ALL THE SMART BOYS KNOW WHY - JIMMY CALLAWAY
An entry in NEEDLE Magazine’s First Flash Fiction Challenge
Zero watched the medics put Cynthia on the gurney. The needle that was still stuck in the crook of her arm dangled with the motion, but didn’t fall out. They covered her up.
Then, here came Good Cop/Bad Cop, just like on TV. Sheesh. Law & Order: North Park.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Robinson.”
“Yeah, thanks, man.”
“You were no longer together, you and Miss Gripp?”
“No, we split up a couple months back.”
“She dumped you?” Bad Cop said.
“No, it was really more of a mutual thing.”
“Mutual thing, huh?” Bad Cop sneered.
Zero knew Bad Cop was trying to push his buttons, so he indulged the guy. “What’s that s’posed to mean?”
Bad Cop said, “It’s s’posed to mean when a woman winds up dead, the first guy we look at is her ex-boyfriend.”
“Yeah, that’s it, man,” Zero said. “I shot her up full of dope and then left her body on my own front stoop to throw you guys off my trail.”
“Listen here, you—”
“All right, Bill, that’s enough,” Good Cop said. “We’ll be in touch, Mr. Robinson, we need you for anything.”
They left the front door open. Zero didn’t bother to shut it. It was nice out.
Mal’s and Zero’s hands stunk like gasoline, the fumes filling the car. Zero couldn’t stop sniffing his fingers.
“Thanks for doing this,” Mal said.
“Yeah, man,” Zero said. “I didn’t have nothing going on tonight anyways. Bronson had a date, huh?”
Mal snorted. “Yeah. You’d think he was off to prom, he was so excited. Never mind he goes through ’em like Kleenex.”
Zero laughed a little and looked at his watch. 3:14 in the morning.
Mal lit another cigarette. He kept his eyes on the taco shop across the street. “Sorry about Cynthia,” he said.
“Yeah, well,” Zero said.
“She OD’d on your front step, Bronson said?”
“Yeah, man. Came home from an all-nighter at Petey’s and just found her there. Dead.”
“Well, she was always a little crazy,” Mal said. “If you don’t mind my saying.”
Zero shook his head. He rolled down his window some and then sat on his hands. The smell of gas was starting to make him light-headed.
They sat in silence for a bit. A steady stream of thick smoke began to rise from the back of the taco shop across the street. Mal said, “Kind of a shame, this.”
“Yeah? How so?”
“I dunno, y’know. Guy works all his life, opens a little restaurant, hits a bad streak at the track, and poof. Up in smoke.”
“Yeah, well,” Zero said, “shit happens.”
“’Sides,” Zero said, “that joint had a ‘B’ rating from the Department of Health. I’ve worked in restaurants, man, and you gotta have cockroaches bussing the tables to get lower than an ‘A’.”
“I thought their food was okay,” Mal said. They heard a window across the street burst.
“I heard some chick found a needle in her carne asada, man. Imagine? Take a bite out of a taco and end up getting inoculated. Sheesh.”
Mal shrugged. “Yeah, but y’know, shit happens. I mean, what’re the odds that’d happen again after that one time?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Zero said. “But why take a chance, y’know?”
Another window burst, and then another, and then a symphony of broken glass. Flames licked up the sides of the taco shop, up the front.
Mal pitched his cigarette and started the car. “Still,” he said, “I liked their breakfast burritos.”
Zero sat on his couch and tried to make himself cry. Nothing. Everything he was gonna miss about her had already been gone a couple of months. And there really wasn’t much of that to start with.
Once, she hocked his TV for drug money. When he came home and saw it was gone, he was kinda pissed. But then he remembered a buddy of his had an old one he’d offered to Zero last week. Zero called him up and he brought it right over. When Cynthia got home, Zero was already plopped on the couch in front of it. Man, she flipped out.
“What the fuck is this?”
“Mick’s old TV. He got a flat screen for himself last week.”
She just stared at him, breathing through her nose. “And that’s it? That’s all you’ve got to say?”
“Well,” Zero said, “Yeah. I guess.”
“Jesus fucking Christ, what does it take to get a reaction out of you? What would—what if I told you I was fucking someone else behind your back?”
Zero looked at her. “I dunno. Are you?”
Man, she lost it. “Yes! Yes, I am! I’m fucking Mick and Petey and Charlie and all your stupid fucking no-count friends! Whadda you gonna do about it?”
Zero shrugged. “I dunno. Nothin’, I guess.”
“Well, yeah. It’s already happened, if it’s happened. Nothing I can do. What do you want me to do?”
“Oh, I don’t know! How about something? Anything, for a change!”
“I want you to—” And then she started crying. “You don’t even care. You don’t care. Goddammit, why don’t you do something? Why don’t you fight for me?”
“Fight for you?”
“Yes, fight for me! Take a stand, for once in your miserable life!”
And Zero just looked at her. Fight for her. Like, what kind of sense did that make?
So, she stormed out and that was the last time Zero saw her alive.
Zero let out a breath and flipped on the TV. Mama’s Family was on.
BIO: Jimmy Callaway still lives and works in San Diego, CA; still owes Cameron Ashley and Josh Converse massive amounts of back pay for line-edits; still would like to thank Steve Weddle and Needle Magazine both for existing; still owes Christopher Grant a back rub; can still be found at Attention, Children. Sequential Art.
HOW THE WEST WAS WRITTEN
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