A Cough at the College of the Pacific – 1


I was recently a guest on Delmarva Life (10.28.21) as part of their Halloween show. Got to talk about publishing, as well as horror stories and why we’re drawn to them. It was a fun segment but went by all-too fast.

Meanwhile, we’re about to release the first book in an exciting detective series by William F. Crandell. I’ve known Bill for several years and have had the pleasure of reading his detective stories in our workshop, and it was fairly clear from the onset that we’d want to bring these works to publication. Tight, hard-boiled fiction with a distinctive flair. LET’S SAY JACK KENNEDY KILLED THE GIRL is scheduled to go on sale December 15, 2021. Bill wrote it, my partner in crime, Dianne Pearce, edited, and I handled the designs.
We promise you won’t be disappointed, so don’t miss it!

This week I’m beginning serialization of “A Cough at the College of the Pacific,” a short story that originally appeared several years ago in the EQUINOX anthology. I’ve revised the work, as I frequently do, to make this version the definitive and final word on the tale, which I hope you’ll enjoy.

It was snowing in Vegas. I veered off East Flamingo Road and headed north on Spencer Street doing forty. My Subaru fishtailed, propelling me toward oncoming traffic. I pumped the brakes to regain control, avoiding a collision with a US Mail truck, but catching obscenities from its driver.

Anyone who knows anything about Vegas will tell you that snow is as rare as a million-dollar casino payout. The last measurable snowfall – 1.3 inches – had occurred a quarter century ago, in 1972. I downshifted and turned left onto Chippewa Drive, arriving at 1683 a minute later. My fingers kept time against the wheel as “I’ll Never Smile Again,” track 5 of the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Jazz at the College of the Pacific, flowed from the car speakers like audible velvet.

I switched off the ignition, fumbled across a snow-dusted sidewalk, and rang the doorbell of the red stucco mid-century modern, glancing at its adjacent kidney-shaped pool as flurries blew around my face.

“Maybe you’re a good omen,” I whispered to a dozen tiny snowflakes. “I could use some favorable news.”

The front door and its faded mahogany stain creaked slowly open. An elderly woman dressed in green flannel pajamas peered at me through a small opening. Her skin was leather dry and the color of the desert sand at sunset, most likely the result of too many years spent in this typically hot and arid climate. She pushed a thin line of ash white hair out of her face.

“Yes?” she asked.

“I’m looking for Sara or John Beckett.”

“I’m Sara.”

“Do you mind if I come in? It’s freezing out here.”

“What do you want?”

“I was hoping to ask you a few questions about music, about a concert, actually. One you attended some time ago.”

She looked me over suspiciously before opening the door. “If you’ve come here to rob me, you’re in for a disappointment, unless you collect family photos.”

The door closed behind us. Her small frame was dwarfed by the entranceway of her home. The interior of the house was dark, the curtains tightly shut. Red and green flashing lights draped across a three-foot-high plastic Christmas tree in the corner of the living room blinked rhythmically.

“Can’t recall the last time I saw it snow,” she said. “Want coffee? I have Folger’s and Sanka. The Sanka’s better.”

“No, but thanks.”

Mrs. Beckett sat on a nearby recliner. “You mentioned something about a concert?”

I introduced myself and began relating the tale, but paused after a minute.

“It might be easiest if I spoke with you and John together, just to keep from repeating myself or taking up too much time.”

She looked as if I’d just slapped her across the face.

“John’s dead,”

“My . . . um . . . condolences, Mrs. Beckett,” I frowned. Not the first time mortality had gotten in my way. She mistook a weary expression as genuine compassion, so I pressed ahead. “When did he die?”

“Earlier this year. Sudden myocardial infarction.”

“That sucks,” I said, pausing a moment, anxious to get to the point. “About the concert, perhaps you can help since you were there, too. Do you recall anything specific about that night? Anyone look sick, for instance? A cold or the flu?”

“That was a long time ago. I don’t remember much about it, aside from the flowers.”


“Yes, from John. It was our first date and he bought me flowers. Beautiful lilacs.”

“And the concert?”

“We were both enrolled at Pacific College. It was a great time to be there. Brubeck and his band played there often. But I don’t recall anyone being ill during any of the events we attended, if that’s what you’re asking. I was young and in love, and it’s been too long.”

“No, I . . . I understand.”

“I hope you find the answers you’re looking for.”

“Thanks, I said. “So do I.”

Once outside I walked toward my car. The sky remained grey, and the flakes swirled around me one more. But it wasn’t a good omen. It was just snow and I was still without answers.

NEXT: Our story continues.