Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 520 - Robert Aquino Dollesin


A slightly different version of this story appeared at Yellow Mama

Courtland stood behind the counter with his arms folded and glanced at the clock on the wall above the buzzing beer coolers. Already his chronic headache was beginning. The shop should have been closed half an hour earlier, and he should have been at home right now, on his sofa in front of the television, digging into a microwave dinner. But with two customers still in the store, he couldn’t leave.

He looked from the clock to Lyric, the stripper who came in nights before closing. She was leaned forward over the lottery counter near the entrance, rubbing the film off a ticket with her fingernail. Courtland fixed his gaze on the lower curves of her ass, which was visible beneath the hems of her Daisy Dukes. He watched her ass jiggle as she scratched, scratched, scratched.

Past the potato chip display, Courtland’s other late-night regular customer, ‘The Veteran’ stood at the magazine rack. If it had been anyone else flipping through the porn magazines, Courtland would have enforced the ‘No Reading’ sign plastered to the magazine rack. But the Veteran had turned out to be a good paying customer, someone who never left the shop without first buying a six pack of Cobra and at least one smutty magazine; sometimes two.


Lyric blew ashy powder off the ticket she was scratching. Her stomach twisted. Another loser. Why did she even bother? It wasn’t like she could afford to gamble, anyway. Not with her roommate stiffing her on the rent, and Big Charlie at the strip club where she worked threatening to show her the door if she didn’t trim a few pounds.

The bell above the door jangled. Lyric whipped her head in that direction and watched the woman enter the store. It must be some kind of joke, she thought, trying not to laugh out loud. The newly-arrived customer was wrapped in a red silk kimono that was patterned with winding streams and bending willows. The new customer stood a moment just inside the shop, then shuffled past Lyric toward the checkout. The straw sandals she wore hished against the tiles, her white-powdered face flowed beneath the flickering overhead lights.

Remembering her lottery tickets, Lyric turned back to them and resumed her scratching.


A wave of alarm bolted through Courtland the moment he saw the woman in the kimono.

“Uh, uh,” he said, shaking his head. “You can’t be in here.” He was well aware of the horrific stories involving costumed criminals who robbed liquor stores, and sometimes even murdered the proprietor. He considered himself a cautious man who wasn’t willing to take chances. Reaching a hand beneath the counter, Courtland placed a finger above the button which would bring the police.

The woman in the kimono stopped before reaching the counter. Her lips moved as though she was seeking the right word. Finally, the woman said, “Me need call Japan. Like buy phone card, please.”


When she heard the woman speak, Lyric shot a look over her shoulder. She smiled. The clipped English sounded cute—sincere. She looked past the geisha and was shocked to see a nervous expression on Court’s face.

“Come on, Court,” she said. “Woman just wants a phone card.” She noticed Court’s gray eyes fixed on her breasts. She blushed, raised a hand, and brushed a nipple with her fingers.


At the back of the store, the man whose friends called him ‘Apache’ brought his head up from the magazine he’d been skimming. He stared into the security mirror in the rear corner of the store. Something was going on near the counter. The stupid store owner was babbling. Apache simultaneously replaced his magazine on the rack and slipped his free hand inside his green army jacket. He felt the coarse handle of his pistol. For over two weeks, he’d been scoping this place out. Finally, the perfect moment he’d been waiting for seemed at hand. With his hand still buried inside his coat, Apache started toward the counter.


Courtland sighed. His instincts pinged, and told him he should simply announce to everyone that it was closing time. “Come on, Court,” Lyric said. “Woman just wants a phone card.”

Goddamn Lyric. He watched her graze one of her breasts with her fingers. The nipple beneath her thin blouse hardened. Courtland removed his finger from where it hovered above the emergency button beneath the counter. He whirled around and scanned the phone cards hanging on the wall.

“What do you need? Will a twenty-five dollar card do?” When he heard the little woman’s high-pitched answer, “Hai,“ Courtland unclipped one of the phone cards. He turned back around just in time to catch sight of the Veteran hurrying toward him, one hand jammed inside his coat.

His heart hammered against his ribs and he dropped the phone card.


It was so nice Court decided to help the little Japanese woman. Lyric scratched her ticket. A third one-hundred-dollar symbol came into view. She screamed, raising the winning ticket into the air and spinning around to show Court. A deafening sound made her drop her arm. The creepy guy who always came in near closing time was standing at the counter with a pistol in his hand. Across the counter, Court was sliding down the wall. The Japanese woman crouched low on the floor, both hands covering her mouth.


Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Apache had not intended to squeeze the trigger, but when the bitch stripper from the Slippery Kitty screamed, his finger just reacted. Now the damn guy was blasted back against the wall, slipping to the floor with his eyes wide open, and fucking blood everywhere.

“Fuck,” Apache said. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” He turned to the bitch and pointed his pistol at her.


Lyric opened her mouth to scream again, but stopped suddenly when the gunman whipped his head around to face her. His pocked face twitched and he held his pistol out.

“You shout again,” he said, “and I’ll make you dead.”

Lyric raised her arms above her head and said nothing.


Think, fucking Apache, think. But things were happening too fast to think. He glanced from the lottery-playing bitch to the stupid-looking woman dressed in a kimono. The woman crouching on the floor nodded her head again and again.

“Quit fucking moving!” Apache told her.

The Japanese woman nodded again, and said, “Hai.”

Apache rolled back his upper lip and thumbed the gun‘s hammer back. “Move or open your chink mouth one more time and I’ll kill you.”


“Listen, please,” Lyric begged the poor woman cowering on the floor. Then she turned to the gunman and pleaded. “Don’t hurt her. She doesn’t understand you.”

“Hai,” the Japanese woman said.

Another resounding explosion brought Lyric’s hands to her ears. Near the Japanese woman, cans of food flew from a shelf and clanked onto the floor. The Japanese woman squeezed herself into a fetal position and laid with her head on the tile.

“Didn't I fucking tell you not to move!” the gunman said.

And this time the Japanese woman did not say “Hai.”


Apache turned to Lyric and said, “I don’t want to hurt anyone else. I’m just going to go around the counter and empty the register. Understand? If anyone—” His grim stare went from Lyric to the woman in the kimono and back to Lyric. “—if one of you bitches move, I’ll put bullets in both of you. And I don‘t want to do that.”

Neither of the women said anything. Apache went around the counter. He stepped over the shop owner’s body and punched the keys on the register until it opened.


While the gunman took the cash from the register, the Japanese woman, whose name was Mariko, gazed at Lyric and smiled. She raised a finger to her lips, indicating to Lyric that she should remain silent. Lyric watched the tiny woman slip one of her tiny hands under the wide Obi belt that secured her kimono. Still smiling at Lyric, the geisha withdrew a pistol and slipped off her sandals. She very slowly got to her feet and crept to the counter. The gunman glanced up from his bag of money. His eyes grew wide.

“Die, motherfucker,” Mariko said.


Apache stared into the powdered face. From the corner of his eye, he caught the glint of something. The bullet that struck his forehead, however, he never felt.


When Lyric screamed, the tiny Japanese woman turned to her and shouted, “Quiet!” Lyric did as she was instructed. The little woman raised high the hem of her kimono and hopped over the counter. She snatched the bag of money that the robber had already filled, and climbed back over the counter and headed for the door.

“What are you doing?” Lyric asked. “What are you doing?“

The geisha stopped short of the front door. She removed a wooden clip from her bunned hair and shook the hair out.

“What are you doing?” Lyric said again.

“Did you win anything?” the geisha asked.

Lyric shook her head. “I...I can't remember.”

The geisha pocketed the hair clip. She smiled and raised her pistol. “You seem like a nice woman,” she said. She pressed the pistol against Lyric‘s throat. “I’m going out that door,” she said. “I should probably kill you. You know, that thing about no witnesses. But I won’t hurt you because you seem like a such a nice woman. A nice woman with a terrible, terrible memory.”

BIO: Robert Aquino Dollesin was still a kid when he left the Philippines. He now resides in Sacramento, where he tries to get something on paper every day. He sometimes blogs at Robert Aquino Dollesin.


Anonymous said...

Man, multiple viewpoints and fast, escalating, clearly stated action. You kept me spinning like a top until everything solidified ka-wham!
I just hung on for the ride. Satisfying tale well told. Yeah.

Robert Aquino Dollesin said...

Hey, AJ
Thanks much for the read. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

chad rohrbacher said...

Nicely done. Set up last line great

Robert Aquino Dollesin said...

Thank you, Chad!