Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

Akashic Books

||| |||

News & Features » December 2013 » “City of Dead Souls” by Agee Sasso

“City of Dead Souls” by Agee Sasso

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, Agee Sasso brings us to the West coast for some California grave digging. Next week, we’ll travel to Ottos, Antigua with Joanne C. Hillhouse and her story of concealing a grisly crime.

Agee SassoCity of Dead Souls
by Agee Sasso
Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, Colma, California

When I got to the top of the stairs, he pushed his hulking shoulders from the wall and pointed backward at the sign on my door. I made up the half step I’d lost at the sight.

“You him?” he said.

“You got me.” I shoved the key in the lock under the glass with my name and claims on it. “Come in, I’m fresh out of coffee.” I adjusted the blinds to give my hands something to do. My office had shrunk.

“Got a problem with my work, sorta,” he said.

“Look,” I said, “you want to take off those sunglasses?”

“Light hurt my eyes.”

“Uh-huh. You were saying, your work?”

“I dig graves.”

“You work for the county?”

“Work with Bo.”

“Bo.”

“My partner.”

“And—sorry—who are you?”

“Oh.” He stood, leading with his baseman’s mitt of a hand. “Clarence Johnson.” If his arm hadn’t been a yard long, I’d have pulled out my back trying to look him in the face.

“Bo hide my money.”

“He stole your money?”

“I don’t know, but definite he hide it. I think he hide it in Mr. Henderson’s grave—Holy Cross, down Colma.”

“I don’t see how I could help with that.”

“Got to get permission from the widow. She could open the grave. I’d give her Bo’s half, minus your fee.”

The grave in question was Giles Henderson’s, who had died in a crash on the mountain outside Tahoe. The story ran above the fold for a week. The private burial was yesterday, the be-seen memorial still two days away. I could get a referral or two. It would be dicey.

“How much money?” I asked.

Clarence looked at me for a long moment. The sunglasses may have saved me.

“Fiddy Gs,” he said. “You got to Friday. Fine a way to get my money out. You don’t want to ask the missus, then you take Bo’s half. Otherwise, five percent.”

We settled on six, plus expenses. Clarence left, and I read the day’s installment of the Henderson saga while my glass sweated a ring on the newsprint. There was a picture of the widow. She had a porcelain face.

I considered whether to approach the widow and settle for six percent or go for half, but I didn’t need the money. My sedan worked fine. I could open the Chronicle on my kitchen table and stretch all the way out on my couch. The bed slept two, when I got lucky. I had a spare toothbrush and no broken bones.

Still.

If you’re breathing, you’re better off than a million and a half souls buried in Colma since San Francisco evicted all its cemeteries. The thick stone that would cover the latest poor soul was due any day, and Clarence thought Bo would dig into the vault around Henderson’s casket before it arrived to retrieve what he had hidden. I had to make a living, but the logic was getting to me.

“Why don’t you just watch the plot until Bo shows up and confront him?” I had asked.

“Bo, he big,” Clarence explained. “And I got no gun. It’s complicated.”

I believed him; it was the only four-syllable word he had used.

At sunset, Clarence let me in at the Holy Cross gate. We walked a long maze to the Henderson plot and waited. I felt hidden fast in the milky fog until Bo showed up. Before we could make him out, we saw his light, pointed toward the ground but expanded by the wet atmosphere. With his other hand he carried a shovel. We waited while Bo dug, grunted, and pulled out a lumpy laundry bag.

“That my money!” Clarence whispered. “He got it now!” Clarence pushed me forward. I had no option but to stand and face Bo.

“I’ll have that,” I said.

“Who the hell?”

“Security. Chuck the shovel.”

The him I could barely make out was bigger than the me he could barely make out. I pressed the advantage by pulling back the slide on my pistol. In the fog it sounded like fists hitting a pillow. Bo grunted and tossed the shovel aside.

“I’ll have the sack, too.” I pointed a foot in front of me. He put it on the spot. When I stooped to heft it toward Clarence, Bo rushed me, fell on the business end of the gun, and caused me to shoot him through the heart.

“He own damn fault,” Clarence told me, but he cried while he counted out my half.

***

AGEE SASSO, a native Alabamian, has lived on three coasts. Her fiction has appeared in FLARE: The Flagler Review and Existere Journal of Arts and Literature and has been recognized by the Eckerd College Writers Conference and Glimmer Train.

***

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: Dec 9, 2013

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



Featured: Music/Popular Culture/Art