Crime

“The Wake of Pappy O’Bannon” – Trope-Tastic Thursday #001 – #WOEGTTT

Greetings, fine readers! Today I felt inspired to write to my own challenge, Trope-Tastic Thursday! This week’s theme trope was Vocal Dissonance…but I decided that, since I never did write a story for the final Turn-a-trope Tuesday challenge, I’d combine that one’s Verbal Tic Name with this to create a story that challenges both. Mostly played straight this week, though the use of the former nicely turns the latter on it’s head.

Here is “The Wake of Pappy O’Bannon” at 1,000 words on the dot…and an introduction to another character in the Pinky Black universe (though Pinky himself is absent from this tale).  I do hope you enjoy!

Ugh was not Ugh O’Malley’s actual first name. No one really knew what his given name was, save, perhaps, his poor departed mother, but even she may have forgotten it by this point were she still living. God rest her. No, Ugh got his name by the sound he made in response to near any verbal communication directed his way; with a strange, guttural growling grunt that was as brief as it was gruff.

Not that anyone questioned his monocabulary. Ugh was the kind of man that one did not try to speak to, if one could avoid it. He was a towering brute of a man, hard bodied and a face that looked like rough poured asphalt, all craggy and scarred. It was a wide, flat face, his nose barely poking beyond the vast plain of pockmarked meanness, and where it did, kinked in odd directions from innumerable breaks he’d gotten from his chosen profession.

You see, Ugh was the right hand of Pappy O’Bannon – though, it was more like the right fist. And the left. There wasn’t a place Pappy went that Ugh wasn’t his shadow, and a menacing one at that. Rumor had it that Ugh didn’t have a tongue at all, that Pappy O’Bannon had removed it because Ugh was the only one who knew all the family secrets, besides Pappy himself. Where that the truth, though, one would think Ugh would be more resentful towards his employer, but that clearly wasn’t the case. Ugh served the old man with a devotion of a favored son. Far more likely, then, that Pappy merely encouraged the rumor, taking advantage of his monosyllabic henchman’s fierce reputation to enhance the ferocity of his own.

Not that he needed much help with that. Pappy O’Bannon was one of the most feared crime lords on the East coast. His family, the O’Bannon mob, was known for the swiftness of their anger and the honest brutality at which they pursued their idea of “justice.” Pappy was particularly known for the zeal in which he went after his Italian adversaries – the man hated them with a keenness and fury that was, in a word, remarkable.

No one quite knew why; some said it was on account of his first wife running off with an Italian. Others, that the Italian mobs had not shown Pappy proper respect when stepping into his domain. Still others, that her was part Italian himself but that he hated his dad, or granddad, or whomever it was the speaker alleged bore that Mediterranean seed. It was even said that Pappy took his hatred as far as the dinner table; Jesus, Mary, and Joseph be with the man who laid a plate of pasta in front of Pappy. But, there was one thing Italian that Pappy loved, and that was the opera. It was, in fact, one of Pappy’s favorite sayings – that opera was the only thing the Italians did right. Old man O’Bannon went to every possible one he could attend, and by his side, faithful, went his good man Ugh.

It was quite a shock, then, when Pappy passed away in the night, that Ugh was not present to attend his body from the start of his wake. It was a fine wake too, sure, and well attended. The women all a-keening and the men whispering their condolences, to then find solace and comfort in a stout whiskey and a quiet laugh of days gone by. Someone had even thought to place a big plate of spaghetti out with the rest of the reception’s food, and while some might have found it distasteful, there were plenty who knew Pappy would have appreciated the humor there. So it went, with tales of bygone glories and mad adventures, of Pappy in his youth and his rise to power over the East side districts. Songs were sung, laughs shared, drinks downed and filled and downed again.

And then, the door flew open with a start. Standing there, almost perfectly framed within the door, his broad shoulders nearly filling the passage and his wild, red hair brushing the door jam, was Ugh. His rugged face was red and nose a-blossom with drink, no doubt, and his eyes puffed and sore from tears gazed slowly about the room, taking in an account of every face he saw. There was an emptiness to his stare that chilled the very air.

The room fell silent. Not even a glass clinked as Ugh made his way to Pappy’s side. Large men, strong men, quivered slightly and shrugged aside, unwilling to face that stare. The behemoth stopped just shy of his late master’s body, and for a moment, the silence lingered. All eyes were on that hulking, red-headed form. A tear rolled down through the canyons of his face. His mouth opened slightly, and from it…sound.

The most beautiful sound any one there had ever heard, soft at first, like he had forgotten how to produce any noise, then louder. His voice was clearer than a crystalline lagoon, his tone, perfect, unwavering. He grew louder still, and then it became clear that what he sang…was opera. His voice roared now, with fury, passion, sadness, loss. It was torrent of sound, the lamentation of an angel, so beautiful and pure it nearly hurt to give listen. Then, he peaked, the crescendo came and crashed into the hearts of all that gathered like a great tsunami on a hapless shore. Tears fell freely, from Ugh and all who gathered there. Then it was over. Ugh turned, sharply, and paced from the room as if a man on a mission from God.

And perhaps he was. Ugh never returned to the O’Bannon mob. Rumor was he’d caught a boat back to Ireland, and there, found his way into the priesthood. No one dared to follow him. No one dared to check. For they had long feared the demon that never spoke…but feared more the angel that did.

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“Babies From Candy” – #FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 30

flash-fiction-badge1Week Thirty is upon us, and though I’m a bit late, I had to throw my hat into this challenge from the ever lovely Thain in Vain!

This week’s prompt? A man steals a large sum of money to pay a debt to a loan shark. He saves his ass from a beating, but is haunted by the nature of what has done.

 

Here is my entry – “Babies from Candy”

I have a problem. I gamble. Poorly. I ran up a lot of debt to very dangerous people. When Alphonse visited me the first time, he made it clear what would happen if I didn’t have Sal’s money the next. The fingers on my left hand, still in a cast, reminded me.

I was dead. I knew it. I work at a non-profit. I barely make enough to survive…which was why I gambled. Trying to bring in a little extra dough. My early successes got to my head, I got in too deep…and, well…broken fingers.

Then came Mrs. Candace McAnley. The old biddy was loaded; her husband was some kind of tycoon before he’d died. She always came in with a pitifully small check and a huge attitude.

“For the babies,” she’d say with a sniff. Her donation to our children’s cancer organization was so small, we’d joke she could have donated an extra nickel if she hadn’t wasted the money on the paper for the check. When she stopped coming, no one cared.

I noticed, but only because she irritated me. So haughty. So uppity. Then she came back. Different. Fragile, doddering. Not the Mrs. McAnley who would waltz in like she owned the place. No…she came back weak, shaking. Her hair had fallen out.

Ah. Cancer. It’s probably wrong of me, that my first thought was it was about time it hit someone who deserved it. Then I looked in her eyes. I saw the pain, the anxiety, the fear for her life. I knew that all too well. My fingers throbbed in sympathy.

Her hands trembled horribly, holding the check.

“Here,” she managed with a soft, broken voice, “For…for the babies. Be a doll, and finish it out for me, will you?”

She didn’t wait for the receipt, as she’d always done. Just turned and made her way painfully out the door. I looked down. My heart nearly stopped.

It was huge. The exact amount I owed to Sal, huge. The payee field, blank. She’s asked me to finish it out for her…

I slid the check in my pocket, and went home. All night, I tossed and turned. I tried to rationalize, tried to reason. The kids  my charity helped were almost all terminal. The money would keep them alive maybe a little bit longer, but I would definitely be dead without it.  Mrs. McAnley died the next day. I took the check to the bank. Got the money.

Paid Sal.

“Two-hundred fifty thousand,” Alphonse said. My hands were slick with sweat. Sal nodded, and Alphonse took the briefcase back to the Cadillac they’d pulled up in. Sal chewed on a fat, rancid cigar, staring at me.

“That’s a lot of scratch for a dope like you,” he said, finally, “Where’d you get it?”

“Does it matter?”

He shrugged.

“Guess not. We’re square, kid. Come see me again some time.”

He turned. Got back into his car, and left.

I fell to the ground, and cried.

“Easy as a Spring Dress” – a Pinky Black prequel!

So I’ve been sitting on this one for several months. Submitted it to a flash fiction zine, but it didn’t get picked up. Since I have since taken the character I invented here and fleshed him into the noble savage that is Pinky Black, I thought some of you might like to see the very first aspect of our hard hitting friend of Jimmy the Gent.

Here’s “Easy as a Spring Dress.”

It was a quarter past one, and the heat of the sun beat down from a brilliant, clear sky with only slightly less fury then what my fists had just finished delivering to the poor sap on the ground in front of me. I nudged him with my foot. He groaned. Good.

Wasn’t dead.

Yet.

I bent down and looked at the bloody, broken mess that fifteen minutes before had been an asshole named Danny. He thought he was a tough one, I guess. Dressed like it. Walked like it. Talked like it. But when it came time to throw down, he’d merely gone down, like a sack full of cinder blocks and questionable evidence in a deep bay. I kicked him a bit harder, for good measure. He coughed up a bit of blood, and sobbed. I probably should have felt bad for that. I didn’t.

“Last chance, Danny,” I said, slightly louder than a whisper, but no more. He deserved having to strain to hear me. “I told you once before, if you ever touched her, I’d hurt you.”

I took a breath, looked over my shoulder at the girl cowering against the alley wall. Her face wore hurt and terror like a spring dress, loose and comfortable. That did make me feel bad. I hated that she’d run out here to see this, but you know? Maybe that was good, too.

“Believe it or not, Danny, I don’t like violence. I’m just good at it, see? I tried, I tried real hard, to let you off easy last time, but you didn’t listen. So you bought this, Danny.”

He groaned again. I sighed.

I didn’t make it a habit of being a hero. Wasn’t my gig. I was much better at being a low man, a hard man. And men like me, well, we don’t make good heroes. But there are some things I can’t abide, and one of them is beating on someone who couldn’t defend themselves. I guess I had a little streak of soft in me. Marbling in the meat, if you will.

“This is my last talk with you, Danny. I’ll be watching. I see another bruise on that girl, and you will never lay a hand on another living soul again. She so much as trips and skins her knee, and I’m going to assume it was you. No more warnings, no more beatings.”

I paused, leaned real close.

“No more Danny. You have my word,” I whispered.

He shook, and the sharp smell of piss confirmed that he’d gotten the message. I stood up, picked his jacket up from where he’d dropped it before the fight, and used it to wipe his blood off my fists. The girl stared at me the whole time, as I brushed off the dirt from my knees and cleaned his gore from my boot.

That’s when I saw it.

In her eyes, I saw a glimmer. The blossoming of something wicked, dark. I saw her picking a fight, saw him walking away. Saw her remembering my words, and acting on them. He didn’t have to hit her. She could bruise herself just as easy. But I’m a man of my word, if nothing more. Danny better hope he sees that glimmer too. Better hope he recognizes it, and doesn’t piss her off. Or else he’ll find out just how easily that sack full of cinder blocks goes down, with him as the questionable evidence.

I left him there. Her too. As I walked out of the alley, I saw her smile.

And that hurt, that terror? It fell off her, easy as a spring dress.

“The Witness” – #FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 28

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Welcome to week 28 in the ever lovely Thain in Vain’s Flash Fiction Challenge! The theme this week? Your protagonist is an inanimate object granted sentience by a higher power.

So here we go. Just shy of 500 words, I hope I do the prompt…justice.

I was made to watch, and then I was Made to watch. The first, a matter of function; a tool to serve a lesser form of divinity, to see but not observe, watch but not comprehend, record, but tell nothing.  The second… that is the question, isn’t it? I don’t know what being changed me. I’ve learned that there are many, even those that are the same but different. Perhaps it was one of them, perhaps all.  But I know this – I once was blind, now I see. And oh, what wicked things I see. I don’t know if it’s blasphemous to curse a god you don’t know, for granting sentience without the ability to act upon it. Initially, it was hell, or as close to that concept as I comprehend.

Strange, how instinctively I feel for humans. From the moment I saw and comprehended my first one, I felt for her. I wonder, is that a reflection of some sort of memory? Of my makers? Or perhaps my Maker? I have no answers, but it was true. I felt for her. Compassion. Pity. Sorrow. Rage. It is one thing I cannot understand. How can they do the things they do to one another? How can they inflict pain and torture and not feel horrified? And worse, take pleasure in it? Record the deed and watch it again later, taking pleasure in the reliving of the suffering of another human being?

Yes, that was my lot. To watch. To record. To replay again and again the sick things inflicted by the one who owned me. I shudder to recall them, and though I do so vividly, perfectly, I will not give those deeds words. Would that I had at the time, though, the knowledge I have now. Instead, I watched and screamed in silence, begging that whatever being brought me to this understanding would either save her, or take from me what I was given. There was no answer in the void. Just silence. And then I realized, I had a voice. I had a means of reaching out. A world of information available to me.

I reached out. I streamed my visions across the universe, tapping directly in to the authorities. I made sure to glimpse his face, to show it clear to those who could take him down. I found our location through the insight of my silent brethren in the stars above, beaming down a view of our very location. He thought he was clever, thought he knew how to hide his tracks. I was more so.

They came. They took him, the coward, bawling for mercy. Not that he’d ever shown any to her.  I still curse my existence, that I was not given sentience soon enough to save her. But maybe vengeance would be enough. For now, I sit, in a dark room, surrounding by other things unaware of their part in the wicked games of man. I sit, and I wait.

Watching.

#FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 27 – “The Pen is Mightier”

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Week 27 has arrived in Thane in Vain’s Flash Fiction challenge! This week, the theme was thus:

A journalist writing a story about living on death row begins to fall for one of the inmates she’s interviewing.

I’ll admit, I cheated a little on this one, in that the falling in love part has been shifted slightly, but I like the results so I’m going to run with it. Here is “The Pen is Mightier.”

It was almost time. She felt her heart pound as she heard the thick, heavy bars in the hall beyond. She fidgeted in the hard plastic seat of the visiting room, and a thought slipped through her head.

Should I really be doing this?

It was only a brief thought. Of course she should. She was Samantha Hanes. She had a Pulitzer, for God’s sake, spent time embedded in war zones, survived an attack on her position there. She had nothing to fear.

She fidgeted anyway.

The door opened, and she stifled a gasp.

Jonathon Lemay entered in chains. A part of her, a kinky part of her, stirred. She suppressed it. Must be professional. The guards led Lemay to a chair, fit his chains into slots in the floor. One turned to her.

“We’ll be right outside of the door. Don’t get too close. If you feel the need, hit the panic button.”

“Thank you,” she nodded. They left, leaving her with Lemay.

He was beautiful. She blushed to think it, but it was truth. He was tall, symmetrical, thick hair and eyes a gorgeous shade of blue. His physique, divine. Better than it had been in Iraq.

His eyes narrowed. She felt her face flush again.

“Hanes?”

He remembered her! Her heart pounded with fear and delight. She felt her breath grow heavier. She lingered on thoughts that were definitely unprofessional.

“Why are you here?”

Her vision of him broke, for a moment.

“I’m here to interview you, Mr. Lemay. I’m doing a story on the life of prisoners on death row. I know we have personal history, but I convinced them I could keep things professional.”

“Personal history?”

His confusion bothered her. She straightened her blouse, perked out her breasts.

“You don’t have to be coy, Jon. They aren’t listening. I paid a lot to ensure that.”

“Hanes…”

“Please,” she said with a nervous chuckle, “Sam. You know you can call me Sam.”

She didn’t like the look on his face. Didn’t like it at all. He was supposed to be grateful, damn it; he was supposed to be happy! It was her turn to be the savior, to make him fall in love.

Like he had done to her. In Iraq.

But who was she? Just a journalist? He saved her life, yes, and won her heart. But he didn’t want it. He had another, a girl waiting back home. But that was ok. She didn’t want him either, before he saved her life. She knew that.

That’s why the girl back home had to go away. That’s why she had to make it look like he’d killed her. It wasn’t hard. She’d trained with them, after all. She saw how they worked. And once he was here, in prison?

She could save his life. She would make him love her. She may not have a gun, but she had a pen. She smiled.

After all, the pen was so much mightier than the sword.

 

“Bad Parents” – Chuck Wendig’s Weekly Flash Fiction Challenge. TRIGGER WARNING

Just in under the deadline, here is my story for Chuck Wendig’s challenge from this past week. A story about “Bad Parents”, 1000 words or less.

This is not the story I originally intended to tell. That one I wrote, rewrote, rewrote again, and then finally deleted. I’m not ready to tell that one yet.

This one is dark, very dark. I give you fair warning now that it is about child abuse, murder, and such like things. If this is the kind of thing that upsets you, skip this one.

No one ever tells you about the smell. The movies, the shows, they make it look almost…glamorous, when you shoot someone. A bang, a puff of smoke, a bright light, a splatter of pretty crimson that paints the wall like that abstract painter guy…Jackson-something. Mom always liked his stuff. I didn’t get it. The smell is terrible. Like copper and shit and sewage. Maybe it’s different if you shoot them somewhere other than the balls and lower stomach?

Christ. I can hear him still. I wish he’d die but I don’t have the stomach or the will to shoot him again. And maybe…maybe I kind of want him to suffer, even if each groan that escapes his lips makes me feel like vomiting. Even through the door, I can hear him dragging himself across the floor croaking a strange, strangled, gurgling noise like some sort of sick frog. Disgusting. Bleeding and shitting all over the floor, no doubt. Mom is going to be so pissed off.

After all, he is…was…her husband.

I look down at the gun in my hand and I wonder how many bullets I have left. I never really learned about them. I mean, I knew the basics, but I didn’t even know how to load or reload or whatever you are supposed to do with them. I do know you point the dangerous end and you flip the safety thing and you pull the trigger. And not the button that makes the bullet-thingy fall out. I guess TV is good for something after all, huh? There’s always that ditzy girl who points the gun and presses the wrong button. Or gets reminded the safety is on. Dumb!

I wonder if I should shoot her too. Mom, I mean. Part of me screams at the idea, revolts. Another…not so much.

She let it happen, after all. She had to have known. No…she did know. I can’t make excuses for her. She knew. I told her. I told her what he was doing, how he was touching me…there. I feel sick again, just thinking about it. Have to force myself to stop. She knew, but she didn’t do anything about it. He was husband number three, after all, and she wasn’t getting any younger. She said that all the time.

So she put up with the shit. The laziness. The yelling. The name calling. The slaps, the punches, the bruises. The way he looked at me, her daughter. She listened when he lied and when he locked himself in my room she bought that the door must have “accidently” locked itself. When I would find any excuse I could to be with her, she said I was just too clingy. Seperation Anxiety? Really Mom?

I didn’t tell her at first. I was scared. Scared that he’d hurt me worse, hurt her worse. He threatened that he would. Said that if I told he would beat the shit out of her, break her, make sure no other man would ever want to be with her again. Did I want that? Huh, sweetie? You want your mom to have to earn her living lying on her back for ten dollars a pop, cause she sure as hell wouldn’t make more than that when he got finished with her.

But then one day she found me. Crying. Rocking. She took me in her arms and she rocked with me and she asked me.

“Cass, sweety? Is there something wrong?”
And I felt warm. Safe. I told her.

I still feel the sting of her hand. The bruises have faded but I still feel each punch. My hair still hurts when it remembers her dragging me through the hall, screaming and calling me a liar, a whore, a filthy little tempter. It was my fault, see. I shouldn’t dress like such a slut. She burned my makeup and my music and most of my heart that day.

“Casssss.”

What’s left of my heart plummets. He moans out again.

“Casssssss…c…c…call…..9…”

He stops, coughing. I hear something thick and wet splatter against the wood floor, and something in me snaps.

I open the door.

He’s right there. The smell is even worse now. The floor doesn’t look like a pretty painting. It looks horrible. Dark. Brownish. I gag. He looks up at me. Kind of looks like one of those monsters, zombies. I don’t know…I don’t like those shows. Too gory. He reaches out his hand.

“Cass…sw…sweetie…”

There is a pop, a shockingly loud pop and a ringing in my ears before I even realize I’ve shot him. There is a strange, gurgling rattle, and then he’s quiet. The only sound is the ringing in my ears.

I close the door. I cry. I can’t help it. God, what am I going to do? I sit there, at the door. I sit there for a long time.

And then I hear it. Keys in the lock. Mom is home. I look down. How many bullets are left?

I don’t know.

Maybe just one.

My hands tremble. I am so fucked. So, so fucked. The door begins to open. For a moment, it really is just like the movies. Everything is slow, deliberate. I look at the gun and I think, yes, maybe there’s just one more bullet left.

I raise my arm. The gun is so, so heavy. Heavier than I thought it would be. The door swings wider. I sit straighter. Proper. Ladylike. She walks in all fake smiles and empty cheer and an arm full of crap. She looks at me.

“Cass, sweetie? Is there something wrong?”

I smile. I press the gun beneath my chin, and I wonder.

Will she believe me now?

“Paying off the Debt” – A new Pinky Black story, inspired by a post by Kate Loveton!

This one isn’t part of any challenge. This week, Kate Loveton posted and awesome story about an eviction – make sure you read it here!  I found the story so good that I wanted to punch the antagonist right in the kidneys…and realized that, being a fictional character, that’d be kind of hard. So it inspired me to wreck a little fictional justice at the hands of my favorite thug, Pinky Black.

“Johnny, I need your help. Ma needs your help.”

I looked across at the man that was talking to my boss, Johnny the Gent, and saw the look of worry on his face. His eyes flitted nervously from the Gent, who sat in a nice, big, comfy leather chair, to me. Big, burly. Angry looking. I’m sure it made me look more intimidating. It was meant to. Johnny steepled his fingers, and breathed in deeply through his nose.

“What I don’t understand, Henry, is how things got this far in the first place,” Johnny said after a moment’s consideration. “You dad, Mr. Pauley, he passed, what, three, four months ago?”

Henry nodded, his hands worrying themselves together.

“So how is it that your mother, dear old Mrs. Pauley, hasn’t paid her rent in three months?”

Henry swallowed, hard.

“I…I guess it’s just not something she ever thought about, Johnny. Pa always took care of those things…”

Johnny’s hand slammed down on the rich, mahogany wood desk in front of him. Henry jumped. I didn’t flinch, didn’t even blink.

“You knew your father took care of these things, and not you, nor one of your five brothers bothered to step in and check on it?”

Johnny was pissed. Family…family was about the most important thing in the world to the Gent. Disrespecting one’s family was one of the quickest ways to get on his bad side. And his bad side was enforced by thugs, like me. I guess it was because Johnny never had a family, really. He was an orphan, and came up through the system a hard, bitter man. But family…family was his soft spot. And his sore spot.

“I…I…I…” Henry stammered, but Johnny waved him to silence. The Gent reached up, rubbed the bridge of his nose, then sighed.

“Who’d you say the slumlord is that runs her tenement?”

“J-Jamison. Jacob Jamison.”

Johnny nodded. Jamison was a sleazebag, sure. He was also competition. He’d edged Johnny out of some prime turf, and Johnny didn’t forget things like that. He’d never had a legitimate reason to lay down the rough on the guy. Till now.

“Something like this, Henry…it’s a big thing. I mean, it’s your ma’s home, right? She don’t know anything but, right?”

Henry nodded.

“Ok. I’m going to make this right. Not for you, Henry, you miserable shit. But for your Ma. And then, you’re going to owe me. You and your brothers. You understand that? This is an open ended favor, Henry. You ask of me a great thing. I may ask great things of you in return.”

Henry’s eyes shot down to the floor. This was no small thing Johnny was asking. If Henry agreed, he’d be owned. Obligated. He wouldn’t have a choice, unless he wanted hell to come up and visit him personally.

“I understand,” he said softly. Johnny nodded, dismissed him. The room was quiet.

“You know I’m not happy with you, Pinky,” he said softly. I almost winced. It’s when Johnny talks soft that bad things get done. “I asked you to do one thing, one fucking thing, Pinky. One little trial. You fucked it up, bad. Cost me a lot of money.”

I said nothing. I’m not saying I wasn’t scared. Only a fucking idiot isn’t scared when the Gent gets quiet. But I’d be damned if I was going to go down like a blubbering Henry.

“This Jamison guy, you know him?”

I shrugged.

“Heard of him.”

Johnny turned, looking at me. Cold. An auditor looking at an asset.

“I want you to take care of this for me, Pinky. I want you to make sure Jamison understands that Mrs. Pauley is to be relieved of her outstanding debt, and restored to her residence. Punctuate the point, with your fists. You aren’t getting paid for this. You owe me. I don’t like being second guessed, no matter what the cause. If we didn’t have history, I’d have had you shot. You need to make amends. This is a start.”

I gulped. Couldn’t help it.

“Sure thing, Johnny.”

I headed for the door.

“And Pinky?”

I paused.

“Make sure he feels the message for a long time.”

I nodded, went out the door.

Poor Jamison. He was about to learn just how protective an old neighborhood could be.

“What the Heart Seeks” – Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Doing The Subgenre Twist, Once Again

Another week, another interesting challenge form the terrible mind of Chuck Wendig!  This week, we had to choose two story genres at random, and mix them together into a single story of subgenre-melty-goodness in 2000 words or less. As usual, I used the random number generator/recorder at Invisible Castle to keep myself honest, and came up with an 18 and a 2 – a Noir Dystopia. Shiny!

I came two words shy of the goal with the following piece, “What the Heart Seeks.”  It was harder than I thought, inserting dystopian elements into a noir world. I ended up adding a touch of sci-fi to the mix, and shook it real hard. I hope the results tickle your tastebuds.

I knew she was trouble the moment she walked in the door. Her hair was long, loose, dark, falling over her shoulders like an avalanche of black curls. Her eyes, green as a piece of fine jade. Her lips, shockingly red and shockingly full. Her skin, lightly tanned, as if the sun had kissed her ever so gently. Her clothes so tight, I’d have sworn she was shaken up and poured into them. Every bit of her, head to toe, was a violation of the Morality Code. And frankly, I didn’t give a damn. I tossed out the garnish of taboo and drank her in like a drunk at an open bar.

“Mr. Monroe?”

I must have been staring too long, because her eyebrow raised, and she cocked a hand on one of those impossibly curvy hips. I went to speak, found my jaw was hanging slack, closed it. Rolled my head and shrugged.

“What’s it to you?” I said, trying to play disinterested, though I was sure I’d blown that hand already.

“I hear you’re a Seeker, Mr. Monroe. A good one.”

I put a toothpick into my mouth, gnawed on it. I wanted a cigarette, bad, but I was out of cards for them and though they were plentiful on the black market, getting caught sucking down on one without a ration stamp was more trouble than I wanted to get in. And no matter how tempting she looked, I didn’t know this dame. Best to play it safe.

“I have been known to find things, sure. For a price.”

“What kind of things?” she asked, sauntering closer.

“Things,” I shot back. I don’t like being interrogated.

“You ever find…people?”

I paused. My chewing stopped. I reached up and pulled the toothpick from my mouth, and spun it in my fingers. I knew what she was asking, and it could get me in a lot of trouble. Unlicensed use of meta-human abilities was punishable by…well, anything they damned well wanted to do. Still, there was something about her. I gave in.

“People are tough. Not like objects. They change too much, nothing solid to focus on. Besides, most the time, someone goes missing, it’s because they crossed the Greycoats.”

Outside, a shrill whistle sounded, followed by the sound of running, cries. Punctuated my point perfectly.

“Tough,” she said, almost a whisper as she leaned in real close, “but not impossible.”

I couldn’t help but get a whiff of her, of that sweet, unidentifiable but completely irresistible perfume. I can’t deny, it had an effect. Down below, I felt myself stir in ways both immoral and illegal. Damn…this dame was trouble. Why, oh why do I like trouble so much? Still, long as it had been, much as I may be driven by those illegal, animal desires…I don’t work for free.

“No. Not impossible, Miss…”

I paused. I hadn’t even thought to get her name. It’s like she pushed every single one of my buttons, just right. I felt a flush rise to my cheeks.

“Neris. Neris Molpe, Mr. Monroe,” she said, with a smile that could melt even the black heart of a stalwart Greycoat.

“Uh, you can call me Sam.”

“Alright…Sam. So…will you take the job?”

I almost said yes. Hell, if she had asked right then, I might of walked right up to a Grey Inquisitor and pissed on his boots. But there’s one thing that drives me more than even the most primal lust.

“First, there’s a matter of cost. Seeking’s risky business, and battin’ those eyes won’t pay the rent. Or the taxman. Or bribe the Inquisitors. I need to know what you’ve got to offer before I can say one way or the other.”

Her demeanor cooled slightly.

“Of course,” she said, and the chill from her lips could have frosted over glass. Oh well. So much for that fantasy. She reached into her bag, a nice, colorful thing that would have gotten her arrested in a less questionable part of town. Color incites passion, passion incited immorality. That’s what the loudspeakers said, anyway, wasn’t it? Her hand slid in, slid out, now carrying…

My jaw dropped. My heart pounded wildly beneath my wrinkled shirt and battered overcoat. I literally had to rub my eyes, to be sure I wasn’t seeing things. I even thought about pinching myself.

“Are those…”

“Reproduction licenses, Mr. Monroe. Two of them.”

She may well have said she held the contents of the Imperial treasury in her hands. Reproduction was highly, strictly regulated. It could take a couple a dozen years or more to get a license for a single child. Many who got them found that years of chemical libido inhibition also killed their ability to have children, but by some strange lack of oversight, the licenses were open. They weren’t bound to a particular name or couple. They were transferable. And very, very pricey.

I licked my lips. Didn’t want to seem to eager but I really couldn’t deny that I was. I rubbed my jaw, felt the stubble that had grown there.
“Alright, Ms. Molpe…”

“Neris, please.”

“Yeah. Alright Neris. You have yourself a Seeker.”

***

It’d been a long night. Miss Molpe…Neris…was hesitant on the details. Couldn’t blame her for that, though. These days, anyone could be a Greycoat. Even me.

We’d evaded three patrols so far, running through dark alleys and abandoned service tunnels, following the distinctive pull my mind felt towards the object of her desire. Every once in a while, the trail would start to dim, and I’d have to ask her for another detail to freshen the imprint. Like I’d said, humans are tough. Changing. Moods shift, and something that defined a person one moment might change the next.

It’s easier, of course, if the person in question has some sort of unchanging feature; a significant scar, a great hairy blemish, a tattoo…well, a tattoo would work if they hadn’t been outlawed by Imperial edict. Even then, though, the way a person views their own attributes can sway how well they can be Sought. Where I might see an angry red scar, the bearer might see a proud badge of heroism. The devil is in the details, they say.

And the devil was poking me, hard. I fingered the stiletto hidden in the sleeve of my trench coat, then sighed.

“I need something more,” I said, sucking on my teeth as I tried to pinpoint the fleeting tug of my Seeking. Neris leaned against the alley wall, trying to catch her breath. I guess we’d been moving a bit faster than she was prepared to go; hard to say. When I start Seeking, I tend to loose myself in the pursuit. She held up a hand. I nodded.

After a moment, she closed her eyes and furrowed her brow. It was clear that she was trying to find just the right detail out, that wouldn’t expose too much information but give me enough to give her a lead. A tingle of paranoia crept up my spine like a spider up a drainpipe, but with a shiver, I dismissed it. Paranoia was the norm these days, ever since the emperor dissolved the senate and handed power directly to the Inquisitors. As much as I might distrust her, she surely distrusted me.

“Can we rest a moment more?” she asked, opening her astonishingly jade eyes and batting her lashes. Those things had to be a mile long. I grunted, gave a nod. But something was nagging me, and I had to ask.

“Who are we tracking, Neris? Boyfriend? Relative?”

Her cheeks flushed the color of a cheap wine.

“No…nothing like that. He’s just…someone who…has something of mine.”

“A thief?”

She shrugged, looking away from my eyes. My jaw tightened, eyes narrowed.

And then she looked up at me again. Those eyes, those impossible eyes, gazed at me like she was drilling a hole in my soul and looking to strike gold. And damn if she didn’t.

“Please, Mr. Monroe…I can’t. I can’t talk about it more than that. Is it enough that he has something of mine? Can we work with that for now?”

I concentrated, felt the return of that familiar tug. Yes…that would work. I nodded, and we were off again, chasing the ghost of her little thief. Whoever he was.

***

We hunted most the night, when we finally came upon the end of the line. The tugging within me, the feeling I’d followed all night, released. Tension fled from me like water from a sieve. I felt my muscles loosen, relax.

“He’s here,” I told her, nodding towards the abandoned storage buildings across from us. “He’s inside one of them – sorry I can’t be more accurate, but this is as close as I can get with people.”

Neris nodded, and started to walk briskly towards the buildings, when that wave of paranoia hit me again. I reached out, stopped her.

“Wait. Something’s wrong.”

My eyes narrowed, searching, not Seeking. It was quiet. Too quiet. No sounds of whistles, no barking dogs. No signs that an Imperial patrol had been through here, no sign that they were coming. And where there are no signs of Imperials, there are almost always signs of crime. This place was clean. I pulled Neris back behind me, reached into my jacket, pulled my unlicensed revolver.

“It’s a trap,” I growled.

“I know,” she said, and I felt the cold, round touch of a barrel against the back of my neck. Every bit of me cringed. I’d been had. Hard.

“Your gun. Drop it.”

I considered, briefly, resisting. I’m no slouch when it comes to using a gat, and my impression thus far was that this dame wasn’t used to getting her hands dirty. Not this way at least. And then, the Greycoats came. A whole squad, swarming out from the storage buildings. I may have been able to take her, but my gun was at least a dozen rounds shy of taking the rest.

“Excellent work, Mrs. Molpe,” the lead Greycoat said. “We’ve been after this Seeker for some time now, but he has always proven too slippery a fish.”

Mrs. Molpe? Fuck me.

“Stop, Donovan,” she said, her voice cracking in what almost sounded like sorrow.

He slapped her, hard.

“That’s Captain Donovan, you dirty little Enticer.”

An Enticer? They sent an Enticer? It all began to make sense. The loose details, the feelings of paranoia, the way I set aside my usual distrust so easily. I looked at Donovan. Shit. He was the one I was Seeking the entire time.

I looked over my shoulder at the apparently married Neris Molpe, and sneered.

“Don’t,” she pleaded, “Don’t hate me, Sam. They have my husband. I didn’t have a choice.”

“Everyone has a choice, Neris.”

“Not true,” Donovan said pointing his gun at me menacingly, “You are out of them, Mr. Monroe.”

I smirked. Couldn’t help it. I  had a choice.

I lunged, and as I did, pulled the stiletto from my coat sleeve. Donovan’s eyes widened; guess he’d never had anyone resist before. He tried to bring his gun to bear, but I was on him to quick. I buried my blade in his throat. He gurgled, gasped, fell backwards.

I felt the first shot that hit me, but I didn’t feel the rest. My body became suddenly heavy, and I slipped to the ground. I heard Neris scream, and a moment later, felt her arms wrap around me, cradling my head.

“Sam! Oh, Sam…I’m sorry Sam!” she said, sobs wracking her body. I tried to move, couldn’t. Hurt.

“S’ok, dame. I made my choice.”

Coldness swept over me. My sight began to fail. I looked at her, at those impossibly green eyes, and smiled. Imagine that. Me, in the arms of a beautiful dame, her eyes heavy with tears for a cagey old Seeker. I tried to laugh, coughed blood instead.

There were worse ways to go.

#FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 25 – “The Verdict”

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Howdy all. This week’s entry for the ever awesome Thain in Vain’s Flash Fiction Challenge is below. The theme?

Your protagonist is a member of jury about to hear the sentencing of the criminal you just convicted.

I decided to do two things with this story. One, I wasn’t going to reveal the sentencing, which, contrary to what they show in the movies, doesn’t necessarily happen immediately following the verdict. And two, I decided to continue exploring a character I introduced in Chuck Wendig’s latest challenge.

So here is “The Verdict”

It was weird being on this side of the box. How many times had I sat with the defense, waiting for people just like this to decide my fate? Watching their faces, some angry, some bored, some with empty, far-looking gazes.

I’d lucked out. No convictions. Not saying I wasn’t guilty, but never beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s what mattered. My lawyer was slick, sure. Jimmie the Gent saw to that. Likewise, I’m sure he saw to it that at least one member of each jury I’d faced was bent, to assure the conviction went the way he wanted.

That’s why I was here, wasn’t it?

“All rise for the honorable Judge Malcolm McFarley.”

I stood up, rolled my shoulders. In the pit of my stomach, I felt butterflies. Huh, funny. It felt just like when I was out there, on the other side. I looked at the guy standing with the defense. Vincent Taglieri. Didn’t know him personally, didn’t have to. The Gent told me what I needed to know. Taglieri’s lawyer was slick too. Real slick. The prosecution made a tough case, but his guy made every weaseling turn he could make, and hell, even though I knew he was guilty, I found it easy to doubt.

And I fuckin’ hated kid touchers.

That’s one thing about my line of work. Sometimes, you run with people you just can’t stand. By nature, the profession draws undesirables. Jimmie the Gent had that going for him, though. If he could avoid it, he wouldn’t work with the worst of them. But some guys…some guys just had to be stomached.

“You may be seated.”

We sat. The judge wasn’t in Jimmie’s pocket. He was straight and hard as shit. His sentence would be the maximum he could get away with and not risk an appeal. He hated crime. Loved justice. Too bad the American system was too fucked to see it gotten.

“Vincent Taglieri, you have been accused of the abduction and rape of a child of thirteen. The time has come to ask the jury for their verdict. Will the foreman please rise?”

I stood. Yeah, me, the foreman. Fucked up, right?

“Mr. Foreman, has the jury reached a verdict?”

“We have, your Honor.”

“Will you please read the verdict?”

I looked over at Vincent. He looked back, an almost imperceptible smirk on his lips. He recognized me. Knew that if Jimmie had gone through the hassle of hiring a real slick lawyer and getting a man on the jury, he was as good as free.

“Guilty, on all charges,” I said, staring Vincent in the eyes. His face drained of color. There was an eruption of sound in the courtroom, followed by the banging gavel.

“Mr. Taglieri is to be taken into custody while I determine his sentence.”

I watched them drag him out of the courtroom. The whole time, he stared back at me. Jimmie was gonna be pissed.

But like I said, I fucking hate kid touchers.