Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 189 - Matthew Quinn Martin


Originally published at Eastern Standard Crime in August 2009

I met Dinah about a decade ago; crime wasn’t exactly a lifestyle for us back then, more of a hobby. I had this job driving cars cross-country, and was using it to shuttle big bags of painkillers from one city to the next. If ever I got caught, my excuse was going to be, ‘Hey, it ain’t my car.’ Luckily, I never had to use it, because it would have gotten me about as far as the county jail. I was a little north of nineteen. Romantic, horny, head full of dreams––in short, an idiot.

The plan was to sock away as much folding green as I could, then buy a motorcycle and ride to Alaska. To get as far away from Pennsylvania as possible where people still spoke English. But as they usually do, the plan changed. Changed when I met Dinah. She was hitching on a long stretch of road just outside of Holcomb Kansas. I spotted that crazy mop of rusty curls, upright thumb, and coltish gams––gleaming naked from combat boots to cut-off jeans––and pulled up in a gray Saturn that was bound for Salt Lake City. And never made it.

She barely looked fifteen. Couple of yellowing bruises and old cigarette-end shaped scars on her arms told me all I needed to know. Damaged, didn’t begin to describe her. It was like she’d been ground to sand, stuck into a blast furnace and come out the other side as glass––only to get shattered to a million pieces and ground back down.

As she rode shotgun, the look in her constantly shifting eyes seemed to say that some menfolk had laid a pretty heavy deal on her. I never asked which ones. Uncle? Brothers? Father? Did it matter?

When she leaned forward, I spotted a gravity knife tucked into the back of her belt and made mention of it.

“Just in case some trucker decides to get frisky,” she said.

I asked her why she didn’t just cut her hair short like a boy, she could pass.

“It wouldn’t matter to them,” she said. “Any port in a storm.” And she looked like she knew what she was talking about. I should have dropped her at the next rest-stop, but I was nineteen––I was an idiot.

I reckon Dinah knew the ride wasn’t going to be free. So she paid up front, right at 80 mph. The only rubber involved was that gripping the asphalt, but it felt safer. No way she’d try to stick me and make off with the wheels. Not if we could crash. Maybe not your typically romantic first date, but it worked for us.

Since we had a couple of days before anybody noticed the car was missing, I figured we’d hit Vegas. I knew a guy there’d be able to unload it for me. I’d be netting peanuts, but that was the drill. We stopped for gas and, as I was filling the tank, Dinah fired up a smoke. One of mine. “Isn’t that a little dangerous, darlin’?” I asked.

“Nah. Know how hard it is to get gasoline to light up?” And, to prove her point, she dropped the half-smoked cigarette into a puddle of gasoline. The coal-red ember winked out like she’d plinked it into a mug of suds. It was right there that I knew I was in love.

So we found my guy, Richie. And, like I’d predicted, he gave me the high-hard one for the car. Three G’s for a spankin’ new station wagon. After a little haggling, I got him to toss in a shitbox import pick-up to tool around in. Then I got us set up with a crappy motel just off the strip. The pool’d been condemned by the board of health and, in the morning, we we’re woken up by strips of sunlight streaming through the six bullets holes perforating the back door. Home sweet home.

I knew the money wasn’t going to last, so I talked to Richie and he said he could set me up with a new short con he’d be running. He needed fresh faces; all his usual guys had either been burned or were cooling their heels in the pokey. He’d be working it, too, behind the curtain, but up front it had to be a team. I reckon he meant the girl. Dinah was still working off her share of the rent the way she’d been for the past week, but I could tell she was itching to get in on the game for real. I figured what the heck. I was sick of being a solo act.

Richie had gotten hold of an empty shop, and used his connections to stock it with some hot electronics. I worked the counter; Dinah went to hustle up customers. Turns out she had a gift for finding marks. None of the out-of-town hayseeds could resist that trusting look in her big hazel eyes. She’d separate the rubes from the rest of the herd, and send them right down the kill shoot.

Man, their greedy, beady little eyes would bulge when they saw the prices, all just a little too low not to at least try to limbo. They’d hand over the plastic and I’d swipe it. When it wouldn’t clear, I’d scratch my head and tell ‘em, “You know...it’s not going through. You got another card?” And when that one failed, I’d give ’em that aww shucks smile. “Not gonna go. Tell ya’ what...pay cash and I’ll knock off ten percent.

“There’s an ATM over there,” I’d say pointing to one across the street. One with a pinhole video camera pointed at the keypad. Of course, the credit card machine wasn’t broken. It was just sending the information to the back of the shop where Richie sat with an encoder and a stack of blank cards.

Left like that it was a pretty good con. What made it perfect was that as Dinah was boxing things up, I’d ask the mark if they lived in Vegas. Of course they didn’t. If they lived in Vegas they wouldn’t have fallen for this scam like dominoes.

Then I’d tell them that if they were from out of state they could mail the goods to themselves and skip the tax. “You can drop in the mail box,” I’d say. “It’s right across the street, next to the ATM.” Then Dinah’d hand them a nicely packaged brick. They bit. Never underestimate a man’s greed or desire to get laid.

We ran that one for about four days. When the heat hit simmer, Dinah and I headed back to the motel with the cash and waited for Richie to show with the cards. From there, the plan was to split up and hit the area ATMs, the ones in quickie-marts that connected to the grid through dial-up and usually didn’t have cameras. We’d do it shotgun style, random.

Six hours went by.

Then ten.

Then a day.

I checked the store. Emptied out as planned, but still no word from Richie. So we waited. We got some cheap bubbly and played checkers and fucked. Then we got a phone call two days later, collect from Tijuana. It seems Richie had woken up covered in blood. Just not sure whose and bolted across the border till things cooled. The cards were gone. We never saw him again.

We still had most of the cash. 25K––again, peanuts compared to what those cards would have gotten us. But it was something. I stuffed it into my duffel, and shoved it under the bed. I told Dinah about Richie and then hit the shower, letting the hot water wash some of the loser-stink from my body, as I figured out what to do next. 25K would last a lot longer if there was just one of us.

When I got back out, dripping––cheap motel towel barely covering my jewels, I felt a dry desert breeze hit my wet skin. Dinah stood there, her silhouette framed by the open doorway. She had the duffel full of money in one small fist, and her open knife in the other. The truck keys dangled from her pinky.

“I left you some,” she said, nodding towards the nightstand. There, next to the ashtray, sat a stack of bills. Two large maybe.

“Generous,” I said. “More than I’d have left you.”

“You’d have left me dead.”

I shook my head a touch. What was I going to say? Anything would’ve sounded like a lie. Maybe someone from her way back had left her for dead. Left her in a ravine––bruised, scraped, choked, raped. Who knew what was in that big old closet of hers. So she was going to take some green from me that wasn’t even mine to begin with––big deal. What was I going to do? Kill her for it? A lot of folks would look at a girl like Dinah and say I’d be doing to world a favor by taking her out.

Well, I’ve never been into doing the world favors. And it’s been reciprocal. “Take it easy then,” I told her as I dropped the towel and reached for my pants, still crumpled next to the bed.

“Ain’t you mad at me?” she asked.

“A touch. But it’s just money. I’ll get more. It’s you I’m gonna miss.” Like I said, I was nineteen––an idiot.

Dinah huffed, probably thinking I was stalling, looking for some way to get her. When I leaned back and clicked on the tube, she turned, taking a half-step through the door, lingering.

“It’ll run out you know,” I said. “Money. Luck. Time. Gonna have to trust somebody sometime.”

She dropped the duffel. “How do I know I can trust you?”

“You don’t,” I said. “That’s why they call it trust.”

They say most couples split up over money. So maybe that’s the reason Dinah stuck around all these years. We got married that night by a guy in an Elvis suit, wrecked to the gills on rotgut tequila. I can’t say it’s always been smooth sailing, but here we are, back in Vegas for our 10th anniversary. Only in America.

I heard Richie’s in town, too. I’m not sure if he’d even remember us. Which is going to make this a lot easier. This weekend, Dinah and I are getting ours from Richie––one way or another.

Maybe I’m still an idiot, but I’m not nineteen anymore.

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. He's had crime stories published at The Flash Fiction Offensive, the soon-to-be defunct Eastern Standard Crime and at A Twist Of Noir.

He wrote the feature-length crime drama Slingshot, produced by Bold Films and starring Julianna Margulies, David Arquette, Thora Birch, Balthazar Getty and Joely Fisher.

Currently, he is hard at work on not one but two novels, one solo, one with Libby Cudmore.

And Matthew is an MFA candidate in Popular Fiction writing at the Stonecoast Program, University of Southern Maine.

For more information about Matthew, his stories, his films, his novels, his life, check out http://www.matthewquinnmartin.com/.


Jimmy Callaway said...

The rare happy romantic-noir ending. Well played, sir.

Sheila Deeth said...

Oh, that was cool! Noir and refreshing.

matthewquinnmartin said...

thanks guys!

Paul D Brazill said...

Yep, it's a gem.