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News & Features » January 2020 » “A Face in the Crowd” by B.L. Conradis

“A Face in the Crowd” by B.L. Conradis

Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.

This week, a fugitive blows his cover . . .

A Face in the Crowd
by B.L. Conradis
Shaw neighborhood, Washington, DC

Max Renzi was running out of time.

Scurrying through the crowd, his beady eyes scanning over the policemen, the TV reporters, the children clogging the sidewalk, he figured he had an hour, maybe two, before D.C. got too hot for him. Just that morning he’d been tipped off that Ernesto was looking for him, that his men had been asking around. That was all the warning Max needed.

He hadn’t counted on the marathon being that day. Earlier, when he stepped out of his apartment looking for a taxi, duffel bags in hand, he’d found half of Shaw cordoned off. Now, turning the corner onto Rhode Island where the runners were stampeding down the street in their numbered shirts, he couldn’t find a single cab.

On Q Street, he checked his phone and realized it was running out of power.

“Damn.”

As he mulled his options, someone grabbed his arm.

“Going on vacation, Max?”

He turned and saw one of Ernesto’s men leaning over him, smirking.

“Harvey—”

“You’re not so bright, Max. I always knew that about you, but I didn’t think you were this dumb. Stealing right from under Ernesto.”

Max knew there was no point trying to reason. You didn’t reason with guys like him. So he rammed his knee between Harvey’s legs instead.

Harvey cried out and let go. Max bolted, slipping into the crowd. Glancing back, he could see Harvey crumple to the sidewalk. He ducked under the cordon separating the spectators from the street, dodged the runners, and joined the people on the other side of 7th.

Max thought to himself, I gotta be another face in the crowd, that’s all. Until I get to the airport, I just gotta stay invisible.

Scouring the crowd, he spotted an opportunity: someone had left a backpack near the curb. Figuring he could pack some of his things in there, ditch his duffels, and make a quick escape, Max grabbed it.

But when he opened the backpack, he froze.

Inside was some sort of device, like a kitchen appliance, only with wires jutting out of it.

“The hell?”

As he stared at it, a man wearing a grey hoodie grabbed the backpack. “Hey, lay off,” he hissed, shoving Max in the chest. “Get out of here.”

Max shoved back. The two men grappled for a moment, and in the process, the backpack ripped open and its contents clattered to the ground.

Some of the marathon-watchers were staring at them now. Suddenly, one of the women began to shriek.

“It’s a bomb!”

The next few minutes were a blur. Max heard screams, glimpsed people running. He saw the man in the hoodie raise his clenched fist, and felt a sudden force knock him to the ground.

When he came to, several people were crouching over him.

“Hey, you all right?” one guy asked.

Max sat up, saw flashing red lights and policemen.

“That was really brave of you, man,” someone said. “Lucky that thing didn’t go off.”

Max’s vision was still coming into focus when he saw the cameras approaching. A woman holding a microphone was running up to him, pointing.

“That’s the guy! The one who tried to stop the bomber!”

Someone behind her yelled: “Make sure you get a shot of his face! We need his face!”

Max understood then what was happening. In a panic, he got up and pushed through the crowd. But the cameras followed, and the questions began.

“Could you tell us your name?”

“How’d you know the man was planting a bomb?”

“Are the police going to question you?”

Max fumbled for words, pivoted, started walking in another direction. People were staring at him now, some recording him with their phones.

“How does it feel to be a hero?” one woman shouted.

He was panicking now. All he could think about was his face, broadcast across a million screens. And Ernesto, out there somewhere, watching his every move on TV.

Not knowing what else to do, he ran. He told himself not to stop, that he could never stop, not until he was safe . . .

Max Renzi wasn’t invisible anymore. But he knew he could still disappear.

***

B.L. CONRADIS was born and raised in Washington, D.C., where he works as a journalist. He has also lived in Europe, Mexico and China. When he’s not covering politics, he’s probably reading, writing, hiking or training for a half marathon. You can follow him on Twitter at @BConradis.

***

Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Jan 13, 2020

Category: Original Fiction, Mondays Are Murder, Original Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,



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