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News & Features » May 2018 » “Karen” by Steven Horwitz

“Karen” by Steven Horwitz

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, when trouble walks into a bar, head west. 

by Steven Horwitz
Albuquerque, New Mexico

This guy had a scar on his cheek as dry as the Arroyo Taiban. He was a solid six feet tall, weighed maybe a little under a deuce. His hair was as black as the soul of a pederast and a little too oily.  Everything he wore was new, like it came straight from Palms Trading Company; black jeans, a black shirt and a turquoise and silver bolo with a matching belt buckle. He looked nouveau Navaho. 

If you tend bar long enough, you know who’s potentially going to cause trouble. I took a good look at him. This was a guy I thought I might have to ID. 

“What can I get you, partner?”

“Beefeater martini up. A Charles Dickens.” 

I don’t get many calls for martinis. Albuquerque is a shot of Cuervo and Coors country. The Charles Dickens part stumped me. I looked at him and shrugged.

“Your choice,” he said. “Olive or twist.”

“You’re not from around here, I’m guessing.”

His accent was unmistakable. I’ve never been to New York but I’ve seen a lot of movies.

“Nah. East.”

“Passing through?”

“I’m looking for a woman,” he said.

“Who isn’t?” I asked.

But I wasn’t looking, really. I was just trying to hold on to the one I almost had.

“I’m looking for a particular woman,” he said. A grimace or a smile scurried across his face.

“She’s a bartender. Her name is Karen Hawley but she picks up nicknames. They called her Driftwood in Silver City and Twofer in Tucumcari.”

Driftwood I could figure out. 

“Twofer?” I asked.

“She’s a little ditzy. She takes two steps for every one that she has to. She’s got a tat of a road sign on the inside of her right thigh. It says Slippery When Wet. She can tie a maraschino cherry stem in a knot with her tongue in less than thirty seconds. She’s tall and skinny and gorgeous.”

“Does she have red hair?”

“Yeah. You know her?”

“No. She just sounds like she should.”

But I did know her. 

I knew her as Slate. She must have gotten another tattoo recently. On the inside of her left thigh was a Yield sign.

“What did she do?” 

“Nothing really. Disappointed her parents. She dropped out of Yale. Just another filthy rich girl hanging with the peasants. Her family wants her home.” 

It all fit. Her parents were dead, she’d said. No brothers or sisters. She grew up in Tucson, graduated from high school and had been drifting ever since, travelled with a carny out of Denver, she’d said. I knew she’d been lying but I hadn’t really cared. She was too smart and polished, too confident to be that poor and untethered.

We’d slammed into each other one night a couple of months before but I knew it wasn’t going to last. Truth is, I could never see what she saw in me and it was exhausting trying to pretend that her goofy elegance didn’t intimidate me. 

The guy finished his drink and left a twenty on the bar.

“You look like a nice kid,” he said. “I’d hate to think that you lied to me.” 

I nodded, watched him get into a Range Rover with New York tags and, just in case, copied down his license plate number. I called Jimmy and asked him to cover my shifts for a few days. Family emergency, I said. I didn’t tell him I might not be back. I cleared out my bank account. I stopped at my apartment and picked up my clothes, a few books and my TV.

I headed north to Santa Fe.

She stood behind the bar. There was almost no one there.  She was staring into a dark corner of the room. Lost in thought or maybe not thinking at all. I never really knew.

“Your parents are looking for you Karen. They sent a guy. I can take you wherever you want.”

She didn’t look surprised.

I was tired of Albuquerque. I was ready to take a ride.

“Where do you want to go?” I asked.

“Someplace warm,” she said. “Southern California somewhere. The beach.”

We left the bar, got into my car and headed west. 

I knew this was just another detour on her way home. 

A chilly wind blew tumbleweeds across the highway. 

A beach would be as fine a place as any to be alone.



STEVEN HORWITZ is co-editor of two short story collections, Twin Cities Noir published by Akashic Books and Amplified: Fiction By Leading Alt-Country, Indie Rock, Blues and Folk Musicians published by Melville House. He spent thirty years in publishing and is currently a mentor and teacher with The Minnesota Prison Writers Workshop. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.    


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: May 15, 2018

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