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Crime Fiction

Patrick O’shea had a knack for finding lost things, people, jewels, even stolen money, but when he got lost, that was a problem. He couldn’t find himself.

Out of jail for almost a week, and he still didn’t feel right. O’shea moved the newspaper draped in front of him to catch the morning light coming through the open windows and door. The shaft of sun warmed only his right side, adding to his unbalance. O’shea felt untethered, let loose in a place where he no longer fit. He had no job or purpose anymore. How would he find his rhythm again in this real world?

At 10 AM in the morning, he had the front of Kelly’s Pub all to himself. Perched on the high stool, his muscular arms leaned on the bar, a faded polo shirt hung loose. The dank smell of the old bar swirled around him reminding him of better times. He scratched the last of his hair, a short cropped circle above his ears, as he squinted at the back page where the betting lines were listed.

His hand moved slowly, copying numbers onto a pad on his left.

 “Here you go Paulie.” 

The paper scratched against the worn wood as he slid it across, several crumbled bills on top. He rubbed his temples and listened to the street sounds floating in along with the cold breeze, a few paper menus stirred on the long bar top.

“I need to get out of town Paulie, too many bad memories, I need a new start.”

O’shea lifted, then snapped back the magnets holding the menu’s to the back metal rail.

Paulie took the betting slip and tilted the coffee pot to refill O'shea's mug without looking at it. Paulie had let himself go in the nine months O'shea sat in prison and now his Hawaiian shirt squeezed his belly and cheeks puffed out around his small, jolly eyes.

“You belong in this Town, you need it, and it needs you.” Paulie’s thumb ran along the entries.

“Why even bother if you’re betting the favorite every race?”

“I can't find the longshots anymore, I lost the feel for it. Lady luck seems to have lost my address-”

A loud booming car stereo, slowly increased in volume, and then cut off abruptly. A car door creaked open, then slammed shut. Moments later a tall, lean black woman with long braids stepped into the bar, morning light cascading around her. A black leather jacket covered a sequined shirt over silver skin-tight leggings.

“Speaking of Lady Luck.” Paulie said out of the side of his mouth.

 “Where Oh-Shea at?” She said, looking between the two men.

O’shea glanced at Paulie, standing behind the bar and then tilted his head up at the newcomer. “You found him. What can I do you for?”

She strolled in, unbalanced, a hitch to her step. Behind her a short, fat black man came in, surveying the bar, grimacing, like he’d prefer to hit O'shea than to look at him. “This is the stupidest damn idea-”

“You can find things that have been stole?” The woman’s eyes searched O'shea, looking him up and down, her face twisted into a disappointed frown . “Dameon said you the guy-”

O'shea straightened up at Dameon’s name. He still owed Dameon a lot of money that he didn’t have.

“Depends what was stolen, but I can look. Come on over.” He walked back to a four top table in the corner. “What’s your name?”

 “Brandy. And this is MonkeyD.” MonkeyD glared at O'shea.

 “I’ve heard you just got out of Santa Rita.” Both her and MonkeyD joined O'shea at the table.

“This is Paulie. Can he get anything for you?” O’shea pointed with his thumb.

 “A cappuccino, non-fat.” Brandy nodded to Paulie.

 Paulie‘s eyebrows shot up. He put two white mugs on the table and filled them from the coffee pot. He put down a small box of sugar packets and powdered cream before moving to the back of the bar.

Brandy looked inside a cup and then leaned back. MonkeyD pulled a cup towards himself and began ripping sugar packets into it.

“So Brandy, if you’re talking to me, then you didn’t want to involve the police. What’ch you looking for?”

“Some bastard stole my leg.” Brandy’s fist slammed on the table, spilling coffee. “And when I find out who, I’m going to kill’em.”

 “Your leg?” Oshea glanced at the silver skinned legs under the table.

Brandy reached down to her left knee, rolled up her leggings to uncover a prosthetic leg, faded and yellow skinned. Her fingers fiddled at the leg, detaching it at the knee, then brought it up to the table, standing straight and tall in a blue and black Air Jordan shoe.

“What is that then?”

“This is just an old leg, a white girl’s leg.” Brandy spit out the words. “It don’t even fit right. I need mine back.”

Brandy pointed her long, thin finger with a short, square painted nail at O'Shea, "Can you get it back?"

 “Why would someone steal your leg? Do you think the thief is an amputee, also missing their leg?”

 “That’s stupid.” Her hand clenched into a fist. “Someone stole it because they are fucking wit me.” Her eyes glowed bright. “I’m known for my leg. My leg is like Green Lantern’s ring, my superpower. With it I can do anything, be anything. Without it, I feel like I’m missing part of me. I took it off to dance, then I went back and it was gone.”

“You took it -off to dance?” O'shea said.

“That’s bull.” MonekyD’s voice rumbled low and insistent. “You don’t need that leg, you are Brandy and more than just a damn leg.” Brandy pulled her arm away as MonkeyD reached out. “Maybe you shouldn’t go to the party. Just send the girls. It’ll be better this way.

Damn, I know it was Big Love! Why are we even here?” MonkeyD pushed back hard in the chair.

“What party?” Oshea asked.

Brandy’s head shook back and forth. “The party doesn’t concern you. Just find my leg.” She pressed her fingers over her eyes, a jewel in each manicured nail. Her head lifted up and her eyes were wet beneath her braids. “I’m not myself without it.”

Oshea looked back and forth between the two. Their story left out some important details, but he knew it would all come out, eventually. Things get lost for a reason, and he needed to figure that reason out.

“OK, I’ll help you, but ya’ll have to be straight up with me, no bull-. $1,000 a day, OK?” Oshea continued at Brandy’s nod. “Where was the last place you saw your leg?”

“We can take you there.” Brandy said, grabbing her leg and putting it back on. “I can call Big Love to meet us there too. If it’s him we’ll find out.”

The GMC Yukon parked out front was a color O'shea didn't recognize, maybe a brown? The huge rims sparkled in the sun breaking through the morning fog.

“Welcome to my Purple People Eater” Brandy grinned.

The screeching tires echoed on the empty street in front of Cafe Van Kleefs. O’shea had been inside before but it had been years.

The smell of stale liquor pulled at Oshea, triggering him to want what he shouldn’t have. Sober for nine months, and he still fought the urge every day, every moment to jump in a bottle and never come out.

A gold chandelier glittered dimly in the entryway, and a multicolored LED light display splashed rainbows onto barstools. A small elevated stage sat empty to the right with five-foot high speakers flanking each side. Nina Simone sang out of them with a slight hum straining against her mellow voice, as if they preferred to play the raucous music they were built for.

A rope-thin black man, with tight, braided hair sat in front of the bar, one hand in his pocket, the other on a phone, a cocktail glass of bourbon, neat in front of him.

“Big Love! You damn, mother-” MonkeyD yelled.

“What the?” Big Love’s huge eyes stared up at them. “Brandy wat’s going on?”

“I’m here about my leg!” Her eyes drilled into the man, her hip hitching at each step. ”You stole it!”

“What? Why are you walking like that?” Big Love eyed her legs.

O’shea put his hands up between the combatants. “We’re here about Brandy’s missing leg. I’m O'shea, you I take it are Big Love, and who are you?” Oshea turned to the bartender, a slip of a woman with pitch black hair and pale skin. Her arms were covered in bright ink, O’shea saw, a broken heart on one arm with a smiling skull, and an elaborate multi-colored butterfly on the other.

“Denise.” She looked to O’shea then to Brandy and back. “Is this about last night?”

“Tell me what you saw?” 

“Brandy said her leg was stolen.” Denise leaned against the back bar. “And then proceeded to scream at everyone, so Joe, our doorman, threw her out. Sorry.” Her wide eyes and pursed lips gave lie to her words.

Brandy pointed at Denise. “- Damn Joe!...”

Oshea put an arm out toward Brandy. “I heard your story. Big Love, what did you see?”

Big Love looked O'shea up and down. He pulled a hand from his pocket, and put down his phone. His large, elegant hands gestured with graceful movements.

“Man, I touched her leg, just to look, it was on the stool right there,” his hand reached out to touch an imaginary object, petting it, then pointed to the stool closest to the stage.

“Told you!” MonkeyD shouted, pointing over O'shea's shoulder. “He stole it!”

“There were like 50 people up in here! Anyone could have taken it, and just left.” Big Love’s hands waved to the dance floor, the bar, and then the door. “I didn’t steal her damn leg. I just wanted to look at it. I heard that’s why Ernesto hired her.”

“OK, Big Love admits to touching the leg, then it vanishes in a big crowd. Who is Ernesto, and what is this party?” O’shea demanded.

“Ernesto hired Brandy and her girls for tonite. A going away party for Ernesto’s cousin who is headed to Chino for a two year stint. Brandy and her leg.”

“You were the last one to touch it , anyone else you see around you who could have grabbed it?” Oshea asked.

Big Love’s hands moved, palms up.

Oshea turned to Denise. “Do you have receipts from -”

“Cash only.” She pointed to a sign.

“Cameras?”

Denise just tilted her head with a smirk.

“It’s a beautiful leg man.” MonkeyD added. “I can see why someone would just snatch it. It’s a work of art.”

Oshea looked to Brandy. “Art? Isn’t it just like the leg you’re wearing, but with the right skin tone?”

Both Big Love and MonkeyD laughed.

“I made my leg myself and it’s a part of me.” Brandy’s hand pounded her chest, straightening up.

“Ok tell me about the leg.” Oshea leaned in toward Brandy.

She took a deep breath before she began. “I didn’t want to be in this life.” Brandy looked up through her braids. “Now most of my girls didn’t plan on working on their backs either. I say that because I had goals- I was going to be a blacksmith- work iron.”

Brandy paused, and Nina Simone’s song ‘Four Women’ eased through the bar.

“My uncle Ronnie was a welder, he called hisself a Blacksmith. His hands,” she looked down at her own, “were magic, he could make anything. He made me toys, a horse so alive, it looked like it’d just take off running.”

“I wanted to do that, take a piece of black metal, and through fire, and my hands turn it into something beautiful. I have always been good with my hands. I never was much for school, couldn’t sit still, and those white teachers didn’t take with no wild black girl.” Brandy grimaced, her jaw clenched.

 “Uncle Ronnie pulled a favor and I got a job doing construction, just out of high school, an old shop in Southside Chicago. Just basic stuff, but they taught me, and I was a good welder.”

Brandy’s hand rubbed an imaginary spot out of the table top.

“Then, I followed a boy out here to Oakland, but it fell apart pretty quick. I looked for work as a welder. See I had experience, but no formal training, no certificate I could show. No one wanted a woman welder. One boss told me I was good, better than his men, but it would upset the shop to have a woman around. Another guy hired me, but had me working in the office as his secretary. That lasted until he told me to make coffee and I poured the entire pot on his head.” Brandy’s voice burned, a furnace of anger. “And the whole time I was desperate for money, living out of my car, struggling just to eat. I had to survive, and I found a way to get money. “ Brandy’s eyes caught O'shea's, shards of steel holding his gaze, waiting for disapproval, or pity.

Sarah Vaughn’s plaintive voice rose around them, throbbing with a background hum.

Getting none, she continued.

“It worked out, the cash was good. I worked my way up, now I have some ladies, and some boys too, working for me. I got so I could get back to my purpose, iron work. I’ve had prosthetic legs my whole life, they never fit right, and most always white girl skin."

Brandy flipped through her bejeweled phone, then held up a picture. “Here is my real leg.”

O’shea couldn’t comprehend what he was looking at as a leg. The black form spiraled in elegant, impossibly thin iron strips into a three dimensional outline of a lower leg. A flat iron ribbon flowed out from the upper calf area, bending into a heel shape and then a graceful pointed instep before widening into decorative toes.

“You made that?” O’shea said, shocked.

 I ‘ve made several, this is my best one.” She held up another picture of herself wearing brightly colored high heels, one leg real, the other a work of art.

“I don't work parties no more, I have my people out on the street, but I was going to work Ernesto’s party tonite. A favor for him- we go way back. For his friend, on his last night before Chino.”

Brandy put her phone down. “But someone stole my leg, and it is as if they stole my heart. I want it back, I need it back.”

O'shea straightened, the picture of what happened snapped in his mind.

“I think I know where your leg is.” O'shea said, “Denise, can you turn up the speaker?”

“Ya, but I think it’s blown, the sound’s off-” She moved to a corner of the bar.

Sarah Vaughn's voice became louder, along with the straining sound from the speaker on the right.

O’shea walked over to it. “Speakers are just giant magnets. They make a magnetic field from the current, to create the vibrations, the sounds.”

He leaned down behind the speaker, reaching in. “The iron, it’s messing with the magnet.”

 Static erupted, then the sound smoothed out. O'shea stood up holding the leg. He walked back and handed it to Brandy. “You’re right, this is a true work of art.”

“But who took it?” Brandy reached for her leg with both hands.

O’shea looked out to the others in the bar.” I don’t think Big Love would steal your leg. This party will be the first time you have gone back to work, right?”

Brandy nodded.

“The people closest to us know us better than we know ourselves. I believe someone who cares for you stole your leg to stop you from going back to work.”

“MonkeyD, you have been against looking for the leg since the beginning...”

Brandy caught her breath. “Monkey- is this true?”

“I can’t see you going back out there Bran.” MonkeyD spoke in a hushed tone.

“Monk- you stabbed me in the fucking back! Who are you?”

 “It’s not worth it! Worth giving up your honor to go back to that. We’re doing good, running the stable- I know Ernesto offered you good money, but damn I love you and I can’t watch you put yourself in a position to get hurt, again-”

“Monk, you could’ve talked to me.”

“You don’t listen to me, never have! “ MonkeyD’s voice cracked. “What would you say if I told you to turn down that stack Ernesto offered? You‘d laugh in my goddamn face. I knew you wouldn’t do this party without your leg.”

“Messing with my leg, Monkey- I’d kill over this if it was anyone else-”

“I didn’t know another way. I’m sorry.”

“You were really scared, for me?” Brandy asked. “I can handle myself-”

“I want to do that for you…”

Brandy put her fingers over MonkeyD,s mouth then kissed him. She leaned over and took off her prosthetic leg and attached the iron one. She stood up, her shoulders square, her body lighter and more balanced.

“I’ll tell Ernesto I’ll send my girls tonite, but I’m officially retired. That OK?”

MonkeyD nodded, a smile cracking his face.

Thank you O’shea. Can I buy you a drink?”

A weight moved inside of Oshea, setting him back in balance. He can’t go back to his old life, he knows where that will end. Wanting to go back disturbed his own sound, his own rhythm. Using his skills to help people felt good, and wouldn’t get him killed, at least not directly. There were a lot more people in this Town who were at the end of the line with no one else to turn to.

“No, thanks. Just pass the word. O’shea’s back.”

March 15, 2024 16:53

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19 comments

00:29 Mar 20, 2024

I'm glad this didn't end the way my mother told the story of the man who lost his wooden leg. The end of the story is always of someone 'pulling and pulling and pulling his [damn] leg, like I'm pulling yours. The End." That was told as a horror story. This one not so much. It's what stopped me writing to this prompt, as my story isn't horror. Still a good, dark, surprisingly romantic (at the end), and well written story, Marty. The correct spelling is O'Shea. The O starts many Irish names and means 'of' as in son of (Like the Mc or Mac in S...

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Marty B
04:02 Mar 20, 2024

I wanted to stay away from horror as well, although this might have not be a real fit for the prompt. Thanks for the Irish spelling tip. Irish has -unique- spelling!

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Trudy Jas
11:08 Mar 18, 2024

Both O'Shea and Brandi are walking on two legs again.

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Marty B
16:36 Mar 18, 2024

It took some work! But they both have their feet set again. Thanks!

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Mary Bendickson
20:21 Mar 16, 2024

Got her strut back!

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Marty B
00:11 Mar 17, 2024

Yes she did! Thanks!

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Alexis Araneta
12:59 Mar 16, 2024

A dark and gripping tale with great flow and descriptions. Lovely job !

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Marty B
00:11 Mar 17, 2024

I appreciate your good words! Thanks!

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Kayden Solace
22:41 Jun 03, 2024

This was a good story, a surprising end considering the prompt. There are a few things I noticed: "A weight moved inside of Oshea" - Here you forget to put the apostrophe. It should be O'shea. This happened several times and I recommend using the find tool to fix these. "MonkeyD,s mouth" - You put a comma rather than an apostrophe. "he called hisself a Blacksmith." - Fix the word hisself, and I'm not sure if you need to capitalize Blacksmith, unless he meant it as a title. This also happens toward the beginning of the story with the word T...

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Marty B
03:28 Jun 04, 2024

Thanks!

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Helen A Smith
07:55 Mar 25, 2024

Such great scene setting here. The characters are larger than life and compelling. I liked the backstory of Brandy having been a great welder but not able to what she wanted to do because she didn’t have the qualifications and it was a man’s world. Brandy felt like she’d been betrayed by Monkey D, but he was trying to protect her out of love. Looks like O’Shea will soon find his old rhythm. Also, great background music to set this well-crafted piece.

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Marty B
19:22 Mar 25, 2024

The background music in the story accompanied me in writing it as well ;) I think the unique back stories and hobbies are what bring the characters to life. I m glad it worked for you! Thanks!

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Helen A Smith
20:27 Mar 25, 2024

Ah, what a great idea. I imagine the background music will have inspired you to write the story.

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Jack Kimball
21:23 Mar 22, 2024

Hey Marty B, This is excellent. Your details are phenominal, not only exquisite details, but ALSO contribute to the mood or story. Has a real 'noir' kind of feel. 'Brandy reached down to her left knee, rolled up her leggings to uncover a prosthetic leg, faded and yellow skinned. Her fingers fiddled at the leg, detaching it at the knee, then brought it up to the table, standing straight and tall in a blue and black Air Jordan shoe.' and '...Her arms were covered in bright ink, O’shea saw, a broken heart on one arm with a smiling skull, ...

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Marty B
04:51 Mar 23, 2024

I appreciate the great comments! Love Walter Moseley and Easy Rawlins! I haven't read 'Devil in a Blue Dress' but will look into it. This story was inspired by Elmore Leonard and the curious characters that inhabit his novels. Thanks!

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J. D. Lair
22:49 Mar 21, 2024

I enjoyed this take very much Marty. You’re so creative! The way you layer in details without making it into purple prose is something I aspire to. Your dialogue was solid too! Thanks for sharing. :)

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Marty B
01:43 Mar 22, 2024

Good words from a great writer! Appreciate the comment- You made my day ;)

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Philip Ebuluofor
15:00 Mar 20, 2024

Fine work. I never knew people go after things like that. Rubber legs.

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Marty B
05:28 Mar 21, 2024

Thank you !

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