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Exhibiting Signs Of Death
About the Author: Mark Thielman is a criminal magistrate working in Fort Worth, Texas. Formerly, he spent twenty-seven years as a prosecutor for Tarrant and Dallas counties. A two-time Black Orchid Award-winning novella author, Mark’s short fiction has been published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and anthologies including the Mystery Writers of America collection Odd Partners. He lives in Fort Worth with his wife, two sons, and an oversized dog.

I pulled the RV into the parking lot of the Tort Law Hall of Fame. I never imagined that slip-and-fall cases merited their own museum, but as I motored through Berkshire, Massachusetts on the state highway, I saw the sign and then the building, I jerked the wheel hard and steered in on impulse. I’d never been an attorney, but before I retired from the police department, I’d made friends with a couple of prosecutors. We’d remained pals after they’d become ambulance chasers and mouthpieces … sorry, defenders of the Constitution. The fact that our relationship persisted testified to my high pain threshold.

I digress. I immediately thought about getting them coffee mugs from this place, maybe something with a green Pinto that turned fiery red when you poured a hot drink into it. I had to look. Besides, I needed a break. I was driving straight into the morning sun and my eyes hurt. I straddled three parking spaces, carefully avoiding the two cars already in the lot. The building didn’t have an area set aside for RVs. Apparently, this isn’t the place for hours of family fun. I climbed down and headed inside.

I pushed through the door and followed the signs to the gift shop. A young woman looked up as I came inside. She gave me a toothy smile. I was ready to vote for the plaintiff on her expression alone. “I’m Brittney,” she said. Her name tag agreed with her.

“Andrew,” I said.


Brittney smiled again at my confused look. “It’s an anagram of your name. A game my grandfather and I play with customers.”

I thought for a minute. “Bery Tint? If you don’t mind bad spelling.”

She laughed. “Good answer. Traditional spelling rules don’t apply.” Brittney pressed a button on the register. “I’m just opening up. Let me know if I can help you find anything.”

I perused the discount table. They had a child’s t-shirt posing the question, “What is Tort Law?” Immediately followed by the answer, “The law protecting and compensating those who have been injured by the negligence, recklessness or intentional acts of others.” I couldn’t imagine why that one hadn’t been a big seller.

I passed racks of neckties, joke books, and posters offering noble sentiments about the power of the law. I shopped briefly before finding the mugs I wanted. The store didn’t have a flaming car but apparently a rat once caught fire inside a vending machine. The gift shop had two of those on display. I took them both. I grabbed another one featuring a crashed locomotive and a frowning railroad tycoon paying cash out of his pocket.

I carried my collection to the counter. “If I buy three will you throw in a refrigerator magnet?”

She shook her head.

“An attorney who won’t negotiate. How’d you get a bar card, Brittney?”

She flashed the toothy smile again. “I’m not the lawyer. I’m just the summer help. You’ll have to talk to my grandfather.”

“You bound for law school?”

“That’s the plan.”

“Got anymore of the rat mugs? These are the last ones on the shelf.”

“Grandfather will know. He stays on top of the inventory.”

“Sounds like he’s the man I need to talk to. Where’s he at?”

“He’s somewhere in the museum, probably dusting the asbestosis exhibit. His car was here when I arrived.” She led me into the main museum.

Pausing in the lobby, Brittney pointed at one of the portraits hanging there. “That’s my grandfather.”

From behind the frame, I saw a distinguished looking man in a blue suit, white shirt and red tie. Somewhere a flag was walking around naked. “Who are the other two?”

“That’s Steve Jam and Elizabeth Killdee. They are the other two citizen champions who helped found this museum.”

“Citizen champion,” I said. “That’s a nice euphemism for blood sucking, pettifogging shark.”

Brittney turned, her eyes narrowed. Her expression relaxed some when she saw the smile on my face. “Wait until you meet my grandfather.” She pointed to the grand hall. “Why don’t you read about consumer justice while I find him.” Quickly she disappeared into the museum.

This story appears in our MAR 2021 Issue
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Reader Discussion

Love it!
By Susan Rickard

Tricky, twisty, and tantalizing, and the tug-a-long kept me captivated to the details and the characters. I loved it!
By Susan Davis

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