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News & Features » July 2017 » “Memphis” by Robert R. Moss

“Memphis” by Robert R. Moss

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, a detective and his suspect revisit a brutal crime of the past.
an excerpt from the novel, Descending Memphis by Robert R. Moss
Memphis, TN; 1956

PARNHAM CALLS the next morning. He tells me to come downtown. I stop to get cigarettes. On the shelf behind the cashier are brown paper bags of nuts. I buy one, then continue on to Central and park my car across from the courthouse.

Detective Parnham sits at his desk. He closes the file he’s reading, tells me to sit down, and thanks me for coming.

As I sit in the chair, I toss the bag of pistachios onto his desk. It slides several inches and stops, anymore and it will drop in Parnham’s lap. He shakes his head and smiles as he reaches for the bag. He tears it open, pulls out a handful, and smirks. Then he pushes the bag to me and says, “All right, Rhodeen, tell me about Harold and Lotte.”

I get some pistachios and say, “They never sold heroin.”

“Then why were they murdered? Why the two bindles and that set of scales?”

“Did they have their fingerprints?”

“No, but that don’t prove—”

“Don’t prove what?”

“So what’s this about Harold leaving you a message?”

I look at the floor and mumble.

“What? Speak up.”

“About an old case,” I say.

“What was it?”

“That’s confidential.”

He shakes his head.

“Your friends are dead and you don’t want to talk about it.”

I stare at Parnham. He cracks a pistachio and says, “I’ll split you open like one of these nuts.” He tosses the shell into the ashtray and continues speaking:

“You used to hang out with Bob Oakley and Jim Gantry, right? I hear Bob got out of prison. How many years he do? Oh, never mind, that’s old news.”

Parnham smiles.

“Jim though… He’s new news. Sold amphetamines to some truck driver. That son-of-a-bitch trucker caused a pileup. He’ll live. The other people aren’t so lucky. Jim’s downstairs. You can keep him company.”

I feel like I’m gonna throw up.

“It’s Jim’s second time to the dance so he’s being real friendly. He told us where he was getting the stuff. He even named some of his favorite customers. He mentioned you.”

My heart goes out to the folks this trucker killed, but I can’t believe Jim would give me up.

“You gonna believe a drug dealer?” I say.

“You want to appear in court? Fine by me. I’ll get that guy who complained about you to testify you’ve been receiving and selling stolen merchandise. You’ll not just lose that P.I. license, you’ll go to prison.”

I stop trying to open a pistachio. “I’d been looking for a girl. Her parents hired me to.”

“Now, how hard was that?”

I look at the floor.

“Where did you find her?”

“I didn’t.”

“You didn’t?”

“She sent her parents a letter. They let it go at that.”

“You think I’m fooling, Rhodeen?”

He picks up the phone and says, “Let’s see if Jim wants company.”

“I’m telling the truth. You’ve never had a case end funny?”

“Okay, Rhodeen. But if you lied I’ll chew you up and spit you out. So what do you think Harold wanted to tell you?”

“Wish I knew.”

Parnham gets another handful of pistachios. He slides the bag to me and says, “You guys were friends.”

I nod.

“You didn’t know Sigmund, did you?”

“He was your partner.”

“That’s right. He walked into a liquor store. He was off duty. There was a holdup. It ended badly. None of the witnesses would testify. I took care of it.”

I stare at Parnham, my mouth hangs open. He opens a folder, takes out the crime scene photos of Harold and Lotte and says, “That colored boy looked through the mug shots.”

I look at the photos. My stomach turns as the detective keeps talking:

“He ID’d the guy. Charlie Griggs. Enforcer and loan collector, mostly. They all pay when he shows up.”

Parnham slides the folder to me. I take out the mugshots and stare into the face of a killer. He’s a dark man with a big head and small eyes.

“Charlie got out of Brushy Mountain last October,” Parnham says. “He kept a room at the Marquette. We turned it over. He left town.”

“How do you know?”

“He’s from Houston. It says in that file he always goes back when there’s trouble. Already sent a teletype, but I don’t expect it will do much good. He’s got a bunch of cousins that’ll keep him hid.”

Parnham leans back in his chair. He stretches his arms and says, “Years ago, I’d heard about Griggs’s daddy. That Jesse did crazy stuff, like ride up to Shreveport or Deep Ellum and knock over whorehouses. Till he picked the wrong one. This madam, Minnie Shelton, took shit from no one. Minnie popped Jesse in the belly with a derringer. Point blank range. She laid the gun on the bar and picked up a spoon. She sat on his chest and scooped out his eyes. Then she fed Jesse to the hogs. Minnie never got charged. No evidence.”

It was a horrible story, but what happened to Griggs’s daddy didn’t excuse what he did to Harold and Lotte. Besides, Harold told me plenty of stories about growing up on his stepdaddy’s farm. That was barbaric, but Harold had put that behind him. He didn’t need some hired killer for him to know pain.

“Yeah, I expect Charlie’s already in Houston by now,” Parnham says. “And what’s more… turns out that colored kid and his family are gone. Moved out. Can’t blame them. Not many people would testify against Griggs.”

“There’s a duplicate set of photos,” I say. “Can I take one?”

“Be my guest.”



Robert R. Moss was part of the Washington, D.C. music scene in the early 1980s. He played bass in several bands, most notably Artificial Peace and Government Issue. His music was released on Dischord Records and other labels, and, as in the early days of Sun Records, it was a time when new things were happening in rock ’n’ roll.

During those few exciting years, Robert played on the bill with numerous bands including the Bad Brains, Minor Threat, S.O.A., Black Flag and Channel 3. Venues where he performed include CBGBs, the Peppermint Lounge, A7, the Wilson Center, Oscar’s Eye, the Mabuhay Gardens and many more across the United States.

Robert has worked in the film, television and advertising industries and currently lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and son.


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: Jul 10, 2017

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