Jill Graber looked out into the darkness, her keenly-honed senses on high alert. They were out there, somewhere. Probably in the other parking lot. (More)

Midday Matinee is our people watching, people doing and people being feature. Join the Woodland Creatures for an afternoon break.

Welcome back to Tuesday’s Tale, a weekly feature where we collaborate to write a story. Previous Tuesday’s Tales include I Resolve… and The Halftime Speech. We follow the basic rules of the “Yes, And” improvisational game – accept everything written so far as part of the story, and add your own paragraph (or so) where the last addition left off – except you needn’t begin your addition with “Yes, and.” I’ll start the story….

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Note: Today’s protagonist is a parody of Lee Childs’ Jack Reacher, a former Army MP, and David Baldacci’s John Puller, an active duty Army MP. We hope the authors appreciate imitation as “the sincerest form of flattery.”

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She’d been in this situation before, countless times, as a Salvation Army cop. They’d kicked her out when they decided that Graber, a Quatritarian Cruciverbalist, was not “saved.” She’d left, after quoting from the Gospel of 19-Down, with nothing but her folding toothbrush and her 75mm Glock & Spiel Custom Model 11. She reached into her purse, gripped the rubberized handle, and released the clapper.

“Do you need any help, ma’am?” a female voice asked.

Graber turned and studied the other woman. She looked harmless, but four tours of duty in the War on Christmas had left Graber more than suspicious. The mere sight of Will O’Really’s face could bring back the nightmares. She studied the woman carefully: age lines at the corners of the eyes and lips, a double chin beginning to form, an extra thirty pounds around the middle. And only a faux-pearl necklace beneath her blue Sprawlmart smock. Graber could almost hear the weeks-distant echoes of the woman saying “Happy Holidays.”

“Yes,” Graber said. “Where’s the bath soap?”

“Aisle eleven,” the woman said.

Graber nodded. Her long, lean legs ate up the distance quickly. She didn’t really need soap. There were small bars on the sink and tub surround of the motel room she’d checked into that afternoon. But the soap aisle in any store was usually empty, giving Graber a chance to settle her breath and gather her thoughts.

“Are you okay?” a different female voice asked.

Graber almost drew out her Glock & Spiel, and was glad she hadn’t. The young cop was pretty, but looked to be well-trained, standing back just beyond reach, eyes alert, feet spread, ready for action.

“Fine,” Graber said, reading the name tag. “Officer Holder.”

“Joan Holder,” the woman said, extending a hand. “I’m the prickly local cop you’re supposed to fall in love with by the end of the story.”

Graber’s jaw tightened. “Sorry about that. Your character always ends up dead.”

“Maybe,” Holder said. “But sometimes I live, and we can exchange longing but platonic glances in the meantime. So what brings you to Smallton?”

“I’m looking for my sister Vicky,” Graber said.

“Short for Victoria?” Holder asked.

Graber shook her head. “No. Short for Victim. My parents read this story before she was born.”

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Have fun!