Noir

“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.

“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.

“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.

“Rum Punch” – Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: The Cocktail Is Your Title

This week from the terrible mind of Chuck Wendig comes a challenge to use the name of a randomly generated cocktail as the title of a story.

Using the dice roller at Invisible Castle, I came up with #12: Rum Punch.  Chuck gave us a limit of 1500 words, but the kind of story that came to mind needed a lot less, kind of like the protagonist. So here, weighing in at 690 words, is “Rum Punch.”

I saw him as soon as I walked in, standing behind the bar, polishing the table with an old rag. His knuckles looked slightly bruised, and I knew why. It’s why I’d come. I looked around, briefly. The place was dead. Good. I walked up to the bar.

“What’ll it be?” he asked.

“Rum punch,” I growled.

He looked up, took me in, a look of confusion on his face. Six-two, two-hundred forty pounds of heavy muscle. Long dark hair, goatee. Dark glasses. Motorcycle boots. Leather. That was me, and probably not the kind of guy who’d normally order that kind of drink. Not something a shithole dive like this would be prepared to make any way. He smirked. Thought it was a joke.

“Rum I’ve got,” he said, placing a half-empty bottle of swill on the counter, “The punch, you’ll have to provide yourself.”

Thought he’d never ask.

My fist connected with his nose in a blur of meat and fury. I felt the bones beneath my blow bend, give, break, till his face felt a bit like jelly beneath the pressure of my fist. He reeled back, tumbling against the back counter, arms flailing. I cleared the front one in a leap, grabbing the bottle of swill as I cleared it. I brought that down on his head, hard.

A bottle of rum, even the cheap shit, is tougher than it looks. It’s not like it is in the movies. It doesn’t break when you look at it funny. I clocked him with it. Clocked him again. A third time. When it was clear he wasn’t going to move, I flung it to the side, towards the concrete floor. That’s when it shattered.

I breathed in, deep and heavy, and looked down at my work. He was a mess, that was for sure. I nudged him with my boot. He groaned. Good. Wasn’t dead. I snatched the rag from where he left it on the counter, and wiped his blood from my knuckles. I grabbed another bottle of swill twisted the top, and poured it over his bloody form until he started screaming from the burn, and then I reached down, grabbed him by the shirt, and hauled him up to the counter.

He whimpered, covered his face with his hands.

“Don’t feel too good, does it Tony?” I barked. He winced. I slapped him.

“This is a message, Tony. Jimmy don’t like guys who beat up girls. Especially not girls under his protection.”

His face paled more from the mention of my boss’s name than it did from my beating. Jimmy “The Gent” Alvarez was a hard, low man, but he’d earned his nickname for his civility towards the opposite sex. Since he’d taken over this side of town, decided to make it clear that certain actions would no longer be tolerated.

That’s where I came in.

You see, I’d been out of the game a long time. I’d taken my bruises, given back more. But Jimmy was an old friend, and I knew that, unlike some of the shit stains who took up turf in this town, Jimmy wanted order. Profitable order, sure, but order. And it was clear the cops weren’t ever gonna provide it. So he came to me.

“Pinky Black,” he’d said, strolling into my garage, “Been too long. I’ve got some work for you.”

He made me an offer. I countered. No women, no kids, no one who wasn’t a dirt bag. I wouldn’t be shaking down storeowners or the like. The Gent liked that.

“It’s more profitable to protect than to threaten,” the Gent said.

So here I was. I made a brief search behind the bar, tucked the hand cannon I found there into my waistband. No sense catching a bullet on my way out. I turned back to Tony, who still sat trembling on the bar back.

“This was your warning, Tony. You only get one.”

I turned, walked out. I flipped the sign on the door to “Closed” as I passed. A handful of roughnecks paused as I did.

“He’s closed,” I said. “Ran out of rum.”