Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 468 - Jason Duke


Previously published at Plots With Guns in 2000

Thursday, November 6, 1997

“Mister Hess, can I have a word with you, please?”

Jesse Hess tilted his chair back into an upright position. He lazily stood up, interrupting Angel in mid-braid of his ponytail. He stared down the kids in the rest of the classroom; walked up to the desk of his English teacher, Mr. Daniel. The wide bottoms of his baggy JNCO jeans dragged across the floor.

“What up, teach?”

“What up is the subject matter of your story. I told you when I gave you this assignment I wouldn’t accept another gang-banger story.”

Mr. Daniel handed back Jesse’s story with a giant F in red pen across the front page. Jesse saw the grade and his face hardened.

“Man, why you gotta punk me like that?”

He threw the story on Mr. Daniel’s desk, scattering the papers.

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me, mother...”

“Whoa,” the student teacher, Mike, stepped between Jesse and Mr. Daniel’s desk. He flashed his trademark wry smile.

Mr. Daniel exhaled an uneasy sigh. He removed his glasses and massaged his forehead.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Daniel,” Mike whispered. “Let me handle this.”

“Fine... you do that, Mike.”

Jesse and Mike stepped out into the adjoining hallway.

“Man, I’m tired of his shit. He never gives me props for my stories.”

“Jesse, I keep telling you Mr. Daniel is just an old-fashioned teacher who thinks all stories should read like a Hemingway,” Mike stroked the thin, black stubble along his chin that substituted for a goatee. He put a hand on Jesse’s shoulder. “Don’t let Mr. Daniel get to you. You have potential. You should try submitting your stories to magazines. There’s a few right here in Phoenix.”

“Yeah? So why do you like my stories so much?”

“Because, man, you write from experience, and that’s the best way to write a story... you write about what you know. You just have to refine your writing skills a little and learn to turn those experiences into fiction. Remember what I told you?”

“Yeah, yeah. A writer’s not supposed to write ver... ver...”

“Verbatim, man,” Mike laughed. He playfully pushed Jesse toward the classroom door and Jesse pushed back.

Jesse strode back into the classroom over to the pale, thin Mexican girl, Angel, who’d been braiding his hair.

“Sorry about that. Mr. Daniel was trying to play me again, but I put him in check.”

“Yeah, right. Whatever.” Angel gave Jesse an annoyed, sideways look. “You gonna let me finish your hair?”

Jesse went to sit back down when the school bell rang.

“I’ll let you do it tomorrow, promise...”

Angel rolled her eyes, folding her arms.

“Don’t make promises you’re not gonna keep...”


Jesse splashed his face with water. He stared into the mirror of the men’s bathroom in back of the Taco Bell off 43rd Avenue south of Dunlap. He studied the scrawl of graffiti etched into the glass; slowly ran a finger over the surface. He followed the maze of lines that riddled the glass and stopped at a name along the bottom of the mirror – CHUKO.

“Hey, Jesse. You almost done in there, homes?” a kid said outside the bathroom door. His voice was hoarse and he pounded on the door anxiously with his fist. “C’mon, me and Jesus wanna hit this pipe.”

Jesse wiped his face with the sleeve of his t-shirt. He opened the door. Lurking near the door in the hazy twilight were two Mexican kids. They were bone thin and their baggy pants and t-shirts hung loose from their bodies, the way skeletons looked dressed in oversized clothes. They hurried into the bathroom; shut and locked the door.

“What was taking you so long up in here? Damon’s been fiending like a little bitch to hit this pipe and shit.” Jesus picked at the speed bumps along his hollow face. He flicked on a lighter; gently touched the flame to the bottom of a glass pipe. The flame licked at the underbelly of the bowl and scorched it black. The meth caked to the inside bubbled and melted. The bowl filled with creamy white smoke that snaked up out of the pipe like an albino demon escaping its prison. Jesus took a long hit and fought to hold it in, wheezing as he exhaled.

“Let me get a hit now.” Damon wiped at the greasy film on his face. He blew out the stale smoke and hit the pipe the same as Jesus.

Jesse batted at the smoke. The acrid smell stung his eyes and nostrils. He threw open the door and ducked outside, exchanging the polluted air of the bathroom for the polluted night air.

Jesus and Damon passed the pipe back and forth as the door swung closed. Jesse strode over to the round plastic tables scattered with food and trash along the side of the Taco Bell. A worker swept up the mess with a wide broom into a long-handled dustpan, glancing up at Jesse.

Jesse scowled and read the worker’s nametag: Freeman.

“What happened to your boys?”

“What?” Jesse said.

“The two other dudes you were with.”

“They can’t take a piss without holding each others dicks.”

“Shiiittt,” Freeman chuckled. “You fellas go to Apollo High School?”

“Yep... you got it. So why you working at Taco Bell, man? No disrespect, but can’t you get a better job than this?”

“Well, it’s the best I can do at the moment. I was taking classes at Glendale Community College a few years back, but I fucked up.”

“What happened?”

Freeman stared at the ground.

“Got hooked on dope...”

Jesus and Damon barrelled over to Jesse like two energizer bunnies. Freeman continued with his sweeping duties, wandering back inside the Taco Bell. He exited the back door a few minutes later toting a rubber garbage can; passed under a flickering streetlight and dragged the can across the parking lot to a dumpster.

“Man, homeboy takes out the trash every night at the same time like clockwork. I’m surprised nobody ain’t robbed this place yet. That shit would be so easy, too... just wait for him behind the dumpster with my gat, then snatch his ass and make him open the back door. I could do it right now if I wanted.”

Jesus lifted up his t-shirt; flashed the handle of a 9mm tucked in his waistline.

“Do it, homes. I got your back, ese,” Damon said.

“Man, that glass dick you been sucking on made you fucking stupid?” Jesse scoffed.

A cherry-red ’62 Park lowrider pulled into the parking space adjacent to the table. The tinted window rolled down. Behind the steering wheel sat the slant-eyed face of an older Mexican kid about 19, with thick eyebrows.

“Hey, Jesse, my man. What up, homes... long time no see.”

“What up, CHUKO?” Jesse looked at the ground. Jesus and Damon dashed to the car like dogs begging at their master’s feet.

“CHUKO, man...” Jesus leaned against the car door. “You gonna front me that eight-ball or what, ese?”

“Shit, here!” CHUKO palmed Jesus a large seal full of dirty white powder and rocks. “You been slinging that shit pretty fast, huh? Almost as good as my boy, Jesse, here. When you gonna come back and work for me, ese?”

“I’ll check you all later... I gotta bounce.”

“I’ll be seeing you around, eh, Jesse,” CHUKO said. He turned his attention to Jesus. “Get the fuck off my car, puto!”

The tinted window rolled back up and the lowrider drove away.

Friday, November 7, 1997

The lifeless hallway waited expectantly for the hour hand of the clock to reach 3:00pm. A giant paper banner with the neatly painted words “Welcome To Apollo” hung beneath the clock. Patches of buffed graffiti marred the white-washed walls and bland, dark-gray lockers that lined each side of the hall, their ranks broken by numbered doors with tiny square glass viewing panes.

The hour hand finally pointed to its destination. A bell rang, the doors swung open one after another, and like crazed animals fleeing a freak show menagerie, the students held captive inside piled out into the hallway, quickly making their way to their next classes.

“Jesse. Over here, ese.”

Jesse peered through the crowded hallway. He spied Jesus and Damon huddled near an open locker. A white stoner kid wearing a Slayer t-shirt flashed a twenty-dollar bill; slipped the money into Jesus’s hand in exchange for a seal of speed.

“What up?” Jesse caught Jesus and the kid in the middle of their transaction. The kid pocketed the seal and hurried off.

“Hey, don’t forget to tell your homies I got plenty more of this shit,” Jesus yelled after the kid.

“What up, homes,” Damon said, “you gonna kick it at my house tonight? CHUKO’s gonna be there... he said he wants to talk to you, homes, so you better come.”

“Yeah, ese. I don’t think he’s fucking around this time,” Jesus chimed in. He turned to Damon. “Hey, hold onto my gat for me.”

“Bet!” Damon eagerly slipped the 9mm into his waistline.

“I don’t know, man,” Jesse shook his head. “Why’s CHUKO want me selling for him again? It’s not like I owe him for that shit I got busted with last month. I already paid him back his ends.”

“Yeah, well, he seems to think differently, homes,” Jesus said. “Just come to Damon’s tonight and smooth things out with him. We’ll back you up, right, puto?”

Jesus slugged Damon in the shoulder, who nodded in agreement.

“Yeah, right, ese.”

Jesus glimpsed the blue and white windbreaker of a security guard at the end of the hallway. The guard eyeballed them; raised a radio to his mouth.

“Ah, shit! Bounce!”

The guard stalked through the crowd. Jesse, Jesus and Damon scattered, rounded a corner at the end of the hall, exited through a set of double-doors.

“Stash the tweek for me,” Jesus shoved the eight-ball of meth into Jesse’s hand, but Jesse hesitated. “They ain’t after you, homes. Just hold it til after school and I’ll get it back then. I’ll meet you up at the park. Here, take it motherfucker!”

“Alright!” Jesse jammed the eight-ball into his underwear. Jesus grinned and made a break for it to the school parking lot with Damon on his heels.

Jesse walked to Mr. Daniel’s classroom. He rounded a corner and passed a boys bathroom along the way. He was almost home free when the guard rounded the corner behind him.

“You, hold it right there,” the guard shouted as another guard rounded the corner ahead of the bathroom. “Hey! Stop him!”

Jesse ducked inside the bathroom. He rushed into a toilet stall and flushed the eight-ball. The guards charged in after him, slammed his face into the stall, tackled him to the floor.

“Get the fuck off me. I didn’t do nothing.”

“Oh yeah?” the hall guard smirked. He yanked Jesse up onto his feet. “Why’d you run, then?”

“I had to take a piss, man.”

“My ass,” the other guard scoffed. “You’re taking a little trip with us to the Security Office.”

“Man, let me go. I didn’t do nothing.”

The guards dragged Jesse back outside as Mike walked by the bathroom.

“Hey, Jesse... I’ve been looking all over for you.” Mike flashed a wry smile. “What’s the problem? I’m the student teacher from his seventh-period class.”

“I caught him with his friends selling dope, that’s the problem,” the hall guard said. “We’re taking him to the Security Office to search him.”

“Man, I didn’t do shit,” Jesse said. “I went into the bathroom and they rushed me.”

“He’s already late for class,” Mike smiled again, “so why don’t you just search him here. If he’s clean like he says, I’ll walk him to class.”

“Whatever, pal.” The hall guard patted Jesse down. “You wanna take responsibility for the little punk, be my guest.”

“There, you convinced now?” Mike said.

The hallway guard leaned in close to Jesse.

“Your teacher-buddy here may have bailed you out this time, kid... but next time, you might not be so lucky.”

“So, you finally decided to join us.” Mr. Daniel raised a stern eye at Jesse as he walked into the classroom. “Can I have a word with you please, Mike?”

“Sure. What’s up?”

“Mike, you can’t keep covering for this kid.” Mr. Daniel massaged his forehead. “He’s just going to drag you down with him.”

“What should I do then? Stop helping him because he got into some trouble? Everybody makes mistakes, and everybody deserves a second chance. Not that you’d care, but I submitted one of his stories to the city-wide writing competition.”

“For Christ sakes, Mike!” Mr. Daniel leaned in closer. “He was arrested for drugs. You make it sound like he toilet-papered the ceiling of the boys bathroom. He’s as rotten as they come. Look, all I’m saying is focus on the legitimate kids who are here to learn.”

“Mr. Daniel, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.”



Angel squeezed through the crowded school hallway.

“Mike, I have to talk to you. It’s Jesse.”

“Calm down.” Mike smiled. “What about Jesse?”

Angel paused a moment to catch her breath. She looked up at Mike and her eyes were wide with panic.

“What is it, Angel? What’s wrong?”

“Jesse told me not to tell you...”

“Tell me what?”

“Jesus is why the guards chased after Jesse. Jesus was dealing and talked Jesse into stashing it. Jesse had to flush it or the guards would’ve busted him.”

“Where’s Jesse now?”

“I don’t know, but they always kick it at the Taco Bell, just north of 43rd Avenue and Olive.”

Mike stared out over the crowd.

“Go straight home and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“What’re you gonna do, Mike?”

“I’m going to stop Jesse from ruining his life.”


Jesse flopped down on a cement park bench. He rubbed his face in his hands.

“What up, bitch?” Jesus laughed from behind Jesse. “Where’s my stash?”

“I had to flush it... school security rushed me right after you and Damon bounced,” Jesse exhaled a long sigh. Jesus’s mouth dropped open as he struggled to register what Jesse said.

“Ah, yeah... you’re just fucking with me. Your ass ain’t that stupid to flush CHUKO’s shit...” But as Jesse’s confession sank in deeper, Jesus’s face hardened. “Man, I can’t believe you did that, yo! You done for, now. You gonna have to sell for him again to pay it off,” Jesus said coldly. He walked away, shaking his head.

“I ain’t selling shit.” Jesse blocked Jesus’s path. “It was your punk-ass that wanted me to hold onto his shit in the first place.”

“What, motherfucker?” Jesus growled, clenching his fists, ready to throw down. Jesse jumped up and socked Jesus dead in the eye; knocked Jesus to the ground. Jesus pulled out the 9mm, aiming it at Jesse.

“I oughta smoke your ass.” Jesus nursed his puffy red eye. “But if I do, I’m gonna owe CHUKO your debt.”

Jesus eased up on the trigger; stood up. He threw the gun at Jesse’s feet.

“Take it... you’re gonna need it.”

“Fuck you. You ain’t my friend.”

Jesus smiled.

“I never was...”


Jesse climbed a short flight of stairs. He stopped at an apartment door. A large crack taped shut with duct tape ran the length of the front window. The door was splintered from years of abuse and neglect. Jesse stepped up to the door, listening to the ruckus inside. He chambered the 9mm; slipped the gun into his baggy pocket; banged against the door. The ruckus died as Damon peeked through the window’s curtains.

“Yo, what up, Jesse?” Damon poked his face back through the curtains. The door unlocked and opened. “Come in, ese.”

“Where’s CHUKO and Jesus?”

Jesse walked into a smoky living room. He scanned the faces of the partygoers. He thumbed the hammer of the 9mm as he looked around. The partygoers resumed in hushed voices. Someone hit a glass pipe, adding to the stench of meth and weed that filled the air.

“They around?” Jesse asked again.

“Nah.” Damon noticed the gun-shaped bulge in Jesse’s pocket. “Jesus never showed and CHUKO said he was going to Taco Bell after he finished with some business.”

“CHUKO say anything to you?”

“Nah, just that he wanted to talk to you about some shit... probably about last night.”

Damon turned to the kid hitting the pipe.

“Let me get a hit off that, puto. And keep it down... my grandma’s trying to sleep.”

Damon leveled a lighter beneath the bowl but Jesse snatched the pipe and lighter from Damon’s hands. Jesse lit the pipe; inhaled a long, deep hit. His eyes went blank. He hit the pipe again and again, walking stiffly into the bathroom. It was just him, the pipe, and the raw, jittery sensations that followed.

“You okay, ese?” Damon said.

Jesse dropped the pipe outside the bathroom and shut the door. He stared into the mirror. His heart thumped against his chest like someone trying to pummel him to death with a hammer. He hit himself hard in the chest, as if doing so would override the pain of his racing heart and dull it with pain of his own.

“Jesse?” Damon said through the door.

“Leave me alone, motherfucker! I’ll be alright.”

Jesse rummaged through the drawers along the side of the bathroom sink. He grabbed a pair of electric clippers, plugged them in, flipped the ON switch, and ran them over his head. His hair fell into the sink in long, dirty blonde locks, filling the basin until every last strand was gone. He threw the hair into a small trashcan; rinsed his shaved head and neck in the sink.

“What’d you do to your hair, homes?” Damon said.

Jesse walked out into the living room, to the apartment door. Damon and the partygoers stared and everything seemed frozen in the moment – even the smoke stood still. Jesse opened the door. He leered at Damon; pulled the gun out of his pocket and pointed it to his head.

“Now I’m like you... spun out my mind.”


“Why I always gotta do this shit?”

Freeman threw open the back door of the Taco Bell. He toted a rubber garbage can across the vacant parking lot to the dumpster. Jesse ducked down into the darkness behind the dumpster, but Freeman saw him and stopped under the flickering streetlight.

“Hey, you can’t loiter here.”

Jesse sprang up. He aimed the 9mm and Freeman tripped over the garbage can.

“Man, you gotta be the dumbest motherfucker.” Jesse motioned with the gun for Freeman to get up. “Get your ass up. I said now, bitch!”

“It’s cool, it’s cool,” Freeman shielded his face. “You got it, kid... whatever you say...”

“Man, just shut up and open the door,” Jesse nudged Freeman toward the backdoor with the gun barrel and Freeman stumbled back over the garbage can. “Take the fucking trashcan with you.”

“Alright, alright.”

Jesse followed on Freeman’s heels. Freeman started to open the back door.

“Hey, I know you,” Freeman opened the door.

“Yeah, you know shit,” Jesse said and shoved Freeman inside.


Mike walked to the back door of the Taco Bell. He glanced over his shoulder at his faded-yellow Toyota parked in the empty parking lot. He reached for the doorknob when the door cracked open and a large shoed foot poked out, wedging open the door. Mike opened the door the rest of the way and looked down at Freeman sitting on the floor, gagged and bound by duct tape.

“Man, your pants fit too tight,” Jesse yelled from up front near the counter.

Mike stepped inside as Freeman pleaded for help through muffled cries. Mike put a finger to his lips; positioned himself to one side of the open doorway leading to the front. He peered around the corner and saw Jesse struggling to fit into a Taco Bell uniform.

“I oughta kick your ass for lying to me, bitch.”

“Jesse.” Mike stepped out.

“Mike? What the hell are you doing here, man?”

Mike took a step forward.

“Why’re you doing this, Jesse?”

“This was the only way I could get close enough to CHUKO.” Jesse gripped the 9mm tight in his hand.

“You’re better than this. I know you are.”

“Nah.” Jesse’s face hardened and he squeezed the gun tighter. “It’s too late for that shit. Mr. Daniel was right about me. You should’ve listened to him.”

“C’mon, man.” Mike took another step closer. “You don’t really believe that, do you? You’re a writer, man... a good writer. Don’t throw it all away. Let’s make things right.”

A cherry-red ’62 Park lowrider pulled up next to the drive-thru window.

“Hey, motherfuckers. I’ve been out here trying to order for forever and shit,” CHUKO shouted up at the window.

Jesse looked to the window; cocked back the gun’s hammer.

“There’s only one way I can make things right.”

“Jesse!” Mike leapt forward and grappled Jesse to wrestle the gun away. The gun fired and Mike hit the floor, blood seeping out from underneath his limp body.

The lowrider peeled out. Jesse fired into the back windshield and the lowrider rolled into the side of the Taco Bell, smashing into the building with a crunch of metal and shattered glass. CHUKO threw open the car door and scrambled out, Mac 10 Ingram in his hand.

A staccato of bullets exploded into the drive-thru and tore through Jesse as his own bullets plugged CHUKO in the head and chest. A cloud of blood sprayed the air from behind CHUKO’s head and he dropped, firing the Ingram into the sky.

Jesse gasped for breath on the floor at the bottom of the drive-thru window. His breaths grew shorter and shorter, until they stopped altogether, his dead, glassy eyes staring blankly ahead at Mike’s body.

Wednesday, November 12, 1997

“Michael Devroe was taken suddenly and unexpectedly from this world by the sins of another. Although we take solace in the knowledge that he is in the hands of God now, a tough road lies ahead of us as we struggle with the anger and sorrow his death has left us with...”

Mr. Daniel’s attention wandered from the Minister. He looked past the large group of family and friends gathered around Mike’s coffin, to a small group of only three people at the opposite end of the cemetery where Jesse’s coffin was being interred into the ground. The Minister’s words focused Mr. Daniel back onto Mike’s coffin.

“We commit this body to the ground... ashes to ashes... dust to dust.”

Monday, January 19, 1998

The school bell rang. Mr. Daniel watched his students eagerly file out of his classroom until the last of them disappeared out of the door. He exhaled an uneasy sigh and rubbed his face in his hands.

“Mr. Daniel? I have a letter here for you.”

He looked up at one of the young secretaries from the front office.

“Actually,” she gently set the letter on his desk, “it was addressed to Mike, but... since he’s...”

She looked at the floor.

“Well, I thought I’d just give it to you since he was your student teacher and all.”

Mr. Daniel rested his face back in his hands. She waited for a response, turned and left. He opened the letter.

“Dear Mr. Hess:”

He crumpled the letter in his hands and threw it into the trashcan next to his desk, getting up to leave. He stopped in the doorway; looked back at the trashcan. He walked over to it, digging out the letter.

“Thank you for entering your story into our writing competition. Although your story didn’t win, you show great promise as a writer...”

Mr. Daniel lowered the letter. He opened a desk drawer and pulled out Jesse’s story, staring long and hard at it. He read through the story one more time, taking his time with it, carefully reading it so he understood, the way he would a Hemingway. When he finished, he set the story down. He took a red ink pen, scribbled out the F, and next to it wrote the letter A.

BIO: Jason Duke is a Sergeant in the U.S. Army and served 15 months in Iraq as part of OIF 07-09. He was borderline before going to Iraq, but now he's totally fucked in the head. He mostly misses killing shit and blowing shit up. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Thuglit, Plots With Guns, Spinetingler Magazine, Pulp Pusher, Flash Fiction Offensive, Darkest Before the Dawn, A Twist of Noir, 3AM Magazine, Suspect Thoughts, Shred of Evidence, Outsider Ink, The Hiss Quarterly, Dungeon Magazine, The Murder Hole, A Cruel World. He’s also branched out into horror with his story “Route Cobra” which can be found at House of Horror.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nicely told. This grabs you from the word go, it's real and the dialogue is totally natural, great stuff.