DH and I actually met in a creative writing class, but he hasn’t written since before our oldest child was born. However, this Flash Fiction Challenge by Chuck Wendig inspired him to write his first story in years. I am super excited to share it!
They’d say I’d been bought. That Boss Malone had finally found my price. Or breaking point. Or he’d got some dirt on me so I’d to dance to his tune. Let ’em talk.
Boss Malone and I had a mutual understanding. I hated him, and he hated me. I’d been trying to topple his empire for years, and his goons had tried to erase me for just as long. Neither of us had any luck. So why was I trying to track down his kidnapped daughter and return her safely?
Not for him, you can bet. But it wasn’t her fault her dad was scum. And if I turn my back on an innocent just because of who her pop happens to be…well, that’s not something I do.
There’d been no ransom demands. That had me worried. Had Malone worried, too. There were rumors about what Papa Thorne did to his victims. I didn’t know if they were true, but I hoped for her sake they weren’t. Malone may be scum, but Papa Thorne taking over Malone’s territory wasn’t something I wanted to see.
Malone had your typical twisted kingpin code-of-honor. He’d do whatever he wanted to as long as he could justify it according to his personal rules. He ruled by fear when necessary, but he also handed out generous rewards to those who helped him. Cops, judges, city attorneys…Malone could be very good to you if he had reason.
The only tools Thorne used were Fear and Murder. I guess you could say he had a personal code too. He never offered to bribe anyone. If you saw something you shouldn’t have, he wouldn’t offer to buy your silence. You were too terrified to ever say a thing, or he erased you on the spot. Didn’t matter how high up you thought you were either. Cops, judges, city attorneys…a lot of them had disappeared without a trace after being involved in a case against Thorne. It tended to keep happening until charges dropped. The ones left wouldn’t raise a finger against him.
So when the apple of Malone’s eye was last seen a week ago dancing in one of Thorne’s speakeasies, I can’t help feel some pity. He comes to me with a peace offering, yammers on about he knows I’m good with missing persons, and I tell him to stop blowing noise out of his noise hole. I’ll find her. If she’s alive, I’ll bring her back. Now get outta my office.
Yours Truly had a bad feeling that Miss Malone was no longer among the living. Or worse, she was, in Thorne’s hands. The only lead I had was where she was last seen: The Lucky Seven. Time to do some snooping.
Before I go in and start asking questions, I take a look around the outside. Place like that usually has a lot of exits, if you know where to look. But after casing the outside from every angle I can think of it looks like the place is condemned. The Lucky Seven? Closed down? Nothing in the news about a raid by the Feds, and none of the locals would have tipped them off for fear of Thorne. So much for asking questions. Guess I’ll sneak in and see what I can find. Gotta admit, I’m not optimistic.
Sun goes down as I finish prying nailed boards off a window and kick a few shards of jagged glass out of the pane. Squeezing through the opening I feel chips of paint flaking off and rusty nails scratching my coat. Can’t remember the last time I had a tetanus shot. Dark inside, and I didn’t bring a flashlight. Good thing I’ve had such a hard time quitting smoking. I take out my lighter and whisper a prayer of thanks to the genius who invented portable fire.
The orange flame in my hand softly washes the shadows back. Smells of rotten food and stale booze fill the air. Dance floor is dirty. Stage is a mess. Tables are….not exactly set. More like never cleared. The Lucky Seven wasn’t a high class restaurant, but you could order food with your drinks. Looks like whatever people ordered a week ago is still there. Did all the busboys and cleaning staff vanish along with Miss Malone?
“I know you. You’re Drake Diamond.”
I spin to face the raspy speaker, my free hand going for my thirty-eight. Next thing I know I’m flat on my back, my weapon has skidded across the floor under one of the tables, and my lighter’s gone in the opposite direction and is sputtering out. Face feels like I got punched so hard I can’t think of a clever metaphor to describe it. Something about a truck? Nah. Too cliche. One thing’s for sure. This guy’s fast.
I hear gunshots, and wonder just who has come to my rescue. One of Malone’s boys, sent to watch over me while I look for his dear daughter? The agony in my chest brings me to my senses. No one’s rescuing me. I ain’t that lucky. Truck-fist also has a forty-four magnum and really good aim.
“Drake Diamond. Get up.” Whoever she is, her voice reminds me of the smoothest bourbon I ever drank.
I sit bolt upright, feeling odd tingles all over. I’m on a cold slab of granite, surrounded by lit candles. Across the room is the classiest looking dame I’ve ever laid eyes on. She’s studying me like she’s not sure I’m all right. In one hand she’s holding what one might call a letter opener if one didn’t know what a dagger was. Clearly made for messier work than slicing paper. But she’s not holding it in a threatening way. At least not yet. In her other hand is…well…I’m no forensic anatomist but I’d swear that was a human femur. I see…letters? Designs? Symbols of some kind. They’re not so much painted onto the surface of the bone as charred into it.
Oh. That’s how it is.
I look down. Poking my fingers through the bullet-holes in my shirt, I can feel the fatal wounds in my chest.
Yep. I’m dead.
At least, I was. Until this expensively-dressed lady cast her spell. Now I’m…still not alive, exactly. But at least I’m up and around.
“Drake Diamond. Speak to me.”
I fumble around in the pockets of my muddy trench coat and pull out a cigarette.
“Don’t suppose you got a light? I, err, lost mine.”
She frowns, puts the dagger away and snaps her fingers. My cigarette lights. I smile and take a few puffs. Damn, she’s got style.
“Much obliged, Ma’am. Drake Diamond, at your service. But you seem to know that already. What can I do for you?”
“I need your help, Mr. Diamond. I don’t trust anyone else.”
“You can raise the dead and conjure fire from your fingertips, and you need my help? You realize all I accomplished on my last job was getting filled with bullets?”
“Don’t underestimate yourself. You were the only one brave enough to face Thorne. And now you don’t have to worry about a petty little thing like dying.”
Thorne. So this is still about him. I ain’t normally a vengeful guy. But one of his lunks killed me. I’m not too proud to admit, I’d like a chance to even the score.
“All right. I’m listening. What exactly is it you need me for?”
“Finish what you started three years ago, before you were murdered: rescuing me from Thorne. And avenging my father’s death, as well. Betty Malone. Charmed.”
Three years? I’d swear I was only out a few minutes. Boss Malone was dead? I’d celebrate, but it would be poor taste in front of his daughter. That, and it probably meant Thorne had taken his territory, and he’s worse. Not to mention, I was dead too. So I wasn’t really in any position to gloat.
I took a few puffs of my cigarette and hopped off the altar onto my feet. My body felt normal, balance was good. I would never have guessed three years. Then I caught a glimpse of myself.
Amidst the lit candles all over the room, there was a free-standing full-length mirror. A eyeless skull with a fedora on top and a lit cigarette between its teeth stares back at me. His shirt hangs loose on a fleshless frame, and I can see bare ribs through the bullet-holes.
I look down at myself. I see flesh on my arms. A bit pale, but there. Not like the bony sticks my reflection has for arms. I pat my chest and I feel flesh there. Still not used to the holes in my chest, but there’s at least a chest to have holes in. But what I see when I look down at myself isn’t what I see in the mirror.
“Don’t worry too much about it, Drake,” says Betty. “It’s magic.”
“Magic. Right. That’s what I really look like. This,” I say, touching my chest, “is what you restored. With your spell. It’s what I look like to other people.”
“Indeed,” she says as she strides over to me, heels clacking on the floor at the end of her long legs, “but you’ll never be able to fool the mirror.” She stops just behind me, looking over my shoulder. I turn to follow her gaze, and see my clothed, smoking, fedora’d skeleton in the mirror. Alone. Even though Miss Betty Malone is standing right behind me.
I turn back to face her, slowly. She allows herself just enough of a grin to let a little fang show.
“Thorne’s doing. He made me what he is. And that means I can’t act against him directly. If I’m ever going to be free, he needs to be destroyed. That’s where you come in.”