Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Flash Fiction Extra: The Beacon

No one was sure what the fires meant. They had appeared three nights ago at dusk, bright like stars against the black hulk of the mountain, and they had burned through the night until dawn. The city was rife with rumors, and in the decaying warehouse, speculation among Vince's gang members grew.

“It’s a signal,” Speedball said as he sharpened a knife. “There’s going to be an attack.”

“Wishful thinking,” Gitana sneered. “You’d love it if we got into another big fight.”

“Okay, glamour-girl, what’s your explanation?”

“Travelers. Ordinary campers cooking their food.”

“Who’s talking bullshit now? Campers don’t light fires that big. Those are beacons. They mean something.”

Ozone looked up from trying to find a station on the radio. “I heard it’s some kind of nativist thing. One of the tribes is trying to revive some old tradition for how they grieve their dead.”

Gitana shook her head in disgust. “Leave it to you to come up with the most absurd explanation imaginable." She looked around. "Vince! We know you’re listening. Come out here and settle this!”

Vince stepped out of his office. He had heard every word of his crew's conversation, and was consumed with concerns of his own.

“So what are all those fires about?” Gitana said. “War, ancient mythology, or just refugees trying to stay warm?”

“If it was refugees, El Duque would’ve done something to stop the rumors by now.” Vince pulled up a rickety chair. “And I don’t buy the crap that it’s natives lighting signal fires for the spirits of their kindred. Some people will believe anything.”

With a hurt expression, Ozone turned back to his radio.

Speedball brandished his knife with satisfaction. “That leaves war. We’ll get some goods out of this.”

Vince wasn’t so sure the beacons were a sign of war, either. If someone wanted to attack a stronghold like this city, why advertise the fact? “Actually, I’m a little worried it may be a sign of peace — one of the regional leaders coming to talk with El Duque and cut a deal.”

“Peace would be nice,” Ozone mumbled.

Speedball turned on him. “Peace would be the worst thing imaginable, dumbass. How the hell would we make a living?”

Vince nodded in silent agreement. Too much law and order, and he’d have to shut his little protection racket down. Either that, or go to prison. He had no other skills, even though his sister had pestered him for years to apprentice himself to someone or enter a legitimate job training program. Somehow he didn’t see himself as a shopkeeper or an accountant. This world, dirty and chaotic though it may be, suited him fine.

“Well, whatever it is,” he said, “I just hope it’s not a treaty. Peace would be my worst nightmare.”

Ozone had found a radio station and waved a hand for silence. “They’re talking about the beacons. And something about a curfew.”

“So that’s the game, is it?” Vince stood up. “How much you guys want to bet El Duque ordered those fires so everyone would be scared and he could crack down?”

Speedball passed his knife from hand to hand. “I don’t believe in curfews. Last guy who tried to tell me when to get off the street—”

“We all remember,” Vince said. “And next time you kill a government type without orders, you’re out.” He stood and stretched. “But curfews don’t mean anything in our line of work, and we have a job tonight. Ozone, turn off that stupid radio.”

“But they’re saying—”

“More lies, I’ll bet. Turn it off. The only thing those fires signify is that people will get excited over any little thing.” He turned and headed back to his office. “Get your weapons ready,” he called over his shoulder. “We’ve got work to do.”

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Flash Fiction Extra: No One's Yes-Man

“Forget it, man. No.”

Calixto set down his glass and stared. “You’re kidding.”

Vince shook his head of thick black hair and a gold earring flashed in the dim light of the pub. He took a gulp of his whiskey and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. “You heard me.”

“But…” Calixto leaned across the table. “…the payoff will be huge. Everyone knows you’re a money-whore. Quit playing around.”

“There are some things I just won’t do, no matter how good the money. Why is that so hard to believe?”

“Do you want all the details of your notorious career, or should I just hit the highlights?”

Vince tossed off the rest of his drink and looked around for the waitress, but she was nowhere to be seen. “Running drugs and guns is one thing, but what you’re asking is totally different. I have standards.”

“Now I know you’re lying.” Calixto sucked down the rest of his whiskey, then shoved the glass aside with a black-gloved hand. “If it’s the percentage that’s bothering you, just say so. You’ll be putting your guys at more risk than usual, so how about an extra five percent? Ten?”

“I’m telling you. It’s the deal itself that’s the problem, not the money.”

Calixto sat back and pondered. “There’s got to be some way to get you on board. Your folks are the only ones I would trust for this kind of thing, and it’ll be worth your while.”

Vince stood up and rested both hands on the table, leaning over Calixto with an ugly light in his eyes. “I gave you my answer and it’s final. Do you have any idea how many of the world’s problems are caused by people who say yes when they should say no?”

Without waiting for an answer, he strode across the barroom and out onto the street. The streetlights weren’t working again, but that was no matter. Nothing had been right since El Duque came to power. Not that things had ever been right in Vince's lifetime.

He rested a hand on the handle of his Glock and felt secure, then tipped his head back and gazed at panorama of stars. There were times when “no” was the only right answer. Because there was hell to pay when the answer was always yes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Flash Fiction Extra: Cure

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This Three Word Wednesday story features Vince Mott and his sister Sara. You can read more about Vince by following the tag at the bottom of the post.


Vince helped Sara sit up and held a steaming cup to her lips. “Drink this.”

She tried to obey, but the taste nearly made her gag. “What the hell is it?”

“Chicken broth. With garlic and green chili.”

Sara looked at him askance.

“And a measure of whiskey.”

“What else?”

“Just some medicine I found in one of your cabinets. I figured since you’re a nurse, it must be useful or you wouldn’t have it.”

Sara lay back among the pillows. “You have no idea what you’re doing, do you? It’s just a cold. Quit fussing over me.”

“No way.” Vince set the cup on the edge of a small table where it teetered before he pushed it to a more stable place next to a book. “Mom and Dad started out with ‘just a cold’ and look what it got them.”

“A doctor checked me out before they sent me home from the hospital. Do you really think—”

The look in his eyes brought her up short. Vince kept girls and fellow gang members at arm’s length and felt little sympathy for the victims of his criminal enterprises, but he’d fight the devil to keep from losing his last remaining family member. “You know what would really be good?”

Vince leaned forward with the eagerness of a child.

“Orange juice.”


“I know it’s out of season…hard to find and expensive, but it’s the ideal thing for getting rid of a cold.”

Vince stood up, nearly knocking his chair over in his enthusiasm. “If there’s any in the city, you’ll have it. I’ll ask my sources and call in a few favors.”

Sara waited while he puttered around her tiny apartment, making sure she had everything she needed. When he finally left, she breathed a sigh of relief. He wasn’t likely to find orange juice anywhere. Transport from other regions of the former United States was expensive and uncertain. If he did find some, he’d probably have to fight for it, but that was okay. It would keep him busy and make him feel like he had done something special. That was all that mattered.

She sneezed and reached for a handkerchief. The cold was just an ordinary cold. With or without orange juice and her brother's strange concoctions, it would take care of itself.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Flash Fiction Extra: These Times

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story features Vince Mott, a character from Diana's Diary, which is part of my Will and Diana series. You can read more about Vince by following the tag at the bottom of the post.

Vince slammed back the rest of his drink, then put the glass and bottle of purported Canadian Club away. He didn’t bother locking his office as he left, since the members of his gang knew better than to touch his stuff. The last one to do it was living on the streets now, missing a few teeth and fingers, and bearing some interesting scars.

The easiest way to get to the site of tonight’s deal was via the motorcycle he had stolen a few weeks ago, but he didn’t want to call attention to himself, so he walked until he found a bicycle rickshaw driver looking for a fare. Vince gave an address, then sat back and pondered while the rickshaw bounced over the pitted roads of the city. He wished the government would tear up the old asphalt and lay down stones or something. Too many people still clung to the notion that the old days of prosperity would return if only new cheap sources of oil were found and the government would put down all the infighting.

And while they were dreaming, perhaps they’d like an Easter Bunny, too. Vince smiled to himself. Young realists like himself were the future of this town.

The driver dropped him off in front of a taqueria that Vince knew to be a front for a drug operation. He tipped the driver, waited a few minutes, then set off for the address he had committed to memory.

When he got to the bullet-scarred building, he circled it, noting all possible ways in and out, and any obstacles that could trip a guy up or obscure a lookout’s point of view. Then he bought a kebab of questionable meat from a nearby street vendor, sat on a shop step and watched his target for a few minutes. After he had determined the place wasn’t under surveillance, he gave the rest of the meat to a stray dog and found his way into the building, his Glock drawn and ready.

Although most of the windows were boarded up, enough dusty light filtered in that he could see the hulking shapes of old display cabinets, derelict computers and piles of rags. There was nothing here worth stealing, although that wouldn’t be true later tonight. After his eyes adjusted, Vince started making his way around the room, making note of obstacles and pitfalls, just as he had outside.

He was dragging a dead electrical line out of a traffic path when a small sound caught his attention. He pointed his Glock. “Get over here, hands up, motherfucker.”

A hunched shape separated itself from the shadows. “I don’t want no trouble.”

Vince assessed: white hair, wild matted beard, filthy clothes. Even from this distance the man reeked. “You’re going to have to find another place for tonight, grandpa.”

“But this is my shop.”

“The whole city is full of empty shops. Find another.” Vince dug in his pocket for some coins. “It’s for your own good.”

“You don’t understand. My father opened this place when the building was brand new.” The man waved a trembling hand. “The walls were clean and white then, with red trim. The counters held beautiful new things for sale – electronic gadgets I bet you’ve never in your life seen in operation.”

Vince shrugged. “It was all wasteful and ridiculous. Now take this money, buy yourself a meal and find another building to squat in for a few days.”

“No. I took this place over from my father when he died. It was hard to find new things to sell, but I learned how to repair old electronics. I would clean them up and make them work like new.” He pulled up a rickety chair and sat down. “Then I got drafted and sent to fight in the resource wars. I came home to civil war. I couldn’t re-open my business; I got gassed overseas and my hands shook too bad from nerve damage to repair anything. I had no home, and my family had scattered. I had this place, though. It’s still mine, and if you want me out of here, you’ll have to shoot me.”

Vince gazed at the man for a long time before speaking. “The old days,” he finally said, “before the wars and all that…was it really as good as they say?”

“It was a lot cleaner, and a person was mostly safe as long as he minded his own business. We had fancier toys, but life is hard no matter when you live it, son. It’s only in our own heads that some other time or place is better.”

Vince nodded and put his gun away. The coins he had dug out of his pocket were still in his hand and he laid them on a grimy counter. “There’s going to be a little business operation going on tonight. Someone else chose this spot and I can’t change it. Make yourself scarce, don’t interfere, and you’ll make out all right.”

“And what about you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Will you make out all right? You seem like the sort that goes looking for trouble.”

Vince laughed. “No, old man, trouble found me. I’m just trying to make the best of things. Like you say, it’s only in our imagination that there’s anyplace better.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Flash Fiction Extra: Good Deeds

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This Three Word Wednesday story features Vince Mott and his sister Sara, two of the characters from My New-Found Land. You can read more about Vince by following the tag at the bottom of the post.

It had taken a bit of doing to get the medicines the doctor ordered, but Sara was nothing if not dedicated. She gave up her lunch hour to go to the other floors and scour the cabinets, and even asked at individual offices in her zeal, offering to barter. Now if she hurried, she might still have enough time to go on the roof and eat her sandwich, up high where it was safe and she could look over the wreck of the city and imagine what it must have been like in her parents’ and grandparents’ day.

She stepped into the patient’s room, then stopped with a jolt. A man stood over the unresponsive girl’s bed, his dirty fatigues and gaudy jewelry marking him as a local tough, one of thousands that roamed the streets in loosely organized gangs, looking for quick payoffs. Sara watched him place a fluffy stuffed rabbit in the crook of the child's arm and tie a satin ribbon around her wrist.

“Vince, what are you doing here?”

The man straightened up with a guilty look and shook his black hair out of his eyes. “You’re supposed to be on your lunch break.”

“And you’re supposed to be guarding a gun delivery, looting abandoned houses, or whatever illegal things it is you do.” She motioned him away from the bed so she could check the child’s vitals. “Are you the one that brought the charm bracelet yesterday? And the duck the day before?”

“Maybe.” Vince shoved his hands in his pockets. “Are you one of El Duque’s informants now? Is it a crime to give stuff to a sick kid?”

“No need to get defensive. It’s just kind of funny this girl has been here almost a week and you never told me you knew her.” A sudden suspicion gripped her. “Don’t tell me she’s yours. If I’m an aunt and you’ve been hiding it from me, I swear, I’ll—”

Vince held up a hand. “It’s not like that. Jesus.”

“With all the girls you’ve had, it wouldn’t have surprised me. So how do you know her?”

“Does it matter? I was just trying to do something nice.”

“She’s in a coma. She doesn’t know who’s being nice and who’s not.” She moved the stuffed rabbit and tucked the covers more tightly around the girl’s wasted body.

“Is she going to make it?”

“I don’t know.”

Sara worked in silence, feeling Vince’s gaze upon her.

“Got a few minutes?”

She glanced at her watch, one of the many things he had given her from his lootings over the years. His illegal activities had enabled her to go to nursing school and helped her survive on the meager and unreliable wages of the city hospital.

“Let’s go on the roof.”

Vince knew her well. She waited while he ran a gentle hand across the girl’s hair and murmured encouraging words. Then she took his arm and let him lead her to the staircase and out onto the flat roof of the hospital.

“World kind of sucks,” he said, as they gazed at the decrepit buildings below. “But we have to get what we can out of it.”

Sara thought of the little girl in the room below, dying needlessly. “I guess.”

He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a flask. “Good stuff. Came all the way from Kentucky.” He pressed it into her hand and made her take it.

“About that girl…”

Vince shook his head. “Let a guy do a good deed now and then, okay?”

“You’re a regular Robin Hood.”

“You have your way, I have mine.”

Sara slipped the flask into one of the deep pockets of her nurse’s smock. It would come in handy when she was home in her small apartment, with night closing in. Vince had always been generous in his strange way.

“You ready to go back downstairs? I’ve got a deal to coordinate for tonight.”

“Sure.” She cast a final look out over the city, trying to imagine what it once was like before the collapse and the wars. Then she let Vince lead her to the door and back downstairs.