The Knight of Pentacles Sandra Thomas had great parents. Her father was a lawyer and her mother was a teacher. Her sister was beautiful and smart. Sandra was plain and even smarter. Sandra grew up toughened by the comparisons between her and her beautiful sister. She would come home, crying about a comment by a boy in school or an award her sister got because of her beauty, to the warm arms of her parents. She loved them so she became a lawyer for the teachers’ union.

* * * *

Normally, Sandra administered the State legal office for the teachers’ union. She would assign or contract out assignments from the requests sent to her office. Today she had a problem. She had contracted out the sexual-assault case of the small rural community to a local law firm. But now she had a request for help from another teacher claiming the use of blackmail for sexual favors by the principal and superintendent of the same school. And unlike most cases having to do with employer misconduct, there was proof, including audio tapes. She had a feeling that both cases were linked. She knew she wasn’t the best trial lawyer on staff, but could she trust that both cases would be handled correctly if she left them with the contracted law firm?

She called in her assistant and told him he was in charge of the office until she got back. She phoned the local law firm, telling them she would be taking charge of the case but they would still be on contract for support services. She made appointments with the county sheriff’s department for the next day. Finally, she called her parents and asked if they would baby-sit for tonight. She had to go out of town for a few days and would like some time alone with her husband. Her husband never knew how much of that night he owed to the warm loving feelings Sandra got from her parents.

* * * *

Jim carefully placed the 200-pound nail magnet in his shoulder bag. He went through his closet and found his best-looking shirt and pants. From his sock drawer, he found a dark blue tie he had last worn at an uncle’s funeral. He brushed and polished his shoes. Putting on a wool sport coat, he looked at himself in a mirror. He took a deep breath and was ready.

This was payday. He knew that Kawalski and Shermon would try to stop his check. He drove into town trying to run through what could happen when he asked for his check. He tried to breathe in through the nose out through the mouth. He centered his energy in his lower stomach, the Ki, the location that oriental martial arts refers to as the center of the body’s force. He saw the sign _reserved for office staff_ in the choice parking spot in front of the school and pulled in. He took a final few breaths, controlling his emotions.

He entered the building; walked to the high school office.

“Amy, I would like to get my check.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Makinen, but I don’t have one for you.”

“Well, I want my check. You better find out where it is.”

Flustered, Amy hemmed and hawed for a few moments and then walked to Kawalski’s door. Knocking, she entered. Jim used the distraction to stand next to the office computer. There he carefully placed the shoulder bag with the magnet next to the machine. He heard the machine beep once and the disk drive start to run and finally silence. He had the bag back on his shoulder before Amy came out of Kawaski’s office.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Makinen, but Mr. Kawalski doesn’t know anything about your check. He said you could come back tomorrow.”

“Well, I’ll just talk to him,” Jim said pushing past Amy. As he entered the office, he said, “Well, Joe, I want my check.”

“Get the hell out of my office!” Kawalski ranted. Jim walked in far enough to lean the bag against Kawalski’s computer.

In a soft kindly voice, Jim commented, “Joey, you had better stop being a prick. This isn’t the schoolyard. This is where the big boys play. Here you are just a little turd floating in one mighty big cesspool.” Kawalski’s ravings completely masked the crashing of his computer.

As James left the high school office, he again quietly replied, “I want my check. Don’t make me come back.” Makinen went next to the superintendent’s office and finally to the business office. By the time he left, all five of the administration’s computers had crashed. It took another hour before anyone noticed that their computers were no longer working. The discovery of the malfunctioning computers corresponded with a phone call from the school’s attorney.

“Mr. Shermon? This is Jack.”


“Jack Andrews, the school district’s attorney.”

“What do you want?” snapped Shermon, his anger still boiling from Makinen.

“I was just contacted by Makinen’s attorney. You have to pay him his salary. In fact, you should keep him on salary until he is officially fired.”

“What! Do you know what the little fucker did?”

“I don’t care what he did. You and the district can be held in violation of his contract. That means you can be held personally liable for his salary plus penalties. In other words, he could take you to the cleaners in the courts. As the school district’s attorney, I would have to advise them to suspend you from duties if Makinen files a complaint. That would be the only way to limit the district’s liability. Are you willing to put your job on the line just to keep Makinen from having his pay?”

Andrews had, at various times, defended some of the worst scum in the region. He had learned to appreciate a good string of cuss words. The string of epitaphs that came from Jefferson were only passing in creativity but in venom they rated an _A_. He decided that he would have to contact a couple of the more responsible members of the school board. They might need to cut their losses and get rid of Shermon. With the bribery of a favorable recommendation, you could usually find a district that would hire a troublemaker off your hands. School boards were notoriously easily swayed into hiring anyone who looked good and had what appeared as the proper background.

Shermon fumed in anger for the next few hours. He had just gotten himself under control when he realized that all their bookkeeping, even the carefully doctored books, had been on those computers. They had kept everything shady on the computers to make it easier to erase if anyone started to check up on the bookkeeping. Could they rebuild the fake books without being caught?

* * * *

Makinen never heard the bullets. He woke to the squeal of tires and a sharp pain in his arm. When he touched his arm, he felt a warm liquid, blood. He turned on the bedroom light. Crouching low, he went into the bathroom to clean and check his arm. He found a two inch long crease along his upper arm. Wrapping his arm in a pillowcase, he got his twenty-gage shotgun. Leaving the lights on, he threw on some clothes and hurried out the back of the trailer.

He ran to the highway ditch just past the edge of his yard. Crouching in the brush, he waited with his loaded shotgun.

When he looked back at his trailer, he could see the light coming through the bullet holes in the side of the trailer. He realized that he would have been killed if he had a bed and not just a mattress on the floor. The dozen bullet holes were placed in a saw tooth pattern stretching across the bedroom just under the windowsill. When he saw this, he started retching up sour stomach acids.

He’d just finished a dry heave when he heard the sound of tires rolling down the road. A car was coasting down the tar without lights and its motor off. As it rolled past his hiding spot, shots erupted from the back seat hitting the area around the bathroom window. James returned fire, filling the passenger area of the car with three rounds of number six birdshot. The car started up amid screams of pain. As the car pulled away, Jim pumped his last two shells into the rear tire area of the car. In the pre-dawn dark, Makinen saw sparks come from the left rear of the car as it settled onto the tire rim.

It was late afternoon when Henry and Al again showed up at Makinen’s. James was trying to cork the holes in his trailer with wooden plugs when they pulled up. Henry started the conversation.

“Those look like bullet holes.”

“Do they?”

“Arne and his friend John are in the hospital again. They claim to have been shooting rats with a .22 in the dump behind his father’s barn. He claims his brother must have thrown away an old box of birdshot. They hit it with a .22 round and the shells went off. Both boys have a dozen pellets in them. You wouldn’t happen to have heard anything about that?”

“No. I haven’t talked to anyone all day until you showed up.”

“It’s kind of funny about those boys. They showed up at the hospital with their car all shot up as well. They claimed they were shooting the rats from their car! Do you believe that?”

“Yep. Those boys aren’t too smart, you know. If they keep on trying to shoot rats, they could just wind up dead.”

“I told them that too. In fact, I told them if they even touched a gun, I would put them in jail for the next ten years just to protect them from themselves. I even have them in jail right now for reckless endangerment and

the firing of a weapon too close to a residence. I talked to their parents. They are going to be in the jail for a while.

“Jim, I think maybe you should visit your kids out west.”

“No can do. Just look at all the maintenance I have to do around here, all of these holes to patch. If I left on a vacation, do you really think this trailer would survive? I borrowed the money for it from my father. I don’t have any money now, and he can’t afford the cost of losing it now that he’s retired.”

“I’ll be watching everything very closely, Jim. I would bring you in for your own protection if I thought it would help. Besides, I wouldn’t want you in the same jail with John and Arne.

“You had better take care of yourself. It looks like you’re bleeding,” Henry added, pointing to Makinen’s arm.

“Thanks, Henry. I will”

In the car ride back to the office, Al asked, “Are we in the old west? Why didn’t we arrest him?”

“For what?”

“For shooting those kids. That’s what.”

“You mean for shooting back at someone trying to kill him. You saw those bullet holes.”

“Well, how about for lying to the police.”

“Exactly what did he lie to us about?”

“We got to do something.”

“Yes, we do. Makinen isn’t the one who has been lying. So who else has


“God damn it. You’re right! We go after the girl, Shermon and Kawalski.”

* * * *

_Hands turn over the next card._

A man lies on the ground. His body pierced by ten swords.

_The hands hesitated at the gruesome sight. Slowly they reach and turn off the light._