“The Sunset Premium” by Andrew Jetarski
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, join Andrew Jetarski in Santa Monica for the story of a Boston transplant who never misses a California sunset. Next week, Jack Ryan’s morning drive home from work in St. Louis takes a haunting turn.
He spotted the guy with the poodle a block and a half away, as he did every morning. Santa Monica north of Wilshire was small-town quiet, even this close to the ocean. Paul made sure to walk his pug Manley as early as possible, never later than seven. He always varied the route, but there were only so many combinations you could do on three squares of a grid.
The poodle guy was smiling at him as they closed the distance, so Paul decided to speak first.
“We’re finally rid of the overcast,” Paul said. Just an old man chatting about the weather. He guessed the other guy to be at least fifteen years younger, making him sixty-something. Shorter, full-bellied. Paul could drop him if he had to.
“At least we can count on the morning sun,” the other guy said. “Good for the new hotel.”
“The one that everybody’s fighting?”
“Yeah, all the usual claptrap. This will only bring more high-rises and ruin our city!”
Paul said nothing, but thought of countless new unknown faces filling the neighborhood.
“Missed you at our coalition meeting last night,” said the poodle guy. He chortled.
“The anti-development crowd can get nasty. Not to scare you away. I’m hoping you’ll join and add your voice.”
“I’m not a joiner,” Paul said.
“Councilman Renner was there,” the guy said. “He’ll be the deciding vote.”
“Renner. The one with the beard.”
“And all the hats. Trying to appeal to hip Santa Monica voters. Publicly he’s opposed, but a little birdie tells me otherwise.” The man gave him a knowing wink.
Manley chafed at his leash. Paul nodded and began to step away.
“I’m Henry,” the guy said.
“Lowell,” said Paul. “Call me Lowell.”
Janet was still sleeping as he came into the apartment. Manley’s noisy panting after climbing three flights of stairs wouldn’t wake her. It never did.
Lowell, he’d said. Spur-of-the-moment, stupid. Surely Henry was astute enough to hear New England in Paul’s vowels. Was he really just a neighbor who happened to be out walking his dog?
He gave Manley his breakfast and took coffee onto the balcony. They were three blocks from the bluffs, but their building was tall enough to reveal a band of ocean beyond the palms lining Palisades Park. This was his gift to Janet, the guardian of his secrets: their sunset years, far from Boston, the mean Southie streets, and the law there.
They had managed thirteen years. Janet negotiated the necessary social contacts. The few neighbors he ever spoke to knew him as “Paul,” Janet as “Jane.” And it was enough, perched on the edge of America, caressed by ocean breezes, with no one to answer to.
Now a behemoth building project threatened to throw the world in their face.
Councilman Bob Renner checked the screen on his smartphone, pressed Accept, and held it to his ear.
“I’m in the Civic Center garage. Off to the chiropractor.”
It was code. The caller was his contact at Mangelon Corporation. The “chiropractor” was the IT specialist he was using to set up the dummy routing for the developer’s payoffs. The first payment should credit to his account before tonight’s council meeting.
Bob Renner didn’t need a chiropractor. He was walking on air. That old guy who just shambled past with the walking stick, he could use a chiropractor.
The handle of the wooden cane landed at the base of Renner’s skull, between the C1 and C2 vertebrae. He dropped to his knees, the phone clattering to the concrete. Paul’s well-muscled arms wrapped around from behind, right elbow at the front of the throat, right hand locking under left arm. Renner was unconscious from the first blow, which likely paralyzed his diaphragm. The choke hold assured he’d stop breathing. Should anyone happen by, it would appear the elderly man was coming to the aid of a seizure victim. But there was no one. Within twelve seconds Renner lay lifeless.
Paul sat calculating on the balcony as the sun lowered, Janet’s idle humming behind him over the clatter of dishes. Of course Renner was not insurance enough. Next would come other council members, the developers and their people, and of course Henry with the poodle. Endless premiums. How long could he go?
He thought of Janet’s smiling face, and what happiness this could bring her. He was lulled by the silhouettes of the swaying palms. He never missed a sunset.
ANDREW JETARSKI moved to Southern California in the 1990s seeking work as a motion picture editor. He gravitated to Santa Monica because it seemed like a nice place to live. His story “Dance Man” was published in the Sisters in Crime/LA chapter’s 2013 anthology Last Exit to Murder, and was named a Derringer Award Finalist. As a writer he uses an altered spelling of his grandfather’s birth name.
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 [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Jun 23, 2014
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