Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 126 - Matthew Quinn Martin


As I opened the grated glass door to Phil’s Pawn & Loan, the smell hit me like a fist square in the nose. Stale beer and sour cigarettes. The cig drooping from the owner’s grizzled gray mug sent a steady stream of smoke to the ceiling where the wisps joined a brown patch spreading across the decaying acoustic tile. Looked like decades worth of identical hand-rolled nic sticks had slathered a thick yellow sheen on the man’s teeth, his nails and his smudged horn-rimmed glasses.

The bell hanging above the door rang, but Phil didn’t so much as lift his eyes from the spank-rag open before him as I wandered the cluttered aisles. I toed a moldering cardboard box, the sticky cassette tapes inside shifted in a solid lump. I moved on, picking through scratched CDs, dusty camera parts, and prehistoric electronics as I figured out the best way to approach Phil.

Shrugs had given me the 411 on this joint, and on Phil. Said he was the man to see if I wanted to sort out my problem. As I wound my way to the counter, I caught sight of something low on a shelf. I bent down, and there behind a mismatched socket set that seemed to grin at me with a broken oily smile, sat a dusty snow globe.

I picked it up by its plaster pine needle base, and gave it a quick buff with my sleeve, letting it glint in the fluorescents for a second before shaking it. I gazed into the glistening soap bubble glass, looking through the swirling bits of plastic at the quaint woodland scene held inside–a tiny tilting cabin among a stand of trees whispered promises of a wide wilderness just beyond. Dead center stood a silver kidney-shaped pond. A little plastic boy played hockey on its dusky mirror surface.

I wondered what it might be like to run off to a place like that, to freedom. Forget about Shrugs and the money. About the short cons and long odds. About Molly and her Plan-B-didn’t-stick surprise that was due in less than a month–about all of it. Just hit the reboot button and start over where the cold snows would white out my old life, submerge it deep in its icy baptism.

These woods are lovely, dark and deep, fuck the broken promises and sleep.

No dice. Just the old weakness poking through. Inside, I carried my own kind of cold, and in my heart, it was always going to be winter. I gave the globe another violent shake.

“You break it, you bought it,” Phil said, still not glancing up from his jack-mag.

I stalked my way to the counter, setting the snow globe down in front of him with a heavy thud. Reverberations went up Phil’s arm, knocking loose the two-inch ashy column that used to be a cigarette. It landed on his mag, right on top of a grainy shot of some trailer-tramp cupping her silicon-puckered, jizz-covered hooters.

“Five bucks,” Phil said as he blew away the ashes, still not looking up.

Then I set something else on the counter. It rattled with the unmistakable click of heavy metal on tempered glass. That got his attention. Phil flicked his eyes towards the gun, and towards my hand that hadn’t quite left it.

“Got a permit for that?” Phil grumbled.

“What do you think?”

“Don’t pay me to think,” he said, adding, “Hope you ain’t planning on robbing me, son.”

“I’m not really one for plans.”

“Yup. Reckon that’s probably the case.” He leaned forward. I watched his practiced hand slip beneath the counter, probably to caress the walnut grip of a sawed-off twelve-gauge bolted under the display case. Shrugs had told me about that, too. From where I was standing, I figured that both barrels were aimed right at my goolies.

“I need bullets for this thing,” I said, spinning the .38 revolver on the counter. It stopped, facing him.

“Yup,” Phil said, sticking a fresh cig in his maw and lighting it one-handed with his Zippo. “To go along with that permit uh yours.”

“Here’s my permit.” I pulled a crisp c-note from my shirt pocket and slapped it down in front of him. “Like I said, I need bullets for this thing. Heard you were the guy.”

“Heard that, did ya?” Phil lifted the note, checking its bloated watermark against the fluorescent lights. “Sure thing, Mr. Franklin. Mind gettin' the door for me,” he said with a wave. “Flip that sign to closed while you’s at it.”

I did as I was asked. I’m good like that. “I want the ones that do the most damage. Those cop killer ones,” I said, as I clacked the steel grated door shut.

“Plannin’ on killin’ some cops, is it?” Phil asked, his rheumy eyes finally making contact with mine.

“What’s it to you?”

“Isn’t,” he said. The hand he held under the counter had yet to emerge.

“A friend of mine’s got a problem with rabbits,” I told him. “They keep nibbling at everything green and shitting all over the place. There’s one rabbit in particular that just won’t learn his lesson. So...”

“So...time for rabbit stew,” Phil said, sliding a white cardboard box over the counter.

“You got it,” I said. I flipped open the box and tugged out a few of the bullets for closer examination. Small, inert, didn’t look like much, as is the case with so many lethal things.

“Hollow points those. Normal bullet will just poke through ya. Them there mushroom out, get all razor sharp, spinning around and around ricocheting off bone and keep cuttin' all the way. Even get through Kevlar, them rabbits happen to be wearing body armor.”

“Thought you didn’t care,” I said.

“Don’t. Thought you might though,” he said, closing the lid on the box. “Imported goods, them. Not what you’d call legal in these parts. So twenty for the box, my cost. And another eighty for the amnesia that goes with it, Mr.–what was it again–Franklin?”

I slid a second crisp ‘permit’ across the counter to Phil. “This, too,” I said pointing to the globe.

“Can take that piece of shit on the house.” Phil wheeled his chair back, reaching for a big gray cash box with both hands. I’d heard about the box, too. “Who was it sent ya anyway?”

“A friend,” I answered, as I slipped the bullets I’d palmed from one hand to the other.

“Friend?” he asked, his back turned. “Got to be one uh yours. I don’t keep friends.”

“I reckon not.” I quickly loaded thee bullets into the revolver. Then unloaded two of them into Phil’s chest when he turned to face me. “Shrugs says, thanks for solving his rabbit problem.”

I tried to ignore the gurgling sound bubbling from Phil’s open chest as I reached over the counter, as well as his slumped body, to pull as much blood-splattered money from the open box as I could shove into my pockets. Then I grabbed my snow globe on the way out, knowing that gazing into that glass was as close to freedom as I was ever going to get.

BIO: Matthew Quinn Martin is a very accomplished writer of a great many stories, many of which are plays, some of which are short stories, three of them films of varying length.

The plays include Poison, produced as part of NYCollective’s 10x2 Play Festival; A Very Good Year, staged reading presented as part of FilmFest New Haven’s Special Events series and Orpheus, a play with music produced with the New Haven Theatre Co. as part of 2001 International Festival of Arts and Ideas.

The short stories are Command Performance, to be published in Issue 103 of Transition Magazine; the second is a collaboration with Libby Cudmore titled Convention of Ekphrasis and can be found in the Crossing Chaos anthology “Quantum Genre on the Planet of Arts”; the third is a flash piece titled Spinning and can be at the online literary journal MFA/MFYou.

Matthew's film credits include A Walk in the Park, which premiered at NYC’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater and was voted Best of Festival Selection at NYC Downtown Film Festival, as well as receiving a Best Short Film nomination at Hoboken Film Festival; Brothers, a screenplay co-written under contract with Sully Erna, lead singer/ songwriter for band Godsmack, currently in development; and last but not least, the feature-length crime drama Slingshot, produced by Bold Films and starring Julianna Margulies, David Arquette, Thora Birch, Balthazar Getty and Joely Fisher. Available on DVD from the Weinstein Co.

If that wasn't enough, Matthew is an MFA candidate in Popular Fiction writing atthe Stonecoast Program, University of Southern Maine. Busy, busy guy.

And if you want more information about Matt, head on over to www.matthewquinnmartin.com.


Libby Cudmore said...

Great story--always a thrill to read your work.

Al Tucher said...

That's cold. And well done.

Joyce said...

Terrific story--bleak and dark. Loved it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

You sure know how to set a scene.

Paul Brazill said...

Oh, nice and chilly