“The Calling” by Gary Phillips
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, Gary Phillips (editor of Orange County Noir; coeditor of The Cocaine Chronicles; contributor to Dublin Noir, Phoenix Noir, The Heroin Chronicles, Los Angeles Noir) brings us to Long Beach, California for a hitman’s last rites. Next Week, Bronx Noir editor S.J. Rozan sets her tale of falcon selling in the Republic of Mongolia.
by Gary Phillips
Wilmington, Long Beach, CA
“You’re it, Hank. Who the hell else could I lay this burden on?”
Mark coughs up more blood and I do my best to comfort my dying friend. He’s dressed in a suit I’m quite sure costs more than my parish generates in two months. His leaking blood creates a Rorschach test gone awry on his light blue shirt.
“The ambulance is coming.” I say this even though I don’t hear a siren. Which is ironic, given there’s always a peal around here, in the neighborhood where Mark and I grew up.
He smiles up at me with his red-stained teeth. “We both know that they’ll be too late. Sit me up, will you, and reach into my pocket.”
“I’m a priest, you know it’s only young boys I feel up.”
“Always the joker,” Mark says.
I get him against the oak wainscoting, dark with age. I dig out a set of keys on a ring. The one he intends for me is obvious. It’s an old-fashioned skeleton key.
He puts his hand over mine, holding the set. “Let me hear your confession, my son,” I say.
Again a flash of the red-stained teeth. “The Devil knows what I’ve done, Hank. No sense pretending I have regrets now. You can’t fool God.”
Now I hear sirens, faintly, an ambulance and the police I believe. Outside and up the block is a wrecked Cadillac CTS with two dead men, mouths agape on the supple leather seats. The car is plowed across the sidewalk, the front end embedded in the brick corner of the Perez family bodega. Good people, the Perezes.
The two in that sweet Caddy were shot dead by my childhood friend Mark Shepperds who is passing away before me. He’s the third casualty of their brief and violent firefight. I wonder had he been on his way to see me when the two caught up to him, or just happened to be passing by? Maybe he’d stopped in at the bodega for a soda or cigarettes.
“The key, Hank,” Mark says, tapping it as I open my hand with the set on my palm. “There’s a number stamped on it.”
His voice is getting weaker and I lean closer. I should be worried about his eternal soul, but I want to make sure I don’t miss a word.
“The locker— ” he begins, but starts coughing again.
Not much more time now. “The Lighthouse?” I finish. The Lighthouse—we go in for nautical names here in Wilmington—had been a live venue during vaudeville way the hell back. By the time we were kids, it was a second run movie house where we’d sneak in to watch streaky prints of Fist of the North Star and Under Siege 2. Then the joint went out of business around the turn of this century; hipsters bought and refurbished it to mount hipster plays, but that didn’t last. It closed for good about three years ago.
“It’s all in there, Hank,” Mark says quietly, almost drowned out by the wail of the vehicles outside the door. I mumble the last rites as uniformed officers, their service weapons out, swarm the sanctuary of the Five Wounds church.
“Hands where I can them and prone the fuck out,” one of the cops commands, even though I am wearing my collar. I do as ordered, and am frisked by the one who’d yelled.
“Sorry, padre . . . Ramirez is it?” another one says, chuckling. “Burns here is a Lutheran.” This officer, a Sergeant Horne, helps me to my feet while looking over at Mark’s remains. “You know who that is?”
“We played basketball together at Sacred Heart.”
The sergeant regarded me. “I’ll be damned.”
What he’d meant was we all knew around here that Mark Shepperds had racked up plenty of deaths over his years as a high-priced hitman.
The photos were taken, the bodies carted away, little yellow tented cards placed next to shell casings, and the other witnesses and I were questioned. Afterward, I headed over to the Lighthouse. It took a bit of doing, but I got in and headed to what had been the area for dressing rooms. I matched the key to the right locker and bingo, it revealed a compact equipment bag and a thick, leather-bound journal.
In the journal, in Mark’s precise block lettering, were victim’s names, dates, monies received, and the names of the people who’d paid for the deeds he’d done. Powerful people. Not the sort who would be brought to the bar of justice.
In the bag were the various lethal tools of Mark’s trade.
I suppose I should have turned all of it over to Sergeant Horne. But ever since I’d taken over the Five Wounds from my predecessor, I’d been frustrated. How many stories had I heard of the abusive husband given one more chance, the local loan shark charging thirty percent vig while the working poor, my flock, were getting squeezed out of their crappy rentals by the gentrifiers and the speculators—the self-same one-percenters who’d employed Mark.
Fire and forget, isn’t that what the soldiers and grunts said when I was a chaplain in Afghanistan? The heft of the equipment bag, into which I zippered Mark’s journal, felt good in my hand as I headed out to my car. I think I may have an answer to my slow and quiet crisis of faith. The sports club we run for our at-risk youth but can offer little else; nor can the moribund job training center we maintain, helping prepare poorly educated immigrant women to cook and clean for the shits in Mark’s book. Now I can do something more than just nod thoughtfully, expressing empty platitudes as I listen to yet another heartbreaking story.
I can do a lot more than merely nod.
* * *
* * *
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 to [email protected] Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Apr 29, 2013
Featured: Music/Popular Culture/Art
- Scars of the Soul Are Why Kids Wear Bandages When They Don’t Have Bruises
- Go the Fuck to Sleep
- Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group
- Paradoxia: A Predator’s Diary
- South of the Pumphouse
- Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs
- The Half That’s Never Been Told: The Real-Life Reggae Adventures of Doctor Dread
- I Love You Too
- Of Mule and Man
- The Lost Treasures of R&B: A D Hunter Mystery
- The Worst Breakfast