Chains That Link

By Luke Bensing

Luke Bensing is an English Major with a Secondary Education Concentration at Purdue Northwest. He plans on finishing his degree in 2023 and transitioning right into a high school classroom locally in Northwest Indiana. Luke’s main interests in literature and the humanities are poetry, music, poetry in music, theology, religion, black studies, and engaging non-fiction. He seeks to constantly expand his unconventional thinking and writing to become a more effective and engaging teacher. More than anything he wants to encourage human kindness and empathy for future members of society.

Book signing in Michigan City


The author of the new Secret Northwest Indiana book, which explores Region oddities and hidden histories, will appear at the Book Warehouse at the Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets mall in Michigan City.

Author Joseph S. Pete, who also wrote the books Lost Hammond, Indiana and 100 Things to Do in Gary and Northwest Indiana Before You Die, will appear for a book signing from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 11 at the bookstore at 1101 Lighthouse Place in Michigan City.

The book features Michigan City history like the Hoosier Slide, inventor Lodner Darvontis Phillips’s submarine experiments under Lake Michigan, the Muskegon shipwreck, and the tragic fate of the SS Eastland that was bound for a company picnic at Washington Park.

The event is free and open to the public.

Published by Reedy Press in St. Louis, Secret Northwest Indiana explores where in the largely landlocked state of Indiana can you sunbathe on a beach in the shadow of hulking steel mills, surf by an oil refinery or scuba-dive to see old shipwrecks?

The book covers many points of interest from Michigan City and greater La Porte County, including Burn ‘Em Brewery, Mount Baldy, the La Porte County Historical Society Museum and serial killer Belle Gunness’s farm.

A blend of Indiana and neighboring Chicago, Northwest Indiana is a one-of-a-kind place filled with wonders like Frank Lloyd Wright homes and a hike USA Today described as one of the country’s most scenic. And behind its unique coastal setting lie some equally intriguing hidden gems and untold stories.

Secret Northwest Indiana: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure leads a whirlwind tour of the Calumet Region that extends from Chicago’s far South Side, through the south suburbs and Northwest Indiana, and into Southwest Michigan. Read about a submarine inventor who sailed under Lake Michigan and the free-spirited Diana of the Dunes who inspired preservation efforts that led to the Indiana Dunes National Park. Explore hidden NIKE missile silos, bygone ski jumps, secret spots to photograph the jets taking off for the Chicago Air and Water Show and the infamous Marriage Mill where celebrities flocked to get hitched. Prepare for singing porta-potties, tree graveyards and other strangeness.

Local author and journalist Joseph S. Pete gives you a look behind the curtain in a region you might think you already know well. With his stories and tips, you’ll find no shortage of new secret places to explore in Northwest Indiana.

Region native Joseph S. Pete writes for The Times of Northwest Indiana, a job that’s taken him all around the South Shore. The author of Lost Hammond, Indiana and 100 Things to Do in Gary and Northwest Indiana Before You Die, Pete is a frequent guest on Lakeshore Public Radio, a veteran and the treasurer of the Indiana Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists who has twice as many first names as the average person. His many accolades include Lisagor Awards, SPJ Awards and a calculator he won at a Hammond Civic Center circus raffle.

Author signing

Author and Times of Northwest Indiana Columnist Joseph S. Pete will sign copies of his new book Secret Northwest Indiana, which is filled with strange tales of Lake Michigan submarines, shipwrecks, ghost towns, Indiana cacti, tree graveyards and larger-than-life Region figures like tattoo artist Roy Boy Cooper, aviation pioneer Octave Chanute and serial killer Belle Gunness. He’ll also sign copies of previous books, including Lost Hammond.

11:30 to 3 p.m. May 28

Miles Books, 2819 Jewett Ave, Highland, IN 46322

The Banker Who Laughed at the Thief

By Ben Lockwood

The banker chuckled as he twisted the dial on the vault door. Each click brought more giggles. On the final click, the door swung open to an empty room. The banker howled when he saw it. He stepped inside and spun around on his heels. 

“Not a bill in sight!” he roared. Unable to contain himself, he fell back on the floor, kicked his legs up, and cackled. 

The thief thought he was good, but the banker was better. He owned the breadmakers and the factory workers, and even the farmers. With those, the vault was never empty for long. 

Ben Lockwood is a PhD student in the Geography Department at Indiana University. Ben likes to procrastinate on his dissertation work by writing short little stories. Sometimes they’re about things, sometimes they’re about nothing. None of them have previously been published. 

New “Secret Northwest Indiana: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure” book from Reedy Press explores hidden history of Calumet Region

Where in the landlocked state of Indiana can you sunbathe on a beach in the shadow of hulking steel mills, surf by an oil refinery or scuba-dive to see old shipwrecks?

A blend of Indiana and neighboring Chicago, Northwest Indiana is a one-of-a-kind place filled with wonders like Frank Lloyd Wright homes and a hike USA Today described as one of the country’s most scenic. And behind its unique “coastal” setting lie some equally intriguing hidden gems and untold stories.

Secret Northwest Indiana: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure leads a whirlwind tour of the Calumet Region that extends from Chicago’s far South Side, through the south suburbs and Northwest Indiana, and into Southwest Michigan. Read about a submarine inventor who sailed under Lake Michigan and the free-spirited Diana of the Dunes who inspired preservation efforts that led to the Indiana Dunes National Park. Explore hidden NIKE missile silos, bygone ski jumps, secret spots to photograph the jets taking off for the Chicago Air and Water Show and the infamous Marriage Mill where celebrities flocked to get hitched. Prepare for singing porta-potties, tree graveyards and other strangeness.

The book includes a few Lansing locations like the Historic Ford Hangar and Lan-Oaks Lanes where the “Napoleon Dynamite” actor filmed an indie movie.

Local author and journalist Joseph S. Pete gives you a look behind the curtain in a region you might think you already know well. With his stories and tips, you’ll find no shortage of new secret places to explore in Northwest Indiana.

Region native Joseph S. Pete writes for The Times of Northwest Indiana, a job that’s taken him all around the South Shore. The author of Lost Hammond, Indiana and 100 Things to Do in Gary and Northwest Indiana Before You Die, Pete is a frequent guest on Lakeshore Public Radio and has twice as many first names as the average person. His many accolades include Lisagor Awards, SPJ Awards and a calculator he won at a Hammond Civic Center circus raffle.

Berserk

By Mark Russo

Guy Gagnon’s property has been vandalized. Crushed plastic cylindrical bird feeders lay scattered around the yard. Wrought iron posts from which they had hung are bent over, almost touching the grass. A path of sunflower seeds trails eastward into the woods.

Guy stands at his back door, pounds his palm into his fist and stares at the chickadees that fly like darts in, out, back and forth from the trees to the seed-studded ground.

The only evidence of an assailant is a series of mounded divots and shallow hollows. They weave among the seeds and lead to a V-shaped gouge in the shoulder-high log pile that borders the woods.

Infuriated that his property rights have been violated, he spits at the tree roots that, like clawing fingers, have begun to break through the loam and reach for his home.

A year and a half ago in May, he and his wife, Jeanne, sold their brownstone in Brooklyn and moved into the log home they’d built in a wooded area in Maine. Guy had sold his interest in his law firm. It had become an invasive weed in his life. He spent nights wresting bed sheets from Jeanne, throwing them off and grabbing them back again until Jeanne, almost in tears, forced him to sleep in the guest room.

Maine is where, for the past twenty years, they’d spent family vacations. During those vacations, they exchanged the perpetual motion of political meetings, luncheons and theater parties for the beach and antique auctions.

“Isn’t Maine quaint? I could spend the rest of my life here,” Jeanne had said one morning. They moved to Maine the following Spring.

Then Autumn leaves began to fall, monarchs traveled south and tourists disappeared. Open grocery store aisles shrank from ten to two; boutique shops shuttered; and the police department was left with only one officer and an assistant. Had they not heard an occasional gunshot, they would never have known that anyone else was around. And by the end of the first year, the Gagnons were left with the feeling that, although they did have neighbors, they had no friends.

Nevertheless, they immediately set to work. Guy built raised gardens. Jeanne learned to bake and quilt, At night, they’d fall asleep listening to the crackle of embers before a heavy backdrop of silence.

This morning, however, Guy feels threatened. He scratches his head. Thinks that had he been born and raised a Mainer, he would gather up the poles and feeders, toss them behind the log hedge to rot and have breakfast. But he isn’t a Mainer. His roots do not extend to the lost days of Acadia, when the last receding glacier granted the Abenaki a quitclaim deed to the area. Guy’s from away.

He shakes his head and goes into the garage to get a few tools. Nothing is where he’d left it. A man for whom everything has its place, he becomes upset. A veil of vulnerability settles about him. He looks around. No one’s there.

As he reaches to pick up a wrench from the floor, he hears Jeanne calling from somewhere outside.

“Guy! Look! I got one,” she yells, “And I’m going to get every goddamned one of them too!”

Guy tightens his grip on the wrench.

Jeanne, in a white cotton robe, leans over the railing of the backyard deck like the branch of a birch. Her long grey-streaked hair floats onto the morning breeze. She’s extending her right arm beyond the wooden rail and waving a dappled grey mouse that dangles from a trap; its skinny hairless tail hangs plumb between its rear legs.

Guy stares at Jeanne as he would a street preacher.

Jeanne begins to shake the animal more vigorously.

“She’s pregnant, too. Sept d’un coup! Ha ha.”

“We’ve got a real problem,”  Guy says as he sweeps his outstretched arms in a semi-circle over the scattered debris.

Jeanne stamps the deck with her bare foot.

“Wow. Goddamned raccoons, I bet.”

Jeanne knows a thing or two about raccoons. She’s had frequent skirmishes with them. They enter the yard like thieves as she gardens. Usually, two scavenge about while one keeps a lookout from the crotch of a nearby tree. When she senses their presence, she grabs a broom and, jumping up and down screaming, brandishes it at the two on the ground while the one in the tree looks on with a smirk.

Guy walks over to the infrared camera that’s attached to an old oak tree and ejects a miniature disk drive. He takes it upstairs and inserts it into his computer. A dark shadow appears on the monitor. On its hind legs, it’s reaching for one of the feeders. Head turned towards the camera, two white marble eyes stare directly at Guy. Guy narrows his brow.

“You son-of-a-bitch,” hisses through his teeth.

He rummages through the closet for clothes and grabs the canvas jacket with the orange cape. He gets the thirty-aught-six rifle leaning against the wall, sits on the toilet seat lid and begins cleaning it. He remembers how his father would point out dark round pellets on the forest floor or squat to draw diagrams in the dirt detailing how to gut a deer. Those instructions along with the inevitable tin can target practice that capped the day’s hunt convinced Guy that, when the day came, he’d be ready.

Guy meets Jeanne outside. She has dragged Brute’s bed, with him still inside it, onto the backyard deck. Brute, a brindled boxer, was a shelter dog they’d rescued shortly after moving to Maine. Guy intended to train him to hunt but Jeanne wanted an unconditional friend and, without a shot ever being fired, Brute became Jeanne’s lapdog.

Jeanne places a bowl of food under Brute’s nose, then sets the table for breakfast.

Guy butters his stack of buckwheat pancakes.

“It’s a bear, Jeanne.”

 Jeanne shoots to her feet, hands on her hips.

“A bear! Now that’s out of our league. I’m calling Claude.”

“No, Jeanne. I  don’t want that Frenchie  involved.”

The Frenchie, Claude, is the warden. Guy doesn’t know him well and likes him less. Now and then on a Sunday morning, he runs into him at the bakery counter. The Frenchie is usually surrounded by a group of guys who speak what seems to be a concoction of English and French but with a Canadian accent. Whenever Guy approaches, the circle contracts choking out the chatter. They seem so territorial, Guy thinks, to the point that were he an Abenaki Indian,  they’d still not accept him as a Mainer.

Jeanne, ignoring Guy, telephones Claude.

“If your husband goes into the woods, that’s a problem. It’s hunting season. We don’t have trespassing laws up here.”

Jeanne looks away from Guy and over at Brute. Claude continues speaking.

“A few years ago, a hunter shot a woman. She’d recently moved up here from Ohio, and lived on a wooded lot like you guys. Was out in the backyard. Well, the guy mistook her white mittens for a deer’s spade-shaped  tail.”

Jeanne cups the mouthpiece.

“What happened?”

“She died. That’s what happened. The guy wasn’t charged though, ’cause he’d been the proper distance from the house.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Besides people feel like she’d asked for it . . .wearing white mittens . . . it bein’ deer season and all. A Mainer would have known better. “

“Oh.”

“You tell your husband that he should learn how things are done up here before goin’ off half-cocked.”

Guy watches Jeanne’s face pale then flush.

“He was no help, Guy. I’ll call the police department.”

No one answers. Jeanne calls Collette, a person she’d met at the market. Colette tells her that on November 1st, Officer Pierre started working half-days and his assistant had left for the Police Academy. She expects Officer Pierre will be back tomorrow morning.

Guy pushes himself up from the table.

“Jeanne, I’m going after it.

Jeanne squats beside Brute, strokes his ears and stares into the woods. She turns, squints at Guy, and crinkles her nose.

“Are you sure about this?’

“Don’t worry, it’s probably moved on by now.”

“Colette says, there are lots of crazies in the woods. Just found a guy up in North Pond. Some kind of hermit. They say he’s crazy. What if you meet someone like him? What if he’s got a gun?”

“I doubt it.”

“Well, take Brute with you.”

“No. he’d probably get us both killed.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t have come here. It seemed so peaceful. . . I had no idea.”

“By the way, I could use the hoodie. Have you seen it?”

“Maybe in the laundry?”

Guy shrugs, leaves the deck and crosses the yard. Using his rifle as a walking stick he clambers over the fallen logs and through the opening. A narrow ravine of matted grass stretches before him into the sun that rises above the treetops. He turns, waves at Jeanne. She slowly shakes her head. She thinks he’s become shorter, greyer. He slouches and has an unsteady wobble in his walk. She watches until the pines swallow him, then takes Brute by the collar and goes inside.

The forest, stretching out in all directions, buries Guy. He’s never followed this trail before. He guesses it leads to the Atlantic Ocean.

“A man is only truly free when he owns his own land,” his father had told him.

He grabs a cone from a red spruce and shoves it into his pocket.

He thinks that no matter what happens, it won’t be a waste. He hears his father again, “Half the fun of the hunt isn’t the kill, but the conversation with nature.”

Today, Guy wants that conversation. The bear is just a reason for having it.

As he walks, he hears the occasional popping of gunshots. A damp chill sucks the warmth from him. He zips his canvas jacket. A rustling of dry leaves shatters the pervasive silence. He tightens his grip on the rifle, spins around. A squirrel’s bushy tail whips the air and spirals up a tree. He thinks about the bear again, what he’d do if he found it? He raises his rifle and aims at the tree. He closes his eyes and sees the diagram his father had drawn in the dirt. He thinks gutting must always be the same for deer, bear or man. He opens his eyes. A thick mist hangs suspended in the air before him.

He tries to calculate how long he’s been walking. His thoughts are interrupted by the night in Brooklyn when he found Jerry Meadows sitting at his dining room table across from Jeanne. They said the dinner had been planned for weeks but he’d not remembered it. That bothered him like her calling Claude bothered him.

He trips over some charred tree limbs. The acidic stench of damp burnt leaves stings his nostrils.

He wonders why they were laughing? They’d been drinking.

A downy swooshes whinnying through the diagonal columns of light that penetrate the black-green tree branches. The refracted sunlight scratches at his vision, makes it difficult to focus.

            He’d forgotten his watch, wonders again how long he’s been gone, what Jeanne’s doing.

The air cracks crisply in his mouth then escapes into the forest like a will-o’-the-wisp. Ahead, he sees a mound of mocha-colored pellets just like the ones his father used to point out. He stoops to poke at them with his rifle. He grips the rifle, narrows his eyes and searches the ground, bushes and trees for some color, texture or line that clashes with the natural fluidity of the forest. His muscles knot as he pans the thicket.

“You’ve got to core out the anus like the center of an apple, cut off the genitals; hold the skin away from the guts, like this . . . then slide the knife up to the neck; sever the windpipe and give it a yank. All the rest will follow.”

There’s a sound of hot grease spitting in water. A barrel-chested buck rears up from a hemlock ahead. He raises his rifle, points it at the animal. His index finger hugs the trigger as if carved in that position. A buck—rack thrust back—flashes the white spade of its tail. Guy squeezes his eyes shut, hears a shot. The animal jetés over a small brook, vaporizing. His finger, palsied and impotent, had never pulled the trigger.

“Quiet as ghosts, they’ll leave you in a trance and evaporate.”

His nerves are whistling like a network of high-power lines. He’s pissed off, feels naked. He tries to determine which direction leads to his house. Jeanne’s probably worried, should turn back, he thinks. There’s that crackling sound again and the heavy perfume of fish frying in oil.

Up ahead, the brook, slick as green glass, winds about an opening in the trees. Through the shattered light, shadows move in and about the clearing, disappearing, and reemerging. At one end of the clearing, there’s a tent. Clothes waft back and forth on lines connected by two opposing crosses. At the center, white-blue tongues of a campfire lick the smoke.

Guy tries to mute the crepitation of leaves beneath his boots. He leans against a tree. Amorphous shadows float into the clearing, merge, and densify. Guy raises the rifle to his shoulder, scans the area through his scope. A man buried in grey-veined frizzy hair that flows like Spanish moss over his shoulders walks about the fire poking at it with a stick. Two glassy beads peer out from a dark bush of beard that rests stiff as corn fiber on his chest. To Guy, as he looks through the scope, it may very well be a moose-man. One of the Abenaki moose-men who live on Mount Katahdid and chase away foreigners. Sparks hiss, spit and lash the air.

Rotating the scope away from the fire, he settles the cross-hairs on a wooden board nailed to a tree. Tools hang from it. His pliers? He then swings the scope to the clothesline. His sweat pants and hoodie?

“A squatter.” he thinks. Rivulets of cold sweat drizzle from his armpits. He struggles to remember the grounds for adverse possession. Could a squatter take his land? He re-adjusts the scope, watches Moose-man reach into the fire and raise a white cloth-like strip above his head. No way, he thinks,  he’d have to have lived here openly for twenty years.

Moose-man’s talking to what looks to be a black bushy lump, the shadow on the computer screen, the bear. It lunges forward and swipes at the dangling filet. Then, its chest heaving and falling, collapses backward out of view.

The bear appears again. It’s on its back, rolling and rocking side to side, four legs in the air. There’s a roar as deep and loud as thunder. The animal sits up, catches and swallows another filet. Moose-man lets out a gut-laugh, wraps his huge arms around the animal. Growling and grunting, he wrestles it to the ground and barrel-rolls across the clearing.

Guy decides it’s not a good idea to say anything. He drifts to a tree, a little closer to the campsite. Nesting his right side into the jagged bark he jockeys his scope for a better angle of sight. He stretches his neck out, slips. Twigs snap under his feet.

Sound dies and motion freezes. The coupled figures in the campsite turn and look at Guy. Moose-man squats, the bear bellows. Guy lifts his rifle. The tree bark is cutting into his skin. He places the bear within the crosshairs and caresses the trigger. Perspiration trickles down his cheeks settling in the corners of his mouth like vinegar. His eyes burn. He applies more pressure to the trigger, Moose-man appears again and pushes the bear outside the crosshairs. Guy oscillates his sights. Moose-man is tugging on a rope that’s around the bear’s neck, pulling the animal backward. Guy decides he won’t make the same mistake he had earlier.

“Who are you?”

“We’re Nature’s children. Name’s Morgan. This here’s Arthur,” Moose-man replies.

Guy’s stomach churns, he can’t swallow. He yells, “Well this is my land. You’ve no right to be here.”

“This land’s not yours. It’s no one’s. Belongs to everyone, anyone. In fact, It’s more ours than yours. Been here since birth. Can still taste its dirt.”

Guy takes two steps backward towards what he hopes is the direction of his house. He lifts the scope filling it with Morgan who now stands, one hand raised high, dangling a slack rope. The bear’s gone.

Guy hears a rhythmic shuffling of leaves and low playful snorting behind him. It grows louder.  He rotates the barrel around then down. It’s Brute. He stands at Guy’s feet, tongue hanging from the corner of his mouth, panting. They look at each other then at the squatters.

The lone piccolo of a frightened thrush fills the air as it flies off into the woods. The ground seems to undulate. Morgan, still in the crosshairs, is yelling. Brute begins to whine. In the corner of Guy’s left eye, a dark King-Kong-like form rocks side to side and trundles towards him and Brute.

Brute growls and, curling his lips, snarls.

Morgan is waving his arms above his head screaming gibberish.

Arthur, a short distance away, sniffing and snorting, stands on its hind legs like a monolith.

Guy raises his gun, anchors himself deeper into the coarse veins of the tree’s bark, and trains it at Arthur. The crosshairs are wavering.

Arthur’s jaws gape and Guy feels he’s looking into one of those tunnels on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. A roar bellows and ricochets off the trees.

Brute is standing rigid on all fours, drooling saliva from his white canines. Arthur, forepaws raised high, bounds side to side. Brute continues to bark, snarl, and howl. He repeatedly lunges forward and falls back.

Morgan begins to jump up and down.

“Stop! Stop. I’ll get Arthur.”

Guy aims, flicks off the safety latch.

“The hell you will,” he groans and pulls the trigger.

There’s an explosion. Guy recoils and lands on his back like an ejected shell. A miniature rocket whistles through the forest and ends in a puff of brown smoke that billows from a tree just above Arthur’s head.

Morgan runs up behind Arthur, grabs his collar, and attaches the rope.

“For God’s sake man, stop. We’ll go.”

For just a moment, the two men’s eyes bore into each other’s as if to subdue and possess the other.

Morgan then turns and, huffing, pulls Arthur with all his strength back to the camp.

“I don’t want no law,” Morgan mumbles.

Guy gets up using the rifle to steady himself, Brute, chest expanding and contracting, points his snout at the squatters.

Morgan bends down, picks up a fist full of leaves and throws them towards Guy.

“Want a rent payment? Take these. We’ll be gone before daybreak,” he shouts. “But, if I were you, I’d lock your doors from now on.”

“Just get the hell out of here,” Guy yells.

Guy, shaking and legs numb, tells himself that it’s time to quit. He’d driven off the intruders. He strokes Brute.

“Show me the way home, boy.”

Brute slackens his muscles, wags his tail, and heads in the opposite direction stopping now and then to look back at Guy. It’s a short walk home. Apparently, Guy had only traveled in circles a half-mile or so from the house.

As they approach the clearing of his home, Guy fingers the pine cone in his pocket.

The deck lights shine like miniature moon halos. Jeanne’s leaning over the railing. The evening glow reignites a warmth that he’d lost in the woods. He thinks they should discuss having a chain-link fence installed around their yard

He breaks into a jog.

“What was that gunshot? I was worried.” Jeanne yells.

Brute’s already at Jeanne’s side.

“Ne t’en fais pas, ce n’est rien,”  he says and hugs her around the waist.

Mark Russo’s short stories have appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, New Reader Magazine, 34th Parallel Magazine, Literally Stories, Potato Soup Journal, Spillwords Press, Knot Magazine, MacQueen’s Quinterly, South Florida Poetry Journal (SoFloPoJo), Grey Sparrow Journal, Ekphrastic Review and Squawk Back.

Sitting in Traffic on I-65

By Drew Hellmich

Somebody better be dead.

Bumper to bumper, I’m in a dammed river of cars and trucks and haven’t moved an inch in over an hour. I turned the engine off to conserve gas and the windows are down to catch a rare breeze, but the ninety-degree heat makes my car feel like an oven. I’d turn around if I could, but a metal barrier blocks a pitched grass median ditch between the north-south two-lane interstate where the vehicles going south drive freely. My shirt sticks to my lower back from sweat as I wait for the road to unclog like a cholesterol-choked artery.

A Honda Odyssey with a cartoon family bumper sticker on its rear window of a mom, a dad, and a few kids all holding hands with a dog at their side parks ahead of me. From inside the van, one of the Toy Story movies plays from the roof DVD player to keep the stir-crazy kids entertained. With a Minnesota license plate of WLAURA2, the van must be owned by someone named Laura. Normally I would’ve overlooked this, but when I visited a friend in Minnesota, we saw a car with a plate that started with the letter W. Whiskey plate, my friend explained. It meant the driver got a DUI and was required by state law to get a new plate with a W as a form of public humiliation to all.

I’m somewhere in the Indiana countryside past Lafayette on the way to Chicago. I don’t remember the town’s name on the last exit or mile marker. There’s nothing out here but farmland, crumbling barns and silos, and the occasional gas station and fast-food drive-thru. On both sides of the interstate, rows of white wind turbines as tall as buildings scatter the fields. Their blades cut through the sky like massive plane propellers as if the Earth were a massive aircraft.

I-65 is known to be one of the busiest north-south routes in the U.S. With a heavy population of semi-trucks traveling its two lanes, the behemoths always drive side by side, create unpassable moving blockades, and take their sweet time. It’s like they do it on purpose. There’s no doubt in my mind that the truckers talk to each other on their CBs and do it for a laugh to piss off drivers in sedans with road rage. I bet one of them caused the crash. The way semis sway from the wind and veer into other lanes, it probably lost control and flipped its trailer. I can see it now. Smoke billowing from its large tires as it brakes last second and braces for impact. The trailer twisting from the truck, smashing to the pavement, ripping open, spilling whatever it’s carrying like guts, and all the other vehicles behind trying to evade. But it’s impossible. They all smash into each other in a pileup, and everyone suffers from one person’s reckless mistake.

I’ve made this drive many times back and forth from Indianapolis, so I ignored using GPS. But I should’ve known better in case something like this happened. I could’ve taken an alternate route using country backroads. Once I saw the big electronic traffic sign with the vague words EXPECT DELAYS warning congestion, I went from eighty miles an hour to parked in a matter of seconds. After a few minutes of sitting here, in a passing car on the opposite side of the highway, a kid stuck his head out a window and screamed, “You’re fucked!”, as if I didn’t already know.

Taking their chances of being caught by police, a few drivers who couldn’t wait anymore cut the jam by taking the shoulder all the way to next exit. And a pair of motorcyclists on crotch rockets wove their way between cars and trucks toward the front of the line. Patience only lasts for so long listening to music or AM radio, a podcast, talking on the phone, or dwelling in your own thoughts. It’s like the wick of a firework and some people’s are longer than others, but they all explode at some point. It wears even thinner if you gotta go to the bathroom. Thankfully I took care of that at a rest stop a few miles back in a hot, fly populated stall with an eternal reek of filth.

The irritated expressions around me look permanent as if all happiness and optimism has been sucked from their souls. A young woman in the lane next to me with a packed car full of boxes and clothing on hangers rests her elbow on her window and holds her head in her hand with a grimace of painful boredom. A middle-aged man in a jeep with a collared shirt grips his steering wheel as if he were strangling it. Most others just sit with empty annoyed faces. But some are unbothered by it all. In my rearview mirror, a group pulled out a plastic folding table and lawn chairs into the median grass. They play a card game, and someone cooks on a portable grill as if they were at a college tailgate.

Police cars, fire trucks, ambulances, tow trucks, and cleanup crew vehicles have all periodically squeezed by on the shoulder. And now two news helicopters hover in the sky to report the scene. I’ve cycled the local AM stations to see if anyone’s discussing the crash, but there’s nothing. I got out of my car for a better look, in hopes of seeing any signs of movement, but it was the same standstill from a different angle. Other people stood around too, so I walked ahead between the lanes toward the closest person, a miserable-looking guy, leaning against his rusty battered car smoking a cigarette.

“Hey man, you know what’s goin’ on?” I asked.

“How the hell should I know? We’re all the way back here,” he said as he ditched his cigarette, reached for a new one, and moved away to the opposite side of his car to avoid further conversation.

The next person was a kid, maybe eighteen years old, looking for something in his messy trunk. I asked him if he heard anything about the crash, and when he turned to look at me, his long hair hung so low over his eyes, I wasn’t sure how he could see. He thought it was a drunk driver, but I couldn’t tell if he was joking or being serious. It was three in the afternoon on a Monday.

I walked through the maze of cars and trucks, talking to whoever I could, and got a lot of the same blank answers. But I heard a few different things. A young couple assumed it was roadwork construction, but I knew they were wrong. A sweaty woman in a pickup with no air conditioning with her newborn in a car seat next to her thought a state trooper got clipped while giving someone a ticket. And an old couple in an RV said they heard from the woman’s sister who lives nearby, when they called to tell her they’d be late, that it was a standoff between state police and a pair of criminals. I decided no one knew the real reason, so I headed back to my car.

A woman in a plaid cut off and boots reading in the shade of her graffiti-covered trailer stopped me as I walked by. She said she saw me talking to people and asked if I learned anything. I told her I didn’t have a clue.

“You really wanna know don’t ya?” she asked.

“Don’t you?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Cuz, jams like this, never anything good. But if you really wanna know, get in the rig and we’ll check the CB. Someone out there’s close enough to know what’s going on.”

She marked the page in her book, opened the door to her truck, and climbed into the driver’s seat. I walked around the front to the other side and got in.

The smell of diesel hit my nostrils, but the inside wasn’t dingy or dark as I’d pictured. I imagined littered plastic cups, fast food bags, and other garbage in a shin-deep pile on the floor of the passenger with a mountain of cigarettes overflowing an ashtray. Behind the seats was a mini mobile dorm area with a cot, a small fridge, a microwave, a 22-inch TV, and storage compartments. I could see above the cars with the elevated vantage point, and the line stacked up into the foreseeable distance like a giant metal snake.

The woman turned on the CB and grabbed the microphone, “Northbound sixty-five, anyone out there got eyes at the front of this parking lot?” But there wasn’t a response, so she changed the channel and repeated herself.

“Here, kitty kitty,” squawked the voice of a creep almost immediately. Unfazed by the remark, the woman switched the channel again.

“Northbound sixty-five, anyone got eyes at the front of this parking lot?” And after a few moments, a voice came through.

“Few four-wheelers greasy side up in the granny lane around yardstick one-nine-six. From the looks of it maybe a few ankle biters. Dang full-grown bear cave with a few meat-wagons. Rubberneckers on both sides of the big road takin’ a peek. Better strap it down back there, you’re in for a long haul.”

“Ten-four,” the woman put the microphone back and looked at me. “You get all that?”

“Just the last part I think.” I didn’t understand trucker jargon.

The woman laughed and translated, “He said there’s a crash in the slow lane near mile marker one hundred ninety six, eight miles from where we are, with a few cars piled into each other with their wheels in the air. There’s state police, a lot of ‘em, with ambulances on scene, and there might be some injured kids. People on both sides of the interstate are driving slow to get a look, you know how everyone is when they pass an accident, so it looks like we’ll be here for a while.” The woman grabbed her book on the dash. “I’m gonna finish reading this, you can stay here if you want. Feel free to listen to the CB or watch TV back there, I gotta a ton of DVDs in that compartment. But if you hear or see anything about all this letting up, you let me know. Name’s Jackie Burton.” She shook my hand and got out of the truck.

I looked through Jackie’s collection of movies and thought about picking one out, but there was some talk on the CB. So I just sat there in the passenger seat with my eyes on the jam, listening to the truckers talk, and waited for it to clear up.

Drew Hellmich is an award-winning writer and traveling salesman in five states of the Midwest. When he’s not on the road, he writes fiction prose and screenplays, spends time with his family and girlfriend, and likes to watch baseball and fish. He lives in the south suburbs of Chicago.

Poetry Man

By Michael Lee Johnson

I’m the poetry man, understand?

Dance, dance, dance to the crystals of night,

healing crystals detox nightmares, night tremors.

Death still comes in the shadow of grief,

hides beneath this blanket of time,

in the heat, in the cold. 

Hold my hand on this journey

you won’t be the first, but

you may be the last.

You and I so many avenues,

ventures & turns, so many years together

one bad incident, violence, unexpected,

one punch, all lights dim out.

Michael Lee Johnson lived ten years in Canada during the Vietnam era. Today he is a poet in the greater Chicagoland area.  He has 248 YouTube poetry videos. Michael Lee Johnson is an internationally published poet in 43 countries, several published poetry books, nominated for 4 Pushcart Prize awards and 5 Best of the Net nominations. He is editor-in-chief of 3 poetry anthologies, all available on Amazon, and has several poetry books and chapbooks. He has over 536 published poems.

A Meditation on the Land 

By David Salner

—remembering ­­a farm foreclosure. 

For Darrell Ringer, 1953-93 

“Thank you,” he said, while the black eyes  

drilled from the shadow of his ballcap  

as we stood in the sunbaked square  

of a Kansas town where we’d just rallied  

against such business as no one with honor  

should dare to defend—then drove  

over pocked macadam, between shoulders  

cascading with purple wild flowers, wheat  

turning green to gold—the field after field,  

the rich carpet called forth, turned over,  

culled with such care that I, for one,  

don’t have blisters enough to imagine— 

and beneath it the black earth seethes  

with world-feeding life. Then we arrived  

at his farm. Beautiful, I’d often thought,  

this life, how the green soybean hug  

at the earth and alfalfa explodes into pink  

and animals trudge toward us in the slow- 

motion rhythm of paddock-bound shadows  

until their heads hike up with quick interest  

when haybales are pitched with a thud 

between the tarnished steel rails of the crib.  

But the earth and its moods are uncertain,  

despite the disconsolate pleading it gets 

when sleep doesn’t come, that a storm  

please pass by without flooding at harvest;  

that a drought not set in, the wind not whisk 

topsoil to a powder-dry ash floating off  

in a glitter-filled cloud to the red  

of a summer-long sun. And of course  

words are addressed to the Notice of Debt  

that’s attached like a leech to the title,  

which is after all a mere sheet of paper  

approved by the courts but without  

the least smell of wet dirt to grace it.  

And of all he foresaw or was faced with,  

what he couldn’t agree to was losing this land  

without even a fight. They might take it all,  

but the fight, at least—they couldn’t take that.  

This poem first appeared in New World Writing

David Salner’s debut novel is A Place to Hide (Apprentice House, 2021), listed as a Distinguished Favorite by the Independent Press Award. His fourth poetry collection is The Stillness of Certain Valleys (Broadstone Books, 2019). He worked as an iron ore miner, steelworker, machinist, and now a librarian. His writing has appeared in Threepenny Review, Iowa Review, North American Review, and Ploughshares. He designates himself as underrepresented as an older worker who has never made more than $14/hr. 

Evidence of a Crime

By Kaelin McGee Shipley                                                                                  

             AJ Fosse could best be described as average. He was of average height, weight, and looks. He wore his anonymity like a cloak, vanishing into any crowd without a trace. There was nothing remarkable about him at all.  He’d never given his mediocrity a second thought until the invitation arrived for his twentieth class reunion and made it impossible to ignore his lack of accomplishment. It had now become an unbearable burden.

             Dutifully he’d signed onto the class social media page and scrolled through the updates of his classmates. Engineers, educators, attorneys –it seemed he was the only one with a degree from a community college and not a very prestigious one at that – the degree or the college. He was a book keeper – almost an accountant. He had planned to sit for his CPA exams, but never got around to it. His job at Accurate Accounting paid the bills – so why bother?   “I work at AA,” he’d tell new acquaintances, and snicker at his own joke. He thought it was a clever word play, though others seemed puzzled. Never once in his adult life had he questioned his career choice. But now with the reunion looming, he was second guessing himself. Why hadn’t he chosen something more challenging – a surgeon perhaps?  No, on second thought medicine was full of uncertainty. The patient might not recover no matter how extraordinary your skills. That’s why he liked numbers. They were reliable. They added up to one thing, never another.

            He didn’t even have a wife to bring to the reunion dinner, though he was having an active fantasy relationship with Rachel Morris, the twenty –something who answered the phones at Accurate Accounting. She was a knock-out. He wondered if he could persuade her to accompany him to the event –if he could work up the nerve to ask her.

            AJ arrived at work a bit early that Friday morning, his courage pumped up, his speech memorized in front of the hall mirror. Standing at the reception desk he admired the crown of Rachel’s head, dark curls cascading over her shoulders, engrossed in a magazine article. Her lime green scoop neck blouse showed just a hint of her ample bust line. Not enough to be tacky, but exactly enough to stimulate the imagination.

            He coughed.

            She looked up, huge blue eyes taking in his carefully combed and parted hair; natty hounds tooth jacket, and bow tie.  She tilted her head to one side, “Yes?”

             “Next weekend I have this thing, ah, class reunion actually, and um…” the fine speech he’d prepared flew out of his head, as he bathed in the bright light of her focus.  “What I meant to say was,” he swallowed hard. “I’m asking if you might want to be my date…for the evening…for the reunion, I mean.”

             “Well, Steve, the thing is…”

             “It’s AJ.”  Mortified he looked down at the toes of his shoes, shined to perfection.

            “Sorry…, AJ – it’s just that I have a boyfriend.”

             A slow burn rose from his neck to his face.  “Of course, of course you do. Well, no harm in asking, right?” He babbled on, “Worst you can do is say no, and you just did, didn’t you?”   He turned and sprinted through the double doors to his office.  She didn’t even know his name. How humiliating. He’d been with the firm for fifteen years.

             The only other woman he knew who might be available was Betty Sue Davidson in billing. But she was plain and bookish, and the gap in her front teeth put him off.  He wanted a spectacular date.  Slouching in his chair he booted up his computer.  A quick check of his inbox informed him there was nothing pressing to get to today. On a whim he opened his spam folder and scrolled down the list of emails.

             “Escorts” the subject line read. That was interesting. He sat forward and clicked on the subject line. “Are you ready to experience a fascinating adventure for your next event? Our models and pin-ups await your call.”  AJ’s heart almost stopped as photographs of beautiful women populated his screen.  With trembling fingers he clicked on the contact form.

***

            Checking his appearance in the mirror in the hotel lobby, AJ anxiously awaited his date from the escort service. To his left the bar beckoned. As the hostess led him to a table he wondered if Alexis Dubois was her real name. He ordered a gin and tonic. The server had just delivered his drink when he saw her. She was as stunning as her picture, blonde, but understated, good figure, classy, and legs holy cow!   AJ was so taken with her beauty he almost knocked his chair over as he jumped up to greet her.

             “Good evening, hell… hello,” he stammered as he thrust out a hand. Ignoring his hand she leaned in and gave him a hug.

             “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Alexis,” she whispered in his ear.  Her voice was soft and breathy.

             “I was just having a drink. Can I order you something?” AJ pulled out her chair.

             “A glass of chardonnay would be lovely.”

 He snapped his fingers at the server. “A glass of chardonnay for the lady.  So, I must explain about this evening…,”

            She laughed a sound that reminded him of tinkling bells. “A high school reunion I was told?  You wouldn’t believe how many requests we get for high school reunion dates.  People either seem to be getting divorced or not happy with their girlfriends.”   There was that charming laugh again. 

             “Oh no, it’s nothing like that –well maybe a little.  I’m not dating anyone at the moment, and since it’s a high school reunion–I couldn’t go alone, you see.”                                                

             “I see.”  She glanced at him through lowered eyelashes and smiled. Her smile unnerved him so badly he almost forgot his train of thought.

“Look, I uh, I uh, just wanted to have a date to this thing, and I thought, well, I hoped you’d pretend to be my girlfriend.”

             “What’s this–a bit of deception? Aren’t you a bad boy?”  A dimple popped out in her cheek as her smile showed off a dazzling row of even white teeth.

             “Well, just a little.” He flushed and looked down. 

             “If you want me to be your girlfriend, I have to know a little more about you. For instance, what do you do for a living?”

             “I’m ah –well I don’t talk about it much but…”  Alexis cocked her head, listening.

             “I’m a special agent for the FBI.”  The lie, once blurted into the universe surprised him.  AJ glanced about the room and took a quick swallow of his gin and tonic.

             “That’s impressive. What types of crime do you work on?”  She took a small sip of wine.   Her lipstick was so perfect there were no smears on the rim of the glass.

            He leaned back, warming to his subject, “Lately cyber-crime, but I used to do undercover work investigate drugs, murders, and the like.”

 “That’s fascinating. Very dangerous, I’d imagine. Perhaps you can tell me about some of your cases.”

  “It wouldn’t be professional to discuss details, but – well – did you ever hear about that coed from Green Hill Community College years ago? Mary Logan, I think her name was.  The one who disappeared?  I worked on that one, undercover. Just asking around, picking up information from the students.  I always thought she had run off with a boyfriend –but the case was never solved.” He exhaled and shook his head. “We couldn’t find a trace of her.  It was as if the earth swallowed her up.”

             “That’s kind of scary isn’t it? That someone could just disappear.” Alexis shivered a little.

             “Like I said, she probably just took off with a boyfriend her family didn’t approve of– happens all the time.”

             “But wouldn’t she have turned up by now?”

             AJ shrugged. “Who knows?”

            Alexis set her wine glass on the table.  “Perhaps we ought to find the ballroom and your old classmates?” 

             He downed the last of his drink, stood, and extended his arm. “May I have the pleasure?”

***

             The reunion was in full swing when AJ and Alexis entered the ballroom. As hotel ballrooms go, it was typical – ubiquitous wall sconces, acres of round tables strewn across a boldly patterned carpet, five years out of fashion, as well as the usual crepe paper streamers and decorations provided by the reunion committee. A DJ at the far end of the room provided the a-bit-too-loud entertainment.

             “Your name?” A middle-aged woman with purple-tipped hair and red lipstick bordering a wide-mouthed- smile peered at the couple out of thick lenses perched at the end of her nose. 

             “AJ Fosse and Alexis Dubois.”

             She ran her finger down the list. “Here you are.”  She pulled two self-stick name tags from the table and handed them to AJ.  “Hmmm.”

             “Is there something wrong?” he asked.

            “No, not exactly. It’s just that I don’t remember you – and I have a terrific memory.”

            “Well…Janine,” AJ looked at the tag on her lapel, “Janine, it’s been twenty years. We’ve all changed a bit haven’t we?”  He marveled at his tone, puffed up with self-importance. He’d never have had the nerve if it wasn’t for Alexis at his side.

             Janine swallowed her smile. “Getting older, it’s a shame isn’t it?” She pointed across the room.”The bar’s over there.”                          

            Two gin and tonics later, AJ drifted toward a group of classmates huddled together near the buffet table.  He turned to Alexis, “Can I get you something?” He was interrupted by a short stocky man who stuck out his hand.

            “It’s Mark, Mark Sampson. I hardly recognize anyone. Who are you?”  He peered at AJ’s face taking in the slightly receding chin, blonde-brown-turning-to-gray hair, and pale blue eyes.

             “AJ Fosse and this is my girlfriend Alexis Dubois.”

             “Well, hubba-hubba Alexis! Not bad AJ, not bad at all. Weren’t we in chess club together?  Say – what have you been doing with yourself all these years?”  Mark rattled on without waiting for a response.

            “He’s with the FBI,” Alexis breathlessly interjected. “And I’m so proud of him.”

            “Alexis, shush.” AJ scanned the room nervously.  He leaned towards Mark, “That’s not for public distribution.”

            “What? No shit! The FBI?  Are you kidding me?  Yowza! You remember Skip Peterson?”

             “Who?”

            “Skip Peterson.  He was three years ahead of us, but he married Susan Ferris who’s in our class. He’s on the Green Hill police department. I bet you two have a lot to talk about.”

             “Mark, I can’t really…”

            Mark grabbed him by the arm and pulled him to a group of men on the far side of the room.

             “Hey Skip!” Mark called out, vibrating with excitement. “Look who I found – AJ Fosse, with the FBI!’

             “Mark, you might want to keep it down.”  AJ glanced around nervously.

             “What you aren’t proud to be a G-Man?” Mark looked surprised.

  “It’s not that– I just work undercover sometimes.”

            “Certainly not tonight.”  A solidly built man with graying hair approached and clapped AJ on the back. “Skip Peterson.  You might remember my wife—Roberta Anderson?  She’s across the room having a hen party with some of her old friends.” He chuckled to himself. “So you’re FBI?  Nice to meet you. I’ve worked with the bureau from time to time. What division are you with?”

             “I’ve been with cyber crimes for the past few years.” AJ’s eyes flitted around the room, avoiding the detective’s penetrating gaze.

             “Really? Can I get you another drink?” Skip motioned to the bar tender. “I always said if those hackers could put all that imagination to good purpose, the world would be better off. So mostly office work I suppose?”

             AJ took a long swallow of his drink and nodded. “Yep, I guess you could call me a keyboard investigator.”

             “But he used to work on big crimes, isn’t that right, AJ?” Alexis came up behind him and took his elbow possessively. “There was that disappearance from Green Hill Community College a long time ago. AJ worked undercover on that. It was a really big case.”

  “That’s a coincidence. I worked on that disappearance too. I was a rookie then.” Skip closed his eyes as if picturing a crime scene. It was a very strange thing though. Everyone on campus saw that girl at a party and then she was gone, vanished into thin air. I still don’t know how she could have evaporated under so many folks’ noses without anyone taking note.”

  “The Bureau’s operating theory of the case was that she had run off with a boyfriend.  You know how young love is,” AJ added.

“Funny,” Skip paused, “I don’t remember the FBI being involved.”

             “It was very hush-hush – and I was on campus anyway – undercover– doing some drug investigation work. So they asked me to keep my eyes open.  No one admitted to seeing anything. A couple of them said she probably had too much to drink. First party of the school year –got kind of wild.”

 “Were you there?” Skip crunched on an ice cube.

  “Where? Oh, at the party you mean?  No, but she was a pretty girl all right, flirted with all the guys.  She apparently pissed more than a few off.  It’s all a game with some girls — lead them on, know what I mean? She was bitchy that way. Whew, maybe I’ve hit my limit.”  AJ raised his glass to emphasize the point. “I must be boring you – blathering on and on.”

            “Nope, you’re fine.  So — you say you knew her?”

            “I didn’t know her but I knew who she was. Hell, everyone did. She was beautiful, hard not to notice.  Kind of like my Alexis here.” AJ patted her hand fondly.

 “Hmm – oh, the Missus — duty calls, looks like she has some folks she wants me to meet. Good to meet you Alexis.” Skip gave a half bow and moved off to join his wife.

***

            What a terrific evening, AJ thought to himself as he walked into the lobby of AA the following Monday.  Alexis had been a dream date and worth every penny of the $500 he had to pony up. The only off-note was the end of the evening was all business—nothing more for his cash than her company at the reunion.  It wasn’t that kind of an escort service she’d told him. Or at least for an FBI agent it wasn’t.

             “Mr. Fosse, “Rachael called as he headed to his office. “These gentlemen are from the Green Hill police department. They want to speak with you.

“What?” AJ looked confused.

             “I’m Detective Hicks, and this is Officer Johnson. We’d like to ask you a few questions —about working for the FBI.”

             Rachael’s jaw dropped open.

             “There must be a misunderstanding. I’ve never worked for the FBI.”

            “We know.” Detective Hick’s face turned to stone.  “This is a serious matter.”

            “Should we go to my office? It’s this way.”  AJ led the policemen down a hallway.  His hand shook as he took out his key and unlocked the door. 

             “We keep everything locked up, tight as a drum,” he prattled on as he fumbled with the doorknob. “You know, have to keep people’s private information safe.  Can’t have social security numbers and bank account numbers flying about, can we?  Would you care to sit?”

             “We’ll stand. You sit.”

            “Oh.”  AJ sat.

 “Mr. Fosse,” Detective Hicks began. “Did you know it’s a crime to impersonate a law enforcement official?”

  “I never – oh, the class reunion. That was a joke. Did that Skip guy send you out to mess with me?  No? Look I just wanted to… well, I just wanted to impress people. You know how it is.”   AJ wiped his hands on his pants.

             “Why don’t you tell us how it is?” Johnson reached into his breast pocket and retrieved pencil.

             “Look guys, I’m just a bookkeeper. I wanted to be somebody – only for one night. I never intended to go out and arrest people…or…anything.”  AJ pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead.  “It’s kind of warm in here, don’t you think?”

            “Is it?” Detective Hicks asked.  “What do you know about the disappearance of Mary Logan?  That would be eighteen years ago.”

  “ Mary Log…why would I?” AJ’s squirmed in his chair. “Other than what was in the newspapers.”

             “You seemed to be very familiar with this case,” Johnson stated.

              “In more than a casual way,” Hicks echoed. He jotted something down in a small notebook.

                “Are you accusing me of something?  I just pulled that out of my ass to impress people.” AJ wiped his palms on his thighs. “Look, I’m an average guy that had a couple of drinks at a class reunion and told a teeny white lie.”

             “What if I said we had a witness that remembers you being at the party talking to Mary Logan that night?”  The detective, leaned over, hands on the desk.

 “Impossible.”

             “Why? Because you want us to believe you weren’t there?”

             “Because no one ever remembers me,” annoyed AJ sat forward in his chair. “No one would recall if I was there or not. I am the forgettable man.” He slumped back and crossed his arms over his chest.

             “That’s not exactly a profession of innocence, and it would make you the perfect perpetrator, wouldn’t it?”

  “I don’t know anything about it. I was a student at the time. I didn’t know Mary Logan. I wasn’t at the party. That’s it.”

***

             In the end, they couldn’t prove a thing—well– they could prove he’d told a lie. But as he pointed out to Detective Hicks, since when was it illegal to lie at a high school reunion—especially when your life’s accomplishments were mundane to say the most?  That’s hardly evidence of a crime.  He unlocked the front door and switched on the light. He was exhausted from the last few hours. The police were bad enough, but they were only taking a wild guess at closing a long-ago cold case, spaghetti against the wall. What transpired after was worse.   

            “We can’t have dishonesty in this firm,” Mr. Allen, his supervisor had told him. “When it comes to our clients’ trust, we have to be above board at all times. It’s a shame, AJ.  I‘d always pegged you for a man of character. But impersonating an FBI agent?” Mr. Allen shook his head sadly. “That’s beyond acceptable behavior for one of our employees. I really misjudged you.  Go clean out your desk.”

            That was the most humiliating part, dragging his cardboard boxes through the lobby in front of Rachel and out the door for the last time.

             “Piss on you!”  AJ opened the refrigerator and pulled out a beer. Twisting off the cap he took a long swallow. He set the beer on the counter and walked to the living room and closed the blinds.  Opening the coat closet door he reached into the back and pulled out a well-worn leather jacket.  He dug deep in the pocket and withdrew a long green chiffon scarf.  He held it up to his nose and inhaled deeply. The faint scent of lavender was still in the fabric, even after all these years.  He thought of her and how the moss green color enhanced her eyes. “Oh Mary, I only wanted you to notice me.”

    He sighed. Tomorrow he’d pack up and move; a new city, a new job.  He could vanish again as easily as a chameleon changes colors. It was what he was good at, blending into the background— at that, there was no one better.

Kaelin McGee-Shipley graduated from Purdue University in with a degree in education. She recently retired and currently provides doorman services to two dogs whose mission is to rid the yard of squirrels. The squirrels remain unimpressed.