Crime Fiction Contemporary

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

When the cab struck us, Mecca ricocheted off Seventh Avenue South and died. Mecca was a stupid nickname for a first-generation Chinese guy from Queens. He always said that any woman would make the journey for his love. Even dead, he looked like a heart attack waiting to happen. Maybe he lost control of the motorcycle because of a heart attack. Overeaters should not be getaway drivers. A siren wailed. There's always a siren in the city. But Mecca was past that siren's help and me, I didn't want it. I picked up the bag and limped toward the Bowery.


At home, I sat by an open window swatting gnats and biting my tongue as rubbing alcohol seeped into the gashes on my knees. Garbage wafted in the breeze. Everything surrenders during summer in the city. It would be my luck to rob an in-call service then die from an infection caused by a motorcycle wreck during the getaway. A small bag of clothes and the money sat by the door. I had planned to leave for Port Authority right away but surrendered to the Chinatown futon instead.

When I woke up, I opened another beer and wondered about the protocol for riding a bus cross-country drunk. What the fuck, it's not like it’s first-class transportation or like they'll ask me to drive. I can be drunk, I thought. But I definitely needed to shower because I'd kill anyone who sat next to me on a bus smelling like I smelled. Jesus Christ, heading West is always such a big deal. Seems like no one ever heads West without someone dying, I thought. I still think that.


Mecca drove like a maniac the first night we met at a bar in the East Village. I needed someone to buy me drinks. He said he’d buy me dinner, too. The bike flew toward the West Village like a shooting star that sizzled to its demise at an outdoor cafe full of hopefuls searching for a spark, or some such fuckery. He slurped a lot of fettuccine. I sipped a lot of chianti.      

“You were a SoHo boomer?” I couldn’t care less, really I couldn’t. But he was buying so I pretended to care. 

"Yeah, a loft baby. My parents own a laundry mat in Flushing, and they gave me money to invest in a dot com which went under. Then they gave me money to open a skate shop in the East Village. It's high roller. I ball.”

“You skate?”

“Fuck no, but I don't have to. I just have to make sure others do. What does your beautiful self do all day?"

“Temp. As a receptionist, mostly. I cater sometimes. I studied art. Painting and drawing. A few years ago, I was featured as part of a new artists show at a gallery. No one bought anything. Then 9/11... the gallery closed.”

“Hey, maybe you can draw some designs for the shop. You sure you're not hungry?"

Eating kept me from getting sloppy drunk and forgetting. I raised my glass.

“To not eating.”

 He pointed his fork. Sauce splattered my nose.

 “You need to paint and shit. Be an artist and shit. Let's make you one and shit.”


A few months later, his shop closed. Temp jobs ceased. It was the second 9/11 death toll. Mecca, a baller no more, depended on family money to survive while buying me groceries, carrying the bags up six flights while I rearranged cabinets to make room for all the things he liked to eat while hanging out at my place.

“You like these? God oh God I love the creamy center. Have one,” he said, ripping open a plastic-wrapped-cake with his teeth.

I shook my head. Not eating meant not keeping up with time or when I last left the apartment. No work meant no reason to leave. After ninety-seven years in New York City, the insurance office where I temped succumbed to two planes that didn't hit it. Catering dried up. I wondered if there was somewhere else and wondered how long until the rest of the country wondered if there was somewhere else. Everyone said it was all Bush's fault, but he didn't have enough sense for it to be all his fault. The world wanted to blow us up. Someone blow me up, I thought. I just wanted to disappear more than anything. I was so far behind on rent I didn’t think winning the lottery could pay it off. Mecca went to the bathroom. I opened the window.

Outside, restaurant supply and lighting stores floundered alongside bars in the wild frontier remnants of Bowery bums and SROs. In the 1700's, the Bowery sprawled with green. Giant bugs swam through the marshland. Natives hunted. Europeans came to see what's what. Natives became red; Europeans became white. Everyone saw the colors of the faces instead of the colors of the land. The swamps dried up and the buildings built up. People died; people were born. They died. Bugs survived. I flicked one into the frontier. A little girl looked up and flipped me off. Mecca approached from behind, sniffing my hair. I moved to the futon. He got another cake. 

“Hey, so, do you remember how I told you that sometimes I go to that place in Midtown? Well, I talked to the owner. She needs help and you need rent.”

“Help at the poker game? Like serving drinks? Or dealing cards?" 

“Yeah, well, funny thing is there's no poker. It’s pussy. It’s an in-call service.”

My laughter offended Mecca. “It's not funny."

“Sorry. I never realized you were that lonely.”

He shrugged. "It's not loneliness. It's convenience. You keep turning me down and you know a man like me has needs. Don't piss me off. I just bought you groceries and gave you money and didn't even ask you to jerk it or anything.”

“Right. I should be thankful.” 

“It's in a big duplex-style apartment on the first floor of a gated brownstone. Very safe. She needs someone to book clients. You're a receptionist so why not?”

“Oh, yes, well I moved here to be a receptionist, you know.”

“Everyone knows artists need day jobs before hitting it big. And you’d only work a few shifts a week. The rest of your days are free to paint. The money’s great. You can buy art supplies. All the girls tip the bookers. Some of the clients do, too. I do. Just meet the owner.”

So, I did.


Two days later, I met Tiffanese Diamond at a Mexican place in Hell's Kitchen. Her skin reminded me of an avocado. She spewed guacamole when she spoke, which was often.

“You know how it is: Us career women can't trust small-time bitches with the books plus we gotta watch our men. Jesus, ain't it awful? How many times did one of my true loves spend my money then turn around and tell me to fuck someone for more? Glad I run things now."

I really did not have a reply for that so sipped my beer, hoping a nod and a smile sufficed.

“Cops and politicians are some of my best clients. I have top notch security, too. You'll be safe. Coming in as a phone girl shows initiative. And if you want, you can take some clients, too. You got a not-so-hard look that men like for the girlfriend requests. All my girls look like whores that have a side job as gladiators, though you and I both know a man will fuck this here burrito if nothing else is around,” she said, bean juice dripping down her chin. “Just keep it in mind. For now, I'll show you how to know who’s a legit client and who’s not. If you keep things classy, you know, keep the towels and soap stocked so the girls can wash their pussies, we’ll get along just fine.” 

She smiled, trying to use one of the tortilla chips as a toothpick, then ate it. That might be the moment I decided that I hated her. Tiffanese Diamond, a hooker without a heart of gold. 


She used an intercom for clients, and they had to provide a password after buzzing the apartment. The work was okay for a while, but I kept wondering about that somewhere else. When I realized that she didn’t use cameras and she didn't plan on replacing the security guy she fired for eating her leftover guacamole, I decided to rob her. I knew where she kept the cash. I knew where she kept her guns and knives. I knew Mecca would help me because his first-generation parents were tired of his antics. They worked hard. None of us did.


Mecca and I waited by the gate for someone to exit then we waited for someone else to come out of the building. We acted like we’d been looking for a key then walked in, sliding ski masks over our heads as we approached the door. When one of the girls brought out the garbage, we forced our way in, shoving everyone into a bedroom. Tiffanese reached under the couch cushion for her gun. I knew the gun wasn't there because I moved all the weapons the last time I worked. Mecca shoved everyone into a bedroom and told them sit on the floor, heads down, while I emptied out the cash from the hiding spots. I had to keep an eye on Mecca, too, because he was so nervous that he forgot to pack two helmets. The gun shook in his hand. We had agreed not to talk. Then he talked and even worse, he said my name.

“Let’s go, Lori.”

I knew Tiffanese heard him. As we ran out the door, she said, “I will blow off their fucking heads.” But we had her guns, and we were gone.


I never said anything to Mecca about saying my name. There was no time. I hoped he didn't know. I hoped he died a hero in his own mind. He thought he was helping me, and he died thinking I'd show him around California. And honestly, it was my day off and I’m pretty short so it’s not like it would be that hard for even Tiffanese to figure out I was behind one of the ski masks. So there I sat, everything done poorly, planning a new life. The sunlight bouncing off an illegal cable hook-up on a roof across the street got my attention. Soon, such second-rate sunsets would be a memory. I decided to shower.

“California, here I come, right back where I never started from...” I sang to myself. Painting on the beach. Working in a bar. It could be good for me. Gonna do it right this time, I thought. The thought didn't last. A sharp whistle pierced the air. It sounded like a piano falling in a cartoon. I ran to the window. Traffic lights blinked. People screamed. On the sidewalk, a man and woman cowered.

“What was that?” the woman said.

“We should call 911,” he replied.

“I'm calling. Are you calling? My call's not going through. It's 9/11 again!”

“My phone works. Besides, it's August--- can't be 9/11.”

“Then it's 8/14. 8/14 is the new 9/11.”

An old man stumbled off a stoop.

“I gotta weather radio. It's a power outage. Other cities got hit, too. I'd rather go through 9/11 again. At least I didn't lose my window unit then. It's nine hundred degrees and I gotta listen to you monkey-fuckers.”

A woman walked toward the old man. "You sick son of a bitch; my mother died in the first tower.”

“Aw, I gotta a dead mother, too. Typhoid Fever epidemic of 1812.”

The arguing continued, but I had no time for it. I wished I could take a plane, but they would be backed up for hours now and all the 9/11 security made them too risky anyway. A power outage meant no subway and a cab nightmare. Maybe I could hitch a ride to Port Authority and just wait for the buses to start rolling again. I had already robbed someone and watched Mecca die. Hitchhiking was the least of my worries. Still, I had left the guns with Mecca. Suddenly my landline rang.


“I keep saying that cell phones are just a fad. Look, here I am calling you from a payphone during a blackout while everyone else is jamming up the towers. People act like those things are something, but mark my word, they’ll be gone by 2007. There’s nothing else you can do with them but listen to them fail during an emergency.”

Cigarette smoke never sounded so serious. That was odd to me, as that serious sound was coming from a woman who reminded me of an avocado. But I knew I was in trouble. 

“Is it in a suitcase? Bus or train? I always wondered why you never got any new clothes with all the money I paid. Now I know. It wasn't enough. You got greedy tastes.”

 “You're a fine one to talk. All the money you make, you still look like Jersey.”

“Jersey's got rents and restaurants just like the city. Sometimes, they're better than what you find here. Matter of fact, I went just went out there to replace some hardware. The people I know in Jersey got great hardware. And now that my favorite Sopranos extra has driven back to the city with me, a blackout hits. Our hardware works great in a blackout, though.”

“How did you get this number?” 

“The question should really be whether or not I shoot that old man who keeps screaming about his air conditioner before or after I shoot you.”

The phone went dead. Kneeling under the window, I scanned the street and saw Tiffanese standing by the payphone next to the bodega with her hair blowing like straw in the breeze. A guy who actually did look like an extra on "The Sopranos" got out of a black sedan. Tiffanese had the nerve to put out her cigarette then chew on an ice cream cone as they crossed the Bowery to kill me. I grabbed a knife and stood to the right of the door, unlocking it slowly. I cracked it just enough to see what was what. For the first time in a long time, I felt hungry. It took a while, but heavy pants finally echoed up the stairs.

“Why do you always have to hire people that live in sixth floor walk-ups?” the man said, leaning on the banister. 

“Good God, I can’t kill anyone until I catch my breath," Tiffanese said. 

I flung open the door with the blade down and plunged the knife into the extra’s back. He tumbled down the stairs. I turned and came face-to-face with that ice cream cone. Only then did I realize I needed two knives. Killing isn’t as easy as it looks in the movies or even on the news. It requires planning to do it well. Tiffanese didn’t even have her gun out and she was dumb enough to warn me she was coming. But living as I live now I know that the criminal mastermind is a thing of fiction. Most criminals suffer from egos, not masterminds. Crime, or life, just comes down to thinking you can take and eat and move on. I decided that I was ready to move on and find out about that somewhere else.

I shoved her against the wall. White powder glistened on the edge of her nostril. The ice cream fell to the floor which probably infuriated her more than anything. She growled; I growled, sinking my teeth into her nose. Her nails pierced my scalp. I pulled back and wrapped my hands around her neck then squeezed until she died. Maybe I should say more, after all these years, but that's how I think of it because I can't think about it. I ran back into the apartment and grabbed the money and bag. I realized that I needed something to help carry them because of the blackout so I grabbed my mini grocery cart. If I could roll a mini grocery cart from the Bowery to Port Authority, I could find that somewhere else. I told myself to put one foot forward. I didn’t look at the extra when I passed him in the hallway. I just kept moving. Manhattan’s easy to walk, I thought. The blackout won’t last forever. I can disappear, I told myself, wiping sweat from my eyes. All I have to do is endure one hell of a bus ride with a few stops in-between.

Around 6th and 8th, a bodega owner stood in front of his bodega, passing out all sorts of goodies. He waved a can of beer and a sandwich at me.

“Where are you going?” 

“I’m disappearing,” I said.

“How wonderful for you. Here, you have to take something. I can’t run the register or anything, Just take it.” 

Other bodega owners did the same thing so when the buses started rolling again, I did ride drunk. I managed to disappear from everyone but myself. I have moved so many times, looking for some place. Wherever I go, I waft in with a look like a girlfriend and leave a stench like garbage.

January 28, 2023 04:54

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Delbert Griffith
07:36 Feb 27, 2023

Wow, what a fascinating tale, and it was written quite well. I feel like I'm in the presence of a modern-day Raymond Chandler. This is great work, Tara. Favorite line: “Good God, I can’t kill anyone until I catch my breath," Tiffanese said. Probably the best line of dialogue I've read in quite some time. This line tells us everything we need to know about Tiffanese. And the reference to a Phantom Planet song was just icing on the cake. Really, really nice piece, Tara. I need to read this again. And again. There is much to learn about wri...


Tara Leigh Parks
17:14 Feb 27, 2023

Thank you so much, Delbert. This comment made my day. Tremendous thanks!


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Wendy Kaminski
02:53 Jan 31, 2023

This was enjoyably dark and raw, Tara - I really liked it and couldn't stop reading! Great voice, really effective for the tale.


Tara Leigh Parks
01:52 Feb 02, 2023

Thanks, Wendy! I'm glad you enjoyed it.


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Tommy Goround
16:53 Jan 30, 2023

Yep. -good use of hunger. -the raw details set mood. -good title. Too bad she is still looking for a home. Clapping.


Tara Leigh Parks
01:51 Feb 02, 2023

Tommy, Thank you for this comment. I like your insights.


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R W Mack
18:05 Jan 28, 2023

"But living as I live now I know that the criminal mastermind is a thing of fiction. Most criminals suffer from egos, not masterminds." I've been trying to tell people this for years! The "Lazy or Stupid" filter for motive is far more effective than presuming people are planning anything cogent. I only popped one minor typo error, but aside from that it was a clean production. The opener was interesting enough with the title to make me wanna read how the characters got there. The plot was reasonable and believable enough to stick with. Th...


Tara Leigh Parks
18:48 Jan 28, 2023

Thanks. It's based on my time in Manhattan. I lived there from the late 90s to about 2008 and I knew a woman who ran an in-call place. Let's just say she was not the brightest.


R W Mack
14:15 Jan 30, 2023

I've found that intelligence means less and less in terms of success in the hood when brutality is so much more economical in the short term


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