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Reginald Blisterkunst, Ph.D.
Among the Remembered Saints: My Life and Subsequent Death
Pluto Wars

Greg Chandler
"Bee's Tree"
"Local Folk"
"Roland's Feast"
"Pond Story "

Doug Childers
"The Baptism"

Gene Cox
The Sunset Lounge

Clarke Crutchfield
"The Break-In"
"The Canceled Party"
"The Imaginary Bullet"

Jason DeBoer
"The Execution of the Sun"

Deanna Francis Mason
"The Daguerreian Marvel"

Dennis Must

Charlie Onion
"Love Among the Jellyfish"
Pluto Wars
"Feast of the Manfestation"

Chris Orlet
"Romantic Comedy"

Daniel Rosenblum
"A Full Donkey"

Deanna Frances Mason
"The Daguerreian Marvel"

Andrew L. Wilson
"Fat Cake and Double Talk"


The Sunset Lounge
Gene Cox

JARRATTLenny Daniels Tisdale, Jr., a two-time killer and the last surviving member of the so-called "Poison Club" which killed several people, including two police officers, was executed last night by lethal injection.

Asked if he had a last statement, Tisdale said, "Merry Christmas." He was pronounced dead at 11:13 p.m.

Tisdale was the third man executed in Virginia this month. The execution of Dr. Roger Ragland is scheduled to take place Monday. The Tisdale execution moves Virginia, with seven executions this year, ahead of South Carolina and Missouri for the most executions in the country for 1997. Since the resumption of the death penalty in 1982, Virginia's previous annual record was five.

Richmond Times-Dispatch

Chapter 1

Phil Jaco watched his wife carry a cup of latte into the sun room and set it on the wicker table beside him. The early winter sun peeked through the Palladian windows and warmed her face. Her blond hair glistened in its rays. Gloria was one month shy of her forty-second birthday, and a decade of sitting beside the pool nursing gin and tonics had not yet taken its toll. She could still pass, in office parlance, as a trophy wife, though she didn't act like one. Not anymore.

As Jaco watched his wife, he did not see himself. Jaco, fifty-three years old, stood a modest five feet, nine inches tall and weighed well over two hundred pounds. The navel on his protruding stomach peeked through the gap in his robe. Hairy white legs reached out below the robe and connected to feet tucked inside worn slippers. His other end wasn't much better. It featured a balding head on which Jaco would have draped a toupee, had this not been a weekend. But it was, and he didn't. Jaco's wealth, and the toupee, concealed little, though he had allowed himself to imagine otherwise.

She did not look at him.

He took a sip of the coffee and winced. Not enough sugar. Damn. She reached across him and turned on the TV. The morning news show entered the room as the weekend anchor read a story about Len Tisdale's execution.

"Have you gotten the paper yet?"

Jaco grunted and shifted in his seat. The paper was his job. She did coffee, he did the paper. That was the Saturday morning division of labor, established by time and habit. To alter it would require communication, and he would rather just get the paper than become involved in a mindless conversation with his wife. He'd do it in a minute. Through the artificial Christmas tree, he watched the wind blowing leaves around in the backyard.

"Montaldo's is having a sale," she said, mostly to herself.

Grudgingly, Jaco took a sip of coffee and climbed out of his chair. Before opening the door, he pulled the sash on the robe to cover his stomach and tugged the collar tight around his neck. Not that he needed to. It was, he discovered, stepping into the sunlight, almost spring-like. A week before Christmas, and here he was actually tilting his head back to let the sun fall on him like a warm shower. He took another sip of coffee and relished the sound of the door clicking shut behind him.

The dog met him at the fence, loping up with its hair puffed out over its eyes. Damn show dog. The dog had become unusually affectionate since its twin died, a year ago. To the dog, Jaco was the replacement. It was the best he could do. Jaco gave it a quick pat and opened the gate. As always, River Heights was silent. The houses, though not far apart, snuggled in secrecy-Leyland cypresses and mature English boxwoods helped provide a shield from each other and the outside world.

It wasn't until he got halfway down the driveway that Jaco could actually see over the boxwoods that separated him from the next-door neighbors. Not that there was anything to see besides a rather old but proud baby-blue Mercedes and a Volvo with a child's seat in the back seat. Strange, Jaco told himself: didn't know they had kids.

Without realizing it, Jaco began to whistle a tune under his breath. He composed it as he walked. At the end of the driveway, he stooped to pick up the paper. The Tisdale execution covered much of the front page. The paper had used the occasion of the execution to review the crimes that led to it, including accounts of other Richmond police officers who had died in the line of duty. But all that research was wasted on Phil Jaco. He lingered only a moment before clumsily shifting his coffee from hand to hand so he could skip to the Business section.

The main story was a fluff piece on a local businessman who said he was going to donate a portion of his Christmas sales to the United Way. Jaco shook his head and turned the page. They should have called him before running the story: he'd have given them a little dirt to spice it up. Everybody's got some dirt on them, and more often than not, Jaco could tell you what it was. Not that founding a small cookie empire hooked him directly into the underground dirt line, but he had his connections. Still, he had to admire the guy's salesmanship. Maybe next year he'd do something like that to help the holiday sales. He turned the page and held the fold open into the light.

Behind the paper, he heard soft footsteps coming down the road. The rubber patter of a jogger's shoes, he thought, glancing over the real estate stories. Then the dog growled, and the paper exploded from Jaco's hands in a crisp flash.

The first blow caught Jaco on the cheek and spun him against the mailbox. The second sent him to his knees. By the time the attacker kicked him in the stomach, Jaco was close to blacking out. Still, with the evenly timed rhythm of someone working on a punching bag in the gym, Jaco's attacker continued to work him over, and somehow, Jaco remained conscious.

"Help," he wanted to say. "Somebody help me!"

But all he could manage was a stifled gasp, as the attacker rolled him over and kicked him gruffly in the small of the back. Then, as suddenly as he had appeared, the attacker disappeared in a patter of nonchalant, jogging strides. And Jaco, lying on his back in a swath of stray newspaper sheets, listened to the high-priced stillness return to River Heights.

Now that Jaco actually needed someone—a neighbor raking the leaves, say, or a mother pushing her child in a stroller—the silence was decidedly less appealing. Only Jaco's dog stood by, sniffing curiously at the blood that ran in a crazy-veined pattern from Jaco's nose and mouth and through the cracks between the driveway's fashionable cobblestones. The dog studiously ignored Jaco himself and proved, yet again, how useless show dogs can be. Perhaps it thought of its lost mate and wondered if the substitute would also be taken away. After a moment, the dog loped back toward the house, tail curled between its legs. He didn't even retrieve the paper.

Years seemed to pass before Gloria appeared at the top of the driveway, shrieking. She'd never been exposed to violence, and now that she'd stumbled onto it at the foot of her own driveway, she found herself unable to move. For a moment, Jaco merely stared at her with the blood gurgling from his mouth.

"Damn it," he sputtered. "Do something!"

She stared uselessly at him for a moment longer and then hurried back up the driveway with the dog close behind her. Another eternity seemed to pass before Jaco heard sirens in the distance. In the wailing sound, he found hope, as he lost consciousness and leaned back against his mailbox.

The sirens, however, were not for him.

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4



About the AuthorGene Cox photo © WWBT News Channel 12

Gene Cox is the news anchor for WWBT NBC-12 in Richmond, Virginia. He is also the author of Glazed Donuts and Peccadilloes and Other Strange Animals. The Sunset Lounge is his first Chandler Harris mystery.

Click here to read WAG's extended essay about him.


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