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Down The Well
About the Author: Martin Hill Ortiz, a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a professor of Pharmacology at the Ponce Health Sciences University in Puerto Rico. A score of his short stories have appeared in print, anthologies and online journals. He was a finalist for the 2020 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. He has authored four mystery thrillers, most recently A Predator's Game (Rook's Page Publishing). Along with his scientific background, he has worked in theater, having run a comedy troupe in South Florida.

Doribelle was wispy thin, her face made over with patches of blush which endowed with her a “preserved” look—even though she was in her twenties. She wore a leather necklace threaded with animal teeth. Tethered to its bottom was a pendant made from a rough-hewn circle of crystals that looked like it had been sliced from a geode. Her gauzy white blouse revealed black bra cups beneath.

I sliced into my pancakes. She chewed gum while drinking coffee—a talent I had never mastered.

“I don’t feel I should pay for this,” she said.

“The coffee? It’s on me,” I said.

“I shouldn’t be required to pay a fee for your detecting services. I’m virtually family. When I spoke with Tara, she said, ‘Why not ask Phillip?’”

I had been dating Tara for four weeks and Doribelle was her baby sister. I personally maintain a more drawn-out timeline before acquiring virtual relatives.

“I’m down on funds,” she said. “It’s not my fault. Those bastards booted me out of yoga school. They said I was too brittle to fold.”

She seemed fragile: her bones, knobby; her voice, frail and raspy. Her eyes darted everywhere, avoiding contact with mine.

“And still they demand I pay back the loans they loaned me. They’re like loan sharks.”

“Is that why you need me? To deal with them?”

“Heavens, no! They’re my friends.”

Tara, my girlfriend, had arranged this encounter at The International House of Pancakes explaining her sister needed some detective work. Not an investigation—rather, the situation called for someone “big and growly.”

“And don’t let her con you,” Tara had warned me. “She can pay.”

“My boyfriend is missing,” Doribelle said.

I put on my concerned professional face. “How long has he been gone?”

“Two days.”

“That’s enough to file a missing person report.”

“I don’t need the police. I know where he is.”

I chewed on my pancakes and her words. “Then he’s not missing.”

“Didn’t you hear me say that he is missing?”

We were playing king of the hill. I shoved, she pushed back. She maintained her primacy over me as long as I remained uninformed. I needed to press harder, but then again, hadn’t Tara advised me this job would require muscle? “Is he hostage? In trouble with the law? Is it a dangerous rescue?”


“Then why don’t you just head out and pick him up?”

“Because that’s why I need you.”

My eyes shot to heaven. She bristled and said, “Listen up. I don’t need your sarcastic eye commentary. I adore my sister and she likes you for whatever reason, but—unlike her—I have people instincts, real human-type people instincts, and I’m on to you.”

The waitress presented me a bottle of syrup and a sympathetic wince.

Doribelle squeezed her eyes closed. She raised her hands in front of her chest, aimed the fingers my way, turned the palms upward as though holding an invisible bowl of incense and took several deep breaths. “For the sake of cosmic comity,” she said, “we must zero our enmity.”

“Consider it zeroed. What’s your boyfriend’s name?”

“Timmy. Timmy Kim.”

“He’s Korean?”

“That’s so judgmental. Just because his name isn’t Smith, doesn’t mean he’s not an American.”


“He moved here from Korea six years ago.”

Okay. “Now, you said, you know where he is. So, where is he?”

“I believe he’s fallen down a well.”

“Timmy has fallen down a well?” I should have guessed. “This seems like a matter for a rescue team.” Or Lassie. “We should go to the police.”

“We can’t go to the police. He’s not supposed to be there.”

“Tell me,” I said, “exactly who is supposed to be at the bottom of a well?” I didn’t regard my comment as particularly snide, but she drew several more measured breaths, this time with clenched down-turned hands—all right, fists.

“Let me make this clear,” she said.

Please, God, yes.

This story appears in our JUL 2021 Issue
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