End of the Line – a short story competition

by Julie Frayn on February 23, 2014 in  Fiction - short stories

I decided to sign up for a new kind of short story competition – one with heats and time limits and such. It speaks to my deadline oriented side, and satisfies my highly competitive nature. I like to be the best… The competitors are broken up into groups (40 of them) and each is given a genre, subject, and character that must be important to the story. I got crime caper, fish farming, and maintenance man.

Uh, say what?

I almost didn’t bother. Then I got my game face on and just went after it. This is the result – please let me know what you think. I find out on March 24th if it’s good enough to get me into round 2 of the competition. And the best part? It fits into a collection I am working on where every story has a bus stop involved. Love killing two birds with one stone. Metaphorically of course.

End of the Line

Gordon Fisk dragged his foot behind him across the rubber floor.

Step, scrape, stomp. Step, scrape, stomp.

He glared at every rider, the regulars long-accustomed to his Quasimodo hump and lame leg. But after years on the same line, the same route, the same damn stops every damn day, they averted their gaze. Didn’t have the stones to look him in the eye, to say hello, to acknowledge him in any human way.

Step, scrape, flump. He dropped into his regular seat in the middle, one that faced the opposite window. The seats surrounding him were empty except for one newbie. The regulars knew better, occupied the periphery. Old Dan preferred to stand and hold onto a strap for the last two stops, jerk and jolt with every brake and acceleration, keep balance with his cane. Anything but sit close to Gordon.

What did it smell like, fifteen years of fish guts and spent scales ground into his skin, stuck under his nails, saturating his clothes? He’d not been able to smell himself, or much else, for years.

The newbie, a young woman, sat across the aisle from him. She wrinkled her pert little nose, pulled her silky scarf up to filter out the stench, let out a petite cough. She gathered her purse and shopping bag and scurried to the farthest open seat.

Clearly, he smelled like shit.

Bright lights inside the bus bounced off the windows and turned them into mirrors, blocking the darkness of the outside world. By the time the bus pulled up to his stop, Gordon was the last rider, his only companion, his own reflection.

“End of the line!”

Gordon pulled his rolled-up jacket from under his sweatshirt, grabbed his bag of meagre groceries and strode down the aisle to the front of the bus.

The driver pulled a lever; the door opened with a wheeze. He shook the cardboard pine tree that hung from the rear-view mirror and touched his pine-scented fingers to his nose. “Why you still pulling that lame duck ruse?”

“Gotta have a little fun,” Gordon patted the driver on the shoulder. “Makes life worth living.” He capered down the steps and lit a cigarette to keep him company for the two block walk to the fish farm. That’s what the boss called it. Not much of a farm. Good enough for back alley deals in seedy neighborhoods where restaurants can’t afford real fish. Good enough for side of the highway sales from the trunk of the bosses eighty-three LeSabre.

Gordon just called the place home.

He slopped a tin of Chef Boyardee into a bowl and tossed it in the microwave. He popped the cap off a Keystone, winced at the sour-meets-moldy-banana flavor of the first sip and wiped his lip on his sleeve. This shit sucked. But it was cheap.

He clicked on the police band radio. The ravioli sizzled and popped, the radio blipped and chattered with the same old-same old codes and calls. Ten-sixteen, domestic disturbance. Ten-fifty-five, drunk driver. Ten-forty-five, animal carcass. Hell, he had their animal carcasses right here.

The microwave squawked. He stuck a fork in his ravioli, kicked an empty crate closer to the nearest tank and sat with his feet on the edge. He picked at the pasta, tossed bits of it into the water. The fish went nuts for it, flopping all over each other for a taste. Processed pseudo-meat and neon tomato sauce must be caviar compared to what the boss normally fed them. They weren’t called garbage fish for nothing.

Cheap eats, cheap labor, cheap product. But the boss could usually pass them off as something better. Maybe cod or haddock. Sometimes even halibut if the idiot buying it was, well, an idiot. But shit, Gordon wouldn’t fry one up if he were starving to death. Keystone is one thing. Fish that eat cat feces for breakfast and nibble on used tampons? Well, there’s a line.

With the insufficient meal sitting like gravel in his gut, Gordon performed his nightly rituals. Swab the pier, dump the bucket of heads and tails, entrails and scales into the Dumpster, wipe down the tasers. What idiot uses a taser to stun a fish? Cheap-ass son-of-a-bitch like the boss who can get crappy ones at the pawn shop for next to nothing, that’s who.

He tossed the tasers into a box and fished his gun out of the cupboard. He ran one finger over the cool aluminum alloy. Nice piece for a Dumpster find. Beretta Cougar F-model, double action trigger, exposed hammer. Couldn’t afford the nine-by-nineteen-millimeter rounds to top up the magazine to its full fifteen. Not that it mattered. He never shot the damn thing. Four would last him a lifetime. Which, with luck, would be blessedly short.

Maybe he’d shoot fish in a barrel. Would be more fun than watching them slip and slide all over each other, humping day and night – if that’s what they were doing. Fish porn was wearing thin. He needed some real action. But wasn’t a woman in the whole damn state willing to fuck a man whose junk stunk like rotted shark chum.

He skulked around the property, the gun cocked and ready for action. He inched along the Quonset, his back to the metal wall, jumped around the corner and pointed the barrel at the trees that grew wild at the edge of the property, their leaves dimly illuminated by a single flood light atop a fifteen-foot wooden pole. Except it hadn’t flooded anything in two years. More like a drip. Or an ooze.

“Stop right there, scumbag.” He pretended to pull the trigger. “Pow, pow. You’re dead, ya bastard.” He threw his head back and laughed with practiced maniacal glee. “Bwahaha…”

In the Quonset, he tossed the gun on the empty oil drum that doubled as a night stand. The clang of metal on metal echoed through the emptiness. Gordon fell onto his cot, punched the pillow and tucked it behind his head. He tugged on a long string and clicked off the only light in the building, the bare hundred watt bulb over his head. He drifted off to the clicks and beeps and anonymous calls of petty crime.

Familiar codes seeped into his growing unconsciousness. Ten-ninety-five. Ten-twenty. Ten-four. He always slept easier knowing the perp was in custody, the cops were okay, over and out.

“Ten-ninety at Forty-fifth and Greenwood.”

Gordon blinked. Bank alarm. Hadn’t been a bank robbery in months.

“Unit sixty-two, ten-seventy-six.”

“What’s your twenty?”

“South on Twenty-eighth, passing Sixteenth.”

“Ten-seventy-seven?”

“Six minutes.”

The radio calls went silent; the static left in their wake electrified the air. Gordon sat on the edge of his cot, his focus on the flashing lights of the tiny box of all things police-related. The only relic of his glory days that remained. The only entertainment he had, other than trapping cats and playing cops and robbers.

“Ten-thirty-two, shots fired, multiple gunmen. All units, ten-seventy-eight at Forty-fifth and Greenwood.”

The radio came to life with units confirming their ten-seventy-six, at least twelve cruisers en route to a bank heist. A real crime, no purse-snatching, no grab-and-run at the 7-Eleven.

“Unit forty-eight, got a ten-eighty. Suspect vehicle is a black van, late model Ford, license plate ending with four-three-niner, heading north on Thirty-second. All units, code three.”

“Ten-seventy-nine at the scene. Three injured. Two dead. Damn, one’s a guard. Send a bus.”

Gordon’s breath withered, his heart clenched. He’d give anything to don that uniform again. Patrol the streets. Take down the bad guys. But once you’re fired, you’re fired for good. No reformed heroin addicts who slip in and out of rehab the way mall rats slip in and out of the arcade allowed. Six years clean. Not good enough.

“BOLO, three males, all five-ten to six-foot, dressed alike, ski masks, dark jeans, dark hoodies, leather gloves, dark blue running shoes. Code victor”

“All units, be advised, the suspects have a hostage.”

The air sucked out of the room.

“Teller, thirty-two, dark hair, five-foot-six, about one-seventy. Name is Anna Jacobs.”

“Lost sight of the van. Last seen moving west on Sixth.”

His Quonset cage rattled, an engine neared. The intrusion woke the fish, which splashed and flopped in their tanks. Gordon found his gun in the darkness and cracked the door an inch. A black van sped toward him, veered right and disappeared behind the building. Tires screeched, and a van door roared open.

He slipped outside and crept along the broken tarmac, his back to the metal wall of the Quonset, gun raised and at the ready.

“Why’d you have to grab the chick, you stupid son-of-a-bitch?”

“We need leverage, man. She’s our get-out-of-town-free card. She’s our helicopter to the Bahamas.”

“You idiot. You think they’re going to give us all that for a fat, useless twat like her? Nobody gives a shit about her.”

Gordon poked his head around the corner and drew back, like a life-sized whack-a-mole. No ski masks, gloves off. Three guys, just like dispatch said. Two blondes who looked alike, brothers or something maybe. The idiot had long, dark hair. Didn’t see the girl, but he could hear her whimpering.

“You kidding me, man? They eat that shit up. Gotta save the innocent victims, that’s job one.”

“Yeah? Know what my job one is?”

“What.”

Gordon peered out.

“Get rid of dead weight.” The blonde lifted his gun and fired twice.

The shots hit the long-hair dead centre, blood and tissue sprayed from his back. He dropped to his knees, then fell face-first to the ground.

“And now, we split the take two ways.” The brothers high-fived each other.

Gordon crouched down and ran for cover behind a stack of crates. Gravel scratched under his feet.

“What was that?”

Gordon watched through a crack between two wooden boxes.

The brothers looked in every direction, their guns drawn. A cat jumped from the Dumpster and meowed. One man snickered. “Shit.” He raised his gun and shot at the animal. The bullet ricocheted off the Dumpster. The cat hissed and rocketed into the darkness.

The other man reached up and set his gun on top of the van. “Time to dump the excess baggage. Grab her feet. We’ll toss her in the river.” He leaned into the van, dragged Anna out and yanked her to her feet. She came into full view under the dim flood light. Dark hair, long and wavy, mouth covered with duct tape, eyes swollen with tears.

Gordon stood and stared over the crate, caught off guard by her beauty, by the soft curves of her body.

“Not so fast, Jimmy.” He pushed Anna to the ground. “Let’s have some fun first. Blow off a little steam.” He popped open the button of his pants and undid the fly.

Anna shook her head and screamed into the tape.

Gordon ducked behind the crate. The blood rose in his cheeks and pounded in his veins. “Not on my watch, you sorry little bastards.” He did the whack-a-mole quick peek, then scurried behind a line of empty oil drums.

“Have your fun. I’ll pass on the fattie.” Jimmy sat on the van floor and unzipped a duffel bag. “Woot, baby bro. Should’ve done a bank sooner. There’s gotta be ten Gs here.”

Gordon slipped around the light’s shallow aura and squatted in the shadow of the Dumpster.

Anna squirmed on the ground, thrashed her head side to side, kicked at baby bro’s legs. She was a fighter.

“Stay still, you fucking bitch.” Baby bro pushed her legs apart with his feet and kneeled in front of her.

Gordon jumped out from behind the Dumpster and fired. The recoil was low, but he hadn’t pulled the trigger in years. The bullet went high, sailed right over the van and pinged against the Quonset.

“What the hell?” Jimmy ducked inside the van.

Anna screamed into her muzzle.

Gordon aimed and shot again, caught baby bro in the shoulder and sent his body flying off of Anna.

“Jimmy! Jimmy, I’m hit.”

Jimmy’s arm appeared from inside the van, his gun trained at the Dumpster. Gordon dived behind the garbage bin as five shots glanced off the steel, their hollow reverberations shaking the night.

Gordon pointed his gun at the ground and crouched, jogged to the far side of the van. He sidled up to the driver’s window and peered in. The silhouette of Jimmy’s thick skull was framed in the van door. May as well have had a target painted on his stupid head.

The faint wail of sirens drifted onto the property.

Gordon bided his time, watched the pattern of Jimmy’s head bobs, his duck and covers. Gordon stood to his full six-foot-four and trained his gun on the target, timed his breath to his heartbeat and silenced his lost confidence. He squeezed the trigger.

The bullet pierced the glass, a perfect circular hole with hairline cracks emanating from its heart. A chunk of skull flew off the back of Jimmy’s head. Blood, black in the darkness, sprayed the inside of the van and stained the ground next to Anna’s flailing legs.

“Jimmy!” The brother crawled to the side of the van. The siren calls grew louder, closer. Red and blue lights flashed and bounced off the black van.

Gordon walked around the front of the van, his gun trained on baby bro, and shot him in the leg.

Baby bro screamed, grabbed his leg, turned to Gordon, one arm over his face.

“Now’s your chance you sick bastard.” Gordon raised the gun again.

“Don’t shoot me, please, please don’t shoot. I won’t touch her, I promise.”

“Too late.” Gordon jerked the gun toward the darkness beyond the trees. “Go on. Run. Run now. Maybe I’ll shoot you. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll just pop one in your sorry dick so you’ll never rape again.” He held the muzzle to baby bro’s forehead. “Or maybe I’ll just send you off to be with your brother.”

Piss pooled on the ground and trickled toward Gordon’s feet. “Well, at least you lived up to your name, baby.” He pulled the trigger. It let out the pitiful click of an empty magazine. “It’s your lucky day. I’ll let the cops deal with you.” Gordon underhanded his gun into the Dumpster, scooped Anna into his arms, stepped over the body of the dark-haired idiot, and set Anna on a crate. He sat beside her, peeled the tape from her mouth.

Her eyes never left his. Beautiful, wide-set, dark eyes framed by a plump face with the most perfect lips. Did she really smell of green apples? He must be losing it.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Gordon. Sorry for the stench.”

She laid her head against his shoulder. “I don’t smell anything.”

 

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

JoAnne Simson February 26, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Good story, Julie. It sure had me going! I’d say submit it!

Reply

Julie Frayn February 27, 2014 at 5:23 pm

Thanks JoAnne! I already submitted it. If I’m one of the top five in my heat I get to go to round 2. Will find that out on March 24!

Carolyn Frayn March 3, 2014 at 11:24 am

Sooooo glad you bothered, it was such a good read, surprising, uncomfortable, twisty good… 😀 xo

Reply

Julie Frayn March 3, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Uncomfortable, I like that… Good to make the reader squirm a bit :)

Carolyn Frayn March 3, 2014 at 1:56 pm

Damn straight!! and you do it well… ♥

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