Murder! Suspense! Surprise! Chicanery!
I’ve always liked short stories, short shorts, and flash fiction. The investment of time is on the briefer side, and often just as rewarding as a novel. I’ve penned a few myself, and selected my personal favorites (including a couple of flashes) in Corliss and Other Award-Winning Stories.
Some stories have unlikely heroes, such as an English bulldog named Jemma. Some learn and grow, some go to jail, some die, some profit from other people’s villainy. The common thread is their humanness (even the dog’s).
I hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as I enjoyed writing them.
Get Corliss: and Other Award-Wining Stories on Amazon or read some stories for free right here. One of the stories below is included in the book, and two more are published exclusively on this site.
But before I get to the stories, I must tell you about my novelette.
If you enjoy these stories but aren’t sure whether or not to dive into a full-length novel, I have just the thing: a novelette that introduces main character of my series, detective Lee Alvarez. It’s called Honeymoons Can Be Murder. Here’s the gist:
When PI Lee Alvarez goes on her honeymoon with bridegroom, Gurn Hanson, they find a dead woman practically on their doorstep. Kauai breezes may be soft, but there are gale force winds of accusation against Gurn. Will Lee find the real killer before her new hubby gets sent to a Hawaiian hoosegow?
At five-thirty on a Friday afternoon, Jack Lawrence Sullivan was on the horns of a dilemma. For the past six-months he had worked hard to prove himself worthy of becoming the new Assistant Office Manager. Finally the job was his, set to begin on Monday. Having a steady income, health insurance and an opportunity to make something of his life held another possible bonus: Sheila’s father might see him as a stable, working man, a man fit to marry ‘Daddy’s Little Girl.’ Then Sheila, his much younger, rich and demanding ladylove, decided they had to leave Sunday night for the Sundance film Festival on daddy’s private jet. From the git-go Jack knew you did what Sheila wanted or you took a hike.
Pushing thirty-six, blue-eyed, dark haired and handsome, no one knew better than Jack that he was losing the resilience of youth. What he did now mattered. He wanted this job. He would finally be using some of that potential his grandfather always said he had.
Deep in thought, he found himself wandering into the neighborhood park. He was pleased to see the woman with the Irish Setter was there. She often ran with her dog in the games they played, her long hair blowing like cords of black silk in the breeze. She looked to be of East Indian or Pakistani descent, something like that; he couldn’t tell. Whatever, she was gorgeous.
From a distance, Jack heard to her call to the dog. The two left with an older man, probably her father. Jack crossed to the other side of the park, where the man had been sitting. His foot struck something that slid across the sidewalk with a whooshing sound. He glanced down and picked up a wallet without breaking stride. In the safety of his small rented room, he opened the bulging billfold and counted five hundred and sixty-seven dollars.
His first thought was the windfall. Then thoughts of the woman, the man and the dog flashed through his mind. With a sense of resignation, Jack read the address on the driver’s license and walked to the small store he passed nearly every day. He opened the door and stood face to face with the man, who was on the telephone. The man put out his hand with one finger extended, as if asking for a moment of time. He said with a soft accent,
“Yes, police department? I want to report a missing wallet.”
Jack removed the wallet from his pocket and held it in the man’s line of vision.
“What is this? Vishnu provides! My wallet, it is returned to me. I will hang up now,” he said to the phone and did so. He took the wallet from Jack’s extended hand, marveling at his good fortune.
“I found it in the park and I’m returning it to you. Your address was inside.”
The man quickly opened the wallet to check the contents.
“Everything’s there,” Jack said.
The older man grabbed Jack’s hand and shook it with all his might.
“Savita!” he hollered to someone in the back room. “Come quickly! Here is the young man who found my wallet and he returns it to me! Please, let me introduce myself to you. I am Jitender Kumar. This is my daughter Savita. And this, Savita, this is my new, good friend.” He beamed from one young person to the other.
She was wearing a flowing, dark red caftan. A hint of lavender perfumed the air. Her face looked fresh scrubbed, as if she’d just stepped out of the shower. Jack felt his breath quicken.
“We can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done, Mister…” she said.
“Jack Sullivan,” he stuttered and saw a slight smile come across her face.
“I’ve seen you in the park, haven’t I?” Savita asked in a voice rich and resonant. “When I’m there with my dog, Pax. In fact, I’ve seen you so often sitting on a bench, I feel as if I almost know you.”
“I know what you mean. I—”
Mr. Kumar interrupted, too full of happiness to stay silent. “I will go and tell your mother, Savita. She was as upset as I was to think I would have to cancel all the credit cards, not to mention, to lose the money!” He started for the backroom, but stopped. “Your mother, she is awake? Will I be disturbing her?”
“No, Father, not at all. I just gave her some tea. She’s resting.”
“That is good, to rest. Has she taken the new medicine?”
“She doesn’t take it until tonight, Father, remember? Those were the instructions.”
Listening to this exchange, Jack’s attention was riveted on the beautiful woman, probably a few years younger than him. Her expression was kind and loving, dark brown eyes liquid with concern. Jack wondered what it would be like to allow himself to fall into her large and luminous eyes and was astonished that he would have such a notion.
“You, young man.” Mr. Kumar pointed a finger at Jack, jerking him back from his thoughts. “Do not leave until I return. I will be right back. Thank you.” He vanished inside the room.
“No, sir, I’ll stay right here,” Jack said and then turned to the woman with a raised eyebrow.
Savita answered the unspoken question. “My mother has been ill for awhile.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Jack said. “Will she…be all right?”
“We think so; it looks promising.”
They smiled and were silent, each fidgeting a little.
“I should water these plants,” Savita said suddenly. “They’re my mother’s and I keep forgetting.” She picked up a watering can and went to the window.
Jack followed. “Tell me about yourself. Are you married? Do you have any kids?”
“No, although some time ago my parents tried an arranged marriage for me, as is the tradition. At the last minute the groom decided to marry a Chinese American girl and backed out leaving me at the proverbial altar.”
“You got dumped? That’s hard to believe.”
“Why?” She turned to face him, wrinkling her nose.
“Well, you’ve got that great dog, for one thing.”
She laughed, setting down the watering can. “It was a relief. I didn’t know him very well but what I did know I didn’t like. I’ll probably never marry.”
“Sure you will.” He smiled and cleared his throat.
She returned his smile. “What makes you say that? I tend to speak my mind. Most men don’t like that.”
Before Jack could say more, Mr. Kumar returned, his arms opened wide.
“So now, my friend, Jack Sullivan, how can I repay you?”
“There’s no need—” Jack began.
“I will make you something,” Mr. Kumar interrupted. “Or take something, anything from the store. Look around you,” he said expansively. “What do you want?”
For the first time, Jack looked around and saw the store was devoted to different types of men’s shirts. The ringing of Jack’s cell phone pierced the still air. He removed the phone from his pocket and looked at the number. Sheila. The thought of Get Sheila’s Millions resurfaced. “I have to go.”
“We will see you again?” Mr. Kumar asked.
“Yes, please come again,” said Savita.
He looked at the phone in his hand and then back at the woman. “Thank you but I don’t know what my plans are. I’m pretty busy these days.”
“I see,” she said.
“I should be going.”
“Then goodbye, my friend,” put in Mr. Kumar. “And thank you.”
On the other side of the shop door Jack stood and studied Sheila’s number on his cell phone. Every woman he’d known had been exactly like her, long on demands, short on giving, easy to forget. But this one, he instinctively knew, a man could get lost in a woman like this and never find himself again, even if he wanted to.
Grinning broadly, he turned and pushed the door open with such verve, the bell overhead pealed wildly in protest. Father and daughter turned to face him, with surprised looks on their faces.
“Forgive me, Mr. Kumar, but I’ve got a job starting Monday and I think it would make a good impression if I had a new shirt for my first day at work, so if I could take you up on that offer…”
His voice reverberated throughout an otherwise silent room. Jack stared at them. They stared back. His smile began to fade.
“And with a new tie!” Mr. Kumar boomed. “A new shirt with a new tie will be very impressive, indeed. We have beautiful ties, do we not, Savita?”
Savita nodded, looking directly at Jack. “Yes, we do, Father, and I am an expert at finding the right tie for the right occasion.”
“I’ll bet you are. I’ll just bet you are,” Jack said, gazing into her eyes. He felt himself not falling but leaping into them.
Winner of the Long Short Stories Contest
Mr. Lipschitz stared at his sock drawer in utter contempt. Somehow in the past three days, it had become completely disorganized and that would not do. No, that simply would not do.
An exacting man, he believed firmly there should be a place for everything and everything should be in its place. His four bedroom, two bath Victorian house with working fireplace was as neat as a pin at all times. Correction. He had been assured it was a working fireplace when he purchased the foreclosure but, of course, wood fires are extremely un-neat. So even though the recently vanished Mrs. Lipschitz preferred heat from a fireplace, it had never been used.
He slammed the sock drawer closed in a burst of anger, causing a bang of wood against wood. He didn’t usually show his displeasure except to the now absent Mrs. Lipschitz. Going out for groceries, indeed. His sainted mother had been right; deny his wife money and she’d be gone.
With a meticulous eye, he examined the drawer and surrounding polished wood for damage. His mother’s cherry wood gentleman’s dresser, with its elegant silver and onyx inlay, gleamed back at him, unharmed. He ran a bony finger over the surface checking for dust, found none, and standing back, admired the lines of the art deco piece that many a private collector coveted.
“My apologies, my friend, for losing my temper,” he said with a slight bow. “It certainly isn’t anything you’ve done and won’t happen again.”
Glancing at his wristwatch, he crossed the room appreciating the thick, Persian carpet beneath his feet. He relished the memory of how he’d garnered it for a ridiculously low price at auction several years before. Then he headed down his eighteenth century, carved mahogany staircase toward the living room.
Being a Certified Public Accountant may have been his livelihood, but his life’s work was attaining treasures at discounted prices. He made it his business to find out who was in desperate need of money, declaring bankruptcy, going out of business, or had “passed over,” as his own sainted mother had done three years before.
Of course, it did help that his mother had left him quite a legacy upon her passing, a point of which the gone Mrs. Lipschitz had ceaselessly reminded him. Through the years, he had attained many fine pieces and his home reflected his exquisite taste and acquisitional habits. These were not only his possessions but his steadfast friends.
He stepped into the living room and surveyed it with immense satisfaction. His eyes beheld the sparkling amethyst and lead crystal chandelier, fine paintings, porcelain figurines, museum quality furniture, and rare Oriental rugs, all obtained for a fraction of their value by his cunning negotiating and bidding skills.
Show me a person in a perilous position, he would say, and I will show you an anxious seller. Therefore, wherever there was a venue for the luckless or needy, Mr. Lipschitz would be there, checkbook in hand.
He stopped before the marble mantel of his fireplace and looked again at his platinum watch, another fabulous buy from a suicidal stockbroker. It was nearly quarter to the hour. Focusing his attention upon the antique Swiss clock, he grasped his restless hands behind his back and waited.
He had procured this fine example of an antique cuckoo clock eight-months previous. Over two hundred years old, it contained three sets of elaborate, moving figures, each announcing the hour, half-hour or quarter-hour, accompanied by intricate, musical chimes.
For the quarter-hour, a yellow-haired maiden would appear carrying two milk buckets, a bluebird resting on one of them. As the girl glided in her arc across the façade of the clock from left to right, a small, brown dog followed her. It was the dog that concerned Mr. Lipschitz. The dog was supposed to wag its tail in its passage but had not. That was unacceptable.
Since obtaining the clock, Mr. Lipschitz labored over it in his basement workshop every evening from seven forty-five until nine-thirty p.m. exactly. With the aid of manuals, obscure springs, complex parts and lengthy conversations with experts, Mr. Lipschitz had achieved his goal and reconnected all working parts the previous evening. Now was the supreme test. Would the dog repeat his performance on the mantlepiece, thereby promising a twice-hourly repetition for many years to come?
Mr. Lipschitz waited anxiously as the clock began to chime. The small door on the left side opened and the milkmaid started her journey from one side to the other. Soon a small, brown dog followed her, wagging its tail. Mr. Lipschitz was elated.
“You’re a good boy,” he said to the dog. “A good boy.”
With a sense of accomplishment, Mr. Lipschitz sat down at his heirloom grand piano, opened the lid, stretched his fingers and prepared to play as he did every evening before dinner. He would begin again the second movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 6 in B flat, and it would be only that until he perfected it. His fingers hovered over the keys and then came to rest in his lap, as he pursed his lips. An errant thought came into his mind, jarring this perfect moment.
What was going on inside his sock drawer? He reflected on the procedure. Each sock was clipped together with its mate before putting them into the hamper. They were washed in the machine and still clipped, placed into the dryer. They were only unclipped when he folded them neatly and placed them, according to color, into the sock drawer of his fine, gentleman’s dresser.
In the unlikely event that there appeared a matchless sock, the sock was carefully placed to the left side of the sock drawer until the recalcitrant mate reappeared. That had happened only once, when he had foolishly allowed the missing Mrs. Lipschitz to do his laundry. It never happened when he did the laundry himself, until now.
For the past few days, more and more pairs were coming out of the dryer sans clips and sans mates. The left side of the drawer was becoming filled with mateless socks. Just how many, he wondered? Discarding his normal routine, he rose to return to his bedroom to find out.
He went to his walk-in closet, picked up one of the two empty wooden laundry baskets kept there for such an occasion, and returned to the gentleman’s dresser. Opening it, Mr. Lipschitz removed all the socks and placed them inside the basket. With a sense of distaste, he carried the basket down the stairs, into the kitchen, and emptied it onto the original nineteen-twenty’s, white porcelain table that had once lived in the kitchen of Hearst Castle. He separated the mateless socks into colors then bit his lower lip to keep from crying out.
One blue, two black, and four brown mateless wonders stared up at him as he stared down at them. He counted no less than seven missing socks before slipping a nitroglycerin tablet between yellowing teeth to quell an erratic heart.
“This will not do,” Mr. Lipschitz said aloud. He gathered up the socks and strode into the laundry room. He stood in the square, white room, complete with a low, stone-hewn garden sink. Across from the sink sat the washing and drying machines, acquired from the sale of a M.I.A. soldier’s possessions.
He studied the washer, clean, white and new.
“No, you are all right,” he decided, patting the top loading washer several times on the lid. “Everything is all right going in and coming out of you.”
He turned to the dryer. It also sparkled clean, new and white.
“But you! I believe you are the troublemaker. What have you done with my socks?”
He kicked the dryer squarely in the center of the door. Waving the offending socks in the air, he hurled them down on top of the appliance. His deceased mother’s pique café curtains quivered in the window from the slight movement of air.
The man repeated the question. “Well? What have you done with my socks?”
“I ate them,” a deep bass voice replied, resonating within the small room.
Shocked, Mr. Lipschitz backed up and, in doing so, tripped over his own foot and fell into the Tuscan garden sink containing seedlings ready to be planted in his pristine and well-organized garden.
“Who said that?” he asked. Wiping dirt and small leaves from the back of his slacks, he looked around for the source. “Who said that?”
“I did, you prissy knothead. You asked me what I did with them and I told you. Now go away.”
The voice seemed to come from the dryer. Mr. Lipschitz stared at it, his eyes wide with fear.
“What…what did you say?” He clutched at the sink behind him.
“I said go away, you sniveling snot rag! What are you, deaf, as well as ugly?” The masculine voice took on more of a grating tone with each word it spoke. “Get lost! Take a hike! Or give me more socks. Is that clear enough for you?”
Mr. Lipschitz fought to remain calm, his mind racing. This could not be an intruder. He would have heard the alarm go off. The doors and windows of his home were locked, always. The security system was sophisticated and on, as it was every single moment of every single day and night unless he was in the garden or garage, where he had not been for several days. He had been toiling downstairs in his shop on the dog’s tail. There couldn’t be an unknown intruder; he would have heard the alarm go off.
“How can this be happening? What’s going on?” He said as he looked all around him.
“Heh, heh, heh,” chortled the dryer. “Gotcha, didn’t I?”
“All right. All right. That’s enough,” Mr. Lipschitz replied with a bravado he was not feeling. “This joke has gone on long enough. Whoever you are, come out from behind the clothes dryer. This is not funny.”
“Look, you moronic imbecile, you pathetic excuse for a man, you think anybody could be standing behind me mouthing off and not be seen by you?”
Even though less than a six-inch space existed between the wall and the dryer, Mr. Lipschitz, nonetheless, craned his neck around to the side of the dryer to see if someone was hiding. No one was there.
“I don’t understand,” he stuttered.
“You’re such a frigging idiot,” the dryer said and laughed raucously.
“Stop using language like that,” Mr. Lipschitz reprimanded. “This is my house and I won’t stand for it.”
“Oh, you won’t, won’t you? If you don’t like my language, leave the room. But before you do, throw me a sock. I’m hungry.”
“Shut up! How dare you talk to me like that? You’re just a dryer.”
“Up yours!” the machine drawled. “Got any more blue ones? Those are my favorite. Must be something about the dye.” The dryer made a smacking sound. “Yummy!”
“Why, you miserable piece of tin…” Mr. Lipschitz shouted. He bent over and opened the dryer door, looking inside for a hidden child or midget.
“Want to climb in and take a ride, butt-face? It’ll cost you one pair of socks and maybe your jockey shorts.”
Mr. Lipschitz kicked at the sides of the dryer, scuffing his Bally Oxfords. Then he grabbed both sides of the dryer and shook it wildly.
“Shut up, shut up, shut up,” he cried again and again. The room echoed with his voice, raspy intakes of breath, and the sounds of clanking metal mixed with strident laughter. His mother’s curtains quivered again and again.
“Ooooooo! You’re scaring me now!” the appliance said, with a chortle. “What are you going to do, you wuss? You haven’t got what it takes to pull me off my foundation. I’m bolted on. Face it, you jackass. Give up and throw in more socks!”
A scream of rage erupted from the depths of Mr. Lipschitz’ very being. He took hold of the back of the dial plate with one hand, the dryer opening with the other and began rocking back and forth with all his might. The more he pulled and pushed, the more the dryer taunted him. His face turned red and sweat poured from his body. His muscles strained, ached, and then trembled. Finally, the bolts that secured the dryer to its frame ripped loose with a shrill, tearing sound. But Mr. Lipschitz was beyond hearing that. He was too busy feeling the searing, hot pain in his chest right before he pulled the dryer over on top of him.
- * * * *
The next morning, a middle-aged woman gingerly unlocked the back door and peeked inside. The short, squat woman stepped over the threshold, turned off the warning pings of the alarm system, and tiptoed over to the stiff hand protruding from beneath the dryer.
She ascertained that dead was dead and crossed to the wall behind the dryer. Humming a smart tune, she withdrew a small tool from her bag and unscrewed the cover to the phone jack. Nestled inside were a small microphone, speakers and wires. She placed the electronics in her handbag and returned the cover to the wall.
Tottering on platform heels, she pranced through the house and into the living room, heading towards one of the six hand-blown, bevel-edged, double windows covered in French silk damask. She pulled back one of the opulent drapes just far enough to signal her young and nubile lover waiting in a parked car, and blew the man a kiss. He in turn waved, pulled away, and left her to the next task.
She removed a raw onion wrapped in plastic, plus a cell phone from her bag before sitting down in a genuine Queen Anne walnut wing chair, resplendent in the original blue silk velvet. Settled in, she fluffed her dyed blonde hair and dialed 911. As she rubbed the onion on her eyelids and waited for the operator to answer, Mrs. Lipschitz looked around her and thought, “Ka-ching, Ka-ching.”
“How to Potty Train Your Cat”
By Heather Haven
Potty training your cat is done all over the world. It just takes patience, firmness and steel-reinforced leather gloves. Why should you suffer the waste of space given over to a litter pan? Why should you endure the smell of soiled kitty litter? No, I say! Have that poop go right down the john and out to the Bay where it belongs. Your cat may initially balk but will come around to your way of thinking, I promise. Remember, it is essential to take the upper hand when laying down the law to your spouse or child and, in particular, your cat. Despite the fact that cats do seem to become hard of hearing or recalcitrant when issued an order, do not be put off. You can achieve your goal if your commands are clear and concise. You will be rewarded by an animal who loves you even more for your discipline. Below are some steps that I’ve employed in the training of T-Bone, a large, orange stray that adopted us thirteen years ago:
1 – Discuss overall goal with family. Everyone must be in agreement on objective and how to achieve it. Keep cat out of room during this discussion. There is no sense in alerting cat ahead of time. They have their ways.
2 – Relay overall goal to cat moments before you begin training process. You will find that sitting the cat down in a quiet place, void of distractions, and outlining the problem is a good way to go. They will usually pay rapt attention to you, especially if you are waving catnip about at the time. They may not remember all that you’ve said but it is a bonding experience. A martini, on your part, goes a long way toward this bonding.
3 – Using the aforementioned gloves, when you see cat doing its business in litter pan, carefully lift animal out of pan and carry to the toilet. Be sure lid is up. Firmly but gently, place back legs of said animal on either side of seat, smiling and chatting casually. Casualness is essential for success.
4 – Apply Neosporin to scratches on upper arms and face and clean up urine and fecal droppings that landed on new rug while carrying cat from laundry room to bathroom.
5 – Transfer litter pan from laundry room to bathroom, so it will be closer to ultimate goal and then go find cat.
6 – Using ladder, get wet cat off neighbor’s garage roof and towel dry. Put more Neosporin on new bites and scratches, bearing in mind that you have to break an egg to make an omelet, although, at this moment, you have no time to cook.
7 – Introduce cat to new location of litter pan while enduring family’s protests over smell in the one and only bathroom of the house.
8 – Clean up mess in laundry room done by a now confused cat that went behind the dryer on your new, washable silk blouse that fell there earlier in the day and you forgot to retrieve. Rewash blouse, hoping claw marks will not show.
9 – Return to bathroom and take child’s rubber ducky and bottle of Obsession perfume that fell into litter pan out and wash them thoroughly.
10 – Stand guard over litter pan waiting for opportunity to catch cat using it again, so you can continue training process. Sleep in bathtub over night.
11 – Wash foot that stepped into litter pan as you were trying to get out of tub when your husband turned on shower to get ready for work, without looking to see if you were still in tub behind the shower curtain. Curse all men. Curse all cats. Bandage big toe that got stuck in the faucet during the night, while you’re at it.
12 – Hobbling, track down cat with meat cleaver and spy it curled up in bed next to your three-year old, both sound asleep and looking like the innocents that you know they’re not but you love them, anyway.
13 – Stagger back to bathroom and remove litter pan. Return to laundry room, praying cat will forget entire 24-hour experience and resume its usage. While you’re at it, pray that husband will not continue to stare at you with same wide-eyed look of horror when he returns from work.
14 – On your knees, scrub down bathroom and use seventy-five dollar an ounce perfume to help mask odor of litter pan. Take shower to remove excess litter from hair and body. Put hydrochloride ointment on chaffed knees, rebandage toe and reapply Neosporin to bites and scratches.
15 – Crawl into bed next to sleeping cat and kid and thank God they have short memories. Your husband does not and you will never live this down.