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Story Excerpts

Art by Laurie Harden

Small Signs

by Charlaine Harris

David Angola was leaning against Anne DeWitt’s car in the Travis High School parking lot. The bright early-fall sun shone on his newly shaved dark head. It was four-thirty on a Friday afternoon, and the lot was almost empty.

Anne did not get the surprise David had (perhaps) intended. She always looked out the window of her office after she’d collected her take-home paperwork.

Anne hadn’t stayed alive as long as she had by being careless.

After a few moments of inner debate, she decided to go home as usual. She might as well find out what David wanted. Anne was utterly alert as she walked toward him, her hand on the knife in her jacket pocket. She was very good with sharp instruments.

“I come in peace,” he called, smiling, holding out his hands to show they were empty. His white teeth flashed in a broad smile.

The last time Anne had seen David they’d been friends, or at least as close to friends as they could be. But that had been years ago. She stopped ten feet away. “Who’s minding Camp West while you’re gone?” she said.

“Chloe,” he said.

“Don’t remember her.”

“Chloe Montgomery,” he said. “Short blond hair? Six feet tall?”

“The one who went to Japan to study martial arts?”

David nodded.

“I didn’t like her, but you obviously have a different opinion.” Anne was only marking time with the conversation until she got a feel for the situation. She had no idea why David was here. Ignorance did not sit well with her.

“Not up to me,” David said.

Anne absorbed that. “How could she not be your choice? Last I knew, you were still calling the shots.”

For the past eight years, David Angola had been the head of Camp West, a very clandestine California training facility specializing in survival under harsh conditions . . . and harsh interrogation.

Anne had been his opposite number at Camp East, located in the Allegheny Mountains. Since the training was so rigorous, at least every other year a student didn’t survive. This was the cost of doing business. However, a senator’s daughter had died at Camp East. Anne had been fired.

“I was calling the shots until there were some discrepancies in the accounts.” David looked away as he said that.

“You got fired over a decimal point?” Anne could scarcely believe it.

“Let’s call it a leave of absence while the situation’s being investigated,” he said easily. But his whole posture read “tense” to Anne, and that contrasted with his camouflage as an average citizen. David always blended in. Though Anne remembered his taste as leaning toward silk T-shirts and designer jeans, today he wore a golf shirt and khakis under a tan windbreaker. Half the men in North Carolina were wearing some version of the same costume. READ MORE



Toombstone-Final-JasonEckhardtArt by Jason C. Eckhardt


by Doug Allyn

“Wilson! Hack Wilson! I know you’re in there, damn you. Step out or I’ll come in and drag you out!”

Flinching at the anger in Miller’s voice, I glanced quickly around the seedy saloon, looking for a friendly face. Didn’t see one. No one even met my eyes.

Drinkers looked to their whiskey, gamblers looked to their cards, the whores just looked bored. I’d be making this fight alone.

Tossing back my bourbon with a single swallow, I slid my short-barreled Colt Peacemaker out of its holster, spun the cylinder to make sure it was free, cocked the hammer and eased it off, twice. Perfect. Slick as an oiled eel.


“Gimme one for the road,” I said, pushing my shot glass toward the barkeep. He was a scrawny galoot with a wispy moustache, thinning hair combed sideways, slicked down to cover his naked scalp. His jaw was quivering. Looked like a scared rabbit.

“Please, Mr. Wilson, take it outside. I don’t want no trouble in here—”

“You’ve already got trouble!” I roared, hurling my shot glass at the mirror behind the bar, shattering it into a million splinters. “I said gimme another!”

He pushed a full bottle across the bar towards me, then backed hastily away, getting out of the line of fire.

Didn’t blame him.

Snatching up the whiskey bottle, I yanked the cork out with my teeth, then spat it on the dirt floor. I guzzled down half the bottle in a few gulps, slopping the excess down my chin. Felt no kick from it, though.

The bartender was right. I had no friends in this room. I’d be better off taking my chances in the street.

Time to go. Time to fight. And to die.

Taking a final pull from the bottle, I tossed it aside. Sucked in a ragged breath, squared my shoulders, then pushed through the doors into the morning sun’s pitiless glare.

Miller was waiting across the dusty street in the doorway of a dry-goods store, his flat-brimmed black Stetson pulled low to shade his eyes, his full-length yellow duster flapping in the prairie wind.

He swept his coat open to reveal a fancy, two-gun concho rig, with both holsters tied down. His guns were a matched pair of ’73 Remington Navy .44s, nickel-plated. The holsters were lined with metal, cut halfway past the cylinders for speed. A serious professional’s rig. A gun hand’s rig.


“We don’t have to do this,” I called. “You can just ride out.”

He didn’t bother to reply. Just spat, in total contempt. He wouldn’t be riding off. He was here for me, and we both knew the play now. READ MORE

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