Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Short Fiction and Disclaimer - Inculpatory Evidence

Inculpatory Evidence

The first shot tore into Mark Blakely’s left shoulder, driving him back from the lectern.  Blakely reacted instantly, positioning himself to protect his wife and four-year-old daughter, who stood nearby.  Nice touch.  Blood seeped through the shoulder of his suit.  The second shot shattered one of the lights hanging overhead.  Security agents swarmed onto the stage.  The crowd of supporters panicked.  Agents covered the Blakelys and rushed them from the stage.  The third shot grazed Mitch Sherman's left leg.  The campaign manager winced as an agent helped him run toward safety.  The fourth shot tore through a "Blakely for Governor" banner and dug into the empty stage floor.

A quarter of a mile away, Wagner stood from his prone shooting position just inside the tree line at the edge of the park.  He grabbed a corner of the tarp he had lain upon and dragged it behind him through the woods, obscuring any footprints he might have left behind as he walked to his beige SUV.  Standing under the opened rear window, he disassembled his Stevens rifle, dropping the barrel into a large box.  The tarp went in after that.  Wagner changed shoes, and put the work boots he had been wearing on top of the tarp.  He removed his gloves and threw them in last.  Police sirens neared as he closed the back window and got in the driver's side, tossing the rifle stock and bolt onto the passenger’s seat.  The scope went into a protective, hard-shell case.  It took a minute to find a good song on the radio before he could pull away.

Making sure he obeyed all traffic laws, Wagner followed the MapSite directions, winding his way to the eastern outskirts of the city.  He pulled into a strip mall and parked in front of a Postboxes Inc.  In the rearview mirror, he made sure the baseball cap and cheap aviator sunglasses covered his face well enough before he got out of the vehicle.  After a quick visual scan of the area, he opened the back of the SUV.  Wagner taped the box shut and affixed a pre-printed, overnight shipping label to it.  Inside, the teenager behind the counter barely looked away from the video playing on his smart phone as he accepted the package.  It would be four states away, incinerated, and the remainders crushed and put on a garbage scow by ten the next morning, guaranteed.

Taking back roads, Wagner weaved his way south to Lake Gough.  A short walk from the parking lot, a long pier served as a dock for local fisherman.  Smaller tri-hull boats bobbed closer to the shore, while a couple of ski boats and a small fishing boat were tied up at the end of the pier, in deeper waters.  Later in the year, the area would be teeming with swimmers and bass masters.  Today, no one was in sight.  Wagner strolled to the end of the pier, pulled the bolt from his pocket, and dropped it into the muddy water.  He hadn’t had a cigarette since he chose his position early that morning.  Now seemed a fine time for one.  He reached into his coat pocket for his Zippo.

“Howdy.”

Wagner clenched the small, spring-loaded pocketknife in the pocket alongside the lighter.  He mentally prepared to kill again, if he had to; he would not be taken to prison.  Slowly, he turned to face the voice.  A man stood on the deck of the fishing boat.  His broad smile exaggerated the wrinkles on his weathered face.

“Sorry.  Didn’t mean to startle you,” the man said.  “I was taking a nap down in the cuddy cabin and I heard you come walking up.  Didn’t expect any company out here.  Thought you might be the missus, trying to track me down.”

“Nope.”  How much did he see?

The old man bent and reached down toward the floor of the boat.  Wagner tensed.  His thumb found the button on the knife handle.  The man stood up, holding something in each hand.

“Care for a cold one?”

Wagner relaxed and let go of the knife.  The corners of his mouth rose slightly, as much of a smile as he ever allowed.  “Sure.”

One domestic later, Wagner merged onto the highway, heading for the opposite side of town.  Every decent radio station in town had switched to non-stop coverage of the Blakely shooting, so he turned the damned thing off and drove in silence.  Following the printout, he took the Vincent Street exit.  A few blocks from the off-ramp, he passed the Firearm Emporium.  He eased the SUV into the alley behind the store.  A woman rooted through a dumpster, throwing aluminum cans into the shopping cart that held her entire world.  She paid no attention to her audience.

Wagner checked the clock.  Then he looked for security cameras.  The only one in sight pointed toward the back door of the gun shop, not toward the parking lot.  Wagner had time on his side, and there was no danger in waiting.  He could afford patience.  With the SUV in park, he waited twenty minutes for the woman to finish treasure hunting and move on from the alley.  He pulled up next to the dumpster, and through the driver’s window, threw in the rifle stock.  Only one detail left.

Back on the highway, Wagner drove downtown to City Centre.  He pulled the SUV into the large parking structure and found an empty space.  From the glove box he pulled a disinfecting wipe and cleaned every smooth surface in the interior.  He gathered his remaining belongings.  After using another wipe to clean the door handles on both the driver’s side and rear, he locked the SUV and threw the keys into a garbage can near the stairs.  On the next level up, he threw away everything but the hard-shell case.  Climbing farther, he tossed out the hat and glasses.  Three flights up, he found the white, four-door sedan he had parked there first thing in the morning.  He opened the trunk and placed the scope on top of a metal, combination-locked suitcase.  

He still had hours to kill before the drop.  Shoulda stayed for two, he thought as he got in the sedan.

***

Wagner waited in darkness at the edge of an empty lot atop a hill.  Below, the brilliant city lights provided an outstanding view.  If the economy hadn’t tanked and taken the city down with it, the lot would have been snapped up long ago.  From his vantage point, Wagner followed the high beams of the approaching car all the way up the hill.  The hybrid—Figures.—stopped at the end of the dirt road, blocking the only exit.  Mitch Sherman stepped out.

Sherman wore the same suit that he had worn to the rally, though his tie was loosened, and his shirt unbuttoned.  The bottom of his left pant leg had been cut in two.  With a grunt, he pulled a duffel bag from the back seat.  He hobbled across the lot toward Wagner.  Wagner showed him a little mercy, and met him half way.  Sherman laid the bag on the ground.

“Hey.  Blakely says thanks for coming through.”

Wagner nodded.  Once.

“He’s fine, by the way, thanks for asking.”  Sherman pointed at his leg.  “And thanks for this, too.  I really appreciate it.”

“Had to cover myself, make it look sloppy.  A pro doesn’t hit anything he doesn’t want to.” 

“Yeah.  Well the press is already turning Mark into a hero thanks to you, and Freeman’s supporters are looking like nut jobs.  Which they are.” 

“Whatever.”

Sherman looked down at the duffel.  “Anyway, it’s all—”

“I know,” Wagner said.

“Don’t you want to cou—”

“And you know what you stand to lose if I’m not happy.  That’s my insurance policy.”

“Okay.”  Sherman nodded.  “Well, then.”  He started to offer a handshake, but thought the better of it and stopped short.  He turned and limped back to his car.  Wagner watched as he made a U-turn and drove back down the hill.

Wagner picked up the bag and put it in the trunk, next to the suitcase.  He leaned on the back bumper.  He took the mp3 recorder out of his coat’s inside breast pocket and hit stop.  Then he pulled out a prepaid cell phone and dialed. 

“Freeman.” 

“It’s me,” Wagner said.

“You got the proof?”

He hit play.  Sherman’s voice said, “Hey.  Blakely says thanks for coming through.”

“It gets better from there,” said Wagner.  “You’ll have it by the six o’clock news tomorrow.”

“311868.  Best half-mil I ever spent.  You earned every penny, son.  Enjoy it.”

“I will.  I’m thinking about taking up fishing.”


The plot for the story above was written during the Bush/Kerry election cycle.  Somewhere in my serial-killer-style notebooks, it says, "Politician hires own assassin to get good PR," or something close to that.  That plot-line, like many others buried in my notes, went unused though often rekindled in my head over the years.  Until, that is, the call came for submissions to the Burning Maiden Quarterly magazine.  This, coupled with the then-somewhat-recent flap involving Brad Goehring's Facebook  comments brought the story back to mind, and made it seem wise to finally flesh it out.  About time.

Then I went to see the latest Robert Rodriguez movie.  While I enjoyed the heck out of it, I realized that this story, now appearing derived from his plot, was useless not only for the submission I'd already sent, but for any other venue.  So on the blog it goes, another fun project that otherwise would probably not see the light of day elsewhere.  I hope you enjoyed it, even though it doesn't have all the badassery or 70s kitsch that Machete does.  By the way, if you haven't seen Machete (or Black Dynamite, for that matter), please do.  They are both fantastic films, though Machete does get a bit gory at times, so be warned.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Black and White


"We're going to sit there," the man declared to the hostess, pointing at a small table near the front of the large, sparsely populated restaurant.  The few diners, their attention grabbed by his volume and tone, looked up from their meals to see a giant standing in the waiting area.  Though of average height, the man carried an aura of entitlement that magnified his size, making him seem mountainous.  Curly tufts of more-salt-than-pepper hair covered his head, matching the full beard he wore to mask the weight in his face.   His green polo shirt struggled to encapsulate his regal, gluttonous kettledrum of a stomach.   Clearly this man denied himself nothing, and expected others to treat him with the same high regard.

Having neither a need nor a desire to argue with him, the hostess muttered, "Yes, sir," and snatched a pair of menus from the pile.  Following behind her, the man swaggered in, his girth filling the narrow aisle that lead past the counter and into the dining room.  As he walked, he directed his booming voice back into the cell phone clamped to his right ear.

"You will double check the figures for the last quarter," he told the poor lackey on the other end of the call.  The hostess laid the two menus, silverware, and napkins on the table.  When the man had almost caught up to her, his companion emerged from his shadow.

Caught in the man's gravitational pull, his son trudged behind.  No more than ten years old, his short, brown, bowl-cut hair was slightly windblown, and his yellow and blue striped polo shirt and tan cargo shorts defied the early spring chill in the air outside.  Though heavy like his father, the boy was softer, and carried none of his father's commanding presence; his very existence seemed to be an afterthought.  Frowning at the floor, he plodded over to the table.

The thin, wooden chairs creaked in protest as the father and son sat.  Without even a glance at the menus, the father sought out their server, while his son sat still, his eyes on the table.  When the waitress finally arrived all of thirty seconds later, the man tilted the phone slightly from his head to bark their order.  "An iced tea and a Black and White cookie for him, and bring me a coffee."

His son, perhaps excited by his impending dessert, perhaps seeing the break in the phone call as an opportunity, perked up and tried to speak to his father, but the man had already returned his full attention to his cell phone, speaking loudly enough for the entire restaurant to hear.  The boy nevertheless persisted, his "Dad. Dad? Dad!" attracting the attention of every patron in the restaurant, except for the one that mattered.   After a dozen attempts to grab his father's attention, the boy lost hope.   His eyes and the corners of his mouth again turned downward.  He sat in silence as his father droned on into the phone.

The spark in his eyes re-ignited when the waitress brought the drinks and the cookie.   The Black and White cookie was the size of a small Frisbee, and nearly an inch thick.  It was more a small, thin cake with vanilla and dark chocolate icing than an actual cookie.  The wave of excitement that the boy exuded could be felt throughout the restaurant.   As his father put sugar and creamer into his coffee without putting the phone, the boy realized that he had a decision to make.   This may have been the first time the boy had to make this decision.  It may have been the thousandth.  Still, his life depended on making the correct choice at that moment.

Reveling in the conundrum, the boy wanted to share his joy with his father.   Turning and examining the cookie, an archaeologist seeking meaning in the markings on a newly unearthed clay pot, the boy thought out loud, "Maybe I should eat the whole white half first.  That could be fun. But if the white half is better, maybe I should save it for last.   I could eat a bite from one side and then the other, but that would make the whole thing taste the same. I like chocolate, so maybe I should start with the black side.   Or I could bite right in the middle and taste both-"

"Billy, would you just eat the goddamned thing so we can get the hell out of here," his father said before returning once again to his call.

Billy crumbled.

He looked up at his father, speechless.  Then his eyes glazed over as they turned downward again.   He bit into the cookie, randomly.  While he ate, Billy never once looked up from the table, never once showed any enjoyment.  After five minutes, he had mechanically devoured most of the cookie.   As he pushed the last morsel into his mouth, his father ended his call.

"You done?" his father asked.  His mouth still full, Billy could only nod.

"Good."  The man sought out the waitress on the other side of the restaurant.  "Check!"

The waitress hurried over with the bill.  "No rush. I'll take it whenever you're ready," she said before moving on to help other tables.

The man pulled a twenty from his wallet and flipped it in a spiral onto the table.   Without a word, he stood and moved toward the exit.  Billy sat still for a split second before forcing himself out of his chair and following two paces behind his father.

"Thanks, guys. Have a great day," the hostess said with a smile as they passed her stand.  The man ignored her.  Billy stopped and looked up at his father, who continued onward.  He turned around and gave the hostess a wave, and a slight smile.  Then he hurried to catch up to the man, and the two walked out into the bright afternoon sun.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Derby Girl Look

Unlike 2010, my schedule has not allowed me to attend many roller derby bouts this season, so I have not had the opportunity to write about the sport as often as I used to for the Best Damn Sports Show Period.  Still, there remains one often-asked-about topic that I have yet to address in any of my previous blogs.  Upon hearing that I had become a fan of roller derby, my friends and co-workers, mostly men, asked the same question, "What do derby girls look like?"  When I arranged an interview with the Angel City Derby Girls' Fighty Almighty on the Best Damn Podcast (episode 70), the hosts' banter during the introduction and wrap-up went straight to skaters' looks.  My friends' preoccupation with the appearance of the competitors led me to avoid that topic altogether in my blogs.  Don't get me wrong, I certainly have a few derby girl crushes of my own, but my focus in writing about roller derby has always been on the sport and the action.  Not today.

So what do derby girls look like?  Well, that's a fairly easy question to answer.  They're all really muscular.  Except for the ones that aren't.  They're all thin.  Or not.  They're all short.  Or tall.  Or average.  They're all white.  Or black.  Or Asian.  Or Hispanic.  They all have tattoos.  Except for the ones that don't.  They all have brightly colored hair.  But not the blondes.  Or the brunettes.  Or redheads.  Some skaters look tough, like they could beat the crap out of you, while others look like pin-up models (who most likely could also beat the crap out of you).  Which is all to say that asking what derby girls look like is the same as asking what women look like worldwide.  Their appearances vary from league to league, team to team, skater to skater.  No single style or physical attribute applies to all derby girls, or even to most of them.  However, that doesn't mean there isn't a "derby girl look."

Look at the people around you.  How many of them walk with their heads down, bent at the shoulders by the weight of living, looking defeated by their very existence?  That is the polar opposite of the "derby girl look."  Derby girls stand tall.  I'm not saying that they are tall; they stand tall.  No matter their height, they tower over us non-skaters.  They exude confidence at a level that most people can only aspire to.  Even in a loss on the track, they never look defeated.  I'm not sure if it's the intense physical activity, the competition, the comraderie, or all of the above that causes it, but the pride with which derby girls carry themselves is the only "look" that applies across the board, and it's beautiful to see.

Here comes the plug:  Don't understand what I'm talking about?  If you live in Los Angeles, you have two opportunities to see for yourself in the next two weeks.  On October 16 at 5:30 p.m., the Angel City Derby Girls present Night of the Rolling Dead at 5142 Tujunga Avenue in North Hollywood.  On October 23 at 6 p.m., the L.A. Derby Dolls feature The Swarm vs. The Tough Cookies at The Doll Factory, 1920 Temple Street, Los Angeles.  With any luck, I'll be seeing you there.