Party at River Island – Flash Fiction

We followed railroad tracks by the forest and the tracks followed the river. A white moon hung full and bright to our right, fluorescent on the water. To our left, dense black trees grew close to the tracks.

Chalk-white stones glowed with the moon, piled loosely around heavy wooden ties. I grabbed one of the stones and gauged its weight, its feel. Then, with all I had, I flung it at the river. We were silent for a moment. Then, the stone thumped into the soggy riverbank and rolled into the brush grass beside the water.

I searched for a smaller stone.

“How much further?” David asked. He threw a stone. There was a pause and we listened.

Splash.

“A quarter-mile, probably,” I said.

“It’s far.

I skipped a stone side-arm up the tracks. “Parties don’t get busted out here.”

We walked a while and, to our left, thick forest gave way to a wide-open, rolling hill that I knew to be the Viebrock property. The yard smelled freshly mowed. At the top of the hill, where the ground was level, a cabin sat black in silhouette. The yard ran down and down some forty yards before meeting the river. A two-person paddleboat bobbed rhythmically with the river, thumping against a wooden dock.

“You sure they aren’t home?” David asked.

“No campfire,” I said. “No lights. There’s nobody there.”

“How do you know they’re not sleeping?” he asked.

I balanced on one of the rails and jumped down on the rocks. “I don’t.”

We slid down to the dock and climbed into the paddle boat. I freed the tether from a post and, side by side, we pedaled. We pedaled for a long time. Then I pointed.

“That’s the island?” David asked.

I nodded. “That’s it.”

The island was a small circle of land with a sandy beach around its perimeter. Further inland, the ground climbed and turned rocky and there were scraggly pines and sticker bushes. Large, gray formations jutted out between the trees and the island above the beach was littered with boulders.

“Nobody’s there,” David said.

“They’re in the cave.”

He gave me a look.

“Really,” I said. “It’s safer there.”

“I don’t hear anything.”

“You don’t hear parties in the cave, dummy. That’s the point.”

We pedaled and he was quiet for a while. Finally, he asked: “What about their boats?”

I scanned the island. “They must have come in from the other side.”

“How do you get here from the other side?”

“How the hell do I know? I’ve never done it.”

We pulled the paddleboat onto the sand and dried our hands on our shorts. “Over here,” I said. Sandburs stuck our clothes and got in our sandals, sharp as tacks. We picked our way up through the rocks.

At a high clearing I stopped. The moon was shining bright off the black rippling surface of the water.

“Do you remember Maynard?” I asked.

“Maynard, your dog?”

“Yeah, my beagle.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

We continued crawling up the hillside, doubled over, using our hands to feel for hidden boulders in the dark. “It was weird how he died,” I said.

“Yeah, that sucked.”

“I can’t believe someone would do that.”

“What a douche.”

We stopped again. I breathed deeply in the cool breeze. “The vet said the shot went right through his heart,” I said. “That’s a tough shot.”

David nodded, looked at me, said nothing.

I asked: “How many guys do you know who could make that shot?”

David opened his mouth, closed it again, and said: “Probably not many. What are you asking?”

I shrugged again. “I’m just saying it’s weird. You never liked Maynard. He howled, woke the neighborhood. I can’t count the times you told me about it.”

His eyes narrowed. “It sucks you think I shot your dog.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Dude!” David said.

“Listen!” I hissed. “Did you hear that?”

“What?”

“Listen.”

We listened to the breeze and the frogs and the water sloshing against the island.

“I don’t hear anything.”

“All right.” I pointed. “The cave is right up there.”

“Where?”

“Right there.”

David stood frozen, willing himself to see. I cuffed the back of his head and the heavy, white stone in my palm made a sick cracking sound when it met his skull, like a dry twig being snapped in two. His eyes rolled white. His legs buckled and he collapsed. He let out a long wheeze, twitched twice, and lay still.

I pushed at him with my sandal and, when he didn’t grab my leg and pull me down, I found the courage to feel around on his neck for a pulse. It was faint but steady. I dragged him back down towards the beach, tripping over rocks, bloodying my knuckles, smashing my shins, bruising my tailbone.

David never stirred, not when I dropped him in the rocks and picked him back up only to drop him again and again. He did not wake when his heels dug ditches through the sand or when I dumped him unceremoniously into one of the seats of the paddleboat. He slept as I wrapped the anchor rope around his right ankle and when I pushed us from shore.

When the water was deep enough, I turned and pushed David out with both feet. There was a great splash and the rope fed into the water. The boat drifted a ways and suddenly halted, straining against the rope.

I dove out, swam back to the island, found the kajak I had hidden, and paddled for home.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hustled – Flash Fiction

She pulled from her cigarette, blew a stream of white smoke over my head, and asked: “Really John, what are you implying?”
“I’m not implying anything,” I said. “I’m telling you flat-out that you killed your husband.”

She blinked. There was a slight clenching of the jaw. Otherwise, her face remained careless and slack. She laughed. “You’ve seen too many movies!”

“Have I?”
She sighed and regarded me with disappointed eyes. “Well, come in then,” she said, stepping aside. “There’s no point in giving the neighborhood a show.”
I brushed past.
The house was big and lushly decorated, the floors a rich hardwood, the draperies heavy and expensive. We sat on a sofa by the fire.

“Can I offer you a drink?” she asked.
“There’s no time for that.”

“I see,” she said. “Well, in that case I guess you’d better get to it.”

“Your alibi sold you out.”

Fear flashed in her eyes. She looked to the fireplace and when she turned back, the fear was gone. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“It’s Ralph,” I said. “He’s your Achilles. The cops brought a little pressure down on him and he fell apart like a jigsaw puzzle. They know you left his place the night your husband was murdered.”

She inhaled sharply and stood up, her eyes big and afraid. “That’s – that’s ridiculous!” she said. “Of course I was at Ralph’s! His – his neighbors saw me there.”

I stood and took hold of her hands. “They saw you walk into his house that night, sure. They even saw you leave the next morning. But they didn’t stay up all night to see if you left. They didn’t keep tabs on the back door.”
She shook her head. “But – but I – ”

“Drop the act, sister!” I barked. “You’re cooked and running out of time. O’Malley will be here as soon as he has the warrant.”

Tears welled in her eyes. “What should I do?” she asked.
“You have the money?”
She nodded.
“And you’re packed and ready to go?”
She nodded again.
“Change of plans,” I said releasing her hands. “You’re leaving with me and I want Ralph’s half, understand?”
She stared blankly. Her mouth tried to make words.
I took her hands again and shook them. “Ralph sold you out. If you don’t want the chair, you and I need to go. Now.”
That broke the trance. She flew up the stairs and returned within seconds with a suitcase and a purse.
“Great,” I said. “Where’s the cash?”
“Here,” she said, tapping her purse.
“All of it?”
She nodded. “Eighty-thousand.”

“All right,” I said, taking the suitcase from her. “We’ll take my car to the airport. The cops won’t be watching for it.”
She nodded and started for the front door. Quietly, I set her suitcase down, caught up to her at the door, and sapped her with a blackjack.

She lay sprawled on the floor, her purse beside her. I opened it, took the cash, and slipped out of the house, closing the door behind me. Sirens wailed in the distance as I drove off into the sunshine.

Hide and Seek – 100 word fiction

Louie had a drink waiting for me.

“Don’t mind if I do.”

He nodded. “New hat?”

I removed it and laid it on the bar. “Twelve bucks.”

Louie whistled. “Must be nice.”

“Big money in detective work. Nothing but fur coats and limousines.”

The grin died on his face. “Fat Rico was in asking about you.”

“What did you say?”

“Told him I didn’t know nothing but it looks like he figured it out on his own.”

Fat Rico stood in the doorway.

“Do me another favor, Louie,” I said, nodding at the hat. “Put that somewhere safe, will you?”

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.