Crime Fiction



Gavin Matthew

Henrietta sat contemplating, her booth occupied with three others. It was a slow night at the Ellipsis Diner. Missouri rain and rolling thunder encouraged most of the city’s people to stay home where it was dry and safe. Henrietta and her crew had the eatery to themselves except for three waitresses and two other patrons.

“You should have just let me k . . .” started Charlie before Henrietta nudged his shoulder. He was a burly man with skin like midnight and a stare that could petrify Medusa herself, but Henrietta didn’t care about his gruesome gaze. She just needed him to shut up. He wasn’t talking to her but his complaining was beginning to work her nerves.

“We are in a public place, fool. Show a little more decorum,” Henrietta whispered as her almond eyes matched Charlie’s glare. He was a foot taller and several pounds heavier but she wasn’t intimidated. Henrietta had always been slender with chestnut skin and a full halo of natural hair. Her appearance never stopped her from living her life on her terms. Even her Coke bottle glasses did little to hinder the respect she demanded.

“Should have let me . . .” Charlie continued as he returned his gaze across the table. “Shake his hand.”

Prancer, an elegant woman dressed in a houndstooth coat with a low-cropped afro, shook her head with disappointment as her narrow eyes challenged Charlie.

“See. That’s your problem right there. Chuck, you too damn eager to shake hands. Half our jobs would end smoother if you stopped trying to shake hands with a suckah.”

“Oh?” Charlie shrugged as he leaned back, his leather jacket subtly squeaking against the booth cover. “I think Quincy would agree with me on this one.”

Henrietta rubbed the side of her head as she brought her eyes forward across the table. Quincy had slipped out of consciousness a little after they had sat down. His skinny brown form seemed blemished by the massive black eye decorating his left socket. Rainwater clung to his corybantic afro while blood stained his purple corduroy jacket and bell-bottom jeans. A pair of large circular glasses, bent and cracked, bafflingly held onto the ridge of his nose. Henrietta couldn’t help but think of how pretty Quincy was before he got his ass kicked. 

“You can’t speak for him,” said Prancer. “He doesn’t care for when you . . . shake hands either. We all say the same thing. Quincy. Me. Hell, even Henrietta would prefer you didn’t try to shake so many hands when we’re on a job.”

“Come to think of it, we’re fussing about the wrong thing here. Where were you, Prancer, when Quincy was getting . . .” Charlie started, only stopping as their waitress arrived.

“What can I get you folks tonight?” asked the young girl as she fiddled with the hem of her pastel uniform.

“Could you please start us off with a round of coffee?” Henrietta said. “Black with a couple of sugars for me, cream for the big guy next to me, likewise for the foxy lady, and straight black for sleeping beauty over there.”

“Alright. Is he copacetic?” asked the young girl as she looked at Quincy’s slumped-over figure, his head resting awkwardly against the wall.

“He’s cool. Rough night, you know. Just needs something hot and black,” replied Henrietta.

The waitress gave another concerned look but shrugged off the worry before strolling away with the orders. Henrietta and her crew watched her clear the diner floor before turning back to one another. 

“When Quincy was in . . . conversation?” Charlie finished, his eyes surveying the other patrons sitting within earshot.

“Where was I?!” Prancer scoffed. “The goddamn . . . conversation was happening on the second floor and Leon . . .”

“Ahem,” Henrietta warned, raising her eyes to Prancer.

“And . . . the politician,” Prancer corrected and growled. “Talked me through the goddamn window!”

Prancer attempted to whisper but the vitriol in her statement still caused the crew to check for listeners. Charlie managed to clear his throat as his eyes went big.

“What?” Charlie replied. “For real? You look fine. No cuts. No tears. Your hair is still in place. Still look like an Ebony model to me.”

“That’s because I got myself together in the van afterward, despite Henrietta flying down Prospect like a bat out of Hell.”

“Damn,” Charlie grinned. “You really should have let me shake his hand.”

Henrietta continued her quiet contemplation as Prancer and Charlie went back and forth nitpicking one another. Her thoughts were elsewhere, their bickering becoming white noise behind her thoughts. That job should have been a cakewalk. It should have been an in-and-out kind of gig. There was no indication that the politician would have been a problem or that they would have needed more than one safecracker. Henrietta remembered hearing the window crash. By the time she and Charlie had made it up to the second floor, Quincy was in no condition to finish the job. The mark put up a good fight for a statesman and judging by how he brawled for his property, it was fair to say he might have given Jim Kelly a run for his money.

“Prancer,” Henrietta interjected, cutting through the arguing. “Check if Qunicy is still alive.”

“He’s breathing fine,” Prancer answered as she felt her friend’s chest rise and fall with a steady rhythm.

“Great. Now wake him up just in case he’s concussed.”

Prancer managed to get Quincy to stir, carefully bringing him out of his slumber. He took a moment to look around. The bright lights of the diner seemed to spear at his eyes while the monotonous rain tapping from outside pounded at his ears like an orchestra. Everything focused and settled within a few seconds but a stone of ache still sat lodged at the base of his skull. 

“Oh right,” Quincy mumbled and covered his eyes as his memory revived itself. “What do we do no, boss?”

Quincy was always professional. It was one of his most charming qualities. Nothing else mattered in the face of his work. His domestic issues, financial problems, love life, etc. Not a single thing deterred his focus on a job. Such a centered mind was to be expected from a safecracker who enjoyed his work. Henrietta admired his laboriousness. She even thought at one point he was homeless but nobody could say for sure because all Quincy ever talked about, moved for, was business.

“You sure you’re tip-top?”

“I’m aces, boss. Trust me,” Quincy comforted with a weak smile. “So what’s the skinny on our situation now?”

Henrietta let out a deep breath before nodding to Prancer.

“Dig this,” Prancer began, conducting her hands for emphasis. “After our conversation with the politician went sideways, Henrietta managed to bring him low with some well-placed words. Low enough for Chuck to have the last word, right? But by then he had already worn you out with all the talking so we couldn’t finish the project without you. Then Chuck was mad about you getting overwhelmed by the conversation and wanted to shake the statesman’s hand. You know how he is always trying to shake some fool’s hand on the job? Needless to say, we had to stop Chuck from shaking hands and we didn’t get our project funded. Henrietta figured it was time to call it a night and didn’t waste a second agitating the gravel. So the politician was brought low but didn’t get his hand shaken, our urban project didn’t get funded, and we all ended up here at the Ellipsis Diner for a brief reprieve. Now we’re just twiddling our thumbs, ya dig?”

Quincy nodded, slow and pointedly, as the crew watched and waited in silence. His face indicated that his mind was putting the puzzle together but the seconds bled into minutes. The waitress had stopped by to drop off the coffee and then left again after everyone declined a meal. All four had taken sips of their drinks as they continued to wait for Quincy’s understanding and confirmation.

“Okay,” Quincy said before taking a long swig of his steaming black coffee. “Now Prancer, what the hell are you talking about?”

End For Now

February 21, 2024 23:18

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Mary Bendickson
05:44 Feb 22, 2024

And that, Folks, is the way this prompt is done!


Gavin Matthew
17:15 Feb 22, 2024

Asante sana! 👴🏿🙏🏿


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