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News & Features » August 2020 » “It’s a Dry Heat” by Charles West

“It’s a Dry Heat” by Charles West

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, revenge is best served during a boiling summer day.

It’s a Dry Heat: a FRESNOir Story
by Charles West
Tower District, Fresno, California

Papa was confused when he woke up, and rightfully so. He was in his car parked in the back yard. That wasn’t the confusing part. He wanted to know why he was wrapped in black plastic garbage bags and duct tape, and why his three daughters were smiling.

The plastic bags were Joelle’s idea. She had seen the wrestlers at school put on black trash bags, to make weight before a match. The sisters, however, were not concerned with Papa’s weight. He squirmed as best he could, but the layers of plastic and duct tape, as well as the two sets of handcuffs which connected his wrists to the steering wheel, severely limited his range of motion. His wide and angry eyes asked questions his mouth couldn’t, since it was wrapped with clear cling film and more duct tape.

“Oh, hi Papa,” Jenny said cheerfully, in a tone absent in their previous conversations. “Did you have a nice nap? Of course you did. A bottle of whisky and oxy makes a darn good sleep aid. Do you know what today is, Papa? No? Well, it’s August 15.”

It took a moment for the significance of the date to register. When he did recall what happened on this day the previous year, he repeated his futile attempts to free himself.

“Oh, you do remember, don’t you?” Julie, the third daughter, said calmly. “Today is the anniversary of the day you left Jacky outside in a car, strapped in her car seat in a casino parking lot, while you went inside to get drunk and lose the rent money.” Her tone was less restrained when she reminded him, “It was 105 degrees outside!”

His eyes displayed the same lack of remorse that he showed during his arrest, his trial, and his six months in the Fresno County Jail. The only person in the world who didn’t think six months in county wasn’t near long enough a sentence for the death of a two-year-old girl was Papa himself, who portrayed himself as the victim.

Now, his remaining three daughters were going to make sure he was the victim this time. Mama left before he got out of jail. He said she ran off with some guy. The girls figured that she just ran off. Apparently she could ignore Papa’s repeated and heinous nightly abuse of the three other daughters, but managed to draw the line at what the court called the “negligent manslaughter” of her baby. The only pitifully positive thing about Jacky’s death is that she wouldn’t have to experience what her older sisters experienced, often with the same handcuffs that now restrained Papa.

“It’s supposed to be 112 degrees today,” Joelle said. “That’s hot even for Fresno. Are you familiar with the greenhouse effect? That’s how the inside of a car is hotter than outside. Jenny’s done the math. The inside of the car will be 180 degrees,” Joelle continued. “You remember from your trial when they described how little Jacky suffered when the core temperature of her little body reached just 104 degrees? Sure, you’re bigger and older, but the amount of alcohol and opioids in your system, plus your already damaged liver, should balance it out.”

Papa finally understood what was in store for him. He continued to struggle, which the daughters made no effort to stop. The physical exertion would just make the whole process easier.

The daughters didn’t say goodbye. They merely closed the car doors and disconnected the battery under the hood so the horn wouldn’t work. They went into the house and turned on the air conditioner. They didn’t necessarily sleep soundly, but they felt safer than any time since those six months when Papa was locked up.

The temperature reached 114 that day, which wasn’t even a record for Fresno. The next day it cooled down to a balmy 109. In the evening of the second day, the girls cut the tape off Papa’s motionless body, along with the handcuffs, and disposed of the evidence in a supermarket dumpster some two miles away.

The paramedics and police who came out knew who Papa was and what he had done—at least what he had done to little Jacky. They were inwardly pleased that the dry heat of a Fresno summer accomplished what the justice system failed to provide. Maybe it wasn’t actually justice, but it would have to be enough for Joelle, Julia, and Jenny, who learned revenge is best served hot.

***

CHARLES WEST was a nomadic army brat growing up on three continents. He became an English teacher in Fresno, California. His short stories have appeared in a variety of anthologies and publications such as Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Storyteller, Kings River Life. His novel, The Sacred Disc, was published in 2000 by Salvo Press. His short plays have been performed in Fresno, San Juan Capistrano, Florida, San Diego, Wisconsin, Napa, Long Island, Houston and Virginia. Mr. West is also an actor with the Woodward Shakespeare Festival, performing Shakespeare in the Park in the dry heat of Fresno.

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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 info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Aug 10, 2020

Category: Original Fiction, Mondays Are Murder, Original Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , ,



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