“Idle Hands and the Devil You Know” by Paul Renault
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, Paul Renault tries to help out a friend in Lansing, Michigan. Next week, Jacqueline Freimor teaches a lesson to a Nazi war criminal in New York.
He wanted to talk, and you know me—I’m no psychic. I didn’t know what he was thinking, and Jerry didn’t come out and say he was going to crawl into a garbage bag and off himself. I didn’t know I was going to be the one to walk in and find him like that. So I went and got us a jug of wine.
“Let’s turn this into water,” I said, and I opened it up. It opened him up.
We talked about life, and oh my God, did we get smashed on those stairs, stairs as crooked as my spine. They ran up the back of our house on Walnut Street, this old house in downtown Lansing with asbestos siding and ROOMS FOR RENT. The kitchen ceiling had acoustic tiles, one of them bulging and dripping because the upstairs toilet leaked, had been leaking for a long time. Maybe now more than pieces of tile would drop into the sink, and you know our landlord wasn’t going to do a thing to stop it.
He came by that afternoon, pulling up behind the house in his Cadillac with the bad shocks and the squealing brakes. He didn’t get out or anything, just rolled his window down and called us over with his fat pink hands. I didn’t want to talk to him, but I knew Jerry wasn’t going to, and somebody had to. So I handed the jug to Jerry and went down to the car. I heard the man wheezing—he had emphysema—over the sound of the engine.
“What do you want?” I said.
“Take this key,” he said.
“What do you mean, what for? The guy didn’t pay his rent. He’s been served his notice.” The landlord got a jump on those notices by sending them out the day the month-to-month rent was due. The man didn’t waste any time, wasn’t going to listen to any excuses—not Jerry’s, not mine, not the guy’s whose name I didn’t know, whose face I may never have seen. “His time is up,” the landlord said. “Go clean out his room, will you? Keep what you want, and throw the rest out. Just leave the furniture.” Each room came with a dresser, a desk, and a bed, and they were in as good a shape as mine. “If he’s still in there, tell him—”
“Tell him yourself,” I said.
“Said the sphincter.”
I had Jerry cracking up. It was good to hear him laugh.
Our landlord threatened to evict us.
“On what grounds?” I said.
Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was talking to Jerry—trying to talk him out of leaving—but it felt good to stand up to our landlord. I was tired of him coming around all the time, telling us what to do, treating us like serfs. He didn’t own us. It was a free country, wasn’t it?
Maybe it was, if you wanted to live on the street. For me, it was this place or that. Maybe it was that way for Jerry, too. I don’t know. Maybe that’s what had gotten him down. He had once worked for GM. He had had a wife, kids, a future. Life had been good, once upon a time.
He wasn’t laughing anymore.
There was no arguing with the landlord: he owned the house and he had plenty of friends in the capital, so he could get away with the leaky toilet and the bulging tile. He could get away with kicking us out. He could get away with anything. There was no appeal, not for guys like Jerry and me.
“Okay, okay,” I said.
He held out the key again, and I took it.
“Which room?” I said.
“Six. It’s on the key, in case you forget.”
“I won’t forget,” I said. “If he’s there, I’ll tell him . . .”
But I didn’t know what to tell him. I looked back at Jerry, and he didn’t say anything. He just had that look on his face. Like he’d made up his mind, right then and there, and he didn’t tell me. Wasn’t going to tell me. Not that I’d have believed him, if he had. Why should I have believed him? We all get impatient. The words? They don’t mean anything.
PAUL RENAULT’s credits include “Bush Meat” in the British science magazine Nature and “The Last Stud” in Akashic’s Mondays Are Murder.
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 8, 2014
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