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The Orphan by Brian Morse

Detective Wolinski slams the phone receiver onto the cradle. A lit Pall Mall balanced on the side of his desk crashes onto the linoleum checkerboard floor. Crackling with electricity from the lead he just received, Wolinski darts out of the 34th precinct door. The cigarette winks out. Cars, trees and gray-stoned buildings melt into the bloody orange sunset.

               Mary Sullivan was murdered in a bank robbery five months ago. Detective Wolinski had all but given up on the teller until he found himself hurtling across the Genesee River to meet the anonymous female caller. Something in the lilt of her voice. She directed him to meet her at the Paramount Theater on Lyell Avenue for the 9pm showing of Kiss Me Deadly.

“I’ll be wearing a powder blue pillbox hat, sitting in the 4th row.”



The movie started a full cigarette ago; she had either arrived before him, or he had missed her going in. He groans, shoots out of the shadows, and looks down the block one last time. Black Oxford shoes slap the pavement under his determined strides. So determined, he doesn’t realize his compulsive leg scratching has returned.

He takes a seat directly to her left; she doesn’t flinch. He tries to steal a look, but her collar blocks her profiled face. She goes into her Chanel quilted handbag and passes him a Lucky Strike matchbook. He imagines the bag must be full of roses; she smells beautiful. Fire engine red nail polish flashes, a thumb nail gently presses into his calloused palm. He squints. The inscription reads: “RKO Palace.” 

She vanishes.

Wolinski white-knuckles the Chevy Bel Air back across the Genesee River. He thinks this’ll be the one to show the chief. Show him he still has it.

Four grueling years have passed since he murdered the jewelry store owner by accident.  Of all things he had to come across on a lunchtime walk.  It was a mistake; anybody could see that. Three individuals spilled out of the store in a blizzard of chaos, and he shot the wrong one. Earl Downy. That was the owner’s name.  

“A little time off to get your head straight,” said the chief.

Head straight. Wolinski choked out a laugh.

The doctors. Miltown tranquilizers. More doctors still.

He had heard Mr. Downy left behind a child, but he chose not to investigate, chose not to believe. That was how he got by. Don’t look at the papers, don’t listen to the chatter.

Intoxicated by the thought of being back in the game, he doesn’t register his index fingernail, chipped and raw from digging at the seam in his left pant leg. The car eases into a spot in front of RKO Palace.




The abandoned theater smells like rotting cabbage and wet leaves. The RKO’s chandelier, glorious in its prime, now a deformed skeleton of iron and shattered crystal.

A woman’s voice materializes from stage left and coos, “I am Gloria. Follow me to sit with Lady Evelyn.”

The cloaked woman snakes him through a garbage-strewn hall. Wolinski steps over a plastic raven perched on a human skull, and lands directly onto a soggy playbill of something titled The Stormkeeper’s Reckoning. He shoves away what’s left of it with his shoe before entering Lady Evelyn’s lair. 

The room, draped in faded black velvet, entombs the detective. Disorientation immediately sets in. Gloria closes the door. Nausea rolls over him in frothy, monstrous waves. He can’t process the overwhelming sickness. 

Buckled over, he spits, “What’s going on here? Do you have the information?”

Lady Evelyn sits silent behind a crystal ball. A cold face stares back at him, long and pointed like a steel dagger. The orb glows, and she begins interpreting signs, images, electricity. 

“A black car. Bags of money, a bank.” 

She mews and writhes like an injured tomcat.


The detective braces himself. 

“A woman in a blue hat. Matchbook.” 

He’s sweating. His body is ready to erupt as the set-up clicks into focus. Lady Evelyn continues her reading until she leads the detective up to the very moment he entered the RKO’s velvet tomb. 

His anonymous caller had fed the fortune teller everything.

He growls, “Who was the murderer?” Hoping to hear anyone’s name other than hers. But he knew. He sat next to the murderer in the movie theater.

He vomits under the card table. Lady Evelyn slumps in her chair, and glances at the detective before slamming her eyes shut. The orb turns black. He goes black.

Outside, humiliated for passing out and being an easy mark, the detective can’t find his car. He’s lost and walks until the sun has been up for how long he doesn’t know, but it’s bright.

What signs did he miss?

The caller’s voice rings through his body; her brief, but soft touch sends a shiver through his hand and up his arm. He’s trying to recall the exact words from the phone call she placed to the station. Anything that could have prevented the mess he’s found himself in. Rose-scented perfume swirls through his senses, excites him in unexpected, consuming, and angry ways. Aching for a do-over.

Wolinski finds the nearest open bar and orders a scotch and soda. The detective sniffs the matchbook; sulfur overwhelms any traces of her smell. He licks his chapped index finger and rubs the inscription until it’s smeared to a blur. 

On his third drink, he catches himself scratching wildly at his leg and notices a blood stain. He freezes. When did that start again? He hadn’t had an episode since his mandatory time off from the force.

  A woman wearing a powder blue pillbox hat enters. Fire engine red nail polish glints in the stark morning sunlight. A Ruger Single-Six gripped in her palm aims directly at him. She gives him a moment to register his fate and whispers, “For my father, Earl Downy. Her smile envelopes the room.

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