“Ain’t Living Long Like This” by Robert James Russell
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, Robert James Russell takes us to Zilwaukee, Michigan, and teaches us the repercussions for breaking rules. Next week, Gerri Brightwell has a haunting encounter in London.
“Do you understand?“ the man asked as he looked from the driver’s seat to the empty parking lot to the gas station at the other end. He couldn’t believe how quickly night had fallen. “Do you understand that this is a necessity?”
He waited for a response but got none. He looked at the large black duffel propped up in the passenger seat and sighed, then admired the fast-darkening farmland that spread in all directions. He growled and reached to the backseat of the car at a pile of wrinkled and sun-beaten National Geographic magazines, picking through the stack and finally pulling one out. He thumbed through it, stopping on a page with a picture of an indigenous African man holding a spear and a shield.
“See this? This is a real man. He lives in Africa, and he’d never allow himself to be made a fool like I have. He’d finish what was started.”
He flipped through the magazine, through advertisements for Nikon cameras and prescription pills with pages of side effects, finally thumping the magazine in the back again with the others. He sighed and studied an eighteen-wheeler that had just pulled in from the road.
“I just need to you understand why I’m doing this,” he said. “Why this has to be done. He needs to know there are rules. That there are repercussions for ignoring them.”
They sat in silence for another quarter of an hour until he heard the clunk of a beat-up blue pickup with a busted axel as it arrived from the east. He sank down in his seat and watched as the truck pulled into the parking lot, past the stationary semis and into a parking space next to the small gas station. He watched as a birch-skinny man crawled out of the driver’s side. He was wearing black jeans, black boots, and no shirt. He watched as the man reached back into the cab, produced a ratty white V-neck tee, and slipped it on with great struggle over his small head as if he were in pain. He reached in once more and grabbed a gray work shirt—his uniform—and put it on. Then the man at the truck looked to each side, spit on the ground, and walked with a limp in his right leg toward the gas station doors, disappearing inside.
The man sat up in the driver’s seat, looked to the passenger seat, and smirked. “Suppose it’s time, huh? I hope you’re ready.” Pause. “And remember: no matter what happens, we’ll be together, all right?”
He forced a smile and picked up the Model 637 Chiefs Special that had been resting along the dash, caressing the barrel, the walnut grip. He broke the cylinder open and counted three bullets, shutting it carefully and kissing it along the front sight as if it were the head of a child. He touched the rosary hanging from the rearview mirror, watching the tiny pewter Jesus hanging from the end as it swayed back and forth.
He began the trek across the parking lot, coming up on the rows of parked semis first and emerging from them with significant ache in his leg. He stopped just short of the gas station and looked down at the bullet wound torn into the meat of his thigh, the cloth surrounding it soaked black from blood. He looked to both sides, saw no one at any of the pumps or approaching from the road and, just in case, tucked the gun in the waistband of his jeans, the steel cold on his skin.
He pulled his shirt up and over to cover it and continued to the gas station, making his way to the front door and stopping once again before entering. Through the glass he could see the man from the blue pickup working behind the counter, restocking boxes of Marlboro Reds. He could see strings of dried blood on the man’s neck—evidence he had forgotten to scrub clean. He was now wearing a baseball cap pulled down tight over his eyes. His cheeks were red and raw, his movements like some skeleton freshly reanimated.
The man smiled, pulled out the gun from his pants, and entered the store.
“Hi, Joel,” he said raising the gun high, teeth chittering. “I’m here to finish what you started.”
ROBERT JAMES RUSSELL is the author of the collection Don’t Ask Me to Spell It Out (WhiskeyPaper Press, 2015) and the novel Sea of Trees (Winter Goose Publishing, 2012), and the founding editor of the literary journals Midwestern Gothic and CHEAP POP. He was recently awarded a University Musical Society Artist Residency for the 2014-2015 season. You can find him online at robertjamesrussell.com and on Twitter @robhollywood.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—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.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Nov 10, 2014
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