CLAIRE MORGAN’S KEY TO HAPPINESS
by Roy Dorman
exciting goin’ on in your life?” asked Charlie Evans as he sipped his first
drink of the day.
a thing right this minute” said Claire Morgan.
“But we can always hope, right?”
so. Thing is, unlike you, I don’t figure
I’ve got a lot more years left for exciting stuff to happen.”
sitting over there kinda quiet, isn’t he?” said Claire.
weighin’ heavy on his mind, I’d say,” said Charlie. “Boy
that young shouldn’t have such serious
ago, Johnny Dawson had taken a key from Eddie Kilgore’s pocket as Eddie lay
unconscious on the kitchen floor of their flat.
having opened a locker in the train station with the key, he had begun reading
a handwritten note: “JOHNNY, UNLESS
YOU’VE FLIPPED THE TOGGLE SWITCH TO DEACTIVATE, YOU WON’T ….”
hit the floor and covered his head with both hands, expecting to be blown to
bits in the next instant.
After a few
seconds had ticked by and nothing had happened, he’d gotten to his hands and
knees and looked up at the expressions on the faces of the passersby. Some had
looked puzzled, a few concerned, but
most had been grinning.
see here, folks,” Johnny had said as he stood up and brushed himself off. “Just
slipped on a wet spot on the floor is
peeked into the locker again and had retrieved the note. “…. FINISH
READING THIS. BOOM!!!”
the note, the only thing in the locker had been a small wooden box. It was made
of some kind of dark wood, maybe
mahogany, and had some intricate carvings on the lid. It had been much too small
to hold fifty
thousand dollars in cash and a kilo of coke, but was definitely big enough to have
something explosive wired inside.
is so Eddie,” Johnny had mumbled.
hadn’t touched the box. He had closed
the locker, locked it with the key, and walked away.
figured he should think on this a bit.
Eddie had grown up together in Elk Grove, a small town in the Midwest. In the
town of about twelve hundred people,
there was a grocery store, three bars, two churches, a gas station, an
elementary school and a high school.
sometime around the time they were eight years old, Johnny and Eddie teamed up
and provided their own entertainment.
Elk Grove felt the wrath of their boredom until the boys turned sixteen
and were able to drive the fifty miles to Chicago on the weekends.
Johnny and Eddie just never came back to Elk Grove. The population of Elk Grove
had breathed a
collective sigh of relief.
usually did his best thinking over a craft beer in a quiet bar, but the IPA in
front of him wasn’t helping him come up with anything helpful.
An hour had
now passed since he had hit Eddie over the head with the butt of his gun and
Johnny was wondering if maybe he had killed him.
sittin’ there drinkin’ beer wondering if maybe ya killed me, ain’t ya.”
jumped like he’d been goosed.
don’t sneak up on me like that,” he said.
“Ya could give a guy a heart attack.”
guy who snuck up on me and laid me
out with a whack on the head.”
this exchange, Claire, this afternoon shift’s bartender, walked the length of
the bar to the two. “What can I get
you?” she said to Eddie.
Claire, Eddie said, “So, what’s the deal, chump?”
an IPA,” Johnny said, smiling at Claire.
“And get me another too, please.”
the taps and set them on the bar. “Eight
dollars; Happy Hour.”
happier already,” said Johnny, lifting his beer to Eddie. “How about
glared. Johnny gave Claire a ten and put
the ones in change on the rail for a tip.
down and whispered something in Johnny’s ear.
Johnny laughed and punched Eddie playfully on the shoulder.
“Ya think I
was gonna skip town with all the money?
Nah, I’d never do that to you.”
Morgan, a hipster between twenty-five and thirty, liked the two to eight shift
at the Rusty Nail. The owner, Rusty
Burke, gave Claire a deal on the rent for the one bedroom apartment over the
bar and that allowed her to take a class at the university each semester.
Nail usually saw a couple dozen customers come and go during her shift, with
there always being four or five regulars to keep her company.
occasional jerk who gave her a rough time, one or two of those regulars would
escort the guy to the alley outback if they got the nod from Claire.
customer had been taken out back, they usually never stopped by the Rusty Nail
had a rough childhood. She had never
known her father, and her mother, a crack addict, had been killed by one of her
crack buddies when Claire was ten. Too
old for adoption, Claire had spent eight years in five different foster homes
before she was turned loose at age eighteen.
She had a
good heart, and most people who knew her would be surprised there was a dark
seething she kept suppressed. Claire
felt she was owed something by somebody for her shitty childhood.
got a kick out of Johnny and Eddie, but sensed something was not good between
them this afternoon. Her ears had perked
up when she heard Johnny say something about money and she had strolled down to
their end of the bar.
Claire liked the bartender gig okay, she was saving up for a move to the West
Coast. If Johnny and Eddie had some new
found wealth, she was sure she could help them part with it.
purposely walked a few feet past them, and then, one at a time, started taking
down the bottles of top shelf liquor from the ledge on the ornate back
bar. She dusted the shelf and then
meticulously dusted each bottle as she put it back in its place.
conversation was very interesting. When
Eddie mumbled something that sounded like fifty thousand dollars, Claire almost
dropped the Drambuie.
“So what’s in the
wooden box?” asked Johnny.
said Eddie. “The key to another locker
where the dope and money are.”
“So are we
gonna take it and split, or what?”
the plan until you put my lights out,” said Eddie. “Now I don’t
know. What kind of partner does that kinda thing?”
got restless,” said Johnny. “We said we
were goin’ to LA after the job. That was
two weeks ago. You just keep findin’
and LA,” thought Claire as she put the dust rag away. “This keeps
getting better and better.”
to think about how she might get the money from them now, talk them into taking
her with them and get it from them on the way, or wait and take it from them in
no doubts at all as to whether Johnny and Eddie were a match for her
abilities. Many was the time she had
seen her mother dupe some guy out his money so she could score some dope. Johnny
was a little quicker than Eddie, but neither
of those two would ever be considered the sharpest knife in the drawer.
overhear you say you guys were going to LA?” asked Claire as she set another
couple of pints in front of Johnny and Eddie.
“I’m planning to go to LA too.
I’ll take the train; it’s cheaper. I’ll
take what I need and have Rusty, my boss, ship the rest of my stuff to me once
train’s not as picky about how much you carry on like those airline TSA people
said Johnny. “We’re goin’ to LA. Eddie and I have seen our last Chicago
thinking about driving, though,” said Eddie.
“That way nobody checks your luggage at all, right?”
with you and I could give you gas money and drive some too,” said Claire. “We
drive straight through if we wanted too.”
think about it,” said Johnny.
Iowa, and now Nebraska,” grumbled Eddie as Claire drove down the interstate on
the first day. “Corn, corn, and more
corn. Oh, wait; is that wheat? When
are things gonna get interestin’?”
be such a whiner,” said Claire. “We’re
gonna be on I-80 all the way to San Francisco.
After Nebraska, we start into the mountains and it gets more scenic.”
what?” said Eddie.
take the Pacific Coast Highway down to LA,” said Claire. “I’ve
heard that’s a beautiful stretch. You should take a nap like our buddy,
Johnny. Just chill and let me drive.”
waited in the car outside Union Station while Johnny and Eddie had gone in to retrieve
a briefcase. She figured the case held
the money and dope Johnny and Eddie had bragged about taking from a drug dealer
on the North Side.
As she sat
in the car waiting for them, she decided that the next time they left her alone
in the car, she was gone. LA was a big
place and Johnny and Eddie would never find her.
no use for the dope; stolen dope was trouble.
She’d dump that after she dumped Johnny and Eddie.
the parking lot of a 24/7 at an I-80 exit outside of Salt Lake City, Eddie
expressed his frustration with Claire.
her better as a bartender. She’s a
little too lippy as far as I’m concerned.
I’ll be glad when we’re rid of her.”
on,” said Johnny. “She’s not so bad; you
just don’t like it when she tells it like it is.”
if it was up to me, the next time she left the car, we’d take off without her.”
the sodas and snacks and get back on the road.”
saw Johnny and Eddie enter the store, she stopped pumping gas and got back in
If she had
heard what Eddie had told Johnny about ditching her, she would have thought she
and Eddie had some sort of weird psychic connection.
She put the
car in drive and headed toward the I-80 on-ramp.
they do?” she said as she merged onto the interstate and moved the SUV up to 70
m.p.h. “This car’s probably stolen, so
they can hardly call the cops and tell them I stole their stolen car with a
briefcase of stolen money and stolen dope.”
decided that before she reached LA she would get a rental car and move her
stuff into it. She’d wipe this car for
prints, leave the keys in the ignition, and let whoever came upon the car have
both it and Johnny’s and Eddie’s stuff.
to herself as she pictured Johnny and Eddie washing dishes at some truck
stop. The fifty grand was going to give
her a nice start in LA.
still got the key to the briefcase in my pocket,” said Eddie.
somehow I don’t think somebody like Claire is going to let that slow her down,
buddy,” said Johnny, putting an arm around Eddie’s shoulder. “Hey,
you ready to tackle Salt Lake City?”
Roy Dorman is retired from the University
of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office and is the submissions editor of Yahara
Prairie Lights. He has had poetry and flash fiction published in One
Sentence Poems, Near to the Knuckle, Yellow Mama, Shotgun
Honey, Theme of Absence, Drunk Monkeys, The Flash Fiction
Press, Black Petals, and a number of other online magazines.
Hillary Lyon is an illustrator for horror/sci-fi
pulp fiction websites and magazines. She is also founder and senior editor
for the independent poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. An SFPA
Rhysling Award nominated poet, her poems have appeared in journals such as Eternal
Haunted Summer, Jellyfish Whispers, Scfifaikuest, Illya’s Honey, and Red River
as well as numerous anthologies. Her short stories have appeared
recently in Night
to Dawn, Yellow Mama, Black Petals, Sirens Call, and Tales from
the Moonlit Path, among others,
as well as in numerous horror
anthologies such as Night in New
Orleans: Bizarre Beats from the
Big Easy, Thuggish
Itch: Viva Las Vegas, and White Noise & Ouija Boards. She appeared,
briefly, as the uncredited "all-American Mom with baby"
in Purple Cactus Media’s 2007 Arizona indie-film, "Vote for
lived in France, Brazil, Canada, and several states in the US, she now resides
in southern Arizona. https://hillarylyon.wordpress.com/