Thursday, April 28, 2011

#FridayFlash - Keep It Clean

“How am I supposed to take a piss with you standing there?”

“Orders are orders.”

“You want to hold it for me, too?”

“You want I should kick you between the legs for getting smart about it? This ain’t no picnic for me either, Remedy.”

“It’s Remley.”


“What if I can’t go?”

“If need be, I can call in the nurse and she’ll bring a catheter.”

“You serious?”

“As a heart attack. Though I got to tell you, it ain’t the going in that’s the problem. She’ll put K-Y on the tube first, that way it slides up nice and easy. It’s the coming out that can be a booger. Sometimes—and I seen this just a couple days ago—the balloon don’t deflate and she just has to yank the thing out. The guy it happened to? The catheter came out looking like a grape on the end of straw. He walked in here acting like he was all that, you know? Later, though, the dude looked like he was carrying a hunnert-pound man on his shoulders."


“Don’t you worry none, though. The nurse, she got some antibiotics, cure any urinary infection most likely follow something like that?”

“You cannot be serious.”

“Would I lie to you, Remedy?”


“Again, I really don’t care.”

“Right. So, how does a guy land a gig like this, watching while other guys take a leak?”

“You getting smart again?”

“No, I’m genuinely curious. What’d you do, get caught with the Judge’s daughter or something?”

“Listen, Remedy, outside of this here—mutual arrangement—you and me, we ain’t pals. We ain’t gonna swap war stories or send each other e-mails with stupid jokes or titty pictures attached. We just two guys got to do their jobs. Mine is to stand here, make sure you don’t try something funny. ‘Cause in case you haven’t figured it out by now, the justice department ain’t big on a sense of humor. And your job is to keep your mouth shut, your eyes down. I would hate for you to lose your focus, make a mess all over my floor. The last guy who did that walked out of here with a bad attitude, seeing as how I made him mop it up with the shirt on his back.”

“Jeez, man, you need to relax. You take this job way too serious, you know?”

“Well, I’m glad to see you finally catching on. So what say we cut the crap and you get on with your business so I can get on with mine?”

“It couldn’t hurt, you know.”

“What’re you jawing about now?”

“About you and lightening things up a little.”

“You want me to tell you a joke, that it?”

“I don’t know. Why, you got anything good?”

“Okay, yeah sure. It seems there was this tough looking gang of bikers, out riding around when they spotted an attractive young lady about to jump off a bridge, so they stopped. Now, the gang leader, a big burly guy, gets off his bike and says, ‘Hey, baby, what’re you doing?’ ‘What’s it look like?’ she says. ‘I'm gonna commit suicide.’ Okay, so while he did not want to appear insensitive, the biker didn't want to miss out on an opportunity either, so he asked, ‘Well, before you jump, how’s about you giving me a kiss?’ So she did, and it was long and lingering and passionate, and after she finished the biker said, ‘Wow, that was the hottest kiss I have ever had. That there is a real talent you'll be wasting. Say, why you committing suicide anyway?’ ‘Because,’ she said, ‘My parents don’t like me dressing up like a girl.’”

“Ha-ha-ha-oh-oh… Oh yeah, there we go. That was all I needed.”

“Merry Christmas, Remedy.”

“Kind of looks like a beer, don’t it?”

“Just put the lid on the cup and stick it behind that sliding panel there.”

“Hey, I’m sorry about all that stuff earlier. Just a little tense, having someone in the room and all, you know?”


“I’m not really a bad guy. I just made a bad choice and now I’m paying for it. In spades.”

“You guys all say the same stuff.”

“No, I mean it, I'm—”

“Yeah right, out of here is what you are. See you next week, Remedy. Until then, keep yourself clean.”


Author's note: The joke in the story is not mine; I'm not good at creating jokes. Rather, it was something I heard and simply placed in the story, telling it in a way that fit with the character. The way I see it, if Elmore Leonard can do something like this in Up in Honey's Room, then I can do it too.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

#FridayFlash - Birds and Bees

Derek glanced away from the touch screen as a knock came at the door. Standing in the doorway, Derek’s father looked at him with a strange expression.

“Hey Chief,” his father said, “you got a minute?”

Derek frowned. What now? He tapped at the screen, closed the application, and looked back at his father. “Sure.”

“You listening to some tunes?”

Derek smiled. His father, Mr. Hip, using words like Chief and tunes. As if that somehow made the connection, bridged the generational gap. And it wasn’t only his dad, it seemed; just the other day, his mother came in the room and, staring at his poster of the rock band Dark Horse, said, “Are they the bomb, or what?” At first, he stared at her, thinking: The bomb? Really? But instead of correcting her—nobody used “The bomb” anymore, that was like ten years ago—he simply nodded and told her, yeah, they were.

Watching his dad, who now stepped into the room and sat on the edge of the bed, Derek pulled out his earbuds and laid the iPad aside. “Just some screaming banshees,” he said.

“They new?”

“Just came out.”

“Any good?”

Derek shrugged. “Not really, but they show some promise.”

His dad nodded. “You know, I’m so proud of you, the way you’ve taken on the lawn mowing business around the neighborhood. You’ve earned your own money, you’ve even bought your own iPad. That shows real independence.”


His dad took a breath. “The reason I came in, though, is because I think it’s time we talked. You’ve been spending more and more time on the internet, and your mother and I are concerned.”

Derek narrowed his eyes.

“You may not realize it, son, but as well as it being a great place to hear about new bands the internet can also be a dangerous place.”

Derek looked away. He didn’t like where this was going.

“Out there”—his father swept a hand through the air—“you may see things I’d rather you not see. You may come into contact with people I’d rather you not meet.”


“And besides that, I think it’s time we talked because your friends may have already been exposed to things and started talking.” His father looked at him intensely now. “Am I right?”

Derek shook his head. “Talking about what?”

“About men and women and—well, how babies are made.”

Derek stared at his dad. Was this for real? Was the man really trying to tell him about the birds and the bees?

“Yeah,” he said, “I may have heard a thing or two about that.”

His dad looked down. Disappointment covered his face. “What have you heard?”

“It’s kind of embarrassing to say, you know?”

His dad nodded. “I don’t want you having the wrong ideas about—stuff like this. Sex is a gift from God, and it should be used wisely.”

Derek wasn’t sure what to say to that, so he just shook his head. “Look, dad, can we not do this? I don’t know that I want to talk about this stuff right now. It might be…” He shrugged.

His father nodded again. “Okay. Well, I just want to be available should you have questions. You know, in case you’re curious. ’Cause I’d rather you heard it from me instead of Joey Carlucci. There’s no telling what that kid’ll say.”

Derek laughed. “Yeah. Don’t I know it.”

His dad looked at him again. “So, is there anything you want to know?”

Derek shook his head. “I guess not.”

“Okay then. Well, if you have any questions, please know you can always come to me.”

“You bet.”

With that, his father stood. At the door he stopped and gave Derek a thumbs-up. “I’m proud of you.”

Derek smiled. “Thanks.”

His father gone, Derek picked up the iPad and placed the earbuds back in his ears. With a couple strokes, he called up the listing of networks around the neighborhood. This time, he would access the internet through Mr. Davidson’s WiFi. It was secure, but the old buzzard had made the mistake of leaving Derek alone with an unlocked door to the house. In case he needed water, Mr. Davidson had said. He didn’t want such a fine young man overheating while mowing his yard. After that, all it took was a quick search of drawers around the guy’s computer, and Derek had what he needed.

He tapped the screen and waited while the iPad connected. This was the way to do it, Joey Carlucci had told him. In case there were peeping eyes out there, you didn’t want them tracking you back to your own place.

A few strokes later and Derek also called up the Google account he had set up under a fake name—another thing Joey told him to do. He pulled up the e-mail with the video attachment and again watched the clip of two young girls who’d made a personal movie with a boy. They weren’t that good, really, but they showed promise.

Friday, April 15, 2011

#FridayFlash - L.T. Takes the No. 9

If the driver had looked, even for a moment, L.T. would have waved him off, said it was the wrong bus, he was waiting for the No. 44 to Queens. And no doubt about it, one glance would have convinced the driver that L.T. was right and to snap the doors shut. Better to keep trouble off than to let it on. But the man didn’t look. He just opened the doors, muttered something about the No. 9 to South Bronx, and then glanced off to the left, his head doing a bob-and-weave, checking the traffic in the side mirror.

Satisfied, L.T. reached for the rail with his clean hand, pulled up. A sharp pain bit into his side, and a fresh layer of sweat broke out across his forehead. He blinked his eyes clear, took a deep breath, and climbed up the stairs, his jaw clenching with each labored step. From his jacket, he fished out a Metro Card and dipped it into the fare box, careful not to touch anything else. The sight of blood, whether on his hand or smeared against the equipment, would have raised questions—it might even have stopped the bus—and and right now all he wanted was to get home.

Of course, once home Mama would probably give him the business, say how she knew it would happen sooner or later. And like always, he’d tell her to shut up. He didn’t start it. That part of his life was over now.

Stuffing the card back into his pocket, L.T. turned to the aisle and froze as the strident cry of a siren wailed a few blocks away. Reaching inside the other pocket, L.T palmed the Browning .380 pistol. He didn’t want to shoot anyone else tonight but would if it came down that way. The gun was another thing Mama would yammer on about. Why was he carrying? He forget the law? And again, he’d tell her to shut up. What did she know? The past behind him or not, the street still carried its own set of rules. And besides, it wasn’t like the law did him any favors. At twenty-three, he’d already spent four months in jail, then two years in prison. At Rikers, it was bad enough listening to the jets taking off from La Guardia—the sound of freedom; but then the stuff they did to him at Sing Sing, and not just the convicts either, was enough to know he didn’t want to go back. He would just as soon jack the bus, drive it off the Whitestone Bridge and down into the East River. Either way he’d be dead, and that seemed more appealing than wasting away inside a cell, becoming somebody’s lockup whore.

A few seconds later, a police cruiser rushed by, its lights bathing everything in bursts of reds and blues. As the car sped away, beyond 178th and on toward East Tremont, L.T. released his breath and almost laughed. Hearing the siren, he’d forgotten that the Browning no longer had any bullets. Just who was he going to shoot with an unloaded gun?

Stepping forward, he passed a woman who sat alone. Deep lines plowed through the rich earth of her forehead and hair the color of asphalt and snow curled tight against her head. She glanced up, and he said, “What’re you looking at?” the tone as hard as a brick. The last thing he needed was an old broad getting nosy. She quickly looked away.

Walking the aisle, his pace slowed, his feet feeling heavier with each step. Five rows beyond the old lady, he finally spotted an empty seat. He sucked in air and held it, easing down, but it did no good. The pain sliced at his side again like razor blade cuts.

The bus powered up and pulled away from the curb.

L.T. leaned his head back, closed his eyes. All he wanted after work was to spend a little time with Laqesha. Which, when he thought about it, were two more things that he could point out to his mother. If a girl and a new job didn’t prove he had changed his ways, then what would? Mama would care less, though. In fact, she would probably say, “Uh-huh, a new job doing what?”

“A short order cook at Big Lou’s Bar and Grill.”

She would grunt then. “That’s what you get.” For wasting your life, she would mean.

Mama wouldn’t much like Laquesha either. What kind of woman goes shopping for a man inside the joint? Weren’t there other ways to find a husband? He admitted there probably were; but hey, he wasn’t going to turn a girl away just because she found him in a cell instead of the church.

The message Laquesha left on Mama’s answering machine said to stop by her place at eight. Like usual, they would grab some burgers, a couple of beers, and maybe watch something on the tube. That was a great idea, except she never showed. An hour later, Laquesha still not home, he decided to take a walk. And that’s when he ran into the two dudes. They drove by in a low-riding Bonneville, the spoke wheels as gold as the rising sun. Instead of going on, though, they pulled over to the curb and stopped. The blue bandanas told him all he needed to know.

The first one climbed out of the passenger’s seat. “Where you think you going, Blood?”

L.T. reached into his jacket. “I’m just walking here. I don’t do that stuff no more.”

The second one stepped around the front of the car, all confidence and attitude. “Yeah?” he said. “Then why you showing the tat on your neck like you still do?” And before L.T. could react, the punk pulled a gun.

L.T. jumped back. He jerked the .380 out and fired. He pulled the trigger again and again until nothing else came out. When it was over, the two gang bangers were on the ground and L.T. was on his feet, running. It took three blocks to realize he’d been hit, a couple more to feel the blood creeping down his leg.

The No. 9 slowed down and made a left turn. His insides screamed, the pain feeling like somebody stabbing him repeatedly. He squeezed his eyes tight and saw sparks of white light. Just then, a cough seized him. His hand shot up, and sparks of white light jumped before his eyes. The world tilted then, and everything came up. He wasn’t sure what exactly—he hadn’t eaten anything since lunch—but something came up anyway. A strange taste covered his tongue. Like the days when he used to stick pennies in his mouth so he wouldn’t lose them. He pulled the hand away and found it wet and sticky. Confused, he looked at both hands and then tried to wipe them off on his shirt, only they came back more wet and sticky than before. In fact, he was covered in it.

He grabbed at the seat in front of him and pulled up, but his hand slipped on the seat and L.T. fell into the aisle.

Somebody said, “You okay, man?” the voice sounding far away.


Tears welled up in L.T.’s eyes as he thought about what Mama would say, him falling down, messing up his clothes. Didn’t she raise her boy better than that?


Again, he heard her voice. He could do whatever he wanted—change his clothes, even grow out his hair; there was no going back to normal, though. He’d always be what he was, and that was trouble.


Friday, April 8, 2011

#FridayFlash - Bigger

Whenever I look at Vera, I wish I were… well, maybe not just taller—though that would be like cool beyond belief—but bigger. Stone Cold Steve Austin bigger. Big enough to stomp Todd Millsap’s head into the ground, splatter his brains against the sidewalk like the grapes Jimmy Anderson and I squashed last week.

They were Mrs. Anderson’s grapes, the ones she planted last year and worked like a honey bee trying to get what she called a bumper crop, though that didn’t make much sense to me, being that she only had one grapevine. Still, she told Jimmy and me to leave ‘em alone, don’t touch ‘em, else God would strike us dead where we stood, leave nothin’ but our smoldering shoes and ashes behind so’s folks’d know what’d happened to us. Jimmy shot me a look like he thought that was a load.

“C’mon,” he said, and together we marched out to the backyard to the corner fence where his mom had planted her Hallelujah Garden.

Of course, I let him go first, being his house and backyard and all—at least that’s what I said—and when nothing came down at us, no lightning bolt or flash of fire, we stuffed a couple clusters each into our pants pockets and tore out of there as fast as we could. Just in case God was busy leveling the hammer down on some other fool who’d done what he shouldn’t have, we didn’t want to be around when the Almighty finally figured out them grapes was missing.

That was last week, and I still have the image in my head, the stains left behind on the concrete where we smashed them with the soles of our shoes. The stuff was nasty looking, like a pigeon had a serious case of the scours or something. And of course, that’s what I want Todd’s brains to look like, too, one big giant mess of juicy goo running down into the gutter.

If it wasn’t for Vera paying so much attention to him, he might be okay—heck, we might even be friends, though that’s a tough one to imagine, let alone swallow. But here’s the rub: she pays way too much attention to him, doting over how smart he is, what a fine young man he’s going to be. And here’s the rub of the rub: he brings it on, knowing full well what he’s doing. One day, he even looked at me and winked. Almost like he was telling me to forget it; Vera was his. Stupid dingleberry.

It’s him who doesn’t have a clue. You see, before I bash out his brains, I’m gonna stab both of my Berol number twos into his eye sockets, make him look like some alien life force come down from the planet Drakkamundo, way out there somewhere in the next solar system. Then, after I’ve hammered the pencils home, I’m gonna take my last pack of M-80s, stuff ‘em all up his you-know-what and light the fuse. Jimmy and me, we did something like that to an anthill last week. Seeing all them dead bodies scattered at least four or five feet away from the mound, we both hit the ground grabbing at our bellies. And just think what kind of kick Jimmy will get out of Todd running around, slapping at his rear—only he’ll be slapping at nothing ‘cause the M-80s will blow it all off. Man, Jimmy’ll pee his pants, he’ll be laughing so hard.

And then, while Todd’s running around, screaming his head off, I’ll be ever-so-helpful and give him a pail of turpentine to—


I turn and look into the most beautiful eyes God ever made.

“Yes, Vera?”

She smiles. “It’s Mrs. Whithers to you, Johnny.”

“Okay… Mrs. Whithers.”

“That’s better. Have you finished your quiz?”

Looking down, I grit my teeth. “I haven’t started yet.”

She glances at her watch. “Well, you only have a few minutes left, so hurry up, okay?”

“Yes ma’am.”

Across the room, Todd raises his hand. “I’m done.”

Vera looks at him and smiles. “See how quickly Todd did his quiz, boys and girls? Let’s see who can get theirs done next.”

Todd looks at me, gives me the finger, and smiles.

I grab my Berol number two and smile back. The stupid dingleberry.