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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Paul Beckman: Strickland's Last Day

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Art by Wayne F. Burke 2022

Strickland’s Last Day

Paul Beckman

 

 

Strickland stood outside in the blazing sun talking to Lucas when he spotted the Greyhound Bus rounding the bend and turning into the driveway of the Pennsylvania State Prison. Lucas shook Strickland’s hand, patted him on the back, and slipped him an envelope. Strickland never looked back but got on the bus and handed the driver a chit from the warden and off the bus went with a dozen or so people looking at him.

The driver told Strickland to take a seat and Strickland said, “Yes sir. Where?”

“Anywhere there’s no one else sitting.” So, Strickland looked around, saw the two front seats across from the driver were empty, and placed his two paper shopping bags atop the overhead, spread out on the two seats, legs apart and smiled as he watched the acres of corn blowing in the wind.

An hour later the driver pulled into a gas station and announced, “I’ll be pulling out of here in 30 minutes so don’t dawdle at the buffet or bookstore because I don’t wait.” Strickland was the only one who didn’t get off the bus but opened one of his shopping bags and took out an apple, and a mustard and cheese sandwich.

While the driver was gassing up, sipping an RC, a car drove in and parked in front of the bus and the driver got out, opened his trunk, took out a suitcase, nodded at the driver, and climbed the stairs to the bus. “Move over,” he said to Strickland and Strickland did what he was told. “There are fresh clothes in the suitcase, go into the crapper in the rear of the bus and get out of those prison clothes and dress like a free man. Wet your hair, use the comb and the stickum, and come out looking like you own the bus. When you get off in Philly wait at the station for us to meet you. Questions?”

Strickland shook his head no but had a bunch of questions. The stranger climbed down the bus stairs and the driver climbed up and gave the horn three toots which everyone else knew was time to get back on.

He watched the driver head out and then took the suitcase and shopping bags and got off the bus. He had three hours before the bus got to Philly. When he was in the head changing clothes, he opened the letter from the warden which turned out to really be from his cellmate.

Be alert. Be very alert. They are sending three guys on the way to take you out in Philly. Don’t wear anything from the suitcase or take the suitcase. It’s got a tracker and most likely the clothes do also. Buy two burner phones, leave your cell on the bus in the suitcase. Offer one of the C notes to a trucker who’s going away from Philly to take you. Get to St. Cloud Minnesota and use this key in the truck stop mailroom. Text me the burner number and then crush the phone and buy another.

He changed his clothes back and repacked his suitcase, and then went back to his seat.

Strickland walked along the side of the highway and came upon a diner with a few pickups parked. He walked over to the one with hay bales and stashed his suitcase, covering it with hay.

He walked inside the diner, sat at the counter, and got a coffee, black, and a slab of cherry pie from the cute waitress with bangs and a pony tail who said, “Here you go, Big Guy.” He then ordered a pair of BLTs, one to go, took the coffee refill, grabbed his shopping bags after leaving a sawbuck on the counter and walked out into the night.

Strickland waited to see where the hay truck was going and then walked on the main road away from Philly and finally got a ride from a shiny Lincoln Town car. He hopped in the back, nodded at the other passenger, a lady about his age who had one of those familiar-looking faces he couldn’t place, (the oversized sunglasses and fedora didn’t help) and they all rode in silence until the driver said I’m going to pull off the road to pee and turned up a dirt driveway and got out.

Without turning around one of the two passengers in the front seat finally spoke. “You were instructed to change clothes and carry the suitcase.”

Strickland began to twitch when the woman next to him pulled out a pistol and passed it over to him. His door opened and the driver was standing looking angry and holding a 6-inch switchblade. The lady opened her door and got out saying, “I don’t want to get my new clothes bloody, Big Guy.”

The knife guy took a step forward and Strickland shot him twice and then ordered both guys out of the front seat and dispatched them with double taps to each of their heads.

The woman walked around the back of the car and yelled at Strickland, “You moron, they were with us,” and then pulled out another gun and finished him off.

After she took all their IDs and money, she dragged them into the brush, searched Strickland again, found the key and letter telling her where to find his hold-up money from five years ago, and drove off towards St. Cloud with thoughts of easy living in her head, the radio blaring country music with her singing along, never noticing the black Town Car with the tinted windows tailing her all the way.





Paul Beckman’s latest flash collection, Kiss Kiss (Truth Serum Press), was a finalist for the 2019 Indie Book Awards. Some of his stories appeared in Spelk, Connotation Press, Necessary Fiction, Litro, Pank, Playboy, WINK, Jellyfish Review, The Wax Paper, Monkey, and The Lost Balloon. He had a story selected for the 2020 National Flash Fiction Day Anthology Lineup and was shortlisted in the Strands International Flash Fiction Competition. He was nominated for 2021 Best of the Web and Best Micro-Fiction. Paul earned his MFA from Bennington College and has his next collection of connected flash stories coming out with Cervana Barva.


Wayne F. Burke's drawings have appeared in a number of publications, in print and online, including FLARE, Portland Review (ME). Red Savina, Duane's Poe Tree, Driftwood Magazine, Grey Sparrow, The Octopus Review, About Place Journal, and elsewhere. He lives in the central Vermont area (USA).





In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2022