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.

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12 thoughts on “Neon Noir

  1. You tell this in such a great voice and the characters have enough little idiosyncrasies that they are very realistic. The duck phobia is brilliant! I must admit, I’m slightly confused about what happened at the end but you do the scene-setting very well. I really liked the flashing neon light as an ominous and eerie light source.

    1. Thanks Silver. Yeah, I didn’t quite get where I was going with the ending – this is one I might actually come back to someday and see what I can do with another rewrite. But I’m glad you enjoyed parts of it 🙂

  2. Love the play on noir. And I’m ok with not knowing exactly what happened at the end (they couldn’t wait for the gun-for-hire to kill their guy so they did it themselves? She walked into a complete set-up?) because noir detectives are always walking into these odd situations and having to think on their feet. And the fact that her first thought is the paycheck is perfect! Perfect.

    1. I always look forward to your comments, Nate. You seem to “get” me and therefore make a great barometer of whether or not I’m communicating the story I think I am, in the way I think I am. Every writer needs a reader like that! Thank you so much.

      It’s sort of uncanny how you pick up on things. Silver is right that the ending is too ambiguous (bad planning and word-count management on my part.) Where I was going with the story would have taken about another 100 words – she had been hired to scare the dead guy but he arrived early and the brothers accidentally killed him. The last line was always going to be the last line. When I ran out of room and time I settled on this ending – thinking that noir detectives are always walking into ambiguous situations and that it just might work if I left it hanging. And you got that !

      PS Don’t ever be “nice” to me. If it’s bad or doesn’t work I want to know! (Not that I think you would do that — but just sayin’)

  3. My thoughts:
    There’s a lot about the ducks considering that has nothing to do with the job.

    You put some casual language in a paragraph at the beginning (cuppa) and seemingly no where else.

    Should I know the significance of her having “Jerry’s gun”?

    I’m still not clear what happened. The client knew his brother’s girlfriend had another man and knew that the man would be coming by that night? If so, why is the client keeping his brother in the dark about the whole thing? Or does he? She addresses them both with “Listen, you guys, I know why you brought me here.” But just before that, the brother is asking her what she’s doing there.

    I’m not sure the logistics of the gun shot make sense. The other guy has a gun pointed at the brother, but when the client jumps them both the gun barrel twists around 180° and shoots the person holding the gun? Seems unlikely. Seems like it would be knocked to the side from the force of the client’s motion.

    You explain that the neon sign is hanging outside the window twice.

  4. Hey Nate, thanks for going back to take a look at the longer version. This is one I really felt I needed a fresh eye on and I was right, your comments are right on target and a couple touch on things I totally missed. I’ll let you know when I’ve reworked it again – although you’ve already done yeoman service 🙂 I have not read Meagan Abbott but she is now on my list! Thanks again for so generously giving me your time and advice.

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