in the
history of Las Vegas, but the take they were holding proved otherwise.
Ten million dollars.
The crew headed back to Sanctuary City, where they planned on holding
up at Jackie's girlfriends flat in the Avenues. She was the girl that
gave them the inside information on the bank job. Freddy drove the
second getaway car, a mom-and-pop's special, the kind that waves to
you on the freeway with shit-eating grins on the passenger’s faces.
“I told you I'd be in touch, soon, baby, so expect another call in a
couple of days.”
Jackie made contact with the only person he could trust for a hideout.
Betty Ann held her mud, didn't give a description or say anything to
the feds about knowing any of the crew. So, she hung up the landline
“How can you trust this bitch?”
Martina was questioning the sincerity of Betty, a square head and
thrill seeker at best. The gutsy gun mall had proved herself under
gunplay and was advising the crew to flee to Mexico, where they could
live like kings. But Jackie and Freddy Jones felt differently, they
trusted the blond bombshell. The crew stayed on highway 5 to Frisco.
He sported a pair of binoculars and keened in on Betty’s flat. She was
standing on a balcony and waving in the direction of Denny's eatery.
Jackie also peered in that direction and noticed some men in suits,
sitting at an operative position in the restaurant. They were probably
federal agents, so Betty did turn out to be trustworthy. She was
warning the crew of their presence. It made the former mobster stir in
his gut. He wanted his girl back, sure there was Martina to consider,
but no one made him feel like Betty Ann. They drove off in the station
wagon and made plans.
He could see her in the dark of night, creeping like a thief and
holding a bag of garbage for the morning pick up.
“It's me, baby, I told you I’d come back.” Jackie held her close to
him, the pistol jamming in her side from is topcoat; she didn't care,
it could have been his big dick, she didn't care.
“The federal agents are inside, Jackie.”
She didn't hesitate to leave with him, then and there, in front of God
and everybody else. Betty Ann cradle hopped inside the waiting sedan
he stole and lived a life that only comes true in fairy tales. Martina
felt like a pair of dice, being tossed back and forth in an alley
someplace behind a garbage bin. She sat with Freddy in the backseat
and placed her hands in his.
“Looks like you and me, again, bud.” It didn't bother Freddy that
Martina was making advances again, sure, she gave the best head in the
hood, but that's not why she came running back. He sure as hell didn't
trust Jackie, now, especially, because the blonde bitch just wasn't
that cute. Jackie simply liked two women on his arms and told Freddy
The two men faced off, one holding a 45 caliber Browning, and the
other the 12-gauge handle grip.
“You want the wild thing, pal, but you can’t hold on to her.” Jackie
was making sense, but before he could squeeze off a shot, Martina ran
to Freddy's side.
“Stop this gunplay, I’m with Freddy now, so both of you count your
“And you, you cunt, I’ll plug you right here.” The crew was pointing
their weapons at each other and blurting obscenities until Jackie put
his hands down to his sides. He laughed until he cried.
“What a crew this is,” he shouted, then he motioned Betty to climb in
the backseat of the wagon.
The crew drove north, of all places, headed for Canada, where the
black chips in the transport casinos in Vancouver are blacker than
night. Nightfall found Jackie and his squeeze holding hands in the
back seat, while Martina drove, her and Freddy mad with possibilities.
“You know I don't love you Freddy, but I respect you more than any man
I've ever known.”
THE DOLLAR A DAY
It was called the dollar a day room, a job site for low life's parading the streets for drugs, Johns or gutter trash on a score. The stain on the curtain in Joan's room was dried blood, remnants of a bad John. But the teenager was moving up in the sorry ass neighborhood and had met a guy from The Heights. His leather hoodie, Justin boots and hat smelled as good as a client who bathed before sex. Joan placed her toiletries and condoms in a Safeway shopping bag, left a small statue of Saint Nicholas on the three-legged dresser and went in search of a better life.
The room in The Heights cost more than she could afford, but she needed to make a good impression on her new client, the cowboy from Bakersfield, a guy who
could take her places, maybe dine with the little fork for a change; a restaurant without prices on the menu. She'd been living on Doritos, cigarettes, and bad plumbing. A life inherited by an abusive father, an alcoholic with a heavy hand. It wasn't the lack of an education that sent the kid running, she was smart, but needed to distance herself from the leather belt and nightly beatings.
The thing that distinguished her on the streets, was the will to better herself, she'd witnessed the Jane Does at the county morgue. Joan refused to end up as just another statistic.
Her dark skin, eyes, and long brown hair resembled the famous actress Eva Longoria. The woman was beautiful and cleaned up well. She moved into the flat on Western Avenue and waited for Elwood to phone; the bronco rider from Bakersfield who'd paid the price in Joan's cat piss motel room. The big as sin cowboy loved the girl from Long Beach; she took him places his parents couldn't even spell. But it wasn't the screaming sex that he enjoyed, as much as her desire for change. He'd groom the young girl, pretty her up some and teach her to steer rednecks to the tables.
The gentleman was a gambler, closer to a dice cup than his mom’s tit; a reputation that included a 12 gauge hand grip shotgun, harnessed at his side under a range coat, reminiscent of the James Gang.
Elwood rang the buzzer of her flat, noticing right away a cleaner smelling hallway, front desk and lobby. It would be a nice change for both of them and fun
teaching her how to drink, drive his truck, and use her head for more than giving blowjobs. The men he worked with weren't looking for sex; they were cruising; open for excitement and some laughs. Joan liked the idea, besides, she was leaving the life she inherited at The Dollar A Day motel. The underworld of gambling was cleaner, more of a con, and more sophisticated than washing dicks in a sink. The cowboys were gentleman, used to treating women with respect — other
than a few fistfights, steering them was easy. Joan was sexy, smart and willing to allow drunks to get touchy, feely, but prostitution was out of the question.
She was learning the gambling game, driving the flatbed, and leading
men to the trough like sheep just waiting to be fleeced by the gambler from the Midwest.
He supporting her new lifestyle and sending the lady to finishing school. They hadn't been Intimate since their business arrangement, but Elwood had ulterior motives, so he placed the sexual relationship on hold and focused on the cowboy she was steering to the alleyway in back of Mar’s Liquor Store. It wasn't the kind of setting seasoned players were used to, but Joan found the man drenched in hundred dollar bills; a fleecing that took place in a pool of rain water, splashing on the cowboy’s Justin boots. The couple drove the drunk and stupid Texan home — light ten thousand dollars.
He placed Joan in a better position; a hostess for a poker game held by a Judge from Frisco.
His honor wanted someone pretty, but smart, to greet his guests. It paid a thousand a night on the weekends, plus tips. Joan liked the move, she could showcase the etiquette she'd learned, besides, she did most everything Elwood said. The alluring youngster missed their sexual encounters at The Dollar A Day motel.
"You don't touch me anymore. Why?" Joan placed her arms around him. He
had a bulge in his Wrangler Jeans.
"Trust me, baby doll, it’s not because I don't think about it, but business always comes before pleasure."
She didn't question it again, knowing well that if she wanted the man, she'd just jump his bones. They sat on the balcony, flirted, and went over her work assignment at the Judge’s estate.
The Judge was pleased with his new hostess, a good-looking young woman
with class; the last one he hired was caught giving a blowjob to one of the guests.
The girl must have been pretty good at it, because the Judge didn't fire her until the following week. He paid a week’s wages up front, so that Joan could start work that evening, having shown them around the parlor room and gambling suites. It was a perfect opportunity to feature her manners and the deportment she learned
in finishing school. She kissed Elwood on the cheek and got ready for work in the mansion, a place that distanced itself from the cat pissed Dollar A Day. The
Midwesterner thanked his honor, retrieved his Stetson hat from the butler, and drove to the racetrack.
The week’s pay was begging to be placed on a nag named Slow and Slower.
Joan was about to secure her position in the gambling world. She began
greeting guests arriving in limousines. Joan curtsied, a fresh look for the ladies
stepping out of their luxury cars.
Some complimented the Judge on his new hostess, as she escorted them
inside, removed the women's fur coats and handed the butler the gentleman's snap-brim hats.
The well-to-do were tossing black chips on the tables like a penny pitch booth at a carnival, stacking chips and tipping Joan after every rake. She was serving
Cristal champagne and caviar, escorting socialites to the ladies’ room, and lighting the husband’s Cuban cigars, until a twenty five hundred dollar Dunhill came up missing. Some businessman saturated in wealth and jewels was missing an expensive lighter, but before he motioned for the Judge, Joan found it under a stack of black chips. Her fate in the gambling world was sealed, an honest
and trustworthy employee.
The mogul tipped her three bills and complimented his honor on his new
hostess. Joan couldn't wait to tell her man about the excitement at work, it was time to jump His bones, or whatever else he was serving up.
The girl entered their flat, placed twelve large bills on a coffee table, and poured them a drink, a gesture that overwhelmed him. It showed in the bulge
stretching his silk pajamas; a hunk with looks to die for, staring at the whore from The Dollar A Day, until he couldn't stand it any longer. Elwood tore at her dress, and ripped at the size 36C brassiere. Her pink and flush nipples hardened in his mouth, so he sucked her off, placed her on her stomach, and fucked her in the ass; an ass the size of a quarter. Things hadn't changed. The screams and cries for more lasted all night, until they lay silent in each other’s arms, in love and saying as much
over coffee and donuts. It was 6:00 a.m. and Joan walked to Main Street — they'd run out of Folgers.
He'd taken her off the streets to work high society, a far cry from The Dollar A Day motel room, but Joan didn't forget where she came from. She prayed for the
working girls on Main Street, where dinner meant a cold pizza before the next John, or watching a stranger approach in a dimly lit alleyway hoping that it’s a client and not someone else. Joan was thankful for the changes in her life. The skank from Long Beach was moving up and nothing would stand in her way, but something was standing in Joan's way, all six feet of him; he was heavy set.
It may have been a coincidence, but someone at the poker game was asking questions about the new hostess. The Judge pointed the man out and Joan did the rest. He was an old client of hers from The Dollar A Day; a client that preferred slumming under an assumed name, but he wasn't really sure who she was or where they had met. Joan shook his hand and actually curtsied, so they spoke about Starbucks on the Avenue, maybe they had met there.
Elwood was hot under the collar. The arrangement with the Judge had taken months.
"Did he recognize you from The Dollar A Day?" He was aware of Joan's emotional state.
"No, I don't think so."
Elwood agreed, but he did confront the Judge concerning Joan's past. It wa S the wise thing to do; gamblers always hedge their bets, besides the Judge liked his new hostess. She was good for business — a real people person. They agreed to let Joan handle it, after all, no one knew how to steer men better than she did. The Judge was more than willing to drop Joan’s former client as a guest at the poker games.
He knew from first glance, Joan was a street whore from the sleazy motel in Long Beach, a far cry from sanctuary city, but the kinky mogul got around. He confronted her with the truth just outside the coffee shop; a place she frequented most mornings.
"We played the game the other night, isn't that so, honey?" The former client was pleading for a date, he'd have said something at the mansion, but was willing
to follow her instead. Joan secretly new as well; she spoke in a whisper. "I've missed our love making, and now is as good as it gets." She was buying time, and arranging a meeting, but sex wasn't on the young lady’s mind; she boarded a flight to Long Beach; informed the mogul client, and waited.
The Dollar A Day hadn't changed much, it still smelled of piss and the head clerk’s bulldog; she walked in, grabbed some bed sheets, and swam through the cash in
her leather bag. The clerk didn't recognize her; he stuffed the large bills in his pocket and promised she'd be left alone. He was told to steer the gentleman caller to her room; he did so, with a smile on his dirty face, just watching the fool holding a bouquet of flowers, enter the elevator.
There was a knock on the door, she could hear him, muttering dirty words and rubbing his pencil shaped penis. Joan raised an eyebrow to the splintered peephole. Some things never change, she thought. The man took perversion and slumming to the next level, but the ex pro was waiting, what she had in mind would certainly level him, all right. She placed the roses in a cracked vase and guided him to the bed. She went to work — a fucking that would find him on his knees, naked as sin, and begging.
The large bag in the closet held her tools and torrid past, like a driver in a car accident, who can't wait to get back in the driver’s seat. She removed the blades, saw and torn sheets. His body lay on the bed, facedown, so cutting it in pieces was easy. The leg bones took more time, and sawing them off spurt blood. She wiped it on her breasts, she was naked, an asset she seen in a television crime scene; bloody clothes meant forensics. The girl from The Dollar A Day was getting way too good at murder. She placed the bag of body parts and bone fragments in the hallway. She'd pay for the old man downstairs to dump it. The Dollar A Day sounded like a cheap operation, but the price of murder was expensive at the motel; it was more expensive at the racetrack for Elwood, the following day.
The gambler was being touted on the 5th horse in the next race; a turf club membership and gift from Joan. They sipped margaritas and discussed business.
"Where were you, yesterday?" He made small talk over reading the racing form.
"I caught a flight, went to The Dollar A Day, it's up for sale. You said to make some sound investments." Joan opened the racing program to the 7th race coming up.
"Oh, look, honey. There's a horse named Dead and Stinkin’ in the next race. I think I'll put a saw buck on him."
They joked about horses’ names, dead president pictures and their past.
"By the way, what happened to the business guy that spotted you the
other night?" He lowered the racing form; the old client was a problem for Elwood.
Joan sipped her margarita. "Oh, he's history, just like the racehorse honey, dead and
Tammy Wilson has been writing since she was 11 years old and her love of the written word has increased with the passage of time. She has had poetry published in national and international anthologies and is currently working on her first book, intended to be adapted to screenplay after the book is finished. Tammy enjoys studying Japanese language, anything crafty like crocheting and making dreamcatchers, and is currently trying to learn how to make homemade ramen. She is a U.S. Air Force veteran and left military service with the Air Force Commendation Medal. She currently lives in southeast Alabama with her family.