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Love on the Rocks
About the Author: Steve Liskow has been a finalist for both the Edgar Award and the Shamus Award, and has won the Black Orchid Novella Award twice. His stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, and several anthologies. His thirteenth novel, Before You Accuse Me, will appear in January 2018.

A couple vacated the stools just as the two men walked in, and they plunked themselves down before the cushions had time to cool. The taller man played with the toothpicks, the cocktail napkins, the coasters, the salted peanuts and everything else in reach. The other guy watched Karin approach.

“Gentlemen, what can I get you?”

“Grey Goose martini, up with olives.” The tall guy crunched a peanut. His twitchy hands made Karin think of a spider on crack.

“Dirty, dry or regular?” Karin gave him her best smile and he didn’t even notice.

“Uh, just whatever you usually do.” The guy took another peanut.

“And you, sir?”

“Club soda, thanks.” The man’s face was so bland Karin might not remember him when she brought back the drinks. “Lots of ice.”

“Want a twist?”

“Sure, knock yourself out.”

The two college kids at the far end would need another brew soon, but not yet. The redhead sipped his so carefully Karin wondered if he had money for another one.

The Bengals led the Lions by a touchdown. Karin cared about football less than she cared about quantum mechanics, but the guys wanted their Monday night football. Keep them happy, keep them served, keep them tipping. During the school year, Karin could only do three nights a week, so every dime mattered.

The silver shaker sweated and rattled in her hands. She poured the liquid through the strainer and impaled three olives on a toothpick. The guy with the graying ponytail held up his Blue Moon bottle and she nodded before delivering the drinks to the newcomers.

“That’s nine-fifty for the goose, two for the club.”

“We’ll run a tab.” Gray Goose handed her a Visa.

She slid it into the chip reader and watched the guy in the booth telling the girl across the table that it was him, not her. Her face had that rigid look that comes just before it falls apart.

“Yo. Ms?” The college kids held up their bottles. Actually, the big guy held up both bottles. His redheaded buddy said he’d had enough, he was good. He had a paper due, he’d better get back and work on it. The big guy wasn’t having it.

“All right,” the redhead finally said. “But just one more, Gabe. Swear to God.”

Karin grabbed a Rolling Rock and a Bud, took the big guy’s twenty with one hand and grabbed the empties with her other. She slid singles back across the hard wood. Be nice to your server, sweetheart. It’s good practice for being married.

The Bengals scored and the crowd roared. Karin wondered if Donnie was watching the game. Two years older than she was, faster than a dirty thought, hands that could hold anything, bench press three hundred pounds. And he couldn’t hear a volcano erupt behind him. If he’d been able to hear, he could’ve had a football scholarship anywhere he wanted.

Flannel shirt signaled for another Jack Daniels and Karin reached for another glass.

“I need her gone,” Grey Goose told Club Soda. “Make it look like an accident, anything you want, so long as I have an alibi.”

Karin caught the bottle before it slid out of her hand. She tilted a shot of Jack into the glass and scooped ice cubes while she watched the two men out of the corner of her eye. The bar was loud after the touchdown and they leaned closer than the ex-couple in the booth.

“Divorce is easier,” Club Soda said. “Less risk, too.”

“Not with the friggin’ pre-nup.” Grey Goose bit the first olive off the toothpick.

The Bengals kicked the extra point and the game went to a commercial. The college kids argued about staying for another, but the redhead held his ground. The big guy signaled again and Karin joined them.

“Another round?”

“I’m through.” The redhead crossed his arms like he meant it. “I’ve got a paper to write.”

“Style points for you,” Karin told him. “What subject?”

“Victorian novel. Middlemarch.”

Karin shook her head. “Never read it.”

“Stay lucky,” the kid said. “George Eliot.”

Karin remembered George Eliot was the pen name of a woman, but that was about it.

“Are you a lit major?”

“Yeah. English. And secondary ed.”

“Good for you,” Karin said. “We need more young teachers.”

This story appears in our MAR 2018 Issue
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