“Cranberry’s Last Dance” by Sean Gill
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, Sean Gill makes a split-second decision in Akron, Ohio.
My rusted Pontiac bounced from pothole to pothole and swung into the factory lot. Another overcast day, all dirty snow and no sun. In Northeast Ohio, pessimism is the great common denominator—hoping for sunshine on a winter’s day is as fruitless as wishing upon a star, expecting a quiet lunch break, or rooting for the Browns.
I spent the next eight hours, as usual, caught between a jackal-faced motormouth named Darren Gempler and a bubbling plastic vat called a sulfonate goo tank. My job was to fantasize about breaking Darren’s jaw while keeping the tank safe and the drains clear. Captivating stuff, the soap business.
“I’m gonna kill Joe Cranberry,” Darren announced, apropos of nothing. Even over the racket of the factory floor, his voice could needle, could penetrate the threads in your brain.
I looked around. No witnesses. “Why’s that?” I asked.
Darren contorted his lips into a glistening leer. “’Cause he’s an old, gummed-up shit biscuit sittin’ on twenty grand, cash money.”
Fifteen years ago we attended Firestone High (go Falcons), and Darren was a bush-league tyrant, the sort of kid who pulled the wings off grasshoppers and carved swastikas everywhere for no apparent reason beyond the blunt shock of it. He hadn’t changed much, though his ambitions—and collection of basement militaria—had broadened considerably.
“You got priors and live next door to him,” I said. “You’d be suspect number one.”
He wasn’t listening. “There’s foreclosures up and down the block. Nobody’ll hear the shot.”
“Well . . . that’s good,” I said.
Once upon a time, Joe Cranberry had been a boxer. Now he was a feeble old man living in a glorified garage on Spicer Street, surrounded by crumbling shingles and flaky salmon-pink paint. Darren claimed he was rolling in dough, but from what I’d heard, the palooka hadn’t even clobbered his way past state lines—the best he’d managed was an undercard match—split decision—at the Richfield Coliseum. As I explained this, Darren doubled down, insisting he must’ve made a fortune throwing fights. Darren never listened.
After a lifetime of having his brains beat into hamburger, Cranberry had gone demented. He lived life from an easy chair, silent and staring—unless there was a sudden loud noise, like a doorbell or car horn. At this, he’d pitch forward, find his feet, and put up his dukes. Somewhere inside that concussed skull he thought the bell had rung and it was time for round twelve—Go get ’em, champ! Pure muscle memory. Sad, really. An agency nurse showed up a couple times a week to feed him and change his diaper, but when she wasn’t there, Darren liked to tap on the window and watch him stumble around through a slit in the curtain.
“It’s a two-man job,” Darren explained.
“To rob a vegetable?”
“I’m worried he’ll put up ’em up—ding, ding!—when I break the window. Maybe those old knuckles got one last haymaker in ’em, ya know?”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll come along.”
Saturday night, the wind wheezed itself hoarse and the rain fell in icy sheets. The snow had melted, except for the densest, blackest piles, stacked up like little tributes to some unknown god.
The window was unlocked, so we wriggled over the sill and into his living room. Cranberry sat among the shadows, neck rigid, gaze fixed on the opposite wall.
“Hold this for a sec,” Darren whispered. He handed me his pistol—heavier than I expected—and tiptoed beside Cranberry. Looming over him, Darren waved his hand wild. The old palooka didn’t even blink. “Wouldja look at that shit,” Darren said, amazed.
I was considering the hostility of noise and the righteousness of silence when all at once my finger touched the trigger and a red rose blossomed at the center of Darren’s chest. The sound came after. Bang! Cranberry sprung out of his chair and heaved his fists, knocking the empty carcass to the ground. Blood squirted on moldy carpet, how interesting.
I stepped over the body and uncurled Cranberry’s knuckles. Carefully, I balanced the pistol’s bobtail grip between his fingers. Seemed like a pretty open-and-shut case of trespassing and self-defense. I knew he couldn’t understand, but still I told him, “Cranberry, hell—I believe you’ve scored your first TKO.”
I called the cops from a pay phone.
As I imagined how quiet my Monday morning was going to be, a peculiar sensation washed over me.
It may have been optimism.
SEAN GILL is a writer and underground filmmaker who was born in Akron, Ohio. He has studied with Werner Herzog and Juan Luis Buñuel, worked as a bouncer in Times Square, documented public defenders for National Geographic, and played a rock star for Martin Scorsese. His latest stories have been published or are forthcoming in decomP magazinE, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Sein und Werden, Eclectica Magazine, and the Journal of Experimental Fiction. Visit his website at www.seangillfilms.com.
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: Sep 14, 2015
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