Sunday, February 25, 2007

"When Gunpowder Gets In Your Eyes"

I saw him through the smoke, with something to as close as a smile that his grim face could‘ve ever managed. With all the bullets in the walls, ceiling, floor, flesh, and bone, I don’t know how I survived…or how he remain unscathed. There were six others in the room and I guessed that none of them were still alive, or they would’ve fired back at him by now. Or, maybe they were playing dead like me, hoping that he wouldn’t notice.

I was just here to play a friendly game of poker and get over on a couple of suckers…this was no way to celebrate my first natural royal flush. I had seen “Mr. Shit For Timing” before, but where? That’s right, he had been standing outside the last two poker games that I played, I couldn’t forget his grim face. He makes a gargoyle seem positively jovial in comparison.

All the smoke from the gunfire seems to be settling in my lungs, what the hell? I thought smoke can descend only so far. If only he could’ve waited another fifteen minutes, I would’ve thrown the next two hands after my flush and been done with this.

I have to keep my eyes blank and still…what is with all this smoke? Did someone fire a musket? That’s it, leave, you grim-faced dickhead. Go away. It doesn’t sound like he’s going over to the table, how could he pass up five large? No, he slid that tacky little table, he’s going for that odd-looking case in the corner. Oh, shit, I’m gonna-




“All clear, Sargeant!”

“What happened here?”

“I guess someone started a poker game and then a war broke out.”

“Holy shit, we got one that’s still alive!”


Great there’s the bright white light that I’ve heard so much about, I might as well move toward it I guess…okay, Saint Peter is a cop?

“Hey George, he’s up!”

“All right, give me some room, Sargeant.”

I guess I’m not done for, after all.

“No, no, look over here, please. Do you know who shot you? Can you give me a description?”

Oh, that’s not good-

“Get out of the way, he’s going into arrest!”


One minor heart attack, several hours of surgery and one short, medically induced coma later, I’m in the hospital bed, giving the police sketch artist a description.The sketch artist turns to the Sergeant who is just coming into the room and gives him a look at the sketch.

“Are you sure, this is who shot you?”

“Me and everybody in the room, yeah. It was like he was bulletproof or something.”

“You’re positive?”


“He bears a striking resemblance to my captain.”

“...No, I guess my memory is tainted from all that I’ve been through. Forget about it.”

“No, if you say this is the guy-”

“I said, forget about it! I w-w-w-w-as blinded, all that gun smoke and powder, you know? Just forget about it.”


The Sergeant didn’t forget about it and neither did I. But this was between the sketch artist and us, so none of us talked because I was still alive, playing poker. A year later, the captain got what was his, while he was trying to sell a jade statue to the very people that it turns out, were the original owners…or so I hear. Nothing’s for certain, unless you witness it yourself. I’m also guessing that very same jade statue was in the odd-looking case that was in the corner.

I still haven’t got a natural royal flush, though I’ve hit it with different wild cards. What the hell, which is better? The hand of a lifetime? Or your life?

Note: JJ's starter sentence was, "I saw her/him through the smoke…" This was my next to last Friday Flash Fiction piece. I turned into an attention junkie which is never good for a writer and I got mad because the feedback I was getting was from the same three people. In retrospect, as long at they are objective, that's a good thing.


“I swear, Clive, summer drags on around here, like a snail trying to crawl through a field of salt.”

“Yeah, I wish someone would renovate a house, so we could watch the paint dry.”

Clive and I were throwing a Frisbee around. Not “tossing,” throwing. I kept the banter up to distract him, because I was throwing it, just a little bit harder each time. I was trying to lead him into the old widow, Mrs. Martin’s yard. I saw her curtain pull back just a little, the fuse was lit.

“Yeah, if only there was a cow to tip, that would be an upgrade for this town,” I shouted, hoping that Mrs. Martin would be the one having a cow. In an amazing feat of athleticism, Clive leapt up like a wide receiver at the goal line and snatched the disc just before it went into her yard. Then, he threw right back to me…and beyond…shit, Yao Ming couldn’t have caught that one.

I gave Clive a look. He smiled and gave me a look back that said, “serves you right.”

Unfortunately, that was no ordinary Frisbee. My grand uncle gave that to me before he passed on, the only kindness the old jerk ever showed to me or my little brother. He would miss the Frisbee the most of all, because he looked up to the old rat bastard.

It had to land in the only other place I wouldn’t want it go besides Mrs. Martin’s, the abandoned Grimsrud house. The specifics of what happened in that house have been lost through the generations, but not the sense fear and trepidation. I do know that it had something to do with just about every missing person within the neighboring three states and a wood chipper, but that’s all I could discern from the many people that the tale had passed through and the years of misinformation.

As I turned around, I saw the disc sail through an already broken window. As I jumped over the fence, I gave Clive the one-fingered salute and wondered just why it was, that no one ever demolished creepy, abandoned houses. Was that too much to ask? I mean, it was a known rat hotel and God knew what else decided to set up house there. Hell, even the stoners and huffers gave the place a wide berth, they knew to stay away, even when they were out of their minds.

My trembling hand reached through the broken window and slid the lower portion open. The Frisbee landed on the far side of what appeared to be what was left of the living room. All the furniture and furnishings were left just as they were when the house was abandoned. They were covered in dust, mildew and mold.

The pictures and paintings left behind of this family would make the Devil tug on his collar like a comedian bombing on stage. A whole different level of evil lived right across the street from grandparents back then and they knew nothing about it, until the last Grimsrud that survived that night of carnage, was arrested.

As I picked up the disc, I heard a sound that was decidedly…female. I guessed that it was either a couple of huffers, or people from out of town…doing the nasty in the basement. The woman had just started moaning and my first thought was how to sneak a peek without getting caught. I threw the Frisbee out of the window and stole down the basement stairs as quietly as I could.

I deliberately eased gently, down each step and each step let out a low creak. Yet, apparently they, or she, didn’t hear me. I didn’t hear a man, or another woman, so my mind raced with a different permutation for each step. If there wasn’t anyone else there other than this ecstatic woman, I was more than at the ready, to volunteer some assistance. As I got to the next to last step, I just remembered that Clive was outside, I hoped that he would stay away from the house.

When I got to the basement floor, the moaning stopped. It was fairly dark down there, save for a beam of light from the lone window. I saw a woman so pale, her skin was almost translucent. She smiled at me with her lips clenched, then her upper lip curled and fangs appeared. In the blink of an eye, she came at me and she rebounded back just as fast.

She lunged at me again and I saw what was holding her back. Her arms were shackled to the stone floor and her wings were constricted by leather bindings. She wore a thin, veil-like outfit that look like something out of a Frazetta painting, and her eyes turned from green to red. I had the misfortune of backing up in the wrong direction, I should’ve moved towards the stairs. When I went for the stairs, she came at me again.

The chains had enough slack in them to keep me from reach the stairs or the window. Now all of sudden, I wanted Clive to come barging on what I misconstrued as going to be fun. This creature had suckered me in with her sounds of pleasure. The only climax that would be reached, was when she would get to feast on my neck. I heard footsteps coming down the stairs and I knew it had to be Clive! Here comes the cavalry!

Something flew down the stairs and the creature pounced on it with cat-like quickness. Jesus, it was Clive’s head! Thanks Clive, did you get your cavalry lessons from Custer? Oh shit, I was done for! I looked over to the stairs and it was Mrs. Martin! Oh, how she was smiling and that smile looked familiar, somehow. The thick, coke bottle glasses that she had on, were even more familiar.

Then I remembered, she reminded me of one of those evil offspring in a picture that was over the fireplace. Give or take forty-five years, you could still see the resemblance, she was a Grimsrud. Mrs. Martin threw the Frisbee at me and it landed at my feet, smeared in blood.

Clive must have followed me in here and she killed him. Mrs. Martin went back upstairs and I started to scream for help, knowing that it was next to useless. Everybody in town was at the County Fair, except for Clive and me, but a last resort is better than no resort at all. There was nothing I could use as a weapon, I wasn’t sure if that was because Mrs. Martin didn’t want me defending myself, or so that the creature couldn’t use anything on her, or to get away.

My cries for help were silenced when another object flew down the stairs and it appeared to be one of Clive’s hands. I started to yell for help again when that's when the light came on and then I saw the bones…so many of them. I had no idea where one body began and another started, but I knew from the skulls that a lot of people had met their demise from Mrs. Martin or the creature. I also saw a painted circular line that I determined was the boundary as to how far the creature could reach.

I didn’t know what to make of the creature herself. If I saw her walking down the street with her wings covered up, I would’ve thought she was one of the most beautiful women in the world. Though beauty is skin deep, horror is to the core. The little head rightfully packed it in and the big head took over. I thought it over and I had only one way out of here.

“I know who took your ring, Mrs. Martin.”

Nothing. I bellowed, “Mrs. Martin, I know who took your ring and I know where it is!”

I waited for a minute and just as I wondering if she heard me, she came storming down the stairs. Without looking, she stopped just before the line.

“Did I hear right?”

“Yep. The ring that was stolen four years ago? The one that you were cried about two years after the theft? I know where it is.”

“Then tell me.”

“What, and then you feed me to her anyway? No thanks.”

“You’re not getting out of here.”

“Then you’re not getting your ring.”

She stormed back up the stairs. I shuddered because as I looked over to the creature, I saw that she had cleaned all the flesh off of Clive’s hand, leaving just the bones, which she threw into the pile. She looked at me and smiled, and I couldn’t tell as to which smile scared me more. Hers, or Mrs. Martin’s.

Mrs. Martin came back down the stairs with a whip and a bloody machete in her hand. She just confirmed what I already knew, that her and the creature weren’t on friendly terms, or there wouldn’t have been that painted line.

Mrs. Martin cracked the whip at the creature, but the creature only took half a step back and she was coiled to strike. Mrs. Martin cracked the whip twice, in quick succession and I charged her on the second strike. I guessed that with those coke bottle glasses that her peripheral vision would be poor and I was right.

She brought the machete up, but it was too late as I twisted it away from her hand and pushed her towards the creature. I felt a great rush of air as the creature pulled Mrs. Martin away. I think I only touched three of the twenty steps on the stair case as I went up, and I nearly slipped in the blood and gore that used to be Clive. There was quite a battle going on back there, as I could hear the screams between the monster and the human monstrosity as I went past the front door.

I got all the way to the front gate before I stopped, then I ran back in. I grabbed something from Clive’s coat and ran back downstairs. What I saw down there, amounted to the longest fourteen seconds of my life, then I fled the house twice as fast as I had the first time.


“Jake, you know that I will lock you up for filing a false police report.”“Sheriff, you don’t have to believe me. I just want you to take a look down there and if you don’t believe me, you can lock me away and throw away the key, because I’ll be safer in jail.”

“Boy, you better not be messing with me, Josie will have her corndog stand closed by the time I get back to the fair.”

I hesitated as we got out of the car. I stopped at the front gate and the sheriff pushed me ahead.

“Did you call on the deputies, too? I don’t think you’ll be able to handle her by yourself.”

“Listen, Jake, I can handle any woman, God put on this Earth.”

“Yeah, that God put on this Earth.”

“If I found out that this whole thing was a joke, you’ll be washing all the county’s squad cars...everyday, come rain or shine.”

We got to the front door and he saw the remnants of Clive. The sheriff immediately arrested and handcuffed me. He put me in the back of the squad car. He called for back up from all the surrounding counties and he went inside.

The wait between when he went inside and when a back up car arrived was agonizing, I was afraid that the creature would have me for dessert and there wouldn’t be a damn thing I could do about it, handcuffed and locked up in this car. Two more cars pulled up, then the sheriff came running out.

“Jake, what the hell did you to your best friend?! What did you do to those people?”

“It can all be explained…in my right front pocket, sheriff.”As it turned out, the creature was gone and she had picked that old crone, Mrs. Martin, clean. The sheriff reached into my pocket and pulled out what I had gone back for, Clive’s cell phone. In those fourteen seconds that I returned to the basement, I had taken three pictures of the creature and the last struggles of Mrs. Martin.

They still thought I had fabricated the whole thing, until the forensic pathologists from the state, coupled with the skeletons stripped of flesh that were popping up all over the nearby counties with me still in jail, convinced them that I had nothing to do with this.

The sheriff had paid a visit to my house a week after I was freed and we talked things over. From what they found, they believed that the Grimsruds were using the wood chippers to get rid of evidence and that they had kept the creature for generations. Mrs. Martin must have somehow smuggled the creature away when the last of her kin was arrested, though they would never know for certain how the clan had met their demise.

As for me? I moved to the Canary Islands because I figured that the creature couldn’t fly that far. My love life has been tepid at best, because I don’t care how beautiful a woman is or how wonderful she seems. If it is female and flies? I don’t want to know. That includes stewardesses.

Note: JJ's starter sentence was, "her arms shackled to the stone floor and her wings constricted by leather bindings..." and it's based on a Frank Frazetta avatar that a fellow blogger had. Peter Stormare's character Gaear Grimsrud, is the one that fed Steve Buscemi's character, Carl Showalter into the woodchipper in "Fargo."

"Spin, Couch, Spin"

On a blog that I used to lurk on, a blogger asked a question and I responded with an autobiographical story. She then reposted it to a blog that was going to tie-in blogging with beer, I guess they were going to do their own brew and things didn't quite work out. Here it is, warts and all...

I’ve had alcohol at various stages before then, but fourteen was the first time I got full-on lit up. A friend of mine was in a juvenile halfway house, out towards the beach and I would go visit him after school.This was in 1979, before drug & alcohol testing was so prevalent, so I doubt the same could take place today. A couple of the older residents scored some Ranier Ale, a.k.a. “Green Death” and they invited over the residents of a nearby female juvenile half-way house.

I was crushing on the gal closest to my age, though I doubt she felt the same. She opened a 16 oz. can of Ranier and proceeded to drink the whole thing in three gulps, then she crushed the can.

Of course my young macho ass was not going to have a “girl” out drink me, much less one that was smaller than me. I never drunk more than a few sips of any alcoholic beverage before that day, nor have I ever in my life, developed a skill for speed drinking.I don’t remember a lot beyond that stage, other than that:

A) All the girls drank and ran, literally. They knew how to put it away and not even have to dole out five lines of conversation. Much less, a goodnight hug or kiss.

B) I have no talent for drinking. Not then, not now.

C) They call Ranier Ale “Green Death” for a very good reason, because that’s the way it makes you feel after a couple of cans.

D) When the couch wants to, it can spin like one of those centrifuges that the astronauts train in to withstand G-forces.

E) When the room wants to, it can spin like one of those centrifuges that the astronauts train in to withstand G-forces.

F) Call me “Days Of Our Lives” because I knew just what “the sands of time” felt like when they went “through the hourglass.” I didn’t want to “fall” into the ceiling.

G) That was the first time, but it took me another three times to figure out that carpets everywhere fear me when raw tomatoes and alcohol are involved.

Note: Now you have a pretty good impression of why I only drink once in a blue moon.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

"Think Inside The Box"

“Spare change, mister?” he asked me as he scratched himself all over.I looked him up and down once and smiled.

“Change that I can spare?…No.”

“Oh, c’mon, man, don’t be that way!”

That settled it, I wasn’t giving him anything. He did a poor job of concealing the scabs that his own nails had excavated, because he went too long between fixes. My experience from the fleabag hotels that I stayed in, told me that he had gone at least a couple of days in-between. I had to give him credit for doing as well as he did, in hiding his shakes.

He was about to touch me, when I let him know with a small look that such a gesture would result in a greater pain than the withdrawals he was experiencing. As he ducked aside, I saw the unmarked police car. Why don’t they just go ahead and put the insignia or decal on them, anyway,? As if anyone other than cabbies and police drive Crown Victorias.

I could tell which one of the twins they had nabbed because of the fear in his eyes, it was “Brock.” The other one’s name was “Rock,” that took real imagination on their parents part, there. I acted casual and went into a corner store, this wasn’t my first close shave, nor would it be my last. How can you get ahead in the criminal life, when the cops get radar after you pull a job?

With the sun’s glare in my favor, neither Brock nor the cops saw me as they drove off. I couldn’t go back upstairs or near the hotel, and risk that they didn’t have the room under surveillance. I bought a dumb trucker hat that said “save a horse, ride a cowboy” on it and pulled it over my brow.

On the way down the street, I gave the junkie a ten-dollar bill because he had unintentionally saved my ass. The ingrate ran off without saying “thank you." Three blocks away, I hailed a cab with the money I had left and prayed that there wasn’t an accurate sketch of me in every patrol car, yet.

I knew from the start that it was wrong to throw in with these amateurs, but then again, someone vouched for them. This was it, though, I was a solo act as soon as I recovered the stash. They screwed around and screwed up so many things, I was wondering if the twins bribed guys in the joint to chat them up as competent.

Rock was the brains, the backbone, the muscle, and the balls (more like BBs, the Napoleon-complex-affected little shit) of the crew. Brock seemed to me, to be nothing but a “yes-man" and he couldn‘t even get that right. He was one of those guys that believed the glass to be half-empty, and that the other half was always full of poison. “Cheers,” Brock.

I gave the cabbie a fifty-cent tip and if looks could kill, he would have strung me like that Atlantic blue marlin that was hanging on that pole...surrounded by those guys taking pictures, only I’d be deader. Hell, I was twice as angry as he was, all of my spending money and everything I had, was back at the hotel. I climbed over the gate that they use to keep people out of the yacht berths and in a place like this, I knew someone had already called the cops. Finesse and stealth are for those who have the luxury of time.

I jumped on the boat that Brock was supposed to be working on and headed straight for the fish hold. It was wide open, with the fish and ice still there. But the jewels were gone. Suddenly I had a feeling the cops didn’t get radar at all…they were tipped and I figured that Rock set his own twin brother up. Brock wouldn’t sell his brother out right away and by the time they figured out which twin they had, Rock would have the kind of head start that have him already past Cuba.

I had to get my head together, but I had to get out of there first or they would nab me while I was doing my impression of Rodin’s “The Thinker.”

As I jogged down the pier, a beautiful woman pointed at my forehead. Did I say “woman?” She was more like a "girl." Twenty, tops.

Like Yogi Berra once said, “it’s like déjà vu all over again.” She reminded me of a younger version of the Columbian “cowgirl” that did me wrong three jobs ago, only I assumed that she was Cuban. Presumptuous of me, I know. But I always believed that every Latin in Miami was Cuban, until they told me otherwise. That way I wouldn’t say anything that could be misconstrued as even the faintest praise of Fidel Castro.

Getting back to the Columbian cowgirl, she double-crossed me out of a fortune and she got away. When I first saw the cops carting Brock off, I was doubting my own motivations on staying honest. As a matter of fact, since I did most of the work on the heist, I considered double-crossing Rock, but the little bastard beat me to it.

“I like your hat,” she said with a smile of perfect, blinding teeth, that said to me that her daddy was a dentist. That would explain why she could lounge on daddy’s yacht…or maybe the word “sugar” should go in front of “daddy.”

“I saw a guy who had the same hat, walking through here just five minutes ago.”

“Yeah, are you sure, sweetness?” I poured on the charm, though I had no intention of following through. If they look like they are “twenty,” they’re fifteen years old, and it’s four years in the pen, for the guy dumb enough to believe their fake IDs.

“Uh-huh, he was on the same boat as the one you were just on. He asked me where there was a Fed-Ex store around here…hey, where are you going?”

I had no time nor inclination to chit-chat. I knew that Rock was going to mail the jewels to whichever country he was going to sail to, so he could avoid any chances that they might be seized by a foreign coast guard, shore patrol, or customs.

At a liquor store, I shop-lifted the biggest sunglasses that I could find and ran out the door before the Haitian shop-keeper could make short work of me with a machete. As I jogged up to the Fed-Ex franchise, Rock was coming out. He didn’t see me and judging by his smile, he never would, because he was too busy counting the money in his head.

I gave him a minute, then I went in. The man behind the counter glared at me. Hell, I would’ve thought I was up to something too, if I had me as a customer. I asked him if a guy came in here with the same hat as I had on. He nodded and said nothing. I looked behind him and another man was sealing up a parcel.

I leaned over the counter and the man behind it folded his arms as if that was going to intimidate me at this point. I assumed that this was Rock’s package from the postage and the foreign zip code. I mean, “postal code” since it was destined for overseas. I leapt over the counter, grabbed the package and leapt back before either of them could react. By the time they were shouting useless threats at me, I was already by the door.

I had no intention of opening the package right there, I just had to have faith that I had snatched the correct one. I had no money, no tools to steal a car with, no change of clothes, and by then, there would be an all-points-bulletin in every police jurisdiction in Florida, with my picture on it. But I had almost a million dollars worth, retail, of jewels under my right arm…or I had a box with just cookies and a few dollars, that someone was sending back home to some poor Latin backwater.

Mira, either way, I liked those odds because maybe I double-crossed someone else, for a change.

Note: JJ wanted the sentence “…but the little creep beat me to it.” This is a continuation of the Heist Man's adventures from "$8,400 A Carat."

"They Call Her The Breeze"

Statistically, for every three people murdered in the United States, two of the victims will personally know or be acquainted with their murderer. If you’re in a musical trio, or in a car pool, don’t look at one of your fellow musicians or commuters funny, or say the wrong thing. You don’t want to become another statistic.

Worse yet, more often than not, the system is set up so either the evidence must be more overwhelming than merely solid, to get a conviction. Or if there is a conviction, the punishment often, doesn’t fit the crime. So justice sometimes fails as a deterrent to both crime and murder.

It’s hard to feel safe as a woman in America, and I feel even less than safe because with my job, I have to move frequently. I did extensive research on this neighborhood before I even moved to this town, then I narrowed down the blocks that I found to be ideal. One house met my criteria and even looked picture perfect in the daytime.

At night? That was something entirely different. I found that there certain shadows that wouldn’t be cast out, no matter where I put my halogen lamps. When the sun went down and all the heat escaped to the attic, the house would moan and creak with the contractions of the wooden walls. The floors often sounded like someone was trying to sneak up on me, where there was no one to be found.

Amazingly, I was used to all this. This was my fifth move in as many years. It took me a few days to unpack and get situated, then two more to find the perfect jogging path. My chin-up bar, I kept in my bedroom closet, along with my free weights. After a week, I had to find a steady job to pay my bills. The job that should’ve been started, was at a standstill. It looked like it was going to take longer than I had anticipated.

I was always careful to jog in the same place, at the same time and stroll the same area at night. I decided to keep to myself and not socialize too much with the locals, because in the last town, that complicated my job. I practiced the few self-defense moves that I knew, who knows when they’ll come in handy?

It was an unseasonably hot evening that October, I had to open a few windows because the air was stagnating. I came out of the shower, all nice and relaxed. I slipped into a tee and some shorts, then I decided to sit in front of the living room window as a nice breeze was blowing against that side of the house.

As I flopped onto the couch, I realized that the center window was up higher than I had left it. I tensed, but before I could get up, I felt a sharp blade prick the left-side of my neck.

“Don’t scream…don’t move. Keep quiet and I won’t have to hurt you. If you understand me, say so, quietly.”

“Yes,” I whispered with a voice that sounded far more scared than I felt. I was actually quite calm.

“We’re going to go into the bedroom and you’re going to keep quiet. This will be over sooner than you think, if you don’t scream and you do exactly what I say.”

I took a deep breath, then I slowly got up. He had to shift the knife to keep it on me and I knew he would be leaning forward. I spun just as the knife went back a couple of inches and he stepped over the back of the couch with his right foot. He hesitated, they always do. His eyes went wide under his ski mask and he lunged forward with the knife.

I began with a simple aikido move using his own momentum and I turned his own knife back into him. His eyes went even wider as the blade sunk into his chest. I used another aikido maneuver to grab him by his shirt and he fell on his own blade with a loud gasp. I smiled at the ease of this night.

I went over to the alcove to pick up my phone and call 911, when he grabbed me by my ankle. He was begging me to call him an ambulance, while he tried to find the handle of the knife. I kept an eye on him as I took the phone as I walked into the kitchen, where I grabbed a dish towel.

I looked as concerned as possible when I stood over him and said, “try to hang on, the ambulance is on its way.”

He said, “thanks," just as he had successfully found the hilt of the knife.

The concern on my face melted into another smile, and then, by God, I killed the son of a bitch. With the dish towel, I pushed down on the pommel of the knife and drove it in as far as it would go. I cursed myself for getting sloppy, mentally. If you saw as many horror movies as I had seen in my lifetime, you would know that the very first thing you do when the villain is down, is finish him.

I left the towel on top of him and went into the kitchen. I opened a drawer with my right foot, then grabbed one baggie, then another with my toes. One baggie was for the dish towel and the other was to open the back door, where I had a stash spot for any unplanned evidence in the yard. Then I worked myself up into hysterical fit and called the police.

With these small towns, it’s always open and shut with them, but I always like to make sure by leaving as little evidence as possible. The police interviewed me, taped off my house as a crime scene, while they put me up in a local motel. It never takes more than two days and at the end of the two days, I tell them that I simply have to move as soon as possible because I don’t feel safe in their town.

The easiest part is finding the paroled rapist and getting him to rise to the bait (though this one took longer than most). The hardest parts are the identity thefts that I have to perpetrate to protect my own identity. As well as wiping away all fingerprints and traces of me in the home before I move on.

Note: JJ wanted the sentence, “and then, by God, I killed the son of a bitch.”

"The Hair Of The Pill"

I was late for an appointment in the City. I should've already been there an hour ago and the train had just pulled into Berkeley. I just dry-swallowed the pill that I take to keep my disease in check, but it's efficacy was in question. It could be likened to allergy pills in that eventually you build a tolerance to the stuff and then the sneezes will come at the most inconvenient times. The doors opened and I was blindsided by a Yuppie jerk, wham, in the chest. I almost spat the pill back up, just catching it with the skin of my teeth like this idiot that I saw on TV as a kid who used to catch bullets, only in reverse.

I winced and made for the door when the Yuppie grabbed me.

"There! Don't go on there! Vampires on a train! There are!"

Now that I had a second chance to study him, the guy was as off as his sentences were. His clothes were about twelve years out of style, his shirt was misbuttoned, his face had smudges of God knows what on it and then, his smell hit me in the worst way. This guy was a "5150," which is the designation under the California Penal Code for someone who is criminal insane and the label that those in the law enforcement profession, use for nut jobs.

I've seen his type before. They lose their jobs or their minds, in either order. Then they still "go to work" with their briefcases filled with old newspapers or drawings and scribblings that reflect how far off the deep end they've gone.

I ignored him and stepped on to the car, he grabbed me and pleaded, "no! There are vampires on there!"I rubbed my five o'clock shadow and told him calmly, "my father is Italian and my mother is Korean. With the dishes that they taught me how to cook, I eat at least a bulb of garlic a day. If anything, the vampires should be afraid of me."

The doors closed and he tried to pry them open as they train pulled away. I was going to laugh at him or flip him off, but I figured the guy is in enough torment from his own mind, and it would do no good to compound that. It was just before lunch so there wasn't a lot of people on the train, though some of the passengers wouldn't have to work that hard to pass for monsters on Halloween.

There was a man in a suit that was tuxedo-like and his hair was all too slicked back. He had so much stuff in his hair, I could've turned him upside down at the next stop and he would've slid out of the train, despite the carpet. He definitely would've been a "Dapper Dan Man" if such a product actually existed, but I imagined that he had used a whole jar of gel to get that effect. I saw him eyeing a bike messenger in such a way that he definitely wasn't looking at the bicyclist's neck nor was it his blood that he was after.

Then there was a Goth chick. So pale that she was almost translucent and her hair was dyed-pitch black to match her makeup and clothes. The empty look behind her eyes and the snarl on her lips made her seem more zombie than vampire. Then there was a tall cat sitting right behind with scars all over his face. I imagined that he was in an accident and that he probably went through a window. If you painted him green and pulled the discs that he had through his earlobes down and fashioned them into bolts, you would have Frankenstein.

Then there were the real life, aspiring monsters and you could see it their eyes. Cats on their way to job interviews and their only ambition in life is to be like Ken Lay, only, they want to get away with it. I sat as far away from them as possible, the stench of their twisted souls smelled worse to me than that crazy man.

I got off at Glen Park Station and caught a bus to my appointment, a decrepit house on other side of University Mound, a small neighborhood where most of the streets were named after universities. The gate was wide open to the house with the tunnel entrance and the tunnel was dark, though I had no problem seeing with such little light. I guess the locals had figured out a long time ago not to come in there for in that darkness, two Afghan Wolfhounds stood guard.

They had decided that I wasn't a threat before I even passed the threshold of the gate, though they were clearly annoyed at me by the fangs that they bared. I climbed to the top of the stairs and stopped. There was no doorbell, no door handle, no knocker or door, for that matter. I knocked on three walls that faced me, then the wall in front of me, lit up.

There on the wall were lights showing all phases of the moon and the wall slid open. A small Australian Aborigine stood before me, flossing his teeth.

"Hi, sorry that I'm late. I-"

He held a finger to his lips to shush me, then he flossed some more. He took a piece of food from the floss and flicked it at me.

"You're not sorry, mate, you're fucked."

"I had a relapse last night and it got involved. I couldn't get here any sooner than-"

"You know who I am, you know what I can do. You piss-fart around with my time and you wind up buggered. Plain and simple enough, bye."

The wall slid closed and the dogs growled. I turned around slowly and sidled past them.

I don't know how long I wandered around the City in despair, but it was dark by the time I got back to Berkeley. I had a feeling that all the pills in the world wouldn't prevent a relapse and that my last hope slid closed with that wall. As I cut through a dark wooded area on the fringe of the campus, I heard a twig snap, then footsteps.

"The train, you got. The vampires, they didn't get you."

It was that Yuppie Bum and he had a box cutter in each hand.I started shaking and my forehead broke out into a cold sweat.

"Yeah, I got away from them," I said, my voice fluctuating like a guitarist was using it as a tremolo bar.

"Then, must really be good, you. There's no way anyone is that good."He took a step closer to me and I visibly shook.

"What are you doing with those in your hand?"

"These? What, these? Oh, no. I'm houses. I'm cutting houses for my friends."

He motioned downward with one of the box cutters toward some refrigerator boxes that he was making into cardboard cabins with. My shaking, amongst other things, was past the point of no return. He looked at me with shock and pity, then he quickly put the box cutters away and out his hands as if to assure he me that he didn't mean any threat.

"I thank you for the warning, but there was nothing to really be scared about on that train."

He put a hand on my shoulder to console me, my eyes bulged.

"No, your warning wasn't necessary, because vampires don't exist."

A growl crept up from my belly and as I saw the fear in his eyes, I knew that he had an inkling that my disease had a little more to it than the common cold.

The timbre in my voice deepened as I muttered, "now, werewolves? That's something else altogether..."

Note: In response to the "Snakes On A Plane" -hype, JJ wanted a story that had "vampires on a train."

"Snow And Sacrifice"

This is why I cleaned floors for forty-six years?”

Even though he was nearly passed out, Jason heard the cold, metallic voice all too clearly. His right eye fluttered open and his lips trembled. His head that was hanging off the edge of the abandoned couch, flew into the upright position like someone had attached cables to his ears and gave him a jump start from beyond.

He looked up and down the dark alley that looked like it was covered in dusty, ashen cotton. The darkness, the garbage and soot of the city, gave the snow that complexion. Jason couldn’t find the owner of the voice, nor did he want to. It made him feel even colder than a swirling February wind coming the wrong way off of Lake St. Clair, and it ruined the good high that he had going. The good high that kept his mind off of the fact that he stole a twelve-year old girl’s cell phone to get this fix in the first place.

“Whoever said that, must have been using a speaker,” Jason giggled and mumbled. “No one in their right mind would be out here right now. They would have to be an Eskimo or twice as high as me.”

He sniffed, not from the cold, but from the prospect of facing another Detroit winter as a worthless junkie. His grandmother and mother wanted so much more for him. He did too, until he fell in with the wrong crowd and after that, he would fall down all day in trying to get his next fix. Jason had run out of veins to tap and his mother ran out of patience. She threw him out a year ago and his grandmother died the year before that, on her way to the pharmacy to pick up her heart medicine.

Jason couldn’t get comfortable on the couch and his mood changed from sad to livid. He was supposed to be the first person to graduate college in his family and he didn’t even have enough money to buy a loaf of day old bread from the bakery. He really got angry when he mulled it over and figured out that the cell phone he had traded for a bad batch of skag, had both a camera and blue tooth.

“Trey ripped me off. I could’ve got a cheap hotel room off of that” he groaned. Jason shifted, tossed and turned until he got as comfortable on that couch as he could get. A light snow commenced and the flakes melted on his face. He imagined the snow was his grandmother caressing his hair like she did when the world was simple and right, then something tangled in his short curls.

Jason tried to get up, but the unknown pulled his hair and his head back down on the couch. He looked up wide-eyed at the withered and taut skeletal face hovering above him. The corpse pointed a gray brown finger at him, then slapped him across the head. Jason tried to run again, but was yanked by the hair even harder and slapped twice this time.

Jason tried to scream, but his vocal cords were as frozen as the rime forming on the dirty snow. He tried to pull the hand off of his hair, but hands flinched with revulsion when he touched it.

“Don‘t pretend that you didn‘t hear me boy! Is this is why I cleaned floors for forty-six years?”


“Is this why I left Arkansas? Is this why I changed bedpans? Why I change urine soaked sheets? Why I wiped the stinkiest-”

“Stinkiest is not a word, grandma-”

“Shut up!”

“I could be wrong, but I don’t think it’s a wor-”


“Don’t you interrupt! Why I wiped the stinkiest, foulest, more putrid than a pot of chitins left out all summer long, crustiest, butts at the old folk‘s home, just so you could waste your life?”

Jason couldn’t believe it. Here was his grandmother, feeding worms for two years and four miles away from her coffin, yelling at him. She was so desiccated that she had no eyes, how did she find her way here? She was so rotted, that there was no way that she could have any vocal chords, yet he could hear her all too clearly.

“How many jobs did I work every week, to put food in your belly and clothes on your back?”

“Three, grandma.”


“I didn’t hear, didn’t I teach you not to mumble?!”

“Yes, grandma! Three.”

“How many vacations did I take?”

“None, grandma.”

“How many dates did I pass up on, so that someone would always be at home to watch over you at night?"

“But grandma, you were working all the ti-”


“You went on no dates, grandma!”

“So, I worked hard all my life and given my life up so that you could be the first of us to go to college, right? This is how you pay me back? This is how you honor my memory? This is how you treat your mother?”

She gave Jason one last hard tug and pulled out three tufts of his hair in the process, then she pushed him off the couch.

“You better get your shit together!”

Jason got up and took off running!

“Or the next time I visit you boy, you’ll wish that-”

He didn’t hear the rest because at that point, he found his voice…literally. Jason screamed while he ran three blocks, which was not an easy thing when his diet for the last six months consisted of heroin, candy and Twinkies. By the time he stopped screaming, he still couldn’t hear a thing because of his racing heart and throbbing head. He didn’t hear or see Trey until he ran into him.

Jason begged Trey to lend him some money, but Trey wouldn’t go for it. Jason explained to Trey that Trey had been getting the better of the dealer-junkie relationship and Trey said that was the cost of doing business. Jason then convinced Trey to front him some drugs because he knew some rich kids from his high school days.

Trey did so reluctantly and Jason did sell the drugs to the rich kids, only Trey never got the money because Jason ran off to the bus depot. He took the first bus out of there and wound up in Taos, where he got a job in a Laundromat. Jason is now enrolled in a local community college and working two part-time jobs.

Jason keeps his head clean, inside and out. He shaves his head and he’s never had the urge to take up the “H,” China white, black tar, skag, or even anything stronger than aspirin…the three patches of skin where his hair never grew back, tell him that grandma will visit him if he is ever tempted by drugs calls again.

Note: JJ wanted a story about "sacrifice."

"Not Exactly A Redhead"

She was born in 1969 and some could say that she led a sheltered life. Thirty-four years later with everyone in her family past their prime, she was still the same head turner as the day I first saw her. She was a dirty flirt, she was loyal to no one, too damn fast, she was all wrong for me, and that’s why I was in love. As long as I can remember, I would see her hanging out in my neighbor’s garage where he spent all his time, devoted to her. She never reciprocated his fidelity and when you looked like that, why would you?

I’d never get next to anything like that, so I resigned my love to be forever unrequited. Then one day as I trudging home from my barely better than minimum wage job, I noticed that my neighbor’s garage door was closed. The next day, the same. Five days later, I noticed that the garage door was still closed, but there was a wreath with a black band across it. I felt a sadness overwhelming, but I couldn’t figure out just why.

The next day, there was knock on my door. I opened it and grim-faced women stood before me with her arms folded. She wore a black suit that looked about two sizes too small and I wondered if that contributed to the look on her face.

“Yeah, you’re the one.”

“I am? Hi, I’m Tony."

Her face softened, then she smiled…if you could call it a smile. It was more like a sneer mixed with a scowl.

“I’m a Toni, too. With an ‘i.’ I’m your neighbor, I live five doors down.”

“Oh. Oh…someone has passed on at your place, right?”

“My husband, yes. That’s kind of why I’m here. Do you have any money?”

I thought this was kind of odd, going door-to-door for donations, but I checked my wallet and then, showed it to her.

“Just five dollars. I’m sorry, things are kind of tight. I wouldn’t even have a roof over my except my cousin rents this house to me for next nothing.”

“I tell you what kid, give the five to me.”

I was going to say something rude, but held back because she had lost someone who may or may not have been close to her. I shrugged and handed her the money.

“Thank you. Now come with me.”

“...I have something I have to get back to, inside.”

“Trust me, kid.”

I reluctantly followed her, she seemed to be in a hurry…well, not exactly. After a few seconds, I realized that was how she walked and man, could she walk. If I could’ve bottled that walk, I would’ve been a millionaire. She looked back at me and her eyes seemed different. They were beautiful and they had a sparkle in them that wasn’t there, just a few minutes before.

We went to her house and I realized that she lived on the other side of the street with that all too familiar garage. The no longer stern-faced Toni opened the garage door, her sneer was now a fully-realized, bright and intense smile.

She handed a pair of keys to me and a slip of paper.

“What’s this?” I asked, but I already knew.

“She’s all yours.”

She wasn’t quite the redhead that Enzo envisioned…more like orange. Four-hundred and twenty-seven cubic inches of erotic bliss. “Monaco Orange” to be exact. A 1969 Corvette with 427 V-8 engine…pristine, not prissy. As raw as a modern Porsche or Ferrari is sophisticated. Pure muscle, no refinement.

“She belonged to my husband Curt, as you know. I saw you walking by everyday, admiring her. What a marriage, Curt was more in love with her than me. I know that you too, seemed quite smitten with her, so...”

All I could do was mumble “thanks.”

“She's yours. All I ask is just don’t drive her in front of my house. It’s like having to look at the other woman for the rest of your life.”

So I did as Toni asked and I never drove the ‘vette in front of her house, or out around town if I could help it. The next week, Toni needed help taking Curt’s things to Goodwill, so I pitched in. We went out to lunch afterward and from that gleam in her eye, a spark ignited something between us.

I’d drop by her house and she’d drop by mine, but we never moved into together…the car, you know. It was quite a fling, until I got a real job and had to move away. I learned a lot from Toni, mostly that Curt was an idiot. Because a good car is only worth half of a better woman, and you can always get another car.

Note: JJ wanted "Dirt, hurt, Curt, flirt, and an orange" in the story.

"Empty, What?"

I had never seen one before except on television. I’m sorry, my grandfather always called it “television” all the time, I meant the “plasma-verse” or “PV” as we call it. I don’t even know why people call it a plasma-verse except for the fact that it reminds them of the old-time plasma screen in terms of picture quality.

My grandfather actually had a television, talk about primitive. It’s was Lascaux as can be. A two-dimensional cave painting if I ever saw one, though he did say that they cooked indoors back then and even had indoor plumbing.

I think he’s kidding…actually, I am. I know from historical mental projections that they had semi-modern conveniences, though no full sanitary suits or units. Can you imagine using toilet paper and showers? Ugh, sick knuckle-draggers!

I begged and begged my grandfather to show it to me, I was the only one in the family who hadn’t seen it. He kept coming up with excuses.

“It runs on electricity.”

“I don’t know if the stock is still intact.”
“It’s illegal, you know?

All kinds of piss-poor excuses. I know he could fashion a primitive generator to make electricity, he did it before when he showed “DVDs” to me.

After enough cajoling, he finally relented. We went into his basement and there was a generator that ran on petroleum.

“Oh my God, we really could get trouble. Petroleum, grandpa?”

“I have no choice, Melon quartz produces uncontrollable spikes with electronics that were made before the 21st Century.”

This heightened the experience, we could’ve gone to prison for five years for using a generator that ran petroleum. He took this gray, dusty object off of it that he called a “sheet.” Underneath that was an object almost five feet high. It was made of chrome, steel, and plastic. Parts of it had a mesh covering made of material not known to me. It had a small screen that reminded me of a small ‘move-ly‘ screen.”

“Is that a ‘jakebox?!”

“You mean a ‘jukebox?’ No. It’s a Scopitone.”

"Does it show move-lies?"

"You mean movies, not exactly."

“So what does it do?”

“It shows music videos.”

“Music’ what?”


“Oh, you mean like the ‘Empty Vee?”

“M-T-V, you mean. No this came out almost twenty-one years before it.”

He had it running after about two minutes. The fidelity of the audio was horrible, if you could call it “fidelity.” It was so full of hisses, pops and wheezes, that it was faithful to nothing. The picture of the small screen was slightly worse than a “move-ly” I saw that was shown on an old projector.

Yet I was transfixed, there were two women, twins. Their outfits were small and shiny, their hairstyles, vertical and unnatural. Their makeup was thicker and gaudier than that worn by any woman at a retro party. The song that they were singing was some horrid German song about the sound of a tuba. It was the personification of this word that my grandmother had tried to explain to me, but I never understood, because I had absolutely no reference until now...'kitsch."

The music? The little “video?” To contextualize it using one of my grandfather’s favorite words, it all “sucked.” But, I was in love…with the machine, the blonde twins and the smell of petroleum.

I asked my grandfather who they were and he said, “the Kessler twins.’ They did what the Kaiser and that evil man with the little mustache couldn‘t do…they conquered Europe for almost a decade.” He grinned and beamed, I imagined it was because at that moment, he believed that he passed down a legacy.

Well, my grandfather’s been gone some twenty years now and I miss him terribly. His legacy does live on, as does the Scopitone. Later, I went broke, after my job was to use an early century euphemism, “outsourced.” So I hold “Scopitone” parties for the extremely affluent.

Most of them come for the decadent aspect of using gas, but a few of them appreciate the music and an even more select portion of them, appreciate the nostalgia. Such an admirable quality in this antiseptic world.

Note: It's all about the scopitones, baby Not to mention, JJ wanted the following sentence...

"I had never seen one before except on television…"

"$8,400 Per Carat"

She put on a tie-dyed western skirt and did the worst spin I've ever seen.

"What was that you just did? And you're not going to wear that thing, are you?"

"That was a pirouette and my impression of a whirling dervish," she said with still the slightest hint of a Colombian accent. If I didn't know she was Colombian, I would swear from her bronze skin and features, that she was from Brazil...

"Okay," I grinned. Then I mumbled, "more like a hurling side dish."

...because she reminded me of a risque poster I had when I was younger, of a Brazilian honey on a Rio beach with a thong on. Of course that was when American women were wearing granny panties and if you were extra lucky, you might see a bikini cut or something lacy...

"I'm a side dish that makes you sick now, eh? You were telling, almost screaming to me how good it was last night."

...her resemblance to the model on that poster kept her mentally a half a step ahead of me, but this was her gig, after all. She spun around again and I caught before we almost collided. I realized from the gleam awkwardness that the awkwardness in her spins was quite intentional.

"Why after so many months of telling me how pretty I am, would you find my unpretty now?"

"Yeah, should lose the skirt. That tie-dye looks awful."

The skirt belonged to my American aunt, she said it was to 'let the squares know that her freak flag was unfurled and flying.' I don't quite know what that means, other than she wanted to feel free-spirited.

"It's the only western skirt I could find on such short notice. It's not important if you like it, what's important is that he'll like it," she murmured as she looked me at me with those beautiful green-flecked brown eyes. She curled my hair with fingers, sending a shiver right down to my toes.

He was the most important piece to the puzzle, a courier from Amsterdam carrying several dozen diamonds just under two carats apiece. At almost $8,400 per carat for each diamond, she could say and do whatever she wanted as long as she pointed him out to me. A courier who belonged to horse show jumping clubs and had a cowgirl fetish.

She used to be in a Colombian crew that hijacked diamonds, but now they're behind bars or scattered about in cemeteries in New York, California, and Brazil. Too much money involved for everyone not to double-cross each other and she came out broke, but relatively unscathed. She still had the intelligence resources as to where and when a gem courier would appear here and there.

Not to mention, she could travel within the horsey set without them realizing that she was literally the fox in the hen house.

A wig, false eyelashes that actually took away from her beauty, a western granny blouse, and couple that with that tie-dye thing, you had a Colombian hippy that escaped "The Big Valley." Or Barbara Mandrell gone altogether wrong, but she went right for "Mr. Courier," long enough for me to hit him with over 20,000 volts from my stun gun.

God, I hate the smell of singed flesh that wafts into my nostrils after. I swear it stays in my nose for at least three days, except it's stronger this time. And, I'm not on my way to my favorite island, that coincidentally doesn't share an extradition treaty with the United States. I've got the same urine-soaked pants as Mr. Courier, who still hasn't come too.

We're almost lying in identical positions on the ground, he's four feet away and he's the luckier of us two, because he has insurance against being being double-crossed.

Note: This is one of my favorite pieces. JJ wanted these words and phrases...

1) A Girl
2)A Whirl
3)A Curl
4)Something that unfurls
5)A Hurl

This is the first of the Heist Man's adventures. If this were a screenplay, he would simply be called "Narrator" and though I know his name, it is up to you to find out.

"Ink Seventeen"

“Hot in here, huh?”

“If I had a dollar-"

“-every time someone says that in a sauna, you’d be a millionaire, right?”

“No, but I’d probably have enough to put a sauna in my own house and I wouldn’t have to listen to that question again.”

“Hey, sorry about that. I was just trying to make conversation…Nice ink.”

“Don’t be a dope, get lost. Let me schvitz in peace.”

“No, no, hold on...let me have a look.”

“Be serious.”

“I am. What’s that tattoo about?”

“Which of the eleven are you talking about?”

“Eleven? Damn, I only see, what? One, two, of them.”

“And you want to keep it that way. If you were to see the wrong one, you would hate what happens.”

"This one, the guy pushing the rock up the slope.”

“That’s ‘Sisyphus.’ He was condemned by the Greek gods to roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down just before he could get it to the top. It’s symbolic for no hope.”

“Wow, your tats don’t grope around for metaphors, do they?”

“Their not all together...literal.”


“Yet, this one is.”


“The one just below Sisyphus...the rope. What does that remind you of?”

“A noose?”

“Yep, it’s a noose. The Hangman’s noose and I love it when people ask me about it because usually when it’s revealed, that means I’m about to place someone under arrest. Now turn around slowly and put your hands on the wall.”

Note: JJ required that we use the following five words...


It's also implied that his badge and gun were concealed in a towel. I didn't want to break away from the dialogue-only framework, nor did I want to add unnecessary dialogue to convey that.

"Onehundred And Twenty-five Grams Of Pain"

One hundred and twenty-five grains of potassium nitrate, charcoal and hundred and twenty-five grains of pain. Twelve in the clip and one in the chamber, my “lucky thirteen.”

One time while I was counting my money, I turned down a panhandling junkie asking for a dollar and he keyed my car. There’s a bullet for him if we ever cross paths again. As a matter of fact, I have a bullet for everybody.

Mad Dog acts as stupid as his nickname by coming up wrong on the money he gives me at the end of the week. He’ll get a bullet as an example of how I conduct business.

Every time I come home for lunch, Yuri’s on my couch. He drinks my beer and sniffs around my woman. I got a bullet for each transgression.

Cash wants to push my territory all the way back to the police station, and I kiss the top four bullets before I leave home so that when I do catch up with him, I’ll send him off just right.

And don’t think for a second that I’m going to let that asshole keep parking in front of my driveway: I pay way too much to let that go on.

Because that’s how we settle things around here and it’s been that way as long as I can remember. I’d like to fight things out, but the strongest and fastest fists in the world can’t travel almost a thousand feet per second. So the first cat might get one punch in, but it more often than not will be his last.

Yeah, I got a bullet for just about everyone, but someone had two bullets for me. So I’ll just have to take care of my affairs in the next life.

Note: The title pertains to amount of gunpowder in some 9mm bullets and because I had problems meeting the word count limit with my previous submissions to Flashing in The Gutters, this was more haiku than short story, in terms of length.

"Right Between The Sound Machine"

She was a Victorian on Pacific Avenue, near Powell Street. She might have seen better days, though not a fresh coat of paint since the Great Abdication of Edward VIII. Marty rang the bell, four short, four long and as the door buzzed, he pushed it open. We walked up…or I should say, we scaled these near vertical stairs and about eight from the top, I got a case of vertigo. Marty grabbed me by the jacket and saved me from a tumble.

When we got to the top of those stairs, I thought I went mad. “Opulent” was not strong enough of a word to describe what we saw. There was a mixture of Art Deco and Art Nouveau and it was all authentic and original (I should know, it was the specialty of father’s antique business). Real Tiffany lamps gave the halls a warm glow, and Afghani and Persian carpets covered the lacquered floors.

A woman wearing nothing but a thong and a smile, scooted between Marty and me. She was talking on a cordless phone with one of the most melodic voices I’ve ever heard about someone named Wong and how she didn’t want to leave. I wanted to go back outside and see if this was truly the entrance into Heaven, but I didn’t want to climb those stairs again unless it was absolutely necessary.

“Did you bring what Mr. Wong asked for?” Marty and I turned around to a woman wearing even less than the first, not a stitch or a smile. I was trying to be polite and maintain eye contact, but Marty wasn’t going to bother with any such pretense.

“Did you bring what Mr. Wong asked for?”

I elbowed Marty and he opened the bag. She glanced it over and motioned for us to go up another flight of steep stairs. This time I kept my head low and I walked up slow and deliberately, yet I was still dizzy when I got to the top. The top flight was as ugly as the exterior of the building, it looked like J. Edgar Hoover’s nightmare from 1971.

There were black light posters that I’d only heard about in all their garish glory. The twelve Zodiac positions, Wiley Coyote finally capturing the Road Runner and the caption, “beep, beep, yer ass!” Semi-nude and nude women standing next to or striding jungle cats or mythological animals.

There were cushions from the Johnson administration that probably came brand new with that grunge and funk.

“Like my launch pad?”

Marty and I turned around to see an old Chinese hippie. He was bald on top, but he had a ponytail that looked Repunzle had a queue that had gone wrong. I was glad that unlike the rest of the house, he had clothes on. Tie-dye and Khaki, patchouli and The Gap.

“Mr. Wong?” I asked.

“Call me Wayne, only the chicks call me Mr. Wong, if you know what I mean.”I could not reconcile the fact that his voice and patois were like Garrison Keillor. His eyes were on Marty, who was about to bang this ornate gong, when Wayne threw a hunk of granola bar and plunked Marty in the back of the head.

“You don’t touch a man’s gong, son! You might as well be touching his woman!” Marty had a look of surprise and shame that made me regret that I didn’t bring a camera.

“Hi, Wayne, I’m Tom. Give him the book, Marty. ”We shook hands and Marty took the book out of the bag and handed it to Wayne. Wayne took the protective plastic off and gently looked it over.

“There you go, Wayne. A first edition of ‘On The Road,” just as we agreed.”

Wayne put it back in the protective plastic and held it as gently as a newborn.

“Finally! He promised me this, you know? He never made good on it either.”

Marty whispered “are you crazy?”

I hissed back, “shut up, this is a once in a lifetime experience. A dozen people have swore to me up and down that it will be worth it.”

Wayne put the book in an already opened safe, then he brought out a scrapbook and closed the safe. He opened the scrapbook and I was stupefied for between the covers were scores of famous people. Each of them were laid out on a carpet in a state of bliss.

Alfred Hitchcock and Kim Novak. Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassiday. Eric Burdon, John Kay, Jimi, Janis, Robert Plant, Steve McQueen, Jimmy Carter, and too many to mention.

“Do you know where the concept of the ‘magic carpet’ came from?” giggled Wayne as he put the dirtiest hookah in existence on the very same carpet that all the people in the scrapbook laid upon. I mean this thing looked filthy I wouldn’t have touched it with arm length rubber gloves and a pair of steelworker tongs.

Wayne must’ve seen the look of disgust in my face and he grumbled, “that’s the residue that will make it easier to get over Coit Tower.”

“What?” Marty laughed.

Wayne ignored him and focused on me, “the idea of the ‘magic carpet’ was in existence even before “The Arabian Nights” in the 14th Century. It was said that they had so much hashish, that they believed that the carpets they were zoning on, could levitate.”

Wayne put a bong before us and tamped the bowl. I picked it up and he lit it. The smoke wasn’t smoke at all, it was smooth and more like pure oxygen, if anything. Marty did the same, then me, then Marty, until we had eleven hits between us.

I didn’t feel a thing, but Marty’s eyes were glazed over. I had another hit, but Marty refused to have any more, against Wayne’s protests. “You will not clear Coit Tower, Marty.”

Marty waved him off and collapsed on the carpet like a balloon with its air let out. I laid down and still didn’t feel anything, until the floor felt like water. The floor shifted left, then right, then we started to float. At this point I realized that it wasn’t the floor but the carpet itself. Wayne waved his hand and the ceiling opened!

The bright sunlight stung my eyes as we were over Broadway and Stockton St. in an instant. The smell of Vietnamese noodles wafted into my nose as we entered North Beach and that smell gave way to the garlic and tomato of Italian food. We were over Washington Square Park and on our way up Telegraph Hill where Coit Tower stood at the top.

Marty woke up and smacked his lips, then his side of the carpet sagged. I barely got a hold of his arm when that side of the carpet gave way. The askew carpet snapped at me like a whip and flew right out from under us, homeward. We both plummeted toward the tower parking lot like lead balloons and the sunlight blinded us…

…We landed on our feet in front of Wayne’s house, with our backs to the door and it felt like we had fell just inches, instead of hundreds of feet. Marty and I looked at each other, disoriented. Like the Three Stooges with a ghost behind them, neither one of us wanted to look back at the house and we slowly walked away.

I heard a window open and Wayne’s voice cackle, “hey Icarus, don’t fly so close to the sun next time and maybe your wings won’t melt.” He laughed heartily as he shut the window.

Note: Wayne's last line was from a failed screenplay of mine and Wayne himself, was based on a philosophy professor that I knew from back in the day. JJ had us utilize the following:

A Thong
A Gong
A Pair of Tongs
Someone named Wong
A Bong

"A Pair Of Tongs"

“…a pair of Tongs.”

“What?” Jeremy asked incredulously.

Eddie spat and grabbed Jeremy‘s Gameboy. “Pay attention, Jer. I said that Neville's uncles are Tongs.”

“What, they work in a barbecue pit?”


“They work at a salad bar?"

“No, they‘re like the Chinese version of the Mafia and just like the Mafia, they started out as a protective society and branched over into crime. So he‘s connected through his uncles.”

“You mean his uncles are a pair of kitchen utensils?”

“I should’ve left your ass in Concord, you never know how to behave in the City.”

“Eddie, how the hell are you going to leave me at home when it’s my car?”

“I’m with Eddie, he should’ve left you at home,” said the quiet voice belonging to Neville.

Jeremy looked down on Neville, literally. Jeremy was a former offensive guard on his high school team that played simply because of his size and not because of his ability. He received a few too many concussions from being out of position in games and thus, was now merely big and offensive.

Neville was small for an “ABC” or, “American born Chinese.” His clothes and glasses were more in tune with Hong Kong than San Francisco, all the better to do business with.

Eddie was Romanian and was adopted by a San Franciscan family right after the fall of Ceauşescu. He knew Neville from junior high, and both he and Jeremy sported gangsta wear. Jeremy looked behind Neville’s hair and found a top knot, he pulled on it and not too gently.

“What is this, are you some kind of samurai Urkel?”

Neville slowly and deliberately reached for Jeremy’s wrist and pinched an acupressure point. Jeremy’s eyes bulged and he let go.

“Hey, hey, ease up there, Kawasaki Ninja.”

Neville kept his eyes on Jeremy, but pointed at Eddie. “I don’t have time for this nonsense, this is my busiest time of the year."

“I’m sorry about this Neville, my car’s in the shop-”

“Yah, ve-lee saw-lee, Ne-lill,” Jeremy chimed as he pulled his eyes up in an inappropriate gesture.

“Well, goodbye, Eddie, see you same time next year and give my best to your parents,” grumbled Neville as he warmly shook hands with Eddie and started to walk away.

“No, please, don’t listen to this idiot. Hey, hey! At least ignore him for old times sake!”

Neville stopped and reluctantly returned. “How much, Eddie?”

“Yah, how mulch, Ed-ly?”

Neville bit his lip and glared at Jeremy, “look All Pro Athletic Supporter, I’m Chinese. The Chinese and Japanese are two different races and get your stereotypes right, dickhead. We Chinese can pronounce our “R’s.”

“Chinese, Japanese, same damn difference.”

“Eddie, what’s Jeremy’s last name, “jockstrap?”

“No, it’s “Connard.”

Neville looks Jeremy in the face and says calmly, “okay, 'Connard' is French. As with the French, English and Italians, there is some lingual overlap, but you all definitely have a genetic overlap. Yet, there is no way that you would say that you all come from the same damn country. So why you say that Chinese and Japanese are the same?”

Jeremy angrily shrugged, he wanted to hit him with a comeback, but his concussion-addled brain was suffering from satellite delay.

“So like I said, how much Eddie?”

Eddie handed Neville an envelope from a photo lab. Inside was money instead of pictures, Neville thumbed through it. “Okay, let’s say a case of barrel bombs, a case of M-80s and a case of M-100s. All right?”

Eddie nodded vigorously.

Neville dialed his cell phone and whispered, “one bb, one eight and one ten.” Neville flipped it closed and nodded to Eddie, “where’s the car?”

Eddie pointed at Jeremy’s beaten up Pontiac and Neville yelped and cackled at the rust bucket. Jeremy’s face turned red all the way to the tips of his ears. He was about to throw a tantrum, when a wave of nausea crept over him.

“What, is that smell?!”

A bum with a collapsible granny wire cart slipped in behind the Pontiac. The bum slapped the trunk with gloved hands.

“Well, open it Athletic Supporter,” Neville barked.

Jeremy reluctantly opened the trunk. As the bum put the three cases in, Neville took the money out of the envelope. The bum angrily bounced his cart on the curb and wheeled away.

“God, he stinks” Jeremy sneered.

“Perfect cover, no fingerprints because of the gloves and he stinks so much that there isn’t a cop that wants get within a block of him. Speaking of which, you better close the trunk, Athletic Supporter.”

“I’m getting tired of you calling me names, gook!”

“Close the damn trunk, Jer!” Eddie hissed.

“No you close the fuc-”

“What’s going on here?”Jeremy turned around all too quickly and the policeman reflexively reached for his nightstick, anticipating trouble. The policeman looked at the three and asked again, “what’s going on?”

There was panic in the eyes of the other two, but Neville’s demeanor changed and he seemed to take on the naivety of a child.

Jeremy glared at Neville and spat out, “this gook was selling us fireworks, but we didn’t want any!”

The policeman looked at the still open trunk, then at the three.

Neville said in affected pidgin, “my English, not good. I visit.”

The cop asked slowly, “do you have I.D?”

Neville shook his head like he didn't understand and the cop put his nightstick away. The policeman pulled out his own license so that Neville could get an idea. Neville pulled out a Hong Kong passport.

“He's messing with you, he’s American all the way! He‘s as American as I am! Check the envelope, he has my friend‘s money!”

The policeman snatched the photo envelope from Neville, it was empty.

Eddie calmly shook his head and said flatly, “I barely know this guy from high school, he offered me a ride into the city and then he went crazy.”

“Check his pockets! If I’m lyin’, I’m dying!”

The policeman turned his own right front pocket inside out, then motioned for Neville to do the same. Neville did so and it was empty. The cop motioned for Neville to flip all his pockets and they were all empty.

“You’re not ‘dying,’ but you are going in. Turn around slowly and place your hands on the top of the car.”

“No, you don’t understand!”The policeman put his hand on his holster and Jeremy finally complied. He patted down Jeremy and cuffed him.

“You two are free to go, don’t let me see you around here again.” Eddie shuffled off and Neville feigned ignorance. The policeman shoed Neville away and he did as motioned.

Halfway back to the subway home, a bum approached Eddie with a note. It read:

I’ll still credit you for the ‘works, but I can’t give you back the money.
Bring a car tomorrow that’s asshole free and I'll call you where to meet.
If not, have a Happy Fourth of July!


Note: This was a false start to Friday Flash Fiction. Someone that had read the story, politely pointed out that I had only one of the five words required for that exercise. My Grandfather used to hustle everything legal and semi-legal, when he wasn't a newspaper driver. His best months were the ones leading up to the Fourth of July, where he would sell fireworks both in and out of Chinatown.