“Customers” by Tom Andes
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, Tom Andes takes us to a tense encounter on the steps of a house of ill repute in the French Quarter.
by Tom Andes
Upper French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana
Gardner finished dressing: jeans, his shoulder holster strapped on underneath his leather jacket. He’d started down the stairs when the buzzer sounded. Gripping his arm, the woman stopped him. “Don’t go out there.” She gestured at the monitor, her eyes bright in the near darkness of the stairwell.
On the screen, four college-aged men milled around the entrance to the Bangkok Spa on Iberville Street, making obscene gestures at the security camera.
“Open up.” One of them—khaki shorts, a polo shirt, and a Tulane University baseball hat—pounded the door. His friends laughed. “You have customers.”
The woman tugged Gardner upstairs. She wore a black negligee. She might have been 40. “They’re drunk. They’ll jump you, you go out there.”
“Are you alone?”
“I can handle myself.”
Out the barred windows, lights flickered on Decatur. In the other direction, tourists thronged Bourbon. Across the street, a man sheltered next to a loading dock, possessions stacked in a shopping cart. In the kitchen, she opened a cupboard.
“Do you want something to drink?” she asked.
“I can get rid of them.” He touched the Beretta in the holster under his arm.
“Please don’t do that.” She blinked at the gun. She filled a glass at the sink, drank.
WGNO played The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in reruns. The woman tuned in NYPD Blue. The buzzer sounded. Outside, the men made explicit threats about what they would do if the woman didn’t open the door, their voices carrying up through the windows. “Chink,” one yelled.
“What if they don’t go away?” Gardner cracked his knuckles.
She yawned. “Are you kidding? That door’s solid steel.”
She settled on PBS, The MacNeil/Lehrer Report. Bands of static crisscrossed the orange heads. That year, the president had allegedly performed a sex act with an intern in the Oval Office. Outside, the men redoubled their assault on the door.
“What if they don’t?” he repeated
The woman perched on the edge of the chair, hugging her thighs. “You think this hasn’t happened before?”
When the pounding stopped, the woman led Gardner downstairs. On the monitor, the men waited in the entryway. The one with the baseball cap glared at the camera.
Gardner followed her back upstairs. “Can I go out there now?”
“What are you, some kind of cop?”
“I work for myself.”
“How about that? So do I.”
“I’m going down there.”
She rolled her eyes. “If you get killed on my doorstep, nothing will happen to those kids, but the city will shut this place down. Same if you shoot one of them. No matter what happens, I’ll pay the price.”
Gardner stared at her.
At the bottom of the steps, he pressed his ear to the door. The men spoke in hushed voices. Cigarette smoke clouded the feed from the security camera.
“This establishment is closed for the evening,” Gardner said.
Something struck the door. The woman’s legs appeared at the top of the stairs, a length of lead pipe next to her thigh.
“She wouldn’t do it with my friend.” The kid on the other side of the door spoke in a drawl. “She told us we were drunk.”
“Maybe you should go home and sober up, before something happens.” Gardner drew the Beretta.
“Who does she think she is?”
“If I have to come out there, I’m going to murder all of you.”
“She’s a whore,” one of the other kids said. “She’s not supposed to say no.”
Gardner twisted the deadbolt. He opened the door. He raised the pistol, pointing it at the kid with the hat, who stepped back, his hands in the air.
His friends bolted for the corner.
Gardner cocked the pistol, backing the kid onto the sidewalk, the muzzle of the gun touching the kid’s forehead. Glancing over his shoulder at the empty doorway, Gardner licked his lips.
“I’ll remember you.” The kid looked at Gardner’s eyes. He spat on the sidewalk and took off after his friends.
Behind Gardner, the door to the massage parlor slammed, the deadbolt shooting in the lock.
Gardner holstered the Beretta, and he adjusted his jacket, watching the kids turn onto Bourbon. He felt his pockets.
He knocked on the door and pressed the button, sounding the buzzer.
“Hey,” he said. “I left my keys.”
In the fisheye lens of the security camera over the door, his mouth twisted, his eyes dark.
“Hey!” He pounded the door.
TOM ANDES has published fiction in Witness, Free State Review, Best American Mystery Stories 2012, and elsewhere, and he frequently reviews books for publications including the Los Angeles Review of Books and The Rumpus. He lives in New Orleans.
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 [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Oct 3, 2016