Down the Hall on Your Left

This site is a blog about what has been coasting through my consciousness lately. The things I post will be reflections that I see of the world around me. You may not agree with me or like what I say. In either case – you’ll get over it and I can live with it if it makes you unhappy. Please feel free to leave comments if you wish . All postings are: copyright 2014 – 2018

Archive for the category “Short Story”

Fiction Saturday – “Trapped” – Conclusion

Fiction Saturday – “Trapped” – Conclusion

Trapped

For five days I followed him everywhere. I saw nothing that said he was stepping out on his wife. The closest he came was some gentle flirting with his waitress over lunch. I think he spotted me a couple of times. My bruised face made me stand out, but I couldn’t help but get close at times. My hearing is not as good as it used to be.

I called the number Mrs. Tetley had given me and I told her that, as far as I could tell, her hubby was too busy with his business to be playing around on her. She told me to stay on his tail. She was buying my time and my lunch so I kept dogging her husband. She must know something about him that I haven’t uncovered yet.

It’s not much of a job, but it’s all I have. Once I can’t tail a sneaky husband any more all I’ll be good for is to be an Organ Donor…except for maybe my liver.

###

Ten days I’ve been tailing this guy and I’ve not seen him do anything out of line, except that I know that he made me once or twice. The other day he was heading out to his country club and I had to back down and give him more room on the less crowded road that leads out there. I lost sight of him and as I sped up to regain contact I looked in my mirror and there he was behind me. All I could do was break off and turn down the first road I came to. I called his wife.

“Look,” I told her, “ He knows I’ve been following him, so, even if he is playing around – which I don’t think he is – I’d never catch him at it now. Let’s just settle up and call it quits.”

“Maybe you’re right, Mr. Walker,” she said cooly. “Perhaps I’m just being a silly wife.”

I gave her a quick accounting of what she owed me for all of my wasted rime. I padded it a bit just to soothe my ego. She could afford it. We set up an appointment time for her to come by my office to give me what I had coming.

###

“I think I spotted your ‘Mr.Walker’ following me a couple of times. He looks like a bad prize fighter.”

“Oh, Nigel, be careful. He said he’d kill you. Can’t we just give him the money so he’ll go away?”

“Constance, if we give into him once he’ll never go away. I’ve got to convince him that he’s going after the wrong people.”

His wife looked worried. The cell phone in her pocket began to “ring.” It played a few bars from Aerosmith’s song “Janie’s Got A Gun.”

“Hello,” she said softly into the phone and turned toward her husband. “It’s him. It’s Mr. Walker,” she whispered.

“I see,” she said into the phone. “Yes, I have the money.” She went silent, listening to the voice on the other end of the line. She nodded as Nigel paced back and forth. “Maybe you’re right. Perhaps I’m just being a silly wife.” She looked up at her husband. “Yes, I’ll be there with the money.” She ended the call, slipped the phone back into her pocket.

“Well, you heard that, Nigel. He wants me to go to his ‘office’ he called it, in some building in the city. He insists that I come alone with the money. Oh, Nigel, I’m scared. What if he…tries something? He said that he has a gun.”

“Well, so do I, my Love. Don’t worry, you won’t be there alone. I’ll be there with you and I’ll take care of ‘Mr. Walker.”

###

The sun was going down when I left my apartment. I’d slept a good portion of the day away. There was nothing else on my calendar until the slightly paranoid Mrs. Constance Tetley was scheduled to meet me at the office to settle accounts. That was later, around eight. I had time to soak my still aching body. I headed for Koreatown and a hot tub and massage.

Ten days of Birddogging a man who was as boring as a paper napkin was not fun. He may be the richest man in this part of the state and undoubtedly into some shady business dealings, but his wife only wanted to know if he was bringing it all home at night. She wants her Hubby to give her what she wants and needs.

Me? All I want is paid for my work so that I don’t end up living under a bridge sharing a cardboard box with some guy named “Lucky.” I’ve given up on my dreams of becoming a rich and famous detective. I just want to have enough to keep body and soul together and, when I’m gone, to have a few friends left to share some good memories of me.

###

“What a dump. Are you sure this is the right place?”

“This is the address, Nigel, I’m sure – on the eighth floor,” she whispered as if anyone else was around to overhear them as they got into the elevator.

“He’s only expecting me, so I’d better go in alone. I’m terrified, but I know you’ll be right there.”

“I’ll be right outside the door, Constance. Here’s the money.” He handed her a white business size envelope with ten thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills. “He’ll feel the need to count it. That’s when I’ll come in, but if tries to get physical just yell and I’ll be there before he can do anything.”

“I know you will, Darling. It’s Eight O’clock.”

###

“It’s Eight O’clock,” I said to myself. I heard the elevator stop on the eighth floor. She’ll pay me and then I’m going home, after a drink or two. I’m glad that she’s on time.

“Good evening, Mr. Walker.”

“Good evening, Mrs. Tetley. Please come into my office so I can give you a receipt and so you can be on your way.”

“Is cash OK with you, Mr. Walker? I don’t want my husband to see anything on our bank statement. I’m sure you understand.”

“Cash is fine. It’s my favorite actually. It never bounces the next morning.”

When we were both seated she reached into her purse and pulled out a white envelope. It looked chubby. While she did that I took the holster with the .38 revolver off my belt and set it on the desk. “I guess I won’t be needing to carry this around anymore. Hopefully for a long time. Personally, I hate the things. They’re nothing but trouble.”

“Here’s your money, Mr. Walker. I’ve put in some extra as a bonus for all of your hard work.” She was smiling like she just scratched off a winning lottery ticket.

I opened the flap on the envelope and saw Ben Franklin and his whole family staring back at me.

“Mrs. Tetley, this is way too much. I appreciate your gratitude, but this is…

Her smile disappeared as she jumped to her feet knocking over her chair.

“What do you mean it’s not enough?” She was yelling. “I won’t do that! No! No! Don’t point your gun at me. Help! Help! Nigel!”

She had flipped her coin in two seconds.

“Mrs. Tetley, what’s wrong? What’s going on here?” I picked up my gun. I didn’t want her grabbing it. “I’m not pointing this at you.”

She is screaming. I’m confused and my office door flies open and Nigel Tetley comes in with a big .45 caliber pistol in each hand. His wife stepped back away from the desk and plastered herself up against the far wall.

“So, ‘Mr. Walker’, you pull a gun on my wife? First it’s blackmail and now what?”

I was barely hearing him. All I could do was look at those two cannons pointed at me. The .38 in my hand felt like a cap gun.

“Blackmail? What are you talking about? She hired me too…”

“That’s a lie, Nigel. He showed me those ancient pictures of me and demanding money – and now he points that awful gun of his at me and tells me to undress for him.”

“I never said that. What is this?” I was getting scared. This was falling apart all around me.

“The pictures weren’t enough, eh, Walker? You wanted the real thing. You…” He lifted thee .45s and two red laser dots lit up on my chest.

I may be getting old and slow, but I’ve been shot before and it’s not fun and with his two pistols I wouldn’t have a prayer. My brain shut down and instinct took over. I dove to my left trying to get my body behind my file cabinet. I pulled my trigger. Nigel Tetley did the same. I felt the impact on my thigh. The pain would come along soon enough. My ears were ringing from the roar of the gunfire in my small office. I was on the floor. I was waiting for him to come after me – to finish me off. I would try to return the favor if I could.

Nothing was happening. When my ears opened for business again everything was quiet. I decided to crawl out of the corner to see what was going to happen next.

The first thing I saw was feet. They were attached to Nigel Tetley and I was seeing the soles of his shoes. Both .45s were still in his hands, but they were on the floor too.

I was able to pull myself over to my desk and into my chair. The pain was starting up big time. When I looked at the rest of Nigel Tetley I saw that he was missing an eye. My one reflex shot had hit home. Tetley was as dead as a man could ever be.

“Nice shooting, Walker. Lucky, but nice.”

I turned my head toward the sound of that voice. It was Mrs. Tetley, still standing by the wall. She was smiling again.

“What just happened here?” I asked her or anybody else in the room who could still talk. “Why is he dead and I have a hole in my leg?” I was still holding my gun.

“What just happened, Mr. Walker, is that you just made me a very rich gal – and put away that popgun of yours. You won’t shoot me. You need me. I’m your only witness. You shoot me and your next stop will be Death Row for a double murder. With me still alive I can swear it was self-defense. My crazy, jealous husband followed me here. I came here to hire you to follow him, just like I really did. So don’t threaten me with that pea shooter. You’ll never get off two lucky shots tonight. And now I’m going to call the police.”

She took out her phone, dialed 911 and gave a performance worthy of a Hollywood Star.

I was trapped. She had me in a cold corner. There was no way out for me except through her and she knew it. I knew it, but I didn’t understand it.

“What if your husband had killed me?”

Oh, the same story only reversed. I was hiring you, he followed me, came in. You pulled your gun. He pulled his. Bang. Bang. You’re dead and I tell the cops my hubby shot you in cold blood. He goes to the Gas Chamber on my eyewitness testimony and I am the tragic, but very wealthy, widow. Either way – I win.”

“And I lose,” I said. “I lose again, just like every other day.”

She stepped over the body of her dead husband and sat down again across the desk from me. She reached out and picked up the envelope with all the cash and put it back in her purse.

“No sense on wasting this on you, Mr. Walker, is there?”

I could hear the sirens even from up on the eighth floor. They’d be coming through the door in a couple of minutes.

“Why didn’t you just divorce him?”

“Pre-nup. I wouldn’t get squat. I figured this was my best option.”

She was probably right.

I had no good options. I was sitting in my chair bleeding out, dead broke, and at the mercy of this tall, leggy…there is no word for her in my vocabulary.

I was at a loss. What could I do? I never felt so lost – so trapped. I saw no way out.

###

“This is the Police. We’re coming in and I want to see everybody’s hands in the air. Do you understand me?”

“Come on in.”

There was a single shot.

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Fiction Saturday – “Trapped” – Part One

Fiction Saturday – “Trapped” – Part One

Trapped

I don’t care what they say. If you get worked over by a couple of toughs you are not going to get up and chase after them. You’re more likely to just throw up in the gutter and then go home and feel sorry for yourself.

At least that’s what I did yesterday.

Two pieces of meat working for a crook who is bleeding his own company dry and didn’t like me digging into the details. They knew what they were doing and they enjoyed it.

If I was a few years younger I might have been able to defend myself better and made those two muscle boys regret taking me on, but yesterday was not a few years ago and I’m the only one with regrets.

Regrets and, I think a couple of loose teeth.

When I took an early retirement from The Job I was feeling flush. I had a nice portfolio of tech stocks and my health. Five years later my tech stocks weren’t worth a dozen donuts. I knew the price of donuts all too well and, all of a sudden, I wasn’t a young stud any more.

Today, I’m lying on my couch and wishing I’d stayed on The Force. Then I had insurance and could afford to see a doctor. Now, as a P.I., all I can afford are some cans of chicken soup and a soda straw until the swelling goes down.

That chicken soup’ll be all I’ve got if I don’t get off this couch and back to work. I’m too young for Social Security and Mums and Daddums have cut me out of the will.

Right. If it didn’t hurt I’d laugh at my own jokes.

Work. Office. OK.

It took me a while but I changed clothes, put a couple of band-aids on my once handsome face, and drove downtown to my office. It was a Saturday so I didn’t think I’d run into too many people before I got to the 8th floor. I was wrong.

“Geez, Mr. Walker, you look like you tried to French Kiss a train.”

“Yeah, that’s it, Pal. You got me pegged. I’m really into locomotives.”

That was down in the parking garage.

“Mornin’ Mr. Walk…Sweet Jesus, what did you do to earn all that?”

“I put insufficient postage on my tax return.”

That was from the Newspaper stand guy in the lobby.

Finally, Room 817. The stenciled letters on the frosted glass said, “Private Investigations and Licensed Security.” Down a line or two was my name: “John Walker”

A quick run through the mail informed me that I was up to date on the light bill, late on the rent, and I might already be a winner of something or other. The wastebasket was doing its job well.

I was sitting there behind my desk thumbing through a catalog filled with basic police stuff that I couldn’t afford when I heard the front office door open and someone, a female someone, call out, “Hello? Anybody home?”

I got up, brushed a few crumbs off my shirt, and checked my fly. “I’m here. One moment. On my way.” I opened the door from my office and I lost the power of speech.

She looked like a Pulp Writer’s cliché, straight out of a detective novel. Tall, slim in just the right places, legs that would take time to fully appreciate, and a face that made me want to ask her to the prom – or to Mexico for a weekend.

‘Are you Mr. Walker?” I liked her voice, mainly because it was talking to me.

“Uh…Umm,..Yes, that’s me… Him…John Walker.” I extended my hand like a paw. She took my hand and told me her name, “I’m Constance Tetley and I think I may need your help.”

“Well, if I can help you in any way…”

“Do you own a gun?”

That got my attention.

“Perhaps we should step into my office.”

I ushered her into my inner office, bringing up the rear to close the door behind us and to get another look at – well, you can figure that out. I may be getting old, but I’m not dead. She sat down in the chair in front of the desk. I went behind it to get to mine. She stayed silent so I figured it was up to me to get the ball rolling.

“So why so do you care if I have a gun? You want me to shoot somebody?” I thought that was a reasonable question.

“No, of course not,” she said, wiggling in the chair in discomfort. It made me uncomfortable too. “I ask because, well, my husband has a temper.”

“Your husband.” That was a statement and not a question.

“Yes. He’s why I’m here. I think he’s cheating on me and…”

“And you want me to take a few snapshots of him with whomever, and so on and so on. Right?”

“In a nutshell – Yes,” she said. Mrs. Constance Tetley, young, but not too, and as gorgeous a stack of new and crisp U.S. Grants, dabbed at the corner of her eye with a hanky. I saw no tear.

“Tell me about his ‘temper’ as you called it.” I needed to know how hot the water was before I dipped my toe in. I’ve been burned before.

For the next ten minutes she tried to sugarcoat her husband, Mr. Nigel Tetley, and his propensity to shoot first and skip the questions altogether.

“He’s a collector,” she added.

“Of what?”

“Guns. He has over eleven hundred of them.”

Somehow I knew it wasn’t postage stamps. She readjusted herself in the chair and my blood thinned a bit.

My better judgment screamed at me to call her a taxi and then go for a drink – alone. My less than better judgment wanted for her and me to both be sixteen and in the backseat of my old man’s Buick. What to do?

What I did was take her cash, get her phone number, and cleaned and oiled my five-shot Charter Arms revolver. I must be nuts.

***

He walked into their library and saw his wife curled up on the leather sofa. She looked like she had been crying. She looked up at him as a real tear rolled down her cheek.

“What’s wrong, Constance?” His voice filled with what sounded like genuine concern.

“Sit down, Nigel. I have – we have – a problem.” She reached for her glass on the coffee table and took a swallow as he moved closer.

“What kind of problem?” he said. “Let me take care of it.” He patted her knee like she was the young daughter they didn’t have. “Talk to me.”

She took a deep breath and dried her eyes.

“Nigel, there’s no point in pretending. We both know that I had ‘A Past’ before we met, that I…that I lived in the ‘fast lane’.”

“You were a Rock and Roll groupie,” amended Nigel Tetley. “Yes, I knew all about that when we first met. So, what’s the problem now? All of that was years ago and a lifetime away. What’s going on? It is all in the past, right?”

“Oh, Nigel. Yes, it is all in the past, the distant past. I swear. At least I thought it was.”

Her husband’s back straightened and his fists clenched. “Talk to me, now.”

“A man came up to me when I was at the Mall shopping today. He just walked up to me and said ‘We have some business to conduct.’”

“What does that mean? Was he trying to sell you something?”

“That’s what I thought and then he shoved a couple of pictures in front of me. Pictures of me, from long ago, from those crazy days.” She stopped and took another sip from her drink, cleared her throat, and continued. “I didn’t know these pictures even existed. He said that unless I ‘Came across’ with some money he would ‘show them to the world’.”

“Blackmail, that’s what this is,” said Nigel Tetley. “I’ve been expecting this to happen – for years. It was just a matter of time before some weasel out of the past would show up. Did he threaten you – physically?”

“Me? No. He said that if he didn’t get the money he would kill you. Oh, Nigel, I am so sorry. I don’t know what else to say or do.” She moved next to her husband and let him hold her in his arms, to comfort her.

“Don’t worry about this, Constance, I know how to deal with people like that, but I need to ask you a few questions. OK?” She nodded and buried herself in his arms.

“Constance, did this man give you his name or a way to contact him?”

No, he said that he would contact us, but if we called the police he would kill you. A name? Yes, he said I should call him ‘Mr. Walker.’ He was a mess. He looked like somebody had beaten him up. He was all bruised.”

“Walker?”

“John Walker.”

***

I figured the only way I was going to see if Constance Tetley’s husband was stepping out on her was to shadow him for a few days to see if he does have a “hottie” stashed away. If he does it shouldn’t take long. He’ll want a taste or two soon enough. I follow him; hope for a convenient window or open door – snap, snap – and the wife and her lawyer have their evidence.

It may not be a pretty way to make a living, but unless you can get a contract with some big company to run their Security Setup, you have to eat. The way things have been going for me I haven’t been doing much of either. No work, no money. No money, no reason to feel hopeful and you take any job.

I don’t usually carry my weapon with me. Most of my jobs have relied on my research and computer skills, finding lost or missing people and money, but after the Lovely Lady with the Long Legs told me that her hubby was better armed than most countries, I figured I better dust off my belt holster.

Over the years, on The Force and now as a Freelancer, my stomach has been my own Early Warning System. Putting the gun into the holster made my stomach clench up, but I put that off to the working over I’d just absorbed.

I did a little research into Mr. Nigel Tetley – born in England, and wealthy – very wealthy. The source of his money is a bit obscure hidden in a number of overseas ventures and commercial properties in this one.

He was known to have an explosive temper. There were tales that he pulled a one punch knockout on a “Capital O” Official from the Commerce Department who dared to question his business practices.

Online sources says that Tetley has two passions: Guns and his wife, Constance. Eleven hundred guns and one very special wife. The scuttlebutt has it that a number of his guns have a dirty past. The same could be said of his wife.

Constance Tetley, nee Bosworth came from small town Texas and by the age of sixteen was on the road touring with a well-known Rock and Roll Band as a backstage groupie and main squeeze of the lead screamer.

She met Tetley at a backstage party when she was 22 and he was 40. He wanted her and what he wanted he got. They were married and she disappeared behind The Wall of the Very Rich.

Now, according to the Mrs., Mr. Nigel Tetley is, or might be, cheating on her and she wants me to tell her yea or nay.

Next week – The Conclusion of “Trapped”

Fiction Saturday – Boxer – Conclusion 

 

Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Conclusion

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

“What about…” He looked at Gloria who had walked into the room and was standing by the kitchen door with her arms crossed. “Our two – visitors?”

“They’re, uh, in the trunk.” Walker leaned forward ignoring the pain.

“What trunk? My trunk? The Cadillac? You put those dead bodies in the trunk of my Cadillac?” Gloria stood up straight.

“Dead bodies? What dead bodies? She asked. Her words stuck in her throat. “Terry, what dead bodies? You didn’t say anything about dead bodies. Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus.” She hugged herself and started to rock back and forth. She was already on the verge of crumbling. “Oh, Terry.”

Walker lost it. “Shut up, you stupid Gin Blossom! Terry, shut her up. I need to think.”

“Gloria, please. He needs to think. I’ve messed things up. I’m sorry.”

Gloria looked at Terry. “You’ve messed things up? What about this jackass sitting on our couch? He’s the one who’s messed things up, not you.”

Walker picked up one of the small pillows from the sofa and threw it at her.  “Hey, Blondie, shut up. Get out of here. Go do something useful. Go slit your wrists.”

“Do something useful? I’ll do something useful right now.” In two steps she was in front of the sofa and she delivered a sharp left jab onto Walkers bandaged shoulder. He let out a short scream before he passed out. “Now that’s something useful, you, Mr.’My Cadillac.’”

Read more…

Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Five

 Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Five

 

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

 

“I’ll let you in, but I don’t have to like it.”  –Gloria Dumbaugh

 

“No. No. No. Are you crazy, Terry?  What are you thinking? This man has been shot? He’s not a lost puppy You can’t just bring him home.”

Gloria was pissed.

“I don’t know what else I can do, Hon. He’s my Boss. Look, he’s out cold. I got something I gotta do. Just a few minutes. He won’t be any trouble, I promise. Just keep him on the bed.”

“Our bed you mean.”

OK, on the couch then. I gotta go. It’s important.”

“Terry, he’s been shot. What if he dies on me? What then?”

Terry ran his bandaged fingers through his hair. He wanted to run away. “He won’t die. Doc patched him up. See all that tape? He’ll be good as new in no time.” He set the shirtless, unconscious man on her couch. “Hon, I really gotta go. I’ll bring you back some ice cream.”

“Terry, No, you can’t…” She stopped. She knew it was useless. “Butter Pecan.”

Terry took the Cadillac. He wished it was his. Maybe someday. He parked in the alley behind Walker’s office, right back where it had been before all this mess started.

Inside Walker’s office nothing had changed. The dead guy hit with the shotgun was still dead and was going to stay that way. The Fat Guy by the door was…where was he? Terry started to sweat again and talk to himself.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Four

 

Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Four

 

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

 

“Mr. Walker? You’re bleeding.”

“Yeah, I know, Einstein. My arm. I need to see Doc. Can you drive?”

“Sure. Keys?”

“In my left coat pocket. You’ll have to get them. I’m parked in back – dark green Cadillac. Let’s go.”

“What about them?” Terry asked, pointing with the baseball bat at the two men on the floor.

“Later. They don’t look like they’re going anywhere soon. C’mon, help me up.”

Terry picked up the dead man’s pistol and set it on the desk. Walker slipped it into his right coat pocket.

 

“You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.”  — Al Capone

 

Doc shook his head. “I can’t do that. Not here. You need to go to the hospital.” He looked pale and hung over. That explained again why he never finished medical school.

“Doc, you gotta do something for him. He’s been bleeding all over the place. He passed out on the way over here.”

“Oh, Jesus, Terry, I can maybe try to stop the bleeding, but that’s about it.” Doc gave the unconscious man a quick eyeball check. “That slug is still in him. Probably stuck in a bone. I can’t deal with that here.”

“Do what you can, Doc. I’ll take him to the clinic, I promise.”

“No hospital. No hospital.” Walker had stirred. He was awake enough to hear what was being said. “No hospital. They’ll call the Police.

“Mr. Walker.” Terry wiped his hands on his pant leg. He was sweating like he had gone fifteen rounds. “Mr. Walker, Doc says that the bullet is still in your arm up by your shoulder. No offense, Doc, but Mr. Walker, you need a real doctor.”

Walker was barely able to stay awake. He shook his head. His eyes were only half open. “No hospital. I’ve got two dead bodies in my office. How do I explain that?”

“What?” Doc took a step back from both men. “What? You two have to get out of here. If the police bust me I’ll die in prison. You have to go. Now. Get out.”

“Terry, he’s right. In my wallet there’s a card…a card. Dr. Wycoff. Call him. Take me there.”

“Wycoff? He’s a Veterinarian,” half shouted Doc, “A horse doctor.”

“Terry, do what I tell you. Call him. Call him and then I’ll…” He passed out again.

“Doc, what should I do? He’s my Boss. If he dies I’m out of work, but if I take him to the hospital we’re both in hot water. Doc?

Doc opened a cupboard and took down a box of latex gloves. “He needs a real doctor, but that Wycoff is an old drunk who’d kill him for sure – if he wasn’t dead by the time you got him there. Damn it. Let me see what I can do.”

The two men lifted the unconscious and bleeding man up onto Doc’s kitchen table. Doc took some scissors and started cutting off Walker’s coat and shirt. Terry moved back and stood there watching and worrying.

“I’ll try to stop the bleeding. That’s first, and then we’ll see if I can at least find that bullet. It’d be a snap if I had an X-Ray.”

Ten minutes later Doc had stopped the bleeding, and after poking around he could tell that the bullet fired by the dead man, the very dead man, still in Walker’s office looking for his face, was lodged in the joint where the upper arm connects into the shoulder.

“Well, Terry, that’s about all I can do. I can see where the bullet is, but…”

“Can you get it out, Doc? That would help him a lot wouldn’t it?”

“I said I know where it is, but it might as well be on the moon. No, I’ve done what I can here, Terry. Thanks to you he is still alive, but he needs more than either of us can do.”

“I think I’d make a good Corner Man, Doc.”

“Yeah, but nobody ever got shot at in the Boxing ring.”

Doc stripped off his latex gloves and tossed them into a wastebasket half filled with empty bottles. He looked at his unconscious patient and at Terry. Standing next to his Boss Terry looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.

“What to do now, Doc? My Boss needs an X-Ray and there’s two stiffs in his office.”

“Not good, Terry.”

“Yeah, Mr. Walker took out the one that shot him – with his sawed-off. It’s a mess. I got the other one, a big fat guy, with a baseball bat.”

“Oh, Terry, this is getting worse by the minute.’

“Could I just leave, Mr. Walker here for a while, you know…?”

“No. No way you can leave him here. Where does he live? Does he have a family?”

“Jeez, Doc, I don’t know where he lives. I’ve only seen him at his office or at ringside. Family? I don’t know that either.”

Lying on the table, Walker was coming to a bit. He was moaning. His arm and shoulder were heavily bandaged. He was drooling.

“Terry, you have to go, both of you. I’ll help you get him out to your car.”

 

Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Three

 

Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Three

 

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

“Now I know why tigers eat their young.”  —  Al Capone

 

Once the night faded away the streets were wet and the sky promised more. Terry Jarosz was at his Boss’s office at 8:30. He had slept on Gloria’s couch for a few hours using the three grand as a pillow. He dreamed that the money was his, but he knew it wasn’t and now he was at the office to turn it in and get his cut – five percent. The Boss was waiting for him.

“Did you get it all, Terry? Three grand?”

Terry nodded and emptied his pockets out onto the desk.  The last two dollars was in quarters. “I got it all, Mr. Walker.”

“Good job, Terry.” He looked at the Boxer’s bandaged fists. “Jesus H. Christ, what happened to your hands? Was he hiding the money in a meat grinder?”

Terry looked at his bandages. They were feeling tight. He was swelling.

“No. He got physical with me, him and one of his boys. I’m OK. I’ll take it easy for a day or two and I’ll be OK.”

“I hope so. You look like you went twelve rounds with the Marines.”

“I’m OK, Mr. Walker. A hundred-fifty dollars?”

Walker peeled off a couple of wrinkled Fifties and the rest in Twenties and Sawbucks.

“Five percent of three thousand – a hundred-fifty dollars.” He threw in an extra Twenty. “A bonus – to cover the cost of your bandages, Terry. Take your girl out for a nice dinner.”

“OK. Thanks Mr. Walker. I’ll do that. I’ll be ready to go again in no time.”

Read more…

Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Two

 

Boxer  —  Part Two

 

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

 

“You’re either at the table or on the menu.”  —  Al Capone

 

And that was where Mike Walker came in. He was a fan of The Sweet Science.  He’d liked watching Terry fight because he knew it wasn’t just “entertainment.” He respected Terry’s work as a boxer and rewarded him by throwing some jobs his way. Mike Walker had a “Private Security” business. He was an ex-cop, a bad one, who did background checks, provided an extra pair of eyes for shopkeepers when inventories grew legs, and he collected overdue debts. Terry Jarosz entered the picture when payments got slippery.

 With ninety-five out of a hundred people who missed a payment or two it was just one look at Terry and wallets opened up. With the other five per cent – they got stupid before their money finally came across the desk. Stupid is what sent Terry to see Doc. Doc never charged Terry for helping him. He knew that The Rules were never fair for either of them.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Boxer”  – Part One 

 

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

“Our words and deeds, Good or Evil, are the dishes we put before the Lord.” 

—  Pope Severinus – 640 AD

The light shining in Doc’s kitchen was the only light on in the neighborhood. It would do. It always has before. In a couple of hours things on the street will begin to percolate, but now? Nothing good happens at three in the morning.

“I think your hand is broken, Terry.”

“No, it’s not, Doc. It’s just scraped up a little. I’ve broken it before. I know what that feels like.”

“Uh huh.”

Every knuckle on Terry’s right hand looked like he’d tried to knock down a brick wall.

“I just need you to clean it up, Doc, and tape it to keep the swelling down.” He held out his hand like it was a sledgehammer that needed repair.

 “Uh huh. What was it this time, a bar fight or what?”

“Business. Just business, Doc.”

“I swear, Terry, you get busted up more now than you ever did in The Ring.”

“Yeah, well, I gotta earn a living, right? In The Ring there were rules. Now, not so much. Different rules. I tell you, it gets hard for me sometimes to understand what the rules are.”

The peroxide washed over the scraped and bloody knuckles, stinging like hell. Nobody winced.

“What you need is a tetanus shot. You should go to the clinic for that.”

“They ask too many questions. This’ll do, Doc. This’ll do fine.”

He wiggled his fingers, testing for flexibility, and could he make a fist?

“You know, Terry, that I’m not a real doctor.”

“Yeah, I know. You went to medical school for a year or two. I heard you tell it all to Dutch, my old corner man. I remember.”

“Two years. I had two years of medical school, Terry. That’s all.”

Doc was a tall and sickly looking thin man. Skinny was more like it. His kitchen was his office and, on occasion, his surgery. This morning it was a little of both. He didn’t have a license to practice medicine. That dream died after two years and a weakness for gin. He drained away until all that was left was enough knowledge to pretend. Knowing enough to earn the nickname “Doc” that stung every time he heard it.

The gin introduced him to a different level of the culture and he got himself hired on as a “cut man’ for prize fighters. His job was to stop the bleeding and make things look not so bad when the referee came to their corner to assess the damage.

Doc knows only to blame himself. One night when he can’t hide in a haze he will open a vein and leave the mess for someone else to clean up.

“I can patch you up, Terry, but Jesus, I can’t keep putting you back together forever.”

“I don’t need forever, Doc. I just need tonight. Now tape me up and I’ll go.”

“Boxing is real easy, Life is much harder.” —  Floyd Mayweather Jr.

 

Terry Jarosz, 36 years old and at one time a boxer. Middle-Weight Champion for about five minutes, a punching bag the rest of the time. A guy who struggled with the world of rules and laws.

After too many fights the damage to his body didn’t want to heal up fast enough and he couldn’t get any more matches. Permits were denied and that was that.

A guy who played by the rules in The Ring was thrown out of work by the rules from outside The Ring. He had to make a living.

Terry had to work, but it’s hard for an ex-fighter to find any work that doesn’t call on his only skills – hitting and hurting other people. At that he proved to be better than most.

He took work where he could find it. “Lift this.” “Carry that,” and more and more frequently, “Hit him. Break that.”

When he was in The Ring it was nothing personal. It was two men beating each other for the purse, or a part of the purse, after “expenses” were taken out by half a dozen men who called the shots.

Whatever else he was, Terry Jarosz was known as a hard guy who never took a dive when maybe he should have to save himself. He learned too late that in his world being an honest man paid a lot less than the other kind.

People who knew his name assumed, that because he had been a “Champ,” that he was set financially. But people who knew Boxing knew that money had a way of walking out of the door faster than a Ten Count from a crooked Referee. When Terry “retired” he had less than eight hundred dollars to his name. At least he had his name.

That got him some free meals and a few jobs, but after a year or two he became “Terry who?” Fans moved on and real friends, like always, were few and far between.

Now, working as muscle, collecting debts, it always ended up being personal. Sometimes he knew the men that he was leaning on – again for just a cut of the money. He got 5% of whatever he brought in.

It didn’t take long for word to get around that Terry Jarosz would get rough if you tried to snow him. When he first started working as a collector he was easy to fool. A good sob story and he’d end up buying you a drink or slipping you a few bucks. A couple of weeks having to sleep on a sidewalk heating vent fixed that. He learned that in his new world there was no “Loser’s Purse.” He changed. He didn’t listen to the sob stories any more. He didn’t care if your mother was in the hospital. It was either pay up or tell Momma to move over.

“A man’s gotta eat.” That became his motto.

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Conclusion

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Conclusion

A Safe Place 

revolver3

“Show me. If you didn’t kill her, who did?”

He pulled out one of the photos and held it up facing me.

“He did,” he said, pointing to the dark haired man who was younger than either of us and in a lot better shape.

“Him,” I said? “What makes you think it was him? Just because he was…” He interrupted me before I could finish my sentence.

“He told me he did it.”

Off in the distance we both heard sirens. He looked at me, an anger beginning to build in his eyes.

“Did you tip off the cops that I was here?”

“No, I didn’t. I didn’t tell anybody, but you better talk fast. They’re getting closer. He told you that he’d killed your wife? When” Why?”

“I told you. While I was in jail.”

I nodded, not knowing what else to do to get him to keep talking.

“After you showed me these pictures in your office. Again, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, yeah – go on.” The sirens were getting louder. “I think your neighbors are nosier than you thought.”

“Well, after I left your office, I went down to the bar down the block. A guy accidentally bumped into me and I hit him, hard. The barkeep called the cops and I spent the next 72 hours in lockup.”

“But what about him,” I said, pointing to the naked guy in the picture? “Talk faster.”

“Him? He was one of the cops who pulled me off of the guy in the bar. He knew who I was and the next day, with me in restraints, he told me that he’d killed her a few hours after they’d hauled me in. He said that he went to see her, told her about the pictures and me being arrested. They argued, she pulled a knife on him, and it went to hell from there.

“He said that it was fun, what he did to her. Then he beat me up while I was tied to a chair.”

He teared up.

“I was released when this filthy animal did my bail. He wanted me out. If I was out when she was discovered they’d come looking for me first thing. You know that. It’s always the jealous husband. He needed me out on the streets. I was his alibi.”

The sirens had stopped and I could hear them coming up the stairs like a herd of elephants. I looked at Cumberland. He was rocking back and forth on his toes, not knowing what to do next.

Four cops came through the open door, guns drawn. I recognized one of them, even though he had his clothes on. He was smiling.

“Nobody move. You – drop the pistol if you want to live.”

I did, so I did.

“How did you know he was here,” I asked? 

“We didn’t, but we knew you were. Cumberland, you are under arrest for the murder of your wife.”

“I didn’t do it.” He was getting really agitated. I hoped he wouldn’t snap.

While the smiling cop started to read Cumberland his rights, one of the other cops took out his cuffs and moved toward the much smaller man, still in his apron.

“Stay away from me. That one,” he said, pointing at the now outright grinning cop by the door. “He’s the one who killed her, not me.” He moved around to the other side of the table. “No, stay away from me.” Cumberland looked at me for help. I was no good.

It was like watching at a cat play with a cornered, terrified, mouse. Looking at the two of them I finally believed Cumberland’s story.

“Stay away from me,” he said. Crazy and desperate, Cumberland grabbed the still hot dish of lasagna and threw it at the cop.

When the steaming mess hit the cop square in the face, he screamed in pain, and the no longer smiling cop, who I now finally believed was the killer, opened fire, hitting Cumberland square in the chest.

The shooting inquiry report read “Justified.”

———

I hate jobs like this. Snooping into bedroom windows; taking grainy photographs that are going to make somebody cry and somebody else walk out the door. Only this time two somebodies got carried out.

The End

toe tag

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part Six

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part Six

A Safe Place

He started moving toward me. I lifted my revolver and aimed it between his eyes.

“Stop right there, Cumberland. Don’t get any closer or I will shoot you dead.”

He stopped. “Can I just set this down? It’s getting heavy and it is hot. These are cheap oven mitts. I’ll put it down on the table and I’ll back up. OK?”

It seemed like a reasonable thing to ask. “OK, but no funny business. I’m a good shot.” That was a lie too. I’d be lucky to hit him at all even though he was only five feet away. I hoped that my shaking knees weren’t obvious.

He did like he said. He put the lasagna down on a straw trivet, then went back to where he started. He closed the oven door and threw his mitts on the range top. I didn’t like his additions to our agreement. I told him so. He shrugged and I pressed him some more.

 “Tell me, Cumberland. Why did you come back here? I’d think you’d want to get as far away as possible.”

“Where would I go? And if I started running I’d never be able to stop. I came back here because I needed a safe place to stay. The Police were done with it and most of the neighbors aren’t real nosy. After you chased me away from the Mission – I came home.

“And I’m sorry about your office. I just went nuts. But I didn’t kill her. I couldn’t have killed her – even though…. I can prove I didn’t kill her.  I have an alibi.”

“What kind of alibi?”

“I was already in jail.”

“What are you talking about – in jail? What kind of line are you trying to hand me?”

“I’m trying to hand you the killer – if you’re interested. Are you interested – or are you just going to shoot me and close the case?

My knees stopped shaking and my heart started pounding.

“I’m not going to shoot unless you force me to.” I hoped not, anyway.

“Assuming, for a second, that I believe you – you know who killed your wife?”

“I didn’t at first, when you showed me those pictures, but I do now. The pictures – they’re in my desk there. Can I get them?”

“I’ll get them,” I said. “Where?”

“Top right drawer. You don’t trust me? You think I have a gun in there”

I just stared at him. I was beginning to have doubts. What was done to that woman and the man standing in front of me didn’t match up so well anymore.

I opened the desk drawer. There was the Manila folder I’d given him, but no gun. He didn’t move until I tossed the folder onto the table.

“Show me. If you didn’t kill her, who did?”

He pulled out one of the photos and held it up facing me.

“He did,” he said, pointing to the dark haired man who was younger than either of us and in a lot better shape.

“Him,” I said? “What makes you think it was him? Just because he was…” He interrupted me before I could finish my sentence.

“He told me he did it.”

Off in the distance we both heard sirens. He looked at me, an anger beginning to build in his eyes.

 

To be Continued – Next week, the Conclusion

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part Five

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part Five

 

A Safe Place

lasagna On my way through the lobby I peeked into their mailbox – nothing – and a chill ran down my spine. By now that box should have been stuffed with junk mail if nothing else.

The yellow “Crime Scene” tape was still stretched across their door. I could taste my lunch again.

I was hoping that I was wrong, but when I grabbed the knob and it turned, I knew that I wasn’t. I took my weapon out of my pocket. My palm was sweating, along with everything else.

Considering what Cumberland had already done, I was scared about what I’d be up against when I opened the door. I’m no superhero. I’m just a guy with limited corporate world job skills trying to keep myself fed.

I turned the doorknob as slowly as I could, hoping it wouldn’t squeak. When I pushed the door open a crack I could see that a light was on somewhere in the apartment. I could smell something too – something familiar – Lasagna? It smelled like one of those frozen lasagna dinners I buy myself. And garlic bread. I could hear someone singing.

When I stepped inside the front room I could tell that the smells and the singing were coming from the kitchen near the rear of the apartment. I headed that way moving from area rug to area rug to cover my footsteps. The dining room table was set for one. A bottle of Chianti was open next to a single wine glass.

I stepped into the kitchen doorway. The floor creaked and Cumberland turned around. He was holding the lasagna with both hands. He had on two red oven mitts and an apron asking me to kiss the chef. I passed.

 I thought he would look surprised, at least, or maybe throw the steaming lasagna at me – but he didn’t. He didn’t move. He smiled. That I didn’t see coming.

“I heard you come in. I’ve been expecting you, sooner or later. Would you like some lasagna? There’s plenty.”

I’m standing in this guy’s kitchen with my gun aimed at his guts and he asked me to join him for supper.

“I’m not hungry.” That was a lie. “I have to take you in. You know that.”

“Yeah, I know. But, like I said before, I didn’t do it. How could I kill her? I loved her. Can you believe that?”

“Even after I showed you those pictures of her and…?”

“I know. That really hurt me. I guess I knew it already that she was playing around, but your pictures – that hurt.”

He had tears in his eyes. He wiped them away with the oven mitt.

“And I’m sorry about your office. I just went nuts. But I didn’t kill her. I couldn’t have killed her – even though…. I can prove I didn’t kill her.  I have an alibi.”

“What kind of alibi?”

“I was already in jail.”

“What are you talking about – in jail?”

He smiled again and started moving toward me. I lifted my revolver and aimed it between his eyes.

“Stop right there, Cumberland. Don’t get any closer or I will shoot you dead.”

He stopped. “Can I just set this down? It’s getting heavy and it is hot. These are cheap oven mitts. I’ll put it down on the table and I’ll back up. OK?”

It seemed like a reasonable thing to ask. “OK, but no funny business. I’m a good shot.” That was lie too. I’d be lucky to hit him at all even though he was only five feet away. I hoped that my shaking knees weren’t obvious.

He did like he said. He put the lasagna down on a straw trivet, then went back to where he started. He closed the oven door and threw his mitts on the range top. I didn’t like his additions to our agreement. I told him so.

When he crossed his arms and leaned against the stove I asked him, “You were already in jail? What kind of line are you trying to hand me?”

“I’m trying to hand you the killer – if you’re interested. Are you interested or are you just going to shoot me and close the case?

My knees stopped shaking and my heart started pounding.

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part Four

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part Four

A SAFE PLACE

“…I didn’t do it. I didn’t kill her.”giphy-9

If I’ve heard some guy say that once, I’ve heard it a hundred times. What else is he going to say? “I did it. I’m guilty.” Not in this state.

Cumberland was a small guy, but when his temper gets let loose, like it did in my office, he could play Linebacker for the Rams. He could easily have done to his wife what I saw when I got a look at her on the floor of their apartment.

Now all I wanted to do was nab him. If I could take him in alive, so much the better, then the people would at least get a trial for all of their tax money. I’m not getting paid for this chase, but the cops are getting a lot of overtime on their paychecks. I want him because he used me to give his lawyer a possible defense.

There’s no doubt that he is as insane as they come, but in my book he’s guilty too.

 “…I didn’t do it. I didn’t kill her.”

It always amazes me how someone like Cumberland can hide so that me and the whole police force can’t find him. This isn’t that big of a city and everybody in town has seen his face a thousand times by now. Is he hanging out at the Society for the Blind, or what? Where is he sleeping now that I’ve queered the Mission for him? Is he cooking rabbits in the Park? I need some sleep. I’m going home and get some rest. I’ll take something out of the freezer and…No. That can’t be.

I didn’t have time to call my hired goon to back me up. I was going to go solo on this. If it didn’t pan out, I’d look like a fool all by myself, but if it did – I slipped two extra speed loaders into my coat pocket.

I hadn’t been down there since that first day when they found her body. The forensics people had been in and left with bags of stuff. So did the coroner.

 On my way through the lobby I peeked into their mailbox – nothing – and a chill ran down my spine. By now that box should have been stuffed with junk mail if nothing else.

The yellow “Crime Scene” tape was still stretched across their door. I could taste my lunch again.

 

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part Three

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part Three

 

A Safe Place – Continued

Jesus_saves

I was going to bring him in. I know that he says that he didn’t do it – that he didn’t kill her – they all do, but after that business in my office, I found it hard to believe.

I outweigh him by a good sixty pounds, but he tossed my desk around like it was made of cardboard and the look in his eyes made me think of King Kong swatting at those airplanes on the top of the Empire State Building.

I went into the Mission through the loading dock. I sent my guy in the front door. If he spotted Cumberland he was to start whistling so I could come in from behind. It’s not much of a plan, but when there’s just two of you, you go with it and hope you get lucky.

A couple of men in the dock area told me to go around to the front door, but once I flashed my badge (which I bought at Woolworth’s for seventy-nine cents, including plastic handcuffs and magnifying glass) they backed off. Most of these guys in the Mission have been rousted by goons with even cheaper looking badges than mine, so they didn’t push it.

I snaked my way through the ground floor and headed up the back stairs to the dining room. That’s where I figured we’d find him. Even a scrawny King Kong has to eat. When I opened the door from the kitchen I heard my guy whistling loud and clear. I might not have chosen, “Happy Days Are Here Again,” but it didn’t matter. What mattered was that he was whistling for all he was worth. Cumberland was in the room – but where? There were at least a hundred and fifty guys in there. The stock market must have dived.

With that many men waiting in line, and all of them dressed pretty much the same – Skid Row Chic – it wasn’t going to be easy. And Cumberland didn’t stand more than five foot-seven. He could hide behind somebody’s wide lapels.

I started moving up one side of the room and The Whistler did the same. It was like walking through a field of corn, looking down each row. I was still hoping to spot him first and then try to get him down and cuffed before he had time to go ape on us. In that room there would be no telling how many people might be on his side.

About halfway down, nearer the back by the main door, I saw some movement – like a fight was about to break out. That doesn’t happen here, especially at meal time. Nobody wanted to get tossed out before they got fed.

As I moved closer I saw him. He had seen me first and was making a break for the staircase to the main floor and the street. He was moving fast and had a head start. I was on the wrong side of the room.

I yelled at my hired hand to go after him as I pushed my way through the food lines.

“Cumberland! Stop! We’ve got you surrounded!” It couldn’t hurt to try.

He didn’t stop and neither did we. As he reached the door to the street he turned. Everybody froze. I was partway down the stairs.

“I told you before, I didn’t do it. I didn’t kill her. I loved her.”

“I don’t believe you, Cumberland. The police don’t believe you. Nobody believes you.”

I reached for my pistol, but thought better of it. There were too many people still coming into the Mission to make a clean shot and, anyway, I wanted him alive. But it wasn’t going to happen that night. He was gone – again.

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part One

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place”

 

 I hate jobs like this. Snooping into bedroom windows; taking grainy photographs that are going to make somebody cry and somebody else walk out the door. Only this time somebody got carried out.

Six months ago – it seems like six years – his life was quiet and predictable. He had a job that was less than perfect and he was in a relationship that he described the same way – less than perfect. He hired me to look into it for him because, as he said, “Whenever I’d think about the imperfections everything would tense up.” At least that’s how he said it to me – “Tense up.”

I’ve had to deal with some of the toughest, meanest, and downright sadistic people you would ever hope to not meet, but this little guy topped them all. Or maybe I should say “bottomed” them all. I didn’t think I could be surprised any more after ten years in this racket, but when I saw what he did to… I don’t want to talk about it or I won’t sleep tonight. Just imagine the worst thing one human being could do to another – then double it and you might come close. If you don’t vomit first.

And now I had to find him – to hunt him down. I don’t want to, but I feel obligated. After all, it was me who took the pictures that lit his fuse. Sure, the police were looking for him too, but they tended to work as well as anything you might buy from a TV infomercial at four in the morning. I figured it was me or nothing.

I’ve had all my contacts, snitches, and keyhole peekers sniffing at the wind for a month trying to get any clue as to where I might find him – Patrick Cumberland is his name. Tonight I got a call. Someone thinks they saw him, maybe. My snitch says that his snitch says that he’s showed up at the Beacon Light Mission hoping for a meal. I needed to get down there – now.

Why is it that every Mission for the down and out and the misfits of the world – why is it that they all look like something that should have been torn down fifty years ago? The people looking for help there are feeling bad enough; they don’t need to go into a building that looks as ragtag as they do.

As I pulled up to the Beacon Light Mission – there is always parking in front – there were about a half dozen men lounging on the steps, waiting for the bible service to end so they could go in for a meal and a warm cot for the night. It was already getting into the mid-40s and Fall officially starts tomorrow.

I didn’t need to ask directions about where to find the head honcho. I knew my way around the building. It seems that half of my jobs call for me to scrape the bottom of this particular barrel. It’s a terrible place to hide. It’s a terrible place to go if you want to be inconspicuous. It’s just a terrible place. I’ve slept there.

“Yes, he was here, but not with the name Cumberland.”

Reverend Billy looked down the page full of names. He got so much Federal and State money for each person he fed and sheltered so he kept meticulous records. Meticulous and I’m sure just as legitimate as his “Reverend” certificate that hung on the wall behind him.

“Here he is. Todd – Sweeney Todd. I remember him because of that. You know – the musical and all that?”

“Uh –huh. Is he here tonight – now?”

“No. This says he was here two nights ago and again last night, but that means he won’t be here tonight. Two nights in a row, then they have to leave for a couple days. Otherwise we’d turn into a hotel and that would mean a whole new set of regulations and such.”

“And no cash from D.C.”

“No.” He paused and looked at me like he had just bitten into something stale. “Why are you looking for him? He didn’t seem very dangerous. He looked more like a lost bunny.”

“One very sick and twisted bunny. Any idea where he might go on a night like tonight when he can’t flop here?”

“Please don’t say ‘flop.’ We are not a flophouse. We are trying to save both their souls and their bodies, and, as to where he might be tonight – if he has some money – one of the real flophouses down by the waterfront. Without any money – your guess is as good as mine. Would you care to make a small donation?”

“My taxes aren’t due until next April.

“Cynic.”

I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend the night crawling under every bridge abutment and behind every dumpster in town. I don’t care how much I want Cumberland’s scrawny neck. He’ll have to surface again and I’ll be waiting. But I’m going to need some help.

                             * * * 

“I assume you’re up on this creep. I mean – you’d have to be dead not to be – unless you’re like me and you only buy a paper to look at the sports page and the crossword puzzle.

“He came to me because he thought his wife was running around on him. She was, and I don’t blame her. Her husband, the piece of trash I’m looking for now, treated her like a slave – worse – he treated her like a slave’s three-legged dog. I didn’t like him from the start, but he paid in cash and I was behind on just about every bill I had.

“When I showed him the pictures – her and some guy comparing moles – he went berserk right here in the office. It was all I could do to keep him from killing me just because I was handy. I wish I’d… Oh, I wish I’d become a priest like my mother wanted, but Donna Jean Shansky was better looking than my mother, so….  

“Tonight we’ll go back to the mission – you and me. If he’s back for another “hot and a cot” we’ll double team him. Handcuffs, ankle irons and a couple of hits to the kidneys – just so he won’t feel like fighting back. I’ll take my .38 along, just in case. Ready? Let’s stop for a burger on the way. I’ll drive.”

– to be continued –

Detective-with-smoke-flipped-300x244

 

Fiction Saturday Encore – The Henway Chronicles – Conclusion

Fiction Saturday Encore

The Henway Chronicles – Finale.

 

If you want to see somebody who is anybody at Wilma’s All-Nite Café (Just a knife’s throw from the Embarcadero.) you’ll have to wait until the Moon is high and the Moral Threshold is low.

It was close to 3 AM when I brought Hank O’Hare into Wilma’s. I didn’t need to help him find the door this time. Ever since he got his new eyeglasses from the Optometrist Hank had been like a kid in a Candy Shop. In fact, he told me that he had stopped into a Candy Shop just to enjoy the view. He could see the shapes and colors clearly for the first time since he’d lost his real specs and started buying replacements at the Dollar Store.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday Encore – The Henway Chronicles – Part  Four 

Fiction Saturday Encore

The Henway Chronicles – Continued – Part Four

 

Sitting in that booth I was face to face with Lech Ontario – one of the Greats – if you listened to him and I was going to have to to find out why my old friend and tutor, Hank O’Hare, was looking for him.

“Tell me, Ontario, why is Hank so anxious to find you? Did you stiff him on a debt, did you cheat him at cards, or did you try to steal his woman?”

When I said that the dockside doxie sitting next to him spoke up.

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Fiction Saturday Encore – The Henway Chronicles – Part One

Fiction Saturday Encore

The Henway Chronicles

 

The fog was rolling in like a slinky coming down an escalator. I didn’t think it would ever stop. I was just a knife’s throw from the Embarcadero on my way to Wilma’s All-Nite Café for a cup of coffee and maybe a piece of cake.

My name is Henway, I’m a dick, head of the best P.I. outfit in town,

“Henway and ____.”

I’ve been thinking about getting a partner.

I’ve been in this racket for more years than I can count. I’m not much at math. I’m more of a people person and tonight I was hoping to meet up with some people.

When I came through the door at the café I could see the owner, Wilma Van der Sluice, behind W2the counter. Wilma ran her café like a maximum security diner. She made the rules and if you didn’t like it the service could really stink.

When she saw me come in she trotted my way, her two too massive braids bouncing up and down by her ears. She smiled and then suddenly disappeared from view. She bounced back into sight almost immediately, still smiling, but with an “It’s Better With Butter” wax paper square stuck to her forehead. Wilma was tough and she was used to these late night slip-ups.

“Hi, Lover Boy. What can I get you?”

“Hi, back at ya, Sugar Lump. I think I’ll check in with my friend there at the counter first.”

Sitting on one of the red vinyl stools was my mentor, the mug that got me into this business, Henry “Hank” O’ Hair. I dropped down onto the stool next to him.

“Hi, Hank, what’s shakin’?”

“Just my gun hand. Oh, it’s you. Hi, Kid.” He always called me “Kid.” He called everybody “Kid.” His memory isn’t what it used to be. It used to be bad, now it was worse.W4

Hank was wearing his trench coat and his aging Fedora, the one with the bullet hole in the brim, but that’s another, much longer, story. He was sitting there, staring at an empty cup. I gave a short whistle and Wilma came running our way, being more careful this time.

“What’ll it be you two hunks of handsome?”

“I’ll have a cuppa, Gorgeous,” I told her.W6

“Me too,” echoed Hank.

“Yeah, a coffee for me and another for my old friend.” Wilma jotted it all  down on her pad, smiled that smile that lit up many a late night like a welcoming sign reading, “Vacancy,” and headed back to her station by the cake dish.

Hank looked a bit down like something or someone had him by the short hairs – and he didn’t have many left.

“You look down, Hank, like something or someone has you by –“

“Yeah, yeah, I know the rest of it, Kid. What’s bothering me? I’ll tell you. I’ve got a case and it’s got me. I’ve been looking for a guy and it’s like he’s dropped off the face of the earth and I’ve come up dry. He’s on the lam and I feel  like I’m the goat here. I’ve looked high and low, near and far, and even sooner or later – nothing, nada, ne, yaga, yimba, a ole, nyet, nahin, and squat.”

“No luck, huh?” He shot me look that said things – I’m not sure what though.

W6

W6Wilma came back over to us and set down four cups of coffee. She smiled and winked at me. It was either a wink or a return of an old problem she had with a tic.

“Talk to me, Henway,” she said, leaning over the counter, her nose just inches from the brim of my imported Fedora. “Tell me something that will give me chills.” I knew where this was heading. I played along.

“Sure, Lambs Lettuce, Do you have any German Chocolate Cake left?”

“One slice and it’s all for you, Puppy Eyes, if you say the magic word.”

“Houdini!,” shouted out Hank. “The guy must be a Houdini to have me not find him.”

Wilma sighed. “Close enough. I’ll get the cake,” and off she went, her braids bouncing like her  head was on a tiny trampoline.

I didn’t like seeing Hank down in the dumps. I had to do something.

“What’s this Houdini’s name,? I asked Hank. He took a long and loud slurp of coffee, then spoke. “This ghost goes by the name of Lech Ontario. I’ve looked everywhere and Nem, nei, nahin, ne, ….”

I finished my first cup while he finished his sentence and then I told him that…”I gotta go see a man about a horse. I’ll be right back.”

W7The Euphemisms, both Guys and Dolls, were at the far end of the café. As I headed that way I passed by the aging Wurlitzer juke box. There were no songs on there newer than the theme from “The Love Boat.” 

It was a slow night at Wilma’s. There was just Hank and me and one booth near the back that had two people – A blonde whose face could start any clock, and a guy who looked like his face could stop your clock – permanently.

Just past the juke box was one of the few payphones left in the city. On a hunch, I started leafing through the pages of the phone book that was bolted to the phone. It was then that I recalled that Hank had taught me everything I know – well, not everything. I learned how to finger paint years before I ever met him, but you get the idea.

There it was – on page 437, halfway down the page –

“Ontario, Lech – 1313 Blueview Terrace 552-3918”

After I finished washing my hands like the sign on the Guys Room door insisted I went back to my spot next to Hank.

“Hank, have you checked the phone book for this Ontario guy?”

“Huh?”

“The phone book – did you look there?”

Without an intelligible word, Hank got up and slowly walked back toward the payphone. When he headed back my way he muttered, “Thanks, Kid,” and kept on walking. He vanished into the fog like a black cat in a coal mine.

to be continued 1

W5

Fiction Saturday Encore – “God Bless Joe Sheridan”

Today I thought I would post a piece from my short fiction file.

God Bless Joe Sheridan” is the story of the airplane flight from Hell.

 

God Bless Joe SheridanBox tied with cord

 

I’VE NEVER BEEN IN JAIL, but, by God, I’ve done hard time. So have you, if you’ve ever flown coast to coast, shoehorned into a seat next to someone who could be the lovechild of Carrot Top and Casey Stengel.

You know the type. They talk incessantly, but make sense very rarely.

It was on a flight from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. I thought it was going to be a pleasure trip: see the Smithsonian, admire the classical architecture, shake my fist at Capitol Hill – all the usual stuff. Then I saw “him” trundling down the aisle of the Boeing 7-something-or-other jetliner.

“Uh oh” I said to myself. Why do bad things happen to, basically, nice guys?

I was in the window seat and I knew in my heart that, with this whole airplane to pick from, he was going to end up next to me.

The tip-off was the fact that his carry-on luggage was a cardboard box tied up with kite string.

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Fiction Saturday Encore – “Summer Magic”

Fiction Saturday Encore – “When Sylvie Sang” from February 2015

Fiction Saturday Encore – from February 2015

When Sylvie Sang

Microphone LargeThis story was created as a performance piece. I presented it a number of times over the years.

It is longer than my usual posts.  

I hope you enjoy it.

 

WHEN SYLVIE SANG the men at the bar would stop and turn on their stools to listen.  The bartender would dry his hands, move to the end of the bar and light up a cigarette.  The waitresses would huddle by the wall and hug their trays.  And the drunken man who cried softly to himself in the corner by the door would lift his eyes and rub his hands together underneath an invisible spigot.

When Sylvie sang, the room was locked in glass and still – as still as a new widow hearing that first long silence. 

In the spotlight the smoke was frozen.

“When Sunny gets blue, her eyes get gray and cloudy.”

When Sylvie sang she never really heard the music or thought about the words.  She was far away in a small town by a riverbank, holding onto someone she loved.  She only heard his voice, felt his heat, and the nightclub disappeared.

When Sylvie sang she wasn’t there and the people she sang for knew that because she took them with her.

“What would they say if we up and ran away from the roaring crowd?”

But the song always has to end and when the music stopped the men at the bar would turn again and start to laugh and talk.  The waitresses would rush to cover their thirsty stations and the drunken man would close his eyes again and descend inside himself.  Sylvie would go out into the alley and smoke until the next set called her back.

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