Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jefferson Street (Friday Flash Fiction #18)

Another entry into the Friday Flash Fiction world.

Jefferson Street

As the sixth shot of whiskey burnt its way down, I suddenly remembered what I left the house for. I put down the glass, paid my tab, and left. I was going to kill Geraldo Sanchez.

Jefferson Street was a part of the city nobody in their right mind would go to. Which was exactly the way they wanted it. Any kind of sin, vice, or depravity that helped you get your rocks off could be found here if you knew the right place and the right price. I turned up my collar and headed off into the lion's den.

It was raining again tonight. Hard. Like it always did this time of year. Sometimes I wished it would rain so hard it would wipe this whole rotten district off the map, but I knew I wasn't that lucky.

"Hey, baby. You looking for a good time?"

The whore was still dolled up with her short leather skirt, leopard print top, and feather boa. She seemed oblivious to the splattering rain which made her makeup smear like some awful modern painting. A quick glance at the bags under her eyes told me this one was way past her expiration date. I put my head down and kept walking. It's better not to be sucked into the dead abyss of the eyes of a woman who spent so much of her life on her back she didn't know how else to make a living.

I had worked vice for 15 years before I booted for "excessive force", so I knew Jefferson was set up in concentric city blocks - each one worse than the last. If you didn't know the intellectual capacity of the crime lords in the city, you'd think it was a tribute to Dante's Inferno. The first block had the bars, pool halls, and gambling joints. The second block was a seedier version of the first. The third was the whores and smut parlors.

"Woah, man. You gotta try some of this stuff. It's real California grass, man."

I pushed past the stoner into the haze of the fourth block. Weed, blow, and some opiates. The harder stuff could be found in the fifth block. No cop I knew had ever been this far into Jefferson.

Sanchez had a club in the heart of the district. I figured that was a good a place to start as any. By the door was a gorilla in a flashy tux. "Can't let you in, ex-cop."

"Why not? Like you said, I'm not a cop any more, so it's not like I can do shit. I'm just an average citizen out for a fun night."

"Average my ass, ex-cop. Why don't you beat it?"

"Is Sanchez in tonight?" I said. "I want a word with him."

"Maybe he don't want to have a word with you, ex-cop," he said.

I flashed a smile and punched him in the throat. He was gagging and clutching his windpipe, so he didn't fight back as I dragged him into the alley. "Tell me where Sanchez is."

He shook his head and I kicked him twice in the ribs. "Where is Sanchez?"

"He'll kill me if I tell you."

I took out my snub-nose and put it to his temple. "I'll kill you now if you don't tell me."

"Dalmas Hotel. Two blocks east. Room 302."

I smashed the revolver into his head, knocking him unconscious. Then I rolled him over so he wouldn't drown in the gutter. He can't say I never did anything for him.

In the corner of the Dalmas Hotel's lobby was an old man at a desk set in a cage of steel bars. As I walked past, the old man said, "Where do you think you're going? I can't let you just waltz in here."

"That's right, you can't," I said as I peeled a couple twenties off my roll. "And you didn't."

A threadbare runner of carpet sprawled down the center of the hall. Like the rest of the place, it had seen better days. I found room 302 at the end of the hallway on the left. I kicked the door in just like they trained me to do.

The young girl riding Sanchez shrieked and tried to cover herself with the sheet when she saw my gun. I motioned with it and said, "Grab your clothes and get out."

Sanchez just stayed in bed looking every bit the cool customer his reputation said he was. He had a tanned hairless chest and a perfect complexion. A hand slicked back his jet black hair and he flashed a white smile at me.

I said, "What's so amusing?"

He grinned back, "I'm looking at a dead man."

"That makes two of us."

The grin disappeared and he said, "What do you want?"

"Does the name Bobby Mercer mean anything to you?"

Sanchez rubbed his chin and feigned thinking. "He's that singer, right? Oh wait, that's Johnny Mercer. Bobby was that crooked cop who killed himself last week. My abuela used to say, 'you lie down with dogs, who knows what you wake up with?'."

"Bullshit. Bobby wasn't dirty."

"You really believe that?" Sanchez said. "All those years you two tracked me and you never got close. Why do you think that is? Because your partner used to tip me off. He was so hooked on H that he would to anything for his next fix."

"I don't believe you," I said. "You planted those drugs on Bobby and injected him with enough stuff to make him OD."

"The coroner ruled it a suicide, didn't he?"

"Yeah, and because of you his widow and son aren't going to collect his pension."

Sanchez said, "And you came here for a little restitution? I see how it is. You see that black bag over there? It's got ten grand in it. Take it. Buy yourself a good time or give it to the widow. It don't make a difference to me. I got plenty more where that came from."

My eyes flicked over to the bag on the chair momentarily, but Sanchez saw it. "You're considering it aren't you? How about I ask you a question now? Does the name Miles Sedgewick mean anything to you?"

The question hit like a punch to the solar plexus. My hand reached out to the dingy hotel wall to steady myself. Sedgewick was an asset we placed inside Sanchez's operation. He went dark two months before they took my badge. The only people inside the department who knew his real name were me and Bobby.

"How would I know that name? That proves it, right? Even if you could convince anybody that I did kill your partner, they'll know he was dirty and his family still won't be able to collect his benefits. You're fucked either way, amigo."

I said, "Then I guess the only thing left for me to do is what I came here in the first place to do."

I fired five shots center mass, walked over, and placed my sixth in Sanchez's forehead. I dropped the gun, grabbed the money, and walked out the door.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Robert B. Parker

"Writer's block? That's just another word for 'lazy.'"
-Robert B. Parker.

I'm sure everyone's read all the obituaries and glowing tributes to the man who died on Monday. I just wanted to point you guys to this one in the Wall Street Journal if you haven't seen it.

Rest in Peace.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Red Dunes (Friday Flash Fiction #17)

My second entry into the Friday Flash Fiction world. I actually did have an idea of how to use "But Vladimir Putin will always permit breakdancing." without it being a non sequitur, but decided to go with this one instead. It weighs in at over 1000 words, but I couldn't find any more fat to trim. Enjoy!

Red Dunes

"I am not supposed to remember any of this."

"Just relax for a moment, Mr. Talek. We just need to recalibrate the machine."

Ro Talek stood and walked over to the window. The New York skyline was gorgeous this time of day - skyscrapers as far as the eye could see. He blinked a couple times as a taxi cab whizzed past the 38th floor window. One of the things he'd have to get used to again.

***

"Hurry up. We're going to be late," she said as she turned and started to run.

"Talia, wait." Ro tried to keep up, but he couldn't weave his way though the crowd as easily as she did. Every few steps he bumped someone into a wall and had to stop and apologize.

"Aren't you excited? Just think, decades from now we'll be remembered the earliest settlers on Mars," Talia said. She was practically beaming. It was her idea in the first place, and Ro took serious convincing before he agreed to leave his job and move to a brand new planet.

"Of course I'm excited, babe," Ro said. "But it's not like they're going to start until everyone is there."

"I just can't wait to actually get out there. To feel the dust blowing against my face. I want to just grab handfuls of the soil and rub it all over myself."

"You know that that's not possible. You're going to be inside an environmentally controlled space suit."

Talia lovingly grabbed Ro's arm. "I know that. It's going to take time to set up the biodome and start the terraforming projects. But I still feel like we're following in the footsteps of our ancestors who settled the American West."

Ro smiled and kissed her on the forehead. "The auditorium's just ahead."

The auditorium was a large, circular room at the other end of the corridor from the shuttle. The settlers filed into the room and stood four or five deep in front of the far wall. After the doors behind them closed, the wall in front of them slowly started to peel back. Beyond the clear Plexiglas was the first look any of them had gotten at their new home. The rolling red hills reminded Ro the sand dunes he saw as a child. The sun rose in the distance illuminating the small village that they were to build into the capital of the Earth settlement. Ro noticed the childlike twinkle in Talia's eye and smiled. It was a sight they would never forget as long as they lived.

***

"We're ready for you now, Mr. Talek," the attendant said. "I don't think we've ever erased five years of memories before. It makes sense there would be a glitch or two. I hope you don't hold it against us."

Ro nodded, "It's fine. I've waited this long, what's a few more minutes."

He sat down in the chair and the attendant tightened the straps around his wrists. Electrodes where then attached to his forehead and a large silver colander was lowered.

The attendant said, "At the beginning, you may feel a little tingling. That's perfectly normal. This will all be over in a few minutes."

***

Ro put the last of his shirts in the bin and fastened the latch. The bedroom was still full of his belongings, but he was only allowed one bag.

"Are you sure about this, Ro?"

Ro looked at Ezri. He'd been Ro's closest friend since they both landed on Mars nearly four and a half years ago. "Yeah, I'm sure," said Ro.

"What about her stuff?" Ezri asked.

"I'm leaving it," Ro said. "Donate it to the clothes bank or something. She would've liked that."

"Yeah, Talia would've - "

"Don't you dare say her name," Ro said, as he grabbed Ezri's shoulders. "You have no right to say her name."

"I'm sorry," Ezri said. "I know this has been tough on you. What you must be going through..."

"You have no idea what I'm going though. But you should know that you're pretty much the last person I want to see right now."

Ezri said, "How many times do I have to apologize? I'm sorry, Ro. I screwed up. I know it was my job to check the blast shields that day. I had no idea the meteor shower was going to be that heavy."

"If you had just done your damn job, she would still be alive."

Ezri looked down at his feet. "I know. And I feel like shit about it. Are you sure you don't want to take her body back to Earth with you?"

Ro shook his head. "I already got an allowance from the governor to bury her here. Talia would be honored to know she'll be in the history books. Probably would've wished it wasn't as the first person to be buried on Mars."

"Listen, I'll let you finish packing. If you can ever forgive me, keep in touch, OK."

The door shut automatically as Ezri walked out.

***

Back on Earth, Ro did everything he could to forget what happened to Talia. He threw himself into his new job, but that didn't help. Every night the broadcasts was full of Mars news and he had to turn them off. After months of agony, Ro saw an advertisement for something that he was sure would take away the pain and emptiness: the Forget-O-Tron by OmniTech.

As the machine spun to life, Ro saw his memories flow backwards. Talia's funeral. The conversation in their home with Ezri. The day the meteor shower took Talia away from him. That summer their terraforming machine failed and the colony almost starved. Ro was glad to see them go.

The memories started to come faster. The first Martian Thanksgiving. The first child born on another world. The first time he met Talia. Her smile.

Shit. What have I done? Ro wanted to stop the machine. He had made a terrible mistake. But he couldn't move. Couldn't speak. He saw their first kiss. The first time they made love. All his memories of her blended together into a white hot light.

"How are you feeling, Mr. Talek?" the attendant said.

Ro blinked and rubbed the spot where the attendant had removed an electrode. "I feel like I want to scream, but I don't know why."

"That's a common reaction. It'll fade in time."

Ro nodded but had the uneasy feeling the emptiness wouldn't go away.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Seven Seven Club (Friday Flash Fiction #16)

This is my first, and hopefully not last, entry into Friday Flash Fiction. Enjoy!

The Seven Seven Club

"It was an honest mistake...or it was honestly stupid. Either way, I didn't mean anything by it."

"Is that so?"

Brass knuckles to my chin served as punctuation to his sentence. "Look, I'll make you a deal. You untie me and let me go and I'll skip town. Permanently. You'll never see me again. I swear."

"Is that so?"

Another punch. I spat blood and not for the first time that night. The goon had been pummeling me for what seemed like years. It couldn't have been that long since I wasn't dead yet. And I was in too much pain to be dead.

"Gee...you're quite the conversationalist. You know that, right?"

"Is that so?"

This one was so hard it knocked me and the chair I was tied to over. Maybe mouthing off to Knuckles wasn't the smartest idea I ever had, but it wasn't my dumbest either. Not by a long shot.

*****

The Siete Siete Club was where all of Jimmy O'Flaherty's guys hung out. Most of his joints were pool halls or dingy bars with betting parlors in the back to bleed the suckers and boozehounds dry. Siete Siete was a place to be seen. Working stiffs would put on their best suits and take their girls there. The booze was overpriced and the food inferior, but the mopes didn't bat an eye when the bill came. Beneath the bow ties, spit shine, and glamor, it was still a grift.

The star attraction at Siete Siete was the floor show by Santanico Pandemonium. Five feet, nine inches of raven-haired beauty belting out Spanish love songs while wrapped in a sarong. I felt like telling them sarongs were more Pacific Island than Mexico, but I'm sure they cared more about showing off Santanico's toned, tanned midriff than ethnic authenticity.

I ordered a scotch and soda from the bar. I pulled out my money clip, but the bartender waived me off.

"You're Jimmy's new boy, right?" he said. "All Jimmy's boys drink for free."

I lifted my glass and there was a shriek behind me. One of the patrons had a waitress by the arm. She slapped him hard, but he didn't let go. The mountain of a man in a tailored gray suit next to me at the bar stood up. The waitress said, "He grabbed my ass."

The mountain's hand came out of his pocket wearing the biggest pair of brass knuckles I'd ever seen. He dropped the mook with one swing and motioned to the door. The mook's friends dragged him out the front door while the mountain returned to his barstool and beer.

The bartender said, "Knuckles, meet Jimmy's new boy. He's running collections down on 12th."

Knuckles eyed me with disinterest and said, "Is that so?"

I returned to my drink as the emcee went on stage. "Ladies and gentlemen. Senors y Senoritas. The Siete Siete Club is proud to present Miss Santanico Pandemonium."

Wild applause faded into silence as the spotlight came on. Santanico started singing slowly and tenderly. Nobody moved or spoke. It was as if time had stopped and all that existed was the girl and the song. The band abruptly came in and she started to sing her heart out. As the song reached its crescendo, her powerful voice almost drowned out the trumpets behind her. The place erupted into the loudest ovation I'd ever heard.

"Some show, eh?" said the bartender.

"You can say that again," I said.

Later in the evening Santanico came out and leaned against the bar next to me. She said, "The usual, Sal. And make it snappy."

She was wearing a tight, shimmering gold dress. The top was cut so low that it was on speaking terms with both scandalous and indecent. I said, "Some show you put on tonight."

"Glad you liked it," she said. She pulled a cigarette from her purse and I lit it for her. "I haven't seen you around before. Are you new in town?'

"Couple days," I said.

She tilted her head back and blew a smoke ring. "Been able to find any honest work in this crummy town?'

"I'm a hat salesman."

"Is that so? Men's hats or ladies too?"

"I'm interested in all kinds of hats," I said.

"Is that so? How is the hat business going?"

"With the weather like it is, business has been brisk."

"Is that so?"

"Sounds like you've been taking conversation tips from this guy," I said, nodding in Knuckles's direction.

She let out a long, loud, genuine laugh. She said, "So, funny man, how about you meet me backstage in five minutes. I'll show you my favorite....hat."

Five minutes later, I was knocking on her dressing room door. She said, "Come in."

I opened the door and saw she was wearing her favorite hat. And nothing else.

"Why don't you come over here and get a better look at its shape."

She threw her arms around my neck and kissed me long and hard. The kind of kiss you hear about, but don't quite believe. She purred, "Mmmmm......that's what mama likes."

"Santanico..."

"That's my stage name," she said as she nibbled my ear. "Back here it's just Betty Jo Callahan. The black hair and a little makeup are enough to convince these yabbos I'm at least part Mex."

Her name stuck in my head. Why did it sound so familiar?

The door flew open and Jimmy O'Flaherty was there. His face was as red as his hair.

Then I remembered the story of little Betty Jo Callahan from Uniondale. She grew up to marry gangster Jimmy O'Flaherty.

*****

As I laid on my back on that basement floor, I couldn't help but laugh at what a schnook I was. Knuckles stood over me with a gun pointed in my face. He said, "Any last words? You're about to meet your maker."

I smiled and said the only thing I could think of, "Is that so?"