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 – 2017

Archive for the category “Short Story”

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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Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch

REAL LIFE CAN BE QUITE PREDICTABLE. It’s Fiction that always throws me a curve sending me off in a direction I never anticipated.

Most people are creatures of habit, like cats, they like to follow predictable patterns. Knowing what to expect gives people comfort and lowers anxiety. That doesn’t work in fiction. There we have to continually throw banana peels in our characters way. The expected has to fail to appear and one roadblock after another has to necessitate countless detours and perils.

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Fiction Saturday – “Peaches” – Part Three

Fiction Saturday – “Peaches” – Part Three

 

“Well, Mr. Detective Man, I hear you’ve been looking for me. Curious about a dog, are we? You look more like a Poodle man to me rather than a Doberman sort.”

I explained to him that I was just a man doing a job and that the only dogs I liked were running at the Greyhound track. He laughed and pushed an envelope across the bar to me.

Inside the envelope was a small photograph. It looked more like a photo of a photo, but it was clear enough. It was a picture of a Doberman. Whether it was “Peaches” or not I couldn’t tell, but the collar on the dog was a match for the one in the picture Sunny Boggs showed me over beer and cookies. No dognapper is going to go to the trouble of making a copy of the collar. This must be a picture of “Peaches.”

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Fiction Saturday – “Peaches” – Part One

Fiction Saturday – “Peaches” – Part One

A Short Story 

PEACHES

 

This morning I was swearing to myself that I would never tell anyone about this. It all made me sort of ashamed, professionally, but a man’s gotta eat and the Power Company doesn’t care about my pride – professional or otherwise.

So, I’ll tell you, but keep what I say close to your vest. I don’t want the competition or the Law to hear about this. OK?

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It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

ONE OF THE THINGS I REALLY ENJOY about doing this blog is the freedom of expression it allows me. Monday through Friday is pretty much of a Nonsense Dance. I can let my “Silly Gene” run wild. Mutations happen.

Each week I know that I can come up with about five things that can make me, and hopefully a few readers, laugh – or at least giggle.

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What’s Next ?

book1I’M GETTING TO BE A REALLY ANNOYING PERSON when I have to deal with myself. Nag. Nag. Nag. I just don’t give myself a moment’s peace. Would it hurt if I cut myself some slack?

Yes.

What is behind all of this? Lemme tell ya.

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And The Answer Is…

best6NOT LONG AGO SOMEONE ASKED ME who I thought was the best writer. Of course, that is an impossible question to answer – even if you are going for just one man’s opinion. A question like that is like asking who is the prettiest woman, or what is the best tasting thing to have for dinner.

Talk about your subjective questions. Sheesh!

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Fiction Saturday – The Henway Chronicles – Finale

noir detective officeFiction Saturday – 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.

I was bringing Hank there to have a face-to-face with Lech Ontario to end their decades long feud over a cow. I figured Ontario would be there, if Wilma hadn’t thrown him out with the trash.

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Fiction Saturday – The Henway Chronicles – Part Four

The Henway Chronicles – Continued – Part Four

noir detective officeSitting 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.

“You better not be two-timing me, Lechie Baby, or I’ll make you very un-Lechie. If you catch my drift?”

That gal had a way with words. I touched the brim of my imported Fedora and started to introduce myself. She cut me off, but not in the way she’d threatened to with her “Lechie Baby.”

“I know who you are, Henway. My name is Daisy Cutter. I’m Lechie’s moll – and I am also this year’s ‘Miss Straight Razor – Emeritus,’ if you catch my drift.”

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Fiction Saturday — “The Henway Chronicles”

noir detective officeFiction Saturday

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.

Read more…

Hope Is A Dangerous Thing

1A FEW NIGHTS AGO we were watching “The Shawshank Redemption.” It is on my personal “Top Ten List” of favorite movies – and I am very picky about what films make it onto that list.

In the obligatory After Movie Discussion, my wife, the lovely and equally picky, Dawn, and I asked each other, “What is the overarching theme of the movie?” There were a number of possible answers to that question.

Was it about Revenge? It was, but only momentarily. Loneliness? Or was it about the effects on a person of prolonged confinement? Or was it just about Survival?

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It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

 

Shell game.gifI FEEL LIKE I’M BEING SUCKER PUNCHED. It is early February , barely 1/3 of the way through winter, and the temperature is approaching 60 degrees. It’s like somebody is holding up a shiny object to get my attention while their other hand is curled into a fist and closing in on my blind side.

I’m not naming names or pointing in any specific direction, but, while this kind of weather in January is not unheard of, it has been a while since I’ve noticed it. Maybe it happens more frequently than I’m thinking and I’m just preoccupied with other stuff and don’t pick up on it.

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Fiction Saturday – “Bad News Travels Slow” – Continued

Noir hat gun lamp

The outside of the Central Police Station, where the Chief had his office, looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in decades. The men and women who fought to protect the city from people like Dinwiddie were forced to work in squalor.

“The Chief?” The Desk Sergeant was incredulous. “Really? Well, his Capital ‘O’ office is up on the third floor, but his real office is in the back booth at Daquila’s bar down the block.” He checked his watch – 9:47 AM. “Yeah. He should be there by now.”

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“Bad News Travels Slow” – Continued

Fiction Saturday presents, “Bad News Travels Slow

“And where do you think you two are going?”Noir man at big windows

I was really learning to hate the sound of Dinwiddie’s voice. When I turned around I could see that he had three of his muscle-bound “bakers” with him. They moved to flank me – as if I could get out of there dragging Sweet along like a sack of potatoes.

Dinwiddie had asked me a question, so I figured I might as well answer him. “I think we might make a couple of stops – the Hospital for Mr. Sweet here, and then I think I’ll go home and take a shower to get rid of the stink from coming here. And maybe I’ll stop by the FBI office and chat with them. I’m sure you’re cookie factory is breaking some federal regulations – you know, rats like you running around…”

I didn’t get to finish the sentence because one of the gingerbread men  gave me a smack to the side of my head. I dropped Sweet and I fell on top of him.

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“Bad News Travels Slow” – Continued

Fiction Saturday – “Bad News travels Slow” – ContinuedLocked-Gate

 

After listening to Mrs. Sweet finally open up and tell me what was going on with the bakery, her husband, the creep Dinwiddie, and the Police, I figured my best bet was to see if I could find the husband on my own. Talking to the Chief could wait. If I could snatch Sweet, then Dinwiddie’s whole scheme might fall apart and the Chief would be irrelevant.

I put the phone back on the cradle and grabbed my hat.

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“Bad News Travels Slow” — Continued

Fiction Saturday  —  “Bad News Travels Slow”

Telephone Noir

On the drive back to my apartment I went over what things I’d learned so far and what I had to do to have this all come out right side up.

Dinwiddie had George Sweet stashed somewhere. He’d need him alive to sign his dotted line on the paperwork giving the business away. After that, who knew?

Dinwiddie had worked this all out like any General planning a coup. Whether it was some small country in Central America or a chain of bakeries, it was all the same. You place your forces in strategic places, surrounding the guy in charge, until he sees he is out of options. With Dinwiddie, he snatched the husband off the street because he knew that it was the wife who really signed the checks. Having hubby on ice put more pressure on the power behind the throne. The fact that he wanted the wife for his trophy case was just so he could rub his Boss’s nose in it. Mrs. Sweet was not a bad looking woman, but I had a feeling Dinwiddie liked his women not quite so likely to claw his eyes out.

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Bad News Travels Slow — Continued

Fiction Saturday Continues with the next installment of “Bad News Travels Slow.”

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She looked me in the eyes. I couldn’t tell if she was feeling scared, relieved, or about to throw up.


“What does he want? Look, Mrs. Sweet – you told me that you thought the Police were involved in your husband’s disappearance. After spending a half hour with Dinwiddie and the Chief of the Department I tend to agree with you, but it’s Dinwiddie who’s calling the shots. So, I’ll ask you again – What does he want?”

Nothing.

“If you want to have any chance of ever seeing your husband again you’ve got to help me. So…”

“Everything – He wants everything,” she spit out. Her hands were shaking.

“What do you mean ‘Everything’? Do you mean your money, the business?”

“Yes, that, and more.”

“What’s left? The money, the business, your house? Excuse me, it is a nice house, but it’s no Rockefeller mansion. I mean your neighbor’s garbage cans are sitting next to yours out there.” I could tell she was holding back and I was getting tired of playing the part of the crowbar.

“Mrs. Sweet, if you can’t be completely honest and open with me I’ll return what’s left of the money you’ve given me and…”

“He wants me. He wants all of those other things, but he wants me too – or he says he’ll kill my husband.”

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