Chump City Nights – Flash Fiction

Since 1946, the same electric sign has hung out over the sidewalk in front of Dusty’s Pub. The sign features a cartoon French maid dusting the word “Dusty’s” with a feather duster.

One warm summer evening in 1978, Dusty, the club’s namesake and creative genius behind the sign, clutched his chest, slid down a wall behind the bar, and expired. His widow sold Dusty’s before Dusty was cold and the pub then belonged to a small, greasy man named Claude Radke.

Radke did not rename Dusty’s Pub, opting instead to spend the money he would need for a new sign on something more practical. This practical something turned out to be a few cartons of cigarettes which he burned through over the course of three or four weeks.

As Dusty had done, Claude Radke required that “his girls” wear the uniform of the French maid on the sign. On Friday and Saturday nights, two of them would skitter about the pub slinging drinks and tickling the noses of their better tippers with feather dusters. It was said that Radke’s girls would tickle other things if the price was right but this claim had not been substantiated.

One drunken night, Claude Radke groped one of his girls and she slapped him hard. Humiliated, he tossed her onto the sidewalk to the drunken cheers of his twisted knot of elderly regulars.

The banished waitress – who told me her name was Louise – showed up at my desk the next morning with information about Claude Radke she thought I could use. She was right. I dropped by Dusty’s later that afternoon to tell him the good news.

Three men sat across the bar from Radke when I walked in and they swiveled their stools to look at me.

“Afternoon, boys,” I said, opening my jacket so they could see the shield. “Stop by again when you can’t stay so long.”

The men grumbled and finished their drinks, pulling bills from wallets and flipping them onto the bar.

“So long, Claude,” one of the men said.

“Thanks for stopping, guys,” Radke said. The door closed behind them and he scowled. “What in hell do you want?”

“Nothing for me, thanks,” I said, taking a seat on one of the recently evacuated stools. “I’m on duty.”

The scowl deepened. “Quite a comedian.”

I made a show of looking around. It was clear we were the only two in the bar. “How’s business?” I asked.

Radke’s eyes narrowed to fiery slits of hate. “You want something, cop, or are you just here to harass a hardworking businessman for no reason?”

I shrugged. “Your gal, Louise, stopped in to see me this morning.”
“Not my gal.”
“Not anymore,” I said.
“Not anymore,” Radke agreed. He dried his hands on a towel.
“She claims you’re selling cocaine out of this place.”
He waved a hand in dismissal.

“Says you keep a pile of it in a coffee can on a shelf in the back.”

“She’s crazy.”

“You mind if I look around a little? You’ve got nothing to hide.”
Claude Radke smiled sweetly; a golden tooth glittered. “Go ahead,” he said. “Assuming you’ve got a warrant.”

I returned the smile. “Funny you should say that,” I said, reaching into my jacket pocket and producing a folded piece of paper.

Radke’s eyes shot to the paper. He looked up at me.

“Do not do it,” I said.

He bolted through a doorway behind the bar.

I placed my palms on the bar, tried to vault over, and bashed a shin into the polished wood. A couple stools went down and I cursed and gimped out the front door, hobbling down Wisconsin back to the alley. Claude Radke was a ways up the alley, hunched over and gasping.
“You should have turned left,” I said.

He ran for a few steps and his shoe slid out on the rocks. He went down windmilling, rolled around in the gravel for a while, and laid there in pain.  He sat up and I was on him, palming his forehead, pushing him back down in the rocks. “Lay still.”

“I don’t gotta talk to you, cop!” he spat. “I want my lawyer.”

I let go of his face and sat down beside him in the dirt. He panted at me. I panted back. A dark, bloody gash had been carved out above his right eyebrow and both knees were torn up and slick.

“Killing me with this running, Claude,” I said. “Too old to be running. Where the hell were you gonna go?”

“I want my lawyer.”

“So you said.”

“I’m not telling you nothing.”

“Anything,” I said.

Claude Radke frowned. “Anything.”

I stood and dusted gravel from my pants and held out a hand to Radke. He ignored it and climbed to his feet, wincing. I brushed some gravel off his back. He gave me a look so I stopped brushing. We started walking.

“I’m not arresting you,” I said.

“Thanks.”

“On the level.”

He stopped walking. “What is this?”

“Here’s the proposal: You give me the coffee can and you get to decide what you do with your time for the next 3-5 years.”

Radke’s eyes got narrow and shrewd. “You’re gonna sell it?”

“Don’t be stupid.”

“Use it?”

“How much does your lawyer charge?” I asked.

He started walking again. “I didn’t take you for a dirty blackmailer, cop. Next month you’ll be back for more.

“One and done.”

He winced and dug tiny, sharp rocks from bloody left palm with a fingernail. “And if I don’t?”

I shrugged. “The Department gets it. You pay an attorney for a plea deal, and you probably do time.”

We walked in the back door of Dusty’s and he put a large can of Folger’s in my hands. I opened it; Louise was telling the truth. I set the can on a table, pulled cuffs from my belt and said: “Claude Radke, I’m arresting you for possession of a narcotic with intent to sell. You have the right to remain silent…”

“You lied to me,” Radke said. His lips were shiny and spit flew when he said it.

I put the cuffs on him, finished his rights, and marched him around the bar out the front door. The pub was still empty.

“You said-”

“I lied.”

Radke was bewildered.

I dug in my jacket pocket, removed the folded paper, unfolded it and showed it to him.

“LOST,” it said. “Male German Shepherd answers to the name Rex. Missing since June 17th. Has shots and is friendly. If found, please call…”

I folded the paper back into my jacket and Claude Radke and I took a drive downtown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Father’s Day Miracle – 100 Word Story

It was the fire that taught Jeff about miracles. After all, he shouldn’t have been there – Jeff never visited on Wednesdays. “Maybe I’ll see what the old man’s doing,” he’d said and when he pulled into the drive, the house was engulfed.

Reflecting, Jeff doesn’t know if his father would have escaped – so frail was he when Jeff found him, barely visible through the smoke. Jeff’s eyes shimmer. He smiles, grateful. He sees again his hands gripping the skinny ankles, hears anew the screams as he drags his father back into the flames. “Better safe than sorry,” Jeff whispers aloud.

Buried Treasure – Flash Fiction

He stood in a large hole, perhaps four feet deep and five or six in diameter. The digging was strenuous, the ground comprised of gravel and sand. With each thrust, the shovel stopped dead, sending a jolt through his arms, his shoulders, his back. Every few minutes, he dropped to his hands and knees to dig by hand. With his fingers, he unearthed heavy rocks, straining to wrestle them from the hole and heave them aside. The rocks dented and dulled his shovel, slowing his progress.

The air was crisp and the moon full; his body steamed through his shirt. He lifted the shovel from the hole, flat to the ground and perhaps a quarter full, and tossed its contents over his right shoulder. The sand made a brushing sound as it fell on dry leaves. He plunged the shovel into the earth again.

She stood behind him and said, “Why are you doing this?”

He stopped and let the shovel stand by its blade as he removed his cap and drew his arm across his forehead. The shovel stood upright for a moment then fell. “I have to find it,” he said.

She shook her head. “I don’t need it.”

Bending over, he grasped the shovel. “If I don’t find it now, We’ll have to wait until Spring.” He shook his head. “I can’t dig through the frost.”

She wrinkled her forehead and said, “Leonard, you’ve been out here for days! Weeks!” She moved close and he pulled away. She stopped and said softly, “Perhaps it’s not God’s will that it be found.”

“I don’t believe that. If He wants me to leave it out here in the wild, He needs to tell me plain. I ain’t interested in deciphering hints from The Almighty.”

She raised her eyebrows. “He is telling you. I’m telling you. Take the shovel home and draw yourself a warm bath. Put on dry clothes. Make a fire! Do the things you need to do to move on.”

He shook his head.

She smiled with sad eyes and said, “The landslide was not your fault. You don’t need to find my body.” She smiled. “It’s already buried.”

He fell to his knees in the dirt and covered his face with his hands. “No, no, no…” he cried.

“I have to go now, Leonard,” she said softly. “It’s time for us both to go home.”

She drifted away into the trees…

Leonard awoke with a start, his eyes wet and the television still on. Beside him, she lay sleeping, breathing deeply. He spooned her, and buried his face between her shoulder blades, pulling her close.

She faced the wall, smiling. “These dream pills were worth every penny,” she thought. “I am SO going shopping today.”

Now try this: The Predator

 

The Predator – Flash Fiction

Miles Vandelay stood at the head of the table and hoisted his wine glass with his left hand. With his right, he pinged the glass repeatedly with a spoon. His eyes glittered with booze and triumph.

“Real quick,” he said. “I don’t want to hold up the party – ”

“Get off the stage!” said his VP of Operations, Todd Alton. He grabbed a bread roll from a basket on the table and tossed it at him. Soon, rolls were coming in from all over the room. They bounced off his chest and sailed past his head as he bobbed and ducked. “You’ll make me spill my wine!” he protested.

“There’s plenty more where that came from!” yelled Ezra from another table and the room erupted into applause and whistles.

Vandelay laughed and held up a palm. “All right, all right, you animals, but you know I’m cheap. I want to enjoy every. last. drop.” He upended the glass and held it up as a gladiator might hold the decapitated skull of a defeated enemy. The employees roared and upended their glasses, holding their empties high.

“They say,” said Vandelay, “All’s fair in love and war and I suppose that’s true. I’ve been through enough wives to know the love part is anyway.”

The room hooted and whistled.

“I’d like to add,” Vandelay continued, “that all’s fair in business too. To those of you who are here tonight, I salute you. This evening, we celebrate the culmination of our efforts. Our moment of glory is at hand!”

The room exploded into cheers. Rolls flew from table to table and Alton popped a fresh bottle, champagne spraying everyone at the table.

“Now I know this merger wasn’t easy,” Vandelay said after the cacophony had died. “We had to let some good people go and that can be difficult,” he said in a somber tone. “The good news is…we’re drinking their cut!”

The employees roared and pinged their glasses with their silverware.

“Some will say that life is more than money. They’ll tell you horror stories of deathbed regrets and spiritual reckonings. I would point out that every person who talks like that is broke and a loser! You don’t hear that garbage from successful people!”

“Amen!” said Ezra and the room laughed.

“I would submit to you that there are two types of people in this world: the hunters and the hunted. Looking around this room, I see victorious hunters and, to the victors go the spoils!”

The employees cheered and stomped their feet.

“The bonus checks that you received today were the largest Vandelay Industries has ever paid.”

He raised his hand as the decibel levels went to their highest point of the night. The employees stood as one to chant, “Van-de-lay! Van-de-lay!”

He smiled and waited for calm. “All right. All right. Now listen. It would be easy for us to rest on our laurels but life is about the survival of the fittest. You’re either growing or you’re dying, there is no coasting. So I raise my glass…wait…somebody give me a full one,” he said, tossing the empty over his shoulder.

The employees laughed and someone handed him a full glass of champagne. “Eat, drink, and be merry!” he said. “For tomorrow we…have to get up early and do it again!”

As he drank, he heard the laughter. In his peripheral, he saw glasses lifted to faces.

Then it went black.

He awoke with a start to find himself lying in an alley. It was cold and he was wearing only a t-shirt. “What the hell?” he asked, looking at the gravel. Pieces of broken glass glinted in the rocks. “I must’ve…blacked out…got robbed,” he muttered.

A voice startled him. “No,” it said. “You weren’t robbed.”

He turned to see a homeless man, long-haired and filthy, seated beside him. He wore ripped corduroy pants and torn shoes with duct tape holding them together. He smelled of smoke and rotten teeth and body odor. He wore an army jacket but Vandelay doubted very much that a man like that had served in the armed forces.

“Who the hell are you?”

“Ah…” the man said, smiling. “That’s not the question. The question is, who are you?” The homeless man put a bottle wrapped in a paper bag to his lips and drank. Then he set it down and laughed heartily as red wine trickled from his lower lip down into his beard.

“Yeeeaaah…okaaay,” said Vandelay. “That’s great, Crazy. I’ll be on my way now. Good talk.”

Vandelay stood but something was wrong. He was too close to the ground. He was too small. Too light.

He was a child.

“What is this?!” he demanded. “This can’t be…this isn’t real!”

The homeless man turned and winked, his eyes remarkably clear. “Oh, it’s real. You see, Miles, you didn’t do so hot in your last life. In fact, you made a real mess of it. This is your do-over. A mulligan. Another chance to live it right.”

Vandelay’s face was horrified. “How do you know my name?…No! No, this isn’t right! I’m asleep or…on something…Todd dosed me with something or…this isn’t how this is supposed to work!”

The homeless man smiled. “Well…maybe you should sleep it off.”

Miles nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I just need a little sleep. I just need to sleep it off.” He sat down and wrapped his arms around his chest; the wind was icy. He closed his eyes and drifted…

“Kevin?”

He opened his eyes. “Yes, Mama?”

“Kevin, come back to the box where it’s warm; I got a fire going. Who were you talking to, son?”

Kevin’s eyes were confused as if a dream had just ended he couldn’t quite remember. He looked up and down the empty alley. After a moment he said, “No one, Mama.”

Now try this:

The Nihilist

 

The Hit – Short Story

Vince clenched my shirt collar and pulled me close. “This is not complicated,” he said, slipping the vial into my shirt pocket and giving it a friendly pat. “You dump this into his drink then get the hell out of there.”

His face was up in mine but my heart was pumping hard and his voice sounded far away.

“You calmly serve the drinks,” he growled low. “Tell them you’ll be back with their food, walk slowly through the kitchen, down the hall, and out the back door. You’ll find me right here with the engine running and we’ll be drinking on a beach in Mexico before anyone knows what happened.”

“And you’re sure it will kill him? There’s no way it could just make him sick?”

“He’ll be stone dead,” he assured me. “There’s enough in that vial to kill everybody in the building.”

A sudden wave of anxiety threatened to overwhelm me.”Why can’t you do it?”

But we’d been over this many times. Fitzgerald and his cronies knew Vince. None of them had seen me before.

“How do you know he won’t drop dead on the spot? Shit Vince, there are guns around Fitzgerald all the time. What if he…you know…what if he…faceplants when I’m still standing there?”

“It’s a slow moving poison,” he said. “It takes at least ten minutes to kick in but when it does…”

He let the sentence hang, we both knew the ending.

*************************************

It was busy that night and the kitchen was an asylum. In the dining room, customers were celebratory and ordering weird menu items many of us had never seen ordered before. Ingredients were running low, tempers were running high, and I was oblivious, consumed by the morbid task at hand.

My shift had begun at 6:00 but it wasn’t until much later that Fitzgerald and his pack of goons finally strolled into the restaurant. I was taking orders from a family of four when the gangsters filed by me reeking of cigars and expensive cologne. My knee bumped the table and a glass of water almost tumbled off the edge. Apologizing over my shoulder, I fled through the kitchen doors.

Rodney was standing in front of me looking concerned. “You feeling all right?” he asked me. “You look strung out, Man.”

“Why? What makes you say that?”

“Cause Man, you look like shit! You’re all pasty and sweaty looking. You look wasted or hungover or something. You’re not supposed to start partying until after work.”

My heart was thumping so hard it was making me nauseous.

“That reminds me, you still owe me for Saturday,” he said. “Fifty bucks.”

“Ok. Ok, yeah,” I said ducking into the bathroom. In the mirror, it was clear that Rodney wasn’t lying. My shirt looked like it had come out of the washer and never been dried. It had to go.

There were extras hanging from a hook in the hallway behind the kitchen. They were for emergencies in case someone spilled wine or spaghetti down the front of themselves. I put one on and hustled back towards the dining room.

“Margaret’s swiping your table, bro,” Rodney said casually as he brushed by me, heading outside for a smoke.

My table!

Spinning through the cacophony of the kitchen dodging waitresses and busboys and bursting into the dining room, I spotted Margaret, her dazzling smile in overdrive as she wrote down food orders from Fitzgerald and his men.

They already had their drinks.

Margaret laughed at one of their suggestive comments then headed for the kitchen where she was promptly intercepted by me.

“That’s my section!” I said. “You stole my table!”

Margaret blinked and her thousand watt smile dimmed. She considered feigning ignorance but playing dumb wasn’t going to fly and she knew it. It was a bad habit she had, taking other servers’ wealthy looking customers, and a big table like this had proven too much for her to resist.

She nodded meekly and shuffled into the kitchen to place their orders before relinquishing the table to me. The spring in her step was gone.

“I’ll split it with you,” I told her as the kitchen doors swung shut behind her and she smiled weakly at me through the window.

Just hang here until Fitzgerald needs a refill.

I waited with my arms crossed by the kitchen door ignoring my other tables while servers and bus boys sailed back and forth from the kitchen. My best opportunity had slipped by and I wasn’t going to miss another one. Already, my back was slick. This shirt would soon be unwearable too.

After five minutes or so, the time had come.

“Another drink, gentlemen?”

They barked orders while I scribbled. Fitzgerald wanted brandy.

The bar was a madman so I helped Stan with the drinks. My hands trembled as I reached for the vial.

It was gone.

It must have fallen out of my pocket when I was changing-

My shirt.

Frantically, I wove through the crowded dining room and into the battlefield kitchen spinning, avoiding bodies, and willing my way through the chaos. When I reached the hallway, I sprinted.

The hook was empty.

But it had been hanging right there. Right there! That was right where I had left it.

Mesmerized, I didn’t see the back door open.

“I don’t know how you got so wrecked off that shit,”Rodney said tossing me the vial and rubbing his nose. “That coke is trash.”

***************************************

 

This story is a response to the  one-word prompt Complicated.

 

Now try this: The Installer – Short Story

 

 

 

 

Goodnight, Ugbert – Really Short Story

Mama noticed I was crying when she came to tuck me in.

“Papa said I was unusual,” I told her.

She sat on the side of the bed and caressed my face, drying my tears. “That wasn’t a very nice thing for Papa to say, was it?”

I shook my head. She sighed and looked at me for long minutes ruffling my hair and petting my face.

“Just remember this when you have children,” she said. “Remember that words can hurt too.”

I nodded and she sang me a lullaby. Then she smiled and said, “You know, Papa wasn’t wrong. You really are a weird little bastard.”

I drifted off to sleep. Mama always knew just what to say.

Of Blue Blood and Enchantment – Short Story

Bradley Carlisle was a bully but it wasn’t emotional or physical abuse that had made him this way. To the contrary, he’d been pampered and idolized all his life.

After all, he was a Carlisle.

It was said that his ancestors were among the elites of the elite who sailed over on the Mayflower from the old country. Whether this was true, Bradley cared not one whit. He didn’t depend on ancient history to grasp his social value. His chiseled features, wavy blonde hair, and already muscular build were evidence of his superior genetics and, as the only Carlisle offspring, the substantial family fortune would one day belong to him. Amongst his peers, his alpha status had never once been challenged.

Shannon Cook was a witch. She knew it in her heart and, though she’d never cast a spell that worked, she felt the magic within. She had discovered the Craft in a library book back in her hometown. Spells, Enchantments, and High Incantations the tome was called and she read it cover to cover, memorizing as she went.

Gangly and flat-chested, Shannon wore thick, heavy glasses that were in continual need of adjustment as they slid down her nose. She had thin, stringy hair that hung limply to the sides of her face in long, brown ponytails held by pink rubber bands.

Her intelligence, she had come to discover, was a blessing and a curse. It afforded her the chance to skip a grade and landed her in this highly touted prep school but, in doing so, it also put her in league with children who were older, savvier, and more physically developed than she.

The students at this new school wore uniforms and for that she was grateful because it spared her the effort of trying to conjure up some sort of style. Still, she spoke with the distinct non-accent of the upper Midwest and it was quickly apparent to anyone who conversed with her that she was nothing more than a scrub from flyover country.

It was the first hour of the first day of eighth grade and, as fate would have it, she found herself sitting directly in front of Bradley Carlisle. He marked her as a target instantly and since they were both there a full ten minutes before the bell, he was free to begin his inquisition. Students began filing in, in chattering groups of twos and threes. Often, they would stop mid-sentence to eyeball her as they made their way to their seats.

“Are you new?” he demanded.

She turned around and was momentarily speechless, he was a beautiful boy.

“I…uh…yes. We…just moved here…in the summer. I’m Shannon,” she said. “Shannon Cook.”

He sat back and didn’t bother replying. After a few seconds, he deliberately ogled her chest until she turned away, flushed and humiliated. A couple rows back, a girl tittered.

When the bell rang after class, he breezed by her joining the crush of kids pouring from the classroom into the hall. All eyes fixated on him but he seemed to ignore everyone. She found herself gawking along with the others until he vanished from sight. He was so beautiful even if he was mean.

That was the last time he spoke to her for months. As the school year went on she almost hoped he’d torment her again but she may as well have been a houseplant for all the attention he paid her.

Then, late one Friday afternoon as she was rearranging her locker, she saw someone approach peripherally. When she turned to see who it was, there he stood right beside her. Bradley Carlisle was standing at her locker!

Her heart raced.

“Hey Shannon,” he said warmly and immediately her eyes darted about to see who was watching. This had to be some sort of set up. But there was no one around, just the two of them. Everyone else,  it seemed, was gone for the weekend.

“Uh….hi,” she said nervously. What do you want?

“So…a few of us are going to the beach Saturday and I thought maybe you’d like to come?” he said.

She shut her locker but didn’t turn to face him focusing her gaze on her closed locker door instead. “I don’t really like the beach…thanks though,” she replied softly.

She began to turn away from him but he caught her arm and said, “well, maybe we could go downtown or to a…museum or…the library or something.” He was trying to think. “What do you like to do?”

Now, she knew it was a trap but like every other kid in school, she lacked the courage to challenge him.

“I like all of those things. I…I just don’t really like the beach.”

He seemed to mull that over and she hazarded a glance at him.

He could be a model.

“Well…” he said, “maybe I could call you or text you or something and we can figure something out. Do you think I could get your number?”

Here it was. His goal was to get her number.

But why?

She briefly considered giving him a fake but decided against it and he punched her number into his phone as she recited the digits.

“Thanks!” he said, “We’ll see you this weekend.”

With that, he walked away and she was left standing at her locker suspicious and confused and giddy in spite of herself.

That night her phone rang and her heart leapt in her chest.

Unknown Caller

She waited and answered on the third ring. “Hello?” she said.

“Yeah…is this Shannon?” asked a male voice. “Shannon Cook?”

“Yes,” she said.

There was a pause and then, “I’d like The Special.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “The what?”

“The Special. Can I get The Special?” asked the voice.
“The…Special?” Shannon asked.

“Yeah, you know…The Special,” the voice said. He emphasized the word.

“I…think you must have the wrong number,” Shannon told him.

“But,” said the voice, “this is Shannon Cook, right?”

“Yes…”

“You don’t know what The Special is?” he asked.

“No…”
There was a pause and the line went dead.

She sat staring at the phone in her hand for a few seconds when it rang again.

Unknown Caller

“Hello?”

“Yeah, hey…” a different man’s voice this time, “is this Shannon Cook…?”

“Yes.”

“I’d like to order The Special,” he said.

By the third call, she had disabled her ringer and, when she checked on Sunday night, she had received 37 voice messages and twice as many texts. All of them referenced The Special but one. In the midst of the texts was a message that simply read: CLICK ME in blue font.

Under normal circumstances, she’d never click a link to anything from a random text but these were decidedly not normal circumstances and she thought she had a pretty good idea whose phone it had come from.

The site was repulsive. A dark internet page for sickos who were into kiddie porn. The pictures were so graphic and awful it took a second to process what she was seeing.

As she was about to close the page in disgust she saw her name. It was next to a photo of a young girl who was clearly not her performing an act she had never even heard of before. Under the photo were the words: “Ask for The Special” and beneath that, was her phone number.

***************************

Bradley Carlisle was bored in his room when his phone vibrated.

Shannon Cook

He answered eagerly.

“Hey, Shannon!” he said happily, “How’s it going?”

“Magick powers, I summon thee!” she exclaimed. “Dark sorceries beyond…!”

He listened confused as she yammered on nonsensically. He couldn’t understand the words and, by the time the phone went dead, he had forgotten all about it.

And all about Shannon.

In fact, the only thing on his mind as he hopped across the bedroom floor was finding some nice, tasty mosquitoes for supper.

**********************************

Now try this: The Red Pyramid – Friday Fictioneers