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News & Features » January 2019 » “The Hula Girl” by Nathan Ward

“The Hula Girl” by Nathan Ward

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, the identity of a sailor intertwines with a new tattoo.

The Hula Girl
by Nathan Ward
Manila, Philippines; Cleveland, Ohio

She had been with him since he was a young ensign on his first leave in Manila. The lieutenant showing the first-timers the livelier parts of town. He said Eddie was entitled to a new tattoo to commemorate his first landfall in the Orient.  “Like a merit badge,” he smiled. His group of four sailors sat in a close dark bar drinking Filipino beers. The glasses were small and so they added chasers to make up for lost time. That was when the lieutenant announced that he knew a clean parlor a few blocks away. It might hold up their getting to meet some ladies later on, he explained, but it would be worth it for the souvenir and maybe last longer than a case of the clap.

Once inside, Eddie had a difficult time concentrating on the choices around the bright-lit parlor. Then the hula girl caught his eye—an out-of-place, clearly Hawaiian design, hands pointing identically to one side, grass skirt angled from just below one hip to just above the other, a plainly drawn smile within her falling black hair. He remembered the sting of it later that night as he walked the sultry Manila streets, showing the fresh art on his forearm to other sailors on the prowl; working the tendons to make her dance and amuse the young woman in the spaghetti-sleeve dress whose drinks he had bought before his forehead came to rest on the beer-fragrant wood. He woke lying across the bar when the lieutenant, who’d circled back from his own entertainments to see about his men, tapped his shoulder. “Check your pockets,” he gruffed. They were empty, even his shore pass was gone. The lieutenant shook his head, but his own evening had left him in too good a mood to really lose his temper, “Well, at least you still have your tattoo.”

Eddie had come home to Cleveland and joined the electricians’ union on his uncle’s say so. That was when the hula dancer got him into further trouble. He was just starting to make plans with the woman he would later marry, Grace Stechie, and went out one night with two of the younger guys from Slatta Electricians where he worked. They had all come back from the service around the same time, and these nights out were a mixture of sizing each other up as junior electricians at the firm and settling their bachelor accounts before becoming family men.

On this night, Eddie had nothing to do with the fight that broke out between two Polish brewers at an opposite corner of Younger’s bar. But by the time it had worked its way across the room, heaving and falling and rising slowly back up, the brawl had flipped chairs and spilled drinks and thrown two older men on the slick floor laughing. Eddie stood, really just to get a better look at the struggle, which had started as a fistfight but devolved into floor wrestling. That was when a bottle hit him and he leaped onto the pile of wrestlers, kicking and punching down in a rage. When the cops arrived, they hauled the whole drunken, punching mess of patrons into the wagon. Downtown, the only “instigators” the bartender could pick out with certainty were the Polish brewers and “the guy with the hula tattoo.”  He spent the rest of the night locked with the brewers, who snored.

But the dancer would make his children laugh when he popped his arm to move her grass skirt, and he sometimes pushed up his sleeve to show it when retelling an old Navy story. He lived long enough, in fact, that she danced again for his grandchildren, although by this time his arm had thinned a bit and she had faded some and her hips blurred. Then one Friday night as he pulled up to the 7-11 to buy a pack of menthols, he noticed someone leaning against the inside of the glass door that was posted with age-minimum stickers. He was waiting, it looked like, for a customer to finish his argument with the cashier.

When Eddie knocked on the glass, the leaning man didn’t move or even turn to see who it was. So Eddie yanked on the handle, pulled the door hard enough that the young man stumbled backwards swearing. Then the customer he had thought was feuding with the cashier whipped his head and swung his straightened arm toward the door, scattering the hanging key rings and Slim Jims by the register before he fired.

Most of the information on the investigator’s form—age, height, weight, eyes, donor—he got from Eddie’s wallet. But under ‘Distinguishing Marks’ he wrote,  “Hula Dancer Tattoo, R forearm.”

 

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NATHAN WARD is the author of The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett (nominated for both the Edgar and Anthony awards), which tells how the young Hammett went from being a real-life operative to creating Sam Spade. He is also the author of Dark Harbor: The War for the New York Waterfront, which is about the true criminal story that inspired Elia Kazan’s film masterpiece. He is currently working on a book about the cowboy detective Charlie Siringo and the American West.

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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: Jan 28, 2019

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



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