Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Delivery, fiction by Eric Beetner

             Lucy refused to hurry. If their food delivery got cold, that’s on them for being too damn lazy to come get their own burritos. Elgin, the boss/head chef/pain-in-her-ass, wouldn’t let her park in the lot behind the restaurant. It’s for customers, he’d say. So she walked two blocks down to her car with the plastic bag swinging in one hand while she tried to navigate her phone screen with her opposite hand to find the address of the delivery.

She wasn’t looking up when the voice made her stop.

Gimmie your money.”

There were two of them. Young males, t-shirts and baggy jeans, desperate dilated pupils vibrating in their skulls. She could almost hear the rattle of nerves. They weren’t experienced at robbery, but neither was Lucy experienced at being robbed.

The one who spoke had a gun. A dull black .22 that might not work, might not even be loaded, but she wasn’t about to find out over one burrito and a side of guac. The other one hopped on the balls of his feet, checking the area for prying eyes, cop cars, and whatever demons haunted him nightly. His hands were stuffed deep into the pocket of his hoodie and moved like he was rolling dice in there.

Lucy didn’t carry a purse. Not enough stuff to hold in there. Besides, purses cost money. Money she didn’t have. Wouldn’t be driving deliveries for a second-rate Mexican joint if she could afford a Kate Spade.

Guys, c’mon.” She held her arms out, trying to show them she wasn’t that different from them. Just a neighborhood girl doing her best, trying to make a few quarters to pay the rent. Same as them, she also wore a hoodie, also had shoes nearly worn down to the stitching.

But she knew the look in their eyes. They didn’t care about her, about her struggles, her single-digit bank account. They cared about the next baggie of rocks and the right dark doorway to smoke them.

Money. Now.”

He waved the gun like the tip of the needle on a seismograph. The quake was coming, and Lucy didn’t want to be in its path.

Whatever. Take it.”

She reached into her back pocket. Saw them flinch, thinking she had a weapon. She slowed and brought out her wallet, opened it, and removed the thin folded bills. The only thing left in the fake leather billfold was her driver’s license, insurance, and social security card, a picture of her late parents, and her one and only credit card, which wasn’t worth much more than the plastic rectangle it was made of. She flung the money out ahead of her, and all eight dollars landed on the sidewalk between them. The one without a gun lunged forward and snatched up the pathetic wad. Her night’s tips so far. All she had and all they were gonna get from her.

Both robbers had runny noses, scabby skin, pale even in the street lights.

Come on,” the one with the gun said. “All of it.”

That is all of it, dipshit. Who the hell do you think you’re robbing? I deliver takeout for fucks’s sake.”

She didn’t want to antagonize them, but she had given up giving a shit anymore. Shoot her, go ahead. Can’t stress about money from a hospital bed or a casket. Do me a favor, she thought.

Son of a…” Their movements got more animated. Eight bucks wasn’t going to get them the next score. But that was their problem, not Lucy’s.

The guy shoved her money into his front pocket and then jumped forward again and snatched the bag out of her hand. It tore as she tried to hold on to it, and the chips and guac fell to the sidewalk with a splat. He got the torn bag the rest of the way to him and cradled the burrito like a football.

Aw, come on,” she said.

They turned and ran into the darkness in a burst of adrenalin and the few lingering fumes of their last high.

Lucy was left on the sidewalk a block away from work, a smear of green on the sidewalk like an alien bloodstain and a pile of crushed chips the birds would feast on come morning, if the rats didn’t get them during the night.

She turned, slump-shouldered, and walked back to see Elgin and tell him what happened. She knew what he’d say. All lost orders had to be paid for out of the driver’s pocket. Her now empty pocket. His policy was designed to prevent hungry drivers from eating a customer’s meal and blaming it on the bag spilling when their car went around a tight corner. She knew he wouldn’t understand or be sympathetic to her being robbed any more than he would if she tripped and dropped a delivery in the gutter. If he had to make two meals, he was getting paid for two meals.

Plus, now she’d be so late on the delivery she could expect a dogshit tip.

Maybe it would have been better if the jittery kid had shot her.

While she waited for Elgin to cook up another burrito, Lucy sat and thought about her options in life. She came up blank after about ten seconds. She had no better way to make money if she didn’t want to turn tricks or strip. A friend had told her once she could make some cash selling platelets or blood, but that didn’t seem like a long-term solution.

She picked at the chipped finish on a table in the corner of the restaurant and listened to the insistent beat of Tejano music, trying not to cry.

Ten minutes later, Lucy stepped out with the re-made burrito and kept her head up. She pleaded her case, but Elgin did not care. The cost of the extra burrito was coming out of her pay for the night. She was too tired to argue with him.

She walked fast, head on a swivel, down to her car. Got in and locked the doors. Only then did she bring up her maps app and find the address. If she saw those two tweakers huddled in an alley somewhere, she swore she’d run them over, even if her eight bucks was long gone in a cloud of meth smoke.

A full thirty minutes after the order was placed, she knocked on the door of the apartment. It was on the second floor of a U-shaped stucco monstrosity with open walkways and dead potted plants at the top of every staircase. Out of open windows the sounds of six different TVs swirled around her in the night air like a swarm of mosquitos.

Come on in, it’s open,” a voice called from inside.

Tentatively she turned the handle. Letting herself in was not normally the way it was done, but she needed to hand off the bag if she wanted any sort of tip at all. She stayed outside and pushed the door open. One of the TVs was his.

The guy sat on a two-cushioned couch, the TV tuned to an MMA fight. Both of his legs were in casts. Lucy relaxed a little. The guy couldn’t get out to pick up his own burrito or even stand to answer his door. He was no threat, she decided and stepped inside.

Aw, thanks so much,” he said.

Sorry it’s so late.”

She held the plastic bag out in front of her and tried to get from his gestures where he wanted her to set it down. She aimed for the crowded coffee table in front of the couch. Empty soda cans and wrappers from his last few meals were scattered there.

Just set it there,” he said. Lucy made a small space between the junk and set the bag down.

Wow, that sucks,” she said, pointing to his legs.

Yeah.” He shrugged.

Nobody signed them.”


Nobody signed your casts.”

Oh.” He gave a weak smile. “I haven’t had any visitors.”

She’d given him enough time if he was going to give her a tip, he’d have done it by now. A half-hour for a burrito was too long, and she knew it. She didn’t blame the guy for stiffing her, even if it wasn’t her fault.

She gave him a small wave. “Okay, well, have a good night.”

Hold on, hold on.”

He reached under him and drew out a small wad of bills from a back pocket. He held out a five-dollar bill and leaned forward with it.

Oh. Thanks so much,” she said, and she leaned to meet him halfway and take it.

So you do deliveries all night?”

Yeah. It’s all right.”

I bet you know the whole city.”

I got maps on my phone.”

The fight on TV swelled to some kind of crescendo, and the announcers started yelling when one guy went down, and the other stood over him, hitting him in the headlong after it was clear the guy had gone unconscious.

You deliver, like, everything or just burritos?”

I mean, burritos, quesadillas, nachos…”

He smiled at her. He was kinda cute, but she wasn’t sure if this was flirting or if he’d just been laid up with no human interaction for too long.

No, I mean, like, do you deliver other things besides food?”

Oh. No. Not yet. Nobody asked me to. A buck is a buck though, right?”

Right. Exactly. Yeah.” Their polite laughs died down into an awkward silence. “I’m Miller, by the way.” He waved, too far away to shake hands. Lucy smiled politely. He was cute enough, but she was in no mood for a pick-up.


He shifted on the couch, trying to adjust his body to sit up straighter. “You wanna do me a favor and deliver something for me, Lucy?”

She was caught off guard. Her agreement with Elgin was loose. She wasn’t a regular employee. He paid her under the table, so he didn’t have much say whether she did other work on nights when she drove for him.

Like what?”

Just a thing I can’t get out of the house to drop off. You’d be doing me a favor.”

She pointed a thumb over her shoulder and took a step back toward the door. “I don’t know…”

I’ll give you fifty bucks.”

Her feet stopped moving. On TV, the ref stopped the fight, and the crowd went wild.

It was drugs. Had to be drugs. What else could it be? Some dude was willing to pay fifty bucks cash for a delivery at nine o’clock at night? Yeah, drugs.

What kind of drugs Lucy didn’t know and didn’t want to know.

Miller had handed her a backpack. It was about half full, not too heavy. It had been duct-taped into a solid brick, only the shoulder straps left out for easy carrying. There was no peeking at the package, not that Lucy would have.

She got back to her Tercel and set the backpack on the passenger seat, contemplated strapping it into the seatbelt, but thought that seemed crazy. She contemplated a few crazy things. Stuff like: take off and keep going. Fuck this town. Take her fifty bucks, check into a motel, open that bag, and see what she was dealing with. Then go sell it and start over somewhere new.

But she knew nothing about selling drugs. Had no idea what to charge. And what if it was just pot? That wouldn’t be worth much. The guy with the two broken legs didn’t seem like a big-time pusher, so whatever he’d entrusted a total stranger with couldn’t possibly be that valuable.

She’d make the delivery and keep the fifty as the best tip she’d ever gotten. It was a good night.

Lucy entered the address in her phone, and the calm female voice told her it would take a half-hour to get there. She could see why the guy couldn’t just walk it there on crutches. Elgin would be pissed if she didn’t come back tonight, but he closed at ten and screw him anyway. It took her two full nights of driving to make fifty bucks from Elgin.

She made it there in twenty-five minutes. The girl on the GPS wasn’t even impressed.

Lucy hoisted the backpack and knocked on the door to the house. It was single-level stucco Spanish style with dead grass in the yard and a waist-high chain-link fence around the property that did nothing to keep people out. She saw the house had a Ring doorbell and extra cameras under the porch overhang and at each corner of the roof. The neighborhood wasn’t the best, and this guy wasn’t taking any chances. Then again, he was most likely a drug dealer, so it was kinda his fault the block was not so safe.

A woman answered the door. She kept it open only a crack so Lucy could see one eye and one arm on the woman. That one eye was painted thick with eyeliner. Detailed tattoos ran down her arm and up over her shoulder, which Lucy could see under the straps of the woman’s tank top.

She waited for Lucy to speak.

I have a delivery.” She held up the backpack.

The woman’s painted-on brows arched in confusion.

I don’t know you.”

Miller sent me.”

The woman gave her a stare as sharp as a dagger. “Hang on.”

The door closed. Lucy waited, thought about dropping the bag and going home. The door pulled open wider now. The woman was there – black tank, black skirt, muscles moving under all those tattoos. She waved Lucy inside.

The place was lit like a nightclub. Black lights, tiny twinkle lights hanging off the edges of framed movie posters for Scarface, Heat, Texas Chainsaw 3-D. Heavy beats pumped from some speakers she couldn’t see in the dim light.

She tried to hold out the package to the woman. “I’m just gonna drop this and go.”

Moses wants to see you.”

Lucy had no idea who Moses was outside of the Bible but got the sense it didn’t matter because if he had summoned her, she was going. If this woman had anything to say about it. When she turned to lead the way into the back of the house, Lucy saw a pistol tucked in the back waist of her skirt.

She followed, wondering if fifty bucks was enough for this shit.

The master bedroom of the house had been turned into some sort of office/bachelor pad/BDSM dungeon. Sitting up on a king-size bed layered in silk sheets was a man who Lucy could barely make out at first; the lights were so dim, and the air was so thick with pot smoke.

A large aquarium tank sat on a black lacquered dresser and held an iguana that barely fit the tank. It sat perfectly still eyeing Lucy. When her eyes adjusted a little, she noticed Moses properly. He wore gold rings on each finger, even the thumbs. His robe was open down to his sternum, and shapes of unidentifiable tattoos peered out from under the purple silk.

So you workin’ for Miller, huh?”

His voice was smooth and all street. Laid-back like a man who knew he was in charge here. A low murmur of dub reggae played as a soundtrack to the smoke.

No, no,” Lucy said. “He just paid me to drop this off.” She held out the package, wishing like hell someone would take the thing away from her so she could leave.

Moses snapped his fingers once and beckoned the package forward. The woman from the front door finally took it from Lucy and handed it over. Lucy felt the relief in her arm muscles and in her chest as she exhaled. She tried not to breathe in too deep to avoid a contact high.

Moses didn’t open the package but hefting its weight a few times before tossing it to the end of the bed, where the tattooed woman scooped it up again and brought it to a desk in the corner. She pulled a knife from her pocket, thumbed it open and went about opening the package.

So you workin’ for Miller, but you don’t work for him?” Moses said to Lucy.

I don’t work for him. I brought him a burrito, and he paid me to bring you this.” She watched as the woman cut layers of tape away. “Can I go now?”

So you know where’s he’s at?”


Moses nodded slowly.

I guess so.”

How’s he lookin’?”

I don’t know. Okay, I guess.”

You guess?”

Yeah, for a guy with two broken legs.”

Moses smiled. Both of his top canine teeth were capped in gold. “That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout.”

So I’m gonna go now,” Lucy said and turned.

It’s light,” the tattooed woman said. Lucy froze.

Shit, I knew that when I held it,” Moses said.

What’re you gonna do?” she asked.

Moses looked down at his hands and adjusted his rings. “I’m gonna finish what I started.”

Lucy took one step for the door.

Hold up.”

Lucy found herself in a moment where she had to decide whether to run or not. She’d seen the gun on the tattooed woman. Moses surely had more around here somewhere. Running was not an option. And no, this was not worth fifty bucks.

You say you know where he’s at?” Moses asked.

Yeah. I’ll give you the address.” She fumbled for her phone.

Moses snapped his fingers again. “Nah. You show me.”

Moses had stood and stripped off his robe down to silk boxer shorts. He pulled on a pair of Adidas trainer pants and a loose t-shirt. Lucy learned the tattooed woman’s name was Diamond. She learned this when Moses made Diamond take Lucy’s wallet and ID to hold.

You don’t need to do that,” Lucy said. “I’ll take you to Miller. I don’t even know the guy.”

And I don’t know you, so I don’t know who you know. And I don’t know what you look like when you lie to me. So I get insurance.”

Diamond dropped the wallet into the iguana tank. The lizard ignored it.

I’m just a delivery girl.”

So deliver me to him,” Moses said. He reached into the top drawer of the dresser and took out the biggest gun Lucy had ever seen. It was chrome plated and looked heavy, and the rings on his fingers made clicking noises when he moved it in his hand. Moses smiled at the gun and studied his reflection in the chrome.

Let’s roll.”

He stepped out into the hall. Lucy looked over her shoulder at her wallet, her ID, her one credit card, sitting in the bottom of that tank like it was a fake rock in the faux southwestern theme. She caught Diamond’s eye.

You better go,” she said. “Moses don’t like to wait.”

Lucy thought she saw some fear there. This wasn’t a devoted sycophant. Diamond might have started out the same as Lucy but never got away.

Is he gonna kill me?” Lucy asked.

Not unless you give him a reason.”

Lucy followed out the door.

Moses looked disgusted that he had to ride in a car as beat up and old as Lucy’s. He also held the air of someone who thought he deserved to be driven around anywhere he wanted to go.

Lucy kept a tight grip on the steering wheel and her eyes forward. The level voice of the GPS called out turns as it re-traced her route back to Miller’s apartment.

Moses took a joint from his pocket and lit it with a lighter shaped like a dragon who spit fire. Most of the smoke went out the open window, but Lucy knew her car would smell like pot for weeks. Or maybe the burritos would cover the smell quickly. If Elgin still had a job for her, that is.

Man owes me money, is what it is,” Moses said.

I didn’t ask.”

Yeah, but you oughta.”

Lucy ignored him and turned left when the GPS told her to.

You don’t like to know why you’re goin’ someplace when you go?” Moses asked.

I’m usually going someplace because someone ordered Mexican food and was too lazy or too stoned to pick it up themselves.”

Moses laughed a dry, wheezing sound. He took another drag.

He was late with what he owes me,” he went on. “That’s how his legs got the way they is. Now he makes a, whatcha call it – an olive leaf?”

An olive branch.”

Yeah, that. But he only pay me some. That shit don’t fly with me.”

So now you’re going to go try to collect money you know he doesn’t have? How does that work?”

You seen his legs, right?”

You gonna break them again?”

He got arms, don’t he?”

Lucy decided she preferred her policy of keeping quiet with Moses. Street lamps passed shadows and bars of light over the car. Outside, almost every place they passed was closed. It was late enough now that the city had turned over to the night shift. A whole different population came out at night. Lucy was usually one of them, but tonight the streets felt more dangerous. Maybe she would try to become a morning person.

Not a bad plan,” Moses said. “Use a delivery girl for drop-offs and shit.”

Not me.”

Why not you? I can pay you more than some taco joint.”

I don’t doubt that, but I get pulled over with a taco, and I don’t go to jail. I’m late delivering a burrito, and I don’t get shot.”

Man, what do you think my business is?”

I don’t know for sure, but I don’t want to know.”

You think I keep customers if I go around shooting everyone?”

Lucy squeezed the wheel tighter. “Okay, maybe I watch too much TV, but I still don’t want any part of delivering for you.” She worried she sounded too harsh, so she added, “No offense.”

What’s your name again?”


He puffed and exhaled. “You all right, Lucy. Yeah, you work for me now.”

She didn’t want to argue. Not right then. Miller’s apartment was up ahead, and she figured Moses would forget all about her once he got into it with Miller. She pulled to the curb.

That’s it up there. Apartment eight.” She pointed to the second floor.

Moses tossed the joint out the window and let the final lung of smoke push out of his mouth. “Okay, let’s go.”

I’m just dropping you off. I don’t need to go with you.”

Moses had one foot out the door. “You think he’s gonna answer the door if he hears it’s me?”

Hey, come on. This is far enough. I don’t have anything to do with this shit, okay? I brought you here. That’s it. That’s all.”

Lucy.” Moses smiled wide enough to show his gold caps. “What’d I say? You work for me now.” He lifted the chrome-plated gun, and it filled the space between them. He didn’t point it directly at her, just let it hang there.

Fifty lousy bucks. She should have said no.

Okay, fine. I get you to the door, and that’s it though.”

Her shaky voice behind the defiant words made him laugh. “Come on, Lucy.”

His bloodshot eyes checked every shadow and doorway as they approached. The building was quiet now. The TVs off for the night. Most people had real jobs in the morning, not whatever freelance work she was doing now for Moses. Why, damn it, why hadn’t those muggers shot her?

She stopped in front of apartment eight. Miller’s TV was still on. He had nowhere to be in the morning, she guessed.

What am I supposed to say? He already got his burrito.”

Just say something.”

Moses leaned in and tapped the barrel of the gun against the door three times. The TV went quiet, and there was a pause. Then Miller called out, “Who is it?”

Um, its Lucy. From before. With the burrito.”

Delivery girl?”

Yeah. It’s me.”

She could hear him stand and the clunk of his casts on the floor as he made his way to the door. Moses stepped aside so he wouldn’t appear in the peephole view. Lucy waved when she saw the light wink out in the tiny lens.

The deadbolt turned and she felt a sickening feeling that she’d just killed a man. Moses wasn’t here to break his arms. He’d never once put the gun away. Moses was here to kill Miller.

When the door pulled open, Miller had a smile on his face. “Hey there. I was hoping I’d see you again.”

Lucy made a decision she hoped she wouldn’t regret. She also knew that if it did get her killed, at least this would be over. Fifty bucks wasn’t going to solve her problems. Maybe she could sacrifice herself to save someone else. Trade her worthless life for his.

Miller, look out, he’s here to kill you.”

Before the smile could droop from Miller’s face, Moses had pushed off the wall and swung himself into the doorway. He kicked high and got Miller in the gut, knocking him back into the apartment. Moses shouldered Lucy out of the way as he pushed in, raising the gun as he charged forward.

Lucy knew she could run. She could get away from Moses before he had a chance to deal with her. She could get away and not have to see Miller’s head get blown off. But the only value her life had right then was in saving someone else’s. She followed them inside and shut the door behind her.

Moses stood over Miller, who was still trying to catch his breath from the kick. Moses pushed the huge gun into the prone man’s face.

You steal money from me, little fuck? You try to pay me back with pennies when you owe me dollars? Huh, little fuck?”

Lucy searched the room for a weapon, trying to keep to Moses’s back so he wouldn’t see her and turn his attention, and his gun, on her. She wasn’t sure what to expect – a gun rack on the wall? A knife block in the kitchen of someone who clearly never cooked his own meals?

Miller made whiny, pleading noises that sometimes morphed into words. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…I’m broke, man…I just…”

Moses kept berating him, threatening with the gun. He put a foot on one of the casts and Miller bit down hard on a scream of pain.

Lucy had moved to the far side of the couch. The flat-screen TV was paused on a reality show with big-breasted girls in bikinis on some tropical beach. Beneath the TV was another backpack like the one she had delivered. Same size, same wrapping.

Moses lifted Miller by his dirty t-shirt and set him on the couch. The shirt ripped at the collar. Miller was crying now.

You had two chances now,” Moses said.

I get three. Everyone gets three. Three strikes, man. That’s how it works.”

Moses punched the gun forward and hit Miller in the mouth with the barrel, cracking his front teeth.

Shut up.”

Lucy spoke in a high, excited tone. “I have it. I have the money.”

Moses and Miller both turned at the sound of her voice and saw her standing as a stark counterpoint to the screen next to her. Lucy in her oversized black hoodie and flat, black hair and the blondes frozen in mid-jiggle, their tan skin only barely covered by triangles of fabric. But she had something they didn’t have – a backpack full of cash.

She held it out in front of her proudly. She smiled, thinking she had just saved a life.

Moses smiled back at her, his gold caps catching a glint of light. “Lucy, my girl. I told you you work for me now.”

Lucy saw Miller move, his hand go to his cast. Where it met his thigh there was a gap. His hand pushed into the space there and came back with a small .38 revolver.

She had another choice, another potential life to save. She didn’t have time, though. Nor did she need to. Moses saw her face fall, and he knew he’d taken his eyes off Miller. He turned back, and at the same instant the two men’s eyes met again, Miller fired.

Moses pulled his own trigger a half-second later.

Moses was gutshot. Miller had been headshot. In a dying spasm, Miller’s hand contracted, and he fired another shot into Moses. Miller fell back onto the couch, half his head gone. Moses crumpled and folded in on himself, falling knees first to the floor and then toppling over.

Lucy stood in the echo of the shots for a second and then let the backpack drop to her side. People would be here soon. Neighbors, the cops. She made her next decision very quickly. Lucy bolted for the door and took the bag with her.

She knew the smart thing was to drop the bag and run. The running she could handle, but the bag was welded to her hand. Inside was everything she needed to start over. Everything except her IDs and wallet. Things the owners of this money could use to easily find her. Things they could use to ruin her life, to impersonate her, to do any number of things she hadn’t even thought about.

But hadn’t the owner of the money just died in front of her?

There was always someone else. Someone higher up. Someone with a bigger gun, though with Moses she doubted that was possible.

Lucy listened for sirens as she made her way back toward Moses’s place. By memory this time, no GPS lady required. She drove with one hand, the other still on the bag. She had no idea how much was inside, only that it amounted to several times her entire net worth at the moment.

But it would do her no good if they had her entire identity.

As she drove, she loosened her grip. The money wasn’t hers. It was soaked in blood. It could only bring trouble. More trouble than she’d already bought with it that night.

No matter what, she still got to keep the fifty bucks.

Lucy eased the car to a stop in front of Moses’s house. The steady red dot of the security camera on the porch watched her. She sat in the car for a while, thinking what she might say or do. Would Diamond give her ID back just for the asking? Would more people have shown up? Bigger, scarier people than Moses?

She longed for the misplaced confidence of the muggers from earlier in the night. But it wasn’t her.

Lucy got out, the bag still fused to her hand and walked to the front door. Diamond opened it before Lucy could knock.

What happened?”

Clearly, she didn’t expect to see Lucy and not Moses.

Shit got complicated.”

Diamond squinted over Lucy’s shoulder, trying to see if Moses was in the car.

Can I get my wallet back?” Lucy asked and held out the backpack.

Is he dead?”

Lucy nodded. Diamond looked like she might be sad for a second, but it faded. If anything, Lucy could see a weight lifted off her shoulders.


Lucy nodded again.

Diamond smiled. “That little fucker.” Diamond pulled the door open wide. “C’mon in.”

Look,” Lucy said. “All I want is my wallet and to get the hell out of here.” She set the backpack down on the floor.

It’s right where you left it.”

Not where I left it, where you put it, she thought. Lucy started down the hall. Diamond put a hand on her arm and stopped her. “He’s really dead?”

Yeah. Both did it to each other.”

Wow. And you saw it?”

I don’t think I’ll be able to un-see it.”

Diamond let her go, and Lucy walked back to the bedroom. She could see her wallet in the terrarium, and it looked like the iguana hadn’t moved a muscle. Lucy stepped close and felt the heat from the lamp behind the glass. She pushed open the vent at the top and the iguana lifted its head to see what the disturbance was. Lucy hesitated, but after the night she’d had, a bite from a lizard would be the best thing to happen to her that night.

She dipped her hand in an inch at a time until her fingertips could touch the wallet. She pinched it between her index and middle finger and lifted. The iguana watched her, unblinking.

Diamond had the bag open on the table in front of the couch. Stacks of cash were rubber-banded together.

Which one you want?”

Lucy crinkled her eyebrows at her. “Which one?”

I’m not sure how much is in either one. I didn’t get a chance to count it exactly. If this is everything between the two, it’s about fifty grand.”

You want me to take one?”

Shit, girl, you earned it. And I’m not greedy.” She went back to the stacks in front of her.

Looks like you’ve got that one handled.”

Other one’s back there.” She waved a hand vaguely back toward the bedroom. Lucy went back there, lifted the open pack, and zippered it shut, sealing the money inside. It made sense for her to keep this one. It was her original delivery.

Thanks,” she said as she passed by Diamond on her way to the door.

There’s ten times that hidden around here. Consider it a tip. Girl, you done me a favor like you don’t even know.”

I could say the same to you.”

Diamond had a smile on her face now as she licked her finger and kept counting bills. Lucy left and shut the door tight behind her, throwing a look over her shoulder to the security camera.

First stop, a gas station. Fill up and then see how far it would take her. Leave everything else behind. Wherever she ended up would be her new home. She could get a new job doing deliveries. Wasn’t such a bad job after all. At least the tips were nice.

Eric Beetner has been called “The 21st Century’s answer to Jim Thompson” (LitReactor) He has written more than 20 novels including All The Way Down, Rumrunners, and The Devil Doesn’t Want Me. His award-winning short stories appear in over three dozen anthologies. He co-hosts the podcast Writer Types and the Noir at the Bar reading series. For more visit ericbeetner.com

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Family Reunion, fiction by Tom Barlow

reprinted from Odds of Survival

Dave Bradley hadn't been this close to losing his sobriety since his last high school reunion three months earlier, where he was drawn to the small cadre of drunks with whom he had first discovered his thirst. But, predictably, his father Johnny had made no move to declutter his house before he passed, leaving Dave to clean out his crap, including a liquor cabinet full of top-end alcohol. His sponsor had volunteered to help him pour it all down the drain, but Dave had laughed him off, confident of his ability to withstand temptation. Now he wished he hadn't. Retirement and the loneliness that accompanied it created a vacuum that pulled him toward his old torment.

Putting off dealing with the liquor, he was working his way down the drawers of an old dresser now in the basement, one that served Johnny as a catch-all. In the bottom drawer he found a rubber-banded set of photos, all of Johnny in his military garb in Korea, hands on the shoulders of two other soldiers, squatting for a card game on the ground, standing on the runway in front of an F-80 Shooting Star. He wished, not for the first time since his father passed, that he'd asked him more about his war experience. Perhaps he'd missed an opportunity to see the son of a bitch as a hero.

To his surprise, there was also an aged envelope with "David" written on it. Inside, he found two more photos. But they were not war scenes.

One of the old black and white snapshots showed his father in front of an apartment building Dave had never seen before, holding hands with a woman and a small child. The woman appeared Latino, short with a dark complexion, a cascade of black hair, deep-set dark eyes, bold chin, and prominent breasts. She looked much younger than his father. 

The child, who appeared to be no more than four, was a thin girl with a star-shaped strawberry birthmark on the side of her throat. The broad grin she wore suggested she was having a marvelous time posing for the photographer.

In the other photo, a large, gnarly oak formed the background for a country graveyard, in which a freshly disturbed patch of earth lay before a new headstone for a Harold Reimer. A shovel stood upright in the dirt. There was no person in the shot, and it must have been taken shortly after dawn as dew hovered above the cornfield in the distance.  

Unable to account for the photos, Dave called his Aunt Grace, his last remaining relative. She told him to bring the photos over, and they'd talk. 


His aunt had an apartment in a retirement village on the outskirts of Topeka. The place always gave Dave the creeps, never knowing what terminal illness might be on display that day. Since he had witnessed Johnny fight the Alzheimer's that ran in his family, he had come to dread his visits as glimpses of his future. However, a steady drizzle meant there were no wheelchair-bound elderly smoking in the flower garden around which the units were arranged. 

He was struck again by the odor that permeated his aunt's rooms, something medicinal tinged with bleach and lilac. His aunt's skin had taken on the same smell, which he inhaled as she kissed her on the cheek.

She had made iced tea, which she knew he drank by the gallon when he was on the wagon. When they were settled on the couch, she said, "Now, let's see those pictures."  

He took the pair out of his shirt pocket and handed them over. "I have no idea who these people are."

She slid her glasses down her nose before peering closely at the one on top. "Oh, my." She placed it on the arm of her chair and looked at the second, which he too had puzzled over. "Who is Harold Reimer?"

"I have no idea." 

She went back to the first shot, her lips a grim line. "Your mother asked me to never tell you about these people. Do you still want to know?"

"I'm 61," Dave said. "I think I can handle about anything."

"Except the booze, right? Anyway, here goes. Your father was working for the railroad back then."

"I thought the pictures were older."

"No, it would have to have been around 1957 or so. He always worked the same trains, from here to Columbus over in Ohio and back. He had layovers on both ends, with time to kill, so he started messing around with this Mexican girl on the Columbus end. She was the housekeeper at the section house where the railroad workers slept. When she got pregnant, he went ahead and married her, although he already had a family back here. Your father was a fool in so many ways."

Dave took a large gulp of his tea, shocked. His father had always been the strictest parent, tolerating no misbehavior, and had nothing but disdain for people of color. "Did Mom know?"

Grace took his hand in hers. "She's the one told me. He used another name, but she found out anyway; the railroad guys had no secrets from one another, and eventually, one of the other wives whose husband had confided in her squealed on him."

"What happened then?"

"Your mom threatened to divorce him and tell the authorities about his bigamy. What convinced him to leave this woman, though, was when Maggie told him she was going to tell his friends he had married a Mexican. There weren't many at the VFW hall that would let him live that down back in those days."

"So he divorced the Mexican?"

"I think he just abandoned her. He bid on a new route and never went back to Columbus. And the woman would have known about his temper, so I'm guessing she never pursued him. Maybe she even went back to Mexico. At least, your mom and dad never heard from her."

"So I have a sister out there somewhere?" As an only child, Dave had longed for a sibling right up to the day his mother told him she'd have another child when hell froze over.

"Half-sister. Maybe. Johnny never acknowledged the kid, so she might have a different father. Now don't go looking for her on the off-chance you're related. I know you, and I know how lonely you've been since your dad passed. Having no family is a burden, for sure, but that doesn't mean you have to embrace Johnny's catting about."


But Dave was too excited to follow his aunt's advice. He had to rein in his imaginings of what having a sister might mean, the camaraderie, the love, mostly based on what he'd seen in television shows. He could even have nieces and nephews by her. And Johnny must have wanted him to make the connection after his death. Why else leave the photos with his name on it?

That was the central question. Johnny had been a complex character, mercurial when he was drinking, and imperious when sober, so Dave was never quite clear how he felt about his father. When Johnny passed there was relief in his grief, nothing like the despair he'd felt when his mother Maggie died. Was it repentance that caused Johnny to leave the photos for him to find, or simply the tidying up of unfinished business?

Still of two minds, he went back to work sorting through his father's things, but now with a purpose. In an old army locker among the lapsed insurance policies, diplomas from grade school, high school and catechism, and appraisals for his mother's jewelry that Johnny sold shortly after her death, Dave found an Ohio driver's license issued to a John Green. The license was from 1955, before any states started adding photos, but the height and weight were the same as his father's, and Green had not needed glasses to drive. Neither had Johnny.

The license listed an address on Bryden Road in Columbus. He pulled up Google Earth and checked out the address. It was now a vacant lot.


Since his retirement a year earlier, Dave, an introvert with unlimited free time, had spent many a drunken hour poking around on the internet until he was proficient. He used it to check the marriage license issues in the archives of the Columbus Dispatch. After pouring through month after month, he found a John Green marrying Paula Garciaparra on April 2nd, 1955. 

Dave was born only 10 days later. 

Further investigation revealed that a daughter, Carole Green, was born to the couple six months later. He spent a couple of bucks on a personal-search internet site which told him there were no Carole Greens in Columbus but delivered the addresses and phone numbers of three C. Greens. As he sat there staring at the phone, trying to screw up the courage to cold-call each to ask the question, he felt that tickle in the back of his throat that, from experience, he knew only vodka would quench. However, the thought of finding new family helped fight off the urge. 

He took a deep breath and picked up the phone. The first two were duds; one Carl Green, one Celeste Green. Neither ever heard of a John or Carole Green or Carole Garciaparra, nor was interested in discussing it further. The third landline had been disconnected, which didn't surprise him; many people were going cellular. Having nothing better to do, Dave decided to drive the twelve hours from Topeka to Columbus and knock on the door of the last Green. 

Knowing that a change in routine presented new temptations to his sobriety, though, he copied down the phone number of the local AA group in case he needed to find a meeting.


 Columbus was a bigger town than he expected; he had thought it was mostly Ohio State University surrounded by supporting housing. The address for the last C. Green was in the suburb of Westerville. He waited until early evening, when most people would be home from work, before driving there. The November weather was chilly, but he had brought only a jean jacket and shivered as he walked up the driveway of the bungalow. The house was in need of paint, with sagging gutters and the original leaky aluminum windows. There was little landscaping to disguise its shortcomings. 

 He cleared his throat a couple of times and wiped his damp palms against his jeans before he rang the doorbell. When no one came to the door, he was about to knock when the porch light came on, although it was not yet dark. A beat later, the door opened to the extent allowed by the chain, and a pair of lips appeared in the crack. 

"What do you want?" The voice was raspy.

"My name is Dave Bradley. I'm looking for a lady who was born Carole Garciaparra, might have grown up as Carole Green. Would you know her?"

"What do you want with her? You a bill collector?"

Dave saw his mistake. "No, nothing like that. I think Carole might be my sister."

A pause. "What makes you think she would be interested in meeting you?"

He took some hope from her reply. "Her father died a month ago. I thought she might want to know." 

"That's the best news I've heard all day." When she shut the door Dave thought he'd been dismissed, but she was merely pulling the chain. The door opened, revealing a woman he guessed to be about his age, thin but sinewy, with rampant hair the color of a dirty mop. There was a hint of Johnny in her face, thin with a wedge-shaped nose and a narrow cleft chin, but her complexion was definitely not Irish. She was wearing a mock turtleneck, above which he could see the last bit of her birthmark. 

She appraised him with a scowl. "Yeah, you look a little like the bastard." She nodded for him to come in. He followed her into the living room, which looked much like his in that no one had spent much time cleaning recently. The smell of cigarettes reminded him all too strongly of the bar where he had spent many an unhappy hour. 

She nodded toward a chair and he took a seat. She sat on the couch, crossed her arms. "So you're the asshole's boy?"

"You mean Johnny? You knew him as John Green."

"I barely knew him at all. All I know is he and my mom ran away when I was four. Is she still alive? Not that I care."

"Your mom? Paula Garciaparra?"

"Yeah. You look a little like her too, you know." She circled her face with a pointed finger.

"I'm afraid there's a misunderstanding. Paula wasn't my mother. I never met the woman."

A look of confusion came over her face. "I don't understand."

"My mom was Maggie Boyd."

Carole slipped down onto the couch. "Let me get this straight. Your dad is Johnny Green, but you had a different mother? When were you born?"


"I was born in 1955. So the asshole was seeing your mom on the side?"

"They'd been married for six years by the time I was born. In Topeka. And stayed married until she died three years ago."

"Holy shit. So what happened to my mother?" Carole cupped her hands and ran them down her face. "They both disappeared on the same day, July 5th, 1959, about a week after my fourth birthday. I always assumed they ran away because of me. I was a pain in the ass as a child, and slow, and too dark to pass as Anglo. I figured my dad was embarrassed by me."

"I suppose you've looked for her."

"Children's Services looked for a while after they abandoned me but never found them. The first Army check I got, I hired a skip tracer, but he never even got a hint of a lead about where she went."

Dave's mind went immediately to the last photo in his pocket. 

"Jesus," she said. "I need a beer. You want one?"

He needed six but didn't want one. But Dave had spent decades convinced that a man who wouldn't drink with him was not to be trusted. And he so wanted her trust.

She noted his hesitancy and said, "What? You too good to drink with me?" 

He could always start over on his sobriety again tomorrow. "Not at all. I'll join you."

Carole returned from the kitchen with a pair of cold Coors, his favorite. He forced himself to sip and could have cried as the cold liquid coursed down his throat. So good. 

"So you were in the army?" he said, looking to distract himself from his shame.

Carole polished off half her bottle in one long pull, then belched. "I did my twenty years training marksmen. You?"

She was wearing an oversize flannel shirt, and he wondered if it concealed a pistol. "Never served."

"Lucky you. Still, I got to retire young, so that's something."

"Marksmen, that's surprising. You must have been one of the first women in that job." His bottle was half empty already.

"I was driven. Once I got away from the houses I grew up in, I couldn't face the idea of going back."

"So you were adopted? After your parents left?"

She laughed bitterly. "I wish. It was all foster homes. No one wanted a beaner kid. So I ended up as a toy for foster parents’ real sons. You?" 

Dave sipped his beer, angry that he was treasuring each swallow. "I can't complain. I was an only child, and my mom believed in education. I got a degree in history and taught at the local high school." Until he was encouraged to take a buyout and ended up sorting packages at UPS.

"Are you married? Kids?"

"No. Almost got married once." If only he hadn't shown up for the ceremony crocked.

She reached into her back pocket and produced a pack of Lucky Strikes and a lighter, tapped one out of the pack, and lit it. "I could have married a soldier, but we would have ended up killing one another."

"Tell me about your mother." He held out two fingers, held apart, and she handed him the pack and her lighter. He pulled out a cigarette, remembering the last time he'd smoked one in 2001. Johnny had smoked right up to the day he forgot that he did. 

He lit it, took a drag, and it was as if he'd never quit that too. He was going to have quite the tale to tell at his next meeting. 

"Mom? Not much to say," Carole said. "I barely remember her, except that she tried to protect me from your father, who was always smacking me if I didn't behave."

"That was Johnny." He was slightly light-headed from the beer and smoke. He pulled the graveyard picture out of his pocket. "You have any idea who this is?"

She took it between her ring and little fingers so that her cigarette was undisturbed and held it near enough her face that he suspected she needed glasses to read. "What's this?"

He explained how he found her, the photos. "That one, I can't account for."

"I can read the headstones. Harold Reimer died June 11th, 1959.  A month before Mom disappeared. You check findagrave.com?"

"What's that?" he said.

"A registry of graves and locations. I learned to find missing persons while looking for my mother. Now I do some skip tracing for others, part-time. Enough to keep me in cigarette money.  Wait here."

She placed the photo on the arm of the couch, disappeared down the hallway, and returned a moment later with a laptop. He watched, longing for another beer, as she did the search. "Here he is," she said a minute later. "Union Cemetery in Plain City. That's about ten miles from here." She flipped the photo back to him. "You thinking what I'm thinking?"

His thought was too dark to express. He avoided her gaze.

When he did not respond, she said, "I'm wondering if maybe he killed my mom and buried her in a newly dug grave. The dates work. You think the bastard was capable of murder?"

He remembered all too clearly the time their dog Spot, who had lived chained in the backyard, had barked once too often while Johnny attempted to sleep after working a night shift. He'd heard the shot from his bedroom. 

"I'm afraid so," he said. "You got another beer?"

Dave quickly came to conclude his sister shared the family taste for alcohol. She not only had one, she had a fresh case, and they spent the rest of the evening working through it, sharing stories of their childhoods, his mundane, hers dark. At ten p.m. they ordered a pizza, but when it came neither had an appetite. The photo lay face up on the coffee table and he noticed her eyes returning to it as often as his own. Finally, around one in the morning, when they had run out of beer and were thoroughly drunk, he said, "We're never going to know if we don't."

"What do you mean?"

He knew she knew what he meant, but somebody had to speak the words. "Dig up the grave."

"And why would we do that?"

"That's one way to hide a body, right? Find a grave that's just been filled and dig it partly out, dump in your body, and refill it? Who's going to know?"

"Jesus, you're ghoulish."

"So was Johnny. You got a shovel?"


Dave drove, pleased to find he still had the ability to stay in his lane while shit-faced. They picked up a twelve-pack of beer at a drive-thru on the way. The night was cold but not bitter, and the alcohol and cigarettes provided an inner warmth that he'd almost forgotten. 

They parked his car on a side street and approached the cemetery on foot. Johnny understandably had chosen a grave as far away from the street and its lights as possible, and there were no nearby houses to disturb then. He had expected the air in a graveyard would have some quality that reflected the setting, but it was as clean and crisp as any, suggesting winter was imminent.

"We going to take up the turf, try to replace it?" Carole said.

"That's the plan."  He laid out the plastic tarp he'd found in Carole's garage before grabbing the shovel and beginning to peel up the grass. "She shouldn't be too deep; Johnny was always lazy."

The beer didn't help the work, as he quickly broke into a sweat that the chill November air turned into shivers. It took him about 30 minutes to reach knee depth in a hole about wide and long enough for a body. Carole took the shovel from him and pulled him out of the hole.

"It's my mother we're looking for," she said, taking off her jacket. "Let me finish." 

He opened another beer as he watched her go to work. Her arms, while thin, were muscular, and she shoveled as though she'd made a career of it. 

The only sounds were the rasp of the shovel and the rain of soil landing on the tarp. His stupor was broken only by fantasies about a future in which he and Carole could function like brother and sister, each having the other's back. The alcohol thing was going to be a problem, though. He'd been counseled against socializing with a drunk, and he'd lost many friends over the years when they went sober. Maybe they could dry out together.

Carole stopped once for a beer and a smoke. Since she massed maybe half of what he did and had matched him drink for drink, he presumed she was at least as smashed as he was. He was suddenly struck with the pathos of what they were doing and began to laugh. 

His sister scowled. "What's so funny?"

He regained control with difficulty. "This is as close to a family reunion as I've ever had."

"One brother and he turns out to be a comedian," she said and jumped back into the hole. 

It only took another 15 minutes before, at a depth of three feet, the shovel bit into something that crunched. Carole knelt in the dirt, and with her gloved hands, began to pull the clay soil aside, revealing the mouth of a skull. Dave shone the flashlight onto it, and both upper front teeth gleamed with gold. 

Carole sat back. "Oh, shit. Mom had those teeth. She always joked they were her nest egg."

He squatted next to her, reached out to place his hand on her shoulder. "I'm so sorry." He began to cry as though it were his loss too. He always was a weepy drunk.

She handed him the shovel and pulled herself out of the grave. She was crying too as she picked her jacket up from the ground. He assumed she was going to put it on, was waiting to hug her after she did, but instead, she pulled a pistol out of her pocket and leveled it at him. 

"What?" he said, raising the shovel blade to his chest. "You can't kill me. I'm your brother."

"Like hell you are." Her eyes were wide, fierce. "I look at you, all I see is Johnny. It's too late to make him pay for what he's done, but I can at least make sure there's no trace of him left in this world." He could tell she was about to shoot, and with a quick jerk, he raised the shovel to shield his face. 

The bullet bounced off the shovel with a loud peal, knocking the blade into his face. He could feel the snap as his nose broke, and he doubled over in pain.

Through his anguish, though, he heard Carole collapse at his feet. He looked down to find her lying face-up, trembling uncontrollably, and he could see where the reflected bullet had entered her head through her left eye. One hand to his bleeding nose, he kicked the gun away and searched her pockets for her cell phone to call for help, but by the time he found it, she had stopped breathing. 

He knelt between her and the skeleton for a long time, a handkerchief to his face. There seemed to be no reaction to the shot from the houses closest to the graveyard, so he figured he had time to bury Carole with her mother and getaway. He wasn't sure the cops would believe his story, the words of a drunk. 

But there was that twelve-pack of beer to finish first, so he sat next to his sister working on it and staring at her body. He held her pistol in his hand, wondering if he shouldn't just join her. 

He tried to imagine what his father must have felt that night. He could only think of what he would not have felt. Compassion. Regret. Love. None of these had been in Johnny's vocabulary.

When he finally heard the caretaker arrive at his office shortly after dawn, he put down the pistol, took his sister's hand, and waited to be discovered. 

His thirst was worse than ever, and it was just as certain as a bullet.

Tom Barlow is an Ohio author of short stories, novels and poetry. Many of his best noir short stories have been collected in Odds of Survival and his crime novel Blood of the Poppy, is available on Amazon. He enjoys visiting the dark in his writings but is grateful he doesn't live there. Learn more at tombarlowauthor.com

Monday, October 4, 2021

Near MInt, fiction by James Hadley Griffin


Artist: Street Drugs
Album: Dead Snitches
Format: 12-inch, Limited Edition, Numbered, Black vinyl, Promotional Only
Year: 1985
Label: Plume Records
Genre: Punk/Hardcore Punk
Notes: Only 50 copies printed. 49 accounted for, in the hands of collectors or the original band members. Record Collector magazine named this the number-two rarest record in punk.

FROM A REVIEW OF DEAD SNITCHES. Published in the Benson Sentinel. By Derek Olson, 19 yrs. old.

Mark it in your calendars, people. Music was finally invented in 1985. Its creators? A band called Street Drugs. The album? “Dead Snitches.” Twenty-six minutes of identity-altering, tectonic mayhem designed to make you want to set your school on fire, kiss the girl of your dreams, and pick up a guitar and start your own band. The songs are loud, fast, smart and catchy as the flu.

FROM “THE CASE OF THE MISSING ALBUM”. Published in HeadCase. By Derek Olson, 46 yrs. old.

As you all probably know, for most of my life, I’ve lived and breathed vinyl. The ceiling above my garage sags with the weight of records in boxes in my attic that I have yet to even properly catalog. My basement walls are lined with custom-made, floor-to-ceiling shelving that wraps around every corner. My collection is organized by genre, then alphabetical by artist, then chronologically. I am serious> about records.

I go through obsessions, sometimes fixating on a certain musician or band or label. I systematically track down not only every record they released but often multiple versions of every release. Hell, I own thirteen copies of Fun House by The Stooges. I live for rare color-vinyl editions, misprinted sleeves, subscription-only releases, and Japanese bonus tracks. But there has always been an empty spot on my shelves, one I have been unable to fill for twenty-seven years. I have scoured the earth in search of it, to no avail.

I like to think that what draws one (your humble writer included) to heavier music — music that makes your mom pray for your soul a little extra hard at night — is not that it serves as an outlet for the pent-up anger and frustration of your local loser burnout, but that it translates into sound waves the feeling of what it means to be free. Punk is about freedom. Rock is about freedom. Metal is about freedom. And when are you freer but when you’re nineteen years old? For me, Dead Snitches by Street Drugs is the sound of what it meant to be a dumb, free nineteen-year-old.

I was working at my college newspaper, the Benson Sentinel, doing some record reviews and probably skipping class, when this mystery item showed up on my desk. The sleeve was plain white cardstock with a yellow-and-black hype sticker that read: “For Promotional Use Only. Street Drugs. Dead Snitches. Coming This October.” At the bottom, in pen, someone had numbered this particular copy 19/50. That was all I had to go on.

When I finished listening to it for the first time, I was trembling. I had to steady my hand before I placed the needle back down on track one to experience it again. It was a perfect record. I couldn’t wait to see this band live, to meet the people who made it, to write my review so I could tell everyone I could about it. In fact, that review got me my first professional gig reviewing for the local alt-weekly rag.

Well, I never heard anything ever again about Street Drugs. The album was never officially released in stores. The band never toured. The label never released anything else. Except for the fact that I once owned a copy of the record, I’d be hard-pressed to even say that it ever existed. So it haunts me, like a beautiful dream or the vague memory of a stolen kiss.

Maybe this longing is just the sad bluster of a pudgy rock critic who is losing his eyesight and his hair and wants to regain a shard of his youth. Or maybe it’s about tracking down one of the rarest rock records in the world. Everyone likes a treasure hunt, right? Or maybe it’s just about celebrating the feeling of freedom music can bring. Whatever the reason: if you have any information on the location of this album, please reach out. I will make it worth your while<.

I’ll end on a memory.

It’s Spring Break 1986, and I’m driving my ’79 Buick Electra with the driver’s door that rattles above 55 mph. My cassette-dubbed copy of Dead Snitches is in the tape deck, and the first track, “Here’s to All Us Bastards,” is playing. My girlfriend Jessica and I are headed to go camping in the mountains for the week. The sun is just setting below the peaks, the air smells like spruce, and Jessica looks at me and smiles, her lips shiny from that cherry lip gloss she always wore. Even in the moment, I somehow knew my life couldn’t get much better.

I will never forgive myself for giving that record to Jessica (the other love who got away) in a grand romantic gesture, just before she dumped me and changed schools. I had even written, “I love you more than this record” on the sleeve. God, I was an idiot.

But what can I say? I was nineteen.


We’ve only got today.
So let’s make our mark and have our say.
Who cares that we’re not on the news?
Who cares whose fuckin’ shampoo we use?
Who cares that we were born to lose?
Here’s to all us bastards! (repeat x4)


• Hey, Jessica! It’s Derek Olson. Can you believe it?! I just randomly spotted your profile and thought, My God, is that really Jess the Mess? What’s it been? Like twenty-five years or something? How ya been?

• {No response}

• I know you probably don’t really check this thing very regularly. It’s just, I’ve been thinking a lot about those days back at Benson. I guess because I like being a middle-aged cliche. You’ve cropped up in those memories more than once. Remember that camping trip we took?

• {No response}

• I see you’re “Jessica Butler” now. You’ve got a really good-looking family. Things have been kinda rocky in my life lately. I’d love to try to meet up and just, you know, reminisce.

• {User Derek Olson Blocked}


From: poisonpig@punkjunk.org
To: dolson@carrier1.io
Subject: Street Drugs LP

Derek, First off, man, I just want to say that I love, love, love your column. No one writes about rock-n-fucking-roll like you. You get it. So, for that, thanks.

Anyway, I read your column last month about your search for the long-lost Street Drugs LP of your youth. About how you would do anything to get it back.

Well, I think I might just have a line on where that particular piece of wax wound up. It belongs to my roommate. We call him Shake Rag. I don’t know his actual name. He’s a friend of a not-very-good friend, and he needed a place to crash for a few weeks. That was five months ago. Sketchy as all hell. Once, he claimed he played bass for Aus-Rotten back in the day. I called bullshit on that, and he flipped out. Threw a fucking ashtray at my head. A genuine crazy-ass lunatic. But he is a pretty good cook, so we’re not kicking him out just yet.

But, yeah, this is the record. Definitely. It even has “I love you more than this record” written on the back and 19/50 on the front. Just like you said. How Shake wound up with it, I’ll never know. He’s currently out getting some Chinese food, and if he knew I was going through his stuff, he’d beat the shit out of me.

The other thing is, I’m absolutely certain Shake Rag would never sell it to you. Money doesn’t mean anything to this guy. Fucker’s as crust as they come. If you gave the guy a million bucks, he’d run it through a paper shredder and laugh while he did it. Anarcho-socialist in the extreme. I mean, I consider myself a pinko commie leftist or whatever, but this guy...he’s the Bill Gates of whatever the opposite of Bill Gates is. It makes it real hard to get rent money out of him.

But I’ll go ahead and ask him if he wants to sell, and if he does, I’ll send you our address, and you can come ask him yourself. You’ll have to see him in person. He doesn’t have a phone or use the internet. Of course.

• Poison Pig

From: dolson@carrier1.io
To: poisonpig@punkjunk.org
Subject: Re: Street Drugs LP

Poison Pig,
Oh. My. God. When I submitted that column, I literally aspirated a little prayer to Whoever Is In Charge In The Cosmos that it would find its way in front of the eyeballs of someone who knows something. Lord, I hope you’re right. Yes, please, see if Shake Rag will sell and tell him that I will pay whatever it costs.

With bated breath,


Crime: Homicide
Officer: Sgt. Jerome Campbell

Victim Name: Malcolm Howard Agee
Alias: Shake Rag

White male. 33. Thinning brown hair matted into dreadlocks, tied together with multi-colored rubber bands. Large spacers in his ears. Track marks up and down his legs and arms.

Identifying Marks: Numerous tattoos, most of them homemade. The most prominent tattoos are the word “Crass” above his navel and large spiderwebs on both elbows.

When the body was discovered, he was wearing black jeans bearing numerous patches, a studded faux-leather belt, a black t-shirt featuring a skull above the word “Discharge,” a black denim cut-off jacket also featuring numerous patches, and a new pair of black Doc Marten boots.

Cause of Death: Exsanguination. The victim’s jugular vein had been severed by a puncture from a crude blade of some kind. An analysis of the victim’s blood revealed the presence of heroin and hepatitis C.

    The murder weapon has not yet been recovered.


Subject: Henry Lester Powell

Alias: Poison Pig

Q: How do you know the deceased?

A: He was my roommate.

Q: Can you repeat what you told me earlier about the day of the murder?

A: Look, man, I don’t want to get Derek in trouble. He seems like a good dude. I love his writing.

Q: Please just repeat what you told me earlier.

A: All right. Well, I told Shake Rag about him wanting —

Q: Him?

A: Derek. I had emailed Derek about this record he’d been hunting for. He wrote an article about it for Headcase magazine. I wrote to Derek that I knew where it was. Shake Rag had it. Hey, can I get some water?

[tape paused]

Q: Continue.

A: Well, I told Shake Rag about Derek wanting to buy the record, and Shake got this big weird grin on his face and said he wanted to meet up with him. This seemed really weird ‘cause I was certain he wouldn’t be interested in selling it. So I asked why he wanted to meet, and Shake said when Derek got here, he was planning on snapping the record in half in front of him, you know, as a cruel joke or something, a statement on capitalism or some bullshit. I told him he shouldn’t fuck with people like that, but he just laughed. I’m pretty sure he’d shot up just before. He gets...got...really sadistic when he was on junk, so I chalked it up to that. Anyway, I emailed Derek back and told him Shake would see him, though I had a totally bad feeling about the whole thing. When Derek was supposed to come by, my girlfriend and me were out. And when we got back, we found Shake just lying there, you know? Facedown. Giant cut on his throat. Blood everywhere. You saw it.

Q: And the record?

A: Yeah, I checked. The record was gone. I mean, when I sent Derek that email, I never thought... (subject trails off).


Dispatcher: 911. What’s your emergency? Caller: I’m not sure if I should even be calling ‘cause I don’t know if it’s technically an emergency.

Dispatcher: Can you tell me what’s happening, sir?

Caller: Well, I just saw my neighbor get out of his car and go walk inside his house, and well, it looked like he had blood all over the front of his shirt.

Dispatcher: Was he injured?

Caller: He seemed okay. I called out to him, and he waved at me.

Dispatcher: What’s his name?

Caller: Derek Olson.

Dispatcher: Where does he live?

Caller: 4093 Kennison Drive.

Dispatch: We’re sending a car. Can you tell me anything more?

Caller: Well, He’s been acting really strange lately. His wife just left him. Took the kids. I saw him crying in his driveway a couple of weeks ago. Just sitting there crying. I went up and asked him if I could help, and he said — I’ll never forget it because it was so weird — he said, “Who cares whose shampoo I use? Who cares that I was born to lose?” That was it. So strange.


Description: One 12-inch vinyl record entitled “Dead Snitches” by Street Drugs.

Location: Discovered by Sgt. Campbell in a box labeled “Memories” in Derek Olson’s master bedroom, on top of a stack of college yearbooks and letters from someone named Jessica Albrecht.

Condition: Broken into two large, jagged pieces.

Relevance: One of the pieces tested positive for the presence of Malcolm Howard Agee’s blood.

James Hadley Griffin
is a teacher who has lived, at one time or another, in most of the Southern capitals. Currently, he's in Alabama where he lives with his wife and two hounds. He has been published by Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Pulp Modern Flash, and Popcorn Fiction. Connect with him on Twitter @JHadleyGriffin.