Saturday, January 1, 2011

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.”

***

11 comments:

Evan Lewis said...

Great stuff, R.L. The voice rings true. Do you have a secret identity as a street person?

Joyce said...

Great story. I was really hoping he'd be quick about his double-check, but just when you think the cops will be slow... Nuts. Love the suspense and the character.

ABSOLUTELY*KATE said...

Damn ... that old return to the scene of the crime time ... and here I'd thought all was safe in the green bean casserole. Best dumpster descrips I've read but this liner note really brought out the smile-smirk:

"He’s unmistakable. Ricky Cagney, wannabe big time hustler, real life small time creep." Nice tough write. ~ Absolutely*Kate

Jeffrey Culver said...

Christmas on the mean streets. Nice characterization and fine imagery. Enjoyed the end too!

Alan Griffiths said...

Tough, authentic and Noir. Great stuff, R.L.

R L Kelstrom said...

Thanks for the comments. Maybe I was a street person in another life. Glad ya'll liked the characterizations and green bean casserole.

Col Bury said...

Cool noir with great imagery and a unique voice.

ABSOLUTELY*KATE said...

Oh man - the green bean casserole made the show!

Paul D. Brazill said...

A TASTY bit of hardboiled!

kassandra333 said...

Great story! I just kept hoping the narrator wouldn't get caught. The ending worked well because I so much wanted him to have a life. Could this be a longer piece?
--Kassandra

R L Kelstrom said...

Thanks for reading and commenting. K-He just had to get caught- in Noir nice guys finish last. I have another street story in Patti's Sweet Dreams challenge. I have about ten more shorts in various stages of completion that I need to start sending out.