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Drama Suspense Crime

Henry looked into the dusky night. Fireflies flashed. His eyes tracked one, then another. Mysteriously there and gone. There and gone.

Could soon be me,’ he thought.

He knew his deep trouble. Could be life and death. Frenchie, in the driver’s seat didn’t care.

No one understands when you lose your mind. You’re expected to keep tabs on such things. Not like telling your Mom you lost your sweater at school.

‘Where did you last see it…?’

Regardless, Henry amused himself. He kept quiet, though.  

Frenchie, parked the limo and idled the engine. He lit a cigarette and tossed the match. The coal glowed as he puffed. Sweet smoke drifted into the night.

Distant lights from the plantation house cast muted light off Spanish moss laden oaks. Faint music floated on the heavy air.

“Joey wants to talk.”

“I figured.”

“Wants to know where you been.”

“I was sick.”

“He wants to hear it from you, personally.” It had been a long time.

Frenchie turned. “Tell me Hank, what’re you thinking?  You crazy? You better be. Some people think you must be, to show your face again. No one disappears, for months yet, and expects a welcome party.”

“I’ve been in the hospital, French. Had a break-down.”

“You ain’t seen nothing yet. People dare show their faces… he’ll give you a break-down. Hard. People get canceled, my friend. Can-celed! Never seen again.”

“I was sick.”

“Don’tcha get it? You were working your way up. Collections is a good gig. Learning the ropes. Had a future. That’s over now. Break trust? You’re out.”

One last puff lit Frenchie’s face a dark orange. He flicked the butt, spinning a trail of sparks into the night. Fireflies danced.

His door latch clacked. “Let’s go. On the clock.”

Henry sat. He breathed. ‘Guess this is it.’ He got out and walked toward the house. Frenchie followed. The music stopped. Crunching gravel footsteps cut through the shimmering cicadas.

Inside, polished marble stretched for about an acre. They could hear voices from the big room. Another night of business over drinks.

A guy frisked Henry and took his phone. “Get it on the way out.”

The door opened. Aggressive laughs rode a cloud of cigar smoke.

‘Sounds like barking. They sniff butts too?’

The band resumed playing mellow jazz. People talked without being overheard.

Frenchie and Henry scanned the room, laid out like a night club. Suits and evening gowns. No one danced. In better shape than most, he fit in.

The ratio of men to women ran about ten to one. Henry had learned the powerful cut the competition.

He’d met most everyone, but no one acknowledged him. Not even eye contact.

The uninformed might overlook Joey’s table, called ‘the summit.’  People expected an elevated throne. He preferred a back corner booth, out of the spotlight.

Everyone wanted a seat with Joey. Three lieutenants and a clutch of six or seven gorgeous women drifted in a loose orbit. Being welcome there required more than a pretty smile.

Hank had never approached the table. He had no business.

Angela always sat next to Joey, in elegant black. No one asked about her. Curiosity about the boss’s woman served no purpose. Church wedding or not, Henry figured she must be his wife. Their history preceded his arrival and remained above his pay grade. Especially tonight.

Henry felt a chill when his eyes met her dark gaze from across the room.

‘Don’t her eyes get tired holding up all that mascara?’

The music stopped, mid-song. The conversational din swelled before hushing into near silence.

Frenchie nudged Henry. “Go,” he said. Henry looked at him and he cocked his head toward Joey.

All eyes were upon him.  He felt as if the sea were parting before him as he strode across the room.

Taking no notice, Joey continued talking and laughed at some guy’s joke.

Holding her gaze on Henry, Angela touched Joey’s sleeve and he turned. The room stilled.

“Well, look who’s here! Hank right?”

Henry nodded. “Hi Joey…”

Laughing, he turned to Angela. “You hear that? Hank called me Joey. Like we’re old buddies.” Dropping his smile he returned to Henry. “Nice of you to show up. We’ve missed you. Where you been?”

“Up at the State Hospital. They said they got me off a bridge. Kept me from jumping. I’ve been hearing voices.”

Joey played with his cigar. “Voices, eh? Like whose? Like the Feds? Like that stooge, Louie? Who?”

Henry pointed at his temple. “Here. In my head.”

Joey nodded with pursed lips. “What these voices tell you? You taking orders from anyone but me?”

‘Idiot.’

“The voice says you’re an idiot.”

Henry heard Joey’s breath. Joey looked for any reaction. None. The room froze like a still photograph.

He chuckled as if it were actually funny. “You’re a joker, eh? This voice have a name?”

“Karl.”

“What else Karl have to say?”

“You surround yourself with ‘yes men.’ Pay them tons of money to agree with you.”

Joey played with his cigar. He made a production out of re-lighting it. He puffed up a storm.

“So what? I suppose Karl thinks I should hire him? Retire you and put him on the payroll?”

“I don’t like the retirement plan. No future in it.”

“Hank, tell your friend, Karl, I won’t double your pay to get him on board.”

“I do collections, Joey. Karl’s not for hire. He says what he says.”

“No ‘two for one sale’? He’s one independent son-of-a-bitch.” Joey cracked up at his joke. Angela held her gaze.

“Do what you want, Joey.”

“Karl say anything else?”

He looked around at the lavish ballroom. “It’s garish. But you like garish.”

Angela blinked. Joey looked around and smiled. “Yeah. It’s my style.” He leaned in. “What the suits at the hospital think of Karl?”

“My doctor said he’s a manifestation of an electro-chemical aberration. Said I’m crazy. Put me on meds to suppress the voice.”

Joey nodded, fascinated at the chemistry lesson. “They work?”

“He’s less present. But always in the background.”

“Karl make a lot of friends up there? He talk much about me? You know, to the, uhm… authorities?”

“Your tax money would be poorly spent if they investigated every crazy thing an inmate said, Joey.”

He laughed. “My taxes? That’s rich.” Joey looked at the others. He encouraged them to join in. Angela smiled.

He settled into his chair and assessed Henry. His nervous energy made the table vibrate. “You know, Hank, I put a lot of value in loyalty. Ask anyone.” Joey gestured to the room.

“I’m not disloyal, Joey. I’ve been sick.”

“Yeah, I heard you. That’s what you said. Question now, what the hell do I do with you?”

Angela whispered in Joey’s ear. The table stopped jittering. He smiled at her. “I ever tell you you’re a genius?” He gave her a big wet kiss. She responded in kind.

“Get a room…” No one cared.

Angela broke the clinch and smiled at Henry while Joey composed himself.

Joey said, “So, kid, tell you what. Go have a drink. Enjoy yourself. Unwind.”

“That’s it? What now?”

“Yeah, come in Monday. Report to Angela, here. She and the girls will set you up. Find you something… Keep an eye on you.”

“I don’t think so.”

Joey blanched. “What?”

“I’m not walking into that snake pit.”

Angela stood. Snarling, she lunged at him. She would have got him if others, including Joey, hadn’t restrained her.

Two men escorted Henry to the foyer. He didn’t see Frenchie. They gave him his phone. No one spoke. They followed him down the long drive, through the tunnel of trees, to the road. The body guards locked the gate.

With no traffic, the night was so dark, Henry kept wandering off the pavement. He heard bats careening overhead.

He called his doctor who picked up. “Hi, Dr. Rhink. I’m free. They kicked me out. Guess that’s a good thing, right? I’m in one piece… No, I don’t need a ride. Nice night for a walk.”

Henry signed off and started toward the vaguely brighter horizon.

May 12, 2021 22:08

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1 comment

Bonnie Clarkson
01:48 May 14, 2021

Good dialogue. Kept me interested the whole way through. Fireflies weren't necessary for the plot, but they were an interesting addition and needed for the symbolism. Keep writing.

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