Thank you, Disclaimer Magazine for publishing my short story, “In the Closet!”
Bishop’s Lounge was busy and loud and blue with smoke. I sat by myself back in a dark corner booth, contributing my share of smoke and watching Angela. She had come in with a group of work friends and they sat at one of the tables chattering and drinking wine but she seemed distracted and kept looking over at the bar. She had on a black dress to match her black bob. There was also a black wire in her black purse but she was unaware of that.
A giant yellow-haired goon came in. He stood up at the bar and ordered a drink and looked at Angela and Angela talked to her friends at the table and tried not to look back at him. The bartender brought him a drink and he held it up to the light and inspected it. The glass looked like a thimble in his massive hand. He sipped from it, set it down, and stared at Angela some more.
Presently, she stood up and said goodbyes and crossed the room. Her fingertips brushed the goon’s thigh as she passed him. He picked up his drink, shot it down, set the empty on the bar, twisted around, and followed her out.
When the door closed, I left the booth and strolled casually to the window. I watched them go down the steps and turn right at the sidewalk. A few seconds passed. Then I shouldered my way outside, stood on stone steps, and brought out small binoculars. Through an earpiece, I could hear the purposeful click-clicking of Angela’s heels on the sidewalk and the goon’s labored breathing as he struggled to catch up. This guy might be able to toss a car into the ocean, I thought, but he wouldn’t be winning any marathons soon.
They walked to the end of the block and faced off beneath a street lamp.
“Got the money?” he growled.
Angela, looking bored, blew a stream of smoke in his face, flicked her cigarette butt to the sidewalk, and ground it out with her shoe. “Not yet.”
The big man’s face clouded. He stood staring with hot bright slits for eyes, his voice a menacing purr. “You’ve had a week,” he said. “How long do you need?”
Angela shrugged. “Well, I don’t know, big boy. How long can you…hold out?”
Quick as an adder, the big man’s arm shot out from his side and his meaty hand clamped around her arm. She gasped, round-eyed, and the goon held her that way for a couple seconds before letting go, his face a stony Easter Island head. “You think this is a game, lady?” he asked.
Angela scowled at the goon, her face angry and amazed and just a little afraid. She scowled down at her arm and rubbed it. “Why you gotta be so rough, you big ape?”
The goon smiled, gold teeth glittering. He reached a hand into his coat and brought out a wooden match. He studied the match, looked up at Angela and said: “A man’s gotta get his kicks somehow.” Then he stuck the match in his teeth and the grin died and the stone face returned.
Angela said nothing. She kneaded her arm and stood quiet and for a while the three of us listened to the hustle of the city.
Finally the goon said: “Tomorrow night then.”
“Tomorrow night. We’ll do the hit tomorrow.”
Angela bunched up her forehead, put a vertical crease between her eyebrows. “No, I-you can’t!”
The big man took the match from his mouth, looked at it some more, and put it back in his teeth. His heavy-lidded eyes came up to hers. “Listen lady, I don’t expect you to understand how much preparation something like this requires but, believe me, it’s plenty. This isn’t just a run-of-the-mill job. We have people in place. They expect to be paid. Every day we sit still costs money. Capisce?”
“I’m just…I’m having trouble…getting all the money together.”
The big man grunted and turned to go. “That’s unfortunate. I’ll be sure to let Tony know.”
“No!” she cried, taking hold of his lapels. “No, I can get it. I can. Very soon.”
The goon looked down at her hands on his jacket. He looked up and asked: “When?”
He shook his head. “Two days.”
She squealed, hung limp from the lapels. “I can’t get that much money in two days!”
“That’s a shame,” the big man snarled, taking hold of her wrists and peeling her away. He held her there and said: “Guess you should have thought about that before you asked us to whack your husband. You back out now and Tony will be very disappointed. No telling what he’ll have me do.” The gold toothed smile came back. “Maybe I’ll bring toys.”
“You have forty-eight hours,” he said, releasing her. Then he turned and walked.
I spoke down to my necktie: “That’s all we get, boys. Take them.”
Cops poured in from all over. Two stepped out from shadows in the alley. Three piled out of a parked van across the street. Then, the uniforms streamed in from both ends of the block training their rifles on Angela and the big man. Sergeant Hawkins yelled through a megaphone. “On your knees! Do it now!”
Angela and the big man exchanged a glance, hers terrified, his nonplussed, and put their hands up, dropping to their knees. Two uniforms came up behind them, pulled their arms down, and cuffed their wrists. One cop yanked the goon roughly to his feet but the other was gentler with Angela.
When they were standing, I walked over and said to Hawkins: “Letter of the law. Every “I” dotted. Every “T” crossed. I want this one flawless.”
“Consider it done, Sir.”
I nodded to Hawkins and turned to Angela. “Did you really think you could pull this off?”
“John!” she sobbed. “Oh, thank heavens! John, I’m mixed up in something awful here!”
I took out a cigarette and lit it. I took it out of my mouth and looked at it, watched smoke curl up into the night air. Then I looked at Angela. “Better get a lawyer, Sweetheart,” I told her. “I want a divorce.” I nodded at Hawkins and they loaded her, kicking and screaming, into a squad.
Now try this: Bugsy’s Revenge
A white ball streaked across green felt and snapped into a triangle of colorful balls. The formation exploded and the balls thumped off rails, clicked off one another, came to rolling stops. Two stripes fell into pockets.
Billy Miller removed a greasy baseball cap, ran a hand through greasy hair, returned the cap to his head, and said: “I hate you.”
Stephen Zander smiled and chalked his cue with a big fist. He was tall and rangy, twenty-seven, with broad, stooped shoulders and fried golden hair. He looked like a weathered Brit-rocker from the Seventies.
“Thirteen over there,” he said and gestured at a pocket with his cue stick. He laid out flat over the stick and his arm made a fluid motion at the elbow. The white ball rolled slowly across the felt, clicked off the Thirteen and the Thirteen inched along – nearly stopped -before dropping with a click into a side pocket.
Zander indicated another pocket and grinned at Miller. “You’re going to school today, son. Eleven off the Fourt-”
A phone buzzed and Zander frowned. He leaned his stick against the table, and dug the phone from a pocket.
Zander stabbed the screen with his finger and an agitated female voice chittered. Zander winced, pulled the phone away, held it out to Miller, and mouthed: “Talk to her!”
Miller frowned and shook his head.
Zander’s smile went away and a scowl took its place. He barked at the phone. “I told you I was stopping after work!”
The phone chirped higher and Zander stormed around the pool table and out the screen door to the parking lot. The door clattered shut behind him.
Miller watched the door and peeled the soggy label from a bottle of beer. He was alone in the small room now and, after waiting a while for the door to reopen, he ambled to the right side of the bar and called: “Becky!”
“Grab what you want, Love!” a woman said from a back room. “I’m cleanin’ the fryer.”
“Taking another bottle of Snakes!”
Miller walked around behind the bar and took out a bottle of beer. He tossed the bottle cap in the trash and laid four dollars on the register, then came back around to the front of the bar and studied the pool table. Fifteen minutes passed before Miller said out loud: “Forfeit,” and chalked Zander’s stick. He took painstaking care aligning each shot and cursed the ones he missed.
With the table clear, Miller leaned the stick against the table, walked around, clattered out the screen door into the parking lot, and was blinded. His eyes snapped shut as hot, orange light warmed them through his eyelids like midday summer sun. He put up a hand and squinted.
Overhead, a circular craft whirled and whirred and filled the night sky. It bathed the world, as far as Miller could see, with orange light so that everything was the color of marmalade. Wind from the saucer swept grit into Miller’s face and he turned his head and closed his eyes. When he did so, the light winked out and the wind stopped and the night air was cool again. It was silent. Miller stood blinking, then saw a crumpled heap across the lot by his car. He sprinted over and knelt down and took Zander by the shoulders. “Stephen?” he yelled. “Stephen!”
Zander’s mouth twitched. His eyes fluttered open, green and clear and intense, and Miller gawked into them.
“Dude,” Zander whispered. “Wait ‘til you see all the shit I can do now!”
The Settlers stood side-by-side on the moon’s surface, watching mushroom clouds bloom, orange and lovely, across the Earth.
“Guess the old adage is true,” one said.
“His partner turned. “What’s that?”
The astronaut skipped a stone ninety yards across the Sea of Tranquility. “You can never go home again.”
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,” 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.
“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.
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.
“Just grab it and toss it out.”
“You do it!”
“Seriously? This is why you yelled at me to come in here?”
“Please, will you?” she pleaded. “Can you kill it, Josh?”
“Why can’t you?”
“Because I can’t.”
Her brother grinned. “Can you imagine if it had babies and they were all crawling on your face when you woke up?”
She shrieked high and shrill and long and he added squeaking baritone wails and they laughed and laughed until nothing was funny anymore.
He wiped his eyes and sniffed. “It can’t hurt you.”
“You won’t do it?”
“You only have to look at it a few more hours.”
She frowned. “It will still be here even if I can’t see it.”
They sat quiet. “Will you bring your stuffed animals?” she asked.
“All of them?”
“I’m going to bring all mine. And my dolls. And the toys from when I was little.”
“Dad said we’re supposed to leave the stuff we don’t need.”
“I don’t care what he said!”
He blinked at her. He turned and looked out the window. “I should go pack,” he said.
“Do you think mom will be sad when we’re gone?”
He leaned forward and rested his forehead against the glass. “Probably.”
“Do you remember that fight they had when I spilled my juice?”
She nodded. “I wished I didn’t spill it.”
“I know,” he sighed. “It’s ok though.” He turned from the window. “I’m going to pack.”
She stepped in his path with her doll. “Do you want to play army men or something? You can use Barbie for the monster. I won’t get mad.”
“I have to pack. I’m sure Mom will be up soon to help you.”
She tossed the doll on the bed. “I’m going to ask her to kill it.”
“It’s only a few more hours you have to think about it.”
“No,” she shook her head. “It will still be here. Even when I can’t see it.”
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…
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: