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The Storm-Fiction by Sean O'Keefe
Claire Morgan's Key to Happiness-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Badass Ted's Christmas Adventure-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
As Good on Him as on a Dead Man-Fiction by Jeff Esterholm
Using Your Kit-Fiction by Andrew J. Hogan
The Apathetic Tide-Fiction by Alan Edward Small
Christmas Karma-Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Salt Lake City Slaughterhouse-Fiction by J. Brooke
Mean Mama-Fiction by Tom Barker
All You Can Drink $5.00-Fiction by D. L. Shirey
Shell Shocked-Fiction by M. A. De Neve
The Present-Mark Joseph Kevlock
Red Christmas-Flash Fiction by Morgan Boyd
Samurai Santa-Flash Fiction by BAM
Guns and Rose-Flash Fiction by Paul Beckman
Christmas Eve Blow and Doll Houses-Flash Fiction by Luke Walters
Holly, Jolly-Flash Fiction by Mandi Rose
Pineapple-Poem by Cindy Rosmus
Life is Weird-Poem by Meg Baird
Appendages-Poem by Samuel Cardinale
The Means of Production-Poem by Robert Beveridge
Suicide of Living-Poem by John D. Robinson
It's On My List-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
Hoarding Life-Poem by Michael Keshigian
Homeless in NYC-Poem by Michael Keshigian
Death Speaks-Poem by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
Time Stops-Poem by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
House of Un-Reality-Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
The Ghosts of Borges-Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
The Bitchers-Poem by David Spicer
Voltaire and the Literary Guerillas-Poem by David Spicer
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
The Gazing Ball
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

clairemorgan.jpg
Art by Hillary Lyon 2018

CLAIRE MORGAN’S KEY TO HAPPINESS

by Roy Dorman

 

“Anything exciting goin’ on in your life?” asked Charlie Evans as he sipped his first drink of the day.

“Nope, not a thing right this minute” said Claire Morgan.  “But we can always hope, right?”

“I suppose so.  Thing is, unlike you, I don’t figure I’ve got a lot more years left for exciting stuff to happen.”

“Johnny’s sitting over there kinda quiet, isn’t he?” said Claire.

“Somethin’ weighin’ heavy on his mind, I’d say,” said Charlie.  “Boy that young shouldn’t have such serious problems.”

***

An hour ago, Johnny Dawson had taken a key from Eddie Kilgore’s pocket as Eddie lay unconscious on the kitchen floor of their flat. 

Then, 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  ….”

Johnny had 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.

“Nothin’ to see here, folks,” Johnny had said as he stood up and brushed himself off.  “Just slipped on a wet spot on the floor is all.”

Johnny had peeked into the locker again and had retrieved the note.  “…. FINISH READING THIS.  BOOM!!!”

Other than 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.

“This shit is so Eddie,” Johnny had mumbled.

Johnny hadn’t touched the box.  He had closed the locker, locked it with the key, and walked away.

He had figured he should think on this a bit.

***

Johnny and 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.

Beginning 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.

One weekend Johnny and Eddie just never came back to Elk Grove.  The population of Elk Grove had breathed a collective sigh of relief.

***

Johnny 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.

“You’re sittin’ there drinkin’ beer wondering if maybe ya killed me, ain’t ya.”

Johnny jumped like he’d been goosed.

“Damn, don’t sneak up on me like that,” he said.  “Ya could give a guy a heart attack.”

“Says the guy who snuck up on me and laid me out with a whack on the head.”

Hearing 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.

Ignoring Claire, Eddie said, “So, what’s the deal, chump?”

“He’ll have an IPA,” Johnny said, smiling at Claire.  “And get me another too, please.”

Claire drew the taps and set them on the bar.  “Eight dollars; Happy Hour.”

“I feel happier already,” said Johnny, lifting his beer to Eddie.  “How about you?”

Eddie just glared.  Johnny gave Claire a ten and put the ones in change on the rail for a tip.

Eddie sat 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.”

***

Claire 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.

The Rusty 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.

For the 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.

Once a customer had been taken out back, they usually never stopped by the Rusty Nail again.

Claire had 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.  

***

Claire usually 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.

Though 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.

She 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.

The 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.

“A key,” said Eddie.  “The key to another locker where the dope and money are.”

“So are we gonna take it and split, or what?”

“That was the plan until you put my lights out,” said Eddie.  “Now I don’t know.  What kind of partner does that kinda thing?”

“Sorry, I got restless,” said Johnny.  “We said we were goin’ to LA after the job.  That was two weeks ago.   You just keep findin’ reasons to…..”

***

“Money, dope, and LA,” thought Claire as she put the dust rag away.  “This keeps getting better and better.”

She started 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 LA.

Claire had 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. 

“Did I 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’m thinking 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 I’m settled.

“The train’s not as picky about how much you carry on like those airline TSA people are.”

“Yeah,” said Johnny.  “We’re goin’ to LA.  Eddie and I have seen our last Chicago winter.” 

“We were thinking about driving, though,” said Eddie.  “That way nobody checks your luggage at all, right?”

“Take me with you and I could give you gas money and drive some too,” said Claire.  “We could  drive straight through if we wanted too.”

“We’ll think about it,” said Johnny.

***

“First 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’?”

“Oh, don’t 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.”

“Then what?” said Eddie.

“Then we 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.”

***

Claire had 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.

Claire had no use for the dope; stolen dope was trouble.  She’d dump that after she dumped Johnny and Eddie.

***

Crossing the parking lot of a 24/7 at an I-80 exit outside of Salt Lake City, Eddie expressed his frustration with Claire.

“I liked 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.”

“Oh, come on,” said Johnny.  “She’s not so bad; you just don’t like it when she tells it like it is.”

“Yeah, well if it was up to me, the next time she left the car, we’d take off without her.”

“Let’s get the sodas and snacks and get back on the road.”

***

When Claire saw Johnny and Eddie enter the store, she stopped pumping gas and got back in the car. 

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.

“What can 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.”

Claire 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.

She laughed 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.

***

“Well, I’ve still got the key to the briefcase in my pocket,” said Eddie.

“Ya know, 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 and 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 Review, 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 EasyThuggish 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 Zombie." Having lived in France, Brazil, Canada, and several states in the US, she now resides in southern Arizona.  https://hillarylyon.wordpress.com/






In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2018