Chump City Nights – Flash Noir

The same electric sign has hung out over the sidewalk in front of Dusty’s Pub since 1946. 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 was no more. His widow sold Dusty’s before Dusty was cold and the pub went to a man named Claude Radke.

Radke did not rename Dusty’s Pub. Instead, he opted to spend the money needed for a new sign on something more practical. This practical something turned out to be a seven cartons of cigarettes which he smoked through in four weeks.

As Dusty had, Claude Radke required that “his girls” wear the uniform of the French maid on the sign. On Friday and Saturday nights, two of Claude’s girls would skitter about the pub slinging drinks and tickling the noses of their tippers with feather dusters. It was said that Radke’s girls would tickle other things although that remained, as yet, unproven.

One drunken night, Claude Radke groped one of his girls and she slapped him. Hard. Humiliated, he tossed her out on the sidewalk to the drunken cheers of his small knot of elderly regulars.

The banished waitress 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 at the bar when I walked in. They swiveled to me.

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

They grumbled at the badge and finished their drinks, tearing bills from wallets and flipping them onto the bar.

“So long, Claude,” one said.

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

“Nothing for me, thanks,” I said, taking a seat. “I’m on duty.”

He scowled. “A comedian.”

We were the only two in the building so I made a show of looking around and asked: “How’s business?”

His eyes narrowed to fiery little slits of hate. “You want something, cop?” he snarled, “or are you just here harassing a hardworking businessman for no reason?”

I shrugged. “Your gal, Louise, stopped in to see me this morning.”

“Not my gal.”

“Not anymore.”

“Not anymore,” Radke said. He dried his hands on a towel.

“She claims you sell cocaine.”

Radke waved a hand in dismissal. “Bah.”

“She told me you keep a pile of it in a coffee can in back.”

“If you knew Louise. She’s crazy.”

“You won’t mind if I look around a bit since you’ve got nothing to hide.”

Claude Radke smiled sweetly; a golden tooth glinted. “Be my guest,” he said. “Long as you got a warrant.”

“Funny you should say that,” I said. I made a show of pulling open my jacket, reaching in, and coming out with a crisp, white sheet of paper, triple-folded.

Radke’s eyes shot to it and stayed there. His forehead bunched up. His nostrils flared.

“Do not do it Radke,” I said.

He bolted out the back.

I laid my palms on the bar, tried to vault it, and bashed a shin. I went down over a couple stools and gimped out the door, cursing a blue street. I went around to the alley and there stood Claude Radke, hunched over and gasping at the ground.

“You should have turned left,” I panted.

He ran a ways before sliding out in the gravel. He landed on his hands and rolled over onto his back. He laid there and moaned for a while and when he sat up, I was there. I palmed his forehead and laid him back down in the rocks.

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

I let go of his face and sat n the dirt besi, panting. Radke was panting too. A deep, bloody gash had been carved out above his right eyebrow and both knees were torn up slick.

“Too old to be running, Claude. Where in hell would you even go?”

“I want my lawyer.”

“So you said.”

 

I stood and dusted my pants and held out a hand to Radke. He ignored it and climbed up on his own, wincing. We walked back towards the pub.

“I’m not arresting you,” I said.

“Thanks.”

“On the level.”

He stopped. “What is this?”

“Here it is: You give me the coffee can and I’ll walk out of here. You get to decide what you do with your time for the next three to five.”

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

“Don’t be stupid.”

“You’re a coke head?”

I shrugged and walked. “Take it or leave it. Ask yourself how much your lawyer charges and compare.”

He grimaced and kept up. “I didn’t take you for a dirty blackmailer, cop. Next month you’ll be back for more.

“One and done. I’ll shoot straight with you, Claude. We’ve known each other a long time.”

He jutted out his chin. “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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harvey’s Agenda – Flash Fiction

The woman sat at the bar and stared into her drink and Harvey stood behind her. He laid a hand on her back and leaned in so his mouth was in her ear. “Did you get it?”

She nodded at her drink.

Harvey sat down. “Beautiful.”

The bartender walked over. “What can I get you?”

“Whiskey,” Harvey said. “Neat.”

“How about you, ma’am? Ready for a refill?”

The woman covered her glass with her palm. The bartender left and came back with a whiskey.

“You don’t seem too enthused,” Harvey said.

The woman didn’t say anything. She pushed an ice cube down into her drink with a straw. It bobbed back to the surface.

“You got the signature,” Harvey said. “The hard part is over. Here, let’s see.”

The woman turned and dug in her purse and handed him a piece of paper. He looked at it and gave it back to her. She put it in her purse.

“Don’t lose that,” he said. “How did you manage it?”

“Just slipped it in the stack. He never reads anything.”

“They won’t suspect a thing,” Harvey said. “That explains everything nice and clean. There won’t be a reason for anyone to poke around.”

“He’s not the type. Everyone knows it.”

“Wasn’t,” Harvey said. “He wasn’t the type. He’s been down since he retired. You said so yourself.”

“Not that down.”

Harvey pointed at her purse. “That letter says otherwise.” He brought out a pack of Camels, shook two out, and offered one to the woman.

“No, thank you.”

He lit one. “What do you want to do?”

“I just wish there was some way to know for sure that we will get away clean. I wish there was some guarantee.”

“Life isn’t like that.”

“No,” she said. “On second thought, I guess I do want one.”

Harvey fished out a Camel and lit it for her.

She exhaled. “But you think it’s safe?”

“I wouldn’t let you do it if I didn’t.”

“What do I tell them, you know, if they do poke around?”

Harvey shrugged. “The truth. He seemed a little down but you didn’t think he was the type. They’ll believe you. Melancholy makes people do crazy things.”

“How long until we can be together?”

“After? I’d say a year just to be safe.”

The woman nodded. “Okay.”

“You’re sure? We shouldn’t go through with it if you’re not sure.”

“I’m tired of waiting,” she said. “I don’t want to wait anymore.”

“Me neither,” Harvey said.

“He’s not a monster you know. He doesn’t treat me poorly.”

“I know.”

“I wish there was some other way.”

“I know but there isn’t. This is the only way to swing the money side of it.” He laid a hand on her shoulder. “Everything will go off without a hitch, you’ll see. We just need a little faith and before you know it, we’ll be together. Did you buy the sleeping pills?”

She nodded.

“Good. Have you eaten yet?”

“I’m not hungry.”

“No? I’m starving,” Harvey said. “Lucky for me, they have great food here.” He stubbed out his cigarette and waved to the bartender. “Can I get a menu when you get a second?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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