Sunday, January 5, 2020

Vin Scully Eyes, fiction by Nolan Knight

If the Torrance Costco would’ve just had the right damn pickles, Montrose Laughlin III wouldn’t have had to stifle his day, driving mother’s beloved Jag twenty minutes outside his comfort zone to visit the Long Beach Costco. Although, it wasn’t as if he had any real plans—like most days. The inconvenience was what irked. Surely, the Torrance store’s employees had taken notice every time he trudged inside (first day of every month) to re-stock his cabinets for another thirty days. And he always bought multiple four-packs of monster hot and sour dills—couldn’t live without them—and now, today of all days, they hadn’t the foresight to replenish their goddamn load. For certain, the world was playing a fine cruel joke.

The San Diego Freeway was crammed, inching along, bumper to bumper—no longer functional in its design for modern vehicles. Mother’s Jaguar hadn’t been on any freeway in over two decades, a garaged beauty fit for coastal cruises or a night on the town. She’d be inflamed at the thought of her only son cruising her “baby” into the bowels of Los Angeles on such a laughable task. But she couldn’t react one bit, not from the mantel she was perched back home—her gold urn, cold and unamused as her lifelong gaze. The Jag’s engine revved in-place. Monte huffed in defeat, searching the radio for any sign of sports talk, it being mid-season when baseball trades shook the world.

He arrived at the Costco thirty minutes later than it should’ve taken, exiting the car and charging a bay of carts. By the clothes on his mousy frame, one never would’ve pegged him as an heir to a real estate fortune. When mother passed, he gave up on appearances, one thing she had an iron-grip throughout his youth. Private school uniforms. Apparel for every season in matching hues. The last time he’d purchased sneakers was in 1997: Air Jordans (black/red/white), an entire crate, size nine. Same with baggy denim and loud T-shirts. Mass quantities of comfort that he didn’t care looked dated nowadays.

Mother’s ghost just grabbed her chest.

For a Tuesday afternoon, the store seemed tranquil. Layout looked to be nearly identical to Torrance, so he headed through stacks of processed foods, towards giant canisters and condiment buckets. Eight pallets ahead, on the left, sat the pickled goods. The sight of that pink pig on every jar nearly sparked flatulence. He loaded up the cart, buying triple his usual, just in case Torrance couldn’t get their shit together. After free samples of sausage and a long line at the register, he was back on the road for home.


With the 405 still a mess, Monty navigated streets, hoping to open the Jag’s engine down Willow till it morphed into Sepulveda. Hadn’t been outside the South Bay in so long, almost forgot what the real world looked like. Everything was in decline: roads, buildings. The violet pedals on jacarandas even appeared to be weeping. He revved to a stop at Long Beach Boulevard; the looks on other drivers’ faces had him wishing he’d raised the convertible’s roof. A hearty voice called to him from the center median. He craned to see a large black gentleman holding a sign with a picture of a teen flashing his gold teeth. The poster blared, FUNERAL DONATIONS 4 ’LIL MEEZY.

“Anythin’ will help us, sir. My son. Firstborn—only twenty-three an’ taken back to God’s glory.” The man pointed across to the far median. “Two young girls ova dere his keeds. Four an’ nine.”

Monty scanned the intersection, watching other poster clad family members walk up and down car lanes, pleading for compassion, scooping an occasional dollar. The light flashed green. Monty returned to the man, meeting his crystal gaze. “Sorry. No cash.”

Before, “God bless,” could leave the poor man’s lips, Monty’s engine charged west.


Lamont Craig II decided he’d had enough for today, soon as that pricey foreign roadster left him penniless, flying down Willow—its driver a disheveled, shell of a man. He guzzled a large Gatorade from out a cooler in the rear of his “work truck”— a ’92 Suburban with magnets across its body that read:

You’ve been Had by The Rest. Now try The Best!

His wife, Eloise, was fanning off his granddaughters with a newspaper beside him, misting water above their beaded braids. Their faces were painful to take in, two pairs of his dead son’s eyes beaming back. He handed the bottle to his remaining son (Trey, eighteen), busy counting donations they’d gathered before the heat beat them down. “What it do?”

“Made like two hunny.”

Lamont reflected, adding the total for the past two days in his mind: $520. A drop in the bucket—the urn for what they needed to send his boy to heaven right. There was no savings to dip, no retirement plan to plunder. This was all a bad dream, aftershocks in play for the rest of his days.

How could his boy be gone in a whisper?

Eloise loaded the girls into the car, its insides finally cool enough to buckle them. The men climbed inside. As Lamont drove home, the blank looks off every person he approached in that intersection churned the brain. Nevermind what they thought: another dead thug on the ghetto streets. To them his boy was probably just some hood that deserved what he got. But he didn’t. No one earned the right to be on the wrong side of a bullet—no matter who they were. And Lamont Craig III—Meezy to the homies—was his son. His blood…taken out like a rabid dog for wearing the wrong color shoes. He sparked a Marlboro 100 to vanquish them all, those dumb stares, ghosts out his lungs into a blistering sun.


Eloise and the girls gently wept in the backseat; Trey handed over fresh Kleenex as the Suburban pulled into the driveway of their weathered abode. Couldn’t remember the lawn ever being green or window bars not rusted. His brother would often joke about the place, calling it The Kennel, often met by father’s sneer; Pop’s knees had been obliterated by years spent crawling floors, wiring nicer homes in better neighborhoods so his family could eek out this life. One thing was certain: There was no way he’d be another stooge on his knees when he grew up. Life was one big hustle, either the moon or the gutter, and Trey wasn’t going to gamble on something better—he would achieve it—become a professional in this world. He’d already killed the SATs and been accepted to two private colleges. Wasn’t like he was in line for any grants or scholarships though. The plan was to hit Long Beach Community for his undergrad; hopefully by then, he could save enough working for Pops and take out a loan to help make that dream a reality. But there was one major caveat: He wouldn’t be taking over the family business, like his brother was supposed to—and that wouldn’t be tolerated by Pops. Shit, just going to community college got met with a chuckle by the old man. With this sudden death in the family, that dream would have to be a secret from now on.

The room he shared with Junior had cracks in the walls covered by pictures of Gang Starr and Tribe. (He never called him Meezy. He was Junior since day one—no matter what the streets claimed.) Band posters were all that Momma would allow, never tolerating big titties or butt cracks inside her home. He opened the closet, staring at Junior’s blue wardrobe, taking out a puffy Dodgers jacket and sniffing it, burying emotion deep inside. He slid it on in front of the mirrored door. His hands dug into the pockets, right one hit something cold, hard. Instantly, he knew what it was, slowly pulling out the revolver, noticing it was loaded.

The fuck, Junior?

When did it all go south?

He opened a high drawer, one used for socks and undies, burying the Smith & Wesson deep inside. He wondered how much it’d fetch on the street. Could buy a haul of textbooks. Knew exactly who to approach: Kermit. Tomorrow they were going down to the funeral home too—same one Kermit’s dad owned. He’d probably be there, working. Kermit ran with a questionable crew, like most boys out here. Surely, he’d know someone that needed a piece—hell, maybe even himself. Trey took another glance in the mirror before tearing off the jacket and kicking it into the closet.


A brisk, salty breeze welcomed Monty back to Manhattan Beach, ocean a snoring beast in the distance. To think his great grandfather had the foresight to purchase large swaths of acreage up this coast many years ago; Monty still held title to several homes and businesses throughout the community. Would’ve had more if mother hadn’t began selling off parcels to eager socialites and celebrities throughout the ’70’s. Didn’t really matter though—not like he had any children or other family to pass the fortune. If he ever got short of money, he’d just sell a home for five to ten million and go on with his humdrum ways. There were no worries in store for Monty, so when the issue of a potential new neighbor moving in next door became a possibility, it tilted his barge.

ESPN radio had no reports of any Dodger players being traded yet. Monty felt a short relief wash over as the Jag climbed up his narrow driveway, then descended into a subterranean garage. The home was originally built as a two-story, back when his father still controlled the acreage between it and the coast. Upon his passing, after mother’s selling spree to uphold her gilded existence, the home was demolished and re-built to accommodate four-stories, cementing a panoramic view above all who’d built downhill. Monty rarely even visited the first two stories, now converted into storage, filled with mother’s artifacts from her global escapades and priceless paintings sheathed in plastic. He rode the elevator up, arms heavy with pickle jars. Approaching the kitchen, a sound of the television brought concern. In the living room sat his best and only friend, his neighbor—a relief pitcher for the “Boys in Blue” named Robbie Slate.

“Elle’s having another one of her Real Housewife parties. Had to bail, man. You don’t mind, right?”

Monty tossed him a beer can from out the fridge.

Robbie caught it with his right arm—the left shackled in an intricate brace from a recent labral tear repair.

“My place is your place—why I gave you that emergency key. You didn’t have a problem with the new security system, right? Same code.”

“Nah, it was cool. What’d you do to it?”

Upgraded the surveillance—smaller cameras. Guess I just got bored with the old one. They’re coming out next week to set-up the exterior."

You don’t have outdoor cameras?”

I do, but the monitor’s busted. Wear and tear.”

Robbie popped the can with his teeth and sniffed its contents. “This a new South Bay brew or what?”

“Nah, they’ve been ’round a few years. Harbortown Ales. Specialize in Belgians but this is their unfiltered Citra DIPA. Drink it.”

Robbie swilled. “Tastes like oranges…grapefruit even.”

“People are going ape shit for it—camping out along Western.”

“Fuckin’ delicious. You buying in?”

“I’ve made it known that I’m willing to invest. They’re all young though. Kids. The brew master ain’t out his twenties. See what happens, but yeah…I want in.” He cracked his own can. “Heard you haven’t been placed on the chopping block yet.”

“Who told you that?”

“Radio. If you get traded, wanna sell your house back to me?”

“Fuck no. We’ll rent in whatever shit city they send me.”

If you get traded.”


“Think it’ll happen?”

“Fuck if I know. My numbers were solid, before…” He raised his broken wing.

“What the doc say?”

“I’m on ice for at least ten months—best case scenario. Anyway, if I don’t hear from my agent by midnight tomorrow, I’m good for another season.”

He plopped on the couch, admiring a yacht in the bay.

Lemme ask you something, Monty.”


Beer, you serious? Why don’t you put money in real estate—I mean, it’s in your blood, bro?”

Golden Road just sold to Budweiser for nearly a billion. How’s beer not lucrative these days? I own enough property as it is."

I’m talking new developments. Have you been in downtown lately?”

He laughed. “No."

Elle and I were at this charity function the other night—”

What charity?”

Some foundation for the blind—or maybe it was prostate cancer. Shit, I’m at so many of these things, I lose track.”

Monty reflected on the last time he ever did anything nice for anyone other than himself. Charity? He should try it one of these days.

What was I saying?”


Yeah, so, we’re at this dinner at the Ritz—I’m gazing out the windows, taking in the view. Fuckin’ cranes galore, man. Every corner has something new going up—and I mean up—high in the sky. Most of the designs are bat-shit too. Everyone’s got a boner for Frank Gehry, right? So, then it hits me. The Future.”

Future smacked you in the face?”

Kinda. Marvels are being built, man. Mini metropolises. Giant works of art! Live/Work/Play. Condo owners never have to venture out their building’s grounds. That’s when it hits me—this is the future of Los Angeles. Build some giant campus—a contained city within the City, make it shaped like something weird—a legion of colliding locomotives or some shit. Next door, a developer builds another, even more outlandish—the view out every unit window framing another 3-D Dali built across the way. That’s the future. Build ’em high and keep folks dumb—drunk on steel. I’ve already got my accountant reaching out to developers, ones moving into South Central. Never been done before in the history of L.A. The future is now, and if you don’t buy in, you’re gonna miss out, man.”

Monty snickered into his beer.

That funny to you? Think I’m crazy, right? I’m not.”

No, I feel you. It’s just—”

Just what?”

My father used to always say the future depended on investing in children—their livelihood…education.”

Whose children? You an’ I don’t have any dogs in that race.”

I know but kids own the future—can’t argue with that—even ones that brew beer.” By the twist on Robbie’s face, the concept was lost, so Monty refrained. “Forget it. That’s a good idea though—yours. I’m sure you’ll make a killing."

Damn right.”

“’Nother beer?”

Please. Hey, you should come with Elle and me to the next event. She thinks you look generous. Always says you got them Vin Scully eyes. Very kind.”

Monty headed for the kitchen, smiling. “Don’t know about that, but Elle’s an angel for thinking.” The word charity flashed like neon in his brain.

Why hadn’t he entertained it earlier?

He knew the answer, it reflected back at him, eye to eye in the sleek refrigerator door. “Maybe I’ll take you up on that offer. Come here, check this out.”

Robbie rose from the couch and joined Monty before a ceramic nude bust of a female torso, hanging at the hallway entrance. “That’s cool, man. Erotica. New?"

Yeah. See anything weird about it?”

Robbie analyzed the bust. “Nah.”

Monty switched off the hall lights. Inside the ivory nipples were pinpoint red dots.

No way. New security cameras?”

Monty nodded. “These spy minis are all over. Pretty cool, right?”

Shit, yeah. Maybe the home security market is where to invest?”

Possibly…or else we just keep on living our dang lives.

Monty smiled as Robbie mimed slurping an areola.


Next morning, the Jag pulled into an industrial corridor just north of Old Town Torrance. The Strand Brewing Co. was located inside a large warehouse where craft beer was brewed and bottled on a daily basis. Monty retrieved two amber growlers from out his trunk and walked inside to have them filled. The tasting room staff didn’t know him very well, but they knew of him—word through the beer community about some stiff with deep pockets, hoping to pay to play in their business. He sipped a pint of pale while his bottles were filled, sitting at a picnic bench, scrolling through his cell to see Robbie’s trade status. Looked like his neighbor was safe for now, their conversation yesterday keeping Monty awake for part of the night. He should do something positive with his inheritance. An act that would cost little to him but change someone’s life for the better. Fuck real estate, that empty void often displaced those truly in need. A random monetary donation would be like tossing a stone into a lake, watching the ripples, knowing that he made the impact. He’d start off small, maybe pay for someone’s groceries or write a check to a soup kitchen or. . .

What would Vin do?

The beerback called his name; he approached for both growlers. The moment his fingers touched that icy brew, it hit him like a crisp jab.

Yesterday: that family with the funeral!

A grin climbed his face as he rushed to the Jag and peeled out the lot.


The intersection mirrored the day before, family members at every median in the ninety-degree heat. Monty spotted the father at the southerly light; he hooked a right down Long Beach and cut a quick U, heading back to Willow. The father looked in his direction, but upon seeing him, turned and headed back to a foldout chair set-up with an umbrella. Monty honked to get the man’s attention. Soon as he craned, Monty waved him over.


Lamont leaned Meezy’s poster to his chair and approached the foreign roadster, thinking, Fuck this white fool want? Grin on the dudes’ face was waxy—kind he’d seen in a hundred horror movies. Before he could open his mouth, the man spoke.

“I’d like to have a word with you.”

“’Bout what?”

“This whole production you got here.”

Production?” Lamont sneered. “Get the hell on witchoo.”

“I mean no disrespect—that came out wrong.”

“Ya think?”

“I wanna help. Can we talk somewhere?”

Lamont scanned the intersection; Trey was giving him a look, wondering what was going on. He waved him over. The light turned green. “Meet me in the parking lot—over there,” he pointed, “beside that Suburban.”


Trey’s face remained blank, wondering who this white man was in the vintage Air Jordans, along with his agenda. By the frozen look on Pop’s face, figured the old man held the same thought.

Monty stood silent for a beat, wondering if they’d misheard him. “Said I’d like to cover the costs…for the funeral—all of ’em.”

Lamont: “May I ask why? I mean yesterday you—”

“That’s just it. Yesterday got me thinking. Seeing your family out here, that picture of your son—couldn’t recall the last time I ever helped anyone beside myself. Look Laah…what was it again?”

“Lamont. This here is my son, Trey.”

“Lamont. Trey. Nice to meet you. I know this may sound bizarre, and I understand your tentative reaction, but hear me out. My name is Monty Laughlin. I’m a lifelong Angeleno from Manhattan Beach who is capable of erasing the financial burden of your tragedy. That’s all there is to it. There are no hidden fees with this offer or monetary gain seen on my behalf—only the satisfaction of knowing that I did something positive today—helping ’Lil Meezy get a proper burial. Now…all you gotta do is say yes, and we can get started.”

“I’ll need to speak with my wife first.”

“Sure thing. I’ll wait.” He watched as Lamont walked to the rear of the Suburban, tractor beamed by his spouse’s hungry eyes.

Trey stayed put. “You serious about all this, Monty?”

“Cross my heart. Can I ask what happened to your brother?”

“Got shot outside a strip club—Fantasy Castle—over in Signal Hill.”

Jesus. I saw that in the Times. They catch the bastard responsible?”

“Nope. Never do. Say, what you do for a living?”

“I’m in between things at the moment. Guess you could call me a…Beer Man.”

“Beer? What, like Bud Ice or something?”

“Craft beer—West Coast IPAs mostly. I’m trying to invest in local breweries.” The kid looked at him as if he were speaking French.

Lamont returned with his wife and grandkids.

Monty said, “Well?”

The woman let go of the children’s hands and walked up to him, a glimmer in both eyes. For some reason, Monty had the feeling she was about to slap him. Before he could flinch, the woman wrapped both arms around his ribs and began to sob.


They insisted Monty come to their home for lunch; after all, they needed to discuss moving forward with his help. Trey asked to ride along with him in the Jag, helping guide the way. Monty couldn’t believe this turn of events, a simple decision having him feeling completely alive.

“You’re going to have to park this car in our driveway. Believe me. You don’t want it out on the street.”

Monty surveyed the neighborhood, his jovial feeling subsiding with every awkward glance by young men draped in blue, loitering on corners or smoking on front porches. The sight of their home struck him oddly, its deferred state. To Monty, the place was condemnable. He parked where Trey recommended, not having the gumption to tell the boy that this car meant as much to him as finding a heads-up penny.

He humored his way through a lunch of leftover soul food, the dish both warm and comforting. A Black Jesus cast judgement upon him, crucified to a far wall. A matching Last Supper hung near the dining table. He grubbed as the couple let on. Lamont and Eloise had already picked out a funeral home they would use, a friends’ business. Still up for discussion was the proper urn for their child’s ashes. Lamont slid him a brochure with some modest looking urns, nothing close to the grandeur of mother’s golden vessel.

Monty slid back the brochure. “Why don’t we head on down there and see what else they have. I want everyone to be satisfied.”

Lamont smiled at Eloise, taking off her apron. “Well, they were expecting us to swing by today.

Monty wiped off with a napkin. “Great. What’s the address?”

“I’ll roll with you. Lemme just grab my phone and meet you out front.” He sprinted into the bedroom, opening the closet and retrieving the pistol from Junior’s jacket.


The crematorium was located amongst a stretch of dilapidated commercial and industrial buildings, the last functioning business on the whole damn block. Monty counted liquor stores and USMC billboards the whole way there. Once he parked the car in the lot, Trey began to giggle.

“What is it?”

“Nothin’. Just your getup is all? You realize what kinda shoes you’re wearing, right?”

“Jordans, man—come on. I love these shoes. Now you’re gonna goof on me?”

“Goof? Nah. Them kicks be worth a lot a cash, dog. Jordan eights. Saw a pair online go for over five 

“No shit?”


“Well, then I guess I made a smart investment, huh? What size you wear?”

Trey perked. “Twelve.”

“These are size nine. Bummer.”

Trey squinted, contemplating a biblical gesture. “Were you just about to give me the shoes off your 

Monty killed the engine. “What? No. Just asked ’cause I have about twenty pair in their original 
boxes, back home. Bought them in bulk in ’97. Would’ve given you a pair, if they fit. Bummer, right?”

“Damn straight.”

They exited, Suburban pulling into a slot beside them. Trey watched the interaction between Monty and his parents; the man was some kind of genie, one they never summoned.


Monty chummed it up with the head of the mortuary, a skeletal black fellow named Isaiah. They exchanged pleasantries, ones appropriate for such a setting. Upon closer inspection of the grounds, the funeral home didn’t look to be financially solvent: ceiling water damage, torn carpeting—not even a secretary to answer the bereaved. Place didn’t do custom urns either, like mother’s. Lamont and Eloise were stuck surveying a shelf of copper urns till Monty pointed at some featuring higher end precious metals. Isaiah jumped in to describe each of their fine attributes. There being only two variants meant this place hardly sold them. A young man came in from the back room. Monty watched as Trey slapped hands with the kid—a deep scar on his chin like one found on a flawed pumpkin. The boys headed outside. Focusing back on the task at hand, it was easy to see which urn Eloise wanted for her son—she just wouldn’t say it, caressing cold silver like a newborn. Monty tapped Isaiah’s shoulder: “We’ll take it. I’d like to cut a check for the total sum as well, including cremation, et cetera. Do you accept checks?”

The man’s eyes turned devilish, his broken smile could’ve split the world.


The boys took cover behind a tall dumpster at the rear of the building. As Kermit perused the weapon, Trey kept his eye on the parking lot in case his parents and Monty came strolling out. Kermit snapped the cylinder, sniping down the barrel as if he’d ever shot one of these before. Maybe he’d had; Trey didn’t care to ask, only thing on his mind being book money.

“So, what you think?”

The scar on Kermit’s chin frowned. “Got bullets?”

Trey dug out the original six from his pocket. “Jus’ a starter kit. They sell ’em at Big Five.”

“I know that.” Kermit handled the ammo. “How much you say again?”

“Got wax in them ears, nigga? Four hunny.” Trey had done his research online and knew the gun was, at best, a two Benjamin steal. Now he sat back to see if Kermit had done his own homework, banking the kid hadn’t when it came to high school. “Hey, you guys toss body parts in here?” His knuckle knocked the dumpster.

“What? No.” Kermit flinched at Trey, jutting his arms out like a zombie. “Quit playin’.”

Trey smirked.

Listen, this piece ain’t for me, okay? It’s for my boy—”

“Don’t tell me his name! I don’t wanna know nothin’ ’bout ’nothin.”

“Well, he ain’t gonna pay you four hunny—I can tell ya that.”

“So what then?”




Trey stuck out his hand. Kermit shook it, removing a wad of twenties from out a hip pocket slouched beside his kneecap. He counted the bills. “Who dat white fool witchoo?”

“Jus’ some dude. He’s paying for Junior’s funeral.”



“Fool’s Richie Rich then?”

I dunno. Enough bread to bury the dead.”

His Jordans are tight as fuck.” Kermit handed over the cash.

Trey shoved it into his jeans. “Dude’s got a bunch at his house, he said.”

“For real?”

“O.G.’s, brand new—from ninety-seven. Not sure if I believe him though—” Trey heard the Suburban roar to life on the other side of the building. “Shit. Gotta roll.”

“Nice doin’ binness, cuz.”

“First and last time, son. First an’ last.” Trey sprinted through the parking lot, hollering for everyone to wait up.

Kermit’s father could be heard, yelling for him outside the funeral home. He quickly opened the dumpster, slid the Smith & Wesson inside a sweaty McDonald’s bag and stashed it before rushing back.


Isaiah was in his office, massaging the knot of his paisley tie back to its pristine form when his son rushed through the door.

What is it, dad?”

“Where were you?”

“Took out some garbage.”

His stern look pierced the boy. “Need your help with deposits again.”

“You know I can make them on your phone these days? I told you that, right?”

Boy, you don’t tell me shit. Why do I need to use a phone when I have you?”

Before Kermit could answer, the man brought up a fist. He winced.

Such a weak, weak boy. Take after your bitch mother. But you already knew that—can feel the weakness coursing your veins, can’t you?” He approached his desk and handed over Monty’s check. “Take this to the bank now. The sum is too great to have lying around. They close soon."

Kermit’s eyes bulged at the amount, just under eighteen thousand. Images conjured of a procession for ’Lil Meezy featuring a glittering hearse with twenty-four-inch spinning rims—or maybe Snoop playing the wake…. His eyes fell on the check’s signature. He scoped the top corner for the dude’s details: Montrose Laughlin III, 210 16th Street, Manhattan Beach—” A palm struck the back of his head. “Fuh!”

Isaiah paused before a second blow. “Run along, boy.”

Kermit pocketed the check and sped for his bicycle.


No shit! You just…what—got a feather in your ass and decided to fly, huh?” Robbie reclined on Monty’s couch, sipping White Sand IPA straight from a growler Monty had filled. “Paid for just the urn or the whole shebang?”

Monty leered out the windows, sunlight dancing about the tide. He licked froth from his upper lip, beer tasting better than any he’d ever had. Could feel mother’s disdain from the mantle, bellyaching his deed. “I ponied up for the whole tamale. Even tossed them a grand to handle the reception—food, booze, whatnot. They want me to go, but…I dunno.”

“That’s great, man. You should go. When Elle and I attend to these charity events, we don’t ever get to see how much the donated funds accomplish firsthand—just read about it on a printout the following year—at the next event. You marched into ground zero and came out a hero. Better man, I can say that.”

“Wanna come with? It’d blow their minds—a real Dodger in their midst.”

Robbie paused to gulp. “When is it?”

Tomorrow night."

I’ll see if I can move some stuff around."

Prolly busy sitting on my other sofa, I suppose.”

What can I say? I’m a man of leisure these days. Plus, I hate the public seeing me in a sling like this—some fucking gimp.”

No one respects a gimp."

So, tell me more about this family, man? The Craigs.”

Good people. Hard working. Father is an electrician—son, Trey, works for him.”

Hey, you should get them to finish wiring the outdoor security cameras. Might hook you up with a deal.”

Monty thought about it, not caring about expense. He did enjoy talking with the man and his son. Could be another chance to get to know them, outside of their family tragedy. After all, they were the first real folks he’d encountered in some time. “I should do that,” escaped his lips, even though he knew deep down he probably wouldn’t. After all, he’d just stepped out of his cocoon for a day, wasn’t quite ready to welcome others inside just yet.


Kermit leaned his bicycle against a picnic table in Veteran’s park, placing the McDonald’s bag beside him as he sat atop warm wood. His stomach growled, having no time to grab a quick bite. A Rally’s burger sounded nice. They told him to be here now but, obviously, the gun buyers weren’t present. He hated having to deal with such thugs, but one had to do what they could to survive in these parts. His cousin, Young Mel, ran with this crew and vouched for Kermit. When Trey phoned with his proposition, Kermit dialed Mel soon as he clicked off the call. His stomach roared. As he doubled over, he locked onto his left hand, scribbled across the back of it in blue ink was the name and address on that check. Montrose Laughlin III. An Idea had struck him as he waited inside the Wells Fargo, completing father’s errand. Maybe he could squeeze a few more bucks out of Mel’s boys with it. Sell them the pistol, along with some information—the whereabouts of a rich fool giving away his wealth.

A dense mass of four bodies entered at the park’s rear. As the blob came closer, its color set Kermit at ease, a legion of blue, puffing blunts, acting belligerent. He waved them over, as if he wasn’t sticking out like a wart on a nose.

Mel came up close before smacking him upside the head. “The fuck you thinking, Kerm, carrying that piece in a goddam baggy. Hide the pistol on your person, fool. Don’t be slippin’."

The other boys laughed, chiming in with their own taunts until Mel shushed them with the back of his palm. Kermit wanted to hand over the gun and run away that second, not being cut out for this type of thing. But then he’d be out all the money he’d saved working the past three months. And what the hell would he do with a gun? It’d be all for nothing. He humored the crew, acting as if he were just like them, swiping a hit from a blunt while one of the older boys inspected the merchandise. He’d have to act the part to get paid; couldn’t let these jerks know how soft he actually was. An attack of coughs overcame him soon as he exhaled the plume. More laughter ensued. Someone called him a little bitch.

So much for saving face.


The older guy named Smoke purchased the pistol for three hundred, biting Kermit’s profit to negative twenty-five dollars. He lied and said he turned a dollar. For three hundred, the crew wanted to buy more, if he had any. Kermit poo-pooed the notion, claiming (like Trey had told him) that this was a one-time deal. He then proceeded to disclose his other item for sale.

Hey, lookie here…”

He’d anticipated some interest when he told the crew about this rich dude in the South Bay, but their exuberant reactions took him by surprise, the boys all high as fuck, jonesing for a lick. When he said they could have the dude’s address for another hundred, everyone roared in laughter. He pretended like he was playing too, nearly on his bicycle to head for a cheeseburger.

Mel pushed Kermit off the bike and forced him to come along, clawing the back of his neck, shoving him in the direction of a parked sedan. “You talk a big game, Kerm. Now take us to where this moneybags lives.”

Without hesitation, Kermit surrendered the scribbles on his left hand.


The sun dipped its final brilliance through the living room windows as Monty and Robbie watched an Angels’ game snoozer, tearing into the team’s coach for not believing in sabermetrics, oblivious to the perfect L.A. sunset. A tirade out Robbie came to an unexpected halt.

Knocks at the door.

Monty glanced down at his phone before remembering the security monitor on the entrance wasn’t hooked-up; it had fed through his cell with a view of guests. Usually it was either Robbie or UPS. He placed his pint down and went to a wall mount to buzz the person up. If it was UPS, they always left the parcel behind a front post. Could be a neighbor signed for the package. Monty craned to Robbie, now busy inspecting the nipples on the hallway bust; looked as if the growler was mixing perfectly with his pain meds. The elevator shaft began to whine. Robbie accompanied Monty in seeing who was here.

The doors began to part.

Elle Slate walked in wearing a soft red sun dress, slightly buzzed enough to come over barefooted.

“Another cocktail party, Elle?”

She gave Monty a friendly embrace. “Got the gals headed over in a few.”

Robbie: “What’s up, babe?”

The audio is messed up, a button got hit—haven’t a clue.”

Monty: “Real Housewives again?”

Bachelorette in Paradise.”

Monty’s eyebrows became enlightened.

Robbie pointed to the second growler on the counter. “I’m coming back, so don’t kill that.”

Monty opened the refrigerator for some pickles as the couple headed to the elevator.


Mel’s Monte Carlo made it to Manhattan Beach just as the sun was gulped by the Pacific. He parked the sedan a few blocks from their target, having circled the block three times to scope the setting. Smoke loaded the pistol with six bullets from out Kermit’s pocket. The crew got out, eyeing a sidewalk lined with manicured roses, cement clean enough to slurp spilled ice cream. They lit Newports in unison to brace nerves. Kermit pretended to smoke one, never inhaling, a trick he’d learned in middle school to avoid getting bullied. The five boys sat at a lone bus bench, trying not to turn heads. They tranced on the open ocean, its normal dark blue bleeding oranges and pinks. Was as if they’d only seen this type of thing in drug store picture frames or a textbook from long ago. They waited for darkness to seep up the hill, bringing them back into their comfort zone. The moon sparked howls from backyard dogs. Mel punched Kermit’s arm, signaling him to lead the way.


Monty had a clean buzz off his growler, closing one eye to focus on landing another pickle, spearing it with a knife. There were only a few left in this jar, all scurrying from his blade with each thrust as if they were alive, fish in a barrel, all smarter than him. He reclined on the sofa, exhausted from concentrating, belly full of red pepper, vinegar and dill. He checked the wall clock; there was no way he’d be able to stay awake if Robbie came back. These craft beers wore heavy on the brain. He’d had a full day too—one he was glad to have had, but would most likely relive only once a year. Next time he’d do something nice on Christmas. He clicked off the television, steadying himself on seafaring legs. Approaching the counter, he emptied his pockets into a crystal candy dish, one mother used for her beloved butterscotch. The checkbook sat prominent before a bowl of apples, stoic almost, as if it’d known what it accomplished today. Monty opened it to a carbon copy of the check, grin climbing his drunken face.

A stone tossed in a lake.

Ripples…all because of him.

He turned to mother’s urn, raised his fist and exploded the middle finger. This is what I think about what you think, mother. He returned to the check, contemplating removing it from the pack to frame or laminate, maybe put above his toilet: a daily reminder of how great he could be…you know, when he felt like it. On second glance of the copy, a slight panic took hold.

The billing address.

He’d forgotten to buy new checks once moving into mother’s old house—this house. After years of extensive remodeling, he’d finally shifted all his things from next door, barely two years ago. Robbie became a Dodger around then, his people making an offer on the “Bastard Home” (mother’s words) that he couldn’t refuse. How could he say no to a Big Leaguer…a potential celebrity friend? Oh, how embarrassing it would be if that check were to bounce. Did things like billing address even matter these days? He’d call the bank first thing tomorrow. No need to worry the Craigs about it—not during this horrible time in their lives. Everything would be fine. He’d make sure of it. And order new checks. For next time.


What. A. Doll. He did that?” Elle sipped Shiraz at the breakfast nook, watching Robbie eye the stereo system as if it were from Mars.

“Paid for everything. Cremation, urn. See, that’s rewarding. No banquet. No autographs or selfies. Straight to the source.” He punched the a remote to zero response.

“It’s them Vin Scully eyes, I tell ya. What a kind-hearted man.”

“Don’t remember what you pressed here, huh?”

“I didn’t touch anything. Think Priscilla might’ve used it as a chew toy.”

Robbie sent a dirty look at Elle’s Yorkie, snoozing on the couch. “When’s everyone supposed to be here again?”

“Soon. Like ten minutes.”

“Fuck.” He adjusted his sling, techno stress killing his buzz. A strange button at the top corner of the remote caught his eye. Auto Vol? He punched it and sound came blaring out the speakers. As he scrambled to save the subwoofer, Elle approached and draped an arm around him, planting a wet kiss, careful not to disturb his shoulder. Her breath was sour, pungent as bile. She began to undo his belt. 

“We have ten minutes...”

He slid his good hand up into her sun dress, caressing the fold of her ass.

She went in for another hard kiss, but the doorbell stifled the moment.

Robbie cursed, re-doing his belt. Elle went to freshen up for her guests. The second Robbie cracked 
the doors’ frame, he was met by a revolver pointed at his nose.


The computer screen lit-up Trey’s face in purple hues, his eyes scanning pages and pages of textbook sales, titles dancing in the glint of his eyeballs. Pops was asleep on his recliner; Mom busy putting the girls to bed. He scrolled a new page, eyeing a piece of paper with his undergrad curriculum requirements, then back at book titles. It was all happening, the future coming at him in spectral bursts. And all he had to do, so far, was numb his conscience. He sold a gun, so what? Who cared what others did with their own wretched lives? Not like he was pulling the trigger. He added another text to his online cart and thought, I’d do plenty worse to this world just to be done with the neighborhood forever.


Smoke held the gun steady as Young Mel had Kermit and the others use duct tape to bind the couple together on the floor. Hoods helped conceal all their faces. Kermit immediately knew something was wrong, too frightened to mention that he’d never seen this man (or woman) in the funeral home earlier. Didn’t matter now. The act was in progress.

He was a full-blown criminal.

A safe in the bedroom had been opened by the husband; a quick smash to the face with Smoke’s pistol helped speed the process. Dude’s nose was gushing for days. Mascara exploded about the wife’s eyes, her sobbing turned to gentle weeps. There weren’t any Air Jordans like Kermit had promised; however, the guy had an unhealthy amount of Dodger gear. The three stacks out the safe softened that blow, just over thirty grand. Their shit dog began to yap at the door. Mel turned to see four older women, faces pumped to the max with Botox, all fisted with wine or champagne. The sight of Smoke’s weapon sparked banshee screams, the ladies trembling in horror.

A bottle crashed to the ground.

Smoke jumped, accidentally firing a round.

Kermit ate the bullet, directly in the chest.

The boys scurried out a side door and sprinted up the block.

Kermit collapsed to the tile floor, eye to eye with the yapping dog, warm blood pooling beneath him until a coldness came over, one he’d only feel for the first time. Such a weak, weak boy.

Monty stirred from his drunken slumber, a pop followed by screams in the night disturbing sweet dreams. He got up to close the sliding glass door, gazing out at adjacent homes, not seeing anything alarming. A car must’ve backfired, sparking someone’s night terrors. He climbed back into bed, feeling sorry for whoever was that frightened this time of night. He thought about his deed again and smiled, closing his eyes, licking his teeth. He’d place mother’s urn in a closet or drawer tomorrow. No need to have her so prominent within his house. A truly great day, today. The ocean purred him back to dreamland, an angel’s sleep for the angel he was.

Nolan Knight is a fourth generation Angeleno. His short fiction has appeared in various journals including Akashic Books, Thuglit, Needle, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine. His debut novel THE NEON LIGHTS ARE VEINS was released by 280 Steps Press. "Vin Scully Eyes" is featured in his short story collection BENEATH THE BLACK PALMS, represented by Nat Sobel of Sobel Weber Associates. Find out more at / Insta: @Nolan_Knight_

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Porcupine Method, fiction by J. Danielle Dorn

If it weren't for the way Dawn cut mangoes, none of this would have happened.

We met at work. Some farm-to-table restaurant that started out small and expanded to a second location and before you knew it we had uniforms and a district manager. The place retained its independent restaurant essence, for a while. Most of us hated the corporate homogeneity that crept in like a cancer, and the only reason any of us who had been there from the beginning stayed was because the manager was too chickenshit to fire us.


It was the first place we ever kissed, on a slow night, Ricky cutting a person every hour at first, then every two, until dinner service was mostly done and everyone was restless. Nobody wanted to stay to close. I didn't mind. I had my regulars, and I always got out after the kitchen did anyway. Ricky let me pick what music to play on the iPod. I hated the curated soft rock playlist corporate wanted piped over the sound system and he knew it. At one point I went back into the kitchen and Dawn was there, going at a mango with a serrated knife.

As a general rule, I didn't talk to the kitchen staff. Not at that restaurant, and not at any of the others I had worked at before. They tended to be metalheads with criminal records and no social skills. The way Dawn was going at that mango, I couldn't help it.

Now, Dawn. She wore her hair tight on the sides and long on the top, bleached and dyed a pastel purple, tattoos up and down her arms. Everyone in the kitchen wore white jackets because corporate insisted, and caps or bandannas to cover their asses in case a customer found hair in their food. We were borrowing Dawn from another location because one of our line cooks was out with a collapsed lung, this was maybe the sixth or seventh night we'd worked together in two weeks. Obvious dyke. Like, obvious.

Me, not so much. I was what you'd call a lipstick lesbian. I had long hair, I wore makeup, I got manicures. Men thought their dick was going to be the one to cure me of my confusion, used that as a flirting tactic more times than I can count.

I asked Dawn what she was doing. I'd never seen anybody prep a mango the way she was prepping it. She must have thought I was flirting with her, because she smiled an endearing lopsided little smile as she popped out this perfect grid of cubes.

She goes, "Making mango-rita pulp for the bar."

I'm like, "Ugh, don't call it mango-rita."

She's like, "Stupid goddamn names they got here, right?"

"What're you gonna do," I say, and I shrug, trying to be cool. She holds up a cube for me to take. I was feeling bold, so I ate it right out of her hand. Her eyebrows go up, and she gives me this shit-eating grin and beckons me into the walk-in cooler so Ricky doesn't catch us.

Yeah, we were bored. But Dawn kept giving me pieces of mango, and I kept kissing the juice back into her mouth, until both of our lips were raw with the sugar and the acid and the cold. Levitated up out of our boredom by the other's energy. We sent texts to save each other's numbers in our phones and that should have been the end of it. She had to go back to Buffalo that night.

You know that song, Home is where I want to be but I guess I'm already there. That's what was playing when I stepped out of the fridge and went back to work.

So yeah, our relationship started over text message, sending each other silly memes, screenshots of the nonsense people were saying in our separate group chats, gossip from our separate locations. Flirting. A lot of flirting.

Restaurant people are easy to entertain and difficult to keep happy. Some of us are lifers. We can't function anywhere else in society. I started out washing dishes when my parents kicked me out. They were real nutty Jesus types, wanted to send me away to conversion therapy when they caught me necking with the pastor's daughter the summer before junior year. That was so long ago I never think about it anymore. I got my GED because they wouldn't let me into bartender school without it.

This isn't my life story, I swear.

Dawn was the best thing that ever happened to me. I can't hear that song without thinking of her, the leathery coffee-and-vanilla cologne she wore, how strong her arms were. How she couldn't watch a movie without making some smart-ass comment, how she wore her jeans low down on her slim hips, how she loved cooking at home even though she did it for forty hours a week at some crappy chain restaurant.

I miss her.

We moved to Florida because we could. We were happy there. It wasn't like we were running away from anything. We just wanted a change. Better weather. Better jobs. She knew a guy who could get her a sous chef position in an actual restaurant, and I could tend bar anywhere looking the way I did. Western New York was getting to be too depressing and if the entire country was going to be underwater in a few decades we at least wanted to be near the beach.

Then it happened.

She called the way she cut mangoes the hedgehog method because that's what her culinary school teacher had called it. I messed up a few times, called it the porcupine method, I must have figured the way the cubes stuck out from the rind when it was inside out looked more like a porcupine than a hedgehog. Dawn laughed, asked me what the hell I thought a hedgehog looked like.

I said, "I don't know. Like Sonic?"

"The video game Sonic?"

"Yeah. With like, the blue mohawk. Porcupines have quills that stick out all over the place."

"So do hedgehogs! Hedgehogs have spines! That's why it's called!"

"Whatever," I said. "Why don't you just call it crosshatch method and stop making out like I'm going to eat a cartoon animal."

"Oh my god, Titi, I hate you."

That's what we called it from then on. The porcupine method. Porcupine became a verb, our way of describing how we were going to handle a messy situation. I know it's silly. We were together a long time. I thought we were going to be together a long time.

The night she didn't come home, I wasn't expecting her until late anyhow. I worked weekends at a nightclub, where I made most of my money, and then during the week I poured wine and expensive whiskey at a country club. It was a Tuesday. Mike and Tyrone wanted to go out for beers after the kitchen closed. They needed to porcupine a personal problem Mike was having. That was fine. I trusted the three of them out together.

Then the cops showed up. They confirmed that Dawn lived there, then broke the news to me. Offered to drive me to the hospital. I was in shock. It was the first time I had ever been in the back of a police car. Not until weeks later did I wonder what the neighbors must have thought.

First time I had ever been to the emergency room, either. Back when I was still a baby bartender who didn't know shit about technique, I cut my thumb slicing limes. I went to urgent care and stopped using dull knives. Urgent care and the ER aren't the same at all. Everything was bright and noisy, contained chaos, and all I could think was Maybe they're wrong. Maybe the cops are wrong.

The social worker and the attending physician were there. Dawn's parents still lived in New York, and were on their way. Staff let me in to see Dawn's body. Her eyes were closed and her lips were blue and she would have been pissed to know she died with grown-out roots.

I didn't cry because I didn't believe what they were telling me. That Dawn had overdosed on heroin. That her friends had brought her straight to the ER when she didn't respond to the two doses of Narcan Mike sprayed up her nose.

Narcan is a drug that's supposed to reverse the effects of narcotic medication. Mike carried it on him because he had no intention of quitting using, because he knew so many people who had died of overdoses. They nod out, he told me later, nodding out happens a lot, but Dawn had stopped breathing. Later, after we found out the dope they'd been shooting up was laced with fentanyl.

I learned a lot about drugs after Dawn died. Like that fentanyl is a synthetic narcotic they give to cancer patients. It's up to a hundred times stronger than morphine. Sometimes dealers add it to heroin to increase heroin's potency and don't tell their customers, so people think they're getting regular heroin and overdose and die.

Her parents touched down at daybreak and took over planning for the funeral, packing up her things, settling all of her affairs. We weren't married. It wasn't like I had a legal right to do any of the things her parents were doing. I wasn't mad at Mike or Tyrone. I wanted to know where they got it from, that was all.

They didn't know what it meant to porcupine a situation. Nobody did. Not Dawn's parents, who didn't even look at me during the funeral. Not my manager at the country club, who approved five day's bereavement leave, or my manager at the nightclub, who tried to get me to find coverage for the weekend I was out and caved when I started sobbing into the phone. He said he'd take care of it.

It infuriated me, later, that the first time I cried during the whole aftermath of Dawn's math was on the phone to my manager at the nightclub.

I wanted to know where Mike got the laced heroin from. Call it part of the grieving process. Grappling to understand what had happened. Standing at the bar during the slow early hours of service at the country club, a TV playing Forensic Files in the background, like every other day that had come before. That was my life now. Before Dawn and After Dawn, like we had broken up. Half the people who poisoned other people on that show used antifreeze, toxicology reports always showed polyethylene glycol in the blood.

The nightclub kept me busy. I showed up for my shift looking normal, acting numb, the other bartender unable to provide much more than a firm hug to start the night and cocktail napkins when tears started snaking their way down my cheeks after everyone had left at four in the morning. I didn't have time to think there.

At the country club, I had time to think.

If I was going to deal with the person whose tainted heroin killed my girlfriend, I needed to think like a murderer. Like those people on the true crime shows who made every phone call and every long-distance trip like a police drone was right above their heads.

Mike went ahead and gave me his dealer's number in exchange for the number of the burner phone I bought from a gas station on the other side of town. He wouldn't give the dealer up to police, but he gave him up to me. All I wanted to do was see the guy, put a face to the act. We were at a dive bar Dawn and I liked to go to on our mutual nights off, that we brought friends to when we all needed to congregate. It had a patio out back where people could take their drinks to smoke a cigarette, and that's where Tyrone and I were when he pulled me aside.

In the early stages of our relationship, before we even moved in together, we quit smoking together. We put the money we would have spent on cigarettes into a savings account, promised not to touch it unless it was for something we both wanted. I bought a pack of cigarettes from the same gas station that sold me the burner. The first inhale of menthol burned on the way down, and my whole body lit up with greeting. Like a friend returning from prison, hesitant and grateful.

So Tyrone pulls me aside, six-foot-two bald-headed pot-smoking pacifist that he was, and tells me he knows what I'm going through. I believe him. I don't want his pain on top of mine.

"You've got that look in your eye," he says, "like you're already digging his grave. Dawn wouldn't want you locked up."

"I ain't getting locked up," I say, and that's the end of the conversation.

The dealer wanted to meet me with Mike there, and I figured that made sense. I didn't know how drug deals worked. My area was alcohol, and I knew how to deal with alcoholics. I didn't know how to deal with drug addicts. Same thing, at the end of the day.

At the country club, the old men smoked cigars inside because they were retired and because the owner didn't care, bitched about the laws that said they couldn't smoke wherever they wanted, bitched about laws in general, how it used to be you got pulled over for drinking and the cop would just escort you home. If alcohol was legal, everything else ought to be.

Like look at her, one of them said the day I met the dealer. She's slinging booze, but you don't see her getting thrown in jail like those black kids.

Yeah well booze is legal now, the other one said. I was climbing up on the counter to pull down a new bottle of Glenlivet and replace the one they'd killed. Eighty years ago she'd've been thrown in jail for selling gin out of her bathtub. I made Mike swear he wouldn't tell the dealer I was Dawn's girl. He swore. Sitting in his banged-up Buick in the dealer's driveway, in the dark, in the moments before my moment of clarity. Mike swore, and then we got out of the car and rang the doorbell and Mike introduced me to the dealer.

When the dealer opened the door I thought we were at the wrong place. I was expecting a greasy little weasel, the sort of person who springs to mind when you hear the words Florida Man. Wardrobe consisting of wife-beaters and baggy jeans, prison tattoos, everything I knew about drug dealers I learned from watching TV.

This guy, though. He was handsome, and he knew he was handsome. Tall, blond hair, blue eyes, a jaw that could cut glass, obviously worked out. Probably wore suits to his 9-to-5, had an office with a high-rise view of downtown Miami. Fashionable facial hair. His name was Noah. I hated him the second I saw him.

And Mike kept his oath. He kept Dawn's name out of his mouth. He told Mike I was a friend of his, said we both worked in the restaurant business and I was just looking to buy some horse.

The whole time, Noah was eyeing me up. I felt his gaze slide over my calves, my thighs, I had worn yoga pants and running shoes and a sports bra in case we needed to bolt and I regretted that decision when I caught him assessing my breasts.

Of course I didn't use what I bought. I made out like I was going to, learned myself why people get addicted to the stuff. Noah asked Mike and me if we wanted to smoke it or shoot it, and Mike said he wanted to shoot it, so I shot it. Instant bliss in Noah's living room. I didn't want to feel bliss around Noah. Underneath the euphoria was fury.

As far as I knew, Dawn wasn't using when we were together. It must have been a one-time thing she did because Mike was doing it. Tyrone told me all she did when they were out together was smoke weed, and she never did it at work like some of the guys did, she only did it when they were out and someone else offered her some. Mike had dope on him, and Tyrone was smoking weed, and it was none of my business what she wanted to do with her body.

Her body, embalmed and entombed, gone from me even though she still lingered in the house. The smell of her on everything. I would feel her as soon as I walked in the door. I kept tripping over her big old size 11 shoes, her heavy slip-resistant orthopedic work boots, I left them in the entryway for weeks, lurking in the dark like they wanted to break my neck, help me join her in whatever waits for us after we're dead. Probably nothing. Dawn didn't believe in an afterlife.

Sometimes I thought she was behind me in the bathroom, in the steam after a shower, thought she would show up in the mirror as I was brushing my teeth. I felt her in the bed sheets even after I washed them. When I masturbated, I imagined it was her hands touching me, her tongue between my legs. And after I came, instead of crying, I laid there in the afterglow and imagined what I would do to get rid of Noah's body.

It took a lot of money. I picked up extra shifts at the country club, waved away my manager's concern. I lost weight, of course I lost weight, but in this country, starving looks good to people. The more my body consumed itself, the more people tipped me. My smile was forced and my eyes were tired and I spent the extra money on heroin. My manager kept checking to see if I was okay. Like he was going to save me from myself.

"You have my number," he would say after every shift, and I would keep my voice flat as I said, "Yes I do," and that was always the end of the conversation. I hate people with business degrees. They all think they're psychologists, and this one in particular thought his dick would ameliorate my grief.

Four Tuesday nights in a row, I went to Noah's house instead of the dive bar, Dawn's and my bar. I couldn't stand to be there without her. I couldn't stand to be at Noah's house alone either but I couldn't go with Mike. He needed to stay out of this. Every time I stepped inside I declined Noah's invitation to sit and take a shot, declined his offers of weed or pills. Once, I accepted his offer of a Bacardi Ice, and I watched him the entire time he was in the kitchen.

"Don't open it," I said, and he smiled like I'd told a joke.

"What," he asked, and twisted off the cap with his bare hand, "you think I'm going to roofie you?"

I took the bottle from him and said, "Better safe than raped, right?"

He tried to touch my hair, I'd flat-ironed it and sprayed it into behaving in the humidity, and normally I would have slapped his hand away. I needed him to keep selling me dope for this plan to work. So I let him. We shot the shit for a few minutes before he got around to weighing out the powder. I pretended to drink my drink as he worked, and we exchanged cash for stash, and I got the hell out of there.

Two paychecks later, nearly a month into my absent plan, I went to the grocery store. I was out of seltzer water, was living off of microwave popcorn and tortilla chips, crunchy carbs with enough salt to keep my blood pressure up, the occasional bag of salad. The thought that this could all go wrong, what if Noah figured out what I was going to do and shot me, I'd be just another dead girl in the trunk of a car, I would never eat another mango again. So I bought one. That was all I bought. I took it home and I cut it the way I'd seen Dawn do a hundred times, careful so I wouldn't read a mistake as a portent. I cried as I ate it. I wanted her back. I wanted her alive. I wanted to go back in time and beg her not to go out with Mike and Tyrone, invite myself along like a clingy girlfriend, keep her from shooting up. I was so angry.

I started cooking down the shit I bought from Noah, four weeks' worth of the drug that killed Dawn in a single night. Did it the way I'd watched him the night he shot it into my arm, filled every syringe I'd picked up from the drugstore and capped it when it was full. I packed them into a makeup bag I planned to throw away, slipped it into the purse I planned to throw away, and sent Noah a text on the phone I planned to throw away, asking if I could come by later that night.

He replied saying he was looking forward to it, added a winky face.

I couldn't fucking stand him. I knew what I was about to do was wrong. I didn't care.

Instead of styling my hair I corralled it under a wig, did my makeup the way young women, still girls some of them, did it in YouTube tutorials. Every time I went over there, I made up my face heavier than the time before. Still recognizable by degrees, but different from a distance. It was hard to keep the powder from melting off my face in the muggy heat. I managed to pull it off.

His jeans tightened the second he opened the door for me. His cologne smelled good and he had obviously showered just before I arrived. My body locked down, every orifice protesting what I was forcing myself to do. If he had approached me at a bar I would have told him to go fuck himself. I had never so much as touched a man before, never experimented with the boys in high school because I knew better. Straight boys don't have to experiment before they accept their sexuality, so I figured I didn't have to either.

One time a customer back in New York grabbed my ass, so I'd grabbed his hand and broken his wrist. Ricky pressed charges against the guy and gave me a raise. I think he was afraid I'd sue the company.

While Noah was distracted fondling my breasts through the bra I planned to throw away, I started uncapping a syringe with my free hand. I had practiced at home when it was still empty, and Noah didn't notice the hand that wasn't on his crotch was coming towards his shoulder. It jabbed through his shirt and into the muscle holding his shoulder to his neck, thick meat that would absorb the drug. He yelled "Ow!" like a mosquito had got him, slapped at the spot, and his carrying on gave me the time to grab the second syringe and hit him again in a different spot. My entire arm shook with rage and effort as I pressed the plunger deep as it would go and reached for another. By the time I got the third syringe in him, he was nodding out.

No, I did not lose count. I counted every single one. Every single one, I thought of Dawn.

I thought of the way her face looked in the morning, sleep granting her a simpler serenity than the heroin had left her with, I saw the way her body filled the stretcher in the trauma ward, how the doctors hadn't gotten around to peeling the electrodes off her chest, how there was a band around her wrist even though they were admitting her to the morgue. How she would laugh at the way I shrieked every time we went to the ocean and a wave would slap me. We didn't have ocean waves in New York. Lake Ontario wasn't the same. People dumped bodies in it all the time.

When I ran out of syringes, when he was limp on the couch with a dead erection and no pulse, I collected them.

One of the needles had snapped off during his brief struggle, and I dug it out of his skin. If it weren't for the fact it would leave DNA in my wake, I would have spat on him. For a moment I sat with his corpse, considered stabbing him in the eye. It would feel good, I thought, to just hit him, pummel him until even his mother wouldn't recognize him.

Heroin felt good too. Dawn had felt good. Her laugh, her jokes, the way she cut fucking mangoes. He took her from me, and leaving him dead on the couch didn't bring her back.

I wish I could tell you her ghost was perturbed by what I had done, or placated. One or the other. The house was empty when I returned home, and I did not trip over her shoes. I showered without sensing her in the steam, and I went to bed without feeling her in the sheets. My alarm woke me. I wanted to stay in bed, wanted to die now that I had gotten rid of Noah.

As I was getting ready for my shift at the country club, I waited for the cops to show up. They didn't. So I came to work like it was any other Wednesday. Now I'm here.

If I had just left her alone that night, I'm thinking to myself, washing dishes in the bar sink and waiting for my regulars to come trickling in. If we had never known each other at all.

If I have to go the rest of my life carrying this secret instead of her spirit.

My customers start trickling in, and that fucking song starts playing.

J. Danielle Dorn is a military brat and former mental health paraprofessional from Rochester, NY. Kirkus Reviews named their debut novel, Devil's Call, a 'Must-Read Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Book' in 2017, and their short fiction appears in Trigger Warning: Body Horror, from Madness Heart Press. They currently live with their adopted cat and a self-perpetuating pile of to-be-read books.