The Top Floor of the Sash and Blind

Warden John Fisk gnawed on the ends of his calloused fingers as he walked across the prison yard. In the thirteen years he presided over San Quentin, he watched fifty-eight men meet their maker at the top floor of the Sash and Blind building. Sultan Hernandez would be the fifty-ninth. Stan Norton, the Warden before him, once confided that each execution got easier. It didn’t. It got worse.

Fisk screeched open the steal door of the Sash and Blind. The strong, moldy odor surged from inside. The old red-brick structure had no foundation and it consumed the moist air that came off the Pacific like a massive sponge. Made it damp. Dreary. Cold. He heard the wistful notes of a harmonica, faint and sweet. He began up the stairs toward the pre-execution waiting cell, also known as the Ballroom.

The harmonica got louder and clearer as he climbed. It was a Tin Pan Alley piece, though Fisk couldn’t remember the name. How could an instrument played with such expertise make a beautiful song so miserably sad?

Fisk arrived at the Ballroom. The odor of the freshly varnished wood applied to the floor of the gallows one tier above made his eyes burn. He knocked twice before using the skeleton key to open the door. The young man sat cross-legged on the edge of a mattress with the harmonica at his lips. His eyes were red and swollen with puffy half circles beneath them. He wore the custom blue jeans, white long-sleeved shirt, and slippers.

“Hello, Sultan.” Providing comfort under such circumstances always bewildered Fisk.

Sultan spanked the saliva from his instrument. “What brings you ‘round here this time a night?”

“Just wanted to see how you’re doing. You don’t play so bad.” The kid’s music was in such contrast to the cheerless cell, the weather outside, and even the times. Prohibition. Organized crime.

Sultan put his harmonica on his knee. The silver plate of the instrument was pretty mangled. The walls of the room were filled with scribbled psalms, prayers, profanities, sketches of naked women, and the names of sweethearts.

“Where’d you learn to play?”

Sultan shrugged. Pulled an empty pack of cigarettes from the front pocket of his shirt.

“Is there anything you want to talk about?” Fisk handed him his pack of Luckies.

“Nope.” Sultan put a cigarette between his lips. He lit a match, but his hands were so shaky it went out.

“I think it would be good for you to talk a bit.” Fisk lit Sultan’s cigarette. The musty sulfur scent of the match was strong.

“Ain’t nothing to talk about.” Sultan pulled out a silver pocket watch. Popped open the front cover. Put it against his ear. “The Hang Man dropped by. Measured my height and weight.”

“I’m sorry. It’s standard procedure.”

“Funny how the Ballroom’s just a few paces below the Death House—ain’t it, Warden?”

Fisk chewed on the tip of his thumb. It began to bleed. “Say, what’s your favorite song? I can round up Fast Check Chester and the rest of the convict band to play whatever you want over the prison radio until . . .”

Sultan shook his head. Snapped the stem-wound watch shut. Stuffed it in the pocket of his jeans. He grabbed a chewed-up pencil from the tiny table beside his mattress.

“You sure?” Fisk watched him write Sultan + Anna on the wall.

Sultan held up his harmonica. “Got all the music I can handle right here.”

Fisk started to repeat himself, but didn’t. He felt selfish, like he was prying. But he wanted to know more about this kid, a decorated soldier in the Great War. Sultan wrote By the Light of the Silvery Moon beneath his name and Anna’s.

Fisk loathed this part of the job. But it was a distant second to the part he hated most. These were the nights he never slept. He turned from Sultan. Looked at his watch. “It’s midnight. I’ll come back to the Ballroom in eight hours.”

“Better not be late.”

Fisk locked the door behind him. Chewed on his fingers. The vibrant sound of the harmonica blared off the walls of the Sash and Blind. He didn’t smell the varnish anymore. He started down the stairs and he reasoned it was best to leave Sultan alone. But it wasn’t. It was best for Fisk.


Sultan Hernandez gazed out the window of the train. The silhouettes of the mountains lit by a December moon told him he was close to home. He smirked when he thought about the boys he knew in the Army. Shook his head. They were clueless about the mountains, livestock, desert, and agriculture here. Ignorant bums thought California was nothing but beaches, palm trees, and silent pictures.

He heard the fast, steady chugga-chugga revolutions of the wheels slow down. The cathedral hands on his silver pocket watch showed nine o’clock. He read the inscription on the back for the millionth time. To My Only Son—Love, Father.

“Camarillo, next stop!” The conductor yelled over the whistle of the locomotive.

Sultan put the watch safely in his pocket. The train stopped. He heard the steam puffing out the chimney. He slung the Army-issued duffle bag over his shoulder and swung out the train door without touching the steps. The strong, minty scent of the leaves from a nearby row of eucalyptus trees was a smell he’d taken for granted growing up in Camarillo. It was only three years since he left, but it felt like ages.

Sultan walked west toward the Buckhorn Saloon. Music, laughter, and hollering drifted from inside. When he was little, Sultan’s father told him about the dancing girls in the back and how the cowboys would toss coins right onto the stage. It was known as a rough and rowdy place, and his father warned him not to go inside. The Great War was rough and rowdy, too. No one ever warned him about that.

Behind he heard the train leaving the station, the chugging of the engine getting fainter as it rumbled toward Oxnard.

The Buckhorn smelled like a livery stable. Conversations in every corner swirled in a dirty cloud of cigarette smoke. Sultan was surprised to see the frothing mugs of beer and the bottles of booze neatly stacked and lined up behind the bar.

The California Ramblers cascaded out of an old phonograph. A young gal high-heeled her best version of the Charleston on stage, but he’d seen it done better by the women in the German beer halls. She wore a straight, loose dress made of a silky fabric. The lines on the dress were straight with an uneven hem that, occasionally, reached beneath her knees. Her hair was bobbed and black. A string of beads around her neck bounced off her chest as she pranced about the stage.

A handful of cowboys held their beer glasses high and cheered her on. A few even kicked up their own heels and spilled beer in the process, but they didn’t seem to notice.

Antlers and deer heads lined the walls. The floor was camouflaged with dried up mud and livestock shit packed with cigarette butts and straws of hay tracked in by the cowboys. Sultan dropped his duffle bag and took a stool in the middle of the bar beside a spittoon stained with dark brown tobacco juice.


Nick Wallace limped out the door of his bunkhouse on the Charlie Murphy Ranch. He pinched a hunk of snuff from a can of Red Man he’d pick-pocketed off Mr. Murphy while sitting behind his employer during Friday Morning Mass. He’d just put in a twelve-hour day, most of it in the saddle of a horse tilling the fields for Winter harvest. The yellow moon cresting at the top of ‘Ol Boney Mountain to the east was so bright he could read. He was tired as a three-legged mule, but the moon inspired him to get a drink.

Nick boarded Basilio, his big black stallion, and made a kissing sound. Together, they clip-clopped south beside the railroad tracks beneath towering eucalyptus trees. Crickets chirped intermittently. When they reached the Buckhorn, he hopped off Basilio and tied him to the hitching post. A lively version of “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” drifted from inside.

It was an ordinary Saturday night inside the only bar in town. The usual cowboys were drinking and tossing coins at Lucy Feathertail, the town flapper and half-breed Chumash, while she jiggled on stage.

A man sat alone in a stool at the middle of the bar. He wore a crew cut and a military uniform. Nick knew it was Sultan Hernandez. He’d read in the local paper that the decorated hero of the Battle of Saint-Mihiel would be home before Christmas. Sultan turned around and Nick saw his childhood friend’s face for the first time as a grown man.

Sultan jumped up and shook Nick’s hand. “How the hell are ya?”

“I’m sneakin’ by,” Nick pushed the brim of his dirty Stetson high on his forehead. He needed to get a better look at the decorations on Sultan’s uniform. “I see you got yourself a medal or two.”

“Yeah, well . . .” Sultan’s voice cracked. He turned away.

“What’s that bronze one with that eagle on it?”

“Oh, some distinguished thing . . . is what I think they call it.”

“What did you have to do to get it?”

“I did what I was told.”

“You kill any folks?”

Sultan nodded.

“A lot?”

Sultan nodded.

“How many?”

Sultan shrugged.

Nick recognized it was a sensitive subject, but they’d known each other since knee pants. Sultan’s hair was so black and shiny he just wanted to touch it. “You get wounded?”

Sultan nodded. He pulled a harmonica from his pocket. Handed it to Nick. It was silver-faded. Looked like it got trampled under a stampede.

“Jesus!” Nick spat into the spittoon. The brass clanged. “This ‘ol Hohner’s all beat to hell!”

“Flip her over.”

“Are these . . .” Nick ran his fingers over the bullet hole-mangled cover plate.

“Uh-huh,” Sultan held out his hand. “I kept that in my breast pocket the entire war.”

Nick gave it back to him. “Is that the same one you used to play ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon’? When you’d climb that big Sycamore outside Anna’s window?”

“Yeah—Anna bought it for me.” Sultan put the harmonica in his duffle. Pulled out a piece of rolling paper and a pouch of Genuine Durham.

Nick rolled up his sweat-stained long-sleeved shirt. He watched Sultan create a wedge in the paper and stream tobacco in it without losing a speck.

“What’ll you boys be havin’?” The bartender, Ernie, was a bald man about fifty with a handlebar mustache.

“Two whiskeys and two beers. I’m buyin’.” Nick slapped a fifty-cent piece on the counter.

“Thought everything was sarsaparilla ‘round here these days?” Sultan licked the sides of the rolling paper. Placed the cigarette between his lips.

“Not at the Buckhorn.” Nick winked. “Not yet.”

Ernie brought the whiskey and beer.

“So,” Sultan dug out a match and lit up. “How is she?”

Nick knew the subject of Anna would come sooner than later. He felt Sultan’s heavyhearted vibe. Decided to rip the bandage off the wound. “She has a little boy. She got married.”

“That goddamn war ruined every plan I ever had!” Sultan’s teeth were clenched.

“She married a rancher—Fred Campbell.”

Sultan knocked back some whiskey. Cleared his throat. “I know. Anna’s Daddy never did like me—probably ‘cause I’m Mexican.”

Nick wasn’t sure if Mr. Murphy was prejudice towards Mexicans ‘cause they were Mexican or just prejudice toward poor folks. “I don’t know about that. He’s in love with himself. Talks about how much power he has, but he doesn’t use it much. Not like he could. He loves to provoke, but he pays his workers on time whether they’re legal or not.”

“He oughta—he’s got the money. And he never admitted to being wrong about me and Anna.”

“You do know you’re the Daddy of that little boy of hers.”

“Only letter I got from her the whole time I was overseas was when she wrote and told me. I was in France. I never wrote back.” Sultan finished his shot. “Constant marching orders to some shithole battleground.”

Nick was surprised he knew. What else did Anna confide in her letter? He clanged the spittoon with tobacco juice. “Mr. Murphy treats your Mama right, too. He hired her as a maid a couple years ago. She does a fine job. Seems happy.”

“Shit.” Sultan smoked his cigarette. “He’s had a hard-on for her since ‘fore we was born—that’s why he hired her.”

Nick knew nothing about this subject, but he knew both Mr. Murphy and Mrs. Hernandez pretty well. “If he does, he don’t show it. If he did, she wouldn’t put up with it. Your Mama’s still got a firecracker temper.”

Sultan snorted.

Nick wasn’t sure what Sultan’s plans were since he got home. “Maybe you should ask Mr. Murphy about a job?”

“Tell you one thing. Anna was nothing between the sheets like a whore I knew in France.”

Nick was startled by Sultan’s boast. “Yeah?”

“You bet! She was part negro, but she really knew how to turn a trick. Ain’t never seen a prettier gal. Heard ‘bout her from a kid in my outfit named Buckley—rich kid from New York. Lawyer Daddy. Super privileged. Buckley was sweet on this broad and always talkin’ ‘bout how he was gonna take her home with him to the states—so I paid her a visit.”

“What did she look like?” Nick never saw a French woman before.

“Black hair. Black eyes. Coke bottle curves. She looked like a white gal—’cept she had dark olive skin. First time I saw her I knew I had to have her. Wasn’t gonna share her with some prick who came out the womb wearing a high hat.”

“So what did you do?”

Sultan produced a silver pocket watch from his shirt pocket. Dents and scratches were etched on the case. “I told her Buckley had the clap.”

Nick laughed. “Did Buckley find out?”

“Damn right he found out! That’s why he killed himself.”

“Over a whore?” Nick watched Sultan open the watch. Pressed it against his ear.

“I’s sittin’ in the mud against our trench wall reloading my weapon. I’s all shot to hell— one in my arm and one in my shoulder—and this damn Jerry stick grenade lands ten feet from me.”

Nick heard about the mustard gas and the terror overseas. He leaned in. Listened close.

“And dumbass Buckley jumped on the son of a bitch!”

“Then what happened?”

“His guts blew up all over me is what happened!” Sultan closed the watch. Clutched it with both hands.

Nick drank his shot. He ran his hand over the self-inflicted gunshot wound on his thigh. He tried to convince himself he had Buckley’s courage, but he couldn’t.


Charlie Murphy parked his brand-new Marmon in front of the Buckhorn Saloon. He spent four thousand cash for the roadster two days earlier, a quarter of his ranch’s annual earnings. His Pops would be honored with the prestige that now came with the Murphy name.

He pressed a handkerchief against his swollen lower lip. Blood remained, but nothing like early in the morning before Friday Mass. Juanita, his beautiful maid, found him at the base of the stairs in his home.

Charlie’s silver stem-wound pocket watch read nine-thirty. He bought it to support a friend five years earlier that opened an antique shop in Oxnard. He only carried it as a reminder to buy himself a fancy new one, preferably gold-colored and Swiss with Roman numerals.

Charlie exited the car. Put the watch in the front right pocket of his bib overalls. Basilio, his once prized stallion, was tied to the hitching post. He gave it to Nick Wallace the day he promoted the boy to top ranch hand.

First thing Charlie saw when he passed through the swinging doors was a youngster in uniform sitting at the bar talking to Wallace. He recognized him as Sultan Hernandez, the boy who once sneaked around like an alley cat in heat trying to make it with his only daughter, Anna. A boy like Sultan pursuing Anna was bad. Worse, was that he was beneath her. Worse still, Anna never saw it that way.

Charlie sat at the end of the bar. Raised a shaky finger. Ernie brought him his usual double whiskey. He held pride that his influence kept the whiskey flowing during prohibition.

Charlie downed his drink. The floating sensation caused the pain in his lip to fade, but not his conscience. He felt rotten about Juanita. She helped him to his feet and cleaned his wound like a protective mother. But she slapped him and left when he forced a kiss on her.

The sight of Sultan in uniform didn’t steady Charlie’s nerves. Twenty-five years ago, he fought in the Spanish American War. He still heard the Gatlin guns. Doc Higgens told him the pains in his stomach were ulcers brought on by liquor, but drink was the only remedy that kept him from waking in the night engulfed with the sights and smells of San Juan Hill.

Charlie ordered another double. Ran his tongue over his fat lip. Still tasted blood. He hoped Juanita would forgive him.

Charlie sauntered toward Hernandez and Wallace.

“And that dumbass Buckley jumped on the son of a bitch!” Sultan said.

“Then what happened?” Nick seemed to be hanging on Sultan’s every word.

“His guts blew up all over me is what happened!” Sultan grasped a silver pocket watch that looked similar to his own.

“Hey, Boy,” Charlie slapped Sultan on the back. The kid didn’t flinch. “You hear about Anna moving on to another man?”

“Jesus, Mr. Murphy,” Nick said.

Charlie was surprised by Nick’s comment. “Don’t forget who pays you, Kid, and where you got that stallion.”

Sultan stared at his drink. He was calm. Too calm. He smoked his cigarette. “Why do you hate me so much?”

“I don’t.” Charlie sat next to Sultan. “But I couldn’t—and never will—have my only baby girl getting hitched to your kind.”

“My kind?”

“You heard me.”


“No—peasants.” But that wasn’t it at all. If Charlie couldn’t have Juanita, Sultan wasn’t gonna have Anna. “I trust no one born to peasants who remained peasants all their lives.”

“My folks worked hard.”

“Yeah—but not smart.” Charlie was determined to marry Juanita after the war, but she turned down his advances. Just like this morning. She married a dirt dumb sharecropper instead. “In fact, when your Daddy’s heart gave out two years ago picking beans on the Baptiste place, he was just as dumb and poor as he was the day you was born.”

“Go straight to hell.” Sultan clinched a fist, but only for a second. He put the watch in his shirt pocket.

“Hey, I’m just giving facts. If Juanita married someone of potential, she wouldn’t be a forty-something maid today. She’d be important.”

“Must be nice being given six thousand acres of the richest soil on earth.”

“I inherited a cattle operation going nowhere. When I learned the lima bean don’t require water on this desert, I had the smarts to convert to beans when no one in the country was doin’ it. Now I export all over the world.”

“Good for you.” Sultan placed a rumpled folded letter on the counter in front of Charlie. “How’s it feel to have a grandson that came from a peasant?”

Charlie didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. He unfolded the letter. A baby picture of Freddy, his only grandson, was inside. He recognized the handwriting to be Anna’s.

September 1, 1918

Dear Sultan,

It’s with a heavy heart I’m writing to inform you I’m breaking my promise to wait for your return. I met a rancher named Fred Campbell from the Conejo Valley and we’ve been married. He’s a good, gentle man who loves me dearly.

Fred is a fine husband. He knows the child isn’t his but has promised to keep this secret from everyone, including my father. He’s also promised to provide for him as if Freddy’s his own.

I couldn’t go on living in fear. Fear you’ll never return and the fear others might think when they find out you’re the father of this beautiful baby boy. Six months after you left, I tried to force the affections I held for you onto Nick Wallace, but he isn’t that kind of man.

My father has hired your mother as a house servant. She does terrific work and I assure you my father pays and treats her well.

Enclosed, please find the picture of Freddy. I hope this letter finds you and that you’re safe.

Fondly and God Bless,


Charlie skimmed the letter again. “Dear, Sultan . . . rancher named Fred Campbell . . . you’re the father of this beautiful baby boy . . . promised to keep this a secret . . . Nick Wallace isn’t that kind of man . . .”

Hell, this wasn’t much news to Charlie. He’d noticed Freddy’s strong resemblance to Sultan before. High cheek bones. Black hair. Dark eyes.

Charlie never saw Nick with a girl so that didn’t surprise him none.

“Well?” Sultan elbowed Charlie’s ribs.

Charlie knew the boy was trying to get his goat, but the letter didn’t bother him none. “Fred Campbell’s a good man from good stock. He’s got a college degree. He owns land. Land is money and money will give Freddy and Anna more opportunities for importance. You’d never be able to offer any of this. You take after your Daddy.”

“One more thing,” Sultan blew smoke in Charlie’s face. “That baby girl of yours— she sure knows how to treat a man.”

“C’mon,” Nick thumped Sultan on the shoulder. “Let’s go before there’s a scene.”

Sultan kept going. “Yeah—that Anna—she got one sweet piece of ass. In fact, she could’ve taught a whore I knew in France a couple tricks.”

Charlie reached for his forty-five sidearm, but he knew he could do one better. He finished his drink. “See this?” He fingered his lip. “You know how I got this?”

“Servicing one of your horses?”

“Nah, your Mama bit me.”


“Your Mama—she’s lonesome these days.” Charlie paused for extra affect. Leaned in close. “She bit me hard last night—passionately.” Charlie watched Sultan sink in his stool. He proceeded. After all, Charlie owned the town. “She bit me when I stuck my fat pecker deep inside her . . .”

Sultan’s lightning punch to the mouth felt like a fastball thrown by Walter Johnson. Charlie’s lip exploded like a giant pimple. A blow to the gut forced him to choke for air. Charlie reached for his holstered forty-five, but Sultan was too fast.

“Nice try, Polecat.” Sultan emptied the clip. Hurled the gun across the room. He pasted Charlie repeatedly across the face. Grabbed him by the collar and slammed him against the edge of the bar. Charlie felt a crunch in the right pocket of his overalls.

Nick wrapped his arms around Sultan’s chest from behind. Yanked him back. “Enough!”

“Let go of me, Goddammit!” Sultan’s watch slipped out of his shirt pocket.

“Tough shit!” Nick seemed to have Sultan’s arms pinned behind him.

“Lemme go or I’ll tell the whole country about you!”

Charlie’s pride felt like roadkill. He coughed up blood and phlegm. His lip felt like it went through a threshing machine. Never had he endured a beating like this. Plenty threatened, but he was always able to intimidate them with his clout. Sultan didn’t come from important stock, but he sure had guts—more than Nick. He could use a man like that.

“Charlie—you want me to get the Doc?” Ernie leaned across the counter.

Charlie tried to gather his bearings. “I’ll be fine.”

“Want me to call Constable Richardson?”

Charlie shook his head. Juanita would never forgive him. He needed to go home. He put five bucks on the counter. “Give this to Sultan. I’ll smooth things over with the boy when he cools off.”

“Nick—let go of me, Goddammit!”

Charlie reached into his pocket. His watch was in two pieces. The cover was snapped off from the case and the dial was shattered. He tossed it in the spittoon. The brass thundered.

Something flashed out of the corner of Charlie’s eye. A shock of blazing agony pierced his belly deep. His breath vanished. He looked down. The knife was stuck in him all the way to the wooden grip. Blood spewed out his guts. He could feel it dribbling down his crotch. His insides smoldered like dripping molten metal.

His knees became busted springs. Wallace gently laid him on his back. “You’re gonna be okay, Mr. Murphy.”

Charlie knew Nick was lying to save face. He tried to explain he just wanted to make amends with Sultan, but only blood trickled out.

Sultan leaned down. Carefully pulled the double-edged stiletto blade from Charlie’s gut.

Charlie heard boot heels approaching. A crowd gathered around him like clouds.

“Sultan—that wasn’t yours.” Nick picked Sultan’s silver pocket watch off the floor. Handed it to him.

Sultan dumped the knife on the floor. Collapsed in a stool at the bar. Cradled his head in his hands. He sounded like a whimpering cat.

Charlie shook like a windsock. All he could hear was his own gasping. Sounded like he had plugs in his ears. His hearing tapered and everything went silent and dark.


Sultan clasped a hand on his forehead for the thousandth time. He was still as wet and cold as winter dew. The sweats and chills plagued him for days. His nausea was excruciating. His breath was short. His heart felt like it was going to rupture. His head felt like a pair of socks being wrung by a blacksmith’s hands.

Sultan sat up in bead. The Ballroom spun. He leaned over to vomit, but nothing came up. A full week passed since he ate. He opened his pocket watch. Seven-fifty-eight. They were coming for him in two minutes.

Sultan stuffed a cigarette between his lips. The shakes forced him to waste three matches before it lit. The groan of a ship’s horn blew in from somewhere out in the bay.

The inch-wide slat on the door lashed open. The noise reverberated off the Ballroom walls. Sultan froze. A pair of eyes stared at him through the open slat. They looked like a pair of candles at the bottom of a dark well.

Now they were coming for him.

Sultan opened his watch. Eight sharp. Right on time.

Keys rattled. A safety bar slammed. Bolts slid. The lock made a loud clunk. The door squealed open. Hang Man walked in. His face was a sweaty blank canvas.

A guard with ears big enough to hear the sun rise in the morning, followed. He held a leather strap. Next a skinny guard stepped in. He held a leather belt.

“You sleep okay, Son?” Warden Fisk appeared in the doorway behind Hang Man, Big Ears, and Skinny. “It’s that time.”

Sultan nodded. He craved to get this over with, but he couldn’t resist defiance. “Ahh, Mr. Punctual!”

The Warden folded his arms. Chomped on his fingertips. “Is there anything you want me to do with your harmonica?”

“No, it’s dead to me. But I do have a favor.” Sultan stood up. Crushed out his cigarette.

“You name it.” The Warden’s blue eyes aimed to please.

Sultan opened his watch. Put it to his ear. Handed it to the Warden. He felt the urge to cry and clinched his jaw.

“To My Only Son—Love, Father.” Warden Fisk read softly to himself.

“It was all that was left of a guy that saved my life in the war.” Sultan watched Big Ears tie his wrists together with the leather strap. “Mail it to Arthur T. Buckley. He’s a big shot attorney in Manhattan.”

“New York?”


Skinny fastened the belt around his waist. Sultan’s breath got shorter.

“Be glad to.”

Hang Man clutched Sultan’s left arm. Big Ears clutched his right. Skinny stood behind Sultan. Gripped his belt. Together, the three men walked Sultan out of the Ballroom.

First thing Sultan saw was the tall, wooden platform in the center of the Sash and Blind building. He smelled varnish. The scent took him to the St. Mihiel battlefield. Stale gas. Rotten sandbags.

Sultan noticed about a dozen men in raincoats and fedoras flanked to his right. They stood roped off at the base of the platform. Some scribbled on notepads. Others stared at him, wide-eyed.

Hang Man, Big Ears, and Skinny guided Sultan toward the top floor of the Sash and Blind, which was painted white with dark blue trim. White as the faces on the rancid corpses he crawled over in No Man’s Land. Dark blue as their lips.

Each step felt like sandpaper beneath his slippers. Sounded like a horsehair broom being pushed.

Sultan counted thirteen steps when he reached the top of the platform.

David Reel is a Ventura County, California native, historian, and the content creator, writer, and voice actor of Hyperlocal Camarillo, a full season podcast illustrating the history of his hometown, Camarillo. His first short story, “The Bad Boy Down the Street,” was published in The Wordsmith Journal in 2015. His first book, Camarillo: Past and Present, was published by Arcadia Publishing in 2019.

David serves his community working at Conejo Mountain Funeral Home in Camarillo. Spending time with his wife, Catherine, and his close circle of friends are high priorities in his spare time.