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Frank Quinn
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Art by Steve Cartwright 2017


by Frank Quinn


Gavin tilted back his head and puffed a stream of smoke out of the cracked window of his old F150.  He had it rolled up enough to block out the rain that piddled and thumped on the cab's roof but open enough to keep the truck from filling with smoke. With occasional drips beginning to soak his jeans and the smoke slowly choking the air it seemed neither goal was being met.

The old seat springs creaked in protest as he leaned up and swiped a hand across the front glass to clear away the fog that was thickening and blocking his view. He was parked across the street from the Sand Dollar tavern and had a good view of the alleyway behind.

At this time of night there was little traffic on the road and except for the occasional customer sauntering in or out of the bar, the place was fairly secluded. Which was why Gavin liked to meet his customers here.

With the windshield cleared, he thought he saw movement in the shadows. He squinted into the murky night and saw that there was definitely someone at the corner. He ran his fingers across his front pocket and gave the eight-ball of heroin within a confirming squeeze. Then he rattled open the door and stepped out. He pulled the collar of his leather jacket up and cinched down his cap before jogging across the street.

The thin pools of rain splish-splashed beneath his shoes as he stepped into the shadow of the alley and considered the figure standing beneath the ocean mural painted on the wall. He hadn't dealt with this customer before, but she said she got the number from Billy James. Billy was pretty strung out but he was no snitch so there was little chance of getting burned and chicks were never a threat.

"You Candice?" he asked. He grabbed his collar and squeezed it tighter against the rain.

The shadowy figure stepped closer. The woman was wearing a dark trench coat that shimmered in the wet and her face was hidden behind the bill of a red ballcap that she had pulled tight over her gray hair.

She looked up and studied him with flashing blue eyes. They were sunk in deep, wrinkled folds and surrounded with dark circles almost the color of bruises. Her skin was pale in the wan illumination of the street lamp and it looked to Gavin as if she hadn't slept in days.

"You're not what I expected," she said. Her voice sounding almost disappointed.

The hair on Gavin's neck sprang up at the sound of her voice and he suddenly wanted to be somewhere else.

"Well, you're not what I was expectin' either," he said. "You don't look like my usual customer. But what the hell...right?"

"Did you know Billy?" she asked. Her eyes seemed glued to his.

"Uh, yea. I knew him some. Mainly just business, ya know. But he seemed OK. "

The woman dropped her head and stared at the ground. In the darkness, the fat drops of rain gathered on the brim of her cap and sparkled in the light before tumbling to the ground.

"Sooo, we gunna do this or what?" Gavin asked. He was growing impatient and there were better things to do than stand in the rain for an eight-ball.

"Yes...I think we should, " she said. She raised her head, and Gavin saw that she had pulled a snub-nosed revolver from her jacket. The black barrel gleamed in her small, pale hands.

Gavin took a surprised step back and raised his hands. "Whoa, there's no need for that. I don't have but twenty bucks in my wallet. You can have it. And the eight-ball too."

He glanced up from the barrel of the gun and was trapped by the woman's deep, doleful eyes. Then, the alley flashed in murderous thunder. He felt a kick to the chest that slammed him against the mural and dropped him to the cold, wet ground. In counterpoint, the tenebrous clouds grumbled overhead in rolling thunder that faded into the distance.

Gavin gasped for breath and peered up at the dancing seahorses and dolphins on the wall's faded mural. His breath came in tight, painful hitches as waves of cold washed up his fingers and toes.

The woman stepped over him and pointed the gun at his head. Gavin held up shaking hands as if to ward the coming blow.

"Why...why are you doing this?" he gasped.

"Because Billy was my son," she said. "He died of a heroin overdose and today I buried him. I found your number on his phone. He called you the 'Candy Man.'"

"But, that's not my fault," Gavin begged.

The thunder rumbled through the clouds and rain pattered noisily in the alley.

          "Isn't it?"

“Candy Man” originally appeared in Shotgun Honey on Aug 8, 2016.

Frank Quinn is an eighteen-year police veteran who's turned in his nightstick and Glock for an easier life behind a keyboard. When not paying the bills working for the man, or at his desk writing, Frank can be found wandering the woods behind his rural home pondering the mysteries prowling the darkness.

In Association with Fossil Publications