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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

Chapter 2

Chandler Harris opened his refrigerator as if he expected something good to happen. A box of fuzzy mushrooms smiled at him. They had come courtesy of a brief girlfriend who, two weeks earlier, smiled hopefully as she prepared her version of Italian cuisine, then left. The relationship was such that she did not return to claim her mushrooms. Of her visit, only his memories remained, and the mushrooms. He valued neither. There was also a half-cup of milk, a full bottle of ketchup and a chunk of cheddar cheese.

During the week, Chandler had been somebody, relatively speaking. As the top reporter for WRT-TV, he commonly presented the lead story on the news. He liked it. He imagined greater things for himself, a network assignment, perhaps, or an anchor position. But then the weekend always came, forty-eight grueling hours of nothing. In a world where most people count the days till the weekend, Chandler counted weekend hours, looking forward to Monday, and another week of dream-making.

It is not an uncommon thought among young TV reporters. Dreaming of the big break is enough to drive them to hard work at low pay-a benefit for news managers who feed the ego if not the paycheck and then report victoriously to the board that once again expenses have been controlled. Reporters, like lottery players, know that something good will happen sooner or later. They are bred to think that way.
He walked aimlessly into the bathroom, looked in the mirror and stroked his hair. He stood for a moment, studying what TV viewers saw. He had good hair-thick, deep brown hair with just enough wave and character of its own to wrap his youthful face perfectly for a TV camera. At thirty-two, he was what television required—according to his bathroom mirror.

Although the demise of the reigning anchorman would provide an opportunity for Chandler, it was not something he thought much about. It simply was not likely. Chandler had established himself as the first-line substitute, but Brady Soles was almost as much a Richmond institution as General Robert E. Lee, whose bronze statue punctuated Monument Avenue. It was sometimes said of Richmond that its most important community leaders had died a hundred years ago. In such a place, any new hero would have to earn his or her place. Chandler's handsome face might draw the favor of a young lady, but it would not, in this town, win him what he really wanted. And certainly not on a Saturday morning. It was his day off, and he didn't want a day off. He retrieved the newspaper from the hallway outside his apartment and flopped into a chair at the kitchen table. A dirty spoon fell to the linoleum as he spread the paper. He would pick it up later. There was no urgency. It was on the floor already. It would do no additional damage.

He glanced over the report of Tisdale's execution, allowing himself momentary amusement in the description of getting Lenny on the gurney. At his death, Lenny Tisdale weighed three hundred seventy pounds. Had his execution been delayed, Chandler mused, it might have been unnecessary; he would have eaten himself to death.

Below the fold, the other big story: the theft of Christmas toys from the Christmas House, a local organization dedicated to creating good cheer in places unaccustomed to it. He knew about that. He also knew that citizens would be so repulsed by the evil deed that they would bring replacement toys to the Christmas House, so that it would have more than it lost, by several times. The theft was therefore, in some sense, beneficial.

He tossed the paper on the floor and walked around the apartment. The stroll was brief. He had been there before. It wasn't the sort of place he wanted to spend Saturday morning-or any other morning, for that matter. Things were different when Sarah was there. The apartment was a suitable place to laze around on a late-December Saturday, but lazing was not his thing. That had been part of the problem. If Sarah were here, the jam-covered spoon on the kitchen floor would be cleaned and in the drawer by now. It wouldn't have been on the floor in the first place. But there were other things that drove them apart. Sarah always encouraged him to get out of bed in the morning for no other reason except that she wanted to make it up. And on those rare days when she was gone before he rose, and returned late at night, she would methodically make up the bed before they climbed back into it. She would tell him not to go to bed until she had made it up. He never fully understood Sarah.

The divorce nearly two years ago had left Chandler with an empty heart, renter's beige walls and the sort of furniture left unsold at the end of a yard sale. From the settlement, he won the right to make up his bed when he wanted to-which wasn't often. It was one of his few victories. But for the most part, it was his career that tore them apart. Too many nights on assignment had taken its toll. Sarah had said it in frustration, several times: "You love that damn job more than me."
He brushed his teeth quickly and headed out the door. One more Saturday at the station, he told himself. Then he'd get a weekend hobby. Bowling or carving ducks, perhaps. He unlocked his Saab, climbed in and headed toward the TV station.


The newsroom on the weekend wasn't exactly Macy's on the day after Thanksgiving, but it was better than his apartment. Or the mall. And there was always something to do, even if it was nothing. He drove a couple of blocks and pulled into McDonald's for the standard bachelor's breakfast.

Even that did not go well. He drove in behind three other cars. He pulled close on the bumper of the car in front of him, as if that would reduce the wait. He was in a hurry to do nothing. Two minutes passed, then his turn came. He didn't even need to glance at the drive-thru menu before ordering.

"I'd like an egg and sausage biscuit," he shouted at the speaker box. "And a large coffee."

"We're not serving breakfast now," a voice said through the speaker box.

"Why not?"

"We stop serving breakfast at ten-thirty."

Chandler looked at his watch: 10:32.

"All right," he said. "I'll just take a large coffee."

The voice squawked a price Chandler couldn't make out, and he obediently pulled forward to pay.

"Two creams and a handful of sugars, please," Chandler said, as he took the coffee.

The expressionless woman in the window silently handed him the cream and sugar.

Then she slid the glass door shut and walked away.

"Merry Christmas," Chandler said to the glass.

He pulled up to the road and stirred the sugar and cream into the coffee. Traffic was heavy, and dangerous. Christmas shoppers, in the spirit of giving, raced up and down the pike in total disregard of each other.

As he approached the TV station, Chandler noticed how the neighborhood's respectability went down, block by block. Twenty years ago, when WRT-TV opened its offices on the Southside, it had stood nearly alone on a quiet road. There were few traffic lights and little need for them. Now the city's boundaries lapped at the station itself, and the suburbs had sensibly moved further from the threat of crime that a growing city brings, even when it denies it, as Richmond did.

Convenience stores and flea markets had replaced more significant businesses, and even the local 7-Eleven had closed its doors to be replaced by a nameless convenience store run by a Pakistani family. Chandler could have gotten his coffee there, but he didn't want to risk it. Once, he saw the new proprietor changing chili in the always-on pot behind the hot dogs. The man scraped the gurgling dregs from the bottom, stored it temporarily in a whing-ding cup, poured in fresh chili, then dumped the cup's contents on top. That way, at least, the bottom of the chili pot would always be the freshest, comparatively speaking. Like a grocer rotating stock, the new owner of the old 7-Eleven rotated his chili. But no one ever got to eat the new stuff. The freshening-up process caught it just before it hit the bottom.
The Pakistani man had performed the switch-a-roo methodically in front of Chandler, as if it were routine. It probably was. But there were no bodies lying about the parking lot. The chili couldn't be that bad, Chandler reasoned, unless customers crawled off somewhere else to die. But it was the chili incident that caused Chandler to do his food shopping elsewhere. He didn't spend his money at the Pakistani place after that.

A tall chain-link fence had been put up around the TV station, and brilliant lights illuminated the parking lot-at most hours of the day. When Chandler pulled into the parking lot, they were burning brightly. It was a sunny morning, but the lights were on anyway.

The automatic sensors had a mind of their own.


Charlie Gladstone sat at the weekend news assignment desk. He was a pleasant kid with pimples, which he would probably outgrow, and a hooked nose, which was likely to stay with him. Charlie might have improved what he had by not wearing his baseball hat backwards or by cutting the lock of hair that he was constantly brushing back from his left eye. But it didn't matter. His chances of becoming a news anchorman were remote, but for a job nobody wanted anyway-sitting in the news room alone on Saturday and Sunday, listening to a row of police and fire monitors squawk-Charlie was well-prepared.

"Welcome to nowhere," Charlie said, looking up from a French textbook. "Did you come in to practice anchoring for next week? I mean, you are filling in for Brady next week, right?"

"Yeah, beginning Tuesday, but that's no big deal. I came in to catch up on the background for the Ragland execution," Chandler lied. "You wouldn't believe how much promotional material an execution can generate when a black governor stands to gain political ground by granting clemency to a white man."

"Especially when he's a rich doctor. I guess that's the major constitutional difference between him and Tisdale."

"You got that right. What about you-slow day?"

"As usual," Charlie said. "You guys are paying me to do my homework."

Chandler laughed. "In that case, do it well."

Charlie brushed the hair back for the sixth time since Chandler arrived and looked back at his book. Chandler watched the hair slowly fall back over his eye. A monitor screeched irritably, and Charlie turned the volume down without looking.

"You go to church, Charlie?" Chandler asked out of nowhere.

"No. Should I?"

"I don't know. I just asked."

"Do you go?"

"Sometimes, if the music's good."

"Is that the only reason?"

"No," Chandler said. "It's not the only reason. But why go to a church that has bad music?"

"Yeah, I guess. Why are we talking about church, anyway?"

"I'm going tomorrow. I'm speaking to a Sunday School class."

"You get paid for that?"

"Of course not."

"Then why do you do it?"

"Because they asked me to."

"And that's it?"

Chandler shrugged. "Sure. Why not?"

"Sounds like a dud, to tell you the truth. I'd offer to come hear you, but I've got the desk again tomorrow, unfortunately."

"It pays more than Sunday School speeches."

"Not much more," Charlie said, brushing back the lock of hair, which immediately fell right back where it was.

"What's Wally up to today?"

Wally Figgers, the weekend reporter, was not exactly a candidate for the Pulitzer, but he imagined himself to be. Management knew Wally was not very smart but seemed to think he would overcome it. But Wally had worked weekends three years and his IQ had not improved noticeably.

"He's got something across the river," Charlie said. "Shopping mall story. He's got another one on this side of the river too, with a mall Santa. After that, he'll sit around and wait for a Christmas tree fire, I suppose."

"Maybe he should take up French."

"Maybe. But he's got to master English first."

Chandler walked back to his desk, thinking about Dr. Ragland sitting on death row anticipating his own death, just short of Christmas. He wondered whether Ragland's last words would be as incisive as those of Tisdale. Ragland certainly had the cultural advantage; perhaps he could top Tisdale's "Merry Christmas."
One of the scanners behind Charlie squawked a message, and, without turning, Charlie shut the volume down. Another scanner kicked in with the same message: A citizen in the West End had phoned police to report an assault.

As Chandler leaped from his chair and ran to Charlie's desk, the dispatcher repeated the message to units in the area. Then the little red diode light on the scanner skipped on to the next channel. Eagerly, Chandler backed it up to the assault channel and waited.

Charlie looked up from his French book. "What is it? All I heard was the assault."
Chandler didn't say anything—and neither did the scanner.

"Did I miss something?"

"Yeah," Chandler said. "That assault was in River Heights."


"People don't get assaulted in River Heights," Chandler said. "Especially at ten-thirty on Saturday morning."

"What do we do about it?"

"Keep your ears on the radio. I'm heading over there."

"For an assault?"

"Yeah, for an assault."

"I don't get it."

"I know. But we'll talk about that later. I'll be in touch."

Chandler put the police monitor back on "scan" mode and hurried out of the newsroom. It looked like he might have something to do after all.

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.


Graphic Design by D.A. Frostick 
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