Friday, September 23, 2011

Interlude Stories: Kent Gowran


Ronnie James Blackwood walked south on Franklin with a smile on his face and trouble in his hand. He moved along beneath the elevated train tracks of the CTA’s Brown Line until he came to Superior Street where he turned and headed east. As he walked, the duffle bag he carried bumped against his leg and he found the feel of the weight inside the bag strangely comforting. Weeks of preparation had led up to this particularly sunny Thursday morning in August, and he found that his confidence grew stronger with every step he took.

“Spare a couple bucks?”

Ronnie didn’t even turn his head toward the panhandler on the corner of Superior and LaSalle, but told himself if the man was still there when his business was over and done, he’d stop, take a twenty from his wallet, and tell the guy to knock himself out.

Outside Holy Name Cathedral an elderly woman with a face like a prune who was dressed like a teenager and had two volleyballs stuck to her chest smiled at Ronnie while her tiny dog relieved itself on the sidewalk. He was a little disappointed when a bolt of lightning didn’t come down and visit some righteous comeuppance on the woman, but then, what did he expect? It wasn’t that Ronnie was an atheist, but he’d been well aware for a quite some time that if there was a God up there, He was away on business.

He found himself waiting for the walk signal at Michigan Avenue. The early morning foot traffic was light, but there were still plenty of pretty girls to look at while he waited for the light to change. If he made a list of all the things he liked more about the city than the country, the seemingly endless supply of pretty girls walking around would be right at the top.

The light changed and as he crossed Michigan Avenue, the weight of the shotgun in the duffle bag seemed to grow heavier with each step. He could drop the bag into a trashcan and head off in another direction. Go to a museum. See a movie. Catch a bus up to the North Side and watch the Cubs lose. Hop a cab to Union Station and get a train back home. A parade of possibilities marched through his mind.

Just don’t show up, he told himself. You’re not there, nothing happens, and it’s over. An hour earlier, as he loaded the bag and checked out of his room at the Diplomat Motel on Lincoln, he'd been so sure of himself, pleased with himself, even, but as the Affinia Hotel came into view, a anvil of doubt had dropped right on top of him. Ronnie stopped walking and took several deep breaths.

He looked up at the sky.

It was pure blue wonder.

He thought of Jolene.

He saw her face and it almost brought the smile back to his own, but in an instant his recollection turned dark and he could only think of what they’d done to her. Brad and Carol Lumley.

Ronnie continued on and stepped inside the doors of the Affinia. The previous day he’d bought a suit at Sears, gotten himself a proper haircut at a place out on Belmont Avenue, and when he caught his reflection in the glass as he entered the lobby, he felt confident that he didn’t look out of place. At least, not too out of place. He looked around, recalled the directions he’d memorized, and made his way to the elevator that would take him to the rooftop C-View lounge.

Inside the elevator, he put the bag down and wiped the sweat from his palms on his suit pants. “Almost done now,” he said. “Almost done.”


He spotted Leo Pratt right away, seeing as how no one else was at the lounge so early. He approached the older man from the side. He couldn’t see his eyes behind the black framed sunglasses he wore, but Ronnie had the distinct feeling the man was sizing him up.

“You’d have to be Blackwood.” His voice sounded like he’d been smoking a couple packs a day most of his life. “I’m Pratt.” He stuck out his right hand. “Good to meet you.”

Ronnie had to shift the bag to his left hand to shake with Pratt. “There’s no one up here.”

“It’s early.” Pratt nodded at the bag. “You’ve got what you need?”



“Um, except for the room key.” Ronnie licked his lips. “You’re sure they’re here?”

“They’ve got a room on the seventh floor. And they’re inside it right now.”


“Second thoughts?”

Ronnie nodded. His hand tightened on the bag.

“I can understand that.” Pratt brought a room key card out of his pocket and held it out to Ronnie. “You want it?”

Ronnie took the card.

“All right?”

Ronnie said, “Which room are they in?”

“Right off the elevator. I stuck a piece of black tape on their Do Not Disturb sign for you. You can’t miss it.”

“What about housekeeping?”

“They’re on eleven, working their way down.” Pratt clapped him on the shoulder. “Good luck.”

Ronnie watched the man walk away from him, then grabbed his bag and hurried after. “Wait up,” he said.

Pratt turned. “Yeah?”

“How do I do it?”

The older man laughed. “Not a whole lot to it.”



“I can’t do it.”

Pratt shook his head. “What about Jolene?”


He’d stood near the picture window in her family’s living room, staring out at the big evergreen tree in their front yard, as the cops told Jolene’s parents there wasn’t anything they could do about the Lumleys. Jolene was a grown woman, and she’d made her own choices.

“What if she’d died?” her father said.

“Then maybe we’d be having a different conversation, but, to be honest, probably not.”

The police left and her parents sat silent on the couch for a long time. Finally, her mother stood up, went over and stood next to Ronnie at the window. “I want you to kill them both.”

“We don’t even know where they went,” her father said.

Before he knew his mouth was moving, Ronnie said, “I’ll find them.”

Her mother reached out and gripped Ronnie’s arm. “And then what?”

“What you said. I’ll kill them.”

Jolene’s father joined them at the window. He took hold of Ronnie and turned him so they were eye to eye. “Do you mean that?”

Ronnie nodded and said it again.

The words had come so easily.


Ronnie stood outside the room, sweating like crazy, and the sawed-off shotgun in the duffle bag seemed impossibly heavy. He kept thinking back to Jolene and what they’d done to her, and what he’d promised her parents he would do.

He put his ear to the door and listened. Not a sound from within. He worked the card in the lock and opened the door. Ronnie stepped inside and closed the door as gently as he could. He put the card back in his pocket, and placed the duffle bag on the floor. The room was mostly dark, with just a bit of daylight creeping in under the heavy curtains. He crouched down, unzipped the bag and brought out the shotgun.

As he stood up again, he worked back the hammers on the sawed-off. He flipped on the lights, then stepped to the foot of the bed as Brad and Carol Lumley raised their sleepy faces and saw a young man who looked a whole lot like the kid who used to mow their lawn.

BIO: Kent Gowran lives and works in Chicago. His stories have appeared in NEEDLE: A Magazine of Noir, Plots With Guns, and other wild venues. He edits the flash fiction site Shotgun Honey along with a couple of nefarious cohorts. He keeps a sad excuse for a blog over at


Anonymous said...

Kent, that was perfect. Raw, internal anguish. Good job, bro!

Ben said...

Woah, Kent man. You should write more. I'd read a whole collection of this.

Thomas Pluck said...

I love a good revenge story and you hit the right notes of doubt and the seething rage inside that speaks unbidden. Great job Kent.

Chris Rhatigan said...

That's how you do revenge. Sizzling and suspenseful.

Anonymous said...

Steady unrelenting pressure. A guy with steam coming out his ears. Yet he takes the time for the little things, wrapping himself in the familiar. Even to the end, maybe especially in the end. Subtle and above all, cool.

Mike Miner said...

Terrific voice to this piece, Kent. Sets a nice, mysterious mood. The prose is simple, just like Ronnie's mission, but so much exists between the lines.

Chris said...

Excellent work, man. I like the tension, and the not knowing what caused the whole thing. We just know it had to be big.

Paul D Brazill said...

Hard! Great piece of writing.Visceral stuff.

chad rohrbacher said...

Nice! I love the doubt -- we all think revenge would be simple, but when the moment comes -- Solid job, boss.

David Cranmer said...

Very nice, Kent. I'm with Ben, sir. More!