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Crime Fiction Contemporary

That’s the thing about this city. You'd have to be a psychopath not to need the blur of drugs or booze to censor reality. Ever since I stopped drinking, it's like some guy painted every glob of grease and every smear of grime in this whole damn town with neon colors. Does everyone know what it's really like? If they do, how can they fall asleep at night with anything close to a safe, cozy feeling?

         It's been five days since my last drink. I haven't slept in two. They said that it slowly gets better, but they're all liars. My stomach feels like someone's wringing it out, like a wet towel. My eyes feel like someone rolled them around in broken glass and just shoved them back in. How does anyone do this?

           The people in those damn meetings try to tell you the world is filled with sunshine and lollipops and sobriety is reality and whoop de do. Easy for them to say when they haven't lived on booze for years and are now trying to get by without it. I've had more liquid dinners than I can count. They tell you that a life of drinking slowly drains the life from you and everyone around you. They must've been high.

           With another sleepless night, I sit on a stool in the Over Easy Diner, nursing a coffee and reading a paper. Though, I don't know why. They all read like the back of a horror DVD and I wonder if people are making them up. Stories like -

           Thirteen-year-old female known prostitute found stabbed to death. Police say that her body was found in the back row of a city bus but wasn't found until the bus came back to the station and was routinely searched for lost items.

           Forty-six-year-old man found dead in the 1bdrm apartment that he shared with his wife. Police officials say the cause of death was poisoning. Sources close to the case say the wife is suspected but no more details have come out, as yet.

           No one can be that horrible. No one can be that cruel. I hope they all go straight to Hell.

           I smell the sizzling eggs and bacon on the grill, but I know I can't eat any until that guy stops wringing out my insides. So, I put another packet of sugar in my coffee and wish it were Irish whiskey. As the waitress comes to check if I need more, I notice the mole on the right side of her neck, ruining an otherwise flawless face. It's big and gross and I want to tell her how to get rid of it. As she leaves, I keep my mouth shut. If there's anything I learned from twelve years of marriage, it's that.

           It was maybe 2:30 am somewhere when they walked in. A couple of kids, boys around their late teens or early twenties. You remember that age. They thought they were ten feet tall and made of steel. They came and stood in front of the register at the counter, beside where I was sitting. I wanted to turn around right then, just to prove them wrong. But I kept my mouth shut. Twelve years of marriage. You know.

           One of them, this kid had a broad, angular face. You know the kind that looks like they fed their face protein shakes but the rest of their body didn't get any? Like even their cheeks had muscles? Anyway, this kid puts one of those knitted ski masks over his face, like the cameras didn't catch him walking in. His friend just stands behind him, no mask, smiling and biting the knuckle on his forefinger. They had to be on something. I almost asked them what it was.

           Anyway, Mr. Muscle Face puts his hand in his jacket pocket and makes like he has a gun. He points it at the waitress with the mole on her neck. “You! Lady!” he starts barking at her like she works for him. “Give me all the money in the register.” The grin on his face tells me that he didn't put much thought into this. It tells me he and his buddy just decided to put their lives in jeopardy for a couple hundred bucks, probably on a dare.

           As I sat beside where he was standing, I said without looking up “Son, you don't want to do this.” Twelve years of marriage. I learned I should keep my mouth shut, I just never learned how. I blame my mother.

           He turned to me and started talking down to me. “What was that grandpa?” And he pointed what was supposed to be a gun at me. “What did you say to me?”

           Five days without drinking and this is what the world throws at me. My hands shook like a palsy victim as I used all my emotional strength to keep from beating him to a pulp. I turned and looked up at him. “I said take your brain surgeon friend here, go home and sleep it off.”

           “Everything is okay,” pleaded the waitress. “Here. This is all the bills in the drawer. Just take the money and go. It's not worth hurting anyone over.” Her voice shook as she tried to hand Mr. Face the money. Her plan was probably the best one, but it was too late. He didn't take any notice of her. All his attention was on me. His friend laughed.

           As Mr. Muscle Face pointed his jacket pocket at me, he said to her, “No! Seems Gramps here thinks he knows how to run my life. Do'ncha, Gramps?” He glared at me as if his eyes were lasers and he was trying to bore a hole through my skull.

           “Look,” I told him. “Unless you just leave, right now, this will get really bad really fast.

           “Is that a threat, Grandpa?”

           “Not from me. I'm telling you this because you don't know what you're doing, right now and I know what that's like. You won't know until tomorrow, that is if you can remember any of it.”

           He cocks his head and gives me a sideways look. Then he raises his jacket pocket and says, “Oh, but Gramps. I know exactly what I'm doing.”

           Something in that look told me he was serious. Maybe it was just what five days without liquor looked like. Either way, I'd had enough of his show. So, I leaned forward and in one quick motion, grabbed his wrist in one hand and shoved the business end of his jacket pocket into his stomach.

           Whether or not the gun was real was determined as the whole thing went off in a bang.

           The waitress screamed.

           Muscle Face stumbled back, eyes widened in surprise, and fell to the floor. Blood pooled on the black and white tiles of the Over Easy Diner.

           Christ, almighty. I've been sober for five days and this is what happens.

           His friend started screaming hysterically. He bent down and started pulling away Face's clothes to see the wound. I'm sure he wasn't a doctor. By the time he got the wound uncovered, you could see it was bad. Dark red blood flooded out of him as quickly as the color in his face.

           The waitress grabbed the receiver of the phone on the wall beside the grill and dialed 9-1-1 with shaky fingers. The look on her face was somewhere between shock and fear. When the operator came on, he couldn't understand the waitress until she stopped hyperventilating.

           Mussels looked his friend in the eye, reached out a hand to grab him on the back of the head to pull him closer. But when he tried to say something, he just died like someone turned off a light switch. His hand fell to the floor, splashing in the pool of blood.

           Without a word, his friend just got up and ran out the door. Red sneaker prints followed him out. No one stopped him.

           Soon after, the whole diner was flooded with red and blue strobing lights and cops. They followed the red footprints and took the friend into custody. They sat him in the back of a cruiser so he could watch through the giant window of the diner. As for me, they kept asking me the same questions over and over, then lectured me endlessly about what I should have done. Their version of “should have done” was sit there and keep my mouth shut. They really didn't care that I couldn't manage that in 12 years of marriage.

           Turns out Muscle Face was so buried in hospital debt that he and his buddy just got wasted and decided the best way to get un-buried was to rob the place. That's one of the things that only make sense to you when you're stoned.

           We humans are strange creatures. We love being nice to each other, but only when there's enough to go around. We live in a world of excess. So much so that people spend billions to lose the extra weight from the surplus of food they didn't have to work for. Then we post memes to social media about giving to charity, helping old ladies with their groceries, adopting high-risk pets from shelters, supporting disabled little girls who can whistle like birds and want to go to college... Everyone “likes” them as they scroll past and we arrogantly think we are elevated over the animals. Evolved with our high morals and principles. Behold the Human race and marvel at how far we've come. Watch as I love my neighbor!

           But take it all away and we’re no better than the monkeys in India that steal food from tourists. Take it away and our high morals lie in a puddle of blood on the floor of an overnight diner. That’s the thing about this city. By this time tomorrow, the blood will be cleaned up and everyone will forget what just happened. But what do I know? I haven’t had a drink in 5 days.

March 12, 2021 22:06

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7 comments

Michael Boquet
17:12 Mar 19, 2021

I really liked the insertion of the newspaper blurbs. "Dark red blood flooded out of him as quickly as the color in his face." is a great line! Love the cynicism of your main character too. You do seem to switch between "Mr. Muscle" Mr. Muscle Face" and "Mr. Face" at random. I think the story would be clearer if you used the same one throughout. Solid crime story, nice job!

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J.S. Johnston
18:00 Mar 19, 2021

Thanks! :-D

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Wren Murphy
22:47 Mar 20, 2021

Wow. I was completely taken by surprise by the end. This starts off as a tale about a guy getting sober and then quickly turns that story on its head in a really intense way. Great work!

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J.S. Johnston
23:28 Mar 20, 2021

Thanks! :-D

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Graham Kinross
22:34 Dec 29, 2021

I like the film noir style descriptions. I can almost imagine this in black and white, being narrated by a gruff private eye type. It has a strong voice, well written.

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Redd Herring
12:38 Mar 21, 2021

Great story Jeff. I can feel his desperation in a quiet sort of way. How he is just tired from the years he has spent on this Earth and observing people and situations, and how awful it is without the dull of alcohol. ** I think this line maybe auto corrected to a different word? Mussels looked his friend in the eye, reached out a hand to grab him on the back of the head to pull him closer

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J.S. Johnston
16:21 Mar 21, 2021

Ha! Good catch! Yeah, those and the kind you eat. Too bad I can't change it now. But thanks for the compliment! :-)

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