Tuesday, April 28, 2009

March's Contest Runner-Up - Naomi Johnson


I wheeled the big Olds '88 into the alley behind the Marathon station just as Little Jimmy Meeker cut across the lot. Well, well. Perfect timing.

“Want a ride, Jimmy?” I called.

It was a humid night, breathing was like drinking hot soup through your nose. In the residue of light cast from the front of the gas station, Jimmy bent down by my window to see who was offering. I flipped on the dome light to help him out.

“Well, hey, Lorna. I ain't seen you since...” His voice trailed off.

“It's been a while,” I agreed. “You want a lift or not?” I gunned the engine like I was in a hurry to get going and didn't care whether he rode along or not. The action made him look at my legs. Dancer's legs, of the exotic variety. The better to lure you with, Little Jimmy.

“Sure thing.” He slid into the passenger seat and sat with his back against the door. I flipped the light off again and I could feel him studying me in the darkness. Jimmy wasn't ever going to be a Rhodes scholar but he had a certain amount of street smarts he'd acquired the hard way. Even so, sometimes things that should have made him stop and think didn't register at all. Things like getting into a car with me.

I wasn't surprised he didn't finish his sentence, that he hadn't seen me since... Since before he set the fire that burned down my house. And burned up my precious baby. Only eight months old, Sammy had been the love of my life. Jimmy was notorious for forgetting little things like that. Smokin' dope will do that to you but I doubt if Jimmy was ever all there to begin with.

“Where you heading, Jimbo?”

“Can you take me as far as Dibby's?”

“Why not? This must be my lucky night, I was just thinking about heading up to Dibby's. It's a nice night for a drive and we'll have time to talk.”

I felt him straighten up.

“Talk about what?”

“Oh, anything. Everything.” I turned west on Broad Street and braked for the light. “I guess you heard I tried to commit suicide?”

“Sure did. After – after all that stuff happened, it was all anybody talked about for a while. But you're okay now, right?”

“Well, the medical staff at Upham Hall do their best but what can I say? I sold my scrips right after they let me out. My baby's dead and I have nothing left to live for, m'man, so what the fuck do I want with antidepressants?”


I pressed the accelerator gently and eased through the intersection.

“But you know, I do still have worries, Jimmy. I mean, they say that suicides aren't just dangerous to themselves, they sometimes want to take other people down with them. I'd hate to do that but I can see how it might happen, you know? 'Cause I just don't give a fuck about anybody anymore. Whoever burned my house did that to me. Whoever burned my baby alive did that.”

Whoever, Jimmy.

I glanced over at him. He wasn't slouched against the door any longer. He was leaning forward like he might try to leap out of the car if I stopped again.

“I think I'll take 315, that'll be faster,” I said, pressing the gas pedal and feeling the car surge up the northbound ramp. Even Jimmy would have to think twice about trying to climb out at this speed.

“Lorna, listen, I didn't –,” he started.

“Hush a sec, let me merge and then we'll talk.” When I had the beast gliding along the curves west of downtown, keeping pace with the other traffic, I hit the button that rolled up the windows so we could talk without yelling. I said, “So who paid you to burn my house, Jimmy?”

Calm. Good, I like being calm. Calm is control, or so Dr. Mercer at Upham Hall had told me.

“Lorna, please, I didn't do it. I only set little fires, you know that. Trash cans and stuff. You know. I wouldn't never hurt nobody.”

Maybe the folks at Upham Hall know what they're talking about. Jimmy didn't sound completely in control; he sounded nervous and maybe just a little bit worried. Maybe I should have told Jimmy about staying calm? Nah. I gave the Olds a little more gas.

“I know you set little fires just for fun, Jimmy. All the time. Trash fires, garages, empty houses, vacant lots. You don't get paid for those, I know. That's just how you keep busy, right? Idle hands and all that. But somebody paid you to set my house on fire and you're going to tell me who it was.”

“Nobody, I swear. I didn't do it, honest to God, Lorna, you have to believe – oh, my God! Slow down!”

We'd just passed Ohio Stadium where the speed limit jumped from 55 to 65 but I kept my foot down and sneaked a peak at the speedometer. We hit the the hospital curve doing 80 and climbing. I moved from lane to lane, dodging the sparse traffic but not by much. I saw as well as felt Jimmy jump when a horn blasted from a black Lincoln Navigator on the right. I was almost close enough to sand his paint job. I gave him the finger and cut over in front of him as close as I dared. That earned me another blast from the Lincoln, and I figured the driver was probably calling the cops via Onstar. Rich prick.

“You crazy bitch, you'll kill us both! Slow down, goddammit!”

Could be. The Olds was starting to shimmy20a little. Jimmy had both hands locked on to the dash, arms rigid. Jeez, he was really scared. I hadn't known his voice could get that high. I kept my foot down. Calm, yeah, but starting to feel a kind of high I wasn't familiar with. A control high. Shit, if I'd known control felt so good I'd have stayed in school and got into politics.

“Who paid you, Jimmy? Tell me now and nothing will happen. I don't want you, I just want whoever told you to do it. I just want whoever killed Sammy.”

“Slow the fuck down!”

I dodged a Passat that had one of those old 'Baby On Board' signs in the rear window. I gave it more leeway that I had the Lincoln. Maybe there really was a baby in the car.

“Lorna, please, please, please.”

God, was he crying? Oh, I sure hoped so. Fuck, I felt my own eyes start to well up.

“Who wanted my house torched?” I had to yell over his screaming. “You tell me now, Jimmy, before the cops catch us. I boosted this piece of shit but I'll tell'em you stole it and I didn't know. Hey, I'm certifiable and I'm off my meds. I'll go back to Upham Hall for a few weeks. You'll go to Lucasville, three to five. Probably the max with your record. You'll get to be with your dad again.”

That cinched it. Nothing scared the shit out of Jimmy like his old man. I don't blame him either. One time that old bastard nearly cornered me=20and Lil, Jimmy's sister, and I was so scared I'd wet myself. And Jimmy was proving to me that he wasn't half the man his sister was.

“I don't know who set that fire, Lorna, honest to God. Honest to God. But, but maybe, maybe I know who paid for it. I don't know why, nobody tells me shit. Slow the fuck down, please?”

I eased off the accelerator and just as the car began to slow noticeably I slammed my foot down again. He screamed like a – well, let's just say I bet my Sammy had screamed just like that. I'd dreamed about it.

“Fuck fuck fuck! Goddammit you'll kill us both.”

“I think I heard a siren.” I sneaked a glance in the rear view, just for show. “Last chance, Jimmy. Who was it?”

“Mark, all right. Mark wanted it done. Mark fucking Peyton already. Will you slow the fuck down?” His head was on a swivel, looking all over for the flashers. I slowed down to legal and signaled for the exit ahead.

I glanced over. Little Jimmy was slumped back in the seat, his hands over his face. And now he grew calm, too.

“He'll kill me, Lorna. He'll kill me for ratting him out.”

“Don't you worry about Mark,” I reached over and patted his hand. It was damp. “Mark'll never touch you. He's not gonna know what hit him.” We slid down the ramp, caught the green light and headed west again. “I'm going to drop you at Dibby's, just like you wanted. You stay there 'til they close. And don't make any phone calls, Jimmy, or you'll piss me off. I'm serious. If I have to take you for a ride again I promise you they'll never find your body. Are we straight on this?”

“Yeah, but-,”

“No buts, Jimmy. I'll take care of Mark as soon as I drop you off. You stay in Dibby's, have fun, and if you don't leave until they lock up you have a solid alibi.”

Now he was going past relief and moving toward compliance. “Okay, okay, if you're really going to get him tonight. You really are, no shit?”

“Jimmy, what would you do if somebody torched your baby?”

He thought about that longer than a totally sane person would have to.

“I guess I'd be real pissed off?”

Gee, you think?

“I guess you would.”

“But I'd probably get another dog, Lorna. You know?”

I ignored him as I slowed for the turn into Dibby's parking lot. Busy but not too busy. The front lot was almost full and there were a couple of cars at the side. I pretended not to notice Mark's Eclipse. I rolled the windows down again and heard bass thumping out of the building loud enough to sterilize every guy in the place. “I'm going to drop you around back so nobody sees us together, Jimmy. That'd screw your alibi.”

“You thought of everything, huh, Lorna?”

“Yep, everything.” I pulled to a stop, cut the headlights.

“And you're not mad at – at whoever burned your house? Because it was Mark who wanted it done. It was all Mark.”

“I know, Jimmy. I know you'd never have done it if not for him. I'm not mad at you. Mark's the one who killed my baby. Go on in now, and remember, no phone calls.”

“I promise.” He hopped out and rounded the front of the car, heading for the side door. I reached under the seat and sat up again.

“Hey, one more thing,” I called.

He came back toward me. “Yeah, what?”

“I lied.”

I let him see the gun right before I shot him in the face.

I turned off the engine, reached around for one of Mark's old shirts on the back seat, slid it on. I got out and put the gun in the waistband of my shorts. The shirt would hide it. Things were working out better than I could have hoped for. My lucky night. I felt great, better than I had in months. Who the fuck needs Prozac and electroshock therapy? Vengeance was turning out to be an excellent antidepressant. Somebody ought to tell the doctors at Upham Hall.

I looked down at Jimmy. Lady Luck had blessed my aim because even in the lousy light I had seen his brains shoot out the back of his head. Shoot out, terrible pun. Still, I couldn't help smiling. Jimmy's sister, Lil, had already told me I'd find Mark at Dibby's tonight, although I'd had to put a bullet in each of her elbows before she talked. Tough gal, that Lil. I was sorry I'd had to use a third bullet on her. But now I was feeling so good that I might have even given Jimmy a second chance if he'd been upfront about knowing Mark would be at Dibby's. Or maybe not. That crack about getting another dog was just mean.

BIO: Naomi Johnson is a retired financial analyst with an unused degree in Criminology. She lives in Columbus, Ohio. Her friends deny all responsibilty.


Paul Brazill said...

This is fantastic. Love it.

Frank Loose said...

Strong story, solid writing. I'd love to read more my Ms Johnson.

Julie said...

Very strong piece - really enjoyed it.

Al Tucher said...

Tough chicks! Love 'em.

Anonymous said...

You all are so nice not to mention the typos, as well as the other problems.

Christopher Grant said...

Errors? What errors? What typos?

Seriously, though, if anyone caught them here, Naomi included, I humbly apologize, especially to Naomi, for not actually doing my job of editing.

The story that you've been looking at for the last week or so was the original draft, before Naomi caught her own errors (very minor and nothing that takes away from the story) and sent me an amended submission.

That amended submission is the one that the judges saw and now the one that you all get to see.

When I went to post this story, I grabbed the original and not the amended and, again, I apologize for that.

Sorry, Naomi.

Anonymous said...

No one should blame Christopher. I should have mentioned the typos directly to him instead of whining in the comments section. My apologies to you, Christopher. I'll learn something about this business yet, I promise. I've already learned I don't want to be an editor, it's too much like work.