A Knife Fight on Christmas Avenue

“I’m gonna cut out your fucking eye,” Ricky Timmons said with a growling smile, red and green blinking lights reflecting off of the blade in his hand.

“Come on, asshole!” Isaac Claudio answered.  “Give it a try – Just give it a fucking try!”

Ricky and Isaac had never been friends.  They grew up a few blocks from one another.  As adults, they ended up living on the same street just two blocks apart.  Their meager lives had been crisscrossing since the third grade.  They had a lot in common – low grades in school, little ambition in life, an underlying obedience to short cuts.

But they’d never been friends.

“You need to understand,” Isaac said, switching his knife from hand-to-hand.  “There’s an asshole in Missouri who walks with a limp because of me!”

Ricky’s smile grew.  “There’s an asshole right in front of you that doesn’t believe your shit.”


Lucky

“I see a wedding in your future.”

 

Jeff almost asked the fortune teller for his money back. A wedding? For the King of the One Night Stand? Ridiculous! He’d come to Venice Beach to get lucky. Everyone said Venice girls were easy, and easy was his style. Having his palm read was just a way to pass the time until he found his next temporary girlfriend.

Now it looked like the sidewalk prophet was right.

Lisa had been sunbathing, wearing a bikini that looked like it would barely fit a six year old, and he knew she was tonight’s main event.

“I like you a whole lot,” she told him on the beach. “I’d really like to get to know you better, a whole lot better, but that involves things I can only do with the man I marry. I’m a good girl.”

Jeff looked at her. Her lips. Her eyes. Her body. They all added up to one thing.

“Marry me,” he blurted out. “Marry me tonight! We can be husband and wife by the time the sun goes down.”

Lisa answered him with a smile. He was in luck. They drove to Las Vegas, leaving the tattoo artists, T-shirt stands and tarot cards of Venice Beach behind.

Four and a half hours from first date to honeymoon. Getting laid wasn’t supposed to be this simple!

The ceremony was cheap and easy.

“Do you?”

“I do.”

“Do you?”

“I do too.”

Hopefully ditching her in the morning would also be cheap and easy

The hotel was called the Honeymooners Lodge. The room had a heart-shaped bed with heart-shaped pillows. Red carpet. Red curtains. And a red, kidney-shaped bathtub. It was the last place real newly-weds would want to spend their honeymoon.

“Why don’t you make yourself comfortable,” Lisa said as soon as they checked in. “I’ll go in the bathroom and get ready.”

Jeff got undressed and climbed into bed.

And waited.

And thought about lingerie.

And waited.

And thought about skin.

And waited.

After an eternity, Lisa came out. No lingerie. No new bits of tantalizing skin. She looked exactly the same.

Except for the gun in her hand.

“I’m sorry, baby,” she said.

“I…I don’t have any money,” Jeff said.

“It’s not about money,” Lisa said, “Jake is loaded.”

“Jake?”

“My fiancé.”

“You’re engaged?”

“I was in Venice to have my tea leaves read. Madame Zora looked into my future and said I was going to be married.”

“To Jake.”

“Right. She also said my first husband was going to die right after our wedding.”

“Jake?”

“No, honey,” Lisa said. “Jake’s the love of my life. I can’t bear the thought of losing him.”

“So you made me your first husband.”

She smiled.

“But…” Jeff said, “You can’t…I just…I like you a whole lot…”

“I’m sorry, baby. I like you too,” Lisa said as she raised the gun, “It’s just not your lucky day.”


The Rustle of Bed Sheets and One Lost Cow

Sidney Pitt never expected to be gunned down in a whorehouse, but it looked like that was how he was going to meet his demise.

“It’s just a cow!” Sidney called down from the second floor window of the Eternal Rest Bordello, his muscles tying themselves into knots.  His dusty, discarded pants and gun-belt were on the floor but his revolver was in his hand.

“It doesn’t matter,” Marshall John Cabot yelled from the street, “Cattle rustling is cattle rustling.  The animal has the Long L brand.  It isn’t your cow.”

Candace Kane, the soiled dove who had been about to give Sidney two dollars worth of amusement, adjusted herself in the bed and said, “Tell him you didn’t steal it.”

“I didn’t steal it!”

“Look, I don’t want to shoot you,” the Marshall said, gesturing casually with his drawn pistol.  “Come on out so we don’t have to have a lot of messy gunplay.”

“Cattle rustlers get hung!”

“That they do.”

“Come out so you can hang me?”

The Marshall thought for a moment.  “We can talk about that,” he said.

Sidney looked over at Candace for help.  The air coming through the window was mid-October cool.  The pretty girl smiled and twisted her dark hair between two fingers without offering any suggestions.

Sidney had been employed as a ranch hand for the Circle-Circle for about three months.  It was good, solid work that gave him room and board and modest pay.  He had an afternoon off and a little money saved up, so he’d decided to spend some of his earnings in Whispering Gulch at the Eternal Rest.

The crack of a pistol shot was followed by the zing of a bullet flying through the open window and into the bedroom wall.

“Don’t shoot!” Sidney said, flinching away from the window, his heart trying to pound its way out of his chest.

“I haven’t got all day.  Are you going to come out?”

Sidney paused.  The room smelled like sixpenny perfume and yellow sweat.  “I’m thinking about it.”

The Eternal Rest Bordello was named such because the Madame that started it had come to Whispering Gulch with the undertaker that was expected to open the town’s funeral parlor.  His dream was to call his gruesome business “Eternal Rest.”  The Madame and the undertaker had been fond of each other when they left Chicago together, but constant bickering due to the rigors of difficult travels caused that fondness to conclude by the time they reached the budding frontier town.  Their relations ended with such animosity that the Madame wanted to hurt her former beau.  She quickly established her enterprise and commandeered the name to which the undertaker was so attached.  He was so despondent that he couldn’t think of a new moniker and the sign outside his business simply read “Undertaking.”

Now it looked like Sidney Pitt was going to go from one ex-lover to the other.

“You’ve got to understand,” Sidney said, “I didn’t steal that cow.”

“You came into town with it,” the Marshall said.  “Everyone saw you.”

“It started following me a couple of miles back.  I couldn’t shake it.”

Another pistol shot.  This time the bullet hit a little to the left of the window, punching itself in the side of the building.

“Why are you shooting at me?”

“I’m trying to get my point across.”

“I’ve got a gun,” Sidney said, trying to sound braver than he felt.  “I can shoot back!”

“Don’t do that,” the Marshall said.  “That’s the last thing we need!”

It was a fifteen minute ride from the ranch to Whispering Gulch.  During that ride, in a little canyon that led to a watering hole, Sidney had come across the cow.  Brown and white.  Full grown.  Probably wandered off from whatever herd it belonged to.  As Sidney passed, the cow started to follow.  He tried yelling at it, waving at it.  At one point he even stopped his horse and tried to have a civil discourse with the bovine.  It didn’t matter, the cow wanted to see where he was going.  It followed him all the way into town.  Now it stood next to Sidney’s horse at the hitching post like they shared some kind of connection.

“It’s very simple,” the Marshall said, “You’ve got a cow that doesn’t belong to you.  That makes you a cattle rustler.  You’ve got to pay the penalty.”

“It’s not my cow,” Sidney said.

“That’s my point!  Now are you going to come down so I can hang you?”

“I thought we were going to talk about that?”

“We just did.”

Sidney looked at the gun in his hand.  Sweat from his palm glistened on the grip.  He wasn’t interested in dangling from the end of a rope, but was being torn apart by bullets any better?  He wondered which would hurt less.

“It’s only one cow,” Candace said.

“What’s that, Candy?”

“First off, don’t call me Candy.  I put a stop to that nonsense years ago.  There’s no way I’m goin’ through life being named Candy Kane.”

“Sorry,” Sidney said.  “What’s that, Candace?”

Candace got out of the bed, wrapping the sheet around her naked body, and sauntered over to the window.  “Hey, Marshall!” she called down.  “It’s only one cow.”

The Marshall looked over at the cow at the hitching post.  The cow looked back.  “I can see that.  The operative point is that it isn’t his cow.”

“To be a cattle rustler, don’t you have to rustle cattle?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he said it like Candace was a little bit dim.

“So,” Candace said, “A cow isn’t cattle.”

The Marshall thought for a moment.  “What do you mean?”

“Cattle is plural, more than one.  So one cow isn’t cattle.  So my friend here isn’t a cattle rustler.”

Marshall John Cabot looked over at the cow again and slowly nodded his head.  “That’s a good point,” he said.

Sidney reached over and put his hand on Candace’s shoulder.

“Can I take this cow back to the Long L Ranch?” the Marshall asked.

“Please!” Sidney said, “I want you to!”

“Okay,” The Marshall said.  “Here’s what I’ll do.  Since it’s just one cow I’ll take the animal back home and let you off with a warning.”

Sidney felt every muscle in his body release, every bone turn to water.  “That would be greatly appreciated.”

The Marshall walked over to the cow, put a rope around its neck and started to lead it away.  “Have a nice afternoon,” he called up as the cow looked regretfully at Sidney’s horse.

Sidney walked over to the bed and managed to sit just as his strength gave out.  He took a few deep breaths.  Once he felt collected, he looked at Candace Kane.  “Thank you,” he said.

“My pleasure.”

Sidney took another deep breath and sheepishly looked at the floor.  “Do I…uh… Do I still get my two dollars worth?”

The whore smiled at him.  “I think you just did.”


Terry Tenderloin and the Pig Thief

“This is about the pig,” I said.

Daniel nodded.  “Terry Tenderloin.”

Daniel Sampson and I had just arrived at a Cape-Cod style farmhouse on the outskirts of Currie Valley.  The off-yellow two-story home was on the smallish side, but had a large back yard surrounded by an American-Dream white picket fence.  The aromas of a farm in full bloom filled the air – chemical spray, rotting vegetation, fresh-cut hay and animal excrement.  It was early-October cool, but I could feel sweat clinging to my body.

“Nice place,” I said.

“Head around to the back.”

Daniel had picked me up outside of Taco Bell and asked me if I wanted to go for a ride.  I politely said no and he politely showed me the pistol he had in his pocket.

“Mr. Walden has grown quite attached to Terry,” Daniel said as we walked.

Pigs make great pets.  A normal Vietnamese Pot-Bellied Pig can go for as much as a thousand dollars.  I sold them for less than half that.

I turned to Daniel.  “It’s good that Mr. Walden loves Terry, right?  People are supposed to get attached to their pets.”

Daniel nudged me along.  “It isn’t good.  Terry Tenderloin was the cutest thing ever when Mr. Walden brought him home, but he kept growing and growing and growing.  Now, rather than having a cute little pig, Mr. Walden has a full grown, three-hundred and twenty-eight pound hog.”

I tried giving him my most sympathetic face.  “Your boss can’t blame me for that – pigs grow, they get bigger, baby pigs turn into adult pigs.”

“Terry should’ve reached maybe a hundred pounds.  You know that.”

He was right.

When I learned about the money in Pot-Bellied Pigs, I decided to take advantage of the open market.  I stole normal, newborn pigs from area farms and then sold them as Pot-Bellies at cut-rate prices.  I only did it a few times, four-hundred dollars here and there to help tide me over.  Jeremy Walden, Currie Valley’s reigning crime lord, was one of those times.

“Mr. Walden loves that pig,” Daniel said.  “But living in a condo downtown, it’s crowded.  And the neighbors don’t like it – him taking this hog up and down in the elevator every time Terry has to go outside to go for a walk, the smells, the noises.  Luckily, Mr. Walden has money.  He was able to buy this place.”

I looked around at the house, the land, the beautiful, little fence.  “All of this is for a pig?”

“All of this is for a valued member of the family.”

We came to the back yard and there, in a patch of mud, stood Terry Tenderloin – Mr. Jeremy Walden’s pet pig.  He had dirty pink skin with mottled black spots, a fair amount of shit on his underside and legs and enough blubber to feed an entire Knights of Columbus picnic.  He was a no-doubt-about-it full-grown hog.

“Go over and say hi,” Daniel said.  “And sorry about the stink, he hasn’t had his bath today.”

I walked over to Terry, trying to not get too much slime on my shoes.  I cautiously scratched the swine between the ears, feeling his short, bristly hair.  He seemed happy.

“Why did you bring me out here,” I asked as I stroked the pig.

“To make amends.”

“Great!” I said with relief.  “Let’s make this right!  What do you want me to do?”

For an answer Daniel took out his gun and shot me twice, once in each kneecap.  Terry Tenderloin squealed and ran from the blasts.  The pain was like lightning and fire and a thousand knives.  I fell to the ground and tried to scream, but all that came out were sobbing, high-pitched moans.

“The cost of food for a full grown hog is astronomical,” Daniel said.  “Mr. Walden came up with this idea to help alleviate that cost.”

One little scam and I’m pig groceries.

After a moment, Terry Tenderloin came back over to me, snuffling and grunting.  He nudged me a couple of times with his snout, then tugged on the sleeve of my shirt.

And then dinner began.


Six Bullets in F Minor

Claude Wooley lost Theodora in a saloon fight.

The fight was of a common variety – one cowboy got mad at another cowboy, punches were thrown, tables and bottles were smashed and, before you knew it, just about everyone in the establishment was involved.  The saloon was also of a common variety – Smilin’ Jack’s was the only watering hole in Whispering Gulch and, with no competition to contend with, the owner didn’t aspire to much.

Theodora, however, was not of a common variety.  She had a dark brown complexion, an hourglass figure and strings so taut they could make clouds dance in formation.  Theodora was a fiddle.

Claude Wooley’s fiddle.

It may seem unusual that a man would name a musical instrument, and, in particular, give that instrument a female name.  What you have to understand is that Theodora was the most important thing in Claude Wooley’s life.  She had been a part of his existence for over fourteen years.  A gift from his father on his tenth birthday, she’d been constant, always there, perpetual.  Throughout his boyhood, at the loss of his parents to a stagecoach accident at the age of seventeen, through years of wandering the west in search of a home – Theodora was there.  She allowed him to procure food and shelter in mining camps, in military settlements and, as was the case with Whispering Gulch, in small frontier towns.  In good times and bad, no matter where he was or what he was doing, Theodora supplied a vocation, a companion and, most importantly, music.

sixbulletsShe was his everything.

Smilin’ Jack’s had sawdust on the floor, bottles behind the bar and men that hadn’t bathed in a while sitting at tables in twos and threes.  No matter where you were in the establishment, you could smell spilled whiskey.  Claude was paid a pittance to come in every night and play along with Darwin, the piano player, to give the tavern a tad more ambiance.

When the brawl broke out, Claude was standing in the corner accompanying Darwin in a version of “Turkey in the Straw.”  He wore his good blue suspenders, his dark hair was slightly disheveled, his toe was tapping and he was letting Theodora carry him away with her melodies.

“Careful, Claude,” Darwin said, as he stopped playing, but Claude was way ahead of him.

Fights were common in the saloon and Claude knew how to handle them.  The minute he heard voices start to rise, he stopped playing, shielded Theodra with his body and put himself as far away from the violence as possible.

Bodies and chairs were thrown hither and yon, beer mugs and bottles shattered and obscenities were shouted to the heavens.  It was the donnybrook to end all donnybrooks with three jaws fractured, four noses busted, two arms broken, six eyes blackened and one badly twisted ankle, all in the space of three minutes.

As the voices and demolition died down, Claude came out of his protective crouch.  Unfortunately, the last punch had yet to be thrown.

The final altercation went like this:

Three pieces. Theodora’s body broke in two and her neck snapped. She hung from Claude’s hands by her strings, dangling like a musically-deprived marionette.

Paul Burrows punched Benjamin Trask in the left temple.

Benjamin Trask stumbled backwards into Claude Wooley and Theodora.

Theodora, in all her beauty and splendor, was caught between Benjamin Trask’s back and Claude Wooley’s front.

And that was it.

Claude felt the crunch of Theodora cracking and it felt like the destruction of his own soul.

Three pieces.  Theodora’s body broke in two and her neck snapped.  She hung from Claude’s hands by her strings, dangling like a musically-deprived marionette.

“Oh, no!” Darwin said.

At first Claude couldn’t believe it, he couldn’t accept this broken, hopeless thing as his beloved Theodora.  He’d played Mozart on her.  And Bach.  And Vivaldi.  He’d played “Arkansas Traveler.”  And “Wabash Cannonball.”  And “Strawberry Roan.”  One time, in the wilds of Montana, he’d played her well into the dark of night, her music keeping a pack of wolves at bay.  Claude looked at Theodora, examined her pieces, gave her a couple of pokes with her now useless bow.  She was beyond repair.  Now he would play nothing.

Claude’s heartbeat rose.  The edges of his vision became blurry.  His constant companion was gone.

Claude grabbed Benjamin Trask by the arm hard enough to wobble Benjamin’s battered brown Stetson.   He held Theodora up to the cowboy’s face.

“Look!” Claude said.  “Look what you did!”

“I’m sorry, Claude.  I sure didn’t mean to smash your fiddle.”

Claude couldn’t process what Benjamin said.  All he could do was repeat “Look what you did!”

“Sorry, it was an accident” Benjamin said, then turned away, not having anything to add to the discourse.

That was when Claude saw the Colt Double Action hanging on Benjamin’s hip.

weagly
JOHN WEAGLY has had over 50 plays produced by theaters around the world. His short fiction has been nominated for a Derringer Award 4 times, winning one in 2008, and has been nominated for a Spinetingler Award. He is an ensemble member at Raven Theatre Company in Chicago, Illinois. www.johnweagly.com

Claude grabbed the revolver, taking the firearm out of its holster and aiming it at Benjamin Trask’s back.  The same back that had slaughtered Theodora.

And then fingers accustom to making music brought murder.

Six bullets went into Benjamin Trask and the toll for the saloon fight went up to three jaws fractured, four noses busted, two arms broken, six eyes blackened, one badly twisted ankle and a dead cowboy.

It was a cold, ruined-heart revenge.

A few weeks later, as Claude Wooley was led from his dismal, silent jail cell to the gallows, as he listened to spectators heckle him on his march to death and thought about the absence in his life since that fateful day, the absence of music, the absence of companionship, the absence of love, he realized…

Theodora was worth the hanging.


The Complete Pinscher

“I need the balls.”

“I’m sorry.  You need the…”

“The balls, the nuts, the testicles.”

We were standing in one of Dr. Victor’s examination rooms.  Metal table, sink, wood cabinets, pet-sized scale, a box of tissues for when things didn’t turn out well.  The air smelled like bleach and sterilization.

“We don’t…”  Dr. Victor’s eyebrows came together.  “We dispose of them for you.  It’s all part of the procedure.”

Ralph started whimpering and pulling on his leash.  He had a white cone around his neck.  He’d been here all day.  He wanted to go home.  “I don’t want you to dispose of them for me.  I want them.”

“But… What on Earth for?”

“Not that it’s any of your business,” I said, “but someday Ralph is going to die.  When that happens, I’m going to have him cremated.  When I have him cremated, his balls are going with him.”

Ralph was a black and tan Miniature Pinscher, somewhere in the neighborhood of three years old.  I’d found him eating garbage in an alley on the north side of town.  He was a scrawny thing and he smelled bad, but I felt like we were a good match for each other.  I took him home and considered letting him keep his manhood, but having his balls chopped off was the right thing to do.

And now I wanted those balls.

Dr. Victor smiled at me like I just wasn’t getting it.  “We dispose of the medical waste for you.”

“You said that.  But they’re mine.  Or, their Ralph’s.  And I want them.”

Dr. Victor put on his serious face.  “I’m afraid we’re not able to do that.  They need to be disposed of properly.”

I put on my serious face.  It was the same one I used when I spent my twenty-seven months in prison.  It was much more serious than Dr. Victor’s. “Put them into a jar of formaldehyde or something and I’ll be on my way.”  Ralph started pulling harder on his leash.  “Just a minute, boy.”

Ralph whined.

“Mr. Karlecki, there are rules about this type of thing, laws.  We have to…”

“Did you use a scalpel?” I asked.  I didn’t feel like talking about it anymore.

“For the procedure?”

“Yes.”

“Yes.  I used a scalpel.  That’s the easiest way.  Some advancements have been made with lasers, but…”

I took my folding knife out of my jacket pocket.  It had a mother of pearl handle and a three inch blade.  I pulled it open.  “I’d use this,” I said.

Dr. Victor swallowed.  “You’d use that for…”

“For my procedure.  On you.”

“There’s no need…I’m just…”

“I’m walking out of here with a pair of balls,” I said.  “They can be Ralph’s or they can be yours.”

Being inside takes something from you, something you can never get back.  Time.  Unmade memories.  Hope.  It’s important to hold onto as much of yourself as possible.

When we got to the car, I put the bag the good doctor gave me into the back and lifted Ralph up onto the front seat.  He was shivering even though it wasn’t that cold.  He tried to curl up, but had difficulty because of the cone.  With the day, the cone and the procedure, he looked like he was miserable.

“Relax, boy,” I said, stroking him between the ears.  “It happens to all of us one way or another.”


Words Fall Like Nothing

“Kiss me before you go,” Janis said.

I grabbed her and forced my lips onto hers.

“Christ!  You need to relax, baby,” she said.  “Loosen up.  Kissing you is like kissing a brick wall.”

I got out of the car.  She leaned across the seat as I closed the door.  “Get out of there as fast as you can.  Don’t dawdle!  And if it looks like it’s going bad, wave at me so I can figure out our next move.”

I nodded.  I knew what “our” next move would be, Janis leaving and me dealing with the aftermath.

I walked into the Currie Valley Savings and Loan.  The Tom Jones version of Prince’s “Kiss” played as I walked past plastic plants, free coffee and the “Please Wait Here For Next Available Teller” sign.  No one else was around, just me, a guard who had probably boon on the job for the last thirty years and a pretty, middle-aged teller named Marie.

“How can I help you today,” Marie asked.

I pulled the gun out of my waistband and pushed an empty duffel bag towards her.  Marie knew what I wanted.

“You can have it all,” she said.  “Just don’t hurt anybody.”

Marie started filling up the bag with money.  I was sweating, the air in the Savings and Loan hadn’t been adjusted for the warm, spring weather.  While I watched Marie, I thought about Janis.

This was her idea.  Grab some quick cash and then get out of town.  Somewhere warm, somewhere exotic, somewhere romantic.  Romance – it was the opposite of what Janis and I had.

We’d met at Puzzles Pub, down by the river.  A Wednesday – All You Can Eat Spaghetti Night.  I was alone, she was my waitress.  Blonde hair, stout but supple lips and curves.  We went back to my place.  She moved in a week later and quit her job the week after that.  Now if we went to Puzzles, she got drunk and caused a scene, talking about how she climbed out of that Hell-hole.

Crawled out of one Hell-hole to create a new one – my life.

Janis lived like a pig; dishes piled in the sink, clothes thrown all over the apartment, wet towels slopped on the bathroom floor.  She slept most of the day and stayed out most of the night.  And if Janis didn’t have anything rotten to say, she didn’t say anything at all:

“Why don’t you clean this dump?”

“Try not to embarrass me when we go out tonight.”

And my favorite, “Is that it?” after sex.

Everything we talked about, every discussion we had turned into an argument, usually going on for hours and usually ending with Janis telling me I was a retard.

“Take it,” Marie said, bringing me back to where I was and what I was going.  “Take the money and please don’t hurt anyone.”  The duffel bag was bulging.

I nodded politely, took my bag full of cash and headed for the door.  The security guard was standing in front of it with his gun drawn.

“Folks leaving with a duffel bag in one hand and a gun in the other is a red flag,” he said.

I stopped.  His gun was aimed right at me, mine was down at my side.  No way he could miss.

Outside, through the glass doors, I could see Janis sitting in the car, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel.  As I watched, she got an annoyed look on her face and started honking the horn.

“Is that your ride?” the guard asked.

I nodded.

“Sounds a little impatient.”

I looked out at Janis again.  Anything seemed better than getting back in that car with her.  I looked back at the guard.

“Don’t do anything stupid, son,” he said, seeing something in my eyes.  “This is the end.  You can’t get past me.”

I lifted my gun.  The guard was ready.  He fired.  I smiled as I fell.

As the hole in my chest leaked onto the cold marble floor, I brought my hand to my mouth, turned my head and blew Janet a goodbye kiss.

It was better than talking things to death.