Mickey J. Corrigan
There was something about
tenant that reminded me of something else, but I couldn't put my finger on it
at the time. Deciphering relationships and metaphors had become increasingly
difficult for me. I would puzzle over simple things, which then evolved into complex
thought mazes in which I got lost until I gave up. My poor brain had slowed
down, seized a few times, and now it was tied in wiry little knots of confusion.
Kit was surprisingly spry
his age. A hunched turtle with a hooked nose and penetrating black eyes, my new
roommate was surprisingly fun, too, full of crazy stories and silly jokes. We first
met at the beach bars, where we hung out on occasion, laughing a lot and getting
drunk together. There was no sex, we were both, sadly, too far from that
goalpost to even try for a naked sprint. But when he told me he wanted a place
to live within walking distance of our favorite watering holes, I made the
invite. After all, I needed the kind of steady income I could get from a
roommate. Plus, I liked having a drinking buddy onsite.
The arrangement worked for
while. Until I got in trouble. As usual. Men and cons, they'll be the death of
me yet. That is, if the tumors don't beat them to it.
Right off, Kit made good
rent. He told me his pension came from the government of the Virgin Islands. He'd
worked for many years for the Ministry of Finance in Montrieste, one of the
lesser-known Virgins. So when he asked me one hot summer day over a bottle of
Jack Daniels if I'd like to make some side money doing piece work for the
Ministry, I thought, yeah, why not? Even though I had reservations about Kit's
background. He was a weirdo and a drunk. What kind of government position had
he actually held? And I knew I wasn't up to working a job. Not mentally, not
physically, not in any way.
Still, I said yes.
We were sitting out back
on my tiny
cement patio, side by side in low-slung plastic beach chairs. We kept the sun
off with a patchy yellow beach umbrella that had a picture of a clear bottle of
beer and this label: "Corona, Not Corona-19." Not a good joke, but a
practical one. I'd found the ancient umbrella in the dumpsters for my trailer
park. Maybe the previous owner had died from the disease, but that awful thought
did not deter me. Kit and I needed shade if we wanted to drink outside my now tightly-packed
We were both wearing white
beaters and men's boxers, both dripping sweat. A couple of old, sexless friends
on a bender for the Fourth of July weekend.
Kit said, "All right, girl!
You gonna love it. All you gotta do is move stuff around, that basically it.
Messenger from here to there to here." He sipped his Jack, neat, no ice.
His dark eyes narrowed, squinting into the distance as if visualizing the Caribbean
islands and the work he'd done there. "You go to Montrieste and stay a
night, a lovely thing. So fun, girl! And I watch your back, hold down your old fort
here. Nuthin' to worry 'bout."
My skeptic antennae popped
straight up and buzzed in my ears. "Wait, there's cause to worry? Messenger
what, exactly?" I asked, reaching for the half-empty bottle. He'd paid for
it. That, and all the rest of the grocery bills for the past three weeks.
"I'm not doing anything even remotely related to contraband," I
I was dulled mentally, but
stupid. I'd had enough of jail and backbreaking work release to last me the
rest of my shit life.
Kit snorted. "Course not,
sugar. Hits nuthin' like that. Here's what's whats."
He gave me the briefing.
bring an empty suitcase with you to the island, and they fill it with official
gifts and documents for you to ferry back to the US. Once you land in Miami, you
hand off the contents of your suitcase to the UN officials sent to meet you
"Very professional like,"
he said. "Fact is, you dress up in a straight-lookin' suit, meet 'em in a
private suite at a uptown hotel. Or in style on Miami Beach."
Come on! I had no such suit,
Kit was well aware.
When I shook my head in
and raised one eyebrow, he swiveled. "Gifts are standard protocol in many
parts of the world," he said. "But the Ministers don' wanna be seen indulging
in the practice. Hits not to their advantage politically, see."
I smelled a fish. Was it
from Kit's bare feet, dirty and thick with yellowed calluses and lumpy corns?
Or was the rank odor coming from me, the next fish on his con line?
I changed the subject and
both got roaring drunk.
Another day not too long
that, Kit launched into the topic again. He said the work paid really well due
to the travel requirements and time commitment. "Course they pay you back
for alla your expenses. And you get to see a part of the world you ain't never seen
before," he told me.
We were rolling a shopping
down the bumpy sidewalk under a brutal late morning sun, heading for the air
conditioned trailer. On our way home from CostCut with a half-dozen stacks of
cheap-rate TP and a big pile of dented canned goods. Hurricane season had started
early with a couple of named storms, and I needed to stock up for a possible
hit. Just in case. In Florida, you don't want to run out of what you might need
for either end.
"Like how much do they pay
per trip?" I asked him. Against my better judgment. If I had any, which I
"Dunno what they pay per
delivery now, but pretty sure hits in the four figgers." He leaned over
our cart and pulled out a sweating bottle of Miller, cracked it using the can
opener he wore on a dirty rawhide string around his neck. "Might be double
what they paid in the two-aughts."
He said things like that.
My eyes rolled along with
cart, but the thing was, I needed the money. My bank account had dwindled to a
frightening degree. I couldn't keep track of my finances anymore. The social
security, the disability insurance monies. They came in the mail, I deposited
the checks, then suddenly all of it was gone. Was I spending wildly and not
remembering? It appeared so, and this kind of lull in my cognition was
happening increasingly often. I blamed it on the tumors, but it could have been
from the booze. And the pills.
"So how do I apply for this
dream job?" I asked Kit, making my voice sarcastic sounding.
He wiped puffs of white
from his lips with a bony forearm. "Easy, girl. I got connections, so I
can take care a' alla that. And a big old suitcase, I got one that's been a few
places. Next thing you know, sugar, you be the one on the move!"
He let me steer the cart
rest of the way home while he cackled and drank the warm beer.
A few days after that, Kit
out on the patio just as the blazing sun was setting in a vivid fireworks
display. My backyard, such as it was, faced directly west. The evening fireball
was right in our faces, turning his a strange shade reminiscent of raspberry
"Okay, sister girl, youse
an official messenger now," he said, handing me a freshly opened bottle of
Jack. "I got a official acceptance email today. You wanna read it?"
I filled up my solo cup
whiskey, then took his proffered tablet.
The official letter was
and to the point. I sipped my drink but all I could taste was the bitter flavor
of jailhouse vomit.
The email welcomed me by
and advised me that my courier status would be activated as of the following
Tuesday. I could fly out of any airport I desired, and would be met at the
Montrieste Airport once I confirmed my travel plans with the Ministry. I could
arrive and depart whenever I wished, but would need to be in Miami on the 15th
for the meeting with the UN official.
"They lets you have freedom
a' choice," Kit said. He was drunk, and sunk low in the beach chair beside
me. "Come an' go's you please, long as you get from there to here
"Why wouldn't I get back
okay?" I asked, rereading the letter, which had been signed by Albertus
Dominick Treehorn III, Minister of Finances, Montrieste. "I mean, like
what could happen elsewise?"
I'd had a few myself.
Kit shrugged. "Dunno. I
some messenger work in the late two-aughts. Went smooth as buttermilk."
I thought hard on that.
sounded wrong but I wasn't at all sure why. His aughts threw me off every time.
Was he concealing something, or
being selflessly helpful to a friend, his landlord and drinking pal?
Either way, I wanted the
to do something out in the world again, and I was grateful for an opportunity
to earn. I was old, my cancer had metastasized, but I wasn't defeated. Not yet.
So I said, "Book me, Danno,"
finishing my drink and reaching for the bottle.
Kit laughed. He promised
the airline tickets for me, and a night at the nicest island hotel.
The island was soft and
streets quiet and clean, but the beaches resembled the ones at home. Brashly sunlit,
uncomfortably overcrowded, and smelly from thick piles of brown sargassum, a
rogue seaweed plaguing both countries. I held my nose and took a quick walk on
the hot sand, followed by a dip in the exquisite hotel pool. My room was private,
small and tidy, tastefully sparse and all white. Sheets, drapes, walls, floor
tile, all white. I felt like a splash of mud on the untouched purity of the
As the half-peach sun set
the turquoise sea, I lounged out on the balcony, champagne flute in hand. Maybe
this hadn't been such a terrible idea. I hadn't felt so full of the world in
At the pre-arranged time,
other messenger, my island counterpart, knocked on the hotel room door. I said,
"Yes?" while I peered through the peephole.
She was around my age, her
hair a gray wildflower framing a round pink face. Her painted-on eyebrows gave
her a look of perpetual shock. An exuberant floral one-piece bathing suit clung
to her fleshy frame. Her feet were bare, sandy. If she hadn't been hefting two
boxes and a sagging backpack, I might have thought she had the wrong room.
Her voice quivered when
said, "I think you're supposed to let me in."
"What's the password?"
I asked, though I'd forgotten it myself. But if she said it, I'd recognize it.
Kit wouldn't let me write it down.
"I forget," she
admitted, her voice shaking.
I let her in.
When I offered her a drink
the minibar, she declined. We walked over to the king-size bed where the
oversize suitcase lay open on the white cotton bedspread.
"I love this room,"
she said, looking around, her voice sounding less afraid, more melodious.
"It's so pristine."
I agreed, then got busy
transferring a series of thick envelopes from her faux leather backpack to the
suitcase. Kit had instructed me how to slide the official gifts into the bubble
jackets, one per. I did as he'd instructed while the courier watched me. When
the envelopes were packed, she handed over a flat box of assorted seashells and
a case of bottled Montrieste Marinade ("Made with Real Island Rum!").
I packed those gifts carefully to fill the space, then closed the suitcase and
"What do you think's in
them envelopes?" she asked.
I told her I didn't want
think. Not until I was safe back at my place in Florida.
She gave me a cockeyed once-over,
like she was checking to see if I was dimwitted. "But you jolly well should. You'd
best give it a good long think before you pass through
US Customs, sweetheart," she said, shaking her fuzzy head a little.
I wasn't clear on what she
meant. But I didn't ask her to explain. I didn't want to know what part of me already
knew. That this was a dangerous con, and I was risking something, maybe everything,
I slept poorly in that luxurious
room, tossing all night long. Did the envelopes contain contraband? Drugs, or something
else illegal? Was I being used by a vast criminal cartel? Was I serving as a witless
Of course, the answer to
those questions was yes. The promised payout was a thousand dollars. Obviously,
I wasn't transferring official seashells between heads of state, and the people
meeting me in Miami were not dignitaries from the UN awaiting a shipment of rum-based
marinade. All this is crystal clear to me now. But that night, lying awake in
my virginal hotel room, a cool ocean breeze wafting across my hot flesh, my old
body wasting away in its own fragile, rapidly decaying wrapper, I was unable to
think the puzzle through to the logical conclusion. I couldn't unravel the
Unfortunately, the US customs
agents had ironed out all the knots already. They knew exactly how the cartels were
using muddled oldsters to move contraband. Old mules. People like me with
diminished mental acuity, suckers for the quick cash deal, jonesing for the jobs
nobody else would give us.
So I'm not alone. There
than a couple dozen of us now. Unwitting contraband couriers, awaiting trial in
You could say I got lucky.
currently awaiting trial in a lofty Miami jail. It's overcrowded, sure, and
unimaginably humid, but not so bad.
I'm sober now and receiving free medical care.
And Kit? He's holding down
old fort, he says, living in my trailer. Drinking Jack out on the patio without
me. And saving up all the rent money he's not paying me in order to use it for
Or so he said the last time
him from the old-style landline they got in here. But that was more than two
months ago. Lately, Kit doesn't answer the phone when I call. Maybe he'll get
hit by a hurricane. Trailers tend to crush flat, even in a Cat 1 wind.
that I have all the time in
the world to think things through, I realize my tenant reminds me of people
from my past. The men who led me down blind alleys. The women who introduced me
to lucrative sounding scams that hurt others, and ended up hurting me too.
Sometimes when I'm sitting here in my cell, images and feelings, emotions and dark
sorrows rush back at me in a tidal wave of memories, a riptide of the events of
my life, and I feel like I'm sinking, drowning in what I've done, what's been
done to me.
Originally from Boston, Mickey
J. Corrigan writes Florida noir with a dark humor. Novels include Project
XX about a school shooting (Salt Publishing, UK, 2017) and What
I Did for Love, a spoof of Lolita (Bloodhound Books, UK,
2019). In 2020, Grandma Moses Press released the poetry micro-chapbook Florida
Man. "Old Mules" is from a collection of short fiction about cons
Lonni Lees is a multi-award-winning
writer in both fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
Her stories appear in Hardboiled magazine, Yellow Mama, A Shot
of Ink, Shotgun Honey, Black Petals, Einstein’s Pocket
Watch, All Due Respect, and in the anthologies Deadly Dames and More
Whodunits. Among her numerous writing awards over the years, she has award-winning
stories in Felons, Flames, and Ambulance Rides, Battling Boxing
Stories, and her published short story collection, Crawlspace. Broken won
first place and is her 4th published novel. Her first novel Deranged won the PSWA
First Place award for best published novel. Her next novel, The Mosaic Murder, was
followed with a sequel, The Corpse in the Cactus, which
won First Place and was published in the U.S. and UK. She won several other
writing awards for her short stories, including Grand Prize.