“Earl’s Last Day” by Will Whitson
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, Will Whitson takes us to suburban mall security guard’s final day at work.
Earl’s Last Day
by Will Whitson
Earl felt the warmth of his extra hot coffee seep through the cup onto his hand as he leaned over the second story railing of the shopping mall and reflected on how many times he’d taken in this view over the years. He wasn’t there when the mall opened its doors in Gaithersburg back in 1978, but he’d been there almost as long. He took the security job in the mall as a temporary gig to cover the mortgage and his wife’s dress habit until his ship came in. Like most men with high ambition and low ability, the ship never came to port and the job became an underwhelming career.
It wasn’t all bad, though. Earl became a mall staple. Little kids admired his crisp, light-blue uniform. Earl took pride in their respect for his authority, especially since respect was lacking in his home. That respect for his authority even saved his place in the mall more than once. Each time the mall changed hands, the new ownership would vie for a cheaper, outsourced security firm. Parents would insist they wouldn’t bring their kids to the mall if “Mr. Earl” wasn’t there to protect them. The new owners would simply absorb him into the low cost option.
Years went by and those adoring kids shed their respect as they became smart-aleck teens. Some trashed the mall’s common areas or lifted merchandise. Others just jeered at him. Earl’s joints stiffened and his job, and heart, hardened. His crisp, blue uniform faded.
The mall faded with him. Its late 70’s décor showed wear around the edges. It had outlasted thousands of similar shopping centers, thanks to Montgomery County money. But more and more storefronts were either emptying out or being taken over by immigrant merchants peddling cheap wares. Earl knew which way the wind was blowing. When he saw the change of ownership papers in the administrative offices, he decided he wasn’t about to be handed another pay cut this late in life. Today, he resolved, would be his last day.
“Not much longer now,” Earl whispered. He took the escalator to the first floor. His hand felt irritated from the scalding coffee cup, but the extra hot drink was what he wanted.
He walked past an Indian food kiosk. Won’t have to deal with the smell anymore, he thought. He was done with decades of greasy mall food. The first checkpoint of his walk, the front door, was fifty feet in front of him. An armored car was parked on the curb beyond the glass double doors.
“Excuse us, Mr. Earl,” one of the armored guards said as they approached behind him, laden down with bags of cash.
“Yeah, sorry,” Earl said, “I’m always in the way.” In the same instant, Earl threw his extra hot coffee in one guard’s face, blinding him with scalding liquid. In another, seamless motion, Earl grabbed the cash bag the guard dropped in one hand while unhooking the pepper spray on his belt with the other. He uncapped it with one thumb and sprayed the other guard in the face.
Earl grabbed the second bag as the second guard fell to the floor and clutched his face. He’d done it! He had enough money in these two bags to disappear to quiet retirement on an island somewhere. Screw this old, decrepit mall, he thought. Screw the lousy, smartass kids. Screw the greasy food. Screw the blue uniform.
Earl’s heart pounded as he sprinted, closing the gap between him and the glass doors. He was almost there; almost to freedom. His breath shortened. Then it went away. He mistook the tightness in his chest for adrenaline, when it was really arteries as hard as his heart. Decades of food court grease had conspired against him. He dropped the bags and clutched the chest of his blue uniform.
Earl laid down on the floor. Darkness crept into the corners of his vision. His freedom was five uncrossable feet from him. Through the glass, he saw a suburban DC mother and child emerge from their SUV. He’d seen them before, on his first day and every day since. He smiled.
So much for my last day, Earl thought.
WILL WHITSON is a southern political reporter turned news producer. He spends his Metro ride home wondering how Philip Marlowe would fare in today’s Beltway. He lives with his wife and daughter outside Washington D.C.
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 24, 2016