Right Down the Line by Garnett Elliott

He finds Petrosyan at his restaurant, a six foot two Armenian wearing a green soccer jersey, sipping vitamin water with one hand while the other taps a pack of Kools against the counter.

You,” Petrosyan says, by way of greeting.

Jonesy holds up a laminated menu.  “‘Gyros Galore,’ huh?  What happened to ‘Shawarma Hut’?”

“Too fucking Arab.”

The restaurant’s almost deserted, but everybody knows it’s a money-laundering front for La Familia.  Jonesy declines comment.  “Got a proposition for you.”

“Another one?”

“More lucrative this time, I promise.”

Petrosyan un-hunches his shoulders.  “Let’s talk,” he says, nodding towards the kitchen.

Once they’re in the seclusion of a storeroom stacked high with pita bread, Jonesy hands him a manila envelope.  Petrosyan opens it and slips out a printed picture.  Some sad-eyed white dude, leaning on a cane.

“What’d he do?”

“Jesus, does it matter?  He’s trying for a big settlement against a construction company.  Too big.”

Petrosyan counts out five grand in new bills from the envelope.  “I take it this is my half up front.”

“Sure.”

“I don’t want to turn you down, but here’s the thing:  I think I’m under surveillance.”

“So sub it out.  I didn’t assume you’d handle the work personally.  You’ve still got a whole crew of beaner friends, right?”

“Those aren’t the only people I know.”

Jonesy makes a show of reaching for the money.  “You don’t want it . . .”

“I never said that.”

• • •

     Five minutes after Jonesy leaves, Petrosyan walks back into the kitchen proper.  His cook, Armando, is deftly carving chunks of beef/lamb combination from a rotating griller.

“‘Mando, I might have some work for you.”

A nicely-sculpted eyebrow goes up.  Armando’s pretty to the point of being effeminate, but he knows his way around a Mossberg.  Several faceless corpses buried in the Sonoran Desert can attest to that.

Petrosyan shows him the picture.  “I’ll pay you two large now, plus another when you’re done.”

“Three?  That’s not–”

“Plus, I help your cousin get his green card.  What do you say to that?”

“When?”

“How about tomorrow?”

Armando checks his phone calendar.  “I’ve got a painting job, early.”

“Well, I can always talk to Rico.”

“Fuck Rico.  I’m your man.”

• • •

     What Armando doesn’t tell his boss is he’s been assigned a new P.O., and the bitch is all over him like grease on chorizo.  So, when the sun comes up to bake the parking lot of a brand new Mattress Warehouse, he shuts off his striping machine and ambles over to Duncan, the recent white-trash hire.

“You want a smoke, man?”

Duncan swabs sweat from his forehead.  He’s got too many freckles to be working outside.  “I’m trying to quit.”

“You mean what you told me the other day, about being a felon?”

“Why you think I’m working here?”

“Killed a guy, huh?”

“Manslaughter, they reduced it to.”  Duncan reaches to switch off his own machine, but Armando grabs his wrist.

“No man, leave it on.  Got something I want to talk to you about.”

• • •

     “Five hundred bucks,” Duncan says.  “I figured you and Jenny could use it.”

He’s talking to Lucas in the family bathroom at Wal Mart.  Lucas doesn’t think it’s so smart, meeting in a place that has loss prevention cameras, but shit, he’s desperate.  His head’s on fire, too, after wobbling all the way in here with only a stroller for support.  Jenny’s back in the diaper section.

Duncan hands him the manila envelope.  “I never looked inside.  I don’t really want to know, you understand?  The guys I work with think I’m some hardened killer, but it was just an accident.  You, though, with your military background . . .”

“Thanks, Duncan.”

Lucas watches his friend leave.  The baby wails just as the door shuts; shit, she might really need changing after all.

“You wait,” he tells the little bundle soothingly.  “Dad’s got a bunch of money coming in.  We’ve just got to get by in the meantime.”

He slides the picture out of the folder.  Frowns.

The sad face there belongs to him.

Noche de Milagros by Garnett Elliott

Ochoa’s water-pale eyes flash in the dimness. “You got it for me, yeah?”

He’s lying with his back against a cement pillar, surrounded by chicken bones and filthy needles. Junkie’s paradise, beneath the Cesar Chavez Bridge in South Tucson. Freeway sounds echo from below.

Huerta shows him the cellophane wrapper. Chiva. Black tar up from Sinaloa. She’s spent the better part of the past twenty four hours getting the money to pay for it, on her back, knees, and stomach. Mostly in cars, though a few tricks were willing to spring for a room at the Budget Inn.

Ochoa’s water-pale eyes flash in the dimness. “You got it for me, yeah?”

He’s lying with his back against a cement pillar, surrounded by chicken bones and filthy needles. Junkie’s paradise, beneath the Cesar Chavez Bridge in South Tucson. Freeway sounds echo from below.

Huerta shows him the cellophane wrapper. Chiva. Black tar up from Sinaloa. She’s spent the better part of the past twenty four hours getting the money to pay for it, on her back, knees, and stomach. Mostly in cars, though a few tricks were willing to spring for a room at the Budget Inn. Continue reading “Noche de Milagros by Garnett Elliott”

Four On The Floor by Garnett Elliott

Rena pulled into the Muscle Bound car lot an hour before close.  As soon as her pumps hit the asphalt one of the salesmen came ambling over, all three hundred pounds of him tucked into a dark blue track-suit.  His eyes slid up and down her.

“Didn’t I see you here a couple days ago?”

Rena nodded.  She hooked a thumb at the new Prius she’d just climbed out of.  “I ended up buying this piece of shit.”

“Oh, man.”

“It wasn’t my idea.”

He looked at the Prius and jerked his head away, like he’d just seen a child’s severed arm lying on the pavement.  “What can I do for you, hon?”

“You still got that Charger?”

“Right over there.”  He pointed.

Rena licked her lips.  She took her time doing it.  “I want to . . . I want to look at it again.”

“Buyer’s remorse, huh?”

“Please?”

The salesmen slid a chubby arm over her shoulder.  Together, they walked the short distance to the Dodge Charger; a fully-restored ’68, bottle green with matte black striping.  Evening sun glinted off silver and gold highlights deep within the paint.

Rena tugged at the driver’s side handle.  “Can I?”

“Can you what?”

“Sit inside for a little while.”

The salesman glanced around the lot.  “Alright,” he said, unlocking the door with a jangling key ring he took from his pocket.  “Just lock it back up again when you’re finished, okay?”

“Thank you.”

“And tell that man of yours he’s an asshole.”

“He knows.  He’s proud of it.”

The salesman shrugged and walked off.

Inside, the car smelled like patent leather and Armor-All wipes.  Rena eased herself into the driver’s seat, feeling it pucker with her weight.  The gauges on the dashboard reflected a simpler time.  This car’s got twenty years on me, she thought.  Could’ve been my daddy.

If only her husband had let her buy it.

He had more than enough money.  The huge sticker-price wasn’t the problem.  “I’m teaching you a little lesson,” he’d told her, “about responsibility.  And besides, a Prius is good for the planet.”

Fucking tight-ass.  Like he’d ever cared about that.

She gripped the wheel and closed her eyes.  Imagined the 440 Magnum engine thrumming into life, belching blue smoke, the big steel frame shuddering as the Charger’s tires grabbed and bullied rural road in some far-off hicksville county.  Nothing clean or economical about it.  The pretend-vibrations crept up from the chassis and coursed through her legs and thighs.

Especially her thighs.

She glanced out the window.  No one else was around.

Oh Lord, the power . . .

She turned and ground her hips against the bucket seat, feeling the leather’s contours through her skirt.  And when the moment was right, she reached a hand over to stroke the rigid stick-shift.

Through the window, she could see the little Prius.  Its headlights and front bumper made a sad, serious face, watching her.

She pretended the face belonged to someone else.

Felons And Fantasies by Garnett Elliott

In the watchtower’s shadows, plastic dice rattled.

“A 14.  You missed the Goblin King, LeShayne.”  Ross bounced a twenty-sider against the worn concrete.  “But one of his guards throws a spear at you–hits.”

Breaths sucked in.  Ross glanced at the ring of stoic faces.  LeShayne, Donal, Marquez, Harris, and Sykes.  Convicted killers, every one.  Lean muscles bunching under their coveralls as they crouched, dwarfing Ross’s hundred and forty-five pound physique.

Still, it was his game.

He bounced another die.  “Six on damage.  How many hit points does your elf have left?”

LeShayne waved a ragged index card.  “Only four.”

“Then he’s dead, man.  Sorry.”

Echoes carried from the exercise yard.  The slap and shuffle of feet.

“I’ve been playin’ that character for the past two months now,” Le Shayne said.  “Buildin’ him up.”

“I gotta do what the dice tell me.  You saw the rolls.”

Mumbles.  Sykes and Harris looked at their hands.  LeShayne was nominal leader of the Naked City Crips, with ties to Barrio Libre and the Brown Panthers, when the three groups weren’t fighting.  He’d survived two shanking attempts and spent the better part of last year in solitary.

Also, he had a temper.

“I let things slide for you,” Ross went on, “how am I going to maintain respect as Dungeon Master?”

LeShayne stood up.  He tore his index card and flung the shards in Ross’s face.  “You got other problems, now.”

***

Ross had grown up with institutions:  juvenile hall, the Job Corps dorms, a year in the Army (dishonorable discharge), and later, after an argument with his father-in-law went deep, deep south, his current digs here at the San Carlos Penitentiary.

Dungeons and Dragons had been his salvation.

The Army shrinks called him a sociopath, but he was an imaginative sociopath, and he had the knack for sharing his imagination with others.  Turned out, make-believe could be a valuable commodity in a world defined by cinderblock and razor-wire.

Smuggling in dice wasn’t that hard, either.

***

“Heads up,” Sykes whispered as Ross shuffled past him into the Group Room.

He’d had no sleep the past twenty-four hours; too anxious, waiting for lighter fluid to come squirting through the bars, followed by a matchstick bomb.  His cellie, Vince, had told him he was walking dead.

Now, Sykes’s warning stoked adrenaline he didn’t know he had.

The Group Room was empty.  Just a ring of plastic chairs where his fellow convicts should be.  No counselor, either.

A setup.

He bolted for the door.  Before he could reach it the lanky figure of Lucius “Bone” Johnson stepped out from behind a storage unit, blocking his way.

“Nothing personal,” Lucius said.

“You here to do for me, Bone?”

“Just making sure you don’t scream too much.”

The rustle of clothes behind him.  Something looped over his neck and started pulling.  He tried to turn, but a foot planted itself against the small of his back, pushed.  The cord tightened.

Already he was seeing gray spots.  Lucius watched and shook his head.

Ross tried to dig his fingers under the strangling-cord.  No luck.  Just as the spots were turning from gray to black a bulky shape came hurtling into the room, careened against Lucius and sent him sprawling.  Ross caught the tan of a guard’s uniform.  Lucius put his hands up in surrender, but the guard’s nightstick swung down and bashed his temple.

Meanwhile, the foot stopped pressing against Ross’s back.  He could breathe.  Sort of.  He wheeled, saw LeShayne backing away.  Ross tackled him.  They both went down, LeShayne trying to knee him in the face.  Whack.

LeShayne stiffened.

A meaty hand helped Ross to his feet.  He loosened the extension cord wrapped around his neck.

“Looks like LeShayne’s going back to solitary for a while.”

The guard was husky, bearded, his glasses fogged from exertion.  Ross smelled loser, but there was something endearing about him.  Beside the fact he’d just saved his life.

“W-why . . .?” he managed to choke out.

“I heard about your game.”  The guard smiled and fished a pair of twenty-siders from his uniform pocket.  “I want in.”

Second Chance Cleaners by Garnett Elliott

“Meet the new boss.”

Lorca had just finished loading detergent onto the van.  He climbed down and saw a middle-aged guy, vaguely familiar, with his arms folded across his chest.  He had a flat-top of sandy blonde hair.

“Where’s Ross?” Lorca asked.

“Pastor Phelps caught him watching porn on the company laptop.  Third strike, I guess.”

Lorca had sort of liked Ross.

“Name’s Wade,” the man said, and shook Lorca’s good hand.

***

Wade had a cocaine problem.  No surprise; everyone who worked for Second Chance Cleaners came from some kind of addiction background, including Lorca.  Only thing, it was supposed to be in the past.

“You breathe one fucking word about this to Pastor Phelps and I’ll deny it.”  Wade brushed white powder from under his nose.  “Then I’ll kill you.”

They were parked across the street from a client’s house.  Lorca kept his face still.

“Another thing.  From time to time, certain opportunities might arise.”  Wade dug under the seat and pulled out what looked like a staple gun, except for the steel lock pick protruding from the barrel.  “You don’t have to do shit, just stay in the van and honk if you see anyone coming.”

“I can’t get into any–”

“That’s not a request.”

Twenty years ago Lorca might’ve hit him, right there.  Boss or no boss.  But he was older, slower, and his left arm had curled up after the stroke, useless as a chicken wing.  He shrugged.

“Whatever you say.”

***

Wade’s on-the-job thefts grew more frequent.  Erratic.  He snorted every day.  Sometimes he’d lock himself in the back of the van, while Lorca cleaned carpets.  The work took twice as long.  They fell behind.  Wade told Pastor Phelps it was because Lorca was slacking off.

“He’ll believe me over you,” Wade said, hollow-eyed.  “I play bass for the youth ministry.  Plus I’m white.”

“One piss-test and you’re gone,” Lorca said.

“Comes to that, you’re pissing for me.”

“You won’t be able to steal enough.  The habit just gets bigger.”

“Shut the fuck up.”

But Wade was getting careless.  Lorca figured out where he kept his stash.

***

The van’s interior stunk of chemicals.  Long job finished, and Lorca was going through the tedium of a one-handed man washing his one hand.  It always took awhile.

Wade watched, amused.  He unfolded a bindle of aluminum foil and dumped a fat line across the back of his clipboard.  Thrust his head down and snuffed.

Almost immediately, his head shot backwards.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAH!  AAAAAAAAAAH!”  Wade clawed at his nose.  He fell across the back seat, kicking, his sneakered feet pounding a frantic tattoo.  Lorca craned his neck out the window to see if anyone at the client’s house had noticed.  Not yet.

Wade thrashed and screamed.  His face was making a sizzling noise.  As well it should.  He’d just inhaled several grams of cocaine re-cut with dried cleaning reagent.

“I can drive you to the emergency room,” Lorca said.  “I’d be glad to.  But if you end up accusing me of anything I’ll take that fancy lock pick gun and any shit you haven’t fenced yet to the cops.  Understand?”

Wade nodded like his head was coming off.  Grey smoke curled from his nostrils.

***

Pastor Phelps had an open door policy.

“That’s three bosses in the past six months,” Lorca said.  “I think I should have a say in the hiring process.”

“Alright.”  Phelps removed his bifocals and rubbed his forehead’s un-lined flesh.  “Alright, Ricardo.  Anyone you know who’d make a good supervisor?”

Feeling something akin to triumph,     Lorca tapped his hand against his chest.