Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 222 - Robert Crisman


Never steal from your mom if she’s got a shotgun.

Joey and Danny, doofus-ass crooks, had actually come out of this place this one time with stuff they might sell. They split the haul on the flip of a coin. Danny got the steaks they’d kiped from the freezer. Joey got this old cuckoo clock, oak, an antique, that looked like it might fetch $100.

Joey had other ideas. He gave his clock to his mom, the Battleship Bismarck, in hopes that she wouldn’t bounce him out of her house. She wanted him gone, like last week, so, the bribe.

Anyway, one misadventure after another and, some weeks later, Joey and Danny lay sprawled at the Old Goat Hotel in downtown Seattle. The Old Goat was cheap grifters, winos, etc.; Danny had lived there since Jesus smoked his first joint.

It looked like nothing was coming their way.

“Oh, by the way,” Danny said, “more bad news.”

“Bad news,” Joey said. “Let me guess. We’re dead and in Hell, it’s official...which maybe isn’t such bad fucking news.”

“Well, yeah, there’s that,” Danny said. “But no, this is—it’s almost too bad we ain’t dead, ’cause when you see this your ass is gonna fall off. You remember that place we come out with the steaks an’ the clock?”

“Yeah,” Joey said. “You ever get anything for those steaks?”

“No, man,” Danny said, “I wound up feedin’ ’em to dogs before they turned green.” He picked a newspaper up off the bed. “Read this now, man. Dude owns the place, he finally come back from vacation an’—just read it, okay? So you can turn green an’ then, fuck, I dunno.”

Joey read—and almost fell out of his chair. “Jesus Christ, no! The thing was a what? Fifteen thousand??? No!! No no no no!!!

Joey slumped forward in his chair and wept like a redheaded stepchild.

“Yeah, man,” Danny said. “Clock’s Swiss or somethin’, 8,000 years old, belonged to William Tell or some fuckin’ thing. Guy says it’s an heirloom. An’ you gave the thing to your wonderful mother.”

Joey looked Danny straight in the eyes, face strickened, yet hardening, determined. “We’re gonna get the fucking thing back.”

One o’clock the next morning found Joey and Danny skulking under a tree across from mom’s house.

“This is a quick in-and-out,” Joey said. “It’s hanging over the fireplace there. I go in, snatch it, come out, and we’re gone. Take it to Slim’s in the morning, he’ll give us a couple of grand. Sound like a plan?”

“Let’s wait an’ see,” Danny said. “You do got a key, right?”

Joey gave him one of those looks and started across to the house. He hopped up the steps and tiptoed up to the door. He fished out a key. He stuck the key in the lock.

He was all set to turn it, quiet as rats pissing on cotton, when he heard this sound. A scuffling or something, a snort… He stood frozen. The scuffling and snorting sounds stopped. Joey turned the key slo-o-owly and pushed the door open a pussy hair’s worth. Within now, the silence of graves.

He pressed the door open an inch—slowly, slo-o-owly—and then another, and then, BLAM! this dog hit the door! A pit bull! Roaring and snarling, jaws snapping and tearing the air! The air screamed and bled! Wouldn’t you?

The sounds that fucking thing made—sounds to make dead folks glad that they’d died.

Joey tore down those steps! He left his shadow to deal with the monster. He blitzed by the tree. “C’mon, man, c’mon!” he kept right on stepping.

“Joey, wha—?” Danny said.

“The Hound of the Baskervilles, man, step it up!”

They sped sped sped sped down the street.

Ten minutes later, Joey and Danny huffed and puffed, huddled deep in an alley eight blocks from mom’s house. The alley was dark as the prospects for peace here on earth.

Danny leaned against this old garage door. “Look’s like she read the same fuckin’ paper.”

“Yeah, man, looks like. I gotta think.”

“You gotta think. Fuckin’ Jesus.”

A half-hour later, they stood under a streetlight a block or so down from the Safeway on 15th and John.

Joey showed Danny two capsules. “These barbs’ll do it. Thank God the guy was still up.”

“The guy never sleeps.”

“Shit keeps him awake.”

“Those barbs? Sleepin’ pills keep him awake?”

“No, but the crank does. He’s gotta stay on top of things, man, all those dopefiends around all the time.”

“Yeah, well, I guess. So, anyway, now...”

“I go in, get the meat, and come out, we sprinkle this shit in, then go feed the dog. Sound like a plan?”

“Quit sayin’ that, for Chrissake.”

Joey slipped into the Safeway and wandered the aisles, just like a shopper except he looked like a skulk. The few other shoppers there paid him no mind. They looked like skulks, too.

After a bit, Joey sidled on up to the meat section there and pretended to look at the steaks for awhile. Then, slowly, as if he was scared that Big Brother was watching, he tiptoed to check out the hamburger rack. He looked like a crook angling in on the poorbox. Even Deputy Dawg would have busted his ass.

Joey stared somberly down at the meat, as if meat was his major in college or something and he had a thesis on hamburger patties past due. He seemed to be chewing the moral dimension.

The meateaters’ dilemna: cows feel pain, do they not?

Joey snapped back to the business at hand. He’d almost fallen face down in the rack! His eyes darted left and then right, and then left and then right, and then left and then right and—Goddamnit, just do it! He snatched up the meat and shoved it up under his army coat there and slunk down the aisle, away.

Now, just a quick schmooze out the door.

A voice at the checkstand: “The money! Now, motherfucker!”

Joey’s heart went up through his nose! A stickup!

Joey peeked out from one of the aisles toward the checkstand. Two hard-looking dudes, masked, with guns. One of them had the rent-a-cop covered like tarp. His partner held a paper sack open, inviting the checker to fill it with money. The checker was only too glad to oblige. The gun that the other guy held on the guard was state-of-the-art with a barrel the size of a tunnel.

Bag full, the heistmen backed toward the door. When they got there, the guy who’d had the guard covered stopped and, in the best Grade Z movie tradition, launched a shot that blasted a hole in the ceiling. He yelled, “You move and you die!”

It was corny as hell but it worked. The ten or so shopper-skulks left in the store stood frozen, bewildered, and scared. Joey hope that they’d start to move soon, so he could ease out unnoticed.

The rent-a-cop went to the door, fished out a key, and locked that cocksucker.

Then he went to the mike at the checkstand. “Folks, we’ve been robbed. The police will be on their way very shortly and they’ll want to speak with you all. It shouldn’t take long, so please bear with us.”

Joey wobbled on back to the rear of the store. He muttered away in some long-dead language, perhaps Aramaic. God knows where that came from.

The words Joey used would have turned Jesus white.

Meanwhile, the cops! They were coming! He had to think!

His first thought was, “Yehu al bashwan ad menhu.”

What the fuck was all that?

Good God, it was Aramaic!

He was thinking in tongues!

He switched back to English.

Much much much much fucking better! Now he could think! He shook his head, cleared the cobwebs. His first thought was, Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck!”

He slunk up the aisles, turned a corner, kept slinking. The meat thawed. He left a red river of hamburger juice like a slime trail behind him. What to do, what to do, what to do?” He could not think!

Desperate, he tried Aramaic again. “Yehu al bashwan ad menhu.”

Goddamn! What did it mean? Jesus spoke this? No wonder the dumb shit got lost in the desert!

Joey, lost in the aisles, red juice just dripping, down down down down. Drip drip drip drip...

Two hours passed. The doors were still locked. The cops would be coming one of these years. Other shop-skulkers wandered around like lost souls on crack in the streets of South Bronx.

Drip drip drip drip...

The rent-a-cop got on the mike. “The police are coming now, folks. Thanks for your patience. Just a little while longer. Please, please bear with us.”

Fuck fuck fuck fuck!

Drip drip drip drip...

Joey’s slime trail—like something you’d see in the wake of a death march. He was soaked to the skin.

Ten million years later, rent-a-cop redux. “The police are here, folks! They’re going to want to talk to you so, if you’d come up to the front, the sooner we can get started and the sooner we all can go home.”

A few tepid cheers from the skulkers. Most of them filed toward the front.

Joey, who’d froze with the news, looked down where he’d stopped, and watched the juice puddling and staining his sneaks. He had a choice: shit or go blind.

He looked up. The rent-a-cop, coming his way! He thought about ducking, under the beets in the vegetable section or something.

They were too far away.

He could not hide!

Like a man facing ball clamps, he started his way toward the door.

Outside the store, in the light, the cops had the folks all lined up. Joey fell in at the rear, scrunched up behind this big tall wide guy.

There were 10-15 people. Two cops, Edwards and Kleinfelt, scutbusters supreme. Edwards could have passed for Harvey Keitel. Kleinfelt was any cop partner: thin-lipped, shovel-jawed, stolid and stoic and so forth.

The cops did the interviews one at a time. Edwards conducted and Kleinfelt stood back and watched. Edwards motioned the guy at the front of the line forward. The guy was a stone blitzed-out tweaker.

“Okay, my friend,” Edwards said, “make my job fun. What did you see and what planet was it?”

The tweaker said, “Huh?” and then picked his nose and came out with a booger that glowed just like cheese-whiz.

“Uh-huh, Neptune, just what I thought,” Edwards said. “Okay, Jack, kick rocks.”

Next up, a giggling, heavy-set earth child stoned to the tits.

“Okay,” Edwards said, “Mama Cass?”

“She’s dead,” said the girl.

“Sorry to hear that, Miss—”

“And you’re a sexist pig cop, you know that?”

“That’s what my wife tells me. Now—”

Kleinfelt stepped up. “Hey, Harve, check this out.”

Off to their left, a slithery figure hugging the shadows, scuttling away at a high rate of speed, a slime trail splotching the ground in his wake.

Edwards fell on the ground, laughing as if he would die.

Kleinfelt helped him back to his feet, then started to go after Joey.

Edwards put a restraining hand on his shoulder. “Mike, uh-uh. Look at him, man! Stone fucking mope. He couldn’t steal grass off a lawn. No way is he part of this. The guys who did this got away!”

“Yeah, but, Harve, look at the way he’s holding his coat! He’s dripping! The guy was rustling cattle in there!”

“He’s probably eating it raw in some alley. Looking at him, he’s got to be starving.” Edwards busted out laughing again.

Then he turned back to the next interviewee. “Okay, let’s get on with the show.”

Joey, meanwhile, came close to collapse in the alley. “Those motherfuckers! I thought I was doomed!”

“No shit,” Danny said. “You’re dripping, man, you know that?”

“The shit melted! I’m soaked! I was in there so long, I’m surprised they didn’t come up and tell me to start paying rent! Yeah, well, fuck ’em. I got the meat and these red devils here, and now, man, that dog is in for a real tasty treat!”

Danny said, “Sounds like a plan.”

A half-hour later, Joey stood on the porch, meat in hand. Do or die time. He cracked the door slo-o-owly and tossed in the meat, then ran like a methedrine bat out of hell to the street.

He waited with Danny under the tree for ten minutes.

Time enough. “If he isn’t in dreamland by now,” Joey said, “he never will be.”

Joey snuck to the porch, put his ear to the door. A sound like a crocodile snoring inside. He pushed the door open slo-o-owly...

The dog lay in a heap right inside. Drool flecked its lips. It had snarfed up the meat as if it was Joey’s left leg.

Joey stepped over the dog and went to the mantle and—fuck! The clock wasn’t there!

Did mom hock it or something? Nah, couldn’t be! She’d loved that damn clock and—

Her bedroom! That’s where that fucking clock was!

Oh, boy. Mom’s bedroom. Joey had been there exactly one time, to hoover her purse. He’d been 12 and all 12 year-olds steal from mom. Boys anyway. It’s genetic.

A few of them also try on mom’s dresses. I hasten to add that Joey was not one of those. Even if he’d have been a drag queen-in-waiting—mom’s stuff? She dressed like Dick Butkus!

No, Joey was there for the money. She caught him, of course. He still carried welts.

And now he had to go in there again.

He stood there a moment as memory flogged him, and then squared his shoulders. A fatalist calm swept right through him. He was going in mom’s bedroom to die. So be it.

Far, far better it happen this way, in pursuit of his dream, than to spend the rest of his life on the tideflats, picking his nose like the loser he’d been for so long...

Or some horseshit like that. He started back toward the bedroom. Beagle-boy silent, of course, as the dog snored away.

He got to mom’s door. He cracked it as slo-o-owly as he’d cracked the front one. More slo-o-owly in fact; what the fuck was a pit bull stacked up against mom?

Pitch-black darkness inside her room. A snoring like chainsaws tearing the last of the Great Northern Forest to nothing.

Joey eased in. He stood there inside the door to wait for his eyes to adjust.

Slowly the shadows took shape. Mom in her bed on his right. To his left a dresser. Above it the clock.

Tick tick tick tick. Joey crept over—Beagle-Boy quiet!—and reached for the clock and—

Bla-ZAT!! Like the flash of an A-bomb the lights all came on!

Death death death death! Joey froze! Turned...

Mom…! A grin of pure evil lighting her face. Her eyes glittered! Like those of Cruella DeVille as she tossed all those dogs in the river! She sat there upright—a tableau of sheer menace seldom seen outside war zones.

“Hah! You little cocksucker!” She crowed. “I knew you’d be back! I read the same paper, you sonofabitch, and I knew you’d be back! What did you do, poison the dog to get in here? That’s why I got him, to keep your ass out. But aren’t you a slick motherfucker?”

She snorted a laugh. “Actually, no. You’re dumb as a stump. Somebody must’ve drawn you a map, with printed instructions or something!”

Her smile hardened like plaster. “Printed instructions. So dummy can come in and steal mommy’s clock off the wall. Shame on you, son. And guess what. You’re not gonna get it. Still, I don’t want you to feel like you came here for nothing...”

She reached to the far side of the bed and brought up a shotgun.

Joey saw visions! Long fangs and bat wings! Zorks eating cub scouts!

Mom leveled the shotgun! “Eat rock salt, you asshole!”

Joey wheeled and tore out of that room like a rocket! Mom lumbered after—and blasted him, BOOM! with a shot to the keister!

It didn’t slow him a lick! He ducked, dipped, and dodged! Mom was still firing! She missed, missed, and missed! He slashed through the house, through the living room there, to the door—and tripped on the pit bull heaped on the floor and—perhaps apropos of nothing at all—snoring away like Hillary Clinton, who dreamed often of using a three-foot-long strap-on on Bill!

Joey flew through the door at a high rate of speed, headfirst as it happened, and tumbled down the steps, and continued a somersault out to the street and all the way to the tree, where Danny stood transfixed, struck dumb, unbelieving.

Joey didn’t break stride! The last somersault pitched him right to his feet—running like Speedy Gonzalez, who’s even faster than Usain Bolt in the 100 meters—though not by much.

“Run run run run!” Joey yelled as mom blasted out on the porch, guns ablaze. Ka-boom boom boom!

How did she reload so fast?

Danny didn’t bother to ponder the question.

He and Joey made tracks to the Old Goat Hotel.

Monday, they limped down to the Welfare and pled broke and crumbcake. They got on, too, no sweat.

Now, maybe they’d have time to come up with a plan that would work.

BIO: Robert Crisman writes crime and noir fiction. He spent 15 years on streets in downtown Seattle and has some idea of what really goes on in these realms. He’s had stories posted on A Twist of Noir, and some scheduled on Yellow Mama and Darkest Before Dawn. A movie he scripted, Chasing the Dopeman, is currently in post-prod down in L.A. and, with luck, it’ll be ready to go sometime this fall. He maintains a blog, chock full of stories, at 6S.

1 comment:

Sheila Deeth said...

Loved it. Congratulations - a worthy winner!