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Anthony Lukas
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smalltownsolution.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2016

Small Town Solution

 

Anthony Lukas

 

 

          Jim is cursing a missed shot over at the pool table.  Doc Quentin, down the bar, smiling and chatting with Paul.  He pats Paul’s hand to make a point.  I sip my Irish and watch Paul’s hand.

 

          Jim throws down his cue in disgust and big beer belly ups to the bar, snapping at Paul, “Hey Gimp, get me a beer.”  Paul limps over to the taps and pulls a beer, hunches over it just a sec then turns and slides it to Jim, who downs it and demands another.  Another pull, another hunch. Jim grabs it, bumps me with his elbow as he turns, says “Watch it, Turd,” and strides back to the table.

 

          I do nothing of course.  Jim has better than 100 pounds of fat and muscle on me and towers over me by a good foot or so, looming over me like he does over everyone else in our little mountain village. 

 

          I’m a relative new-comer here.  I made the ignorant mistake of moving a couple houses down from Jim and then made the even bigger mistake of asking Jim if he couldn’t at least clean up the front of his cesspool of a cabin. His answer was a campaign of throwing empty beer cans at my house and on many nights, vomiting in my front yard after drinking at various bars.

 

          He’s been puking on this town for years, bullying his huge bulk from one end to the other.  “Cowing the herd”, he calls it.  Calls to the Sheriff  always resulted in witnesses who suddenly hadn’t seen anything or a lack of evidence.  Like with Doc Quentin’s Cadillac.

 

          Six months ago Jim demanded that Doc sell him Doc’s grandfather’s ‘57 Cadillac.  Doc politely declined but a couple days later a fire burned down his garage with the Caddy in it.   Jim to Doc, “Guess it ain’t worth much now, huh?’ Sheriff said it was arson but had no leads.  We all knew who had done it but nobody could prove it. Case closed like all the other cases.

 

          A night of cards, chips, beers and talk. Plans discussed, rejected, then made. If no government help to exorcize the curse, then sometimes it does take a village.

 

          Now, Paul gives me a raised eyebrow.  I pass it on to Jake across the room and he slips out the door. Back in a few.  Jim is back at the pool table cursing his missed shots.  I fade out the back to my pickup and wait, trying to breathe slow. 

 

          Eventually he comes unsteadily out into the night, a little more weave than usual. Mounts his Harley, kicks it and…nothing.  He curses and tries again.  Nothing and there won’t be, not after Jake’s wire work.  Snip and done.

 

          He sits cursing for a time, then dismounts and heads out of the parking lot and down the road toward his waste dump of a cabin.  I start up and roll out.  He’s staggering down the middle of the street, of course, can’t walk on the side of the road like a normal person, oh no, not Jim.  Has to parade down the middle of road like the King of Shit reviewing his fiefdom.

 

          I roll down the empty road, past the few little businesses of our little mountain town, all closed, showing no lights.  I stop about 10 yards back, watching him, his massive frame a black shadow in the moonless night.  I grip the wheel with sweating palms.  Then, I hit my lights and my right foot twitches. He turns and stares like a deer in headlights, dumb animal that he is. He goes under with a big thump.  I brake and back.  Then forward.  Then back.  Then with wheels spinning on the wet on the road, forward and home.

 

          Next day at Jake’s garage.  He drops the keys in my hand.  “Good as new,” he says.  Front end work, new grill.  Gratis, no charge, no paper trail.

 

          Later, I sit in the back of our little church.  Closed casket.  Only so much cosmetics can do.  But he’s in there. Reverend managing a few kind words.  Everyone keeps a straight face.  It ends and the townspeople glance at me as they pass.

 

          They nod and smile.



takeoverrichey.jpg
Art by John Lunar Richey 2016

Takeover

 

Anthony Lukas

 

 

 

 

I felt like I was in one of those noir films.  Rain pouring down the windshield, blood dripping into my eye from the wound on my forehead from the contact with said windshield.  The two figures, washed grey by the rain, emerging from the big Packard that had easily muscled my little coupe into the ditch next to the Pacific Coast Highway.

 

I looked through the cracked windshield at the approaching shadows. Big Marty’s goons, no doubt.  Not that Big Marty was all that big in any sense of the word.  He was just a small-time gangster with a few gunmen to push his light-weight around.  I hadn’t even known I’d be crossing his path when I took this case.  Now I was about to have my nose clipped for sticking it where it didn’t belong.

 

Missing girl, parents panicked, LA cops not interested as there was no money in sight for them.  So I took it, figuring it was just a runaway situation.  But that hadn’t panned out.  Friends all agreed she wasn’t the type and had no reason to go.  Studious but active in the usual high school stuff that seems so important at the age.  Then, I had found a witness who had started me down a trail to Marty and his white slavery enterprise.

 

Marty used to be some kind of accountant and ran his various enterprises like a mini-corporation and often said his ‘corrections’ were nothing personal, just business.  Now I was about to be corrected and it felt very personal.

 

The gunsels got to my car and the short one opened the door.  He grinned with yellow teeth.  “Well, Stone, had a little accident?” I was still too dazed to make with the snappy comeback.

 

“Get his gun,” said the taller hood, “I’m claiming it.” My gun. Of course they would want that.  It was kinda famous: ivory handle, chrome plated with onyx inlays.  A forty-five auto that I had gotten from my father who had gotten it when retiring as an assistant LA police chief. Retired rich from the graft.

 

My head was starting to really pound … a good thing.  My brain was starting to clear.  Clear enough to know that I seemed to have had it, staring at the .38 in Yellow Teeth’s hand.

 

He reached into my coat with his free hand and pulled my gun from its shoulder holster.  He handed it over the open door to his partner who turned to look at it in the side glow of my headlights.

 

Gunsels only think of guns, not knives. When Yellow Teeth turned to handoff my gun, I slipped my hand to my boot knife and before he could turn back, I slashed down across his gun hand, grabbed his gun as his hand went useless and swung the knife in a smooth arc into him just below his sternum and into his heart.  I shoved him away, pointed the .38 at Hood Two and put two in his head before he registered that anything was wrong.

 

I dragged Yellow Teeth to the Packard, propped him in the passenger side of the front seat. I looped his belt around his shoulders and tied it behind the seat to keep him upright.  I got my gun, started the Packard and me and Yellow Teeth headed to Marty’s in the Valley.

 

I was a cop too, though not nearly as good as my father had been.  I had made detective on his name but that had been it.  I was as steeped in graft as Senior had been, but low level stuff, not the big time, city changing corruption like the old man.  So I took a few side jobs like this one to make ends meet.  But none of it amounted to much, the cop pay was lousy, the cop graft was skimpy and there weren’t enough of these small jobs to amount to much of anything.

 

 I was getting nowhere, had to glom some kind of action to start getting ahead.  I had been thinking to just put an end to this problem with Big Marty by just putting an end to Big Marty, but now, it occurred to me as I swung the Packard toward the Valley, this little play might just be the situation I needed.  His was a small time operation, with gunsels whose loyalty was directly proportional to the amount of green they were paid and the fear their boss inspired.

 

They would be expecting two guys coming back in the Packard. In the dark, Yellow Teeth would get us close enough to the front door, my Dad’s gun would get me in. Then Big Marty and I would have a conversation and if it didn’t go well, well then it would be time for a hostile corporate takeover, for a new chairman of the board to grow the business. 



Art by Steve Cartwright 2017
dwight.jpg

Dwight

 

Anthony Lukas

 

 

Dwight was angry.  As usual.

He was crossing his dark street in the middle of the block going from his apartment to his rust bucket of a car.  He hadn’t looked before he’d crossed, just headed out because he was mad and people could just damn well look out for him.

He was mad at a world that had left him in a dump of an apartment and with a junker of a car.  He was blind to the fact that he was in a world largely of his own making, stitched together from a life of dumping school, drugs, of jobs he didn’t have for long because he was never ‘treated right.’ 

A car slowed for him as he strode across the street, Dwight, not even bothering to look at the driver or acknowledge the courtesy.  He did glance back and saw that the car had stopped. What the hell is his problem? He stopped, car keys in hand and stared at the driver, who seemed to be looking back. Screw you, and headed toward his own car.  He was just there when he saw that the other car had backed up and now sat opposite him, driver visible as a shadow in the dark of the interior.

“What?” demanded Dwight.

Nothing from the car.

“Screw you, a- hole,” Dwight said.

Still nothing.

Dwight balled his fist and stomped toward the car, ready to give this a- hole a reaming. The driver’s window slid down revealing an old guy with a round face, thinning gray hair, sunken eyes with dark circles. He wore an old dark sweater with a small silver crucifix hanging around his neck.

Dwight leaned on the roof of the car, stared down at the man.  “You dumb ass old fart, you don’t want to mess with me.”

Nothing. The old man just sat calmly, expressionless, staring back at Dwight. Dwight opened his mouth to shout more when he saw the barrel of the gun almost resting on the window frame, pointing right at his gut.  Dwight hesitated but then leered “You goin’ to shoot me, old man?”

“Yes.”

Just ‘yes’, nothing more. No expression, no emotion. Just a conversational ‘yes’.

Dwight stared, then grinned. “I’m just going to turn around and walk away so if you’re going to shoot me you’ll have to shoot me in the back like some chicken shit.”

“Okay.”

Dwight blinked. “Who the hell are you?”

“We’ve never met.”

“I know we’ve never the f---” Dwight stared at the gun and bit off the rest of what he was going to say. “I know we have never met. So why you want to shoot me?”

“I’d be doing the world a favor, wouldn’t I? I mean, it’s not like you’re worth anything. Kind of a waste of the air you breathe.”

Dwight wanted to smash the old man’s face. Dwight opened his mouth to curse the old man, then checked himself because of the gun.  “What you want from me?” he said. “I ain’t goin to beg.”

The old man raised an eyebrow. “I don’t care.”

What the hell? That gun, that gun that hadn’t wavered and those eyes that hadn’t moved from Dwight’s face. He tried again.

“Look, I don’t know what this is about, I don’t know you, so I’m just going to go to my car ---.”

“Got another car? Well, you did wreck the other one didn’t you?”

 

“The other ---,” and Dwight stopped. “What the hell you talking about?”

“You know, the one you ran into the wall after running over my granddaughter.”

Now Dwight started to sweat. The gun, the dead cold eyes. “I did my time for that.”

“Yes, you did your eight months for vehicular manslaughter and now you’re out and my granddaughter is still dead. And my daughter…well, she just hasn’t been the same. Standing on the corner, watching her daughter crossing and then---.” The old man shrugged and shook his head. “She’ll never be the same and there’s nothing I can do for her. A father ought to be able to help, should know the right thing to do or say,” he said, nodding absently to himself, an odd look in his eyes. The fingers of his other hand pressed against the little silver crucifix that hung around his neck.

Jesus, he’s crazy, thought Dwight and looked at the gun, gauging if he could grab it, but then the old man was fully focused on him again. “I can’t fix it, but maybe I can make it right,” he said.

Sweat stung Dwight’s eyes but he was now afraid to move. He said, “Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to kill her, she was just there.”

“Just there in the crosswalk and you were speeding because you were mad because you had just been fired. Again. Isn’t that right. Dwight?” 

Dwight tried to put a swagger in his voice and said, “You can’t just shoot me. There are people around,” looking around at an empty dark street.  “They’ll throw your old ass in prison,” he finished lamely.

The old guy just shrugged. “Doesn’t matter.” He smiled a small smile. “You know, Dwight, life’s funny. You get news that leaves you depressed as hell, but then sometimes something good comes out of it,” nodding to himself again, fingering the little silver cross. “Funny how liberating a diagnosis of terminal cancer can be.” 

The old man raised the gun slightly, said, “I’ll be seeing  you soon, Dwight,” and squeezed the trigger.

 

 

 

The original version of "Dwight" was published at Overmydeadbody.com in May, 2015.






Anthony Lukas is retired from the practice of law and from owning his own chocolate store.  Now he works part-time in one of our national parks and produces the occasional short story. He has also previously been published in Over My Dead Body <overmydeadbody.com> and Bewildering Stories <bewilderingstories.com>.

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