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All Her Diamond Rings
About the Author: C.W. Blackwell's recent short stories have appeared with Reckon Review, Shotgun Honey, Tough Magazine, Rock and a Hard Place Magazine, and Fahrenheit Press. He is a 2021 Derringer award winner and 2022 finalist. His fiction novellas Song of the Red Squire and Hard Mountain Clay are available where books are sold.

Markeem was replacing the master cylinder on an early model Chevy Camaro when he sensed someone watching him. He always thought of the feeling like a sixth sense—a sudden coldness on the back of the neck, a faint ringing in the ears. When he was a child, his mother would say someone walked over his grave. The saying never made much sense to him until she explained while he didn’t have a grave, an anonymous patch of dirt existed somewhere in the world, waiting to receive him—and sometimes people crossed it.

He set his ratchet on the tool tray and glanced around the shop. It was just past noon, and the other mechanics were out at their typical lunch spots. Bruno’s BBQ, Wendy’s, the noodle joint around the corner. He turned to the front of the shop and spotted a middle-aged woman standing at the open bay door. Salon hairstyle, designer purse clutched tight. The sun was at her back and he couldn’t make out the face.

“Markeem Kennon?” she asked.

He came to her slowly with a shop rag in his hand, casually scrubbing the grime from the webs of his fingers. He pointed to the cursive letters embroidered into his navy blue shop jacket as if he’d just learned of his own identity.

“I guess that’s me,” he said.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” she said.

The cold sensation grew colder yet as she bore her pale blue eyes upon him.

Then he knew. All at once, he knew.

“You’re Jenna’s mother.”

She gave a small grin—just enough to let him know he’d gotten it right.

“Have you taken lunch yet?” she asked, glancing at the burger joint at the other end of the lot. “I’ll buy.”

“I usually eat leftovers.” He stood uncomfortably, looking over her shoulder to see if she was alone. The thought occurred to him that maybe she had a gun in her purse, even though she didn’t seem hostile. Sad and desperate, maybe—but not hostile. “What’s this about? I don’t think I’ve seen you in fifteen—”

“It’s not about Jenna. I know that’s what you’re thinking. Can’t we just talk for a bit?”

“Your name is Valerie—or Veronica? I can’t remember.”

“Valerie,” she said. “Robertson. It’s okay that you don’t remember.”

He took out his phone and glanced at the time.

“You know what they say about free lunches,” he said.

“All you have to do is listen.”

Markeem settled into the booth with a double-cheeseburger and waited for her to talk. He took a bite and chewed without taking his eyes off her. He’d seen her only once since Jenna’s death, about a year afterward. Just a random encounter at a hardware store, and it wasn’t a friendly exchange. She’d cornered Markeem in the plumbing aisle and blamed him for everything: Jenna’s dope habit, her homelessness, the crime sprees—her fatal overdose in the woods behind her parents’ house. He’d taken her outburst with great restraint. He wasn’t entirely blameless, after all.

But neither was she.

“You taught her how to steal cars,” said Valerie. All she’d ordered for herself was a small bag of fries and a soda, and she sat sipping from the straw and letting the fries get cold. “You still do any of that?”

“No, I just fix them now,” he said. “Doesn’t pay as well, but the cops are much friendlier. My landlady, on the other hand, she doesn’t like me as much.”

She made a look like she was mildly surprised.

“I see. You’re on the straight and narrow.”

“I try.”

“Have you ever worked on a 1970 ’Cuda convertible?”

“Maybe. I don’t really keep a log.”

“There weren’t many made. The ones with the dual-quad Hemi V8 sell for over a million dollars at auction.”

Markeem stopped chewing and held a wad of cheeseburger in his cheek.

“You don’t strike me as a gearhead.”

“No? Why not?”

“You’d ruin those beautiful diamonds, for one.”

She glanced at her rings as if she’d forgotten she was wearing them.

“Well, you don’t strike me as a choir boy. The world is full of surprises.”

“I’m starting to feel profiled.”

This story appears in our NOV 2023 Issue
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