“The Umbrella” by Will Whitson
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, Will Whitson takes us to an altercation on a Metro platform.
by Will Whitson
Union Station Metro
It all started with that damned umbrella. How was I to know the kind of shit I was getting myself into? I wasn’t really minding my surroundings when I got off the Red Line. That time of morning Union Station is a mad house anyway. A girl directly ahead of me had on a skirt slightly too short for her, and she knew it. She fidgeted with her hemline, holding a black umbrella in the same hand. I wondered how to make my introduction. The gun shots did it for me.
Three quick ones—Blam! Blam! Blam! My eardrums rattled. Someone screamed and the Metro station flew into a panic that made a cattle stampede look tame. People ran for the turnstiles at breakneck speed, with little regard for who or what was in their path. The girl with the short skirt hit the floor hard. In an instant, she’d be trampled by the throngs escaping what was most likely a gangland beef.
“I’ve got you,” I said as I grabbed her and moved behind an exit fare machine. I shielded her from the crowd. She gasped slightly and pulled her satchel and black umbrella to her chest. The crowd bottlenecked at the exit. No one was getting out. We could smell the freedom upstairs in Union Station. It smelled like fresh pastries and was blocked by a wall of human panic.
Great going, I told myself. You try to be a hero because you’re thinking with the wrong head. Now you’ll probably wind up a victim.
We didn’t. Whoever fired the three shots vanished into the crowd, leaving behind an old bureaucrat-looking type in a pool of his own blood. You see all the damned social media posts about gang initiation killings, and roll your eyes as your scroll past them thinking you’ll never see one in real life. The poor old bastard on the Metro platform would beg to differ.
The girl with the short skirt eventually relaxed. Her breathing slowed and she opened her eyes. “Th-th-thank you,” she stammered.
I got a good look at her blue-green eyes and her perfect face that could convince me Bigfoot was real. A soft, flowing lock of reddish-brown hair fell along her cheeks and caressed her shoulders.
“No need to thank me,” I puffed out my chest and cursed silently that I didn’t wear Clark Kent glasses. “But, if you’re still rattled, a cup of coffee might help.”
“I have a boyfriend.” Just like that, she was gone. I didn’t even have time to pull the trusty, “Oh, that’s ok,” line. I thought about going after her, but didn’t. My foot nudged her black umbrella, which she must have forgotten in the fray.
She was already so far gone that calling after her would do me no good. I picked it up. It was fancy for a commuter umbrella, not one of those shitty five dollar jobs you buy when you get caught in a monsoon on your way home. This one was heavy with some kind of composite handle. I decided to keep it as a souvenir.
I sat down in the food court and waited for the liquor store to open. I looked at the umbrella again. This had been the first sunny day in D.C. in weeks with no chance of rain, so why lug this thing around? I picked it up and shifted it in my hand. The composite handle rattled. I looked closer and saw a groove near the handle’s base. I gave it a twist.
The base popped open and a plastic baggie fell onto the table, revealing a flash drive. A pair of hands grabbed my shoulders and slammed me to the table. The hands belonged to a burly FBI agent.
The cold steel of another gun was in my face and cold steel squeezed my wrists. The agent in charge filled in the gaps. This was no gang initiation. It was a handoff of stolen documents. Their man had the bait in an umbrella. Someone grabbed it while their accomplice fired the gun. They already had the shooter. Now, I had the umbrella. I tried to tell them about the girl with the short skirt.
“No skirt chasing in prison,” an agent said.
A speedy trial later and I was on my way to my new home. Rain poured down on me as I stepped out of the prison bus. At that moment, I wished I had an umbrella.
WILL WHITSON is a southern political reporter turned news producer. He spends his Metro ride home wondering how Philip Marlowe would fare in today’s Beltway. He lives with his wife and daughter outside Washington, D.C.
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: Feb 13, 2017