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The Ring of Truth
About the Author: David Afsharirad is the editor of The Year's Best Military and Adventure SF series of anthologies. His short stories and nonfiction have appeared in various journals and magazines. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and son.

The face on the other side of our hotel room door was that of Roger Aikman. It was a face I’d seen plenty of times before, on the backs of paperback novels and in the picture in the sterling silver frame on Teresa’s bedside table.  That photo, a glossy black and white version of the one on all those books, was inscribed “To my love forever. –Roger.” Teresa was kind enough to face it to the wall on those occasions when I shared her bed, but she said there was no chance of removing it altogether.

“He’d know something was wrong,” she had said. “You think I like having that next to me when I sleep? Bad enough I have to share a bed with the real thing.”

And so yes, I knew the face of Roger Aikman. Now I looked at it through the narrow space provided by the chain-lock on the door. The face didn’t concern me so much as did the gun in Roger’s hand, the barrel of which was sticking into my ribs.

“Better open up,” Roger said. “This thing makes an awful racket.”

I considered stepping to the side and slamming his wrist in the door. He must have seen it in my eyes.

“Your reflexes are good, Phil. I’ve seen you on the court.” He shrugged. “I guess you could give it a try. Up to you.”

“I’ve got to shut the door to take off the chain,” I said.

This seemed to throw him, and I was pleased to see he hadn’t considered every detail.     

“Okay,” he said. “But do it fast. And don’t try anything. This is a forty-five, not a BB gun. It’ll punch a hole right through this door—and you—if you take too long.”

“I won’t try anything, Roger.”

“Do it.”

I shut the door, threw the chain and turned the knob. I didn’t have time to pull the door open. Roger slammed through it as soon as the bolt cleared the doorframe. He shoved me hard in the shoulder and I almost tumbled to the floor.

“Stay back.” The gun was leveled at my chest. Roger glanced at the unmade bed; fury in his eyes when he saw it was empty.

“Where is she?” he growled.

He cocked his head toward the bathroom, heard the water running in the shower before I could answer. A wolfish smile spread across his face. It didn’t look at all like the one in his author photo.

“Washing the stink off, eh?” He jabbed the gun at the air. “Sit.”

I sat on the edge of the bed. Roger took up a position across from me, his back to the wall.

“What do you—?”

Shhhhhh. We don’t want Teresa hearing us. This way it’ll be a surprise for her just like it was for you.” The water cut off. “Looks like she’ll be joining us any moment.”

I could hear Teresa throw back the shower curtain. I wanted to yell, to warn her that Roger knew about us and was here, but what good would it have done? He’d shoot me, and there was no way she’d be able to get away before he did the same to her. So I just sat where I was told, my jaw clenched.

The bathroom door opened and Teresa stepped out. The plush hotel towel was wrapped around her hair like an oversized turban in the way that women do, and which I’d always found sexy. The towel aside, she was nude. When she saw Roger and the gun, she let out a startled cry but made no effort to cover herself, and I felt a pang of hatred as it sunk home—not for the first time—that this man had had his way with the woman I loved on many occasions.

“Good to see you, my love.” He waved the pistol to indicate he meant for her to sit next to me on the bed.

Teresa didn’t move.

“What do you want, Roger?”

“Just a chat. Please, sit. This might take a while.”

She did as he asked, though slowly and without so much as a tremor in her lip, to show how unworried she was. The way she canted her hips as she passed between us, it was almost as if she were taunting him.

Once she was situated on the bed next to me, Roger seemed to relax a bit, though I had to admit he’d been preternaturally calm throughout. It seemed I was the only one unnerved by the situation.

Roger leaned against the chest of drawers, but his gun hand remained steadily trained on me. I wished he’d point that thing somewhere else.

I told him so.

This story appears in our JUN 2017 Issue
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Reader Discussion

You got me, David! Totally believable, not a false note in it. Unlike a lot of stories like this, it's just the right length. Keep 'em wanting more, right?
By Mo Bock

Beware. Spoilers. Fun story. Very noir. Nice twist. I was glad that Phil shrugged it all off in the end and didn't get all weepy. That would've spoiled it for me. I like this ending much better.
By Scott Merrow

Fantastic hook! Had me on pins and needles! Good stuff, the perfect length! Dynamic ending! Keep it coming!
By Nina Ritter

Clever ending. I didn't see it coming.
By Ruth McCarty

Nicely done.
By Martin Roy Hill

Nice twist. I like how you drew me in with the point of view of the tennis pro. Nice foreshadowing about how cool Roger was. Well done.
By Ken Grant

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