Neon Noir

Neon Valet Parking
Neon Valet Parking from Flickr Tadson Bussey

The days of the week lined up like buckets, ready to catch whatever fell in. Most weeks it was nothing much. This week it looked like it could be something else.

My morning started out fairly busy for a Monday – lost dogs, a wandering grandma, husband philanderer….still, nothing out of the ordinary. But by lunch time I figured I needed more sleep, I needed a cold beer, and I needed to hire a secretary. What I had were stiletto heels, crimson red lipstick, and a hat with a stinking cute little black veil. I put them all on and headed for the door. On the way out I grabbed Jerry’s gun.

The new client wanted to meet in the park. Ok by me. He said he’d be on the bench by the duck pond.

I hate ducks. But – probably I could avoid the little bastards. The client wanted to talk romance. Just what I needed on a Monday morning. I wondered why I had only downed one cuppa java as I wandered through the park avoiding ducks and looking for the client. Sure enough he was sitting at the Duck Pond. Or at least someone was.

I wandered over and threw some corn in the water. The little misbegotten freaks converged on it immediately and swallowed half the pond whole in order to consume it all. The guy on the bench laughed.

“You want to sit?” he asked.

I sidled over and sat at the far end of the bench. “You wanted to meet?” I muttered.

“I have a job – for someone who thinks romance stinks,” he said.

“That would be me,” I responded and emptied the bag of corn at my feet.

Big mistake. Dozen of the little bastard ducklings swarmed around me – some of them even stepped on me with their hideous nugatory webbed feet. I kept shuddering and pretending I wasn’t.

“I need someone to do a job. Tonight,” my contact breathed.

“What kind of job?”

“My brother….a dare – you want the job I give you the details.”

I thought about it for a minute. “Yeah, sure,” I said.

“Let’s walk,” he said.

* * * * *

After our conversation I felt relieved. Almost guilty even. This would be too easy. Still, it was what the client wanted to pay for and who am I to judge? I thought the guy was as nuts as a pair of yodeling monkeys but I liked him.

I rolled into the Oxley Hotel lobby at exactly 7:08 as planned. Punched the elevator button for the 5th floor and settled in for the slow rise. At room 503 I knocked briefly and wasn’t surprised when the door drifted open underneath my knuckles. The client and his brother sat stiffly on the sofa. There was blood on the floor in front of them.

I came in gun drawn and a hideous snarl making a mockery of my face. “Who the hell are you two,” I demanded and knocked the brother’s chin with the business end of my gun.

He responded appropriately and I winked at my client. Seemed we were headed down the right path.

“I’m looking for Jon Jacob Joseph Jones,” I declared and dared them to snicker under the ferocity of my eyes. “You know where I could find him?”

“NO,” my client said and motioned towards the door. His glance back to the blood-stained carpet told me something had gone wrong.

“What do you want him for?” the brother asked.

“Murder?” I hazarded a guess. “His.”

The two brothers exchanged a glance. I walked farther into the darkened room and took up a position by the window. The room was lighted only by the incremental flashes of neon from a sign hanging just outside the hotel window. Red, white, green…red, white, green….the lights flashed their message.

“Listen you guys,” I started. “I know why you brought me here. Someone has to take the fall. Because there must have been something deep inside you from the very start that let you do this thing, but there’s always been something deep inside me that would never let me do it, – and would never let me be a party to it.”

The brother turned to my client, “Do you have any idea what she is talking about?” he asked.

“Not a clue.”

The neon flashed. We all turned to look out the window. I decided to try again.

“Tell me about it,” I snarled.

The brother broke first.

“We never planned it!” his voice was as shaky as a glass of gin on a teetotaler’s tray. “The guy shows up and says he’s in love with my girl. Wants to marry her! Tells me to bow out of the picture.”

My client interrupted with a cough. “The guy shows up half an hour early and brings a gun with him,” he says. He gives me a look.

“What do you mean early?” the brother asked. I cut him off.

“So what did you tell the swell? You bow out on your girl?”

“Hell, no! I told him to get lost, that I loved her and if anybody was marrying her it wasn’t going to be him!”

I looked at my client and nodded. “So he bought it,” I said.

“Yeah but, then the guy pulled a gun. We didn’t talk about guns so I told him to put it away.” The client wiped a hand over his face which was sweating like a pig on safari.

“So I jumped him,” the brother said. “Tried to get it away from him.”

“Then I jumped both of them – I didn’t plan for anyone to get hurt,” my client said. “The gun went off – damn fool had even loaded it! He went down, dropped dead on that spot,” he said pointing to the bloodstain.

“Where is he now?” I asked

“Closet.”

I opened the closet door and peeked in. He was lying in a fetal position, still clutching the gun with both hands. Dead as a door nail, all right.

I looked back at the brothers. They were arguing in whispers. I guessed the jig was up.

“Either one of you touch the gun?” I asked.

“No – I had him in a stranglehold and genius here tackled both of us.”

“So now what?” my client asked.

“Now we leave.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it. It was an accident – no need to be part of it, that just gets messy.”

I started for the hallway. “Leave separately. Unseen by management – don’t walk out through the lobby. And for Christ’s sake don’t tell anybody about this!”

At the door I paused.

“One more piece of advice, gents. Don’t meddle with romance – it never works out.” I looked at the brother. “And if you really love her – marry the dame.”

The stairwell was right around the corner. The window on the landing looked out over the neon sign. Red, white, green.

I wondered if I would still get paid.

Unusual Harvest

Demeter mourning Persephone by Evelyn de Morgan 1906
Demeter mourning Persephone by Evelyn de Morgan 1906

“I’ve come to love the silence,” she thought and immediately felt surprise. When had that happened and how was it even possible?

She, who would give everything in the world for just one more hour of her daughter’s laughter, how could she have come to relish silence? She remembered the squeals of delight which echoed off the palace walls and bounced up and down the scale of glee. She remembered also the hasty whispers of innocent secrets, the growl of tantrums, the breaths of wishes now left unfulfilled. Oh to hear any of those sounds again instead of all this – nothing! How had she come to love the silence?

Perhaps she had grown weary of the sound of weeping. Her own tears flowed silently. But the cook, the dove-keeper, the maids and footmen, the coach driver and the stable boys – even the palace guardsmen all wept loudly and long. When she could stand it no longer she sent them out again, searching. No matter that everyone had searched for days and days after the girl went missing. No matter that she had sat in her window night after sleepless night crooning all the old familiar lullabies in hopes that somehow her child would hear and follow the sound home. No matter, no matter, no matter. Searching was all they had left. So search they would.

It was the end of the following day, just as the all-seeing Sun was dipping towards his bed, when she saw the shadow of a young girl on the edge of the forest. She stared at it for too long before she realized what it was and turned to question the Sun. He had nearly disappeared before she turned back and watched the story play out in shadow form – Persephone picking narcissus, the ground opening and Hades riding forth in his midnight chariot. His shadow seemed darker than all the rest and as he sprang from the chariot and wrapped his arms around the girl it appeared as if he were the forest itself, entangling the girl in his branches. Demeter could not help a startled groan when the tree-man plucked Persephone’s shadowy form from the hillside and carried her down below the earth. Then the Sun set and all was dark, the story finished.

At that moment Despair walked beside her for the first time and she gave up wanting to live.

She had already departed her body when something began to tear inside it. A surge of feeling without a name washed over her. It was stronger than memory, stronger than regret or fear. She recognized it as the pulse of an enforced loss, delivered by the wrenching away of that which she held most dear. And nothing in the world mattered any longer.

She began walking and as she walked the earth died around her.

Grass shriveled, leaves dropped sullenly from the trees and entire fields of crops withered where they stood. Vegetable gardens and beds of flowers became lush with decay and the bubbling streams and giggling brooks grew silent and dark. She did not notice.

She went into the Palace of the Gods and she shut the door behind her.

This is part two of a retelling of the Persephone and Demeter myth which I started last week. You can find the first part – and a brief explanation – here: https://splendidsass.wordpress.com/2014/09/10/six-little-seeds/

Six Little Seeds

persephone-jpg
She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen the stars. Sometimes, when she was trying to forget all she had left behind, the memory would bubble up unbidden: a night sky that once stretched above her for as far as she could see, the flicker of stars twinkling hope.

She sees herself there now, a small figure standing between the ocean and the forest, gazing upwards at the emerging stars. Here is the palace of the gods over which the mountains rise in graceful beneficence. Here are the lush fields and flourishing forests, providing both home and sustenance for all the creatures who walk the land. Here also is the constant push and pull of the sea in all of its blue serenity. There is such peace in these memories of home.

In this place – no, in the memories of this place – lie everything which means happiness to her. In the calls of birds and the echoes of their music; in the tang of both salt air and pine trees as well as in the taste of cinnamon and pomegranate and honey.

From outside the palace by the sea she hears her mother’s voice calling her name. Deep night falls inside the castle as she snuggles close beside her mother, drifting into sleep. She will remember this later when trying to keep herself alive: falling asleep one last time in her mother’s warmth beneath the open window, in the light of the stars.

She wakens early to accept her fate on a day misty with spring. There is a hint of lilac in the salt air. Her mother sleeps late and so she eats alone at the little table in the kitchen under the watchful eye of the cook.

I’m going to the cove to play with the naiads,” she tells the older woman who sputters a protest ending in a chuckle.

Down the hillside she runs, past the koi pond and the garden which bursts with tiny new green shoots and onto the sandy shore of the cove where her friends wait, splashing in the salty spray sent up by little waves.

By midday the sky has opened a little; a thin sun shines; clouds skim. She decides to return to the palace for the midday meal and promises the naiads to return soon after.

When she climbs the hill she sees a glimmer of white on the edge of the forest and wanders closer in hopes of finding narcissus to gift her mother.

As she approaches the patch of flowers something rumbles from deep in the earth, a sickening sort of grinding and then everything lurches wildly, whips back, lurches more wildly still. The trees start flinging themselves to the ground and she turns to flee, to dive free onto open ground and clutch it, as if riding the back of a whale. Time elongates. Three minutes become a lifetime.

When the jolting ends a rift has swallowed a widening V of ground which disappears into a dark cavernous hole. And from the depths of that dark hole spring forth two black horses pulling a midnight chariot carrying a dark rider from the underworld.

He sits opposite her now, these many months later.

No light, no light in your bright blue eyes,” she thinks as he presents her with a bowl of fruit. Her favorite, a pomegranate, rests on top.

Be sure to eat the seeds,” he urges. “They are eternally special.”

The above is my retelling of the beginning of the Persephone myth, written for the Speakeasy Prompt at Yeah Write.  Unfortunately I missed that deadline while searching for the perfect image to accompany the story.  When Christine suggested I post this in the Moonshine grid I jumped at the chance. Be sure to visit Yeah Write Speakeasy to read all the great stories which followed the same prompts that inspired this story.

For those not familiar with the myth here is a thumb nail version:

Persephone was the daughter of Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest. One day while she was playing, Hades, Lord of the Underworld, saw her and fell in love with her. He took her away to his underworld kingdom and although Demeter searched and searched she could not find her lost child.

Broken-hearted, Demeter wandered the earth, until the all-seeing Sun revealed what had happened. Demeter was so angry that she withdrew herself in loneliness, and the earth ceased to be fertile.

Zeus realized this could not continue and sent a messenger down to Hades to make him release Persephone. Hades grudgingly agreed, but gave Persephone a pomegranate. When she later ate of it, it bound her to the underworld for one month of the year for each seed which she ate. The other months she was allowed to stay with her mother.

While Persephone was in Hades, Demeter refused to let anything grow and winter began. Each year when Persephone emerged from the underground, life would return to the world.

Goodbye Summer Break

I had not actually planned to take a month or so off……but things happen.  Real Life intervened and with much to deal with unexpectedly I decided to put Splendid Sass on the back burner until I felt I had regained some control of my time.  During my little break I found I missed blogging – and missed reading the blogs of my new friends – so it is good to be back!

Also happy to be headed into my favorite season – Autumn!

Decomposing by Suzanne on Flickr

Supplemental Retirement Income

Jep - the white weasel
Jep – the white weasel

He waited for an hour.

Seated on the sidewalk in front of the supply shop he had a good view of everyone approaching long before they arrived. He had found that to be a very good thing in his new line of work. Even if the concrete was hard on old bones.

Passers-by made an effort to walk around him – no one wanted to get too close to an old man in worn clothes slumped against the front of the building. He wore a rumpled hat to ward off the solar reflections and caressed a faded backpack every so often as if to make sure it was still there. Next to him lay a dead weasel.

After an hour a well dressed woman crossed the wayfare, weaving between the hovercraft and only once actually touching the surface. The dead weasel sat up and watched her.

She approached the old man and looked both ways before addressing him.

“Do you have it?” she asked.

“Depends on who’s askin’,” he answered.

She sneered just the slightest bit. “I am,” she said.

“Who’re you?”

“The person you have been waiting for.” Her exasperation escaped in a sigh.

The old man studied her silently then glanced down at the weasel sitting beside him.

“Play dead,” he ordered and the weasel dropped dead with a grin.

“Behind you,” he said to the woman, but she took too long to turn and they got her before she could become invisible.

The leader of the pack bent down to face the old man on his level. “What did she say to you?” he demanded.

“Who?”

“The agent – the humanoid we just killed. What did she want?”

“She asked if I had any spare change,” the old man said.

The android stared at him. “Your weasel is dead,” he said.

There was a disturbance farther along in the marketplace and the droids left him in order to deal with it. The dead weasel sat up and chattered at him.

“I told you, learn English or don’t bother,” the old man said and turned to peer into the window of the shop behind him. It was well-lighted, neatly organized and oddly deserted for the weekend before school started.

A small group of children were gathered around the apothecary counter at the back where the robot in charge was rearranging an assortment of poisons. Two middle-aged men were comparing turret grips and photon pipelets underneath a banner — Sale! Thieves Supplies, 33% Off! — and a mother and son stood in the school supply aisle examining pyro cylinders and pulsar navigators. No one looked like a prospective contact from the Undercover Retirement Mage Association.

When the old man looked back out to the street he noticed the weasel had disappeared. A rustling from the backpack gave away its location.

“Git out of there, Jep. I told you we ain’t got any more food until we sell this thing – Hey! Wait jist a mintue you golderned varmint!”

He yanked the weasel out of the backpack by its tail, only just preventing it from sinking its teeth into the large turnip clutched between its paws.

“I told you a million times – this here is a enchanted turnip and we ain’t eaten’ it – we are sellin’ it!”

The weasel spit at him then looked just beyond his shoulder, opened its eyes very wide and dropped dead in his hand. The turnip plunked back into the backpack.

The old man turned in time to see the androids approaching again and rose hastily to his feet.

“Guess it’s time to move on,” he muttered. “Where else in this god-infested galaxy do you suppose someone is willing to buy an enchanted turnip?”