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Old Mules-Fiction by Mickey J. Corrigan
The Right Tool for the Job-Fiction by Roy Dorman
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The Handyman-Fiction by Bobby Mathews
Till Death Do Us Part-Fiction by Justin Swartz
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Confetti and Juicy Fruit Gum-Poem by Kenneth James Crist
Night in Cumming's Cove-Poem by Michael Keshigian
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Plan but No Really Plan-Poem by Joe Balaz
Audible Sigh-Poem by John Tustin
Erica-Poem by John Tustin
Heartbreaker-Poem by Meg Baird
La Guitare-Poem by Meg Baird
Parking Garage-Poem by Joel Matulich
Vintage Trade Paperback-Poem by Joel Matulich
Perpetual Motion-Poem by Stephen J. Golds
The Best Ones Are the Crazy Ones-Poem by Stephen J. Golds
Black Widow-Poem by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
Out of My Skin-Poem by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
The Terrible Shadows-Poem by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
Lucky Number Seven-Poem by Bradford Middleton
The Old Routine of Dreaming and Blasting-Poem by Bradford Middleton
F**K It, Let's Listen to the Ramones-Poem by Bradford Middleton
Our Open Window-Poem by Ayaz Daryl Nielsen
Wandering Woman-Poem by Ayaz Daryl Nielsen
Winter's Twilight Sky-Poem by Ayaz Daryl Nielsen
You, I, Together-Poem by Ayaz Daryl Nielsen
Each Day-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
Ghost Dance-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
He Paid For-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
Winter Woman-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
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Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
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No Place Like Home
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

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Art by Sean O'Keefe © 2021

The Handyman

 

By Bobby Mathews

 

I’m one of the lucky ones. I come outta St. Clair Correctional with my life and most of my teeth. I oughta be grateful. Five years, straight up, armed robbery and assault on an unarmed person. Lots of guys go into St. Clair, and not all of us come out upright and breathing. But you try getting a job with a record like mine. Can’t be done. Not in this town.

So, I went into business for myself. You won’t find me on Yelp, and if somebody ever leaves me a Google review, I’ll hunt him down and make him eat it. But if you know where to look, you can find me. I don’t have a set rate. I go from job to job, and so far it’s worked out pretty good.

What I do, I fix things.

***

“I don’t quite understand how this works,” Melissa Talley said to me. She was pretty, a former high school cheerleader gone to seed. I was wearing my best shirt, a blue Oxford button-down—sixteen bucks at Wal-Mart—and a pair of clean and creased khaki pants. We were drinking overpriced coffee at Octane, a hipster-friendly coffee house in the flossy Uptown entertainment district just north of Interstate 20. The urban planners probably called it the heart of Birmingham. That’s how you get restaurants nearby that sell “elevated pub grub” (at elevated prices, natch). I didn’t mind that the stuff was expensive. I wasn’t the one paying. I took a sip from the white china mug and grimaced at the dark brown liquid. Bitter and over-roasted.

That could be the title of my memoir.

“Think of me as your personal handyman,” I told her. “You got a broken window, some frame damage. So, you find a guy who knows what he’s doing to come and fix it. That’s me.”

Melissa smiled at me, dipping her chin in what I’m sure she thought was a sexy way and said, “So you know what you’re doing?”

“Sometimes,” I said. “And what I don’t know, I figure out as I go along.”

Melissa drank some of her coffee. She didn’t seem to mind the taste. Maybe it was just me. Around us, the din of the coffee house clattered and banged away. It was a busy scene, but the movement and the noise was why we’d settled on it when she reached out to me. Big echoing spaces like this, with a lot of people around, make it very hard to listen in on a conversation.

“I need something a little more complex than fixing a window,” she said, and took an oversized brown leather purse from beside her on the floor, reached in and brought out a small white envelope. I smiled. The only thing better could be a large envelope.

“That’s okay,” I said. “I don’t do windows.”

“I have twenty-five hundred here,” she said. “Is that enough?”

I raised my eyebrows.

“It depends on the job.”

She slid the envelope of cash toward me and I closed a calloused palm over it, ready to make the cash disappear.

When she spoke again, her voice was harsh with fear and need, and her face looked trapped, somewhere between hopeful and panicked.

“I want you to kill my husband.”

The coffee house was a wide-open space, with high ceilings and concrete floors stained brown on purpose so that you can’t tell if anything’s been spilled. There were other people around us, all in their own conversations, but I swear that everything around me stopped for just a minute.

I’m not one of the good guys, and I’ve never even claimed to be. But neither am I a moron. I shoved the envelope back across the table, mournfully watching it skitter away like a cockroach when the lights come on. She looked down at the money and back up at me. Her eyes were wide.

“Not interested,” I said, and got up to leave. It was early January, and I could walk a couple of blocks down to the Museum of Art. There was an exhibit I wanted to see. I put on my navy pea coat and a Birmingham Barons baseball cap to guard against the cold January air outside. The coat had fit me before I went to prison. Now it hung on me with room enough to fit another person inside.

“Good discussion,” I said, and walked away. I left her there at the table, openmouthed and sputtering, like a fish that’s just been hauled from deep water onto an open deck.

Twenty-five hundred dollars to kill her husband. I tried not to be insulted. Maybe she didn’t have much money. But her coat had been good quality, and that was a Hermès scarf she was wearing. Her nails had been lacquered and her hair professionally done. Her teeth were so white and even that recent and ongoing dentistry were the only explanations. A woman like that’s gonna offer me two-and-a-half to kill her husband?

I do work for hire. But I don’t come cheap.

I went south and west, heading for the museum. Police headquarters was about a block away, and the snarl of a major highway interchange was not too distant to the east. Heavy equipment groaned and snorted in the distance where they were elevating and replacing major sections of the interstate. Traffic in Birmingham may not be as bad as Atlanta or Nashville, but the city’s got ambitions.

Melissa Talley rushed to catch up with me. Her breath puffed white in the chilly air and she gasped.

“Wait,” she said, the words half-whispered and urgent. “Please, I need help. I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

We were the only people on the street. This town ain’t much for pedestrians.

“Fine,” I said. “If you can keep up, you can tell me all about it.” Abruptly, I changed directions and headed more directly south toward Linn Park. I didn’t hurry, but I didn’t wait around, either. She scurried after me and was soon matching me step for step, as much as her short legs could.

“Why won’t you help me?”

Over to the east, the red rusted hump of the Sloss Furnaces water tank loomed over the city like something out of War of the Worlds. I could just barely see it, but every time I did, it kind of reoriented me in the city. I took a hard, cold breath, shoved my hands deep into the pockets of my pea coat, and stopped in front of the woman.

“You’re cheap.” I said. “And I can tell by your clothes and your purse and your face that you don’t have to be. You go making that offer, and the next guy you approach is gonna be a cop.”

Melissa Talley’s smile was bitter.

“So what,” she said. “Jail would be better.”

Most of the time, that’s bullshit. I’ve been to jail, and I could write a scholarly paper on the million little ways that it’s bad, how every hour inside kills your soul just a little more. But Melissa was serious. And here in the natural light, I could see her more clearly. Underneath her makeup, her cheeks were lightly pockmarked. When I’d first seen her in the coffee shop, I’d chalked those scars up to chicken pox or a bad case of teenage acne. But out here where there wasn’t soft and glowing light to help hide the damage, I could see more clearly.

The scars had tiny, square edges. And there were dozens of them, sprinkled from her hairline all the way down to her chin.

Shit.

“He hits you,” I said. She didn’t speak, instead settling for a small solemn nod. We walked together then, and I slowed my pace to match hers. Our breath hung around our heads like we were smoking the world’s coldest cigars.

“Not every day,” she said. “But it started early.”

I didn’t need the details—they were written all over her face—but she told me anyway. And then she did something that I wished she hadn’t: Melissa Talley reached into her mouth and with a terrible slurping sound pulled out a complete set of false teeth. Uppers and lowers. They sat in her palm, gleaming in the thin winter sunlight.

I turned away.

“Put them back in,” I said, and tried not to listen as she did.

“You think I’ve got money,” she said after a moment. “But Frank is the one with the cash. We’ve got nice cars—a Bentley and a Mercedes—and a big house out in Mountain Brook. But I don’t have anything.”

“Nothing?”

“He controls everything. It took me nearly two years to scrape up this much. Meantime, that sonofabitch drops that much on a new set of golf clubs.”

There was a park bench just ahead, and when we reached it, I sat down and motioned for her to join me. Linn Park was pretty, a small green square in a city caught up in growth and gentrification. I wondered how long it would stay the same in a place where everything changed almost daily.

“All right,” I said. “Give me the envelope.”

She passed it over, and I pocketed it. The money felt heavier than it should.

“Tell me everything.”

•••

That’s how I found myself hanging around outside the Marble Ring, a real by-God speakeasy in the Avondale neighborhood a few nights later. Frank Talley was there on the second floor balcony, smoking a long cigar and flirting with his waitress. I’d been to the Ring before, sat at the horseshoe-shaped bar and admired the chrome-plated bathtub in the middle of the big room. The ceiling was stamped tin, and the bartenders wore white shirts, dark waistcoats, and bow ties.

Roaring twenties, baby.

I could go up there right now. But Frank was having a nice time, maybe his last good time. So instead I went down 41st street to Taco Morro Loco and got a couple of al pastor tacos and a Mexican Coke to go. On my way back to the speak, I stopped at a convenience store and bought a pint bottle of Sneaky Pete.

I ate the tacos and drank the Coke, ignoring the bottle in the brown paper bag next to me. Above, Frank Talley had smoked down most of his cigar. I could see the cherry-red end as he drew deeply on it. When he threw the cigar butt down and sparks scattered against the sidewalk below, I reached into the bag and unscrewed the cap on the bottle.

I swished a little Sneaky Pete around in my mouth and spit it out, then poured some into my palm like aftershave and patted it on the front of my gray tee shirt and faded jeans. I hadn’t shaved in a couple of days, and my jeans and shirt were ripped. I was wearing a quilted black hoodie over the shirt, and I grabbed a couple handfuls of gritty dirt from the gutter and wiped it over my shirt and pants, then did the same with my face.

By the time Frank Talley came out, I looked like any other bum on the street. Frank was tall, taller than me, and thin as a whippet. He had a gold wedding ring on one hand, and on the other hand he wore a square, sharp-looking pinky ring that glinted silver in the dim streetlight.

I stumbled toward him with my half-empty bottle of port and took a swig.

“Howaya doin’ champ, take a drink with me.”

Talley muttered “Excuse me,” and tried to go around, but I swayed toward him and leaned forward as if I was about to fall. As I flailed, I tossed the bottle into the bushes that lined the sidewalk. He tried to push me away, but I got an ankle in front of him and tripped him. He hit the sidewalk hard on his knees, tearing the fabric of his Armani suit. Oops.

“You sonofa—“

“Hol’ on, hol’ on,” I slurred, stepping on his hand with a heavy steel-toed boot. Something snapped, and Frank howled in pain, yanking his hand free.

“Shorry, shorry,” I said, “lemme he’p you up.” While he was gripping his hand and flinching from the pain, I got hold of his collar with one hand and his belt with the other, straining hard to keep him from straightening all the way up, and ran four long steps, ramming him headfirst into the brick wall of the speakeasy.

Oops again.

Frank was down on his hands and knees now, blood streaming from his broken lips and busted nose and pooling on the sidewalk. His hair had fallen into his face and it was greasy with sweat. So I tangled my fingers in his locks and dragged him halfway around the building into the alley where the speak kept its dumpster. He was trying to make a comeback now, flailing his arms at me, and I put a stop to that with a quick knee to his chest.

The wind whooshed out of Frank Talley, and he groaned and folded up like a camp chair. I went back around to the front of the speak, found the bottle of port—now empty—and returned to Frank. He was bloody all over the front of his face, and his nice suit was torn in several places.

“How you doing?” I said, squatting in front of him. Frank didn’t say anything. I’m not sure he could. The one eye that wasn’t closed rolled around and looked at me with no comprehension.

I broke the bottle against the ground and picked up the biggest piece by the neck. As I lifted it, Frank shied away. He still didn’t speak.

“I could take your eyes,” I said. “I could cut your throat.”

He closed his eyes and his lips moved without sound. He may have been praying.

“The next time anybody close to you shows up with a scar, with a bruise, with even a goddamned pimple, I’m going to be there,” I said, my voice low and menacing. “I will be the last thing you see. Do we understand one another?”

Frank whimpered and tried to move himself into a more comfortable position. I thumped him on the nose with my free hand. “Do we understand each other, Frank?”

He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the dumpster. After a long moment, he nodded.

•••

Three weeks later, Frank hit her again. This time when I saw her, the scar on her cheek was fresh and garnet red with dried blood, and her eyes were puffy from crying.

“I told you it wouldn’t work,” she said. I nodded and brushed past her into the house. We had to talk, and I had work to do.

Melissa filed a police report, and applied for a restraining order. Two days later, she went missing. She still hasn’t been found, and Frank is a ‘person of interest’ in her disappearance. The cops that I know aren’t saying anything, but they’re obviously proceeding as though she’s been murdered. They’ve got a witness, a guy who sometimes does them favors, who said he’d seen Frank moving a 50-gallon drum from his garage into the back of his wife’s Mercedes SUV. They also have canceled checks from Frank, made out to cash, totaling a little more than eighty thousand dollars.

Nobody knows where the woman or the car—or the money—went. Except me.

The cops’ best guess is that Frank killed Melissa, and then hired someone to hide or dispose of her body. I’m sure Frank had a hell of a time trying to explain where all that money went.

It took some time, but the news crews finally left the Talley’s home in Mountain Brook. The cops stopped coming around every couple of hours. So here I am. It’s a nice place, three stories done in Danish Modern except for Frank’s office, which looks like it came straight out of the Sharper Image catalog. I have his confession right here in front of me, and I’ve read it nearly a dozen times to make sure there’s nothing missing. It’s even got his signature—a scrawl that is lethally easy to copy, let me tell you—and today’s date.

Melissa didn’t want to go, didn’t want to leave her friends, her family. She didn’t want a new identity. But I told her that’s the way it has to be. I spent a lot of Frank’s money setting her up with a new birth certificate, a new history, driver’s license, the whole deck.

And if she can keep her head down, it’ll all be okay. She’ll be happy in Flagstaff or Sedona, wherever she ends up, far away from Birmingham. Maybe she can start again. Maybe she’ll be able to look at herself in the mirror and not see the damage that a wrong man did to her. And in the back of her mind, she knows that if she comes back … well, let’s just say that the warranty runs out on this little job I did for her.

Frank’s due back home in an hour or so. I can wait. After half a decade behind bars, waiting is one of my best things. When he gets here, Frank and I are gonna have a discussion. I expect it to be short and to the point. And when I’m done, the cops aren’t gonna be able to find Frank, either.

 

***

I called in some help to get rid of Frank’s body. I spent time in one of the ugliest, worst prisons in the country. I met all kinds of people with all kinds of skills. Right now there’s a Ford Econoline van parked down the street, and the guys in it are very, very good at making things go away.

When I fix things, they stay fixed.

THE END



Bobby Mathews is a writer based in Birmingham, Alabama. His checkered past as a journalist, investigator, PR flack, bartender, and roustabout often finds its way into his fiction. His short stories have been published in All Due Respect, Bristol Noir, Close to the Bone, The Dark City, The Sandy River Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Shotgun Honey. His novel, Magic City Blues, will be published in February 2022 by Close to the Bone. This is his first story for Yellow Mama.


 


Sean O’Keefe is an artist and writer living in Roselle Park, NJ. Sean attended Syracuse University where he earned his BFA in Illustration. After graduation, Sean moved to New York City where he spent time working in restaurants and galleries while pursuing various artistic opportunities. After the birth of his children, Sean and family move to Roselle Park in 2015. He actively participates in exhibitions and art fairs around  New Jersey, and is continuing to develop his voice as a writer. His work can be found online at www.justseanart.com and @justseanart on Instagram.







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