Jesse Gets Fixed – Flash Fiction

The night was sticky and hot and I was sweating plenty even though it was well past sunset. Gravel crunched beneath my shoes, echoed loud off abandoned buildings. This neighborhood wasn’t safe after dark but I was hurting and needed to be here. A five-inch blade was folded up in my pocket just in case.

Manny’s black Ford sat rusting in its usual spot, five spaces over from the back door of the Skol Bar. Three men talked softly by the car but their muted voices fell quickly silent as I approached. Curt goodbyes were said and two of the men peeled away from the third. They drifted over to the back door of the Skol Bar and went in. The door closed itself behind them.

The third shape called from over by the car. It had Manny’s voice.

“Who is it?”

“Jesse.”

“Jesse,” Manny said. “No shit?”

I heard him thumb the hammer forward on a handgun, watched him stuff it down into his waistband. I went over to stand by him.

Manny looked like a tramp freshly tossed off a railcar into the mud. He never shaved, didn’t seem to have much regard for soap. His clothes were dirty and threadbare, his hair dingy and grimy. A dented-up bowler hat sat too small on his head.

“I’m shaking apart,” I told him.

Manny was a guy who enjoyed watching people squirm. His eyes lit up and he gave me a greasy smile. “Haven’t seen you in days,” he said. “Hell, maybe weeks.” He fished a cigarette from a crumpled pack, tapped it on a nickel plated lighter, and studied me like a butterfly pinned to a board. He bit down on the cigarette, wrapped it with a meaty hand to shield it from some imaginary breeze, and fired it. “Thought maybe you moved away or something.”

“I tried to kick.”

He chuckled out smoke and clicked shut the lighter. “Dolophine?”

“Cold turkey.”

“Cold turkey!” he whooped.  “Hoo boy! You got balls, Jesse, I’ll give you that!” He gaped at me for a while. Then the amusement died in his eyes and the smile slid off his face. With a tone of pure disdain, he asked: “Up or down?”

“Both,” I said. “Can you set me up a speedball so I can see straight?”

A scornful guttural sound came from deep in his throat. “You want a cocktail, you’re gonna have to cook it up yourself. I ain’t your goddamn bartender!”

“Easy now,” I said. “Take it easy, Manny. It was just a question. You don’t have to get sore.”

“I’m not sore,” he snapped. “I’m just sick of you dopers coming around hitting me up for favors all the time.”

He stared at me, bug-eyed and challenging.

I said nothing, wiped damp hands on my pants.

“How much do you need?”

A drop of sweat slid cold down my back. I could feel my pulse in my eyeballs. “Two of each.”

He bunched up his forehead and his eyes were wary. “Two? Of each?”

I fought to keep the tremble from my voice but my mouth was dry and my throat felt scratchy. “I-” I cleared my throat. “I fell into some money.”

He leered at me for a few beats, waited for me to say more. When I didn’t, he turned and popped the trunk of the Ford. Inside was a green tackle box and he reached in, unlatched it, and flipped it open. A triple-beam scale sat down in the bottom of the box. He took it out and placed it carefully beside the tackle box. Then, with the attentive care of a chemist, he weighed two grams of heroin, wrapped it up in tinfoil, and set it aside.

Next, he weighed the cocaine. I watched him weigh it, watched him twist up the tinfoil, and my heart galloped. He turned back to me, presented the packets proudly, one in each hand. “Two at two grams apiece,” he said. “And this is no bunk. Get reckless shooting this stuff and they’ll be tagging your toe.”

Now my heart lurched up into my throat and the folding knife was open in my hand. Manny’s eyes shot to the shining blade and grew round. I watched them roll back white as I punched the knife into his chest. I pulled the blade out red, plunged it in again. Then again. I thrust it deeper. Harder. And – oh god! – the blood came spurting, hot and sticky, into my face. My eyes rolled back and I came spurting, hot and sticky, into my briefs.

Manny crumpled heavy against me with a long pneumatic wheeze and I caught his weight, eased him backwards and away. He slid down the Ford, his head skipping off the bumper, as he dropped in a heap to the ground. I stood over him, sobbing.

When my heart stopped flying, I bent down, wiped the blade on Manny’s jacket, and looked around. There was no one. I closed the tackle box, latched it tight, and took it.

They’ll tell you the first hit of any drug is the best, that the addict is always chasing his first high, and maybe that’s true for most. But I’ve done three kills now and I’m here to tell you: The rush gets better every time.

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.