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Paul Beckman
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mommetthenewneighbors.jpg
Art by Noelle Richardson

 Mom Met the New Neighbors

 

by Paul Beckman

 

 

The new neighbors moved in while we took the weekend off, camping. My mother went over with a plateful of her cookies but my father stayed in front of the TV. He’s not so social.

 

Mom came home and told Dad that the new neighbors would be coming for dinner Friday night and Dad grunted his displeasure.

 

“Just because we’re in Witness Protection doesn’t mean we can’t socialize,” Mom said.

 

Dad looked out the bedroom window and saw the couple walking over. He told me to hurry up and get his “gear” and since he doesn’t kid around about that, I pulled up my closet rug, opened the trap door, and got his long, hard case and scurried back to him.

 

“Get downstairs with your Mother,” he said while screwing the silencer onto his rifle. Then, in a flash, he had on the scope, slapped in the magazine, jacked one into the chamber, and slid the window up a couple of inches.

 

The man and wife both looked up at the same time.  He tossed the wine bottle; she, the flower bouquet; and both pulled out their pistols.

 

Dad dropped the woman with one shot just above her right eye and the man looked up, nodded, and holstered his gun. He turned and walked back to his house, got in his car, and drove off.

 

Dad saw the look on my face. “She’s the one I ratted on that got us in the program,” he said. “We’re safe now. Her boyfriend is FBI and the one that placed us here.”

 

Minutes later, the ambulance showed up and carted her body off and the next day, the moving truck came and loaded up.

 

Dad didn’t say much but I knew he wasn’t looking forward to sending Mom out again to check the new neighbors when they finally moved in.

 




“Honey” & “Darling”

 

by Paul Beckman

 

 

 

I hear them whispering to each other over dinner. My dining area backs to theirs and for some reason, in one small section of the wall I can hear everything. I found it by accident with one of the previous tenants. Perhaps when the building was built, the insulation was left out or the builders did something intentionally to cause this.

 

It only works one way—them to me—I’m sure of that and would bet my life on it after living here through four other tenants.

 

He calls her “Honey,” and she calls him “Darling,” and their mailbox name slot is blank. They are cautious and only talk to each other in whispers. Obviously they must know that the walls in the building are thin but they can’t know how thin in this one spot. I might as well be in their room with them. I keep my table next to the wall and eat my dinner when they have theirs, listening to them share their days’ experiences and more.

 

I heard Honey tell Darling about a company that her company was about to buy so I bought stock and made several thousand dollars. She’s the boss’s secretary. Another time she told him about a stock that was about to tank and I shorted it and made even more. There have been others and I don’t go crazy on these tips because I’m not greedy and don’t want to bring suspicion down on my head. Besides, they keep coming.

 

Darling is a gangster. He lends money, breaks legs, pulls heists and worse. He tells Honey everything. I hope to write a gangster book one of these days so I keep my laptop on the table during dinner. At times I’m so busy listening and writing, my meal gets cold.

 

At dinner this evening, I listened as Darling said that he had to leave for a bit and take care of a problem. “I have to squash a bug,” he said, “but I won’t be long,” and I heard him push his chair back and walk to the door. I heard the squeak of it opening.

 

Then, I heard a knock on my door.

 



Finally a Mother Daughter Conversation

 

by Paul Beckman

 

 

 

“If you're going to slit your wrists, do it the right way,” Bette’s mother told her.

“If you lay in a tub and blade across the wrist, of course you'll get blood and sympathy. If you do it the right way, cutting the vein top to bottom, you’ll still get blood and sympathy, but you'll also get peace and resolve.

 

“Decide what you want, because I’m tired of having your stomach pumped only to find Tylenol, when there is plenty of Oxy around. I’m sick to death of these bathtub razor skits and far from impressed at your jumping onto the tracks of a subway, when there’s more than enough time and people to save you.

 

“Do you understand? If you want to yell ‘Help,’ and you mean it, then do so and your father and I will put you in the best facility to help you. Otherwise, go about a normal life, or do the deed right.”

 

Bette, her nineteen-year-old daughter, nodded and left the room, returning from the kitchen with a long, thin deboning knife.

 

She sat across from her mother, passing the knife from hand to hand while her mother cautioned her about getting blood on the white furniture and carpets. “At least let me get you some plastic sheets,” her mother said.

 

“Goodbye, Mother,” Bette said. “I wished you’d have kept me home and not in boarding schools. And I wanted so badly to have mother-daughter talks about boys, and school, and getting my first period, but you were off traveling, and I was only a vacation visitor with an open bank account and no-limit credit cards to be the good little girl and not bother you.”

 

“Nothing ever satisfied you,” Bette’s mother said. “Nothing at all.”

 

“This will.” Bette lunged forward with the knife, twice plunging it into her mother’s chest.

 

And against everything she believed in, her mother stained her precious white carpet and couch red.

 

 

 



Long Story for the New Bride

 

by

 

Paul Beckman

 

 

 

 “Here we are, out of money, low on gas, down to our last few packages of Little Debbie’s, and now the radio gives out. Pull into the next gas station or convenience store we see, and I’ll change our luck and theirs.”

 

“Fill the tank with high test and I’ll go take care of the rest,” I tell my wife, actually my new bride since we’re officially on our honeymoon.

 

I grab a hand basket and load up on Cokes and Dr. Peppers, Little Debbie’s, premade sandwiches, and when I fill the basket, I put it on the counter and tell the pimply faced clerk, “Give me a carton of Kools and one of Chesterfields,” and then I begin loading the other basket with pretzels, prepackaged bologna and ham, hamburger rolls, mustard, and anything else that catches my eye.

 

I walk back to the counter holding this basket with two hands and say, “Bag these for me, Buddy.”

 

“I’ve got to ring ‘em up first,” he says.

 

“No. You don’t have to do that,” I tell him.

 

Licking his nervous lips, he asks why not, and I tell him that I have no money, and since I don’t want to hurt him or anyone else, he should just be a good boy and do as I tell him. I reach behind my back, under my coat and pull out a pistol.

 

Without hesitation, Pimply Face takes a basket, walks around the counter, and goes and puts everything back, and comes for the second basket.

 

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I ask.

 

“Putting away your dreams,” he says. “We sell stuff here—we don’t give nothing away.”

 

“Don’t you see this gun?” I ask, waving it in front of him.

 

“Sure do, but I know you have no plans for using it, and by the way, I turned off the pump before it hit six dollars, so you owe me six dollars worth of labor in return. Grab the mop and bucket and take the key to the bathrooms and clean them. If you do a good job, we’ll call it even for the gas. If you don’t, then we take other measures.” He points to a closed-circuit TV on the wall where there’s a man sitting with a shotgun looking down at them both. “Other measures like meeting my father.”

 

“What took you so long?” my bride asked. “Where’s the food?”

 

“Long story,” I say. “Long story.”

 

 

 

 

Holiday Shopping

 

by Paul Beckman

 

 

 

Call me a sentimental fool, but if you know what’s good for you, you won’t leave out the word “sentimental.”

 

I talk tougher than I am. Some people believe I’m connected, made my bones and all the rest that goes along with it, but truth be told, I’m only a hustler and one without a conscience. I’ll watch an ATM until an old lady or a really old man makes a withdrawal and sees where they stash the money and follow and take it sounding all Brooklyn when I demand it and show my shiv. Old people are more afraid of a knife than a gun. It’s the pain thing because everyone’s been cut with a knife and few geezers carry a bullet hole.

 

I’m out today getting money for a V-Day present for Roxie. She thinks I’m out selling insurance and in a way, that’s what I do. I’ve clipped two purses and lifted a box of chocolate covered cherries—her favorite.

 

I saw a gold heart on a chain in Walmart that would be perfect. It’s very stylish, with the heart being thin and long pointing down to cleavage and Roxie is nothing if not proud of her cleavage. I need one more score to get the $75 to buy this. I asked the saleslady to hold it for a couple of hours. “I’ll let my replacement know about this and you.”

 

I head over to my “go to” joint for easy money, the supermarket. Ladies push their carts around with their pocketbooks in the baby carrier open so they can get at their coupons. They’re always turning their back and the best spot is the deli section when they’re trying to get the ham sliced thin enough to read through and taking a taste of everything they order. A free lunch, they think, but I show them there’s no such thing.

 

I got two wallets in a matter of minutes and headed back to Walmart. A different saleswoman was there and asked if she could help.

 

She kept staring at me and smiling. “Oh the heart,” she said. “It’s so lovely that two other people asked for it, so I put it in the back room for safekeeping.” She patted my hand that was on the counter and told me she’d be right back.

 

She was back in five minutes, which I guess to an old fossil like her was right back, and she offered to wrap it and I said, “Sure,” and I paid with my wad of bills and before she had finished wrapping, I had my arms twisted behind my back and handcuffs slapped on.

 

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” she said. “We met earlier this morning outside the bank where you stole my money I was going to buy my granddaughter a Valentine’s present with. I’m sure she’ll love this heart,” she said as the detectives led me away.

 

 

Here’s the Way I Keep My Job

 

by Paul Beckman

 

 

I come in early, leave late, eat my lunch at my desk in my neat cubicle and monitor my boss’s email and text messages on the sly.

 

I was called in for my annual review last month, and I knew it was going to be deadly because my work output is meager and of poor quality. The company changed systems and I can’t grasp the new one. I didn’t wait for my big shot boss to get off his “sorry to let you go” speech. I struck first.

 

“I saw you at the Hilton a couple of weeks ago,” I said, knowing he’d be there from his email. “In case you saw me and wondered why I didn’t say hello, it’s because I didn’t want to bother you and Mrs. Erskine. You were in the corner of the bar and were talking and I figured that if you came this far away from the office to confer, you didn’t need me interrupting. I was right, wasn’t I?”

 

He stared at me, and I knew he was trying to vaporize me with his eyes, but he’s not the big boss for nothing, because he said, “William, you need to catch up on our new system. How about if I send you to the company school for a week in Orlando?” He closed my file and forced a smile.

 

“Would I have time to spend at Disney World or will it be 24-7 of classes?” I asked.

 

“I can arrange it so you stay at the hotel of your choice and classes only four hours a day instead of full days. How does that sound?” he asked.

 

“Four hours every day?” I asked.

 

“No. No,” he said. “Just three days a week for two weeks and weekends off. Of course you’ll have a pass to the Park and a company credit card for meals and incidentals. You’ll come back all fired up and rested and ready to bring your work up to par.”

 

“Am I in your office because my work isn’t up to par?”

 

“With the old system it would be, but you need some fine-tuning on the new system, and you’re not alone in needing to catch up, but since you’re a valued employee, we are using you to try out our new “catch up” program. What do you think?”

 

“If it helps the company, then I’m all for it,” I said and reached out my hand to shake his, but he couldn’t seem to unclench his fist, so I did a two-handed shake around it and walked out of his office humming, “It’s a Small World After All.”

 

 

 

Heist

 

by Paul Beckman

 

 

I’ve had enough. How much can a person take? I’ll tell you how much. Use me for example, I can take a full side of beef, a case of King Crabs, two large bags of rolls still warm from the baker’s oven, and the daily newspaper lying in front of the store.

 

I can and did take that, except I forgot the newspaper, I was so busy wrangling the side of beef into the trunk with my golf clubs and beach crap, that I left it where it was thrown.

 

It was when I left the trunk open and stooped to pick up the paper, that the cop came around the corner, and since he does this as part of his rounds, five days a week, I was out of place and out of bounds. I would’ve been gone and safe if I didn’t go back for the paper. Now I know why they say no one reads the paper anymore.

 

I’m out of options. I have one phone call and I don’t want to waste it on my wife who’ll just throw my ineptitude up to me, and it’s too early to call a lawyer, so I think I’ll save it for when I really need it.

 

“Guard,” I call.

 

“What is it?”

 

“Can I have today’s paper to read?”

 

 

 

Movie Lesson # 1

by Paul Beckman

 

Grover saw the man in the hat again.

At least, he thought he did. He crossed the street and walked a bit, stopping every once in a while to look in store windows, attempting to use them as mirrors, like in the movies; trying to catch the man he was sure was tailing him.

It didn’t work; the sun was too bright. He should’ve done this across the street, in the shade.

Quickly, he ducked into a blind alley and realized it was a dumb move, so he turned around to leave and saw with certainty he no longer had to worry about being followed.

 

Kiss Kiss 

 

by Paul Beckman

 

Grandma will be wearing a mask when we visit, so don’t you kids be alarmed.

How will we know it’s Grandma under the mask?

It’s just a mask that covers her mouth so she doesn’t breathe in germs.

Grandma’s scary. Can we cover our eyes with a mask so we’re not afraid?

Is she going to take off her mask when she gives us her squishy wet hello and goodbye kisses?

No kissing this time. Germs. Grandma’s now afraid of germs.

What about the money? Will she still give us money if she doesn’t kiss us?

Maybe she’ll say kiss, kiss and give you a check. She doesn’t touch money anymore, since she read that money’s covered with germs from many people.

Can we wear masks too? We can say kiss kiss and hand her pictures we’ve drawn.

Is she going to cook that stew again she always cooks?

No. We’ll stop at a restaurant before we go to her house and get lunch. We’ll bring her lunch with us from there, also.

You can show her your pictures, but if she’s not wearing doctor’s gloves, she won’t touch them. Remember, say hello and then go out in the yard and play, and I’ll come get you when it’s time to leave.

Why don’t we stay home, and you tell grandma we’re waiting in the car, so we don’t bring in germs?

If she doesn’t see you, she probably won’t give you any money, and you know we’re broke and need money.

Can’t you just tell that to grandma?

No. grandma likes to play this game so we have to go along with her.

Do you still want me to go into her bedroom and look for jewelry?

Yes. Remember, only one piece and try to remember that it should have diamonds.

What about me? What should I look for?

Look for cash in the usual places. Under the mattress, in her underwear drawer—poke around the room and if you find any, take it all so she’ll think she forgot where she put it.

Is Grandma going to die?

We’re all going to die.

Should I still take her pills and put aspirin in the pill bottle?

Just in one pill bottle.


baldbaby.jpg
Art by Ann Marie Rhiel 2017

Bald Baby

by Paul Beckman

 

When I was four years old, I got a beautiful bald baby doll for my birthday. My father brought it home from a business trip to Europe. My seven-year old sister Doris wanted to play with her but I wouldn’t allow it. A couple of weeks later, Bald Baby Doll disappeared from our vacation trip to the mountains and I never saw her again and I wouldn’t play with any other dolls.

Last week, our families, after years of estrangements, were together for Christmas, and Doris gave me an identical Bald Baby Doll. She said she’d been looking for one for the past forty-plus years and finally found one on eBay.

Tearing up, I hugged Bald Baby and went off to be alone. I noticed a little bit of red nail polish on two of her toes and remembered I had painted Bald Baby’s toenails and parts of her toes with Mom’s nail polish. When my husband came up to bed, he teased me for sleeping with a doll at my age.

Early the next morning, I was sitting with Doris’s four-year-old granddaughter, Dory, on the top step of the stairs. I was painting her toenails bright red. When I finished, I kissed her cheek and told her we should stand on the step on our tip toes, and bend over and look at her bright shiny nails.

I held on to the railing.

 



An Editor’s Rejection Mistake

by Paul Beckman

 

I’m having a bad streak of luck—another story rejected today. This was a sure thing so all I can figure is the editors have it out for me.

I’m Mikey “the Blade” Morgan, six months out on parole when this story came back. Not even an attaboy or personal note. It was the standard fuck you—your story doesn’t fit into this issue at this time but consider buying a subscription or hire our editing service. The Editors.

Write what you know and I did. I wrote about slicing a guy open because he didn’t pay the vigorish he promised me last week. My character, Slim Tim, broke into the weasel’s house and took everything of value, filled a pillow case, and poured himself a glass of rotgut bourbon and sat in the comfortable leather chair to wait and then dozed off.

Jimmy “the weasel” woke him closing the door when he got home about midnight and Mikey confronted him and got his attention by pushing the button on the switchblade. In out in out in out.

I was waiting in Editor’s house drinking Chivas when he got home. His wife went up to the bedroom and Editor went to pour himself a drink. I was standing in the shadows holding the bottle.

“The Weasel” swore he’d have the money in two days and Slim Tim glared at him pushing the knife button so the blade went in and out. “I swear on my children On my wife On my mother I’ll have the money in two days.”

“You have two minutes,” Slim said wiggling the blade under the Weasel’s chin.

“Who are you?” Editor asked and I told him and I let him know that like my character, Slim Jim, I had no conscience and didn’t think much of his rejection letters and rejection in any form.

“Maybe one of my interns made a mistake,” Editor said. “They’re always fucking up. Come into my study and I’ll pull it back up on the computer and take another look-see.”

“Hey, Mikey. This is a fine story. I don’t know what that bitch was thinking about. I’ll add it right now and call it our feature story of the month. Whaddaya think? Sound good? Say, would you pour me a drink while I insert your story. I’m also sending you an acceptance letter asking to see more of your work. Sound good, Mikey? All good, huh?”

Slim flicked his blade in Weasel’s nostril and the blood gushed. “Feel like Jack Nicolson?” he asked. Then he slashed Weasel’s bicep and Weasel began begging, making quite the racket, as he was crying. “I’ll give you the money,” Weasel said. “It’s in the kitchen, in the refrigerator freezer. Cold cash. Okay? Like that—cold cash? Get it?”

Weasel pulled the cash from behind the Hungry Man TV dinners and held it out to Slim just as Mrs. Weasel who’d been awakened by Weasel’s screaming and crying stood watching in the doorway. As Slim held his hands out for the cold cash after putting his blade down on the table Mrs. Weasel, with a two-handed police stance holding her 9mm Beretta took out Slim with a double tap right above his ear.

“There,” Editor said. “Take a look. How do you like it—framed right on page one? It’s a beaut and my readers are going to love your story.”

As Mikey was looking at the large display on the desktop, he thought he saw a reflection on the screen of a woman in a nightgown holding a rifle.

 

In his younger years Paul Beckman was a numbers runner, a fence, and hung around with the bad crowd. He still hangs with a dubious crowd.

In Association with Fossil Publications