It’s fun to see what a person will do for a hot dog and a beer. I was thrilled when my short story PRO was accepted to be part of the Valentine’s Day Massacre at the Narwhal audio CD, a collection of crime noir short stories and music assembled in homage to the radio shows of the 1930′s. According to Creative Colloquy, who partnered with The Nearsighted Narwhal to create the CD, “Some have called it a gritty Tacoma Washington version of a Prairie Home Companion”. I, however, did not want to read the story myself. So I sweet-talked actor/director and friend Rick Walters (who is, among a hundred other projects, directing my short film Blue Bunny, currently in pre-production) into recording it in exchange for lunch at The Red Hot, just doors down from the Narwhal. Smart move. When I heard the result at the listening party, pictured here, I got chills.
The CD is available for digital download here. Enjoy!
And here is the story itself. If loving dark little stories is wrong, then color me guilty.
It was one of those monochromatic days. Gray upon gray. Wet. The kind of day that makes old wounds ache. The kind that calls for a thick hooded sweatshirt. Gloves. And maybe a ski mask. None of these items would be a particular cause for concern on a day like today. The first red flag upon his entering the convenience store would be that classic motion, the reach around his back to retrieve his 9mm. The cashiers all know that motion. It’s not even like they’re trained to know it. But they’ve all seen television. Still, despite what they show on television, very few cashiers have the wherewithal to reach below the counter for the iconic sawed off shotgun. Very few cashiers do any more than throw up their hands, piss their pants and open the drawer. At least that had been his experience.
And he’d been doing it a long time. He was a pro. But he was getting tired. The thrill that had once accompanied the act of terrifying another human being had dissipated. Now it was all about the money, which had warped the whole thing into a task that bore the intensity and inspiration a mailman must experience tossing an envelope into a box. It was just business now.
He had grown restless. This was solitary work. It had to be. You commit a crime with another person, you become family. Someone screws up, puts you in danger, costs you a job, you’re going to have to fix that. He wasn’t into caring for other people. He’d thought about getting a dog.
He could feel himself chasing the anticipation even as he put his hand on the metal handle of the glass doors. The ding of the bell that hung from every convenience store door used to run down his spine like an electric current. Not anymore. He missed that feeling. He needed something bigger. Something with more pay off. Not just moneywise. Adrenaline-wise. He decided, as he entered and felt nothing in the face of the ding, that this would be his last small job.
As he entered, instantly lit by the buzzing banks of florescent light, he reached for his gun with that mechanical, practiced arc, eyes on the cashier, a painfully thin twenty-something kid in black-rimmed glasses with a nametag that shouted ‘Seth’ in far too cheerful of a font. Seth was studying a thick book, a book purposefully kept just out of range of the security cameras, so as not to get in trouble. He didn’t even bother to look up, mumbling a numb practiced ‘welcome to mini mart’ that he probably didn’t even realize he’d said.
The cameras wouldn’t matter much longer though, as, once the gun was pulled from his waistband, he expertly shot them to shit.
The kid’s body reacted before he knew what he was reacting to, backing away from the sound in a hunched letter C. Some sort of strangled protest emitted from his throat, but it was no use. The gun was in his face, and its commander was barking orders at the top of his goddamn lungs, get a bag, open the drawer, fill the bag with cash. Throw some cigarettes in there.
Seth set the bag on the counter and put shaking hands in the air, then his eyes shifted. Landed, wide, full of fear, on something down the aisle.
A sickness and excitement for something he wasn’t expecting overcame the pro. He spun around, giddy, ready, only to find a boy. Maybe ten. Maybe less.
No adults in sight. On impulse the pro grabbed the bag, grabbed the boy and fled the store. The two were already halfway across the parking lot before the alarm went off.
Pulling the boy behind the adjacent alley’s Dumpster, he faced him, expecting tears, red cheeks. There was none of that.
He studied the boy.
“Ain’t you afraid?”
The boy shook his head, reached into his pocket and pulled out a Miller High Life Tall Boy.
“I got candy too,” the boy said, emptying his pockets of Snickers and Twix and Rolos.
Oddly compelled the pro tucked his piece away, reached for the beer and took it, snapping it open with a pop that felt like he was entering a new era.
The boy’s eyes flashed with a familiar light.
“Can you teach me to do what you did back there, mister?”