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News & Features » October 2019 » “Stateline” by Tom Gartner

“Stateline” by Tom Gartner

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, a man heads to Stateline looking for answers, but instead creates more problems . . . 

Stateline
by Tom Gartner
Lake Tahoe, Stateline, NV

I’d been in Stateline for four days trying to find a coke dealer named Daniel Fowler. He was the reason my friend Powell was headed to San Quentin, or so I’d been told. I looked for him at his house on Kingsbury Grade, at the bars along Lake Tahoe Boulevard, at the tables in Harrah’s and Harvey’s. No luck.

Finally a waitress in a sports bar, a woman with an Irish accent, told me about a club where he gambled. As soon as she had her twenty-dollar tip, she tried to talk me out of going there. She said I should go back to San Francisco before something bad happened.

I played blackjack at the club for most of a day. Still no Fowler. But then I met a woman named Maria. Sunglasses, dark hair in a sloppy chignon, tight blue jeans, sleeveless white top. She poked fun at my gambling skills and allowed as how she knew Fowler. 

“That’d be Deirdre,” she said when I told her about the Irish waitress.  “She shouldn’t have said anything.”

I guessed that Maria and Fowler must have dated at one time, but she seemed curiously neutral about him. As to his whereabouts, his business dealings, his connection to Powell—she didn’t know, she didn’t know, she didn’t know.

Still, she was the only lead I had, and she was friendly enough. We ate a steak dinner on the club’s outside balcony and drank enough tequila to stun a freight train. “Why not?” she said calmly when I suggested going to my motel. I liked her, and I liked the idea that it would piss off Fowler if I slept with her.

*

“All right then,” she whispered once we were in bed. The light was behind me and my shadow moved across her. She tossed her bra away, shook her head so that her hair fell across her shoulders.

I slung my boxers off into space and held her lightly with my hands high on the sides of her ribcage. Her legs came slowly apart like a tight spring. She didn’t make another sound, just rolled with my motion and pulled hard at me with both arms around my back. Then afterward her eyes popped open and she was staring at nothing: the quintessential one-night-stand look. I was too drunk to care. 

*

Waking up, I didn’t feel good at all. I groaned and opened my eyes. Maria was gone.

When I looked outside, I saw that it was almost morning. I put my clothes on and stood in the doorway smoking a cigarette. Glanced at my phone: 5:30 a.m.

After I’d finished the cigarette I went out behind the motel to the beach. The sky was a perfect bright pale gray. The lake was darker, charcoal fringed with white chop, a freezing wind coming off it.  Tall clouds shadowed the mountains westward. A herd of debris was strewn across the shore: driftwood, plastic bottles, hunks of Styrofoam. Off toward the California border something was rocking back and forth in the waves. 

I walked over. It was a woman, wearing jeans and a blue nylon jacket. Her face was half turned into the sand, but I recognized her. It was the Irish waitress. One hand was pinned under her, the other trailing in the water.  

She had something looped around her neck, something dark, like a snake. It looked familiar. I did a classic double-take, reaching for the waist of my pants. No belt. The one around her neck was mine. Cinched tight, but no discoloration, no bulging eyes.

I stood looking until I was sure I was really awake and she was really dead.  Then I walked back up the beach to the motel.  I sat on the hood of my Camaro and looked at my phone.  Ten minutes to six.  Dead Irishwoman in the lake. 

For one moment—this is how stunned I was—I considered the possibility that I’d killed her.  Alcoholic blackout? Some kind of muddled confrontation over Maria? Possible?

No. No. Not possible.

My phone beeped. Text:

Thanks for a fun night!  Sorry about… you know.  But hey, it’s Stateline.  The house always wins. 

Maria

P.S. Fowler says Hi

I was still looking at the screen, reading the message one more time, when two police cars rolled into the motel parking lot.

***

TOM GARTNER lives near San Francisco and works as a buyer for a large independent bookstore in the city.  His stories have appeared in various journals, including Barnabe Mountain Review, Whetstone, Gravel, and most recently Concho River Review.  One story, “Monica Being Monica,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and he is currently working on a linked story collection based on those characters.  He learned to swim in Lake Tahoe at age five, and since then has sailed on it, climbed the mountains around it, and lost money at its casinos.     

***

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: Oct 7, 2019

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



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