fiction


What is this about?

Good Fences

A tentative voice floated up to him. A woman’s voice, old, tough and raspy, from too many years of tobacco.

“Who’s out here?”

Kelly held his breath. In the silence, he heard the neighbor tromping around her back yard, and then there was the click of a flashlight that she shined around the perimeter until she came upon the scene of the crime. He heard her sigh heavily and whisper a sharp “Sons a’ bitches!” as she poked the flashlight out into the darkness beyond the fence.

The beam of light cut into Kelly’s eyes from the spaces between the wooden slats and he turned his head away, blinded. He wondered if she’d seen him. He held his breath and felt his pulse strongly in his throat.

“If you punks are still here when the police come, I’ll be very happy to see you thrown in jail!” She yelled into the night air.

He exhaled slowly and smiled, both in relief at not being seen and at hearing an old woman say “punks.” After another minute, the woman sighed again and Kelly heard her stepping through the grass gingerly to avoid any of the broken glass, muttering under her breath as she went back inside and slammed the door. Prone there on the damp grass he laid for another couple of minutes, not wanting to fall for her potential trickery of her closing the door but staying outside silently. He figured any old woman that said “punks” would have a whole bag of tricks at her disposal.

Finally, Kelly began to move backward slowly, until he was at the fence’s edge, then after a few moments, he stood up and peered over, afraid of not only being seen, but of what he might see.

But she was gone. He stood there a few more moments before trying to move, and the minute he did, dizziness set in and the world started to spin around. He staggered backwards, falling butt-first back into the grass. He waited with eyelids shut tight until the spinning stopped, and then he wondered if the old lady had really called the police. He doubted it.

What is this about?

Payback

In hindsight it was a good lesson to learn earlier rather than later, that people who you think are your friends really are not. It was one taught quickly, too, with the slap of a hand. His teacher was Tony Sims, a ninth grader, who Bobby looked up to, being brand new to junior high as a seventh grader, which can be a lonely time and a lonelier place.

Living in the same neighborhood they’d known each other about a year. They skateboarded together. Biked together. stole shit and broke shit together. Watched TV, went to movies, argued over baseball card trades, and played on the corner vacant lot together. Their age differences mattered little on the street, but school was a different matter.

Bobby quickly realized that junior high was a lot bigger than elementary school. Everybody seemed to know everyone else, no one knew Bobby, and older students looked down on younger ones. So when he heard his name called at lunch time near the cafeteria and he turned to find Tony standing in the shade of a tree by the main building among other kids his same size, Bobby’s heart leapt. Smiling from underneath his big afro, Tony motioned for him to come over, and Bobby practically ran through the chaos of kids to them.

“Gimme five Bobby!” Tony exclaimed, holding his hand high over his head.

Bobby was thrilled and shoved his hand out palm up to receive the greating, beaming in the new-found knowledge that recognition by an older classmate was huge. And even though Tony’s hand came down hard and the collision stung, Bobbby barely felt it. A second later, the kid at Tony’s side started laughing and then Tony and everyone else in his crew followed suit.

There was a moment in which Bobby started laughing with them even though he wasn’t at all sure what was funny. But then there was a pain in his hand different from the disipating sting of the slap — something sharper and deeper and not just lingering but growing — and Bobby looked down at the end of his outstretched hand and found out what was so hilarious. Almost dead in the center of his left palm was impaled a blue bulletin board pushpin. A small rivulet of blood was already flowing from it across his life line.

Joy turning to betrayed shock, Bobby looked up Tony who seemed to tower twelve feet above him as he cringed and pointed and yelled “Oh shit!” repeatedly, alternating it with a high hyena-like cackle.

Turning his attention back to his hand, Bobby reached across with his right and yanked the pin out. Half heartedly he threw it in Tony’s direction, but Tony ducked and it sailed wide. What found it’s mark, and certainly left Tony perhaps more surprised than Bobby and certainly in greater pain was the entirely unexpected on-target punt Bobby brought immediately between Tony’s legs that immediately crumpled him to the pavement in breath-gasping agony. Somewhere in the distance, Bobby noticed that all laughter had suddenly cut off as if someone had turned a volume nob to zero. But before Bobby could follow up with the kick he wanted to bring to Tony’s head, he felt a large heavy hand on his shoulder and it was Mr. Pitman, the school security guard, who picked the flailing Bobby up and set him down about ten feet back.

With a big finger pointing in Bobby’s face Mr. Pitman instructed him not to move and he did as he was told, but by the time the security guard had turned around Tony’s friends had vanished past the crowd of students that had gathered around the scene, leaving him still curled up on the ground.

What is this about?

The Accidental Fugitive
(Inspired by actual events)

It would be an exaggeration to say he blew through the stop sign where Laverne t-bones into Duchess Street. Coasted would be a more appropiate description, but by the time he saw the patrol car on the other side of the intersection he was halfway across Laverne and it was way too late to do anything about it except just keep going and pray to the cycling gods that the cops staring at him from inside the black and white had better things to do than bust a bicyclist.

But they didn’t. Before he was fully passed them they’d hit the lights and chirped the siren and he thought “fuck!” and slowed to pull over at the curb, not even a semi-truck’s length away from the entrance to the westbound bike path that ran alongside the creek, which wound its way down past the marina to empty into the bay.

That’s when he realized the entrance was too narrow for a vehicle to follow and thought, why not? And instead of stopping he just kept on casually pedaling and banking right up the apron and across the sidewalk and the bikeway entrance while unseen behind him the cop car got stuck on the tight street and had to make a three-pointer out of the U-turn they’d started.

The siren chirped again longer this time and “Bicyclist! Halt!” came out of the vehicle’s public address speaker, but he didn’t listen, pretending not to hear. He just continued onward along the downslope of the incline past the gate, where his bike picked up speed, but he didn’t add to it by pedaling. He didn’t want to look as if he was making a blatant attend at evasion of any sort, just that he hadn’t heard or seen the commotion.

In the rearview mirror attached to his helmet, he watched as the front end of the patrol car bobbed to a stop after being driven up the apron to the entrance gate. The officer driving realized there wasn’t enough room to initiate a pursuit. Immediately thereafter the siren blew at full volume and from the PA came, “Bicyclist on the bike path! Stop now!”

Heart pounding hard, he kept going. Transitioning from the incline to the flat of the bike path it felt as if the cops stares burned holes through him and he fought the urge to pedal like a bat out of hell. Instead he just casually started cranking, moving himself and the bike around a bend and out of cops’ sight lines. Almost immediately he began to relax, calmed by the serene and silent setting that seemed not just far away but days removed from what he’d just left behind him.

He wondered to himself what might be the worst that could happen, but he already knew that answer. If the duo were cowboys, they’d already be speeding Code Three with a vengeance to cut him off at the proverbial pass, or in this case Highridge the next major street that crosses the creek. But if they were total whipcracking hardcases, he supposed they’d stay put in case he tried to double back and radio in for backup — maybe even helicopter support and any available motorcycle units to prowl the path — in an effort to lock down the creek’s access points downstream and close in on him.

He thought briefly about changing his look; shedding his helmet and jacket — hell he could even convert the hiking pants he wore to shorts by unzipping the legs. But all that struck him as silly. Maybe if he was a drug dealer or a carjacker reeking of desperation and a third-strike conviction such measures would make sense, but a bike commuter rolling a stop sign? Get real. If the call went out for a cyclist wearing a brightly colored helmet and a blue windbreaker then that’s what they’d find.

Halfway between Queen and Highridge, the sudden flatulent chopping sound of a banking copter somewhere close cut through the quiet and he came to a quick skidding stop, his heart in his throat. It wouldn’t have surprised him much had bloodhounds started baying off in the distance, and he waited for the civilian equivalent of an Apache whirlybird to materialize overhead.

Instead the steady thwoking sound diminished and his heart rate started to slow. As he started pedaling again he was left feeling a bit silly and wondering if stopping would’ve been the less stressful thing to do. In fact he knew so, and just as abruptly as he’d decided to run so did he turn around to head back to Queen in part because it was the right thing to do and also because he was afraid he’d flat out faint if he rounded the bend that would bring the Highridge overpass into view and saw so much as a bike cop stationed on it.

A minute later with the Queen overpass coming into view he was surprised to find it devoid of law enforcement. Relief overtook him and he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when he moved up the incline and the entrance at the top was clear. Exiting through the gate and stopping on the sidewalk, he looked north and south seeing only civilian vehicles. Heading south on Queen to Jackson he took a right turn and in a couple minutes of pedaling he arrived at the red light at Highridge here several blocks below the creek. He didn’t want to look up the street, but did, and his head snapped back forward when he saw the solitary black and white parked on the bridge, every light on it flashing and its two uniformed occupants standing on the bridge looking eastward.

He thought for a moment about riding over to them. But then the light turned green and instead he rode onward, feeling a little bit sick and more than a little bit triumphant.

What is this about?

Good

Roger fancied himself something of a superhero. Not someone bulletproof who could leap tall buildings at a single bound, or who with pinpoint accuracy and an effete bend of a wrist could somehow excrete a seemingly endless supply of a strong, flexible super adhesive material with incredible velocity and force.

No mask. No Costume. No, he was simply a doer of good deeds. Helpful to the helpless. Giver to the needy. He was: Samaritan Man!

Roger wasn’t sure from where in his make-up it stemmed, but he remember when it started. It was way back when he was 13 and after school one afternoon found the crying toddler lost and alone walking on the sidewalk past the Wilton Place duplex he’d shared with his mom and a stray cat they adopted and named Scotty because his mom said every cat’s name should have an “s” in it.

Without hesitation he went outside to the child and asked him his name and where he lived but there was too much terror and crying going on for the kid to answer. So he took the boy by the hand, brought him inside, and after setting him up on the living room sofa with some juice, called the police. By the time they arrived Roger had calmed the child down, turning his tears to giggles by bringing out some old stuffed animals he hadn’t touched in years — old Blue Dog and Tee Bear — and playing with them in front of him. The distraught parents from a couple houses down showed up shortly thereafter and had to face some pretty stern questions from the attending officers, such as “Please explain to me how a parent allows a 3-year-old child to wander out of a house , much less half a block down the sidewalk of a busy street?”

Since then, with varying degrees of regularity if he enountered someone or something in need of aid, he came to it. Whether it was the elderly crossing the street too slowly before impatient drivers, broken-down vehicles, abandoned animals, lost souls. It didn’t matter.

 What is this about?

The Liquor Bank Job

You could tell they were twins, but life had clearly beaten one of them up more than the other, giving the impression that they’d been born ten years apart instead of maybe ten minutes. Sitting in the right turn lane on Crenshaw at Stocker I saw them immediately as they came out of the Liquor Bank across the street at a dead run, dodging cross traffic on Stocker as they crossed it against the red.

The one on the left was beefier, moved with a pronounced limp in his right leg and hunched his shoulders. Plus he had a lot more gray in the long dreads that poured down his back and his mouth was turned down in a perpetual scowl. He carried a fresh bottle of Hennessy in one hand and what looked to be a .38 in the other and had the worn out air and bearing of a tired fighter past his prime.

The one on the right moved on his toes, giving him an artificial bounce to the stride that comes either from a congenitally shortened achilles tendon or a lifetime spent wearing sneakers. Or possibly both. He had no gun but was cradling a bag of cash not carefully enough because the occasional bills fell out and wafted in their wake to the pavement like a leaf in fall. His identical hairstyle streamed jet black from a head held high. The upturned corners of his mouth gave him a far happier demeanor, as if he enjoyed what he was doing. He had to hold back not to outrun his brother and when they cleared the crosswalk they initially turned left toward where the IHOP was and beyond it the hill with unincorporated View Park on the left and Baldwin Hills Estates on the right, but the older one stopped and turned to look back toward Crenshaw, searching for an alternative. Guess he didn’t want to make that climb. At least not on foot.

They both rocked the same type of big bug-eyed 400-SPF sunglasses. The ones initially made famous by U2’s lead singer and later popularized by practically every female celebutante to make a sex tape, crash a Mercedes, or drive the wrong way on a freeway.

The older looking one wore a long black overcoat over a heavy red sweater and jeans. His brother sported a leather-sleeved varsity jacket embroidered on the back with the continent of Africa divided into bands of color, green over yellow over red. Beneath that was an t-shirt with a picture of Bob Marley on it, tucked into a pair of jeans.

They made a beeline for my car, and I knew what was next even before the one with the gun leveled it at my head as they trotted toward me.

“Get out!”

I was already yanking the parking brake and bailing when he said that and a few moments later stood in the middle of Crenshaw as my ride motored out of view on its way up the incline to La Brea and points unknown.

What is this about?

Strange Heat

“What happened.”

“Jude’s dead. They all are.”

“Dammit!”

“But it was weird at first. To see them just standing there, twenty at least. They’d come around the bend and seen Jude out in front of the cave. They were watching him. Hungering for him, but didn’t attack. Just stood there, shuffling and drooling and moaning and hissing the way they do.”

“Undead motherfuckers!”

Yeah, but there was something diffferent. It was almost as if these were afraid.”

“Of what?”

“Jude, I think.”

“That’s crazy!”

“Maybe. But I’ll tell you they had reason to be. He just stood there with the long swords crossed in front of him like he wasn’t afraid. Like he was fucking zenmaster invincible. Took out nine before they even got a hand on him. I picked off five more with the rifle. Would’ve gotten more but…”

“But what?”

“But the gun fucking jammed all right?”

“Take it easy. Tell me what else.”

“Those that were left got into the cave. I got the gun fixed and put ’em all down when they came out, but Denny, Sarah… Morgan.”

“Gone?”

“All gone.”

“How’d you escape?”

“Jude sent up on the ridge before they came. Told me not to give away my position ’til the dance started.”

“The dance?”

“That’s what he calls — called — it whenever they attacked.”

“Right.”

“But Jude was awesome, man. Just stood there like no one was getting past him and didn’t give a shit or an inch. Absolutely no fear. Zero. None would come by themselves so they worked themselves up into a frenzy until they charge as a group. And when they did Jude let out this roar came at them. And I swear — I swear! — that spooked ’em. Even if it was just for a sec. Never seen it before but I saw it there.”

“But why? How?”

“I’m tellin’ you. Fuckin’ Jude, man!” Fuckin’ Jude.”

What is this about?

A Chili In The Air

Here’s the thing. Forty hours ago give or take I’m cruising home from Canoga having wrapped my latest — a real high-concept piece of shit with a three-day shoot in an ungodly hot industrial building. If you don’t know what goes on in industrial buildings out Canoga way then Google it because I’m not your teacher.

My bike is purring between my legs down the 101 under the Barham Bridge then up over the Cahuenga Pass and I’m 80 miles per hour out of the valley heat and into into the westside cool and life is good. Real good. I’m on my way back to my place off Alameda south of downtown where my latest Desiree or Delores or Delana or otherwise-named delight de soir probably got her ass up out of bed perhaps about an hour ago and has probably already sniffed herself through my stash of pharm grade and is borderline OD’d, more fixated on the blood from her nostrils spilling down the drain instead of getting focused on getting herself cleaned up so we can trip over to take our seats at Staples and watch Kobe & Kompany continue kicking the ass they started before the all-star break.

Then something makes me exit the freeway south of Silver Lake. Out of fucking nowhere. Some urge or intuition, and I always heed such unexplainables. So I’m off and in a brief span I’m downtown bound on Beverly Boulevard. I pass the county social services building on my right, a fortress prison I vaguely recall having to visit on many occasions with my mother when I was a kid. Tommy’s goes by busy on my left. I get a whiff of the chili in the air and a glimpse of a security guard who must be all of five feet tall and packing a .45-caliber revolver with an eight inch barrel that dangles practically all the way from his hip to his knee.

It’s troubled times when you need Yosemite Sam to stand guard , baby. Troubled fucking times. I don’t care how good the burgers are.

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