Mr. Single Malt Monkey gave me a one line story challenge. I changed one word from his line. I replaced the word mat with coaster. For some reason a mat made me think of a tatami mat and a tea ceremony. The Al that formed in my imagination wouldn’t be staring at dime dropped on the floor at a tea ceremony.
The post “My Name is Inigo Montoya” was still fresh in my mind, so this story is dark and violent. Be warned – if you’re not in the mood for that, put off reading it for another day. I asked Mr. Husband to read it before I posted it because I’m trying out writing how a man would react to a situation. I also wanted to know if he was going to sit me down and say I needed help. He hesitated a bit and I promised to wait a while before writing a story about how to kill your husband.
Dropping a Dime
Al drained his glass and placed it right back in the center of the coaster, never taking his eye off the dime that had been dropped by the door. A low voice in his ear said, “Hello Al, it’s time to pay up.” “Excuse me?” “I warned you.” “Warned me about what and just who the hell are you?” The stranger chuckled and sat his drink down next to Al’s. Al reached out with one finger and slid the drink away from his.
Al, I know you remember our conversation about no such thing as coincidence. “yeah, sort of, so what’s your point?” The stranger stared at him, twirling a dime on the counter. He reached over and clapped Al on the back, hard. Then got up and walked to the jukebox. Al muttered, “What a jerk” and waved his empty glass at the bar tender. He looked down and saw the dime was still spinning. He slammed his hand down to stop it.
The jukebox roared to life with George Thurogood’s “I Drink Alone.” The stranger sat back on his stool. “You’re not even going to buy me a round?” “Screw you!” “Oh but Al, you are the one who is well and truly screwed.” He scooted the dime around in a figure 8 with his finger and then picked it up and started spinning it again.
The stranger waved for a drink and then patted Al on the thigh almost like a lover. He jerked and shoved at the stranger “keep you damned hands to yourself you nutbag.” The stranger didn’t budge an inch as if Al hadn’t touched him. He ran his hand up Al’s leg and patted the bolt cutters in his coat pocket. Then he shook his head, threw his head back and laughed out loud, flashing perfect white teeth. They looked strange, out of place in his weathered face. “I see you haven’t changed your ways.”
The stranger opened his wallet and peeled a twenty onto the bar, then pulled out a small piece of paper and slid it across the bar towards Al. He picked it up and squinted at it. It was a picture of his wife, Alicia. She was smiling and toasting with a wine glass in her hand. The caption read “In loving memory, Alicia Fortner, 1971 – 1990. You are with the angels now.”
Rage slammed him in the guts like a freight train. He roared “you son of a bitch” and lunged at him, grabbing the stranger by the throat. They toppled to the floor. Al pummeled him, trying to beat him into the floor, to beat him to death, beat him out of existence. The stranger laughed and swatted away his fists as if wrestling a toddler. Then he rolled, stood up and yanked Al to feet by his collar and slammed him back on his bar stool. Al sat breathing hard for a few minutes and then stood and snapped “I gotta take a leak.”
He went to the john and stared at himself in the cracked mirror. “You!” he shouted. “You are the son a bitch! He punched the mirror and it cracked in a few more places. Shards of glass tinkled into the sink. “You killed her. You didn’t pull the trigger, but you killed her. You…murdering …worthless…BASTARD!” Then he slid to floor and started sobbing, the smell, the filth of the floor, unnoticed. He howled with rage and grief until there was nothing left. Then stood and washed his face with cold water, drying it with his sleeve. Dives like this place didn’t bother with paper in the john. The kind of drunks that lurked in a dark rat hole in the wall rarely bothered to wash their hands. There was no point, some things can’t be washed away.
He walked back to his stool and sat down. A fresh drink waited for him. He drained it in one gulp and stared into the ice. He saw tiny reflections of Alicia in every cube, swirling, smiling, crying, laughing, dancing. He glanced over at the bartender who was busy drying glasses with a bar towel and pretending not to notice anything. There was no way he didn’t hear that unholy racket in the john.
He whispered, “I just wanted to give her pretty things.” “She begged you to stop.” “She deserved the best.” “Did she deserve to die…for your sins?” He groaned and put his head down in his arms, “no, she didn’t.”
Dressed in black, he walked the streets late at night. Prowling past upscale overpriced tourist traps, he felt like a kid in a candy store. Everywhere sparkles and trinkets, juicy and ripe for picking, hanging low on the tree for anyone to grab. He stopped in an alley and smoked a cigarette. He pictured Alicia’s flashing blue eyes. She always looked at him as if he were an angel that came down from heaven just for her. Their 1 year anniversary was tomorrow. What would he get for her tonight? He went back on the prowl and then spotted his target. It was in the corner window of a shop, a stunning beautiful necklace, diamonds and large blue sapphires to match her eyes. Fit for queen. He hissed “Yes!”
He walked around the corner and pulled a ski mask over on his head, rolled it down to cover his face. He hovered in the shadows and smoked another cigarette, watching the streets for any signs of life, late night lovers strolling, drunks staggering home, …cops. He dropped his smoke and ground it out with his foot. Then turned, pulled bolt cutters out his pocket and snipped a small hole in the wire bolted over the storefront window. Slipping them back in his pocket he pulled out a glass cutter. Looking around one last time, he cut a hole in the glass, reached in and grabbed the necklace. He put it in his vest pocket and then reached back in to sweep another handful of jewelry. Gotta make a living somehow. He walked quickly around the corner to the alley behind the Cathedral, ripped off his mask and ran like the wind, his face stretched back in a grin that looked more like a grimace.
She gasped and put her hand to her breast when he gave her the necklace. “Babe, where did you get this? How could you afford it, oh my God, it’s beautiful.” He hugged her and kissed her eyelids, her throat, her shoulder. “Honey, it’s just costume jewelry, I saw it in a window and thought of your big baby blues.” He fastened the necklace around her neck and turned her to face the mirror. She touched it and her eyes filled with tears. She threw her arms around his neck. “You do know how to make a girl happy.”
They went to dinner the next night at La Fayette’s, one the swankiest restaurants in the city. She wore a sleek blue dress that set off the blue of her eyes and the sapphires in the necklace. They feasted and cuddled, two lovers oblivious in their private universe. As they ate desert, she prodded him under the table with her foot and whispered “see those 3 guys at that table over there? They keep staring at us. It’s creepy.” His eyes flicked over to them. Yes, they were staring. He took her chin in his hands to distract her. “Babe, they are staring at you because you are so beautiful. Don’t encourage them, don’t look back.” She smiled and took another bite of her Baked Alaska.
The next week he presented Alicia with a silver filigree bracelet with an Amethyst in the center. She loved it and wore everywhere, even to bed. A few nights later they planned to meet at the Old Absinthe House for drinks after she got off work. He waited outside and saw her coming down the block. 2 men approached her and 1 of them grabbed her hand and yanked her sleeve up. He shouted “this is the one. That’s my work!” Al lurched towards them but stopped when the other man grabbed her and slammed her face down on the hood of car, yanking her arms behind her back. He cuffed her and shouted “You are under arrest for the possession of stolen property.” Al pulled backed into the shadow of a doorway and watched in horror.
They put her in an unmarked car and drove off. His mind reeled, what am I going to do? What are they going to tell her? Too much, he knew that for sure. He was afraid to go back to the small room they rented by the week. She had been complaining and wanted something more permanent. He always told her he didn’t want to bother with furniture and possessions, that he liked to travel light. He didn’t tell her that they needed to keep moving, not good to establish a residence, with an address and phone. Too dangerous, too easy to get sloppy, too easy to track him down. Lately he’d caught her staring at him with questions in her eyes, but when he asked her “what’s wrong?” She said “nothing” and turned away.
One night he woke to find her crying softly in her pillow. He folded her in his arms and she turned to him. “Al, something is wrong, what are you not telling me?” He said nothing and rocked her in his arms. “Babe, how’s that construction job going?” He sat up and stared at her. “A job is a job, why do you ask?” “Well, you don’t come home very dirty.” He froze for a second. “I do detail work, taping frames, stuff like that, I don’t get dirty.” She rolled over with her back to him and pulled the covers over her head. He lay staring at the ceiling for a long time, trying to think of something, anything, some way to change the past, a way out. One thing for sure, it was time to move on.
The night they took her he walked the streets and alleys for hours. He couldn’t go down there and get her out. He finally decided that if the police figured out where they were staying that they had come and gone. She was sitting on the bed with his small duffel bag on her lap when he walked in the door. It was open and he knew that she found the money and his gun. She looked up at him with tears in her eyes. “How could you? What are you? Who are you?” He walked over and sank to his knees in front of her. He tossed the duffel aside and began “Babe, let me explain.” “Explain?” She screamed. “Explain what?” That you are a thief, that you kill people, that our life is a lie?” She scrambled away from him and snatched the clock off the nightstand and threw it at him. Then grabbed the gun from the bag and threw that at him too.
He ignored it, grabbed her ankle and pulled her back to him. “How did you get home? I thought they took you to jail.” “They drove me around for about an hour. They told me what you do, who you are. They said they have been watching us for weeks. I told them I didn’t know what you were doing. They wanted me to tell them where you are.” She dropped her head to her hands and said “I told them that I didn’t even know who you are, let alone where you are.” She fell over on the bed with her fingers tangled in her hair, writhing and sobbing.
He picked up the gun and put it in his pocket, zipped the duffel and slung it over his shoulder. He lifted her gently to her feet. “Babe, we have to leave, now. We’ll go to Jeff’s house. He’ll put us up for the night.” She mumbled in a daze “we have to leave? Yes, we have to leave now.” He pulled her jacket on as if dressing a child, zipped it up and smoothed her hair, kissed her forehead.
Jeff did take them in. They talked in low voices in the kitchen, drinking beer. Alicia cried herself to sleep on the sofa. The night wore on and they ran out of beer and cigarettes. Jeff offered to make a beer run and left. Al paced the apartment waiting for Jeff to return. He was sitting on the edge of sofa watching Alicia sleep when he heard a low voice outside, then the crackle of a radio. “Shit!” Leaping to his feet he pulled the gun out of his pocket and slipped to the side of the window. He looked out and saw the police in the courtyard. They saw him and shouted “Police, come out now with your hands up.”
He crouched down checking his gun, “I can’t do this, I can’t go to jail again, I can’t live in a cage, I’d rather be dead.” He stood and fired 2 shots out the window. They fired back. Alicia sat up and screamed. Then she jerked and slumped over, rolling off the sofa. “Alicia?” He snatched her up and shook her. “Alicia!” She looked at him with empty eyes and died in his arms. He roared in anger “NO! Oh God, please, NO!” He laid her on the floor then stood and fired 3 more shots out the window. Then he sprinted for the back and out the bathroom window. He climbed up the drain pipe, jumped across to the roof of the building next door, dropped down on the other side and ran for his life.
“Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.” The words snapped him out of his tortured reverie. The stranger was tapping the dime on the counter slowly, ticking away the moments of his life. “Who the hell are you anyway? The Angel of Death? Did you come here to avenge Alicia?” He stopped tapping the dime and said “No, your wife is at peace. I guess you could call me…the Angel of Choices.” He pushed the dime across the bar towards Al. “You have a choice, do the right thing, drop a dime, and turn yourself in or….” “Or what?” The stranger picked up the dime and began flipping it across his knuckles.
The stranger suddenly reached over, gripped his shoulder and stared in his eyes. “You can still make this right.” “And you can go to hell.” With a sigh the stranger said “That, my friend, is your choice. Even though you’ve taken it from others many times, you still have free will.” The stranger stood, walked to the door and reached for the handle, then stopped and turned around. “Al, I’m going to give you one last chance. I hope you take it.” He flipped the dime in the air. It fell to the floor and spun to a stop, right next to the dime Al had been staring at.
Al took the last sip of his drink and pushed it aside. Then walked over and picked up the dime. His choice? He looked at the phone by door, looked at the dime in his hand, and back to the phone. He took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and stepped out the door. At least 15 males voiced yelled “Freeze, put your hands on your head! One move and we fire!” He let the dime slip between his fingers to the ground and whispered, “Alicia, I’m sorry, please forgive me.” Then he reached for his gun.