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Monday, May 26

More Than a Hustle

"More Than a Hustle"
Short fiction - crime
by Ed Lynskey

“Congratulations, ma’am! The apartment is yours,” I said to the brunette.

Her mocha brown eyes melted in gratitude. “You’re more than kind.”

I felt a little uneasy since I’d rented this same three-room apartment to four other tenants. Who really owned it? I didn't have the foggiest. It'd stood empty for three weeks and I greased the doorman downstairs to get a spare key. Once this mark had paid her security deposit and first month's rent, I'd blow town.

Mocha Eyes had removed a checkbook. “Do I make this out to Mr. Jones?”

“Nothing personal but I don't accept personal checks.”

Sheepish, Mocha Eyes smiled. “I forgot.”

Now I smiled. “No problem.”

Her money and signed bogus lease fell into my hands.

“I’ll bring up my bags now.”

“Tonight is too soon, Miss -- “

“Natalie Rome. It’s on my lease.”

“Right, but the cleaning crew needs to come first.”

Natalie gazed around the room. “No need. This suits me just fine.”

Her pushiness grated but I smiled. “Okay then, can I lend you a hand?”

“I’d be most grateful. Stairs or elevator?”

“Elevator.”

We ambled down a corridor and Natalie jabbed the “Down” button. The elevator arrived and we boarded it.

Natalie frowned a little. “Why didn't you run a credit check on me? Everybody else has.”

“Because you’ve got such an honest face.”

The elevator hit bottom and we stepped off. “When do I get my copy of the lease?”

“I’ll mail it tomorrow.” I gazed around us. “Where are your bags?”

Natalie pointed in the lobby. “Hidden behind the potted palm.”

A different female voice intruded. “Mr. Jones?”

The dimness helped to obscure the alarm flying into my face. Squinting, I turned. She'd been my two o'clock appointment and I'd no recall of her name.

“Good evening,” I said. She moved into the brighter light, a tallish, striking blonde perhaps in her mid-thirties.

Natalie introduced herself and the blonde responded, “I’m Gayle Featherstone. Do you also live here?”

“Moved in just today,” replied Natalie. “Mr. Jones is my landlord.”

Gayle looked surprised. “Yes, Mr. Jones also settled me in here.”

“Really?” Natalie rolled her wondering eyes at me.

“Many units in this building are rent controls,” I explained. “Ladies, I really must go.”

Huddling to chat, they tuned me out. “You live on the fifth floor, too?” said Natalie . . .

That was the last snatch of conversation I overheard as I shot through the revolving door out to the starlit sidewalk.

A cop siren wailed through the next intersection. I gloated as my hand patted the bundle in my pocket. Lumping in Natalie's
cash made it five grand. I darted down an alleyway. At the first dumpster, I trashed the bogus leases. I walked faster until the
alley gave way to an abandoned lot. The desolation here lay so thick even the junkies had fled. My confusion worsened. I’d lived in the city for years, but this ghetto was a new place to me.

“Mr. Jones, I presume?”

The raspy male voice startled me. Straining my eyes, I turned around. A warehouse loomed off to the side and the mysterious speaker stood in its shadows.

“Who are you?”

“Call me your conscience.”

I reached behind me. “Look, if you’re after my wallet, here --take it.”

“Shut up and listen to me.”

“Good idea. I’m all ears.”

“Here’s the new deal. You’re carrying an ill-gotten gain?”

I resented his nosiness. “I earned it on my job.”

“Your job is evil. You rip off folks. That angers me. Now I’m giving you a map. Once you get back to the city, you’ll make restitution to poor ladies.”

“And if I don’t?”

The eeriest chuckle echoed through my head. “You’ll live in a dark, lonely place for eternity.”

The map appeared in my hand and I’d an appointment to keep. My feet took me by more and more familiar landmarks: pizza joint, laundromat, and billiards hall. As I drew nearer to the apartment building, I caught the distant growl to a cop cruiser.

I had a growing hunch the cops’ handcuffs had my name -- Mr. Jones -- engraved on them.

The End

Ed Lynskey’s new P.I. Frank Johnson novel, PELHAM FELL HERE (Mundania Press), will appear in June 2008. The previous two titles in the series are THE DIRT-BROWN DERBY (Mundania) and THE BLUE CHEER (Point Blank/Wildside Press).

Thursday, May 1

Summer of ‘62

Summer of ‘62
Short fiction - Literary
by Rod Drake

It was the summer I turned 12. My friend Jenks, who lived across the street, had a big back yard, and he set up his pup tent so we could sleep outside for three whole months. We could stay up as long as we wanted, read comic books by flashlight, listen to baseball games on his transistor radio and agonize over baseball cards we needed to complete our team runs.

It was 1962. Americans were orbiting the earth in funny-looking space capsules and war in a far-away, unknown Asian country was beginning; the world was changing rapidly.

The house behind Jenks’ was home to Bobby Cubber, two years younger than we were, and his 16-year-old sister, Beth Ann. We never had any interest in Bobby, he was too young to hang out with us, and Beth Ann was, well, a girl, four classes ahead of us.

We realized her second-floor bedroom faced our tent, and in the darkness of the night, its lights let us see everything going on in there. At first, we could have cared less; we had interesting stuff to read, games to listen to, and constellations to try and figure out. Jenks had his brother’s telescope as part of our ramshackle collection of camp equipment.

It wasn’t until the night we noticed Beth Ann getting undressed for bed that we got interested. In a hurry. Focusing the telescope on her, we got to see our first topless girl, discounting a relative or two, who were too young and not, well, developed was the term back then. Beth Ann was obviously proud of her body and took her time putting her pajamas on, looking at herself in the mirror and messing with her hair, giving Jenks and me a good, long look at her boobs in all their round, full, flawless glory.

Well, that changed everything. Comics and baseball games were one thing, but a cute, young naked girl giving us a free show was the stuff dreams were made of. Wet dreams at least.

This went on for several nights, and we remained a rapt audience of two, scarcely breathing for fear Beth Ann would hear us somehow in her bedroom with the window closed, some 50 feet away.

Then her folks went out of town for the weekend, taking Bobby with them, leaving Beth Ann home alone. In our juvenile fantasies, we hoped she would run around the house naked all night, posing and touching herself.

But something every different occurred instead. We could see Beth Ann was talking to someone, someone we couldn’t see, someone in her bedroom with her.

She smiled at her unseen guest and took off her top and bra. She slid off her shorts and probably her underwear as well; we couldn’t see because the window limited our view to above the waist (unless she would stand on a chair, which was unlikely). But just the thought of her naked was enough to get us going and that she was going to be making out that way.

At that point her guest moved into our view. And we knew him. He was our Little League coach, Mr. Spanner. Bobby’s too. He was married and had kids as old as Beth Ann. He kissed her, hugging her tightly. It was gross. Then he cupped her boobs playfully and led her to the bed, out of our sight.

But it didn’t matter. We looked at each other ashamedly, not speaking, not interesting in watching any longer and crawled into our sleeping bags. I woke up early, and went home to sleep in my basement on the old couch.

When I returned the following evening, Jenks had re-pitched his tent facing the other direction, and the telescope was put away in its box. We never talked about what we had seen, and we never told anyone either. At summer’s end, Beth Ann was sent away to stay with her aunt in Minnesota, and her room went dark.

Rod Drake lives in Las Vegas which may explain his surreal take on things, but he grew up in Iowa so he is grounded. Check out Rod's longer stories posted in Six Sentences, Flashes of Speculation, Flash Forward, MicroHorror and AcmeShorts.