One Trick Pony

For the last fifteen or so years I've been living with a bunch of dead guys at a motel in West Texas. Like the characters in my stories, I'd really like to move on, see the world, go places. But I'm just like them. Anchored by love, worn down by circumstances and fascinated by how much there really is underneath it all. So I keep writing their stories and tell myself that someday, when I've got this all out of my system, I'll write deep, meaningful literature about... something else. In the meantime, this is a place for the short attention spanned. I'm making a commitment to keep it small here. Flash fiction and scenes from the life inspired by, The Bella Vista Motel.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Forget It, Ramiel

Agent Ramiel parked near 56th street and paused to look over the notes he had written so far that morning.  His notebook, though small enough to fit in his breast pocket, was meticulously organized by subject and date.  His handwriting was small and precise.  He liked to write his notes in the car after an interview, not during.  It was too easy to miss contradictory expressions in the eyes or subtle clues in gesture while trying to transcribe.  He listened, he watched.  His memory was infallible.  And sometimes, as with writing down his dreams upon waking, he found that answers and understanding flowed from solitary contemplation after the fact.

Carol’s murder was different from the others he had worked on or researched in ways that were especially puzzling.  There was something deliberately wrong about it.  He had no doubt that it was the same killer.  But it was almost as if he had been forced to hurry, or not allowed to do things as he preferred and so had thrown caution out the window.  Ramiel was sensing an almost belligerent attitude in the choice of victim.  She was a nice, respectable girl.  Her death might not be forgotten by the end of the day.  Leaving her out in plain sight like that in an alley where it was well known that street walkers would pass by was a cruel act in and of itself.  He wondered if any other women besides Ruby might have seen her and been too frightened to do anything but run away.

He got out of his car and walked the couple of blocks to the precinct.  It was a crowded, chaotic neighborhood filled with people who were happy to keep the cops busy night and day.  Inside the precinct, he followed the sound of Detective Finn’s voice carrying above the general hubbub and stood in his doorway for a moment before Finn looked up and saw him.

“So, there you are, come in,”  Finn said.  Ramiel sat down in the chair that faced Finn’s desk.  The detective's gaze was sharp and interested. "Our young lady is in the capable hands of the coroner."

Ramiel nodded.  "Good.  The sooner you get the autopsy reports the better.  It will be useful to see records from the other cases.  I can help with that."

Finn leaned back in his chair and fixed Ramiel with a calculating stare.  "You're a narcotics officer."

"Yes.  I'm currently assigned to narcotics."  Ramiel met his stare with an absence of expression that may as well have been a shrug and a "so what?"  "The FBI is a law enforcement agency, Detective.  We cooperate when we can with other departments.  Especially where murders are concerned."

"Oh, we're always grateful for cooperation,"  Finn said dryly.  "So, how many murders you think this guy's good for?"

"I think a great many, but it's hard to say for sure.  We haven't recovered as many bodies as I suspect are out there.  He usually goes to some trouble to conceal them.  There were eight on record, this would be the ninth," Ramiel said.

"If this is the same guy,"  Finn reminded him.

"Have you ever seen anything like this before?  Does this look like just any garden variety killing to you?"

Before Finn could answer, he was distracted by a man standing in his doorway.  Ramiel glanced over his shoulder at a hard-featured man, dark, sunburned skin stretched tightly over the bones of his face.  He wore his hat down low over deep black eyes that were difficult to see behind thin, shiny spectacles that reflected the light in glittering flashes as he moved his head.  The man smoked a cigarette that glowed red hot like a coal at the bottom of a fire.

Ramiel had a chance to think, So rude to come into the detective's office like this... 

It seemed to Ramiel that the man introduced himself... his name was... and came into the room speaking as if he were in the middle of telling a story.  Part of the story was about Ramiel, and how he was going to go back to Virginia because his prisoner had a good lawyer and he wouldn't be traveling back there to be tried after all, he would just stay right here in New York where he belonged.  And another part of the story was about how Finn had done a fine job of cleaning up that neighborhood...

A roaring sound, blood pounding in his ears, the inside out version of breathing and he was up and walking.  Hallways and sidewalks were confused beneath his feet, he stumbled and reached out to steady himself on the edge of a desk, but his hand came down on the edge of a parked car instead.

It was his parked car.  He was sitting inside his own car gripping the inside edge of the driver's side window.  It was rolled down, all the way open, the man's face was leaning in and Ramiel could smell fire and cigarette smoke on his breath.  He was still telling stories, packing them into Ramiel's ears like cotton wads, and the inside of his car spun around like he was driving on ice, and then he crashed.

Blood gushed out of Ramiel's mouth as his head flew back from the steering wheel and his car came to a halt.  His horn and many other horns were blaring discordantly.  He turned his head to look back at the man in his window but there was a different man staring in at him.

The new man asked, with a mixture of anger and worry, "Hey, hey mister, are you all right?  What the hell was the matter with you, are you drunk or something?  Didn't you see that truck was stopped?"

But Ramiel couldn't see him anymore, his vision was swimming, he was passing out.

He heard someone shout, "Get an ambulance!" from a great distance away.  He was trying very hard to remember the girl in the alley, he didn't want to forget her.  "Her name was Carol, he muttered through his bloodied lips, "her name was Carol..."

Friday, August 20, 2010

All He Knows Is That She Left Him

Gabrielle parked the big blue Oldsmobile in the train station parking lot and cut the engine. She'd allowed the tears to run freely down her cheeks while she drove, but now she pulled a handkerchief out of her purse and began hastily wiping and dabbing, trying to salvage her makeup. Robert would be waiting for her inside, watching for her anxiously, watching for her husband even more anxiously. She glanced at her watch and sucked air through her teeth, she would have to hurry now.

She gathered up her purse and sweater and got out, walking around the car to the trunk.  She hadn't packed much, just one small suitcase with the essentials.  Her mind went blank as she opened the trunk and looked down at the suitcase.  It didn't look like anything important to her.  The thought of carrying it just made her feel tired and she had the urge to just walk away from it.  Leave it, run away from it, get on the train now, before you lose your nerve...

But she didn't have any nerve left to lose.  She realized that she felt nothing all of a sudden, that her whole body was numb and empty.  She had already done the worst possible thing.  The only one that mattered to her, the only good thing she had ever done was gone.

She could still picture him sitting beside her in the car, so proud of the suit she'd bought for him just that morning.  Navy blue short pants, a crisp white shirt under a matching jacket with a fine white linen handkerchief in the breast pocket, folded just so.  She'd clapped her hands and laughed and said how smart he looked when he came out of the dressing room, beaming. The salesman had agreed and said it was just the thing for a boy of five to wear to an important party.

She’d made him practice his manners and he kept repeating, “Good afternoon.  My name is Salvatorre Allamonte, I am pleased to meet you,” in a plummy little imitation of radio englishmen as they drove.

The vision of him standing at that huge wrought iron gate, her tiny little man, her funny little boy, all ears and nose and bright hazel eyes, staring at her with that pale, stricken expression as she waited in the car across the street for someone to answer the bell, made her heart turn over in her chest and her stomach heave.  He'd known.  He was so smart.  He'd known she wasn't coming back.

“You should have taken a taxi,” Vincent said flatly from behind her.  "The flashy ride was pretty easy to keep track of.”

She closed her eyes and almost smiled. This was right, she thought, this was how she knew it would go.  At least my boy won’t have to watch me die slowly.

“You did manage to give me the slip for a little while.  What’d you do with the kid?  Leave him in a basket at the orphanage?”

She dropped her purse in the trunk and let the sweater slither off her arm like a small, quick animal.  Her hands fell to her sides.  “I took him to the Boss’ house for Oma’s birthday party,” she said softly.  She heard Vincent’s sharp intake of breath behind her and she did smile then.  Surprise, you didn’t know everything after all, she thought.

“He’ll be fine, he’ll make new friends and have a good time.  I watched him go in, they wouldn’t turn him away, it wouldn’t be polite.”

“Yeah?  And then what?  He gonna mix with a better class of kid and step up in the world?”

“Be good to him, Vince, if you’ve got any kindness in you at all, use it on him.  He’s better than either one of us deserves.  Please don’t take out your anger at me on him.”

He was standing very close behind her, she could feel his whole body shaking against her back.

“I told you I’d have to kill you if you ever cheated on me, I told you... why’d you have to do it?”  His voice was a strangled whisper next to her ear.

"Turn the radio on for him at bedtime, he can’t get to sleep without soft music on.  The apartment is so loud.  And make sure he practices his penmanship, it’s difficult for him, he needs to practice.”

She turned around and looked up into his hard, angry face, “Oh, Vince, please don’t hurt him...”

He gritted his teeth, pressed the gun up under her breast and shot twice.  

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Johnny Black, Dirty Little Double Crosser

Franco and George rolled up on the Bella Vista a quarter after two in the morning.  They were tired as hell, stir crazy, and equally disgruntled that Johnny Black had made them come all the way out to Texas to get their share of the take.

"Sorry guys," he'd said, over a bad, static-ridden connection on the phone, "blame Mr. G, he's the one who sent me out here."

It had taken them three days of frantically shaking down anybody and everybody who might have seen or heard from the little prick, and then he leaves a message at the cigar store.  Old Mr. Alfieri, sitting outside the store on the stoop, scowling at the sidewalk the way he always did, called out to them as they passed by, "Hey, you two. What do you think? I'm running a message service here?"

Franco had made the call, but George was looming over him like a guy bending down to kiss his date on the porch, listening in on the receiver cheek to cheek and mad as hell.  They didn't care what it looked like, two tough guys at the back of the cigar store getting intimate on the pay phone.  Twenty large was enough to get a couple of guys slow dancing the mambo.  Especially when the biggest chunk of that twenty should have already been in their hands.

Franco looked up into George's glaring eyes and pressed his lips together tight, squinting and shaking his head.  The whole thing had been sour milk right from the start.  Johnny Black hadn't told them the job had come from Mr. G.  If he had, they'd have pretended not to know Johnny Black and walked away with their hands in their pockets, whistling.

That was only the most important thing he kept to himself.  They knew it wasn't going to be a smash and grab, but hell, a little more preparation couldn't have hurt.  The guys in the morgue would probably agree.

When Franco and George got to the meeting place, no Johnny Black.  No twenty large.

"Mr. G wants us all to lay low," Johnny Black said, his voice was thin and sounded about as far away as a long distance call could get.  "Come on out here, you'll get yours and have a nice little rest."

The motel was quiet and dark when they pulled into the driveway, except for the light over the lobby door and three snarling mutts trying to chew their way into the car.  George ducked his head down to peer out at the lobby, then out the windshield at the empty courtyard of the motel.

"What the hell?" Franco grumbled, involuntarily flinching from the barking rows of teeth on the other side of the glass. They looked at each other and shrugged. They sure as shit weren't getting out.

A light came on in the lobby and they saw a guy walk up to the door and peer out through the glass.  He was a young guy, but strong looking and damned alert despite the late hour.  He had a hand at his waistband where the butt of a gun was in easy reach.  He came out of the lobby, said something to the dogs and they shut up and got behind him.

Franco cracked the window.

"You fellows lost?" the guy said.

George and Franco looked at each other.  George leaned over and asked, "Is this the Bella Vista?"

"Yeah, who are you?"

"I'm George and this is Franco.  Who are you?"

"I'm Romeo.  Nice to meet you.  What are you doing here?"

Some skinny, half asleep kid came shuffling up the walkway, yawning so wide he could have swallowed one of the dogs.  He stood off to the side, leaned against the wall, waiting.

"We're here to see Johnny Black.  Didn't he tell you?"  Franco said, irritated. That made Romeo and the kid perk up.  They gave each other a look that amounted to a quick conversation.

"Usually Mr. G tells us who to expect. That's the way it works," Romeo said.

"Yeah," Franco said, getting snippy, "Johnny Black said Mr. G wanted us to meet him out here and lay low with him.  We just did a job for Mr. G."

"When did you talk to Johnny?" Romeo asked.

George shrugged. "I don't know, four, five days ago, however long it took us to get out here.  Listen, enough of the third degree, how 'bout you get Johnny Black?"

"Better yet," Franco said, shoving George away, "I gotta piss, you got a rest room in the lobby?  How 'bout we get out of the car and you start treating us like regular guys?"

Romeo nodded.  Him and the kid had another eyeball party and he said, "Tell you what, you guys go relax in a room, and I'll go give Mr. G a call, make sure everything's copacetic."

"Why the hell wouldn't it be?" George shouted.  The dogs stepped out from behind Romeo, growling, and the kid walked over to Franco's door. "Keep your pants on," he said, "he's just following the rules." He opened Franco's door and stood aside, "No need to get excited.  I got a nice room for ya right here "

Franco really did have to pee, so he got out, scowling at Romeo's back as the arrogant son of a bitch walked away from them into the lobby and picked up the phone on the front desk.  The kid walked them a couple of doors down to room #9 and unlocked the door.  They went inside and he said, "I'll get your bags for you soon as everything's straight." He shut the door and they heard him walk away to the lobby.

They stood there a moment staring at each other in shocked indignation. "Can you believe this shit?" Franco seethed as he snapped the lock on the door.

"When I see Johnny Black, I'm gonna punch his clock," George said.

"Nothing good has ever come from knowing that guy," Franco said. "I say we get our dough, and just hop over the border for a quick vacation."  He looked around at the sparse, small room.  "Why stay at this dump when we could be on the beach in Mexico?"

George smiled for the first time in a week.  "Yeah, Mexico... I like Mexican dames.  They know how to treat a guy."

"My bladder's gonna fuckin' burst," Franco said, heading for the bathroom.  "Jeez, middle of the night and it's hot as hell in here," he glanced up at the ceiling fan, "turn that fan on."  He stepped into the bathroom and shut the door.

George reached up and pulled the chain hanging down from the fan and sat down on the end of the bed. He sighed as the air started to circulate.  He had a chance to glance at his reflection in the mirror above the dresser and mutter, "Sexy senoritas..." before the mirror rippled, flexed and shattered.