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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dead Connection – 100 word story

You get down into some of these third-world countries and the tech is thirty years behind; this airport had a pay phone.

There’s weight to the sound of a real phone bell you don’t get with a cell. I heard the ringing from far away and ran to it.

Saturday afternoon. Civilians everywhere. A mother gripped her son by the arm and bawled, “Mind me!”

Another ring.

I shoved through. “Down! Down! Down!” I said and a little girl landed on her butt and slid.

A man picked up the handset and the phone detonated.

 

 

 

100 word story for Friday Fictioneers. Photo credit: © J Hardy Carroll

Bloodbath Blues – Flash Fiction

It was one of the nicer houses on its block which is to say three or four of the windows still held glass and the yard had been mowed at some point over the past year. The front door sagged from twisted hinges over a foot-wide chasm where the porch fell away from the house. There might have been a shutter still dangling that hadn’t yet fallen into the weeds. It was a nice place.

Klein was talking to reporters out front. I nodded and ducked the yellow tape.

I managed to bridge the gap between porch and house without snapping my leg off, walked inside, and retched at a stench that might have been rotting maggots fermenting in the sun.

A broad L-shaped staircase brought me up to a second-floor hallway. There were four bedrooms here, two on each side. Filthy mattresses and greasy sleeping bags were sacked around on the floors. Bottles, cans, and cigarette butts were everywhere. Drying puddles of bodily fluids added to the ambiance.

A bathroom about the size of a teacup stood at the end of the hallway with its door open. Sweeney and McGregor were inside looking at blood spatter.

Sweeney saw me and his eyes changed. He hissed something at McGregor who waddled over and pressed a meaty palm into my chest.

“Hold up, Joe.”

I stopped.

“Sweeney thinks you should sit this one out.”

Sweeney stepped up and laid an arm around my shoulder. “Joe! How you been?”

I looked at Sweeney. Then at McGregor. I looked at Sweeney again. “What is this?”

Sweeney paused and mumbled something to the floor and I put it together.

“You don’t want me to see her.”

Sweeney tried to guide me back towards the steps. “Let’s go down, Joe. You should be sitting for this.”

“Who is she?” I asked, trying to squirm free.

Sweeney and McGregor blocked my path. “Hold up a minute,” McGregor said.

My mouth was dry. A bead of sweat slid down my back. I didn’t like my new heart rate. “Get your mitts off me. Let me see.”

Sweeney exhaled. “Joe…” He and McGregor exchanged a look. “Listen, there’s no easy way to do this. Nothing I say is going to prepare you. Maybe I should just let you see for yourself if that’s how you want to play it.”

From far away I heard myself tell him it was. My heart triple-timed. Sweeney said more but I heard it the way you hear the television as you drift off to sleep. He and McGregor stepped aside. I floated down the hall and I was in the bathroom, kneeling by the tub. The woman was young, maybe still a girl. She was sprawled on her back, bare arms dangling over the sides of the tub, blood still dripping from a fingertip.

She was clothed which struck me as unusual. Her short shorts and sleeveless t-shirt were sopped. Blood was smeared across her face and neck, smeared across her teeth. The skin that wasn’t painted bloody was a bruised yellow turquoise. Her lips were grey. Her hair, blonde at one time, was red and black and matted. I studied her face. Then, I turned to Sweeney: “So? Who am I looking at?”

Sweeney’s eyes narrowed and he furrowed his brow. “You don’t know?”

“Never seen her before.”

Sweeney looked to McGregor.

“Look again,” McGregor said.

I turned back and the girl was sitting. She shrieked at me, wild-eyed and hysterical. I shrieked back. She lunged for me and I was on my feet with my gun out. Sweeney and McGregor threw themselves at me. They took hold of my arm as the gun fired. It sounded like an atomic bomb in that little room.

They pinned my wrist to the wall above my head and held it there. They were blocking the girl. I couldn’t see the girl! Someone was screaming and screaming. I closed my mouth and the screaming went away. Sweeney’s contorted face swam in front of me. He was insistent, barking orders, trying to reach me. My ears sang.

“…a gag,” Sweeney was saying, distant and tinny. “Not real. It isn’t real…” His face was shiny and pasty. His eyes looked insane.

We stood this way for several seconds. Finally, McGregor tilted his head, squinted at me, and released my wrist. He turned to the tub. Sweeney let go and I had my arm back.

The girl was on her side in the the tub with her hands over her ears and her knees pulled up tight. She was shivering, frantic, talking to herself. Sunlight streamed in through a fresh bullet hole in the wall. My bullet couldn’t have missed her head by more than six inches.

I stumbled to the hall, found a place to slide down the wall, and sat on the floor. I laid my gun beside me. My pants were wet. Sweeney knelt by the tub and comforted the girl.

McGregor came out and sat beside me. Neither of us spoke for a long time. He picked lint off his pants. Finally, he said: “I tried to warn him, Joe, but you know how he is. I told him it was too much.” He turned, appraised me frankly, shook his head, and returned to the lint. “Great gag.”

My voice was hoarse and thin. “What happened?”

McGregor sighed at his pants. “The girl is his niece. She’s taking some acting courses at the community college. This whole thing came about when she told Sweeney her acting could fool a cop.”

I considered this for a while. “Makeup?”

McGregor nodded once. “Everybody was in on it. The reporters are actors. Sweeney wanted to get back at you for that stunt you pulled with the pizza delivery guy.”

I smiled ruefully. “Mission accomplished.”

The girl bet him $10 she could convince you she was dead,” McGregor said. “Looks like she won.”

I shook my head. “The blood didn’t smell. There was too much of it not to smell. I knew it felt wrong, I just couldn’t – I couldn’t quite…”

McGregor shook his head again. “Sweeney.”

“Let’s hope the girl isn’t in shock.”

“She’ll come around. Listen, Joe, you’re not gonna…you know…report this, are you? Sweeney and me and Klein, we could lose our badges.”

I shook my head. “What is this trash heap anyway?”

“Crack house, maybe? Smack? I dunno, ask Sweeney. I’m just here because he told me to be.”

I nodded and climbed unsteadily to my feet. I felt ninety years old.

“What are you gonna do?” McGregor asked.

“Going home for dry skivvies.”

McGregor nodded and returned his attention to the the lint on his pants. “Sweeney,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Rush the Stage – Short Poem

Rush the stage
And fight your way
Through tempest of the sea

This ocean
Raging, churning
Oh, how it beckons thee!

Rush the stage
In foaming waves
Look straight up to see

Close enough to touch him
You could almost wash his feet!

And every night he battles
And everyone he slays
Establishing his kingdom
All that he surveys

Til fateful day
When vice he takes
It takes him instead

Behold the king has fallen
The mighty king is dead!

Then darkness falls upon the land
As Fate reveals again

Despite their righteous powers
Rock gods are mortal men