Today J. Dane Tyler and I are doing a fiction swap. He wrote the story you’re about to read, and I wrote one that’s appearing on his blog today. He picked the theme that we both used, but you can see for yourself how close that kept the storylines. Also, I picked the silly title.
© 2012 J. Dane Tyler
There’s a chill in the air so I pull the hood over my head and nestle farther down into the backseat of my twelve year-old Caddy. The fog’s a bad influence on the night, has it under its arm, and is leading it toward trouble.
I scratch at the scar on my ribs. Took a knife cut a few weeks back and ended up in the emergency room. In hard-boiled detective novels, the dick is always faster with his fists than the bad guy, always a tough mug who gave more trimming than he took. Reality’s different. I ran afoul of a guy steppin’ out on his old lady and she didn’t like it none. Neither did her rich daddy and the trust fund he’d set up for her. I got the pix I needed and got paid, but he got me back for it.
I spark a weed and the blue haze billows but not far. Too cold. Part of that blue-gray cloud’s my breath. I tuck my mitts into the pockets of my bomber and wait some more.
Most of bein’ a dick is waiting. Waiting for the mark to do something, incriminate themselves, get to a compromising position. I’m waitin’ for a doll to come out of the building where she lives with some hot-shot doc who keeps her in pearls, heels and body-tube dresses showing off her curves. He thinks she’s got more than just his wick in her honey pot and wants me to bag some pix so he can prove it in court.
Been tailin’ her for most of a week, and I’m finding her habits odd. She spends a fair amount of time at the hospital, talking to the front desk nurse and administration people. She likes the library a bunch too. Not exactly hot spots for romantic trysts, so I started thinkin’ maybe hubby’s paranoid. Off his tree. But then she meets up with some gorilla under a street lamp about two days ago. Guy’s the size of the Giants’s front five, and wears a suit.
So, maybe hubby knew more’n I thought.
I let the loving embrace of the worn seats offer me solace for long hours of waiting. I’m nursing a Thermos of coffee so I don’t have to piss too often. I got one of those gallon milk jugs waitin’ in case I gotta drain the main vein, you know? But when the door to the building opens up and she steps out into the cold night, I know I won’t need it.
She’s a looker, no two ways about it. I wouldn’t pass it up if she threw it my way, rich hubby client or no. But I don’t want to get on the wrong side of this yet. I’ll just enjoy the view from behind her.
Tonight she’s in one of those curve-hugging tubes, and the wiggle in her walk is enticing. She’s draped with a cape sort of thing, but the tube only goes to just above her knees and the cape don’t go to the bottom of that. So I got a great shot of her walking away as she bustles down the car-lined street.
When I can’t hear the click-clack of her fashionable shoes on the sidewalk anymore, I get out of the car, and check her. She’s moving like she’s got someplace to be, headin’ down the street at a good clip. She disappears into black and fog, so I start after her.
Sneakers. I never knew why they called â€˜em that until I started doin’ this for a living. She won’t hear me, and far as I can tell, she ain’t checking behind her for ghosts, so she don’t notice me.
She reappears in a puddle of light puked up by a slumping street lamp, and jiggles right on through to the murk on the other side. I pick up the pace a little to keep her in sight. Fog’s gettin’ thicker and I don’t want her to ditch me.
A neon sign buzzes over a set of stairs leading to cellar bar. She goes down, slowing up enough so she don’t break her neck on the stairs, one creamy white hand delicately gliding on the steel railing. A perverted flash goes through my head about how I got something else she can glide her fingers over, but I shake it off. There’s a burst of voices, glass and ice, and a tinkling piano when she opens the door, but not much light spills out. The noise tells me when the door shuts behind her, and I head down after her.
I have to hover by the door, a bit longer than I wanted to.
â€œHelp you?â€ a voice rumbles behind me.
It’s a bouncer. He’s bald as a baby’s behind, and the dark brown skin on his bald head reflects the dim can lights embedded in the ceiling. Either a T-shirt or body paint is stretched over his bodybuilder muscles, and I guess him to be maybe six-six, about three c’s, and maybe three percent body fat.
â€œJust lettin’ my eyes adjust.â€ I try to sound cool.
â€œBetter do that by the bar,â€ he say, and dips his head toward the long deco-style bar in the middle of the room. A bright, fluorescent kind of light shines cold on the slick-haired wiry young guy flippin’ bottles behind it. A couple of mooks are slumped over their drinks looking lost and forlorn.
â€œThanks,â€ I say, and take the hint. I move away from the door but turn before I get too far into the middle of the room.
I ain’t going to the bar. It’s the only well-lit spot in the cave, and she’ll make me for sure if I do. Instead, I find a booth and slide into it. A tiny low-wattage lamp puts out just enough light for me to see the matches and papier-mÃ¢chÃ© coasters on the round table. It lights up too, but not so bright as the bar. I don’t want my face on a billboard so I tug the hood back over me again and lean back far as I can.
A knock-out brunette in something skimpy drifts my way, and her cherry-red lips and pale skin go good against her dark â€œuniformâ€ â€” barely covering her best parts. The garters holding up the fishnets are a nice touch, but the kicker is the big fake rose tucked into her hair, showing one delicate ear.
â€œGetcha sumthin’?â€ she says, and I wish she hadn’t opened her mouth, because the nasally, smoke-choked voice kills it for me right then.
â€œJust a soda water,â€ I say, and she huffs and turns. I get the view of the rest of her as she floats away over the dense carpet.
I narrow my eyes and have a look around. I can make out most of the faces in the place, bein’ the tables and bar light up. Good for me, and bad for me. Some of the booths near the back are tough, but the place seems to be a single room. At the far right a big shiny grand sits, with some guy in a penguin suit plinking out something from the war, while a crooner warmly oozes from a sequin-dressed porcelain doll with every hair in place.
Then I catch her. She’s in back, near what I guess are the bathrooms and pay phones or whatnot. She’s talkin’ with her hands, wavin’ â€˜em around and shaking her head. She drops her forehead onto her hand and then the wall across from her moves.
The guy she’s sittin’ with makes Tiny at the door lookâ€¦well, tiny. He’s got his own zip code, and he’s wearing something Italian and expensive, with a turtleneck under it. I guess he’s a Made Man, but I can only see the Kansas-like expanse of his back. I’m debating grabbing my phone to snap a candid when she gets an upset look on her face, bolts out of the booth, and hustles through that back hallway.
A better glance at the door shows me the EXIT sign glowing softly over it.
The Mountain gets up and takes a look around. He fishes some bills out of a wad he pulls from his breast pocket, drops a few on the table they shared, and makes his way across the room behind the bar to the front door. Tiny doesn’t even look at him when he thuds his way out.
I missed my incriminating shot but the two never even made physical contact. Not that I saw, anyway. So I forget about that and decide to see what she’s up to now.
I move as cool as I can through the room, and when I get to the back, I take a look over my shoulder. I see Tiny and the Scarlett Letter â€” my waitress â€” exchanging words and glancing my way. I duck into the hallway and right away see the far door on the right has that same EXIT sign dripping green light from it. There’s a Men’s room and Ladies room there too, though. And along the wall on the left, across from the three doors, I see a bank of battered, ancient pay phones. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do and I don’t hear an alarm so I figure she either went into the Ladies room or there’s no fire alarm on the back door.
I’m debating ducking into the Ladies room but something gives me a shiver up my spine. I don’t know what it is, but something about the way Tiny and Scarlett were having a hushed convo and lookin’ my way don’t sit right. I move quick and see only of the phones has the handset, dial, and all the necessary cords still attached to it. I face it and pull the handset off, press it to my ear. Just a split-second later, Tiny’s frame fills the hallway entrance, blocking what little light there is.
â€œUh-huh,â€ I say. â€œYeah. Yeah, I know the place.â€ I pinch the handset between my ear and shoulder and dig out my pen and notebook. â€œOkay, yeah, I can be there.â€
Tiny’s still hoverin’ back there, and so I stutter a couple of times and stammer like someone’s on the other end of the phone.
I see â€˜im out of the corner of my eye, but he don’t move. Just stands there, blocking light for a minute, then like an eclipse, moves away. It feels like oxygen can get in again too, so I exhale a bit.
I really need to carry a gun. I really do. I wouldn’t have this scar on my side itchin’ if I carried a piece. That punk who cut me woulda thought twice about bringin’ a knife to a gun fight.
I keep waiting but she ain’t comin’ out, and I don’t want Tiny to start wonderin’ how much change I put into a pay phone next time he comes around, so I do what any dick would’ve done.
I go into the Ladies room.
It’s bright. Pretty clean, too. Nice padded little seat by the door. No urinals, o’course, but plenty of stalls. I get down so I can see under the doors, and there ain’t a set of feet anywhere.
I duck out, check one more time and see Tiny hasn’t come back yet, so I do the same in the Men’s room. It’s not nearly as big, and every door’s open. I can see into the stalls without even bending down, just checking the dirty mirror over the sinks.
Only one option left. I back up to the exit, watching for Tiny, and then notice there really isn’t an alarm on the back door. I figure that’s got to be some sort of fire code violation, but what the heck.
I open the door and the cool, crisp night air slaps me. I didn’t realize how sweaty I was until I got out there. Now I’m chilled, and wipe my face and forehead with a hand, drag it down my pants. I ain’t tryin’ to impress no one anyway.
I’m in an alley, and figure Tiny won’t be far behind me. There’s a fence with a pile of alley crap stacked against it to my right. To my left a cyclone fence blocks off some kind of courtyard for some lousy building or other.
So which way did my blond bombshell go?
I look again and see there’s no doors, but there is another alley to my left about thirty-five feet in. Not a lot of light here, and plenty of garbage and dumpsters, so I step over as much crap as I can and get to that other alley.
I peek around the corner and what do I see? My bombshell, pacing with a cell phone stuck to her ear, amazing legs and perfect derriere undulating as she steps in her expensive shoes over cracked concrete and broken glass. The sound of the grit under her feet is sexy in a weird way.
I pull back, trying to hear. I only get the sound of her voice, not what she’s saying.
In a minute, she jerks the phone down and slams it into her purse. She puts her hands on her hips and something burns in me, burns hard, wishing they were my hands instead of hers. She turns on a dime and fades into that second alley.
* * *
I’m hard on her heels, though, sneaking along. I hear the banging of another door and sprint ahead. A long, high wall is broken by some push-out windows high up, near the roof line, and a single door at the top of a short flight of cement steps rimmed by a steel tube railing painted a sissy blue.
I see the door slipping closed slow.
I sprint then, full-on, and launch myself up and over the railing, and just catch the door before it secures in the jamb.
A sudden stab of pain rips my side and I almost buckle from it. I clutch my ribs, trying not to groan, and go to one knee, trying to breathe through it.
Damn cut. Doc says it’s so deep there’s a nick in four of my ribs. Took a butt-load of stitches to close it, and a few staples too. Still hurts like sin when I do too much.
A second later, I’m able to stand again. I figure that’ll do and I need to keep on the mark, so I go through the door and shut it real quiet-like, so no one hears me. I realize how dumb and still new I am at this whole private-eye thing, because I don’t have a penlight. And even if I had one, should I turn it on? That’s like holding up a sign screaming â€œHERE I AM!â€, ain’t it?
I don’t have a gun and I don’t have a flashlight, so I’m pretty well stuck waiting for my eyeballs to adjust here. Wish I ate more carrots.
Before long, I can see by the light spilling in through those high windows over head.
I’m in a narrow stair landing. I move up the stairs in front of me as quick as I can, but I don’t hear the mark’s shoes, so I don’t know how far ahead of me she got. Or if she got wise and took her shoes off. The stairs go up fairly high and I’m sweaty and out of breath when I get to the door at the top.
Lucky me, the door ain’t locked when I get there. I hit the latch bar and it swings open easy enough. I try to keep things quiet when I get in and have a look around.
I’m on the upper deck of a huge warehouse. Gigantic crates are stacked, some metal, some plastic, some wood. Low piles, high piles, a crane overhead dangling a cargo net full of â€˜em. Big lakes of light spread out where the lights from outside rain through the row of windows at the top of the wall. A metal superstructure webs under the corrugated tin roof, and a massive fan lazily spins in its housing, moving the air above the rafters and sending dust motes on a long death spiral toward the concrete floor.
I see a flash below and notice the platinum blond coif of my mark as she jiggles and wiggles between a couple stacks of crates down there. She’s out of sight before I can move, and I can’t see everything down there, so I decide I better follow her.
She’d be expecting me to come from where I’m standing so I shake a leg and get to the far end of the deck, passing in front of the big picture windows in each of the office areas. At the far end of the platform, a set of metal stairs stretches into the dark. I grab the skinny metal rail and hot foot it down the grated treads. They make more racket than I want, so I have to take it slow.
I get to the bottom and just freeze, listen into the dark. I’m hopin’ to hear her click-clacking around out there on the floor. No such luck.
I recall about where she was heading and move in that direction, but down here, the light’s overhead and it’s harder to see. Massive towers of shadow shoot up from the dank floor, so I have one hand in front of me to make sure I don’t add a cracked nose to gouged ribs. Trying to move quiet and quick and careful all at the same time’s about as easy as tightrope walking while juggling, and a Flyin’ Wallenda I ain’t.
There’s almost a path emerging here and I round a corner. I’m in an opening in the crate stacks, like a clearing, ringed by walls of containers. At one end is the bombshell, leaning back on one of the cartons and staring at me, her head tipped on that swan neck o’ hers, those incredible sexy-smooth legs crossed at the ankles. One shoe’s dangling from her toes, bouncing lightly.
I pull up sharp when I see her, but then a huge wrenching sound screams and shatters the quiet, and I jolt so hard I figure I wet myself. I whip around and there’s Mountain, holdin’ the controls to the overhead crane, stepping into the same clearing of crates with me. He’s dropping the net of huge containers down behind him, so now there’s no way out of the little room formed by the walls of the cartons and packages.
I turn back to her, and one of her fine, delicate brows perks up.
â€œWhatâ€¦what’s goin’ on?â€ I say, but there’s no force in my voice. I’m sniveling and feel stupid here. I just got duped by this chick and her meat-wall and I figure I’m in for a trimmin’. Again.
I swear, I fall for this stuff like an amateur.
But that’s when it gets weird, â€˜cause Mountain don’t come toward me to pulp me. Instead, he pulls out a dart gun, with a red feathered bolt in its channel. I freak and turn to rush her, take her as a shield, but Mountain fires first. I get maybe two steps before I can’t feel my legs no more, and my head’s swimming a moment later. I hit the concrete floor and can’t even stop my fall. It should hurt like hell, but it don’t. I can’t feel anything, actually.
Her gorgeous, fine featured face appears over me, her blond locks pulled tight into the sweep which tucks into itself at the back of her head reflecting the dim light, and her ruby lips pucker.
â€œShh,â€ she coos, â€œdon’t worry. Just relax. Don’t fight it.â€
Everything’s swimmy and black before I can call her a nasty name.
* * *
When I blink open my eyes, I can’t focus.
At first, I see a blinding white light over me. I’m staring through bleary water though, so I can’t tell, but I’m either goin’ down that stupid long white tunnel o’ death, abducted by aliens and the anal probing’s about to start, or I’m lying under one o’ those lights like at the dentist’s office. Strong light so they can see clear what they’re doing.
I see the smoking hot blond and this time she’s not in that form-hugging dress, the only dress I envied and wanted to trade places with. No, now she’s wearing a nurse’s outfit, and the matronly polyester and stiff collar are just as hot as the dress somehow. Still has those ripe-cherry lips, though, and when she speaks, the whitest, straightest teeth I’ve ever seen are back there.
â€œYou’re awake,â€ she says, and strokes my hair. I notice then I’m wearing a mask. I can’t move my arms or legs. I’m either restrained or still drugged.
â€œDon’t try to move,â€ she says, â€œyou won’t be able to and will only get scared. Just relax.â€
I want to speak but I can’t do that either. I want to know what’s going on, what the hell’s happening here, and I can’t even ask a question. I blink and my vision swims for a minute, then clarifies.
She’s still stroking my hair when I hear a man’s footsteps come into the makeshift room. I can’t turn my head, but I hear gidgets and gadgets beeping, hissing, whining and buzzing. I can see an IV drip and a steady flow of liquid moving down a tube into my arm. Or some orifice. I can’t move my head to find out. I’m paralyzed as well as speechless.
The man leans down over Bombshell’s shoulder, and he’s got a surgical cap, gown and mask on. His eyes wrinkle behind the mask and I know he’s smiling.
â€œWell! You’re awake!â€ he says. â€œWell, not for long. But I guess you’re wondering what’s happened, why you’re here.â€
â€œIt’s my fault, really,â€ she says, and pours herself over his shoulder and lays her head on him, full red lips pouting. â€œI’m sorry. Wellâ€¦not really.â€ She giggles and it’s not sexy like I thought it would be. It’s a little evil.
â€œOh, now, darling,â€ he says, and I get an icy stab of realization. â€œIt’s not your fault, really. These things happen, and after all, you were doing it for me.â€ His eyes crinkle up again and he puts his head against hers.
Aren’t they a cute couple.
I want to scream, to vomit, to pound, to kick, something, anything. I can’t do jack.
â€œYou see,â€ he says and steps out of my vision, â€œI’m very sick. I have a condition which, through no fault of my own, is destroying my liver.â€
â€œI know how arbitrary this seems,â€ he goes on, â€œbut it’s not, really.â€ He comes back into my view.
â€œWe chose you,â€ she says, and pecks me on the lips. â€œYou’re the One.â€
â€œYes,â€ he says, and moves the mask away from his face.
It’s him, and I get it all at once in a rush, I get the whole thing and he can shut up, but he don’t.
My client. The man who hired me.
â€œYou came to the hospital that day, cut and bleeding, and my loving wife â€” who works at the hospital, you see â€” regularly checks incoming patients looking for a match. Even though I would be near the top of the donor list, I don’t have much time, you see. I have to have the organ now. So I have to move beyond the donor list.â€
I can’t breathe, can’t even cry. I just lay there, a damn cadaver, and he puts the mask back on.
â€œWe found out who you are, where you work, the kinds of jobs you acceptâ€¦you were almost perfect. It was too good to be true, too good to pass up!â€ He tips his head back and thunders a huge laugh and for the first time, I’m sure I’ve crapped myself.
He leans over and when he comes back up, he’s got a scalpel in his hand. The edge catches the overhead light and glints in sinister glee, his webbed and wrinkled eyes smiling.
â€œI can’t tell you how grateful we are you came in that night,â€ he says and shakes his head. â€œAll the necessary information was in your chart. Blood type, medical history, immunization recordsâ€¦all of it!â€
â€œYou’re the One,â€ she says again, and licks her lips.
â€œAnd you fell right into our laps!â€ He laughs again. â€œYou were a Godsend, to be sure!â€
The big man moves into my field of vision now, and takes the tube leading into me, and injects a long dose of something into the tube.
â€œBut,â€ the doc says, â€œit’s time for you to sleep now. We have much to do before morning.â€
â€œDon’t be afraid,â€ she says. â€œHe might leave you part of your liver. Maybe.â€
I can’t even panic through the drugs, but it doesn’t matter in a few seconds. Blackness takes me.
again, this was by J.Dane Tyler. Go check out his website