Showing posts with label richard prosch. Show all posts
Showing posts with label richard prosch. Show all posts

Monday, April 3, 2023

Overcommitted Murder, fiction by Richard Prosch

Jack’s text is all of six words.

And it comes in the middle of cross-town traffic. 

“Share a meal, Clair? Some vino?”

I crank the wheel to avoid a cement truck, hit the voice-to-text button right after I flip off the driver.

“As if. No,” I say out loud to the empty car.

“Benny’s at five-thirty,” texts Jack. “Some wine. Some calamari. See you then.”

Dinner with Jack.

Ask me to memorize Macbeth or learn to speak Chinese—both of which I’d rather do if I had a clear five minutes—which  I likely never will, should I live to be a thousand. Chief financial officer for the credit union, that’s me. Not to mention VP at the Chamber of Commerce; head of the church improvement committee; picture-perfect mom to picture-perfect princess twins; travel coordinator for said daughters’ soccer league; tennis coach at the country club; groceries, laundry, TV and—oh yeah, the occasional bathroom break—I don’t have five lousy seconds, let alone an hour to watch my spouse ingest overcooked chicken while he mansplains the history of the freakin’ National Guard.

Which Goddamn-Jack-Almighty well knows. He’s seen my schedule. He knows how overcommitted I am.

But then I have a thought. A way to make the night worth some rearranging.

As ever, I’m goal-oriented.

I squeeze him in.

Before I know it—whoosh, I’m at Benny’s, sitting across the table. Back straight, eyes forward, fallen arches flat on the dark hardwood floor. I shake back my two-hundred dollar sandy brown haircut and marvel at the evening crowd. Men and women at tables all around us, laughing, smiling, chatting. How do they find time to relax? Freakin’ losers is what they are.

Goddamn life is nothing but a whooshing blur. 

Then I think, after tonight there’ll be some down time. I can’t help but laugh at that one. 

Down time for somebody. For sure.

Across the table from me, Jack’s a grinning, over-privileged blond ape. Pretty boy jock. Gung-ho Army man. 

The waiter stops by our table. 

He’s cute with glasses. His name is Don. I order the calamari with dipping sauce.

And give Don a knowing wink. We have a secret. Set up on the way over. 

Don knows me. He winks back.

They all know me. 

Every restaurant in town knows me. God knows we never eat at home.

I check my watch. “Don’t tell me you’ve got the night off, Jack.” 

Jack pours the wine. “Third shift is overstaffed, we rearranged the calendar is all. I got lucky.”

I’m thinking I got lucky. 

I say so. “I never would’ve been able to make the time for this.” I swallow half the glass and shove it across the white linen cloth. “More, please.” 

“Hey, go easy. We’ve got all night.”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” 

If he only knew.

“Like I said, if you hadn’t have texted when you did, I never would’ve had time.”

He ignores me. Like usual. “I was thinking we should talk,” he says.

My mind races down twelve tracks at once. 


Oh, yeah, dickhead. There’s plenty to talk about. Missed birthdays. Missed anniversaries. Missed meals and family vacations forever cancelled. 

There’s Jack’s mother’s fur coat, promised to his daughter at birth, pawned for a hunting rifle. There’s the family property in Maine. There’s the stocks and bonds, cashed in and lavished on his new girlfriend who I’m not supposed to know about—what’s her name? Trudy?

I drink and push the empty glass over. “Fill ‘er up.”

This time he stops at half a glass. “I’d like you to be sober. When you hear what I have to say, I mean.”

“Sure.” I drain the glass and again, look at my watch. “Go,” I say.

His eyes go to my wrist and he shoot me a question. “Do you have someplace you need to be later tonight? I guess I should’ve asked.”

My God, this man.

“Only to pick up our daughters. From choir practice? She’s done at eight.”

“Oh, crap. Sorry.” 

He really didn’t know. Didn’t even think about the girls. “You couldn’t bother to ask where they are tonight?”

Jack shrugged. “I figured you had them busy doing…something.” 

Don arrives with the plate of calamari rings, all golden-brown fried and piled high. He puts the appetizer down in the middle of the table. Sets a bowl of red dipping sauce next to it. 

I tingle, loving the anticipation. 

Imagine Jack, blue faced, blowing chunks of blood.

“Try the sauce, Jack,” I say. “You’ll love it.”

“Just as you ordered, Clair,” says Don. 

But I don’t like the way he says it. He winks again and departs.

Was there something off about the way he said my name? Something not right. 

“Clair.” Like he’s taking a tone. 

Like maybe him and me aren’t okay on the plan. 

I thought we were okay on the plan.

My stomach does a little lurch.

Which doesn’t matter, because I won’t be eating anything tonight. “Save your appetite for the funeral lunch,” I tell myself and giggle out loud. 

The wine’s getting to me. I giggle again.

“What’s funny?” says Jack.

“Nothing,” I say. “Try the sauce.” Giggling again. 

Jack scoops up a healthy dollop of dip on his calamari ring. Stuffs it into his mouth.

Giggle. “Gimme another drink,” I say.

What would I do without Don? 

Without Don, I wouldn’t even have time to kill my husband. 


I don’t have time for this kind of shit. The bitching about her schedule. 

The giggling. 

Twenty years of marriage—God, I hate that giggle. Like a little-damn-girl. 

And so, naturally, I went and made two more just like her. Giggling damn girls spreading make-up and clothes all over the freakin’ place. 

And all the damn shoes.

Claire’s wristwatch caught a gleam of Benny’s recessed light. 

She drank again from her glass. 

How long did it take this stuff to work? Goddamn that Don. If he screwed me over…

“It’s not like I have all the time in the world,” I say, and Clair seems to sober up. “I really did want to talk to you about the girls.”

“What about the girls?”

On the defense now, she tosses back her head. I really hate that haircut. I want to tell her that. Want to wipe my disdain in her face like used toilet paper. 

But I’m nothing if not on task.  

“Well, just if something were to happen to us, I’d want—”

“What’s going to happen to us?”

“Nothing, nothing. It’s just, I’ve been thinking—with me re-upping in the Guard and taking on the board position at the Sportsman’s Club, with the girls older now—I don’t wanna drop the ball…”

“Oh, you’ve done that plenty,” Clair says. Real snarky like. Her lip curls up like it’s snagged on a fishing hook. 

Imagine what she’ll look like in an hour when the stuff in the wine takes effect. Imagine her lip snagged for eternity. “Let me fill your glass,” I say, finishing the bottle.

“Thanks. Eat up,” she says, and I swallow another appetizer. 

“I notice you’re not drinking any wine,” Clair says.

“I notice you’re not eating any calamari.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“I’m not thirsty.”

“They make the best damn dipping sauce here at Benny’s.” I have another bite and relish the burn at the back of my throat.

Odd. The dipping sauce never burned before.

“Anyway,” I say, “I just wanted you to know I had my attorney change the will. If something happens, the girls will go to my Aunt Agnes.”

“Like hell.” Cough. Cough.

“You okay?”

“W-went d-down the wrong pipe,” Clair says. Cough.

“If not Agnes, who? I don’t have time to run around looking for somebody else. You’re not the only one with more obligations than God.”

Cough. Cough. “I…don’t know…not Agnes.”

Stupid bitch would argue with her dying breath. In fact she is.

I reach for my water glass. Untouched until now. Damn, my throat burns. “Let’s…let’s just table it for later, huh?”

“T-table?” Cough.

“Table the discussion.” I stand up, pick up my phone. The numbers on the face move in a blurry circle. “I’ve got to go. Forgot I was supposed to pick up my suit at the cleaners.”

Across from me, Clair climbs to her feet. Pushes back her chair awkwardly. “Yeah, yeah.” Cough. “Me too. I’ve got to drop off some papers at the accountant.” 

I reach for my water glass and tip it over. It falls on the aged hardwood floor of Benny’s Hot house. Steakhouse. But hot. 

I pull my tie loose from around my neck. “Never been so damn…hot…” I dig at my collar.

Clair’s sagging back into her chair. “I…don’t have time for this,” she says.

“Me neither,” I say. 

She can’t giggle anymore. Instead, there’s a choking kind of sound somewhere deep. Far off.

Maybe it’s me making the sound.

“I’ve got too much to do to die,” I say. My knees hit the floor as I collapse.

Before everything goes black, I hear Claire’s last words on earth. “Put it…on your calendar,” she says.


As I feel the blood churning up from my lungs, I realize—my calendar is suddenly wide open.

Richard Prosch’s work has appeared in Mystery Magazine, Down and Out Magazine, Tough Crime, Wild West, and online at Boys' Life. He won the Spur Award from Western Writers of America for short fiction, and his 2022 novel, Pony Boys was a Spur Award-finalist. His web site is

Monday, March 25, 2019

Paybak, fiction by Richard Prosch

Tommy wasn’t sure what irritated him more, the old guy’s oily confidence, or the direction their conversation was taking.

"I’m talking about the joy of killing," said Marv with the hairy eyebrows and expensive black jacket. “Surely you’ve imagined it more than once.”

Tommy tried to laugh, glanced around the coffee shop to see if anybody had overheard.

"It’s the ultimate rush," said Marv. "Taking another person's life away from them."


Marv snapped his fingers.

Tommy tried to laugh it off.

"Look, you said on the phone this was a business opportunity. A way to make some good money. Like one of them pyramid deals.”

“Multi-level marketing.” Marv corrected him. V “Yeah, well. I’m not interested in anything that’s illegal.”

"Nothing I'm telling you about today is against the law."

"Dude,” said Tommy. “Killing people is against the law."

"Not if they don't remember it later,” Marv said, all sorta snotty-like.

"Here’s the thing,” said Tommy. “I been. . . away for a while. Now that I’m back, starting over again, I need something legit."

He thought about the friends he’d left behind.

Louie the Snake. Big Dale. Sammy Lamb. Somewhere, they were all snickering at him.

Tommy Barrows, going legit.

It was to laugh.

Tommy swallowed hard.

"We all got needs,” said Marv. “Me? I need another cup of coffee," Marv picked up his empty paper cup, careful to keep hold of the knobby cardboard sleeve.

“Maybe this job ain’t for me.”

"Run up to the counter and get me a refill,” said Marv. “You do, and I promise you won’t regret it.”

“I don’t know.” Tommy hesitated.

Marv’s dead gray eyes didn't move.

“I thought you were a winner, son,” said Marv. “Thought you were the kind of guy who knew what he wanted in life and went after it.”

“Don’t talk down to me, man.”

Marv held out the cup. “I take it black.”

Tommy stood up, awkwardly pushing the chair back from the table as his knees straightened, making a loud scraping sound against the coffee shop floor.

  “Okay. Okay, I’ll listen. But I’m not promising anything.”

A lady at the corner table, earbuds in and typing on a portable, looked up with annoyance. She wrinkled her nose.


Tommy shot her his best hard look and moved to the polished walnut and chrome counter, pushing past a skinny geek wearing a bike helmet.

Man, he wanted to explode.

He'd been on a dozen job interviews in less than a month.

Now this prick, Marv, with the expensive jacket and gorilla eyebrows was promising big money, but all it was going to do was lead Tommy right back to the slam.

He could feel it. Something about the guy wasn’t right.

Tommy knew when shit was going south.

He closed his eyes, felt sweat roll from under his arms, down his sides. His short sleeve cotton shirt, doing its job to conceal the 9mm he carried inside his waistband, wasn't tucked in. His khaki shorts hung loose at his knees.

He asked for Marv’s refill, took in the smell of warm bagels, the sweet scents of Italian syrups.

Maybe he should tell the old guy where to get off and apply for a job here?

He tried to imagine himself wearing the goofy, milk-stained apron, sucking up to pretty boys who dressed in ties and tasseled loafers and liked whipped cream on their drinks.

Tommy’s stomach turned over.

No way.

He glanced over his shoulder at the back of Marv's balding head, just visible over the half-wall between them.

On the phone.

Two laughing girls walked through the shop's door: hair, teeth, jewelry all sparkling in the sun.

Tommy sighed and carried the coffee back to Marv's table.

Then Marv surprised him.

Crazy old Marv with the gorilla eyebrows reached out—like he'd done it a hundred times before—brushed aside Tommy's shirt and pulled the Nine from Tommy’s waistband.

"Hey, what the--"

Before Tommy could move, Marv stood up, casually turned around, and blasted the lady in the corner right through the earbuds. A side step, and Marv's next shot cracked apart the geeky biker's helmet, sending gooey shards of skull across the serving counter.

Each of the girls, laughing-no-more, managed a single scream before Marv emptied the clip into them.

With the shop's patrons twitching at his feet, Marv smiled and sat back down.

For a split-second, Tommy felt like puking. Then he realized he still held Marv’s cup.

He let it go and watched the steaming contents splatter across the floor.

Marv tossed the gun to the table where it landed with a metallic thud.

Then everything melted into a green haze and there was a rushing sound, like water through Tommy’s ears, washing away the ringing echo of gunfire.

He closed his eyes.

When he opened them, everything was the way it had been before the shooting.

The lady in the corner adjusted an earbud as she typed on her portable computer.

At the counter the geek paid for his drink, then nodded at the two laughing girls.

The gun was back in Tommy’s waistband.

Marv’s coffee cup was full and steaming on the table.

"Let's start again, Mr. Barrows," said Marv.

Tommy caught the back of his own chair as his knees gave out.

  "What just happened?"

"Here you go."

Tommy opened the folded sheet of slick paper Marv offered.

One side of the colorful ad showed stock photos of smiling people. Bold fonts posed a series of questions.

Sick of your boss?

Had enough of your spouse?

Looking for justice? Looking for RETRIBUTION?

Bold fonts offered an answer: You’re looking for PayBak

. "This is the job? Your company? I mean it’s a great looking brochure. . . "

Tommy kept talking about the print job, but his attention was on the ephemeral square of lightly glowing, nearly transparent film hovering over the surface of the paper.

"What's this?" he said.

"Hold it between your fingers," said Marv, and Tommy peeled the square up, away from the brochure.

"Squeeze it once," Marv said, “and you open an alternate future timeline around yourself. Like a bubble between the seconds. While you're there, you can do anything you want. Without anyone knowing. Without any consequences."

"An alternate future?"

"I opened an alternate timeline just now. You saw it. In that future, now past, I enjoyed killing everyone in this shop. Then I gave the film a second squeeze and it closed that future down in favor of the prime reality."

"So it never happened?"

"Oh it happened. But then I closed the switch and it didn't happen."

"And nobody remembers it?"

"Nobody but you and me. I made a call while you were up getting coffee and our techs made an allowance just for the sake of demonstration. Normally it's a solo experience."

Tommy sat back in his chair, trying to take everything in at once.

"I honestly can't believe it's possible."

"Possible," nodded Marv. "And profitable."

"So you sell these? These switches? So that people can live out their fantasies?"

"Violent fantasies," said Marv. "Something about the matrix responds best to the most violent emotions."

"So you can kill somebody. . . "

"And nobody's the wiser. Best of all, the victim doesn't remember. Unless of course, you want them to."

"And there’s no way to get caught. No way to end up. . ."

“Back inside?” Marv shook his head. “There’s no punishment for something that never happened.”

“Tell me more,” said Tommy.

Marv's left hand covered his mouth, moved down red cheeks to stroke his fleshy chin. "You understand the basics of an MLM?"

"Multi-level marketing. Yeah, like Shopway or that cosmetics company." Marv nodded. "Imagine the market for what we’re talking about. In this day and age? With all the anger and rage fomented by social media? I’ll bet you have a few friends that would jump at a chance like this?"

Tommy thought about Louie the Snake. Big Dale. Sammy Lamb.

“Some righteous anger fermenting there,” he said aloud.

Tommy looked over his shoulder at the lady in the corner.

This time she met his gaze with an outright sneer.

Tommy smiled.

“A guy could make a killing,” he said.

Then he pulled the gun back out of his waistband.

He put his finger on the trigger.

"Before we talk business, you mind if I give it a try?"

Marv held up the green film and gave it a squeeze.

"Be my guest," he said.

After growing up on a Nebraska farm, Richard Prosch worked as a professional writer and artist in Wyoming and South Carolina. Answer Death was the first novel in his acclaimed Dan Spalding mystery-thriller series, and Richard has since added three sequels. He lives in Missouri with his family. Visit him--and Dan Spalding--online at

Monday, February 12, 2018

Lavina, by Richard Prosch

Lavina was short, with a peaked face and a wild mane of salt and pepper hair best described as frizzy. The kind of woman Danny Parks never would’ve noticed even though she lived two doors down, sharing his townhouse building.

The place had four two-story units. Danny and his girlfriend Tammy lived on one end, Lavina and her whatever-he-was on the other.

Lavina’s live-in was too young to be her husband, said Tammy, picking at her cranberry salad, twirling the lettuce around on her fork.

I ‘m still not sure who you’re talking about,” said Danny, pouring another glass of Vignoles.

The woman in the end apartment. The one looks like Rhea Perlman.”


Rhea Perlman on Taxi.” Tammy giggled. “She sorta looks like Ronnie James Dio. You know, the heavy metal guy?”

Oh yeah,” Danny got the Dio reference. “I saw her at the mailboxes the other day.” He emptied half his glass. “Are you eating that salad or making and origami duck?”

So do you think the big guy is her son, or boyfriend, or what?

Danny threw back the rest of the wine and didn’t bother to wipe his lips. “Who cares?”

I think she’s a spook,” said Tammy.

Two days later Danny came home to one less neighbor. Before he’d even put his Ford Escort into park, he saw the open door on the unit next to Lavina’s.

Bob, the apartment manager, greeted him on the sidewalk. “Looks like you’re losing a neighbor,” he said.

Elderly couple wasn’t it? What’s going on?”

Mr. and Mrs. Peterson. Apparently she up and walked away a couple nights back.”

I didn’t know she was having trouble. Dementia?”

Not that I knew about.”

Danny’s stomach tightened with the look on Bob’s face.

Oh, no.

Bob nodded as if he could read Danny’s mind. “They found her this morning up in the woods. Been dead a while too. Looks like some stray dogs got to her.”

I guess I could’ve gone without hearing that.”

Just saying.” Bob snuffed hard and spit into the parking lot. “The old man’s gone to stay with his kids. Wanted me to water the plants, keep an eye on things until they could make arrangements to move.”

By the time supper rolled around, Danny was starved, but Tammy wouldn’t eat.

I just keep thinking about that poor old woman. Laying up there. Dogs.”

It happens. Pass the ketchup, please?”

You know what? I wonder if that Lavina had anything to do with it.”

How could she?”

Bob told me that the Peterson’s had complained about her. About her arguing with her boyfriend. Or whoever he is.”

I saw the guy you mean. Big, bearded skinhead guy out polishing the wheels on his car.” Danny described the big man and his tattoo sleeve arms.

That’s him,” said Tammy.

If you’re worried about anybody,” said Danny, “worry about him. He’s a hell of a lot more scary than Lavina.”

I think they’re both scary.”

Have a glass of wine.”

Two weeks later, another neighbor was gone. Dan and Tammy had been on a weekend outing to the mountains. When they returned, Bob was sweeping the sidewalk outside of a yellow tape barrier. The tape read CRIME SCENE in big black letters.

Damnedest thing,” said Bob when Danny asked him about it. “Nobody heard a thing. I didn’t even know Jerry was home.”

Jerry drove a truck on long hauls up the coast. He was often gone for weeks at a time. Sharing the apartment wall with quiet, absent Jerry was one of the things Danny appreciated about his apartment.

Now Jerry was absent for good.

Bob jerked his thumb toward the sealed apartment. “Lot of blood in there.”

That night neither Danny nor Tammy ate supper.

A month later, after they’d answered a few routine questions for the cops and most of the excitement was over, Tammy mentioned seeing Lavina at the mailbox. “She was really shook up about something. Real jittery.” She could’ve been talking about herself. “Danny, I think her arms were bruised.”

An image of the skinhead in all his inked glory popped into Danny’s mind. “You think that bastard’s hitting her?”

Remember the Peterson’s complained about their arguing?”

That sonuvabitch,” said Danny. Compared to an unsolved murder next door, old-fashioned domestic violence seemed fairly routine. It seemed like something a neighbor could do something about.

Next time you see Lavina,” said Danny. “Invite her in for coffee.”

It happened sooner than Danny would’ve predicted.

Two nights later, when the knock came at the door, they both jumped.

Danny cracked open the door, keeping the security chain firmly in place. In the darkness outside, by the glow of the parking lot lights, Lavina stood, shrunken, sullen, blood on her sweatshirt. Blood on her face.

Can I use your phone?” Meek. Crying.

If the sight of blood trickling out of Lavin’s nose didn’t immediately jerk Danny’s insides into a knot, the shadow of the skinhead did. He stood back a ways, behind Lavina, close to Dan’s car. His legs shoulder-width apart, his arms loose by his sides.

Then Tammy was there at the door, unhooking the chain, swinging the door wide to let Lavina in.

The woman’s eyes were wide, begging for help. “Come in,” said Tammy. “I’ll get my phone.”

As Danny turned to close the door, the skinhead spoke to him.

What was that?” said Danny. He had to strain his ears to hear.

Send the bitch back out.”

Oh, yeah. Right.

So she can take another beating? Is that it? You haven’t had enough fun?”

Seeing Lavina the way she was had fired up something inside Danny. Two deaths in the same building. Now this creep working over a helpless woman.

Danny threw caution to the wind and stepped outside, closing the apartment door behind him.

By now, Tammy would be getting Lavina some help. Cleaning her up. Making some calls.

This has to stop, man,” said Danny, walking forward. “You can’t just—“

The skinhead staggered forward. There was blood on him too.

Send her out,” he said. “Or she’ll…she’ll hurt you too.”

The big guy fell over in a pile on the sidewalk.


Danny spun, rushed back to the door.

It was locked from inside.