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News & Features » September 2020 » “Dominant Hand” by Susan Hammerman

“Dominant Hand” by Susan Hammerman

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, Len schemes for an insurance payout.

Dominant Hand
by Susan Hammerman
Waukegan, Illinois

With what was supposed to be his good arm, Len positioned the red leather stool into the curve of the curved bar. Customers weren’t supposed to sit there. It was the drinks station. It interfered with the setup, and the waitresses didn’t like it. But Len needed the extra room to cut his spaghetti. He needed the attention too. He wanted people to remember him dragging a knife across his plate using only his left hand, literally making a hash of it. His right arm was hidden in his coat, and his coat was buttoned to his chin.

The bartender, Patsy, put a menu in front of him and said, “Eat quick if you’re going to sit there. Out before the lunch rush? Be a pal.”

Patsy had been to the beauty parlor and gotten her hair frosted. Len liked it that way, but he was in a bad mood and said, “Everybody in Waukegan is a pal. Place is busting with good Samaritans.”

“What’s that mean?”

“Sure. Out before noon.” He had to be home and ready by then.

“What happened to your arm?” Patsy asked.

“Broke my thumb. Got caught in the elevator at the county courthouse.”

“Jeez, Len.”

 Len shrugged. “Insurance pays more for injuries to your dominant hand. A buddy told me that.”

“Is that so?” Patsy said.

To prove it was an accident, Len wanted a witness. That was his mistake, because nobody sticks a thumb in the elevator door as it closes on purpose. On three rides up and two rides down, he tried by acting like he was in a hurry and shoving his hand in the elevator as it was closing, pretending to fall against the door as it snapped shut, and hiding the location of his right thumb while he tied his shoe. Everyone came to his rescue, from the woman with the screaming baby, who looked like a broken thumb would be a Christmas present compared to her life, to a guy in shackles escorted by a cop, who hit the open button with his elbow.

That was yesterday, but Len wasn’t beat yet. “Spaghetti, meat sauce, a gin and tonic, and the minestrone,” he said. There was an up charge for getting the soup instead of salad.

Patsy grinned at him. “Feeling flush? Tourists already paying to see where Jack Benny lived back in the day?”

“It isn’t just for money. People never heard of Jack Benny. That’s not right. He was known the world over, from end to end, and he got his start, where? New York? Los Angeles? Chicago?” Len slammed his left hand on the bar and said, “Right here. Waukegan, Illinois.”

Patsy had heard this before. She nodded at him and went to get his soup. 

Turning Jack Benny’s home into a major Waukegan tourist attraction had been Len’s dream since as far back as he could remember. He planned to have recordings of Jack Benny’s old radio shows playing in the kitchen. People could sit down at the kitchen table and listen. Len would give them a cup of coffee if they wanted. He’d run the television shows in the living room. He’d already gotten the DVDs from the library. The only thing he didn’t have was the down payment to buy the house. That was coming today at noon.


At his kitchen table, Len counted down from five again. At one, he didn’t bang the hammer on his right thumb liked he’d planned. Counting down was supposed to make it easier. It didn’t. His nerves had run out. The insurance man was on his way over to see for himself what a right thumb on the dominant hand looks like after it’s been smashed by an elevator door.

Len tapped his thumbnail with the hammer to get himself ready, since the next swing had to be it. He tasted minestrone at the back of his throat and willed it to stay put in his stomach. Sweat stung his eyes, careened down his back, and made a big guilty sign in the armpits of his collared shirt that was so tight it strangled him.

The doorbell rang, and Len toppled a stack of cassette tapes of Jack Benny’s radio shows as he grabbed the hammer from the kitchen table and brought it down. Bang. Len screamed into the crook of his right arm. His broken left hand dangled at his side.


SUSAN HAMMERMAN lives in Chicago and writes neo-noir and crime short stories. She received the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Hugh Holton Award and is the We Love Libraries program coordinator for Sisters in Crime.


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: Sep 14, 2020

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