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News & Features » June 2017 » “Rump Shield” by Paul Renault

“Rump Shield” 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 paints a portrait of a troubled father. 

Rump Shield 
by Paul Renault
Greater Lansing Area, MI

They pitched their Good News.  He wasn’t buying it.  Not on the worst day of his life, not ever.  Standing outside the ER at Ingham Medical, exhausted.  Fighting for air.  Breathing space.  Elbow room.  As they made their excuses for what happened, calling it an act of God, he wanted to slam his fist into someone, or something.  Break his hand, maybe.  That wouldn’t do.  So he ran off down the hall, turned the corner, went outside.  Found a bench.  There he buried his head in a Rex Stout novel and let the devil take the hindmost, because the train that derailed last night was not a train, but the house was his.  Built on a slab and almost paid for.  Now blown to pieces and scattered across the tri-county area.

He’d left his kids home alone, and not for the first time.  Aged three, five, and eight.  They were good kids, stayed out of trouble, didn’t want to bother anyone.  That was the problem.  When the air raid sirens on the firehouse down the street went off at 3:52am, they woke up.  They must have, with all of the windows open.  No AC, no fan.  Open to the summer breeze.  They woke up, but they didn’t go next door to Mrs. Masaryk’s like they were supposed to.  They didn’t hunker down in her basement and wait for the all-clear.  No use going over and disturbing the old woman, right?  Not for another one of those warnings that come and go, no harm done.  Right?  They wouldn’t know any better until they heard that freight train a-coming.  By then it was too late.  So they huddled together in a closet or under a bed that wasn’t there anymore.

He lost everything—everything but this book.  A slim red hardcover with “The Doorbell Rang” in worn yellow letters down the spine and the smell of old paper.  He picked it up at a library book-sale some years back for a quarter, or fifty cents.  Thought it was about time he gave it a try and brought it to work with him.  To read on the cross-town bus.  At the CATA terminal, waiting.  On his transfer to the factory in Mason.

On the third shift too he often had to wait… for the laser to carve out pieces of titanium in a tank of brine, for the 150-ton presses to do their thing — under the high ceiling, in the wide open space, on the painted concrete.  Alone.  His supervisor sat in the air-conditioned office with 3D imaging software worth tens of thousands of dollars.  Each hip or knee they made was tailored to individual customers.  Unique, but not irreplaceable.   He heard the parts were only good for ten, fifteen years.  If the patients lived that long.

While he waited, he read.  It passed the time, and he was still on the clock.  So he got paid to read, sometimes. Life was good, he thought. At the buzzer, he’d jump to the next station, the next step in the operation. If he needed his hands free, he’d stick the book in his waistband like Tom Selleck did with a prop gun on Magnum PI, knowing it would never go off in his pants. The safety was always on.

When he heard the tornado warning he went into the unisex room, where his shelter was. Sitting on the tile with his back to the cinder block wall, with the smell of ammonia and pink hand soap, listening to the toilet gurgle, he tried to pick up where he left off. But the lights flickered, and they went out. So he closed the book on Nero Wolfe, Mr. Goodwin, and the FBI. He waited in the dark for the all-clear. The toilet gurgled. The storm-noises outside picked up with hail on the metal roof and a driving wind. The big, bad wolf. He worried about his kids, sure. In that stick-built house, on a slab. But there was nothing he could do for them. Not from here.

They’ll be all right, he thought. They know what to do. When I get home from work they’ll still be at Mrs. Masaryk’s, too wired on Lucky Charms and early morning cartoons to get back to sleep. I’ll ask Mrs. Masaryk if they were good, and the old woman would say what she always said: that they were my little angels, and I’d better clip their wings before they flew away.

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PAUL RENAULT’s credits include “Bush Meat” in the British science magazine Nature, as well as flash-fiction pieces “The Last Stud,” “Idle Hands and the Devil You Know,” and“Take Two” in Akashic Books’s Mondays Are Murder series.

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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 [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Jun 26, 2017

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



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