Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 215 - Cormac Brown

A SHEEP IN WOLF'S CLOTHING - CORMAC BROWN

Originally published at CROOKED on February 26, 2009

“Hey, ‘Spinner,’ come sit on my lap!”

Whew.

If Delia had a dollar for every time that she heard that...well, she wouldn’t be a millionaire. She would, however, be able to afford dinner at the most expensive restaurant back home in Enid, Oklahoma.

“Come on over here, ‘Spinner’,” the man chimes again and he pats his lap. That is, what could be almost considered a lap. Some people talk about double-chins, he has a quadruple stomach.

She does her best to stifle a shudder and she moves past him. Irritated as she is, she lets his remarks and smooching noises slide, because she doesn’t want to attract the unwanted attention that would come with putting him in his place. She is under the radar and she wants to stay that way.

Delia has on the standard off-duty uniform for a place like this; her hair is up in a ponytail, very little or no make-up, sweat pants, a tight t-shirt, and usually a sweatshirt, though in her case, a hoodie on over that. She could easily be going to a health club instead of here, including the oversized gym bag, and that bag is crucial.

She knows the required walk for this joint, too, which is Marilyn Monroe on a treadmill set to 8 MPH. This way the men will notice her for the wrong reasons and so will all the women. All the better to get over on people and to get out when it counts.

Another man makes a ‘spinner’ comment, and she recalls that the first time she ever heard that remark, she believed it to be a term of endearment. That is, until she saw the look in the eyes of the degenerate that said it. As much as she’s dying to know just exactly what that means, she won’t look it up on her computer. If these economic times weren’t as difficult as they were, she would never, ever, be in a place like this...doing what she is about to do.

As a matter of fact, she grew up in a house where dancing was strictly forbidden and wearing anything more than a little lipstick meant that you were a harlot that deserved to be lashed at with a belt. Since then, both of her parents had passed on, and while she would never miss her father with his propensity to punish her for everything that she did, no matter how minute...she really missed her mom.

Delia figured that despite her designs, her mother would be right there next to Saint Peter to welcome Delia right through the Pearly Gates. Just as you had to break a few eggs to make an omelet, maybe it was okay to commit a small sin in order vanquish the many greater sins of others.

*

Lamont Hubble likes to keep his office neat, but his business is messy by nature and things get away from him. Right now he is trying locate a medical form in a sea of papers. The music that constantly plays in the background here usually doesn’t bother him, but today is the exception.

“I can’t find it, Bianca,” he mutters into the telephone. Between the music and the phone bouncing around in the crook of his neck as he searches for the form, Bianca can’t hear him.

“I said I can’t find it! What do you mean, you can’t hear me? I said it in English, I-can’t-find-it! No, I didn’t take it out of the room...none of the dancers are stupid enough to come in here. I’d shit-can them away. No, Bianca...honey, I’m sure of it, I have security cameras and all the employees know that. That’s why they stay the hell out.”

Lamont puts a cigarette in his mouth, and it struggles to stay there as he searches through the piles of paper.

“The point is that she told the hospital to bill the club...why don’t I pay it? Hey there, missy, this place puts a roof over your head, food in your mouth, as well as a new pair of shoes and a new purse every single week. They are independent contractors! If I had to pay every time one of my dancers twisted an ankle or ruptured an implant, you’d be living out of a car, and it wouldn’t be your Mercedes anymore, because that would be repossessed!”

Lamont clicks a mouse, types in a password and a program opens up on his computer. He clicks an arrow and the footage of his office for the last twenty-four hours appears on the screen. He clicks the fast-forward and the footage speeds up. As he keeps one eye on the footage, he tries to light the cigarette in his mouth, but his lighter is out of butane.

“Bianca, please, I sure as hell don’t tell you how to shop, so don’t tell me how to run my business,” he grumbles. He madly thumbs his lighter in vain and if he’d calm down, he would remember that there are matches in his top drawer.

“Yes, honey, I am a Christian, but I am a businessman, too,” Lamont whines.

His cigarette falls out of his mouth as he notices something on the screen.

“Bianca? I gotta go...no, really, I gotta go,” and he hangs up the phone.

The footage almost goes to the end, but there is a flicker. He cues it back and he sees that the office door has opened up and somebody has come in. Lamont tilts his head and peers under his desk. There is a beautiful petite woman down there, and while she looks like she could be one of his club’s strippers, he knows that he’s never seen her before.

Lamont leans back in his chair and tugs his zipper. “Hey, baby, as long as you are down there...”

It’s Delia.

She leans forward and Lamont pulls his zipper down, but the smile on his face vanishes like that of a lap dancer when a trick runs out of bills, because she points a 9 MM right at his crotch. His pallor turns from tanning machine rustic brown to pale goth.

“Whoa, whoa, there’s no need to take it like that! I thought someone sent you as a present. I didn’t mean anything untoward.”

“Move back slowly and don’t get any ideas about kicking me,” Delia says firmly, “unless you want to find out just how fast I can put all eleven bullets into you.”

Lamont notices how steady her gun hand is and he’s worried. If there is something that he’s learned through all the years of having various businesses in both the marginal parts of town and shady dealings in the good parts of town, a shaky gun hand is bad because that means they might shoot you accidentally, and a steady hand usually means that they have no problems shooting you.

So he gets up slowly. She motions to a sizable poster of a sizably-enhanced woman.

“Open the safe and don’t pretend that you don’t know the combination, because I know that you own this place. Oh, and if you think I won’t kill you just because you refuse to open it? I can just shoot you and nobody will hear it over the music. Then I’ll rob the dancers instead.”

Lamont swallows hard as he runs through the combination. He knows that he could knock her out with just one little tap; he’s just picking out the right moment in his head.

“You shouldn’t tense and flex like that. Your body language says that you’re doing math in your head, and that’s bad. You may have ten inches in height and 100 lbs. over me, but the trigger on my gun is very sensitive, you understand? It might even be worse than a hair-trigger. So what that really adds up to is I might just sneeze and empty half of the clip into you before I even realize it.”

Delia presses the 9 MM into the middle of Lamont’s spine and he shivers. He opens the safe and-

“All right, step back from there slowly; I don’t want you pulling out any weapons you might have stashed.”

Lamont backs up slowly and-

Ah-chooo!

“Oh, God!” Lamont yips.

“Whew, must be my allergies.”

Delia faked a sneeze to keep him in line. She surveys his office; she sees something suitable for her purposes and motions for Lamont to get down. He gets down on his knees and she shakes her head.

“No, that’s not going to work. All the way down, flat on the carpet.”

Lamont blinks hard and stifles a snivel. He hyperventilates.

“Close your eyes and you will get a big, big, surprise,” Delia says in a way that is so sultry that she even surprises herself.

Lamont’s eyes squeeze so tight that he looks like a constipated prospector who has spent all of his life in the sun. Delia tucks her pistol under her left arm and puts gloves on. She quietly grabs one of Lamont’s bowling trophies and he cries out at the sound of her rapidly approaching high heels. She hits him on the head, hard.

After a few seconds, he lets out a groan and she hits him again. He’s out cold, though she gives him a swift kick between the legs to make sure.

She pulls the oversized gym bag out from under the desk and makes her way to the safe. Well, one thing she has to say about Lamont; unlike most stripclub owners, he keeps his money bundled in five neat stacks. Of the fourteen jobs that she has pulled, this looks like it is going to be her biggest haul ever.

*

Delia tries desperately to not look like the cat that swallowed the canary and her walk is more subdued, though that is more in an effort to counterbalance the money.

“Sweet spinner, come talk to me, I have plenty o’ money and nothin’ but time,” coos the man with almost no lap.

She stops, she sneers and she is on the verge of giving him a piece of her mind. Then the bigger picture gives her a mental kick in the rear and she walks on.

“My name is Baron,” says the man lacking a lap. He almost falls off the barstool with his poor effort to pour the sugar on.

Delia allows herself a smile as she finally gets outside. Her eyes adjust to the setting sun and then a partial eclipse happens right before her eyes! It’s one of the club’s bouncers, a muscle-head that is so large that his neck is almost as big as both of her thighs put together.

“You, new girl, you have to go on.”

Delia looks over her shoulder in hope that this poster child for too many steroids is talking to someone else, but she knows better.

“I don’t work here-”

“-And I don’t care. Madison called in sick, so that means that you have to replace her.”

He grunts and grabs Delia’s right arm, the arm carrying the money. Before she knows it, he has almost dragged her past the length of the bar. She knows it would be futile to dig her heels in, so she gives him a couple of light kicks in the back of his legs, to get his attention.

“For the last time, I-don’t-work-here!”

“Madison’s spot has to be filled...look, me and you are going to talk to Mister Hubble about this.”

The bouncer resumes yanking her along, Delia unzips the bag and pulls out her gun. She mulls whether she should shoot him in the back when the dancer that is onstage screams.

Unlike in the movies, the music doesn’t stop with a scratched record...only because the DJ has ducked under his turntables. Baron and a few other people flee for the front door, and he almost trips over one of them.

The bouncer’s head follows the dancer’s eyes and he realizes he’s facing down the barrel of Delia’s gun. Because they are right by a speaker, she has to shout, “I told you that I don’t work here!” The bouncer’s eyes go wide; he lets go and puts his hands up.

The very thing that Delia doesn’t want, happens. From under the bar, the bartender pulls a revolver out. Before he can take aim and before she can even think about it, her survival instinct kicks in and she shoots him twice. The bartender swoons, and as he enters his death throes he squeezes his trigger. The bullet narrowly misses Delia and hits the stripper onstage, killing her instantly.

The bouncer tries to rush Delia and she puts three slugs into him, knocking the giant back on his ass.

*

Baron gasps and wheezes as he reaches the parking lot. He panics because he can’t find his truck, as there are a dozen more vehicles that weren’t here when he came in.

*

“Get back and sit down!” Delia yells to stem the tide of fleeing people. She herds the crowd back with her gun and they trip over themselves. “I said, get back!” and she fires one in the ceiling to send the stampede back towards the stage.

*

Baron finally locates his truck and he opens the door. He tries to unlock his shotgun from its rack, but he feels like an elephant is standing on his chest and he wonders if he is about to have a coronary. He hears the clacking of heels and he nearly breaks his key trying to get the rack’s lock open.

With her eyes so full of tears, Delia can barely see where she’s going. In the thirteen other strip club robberies that she has pulled, she has never hurt anyone but the owners, and she’s never shot a human being in all of her life. All of her rationales have gone out of the window, ‘the small sin that vanquishes the greater sins of others’.

‘The Robin Hood’.

She is just a common murderer now.

She worries that maybe she might have made someone else an orphan just like herself. She knows that this time around, the police will double their efforts to hunt her down...maybe the FBI will get involved, too. She worries that after this, she won’t be able to see her momma in Heaven.

She contemplates turning the gun on herself...then her flight instinct kicks in and she kicks her heels off and puts them in the bag.

No one has come out of the club by the time she reaches her car and she has yet to see a police car. Her car is a convertible, the one extravagance that she has allowed herself in life. She panics as she starts it and floods the engine. Delia pounds the steering wheel in frustration and her tears pour forth.

She sobs for a few moments, wipes the tears from her mascara-streaked face and starts her car. She doesn’t notice the still-panting Baron sneaking upon her with his shotgun in hand. She pulls away before he can raise it. He follows her out into the street and he takes aim.

Delia catches a glimpse of something in her rearview mirror and then the shotgun roars. She flinches as the pellets strike the back of the convertible’s top, shattering its small glass window and ripping over a dozen holes in its fabric. Baron racks another shell in his shotgun and is about to take aim, when something more pressing needs his attention...a semi.

The sleep-deprived driver of the truck has just woke up from the shotgun’s report. He is in full panic. The truck’s brakes are locked up and the truck is skidding. He wonders just where he is and just what the hell is this man doing, standing in the middle of the road?

For some odd reason, Baron’s adrenaline does not kick in and his life does not flash before his very eyes. Instead, he has just enough time to wonder just where the fuck did this truck come from? Baron’s bulk actually bucks the truck’s left front tire up four inches in the air as it bounces off of him. The next two sets of wheels rock as they go over the human speed bump that was formerly known as ‘Baron’.

The sun has almost set on Delia as she turns the corner. She winces and lowers the top on the convertible.

*

As the sun sets over the horizon in outer Fayetteville, Marco Turner’s mind is still stuck on where he can get his first meal of the day. Tall for his thirteen years, panhandling has been getting him nowhere because he is past the ‘cute stage’. He doesn’t want to steal and he definitely doesn’t want to go home tonight. Right around this time, his Uncle Gene goes from his ‘Mr.Hyde’ stage to ‘Mr. Hyde on a drunken psychotic episode’ stage.

A car has been following him for about a quarter of a block now, and he knows from extremely close calls not to get into cars with so-called ‘friends’, much less strangers. He considers doubling back to shake whomever it is when the car pulls up. Even though the top of the convertible is already retracted, the driver rolls the passenger window down. He sees that it is a woman, weakened and pale as a ghost.

“Hi,” Delia says, barely above a whisper. She turns her engine off.

Marco looks back. He believes her to be some kind of bait and that a bunch of guys are lurking near by, waiting to beat the shit out of him. He scans the street.

“Look...you have no reason to be afraid of me. I’m not going to hurt you or anything. I just want to help someone out.”

“No, thank you, Miss, “ Marco says and goes back the way he came.

“Wait!” Delia pleads and the genuine pain in her voice gets Marco’s attention. He returns.

“I don’t have...much time,” she sighs and holds up the bag. She pulls the gun out and Marco freezes with fear. Delia throws the gun in the backseat, but Marco is still justifiably wary.

“Please...take this,” she mumbles and offers up the bag. Even as dark as it is, Marco can recognize the familiar green and white of the paper he so seldom sees. He scans the street one more time and he reluctantly takes it from her hands.

Delia smiles, then her eyes flutter and she slumps into her steering wheel. With her head and back now exposed, Marco can see that she is wounded. The driver’s seat is soaked with blood that looks almost purple in this limited light.

Marco zips the bag up and he makes one final scan of the street. He goes around to the driver’s side and he gently pushes her back toward the seat. He sees that she has a cell phone in her cup holder. Marco reaches in, dials the phone, wipes his fingerprints off of it with his shirt, and puts the phone in Delia’s lap.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

Marco gently touches Delia’s cheek and walks away.

“Hello? What’s your emergency?”

BIO: “Cormac Brown” is my pen name. I’m an up-and-slumming writer in the city of Saint Francis and I’m following in the footsteps of Hammett...minus the TB and working for the Pinkerton Agency. Some of my stories have appeared at Powder Burn Flash, SixSentences, FlashFire 500, Clarity of Night, Astonishing Adventures Magazine, and Crooked Magazine. You can find me at Cormac Writes.

6 comments:

Michael Solender said...

compelling tale. literate and sad..seems like there is a back story that would make a good prequel

Paul D. Brazill said...

Fantastic story. Really stands up to a lot of re-reading.

Al Tucher said...

Maybe she'll really make it to the pearly gates. Good one.

Lee Hughes said...

That was a stunning piece, flowed brilliantly and left you not knowing what to feel, great work.

Joyce said...

This was great. It's so true that it's hard to know who to root for. Does the end justify the means? Can she 'buy' her way into Heaven? You almost hope so...

Cormac Brown said...

Michael,

Thanks, but I've been having lousy luck with writing prequels.

Paulie Decibels,

Thank you and I hope so.

Al,

Thanks and all things being equal, I hope that she does somehow.

Lee,

Thanks.

Joyce,

Thank you and contrary to the black and white of old, the world is more gray than ever.