LITTLE BOHEMIA • by Cathy S. Ulrich

We could tell it was you, Jean’s friends will say later, when the picture is printed in newspapers all over the country. We could tell it was you even though you covered your face.

It won’t be till later that the picture will be taken, Jean lined up with the other women, escorted out of the lodge by the local cops. If she’d known it was going to happen, and if she’d known there’d be pictures taken, she’d have put on something a little nicer, so she wouldn’t be caught off-guard in her satin pajamas. It won’t be till later that all the shooting happens and the men will leave them behind (boys, Helen Gillis calls them, except for her own husband, who is always Lester because nobody dares call him by his nickname).

She’s not really friends with any of the other women — not with Helen Gillis, who’s short like her husband, and always smells of boiled cabbage, or Marie, who everybody says is a bit stupid, and not pretty anyway. Tommy doesn’t want her making friends with the women. Says she’s better than them. He likes it best if she stays in their room, alone, and reads while he plays cards in the bar with the others.

A real bookworm, they call her, and they laugh, but it’s all right because Tommy likes her being so smart. Says she’s a real class act. Sometimes, he has her read passages from her books out loud before he falls asleep. One of her valises is nothing but books. Later, she’ll regret having to leave it behind. And later, after she finds Tommy again, he’ll say he’s sorry for leaving her behind too.

I had to run, you know, or they’d’ve killed me.

Tommy will be killed one day, running, because all they ever do is run; or, like they’re doing now, hide. She’ll be there when he dies — promise you’ll never leave me again, and she’ll make him swear on his mother’s eyes — and he’ll be falling before she even hears the gunshot, Tommy, her handsome Tommy, shot full of holes (like a slice of Swiss cheese, one of the cops will remark). She’ll fight them, and kick, and bite, but the cops will have hold of her and won’t let her go. In the car on the way to the hospital, she’ll think she’s crying, but when she wipes her face, it will be Tommy’s blood that she finds on her hand.

There will be a reporter beside her hospital bed, and a photographer to take her picture again, and this time she won’t even be able to hide her face, because they’ve strapped her to the hospital bed.

The reporter will ask her what she’d like to say to Tommy.

Tell him I love him. Tell him not to die.

One of the cops guarding her will laugh.

Stupid moll, he’ll call her. He’s already dead.

For now, though, she’s at the lodge, reading a book in her and Tommy’s room, twirling a strand of her brunette hair between her fingers (and later she’ll dye it, partly as a disguise, but mostly because Tommy will say, oh wouldn’t you look so good as a blonde), wearing her satin pajamas. She’s never had satin pajamas to wear before, or nice books to read, and she’s thinking maybe later she’ll ask Tommy for some money so she can go to the dentist.

Then Helen Gillis is knocking at the door, saying you better come on out of there, honey, they’ve just killed some boys outside.

At first, Jean is confused, are the boys their boys who have been killed or is it their boys doing the killing? But it was the cops (damn Feds, Tommy will say when she finds him again, damn stupid Feds) killing some local boys in a car because they wouldn’t stop.

They only thought it was our boys, is all, says Helen Gillis. Now come on out of there, honey.

Jean sets her book aside, thinking she’ll come back for it later, and goes to the door, where Helen Gillis and Marie are waiting.

Where’s Tommy, Jean says, looking round for him.

Helen Gillis grabs her and Marie by the arm, and sighs. They’re already gone, she says, and leads them down to the coal bin, to hide.

Cathy S. Ulrich’s favorite Depression-era criminal is Alvin “Old Creepy” Karpis. She thinks it’s strange that you don’t have a favorite Depression-era criminal.

This story is sponsored by
Odyssey Writing Workshops — Dedicated to helping writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror improve their work, we offer one of the top workshops in the world each summer; live, interactive online classes each winter; and many free resources.

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