“She Lay Down With Dogs” by Tauno Biltsted
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, Tauno Biltsted takes us to NYC’s Lower East Side in the dark days of the late ’80s.
She Lay Down With Dogs
by Tauno Biltsted
Lower East Side, New York, New York
Hers wasn’t the first body to be found in the overgrown lot that once was a marsh that sucked and pulled with the tidal waters of the East River. Rumors of her death swirled through the neighborhood: “Alex was found dead in the lot,” “She ODed,” “. . . raped,” “It was that serial killer guy,” “It was the cops.” In the end it was just her body, a little bluish around the lips, eyes closed, giving her face a look of serene repose when she was found in late January amongst the winter-brown grasses as the police completed their monthly rounds, hitting at the weeds with their billy clubs.
Once the splash of frogs could be heard as they evaded the sharp beak of the heron. Later, there were tenements that sheltered a shifting army of immigrants who washed in and out of the neighborhood until it started to burn. The first buildings ignited catastrophically with a great wail and hue, but soon enough another and another went up in flames until smoke filled the sky and the sound of fire engines racing through the night became expected, the sirens causing barely a hiccup in the flow of conversation. After the charred buildings were pulled down from their ominous leaning, the lot filled up with garbage and weeds that pushed up their little yellow flowers against the broad desolation and general psychological depression that filled the neighborhood.
Finally, that lot was where people went to dump bodies when their owners expired, sometimes unexpectedly—one minute in the middle of a little junkie rap, the next minute bluish and stuttering, then suddenly dead—other times more expectedly—dead on purpose, because of a serious and deliberated intent, the payoff of insults and other debts to specific individuals, if not society at large.
Rumor of her death spread quickly, like a flood rising with insistent pressure. Alex was not exactly loved. She was loud and brazen to the point of obnoxiousness, her shoulders were broad for a girl, her face still bore the scars of adolescence—she wasn’t loved, but she was known.
No one was surprised when Art spent the next couple of months drinking and drugging with devotion and methodical fury. Occasionally, he would pause and catch his breath for the afternoon to hear the surge and pounding of his blood, reminding him he was still alive. Everyone knew that he carried a flame for Alex even though there was nothing between them. Art was nervous and could usually be counted on for a running commentary on whatever crossed his mind, but he would grow silent when Alex came into a room. He was an odd one in an odd bunch—a little older and more seriously criminal than most of his comrades, his Mohawk perched awkwardly on his head. Something about him signaled he could have just as easily been in the Army, probably feeling the relief of a regimented and external discipline, instead of hustling the streets with a bunch of kids.
Nobody really knew what set him off, but when he started his raging, they finally decided that it was time for him to go. He was a guest in the squat where the flies circled drunkenly in the community room. He was only a guest, which meant that even among that collection of misfits he was a little too unstable and unreliable to earn full acceptance from the group and the makeshift room that entailed, where you could paper the walls with whatever you desired and have little parties with your neighbors and look out at the sky all distorted and ripply through the plastic-covered windows. He was a guest, and that meant it was his friend’s space that he was furiously reducing to rubble and shards: ripping the grey mattress apart with his bare hands, smashing the rickety furniture into little splinters, turning anything that fit in his hand into a projectile that pocked the thin sheetrock walls with craters whose explosions could be seen from outside the room where everyone from the squat gathered.
“He killed her,” his friend said later, when they finally managed to hustle Art out of the building. “He told me when we were high once, tears streaming down his face when he said he loved her and didn’t know how it happened but he put his hands around her throat and that was it.”
TAUNO BILTSTED is a former cab driver, flower arranger, bookseller, squatter on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, social worker, mediator, and roustabout construction worker with a master’s in International Relations. Tauno has previously written on the genocide in Rwanda for World War III Illustrated, the IWW and black labor history for Verso Books, a history of the passport for Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, and has published a short story, “The Benevolent Ape,” in Rosebud Magazine.
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: May 9, 2016
Category: Mondays Are Murder | Tags: Mondays Are Murder, Noir Series, New York, Manhattan, flash fiction, New York City, Lower East Side, LES, Murder for Beginners, She Lay Down With Dogs, Tauno Biltsted
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