Today’s Lunch Break Crime Read: The Sweetest Kind of Chaos Part Two

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Miss Part One? Click here to catch up!

San Matteo is a moneyed suburb just outside of LA, the kind that stays safely hidden away on the coast until something horrible or impossible happens there. This is where Alice’s lover resides. From the moving bus it blurs into a streak of broad strokes like a Monet. But when the bus stops the place unfolds itself more like a Norman Rockwell: idyllic, warm, oppressively charming.

As night falls I find a home in the bushes, with plenty of time to ponder nothing and everything. My head is mostly filled with images of Alice. That reluctant half-smile that precedes every kiss. The toss of her hair and the shake of her shoulders that somehow passes for dancing. That elusive step back she would take at the wrong time, every time. When I wanted to hold her, taste her, keep her to myself.

The machete isn’t a tool designed for precision. I wouldn’t recommend it for gall bladder surgery or peeling an avocado. But when you long for that sense of completion that comes from a lopped-off limb tumbling to the earth you can’t go wrong with eighteen inches of sharp Honduran steel. The machete gets things done. That’s why I’m fearless now, motionless, ready to spring from the shadows and do what needs to be done.

And the lovers seem ready as well. Ready to taunt me with the fragrance of clandestine romance. They traipse hand-in-hand from the garden to the small pond by the back door. I catch them in mid-conversation, wooing away:

“… I’m serious, Alice. I couldn’t imagine wanted anybody’s kisses but yours.”

“It’s just a game. A what-if, a hypothetical.”

“And I could choose anybody?”

“Anybody past or present. Dead or alive. Megan Fox, Marilyn Monroe. Anybody.”

“Anybody? And I get instant immunity?”

“No questions asked.”

“No thanks. I’ve got all I need in you.”

“Liar. But thanks.”

“And you?”

“A young Harrison Ford.”

“Like Star Wars young or American Graffiti young?”

“I’m joking! You know it’s all about you. Jesus Christ!”

A young Jesus Christ? Like carpenter days, before the crucifixion?”

“Will you just shut up and kiss me!”

He cradles her face and delivers this:

“Gladly. From now until the end of time. Every minute of every day.”

It would probably make me sick if I could feel anything right now.

They turn – wide-eyed with panic – upon hearing a stir in the bushes. Did I stumble unknowingly? Did I clumsily tap a branch or place a foot wrong?

Whatever the reason, the time to strike is now.

I charge, machete raised, and the nightmare is cranked into motion: screams, flailing arms, faces twisting into rubbery masks of horror. It is the sweetest kind of chaos. It is victory.

But the first swing sails over the intended target’s head and lands nowhere. I stumble, giving them a head start, a line to the back door. They dash inside with a speed they never before felt necessary.

But not speedy enough. They struggle to slam shut the door, and I beat it down, with purpose, with anger. They are mine.

First is the man – not planned that way, just his lousy luck. He catches a stab to his collarbone and meets the floor with a dull thud. I yank back my weapon and provide another slice to his abdomen, and why not. His reply: the longest, saddest squeal I’ve every heard. Then nothing.

And Alice has scrambled away.

The house couldn’t be quieter, placid even. Where could she be?

The kitchen pantry? I rip the door open: nope.

Bathroom closet? Empty.

Bedroom? Not a soul to be found.

There’s breathing down the hallway. One more closet to check. I kick it down:

“Hello, Alice.”

And she has a gun.

“Um… don’t come near me?”

The snub-nosed revolver flutters in her hand like it may as well be a remote control or a Rubik’s cube. She’s not ready to use it. Maybe she never will be.

“Don’t come near me?” She repeats, but it still sounds more like a question than a command.

“Do you love me, Alice?”

This shouldn’t be a tough question, even after all the lies and this explosion we’re in the middle of. But as she looks at me she seems to find the eyes of a stranger. This is bad. So I repeat: “Do you love me?”

No vocal reply, but she’s nodding now.

“If you love me, give me the gun.”

She shakes her head ‘no.’

She looks away for a second. That’s all I need.

The first swipe takes off her right hand and sends the gun spinning to the floor. If it ever landed I never heard it. All I can see and hear is that mouth melting into a horrified wail. She boasts the bulging eyes of comic strip character when meeting a second swing. Maybe I just imagined it but she seems liberated as she drops to the floor. Like a prisoner pardoned from a nightmare.

I almost want to join her. Almost.

But right now there’s a strange kind of beauty racing through my veins. Maybe it’s the rawness of it all. The carved up bodies of this love-hungry couple, their faces frozen in terror, their stillness. Nobody can tell me what I’m seeing and feeling and smelling isn’t real.

Not even those bastards at the clinic with their pseudo-psychological bullshit, calling me ‘delusional’ and telling me that Alice was just a voice on the radio, a pop singer residing a million miles away, not my life, my love, my reason for being.

But I know the truth. I heard those promises she floated my way with that lilting soprano. I heard those pledges of undying love.

And nobody can take that away from me.

THE END

I originally had The Sweetest Kind of Chaos published at Beat to a Pulp. Check them out if you love masterfully written tales of noir! 

Tomorrow’s Lunch Break Crime Read: Oedipus Shrugged.

Today’s Lunch Break Crime Read: Liar’s Lemonade

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Parking a few blocks away seemed like a sensible move at the time. In theory Sarah would escape detection as she dipped through the shadows towards the house on foot.

Then she creeps past the bushes of a neighbor’s home and raising nary an eyebrow of suspicion – she’s good at this. Almost there now, nothing stopping her save for the dodgeball game next door. Damn kids, shouldn’t they be in bed or at school or something at this hour. She’ll have to wait in the shrubbery, head tucked to her chest, body impossibly still. She checks her purse – everything there. Soon it will be time to strike.

But for now all she can think about is the first lie she’d ever been told. It came from Fourteen-year-old Kevin Shears:

“Cynthia Germain and me broke up weeks ago.” A week later, Kevin would take Cynthia to the homecoming dance.

A year later, it was Trevor’s turn to become a liar:

“C’mon, honey! It’ll be fun – something for us to watch alone. I won’t let anyone else see the tape, I swear.”

This drunken college frat boy with a camcorder and an over-active libido could be very persuasive. So Sarah slipped into the Wonder Woman garb and believed him. The first surprise was that those Amazonium bracelets made her wrist chafe. The second surprise sent her down like a five-year-old tumbling from her tricycle.

And there would be more. More lies from boyfriends, college professors, bosses, neighbors, friends, enemies, strangers:

“No, I don’t have any kids.”

“Honey, you have to trust me. There’s no other woman in my life. Honest.”

“Um… those shoes are my sister’s – she visits from time to time.”

“No, I wasn’t looking at the waitress’s ass!”

“I’m self-employed right now.”

“I’ll call you.”

“She’s just a friend!”

“I love you too.”

And then there would be Daryl:

“There is nothing I want more in the world than to be with you and only you.”

By the time she got to Daryl, Sarah had had enough. Enough with lies, enough with liars, enough with waiting for men to stop being men and start being honest and forthright and true. She was known to be temperamental, a feisty little firecracker when crossed the wrong way. She had given Kevin a kick to the crotch when she learned about Cynthia, had set Trevor’s porn collection ablaze when the truth came crawling out, but this is miles beyond feisty. This is breaking and entering. And if all goes according to scheme, it will be murder too.

***

All is quiet now, so she dashes to a side window, opens her purse to find the wire cutters. She is stunned that it is so easy. She clips and claws her way inside in seconds. Greeted by the cool of a hardwood floor, she stays squatted for a while, collects her thoughts. This is not like the movies at all, she concludes. This is too easy, too comfortable. How do burglers ever get caught? she wonders.

She slinks into the kitchen with the strides of a stalking puma, opens the refrigerator, enjoys the rush of cool. After a look around, she grabs a container of lemonade. She glares at it, eyes narrowing, lips curling into a sinister grin. After a sip she decides it could use another ingredient.

She yanks the ziplock of strychnine from her purse, opens the lemonade container and empties the powder into it. With the aid of a nearby spoon she blends the powder into the innocuous sea of bright yellow. She takes a final gaze at her handiwork then returns it to the refrigerator, poised behind a can of beer and a half-finished piece of pizza, just waiting. With the flight attendant wifey crossing the Atlantic for the weekend and the kids safely away in summer camp, the extra-strength lemonade will wind up in nobody’s belly but Daryl’s.

And then comes a clack up the driveway, high heels – this is not Daryl. Sarah freezes.

More clacking, and a clumsy set of keys seeking the keyhole. She has to flee, has to find a way out. The window she slipped in through? Too risky – too easy to be spotted by this person coming in the front door.

The back door? Maybe, but what about the lemonade? She can’t just leave that and let anybody – like the lady now opening the front door – drink it. Or can she?

It’s too late, the choice has been made for her. The door is swung open, the footsteps muffled now by carpet. She’s inside. Nothing to do now but take cover.

Sarah scampers into the pantry, swinging the door shut quietly – or so she tries. It creaks. The footsteps halt as if panicked, alerted. Then they start again, into the kitchen. Sarah spies her through the keyhole of the pantry door. She’s sweeter, less hostile than the harpy-in-training Daryl had described, but then who knows what rage lurks behind that painted on stewardess smile that she seemingly sports even when alone.  She opens the refrigerator door, reaches for the lemonade. Bad move.

Now she needs a cup, and ice too. Sarah screams on the inside, ready to spring from the pantry, ready to stop this madness. But good luck explaining all this to the police.

Then the phone rings in the living room so the glass goes down before she can pour herself a death by poisoning. And Sarah can breath again. The harpy-in-training slumps out of the kitchen, answers the phone with an exhausted growl: “Yeah?”

Sarah could flee now, she could scramble to the back door and run free. But what about the lemonade?

She had to pour it out. No sense in killing this innocent woman for Daryl’s sins.

In the other room the phone conversation went on. “Yeah, I remember what you told me, that’s the problem –”

But saving her won’t be easy. First she has to open the pantry door – another squeak, this one not noticed in the midst of more heated words on the phone. “… and what, like my needs don’t mean a goddamn thing? Like my world could just explode and it’s my problem, huh?”

Then a few steps to the counter where the glass of lemonade sits. But she is no ninja. Her glides are more like stomps on the sticky linoleum. But they get lost in the rattle of a soliloquy:

“High maintenance! Because I need to feel loved and needed and wanted every once in a while? Because I need to be reminded of why I fell in love you? Because I need to feel like I mean something more to you than a… than a…”

Sarah becomes a statue, unable to take another step in this silence. Come on, lady! she thinks. A concubine! A whore! A domestic servant! Anything!

“But the thing of it is…”

Sarah halts again as the harpy-in-training is unable think of what the thing of it is. But soon enough she is onto something else:

“What I need from you is devotion. I need for you to be for me what you are to you poker buddies and your softball teammates and your…”

Another pause. Sarah scoops away the glass, reaches for the refrigerator door and grabs the container.

“Yes, I think so…”

And down the drain goes every drop of the toxic lemonade – but with an oceanic splash.

“And I also think –” She stops cold. “Can I call you right back?” She hangs up cautiously, quietly.

Sarah slinks back into the pantry, pulls the door shut – another squeak. Another suspicion-raising bump in the night.

Footsteps again, coming to the kitchen, slowly. One at a time. The harpy-in-training fumbles with something in her purse, then draws it: a gun.

“Hello?” she calls. She doesn’t want an answer. She wants to convince herself that she didn’t really hear anything, then she’ll go upstairs take a valium and a nap. She’ll laugh about it later with the hubby over a drink and Netflix. By then Sarah will have scurried off into the night. No need to panic, Sarah tells herself. She almost believes it.

Her gun is extended now and she circles around like somebody who’s seen too many damn cop movies. With the gun still extended she moves to the living room, then down the hallway.

Sarah spies the living room window, the one she came in through. Now! she tells herself. She’s a stewardess, for God’s sake. She can’t be a very good shot. Now!

Sarah sprints for the window, but stumbles. The harpy-in-training turns, aims, mistakes the sprint for an attack, takes two shots. Sarah leaps for the window – She’s a stewardess, for God’s sake. She can’t be a very good shot.

But these are not the frantic, random shots of a stewardess, his wife. These are the shots — one through Sarah’s abdomen, one through her chest – of a federal marshal, his other mistress.

And so it ends with another lie. How nice.

THE END

Tomorrow’s Lunch Break Crime Read: The Sweetest Kind of Chaos

Today’s Lunch Break Crime Read: Old Times There Are Not Forgotten

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Old Time There Are Not Forgotten

Starville Texas wouldn’t normally be my first choice for a late July vacation spot. The whole place seems frozen in oppressive confederate charm. Overalls. Straw hats. Dirt roads littered with Nixon-era vehicles just sitting there, hoods up and tires long gone. Tumbleweed seems to be the town’s chief export.

And then there’s the sun, pressing down like a steam iron on a stubbornly wrinkled sweatshirt. But everybody just ambles along anyway. Like they can’t feel that angry blanket of heat punishing them for unpardonable sins of the past.

Stepping inside Valerie’s Diner for an iced tea should be a break from the sun’s unforgiving glare. But in this place, with these stares and this ocean of unwelcoming grimaces I get the feeling the heat wave has just begun. The place is a ‘whites only’ sign away from being a trip back to 1954. Save for my own, the only coffee-colored face I’ve spotted so far belongs to an ice delivery man who didn’t seem eager to stick around. But I’m not here to fall in love with a tiny hamlet just west of the middle of nowhere. I’m here to make July 23rd a very bad day for four unlucky Starville citizens.

Citizen number one goes by the name of Tommy Kane – Duck, to his friends. He’s left-handed and likes The Allman Brothers.

And there’s Donnie McCormic, an avid angler and father of four who was a bank teller for forty-seven years.

Wally Rivers is a retired security guard and amateur taxidermist.

Harmon Dainsworth speaks fluent Portuguese and doesn’t get around much since the accident.

You could say I’ve done my homework. I know where these men live, the names of their wives and kids. I know Wally suffered an undescended testicle until his early twenties. I also know these four life-long buddies meet every Friday evening at nine in the Hines street Baptist church basement for the “men’s Christian council meeting” – actually, a poker game. I know that forty years ago they orchestrated the lynching of my brother for the alleged raping of a white woman. I was five then. I haven’t forgotten a thing.

I step out of Valerie’s diner and back into the oven. But the sky is now cooling, and blurring into a bold shade of burgundy as night falls. Giving me just the cover I need to get down to business.

I slip away from the leery gaze of the town’s busybodies and into an alley. The gloves go on in spite of the heat and I check the Glock 17 at my hip, ninja- stepping my way towards the Hines Street Baptist church with nothing to stop me save for the untimely buzz of my cell phone.

This is strictly a solo mission, so the call can’t be related to the business at hand. But whoever the Hell it is demands to be swatted away with a third and fourth ring. With the fifth ring I surrender:

“Yeah?”

“Goddamn if you don’t look just like your big brother. All Grown up and handsome.” A woman’s voice, husky, older, weighted down by the lilt of a Texas drawl.

“Who is this?”

“Call me Shadow Lady.”

“Shadow Lady, I appreciate the warm welcome, but I’ve got no time for jokes.”

“This is no joke. I know who you are, and I know why you’re here.”

A chill washes over me, freezes me into a statue before I can step over to Hines street.

“How did you get this number?” I ask.

“Let’s just say I’ve been watching you. And I know exactly what you’ve been up to.”

“It’s too late to stop me, Shadow Lady.”

“Maybe,” she answers. “But you just think long and hard about what you’re fixin’ to do. That’s all I’m saying.”

With a CLICK she’s gone.

If I’m going to do this thing I have to shrug off Shadow Lady and move on.

And so I move on, first ducking into the bushes across the street from the church, then making a daring dash to the back door, with nothing for cover but a thicket of shade trees.

At the backdoor I reach into my sock for a door jimmy. I’m a little clumsy – I’ve been out of practice since my teens – but I’m safely inside a minute later.

I should be relieved to be in the door, but there’s a haunting quiet inside that churches are required by law to possess. It feels like somebody’s here. It feels like somebody’s always here.

According to my research, Wally typically arrives first with refreshments, sets up the chairs and helps himself to any leftovers of Mrs. Willis’s apple pie. Tonight he gets no pie.

I hear him fumble with his keys at the door. It takes him thirty-seven seconds to step inside, walk to the basement and drop the bags of refreshments on the floor at the sight of a black man shoving a Glock 17 in his face.

“Right on time, Wally.”

He can’t speak. I shoot him in the belly because a quicker death is too good for him. He curls to the floor, wheezing, reaching for something. Seeking answers with his cartoonishly bulged eyes.

I stoop to his face.

“Just so you know, this was for the 1970 lynching thing,” I whisper. “Wouldn’t want you to meet your maker without knowing why.”

His mouth snaps into a grimace and he pushes out everything he has left. He’s suffered enough. So I give him a shot to the forehead that sends him away. Seconds later he’s gone. Not just lifeless – soulless.

Next up is Tommy Kane. His steps to the basement are slow, cautious – maybe he’s heard something.

“Wally?” he calls. His answer: the scariest silence he’s ever heard.

I step up and imbibe his terrified look. He gets one to the head right away, because I have no time to play with him. I can hear his buddies at the front door, stepping inside at the same time. This will be tricky for a novice like me. But with this music racing through my veins, I’m determined to make this happen.

As Tommy obligingly drops to the floor below, I follow the shadows upstairs and greet Donnie and Harmon with the storm of bullets they asked for forty years ago. Their bodies dance for a while then stop. They land in a messy pile of each other, limbs entwined like lovers. How sweet.

Now it’s time for phase two. I take off my shirt and wrap my gun in it, moving to the back door. But I hear something. Another set of footsteps?

“Jesus H. Christ!” cries a horrified voice. But whose?

I try to unwrap my gun…

But I’m not fast enough. A uniformed cop charges in, pistol drawn.

“Do not move, boy!”

I’m frozen.

“I don’t know what you’re doing here, but you picked the wrong day to do it,” he growls. He steps back, steadies his gun.

I’m on my knees, eyes slammed shut. I hear a shot, but it’s all wrong. It’s a shotgun blast from down the hallway. He lurches forward, swept up by the blast and lands before me, a giant gap where his left shoulder once was.

A woman emerges from the shadows, pump-action shotgun at her hip. She’s not young, maybe sixty. And she’s stunned speechless by what she’s just done.

“Shadow Lady?” I ask.

Words are still a problem, so she nods.

“I don’t understand,” I say.

“Your brother and me… we were just kids. Didn’t care what the world thought. Till we caught busted. Then… well, you know the rest.”

Now it’s my turn to struggle with words. I’ve got nothing.

“You weren’t the only one who lost somebody special that day,” she says.

“So you came here to… help me?”

“I was hoping to take care if it alone. That’s why I tried to scare you away. No sense in the both of us getting involved in… this.”

We both drink in the carnage, the landscape of ripped apart flesh.

“Yeah,” I answer. “No sense at all.”

We agree that it’d be a good idea to get out of there pretty quickly. And we will. But first we have to breathe again.

THE END

I originally had Old Times There Are Not Forgotten published on Spinetingler magazine.

Tomorrow’s Lunch Break Crime Read: We Can’t Dance Together

Today’s Lunch Break Crime Read: Watching the Cards

 

 

hand-998957_1280 Watching the Cards

First you have to find her.

A yoga class is a good place to look. Or maybe the gym or the vitamin section of the supermarket. She’ll be the bottled blonde with the eyes that silently cry for attention. She’ll be the just-divorced forty-one-year-old that spills every secret into your lap before she learns your last name. She will do this because she trusts you. She will do this because she can’t see the blueprint behind that boyish grin.

And she will unfold in your arms at a pace that will test your patience. She’s been singed before by love’s white-hot pokers and she will have to distinguish you from those previous offenders. But through all the seduction and plotting and backpedaling is that smile, a guiding light into her heart. And that’s what you’re after, right?

One night, after dancing and drinking, you show her a card trick. You get her to think she’s ahead of the game, like you’re a novice, fumbling around with the cards for fun. She picks the seven of diamonds and the first card you raise is the five of spades.

“Is that it?”

“No.” She chuckles.

“Nine of hearts—that’s got to be your card!”

She shakes her head. This is kind of embarrassing.

“Queen of spades?” She touches your face, taunts you with another head shake.

“Let’s try it again. Pick another card.”

She complies, takes a card from the pack. It’s the seven of diamonds.

“How did you—?”

“You were watching the cards when you should have been watching me.”

She splatters your face with the the kiss of a reckless adolescent with vacationing parents. She melts into your arms without knowing what a lesson that card trick really was. She purrs, she giggles, she blushes, she coos. And she invites you back into her heart every night.

It’s all very fun. Until you have to kill her.

You have to kill her because she has started asking questions. She wants to know more about that real estate deal you talked about briefly before you had to shuffle off to “work.”

She asks, “And why did you need my checking account number again?”

“Honey, I’ve told you—I need quick access to the account in case these people change their minds on the deal. You know how commercial real estate people are.”

“Actually, I don’t know how they are. I don’t even know who they are.”

“Look, I don’t blame you for not trusting them. But hey, I’ve got eleven thousand riding on this as well.”

“Yes, but—”

“Jesus, is it nine already? I’m off to the bank, honey!”

That’ll hold her for now. But what happens when she wakes up tomorrow morning to find an empty space where you once slept? What happens when she walks into the police station to describe that fast-talking stranger who slipped into the shadows with every penny she ever had?

You have to kill her before you find out. It’s all a part of the game.

So you will stop back at her place before your trip to the ATM and do what needs to be done. You will load your gun and hide it at your hip as she cooks the last meal you will share as a couple. She has never looked prettier, more matronly.  But if you stare too long, you will lose your nerve, you will scurry away from the plan’s final step. So you slump into the dining room, studying the carpet’s pattern and pretending she doesn’t have the sweetest alignment of incisors you’ve ever seen.

At dinner you talk about everything except real estate. She is radiant, erupting with sensual energy. Every laugh, every hair toss, every anecdote about her pain-in-the-ass kids seemingly offer redemption. She skips from the table, into the kitchen with dirty dishes.

“Did you take care of everything with the deal?”

Now is the time to strike. She is asking for a bullet to the back of her skull. She is taunting you with questions that you cannot answer. Do it.

“I’m working on it,” is the best you can do.

“Because I was thinking. The whole thing sounds so risky, so murky. Maybe I don’t want to be involved in something like that, after all.”

She is crawling towards the truth. Giving her another day to sniff out the plan would be a mistake. The time to strike is now.

“I even went to the bank yesterday . . .”

“Did you, honey?” you ask, gun drawn, easing past your doubts and into the kitchen.

“Mmmm-hmm.”

She’s a stationary target now, crouched before a trash can.

But a kind of paralysis sets in—a yank at your conscience? You cannot act, and soon you cannot move. Her head whips around as she hears the plunk of your gun hitting the floor. She should be stunned into silence, not glowing like this. Not putting every tooth in her mouth on vivid display.

You follow your gun to the floor, clutching your rib cage and belly as it tries to expel the demons inside. She steps over you, keeps talking:

“And I withdrew all of our money. Mine and yours. Honey.”

You reply in a staccato series of groans.

“That’s right. I bought a few things, too. A new coat. Some lipstick. Rat poison.”

You push out one final groan that sounds kind of like:

“How did you—?”

She stoops to your face as it stretches into a jack-o’-lantern’s grimace. She whispers:

“You were watching the cards when you should have been watching me.”

One final tug from the deepest region of your belly and you are gone, floating away to someplace softer. Unfinished life and all.

But somehow it all seems fair. It’s all a part of the game.

THE END

I originally had Watching the Cards published on Yellow Mama. 

Tomorrow’s Lunch Break Crime Read: Old Times There are Not Forgotten.

Today’s Lunch Break Crime Read: It Might Be Little But It’s Loud

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All James wanted was to come home to a tuna fish sandwich. But the day kept fucking with him. Too many crazy demands from dudes young enough to be his stepson, now somehow his boss.

Eight hours felt like a weekend and the drive home felt like the bus ride back to prison, knowing everything that would be waiting for his ass when he got home. A tangle of video game consoles by the couch, an apartment that smelled like nail polish and ass. And Velma.

The first thing he noticed was the coat she was wearing as she strutted out of the bedroom, all elegant, looking like a Kennedy or some-damn thing.

“New coat, huh?” he asked. “You buy it?”

She smirked. “Course I bought it. Like I don’t have my own money or something.”

But James knew the score. He just grunted and reached into the refrigerator. The coat must have been a gift from one of those young bucks on the block, always eyeing her, but too damn young to know what they’d do with the prize if they ever won it.

Or maybe it was from Bob.

He stopped and turned, planted his eyes on Velma, that mocha-painted face with the giant eyes he used to find so cute. “You seeing that rich motherfucker again.” He could almost smell him on her.

She smirked again and shook her head. “You and your stupid questions.”

But it wasn’t a question.

Velma ignored his predatory growl, let the TV’s late night glow wash over her face like a spotlight.

He walked up to Velma, tripping over some video game gun, then inspected the coat’s lining, catching a glimpse of her left hand’s shiny new bling. “You wearing rings, now?”

Another stupid question she’d be better off ignoring. But ignoring him only seemed like a good idea because she knew nothing about his day at work. And because she couldn’t see the twenty-two tucked into his sweat pants.

Now they were face to face, her perfume sharp like needles in his nostrils. “Where you going tonight?” he asked.

She lifted her eyes from the TV screen and cautiously brought them to him. “Nowhere. Out to the club. To Shannon’s or something.”

He gave her a crooked smile. “Damn, baby. Ask for one answer, you get three. I think they call that multitasking or something.”

She tried to wipe the rage away with a giggle but it was too late. They weren’t kids anymore. He stared at her, sending something venomous into both eyes. “Gimme the coat.”

She complied, saying, “Baby, I don’t understand why you so worried about this dude.”

He held the coat as far away as his tattooed arms could stretch. Then he pulled out the twenty-two and showed it to his wife, scanning her face for a reaction. “What’s this?”

She tried to stifle a giggle, but the thing looked like a toy and even James wanted his money back when that fool behind the dumpster came back from the truck with that little piece of shit. A day’s worth of pay for something that pretty? “Isn’t that cute?” he cute, chuckling along with Velma.

Then he fired at the coat four, maybe five times and watched as his wife’s eyes stretched into alertness. He held the remaining scraps of the coat in his hand. Without a word, he went to the phone and scooped it up. “What’s his number?”

Velma didn’t have to ask whose number. “Baby, it’s late. Please don’t call him up asking questions. I swear, he’s just some guy I know from work, he’s really nice and he buys presents for people –“

“What is his number?” he yelled, the gun’s adorable little barrel now cold against her forehead.

She told him his number and he dialed it, tapping along to the hip-hop beat blaring from next door. Casual as hell. Might as well have been ordering a God damned pizza. “Is this the George home?” he asked. “Is this George?”

“Who is calling?” a voice chirped.

“It’s your conscience, motherfucker.”

The conversation went on, drifting into crazed questions and odd demands.

Then a knock came to the door and Velma nearly leaped from her skin.

“Police, is anyone home?”

James grinned, slamming the phone down and bracing for the fun to start. He fired a shot at the couch, just a reminder that this wasn’t a joke. She buried her face in her hands and screamed, “Please!” over and over.

Another knock. “Come out with your hands up!”

More screaming, but James was chuckling now, re-loading that little gun and moving to the front door as the knocks became pounds. They wanted that door open and they were almost there.

He paid no mind to his wife’s whimpers as she scurried behind the kitchen counter, her breath choppy like a cheap fan.

He strolled down the hallway like he had a chance against the cops with that tiny twenty-two. But when the door finally flew off its hinges, James became a dancer, dodging behind the couch as bullets ripped apart the cushions and battered the wall behind him.

He ducked behind the love seat, firing twice before landing, knowing he’d got one cop on the knee and another between the eyes.

The tangle of video game wires at his feet become an idea. He grabbed the funky space gun and fired it, producing some Star Wars-sounding shit that made the cops gasp. Then he wielded it, because who’d be crazy enough to pull out a toy gun amidst a real fight?

“Oh, shit! The nigger’s got a laser! Let’s get out of here!”

James laughed as they scampered away, screaming for backup.

He stood there and watched them before strolling back to the kitchen, letting his twenty-two drop the carpet. Backup would take time to assemble. Five maybe ten minutes. So she shoved Velma’s shaking body away from the refrigerator just enough to open the door and grab that tuna fish sandwich.

She asked “Why?” too many times for him to ignore, but she couldn’t scrape her gaze from the floor long enough to find the answer on his face.

“What kind of name is Bob anyway?” he asked, mouth full of tuna fish, eyes placid because whatever was next, the worst had already happened.

THE END

Monday’s Lunch Break Crime Read: Watching the Cards

Today’s Lunch Break Crime Read: Mutiny on The Pimp Wagon Part Two

motor-yacht-634925_1920

But it wasn’t a real question anyway. It was banter. It was pre-gunfire tough talk from a guy who’d seen too many Hollywood movies where nobody just shoots anybody. They need a catch phrase first, or a joke, or a bible verse.

My eyes scrambled around, aching for a way out, anything.

On my left was Brodey, close to death and praying to get there soon.

On my right, the strippers. One somehow still asleep, the other high, and only slightly kicked off balance by what was unfolding.

“Navy boy, you better tell me something quick if you don’t want to wind up with some lead in yo’ ass.”

“What can I tell you D-Boss, we fucked up. I’m sorry.”

Not good enough. “Get yo’ ass down. On yo’ knees!”

I complied and prayed for no more tough talk. I wanted this over quickly.

And I didn’t expect that clack out of nowhere.

Neither did D-Boss. The smack to his head with Brodey’s shotgun came from Ruthie, sending D-Boss to the floor, his gun to the bed in front of the strippers.

One of them reached for it, but I spun, shot her before she could find the gat’s handle. I turned and shot D-Boss before he could club me from behind. Then I dragged a stunned Ruthie out of the room. It was time to move.

The boat shook with the kind of bustle you’d expect with this gunfire erupting. With the suitcases at our feet and the lifeboat yards away it all seemed so simple. So what happened next didn’t even begin to make sense.

With a trembling finger, she pointed to the lifeboat. “Uh-uh, I’m not gettin’ in that thing!”

“Ruthie, that was the plan! Come on!” The lifeboat was tiny, the sea huge and scary. But this was ridiculous.

There was no time to argue. I grabbed the suitcases, sprinted to the lifeboat. To hell with Ruthie. I almost made it to the rail before I heard a shot from behind — then I felt it.

It was a good shot for a beginner, damn near perfect. It sent my left arm spinning across the deck and knocked me face down, ass up, finished.

In the distance I could see a ship, not a friendly one. Bad news. They were Somali pirates closing in on the Pimp Wagon, probably already tallying up the booty.

With the air easing out of me and my brain fluttering off to nowhere, I turned with everything I had left and caught a glimpse of Ruthie’s mercenary glare as she gave the shotgun a defiant pump.

One final thought snapped into my head: Those Somali pirates don’t have a prayer.

THE END

Tomorrow’s Lunch Break Crime Read: It Might Be Little But It’s Loud

Today’s Lunch Break Crime Read: Mutiny on the Pimp Wagon

motor-yacht-634925_1920It wasn’t exactly a dream job. After seventeen years in the navy it was kind a step down to become the ‘first mate’ for a hip-hop superstar named D-Boss on a sixty-foot blinged-out mega yacht he called the Pimp Wagon. The gig paid well enough, but Goddamned if he didn’t stress me into a stroke with all his crazy demands:

Late night skeet shooting from sideways slanted pistols. A steering wheel centered by twenty-four inch backward spinning rims. Twelve-foot speakers mounted on the stern that sent the vessel rattling like a giant egg timer.

Then there was the night D-Boss wanted entertainment but the stripper got seasick and spent the evening bent over the starboard rail.

“Yo, Navy Boy!” he called. I slumped inside the rec room, packed with bodies decked out in glittering chains and day glow blue. The air too thick to count the eyes aimed my way, D-Boss somewhere in the back behind those mirrored sunglasses and Cuban cigar.

He wanted some ‘navy songs,’ whatever that meant.

“I’m sorry, Boss. I don’t sing.”

“What you mean, you don’t sing?”

I answered, a clenched jaw roping in my rage. “I mean, I am here to steer the yacht. I am the captain. I am not the entertainment.”

Then came the crumpled up dollars and jeers…

I chose Anchors Aweigh, all three verses, then slumped outside.

“My man talking about ‘I don’t about sing.’ You remind a motherfucker who’s in charge, and they sing,” D-Boss bellowed just loud enough for me to catch on my way out.

With this move he had pushed himself into a whole new category of annoying. He was now more that just a pain in the ass. He had become a guy who’d better watch his back, what with those suitcases of cash he lugged around, impressing the strippers and drug dealers and hustlers known to set sail aboard the Pimp Wagon. He’d become a guy who might lose a suitcase or two if he wasn’t careful. Or maybe even wind up with a bullet in his skull.

After a week or two of plotting, the plan seemed to make too much sense to shrug off as a hot-headed revenge fantasy. And the sidekicks I needed to pull it off were already in place – they just didn’t know it yet.

* * *

I knew it wouldn’t take much to nudge Brodey into my plans. A Townie from Natick, this pale, overworked ‘domestic assistant’ spent too much of the last four years cleaning up after weed-scented parties and drunken fistfights. Raised by parents who spent the seventies seething over what was happening to the neighborhood, Brodey’s blood simmered at just the temperature needed to serve as an accomplice. He was a hate crime waiting to happen.

“God damned bling monkeys,” he growled, slinking out of the bathroom with a mop. “Fuckers don’t even aim for the toilet anymore.”

I offered a smile that went unreturned, then tossed him a beer.

“Job can’t be that bad. You’ve stuck it out for four years,” I said.

“Four years of looking for something else and finding bupkis. I guess the missus just picked the wrong time to have twins.”

“Brodey, my friend I get the feeling your luck is about change. According to my crystal ball there’s a very good chance you’re going to stumble into big money this weekend.”

He lifted an eyebrow and leaned in. “Yeah?”

“You know what’s happening Saturday night, right?”

“Weed supplier making a visit,” he sighed. “That means strippers, messy sheets, loud fights.”

“It also means suitcases full of cash.”

His already guilty eyes darted across the hull.

“It’d be a shame if something happened to one or two of those suitcases. Wouldn’t it?” I offered.

His smile lifted away the angry red mask he was seemingly born with. He didn’t say it and I didn’t have to ask. But I now knew I had a teammate in this plan.

* * *

Things with Ruthie were a little more complicated. At least a decade too old for this shit, she cooked for D-Boss and played forgiving grandma to her demanding employer without once letting that winning smile slip away. Nothing wrong with the boy that a trip behind the woodshed with a switch couldn’t cure as far as she was concerned.

I always wondered what kind of rage bubbled under that matronly grin. But there were questions you didn’t ask Ruthie because there were answers you didn’t want to hear. There was an icicle dangling from that honey-sweet drawl that told me she didn’t spend her early years getting dressed up for debutant balls. And here she was in her sixties, serving D-Boss on bended knee like a medieval serving wench. We were sailing through the Mediterranean, just past The Greek Isles, but maybe she hadn’t traveled that far from Birmingham Alabama of the fifties after all.

“Rough day, Ruthie?” I greeted her as she hobbled to a seat on the port deck.

“Child, they all rough at my age. But you ain’t gon’ hear me sing the blues.”

I was at the wheel. Her gaze stayed locked on the horizon and the breathtaking landscape floating past us. It was stunning enough to make her forget where she was. Until the next meal’s demands would drag her back in.

“Tonight looks like it’ll be even rougher,” I announced.

“Yeah, we gonna get company this evening,” she said. She was humming some gospel song to herself now.

“Our boss better be careful with those suitcases,” I said, offering the bait. “It’d be a shame if something happened to one of them. Or maybe both of them.”

Nothing. Not a sound, not a nodded head, not a single unspoken desire bobbing to the surface. Just more humming.

After dinner, she found her seat again, fanning herself and humming the same song as if to tell me that nothing had changed.

But then a familiar baritone whipped through the Mediterranean air: “Yo, navy boy! We need some entertainment!”

An idea: “Ruthie, can you go see what he wants? Tell him I’m kind of busy at the wheel.”

Ruthie climbed to her shaky legs and shuffled into the rec room. She didn’t like this order, but she did as she was told – a reflex, I guess.

I could hear everything from the deck, not that I needed a play-by-play to guess the outcome. Every word yanked a cringe from me: D-Boss’s urging for some ‘church music,’ Ruthie’s polite refusal. Then her surrender. Then her song:

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.

She released this in a siren-like wail that soared miles above the humiliation of the moment, aimed at a world well beyond the adolescent antics. She was free from the nonsense, immune to the nakedness the mock applause sought to create. Or was she?

The smile was still there but only to those not really paying attention.

I was paying attention. I could see that she emerged from the rec room a different Ruthie. Not an angry one, exactly, not seething with a hunger for vengeance. Just exhausted, ready for a change no matter where it took her. She was determined, striding. Marching as to war.

* * *

The staff bathroom was cramped with three occupants: Brodey, Ruthie and me. We spoke quickly and quietly, awaiting the next order and plotting the first strike.

“Step one, we wait till everybody’s asleep,” I said. “We check the rec room, the guest suites, the bathrooms, the deck.”

Brodey nodded. Nothing from Ruthie, but in this case, nothing meant everything was cool.

“Step two…” I reached into my bag, grabbed a pump action shotgun, showed it to Brodey. Placed a .45 in Ruthie’s shaking hands, then pulled it from her uncertain grip. “We do this right, we don’t have to use these.”

Brodey released a disappointed sigh.

“Step three, you follow my lead. I’ll have the lifeboat ready for us seconds after we scoop up the cash. Then I’ll make an anonymous call to the coastal authorities, tell them we’ve been hit by Somali pirates. By the time they arrive, we’re gone, presumed to be dead.”

A hush fell over us. Then came my question: “Are we ready to do this?” One head nodded, the other did nothing. Brodey was born ready for this. So my question was really for Ruthie.

And her answer: A half-hearted nod, her gaze tumbling to the floor, her lips locked tight, determined to keep every clue concealed. For the moment that would just have to do.

* * *

As the sun crept over the rocky outline around us, I could feel it was time to strike. We’d been up all night, buzzed by the thought of our upcoming payday and unable to sleep anyway with all the shouting matches, vomiting and the bass pounding and pounding like The Gestapo on their way up the stairs.

After a nod to Ruthie and Brodey, I made the rounds.

Guest suite one: two sleeping bodies – a nude stripper stacked atop a fat rapper-wannabe from the Philippines named Quan Quan.

Guest suite two: four bodies, all sleeping, all naked.

Guest suite three: empty. Or maybe not. On second glance that stack of coats on the chair was really a matching set of twin strippers handcuffed together but somehow lost in slumber anyway under a blanket and sheet like this kind of thing happened all the goddamn time.

Deck: empty.

Bathrooms: empty.

Rec room: I found D-Boss with two suitcases, quickly confirmed to be full of hundred dollar bills. He had company – two strippers – but nobody was awake and nobody seemed in a hurry to wake up.

With a wave to my teammates, everything sprang into motion. Brodey grabbed the cash as I scurried across the hull to get the lifeboat.

Ruthie gave me the self-assured nod I was hoping for the night before, then drifted into place.

It was all too easy. Until I heard the gun shot. It came from the rec room – and not from Brodey’s shotgun.

I charged inside, pulled in by the loudest, angriest squeal ever made by a mammal.

It might have been a good idea to have my gun drawn. Because there was D-Boss, pistol raised and stylishly tilted.

“Wha’s up, navy boy!”

Nothing to do here but raise my hands and hope he gets a clean shot to my head. No slow, agonizing death for me, thank you.

“Can you think of a reason why I shouldn’t pop a cap in yo’ ass?”

Nothing came to mind. And damned if I wasn’t searching…

TO BE CONTINUED

 Tomorrow’s Lunch Break Crime Read: Mutiny on the Pimp Wagon Part Two.

 

Today’s Lunch Break Crime Read: Nothing to Kill or Die For

john-lennon-1091161_1280Nothing to Kill or Die For

By Copper Smith

It was the weirdest job I’d ever taken. No double-crossed thugs, no unpaid loan sharks, nary a cheating spouse to be seen. Just a creepy loner who needed a bullet to the skull before he could carry out a sick plan to make the world a lonelier place.

And damned if I’d ever had to do that much travel before. But they told me the payday would be worth my while so I sailed off strapped with a 9mm. and a head swimming with 80s nostalgia.

***

Fighting off a stiff December breeze I wove through the Manhattan streets, eager to find my mark and get the job over with – but good luck fending off the distractions of that gorgeously insane place. The sidewalks were a freak show, alive with coke-fueled madness and the promise of dangerous sex.

I spent my first ninety minutes spinning deeper into that breathtaking web, absorbing everything. The sights – even the subway graffiti was somehow beautiful.

The smells – real food, made by real first generation immigrants.

And the voices – Deborah Harry cooing, David Byrne hiccupping, Joey Ramone whimpering, Grandmaster Flash cutting, scratching, reinventing the beat.

How could I not lose track of time? Shit.

I raced from the subway, determined to get across town to The Dakota before it was too late.

It was too late. A cloaked figure – arms extended – closed in on his target rising from a limousine.

“Everybody get down!” I shouted, and both bodies dutifully dropped. I waited for the gunfire. But it never came. The autograph seeker turned, his face frozen. Unfamiliar to me. He wasn’t my mark.

I slipped into the shadows, chagrined.

Then I heard steps and the gun being loaded. But saw nothing.

“Get down!” I wheezed, no voice left after the false alarm. I still saw nothing, but tried again: “Somebody’s got a gun!” Smirks all around. Who’s the wiseguy? they had to wonder.

My head swiveled, swept the shadows, the alleys, behind the dumpster. Nothing.

Another click. A hammer yanked back. No more steps. A silhouette emerged, stepped into the moonlight.

“Mr. Chapman?” I asked.

He turned. This was my mark. Sharing that demented grin, glassy eyes shinning on. Like the moon and the stars and the sun. I could see the marquee beaming in his head. He was there already, finished, famous, complete. Nothing left to do but add the exclamation point.

But I had to fuck things up by being a quicker draw. “The dream is over, motherfucker,” I said. And I shattered his face into a mess his mother wouldn’t recognize. Twice.

I dove back into the shadows and scampered away, the scene now bathing in stunned silence.

It was time to get back to where I once belonged, back to spring of 2016, a world that could now watch Yoko grow old with her walrus.

Imagine that.

THE END

I originally had this published by the lovely badasses at Pulp Metal Magazine. Check them out and show love!

 Tomorrow’s Lunch Break Crime Read: Mutiny on the Pimp Wagon.