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Thursday, February 12

The Street Price of Happiness

"The Street Price of Happiness"
Short Fiction - Speculative
By Linda Courtland

"What is the nature of your emergency?" the 911 operator said.

"Someone stole my emotions."

"I'll send a car out right away," she said.

Two officers knocked at my door. We stared at each other, blank-faced.

"Thank you for coming so quickly," I said.

"Stealing emotions is a felony in this state, ma'am. When did you first notice they were missing?"

"I suspected something was wrong this afternoon," I said. "I went through the whole day at work without feeling angry or unappreciated."

An officer took notes.

"But I know I had them last night," I said. "I distinctly remember screaming at my boyfriend."

"Was he the last person you saw before the theft?"

"Yes. In fact, I didn't even cry myself to sleep after we broke up. He must have taken them before he left."

"If you could give us his address," the officer said.

At the preliminary hearing, my boyfriend hollered at the judge.

"This is ridiculous," he said, slamming a fist against the table. "I didn't do anything wrong."

The judge addressed his angry attitude. "I suggest you sit down, sir. These are serious charges."

"She has no proof," my ex yelled.

"That's my anger he's using," I said. "I'd recognize it anywhere. And I want it back."

"Defendant is remanded," the judge said, and sent him to jail until trial.

The police officers were at my door the next day. "Good news," they said. "After a night in the slammer, the suspect confessed."

"Does that mean I get my emotions back?"

"He's already pawned your happiness and hope," they said. "We checked with the shops but unfortunately, those things move pretty quickly around here."

"What about my love and fear?" I said, stone-faced.

"He sold them on eBay(R), but we'll track down the buyers. And he's willing to return your anger and sadness in exchange for a reduced sentence."

"Make the deal," I said.

We met in the jail's visiting room.

"I took them when I was packing my things," he said. "I was upset that
you were throwing me out."

"So you sold my happiness?" I said.

"You could probably buy it back on the black market."

Driving home, I reflected on yet another failed relationship and felt my anger and sadness fill me. I cranked up the car stereo and slammed a fist against the dashboard. It felt so good to scream.

"Keys"

"Keys"
Short Fiction - Suspense
by Phil Beloin Jr.

The man who came through the door of Ed’s Hardware marched over to the counter and asked if Ed was busy. Ed’s last sale, legit or otherwise, had been an hour ago—right after his wife had called, blabbing about this figurine she had seen online.

"No," Ed said. "What do you need?"

The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a key. "I need a copy. As quick as you can."

It was a round key, middle sized, with seven cut spacing. Ed knew it worked a burglar alarm, and he also knew why the man didn’t get a duplicate from the company that installed the security system or from a locksmith.

"Two hundred," Ed said. "Up front."

The man peeled off two bills from a roll and handed them to Ed.

They went into the back room where Ed kept his tubular-key cutting machine. Ed had been making illegal copies for several months now, the extra money helped a lot, especially with the way his wife liked to blow it. But Ed was getting curious about how the criminals operated. What did it hurt to ask?

"Why should I tell you anything?" the man said after Ed brought it up.

Ed placed a key blank and the original key into the machine’s synchronized self-centering clamps.

"Hey, it’s not like I know your name," Ed said. "And I can’t go to the cops, either."

Ed pressed a button and the clamps began to rotate in unison.

"My partner and I find a mark," the man said. "Usually it’s a broad, and we follow her home. If she’s got a burglar alarm, we peer through the windows, see if there’s something worth fencing."

The key machine was lever controlled, and Ed needed almost no effort to match the cuts.

"So what we do, we pick the mark’s purse when she’s out at the store or something," the man said. "We heard on the street to bring the key to you. My partner makes sure the mark doesn’t realize her keys are missing."

When the clamps finished turning, Ed shut off the machine.

"After the second key is made," the man said, "we’ll slip the original back to the mark."

Ed unclasped both keys and gave them to the man.

"Why don’t you just rob the house when you lift the key?" Ed said. "It would be quicker and easier."

"Nah, with the copy," the man said, "we can pick the time to enter the house. That way there aren’t any surprises from nosy neighbors or the homeowner."

***


Ed gave his wife the extra cash he had made that day, but instead of paying bills, she purchased a statuette of a boy and girl holding hands. Peering into the curio cabinet, Ed noticed the grinning brats surrounded by dozens of other ceramic figurines.

"How much for the new one?" Ed said.

"All of it," she said.

"You’ve got to be kidding me!"

Ed was still stewing when he and his wife went out to dinner that night.

"Oh, honey, don’t be mad," she said. "I’ll make it up to you. I promise."

Ed ordered a good bottle of chardonnay, and they got a little high on the wine and the anticipation of what was to follow. Ed drove home and had to help his wife through the door. A light was shining in the foyer.

"Hey, did we leave that on?" Ed said.

"Let me go," his wife said, "so I can shut off the alarm."

It was buzzing, reminding them to turn it off. She had her key out so Ed walked into the living room. He was stunned by what he saw. His wife came in behind him—and screamed. She brushed by his shoulder and stumbled towards the curio cabinet. Ed didn’t know why she wanted a closer look. There was nothing to see.

All her figurines were gone.

Read an interview with Phil Beloin Jr. on DellSmith.com. You'll find links to Phil's other stories on the web. Love him, hate him, zipp@snet.net.