Saturday, June 26, 2010

Phantom, P.I.

“Is this case out of your league or what?” she said, slouching on the stained beige sofa, hands behind her head.

She wore a black leather miniskirt, a pink tube top, and a lazy, brainless stare framed by six coats of eye shadow. She kept her hair across half her face, thought it was coy, I suppose, to leave something to the imagination.

I knew she wasn’t leaving until I figured this one out. It was powerful motivation.

“Max Packer, private eye, stumped by the case of the missing nylon,” she said. “Seriously, what are you good for if this is too much?”

“I play a mean harmonica.”

She rolled her eyes and crossed her nyloned leg over the bare one.

Of all the places to die, it had to be here. I had let her down fast and hard that morning, almost a year ago. “You liked me well enough last night!” she had shouted as I walked to the door.

“Jimmy Beam liked you well enough last night,” I replied and turned the knob. That's when it hit. It couldn't have waited two more seconds. Pain seared my chest and I dropped in darkness.

My spirit was chained to a scorned woman’s studio apartment. My talents were tested with mind benders like finding car keys or ratting out the cat.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Twelve Items or Less

We don’t ask much of customers, only one thing, in fact. One sign atop one lane out of 100 square yards of store.
That gentle request: 12 items or less.
It’s simple, it’s easy, and human decency can usually be counted on to enforce it for us. Usually.
My checkout banter had run its course after two items with this guy – bald, big and dressed to the ones in a slashed and sleeveless black hoodie. Piles of household goods jerked forward on the conveyer belt as I filled another bag in the silence.
Customers in line are usually quiet, but now it was different, thicker, bloated. Their eyes and postures hinted at rage. But Midwest sensibility corked it, bottled it up to fester and swell.
I lowered my eyes as I punched the code for bananas, scanned a six-pack of Gatorade. The list grew on the display above the register: Nutri-Grain bars, $5.45; Dove, $2.99; Dawn, $6.99 … The whole time the line kept growing, snaking now around the tabloids. The man stood tall with his head high, tapping the counter with his wallet as he waited.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Noble Profession

For Three Word Wednesday. This week’s prompt: roam, noble, hidden.
“I chose this life,” he said.

I was checking email on my Blackberry, waiting for the bus. The growing reek of sweat and smoke preceded him as he scooted closer.

“I don’t have to be a tramp. I want to be one. It’s a noble profession,” he said.

I cocked an eyebrow. Greasy wisps of hair spilled from a black stocking cap set high on his head. His face was pock-marked and gritty, as if scrubbed by the pavement. He wore a tattered USC sweatshirt and an unbuttoned trench coat. Despite his layers, he looked comfortable in the 80 degree heat.

“Profession?” I said.

His eyes bulged.

“Oh yes. We’re the sages of the 21st century. The tramp scorns the very tenet upon which modern society thrives, the notion that a prosperous life is built on the rubble of friends and co-workers sacrificed in the unholy pursuit of the corner office. I roam the streets, observing the shameful state of humanity and offering a chance at redemption. I give reprieve from greed, an opportunity to rediscover human kindness through the smallest token: the gift of a dollar, perhaps.”

“So you want a dollar?” I said.

“But that’s not the point,” he said. “I want you to rediscover the joy of helping a fellow man. Mencius once said, ‘He who attends to his greater self becomes a great man, and he who attends to his smaller self becomes a small man.’ I want to make you a great man.”

I pulled out my wallet. “I can spare a buck.”

He smiled as I held out the dollar.

“Or you could just give me all of it,” he said.

“All of it? I don’t think –” He had a pistol hidden in the pocket of his trench coat; the barrel protruded from a hole in the lining.

“And the Blackberry,” he said.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Lucky Hunt

My late submission for Three Words Wednesday and #fridayflash. This week’s words: budge, nimble, theory.

The dogs were off the truck before it stopped. The men piled out next, but Alex waited and then carefully handed the 20-gauge shotgun to his brother, Jake, before exiting. He could still see that bloody, careless teen in the hunter’s safety video from last week.

Alex’s new blaze orange vest was creased along the back, and every pocket was stocked with shells, 40 of them. He wore his lawn-mowing jeans, his mother’s red flannel and new boots. He bent and pulled a burr out of the laces.

Jake handed him the gun.

“You look good, but you need a hat,” Jake said. “Take mine, it’s lucky.” He placed the orange and grey cap on Alex’s head. It had a camouflage pattern formed from silhouettes of naked ladies.

“Thanks!” Alex pulled the brim low.

Jake was back from college for opening weekend of pheasant season. He had been recounting hunting stories to Alex while their dad had driven to their uncle’s farm. Once, Jake had flushed a bird at the end of a field and it ran into a power line and dropped dead at his feet. Another time, he shot a pheasant from the back of the truck as they were driving.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Fruit of Thy Womb

The Sunday Scribblings prompt for the week: mantra.
She rolled the cool bead across her thumb to the beat of her mantra.

Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. 

“Ma’am, we’ve seen some strange activity on your card, and we just wanted to call to make sure you’re aware,” the caller said. There had been three cash advances of $1,5oo over the last three days. She closed down the card.

Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. 

She hadn’t been able to find him in the few places she knew to look. He wasn’t home or at the bar. His friends claimed they hadn’t seen him. She wandered the park with no real hope of running into him there.
Finally, she called the number tacked to the bulletin board in his room: his bookie.

“If you see him, tell him he’d best be stopping by here soon,” the man said.