By Gary Phillips

Maria Donovan laughed politely at her friend’s jest. Each then had another sip of their infused designer label water. “You think Pearson will come in on the back end?”

I’m meeting with their VP of development on Friday,” Cathy Stiles said, “I’ll do my best to pin him down.”

The waiter, a tall twentysomething man with planed shoulders, brought their food. Each was having a salad, though Donovan, a lithe and toned women who combined yoga and a free weight regime, had blackened chicken in hers. Protein was a good thing in moderation as far as she was concerned. Donovan worked for a producer getting heat, a woman only two years older than she was, but whose bank account had several more commas to the left in it. Several more.”

They ate and conversed.

Isn’t that Brad Thornton over there?” Stiles said between munching on crispy Romaine and croutons. The two were eating at one of the new tony eateries in Beverly Hills. The place was called margo’s, lowercase, and had replaced the previous tony eatery, a name already forgotten as yesterday’s news.

Yes,” Donovan confirmed. “He needs a hit after two bombs in a row.”

Her lunch companion’s eyes brightened. “We could get him for less than his asking price.”

Donovan briefly shook her fork at her, a cherry tomato speared on its tines, at her. “Now you’re talking.” She had the tomato as her smartphone chimed. It lay beside her plate and she glanced at the screen. “Excuse me a second, I better get this.”

No problem.” Stiles signaled to the waiter, pointing at her glass of over-priced water.

Yes, right,” Donovan was saying into her phone. The waiter brought more of Stiles’ cucumber infused water and went away again. There was a stretch of silence where Donovan nodded and listend. She then added in a conversational tone, “I understand completely. Okay, goodbye.” She touched the phone’s screen, ending the call. She looked across the table, smiling at the other woman.

Good news?” Stiles asked.

The best,” Donovan answered cheerily. She picked up her fork and coming around the table quickly, stabbed her friend, a woman she’d known for some six years, in the neck repeatedly. It had happened so fast, Cathy Stiles didn’t even get her arms up in a defensive gesture. She screamed in pain and shock, blood spurting, staining her silk Donna Karen blouse. For those seconds it took for anyone to act, some of the patrons thought this was one of those hidden camera prank-type shows.

Their waiter, who was desirous of a career in the movies, took charge. He grabbed the arms of the violent fork wielding Donovan. “Call 911,” he yelled, wrestling the woman to the ground. Stiles slumped over, her slowing heart pumping the blood out of her, not having the energy to put her cloth napkin to her wounds. An older woman with a face puffy from recent plastic surgery, rushed over from a nearby table and pressed her napkin to the younger woman’s neck slick with crimson.

Why’d you do it?” the waiter demanded, getting him and his compliant prisoner to their feet. He exchanged a look with the woman attending to the victim. Her face had a ill tinge, her eyes wet as she tried with tender words to will life back into the fatally wounded Cathy Stiles’ body.

Because he told me to,” Donovan said.

Who?” he blared.

The Death Bringer,” she said and calmly sat, hands in her lap, awaiting her fate.

The EMTs rushed onto margo’s patio, knocking over a potted palm, spilling dirt across the imported tiles. The pulse in the big vein in Cathy Stiles’ neck was nearly imperceptible.



Raised deep amid the cracked concrete and weathered palms of South Central L.A., weaned on the images of Kirby and Steranko in comic books, and Hammett and Himes in prose, Gary Phillips also draws on his experiences – ranging from being a community organizer, teaching incarcerated youth, to delivering dog cages – in writing his tales of chicanery and malfeasance.  His latest work includes the graphic novel Big Water, co-editor of Black Pulp, and the novella,  The Essex Man: 10 seconds to Death.