Saturday, January 1, 2011

Jingle Nelle, Jingle Nelle


By Absolutely*Kate


You didn't just get an off-white vellum invitation with the fancy schmancy deckled edges to come deck the halls with the hoity toity high hats at Fortunato's Supper Club slipped under your doorway, y'know. I needed to be minglin' and jinglin' like I belonged at that ritzy bash on Tonawanda Street come Christmas Eve night or someone I didn't want to was gonna get hurt. Real bad hurt. The kind that don't leave no shadows no more.

So I had to call in all the markers on all the darb tricks I could trade of any hustled angle to be made. I'm Nelle, Nelle Callahan, gal gumshoe of some gumption, some say. Me? I don't say as much as some do, but what I do do is work all the angles til their more prominent points stick sharp in my noggin. That's when a crime scene unfolds itself keen, and the coppers can pitch their pinch. Man oh man, this time though, I had to be slick. Slick and quick. Word warbled from the Canary last night, was a hit was coming down smack dab in the midnight rendition of "Oh Holy Night". Cripes. A Holy Nativity execution. Joseph, Mary and Jesus, what'll they think up next?

Doesn't take three wise guys with half a starring brain to figger the sacrilege a few extra Garbinos nosing around this gritty city without pity by the bay have stunk up lately. It all started at the Flamingo -- yeah, the Vegas dream, the cha-ching, cha-ching, but that's a long story and I only got a short span. Lemme make some calls. Cop a seat. I'll get back to you.

***
"Lena's the headliner? Really? You're not gaming my gam? That star siren is gonna croon "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" during the last surf and turf seating? Yeah, sure Benny, I can do backup. I soitently can. Stuff your chucklin' Ben, I can do sultry, I can! You just haven't been in spiffy joints at the most fortuitous times to feel my sultry coming on. But it can. Oh, it does."

With a chuckle gone guffaw, "Well then dollface, you got yourself a gig. Be there at 7 square and you're in like Jake."



A jangled groan dangled the end of the phone. Benny imagined the shatter-clatter heard next to be Nelle's cup o'joe going saucer/cup over the edge. Shame if the dame marred up that old mahogany desk any more. That piece was heirloom, priceless. If the drawers could mumble. But that numbskull of an ex-partner Jake shook this dame bad tryin' to shake her down. Detectives shouldn't oughta get shook. Nope, not by a long shot in Benny's book. That's why he kept an extra eye or four on the lookout for her. He'd promised her Pop in the old days at the precinct, and the old days were always somethin' to hold onto, somethin' to respect. "Whoa there Nelly girl. Sorry. Didn't mean to say his name. Shake it off kid," Benny gruffed, but not all that rough. "You ain't got no lollygagging time."

***
Amazing what tinsel can do to a toddling town. Up, down, all around ~ shiny, sparkly and jolly as promises waiting to jingle, the swanky ballroom at the Fortunato Supper Club was hollied to the hilt with silver and gilt. There was no guilt backstage where Nelle jiggled body parts to fit her bodice part where jingly rhinestones would shake their shimmy like Lena's sister Kate showed her. She'd sultry her part behind the songbird. Piece o'crumb cake. But now, here . . . silver shimmeries all adjusted, she had the advantage of real solid vantage from stage door left. Heavens to Murgatroyd -- from behind the gold fringe of the red velvet curtain she could eyeball the real floor show setting up now . . . Her mind met her suspects ~

There. That's Jack Rhinegold. Fresh and frisky outta San Quen. Hell on a pistol up close and personal, and rumour smirks it -- at fifty paces cold. Could be him leanin' his leer into that chorusline cutie's cleavage. Could be. Or the button could be the money guy. They always surmise where to bury the bodies so as not to mess up the manicure. Word had it the big cheese could be one of Lansky's boys. He'd surely have the means. Watch his eyes Nelle. Read his play-by-play. 'Member how Pop taught ya, "The eyes show their truths and spit their lies." Ain't it the truth. Best to keep my peepers on this creeper's.

WAIT! Holy Cow! Who's the dandy comin' down Fortunato's red and green spiffed staircase now? Arm in arm with a Sheba wannabe all winter-whited in fake fur and sparky zircon. Well, well, well, if it isn't my jerk Jake, bein' jostled by none other than the new thug in town. The youngest Garbino boy. Danny. Brains behind the operation if they'd only give him the chance. Danger lurking if he took it. A two-timer and a doubletimer. Hmmm, it was all addin' up.

"NELLE! D'ya hear me? We're ON!"

***

Hangin' back with Lena's sister Kate, backslinging backup croons to holiday tunes, the view lookin' over the togged-to-the bricks hoofers was in the groove, swell. I scanned for my man, the mark of the hour. "All is calm, all is bright", I warbled tender, soft and mild. Then I saw him. The man I knew as a child. My brother. No other. State legislator Patrick R. Callahan gladhanding from the corner table, near the bar. Pat had parted ways with Pop when he'd gone too political. Groping fingers in too many pockets was bound to not get a guy the heartiest of handshakes. And that kinda reaching out irked a mob not fondly meddled into. This not-so-silent night was waitin' to happen.

What I didn't expect to happen was the single strap fall down from Lena's knockout jet black gown. One note too high, one arm too flung and there her left breast barely hung. Jostling fellers in the front row to rich rubes three rows back rose to the unappreciation of their dates for much better ogling. Kate lost no bum's rush in elbowing the push to step me up to the open mike. You had to do these things in my line of undercover work. Tight spots come even under shining spots. Shows must go on. That's just how the biz is.

Trixie, my silver derringer, was still pressed tight to my derriere. Amazing what a glitzy swathe of garland can do to protect a hip gal around her holidays. I nodded to Joey the jazzy bandleader, found the next note, carried on the tune. It was clearly comin' on midnight high and I wasn't yet sure how this scene was going to shake down, or who I'd have to take down. Best to keep my peepers peeled. Something would be revealed. Somethings usually are.

THERE! His chair squeaked motion to sudden commotion right on our "dear saviour's" cue: "Long lay the world in sin and error pining". Yeah, it was Lansky's guy and I glared him in the eye, clutching the best weapon I already had in the clutch. The open mike's reverb revved as I screeched, "WATCH OUT BAD GUY! SANTA DON'T LIKE NO POLITICIANS BUMPED OFF IN MY ACT!"

The shooter turned to the stage. God I could see his rage. So I turned up the volume and vamped, "YOU BETTER WATCH OUT ~ YOU BETTER NOT POUT ~ ~ " Joey caught my drift, winked and brought in the band with a whole new rift. Sammy backstage reangled his audience spot. What a mess. This was gonna be no clean getaway.

In the center of the white damask round tables there arose such a clatter when Chief Gus Donovan knocked over Mrs D's chicken divan platter, standing up, the to better see what was the matter. Without hesitation, he signaled his boys in blue in back. My big brother meanwhile, shunned the courage he'd always lacked. He tabled his decision to stand tall and dove under his damask.

***
The jig was up. I remember Joey, wrappin' the night with a wicked rendition of "Jingle Bell Rock". On a Fortunato matchbook, he slipped me his number, but heck, I already had Joey's number. I remember Jake, leavin' his Suzy starlet babe sputterin', comin' up and comin' on to me with that same simmer-steam to his old blue eyes, actin' surprised. "That really You Nelle? Silver shimmers curve you crazy Callahan. Y'know, I've been meaning to call and -- "

Jake was cut off for a hundred number of reasons I won't go into to keep the Christ in Christmas when the hand on my back turned me firmly around. And I remember Patrick, standing there -- tall, lean, but quaking much too much in his hotsy totsy white wingtips to appear any more, threatening or mean. "Uh, Sis, I owe you one."

"No Paddie, we're square. That one was to remember Pop. You have yourself a merry little Christmas. Hear?"

And I heard him exclaim, as I sashayed outta sight, "You haven't heard the last of me Nelle -- No, no, not tonight!"

***
T O B E C O N T I N U E D ?
Well ain't that the way crime goes? Some folks win, some have woes. Some shadowy street not named Desire, I'm imaginin' you and me are gonna meet up again. We'll see how that goes. Til then, I'm Nelle, Nelle Callahan, wishin' you a merry little Christmas too.

***

Absolutely*Kate is writer, designer and promoter/publisher of the to be sailing HARBINGER*33, and creates theatre for the mind AT THE BIJOU ~ where writers' raves become readers' faves. She believes in believers, the magic 'neath the shadows of noir and moxie.

Room at the Inn

By R L Kelstrom


Red on white glowed, holiday festive, in the halogen alley light. Blood on ice behind the mission. A big splash near the back door and a wide trail to the dumpster. My second thought is call the cops. I act on my first thought instead- check it out myself.

It’s not like I hate the cops but they don’t do their best work in this part of town. Even the few who mean well never get the truth out of anyone they question. All of us here have something to hide.

I get to the dumpster, being careful to stay on the hard flat parts where I won’t leave much of a footprint. I pull out a stray plastic bag and use it to lift the lid. Yeah, I gave my gloves away yesterday. What can I say, a sucker’s born every minute and in one of those minutes my mama had me.

Sure enough, the body’s there, lying on the fixings of Christmas dinner like a big turkey. Carved like one too. Blood indistinguishable from cranberry sauce. Even with the cuts on his face, I recognize him. He’s unmistakable. Ricky Cagney, wannabe big time hustler, real life small time creep.

Without thinking I can name off half a dozen folks who’d want him dead. When I’m through with that six I come up with a dozen more. There are at least four ex-girlfriends who’d love a little payback for injuries inflicted. The numerous drug dealers he stiffed or robbed would like a piece of him. And who knows how many snitched-on co-conspirators would happily take him down. Even his own sister would probably smile as her knife sliced through his flesh.

I fumble to unzip his coat, plastic bag still in use. The wallet’s there in the breast pocket. Not a robbery, but better if it looks like one. I slip it in my own pocket and roll the body, looking underneath for the knife. Damn, he, she or they were sloppy. The bloody weapon lies half imbedded in the remnants of the green bean casserole. I find another plastic bag, drop the knife in it and pocket it with the wallet.

Seeking anything incriminating, I sort through the rest of the holiday dinner refuse. Only a comb and nail clipper seem out of place in the stuffing and gravy. They join the other items in the bag in my pocket. I roll Ricky on his back, like I found him, satisfied that I made it harder for the cops to find their culprit.

******

The blood swirls down the sink. I feel a bit like Lady Macbeth washing again and again to get rid of it all. I dab at my sleeves with a wet paper towel. This coat is doomed to hit the trash along with the bag in my pocket. Luckily I have a few bucks to get a new one at Goodwill. I smile my thanks to the lady manning the desk at the warming center and get rid of her by claiming an overflowing toilet. A quick punch of 911 and I’m on the line giving directions to a cold dead body.

The sirens should be announcing the arrival of the cops, but as every quiet second goes by I get more anxious thinking I’ve missed something important. “Frosty the Snowman” plays on the radio. Colored lights twinkle in the building across the street. I have to check. It’ll take just a moment.

******

My stomach turns as I pull up the dumpster’s lid. Knowing what’s there sickens me now as it didn’t before. I glance at the body as I turn it. Ricky’s mouth pops open like he’s smiling at me, a big toothy grin. I push around the Christmas detritus, nearly snagging a needle I hadn’t spotted before.

“Hands up! Turn around slow. Real slow.”

“It’s not me. I called the cops after I found the body.” I lift my hands and turn, because that’s better than getting shot.

“They all say that.” The man in blue nods back the second cop behind him. “Look in the dumpster. I’ll keep an eye on this one.”

I notice the plastic bag I used to open the lid earlier laying on the ice inches from the first cop’s foot. I had missed something.

“Boy, this is sick.” Cop number two is gagging near the dumpster. “Damn, if it isn’t Ricky One-ear. Somebody finally done him in.”

I gulp down my own vomit as I think of the things stuffed in my pocket, the blood on my sleeves.

“You did the world a service, bud.” Cop one pulls the cuffs off his belt as a distant choir sings “Blue Christmas.” “But you guys never learn. You always return to the scene of the crime.”

***

Not Even a Rat

Happy New Year. Here's the first DSD post of 2011 as we head into the final week of the flash fiction challenge.

Not Even a Rat

By J.E. Seymour


Kevin hadn’t thought about it being the night before Christmas until he pulled his Jaguar into the driveway of the little house in Briarwood. There were two cars already there, a new red Camaro and an old yellow Ford station wagon with faded wood decals. The hint came in the form of a grouping of ugly plastic characters. Looked like Santa, a snowman and two huge candles. It was still daylight, so he couldn’t tell if they would light up at night, but he was assuming they would. He shuddered, stepped out of the car and walked to the door, glancing at the brown lawn. No snow yet, maybe that was why he hadn’t thought about Christmas. As he rang the doorbell he heard voices inside, arguing.

“Yeah?” The guy who opened the door wore an unbuttoned flannel shirt and jeans with holes in the knees. He had on a pair of untied yellow work boots that Kevin doubted had ever seen physical work. He pushed the long hair out of his dark eyes, looked up at Kevin and sniffed as if he had a cold.

“Who is it?” asked the other arguing voice. She was carrying a baby and had another small child clinging to her leg. Her dyed-blond hair spilled just past her shoulders and was feathered in a ten-year old style.

A flash of recognition crossed the guy’s face. “Don’t I know you?” he asked. “You’re Duke, right? You work for my cousin Charles.” He pushed the door open. “Come on in.”

Kevin shook his head. “No. I need you to come with me. We’re going for a ride.”

The face changed. “Well, um, I got a party tonight you know, at the Marconi’s. Sherry and I were just discussing baby-sitting, so I can’t go with you right now. Maybe some other time.” His voice trembled as he backed away from the door.

Kevin set his jaw and moved forward, grabbing the young man’s elbow. “Let’s go, Ronnie.” He could hear some group of celebrities singing about Christmas in the background as the toddler started to cry.

“What’s the big deal?” asked Ronnie. “Where we going?”

“We’re going for a ride, that’s all. We need to talk. You’ll be back in plenty of time for your party.” Kevin patted Ronnie on the back, checking for a gun, as he guided him towards the driveway.

“You can’t do this!” Sherry screamed. “Ronnie is Charles’s cousin. We’re family for God’s sake. We’ve got two little kids! It’s Christmas!”

Kevin was doing his best to put the kids and Christmas out of his mind as he walked Ronnie to the car.

The woman stepped onto the front steps, still screaming. “I know who you are! I know what you are, you piece of shit! You fucking murderer.” She paused for breath. “I’ll call the cops!”

Kevin stopped. “If you don’t want your kids to be orphans, you better get her to shut up.”

“Sherry, it’s okay. Honest. Just be quiet. You’re making a scene.”

She backed into the house and slammed the door.

Kevin motioned to the driver’s side of the little red convertible. “Ever drive one of these?”

“No.”

“This should be a treat then. Consider it a Christmas present.”

Ronnie slid into the seat and started the engine as Kevin climbed in. “What’s going on?”

Kevin didn’t reply. His teeth were clenched as he struggled to get the woman and kids out of his mind. He pulled out a Camel and his Zippo. “Turn left here. Get on the parkway.”

“Where we going?”

“North.”

As Ronnie drove, Kevin fished behind the seat and pulled out a fifth of Jack Daniel’s, pushed the paper bag down a bit and took several swallows. They left the highway, turned onto narrower roads, then dirt roads, the last of which led to a padlocked gate.

“This is good, here.”

“What’d I do?”

“You know what you did, you fucking rat. Now get out of my car.” Kevin took a revolver out of the glove box. “Let’s take a walk. Who else was in on this?”

“I don't know.” Ronnie blubbered. “Please don’t shoot me. Jesus, man, it’s Christmas.”

“These guys tell you about anybody else?”

“No. I just talked to one guy. I gave him names, dates, places and he kept me out of jail. There was nothing real big. I tried to feed them useless information. But I couldn't go to jail, Duke, I got kids.”

Kevin was working hard at blotting the kids out of his mind. “They never mentioned any other squealers, anybody they might have inside?”

“He never talked about stuff like that. I don’t know if there’s anyone else.” Ronnie wiped the sweat off his forehead with his sleeve. “I’m cold, Duke, can’t we go back now?”

“You wear a wire?”

“No. I swear, I never did. They wanted me to. They wanted me to wear one to the party tonight. They told me they needed stuff on tape. But I wouldn't have done it.”

“What'd they have on you?”

“I got caught selling coke about six months ago.”

“Let’s walk off the trail here.” Kevin motioned to the left. They walked into the woods, brown leaves crunching under a thin coating of snow. “Okay.” He pointed at the ground. “Get on your knees.”

Ronnie obeyed. “Come on, you know me, man. I got little kids, Duke. It’s fucking Christmas.”

“Well, Merry fucking Christmas to you.” Kevin grabbed Ronnie’s hand, wrapped it around the gun and forced the short barrel into the kid’s mouth. He pulled back the hammer, squeezed the trigger. The noise made him jump. He waited a few minutes, checked for a pulse and walked away.

Back on the trail, he bent over and threw up. When he stood up he was shaking and weak-kneed. He leaned against a tree for a few minutes, waiting to get his legs back, desperate for a drink, trying to drive Ronnie’s kids out of his head.


***
J.E. Seymour lives in a small town in seacoast NH and has had short stories published in three anthologies of crime fiction by New England writers - ?Windchill,? ?Deadfall,? and ?Quarry;? in Thriller UK Magazine, and in numerous ezines, including Shots, Mouth Full of Bullets, Beat to a Pulp and Shred of Evidence. J.E.?s first novel, ?Lead Poisoning? was released by Mainly Murder Press on November 1st, 2010. J.E. is the markets coordinator for the Short Mystery Fiction Society and a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Santa Must Die

Now the final DSD post of 2010! Have a good night folks, and enjoy this story as we head into the last weekend of the DSD flash fiction challenge.


Santa Must Die

By Cormac Brown


Winter is a hard-ass dominatrix on carpenters, and she has been beating on Victor like he owes her money, plus interest. The heavy late fall rains have washed away the last of the season's jobs, and an unusually long and heavy snow have...well, let's just say the Artic Circle has come to Maine. Victor's winter fund that was supposed to have lasted till March is now threatening his vintage nickel collection.

He has taken the miserable job of department store Santa because his ex-wife promised their son a Power Wheels Jeep for Christmas, and she told Victor that he better come through or she’ll get him for the back alimony and child support he still owes.

On the other side of town, Pino grumbles to his bodyguards, "Mistresses suck, and rarely the way you want them to." This mighty Mafia capo is at the mercy of his goomar, Cece. She knows that Pino’s wife goes to Florida for the holidays, but this year she refuses to go to his house.

The disgruntled boss dials his phone and barks, “Mickey? She’s stayin’! Get back here and pick me up!”

"The Mistress won't come to Pino, so Pino goes to The Mistress," whispers Giuseppe to Flavio. Pino sits down with a huff and throws his phone against the wall.

Outside of the department store, Victor is wondering how it all went sideways. Maybe it was the third brat losing his water and wasting Victor’s third pair of Santa pants. Or maybe it was that that yipping little snot of a manager wagging his finger in Victor’s face. Possibly Victor shouldn’t have punched that manager…or the security guard…or the other security guard.

Well, he’ll catch worse from his ex-wife once she finds out he’s been fired. Time to get drunk and Victor will have to get it to go, as no barfly wants to sit next to a urine-soaked Santa during the holidays.

As Mickey pulls up front with the limo, the bodyguards gather around Pino like dogs that want to go for a ride. The capo barks, "Watch my kid!" at Giuseppe and Flavio. He and the others leave before the duo can react. The pair is in a panic, because what they know about parenting wouldn't fill the fortune of a cookie.

“What if he wakes up?” whines Flavio.

“We gotta make sure that it stays quiet,” mutter Giuseppe.

Victor hates to cut through this ritzy neighborhood, but it’s the fastest way home. Damn, all that malt liquor is crushing his bladder. He might as well jump over that wall and whiz in that yard. Who wants to risk getting arrested for public intoxication and indecent exposure?

As Victor signs his name in the snow, he takes in the expanse of the mansion and its grounds. What’s that in the distance? No way. Is that a Power Wheels Jeep on the back porch? Jesus, there are three of them! Surely these rich asshats won’t cry if I take one!

Meanwhile, inside Flavio asks Giuseppe, “Do you see what I see?”

“Yeah, a third-rate Santa is watering the boss’s favorite oak!”

“Look at the balls on this one, he’s coming towards the house!” grunts Giuseppe. “Get on the other side of the sliding door, and we’ll nab him when he gets to the porch.”

Victor cannot believe this, it’s a miracle! The hardest part was getting it over the wall, but Christmas is saved! Christmas…hurts, and like a motherfucker, too! Who or what just hit him? Jesus, it’s some angry goon with a blackjack.

Flavio steps on Victor’s chest, and the words “maim,” “kill,” and “disposal,” swirl around the Mafioso’s brain. “The penalty for stealing from Pino Patriarca, even if it’s kid’s toy, is death,” he mutters.

Giuseppe is about to reach for his 9mm in his coat, when the sliding door opens again. The little nine year-old Pino Jr. chirps, "Where's Papa?"

All three of the men visibly shudder and stiffen. Giuseppe calmly explains, "He’s on his way to the North Pole, Pino Jr, to personally deliver your letter to Santa.”

“Then who is that?” Pino Jr. points at the poor underfoot Victor. Then comes a pause so pregnant it could give birth to quintuplets. Finally, the child says, “Is that Santa?”

Before either henchman can reply, Victor chimes in, “that’s exactly who I am. You didn’t come to the mall today, and I didn’t know that your father was trying to get a letter to me.”

“You weren’t going to kill Santa, were you, Uncle Giuseppe? Please, please tell me that you won’t kill him,” says Pino Jr. with trembling lips.

Victor brightens, “No, no, he was going to help me, Pino Jr.” He musses his hair and whispers, “you see, I’m going to bring you the Xbox Kinect on Christmas morning that you asked for, but I have to take back one of those Power Wheels Jeeps, and give it to a less fortunate child.”

The tears of Pino Jr. evaporate as if little vacuums are in his tear ducts, and his face turns harder than the pearl marble that his ancestors used to mine from the Sicilian quarries. Pino Jr. folds his arms and sneers, “Che cazzata!”

Victor isn’t sure exactly what he said, but he knows by the tone that the kid just called him a bullshitter.

Lui è un bugiardo e lo emana l'odore di urina,” the tyke says flatly.

“He says that ‘you are a liar and you smell like piss,’” Giuseppe translates for Victor.

Pino Jr. glances back coldly and says, “ammazarlo,” before he shuts the glass door.

With that queasy feeling in his stomach, Victor asks Giuseppe, “Just what does ‘ammazarlo’ mean?” His answer comes in the form of a .22 bullet in the back of the head from Flavio.

“I’ll get a tarp from the woodshed,” Giuseppe says. Flavio grins…not over his kill, but in knowing The Boss will be so proud of the chip off the old block.


***

“Cormac Brown” is my pen name. I’m an up-and-slumming writer in the city of Saint Francis and I’m following in the footsteps of Hammett…minus the TB and working for the Pinkerton Agency. Some of my stories have appeared at Powder Burn Flash,Six Sentences, Flash Fire 500, Clarity of Night, Thrillers Killers ‘n’ Chillers, Astonishing Adventures Magazine, Crooked Magazine, Needle Magazine, Dark Valentine Magazine, and Beat To A Pulp. You can find me at Cormac Writes.

A Christmas Carol II (Excerpt)

By Evil Wylie


STAVE ONE

Bob Cratchit sat in the reclining leather chair, surrounded by the spoils of a man whose possessions had grown with the elasticity of his waistline: a bronze elephant statue on the desk; an African mask on the wall; a breed of plant in the corner so exceedingly rare he knew not its name. All of it expensive. All of it interesting. Just not really worth a whole hell of a lot with a .36 calibre Colt Model 1851 Navy revolver inches from his face. The ropes dug into his wrists and threatened to leave permanent damage on the Hong Kong-tailored suit’s cuffs. He could feel the sweat staining the pits of his Italian silk blend shirt; he didn’t even want to think about what blood would do to the shirt.

“You won’t get away with this,” Cratchit said.

“You won’t either,” his adversary countered.

Cratchit’s adversary was clouded in the shadows of the room, lit only by a solitary desk lamp. Cratchit’s eyes darted across the room, but a painful swelling around his eyes hampered his vision; his captor was still too blurry to make out.

“Why won’t I?” Cratchit said.

No answer.

“What won’t I get away with?” Cratchit said again.

No answer.

“I deserve some sort of answer!” Cratchit said. “At least wipe the blood from my eyes? I can’t see you. If you want to negotiate something, it’s only fair that I should be able to see you,” Cratchit pleaded.

“Fair enough,” his captor said, before pulling at the Cratchit’s shirttail and ripping a wide swath from its material. The blood was wiped unceremoniously from his eyes before it was tied around the top of his skull to prevent further leakage. The captor stepped back.

“You--!” Cratchit shrieked upon seeing his captor for the first time.

“Yes: Me,” the captor said. He curled the sides of his mouth up into a frightful smirk. “Now listen carefully, old man: Where. Is. The. Money.”

“You and I, we had a deal,” Cratchit said.

The captor fired a bullet into Cratchit’s kneecap, shattering the bone into powder upon contact. Cratchit howled in pain.

“Wrong answer,” the captor said. “Now one more time: Where. Is. The. Money.”


STAVE TWO

The funeral for Bob Cratchit, one of London’s wealthiest men, was a standing-room only affair. Ebenezer Scrooge, Cratchit’s uncle and long-time business partner, had prepared a speech for the occasion but did not refer to it once. “If it were not for Robert Cratchit, I dare say that I would be the poorest man in all of London. Not poor in moneys, mind you; I would suffer from a poorness of spirit.

“When I first hired Bob as a clerk, I had no idea how profound his effect upon my person would be. I cannot say that he taught me what ‘love’ is, for that is the countenance of a woman’s influence, but I dare say that he taught me the value of benevolence. He adopted this wretched old man into his family and into their hearts I was born again.

“Goodbye, dear friend, and, as his son Timothy has said at every Christmas dinner, God bless us, every one.”

***

While the gravediggers worked to lower the coffin into the ground, Mrs. Cratchit walked the cemetery grounds with Scrooge at her side. “So, what will become of the business?” she said.

“It won’t be long before I join your husband, I’m afraid,” Scrooge said in a matter-of-fact way.

“What about your cousin?” she said.

“Fred?”

“The very same, yes.”

Scrooge shook his head. “While I dearly love my family, there’s not a one of them (including Fred) who has any more business sense than your common cockroach. It’s an awful thing to say, yes, but a true one I’m afraid.”

“Then what will you do?”

There was a long silence between them.

“Tim,” she said.

Scrooge nodded.

“He’s but a boy, only 18 years of age,” Mrs. Cratchit said. He will just be graduating University next summer.”

“I had hoped that he would begin his apprenticeship as a clerk with us immediately upon graduation. Without the proper guidance, those mischievous siblings Ignorance and Want can take over a boy’s head and steer him off course. Tim is good of heart, but a successful counting house needs a captain with the will of steel. I can learn the boy well,” Scrooge said.

A great gust of wind snatched Mrs. Cratchit’s bonnet off of her head. “Good Lord!” she shrieked. She started to take after it, but the hat danced out of her reach and sailed over the tombstones and out of sight. Scrooge caught her arm.

“‘Tis only a hat, my dear,” he said. It was the first time that he had touched a woman in years, and wholly inappropriate thoughts began to fill his head—thoughts that he at once dismissed, of course. Scrooge was an old man now whose loneliness was matched only by his generosity.

Cratchit’s widow looked him squarely in the eyes. “So it is,” she said. In the distance, her son Tim watched them from behind a tree, his eyes filled with rage.

***

After Scrooge had walked Mrs. Cratchit home, he stopped by his office. A police wagon was parked out front, and he suddenly found himself surrounded by law officers. “Can I help you gentlemen?” Scrooge asked.

“I believe you can,” a tall, strapping policeman said. “For starters: What were your whereabouts on the night of Bob Cratchit’s murder?”

Scrooge, being the solitary soul that he was, had no alibi and therefore believed himself to be a dead man even before he was arrested the following week. As he expected, the judge did not set a bail on account of the viciousness of the crime of which Scrooge was accused: The murder of his business partner Robert J. Cratchit. . . .

***

Evil Wylie is the curator of EvilReads, the most evilest publishing site on the Interwebs. New York magazine has called him, “High-handed, condescending, and egomaniacal,” which seems about as apt a description as any. Visit him at www.EvilReads.com or follow @EvilWylie on Twitter.