Powder Burn Flash #369 - Jim Harrington

Saving Cletus Brockton
by Jim Harrington


The phone startled Edward. He laid his book on the end table and placed his pipe in the cereal bowl.

"Hello?"

"Is this Edward Hairston, the attorney?"

"Retired attorney." Edward sat forward in his chair. "Is this another one of those telemarketer calls?"

"My name is Billy Gilbert. Moose Mankowski gave me your name. Said I could call you the next time I was in trouble."

"The next time?" Edward's eyebrows tightened, wrinkles outlined a V on his forehead.

"I've had a string of bad luck."

Edward heard a sniff on the other end of the line and imagined a man wiping a tattooed arm across his nose.

"Anyway, Moose told me you got him out of a sticky spot."

"What did you say your name was?"

"Billy Gilbert."

"Well, Billy Gilbert, I have an appointment in--"

"Wait. Don't hang up. I only get one call."

Edward placed the tip of his middle finger to his forehead and began massaging in tiny circles.

"I got arrested, but I didn't take the wallet. I found it."

Edward rubbed faster.

"I can't help you, sir," Edward said. "Like I stated, I'm retired."

"According to Moose, you're a damn good lawyer."

Moose. The curse that wouldn't go away. Edward fell back in his chair and lowered his hand. "What did you say?"

"Sorry. I was talking to the guard. He said I need to get off the phone. I told him to go screw himself. I have rights."

Edward shook his head. He'd had big plans when he applied for law school. Plans that didn't include guys named Moose and Billy.

"So when can you get here to bail me out?"

"Bail you out? How about April Fool's Day?"

"This ain't a joke, Ed? I got a party to go to."

"Well, Billy, I think you're going to miss the party."

"But Moose said--."

"Moose was wrong."

Edward loosened his grip on the phone, sensing the conversation was about to end.

"Do you live near Dallas, Edward?"

"Yes. Near there."

"I knew your name sounded familiar. You went to Garland High. Right?  Class of '87?"

"Y-e-e-s." Edward didn't like where this was going.

"Still live in your parents' house on Buckingham?"

"Maybe." Edward felt sweat forming on his forehead. He'd returned home after his father passed and his mother moved to the nursing home.

"Bingo. Billy Gilbert is an alias."

"You need to speak up. I can hardly hear you."

"I don't want the guard to hear. My real name is Clete Brockton."

"Name doesn't..." Edward paused. "Cletus? The guy who gave principal Brown a wedgie? The Cletus who wrote my name on a Whoopie cushion and put it on Mrs. Flatston's chair?" Edward remembered his classmate as being 6' 3", 265 pounds, and mean.

"Yep. Ain't this a coincidence?"

Memories of Cletus flashed through Edward's mind, none pleasant. "Yes. A coincidence." His body tensed, and his finger gravitated back to his forehead.

"So now that you know me, you can help me. Right?"

"Why would I want to help you, Cletus?" The pulsing in Edward's forehead returned.

"Well. . .because I'm sorry for what I did, and I'd like to be friends now."

"Huh. Friends. Let me think about that." Edward counted to ten before responding. "Remember what you just said to the guard, Cletus?"

"You mean to go screw himself?"

"Yes, that." Edward sat up, spine stiff. "And I say to you ditto."

"Come on, Eddie. Can't you help an old friend just this once?"

"No."

"I could pay you back--with interest."

"If you have money, why did you steal the wallet?"

"I told you I found it."

"Okay, why did you "find" the wallet if you have money?"

"Well, I don't exactly have the money at the moment, but I can get it no problem."

Edward shook his head and let if flop forward into his palm. He supposed he could be wrong about Cletus, but he doubted it.

"You still there? The guard's threatening to zap me if I don't hang up the phone."

"Tell the guard I'm thinking." Edward heard Cletus say something and a long time smoker's voice reply.

"He said one minute."

Edward made mental lists of the pros and cons of helping Cletus. Neither was very long. He inhaled a deep breath, and by the time it oozed out, he knew the best thing he could do to save his former classmate. He hung up the phone.


BIO: Jim discovered flash fiction in 2007, and he’s read, written, studied, and agonized over the form since. His recent stories have appeared in Flashshot, A Twist of Noir, The Short Humour Site, Dew on the Kudzu, and others. Jim's Six Questions For blog (http://sixquestionsfor.blogspot.com/) provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.”

Powder Burn Flash #368 - John DuMond

Tight
by John DuMond


Ernie Keller was cold. And tired. His whole body was starting to go numb and he was having trouble breathing. How the hell did this happen? This was supposed to be an easy score. In and out. A couple hours work, tops. No problem. Piece of cake. But nothing's ever as easy as it sounds.

It was Perry that came up with the job. His cousin Zach worked as a chimney sweep. Zach had done a job at this house in the suburbs. Nice neighborhood. Nice house. Well-to-do family. With Christmas just around the corner, they wanted their chimney clear. Probably for roasting chestnuts on an open fire, or some kind of holiday bullshit.

While Zach was there working, he saw the lady of the house wrapping presents. A Mac notebook, a couple of the latest iPads, two of the newest model iPhone (Did these people own stock in Apple or something?), a set of high-end golf clubs that had to be worth at least a grand. Not to mention all kinds of clothes. Expensive name brands, no doubt. These people weren't the type to shop in Walmart. And who knows what kind of goodies the man of the house got for the little woman. Jewelry was a good bet. The guys in this neighborhood were the kind who went to Jared.

Zach wouldn't take candy from a baby. But he made the mistake of telling his cousin Perry. And Perry would steal anything of value that wasn't nailed down. He also told Perry something else: the house had one of the larger chimneys he had ever worked on. Once Perry heard that, he just had to hit this place before Christmas. In order to do that, he would need an accomplice. Enter Ernie Keller.

It was early evening when Perry approached Ernie in a local bar. He laid out his plan: One man goes down the chimney with an empty laundry bag. The other stays on the roof and feeds some rope down the chimney. The inside man fills the bag with valuables, ties it to the rope, then the outside man pulls it up the chimney. The golf clubs wouldn't fit in the bag, but hell, they came in their own bag. Once the job was done, the inside man would use the rope to climb back up the chimney. Perry knew a guy who could move the merchandise. He even had some cheap walkie-talkies they could use to communicate. Couldn't be easier.

"No!"

"What?"

"Not interested."

"But it's a juicy score."

"Then do it yourself."

"Can't, it's a two-man job. Besides, I couldn't fit down a chimney, even a large one."

Perry had a point. He was, to put it politely, a bit on the husky side. Agile, though. Damned good second-story man. But fitting into tight spaces wasn't in the cards. Physics were working against him.

"Listen, I can't climb a rope for shit. Couldn't do it in junior high gym class, and I sure as hell can't do it now."

"Just hold on to the rope, I'll pull you up."

"What if I can't?"

"Then dart out the front door when we're done."

"Which will be alarmed, like every other front door in that neighborhood."

"I'll have the car in front of the house. Run out and hop in. We haul ass. By the time the family gets downstairs, we're gone. And when the cops finally show up, we'll be home, nestled all snug in our beds, visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads."

It sounded like Perry had all the angles figured. Ernie still had doubts, but Perry kept at him. It was Friday night. Christmas was Sunday. Now or never. By last call, Ernie was convinced.

An hour after leaving the bar, they were on the roof of the house. Perry had brought an old extension ladder they used to climb up. He said they'd just leave the ladder when they were done. Perry motioned to the chimney. "Let's do it."

Ernie had the laundry bag folded up inside his jacket. Before he climbed in, Perry handed him one end of a rope.

"Tie this around you waist, just in case."

"Good idea."

Once Ernie had the rope tied around his waist, he climbed into the chimney. It was surprisingly spacious. He used his hands and feet in an effort to control his descent. Perry, used the rope to keep Ernie from dropping suddenly.

About halfway down, Ernie came to a stop.

"Perry!"

"What?"

"I'm stuck."

"Your clothes caught on something?"

"No. Too narrow."

Weren't chimneys supposed to get wider near the bottom? Who the hell built this house?

"Pull me up."

It took a couple minutes, but Perry managed to pull Ernie loose. Ernie was four feet from the top when the rope broke. He came to a stop about a foot below where he had gotten stuck before. Now he was wedged in even tighter.

Perry lowered the end of the rope to Ernie and tried pulling him out. About a half hour, and multiple failed attempts later, he poked his head in and said, "Hey, I'll go get some help. Be right back."

"Perry!"

Help? Bullshit. He just cut and ran. Bastard.

Ernie decided it was better to swallow his pride and get arrested than to spend the rest of his life in the chimney. So he called for help. He yelled. He screamed. He cried. No response. Nothing. No one could hear him. Probably still asleep. All he could do is hope someone in the house would hear him in the morning.

Ernie wondered if he'd be in the news tomorrow night. One of those funny "stupid criminal stuck in a chimney" stories you hear. Or would it be a few years before he made the news? One of those creepy "unidentified skeleton found in a chimney" stories. He laughed. The only option he had left was to pray for a Christmas miracle.

"Please, God, take me to jail."


BIO:  John DuMond lives in Albany, NY.  His short stories have appeared in Jake Magazine, Flashing in the Gutters, Defenestration, DZ Allen's Muzzle Flash, Powder Burn Flash, and the ebook anthology DISCOUNT NOIR.  He blogs at http://armedrobbery.wordpress.com.

Powder Burn Flash # 367 - Cindy Rosmus

HAIL, TIGER!
by Cindy Rosmus


“Come on, baby!” Tony said. “You can’t mean that.”

Giuletta just smiled.

“Torn up by a tiger.” Tony shuddered. He appealed to Lou, the bartender. “No girl would let her man die like that.”

“’S’ only a story,” Lou said wearily, “in my kid’s eighth-grade reader.”

“But it’s timeless,” Giuletta said. “‘The Lady or the Tiger?’ is all about human nature. Obsessive love, and . . .”

The back door buzzed open, and two giggly blondes came in. One short, one tall. The tall one caught Tony’s eye.

“. . . Jealousy.” Giuletta dug her nails in his arm.

Bitch, Tony thought.

The blondes sat far enough away not to look suspicious. Maybe too far away.

Here, at Royal Flush Giuletta called the shots. It was the classiest bar her family owned: shiny hardwood floors, top-shelf booze.  Swarming with cougars and wiseguys. And the occasional model-svelte blonde.

If you knew, he thought smugly, who I fucked last night.

“She loved him to death,” Giuletta said. “Literally.”

“It’s the old man’s fault,” Lou said, after he’d served the blondes. “The fuckin’ king’s. He made her choose.”

“He made him choose,” Giuletta said. “Lowlife scum. Daddy was pissed he loved his daughter.” With a side look at Tony, she said, “Can you blame him?”

“No,” he said, wearily.

Like that king, Giuletta’s dad would kill Tony if he knew they were fucking. “Nino the Ice” was a tiny mobster whose pinky ring boasted a diamond twice his size. You could see your face in it.

But “the Ice” didn’t stop there.

Tony shivered. Nino was the coldest fuck out there. He’d order a hit with his morning coffee, want it done by the last bite of breakfast.

Nino’s look could freeze you to death. Even if he liked you.  And I don’t like you, shithead, Nino told Tony more than once. God knows why Nino kept him on.

Cos I shut up good, Tony knew. Like about fucking his daughter.  Besides fucking every. . .

Again he eyed the tall blonde, who pretended not to notice.

“Can you blame her?” Giuletta asked Tony.

“Huh?”

“For choosing the tiger.” Her smile unnerved him. “She’d rather see him get torn apart than be happy . . . with some blonde.”

Tony’s chest felt tight.

“Wait a minute!” Lou swung around from the register, “It don’t say that.” On his stubby fingers, he began counting. “Number one, shithead loves princess. Number two, king finds out. Surprise, surprise!”

Tony wiped his sweaty forehead.

Lou kept going. He ignored customers waving for drinks. By the time he got to,“ ‘One of the fairest damsels’ in the king’s fuckin’ court,” Tony wished he were on a plane to fucking Cancun.

“In other words,” Lou said, finally. “The story don’t say nothin’ about her bein’ a blonde.”

An uncomfortable silence followed.

“You’re right.” Giuletta had the Ice’s chilly blue eyes. “It don’t.”

Shit, Tony thought. She knows.

He forced a smile. “It’s a dumb story,” he said. “No girl who loves her man, like . . .” He slid his arm around her stool. “Like you love me, would hurt him. Not on purpose.”

She smiled up at him. “No?”

“If I were a chick,” Lou said, “I couldn’t do it.”

Giuletta didn’t see Tony wink at Lou. “She didn’t do shit,” she said stubbornly. “It was the tiger.” Bracelets jangling, she held up her hands. “Her hands were clean.”

The moment Tony saw the blonde texting, his cell vibrated. Oh, yeah! he thought, in the midst of all this. Pictured those luscious pink lips around his cock. His pants felt unbearably tight.

“Louie,” Giuletta said, “Buy the house.”

As Lou set up free drinks for everybody, Tony peeked at his cell. His heart leapt: “cum outside 4 a BIG surprise!” the text read.

He slid off his stool, flashed a Marlboro. “Smoke,” he told Giuletta.

Usually, her icy stare would’ve sat him back down. But tonight his cock was doing the thinking.

“No jacket?” she said. “It’s cold out there.”

He turned, suddenly, to Giuletta’s strange smile. Her bracelets jingled as she stroked his leather jacket on his stool. It was butter-soft leather, a Christmas gift from the Ice, himself.

As Tony passed her on his way out, the tall blonde didn’t look at him. Again she was texting.

Now what? he thought.

But it wasn’t for him.

Outside the back door, the Ice’s boys were waiting.

“Shii—” Tony said. Before he found the “t,” he was down.

Never felt the next shot.


BIO: My stories have been published in the usual places, such as Hardboiled, Beat to a Pulp, Mysterical-E, Out of the Gutter, and A Twist of Noir. I'm the editor of the noir/horror ezine, Yellow Mama: http://blackpetalsks.tripod.com/yellowmama/index.html

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