“Harp in the Key of B” by George Masters
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, George Masters solves a problem in New Orleans.
Thirty-five minutes before kickoff, my brother Pat got a phone call at the Superdome from his wife Trudy.
Trudy was alone in the back of her antique store on Magazine. Pat walked in, and the bell on the door tinkled.
“What’s the problem?”
Trudy dropped a manila envelope on the counter. “Our daughter, the fucking movie star. No pun intended, and no, you don’t want to see it. Came in this morning’s mail. I want to kill somebody, and I’m not sure who.”
My name is Tom Harp. In Jackson Square, Pat and I drank coffee from paper cups.
“Blackmail,” he said. “The Russians paid me a visit. I don’t get the union to reverse the rate hikes, Kopperman’s going to pass out the videos like party favors.”
“She was a kid.”
“It will ruin her.”
Driving my pickup with two yards of loam in the bed, I passed Commander’s Palace on Washington Avenue. Magnolias and the kitchen exhaust of jazz brunch were accompanied by a trumpet, trombone, and sax, the trio on the sidewalk serenading the patrons in line waiting for a table.
At times a situation demands that life and dreams be suspended, if only for one crazed moment. Enough time to channel rage and oxygen into an action so clean and defined that nothing else matters. It happened during the war and a few times afterward. And here it was, that feeling coming upon me again, and I must say it gave me a terrible joy.
Three blocks past Commander’s, I turned into the shaded driveway of a white, three-story antebellum mansion. I parked behind a black Lincoln and turned off the engine.
Shovel in hand, I walked up and rang the bell. A small brown man in butler’s livery opened the door. Gray-haired, stoop-shouldered, and sharp-eyed, he said, “Yes, sir?”
“Where do you want the dirt?”
He cocked his head. “Dirt, sir?”
“Two yards of topsoil.” I held up a piece of paper. Before he could take a good look, I read aloud, “717 Washington Avenue, Mr. Abe Kopperman.”
The butler nodded. “Yes, sir, that’s the correct address, but I don’t know nothing about no dirt, and Mr. Kopperman is unavailable.”
“It’s already been paid for. The Russians here?”
“The one that looks like Lurch.”
A ghost of a smile slipped past the butler’s face. “I believe Mr. Josef is in the kitchen. If you’ll wait here, please.” He closed the door.
Lurch opened it. Damn, he was big. His ugly, wide-open eyes showed no sign of recognition.
I said, “I’m delivering Mr. Kopperman’s topsoil. Is that your car?”
When the giant Russian leaned out to look, I swung the shovel like a baseball bat. I caught him flat in the kisser and crushed bones. Hands to his face, Lurch dropped to his knees. He was having trouble breathing, and blood streamed between his huge fingers. I swung again. The shovel went bong on his forehead and slammed him back through the doorway. Lurch didn’t move after that. I thought about finishing the job and taking his head off with the blade of the shovel.
Instead I kicked the door closed, but it bounced off his size 16 shoes in the threshold. Going to the pickup, I got a tire iron and a jerrican of gas.
Using the iron, I forced the trunk lid open. Sure enough, there they were, several cardboard boxes of X-rated videos. I checked a couple—they were all the same. Tucked between two of the boxes was a blue plastic Bank of New Orleans bag. I picked it up. It had some weight, and the zipper was locked.
A man yelled, and I turned. It was Lurch’s brother Stass sticking his fat head out the door. Grabbing the shovel, I started for the house. Lurch’s feet disappeared inside, the door slammed shut, and I heard the dead bolt turn.
Going to the Lincoln, I threw the bank bag into the back of my truck with the dirt. I emptied the gas can over the boxes of videos, waited for it to soak in, lit a match, and stepped back. Woof—the trunk ignited.
Backing down the driveway, I took a couple seconds to enjoy the blaze. When I drove past Commander’s, the crowd was still lined up on the sidewalk waiting to eat. I made it one more block in traffic when the Lincoln’s gas tank exploded. Pretty soon I heard sirens.
Raised in Lima, Peru, GEORGE MASTERS went to high school in New Jersey and served with the Marine Corps in Vietnam. After the war, he attended Georgetown University where he began to write. His work has appeared in the DC Gazette, Harvard’s Charles River Review, the Boston Globe, Portland Magazine, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle. He has also been published in several anthologies and online literary journals, including Akashic Books’s noir series Mondays Are Murder (“Devine, TX” and “Tiburon, CA”). Master’s latest crime novel, Concerto for Harp, is on the hunt for a literary agent and publisher.
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: Apr 20, 2015
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